Twenty Articles for a Constitution
By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 18, 15 Qudrat 165 BE
Ever since Muhammad, after His flight from persecution in his hometown of Mecca and forced emigration to Medina, offered that city-state a constitution, written down, agreed upon and signed by all segments of society, protecting the rights of each minority and assuring that all live up to clearly defined responsibilities, advanced nations around the world have almost universally adopted some kind of written constitution. Today, it is the mark of an independent nation to have a written constitution, consented to by all, assuring the rule of law, limiting centralized power and guaranteeing just protections for minorities. Constitutions distinguish republics from tyrannies and absolutisms, as well as territories and protectorates, where citizens do not have directly guaranteed rights and freedoms.
In the fifteenth paragraph of his chapter on family, Comenius suggests a set of written rules for households that, I would argue, amounts to a constitution for the family. It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of such a document for the long term survival of the human race.
"Written rules should be given to the whole family, so that no-one can go wrong through ignorance or plead ignorance as an excuse. In addition to being read out once, they must be posted in full view so that everyone knows what his duty is and may be held to it."
Comenius describes what is termed a promulgation, the open proclamation and public display of a new law so that each and all will know that it exists and understand what it requires of them. Abdu'l-Baha insisted that His talks in North America be called "The Promulgation of Universal Peace" because He saw it as His prime mission there to make clear the universal requirements that peace demands of each and all. Peace, He repeatedly told the Americans, is not a narrow compact among a few bigwigs but a universal agreement, a total and complete commitment to unity by all to all, heart, mind and soul.
Not long after Abdu'l-Baha left America for Haifa, the Great War broke out. It very soon transpired that one of the chief reasons that a local assassination in Sarajevo caught flame and turned into a worldwide bloodbath was a complex web of invisible, secret treaties among nations. Just before hostilities broke out the British foreign minister, challenged by a muckraking journalist to admit that they existed, denied it. Months later, when it was far too late, he admitted that he had lied. The lesson of the Master's peace promulgation was clear: peace cannot be trustworthy or stable as long as it is defended by a narrow, concentrated elite.
Woodrow Wilson attempted to make that conflict the "war to end all wars," roundly condemning secret pacts with a peace program that proposed "open covenants, openly arrived at." The United Nations now furnishes a forum for open discussion among nations and other organizations, but it still falls far short of the world constitution for a "perpetual peace" that Immanuel Kant had sketched out, and others (including Comenius) had been advocating for centuries.
The genius of Comenius in the Panorthosia is that he recognizes our fundamental need for open, promulgated constitutions, not just at one level of society but all -- this is the "pan" or "universal" in Panorthosia, Universal Reform. In order for there to be peace we must devise a set of firm, standard, open and mutually compatible constitutions that would apply not just in international diplomacy but at all levels of society, including the cornerstone of the body politic, the family.
Nor is Comenius instituting a rigid, confining straitjacket of a constitution. "Various rules of this kind can be prescribed as need arises. In my own family circle I used to prescribe as follows..." A family, perhaps more than any other institution, has to be flexible and adapt its constitution to changing circumstances. As children grow up, marry and become parents, they must abide by radically different house rules. In the following, 16th paragraph, Comenius makes it clearer that although these were rules that he had used successfully himself there might be other ways that work equally well.
"I offer the above as an example, not to suggest that rules for domestic order cannot be prescribed in a different form, but insisting that such prescription should not be overlooked. But there must be an additional safeguard ensuring that the rules are observed by everyone. This can be in the hands of the father of the family or his substitutes."
So, without further background, here is the set of twenty rules used in Comenius's household.
Comenius's Working Document for a Family Constitution
Jan Amos Comenius, Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, Chapters 19 to 26, translated by A.M.O. Dobbie, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 1993, pp. 34-36
from para 15, The Particular Reform of Families.
I. Everyone must fear God with a pure heart. For the Lord looks to the heart, to see that no-one in our midst is a hypocrite, a son of perdition.' (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7: 'man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart' and, Job 8:13: 'So are the paths of all that forget God, and the hypocrite's hope shall perish.')
II. Everyone must praise God with a cheerful heart. For He daily loadeth us with His benefits, Psalm LXVIII, 19.
III. Everyone must pray to God with humble heart. For we are all sinners in His sight.
IV. Whenever we meet for the daily worship of God, both morning and evening, everyone must be present without exception and join in devotion, praising God and calling upon Him. For these are the sacrifices which He wishes us to use in our worship.
V. Everyone should remember his own contract with God, entered into in the act of baptism, and cultivate the habit of keeping His Commandments with inward piety. For God hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou hast vowed (namely, obedience), Ecclesiastes 5:4.
VI. See that you perform and complete any task that is demanded of you, not just in appearance but in truth, not for man's sake but for God's.
VII. Everyone must keep an attentive eye on his neighbour (especially according to seniority) with a view to maintaining order.
VIII. Anyone who sees his neighbour going wrong must not remain silent, but must warn him.
IX. Anyone who receives a warning should confess, give thanks, and reform, and do the same favour to his neighbour. For one hand washes the other. (Proverb from Seneca's Apocolocyntosis, 9,9)
X. Anyone who refuses to take a warning or to reform should be brought before one of his superiors.
XI. Everyone should treat his superiors with respect and honour them with obedience (as unto God), so that we have no-one in our midst like Ham, who mocked his father, or Absalom who conspired against his father (Ham, son of Noah - see Genesis IX, 22-3; Absalom: See 11 Samuel 15: 3 etc.)
XII. In all your dealings with one another you must be sincere, open, and peaceful. I wish secret enmity and open quarrelling to be banished from my house.
XIII. No-one should carry trifling criticisms out of the house nor bring them in from elsewhere. If anyone has any complaint to make against another member, he should do so openly face to face.
XIV. You must take care of your neighbour's property in good faith, neither appropriating what does not belong to you, nor allowing it to suffer loss, but removing it into safe custody, and thereby you will generally prevent any loss and earn the affection of your neighbour and the blessing of God.
XV. No one may leave the house without good reason, or, if there is a reason, without the permission of a superior member, so that the activities and whereabouts of everyone are always known.
XVI. Everyone must practise moderation; apart from dinner and supper there should be no dainty fare, in the interests of health and strength.
XVII. If anyone notices the possibility of a change for the better in any respect (anywhere in the household), he shall be obliged on conscience to inform the Father or Mother of the family.
XVIII. Everyone should behave courteously towards visitors and answer their questions politely.
XIX. If anyone is sent to do some special duty, he should concentrate on the purpose of his mission and proceed to complete it carefully and faithfully, without wandering off elsewhere and dealing with things that are none of his business.
XX. On your return, you must report promptly what you have done, and then go back to your work.
Very interesting concept.
Though I don't know if I would want to be part of a family following these rules strictly (e.g., the last 2 rules!)...
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