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Conferences on the Virtues

By Fr. Bruno Cocuzzi, ocd


Number 84




Next in this Section on the virtues affiliated with Justice is the virtue of Observance.


Observance is the virtue which inclines us habitually to render due honor and respect to those individuals in our midst who are invested with the dignity that goes with being in a position of authority.  Because of the authority they enjoy, such persons are considered superior to the rest of us.


The authority to command and govern in society confers upon superiors a status of excellence over those subject to them.  This requires that the subjects acknowledge the fact by manifesting toward their superiors an attitude of respect.  In addition, an attitude of reverential fear is owed to the superiors, in view of the power to coerce that is part and parcel of their authority in society.


Another source of the debt of honor and respect owed to superiors is the burden of responsibility which superiors assume when they take office.  It is one way of repaying them for assuming those burdens, and manifesting appreciation for the benefits that accrue to society in having a superior who leads, governs and takes the heat.


It is possible, also, to speak of a certain reverence owed to those who, although not actually holding a position of authority, are nevertheless superior to the general run of folks in their society because they possess the knowledge and the skills that are required in the role of governing a society.  The habit that inclines us to pay them this honor as a way of acknowledging their superior qualities is considered a subdivision of the virtue of observance.  Rather, the virtue of observance is divided into two kinds of species:  Dulia and Obedience.


The author of my textbook states that the Virtue of Religion, by means of which we render due honor to God, is much more excellent than the virtue of Piety, by means of which we render due honor to our Country and to our Family.  After all Who is like unto God?  Similarly Piety is more excellent than the Virtue of Observance, because those who govern our Country or our Family receive their dignity from the Country and the Family they represent.


Furthermore, the duty to give honor and respect to heads of societies to which we belong is a matter of strict legal obligation.  But because we can never, as individuals, render the entire honor collectively due to our superiors, the virtue of observance does not become an expression of Legal Justice, but is a virtue affiliated with it.


The honor and reverence due to heads of societies to which we do not belong is not a matter of legal obligation, but is rather a moral duty.


Question 2 – Concerning Dulia…


Dulia (doo-LEE-uh – accent on LEE) is the name given to any sign of honor and reverence paid to another in recognition of the excellence of that person.  Because there are different kinds of excellence that go with various classes of persons, such as saints, kings, other leaders, gifted artists, teachers, etc., it is possible to speak of sacred dulia and civil dulia, or, natural and supernatural dulia.  Neither is it necessary that the ones honored surpass in every way those who render the honor.  It suffices that at least in one respect the former surpass the latter.  Thus it is that a Head of State can render due honor to a gifted artist in our midst.  Even our Holy Father, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth, owes due honor and respect to the Saints.


Inasmuch as they are friends and intimates of God in heavenly bliss, the virtues and the merits of the Saints confer on them a supernatural excellence.  In addition, their degree of Charity causes them willingly and spontaneously to intercede for us still struggling on earth.  On both counts then, we owe them the devotion of supernatural [sacred] dulia.


Here are comments made by the author of my textbook concerning the practice of the virtue of Dulia:


            Public [and collective] dulia is lawfully given only to those persons who are


(1)   Solemnly declared Saints

(2)   Considered Saints by common consent

(3)   Recognized as Saints from time immemorial


By the Universal Church.


Dulia (public and collective) is lawfully given to the [declared] Blesseds only by those persons (members of an Order or Congregation) and places (particular countries or dioceses) to whom it is granted by a special concession on the part of the Roman Pontiffs.


Privately, Dulia can lawfully be rendered by anyone of the Faithful to someone declared a Servant of God or Venerable by the Holy See, since these are either martyrs, or they have earned a reputation for sanctity among sober, practicing Catholics.  This reverence can even be rendered to baptized children who die in infancy.  (We have the example of St. Therese of the Child Jesus obtaining a significant favor from God through the intercession of her two brothers and two sisters who had died as babies or as very young children.


What is said above concerning Dulia can also be said of relics and images (pictures or statues) of Saints, Blesseds, Venerables and servants of God, respectively.  That is, for the first two categories, relics and images may be placed upon altars in Churches and Chapels for veneration, votive candles may be lit to burn before them, and they may be offered to the faithful in Church or Chapels to be kissed.  The same does not hold for those of Venerables and Servants of God.  Privately, however, veneration may be shown to images and relics of the latter by carrying them on one’s person, kissing them, and touching them to the bodies of the sick while praying for a healing.


Question 3 – Obedience…


In general we are said to be obedient whenever we perform a good and virtuous act which is required of us, as baptized Christians and followers of Christ, by the very circumstances in which we find ourselves.  This is so because our Heavenly Father ordinarily reveals His Will for us, that is, what He expects of us from moment to moment, in this way.


The Virtue of Obedience, however, is the habitual disposition of soul that inclines us willingly to carry out the command of a superior for the precise reason that doing so is good and in accordance with God’s Will.  It tends to perfect us as human beings because it pertains to our human nature that we live in society and that we cooperate with those in authority charged with coordinating the activities of the individual members of society for the common good.


As a moral virtue, Obedience may be considered from the point of view of the person to whom it is directed, and in this respect it is less noble than the virtue of Religion, which is directed to God, our supreme Lord. Considered from the point of view of what we sacrifice in being obedient (in order to remain united to God in love), it is the greatest of all the moral virtues.  In choosing to obey we sacrifice the greatest good of our humanity, our own personal will.  To practice the other virtues requires the sacrifice of lesser personal goods, those of the body and of the faculties of the soul less noble than the will.


To Whom must we render Obedience, and in regard to what?…


First, we owe obedience to God, the Supreme Lord of all, in all things.


Second, we owe obedience to our human [ecclesiastical and civil] superiors, but not in regard to all things.  Obedience does not require that we agree with the directives of our human superiors, nor does the superior have authority over purely personal matters of their subjects.  The authority of the superior is restricted to only those external activities and conduct of their subjects that affect the peace and good order of the entire community.


As a rule of thumb:  We must obey in all things that do not conflict with the commandments of God, nor which conflict with the directives of a human superior higher than the immediate superior.  When doubt arises as to whether the superior is acting within his authority, a diligent good-faith effort must be made to resolve the doubt.  If that effort does not succeed, the subject is obliged to obey.


Because the common good of the Church, the State, the Family and any other society to which a person may belong is so utterly dependent upon the mutual, coordinated efforts of all the members thereof, the obligation to obey superiors is by its nature very serious.


In addition to being a virtue in its own right, obedience frequently becomes an act of one of the virtues we’ve already discussed, such as Religion, Piety and Observance, because acts of obedience are most often accompanied by sentiments of reverence, honor and respect for the superior in question:  God, our parents and the Heads of Society.


For a subject to carry out the directives of a superior only because he is afraid of the punishment that would otherwise be meted out to him by the superior does not qualify to make the act of compliance an act of obedience.  The most it does is to keep the subject from committing a sin of disobedience.  However, this salutary fear often becomes the source of a change of attitude.  This is particularly true with regard to the Ten Commandments.


Some of you may have heard of the expression, the Purgative Way, the first of three consecutive Ways leading to holiness of Life.  As a sinner continues to force himself to do God’s Will for fear of eternal punishment, gradually the eye of his soul is purified, as are his natural spontaneous desires.  That is, the disorderliness of his appetites is overcome.  When that phase is complete, he enters the Illuminative Way, which consists in forcing Himself to imitate the example of Christ.  During this phase the reformed sinner gradually takes on the mind of Christ.  Finally, when he is able to evaluate and esteem all things as Jesus Himself did, he enters upon the Unitive Way, by means of which He lives in habitual Communion with God in Love. 







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