Discussion on the Ten Commandments

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Moses with the Ten Commandments - by Philippe de Champaigne - from The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg


The Ten Commandments are a Code of Basic Morality,
Binding under the Pain of Sin


Discussion on the Ten Commandments

by Father William G. Most

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The Ten Commandments are really a Code of Basic Morality. God did not give Them because He liked to exercise authority - no, it does Him no good if we Obey. He gave Them for Two (2) Reasons:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) He Loves all that is Right and Good, and that means Creatures should Obey their Creator, Children their Father.
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) He intensely wants to give us Good.

But that is useless if we are not open to receive - the Commandments really tell us how to be open. At the same time They steer us away from Evils that lie in the very nature of things, e.g., a Hangover after getting Drunk, or a high risk of a Loveless Marriage after much Premarital Sex.

As a result, the Old Testament tells us that the Law is Wisdom, for It tells us what is Beneficial to us.


First Commandment:
You shall not have other gods before Me.

ark_covenant.jpg (14050 bytes) caduceus.gif (4521 bytes) This Commandment, of course, forbids Worshipping Idols. The prohibition of images means only that we must not Adore them. God Himself ordered Moses to make an image of a Bronze Serpent, and those who looked at it got Well. God also Ordered that there be Images of Two (2) Angels on the top of the Ark of the Covenant shown right.

We should also avoid Superstition, that is, offering worship in an Improper Manner, e.g., Prayers, that if said for a set number of days, will have an infallible effect. Sadly there is even worship of Satan today.

Sacrilege is also Forbidden which is Scornful Treatment of a Person, Place or Thing dedicated to God. To receive Holy Communion in a State of Sin is Sacrilege, another Mortal Sin.


Second Commandment:
Do not take the Name of God in vain

This means we must not use the name of God, or Jesus, in an Empty Way. Ordinarily this is no more than Venial Sin, but much to be avoided.

Blasphemy means any Speech, Thought or Act that shows Contempt for God. It is very Grave.

People sometimes confess Cursing or Swearing, and mean merely that they said Damn or Hell at times. Of course, to wish Evil to another is very Wrong. But to use these words without meaning that, is not Sinful, just Very Bad Taste.

If we make a Vow, a promise to God, we must carry it out. How Grave the Sin of violating the Vow is, depends on the intention of the one who made the Vow - to make it bind under Mortal Sin, or only Venial.

It is Lawful to take an Oath if there is Good Reason. But a False Oath is Perjury.


Third Commandment:
Keep Holy the Sabbath Day

By the authority of Christ - whatever you shall bind on earth, is bound also in Heaven; whatever you loose on earth is loosed also in Heaven - the Church has transferred the observance of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

Then we are required to take part in the Mass unless a Grave Reason excuses us. To take part does not strictly require making the answers and singing, though in general these are good. The Essential is to join our Obedience to the Father, to that of Christ on the Altar. Christ expresses His continued Obedience by the seeming Separation of Body and Blood in the Two (2) Species of Bread and Wine - which stand for Death, which the Father had ordered Him to undergo.

Sunday should also be a day-of-rest. The New Code of Canon Law in canon 1247 said: they must also keep from such work or business as would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the lord's day , and the due relaxation of mind and body. So, much latitude is given. But to merely do all day Sunday the same as on other days would surely be Wrong.


Fourth Commandment:
Honor your Father and Mother

Jesus Himself gave the Example of Honoring His Father and Mother. He went down to Nazareth and was Obedient to them, even though He was and is God Himself. That Obedience binds strictly, only until one reaches Legal Age. After that it calls for Real Respect. Children who treat their Parents - in teenage - as if the Parents do not know anything - Sin Gravely on this matter.

The word Honor meant especially Financial Support of Parents, when in Old Age they fall into need. It is the Divine Social Security System; when we are small, they provide everything, and put up with much. When they are old, it is our turn.

If they do not need Financial Support, they surely need Psychological Support - to merely put them in a Nursing Home and then never or seldom call is Very Wrong.

After the Death of Parents, there is an Obligation to Pray for their Souls. Since we do not know how long that may be needed, we should never give it up.


Fifth Commandment:
Do not kill

This does not forbid Capital Punishment. Saint Paul in Romans 13:4 says that it is not without cause that the Civil Authority bears the Sword. It is a Minister of God's Anger. We could still consider Capital Punishment Undesirable - but to say it is Wrong is to Contradict Scripture.

Anger, since it leads in the direction of Murder, is Sinful. If it is only a little more than the situation calls for, it is Venial. Normally it is not Mortal unless it goes to extreme excess, e.g., getting and acting as if you were Out-of-your-Mind in Anger. To desire Revenge is easily Mortal - though in some cases that is only an idle thought, not really meant.

Our Lord called for Love of even Enemies. But to Love is to Will Good to another, for the other's sake. Hence if we at least include others in our Prayers in general, we can comply with this requirement.

There is a Double Effect Principle: At times we do One (1) Thing, and it has, equally directly, Two (2) Effects, One Moral, the Other Immoral. This can be permitted if:

1) one does not intend the Evil;
2) the Good and Evil are at least in Balance. This can apply to Bombing a Military Target by the side that is Fighting Justly, in a Just War.

We are obliged to take Ordinary care of our lives - but not Extraordinary.

To take Drugs or Alcohol to the extent that it Seriously Damages one's ability to Think and make Judgments is Mortally Sinful. It does not seem we can excuse smoking from all Sin - on the one-hand, there is no benefit to be gained - on the other, there is a Serious Risk to ourselves, and to others who may be affected by Passive Smoke.

As to Medical Treatments, we are obliged to use what is Ordinary. The Doctrinal Congregation in 1980 said to decide what is Extraordinary we must consider: the type of treatment, its Complexity or Risk; its Cost, both in Money and in Physical Suffering - and compare these things with the Result that can be Hoped for, considering the State of the Sick Person and his/her Physical and Moral resources.

Risky experimental means may be used with the consent of the patient if there are no safer and sufficient remedies. To intend to Kill directly is Gravely Wrong.

An Organ Transplant can be permitted if the Loss of the Organ does not Kill the Donor or cause a Disproportionate Risk.

Direct Abortion is always a Grave Sin. But Surgery to correct Imminent Danger to the life of the mother from a pathological condition if an Organ which is removed will indirectly cause the Death of the Fetus, can be permitted. But a condition that is merely the result of pregnancy would not justify this indirect Killing.

Direct Sterilization is Gravely Wrong.

Suicide is always Gravely Wrong - though a person who commits it may be so far Mentally Confused as to diminish the responsibility.

War can be permitted only under the Double Effect Principle: to correct some Grave Evil when all other means Fail; when the Good Effects are foreseen to at-least balance the Evil (which includes a well-founded hope of winning); there must be no Direct Killing of noncombatants except where the Double Effect Principle warrants it.

To have in-place Intercontinental Missiles that would destroy a whole city or large area, so as to go beyond the range of the Double Effect Principle is still permitted. But it would not be permitted to use them even in retaliation.

Citizens have a Duty to aid their country unless the cause is manifestly unjust. Saint Augustine wrote to a soldier Boniface: Do not think that no one can please God who is a soldier . . . . when you arm yourself for battle, think that even your bodily strength is a Gift of God.


Sixth and Ninth Commandments:
Do not commit Adultery or Covet your neighbor's wife.

To seek Sexual Pleasure outside of Marriage is Mortally Sinful. To accept it when it offers itself, outside of Marriage is also Mortally Sinful.

So not only External Acts which by Nature are apt to arouse Sexual Pleasure themselves are Forbidden outside of Marriage, but also Thoughts and Desires that are deliberately aroused or accepting them when they come on their own - these are Forbidden.

If a Thought offers a Sinful Pleasure and the person simply accepts it and takes it in to enjoy it, that is Gravely Sinful. But if he/she tries to get rid of it, even if it take a Dozen (12) Tries before it settles, even if the feeling hangs around during that interval, there is no Mortal Sin, more likely much Merit. There is also a Tricky Pattern, good to know about; if one is occupied with something that holds attention partly, then one of these thoughts may crawl into the back of the head, unroll itself like a movie, run for some time until there is a Wakeup-Point; Oh Oh, I should not be having that. - If then the person gets busy against it, there is never a Mortal Sin up to that point.

Masturbation is in itself Gravely Sinful. Because of the powerful effect of the feeling on one's judgment in the case of someone addicted to it from childhood, there can be a diminished responsibility - how far diminished only God can Judge.

Having the Homosexual Appetite is a Disorder, but is not Sinful in itself. But to indulge it is always Mortally Sinful.

Contraception is really only Mutual Masturbation. But Natural Family Planning is using the principles God Himself has built into us. If done for sufficient reason, there is nothing wrong. NFP, as studies show, strengthens a Marriage.

Premarital Sex, as was said above, brings with it a Grave Danger of a Loveless Marriage, for the partners are not then seeking the Well-Being of each other (Love would do that) but are just using each other for Sinful pleasure, putting each other into a state such that if Death happened along, one or both would be Wretched Forever. That is not Love, it is more like Hate. It is evident that Real Love cannot develop in such a situation - though it may feel like Real Love, for the Chemistry is the same both when there is Love and when there is not.

To separate the Two (2) Functions of Marriage, Procreative and Unitive, is Wrong. So Test-Tube babies are Wrong.

Marriage, lived according to the Fathers' Plan is even a means of Sanctification. In the Courtship Period, the differences of Male and Female Psychology are papered over. Later they appear. Each then could say honestly: I need to give-in most of the time to make this work. To do that is the opposite of Selfishness, and promotes Spiritual Growth. Generosity to children and proper raising are also Sanctifying. To get up at 3 AM to care for a baby for an indefinite time, if intended as part of God's Plan, could be called a Holy Hour.

To train self for Sexual Control, Mortification, giving-up Legitimate Things, is a great means. Of course much Prayer, especially the Rosary, is important too. But at a time of Great Temptation it is more helpful to say, at intervals, Short Prayers - instead of a Long Prayer, that as such is very open to distractions. The distractions will be the Temptation itself.


Seventh and Tenth commandments:
Do not steal or covet anything of your neighbor

Theft is the Secret Taking of anything against the reasonable wishes of the owner. If taken openly, it is Robbery. If something is Stolen by Deception or Fraud it is Cheating. All are Wrong of course.

Not only those who do these things are Guilty, but those who advise or help them, who buy, sell or keep stolen goods knowing they are such.

All these things can be Mortal Sin if the amount taken is equal to a Day's Wages for the person from whom it is taken. If it is taken from a very rich person in a day, if extremely large, there can be Grave Sin. The same can be said of Stealing from a Business Firm.

These Sins require Restitution. To retain the Stolen Property is an Extension of the Sin. The one who did it can never be Forgiven until he actually gives it back or prepares to do so.

Gambling is Sinful if one Risks more than he/she can really afford, Risks money needed to support the family. Betting is similar. They can be an Addiction.

It would be Wrong for an Employer to offer an Inadequate Wage and say: If you do not like it, go elsewhere, when really there is nowhere to go.

All have an obligation to help the Poor. There is a sort of scale; in one column we list the Degrees of Need, from Desperate Need which if not met means Death, to Minor Degrees of Want. In the other column we list the Degrees of Difficulty in Helping. If one would otherwise really Starve, he may take what food is Strictly Necessary. At the other end of the scale, where there is just ordinary Need, we cannot normally specify that a particular person must Help, when there are others who could Help.

We have set out what is needed to avoid Sin. Real Charity is apt to give more, of course.

We should practice Detachment, that is, not let material things get a hold on us such that they lead us to even Venial Sin. Greed makes it hard to see Spiritual Things. So Jesus said it is harder for a Camel to go through a Needle's Eye than for a Rich Man to enter Heaven.


Eighth Commandment:
Do not bear False Witness

A Lie is any statement, which when properly interpreted, is known by the speaker to be False. Notice "when properly interpreted". It is normal in all speech to pay attention to the Context, for that affects the meaning. So if Mother sends the child to the door to tell the salesman she is not home, that is not a Lie. It means: "Maybe she is here, maybe not. But if she is she does not want to see you". Again, to have in place Mass Destruction Missiles at first-sight seems to say: "If you shoot, I will shoot". But the context is that of a Nation in International Policy. Clearly, no one should expect a Nation to give away its International Secrets. So in reality, it gives no information.

A Lie is usually Venial, if it does little or no Harm.

Hypocrisy is acting out a Lie. Flattery is insincere praise in the hope of gaining something.

Modern media have Great Power. It is known they often Slant the news. Even a news broadcast can Slant while appearing to be honest, if it gives Senator-A a chance to give his reasons, but merely mentions Senator-B is opposed.

Advertising is normally Exaggerated, and since we expect that, Moderate Exaggeration is not a Lie.

There are Four (4) Levels of Secrets:

1) Natural Secret - by Nature should not be Revealed.

2) Promised Secrets - after the item is Revealed, a Promise of Secrecy is asked and given

3) Committed Secrets are those Revealed only after an advance Promise of Secrecy. The Promise may be explicit, or implicit, coming from the nature of the case as in Professional Secrets. The Common Good demands that these be kept.

4) Confessional Secrecy is the Most Absolute. No reason at all could justify Revelation.

With the First Three (3) Kinds of Secrets a Proportional Reason could justify Revelation for the Public Good, that of Civil Society or the Church, or even the individual whose Secret is Revealed.

The term Uncharitable Speech can mean one of Three (3) Things;

1) Slander - making a False Charge. Always Grave Sin, and retracting is Mandatory.

2) Detraction - revealing the True Fault of another without Proportionate Reason. Here we must consider both the Reason and how much Damage is done. Most people tend to underestimate the Damage. We consider also other factors: if someone said he saw a Sailor Drunk, it is less than saying the Bishop was Drunk.

3) Uncharitable Speech is talk between Two (2) who already know the facts. Then, what reason do they have for talking?

Rash Judgment is not had when we say for example that Murder is Wrong - but it is Rash when we say we know the Interior Dispositions of the one who does it.