A Treatise on Good Works HTML version

The Treatise, Part III
The Second Table follows.
"Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother."
From this Commandment we learn that after the excellent works of the first three
Commandments there are no better works than to obey and serve all those who
are set over us as superiors. For this reason also disobedience is a greater sin
than murder, unchastity, theft and dishonesty, and all that these may include. For
we can in no better way learn how to distinguish between greater and lesser sins
than by noting the order of the Commandments of God, although there are
distinctions also within the works of each Commandment. For who does not
know that to curse is a greater sin than to be angry, to strike than to curse, to
strike father and mother more than to strike any one else? Thus these seven
Commandments teach us how we are to exercise ourselves in good works
toward men, and first of all toward our superiors.
The first work is that we honor our own father and mother. And this honor
consists not only in respectful demeanor, but in this: that we obey them, look up
to, esteem and heed their words and example, accept what they say, keep silent
and endure their treatment of us, so long as it is not contrary to the first three
Commandments; in addition, when they need it, that we provide them with food,
clothing and shelter. For not for nothing has He said: "Thou shalt honor them";
He does not say: "Thou shalt love them," although this also must be done. But
honor is higher than mere love and includes a certain fear, which unites with
love, and causes a man to fear offending them more than he fears the
punishment. Just as there is fear in the honor we pay a sanctuary, and yet we do
not flee from it as from a punishment, but draw near to it all the more. Such a fear
mingled with love is the true honor; the other fear without any love is that which
we have toward things which we despise or flee from, as we fear the hangman or
punishment. There is no honor in that, for it is a fear without all love, nay, fear
that has with it hatred and enmity. Of this we have a proverb of St. Jerome: What
we fear, that we also hate. With such a fear God does not wish to be feared or
honored, nor to have us honor our parents; but with the first, which is mingled
with love and confidence.
II. This work appears easy, but few regard it aright. For where the parents are
truly pious and love their children not according to the flesh, but (as they ought)
instruct and direct them by words and works to serve God according to the first
three Commandments, there the child's own will is constantly broken, and it must
do, leave undone, and suffer what its nature would most gladly do otherwise; and
thereby it finds occasion to despise its parents, to murmur against them, or to do
worse things. There love and fear depart, unless they have God's grace. In like
manner, when they punish and chastise, as they ought (at times even unjustly,