Tridentine Duties of the Husband
What does it mean to be a man today? What did it mean to be a man in 1566? If you have a sensus Catholicus, your answer would be practically the same.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent offers a thorough treatment of Catholic doctrine. It was ordered by the council Fathers, edited under St. Charles Borromeo, and finally published by St. Pius V in 1566. The Catechism has a chapter on marriage and includes a section on the duties of a husband.
The man should be “constantly occupied in some honest pursuit” both to provide for the family and to avoid idleness. This means that even if you do not work because you are retired, unemployed, or perhaps working part-time, there should be some hobby or leisure activity which you pursue to occupy your time. The Catechism calls idleness “the root of almost every vice.” Do something! Your kids will notice your busy hobby and they will want to take part. This is exactly what you want. Your wife will certainly notice your work with the kids in your wood shop, your garage, or when playing sports with them.
Men are to cherish their wives. This is the full meaning of St. Paul’s exhortation on marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Following up on the wisdom of St. Paul, the Catechism exhorts men to treat their wives “generously and honorably.” Men are then reminded that woman was taken from man’s side so as to be his companion. Not from his feet, so he could trample her, but not from his head either, because she is not to command her husband, but obey him. The man, in turn, has certain duties to his family. The Catechism lists three: Keep his family in order, correct their morals, and see that they faithfully discharge their duties.
Keep the Family in Order
It falls upon you, the husband, to ensure that your house is in good order. This means fixing the doorknob, but also means not leaving when things get too dramatic. The family must stay together.
One way to help keep your family life organized is with a family schedule. You might be the one who either writes the family schedule or adjusts it as needs dictate. If you don’t have a family schedule, you and your wife might consider creating one. It would most likely be flexible to accommodate reality. If you write “4:35 – clean family room and set table for supper” you will be disappointed. Instead, it may need to look like, “after school – clean family room and set table.”
You will usually be the one to call everyone together for the Rosary and other prayers. You ought to be the one who ensures that the children are well-shod, clothed, and have appropriate hygiene. Your wife may perform the actual tasks, but you are the one who makes sure it can happen. Your wife also should not have to call and call and call the kids to the dinner table or any other time they are needed. You may have to administer consequences for failing to assemble when called, or your family will be in chaos and your wife will be exhausted.
The family schedule will need a great amount of input and advice from your wife because it will be her schedule too. You may even want to have her write it. The husband, however, is responsible for ensuring that the family has some orderly way of functioning, whether that entails following a written schedule or some other method.
Correct Their Morals
It is your job as the father to discipline the children when they stray. Sometimes you may need to tell them it’s a good thing they were caught and now punished by you, because purgatory is a lot worse. Remind them that the effects of their sins can be expiated now, on earth.
It’s a lot easier to correct a son’s morals when you are the same guy who just spent an hour throwing a Frisbee with him. It’s also a lot easier when the child just spent half an hour telling you all about his little problems and yearnings, while you simply listened. If instead, all you ever did was show up and punish, your authority would soon enough be practically non-existent.
Remember Don Bosco’s preventative method.
Your goal is to get your children to want to be good, not simply to behave because their parents want it. Sometimes I’ll just ask my miscreant eight-year-old daughter, “Don’t you want to be good?” She just looks at me without saying anything. I know she’s thinking about it.
You may wish to tell your children that your job is to correct them and get them to heaven. You can also differentiate things for them. (“This is how little kids act when they’re naughty, but here is how older people behave.”) The point is to tie selfish, immature behavior with childishness; but mature, loving, morally correct behavior with being grown up. This makes a strong impact on kids.
This is a sensitive topic, but men are also responsible for correcting the errors of their wives. One example is when the woman is out by herself or with kids, a Mary-like standard should rule her attire. This and other concerns are best discussed privately and when both spouses are in an agreeable mood. Timing is everything.
The virtue of prudence is necessary as well. Husbands and wives should not complain about each other to other adults. You correct your family’s morals but if others don’t need to know about it, do not reveal it to them. Your job is to protect your family.
Faithfully Discharge Their Duties
The obvious comes to mind when discharging duties: The father makes sure that his children do their daily duties, such as homework. But there is more to it than that. If your wife takes the initiative every Sunday morning to get the kids ready for Mass, while you rely heavily on her to wake you and then barely lift a finger to help with the kids, you may want to reassess your own adherence to your duties.
How are your kids doing in school? If you don’t know, find out. What are your wife’s needs so she can perform her domestic duties? You may need to buy a new kitchen appliance instead of a new cordless drill. Without paying attention to her needs, you may never notice them, especially if a docile wife doesn’t mention it.
On the other hand, some wives are the exact opposite of the docile type. You’ll want to help her sort out and prioritize what she really needs, since everything for which she asks may have the same tone of urgency.
Sometimes we fathers can get uptight about money. I resisted buying a replacement math book for one of my sons, who lost his. It was an expensive hardback. I eventually bought a duplicate book anyway, even though I’m still convinced the original book is around here somewhere! But I had to make sure my son could faithfully discharge his own duties.
Grace and Feelings
The important thing is that when men faithfully discharge their duties of state, however mundane they may feel, God notices. You may or may not “feel” close to God every day or feel that you’re even receiving actual graces. Does this matter? Sometimes, yes. We men need those feelings to help us persevere. But we probably won’t be experiencing consolation every day.
Regardless of your peaceful state, your male mind may spin with a lot of distractions and logical reasons to do something else. Your wife needs you to work with the kids, to direct them, to break up fights before they start, to discipline them, to be there so the kids can come to you with questions or to sort out conflicts. When you thus help with child-raising, it lifts a tremendous burden from your wife and she will have plenty of loving feelings toward you.
Your family needs you right here, right now. They need your predictability. Your even-handedness. Even when you feel discouraged or frustrated, they still need your fun spirit, your decisive action, and your leadership.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent presents a nice mixture of doctrine, spirituality, and practical living for men of any generation. It is mostly a presentation of doctrine, but its clarity gives parents clear direction today on living a virtuous Catholic life.
Living the Catholic Faith, after all, entails applying the doctrines of the Church to our daily lives. This is as true today as it was 500 or even 2,000 years ago. Today, the torch of faith is passed to you. It is now our turn to be strong Catholic husbands and fathers and to raise our children in the loving arms of Holy Mother Church.