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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT: "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest
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"Honor thy father and thy mother." Among all the Commandments, this one

only has the additional words: "that thou mayest be long-lived upon the

land." The reason for this is lest it be thought that there is no reward

for those who honor their parents, seeing that it is a natural obligation.

Hence it must be known that five most desirable rewards are promised those

who honor their parents.


Grace and Glory. - The first reward is grace for the present life, and glory

in the life to come, which surely are greatly to be desired: "Honor thy

father . . . that a blessing may come upon thee from God, and His blessing

may remain in the latter end."19 The very opposite comes upon those who

dishonor their parents; indeed, they are cursed in the law by God.20 It is

also written: "He that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in

that which is greater."21 But this our natural life is as nothing compared

with the life of grace. And so, therefore, if you do not acknowledge the

blessing of the natural life which you owe to your parents, then you are

unworthy of the life of grace, which is greater, and all the more so for

the life of glory, which is the greatest of all blessings.


A Long Life. - The second reward is a long life: "That thou mayest be long-

lived upon the land." For "he that honoreth his father shall enjoy a long

life."22 Now, that is a long life which is a full life, and it is not

observed in time but in activity, as the Philosopher observes. Life,

however, is full inasmuch as it is a life of virtue; so a man who is

virtuous and holy enjoys a long life even if in body he dies young: "Being

perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time; for his soul pleased

God."23 Thus, for example, he is a good merchant who does as much business

in one day as another would do in a year. And note well that it sometimes

happens that a long life may lead up to a spiritual as well as a bodily

death, as was the case with Judas. Therefore, the reward for keeping this

Commandment is a long life for the body. But the very opposite, namely,

death is the fate of those who dishonor their parents. We receive our life

from them; and just as the soldiers owe fealty to the king, and lose their

rights in case of any treachery, so also they who dishonor their parents

deserve to forfeit their lives: "The eye that mocketh at his father and

that despiseth the labor of his mother in bearing him, let the ravens pick

it out, and the young eagles eat it."24 Here "the ravens" signify officials

of kings and princes, who in turn are the "young eagles." But if it happens

that such are not bodily punished, they nevertheless cannot escape death of

the soul. It is not well, therefore, for a father to give too much power to

his children: "Give not to son or wife, brother or friend, power over thee

while thou livest; and give not thy estate to another, lest thou repent."25


The third reward is to have in turn grateful and pleasing children. For a

father naturally treasures his children, but the contrary is not always the

case: "He that honoreth his father shall have joy in his own children."26

Again: "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again."27

The fourth reward is a praiseworthy reputation: "For the glory of a man is

from the honor of his father."28 And again: "Of what an evil fame is he

that forsaketh his father?"29 A fifth reward is riches: "The father's

blessing establisheth the houses of his children, but the mother's curse

rooteth up the foundation."30


19. Ecclus., iii. 9-10.


20. Deut., xxvii. 16.


21. Luke, xvi. 10.


22. Ecclus., iii. 7.


23. Wis., iv. 13.


24. Prov., xxx. 17.


25. Ecclus., xxxiii. 20.


26. "Ibid.," iii. 6.


27. Matt., vii. 2.


28. Ecclus., iii. 13.


29. "Ibid.," 18.


30. "Ibid.," 11.


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