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The Commandments of the Church, in the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, are certain laws considered binding on the faithful. As usually understood, they are moral and ecclesiastical, broad in character and limited in number. In modern times there are often said to be six, or sometimes five; the enumeration depends on the catechism cited.
As early as the time of Constantine I, especial insistence was put upon the obligation to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, to receive the sacraments and to abstain from contracting marriage at certain seasons. In the seventh-century Penitentiary of Theodore of Canterbury we find penalties imposed on those who contemn the Sunday and fail to keep the fasts of the Church as well as legislation regarding the reception of the Eucharist.
According to a work written by Regino, Abbot of Prüm (d. 915), entitled "Libri duo de synodalibus causis et disciplinis", the bishop in his visitation is, among other inquiries, to ask
- if anyone has not kept the fast of Lent, or of the ember-days, or of the rogations, or that which may have been appointed by the bishop for the staying of any plague; if there by any one who has not gone to Holy Communion three time in the year, that is at Easter, Pentecost and Christmas; if there by any one who has withheld tithes from God and His saints; if there by anyone so perverse and so alienated from God as not to come to Church at least on Sundays; if there be anyone who has not gone to confession once in the year, that is at the beginning of Lent, and has not done penance for his sins (Hafner, Zur Geschichte der Kirchengebote, in Theologische Quartalschrift, LXXX, 104).
The precepts here implied came to be regarded as special Commandments of the Church. Thus in a book of tracts of the thirteenth century attributed to Pope Celestine V (though the authenticity of this work has been denied) a separate tractate is given to the precepts of the Church and is divided into four chapters, the first of which treats of fasting, the second of confession and paschal Communion, the third of interdicts on marriage, and the fourth of tithes.
In the fourteenth century Ernest von Parduvitz, Archbishop of Prague, instructed his priests to explain in popular sermons the principal points of the catechism, the Our Father, the Creed, the Commandments of God and of the Church (Hafner, loc. cit., 115). A century later (1470) the catechism of Dietrick Coelde, the first, it is said, to be written in German, explicitly set forth that there were five Commandments of the Church.
In his "Summa Theologica" (part I, tit. xvii, p. 12) Antoninus of Florence (1439) enumerates ten precepts of the Church universally binding on the faithful. These are:
- to observe certain feasts
- to keep the prescribed fasts
- to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days
- to confess once a year
- to receive Holy Communion during paschal time
- to pay tithes
- to abstain from any act upon which an interdict has been placed entailing excommunication
- to refrain also from any act interdicted under pain of excommunication latæ sententiæ
- to avoid association with the excommunicated
- finally, not to attend Mass or other religious functions celebrated by a priest living in open concubinage.
In the sixteenth century Martin Aspilcueta(1586), gives a list of five principal precepts of obligation:
- to fast at certain prescribed times
- to pay tithes
- to go to confession once a year
- and to receive Holy Communion at Easter (Enchiridion, sive manuale confessariorum et poenitentium, Rome, 1588, ch. xxi, n. 1).
At this time there began to appear many popular works in defence of the authority of the Church and setting forth her precepts. Such among others were the "Summa Doctrinæ Christianæ" (1555) of Peter Canisius and the "Doctrina Christiana" of Bellarmine (1589).
- ↑ E.g. http://www.the-latinmass.com/id120.html, http://www.catholicdoors.com/teaching/book1/1-15.htm.