Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Duties of Relatives

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
Duties of Relatives

by Joseph Francis Delany


The general precept of charity obliging us to love our neighbour as ourselves is of course applicable to our relatives. The tie of kinship, particularly in the nearer degrees, confers upon the command a special emphasis. Thus, there is established an order of preference in favour of relatives in the observance of the law. St. Thomas teaches that the strength of the affection we have for another is contingent upon the intimacy of the bonds that unite us. No set of relations antedates that of the family, nor is there any more lasting. Ordinarily, therefore, we are to love those of our own kindred more than mere friends, and that notwithstanding whatever excellences these latter may happen to possess. This is true not only of natural affection, but also of the supernatural act of charity. Theologians have endeavoured to determine what is the respective rank enjoyed by relatives as claimants for our attachment. They seem to be pretty well agreed that husband or wife hold the first place; then follow children, next parents, brothers, and sisters. It is obvious however that; the succession here indicated, valid as it may be in the abstract, is often for good reasons subject to change. In any case its inversion would not be a grievous sin. There is no doubt but that we are bound to succour relatives in distress. All that is usually laid down in general about the duty of almsgiving both corporal and spiritual, holds good with added force when our kinsfolk are to be the recipients. Other things being equal, they are to be aided if need be to the exclusion of any one else. A disposition to set no store by this obligation would seem to deserve the condemnation of St. Paul in the First Epistle of Timothy (v, 8): "It any man have not care of his own, and especially those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel."

SLATER, Manual of Moral Theology (New York, 1908); RICKABY, Moral Teaching of St. Thomas (London, 1896); D'ANNIBALE, Summula Theologiæ Moralis (Rome, 1908).

JOSEPH F. DELANY.