1. Obedience consists in being ready to fulfil the behest of one’s superior.
Thus obedience does not merely consist in doing what is commanded, but in being ready and willing to do what is commanded. Many obey, but obey grudgingly; in that case obedience is no virtue. Moreover obedience is not a virtue unless it is for God’s sake that one subjects one’s will to that of another. Abraham was a pattern of obedience when he offered up Isaac. The Son of God Himself practiced obedience, for He was subject to two of His creatures, Mary and Joseph. The Creator of all things obeyed an artisan, the Lord of glory a lowly maiden. Who ever heard or saw anything to compare with that? Christ was moreover obedient to His heavenly Father even to the death of the cross (Phil. ii. 8). By the obedience of one many shall be made just (Rom. v. 19). “I admire,” says St. Francis of Sales, “the Infant of Bethlehem; He is all-powerful, and yet does whatever He is told without a word.”
1. Children are required to obey their parents, or those who hold the place of parents to them, wives their husbands, servants their masters, and all men those who are placed in authority over them, whether ecclesiastical or secular rulers.
In order to unite all His creatures to a harmonious whole God has established a certain relationship between them, and mutual dependence. The moon revolves round the earth and the planets of our solar system around the sun. The angels stand in the same relationship to one another as men do on earth. In the Fourth commandment God enjoins upon children obedience to their parents; this is due to them as being God’s representatives. St. Paul says: “Children, obey your parents in all things” (Col. iii. 20). And again: “Those who are disobedient to parents are worthy of death” (Rom. i. 30). Teachers are the parents representatives. Wives must obey their husbands, for so God has appointed. He said to Eve after the Fall: “Thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee” (Gen. iii. 16). The very origin of the woman proves her subjection to man, for she was made of his flesh, and thus belongs to him. As a mark of inferiority the woman’s head must be covered (1 Cor. xi. 7). St. Peter teaches servants their duty towards their masters in the following words: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward” (1 Pet. ii. 18). Our Lord admonishes us to obey our ecclesiastical superiors, saying: “Whoso will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican” (Matt. xviii. 17). Be cause of the obedience required of Christians, he calls them sheep and those who are set over them pastors. We ought also to obey the secular authorities, because they have their power from God. St. Paul says: “There is no power but from God, and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” (Rom. xiii. 1, 2).
2. Yet obedience has certain limits; we are not required to obey our superiors in matters that are not within their jurisdiction, and we ought not to obey them if they command us to do what the law of God forbids.
(This subject is fully treated of under the head of the Fourth Commandment.)
2. Obedience is the most difficult and at the same time the most excellent of all the moral virtues (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Obedience is the most difficult of virtues because all men are naturally inclined to command, and disinclined to obey. “Obedience,” says St. Bonaventure, “is the sacrifice of one’s own will, and it is a great sacrifice for man, when what is commanded is contrary to his inclination and to his advantage.” By obedience the understanding does penance; it is a kind of moral martyrdom. Original sin is the cause why men are under the yoke and dominion of one another. Where sin enters freedom is dethroned, and servitude takes its place. Obedience is the most excellent of all virtues. Man can offer to almighty God nothing greater than the submission of his will to that of another for God’s sake. Obedience is the most accept able burnt-offering that we can sacrifice to God upon the altar of the heart. Obedience is better than sacrifices (1 Kings xv. 22); and for this reason, in a sacrifice we offer the flesh of another; in obedience the oblation is our own will, our own self,
3. By our obedience we accomplish the will of God most surely, and we attain certainly and quickly to a high degree of perfection.
By obedience we accomplish the will of God most surely, for our superiors are God’s representatives, therefore their commands are God’s commands. Thus we serve as to the Lord and not to men (Eph. v. 7). We ought not to- consider who it is who issues the behest, but only the will of God which is made known to us by the mouth of our superior. He who obeys will not be required to give an account of what he has done; the one who commands has to do that. Obedience gives value to all that we do. The simplest action done out of obedience has greater value in God’s sight than the most austere works of penance. Eating and sleeping, if done in obedience to the will of God, are more pleasing to him than the voluntary fasts and vigils of the hermit. By obedience we attain certainly and quickly to a high degree of perfection. Obedience is the means of avoiding many sins. It is the antidote to pride. By the practices of the other virtues we combat the spirits of evil, by obedience we vanquish them. And this is just, for since they fell through disobedience, by our obedience we show our superiority to them. St. Augustine calls obedience the greatest of virtues; it is the parent and source of every other virtue. St. Teresa declares that no path leads so quickly to the summit of perfection as the path of obedience; hence the evil enemy endeavors by all means to deter us from the practice of this virtue. Obedience is the key that opens the portals of heaven, the ship that carries us into the celestial harbor. Disobedience closed heaven and opened hell; obedience on the other hand opens heaven and closes hell. “Learn,” says St. Francis of Sales, “to comply willingly with the wishes of thy equals, and thus thou wilt learn to fulfil cheerfully the commands of thy superiors.” Above all, when you have to obey, obey promptly, do not stop to deliberate; for reasoning is only a hindrance to obedience. Remember that Eve began to waver as soon as she allowed herself to argue about the divine command.
This article, 3. OBEDIENCE is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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