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In the precept three things are to be noted : To whom it is given ; Concerning what matter; and to what extent. : 1. Children] In these words we perceive to whom this precept is proposed. The translator has rendered it, children. But this Greek word (Ta ténva) is evidently of more latitude, for it denotes young, or offspring in general. It therefore extends to sons and daughters, yea, to grandchildren; for both according to the Scriptures, and according to lawyers, in the appellation of children, grandchildren are comprehended; as when the Jews are called the children of Israel, &c. Therefore, whoever is the Téxvov of another, on this very account he hath one to whom he owes honour and obedience.
Observations. 1. No age exempts a child from duty to his parents; because the indissoluble foundation of duty remains always, even in their more advanced age.
2. No dignity of office frees from this debt: For although a magistrate is on political grounds more honourable than a private person, yet a son, on the ground of having derived his origin from him, is always inferior to his father. And Joseph went up to meet Israel his father, &c. Gen. xlvi. 29. Therefore, whoever is a son, neither by age, nor by station, nor riches, in fine, by no mode whatever can he be exempt from this filial duty. But what is it?
2. Obey your parents.] Here we have the matter of the precept, namely, obedience to be rendered to parents. The Greek word 'n ANÕUETE, comprises two things; a humble promptitude in receiving the orders of another, and a cheerful obedience in executing the same. Therefore it pertains to this obedience, to do what parents order, to learn what they teach, to correct and amend what they reprove, and, in one word, to perform all outward deeds which may testify the internal affection of reverence and submission.
The Apostle could have said Honour, as it is said in the decalogue; but he preferred, Obey; namely, in order to restrain that vice under which children mostly labour. For
many yield reverence and honour to their parents, who yet fail to render obedience in the course of their life.
But we must also observe that he says, not to fathers, but to parents; for in this word both parents are included; and that properly too: for a son derives his origin from both; therefore to both, that is, both father and mother, he owes obedience and reverence. Vide Prov. xxiii. 22.
In this very word parents, is implied the most powerful argument, yea, many arguments, which ought to impel children to obedience. For as soon as the epithet parents, sounds in the ears of a child, he calls to mind that they are the persons from whom he has received his origin, his support, and education. If he has derived his origin, or his bodily existence from them, then he ought by the law of nature to be subject to them: If his food and sustenance, then he is bound to it by the moral debt of gratitude or justice. Lastly, if his instruction and discipline, then he is constrained to yield this obedience on account of his own advantage.
Instructions. 1. The desire of honouring parents is pretended in vain, where the duty of obedience is not shewn, Matt. xxi. 30.
2. He who despises his parents is not only to be reckoned to have thrown off piety, but also nature : for nature enjoins the offspring to submit to the parent; which is observed in storks, and proposed to be imitated in men by Ambrose, Hexæm. 5. 16.
3. Contumely is fixed upon God himself, when parents are not honoured : for whatever parents are, they have the likeness of God, who is the supreme Father, and from whom all paternity is derived. Of Him is the whole family in heaven and earth, Ephes. iii. 15. Hence Lac:antius, Instit. lib. 5. cap. 19, calls God himself, our true and supreme Father ; but he also adds, and earthly parents are instruments of our existence under God. These subordinate parents ,therefore, cannot be contemned, without God also being contemned.
4. They who strive at pleasing their parents, the same are for the most part pious towards God: for as Hugo de St. Victor has well said, De sacram. lib. 1. cap. 7, this paternity is to us the sign and image of the divine paternity ; so that the human heart may learn by that principle which it sees, what it owes to that principle from which it is derived, and which it does not see. Thus much concerning the matter of the precept; Now let us discuss its breadth and latitude.
3. In all things.] The Apostle appears to extend filial obedience to all things which are enjoined by parents, without excepting justice and equity : for universal and absolute obedience is due to God alone. But the limitation and explication of this charge may be obtained from Ephes. vi. 1, where he expresses what remains to be understood in this place; Children, obey your parents in the Lord, that is, as far as it is allowed by God; or, as we may gather from the words immediately following, obey in all things, in which, for example, this your obedience may be pleasing to God. For, as Aquinas has laid down, Qu. disp. de consc. art. 4, We must not obey an inferior power against the command of a superior. By the expression all things, therefore, in this place, we must understand, not all things absolutely, but all things lawful and honourable. Hence, therefore, we infer,
1. We must obey parents in things good and pious, as well in regard to the thing commanded, as to the person himself giving the command.
2. In things general and indifferent in their nature, it behoves children to obey their parents. For although the things prescribed be free and indifferent in their nature; yet obedience, when the parental command is interposed, is not at one's pleasure, but under a mandate. For truly and wisely was it said by Gerson, De relig. perfect. part. 3, In things indifferent we must especially confide in the judgment of a superior ; since he tells us in the place of God what is expedient and what is proper.
3. Although the injunctions of parents may seem harsh and unjust, yet if they contain nothing of impiety they must be obeyed, especially by children not yet set free from parental authority. We have a remarkable example in Isaac, who withheld not his obedience to his father even unto death, Gen. xxii. 9, and in Christ himself, in his submission to his parents, Luke ii. 51.
But here a question may arise concerning married children, or those called to the administration of Church or State, whether they are still bound to obedience to parents, and how far?
We answer, That filial obedience is perpetual, and is to be rendered even to the last breath of life: which is manifest from the command itself, Honour thy father, that thou mayest live long upon the earth. Therefore, so long as we live here, so long is the obedience of honour due to parents ; but not in the same manner and degree. Children, then, living in the paternal house, and under the paternal power, are bound to yield reverence, obedience, and assistance to their parents, and that in matters of domestic care, or in other matters according to their command and will. If parents would have them to remain at home, and aid them in household duties, they ought not to refuse ; as is plain from the parable of the two sons, Matt. xxi. 28. If they wish to employ their labour to accomplish some outer business, in this also they must obey, Tob. v.3. But as to married children, or those called to administer the Church or State, the case is different. For although all these are yet bound to revere, obey, and even to render assistance when occasion offers ; yet they are not bound, as before, to dwell with them, nor to labour at the domestic business of their parents; because now they have their ‘own and more weighty business.
With respect to married children this is plain ; because the husband from the Divine ordination ought to leave his father and his mother to cleave unto his wife, Gen. ii. 24. Which we must not understand abstractedly, but comparatively, and in respect of individual fellowship and cohabitation : for he ought to labour for the support of his family, Gen. xxx. 30.
Now as to those who have undertaken ecclesiastical duties; they cannot be recalled by the authority of parents to the performance of their earthly business. For if a
father cannot recal his son from the army of his earthly king by any authority with which he is invested, how much less from this sacred army? Nay, they who have put their hands to this work ought not to look back to that which they have left, Luke ix. 62.
The reason is similar in regard to those who discharge public offices : for it is just that private concerns yield to public ones. To conclude in a word : A son can never be freed from the duty of honouring and succouring his parents; but he may from the duty of dwelling with them, and administering their domestic affairs. And so far respecting the precept itself.
For this is well pleasing unto the Lord.] In these words is contained the reason or inducement, than which no other more efficacious can be presented to pious minds, to discharge that duty of obedience. For he does not say, This your duty will be useful to you, or grateful to your parents ; but it will be well-pleasing to Christ himself your Lord, whom it is your happiness to please. But how does it appear that obedience towards parents is a thing so pleasing to Christ our Lord, and to God our Father?
It appears chiefly from two considerations : From even a temporal, and as it were an extraordinary reward, annexed to that command of honouring parents; which is urged by the Apostle in Ephes. vi. 2, Being the first command with promise. And also from temporal punishment, which is to be inflicted by the ordination of God upon the violaters of his command, which see in Deut. xxi. 18, &c. Neither was it concealed from the heathen themselves, that the life of those who conducted themselves piously and dutifully towards their parents was prolonged by the Divine gift. Whence that remark of the Greek poet; Be assured that by honouring your parents you will flourish in the world : and another to the same purport; You will live long enough, if you sustain the old age of your parents. They, therefore, acknowledge this to be well-pleasing to God. But they also have even declared that contempt of parents should be restrained by the severest punishments; A wronging of parents or of the gods is to be expiated with a like judgment,