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The Ten Commandments are a series of religious and moral imperatives, recognized as a moral foundation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,[1] and among the cornerstones of theology of the Roman Catholic Church. The commandments are described in the Bible as a covenant between "God and his chosen people".[2] The New Testament, used by Christians, contains Jesus's teaching that observing the commandments is a minimum requirement for mankind, he exceeded them in his teachings requiring more, not less moral effort.[3] He also summarized them into two "great commandments that taught love of God (the first three Commandments) and love of neighbor (the last seven).[4]

The Church teaches that Jesus freed people from Jewish law and most of its 613 regulations, but did not exempt his followers from abiding by the Ten Commandments.[5] Church beliefs are detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which devotes a separate section to explain each of the commandments. According to the Catechism, they "have occupied a predominant place" in teaching the faith ever since the time of Saint Augustine,[4] are considered essential for spiritual good health and growth, and serve as the basis for Catholic social teaching. A review of the Ten Commandments is a part of the most common type of examination of conscience used by Catholics before receiving the sacrament of Penance.[6]

The first three commandments instruct individuals in their relationship with God, including respect for his name, observation of the Lord's Day, and the prohibition against worship of any other god. The remaining seven deal with the relationships between individuals, and include prohibitions against lying, stealing, murdering, adultery, and covetousness; one also addresses the relationship between parents and their children.


The Old Testament refers to there being ten commandments.[7][8][9] This poses a difficulty because there are more than ten imperative sentences in the two relevant texts.[10][11] The first commandment is actually a combination of three of these imperative statements: "I am the Lord your God", "You shall have no other gods before me", and "You shall not make for yourself an idol".

There is no clear indication in the Old Testament as to how the text should be divided to arrive at ten commandments. The form traditionally used by both the Catholic Church and Lutheranism was first presented by the Latin Church father Augustine of Hippo (354–430) in his book Questions on Exodus.[5][12] Other Christian groups such as the Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant churches use a form established by the Greek fathers. The two forms are slightly different in numbering, but maintain the same substance.[5]


Centrality in Judaism

The Ten Commandments are recognized as a moral foundation by Judaism, Christianity and Islam.[1] They first appear in the Bible in the Book of Exodus, according to which Moses, acting under the orders of God, freed the Israelites from physical slavery in Egypt. The narrative follows the Israelites as they wander in the wilderness of Sinai; at Mount Sinai God revealed himself to Moses and offered a covenant as a permanent bond between God and mankind to free them from the spiritual slavery of sin.[13] In Western Civilization, Thomas Noble describes the covenant as "the central event in the history of ancient Israel".[2] As part of the covenant, the Bible lists a set of commands that the people were instructed to follow, known as the Ten Commandments.[13] According to the Old Testament book of Exodus[14], God gave Moses two tablets with the commandments written upon them. These were placed in the Ark of the Covenant and formed the "center and kernel of the Jewish religion.[15]

Christ's teaching

The coming of Jesus is seen by the Catholic Church as the fulfillment of the destiny of the Jewish people who were chosen, in the words of Peter Kreeft, to "show the true God to the world".[16] Jesus acknowledged the Commandments and exceeded them in his teachings; he required "more, not less: a 'righteousness (which) exceeds that of the scribes and PhariseesTemplate:'".[5][17] According to Kreeft, "The Commandments are to the moral order what the creation story in Genesis 1 is to the natural order. They are God's order conquering chaos. They are not man's ideas about God, but God's ideas about man."[5]

Darrell Cole wrote:

For Aquinas, the Ten Commandments are the primary precepts of justice and all law, "and natural reason gives immediate assent to them as being plainly evident principles" (ST II-II 122.1). The precepts of justice — those that show "that a man is under obligation to render to another that which is his due" are not to be thought of as means to an end; indeed, they help to establish relationships that make up our living a just life, the end of which is our ultimate end: the beatific vision of God. We keep these precepts, therefore, because failure to do so would destroy our character and prevent us from achieving our ultimate end.[18]

The Church teaches that Jesus freed people from keeping "the burdensome Jewish law (Torah) with its 613 distinct regulations but not from the obligation to keep the Ten Commandments"[5] because the Ten "were written 'with the finger of God',[note 1] unlike the other commandments written by Moses"[5]

This teaching was reaffirmed both at the Council of Trent as well as the Second Vatican Council.[4] The Commandments serve as the basis for Catholic social teaching[19] and the Church has given them a place of predominant importance in teaching the faith ever since the fifth century.[4] According to Peter Kreeft, the Church regards them as "a path of life", and a "path to freedom" just as a schoolyard fence protects the children playing there from "life-threatening dangers".[5]

First commandment

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them."
 – The first commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[20][21][22]

The first commandment instructs people to accept that God is their spiritual ruler, that there are no other gods, and that people should not make idols.[5] Augustine of Hippo interpreted this commandment as "Love God and then do what you will".[23] Explaining this sentiment, Kreeft states that all sin "serves some other god, obeys another commander: the world or the flesh or the devil."[23]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church associates this commandment with the three theological virtues. The first virtue, faith, instructs Catholics to believe in God and avoid heresy, apostasy, and schism. The second, hope, cautions Catholics against despair and presumption. The last virtue, love of God, can only be met if Catholics refrain from indifference or ingratitude toward God, as well as avoiding spiritual laziness and a hatred of God stemming from pride.[20][24] The Catechism further enumerates specific violations of this commandment, including superstition, polytheism, sacrilege, atheism, and all practices of magic or sorcery. It further prohibits astrology, palm reading, and consulting horoscopes or mediums. The Catechism attributes the latter actions to a "desire for power over time, history, and in the last analysis, other human beings as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers."[20][25]

Graven images

Folio 29r - The Ark of God Carried into the Temple

The Ark of the Covenant carried into the Jewish Temple

While Catholics are often accused of worshipping images in violation of the first commandment,[26] the Church says this is a misunderstanding. In the Church's opinion, "the honor paid to sacred images is a 'respectful veneration', not the adoration due to God alone".[26][27] In the early centuries of the Church, heated arguments arose over whether religious icons were prohibited by the first commandment. The dispute between the iconoclasts, who wished to prohibit icons, and the iconodules, who supported the veneration of icons, was finally resolved in 787 at the Second Council of Nicea. This ecumenical council determined that veneration of icons and statues was not a violation of the commandment and stated "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it".[28][note 2] The Catechism posits that God gave permission for images which symbolize Christian salvation by leaving symbols such as the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim. It states further that "By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new economy of images."[26][27]

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explain the Catechism in their book entitled United States Catechism for Adults published in 2006. Regarding graven images, they expound that this command addresses idolatry that in ancient times expressed itself in the worship of such things as the "sun, moon, stars, trees, bulls, eagles, and serpents" as well as "emperors and kings". They explain that today, idolatry expresses itself in the worship of other things and list some as "power, money, materialism and sports".[30]

Second commandment

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain."
 – The second commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[31][32][33]

The second commandment prohibits people from using the name of God in vain.[5] Many ancient cultures believed that names were sacred, and there were sometimes prohibitions on when a person's name could be spoken. Under Jewish law, a person who pronounced the name of God was essentially claiming to be God. The Gospel of John relates an incident where a group of Jews attempted to stone Jesus after he spoke the name; because they did not believe in him they considered this blasphemy which, under Mosaic law, carried a death penalty.[34][35] Kreeft writes that all of the names by which God is known are holy, and thus all of those names are protected by the second commandment.[35] The Catechism states, "Respect for God's name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality."[31] The Catechism also requires respect for the names of people out of respect for the dignity of that person.[28]

The sentiment behind this commandment is further codified in the Lord's Prayer, which begins, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name". According to Pope Benedict XVI, when God revealed his name to Moses he established a relationship with mankind and states that the Incarnation was the culmination of a process that "had begun with the giving of the divine name."[36] Benedict elaborates that this also means the divine name could now be misused and that Jesus' inclusion of "hallowed be thy name" is a plea for the sanctification of his name, to "protect the wonderful mystery of his accessibility to us, and constantly assert his true identity as opposed to our distortion of it ...".[36]

According to Roman Catholic teaching, this commandment does not preclude the use of God's name in taking solemn oaths administered by legitimate authority. However, lying under oath, invoking God's name for magical purposes, or voicing words of hatred of or defiance against God are considered sins of blasphemy.[28][31]

Third commandment

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work."
The third commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[37][38][39]

Quoting the Jewish rabbi and scholar Jacob Neusner, Pope Benedict XVI explains that to Israel, keeping this commandment was more than ritual, it was a way to imitate God who rested on the seventh day after the creation. It also constituted the core of the social order.[40]

BentoXVI-51-11052007 (frag)

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist, a sacrament celebrated at every Catholic mass.

Because they believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the Sabbath is observed by Christians on Sunday instead of Saturday, as observed by Jews. For Catholics, Jesus' statement, "the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath"[41] means that good works "when the needs of others demanded it" could be part of the day of rest as well.[42] The Catechism offers guidelines on how to observe the Lord's Day which require the Catholic to attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.[37] On these days they may not work or do activities that "hinder the worship due to God," but "performance of the works of mercy, and appropriate relaxation in a spirit of joy" are permitted.[42]

According to the US Bishops, this commandment "has been concretized for Catholics" as one of the Church precepts. Citing the papal encyclical Dies Domini, they quote

"Because the faithful are obliged to attend Mass unless there is a grave impediment, pastors have the corresponding duty to offer everyone the real possibility of fulfilling the precept. ... Yet more than a precept, the observance should be seen as a need rising from the depths of Christian life. It is crucially important that all the faithful should be convinced that they cannot live their faith or share fully in the life of the Christian community unless they take part regularly in the Sunday Eucharistic assembly."[43]

Fourth commandment

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you."
The fourth commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[44][45][46]

Pope Benedict XVI states that Rabbi Neusner "rightly sees this commandment as anchoring the heart of the social order." It strengthens generational relationships, reveals that the family is "both willed and protected by God", and reveals a connection between family order and societal stability.[47] Because parents' unconditional love for their children mirrors God's love, and because they have a duty to pass the faith on to their children, the Catechism calls the family "a domestic church", "a privileged community" as well as the "original cell of social life".[48]

The Catechism says this commandment requires duties of children to parents that include:[44]

  1. Respect towards parents that also flows to brothers and sisters.
  2. Gratitude as expressed in a quote from Sirach: "Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?"[48][49]
  3. Obedience that requires the child to obey his parents as long as he lives at home "when it is for his good or the good of the family"[48] except when that obedience requires the child to do something he deems to be morally wrong.
  4. Support that requires grown children to offer material and moral support for their aging parents as well as in times of "illness, loneliness, or distress".[44][48]

Keeping this commandment, according to the Catechism, also requires duties of parents to children which include:

File:St. Theresa School 2007.jpg
  1. "Moral education, spiritual formation and evangelization" of their children.
  2. Respect for their children as children of God and human persons.
  3. Proper discipline for children while being careful not to provoke them.
  4. "Avoiding pressure to choose a certain profession or spouse", which does not preclude parents from giving "judicious advice".[50]
  5. "Being a good example" to their children.
  6. "Acknowledging their own failings" to their children in an effort to guide and correct them.[44][50]

Jesus' expansion

When told that his mother and brothers were outside waiting to see him, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" Stretching his hand out over his disciples he said: "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and my sister, and mother".[51] Pope Benedict has stated that this dictum of Jesus brought the fourth commandment to a new and higher level. By doing God's will, any person can become part of the universal family of Jesus.[52] Thus, the fourth commandment's responsibilities extend to the greater society and requires respect for "legitimate social authorities". The Catechism specifies "duties of citizens and nations" which Kreeft summarizes as:

  1. "Obedience and honor" to "all who for our good have received authority in society from God".
  2. "Payment of taxes, exercising the right to vote and defending one's country".
  3. "An obligation to be vigilant and critical" which requires citizens to criticize that which harms human dignity and the community.
  4. "A duty to disobey" civil authorities and directives that are contrary to the moral order.
  5. "To practice charity" which is a "necessity for any working family or society", it is the "greatest social commandment" and requires us to love God and neighbor.
  6. "To welcome the foreigner" who is in need of security and livelihood he can not find in his own country.
  7. "An obligation for rich nations to help poor nations" especially in times of "immediate need".
  8. "An expectation for families to help other families".[44][53]

Fifth commandment

"You shall not kill."
The fifth commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[54][55][56]

This commandment demands respect for human life. Jesus expanded it to prohibit unjust anger, hatred and vengeance and requires Christians to love their enemies.[57] The basis of all Catholic teaching about the fifth commandment is the sanctity of life ethic which Kreeft argues is philosophically opposed to the quality of life ethic, a philosophy which he characterizes as introduced by "a book entitled Life unworthy of life, the first to win public acceptance ... by German doctors before World War II – the basis and beginning of Nazi medical practices".[58] This interpretation is supported by modern medical journals that discuss the dilemma posed by these opposing philosophies to physicians who must make life or death decisions.[59] On the other hand, some bioethicists characterize the use of the "Nazi analogy" as inappropriate when applied to quality of life decisions, some calling this rhetoric "odiously wrong".[60]

The Church is actively involved in the public debates over abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia and encourages believers to support pro-life legislation and politicians.[61]

Murder and abortion

The Catechism states: "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. ... no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being."[54][57] "Direct and intentional killing" is considered a mortal sin.[54] Considered by the Church to be of an even greater gravity is the murder of family members, including "infanticide, fratricide, patricide, the murder of a spouse and procured abortion."[54][57]

The Church defines the moment of conception as the beginning of human life and stresses that the child in the womb must be "defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being."[54][57] Abortion has been specifically and persistently condemned by the Church since the first century.[54][62][note 3] "Formal cooperation" in abortion incurs the penalty of excommunication "by the very commission of the offense".[57] The Catechism emphasizes that this penalty is not meant to restrict mercy but to make clear the gravity of the crime, and the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death as well as to the parents and the whole of society.[54][57] "Formal cooperation" in abortion extends not just to the mother who freely submits to the abortion but also to the doctor and nurses, as well as to anyone who directly aids in the act. The Church has ministries of reconciliation like Project Rachel for those who sincerely repent of their sin of formal cooperation in abortion.[65]

Official Church teaching allows for medical procedures and treatments intended to protect or restore the mother's health if she would be in mortal danger without them,[66] even when such procedures carry some risk of death to the fetus.[67] Examples include the removal of a fallopian tube in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, removal of a pregnant cancerous uterus, or an appendectomy.[67]

Destruction of embryos for research or fertilization

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 079

Moses with the Tablets, 1659, by Rembrandt

The United States Catechism for Adults devotes a section to In vitro fertilization, stem-cell research and cloning in its explanation of the fifth commandment because these issues often involve the destruction of human embryos, considered to be a gravely sinful form of murder.[68] Embryonic stem cell research is called "an immoral means to a good end" and "morally unacceptable".[68] Citing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation, the US Bishops quote: "No objective, even though noble in itself, such as a foreseeable advantage to science, to other human beings, or to society, can in any way justify experimentation on living human embryos or fetuses, whether viable or not, either inside or outside the mother's body." The Bishops note that adult stem cell research using cells obtained with informed consent is a promising field of research that is morally acceptable.[68]

Suicide, euthanasia

The fifth commandment forbids the killing of oneself or those who are dying, even for merciful reasons such as to eliminate suffering. The ordinary care of those facing an imminent death may not morally be withheld, according to the Church. "Ordinary care" refers to food, water and pain relief, and does not include "extraordinary care" which refers to the use of respirators or feeding tubes that are considered discretionary. Allowing a terminally ill person to die, using painkillers that may shorten such a person's life, or refusing extraordinary treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, are considered morally acceptable and not a violation of the fifth commandment.[69]

Capital punishment

The teachings of Jesus focus on mercy, reconciliation and redemption; this recurring theme in the gospel message is invoked by the Catholic Church to oppose the death penalty. Church fathers such as Clement of Rome and Justin Martyr asserted that the taking of human life is incompatible with the gospel and exhorted Christians not to participate in capital punishment. The church's opposition to the death penalty declined after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Augustine recognized the death penalty as a means of deterring the wicked and protecting the innocent. In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas reaffirmed this position.

Paul J. Surlis writes that Church teaching on the death penalty has been in transition.[70] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the death penalty is permissible in cases of extreme gravity. The Church teaches that capital punishment is allowed if the "guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined" and if the death penalty is the only way to defend others against the guilty party.

However, if there are other means available to defend people from the "unjust aggressor", these means are preferred to the death penalty because they are considered to be more respectful of the dignity of the person and in keeping with the common good.[71]

Because today's society makes possible effective means for preventing crime without execution, the Catechism declares that "the cases in which execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if practically nonexistent.Template:'"[54]

In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae published in 1995, Pope John Paul II removed this public safety qualification and declared that, in today's modern society, capital punishment can scarcely ever be condoned.[70]

Personal health, dead bodies, burial

Soldier running in water

Church teaching interprets the fifth commandment to include respect for one's own body that precludes abuse of food, alcohol, medicines, illegal drugs or unhealthy behaviours.[69]

According to Church teaching, respect for human life is considered to require respect for one's own body. This precludes abuse of food, alcohol, medicines, illegal drugs or unhealthy behaviour.[69] The Church also warns against the opposite behaviour of "excessive preoccupation with the health and welfare of the body that 'idolizes' physical perfection, fitness, and success at sports". Kidnapping, terrorism, torture, Sterilizations, amputations, mutilations and modifications of the body that are not for therapeutic medical reasons are forbidden.[54][57]

According to the Catechism, societies have a moral obligation to strive to provide healthy living conditions for all people.[69]

Church belief in the resurrection of the body led to a prohibition against cremation that was lifted at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.[72] According to the Catechism, burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy that must treat the body with respect and love. Organ donation, cremation and autopsies for legal and scientific reasons are permitted.[73]

War and self defense

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, "You shall not kill"[74] and then adds to it the proscription against anger, hatred and vengeance.[75] Going even further, Christ asks his disciples to love their enemies.[76] The Catechism asserts that "it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life."[76] Kreeft asserts that "self–defense is legitimate for the same reason suicide is not: because one's own life is a gift from God, a treasure we are responsible for preserving and defending."[77] The Catechism teaches that "someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow."[76] Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.[76]

The Church requires all to pray and work to prevent unjust wars but allows for just wars if certain conditions are met. These are:

  1. The reasons for going to war are defensive.
  2. "The damage inflicted by the aggressor ... must be lasting, grave, and certain."
  3. It is a last resort taken only after all other means of putting an end to the "grave damage" have been ineffective.
  4. The ultimate aim is peace and there is a serious chance of success.
  5. No graver evils are produced that overshadow the evil to be eliminated. This forbids the use of arms to eliminate whole cities and areas with their inhabitants.
  6. Respect and care is required for non-combatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners. Soldiers are required to disobey commands to commit genocide or that violate universal principles.[54][78]


The Catechism classifies scandal under the fifth commandment and defines it as "an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil".[79] In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus stated, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."[80] The Church considers it a serious crime to cause another's faith, hope and love to be weakened, especially if it is done to young people and the perpetrator is a person of authority such as a parent, teacher or priest.[54][79]

Sixth commandment

"You shall not commit adultery."
The sixth commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[81][82][83]

According to the Church, humans are sexual beings whose sexual identity extends beyond the body to the mind and soul. The sexes are meant by divine design to be different and complementary, each having equal dignity and made in the image of God.[84] The sexual act is sacred within the context of the marital relationship that reflects a "complete" and "life–long" "mutual" "gift" "of a man and a woman". Sexual sins thus violate not just the body but the person's whole being. In his 1995 book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II reflected on this concept by stating,

"After all, young people are always searching for the beauty in love. They want their love to be beautiful. If they give in to weakness, following the models of behavior that can rightly be considered a 'scandal in the contemporary world' (and these are, unfortunately, widely diffused models), in the depths of their hearts they still desire a beautiful and pure love. This is as true of boys as it is of girls. Ultimately, they know that only God can give them this love. As a result, they are willing to follow Christ, without caring about the sacrifices this may entail.[85]

Like orthodox Judaism and Islam, the Catholic Church considers all sexual acts outside of marriage to be grave sins. The gravity of the sin "'excludes one from sacramental communion' until repented of and forgiven in sacramental confession".[86]

Vocation to chastity

The Catechism calls chastity a "moral virtue ... a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort."[87] Because the Church sees sex as more than just a physical act but rather one that affects both body and soul, it teaches that chastity is a virtue all people are called to acquire.[87] It is defined as the inner unity of a person's "bodily and spiritual being" that successfully integrates a person's sexuality with his or her "entire human nature".[87] To acquire this virtue one is encouraged to enter into the "long and exacting work" of self-mastery that is helped by friendships, God's grace, maturity and education "that respects the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life."[87] The Catechism categorizes violations of the sixth commandment into two categories: "offenses against chastity" and "offenses against the dignity of marriage".[81]

Offenses against chastity

The Catechism lists the following "offenses against chastity"[81] in increasing order of gravity according to Kreeft:[88]

  1. Lust: the Church teaches that sexual pleasure is good and created by God who meant for spouses to "experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit." "Lust does not mean sexual pleasure as such, nor the delight in it, nor the desire for it in its right context.[89] Lust is the desire for sex that seeks the pleasure of it apart from its intended purpose of procreation and the uniting of man and woman, body and soul, in mutual self-donation.[88]
  2. Masturbation is considered sinful for the same reasons as lust but is a step above lust in that it now involves a physical act instead of just a mental one.[88]
  3. Fornication is the sexual union of an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. This is considered contrary to "the dignity of persons and of human sexuality" because it is not ordered to the "good of spouses" or the "generation and education of children".[88]
  4. Pornography ranks yet higher on the scale in gravity of sinfulness because it is considered a perversion of the sexual act which is intended for distribution to third parties for viewing.[88]
  5. Prostitution is sinful for both the prostitute and the customer; it reduces a person to an instrument of sexual pleasure, violating human dignity and harming society as well. The gravity of the sinfulness is less for prostitutes who are forced into the act by destitution, blackmail or social pressure.[88]
  6. Rape is an intrinsically evil act that can cause grave damage to the victim for life.
  7. Incest, or "rape of children by parents or other adult relatives" or "those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them" is considered the most heinous of sexual sins.[81][88]


The Catechism devotes a separate section to homosexuality within its explanation of the sixth commandment. The Church distinguishes between homosexual attractions, which are not considered sinful, and homosexual acts, which are considered sinful. Like all heterosexual acts outside of marriage, homosexual acts are considered sins against this commandment. The Catechism states that they "violate natural law, cannot bring forth life, and 'do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."[90][91] The Church teaches that a homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered" and can be a great trial for the person for whom the Church teaches must be "accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity ... unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."[90][92]

The homosexual person is, according to the Church, "called to chastity". They are instructed to practice the virtues of "self-mastery" that teaches "inner freedom" using the support of friends, prayer and grace found in the sacraments of the Church.[90] These tools are meant to help the homosexually inclined person to "gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection", which is a state to which all Christians are called.[90]

Within the Church community, two different lay movements exist that represent opposing philosophies. The first group called DignityUSA, seeks to change the Church's teachings to justify homosexual acts. The second, Courage International, is an organization of homosexuals who "support each other in the sincere effort to live in chastity and in fidelity to Christ and his Church."[92]

Love of husband and wife


The sixth commandment, according to the USCCB, "summons spouses" to an emotional and sexual fidelity they call "essential" to marriage and is reflective of God's "fidelity to us".[93]

Spousal love, according to Church teaching, is meant to achieve an unbroken, twofold end: union of husband and wife as well as transmission of life.[94] The unitive aspect includes a person's whole being that calls spouses to grow in love and fidelity "so that they are no longer two but one flesh".[94] The sacrament of matrimony is viewed as God's sealing of spousal consent to the gift of themselves to each other. Sexual acts in marriage are considered "noble and honorable" and are meant to be enjoyed with "joy and gratitude".[94]

The marital state also requires acceptance of each other's failures and faults and the recognition that the "call to holiness in marriage" is one that requires a process of spiritual growth and conversion that can last throughout life.[94]

In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic Church's traditional view of marriage and marital relations and a continued condemnation of artificial birth control. The views expressed by Paul VI reflected the teachings of his predecessors, especially Pius XI,[95] Pius XII[96] and John XXIII [97] all of whom insisted on the divine obligations of the marital partners in light of their partnership with God the creator.

Fecundity of marriage

Church teaching on sexual activity can be summarized as: "sexual activity belongs only in marriage as an expression of total self–giving and union, and always open to the possibility of new life." Marital relations are much more than a union of two people. They constitute a union of the loving couple with a loving God, in which the two persons create a new person materially, while God completes the creation by adding the soul. For this reason, Paul VI teaches in the first sentence of Humanae Vitae that the transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. [98] This divine partnership, so Paul VI does not allow for arbitrary human decisions, which may limit divine providence.

The Church encourages large families and sees this as a blessing. It also recognizes that responsible parenthood sometimes calls for reasonable spacing or limiting of births and thus considers natural family planning as morally acceptable but rejects all methods of artificial contraception.[99] The Church rejects all forms of artificial insemination and fertilization because such techniques divorces the sexual act from the creation of a child. The Catechism states, "A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift ...'the supreme gift of marriageTemplate:'".[99]

Rejecting Church support for natural family planning as a viable form of birth control, some Church members and non-members criticize Church teachings that oppose artificial birth control as contributing to overpopulation, and poverty.[100] The Church's rejection of the use of condoms is especially criticized with respect to countries where the incidence of AIDS and HIV has reached epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that in countries like Kenya and Uganda, where behavioral changes are encouraged alongside condom use, greater progress in controlling the disease has been made than in those countries solely promoting condoms.[101][102]

Offenses against the dignity of marriage

According to the Church, adultery and divorce are considered offenses against the dignity of marriage and are defined as follows:

  1. Adultery is the sexual union of a man and woman where at least one is married to someone else. This is considered a greater sin than fornication[88] because the adulterer sins against "his spouse, his society, and his children as well as his own body and soul."[103]
  2. Divorce: Jesus taught that "whoever divorces his wife", except for fornication, unchastity or an unlawful marriage (depending upon the Biblical translation), "causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."[104] Explaining Church interpretation of this teaching, Kreeft says Jesus considered divorce to be an accommodation that had slipped into the Jewish law.[103] The Church teaches that marriage was created by God and meant to be indissoluble: like the new creation of a child that cannot be "un-created", neither can the "one flesh" of the marriage bond.[103] The Catechism states, "Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death."[81] By marrying another, the divorced person adds to the gravity of the offense as the remarried spouse is considered to be in a state of "public and permanent adultery".[103]

Separation, civil divorce, annulments

There are the situations that do not equate to divorce according to the Church:

  1. In extreme situations like domestic violence, separation is allowed. This is not considered a divorce and may be justified.[103]
  2. Civil divorce is not a divorce according to the Church. If it is deemed to be the only way of ensuring legal rights, care of children, or protection of inheritance, the Church considers it morally acceptable.[103][105]
  3. Annulment is not a divorce, it is a ruling by the Church that there was never a valid marriage from the beginning. The marriage is deemed to have been lacking one of the five integral ingredients of being "complete", "lifelong", "mutual", "free gift" of a "man and woman".[103] According to Pope John Paul II's January 22, 1996 Address to the Roman Rota, couples do not have a right to an annulment but do have a right to make their case for nullity or validity before "the competent Church authority and to request a decision in the matter".[106] According to the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, some "signs that might indicate reasons to investigate for an annulment are:"[106]
    "marriage that excluded at the time of the wedding the right to children, or to a permanent marriage, or to an exclusive commitment. In addition, there are youthful marriages; marriages of very short duration; marriages marked by serious emotional, physical, or substance abuse; deviant sexual practices; profound and consistent irresponsibility and lack of commitment; conditional consent to a marriage; fraud or deceit to elicit spousal consent; serious mental illness; or a previous bond of marriage. The determination of the ground should be made after extensive consultation with the parish priest or deacons, and based upon the proofs that are available."[106]

Seventh commandment

"You shall not steal."
The seventh commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[107][108][109]
Fortunes of a Street Waif

Taking another's property "in obvious and urgent necessity" to provide for "immediate essential needs" is not considered a sin against the seventh commandment.[107][110]

The Catechism explains that this commandment regulates worldly goods, and forbids unjustly taking, using or damaging those that belong to someone else.[107][111] It also places requirements upon those who possess worldly goods to use them responsibly taking into consideration the good of the environment and society.

The Catechism addresses the concept of human stewardship of God's creation in its explanation of the seventh commandment and thus forbids abuse of animals and the environment.

Private property

According to the Church, people have a right to private property. However, ownership makes that person "a steward" who is expected to make it "fruitful" or profitable in a way that benefits others after that person has first taken care of their family.[107][110] Private property and the common good are seen as complementary elements that exist for the purpose of strengthening the whole of society.[110] The taking of another's private property "in obvious and urgent necessity ... to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing ...)" is not considered by the Church to be stealing.[107][110]

Slavery, however, is not considered private property but is condemned as the stealing of a person's human rights.[107][112]

Social justice

The papal encyclical Rerum Novarum discusses the relationships and mutual duties between labour and capital, as well as government and its citizens. Of primary concern was the need for some amelioration for "the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class" [113]. The encyclical supported the rights of labor to form unions, rejected communism and unrestricted capitalism, whilst affirming the right to private property.

Church interpretation of the seventh commandment teaches that business owners should balance a desire for profits that will ensure the future of the business with a responsibility toward the "good of persons".[114] Business owners are required to pay their workers a reasonable wage, honor contracts, and abstain from dishonest activity including bribery of government officials. Workers in turn are required to do their jobs conscientiously as they have been hired to do them, and to avoid dishonesty in the workplace such as using office goods for personal use without permission.

The church also teaches that a balance should exist between government regulation and the laws of the marketplace. It deems that sole reliance on the marketplace (pure capitalism) insufficiently addresses many human needs, while sole reliance on government regulation (pure socialism) "perverts the basis of social bonds".[114] However, the Church does not reject either capitalism or socialism but warns against excessive extremes of each system that result in injustice to persons.[114]

Wealthier nations, like wealthier individuals, have a moral obligation to help poorer nations and individuals and work to reform financial institutions and economic factors to benefit all.[114]

Eighth commandment

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
The eighth commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[115][116][117]

The Catechism explains that bearing false witness or "speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving" encompasses all violations of truth.[115] These can take various forms, with various degrees of gravity depending on the "intentions of the one who lies and the harms suffered by its victims."[118] These include:

  1. False witness and perjury: statements made publicly in court which obstruct justice by either condemning the innocent or exonerating the guilty, or which may increase the punishment of the accused.
  2. Rash judgement: believing, without sufficient evidence, statements that accuse another of moral faults.
  3. Detraction: the disclosure of another's faults without a valid reason.
  4. Calumny: lying about a person in order to harm his reputation and providing opportunity to others to make false judgements concerning him.
  5. Flattery: "speech to deceive others for our benefit".
  6. Bragging, boasting, or mocking: speech which either only honors oneself or dishonors others.[115][119]

The Church requires those who have damaged the reputation of another to "make reparation for the untruth they have communicated".[115][119] However, it does not require a person to reveal a truth to someone who does not have a right to know, and teaches respect for a right to privacy.[115][119] Priests are prohibited from violating the seal of confession[119] no matter how grave the sin or its impact on society.

Included in the Church teachings of this commandment are the requirement for Christians to bear witness to their faith "without equivocation" in situations that require it.[115][120] The use of modern media in spreading untruths, by either individuals, businesses or governments, is condemned.[115][118]

Ninth commandment

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."[note 4]
The ninth commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[122][124]

Both the ninth and tenth commandments deal with coveting, which is an interior disposition not an actual act.[125] The Catechism distinguishes between covetousness of the flesh (sexual desire for another person's spouse) and covetousness for another's worldly goods. The ninth commandment deals with the former and the tenth the latter.[123]

File:Rembrandt Bathsheba in het bad, 1654..jpg

Jesus emphasized the need to be pure in our thoughts as well as our actions and stated "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart"[125][126] The Catechism states that, with the help of God's grace, both men and women are required to overcome lust and the desires of our body "for sinful relationships with another person's spouse."[122] The virtue of purity of heart is suggested as the necessary quality needed to accomplish this task and common Catholic prayers and hymns include a request for this virtue.[125] The Church identifies some gifts of God that help a person maintain purity and these are:

  1. Chastity, which enables people to love others with upright and undivided hearts.
  2. Purity of intention, which seeks to fulfill God's will in everything, knowing that it alone will lead to the true end of man.
  3. Purity of vision, "external and internal", disciplining the thoughts and imagination to reject those that are impure'.
  4. Prayer that recognizes the power of God to grant a person the ability to overcome sexual desires.
  5. Modesty, of the feelings as well as the body is discreet in choice of words and clothing.[122][125]

Jesus stated "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God."[127][128] This purity of heart, which the ninth commandment introduces, is the "precondition of the vision of God" and allows the person to see situations and people as God sees. The Catechism teaches that "there is a connection between purity of heart, of body and of faith".[122][128]

Tenth commandment

"You shall not covet ... anything that is your neighbor's. . . . You shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."
The tenth commandment according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[123][124][129]

The Catechism explains that detachment from riches is the goal of both the tenth commandment and the first Beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) because this precept is necessary for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.[123][130] Covetousness is considered to be the first step toward commission of theft, robbery, and fraud which can lead to violence and injustice.[131] It is defined as a "disordered desire" and can take different forms:

  1. greed is the desire for too much, for what one does not really need,
  2. envy is the desire for what belongs to another.[130] "It is an attitude that fills us with sadness at the sight of another's prosperity.[132]

In explaining Church teaching on this commandment, Kreeft points to Saint Thomas Aquinas who wrote that "An evil desire can only be overcome by a stronger good desire." The US bishops offer guidance in building this good desire by suggesting cultivation of goodwill, humility and gratitude for our own as well as for other's blessings while also trusting in God's grace.[132] Kreeft explains that St Paul the Apostle illustrated this concept in his letter to the Philippians when he listed his worldly credentials as a respected Jew and then stated, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."[133]. As Jesus stated, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?",[134][135] Church teaching on the tenth commandment is directed toward this same attitude toward worldly goods termed "poverty of spirit".[136]

See also


  1. According to A Catholic Dictionary, the Commandments were written by God directly on tablets of stone that were placed in the Ark of the Covenant and formed the "center and kernel of the Jewish religion. They were given more directly by God than any other part of the Jewish law, and they were placed in the most holy place, which none but the high priest could enter, and he only once a year."[15]
  2. The Roman Catholic Church believes that it is continually guided by the Holy Spirit and is thus protected from making a doctrinal error.[29] The highest doctrinal authority of the Church rests in the decisions of the ecumenical councils, which are headed by the pope.[28]
  3. Some pro-choice advocates assert that, in the past, the Church has distinguished between termination of a pregnancy before quickening and after quickening. They argue that Augustine accepted the Aristotelian Greek Pagan concept of "delayed ensoulment", writing that a human soul cannot live in an unformed body. Thomas Aquinas asserted that a fetus was not fully alive until “quickening”.[63] Some scholars disagree with these interpretations of Aquinas and Augustine saying their statements can not be used to justify abortion in today's society since both of these scholars condemned the practice.[64]
  4. The wording of the ninth commandment in the Catechism is almost identical to that of the tenth. In its explanation, the Catechism states "St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscience: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life."[121][122] "In the Catholic catechetical tradition, the ninth commandment forbids carnal concupiscience; the tenth forbids coveting another's goods."[122] The Catechism defines "carnal concupiscience" as an intense desire of the flesh, "the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason", and "the rebellion of the 'flesh' against the 'spiritTemplate:'".[122] The tenth commandment, according Church interpretation, deals with all other forms of intense desire. The Catechism states that the tenth "unfolds and completes the ninth ... It forbids coveting the goods of another ...".[123]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Noble, p. 53
  3. Kreeft, p. 202
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Schreck, p. 303
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Kreeft, pp. 201–203
  6. O'Toole, p. 146
  7. Exodus 34
  8. Deuteronomy 4 13
  9. Deuteronomy 10 4
  10. Exodus 20
  11. Deuteronomy 5
  12. Stapleton, "The Ten Commandments"
  13. 13.0 13.1 Barry, p. 85
  14. Exodus 31:18
  15. 15.0 15.1 Addis, p. 195
  16. Kreeft, p. 77
  17. Matthew 5:20
  18. . Spring. 1999. 
  19. Carmody, p. 82
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  22. Deuteronomy 5:6–9
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  32. Exodus 20:7
  33. Deuteronomy 5:11
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  39. Deuteronomy 5:12–15
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  41. Mark 2:27
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  49. Sirach 7:27–28
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  56. Deuteronomy 5:17
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  59. Bayertz, p. 233
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  74. Mt 5:21
  75. Mt 5:22–39
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  77. Kreeft, p. 229
  78. Kreeft, p. 238
  79. 79.0 79.1 Kreeft, p. 237
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  81. 81.0 81.1 81.2 81.3 81.4 Paragraph number 2331–2400 (1994). "Catechism of the Catholic Church". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 27 December 2008. 
  82. Exodus 20:14
  83. Deuteronomy 5:18
  84. Kreeft, p. 244
  85. John Paul II, p. 123
  86. Kreeft, p. 245
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  91. Schreck, p. 314
  92. 92.0 92.1 Kreeft, p. 249
  93. USCCB, p. 405, quote: "The sixth commandment summons spouses to practice permanent and exclusive fidelity to one another. Emotional and sexual fidelity are essential to the commitment made in the marriage covenant. God established marriage as a reflection of his fidelity to us."
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  95. Pius XI, encyc.letter Divini illius Magistri: AAS 22 (1930), 58-61; encyc. letter Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 545-546
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  97. John XXIII, encyc. letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 457.
  98. Humane Vitae, 1
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  102. Wilson, Brenda (2004). "Study: Verbal Warnings Helped Curb AIDS in Uganda". National Public Radio. Retrieved 15 August 2008. 
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  104. Matthew 5:32
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  106. 106.0 106.1 106.2 "Frequently Asked Questions". Catholic Diocese of Arlington. Retrieved 07 April 2009. 
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  109. Deuteronomy 5:19
  110. 110.0 110.1 110.2 110.3 Kreeft, pp. 260–261
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  112. Schreck, p. 317
  113. Wikisource-logo Paragraph 3, Rerum Novarum.
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  117. Deuteronomy 5:20
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  119. 119.0 119.1 119.2 119.3 Schreck, pp. 318–319
  120. Kreeft, p. 273
  121. John 2:16
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  124. 124.0 124.1 Exodus 20:17
  125. 125.0 125.1 125.2 125.3 Schreck, p. 320
  126. Matthew 5:28
  127. Matthew 5:8
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  129. Deuteronomy 5:21
  130. 130.0 130.1 Kreeft, pp. 266–267
  131. Schreck, p. 321
  132. 132.0 132.1 USCCB, p. 450
  133. Philippians 3:4–9
  134. Mark 8:36
  135. Kreeft, p. 268
  136. USCCB, p. 449