Immaculate Heart of Mary's Hermitage

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

Spirtual Adoption | Home | Mission Statement | Carthusians | Prayer | Devotion | Welcome | Monasticism | Chapel | Horarium | Relics | Links

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT : "Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long lived upon the land which the lord thy god will give thee."

Relative Importance Of The Preceding And The Following Commandments

The preceding Commandments are supreme both in dignity and in importance; but those which follow rank next in order because of their necessity. For the first three tend directly to God; while the object of the others is the charity we owe to our neighbour, although even these are ultimately referred to God, since we love our neighbour on account of God, our last end. Hence Christ our Lord has declared that the two Commandments which inculcate the love of God and of our neighbour are like unto each other.

Importance Of Instruction On The Fourth Commandment

The advantages arising from the present subject can scarcely be expressed in words; for not only does it bring with it its own fruit, and that in the richest abundance and of superior excellence, but it also affords a test of our obedience to and observance of the first Commandment. He that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, says St. John, how can he love God whom he seeth not? In like manner, if we do not honour and reverence our parents whom we ought to love next to God and whom we continually see, how can we honour or reverence God, the supreme and best of parents, whom we see not? Hence we can easily perceive the similarity between these two Commandments.

The application of this Commandment is of very great extent. Besides our natural parents, there are many others whose power, rank, usefulness, exalted functions or office, entitle them to parental honour.

Furthermore.(this Commandment) lightens the labor of parents and superiors; for their chief care is that those under them should live according to virtue and the divine Law. Now the performance of this duty will be considerably facilitated, if it be known by all that highest honour to parents is an obligation, sanctioned and commanded by God.

The Two Tables Of The Law

To impress the mind with this truth it will be found useful to distinguish the Commandments of the first, from those of the second table. This distinction, therefore, the pastor should first explain.

Let him begin by showing that the divine precepts of the Decalogue were written on two tables, one of which, in the opinion of the holy Fathers, contained the three preceding, while the rest were given on the second table.

This order of the Commandments is especially appropriate, since the very collocation points out to us their difference in nature. For whatever is commanded or prohibited in Scripture by the divine law springs from one of two principles, the love of God or of our neighbour: one or the other of these is the basis of every duty required of us. The three preceding Commandments teach us the love which we owe to God; and the other seven, the duties which we owe to our neighbour and to public society. The arrangement, therefore, which assigns some of the Commandments to the first and others to the second table is not without good reason.

In the first three Commandments, which have been explained, God, the supreme good, is, as it were, the subject matter; in the others, it is the good of our neighbour. The former require the highest love, the latter the love next to the highest. The former have to do with our last end, the latter with those things that lead us to our end.

Again, the love of God terminates in God Himself, for God is to be loved above all things for His own sake; but the love of our neighbour originates in, and is to be regulated by, the love of God. If we love our parents, obey our masters, respect our superiors, our ruling principle in doing so should be that God is their Creator, and wishes to give pre-eminence to those by whose cooperation He governs and protects other men; and as He requires that we yield a dutiful respect to such persons, we should do so, because He deems them worthy of this honour. If, then, we honour our parents, the tribute is paid to God rather than to man. Accordingly we read in St. Matthew concerning duty to superiors: He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and the Apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians, giving instruction to servants, says: Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ: not serving to the eye, as it were pleasing men, but as the servants of Christ.

Moreover, no honour, no piety, no devotion can be rendered to God sufficiently worthy of Him, since love of Him admits of infinite increase. Hence our charity should become every day more fervent towards Him, who commands us to love Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength. The love of our neighbour, on the contrary, has its limits, for the Lord commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves.

To outstep these limits by loving our neighbour as we love God would be an enormous crime. If any man come to me, says the Lord and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also; he cannot be my disciple. In the same way, to one who would first attend the burial of his father, and then follow Christ, it was said: Let the dead bury their dead; and the same lesson is more clearly conveyed in St. Matthew: He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.

Parents, no doubt, are to be highly loved and respected; but religion requires that supreme honour and homage be given to Him alone, who is the Creator and Father of all, and that all our love for our earthly parents be referred to our eternal Father who is in heaven. Should, however, the injunctions of parents be at any time opposed to the Commandments of God, children are, o{ course, to prefer the will of God to the desires of their parents, always keeping in view the divine maxim: We ought to obey God rather than men.

Explanation of the Fourth Commandment: "Honour"

After these preliminaries the pastor should explain the words of the Commandment, beginning with honour. To honour is to think respectfully of anyone, and to hold in the highest esteem all that relates to him. It includes love, respect, obedience and reverence.

Very properly, then, is the word honour used here in preference to the word fear or love, although parents are also to be much loved and feared. Respect and reverence are not always the accompaniments of love; neither is love the inseparable companion of fear; but honour, when proceeding from the heart, combines both fear and love.

"Thy Father"

The pastor should next explain who they are, whom the Commandment designates as fathers; for although the law refers primarily to our natural fathers, yet the name belongs to others also, and these seem to be indicated in the Commandment, as we can easily gather from numerous passages of Scripture. Besides our natural fathers, then, there are others who in Scripture are called fathers, as was said above, and to each of these proper honour is due.

In the first place, the prelates of the Church, her pastors and priests are called fathers, as is evident from the Apostle, who, writing to the Corinthians, says: I write not these things to confound you; but I admonish you as my dearest children. For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus by the gospel I have begotten you. It is also written in Ecclesiasticus: Let us praise men of renown, and our fathers in their generation.

Those who govern the State, to whom are entrusted power, magistracy, or command, are also called fathers; thus Naaman was called father by his servants.

The name father is also applied to those to whose care, fidelity, probity and wisdom others are committed, such as teachers, instructors masters and guardians; and hence the sons of the Prophets called Elias and Eliseus their father. Finally, aged men, advanced in years, we also call fathers.

Why Parents Should Be Honoured

In his instructions the pastor should chiefly emphasise the obligation of honouring all who are entitled to be called fathers, especially our natural fathers, of whom the divine Commandment particularly speaks. They are, so to say, images of the immortal God. In them we behold a picture of our own origin; from them we have received existence, them God made use of to infuse into us a soul and reason, by them we were led to the Sacraments, instructed in our religion, schooled in right conduct and holiness, and trained in civil and human knowledge.

"And Thy Mother"

The pastor should teach that the name mother is mentioned in this Commandment, in order to remind us of her benefits and claims in our regard, of the care and solicitude with which she bore us, and of the pain and labor with which she gave us birth and brought us up.

Manner Of Honouring Parents

The honour which children are commanded to pay to their parents should be the spontaneous offering of sincere and dutiful love. This is nothing more than their due, since for love of us, they shrink from no labor, no exertion, no danger. Their highest pleasure it is to fed that they are loved by their children, the dearest objects of their affection. Joseph, when he enjoyed in Egypt the highest station and the most ample power after the king himself, received with honour his father, who had come into Egypt. Solomon rose to meet his mother as she approached; and having paid her respect, placed her on a royal throne on his right hand.

We also owe to our parents other duties of respect, such as to supplicate God in their behalf, that they may lead prosperous and happy lives, beloved and esteemed by all who know them, and most pleasing in the sight of God and of the Saints in heaven.

We also honour them by submission to their wishes and inclinations. My son, says Solomon, hear the instruct­on of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother; that grace may be added to thy head, and a chain of gold to thy neck. Of the same kind are the exhortations of St. Paul. Children, he says, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just; and also, children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well­pleasing to the Lord. (This doctrine) is confirmed by the example of the holiest men. Isaac, when bound for sacrifice by his father, meekly and uncomplainingly obeyed; and the Rechabites, not to depart from the counsel of their father, always abstained from wine.

We also honour our parents by the imitation of their good example; for, to seek to resemble closely anyone is the highest mark of esteem towards him. We also honour them when we not only ask, but follow their advice.

Again we honour our parents when we relieve their necessities, supplying them with necessary food and clothing according to these words of Christ, who, when reproving the impiety of the Pharisees, said: Why do you also transgress the commandments of God because of your traditions? For God said: "Honour thy father and thy mother," and "He that shall curse father or mother let him die the death." But you say: "Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee." And he shall not honour his father or his mother; and you have made void the commandment of God for your tradition.

But if at all times it is our duty to honour our parents, this duty becomes still more imperative when they are visited by severe illness. We should then see to it that they do not neglect confession and the other Sacraments which every Christian should receive at the approach of death. We should also see that pious and religious persons visit them frequently to strengthen their weakness, assist them by their counsel, and animate them to the hope of immortality, that having risen above the concerns of this world, they may fix their thoughts entirely on God. Thus blessed with the sublime virtues of faith, hope and charity, and fortified by the helps. of religion, they will not only look at death without fear, since it is necessary, but will even welcome it, as it hastens their entrance into eternity.

Finally, we honour our parents, even after their death, by attending their funerals, procuring for them suitable obsequies and burial, having due suffrages and anniversary Masses offered for them, and faithfully executing their last wills.

Manner Of Honouring Other Superiors

We are bound to honour not only our natural parents, but also others who are called fathers, such as Bishops and priests, kings, princes and magistrates, tutors, guardians and masters, teachers, aged persons and the like, all of whom are entitled, some in a greater, some in a less degree, to share our love, our obedience, and our assistance.

The Honour Due To Bishops And Priests

Of Bishops and other pastors it is written: Let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of double honour especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

What wondrous proofs of love for the Apostle must the Galatians have shown ! For he bears this splendid testimony of their benevolence: I bear you witness that if it could be done, you would hove plucked out your own eyes, and would have given them to me.

The priest is also entitled to receive whatever is necessary for his support. Who, says the Apostle, serveth as a soldier at his own charges? Give honour to the priests, it is written in Ecclesiasticus, and purify thyself with thy arms; give them their portion, as it is commanded thee, of the first fruits and of purifications.

The Apostle also teaches that they are entitled to obedience: Obey your prelates, and be subject to them; for they watch as being to render an account of your souls. Nay, more. Christ the Lord commands obedience even to wicked pastors: Upon the chair of Moses have sitten the scribes and Pharisees: all things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not, for they say and do not.

The Honour Due To Civil Rulers

The same is to be said of civil rulers, governors, magistrates and others to whose authority we are subject. The Apostle in his Epistle to the Romans, explains at length the honour, respect and obedience that should be shown them, and he also bids us to pray for them. St. Peter says: Be ye subject, therefore, to every human creature for God's sake; whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him.

For whatever honour we show them is given to God, since exalted human dignity deserves respect because it is an image of the divine power, and in it we revere the providence of God who has entrusted to men the care of public affairs and who uses them as the instruments of His power.

If we sometimes have wicked and unworthy officials it is not their faults that we revere, but the authority from God which they possess. Indeed, while it may seem strange, we are not excused from highly honouring them even when they show themselves hostile and implacable towards us. Thus David rendered great services to Saul even when the latter was his bitter foe, and to this he alludes when he says: With them that hated peace I was peaceable.

However, should their commands be wicked or unjust, they should not be obeyed, since in such a case they rule not according to their rightful authority, but according to injustice and perversity.

'That Thou Mayest be Long­lived," etc.

Having explained the above matters, the pastor should next consider the reward promised to the observance of this Commandment and its appropriateness. That reward is great, indeed, for it consists principally in length of days. They who always preserve the grateful remembrance of a benefit deserve to be blessed with its prolonged enjoyment. Children, therefore, who honour their parents, and gratefully acknowledge the blessing of life received from them are deservedly rewarded with the protracted enjoyment of that life to an advanced age.

Reward Promised For Observance Of This Commandment

The (nature of the) divine promise also demands distinct explanation. It includes not only the eternal life of the blessed, but also the life which we lead on earth, according to the interpretation of St. Paul: Piety is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come

Many very holy men, it is true, such as Job, David, Paul, desired to die, and a long life is burdensome to the afflicted and wretched: but the reward which is here promised is, notwithstanding, neither inconsiderable, nor to be despised.

The additional words, which the Lord thy God will give thee, promise not only length of days, but also repose, tranquillity, and security to live well; for in Deuteronomy it is not only said, that thou mayest live a long time, but it is also added, and that it may be well with thee, words afterwards quoted by the Apostle.

Why This Reward Is Not Always Conferred On Dutiful Children

These blessings, we say, are conferred on those whose piety God rewards; otherwise the divine promises would not be fulfilled, since the more dutiful child is sometimes the more short lived.

Now this happens sometimes because it is better for him to depart from this world before he has strayed from the path of virtue and of duty; for he was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. Or because destruction and general upheaval are impending, he is called away that he may escape the calamities of the times. The just man, says the Prophet, is taken away from before the face of evil, lest his virtue and salvation be endangered when God avenges the crimes of men. Or else, he is spared the bitter anguish of witnessing the calamities of his friends and relations in such evil days. The premature death of the good, therefore, gives special reason for fear.

Punishment For Violation Of This Commandment

But if God promises rewards and blessings to grateful children, He also reserves the heaviest chastisements to punish those who are wanting in filial piety; for it is written: He that curseth his father or mother shall die the death: He that afflicteth his father and chaseth away his mother, is infamous and unhappy." He that curseth his father and mother, his lamp shall be put out in the midst of darkness: The eye that mocketh at his father, and that despiseth the labour of his mother in bearing him, let the ravens of the brooks pick it out, and the young eagles eat it. There are on record many instances of undutiful children, who were made the signal objects of the divine vengeance. The disobedience of Absalom to his father David did not go unpunished. On account of his sin he perished miserably, transfixed by three lances.

Of those who resist the priest it is written: He that will be proud, and refuse to obey the commandment of the priest, who ministereth at that time to the Lord thy God, by the decree of the judge, that man shall die.

Duties of Parents Towards their Children

As the law of God commands children to honour, obey, and respect their parents so are there reciprocal duties which parents owe to their children. Parents are obliged to bring up their children in the knowledge and practice of religion, and to give them the best rules for the regulation of their lives; so that, instructed and trained in religion, they may serve God holily and constantly. It was thus, as we read, that the parents of Susanna acted.

The priest, therefore, should admonish parents to be to their children guides in the virtues of justice, chastity, modesty and holiness.

Three Things To Be Avoided By Parents

He should also admonish them to guard particularly against three things, in which they but too often transgress.

In the first place, they are not by words or actions to exercise too much harshness towards their children. This is the instruction of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians: Fathers, he says, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. For there is danger that the spirit of the child may be broken, and he become abject and fearful of everything. Hence (the pastor) should require parents to avoid too much severity and to choose rather to correct their children than to revenge themselves upon them.

Should a fault be committed which requires reproof and chastisement, the parent should not, on the other hand, by undue indulgence, overlook its correction. Children are often spoiled by too much lenity and indulgence on the part of their parents. The pastor, therefore, should deter from such excessive mildness by the warning example of Heli, the high­priest, who, on account of over­indulgence to his sons, was visited with the heaviest chastisements.

Finally, to avoid what is most shameful in the instruction and education of children, let them not propose to themselves aims that are unworthy. Many there are whose sole concern is to leave their children wealth, riches and an ample and splendid fortune; who encourage them not to piety and religion, or to honourable employment, but to avarice, and an increase of wealth, and who, provided their children are rich and wealthy, are regardless of their good name and eternal salvation. Can anything more shameful be thought or expressed? Of such parents it is true to say, that instead of bequeathing wealth to their children, they leave them rather their own wickedness and crimes for an inheritance; and instead of conducting them to heaven, lead them to the eternal torments of hell.

The priest, therefore, should impress on the minds of parents salutary principles and should exhort them to imitate the virtuous example of Tobias, that having properly trained up their children to the service of God and to holiness of life, they may, in turn, experience at their hands abundant fruit of filial affection, respect and obedience.

Top of Page

Catechism Index

Teachings of the Catholic Church

Copyright 2001-2020 Immaculate Heart of Mary Melbourne Hermitage 

The Webmaster does not endorse, nor control, the advertisements appearing throughout this website.