subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things?
Objection 1. It
seems that subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things.
For the Apostle says (Col. 3:20): "Children, obey your parents in all
things," and farther on (Col. 3:22): "Servants, obey in all things your
masters according to the flesh." Therefore in like manner other
subjects are bound to obey their superiors in all things.
Objection 2. Further, superiors stand between
God and their subjects, according to Dt. 5:5, "I was the mediator and
stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you His words."
Now there is no going from extreme to extreme, except through that
which stands between. Therefore the commands of a superior must be
esteemed the commands of God, wherefore the Apostle says (Gal. 4:14):
"You . . . received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus" and (1
Thess. 2:13): "When you had received of us the word of the hearing of
God, you received it, not as the word of men, but, as it is indeed, the
word of God." Therefore as man is bound to obey God in all things, so
is he bound to obey his superiors.
Objection 3. Further, just as religious in
making their profession take vows of chastity and poverty, so do they
also vow obedience. Now a religious is bound to observe chastity and
poverty in all things. Therefore he is also bound to obey in all
On the contrary, It is written (Acts 5:29): "We ought to obey God
rather than men." Now sometimes the things commanded by a superior are
against God. Therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things.
I answer that, As stated above (A1,4), he who obeys is moved at the
bidding of the person who commands him, by a certain necessity of
justice, even as a natural thing is moved through the power of its
mover by a natural necessity. That a natural thing be not moved by its
mover, may happen in two ways. First, on account of a hindrance arising
from the stronger power of some other mover; thus wood is not burnt by
fire if a stronger force of water intervene. Secondly, through lack of
order in the movable with regard to its mover, since, though it is
subject to the latter's action in one respect, yet it is not subject
thereto in every respect. Thus, a humor is sometimes subject to the
action of heat, as regards being heated, but not as regards being dried
up or consumed. On like manner there are two reasons, for which a
subject may not be bound to obey his superior in all things. First on
account of the command of a higher power. For as a gloss says on Rm.
13:2, "They that resist [Vulg.: 'He that resisteth'] the power, resist
the ordinance of God" (cf. St. Augustine, De Verb. Dom. viii).
"If a commissioner issue an order, are you to comply, if it is contrary
to the bidding of the proconsul? Again if the proconsul command one
thing, and the emperor another, will you hesitate, to disregard the
former and serve the latter? Therefore if the emperor commands one
thing and God another, you must disregard the former and obey God."
Secondly, a subject is not bound to obey his superior if the latter
command him to do something wherein he is not subject to him. For
Seneca says (De Beneficiis iii): "It is wrong to suppose that
slavery falls upon the whole man: for the better part of him is
excepted." His body is subjected and assigned to his master but his
soul is his own. Consequently in matters touching the internal movement
of the will man is not bound to obey his fellow-man, but God alone.
Nevertheless man is bound to obey his fellow-man in things that have to
be done externally by means of the body: and yet, since by nature all
men are equal, he is not bound to obey another man in matters touching
the nature of the body, for instance in those relating to the support
of his body or the begetting of his children. Wherefore servants are
not bound to obey their masters, nor children their parents, in the
question of contracting marriage or of remaining in the state of
virginity or the like. But in matters concerning the disposal of
actions and human affairs, a subject is bound to obey his superior
within the sphere of his authority; for instance a soldier must obey
his general in matters relating to war, a servant his master in matters
touching the execution of the duties of his service, a son his father
in matters relating to the conduct of his life and the care of the
household; and so forth.
Reply to Objection 1. When the Apostle says
"in all things," he refers to matters within the sphere of a father's
or master's authority.
Reply to Objection 2. Man is subject to God
simply as regards all things, both internal and external, wherefore he
is bound to obey Him in all things. On the other hand, inferiors are
not subject to their superiors in all things, but only in certain
things and in a particular way, in respect of which the superior stands
between God and his subjects, whereas in respect of other matters the
subject is immediately under God, by Whom he is taught either by the
natural or by the written law.
Reply to Objection 3. Religious profess
obedience as to the regular mode of life, in respect of which they are
subject to their superiors: wherefore they are bound to obey in those
matters only which may belong to the regular mode of life, and this
obedience suffices for salvation. If they be willing to obey even in
other matters, this will belong to the superabundance of perfection;
provided, however, such things be not contrary to God or to the rule
they profess, for obedience in this case would be unlawful.
Accordingly we may distinguish a threefold obedience; one, sufficient
for salvation, and consisting in obeying when one is bound to obey:
secondly, perfect obedience, which obeys in all things lawful: thirdly,
indiscreet obedience, which obeys even in matters unlawful.