-Lecture Notes of Fr. Ted Cirone cmf

Introduction (pp. 221-223)

A. Type of obedience discussed in this Chapter:

  • Not obedience of citizens to civil laws.
  • Not just obedience to God’s will as preached by Christ in Gospels (common vocation of all disciples of Jesus)
  • Not just acceptance of Church’s authority. (valid for all Christians)

Yes: -obedience to which religious have committed themselves from 6th century on, at moment of incorporation into community.

B. Tentative definitions of “Religious Obedience”:


  1. a)”Submission, freely-chosen as a distinctive trait of a certain type of Christian existence, to a human authority which, as such, is not part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, although it has an ecclesiastical significance.”
  2. b)Vatican II; “By their profession of obedience, religious offer the full dedication of their own wills as a sacrifice of themselves to God… Moved by the Holy Spirit (they) subject themselves in faith to those who hold God’s place, their superiors. Through them they are led to serve all their brothers (and sisters) in Christ….” (PC 14)

C. Useless to seek a New Testament basis for this kind of obedience


Common to all Christian: obedience:

  • to will of God
  • of disciples to Christ
  • submission to Church ministers (same texts)

No text advocates freely chosen submission to a human authority as a possible form of Christian existence. Some have mistakenly tried to base religious obedience:

  1. a.on Christ child’s submission to his parents, on Christ’s (sometime) respect to civil or religious authority (normal attitude of child or citizen, etc.)
  2. b.on Luke 10:16: “Anyone who listens to you listens to me, and anyone who despises you despises me.” used by “Rule of the Master” etc. Means accepting Church in faith.

D. Procedure of this Chapter:        

I. History of Religious Obedience

II. Theological reflections, based on Scripture 8 History.   *

III. Summary: Theological Reflection, Efforts Toward a Solution (pp. 238-253)


1. At the Source: Christ’s Obedience to the Father

A. Vatican II directs religious to return to Christ and Gospel.

Religious Life is a “following of Christ”.

B. Christ’s life is inspired by a filial union with will of Father.

  • Mt. 6:10: “Your will be done.” (Our Father)
  • Mt. 26:39: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” (Gethsemane)
  • Jn.: Jesus constantly refers to “will of the One who sent me”.
  • Jn.: 8:29,55: “I always do what pleases Him.”
  • Jn. 4:34: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.
  • ” Rm. 5:19 contrasts Adam’s disobedience & Christ’s obedience.
  • Ph. 2:6-8: “He emptied himself…death on a cross.”    
  • Jesus listens to Father’s words: Jn. 8:47.
  • Heb. 5:8: “He learned to obey through suffering.”
  • Heb. 10:5-7: “You…wanted no sacrifice…Here I am! I am coming to obey your will.”.

C. The will of the Father to which Christ submits is

that Christ should bring salvation to all humanity by means of his ministry which culminates in his death. Cf. Jn. 6:39-40; Mt. 18:14.

The will of God is concentrated in love. Great commandment of love. “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.”

2. The Obedience of the Disciple


A. Gospel preaching of Christ’s obedience was intended to show a prototype for disciples. Jesus himself makes this clear: Mk. 3:35: “Anyone who does the will of my Father, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” Disciples united to Christ by communion with will of Father.

B. Meaning of obedience for Jesus & disciples changes in part:

  1. a)For Jesus: accept will of God who wants everyone to be saved, and accept his own mission, the means of-that salvation.
  2. b)For disciple:   Submitting:

to the faith: Acts. 6:”7.

to the Word: 2Th. 3:14.

to the Gospel: see many citations on p. 240.

The salvific will of’ God, revealed in Jesus,”‘ reaches the disciples through the preaching of the Gospel, accepted in faith.

C. Call narratives are models for post-resurrection Christians

  1. a)Christ takes initiative; disciple follows promptly. (p. 241)
  2. b)obedience to vocation, accept good news of salvation in faith.

D. Obedience-faith & obedience-following are common to all Christians,

not just a particular counsel.

E. Will of God is followed not just by accepting the Gospel, but by living the Gospel. Mt. Sermon on Mount is New Law, etc.

F. Particular missions also come from God & must be accepted in humble obedience. Cf. Paul. I.Co.1:1; 2Co. 1:1.

G. In NT obedience to human beings is placed on a lower level.

Word “submission” used, not obedience: social & civil order: obedience of children, wives, servants, etc. See p. 242.

H. “In the light of the New Testament all Christian life appears as the consequence of obedience to the will of God manifested in Christ Jesus; a will of universal salvation. . By accepting this Gospel, not once but continually, we are saved. In obedience to the Gospel of salvation we will have to keep all sin far from ourselves. There is therefore throughout life a search for the divine will which is essential to every Christian life. It is not a matter of seeking the details of a written law. The Christian’s law is the Spirit.” Lozano, p. 242.

I. Divine will & obedience are not oppressive but deeply liberating. What God wants is the life & fullness of the human being. By entering into communion with the salvific will, humanity is fulfilled, in spite of, or because of, the sacrifices which fidelity to the divine will may entail. Christ’s-death followed by resurrection. Sacrifices- lead to salvation.

J. There is a mutual submission of Christians which is for charity S peace in the Church.

“Give way to one another in obedience to Christ.” (Ep. 5:21) K. Nowhere in NT is there an ascetical concept of obedience or renouncement of freedom as a value in itself.

Goods are to be renounced only for a greater good: Salvific will of God, mission, Gospel, peace…

L. Nor is there in NT any “counsel” of obedience to a human being in a specifically Christian way, as a special lifestyle such as the religious life.

3. Obedience to One’s Vocation

A. Since the beginning of monasticism, Christians have embraced religious life in obedience to a divine call. RL is born from an act of obedience to God assigning a mission within the Church. Arsenius is typical: “How shall I be saved?”

B. Answer came:         .

directly from conscience: Arsenius & others.

Listening to or reading Gospel: Anthony & many others.

C. Subsequently all RL presented itself as a search for the divine will

  1. a)Initially Scripture is the only Rule: Lord’s precept.
  2. b)Even when a Rule is written, Gospel remains primary. Basil’s Rule is like a catechism of the Scripture.

D. Among anchorites contact with Scriptures as rule of life was direct. Bible, read or memorized, was the only companion in solitude. A true monk was supposed to be able to discern and carry out

the will of God alone.

E. Eventual human mediation was usually only temporary.

            Anthony dismissing Paul: “Now you are a monk: go into solitude to be tempted by the devil.”      Pachomius: “Either listen yourself or submit to one who listens.”

F. Obedience to a doctrine or human person as intermediaries of divine will was not an essential element of primitive monasticism. Nowhere is it listed as a trait in numerous descriptions.

G. Does not mean mature monks did not sometimes consult Fathers especially endowed with doctrine & spiritual experience.

“Dic mihi verbum!”: basis of Apophthegmate (“Sayings”). Occasionally met in groups to listen to prestigious Father. Sometimes “Father” became centre of a colony. But always free, diversified.

H. Obedience to a divine call and continual search for divine will is not exclusive to the RL, but should be essential in every Christian life.

  1. oCf. all that has been said on discipleship, on the various charisms and gifts (e.g., I Co.7:7), how it is wrong to limit the idea of “vocation” only to sacred orders or religious life and not to marriage or single life.

I. Only the Lord can give a vocation.

No human mediation can impose a vocation.

No one in the Church has the authority to impose a vocation”.

Christians can and should make use of one another’s counsel. Yet there is no such thing as obedience to human authority in regard to one’s choice of a state of life. It should be a choice between the individual and God, within a relationship of faith and love.

4. Cenobitical Obedience, a Mystery of Communion


A. We still are faced with the question:-what is the origin of religious obedience?

B. So far we have excluded the following as possible answers:

  1. a)New Testament: no obedience to human mediation. Not same as common obedience to parents, society, etc.
  2. b)Example of Christ’s search to do the.will of God. Common to all disciples. Christ’s unique circumstances; no sin, conversion….

     Rahner: Christ was “neither a religious subject to a superior, nor a member of the Church

     subject to a hierarchy.”

  1. c)self denial or renunciation as such: not in NT.
  2. d)Primitive monasticism: non-existent or not important.

C. True response found in history. Obedience began to appear with the growing need for fraternal communion among anchorites and semi-anchorites, and manifested itself fully in the first communities of religious. Over the course of history the obedience of religious appears as an important aspect of their “life-in-communion”.

“Copernican revolution” from complete solitude to community. Cf. Pachomius, Basil, Augustine, etc. above: “one heart”.

D. Basil’s reasons for community (vs. solitude) are significant:

   Community is an excellent means to discover will of God’.

   Mutual help and criticism, possibility for charity, etc.

Common vocation and common effort to search together and to find and fulfil the divine will.

E. Religious obedience consists, first of all, in this common search for the divine will as it pertains to the group & the individuals who comprise it.

Augustine: communion of wills and common search for God’s will. Obedience means finding God’s will in communion with others. Mediation/communion:

Listen together to Scriptures

Dialogue in community, chapters


Sharing, of gifts and charisms

E. Therefore religious obedience is faith & charity.

  1. a)Faith: consists essentially in listening to Gospel.
  2. b)Charity: listening is done in communion with others. Two separate traditions can thus be united

Faith: Originated in desert monasticism & culminated in Benedict.

Charity: Basil, Augustine, Francis, etc.

Communion in faith & love is the element uniting both the traditions.

5. Religious Obedience as Faith 8 as Charity


A. Faith

1. Community is group that listens & seeks the will of God Should examine fidelity to mission & requirements in different times & circumstances. Measures itself through various means by which God speaks:

  • Gospel as primary
  • .Rules, & Constitutions:
  1. oexpress own charism & spirit “
  2. o” approved by Church: therefore:

          fidelity to Spirit that inspired Founder.

          fidelity to Spouse of Christ.

  1. oSigns of the times.

2. Accepting Gospel as salvific will of God requires listening & accepting in faith. More passive.

3. Decisions on particular events of life require more active attitude & active cooperation.

            Listen to Word: Scripture, preaching, Church, signs of times.

                        Docile to insights & enlightenment of Spirit.

            Actively cooperate with God in discernment: e.g., observe, judge, act…

                        Ignatian rules/processes of discernment, etc.

B. Charity:

1. In line of Pachomius, Basil, Augustine.

On level of obedience to decisions, not doctrine.

Obedience of minimum of community discipline necessary for any group of persons to live together

Most modern Constitutions: obedience to accept assignment of community, ministry, etc.

2. Beyond the functional, sociological role is a religious one:

  • Obedience is at the service of mutual charity.
  • Harmony of hearts: Model of Acts.
  • Great double commandment of charity.

3. Cooperation with ministry of Church:

Ministry is confided to the individual by the community. It should therefore be chosen together with the community & with those who are responsible for it.

6. Obedience, Communion & Authority

A. Religious authority does not exist for individuals until they take upon themselves the commitment of obedience.

B. Why make such a commitment?

  • Common search for divine will: obedience as seeking.
  • Culminates in personal commitment to personal fulfilment of divine will: obedience as actualization. On this level mediation of authority enters. Sociological, but religious context.

C. Mediation is not automatic; It would then be idolatrous..

  1. oNot like Roman Emperor, totalitarian ruler, etc.

D. One cannot shrug off personal responsibility for decisions.

  1. oIndividual’s rights to be a conscientious objector.
  2. oRole of personal well-informed conscience in moral theology. E. But coniminity helps; we can seek God’s will together.

F. Two traditions or ways

  1. a)Spiritual direction model: Monasticism.
  2. b)Group or community model: Basil, Augustine, etc.

G. By accepting the final decision:

  1. oone reaffirms one’s membership in the community. Rejection, wounds or weakens is, to some extent, part of it.

H. One’s own judgment, though possibly more correct in theory, is to be sacrificed in favour of communion, unless there are serious objections of conscience

  1. oThe important thing for a mature person is not always to be right, but to be able to live with other people’s opinions.

I. Religious authority is always a community reality.

  1. oTheologically its source always derives from community. Theologically irrelevant if authority is in fact exercised through an individual or the community.
  2. oIndividual authority, in fact, originates within the community & acts in itsas its instrument.
  3. oCanon Law distinguishes collegial & personal authority, in a great variety of forms (chapters, etc.) often influenced by civil models.

7. Obedience, a Sign and a Service


1. Religious community must make its decisions within context of the ecclesial community.          .

2. Religious obedience is a service to the people of God, as a sign of what every individual & group must do: i.e., listen, search the Will of God.

3. Religious obedience is also the cause of many (apostolic) services to people and to the Church.

4. Religious obedience means renouncing one’s own will not for itself, but for the Kingdom, to die to self, in imitation of Christ.

5. This is the same for authority (superiors, etc.). Authority is a ministry, a service. Basil quotes Ph.2:8; “He emptied himself…”.

(For a detailed presentation of Obedience, read Our project of Missionary Life, commentary to constitutions, pp. 391-444)