The Dignity of a Father

ST. PAUL tells us that of our Father in heaven “all paternity in heaven and earth is named” (Eph iii. is). God is the Author of life, the Source of all fertility. In Him alone is the inexhaustible fount, out of whose fulness all being flows, both in heaven, where life eternal proceeds from Him, and on earth, where He breathes into the children of men the breath of life. The earthly parent is the instrument our heavenly Father chooses to make use of in order to give being to the child and to preserve its life; he is His representative, in His name he rules his children; on account of the authority he exercises in the family-circle, and the respect due to him, he is an earthly image of the august Ruler of the universe.

Before we can form a just idea of the dignity wherewith it is the will of God to invest the earthly father, we must consider the exalted position He originally assigned to him, and in which, after the fall, He reinstated him. What, it may be asked, would have been the position of the head of the family but for the fall ? The bliss of Paradise, for which God destined man, and of which sin deprived him,  is so far beyond our comprehension that we can only form a faint conception of it by means of the scanty information respecting it to be gleaned from divine revelation. Were it not for sin we should not have the sorrow­ful consequences of sin; evil concupis­cences, the manifold sufferings and infirmities of body and soul, death and corruption. Adam’s posterity would have been born into the same state on which he entered at his creation. How fair, how elevated, how delightful would family life have been in all the relations between father and child, it is impossible for those to imagine who have only the unlovely realities actu­ally before them to judge by. We can form no conception of the ideal of manly nobility, of the strength, the dignity, the sanctity, the affection, of a father on whom sin had not left its baneful mark, any more than we can depict to ourselves the felicity of a family in which there were no rebel­lious children, but angels in human shape; where troubles, cares, sickness, separation by death, were unknown where innocence and virtue, peace and joy, mutual charity, alone reigned. Exalted and blessed indeed would be the position of the head of such a household and each succeeding generation would but enhance the happi­ness of the founder of the race.

This blissful prospect, set before our first parents, was dependent on the condition that they should not abuse their liberty. All the glory of this enviable existence was extin­guished at the fall; with the loss of innocence happiness likewise vanished; the gates of Eden were closed against the human race, and the earth, weighted with a heavy curse, drew its rough pall over the grave of man’s de­parted bliss. Adam became the un­happy progenitor of an unhappy race, to whom he bequeathed, as an heir­loom, sin and its fatal consequences. The sentence passed upon Adam was handed on to his sons, who in their  turn became fathers. But like a fair fruit-tree, which having run wild only produces worthless and sour fruit, pa­ternity lost its true character. The farther the heathen nations wandered from the true God, the more the earthly image of the heavenly Father lost the resemblance to its divine original. It is a remarkable fact that among the pagans one of the most prominent characteristics of a father, paternal affection, was thrust more and more into the background, until by the greater number of nations the father was degraded to the level of a cruel despot, or, one might rather say, of a ferocious brute. Even the more civilized peoples of antiquity accorded to the father the right to dispose at pleasure of the life of his child.

When Christianity came on the scene it was like the rising of the sun after a long, miserable night, diffusing new light and new life in its beams. This new light shed its kindly ray on family life. Father, mother, and child were invested with a new and higher dignity, when it was generally recognized that man is made after God’s image, and is an heir of the kingdom of heaven. Paternity in the natural order, which from the days of Adam’s degenerate posterity had lost more and more its primeval character, was sanc­tified anew and raised to a place in the order of grace by the sacrament of marriage. By the supernatural life of which Christ, the new Adam, is the source, it is vivified and elevated, and empowered to give birth to a race who are born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John i. 13). And the first beginning of this new kingdom of God is found in the Holy Family of Nazareth, the pattern of all Christian families.

The sanctification of the family was one of the principal tasks which Chris­tianity had to accomplish. From the very outset it was the Church’s mission to infuse a fresh spirit, fresh life, into the Christian family, and inspire the hearts of parents with such generous courage, such steadfast faith, as to raise up generation after generation of holy children of the Church, who proved themselves worthy followers of the early Fathers, not only by their virtuous lives, but by shedding their blood as martyrs for the faith.

Thus paternity is hallowed by the religion of Christ, and its original dignity is restored to it. Whatever the imperfections that cling to the Chris­tian father, the name of father is ennobled for all time. Of all the titles that a man may have, none has so sweet a sound as that of father, whether he who bears it be king or peasant. Does a loyal people desire to show their respect and affection for their kingly ruler?—they call him the father of his people; and one who succors them in the time of distress receives the appellation of the father of his country. The great theologians who defended the doctrines of holy Church against those who opposed and assailed them are known as the Fath­ers of the Church; and the Church’s visible head, the vicegerent of God upon earth, is universally called the Holy Father. And when we kneel in prayer before the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, we are taught by His only-begotten Son to address Him as Our Father.

It follows as a matter of course that those who can claim as their own the honorable appellation of father ought not to be the last to estimate it at its true worth. It behooves them to make it respected by their conscientious fulfillment of duty, by their virtuous manner of life. Modern paganism is already at work endeavoring to de­molish the dignity of the Christian father, to undermine the respect due to him as such. The only means whereby in our own day the head of a family can hope to make his children pay him the respect and reverence due to his position, is by himself attach­ing value to it, by holding it in high esteem from a Christian point of view.

May God bless all fathers on Father’s Day!

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