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The Ten Commandments

Called also simply THE COMMANDMENTS, COMMANDMENTS OF GOD, or THE DECALOGUE (Gr. deka, ten, and logos, a word), the Ten Words of Sayings, the latter name generally applied by the Greek Fathers.

The Ten Commandments are precepts bearing on the fundamental obligations of religion and morality and embodying the revealed expression of the Creator's will in relation to man's whole duty to God and to his fellow-creatures. They are found twice recorded in the Pentateuch, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but are given in an abridged form in the catechisms. Written by the finger of God on two tables of stone, this Divine code was received from the Almighty by Moses amid the thunders of Mount Sinai, and by him made the ground-work of the Mosaic Law. Christ resumed these Commandments in the double precept of charity--love of God and of the neighbor; He proclaimed them as binding under the New Law in Matthew 19 and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). He also simplified or interpreted them, e.g. by declaring unnecessary oaths equally unlawful with false, by condemning hatred and calumny as well as murder, by enjoining even love of enemies, and by condemning indulgence of evil desires as fraught with the same malice as adultery (Matthew 5). The Church, on the other hand, after changing the day of rest from the Jewish Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, to the first, made the Third Commandment refer to Sunday as the day to be kept holy as the Lord's Day. The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, can. xix) condemns those who deny that the Ten Commandments are binding on Christians.

There is no numerical division of the Commandments in the Books of Moses, but the injunctions are distinctly tenfold, and are found almost identical in both sources. The order, too, is the same except for the final prohibitions pronounced against concupiscence, that of Deuteronomy being adopted in preference to Exodus. A confusion, however, exists in the numbering, which is due to a difference of opinion concerning the initial precept on Divine worship. The system of numeration found in Catholic Bibles, based on the Hebrew text, was made by St. Augustine (fifth century) in his book of "Questions of Exodus" ("Quæstionum in Heptateuchum libri VII", Bk. II, Question lxxi), and was adopted by the Council of Trent. It is followed also by the German Lutherans, except those of the school of Bucer. This arrangement makes the First Commandment relate to false worship and to the worship of false gods as to a single subject and a single class of sins to be guarded against -- the reference to idols being regarded as mere application of the precept to adore but one God and the prohibition as directed against the particular offense of idolatry alone. According to this manner of reckoning, the injunction forbidding the use of the Lord's Name in vain comes second in order; and the decimal number is safeguarded by making a division of the final precept on concupiscence--the Ninth pointing to sins of the flesh and the Tenth to desires for unlawful possession of goods. Another division has been adopted by the English and Helvetian Protestant churches on the authority of Philo Judæus, Josephus, Origen, and others, whereby two Commandments are made to cover the matter of worship, and thus the numbering of the rest is advanced one higher; and the Tenth embraces both the Ninth and Tenth of the Catholic division. It seems, however, as logical to separate at the end as to group at the beginning, for while one single object is aimed at under worship, two specifically different sins are forbidden under covetousness; if adultery and theft belong to two distinct species of moral wrong, the same must be said of the desire to commit these evils.

The Supreme Law-Giver begins by proclaiming His Name and His Titles to the obedience of the creature man: "I am the Lord, thy God. . ." The laws which follow have regard to God and His representatives on earth (first four) and to our fellow-man (last six).

  • Being the one true God, He alone is to be adored, and all rendering to creatures of the worship which belongs to Him falls under the ban of His displeasure; the making of "graven things" is condemned: not all pictures, images, and works of art, but such as are intended to be adored and served (First).

  • Associated with God in the minds of men and representing Him, is His Holy Name, which by the Second Commandment is declared worthy of all veneration and respect and its profanation reprobated.

  • And He claims one day out of the seven as a memorial to Himself, and this must be kept holy (Third).

  • Finally, parents being the natural providence of their offspring, invested with authority for their guidance and correction, and holding the place of God before them, the child is bidden to honor and respect them as His lawful representatives (Fourth).

The precepts which follow are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.

  • His life is the object of the Fifth;

  • the honor of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;

  • his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;

  • his good name, of the Eighth;

  • And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;

  • and in his property rights by the Tenth.

This legislation expresses not only the Maker's positive will, but the voice of nature as well--the laws which govern our being and are written more or less clearly in every human heart. The necessity of the written law is explained by the obscuring of the unwritten in men's souls by sin. These Divine mandates are regarded as binding on every human creature, and their violation, with sufficient reflection and consent of the will, if the matter be grave, is considered a grievous or mortal offense against God. They have always been esteemed as the most precious rules of life and are the basis of all Christian legislation.

 

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