Obedience in practice


What I want to know is, what are your (Catholicly sound) opinions on how we are to practice obedience in our own lives. I have a few specific examples I’ve been wrestling with myself and would be interested in getting some opinions on.

To begin with my mother in law, has always been a big proponent of obedience to one’s parents, even to what some like my wife and I would call tyranny. (E.g. picking Ellen (my wife) up from college (before we met and were married) under false pretenses and essentially kidnapping her by driving straight home (3 hours) because her and her husband did not want her dating a boy at school. (that boy was not me) . Although she did on the day of our wedding go to the priest whose parish we were having our reception in, voiced her opinion on how deeply against our marriage she was at that particular time (i.e. we need to wait longer). While Ellen and I have put this all behind us, I do wonder how much obedience we do, and Ellen owes to her.

In spite of these instances and others, her argument for it is very coherent and seems doctrinally sound, but there’s something about it that I just don’t like and perhaps that’s nothing more than the pride in me which doesn’t want to have to submit to other people’s stupid decisions.

Here’s the argument: As a Catholic we should always submit our will to someone else, in doing so we ensure that our will conforms with God’s. An example would be: a child submits to his mothers will, God commands children to obey their parents, thus the child is performing God’s will. For the most part I think this base argument is absolutely correct, but then we move into the grey area. She believes the mantra of Satan is “I will not serve” and it makes sense, but it also implies that rebellion against any legitimate authority is making ones will identical with Satan’s, an implication I’m not sure I’m ready to accept. So here’s the nitty gritty, I have a number of problems with these implications.

First, she believes that even after marriage, one should continue to submit their will to their parent’s. I tend to disagree, although I understand perhaps the importance of having someone over you, which can guide you. Still the question remains do we owe our parents obedience even after we’re married? Now don’t go quoting me about how the man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife, I understand that part, but even after we have cleaved, we still owe obedience to authority, and our parents are older and (apparently) wiser.

I should also say that her other argument is that we can do no evil if we are acting in obedience as long as it does not go against our conscience or require us to commit a sin. It makes sense, yet I hate to concede the idea that I should perform an action which to my knowledge is stupid/wasteful or whatever in order to be obedient, but then perhaps that is what saints are made of right?

Finally I wanted to know what you all thought of a wife’s obedience to her husband should be in practice, obviously if her husband asks her to do something in obedience she would be required to do so, but how much farther should that extend? Would it only be in circumstances where the husband specifically asks her in obedience to perform a task? For example would it be unreasonable for the husband to demand that the wife not worry about finances and leave it up to him? (perhaps you can guess what we argue about)

For me the biggest argument against this particular obedience is the gift of reason and logic that God has given us, and that parents should be preparing their children to be independent and make good decisions on their own. I understand the humility required to submit your will to another persons, but should we live our lives in constant submission to others, or is a life in submission to the Church enough?

Finally, I also understand the importance of obedience and I know that the Church would be far more glorious if priests, lay people, religious orders, and just about everybody had been obedient to begin with, the protestant movement is a shining example of the fruits of disobedience. So what do you think?


I’m not sure where you are getting this “doctrine of obedience” from. Blind obedience is never called for without a corresponding reason, and that reason has to be based on something itself reasonable. Consider the religious who take vows of obedience; those vows are not for nothing, made out of some obligation to obey “just because.” They are made out of some sense of certainty that living inside those vows will lead them to more holy lives and let them grow closer to God.

The duty we have is to honor our parents. That does entail some degree of obedience, but that degree changes as we grow older and take on more responsibilities in our lives, like marriage and raising children. When you are 10 yrs old, you might have to dry the dishes at home. No one would reasonably expect that tasking to carry on forever.

It is easy for someone to turn obedience into tyranny, so it falls on our ability to discern what is meeting our obligations and what is not. If you have an obligation to your wife and children, that sometimes does conflict with obligations to our parents, and we are left in the unenviable position to resolve them as best we can. But don’t be fooled into thinking that simply acting in a way that preserves the most peace is acting in a way that is the “most right.” Sometimes it is not.

There are controlling people in the world, people who will use guilt like a club and appeal to whatever motivates another to get their wants accomplished. There are others who act similarly, but do it out of a genuine love, a genuine concern for others. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference at first, but it reveals itself eventually.

Yes, you do have to use your judgment and that often includes having access to facts or information others don’t know and don’t need to know. However you respond, if you do it lovingly, there may be disappointment but the one who is genuinely concerned will not condemn you for it. It’s never easy.


Although adult children must love and respect their parents, you no longer owe them any obedience when you are an adult - especially a married adult: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” from Genesis 2:20-24.

You are your own family now, and your allegiance is to your wife.

As to “obedience” regarding the husband/wife relationship, you must keep in mind that you are each to “submit” to the other, as in the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. You two are equals, and certainly should both share in major decisions regarding your family, finances, etc. If you think that the Catholic view of marriage means that you get to have your way all the time because you’re the man, then you’ve misunderstood, and are in for big trouble!

While the husband is the head of the family, as Christ is the head of the Church, you will note that the Catholic wedding vows do NOT include the “obey” part. Also, in a Catholic wedding, no one “gives away” the bride, as in “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” You each give yourselves to each other.

Here is a link to Pope John Paul II’s feelilngs on the subject; it’s about the best summation of the Christian husband/wife relationship I’ve read.


Thankfully there are easy answers here

CCC 2217 authoritatively teaches that obedience to parents *ceases *upon the children’s emancipation (although honor, aside from obedience, is always required)

As to relations between husband and wife; it is **not **true that they both submit to each other (that would not only be against our Faith, but it also flies in the face of simple logic. Two autonomous individuals cannot submit to each other). Rather, they both *subject *themselves to one another. This mutual subjection takes a different form for the man and for the woman. For the woman, it takes the form of submission. For the man, it takes the form of his laying down his life.


IMO, a married man as a married man has no need for obedience to parents but a son does have to obey his parents in things which a son normally obeys his parents. So materially speaking a married man does have to obey his parents, but not in those things which are so intimately tied up with his particular wife and offspring.


Why does a person not owe obedience after emancipation? It seems that the same reason which causes obedience ( that the parents birthed you and are better than you as a cause is better than its effect) continues even after you are older or are emancipated?


Well it’s a bit of a tautology. Just look at what the word “emancipation” means.

First and foremost, that’s what our Church authoritatively teaches, which I think is sufficient to answer the original poster.

But if you’d like to dig deeper, you can. Children owe parents obedience* because they are children*. Parents are not the *cause *of their children (God alone is the cause of the creation of the new person in the womb of his mother), and they are not *better *than their children.


Well the parents are certainly a cause of the children since if they didn’t do anything then the children would never come to be. Sure God provides the most important part but a person is a material thing too and this part must be provided by the parents. So the parents are a type of efficient cause.


Parents are at best the instrumental efficient cause, but certainly not the principal efficient cause; and the former is entirely insufficient in the application of the tenet "a cause is greater than its effect." Was Mary greater than Jesus? Of course not!

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