The Fundamental Principles of Authority and Obedience

This is the third post in a series explaining Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles in the context of the Restored Gospel.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary, and fundamental…

“For it is indeed true that none of us has a right to exercise authority, in things great or small, except as we are, and acknowledge ourselves to be, deputed by the one supreme and ultimate Authority” (CM 3:7).

“First and infinitely the most important, is the habit of obedience. Indeed, obedience is the whole duty of the child, and for this reason––every other duty of the child is fulfilled as a matter of obedience to his parents. Not only so: obedience is the whole duty of man; obedience to conscience, to law, to Divine direction” (CM 1:161).

In the Church, we hear often about authority and obedience, but we might not consider them educational principles. Charlotte Mason believed them, however, to be indispensable to a proper understanding of education.

Gospel teachings clarify the idea of authority in home. Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained, “Being a father or a mother is not only a great challenge, it is a divine calling. It is an effort requiring consecration” (“The Greatest Challenge in the World—Good Parenting“, October 1990 General Conference). Furthermore, President David O. McKay stated that parenthood is “the greatest trust that has been given to human beings” (The Responsibility of Parents to Their Children, pamphlet, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, n.d., p. 1.). We learn from these quotes that parental authority is given by God to fathers and mothers.

Charlotte Mason agrees with the idea that parents have their authority from God Himself and teaches it in her writings. She says, “The foundation of parental authority lies in the fact that parents hold office as deputies […] they are the immediate and personally appointed deputies of the Almighty King, the sole Ruler of men; they have not only to fulfill his counsels regarding the children, but to represent his Person” (CM 2:14, emphasis mine).

She also explains that parents must not rule as if they are the ultimate authority, because God Himself holds that office: “The sense of must should be present with children; our mistake is to act in such a way that they, only, seem to be law-compelled while their elders do as they please. [… The parent] may not be arbitrary but must act so evidently as one under authority that the children, quick to discern, see that he too must do the things he ought; and therefore that regulations are not made for his convenience” (CM 6:73, bold mine). In other words, it would be helpful for parents to think of themselves not in authority, but under authority from God. Parents are God’s deputies in the home.

We read in D&C 121:39 “that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” Charlotte Mason warns that parents avoid this trap by remembering that their authority “is to be maintained and exercised solely for the advantage of the children, whether in mind, body, or spirit” (CM 2:16, emphasis mine).

Modern revelation has made exceedingly clear that one of the chief responsibilities of a parent is to teach a child obedience; however, in the Gospel context we are taught that this is to be done “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41); this principle will be more fully discussed alongside Ms. Mason’s fourth principle. Latter-day Saints reading Charlotte Mason’s volumes will be in familiar territory when they read, “It is the part of the teacher to secure willing obedience…” (CM 6:70, emphasis mine).

Elder James E. Faust similarly explains that “one of the most difficult parental challenges is to appropriately discipline children. […] Direction and discipline are, however, certainly an indispensable part of child rearing. […] Without discipline, children will not respect either the rules of the home or of society. A principal purpose for discipline is to teach obedience. (“The Greatest Challenge in the World—Good Parenting“, October 1990 General Conference, emphasis mine).

Here we must broach the topic of obedience: an often prickly topic in today’s independence-addicted world. But as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf so eloquently explained, “Obedience is the lifeblood of faith. It is by obedience that we gather light into our souls. […] We come to see obedience not as a punishment but as a liberating path to our divine destiny. And gradually, the corruption, dust, and limitations of this earth begin to fall away. Eventually, the priceless, eternal spirit of the heavenly being within us is revealed, and a radiance of goodness becomes our nature.” (“He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home”, April 2016 General Conference, emphasis mine).

As it is written in the Millennial Star article entitled “Obedience”, obedience in the family leads to healthy human society.

Disregard of law and authority under the parental roof, leads inevitably to utter disregard and contempt for all law, authority, and restraint. […] It is decidedly unfashionable for children now-a-days, except of very tender years, to submit to parental restraint; and instead of being a blessing and an honor to parents, children too often are almost a life-long source of trouble and anxiety; and home, instead of being, as it ought to be, the very commencement and foundation of an eternal heaven, is, alas! in innumerable instances a scene of discord and turmoil, and an embryotic hell. This spirit and disposition influencing the home circle, affects communities in a corresponding ratio, and here is the real and only source and foundation of that spirit of lawlessness and defiance now so general.

Among the Latter-day Saints, whose aim and whose mission is to restore true principle, and re-establish the order of heaven through all the ramifications of human affairs, respect for and obedience to all legitimate authority is the invariable rule. […] This line of policy commenced in the family circle, as it most assuredly has been, its happifying influences will gradually unfold and develop themselves, until the whole community will eventually reap the inestimable blessing and benefits arising from its full consummation. Thus will the principles of true government be established, legitimate authority be unmurmuringly and implicitly obeyed, until peace and concord become the rule, and finally the dreams of Prophets and poets will be realized in universal peace on earth and good will to men. (Millennial Star5 Apr. 1868, p. 257-8).

Perhaps even more important than leading to a happy, functional society, obedience to parents is where children first learn obedience to God Himself. A righteous earthly father should give a child his first conception of Heavenly Father; parental authority should teach him about Divine Authority. The Apostle Paul counseled, “let [children] learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God” (1 Timothy 5:4). Charlotte Mason elaborated that a child’s “parents are as God to the little child; and, yet more constraining thought, God is to him what his parents are; he has no power to conceive a greater and lovelier personality than that of the royal heads of his own home; he makes his first approach to the Infinite through them” (CM 2:14). Obedience turns us toward the Father.

Indeed, Charlotte Mason explains that the entire purpose of authority and obedience is to teach the child how to rule themselves, or to teach the child to make their own choices in obeying the commandments of God. “[..T]he authority of parents, though the deference it begets remains to grace the relations of parents and child, is itself a provisional function, and is only successful as it encourages the autonomy, if we may call it so, of the child (CM 2:17). “[… T]he child comes to his own; he makes use of the authority which is in him in its highest function as a self-commanding, self-compelling, power. It is delightful to use any power that is in us if only that of keeping up in cup and ball a hundred times as (to the delight of small nephews and nieces), Jane Austen did. But to make yourself attend, make yourself know, this indeed is to come into a king” (CM 6:76). Charlotte Mason believed it was necessary for children to learn to rule themselves because not only would it mean they would be successful in nearly any field of work they chose, but more importantly because becoming a disciple of God requires immense self-mastery.

Of course, Latter-day Saints know this. Self-mastery is a favorite object of discourse at General Conference. President James E. Faust taught, “In its simplest terms, self-mastery is doing those things we should do and not doing those things we should not do. It requires strength, willpower, and honesty. […] It is the ultimate test of our character. It requires climbing out of the deep valleys of our lives and scaling our own Mount Everests” (“The Power of Self-Mastery“, April 2000 General Conference).

Next, we’ll discuss the tools we can use to teach our children without overstepping our authority as deputies of Heavenly Father.

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Jenna DiltsJenna Dilts is a mother of three pre-school-aged children. Last year she led a discussion of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles on the AO forum. You can find her blogging at To Work Wonders, where she writes about the books she reads. She has aspirations to work through AO year 1 for herself.

2 thoughts to “The Fundamental Principles of Authority and Obedience”

  1. Oh my goodness…..i love this too! This i felt in my soul. Such a bold and painful reminder of my role as a mother, mentor, but more, a guide to the One who knows and loves them best. “The foundation of parental authority lies in the fact that parents hold office as deputies […] they are the immediate and personally appointed deputies of the Almighty King, the sole Ruler of men; they have not only to fulfill his counsels regarding the children, but to represent his Person” yes thank you again!

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