Catholic Truth Society Postal Course #12: The Ten Commandments, part 2, by Father Herbert C Fincham

cpc-ten-commandments-2As well as by our direct service of God in religion, we must serve God indirectly by obeying His laws which govern our relationship to one another, and the next seven Commandments summarize those laws. It is important to notice that the statements of these Commandments are only like chapter headings, which, while referring to the gravest manner of breaking the particular law, include the many lesser ways in which that law might be broken. Thus we can sin against the fifth Commandment in many lesser ways than murder.

The Fourth Commandment

The fourth Commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” sums up in this phrase the right relationship between superiors and inferiors, for all rightful authority comes from God, the Father of the human family, and is the just exercise of God’s paternal rulership. In honouring and obeying our parents, we honour and obey God, whom our parents represent for us, in so far as God has given them authority over us. The same is true of the respect and obedience we are bound to give to all lawful superiors, spiritual, civil, or under the explicit or implicit contract of service. Saint Paul sums it all up in the words Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation ” (Romans 13:1,2). And Our Lord asserted that this is true even of unjust, pagan rulers by His words to Pilate: “Thou shouldst not have any power against Me, unless it were given thee from above” (John 19:11); and “Render to Caesar to things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Thus there is a grave duty to obey the grave laws of the State and of the Church.

Secret Societies Are Forbidden

This Commandment forbids all illegal activities against our lawful superiors, or giving our support to any activities which might be guilty of such illegal plotting. Among such sinful associations must be included all secret societies which insist on preserving their secrecy even from the inspection of the supreme rulers of the Church and State, for, whether or not such societies are in fact plotting against the State, the good of society, or the Church, their very secrecy makes it impossible for their innocence to be reasonably assumed. For this reason no Catholic may join the Freemasons or kindred societies, but the Church does sanction other associations which guard a reasonable privacy of their affairs, while permitting official inspection and examination of their constitutions and activities.

Duties of Superiors

On the other hand, this Commandment lays very grave obligations on all superiors and lawful authorities to respect and assist those under their charge or jurisdiction in all the needs of their soul and body. We are never bound to obey any command which is against our conscience even were it to come from the highest authority in the world. Nor are we bound by unjust or impossible laws.

The rest of this fourth Commandment, the relationship of parents and children, together with the sixth and ninth Commandments, are dealt with later in the leaflets on marriage, which is the foundation of our relationships within the family.

Our Relationship With Our Neighbours

Our Lord comprises all this relationship under one law: ** The second commandment is like to the first, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark 12:31). This love of our neighbour is essentially love of the wiD and not a matter of feeling. We must love even those we do not like, even our enemies: ” I say to you, love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.” (Matthew 5:44) We are bound to love all men for Christ’s sake, by an act of our wiU determining to harm none but to do good and wish weU for all. In this way, Christ says, we become worthy children of our Father ” who is in heaven, who maketh the sun to shine upon the good and bad, and raineth on just and unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have?” (Matthew 5:45,46) The universal love which we are bound to have for all our neighbours cannot be a matter of feelings, for such is impossible to human nature, but will consist in the firm determination of our will to obey the commandments and neither to wish nor to do our neighbour any deliberate injury, but as far as in us lies, to be good to all men.

The Tenth Commandment

Thus all breaking of this Commandment of charity will start in the mind and be sinful by the deliberate desire to injure others. Charity will make us suppress at once any unjust desire, which is called coveting of what belongs to others, whether it be forbidden by the ninth Commandment, ” Thou shalt not [covet thy neighbour’s wife “, or the tenth, ” Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.” This latter is only a sin when the desire is actually sinful in that we have the will to get possession of the goods of others.

The Fifth Commandment

Under the heading of “Thou shalt not kill” are included all those sins which harm our neighbour’s soul or body and reach their climax in the murderous destruction of the life of body or soul. Against the bodily life of others are included murder, guilty homicide, fighting, quarrelling and injurious words; and the vices that inspire such evil acts – hatred, anger and revenge.

Scandal and Bad Example

Against the spiritual life of our neighbour there are two principal sins by which we may co-operate in the destruction of this life, scandal and bad example. The former means doing anything which might trip up {scandalum means a stumbling-block) our fellows, causing them to fall into sin. Bad example means that our own sins may encourage others to do likewise. The guilt of these sins depends on the gravity of the sin to which we encourage others and the amount of encouragement that our action is liable to give. It does not depend on whether or not in fact the scandal or bad example led others into sin. Thus an evil-living father is guilty of bad example even though his children do not in fact follow his evil ways.

We are guilty of the sins of others, and therefore of the murder of their souls if the sins are mortal, by causing them or sharing in them through our own fault; by advising or commanding another to sin; by allowing another to sin when we could prevent it; by provoking another into sin by anger or flattery; by helping another to sin; by concealing another’s guilt from those who have the right to know it (on the other hand it would be a sin of detraction to publish another’s guilt unnecessarily); or by defending and praising the sinfulness of another’s acts.

Our Ownership Is Under God

Under the supreme ownership of God all mankind has the right to his life, bodily welfare, just possessions and good character. They are not his absolute property, as all things belong to God, and therefore he cannot do just what he likes with them. He cannot destroy his own life by suicide; nor maim his own body seriously, without grave reason, by such practices as sterilization. Nor has God given to any earthly power the authority to destroy or endanger the life, health or bodily integrity of any innocent person by such actions as abortion, euthanasia or sterilization.

Our Right to Self-Defence

All, however, have the right to self-defence, and even, if necessary, to kill the guilty aggressor. In so far as a murderer or criminal is an aggressor against the good of society, the State has the right to condemn him to death; and the same principle applies when waging a Just war of defence, for even though individual soldiers of the enemy are innocent, they are supporting an unjust aggression.

The Seventh Commandment

Under the heading, “Thou shalt not steal”, the seventh Commandment covers all sins against justice. These include theft, dishonesty, cheating, unlawful possession of the property of others, failure to observe just contracts, defrauding servants of their just wages, oppression of the poor (Exodus 2:23); not giving an honest return for wages or wasting the employer’s time and property. Employers are unjust in taking advantage of the needs of the workers so as to exact hard conditions of labour or make them agree to a wage less than sufficient to keep a man and his family in frugal comfort; unless, of course, the worker is too young to be married or is still learning his trade or profession. The conditions, place and hours of work must be such as not to be injurious to the worker’s body or soul and worthy of the human dignity of man.

The Obligation Of Restitution

The guilt of sins against justice depends on the amount of injury done to the one defrauded; if this is grave, it is a grave sin; if slight, then only venial. In the same way the obligation of restoring ill-gotten goods will be grave for grave sin and light for venial sin. Where it is quite impossible to make restitution to the person or party defrauded, it may be done by giving the value stolen or ill-gotten to the poor or other charity.

The Eighth Commandment

This obligation of restitution applies also to sins against the next Commandment; we are bound to make good any injury we may do to our neighbour’s character by calumny or detraction. While all lies are forbidden by the eighth Commandment, calumny has the extra malice of injustice to another’s good name by telling lies against another person. Detraction means spreading unnecessarily what is true but evil against the good name of other people. Thus our witness against our neighbour may be false either because it is untrue, or because the circumstances in which it is given are unjust.

The Positive Law

The Commandment to love our neighbour is not fulfilled merely by avoiding to do him injury, we must seek to help him and do him all the good that lies within our power. For this above all will be the matter of the Last Judgment, according to Our Lord’s own words; ” Then shall the king say to them that be on His right hand: Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me to eat: I was thirsty and you gave Me to drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: naked and you covered Me; sick and you visited Me: I was in prison and you came to Me. Then shall the just answer: Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and fed Thee: thirsty and gave Thee to drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and covered Thee? Or when did we see Thee sick or in prison and came to Thee? And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me”. But to those who neglect charity Christ will say: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:34-46). These corporal works of mercy have their spiritual counterparts, which are even more important. We must do all we can to help our fellow-men to save their souls, by prayer, instruction, good advice, patience and good example.

MLA Citation

  • Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. The Catholic Postal Course, 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 21 October 2016. <>