Crying out the name of Jesus Christ as a profanity when one is mad seems to be a popular expression; however, it is a problem if this is the only time we call upon our Lord. [Read more…]
“I, the Lord, am your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” – God
“Of course I don’t worship anyone other than God,” you might say. But is God really a priority in your life? During this season of Lent, we have a wonderful opportunity to grow closer to God. We can devote ourselves to prayer and service and sacrifice, and in so doing, make God ever more a priority in our lives. [Read more…]
The Ten Commandments (also known as the Decalogue, from the Greek for “ten words” or “ten laws”) are some of the most basic rules that Christians follow. God loves his people, so he makes sure we have rules to live by, because these rules tell us how we flourish and function best. When we sin against the commandments, we not only disobey God but also do harm to ourselves and others, even if we don’t recognize it at the time.
A Numbered List of the Ten Commandments
- I, the Lord, am your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
- Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
- You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Catholic and Protestant
This listing of the Ten Commandments is the one Catholics use, but most Protestants use a slightly different set of Commandments. Their list includes a commandment against making graven images (which Catholics see as part of what the First Commandment commands). Then, the last commandment is simply, “You shall not covet,” instead of having two separate commandments about coveting. The content is basically the same for all Christians, but the numbering is different.
Why do Catholics use a different listing from most Protestants? Well, if you look up the Ten Commandments in the Bible, you might notice that they aren’t numbered. The Ten Commandments are sometimes separated into different verses, where each verse is a Commandment. This can make it easy to think that the numbering of the Commandments is from the Bible, but the division of the Bible into verses came millennia after the Ten Commandments were first written down.
The practice of presenting the Decalogue as a numbered list developed much later in history, with the early Church Fathers. St. Augustine, the most influential Church Father in the Latin Church, listed the Decalogue based on the law presented in Deuteronomy 5. However, the Decalogue is also found in Exodus 20, and most Protestants go by the way they are presented there.
Did Catholics Change the List?
Some Protestants accuse Catholics of changing the listing of the Ten Commandments to avoid listing the commandment against making images. The order that Catholics use, however, is from a period of Church history long before Protestantism even existed. St. Augustine died in 430, and the Protestant Reformation did not begin until 1517.
Furthermore, Catholics understand that it is not wrong to have statues. The command against graven images is a command not to worship images, not a command not to make images at all. In fact, God commanded Moses to make statues to adorn the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence dwelled (Exodus 25:18-20). God even worked miracles through an image of a bronze serpent that Moses made at God’s command (Numbers 21:5-9).
The Hierarchy of Commandments
In addition to the Ten Commandments, there are many other commandments in the Old Testament. For example, there are many commands about how to perform sacrifices or celebrate certain Jewish feasts. Jesus summarized the purpose and meaning of these commandments. When someone asked him what commandment was the greatest, Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39).
Love of God
When we look at the Ten Commandments, they follow this same hierarchy. The first three Commandments deal with our love for God. We must love God above all things. Loving God above all things mean that we love and honor his name. It also means that on the day God tells us to rest, we rest, and we devote the day to special worship of God.
Love of Neighbor
The last seven Commandments tell us how to love our neighbor. We have a special duty to our parents, who gave us life. That is enough reason to honor them, because without them, we would not be alive to experience any of God’s blessings.
Just as our lives are a gift, we must respect that gift in others, and it is wrong for us to take the life of another person (self-defense is an exception to this rule).
We must treat sex with respect, because it has a meaning that involves procreation and unity. To commit adultery is to violate the meaning of sex, which is intended to unite spouses. We have a responsibility to honor our spouses, and to respect the marriages of others. The ninth Commandment shows that this respect is not only a matter of actions (i.e. not committing adultery), but also a matter of respecting others’ marriages in our hearts and minds.
When we steal from others, we are by definition depriving them of what belongs to them. This shows a lack of love for our neighbor. For every right we have, there is a responsibility. People have the right to keep the things that belong to them, but they have the responsibility to look after the poor rather than hoarding their possessions.
When we lie, we can greatly hurt our neighbors. When someone deserves the truth from us, we have a duty to tell it. Lying is especially bad when we lie about others, because we can ruin their reputations.
Finally, we are not to covet our neighbors’ goods. It is okay to see good things that others have and want to have those good things, too. The problem comes when we think that we deserve to have something just because someone else has it, or when we let our neighbors’ possessions make us resentful that we do not have those things, too. At worst, we might commit the sin of envy. This means that we go beyond wanting what other people have and even want them to lose the good things they have. If we envy, we aren’t just sad that we don’t have something good, but we are also sad that someone else does have something good.
The Purpose of the Commandments
The Commandments teach us the best way to love God and to love our neighbor. As human beings created out of relationship (the life of the Trinity) for relationship, we are happiest when we have good relationships with other human beings and with God. The Ten Commandments tell us basic ways to live to promote healthy relationships. Sometimes it might be hard to follow the commandments (both the Ten Commandments and the other laws of God), and in a fallen world following the commandments sometimes results in sharing Jesus’ cross. Even so, the Ten Commandments are a sign of God’s love for us, and one of the many ways he teaches us what is good for us.
Recently Google updated its algorithm to remove pornographic images in search results for non-pornographic searches according to a recent FoxNews.com report.
Google tweaked its search algorithm overnight, effectively making it much harder to stumble upon pornographic images. The company says this will minimize the likelihood that a random search for, say, bicycling, would return sexually explicit pictures.
I applaud Google’s efforts to clean up web search and to reduce the risk of exposure to children. While Google doesn’t eliminate porn from search results, it did make innocuous searches less infiltrated with porn which I consider a small victory.
“The effective de-ranking of adult content in an attempt to prevent inadvertent exposure to adult content is a trend we have seen in recent months by the major search engines. New top-level domains such as .xxx are only making it easier for consumers to find exactly what they want but at the same time making it easy for those wishing to avoid content.”
I feel like I am bombarded by sexual images all the time from news stories on the web to innocent searches. This makes the internet a safer place for children and gives parents the ability to teach their kids how to use the internet without having to worry about exposure to dangerous content.
Original Sin is the sin inherited by all humankind from Adam in his disobedience of God’s command not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The Original Sin event is referred to as “The Fall of Man.” [Read more…]
Horoscopes are a means of attempting to know the future through an astrologer’s interpretation of Sun sign astrology. The Catholic Church teaches against the use of horoscopes and other such fortune-telling practices such as astrology, palm reading, clairvoyance, ouija boards, and mediums because they attempt to take the place of God. [Read more…]
Mortal sins are sins of serious or grave matter. “Mortal” means death; they are sins that cause death to the soul. Mortal sins completely sever one’s relationship with God and the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (commonly called Confession) is necessary to restore this relationship.
Venial sins, on the other hand, are less serious sins.
Are all Sins the Same?
Some people will argue that there is no difference between sins that all sins offend God and therefore are equally bad. However, scriptures tells us that there are sins that are deadly and sins that are not deadly in 1 John 5:16-17.
“If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.”
Conditions for Mortal Sins
Three conditions must be met to classify a sin as a mortal sin. All three of these conditions must be met otherwise the sin is considered a venial sin.
- Grave Matter – If the nature of the sin itself is not grave then it’s not a mortal sin.
- Sufficiently Full Knowledge – If you don’t know that it’s a mortal sin then it’s not.
- Full Consent or Freedom – If you are not doing it freely then it’s not a mortal sin.
Grave matter means that the sin must be of substantial significance. It must be a serious sin. The Catholic Church uses Mark 10:19 as its guideline for what defines grave matter. “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that “The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.” (Paragraph 1858)
Sufficiently Full Knowledge
Sufficiently full knowledge means that one must fully know that the sin they are committing is serious and have the intention of breaking the relationship with God. Pretending not to know that the sin is wrong or having a hardness of heart actually magnify that the sin was a personal choice.
Full Consent or Freedom
Full consent or freedom means that the person must fully and willingly commit the sin. If the person is being coerced to commit the act then it is not a mortal sin. It must be a choice made completely of one’s own free will, a conscious choice. This kind of choice is available to us through God’s gift of free will. God’s desire is for us to love him and making a conscious choice to commit mortal sins is the opposite of loving God.
Mortal sin deprives the soul of sanctifying grace. It kills one’s receptivity to that grace hence the reason it is important to go to confession to cleanse the soul of mortal sins.
The Unforgivable Sin
The only sin that cannot be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:29; cf. Mt 12:31; Lk 12:10). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the final and obdurate rejection of God’s forgiveness itself, stubbornly refusing forever to accept God’s outpouring of forgiveness.
Here are what some others say about Mortal Sin:
What the Vatican says about sin: “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” and about Mortal Sin, they say: “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.”
Sounds pretty serious, right?
Well, there is the possibility that your culpability for these sins could be reduced based on circumstances and the conditions for a mortal sin. For example, unintentional ignorance of the fact that something is sinful could reduce your culpability. That’s based on condition #2, full knowledge. As for condition #3, full consent, there are other issues that could reduce someone’s personal responsibility such as mental illness or addiction.
Here’s a good reminder about the relationship between mortal and venial sins: Remember venial sin merely weakens the soul but doesn’t break the relationship with God. However, it’s still good to go to confession from time to time with venial sins to unburden your soul. With mortal sins, on the other hand, it’s much more serious and it causes a break in your relationship with God.
If unsure, Seek Guidance. It can be difficult to ask about sin because of the shame attached to it. However, the best way to ask would be to go to your local parish for confession. While in confession, you can ask about it and get helpful tips on how to proceed. Most parishes offer anonymous confession that allows you to talk with the priest behind a screen so he can’t see you. Don’t be afraid, priests have heard thousands of confessions. So, honestly they won’t be phased by your sins 🙂 If you don’t remember how to go to confession, click here.
Don’t lose hope! We are reminded that the great gift of the sacrament of confession can reconcile us with God. All we need to do is repent and try to amend our ways.
In the end, remember to go frequently to confession to hone your moral sense and remove your attachment to sin.
Venial sins are less serious sins that do not cause death to the soul like mortal sins. Venial sins, while less serious in content or participation should be given strong attention because they lessen the love of God in the heart and weaken the power to resist further sin; they are still offenses against God and leave marks on the soul. Venial sins make us more prone to continue to commit sins and possibly commit mortal sins. [Read more…]
The Precepts of the Catholic Church are like a bare bones list of things you must do as a Catholic; they are like minimum membership requirements. The idea is to guarantee “the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.” [Read more…]
Abortion is an issue of grave concern to Catholics because it concerns issues of human dignity. As Catholics, we believe that human dignity is rooted in God. Our dignity comes from the very fact that we were created by God in the image and likeness of God and because of this, all people are equal in dignity. The Catholic Church is against abortion because it infringes upon our God-given dignity. [Read more…]
For much of history the Catholic Church banned cremation as a choice for dead Catholics, but in 1963 the Vatican lifted the ban. Cremation is now an acceptable practice for Catholics, but only if done for the right reasons. [Read more…]
If you live in a country where you elect government officials (like in the United States) then you know voting is an important part of citizenship. Moreover, if you are Catholic, you have a duty to vote in accordance with your Catholic beliefs; we are first children of God and then citizens of our country. [Read more…]
“Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” – God
The third and final Commandment pertaining specifically to loving God with our total mind, heart and soul is also a commandment designed for us. It gives us an opportunity to rest, relax, regroup and talk to God. [Read more…]
The Ten Commandments, sometimes referred to as the Decalogue, can be seen as a legislative body of rules. From the time when God issued them on Mount Sinai to Moses (Exodus 20:2-17) that is how some people practiced them. However, Jesus came to clarify how we fulfill those Commandments. [Read more…]
Sexual intercourse was designed by God to unify a married couple and to further participate in God’s ongoing creation.
Marriage is the union of a male and female for the rest of their lives. This is not just a Catholic definition, but a universal one. Today’s world is the first time in history that atempts have been made to redefine marriage. [Read more…]
When it comes to judging human actions, it is perhaps best that God is in charge, and not only because He said so. The feeble mind of man cannot even remotely begin to have the capability to take into account all the influences on an individual when he acts. Any attempt on the part of man to assume God’s role results in miserable failure, as seen in both the heteronomous and autonomous movements in the Church. A heteronomous view of the salvation of man often excludes the role that conscience plays in an invincibly ignorant individual, leaving all the poor non-Catholics with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs in Hell. Shifting to the opposite extreme leads one to an autonomous view of morality, which denies any sort of absolute moral norms and thereby allows any unholy fiend in human form to stand before the Almighty after sinning in defiance. The latter case is perhaps the more popular-for obvious reasons-but is just as incorrect and dangerous. Autonomous ideas may take many forms, but one version in the Church at present is what is known as Proportionalism, discussed in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis Splendor. While the Pope’s assessment of the danger affords a very clear and thorough definition of Proportionalism, it focuses mainly on the teleological ramifications of subscribing to its teachings. Though some Proportionalists have cited St. Thomas Aquinas to support their error, a closer inspection of the full text of Aquinas shows that he is not only not a Proportionalist but also that his arguments are some of its most devastating opponents.
Before launching into Aquinas’ account of human action that proves so fatal to Proportionalism, one must first understand the substance of the teachings of Proportionalism. Veritatis Splendor sums up the error nicely: “[Proportionalism], while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain[s] that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behavior which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values.”1 Given the fact that the Ten Commandments, among other teachings, seem very absolute, one would think that it is difficult to hold such a view. The Pope explains the way in which the Proportionalists endeavor to bypass such a fundamental barricade: “The criteria for evaluating the moral rightness of an action are drawn from the weighing of the non-moral or pre-moral goods to be gained and the corresponding non-moral or pre-moral values to be respected. For some, concrete behavior would be right or wrong according as whether or not it is capable of producing a better state of affairs for all concerned.”2
The terms “non-moral” or “pre-moral” in the Pope’s definition need clarification in order for one to understand the nature of Proportionalism. Non-moral or pre-moral goods are those that have some relation to the person doing the acting. The encyclical names “health or its endangerment, physical integrity, life, death, loss of material goods, etc.,”3 as some of the more often-named pre-moral goods. Put another way, these goods are of a kind that, if endangered or threatened, could allow the actor (or agent) to perform as a good act what, in other more ordinary circumstances, would be considered an evil act. On the other hand, there are pre-moral evils, linked inseparably to the good, since moral act implies a choice between good and evil. When one prepares to act, he “proportions,” or weighs the factors, and chooses those that have more values than disvalues. For example, if a person were given the choice to place a tiny speck of incense on an altar to Zeus and deny his own God, or face horrible torture and death, the Proportionalists would claim that the values of staying alive, being with one’s family, etc. outweigh the disvalue of what may be only at the surface denying God. The act of saving one’s own life in the face of martyrdom can be legitimately performed as a good act, since the extraordinary circumstances of the individual’s position allow for that one exception to the First Commandment. The individual’s judgment of these potentially threatening circumstances thus becomes the deciding factor and the act’s “‘moral goodness’ would be judged on the basis of the subject’s intention in reference to moral goods, and its ‘rightness’ on the basis of a consideration of its foreseeable effects or consequences and of their proportion.”4 Hence the name “pre-moral”: since the actions are judged by intention and the situational circumstances, both of which happen at the time the agent is faced with a difficulty in his path of action, the action itself is neutral until the agent’s own circumstances enter into the equation. It logically follows, then, that there can be no such thing as intrinsically evil acts, that is, acts that, by their very nature, regardless of the circumstances, are evil. Speaking in the voice of a Proportionalist, the Pope writes, “Even when grave matter is concerned, these precepts should be considered as operative norms which are always relative and open to exceptions.”5
It is precisely because of the conclusion that there are no universal, morally absolute, intrinsically evil acts that the Church entirely rejects the Proportionalist view. Though the Proportionalists may be acting out of good intentions, the Church cannot in any way make allowances for their teachings. The Pope understands that Proportionalism is an attempt to “provide liberation from the constraints of a voluntaristic and arbitrary morality of obligation which would ultimately be dehumanizing,”6 for, without any real choice, a person is not using his reason and freedom of choice, which distinguish him from the animals. But Proportionalism is one of the “false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action.”7 Circumstances and intention can play a very important role in moral action, but they “can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.”8 As was said before, Pope John Paul II does not delve into the question of circumstances and intent; for that, one must turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Proportionalists point to certain lines in Aquinas to “prove” that he supports their theory. They claim that Aquinas writes that “circumstance transforms an action” and that “human action may be good or evil according to its circumstances” but such claims are quoting Thomas out of context-the latter quotation comes from the sed contra of Prima Secundae, question eighteen, article three, with which Aquinas proceeds to disagree. St. Thomas’ analysis may be broken down to three points: there are two kinds of circumstances, neither of which can make a bad action good; nor can good intent make a bad action good; but evil intent can make a good action bad. Before the reader gets entirely confused, he must first understand the essential difference in circumstances and how they may affect action.
St. Thomas Aquinas is very clear when he distinguishes what will be called “specifying circumstances” and “circumstances of the agent.” Using Aristotelian terms, he explains that “just as the primary goodness of a natural thing is derived from its form, which gives it its species, so the primary goodness of a moral action is derived from its suitable object.”9 Form is the defining application of the natural thing itself; so, too, is the object for an action. For example, “using a hammer” is an action with no defining moral qualities-it is neutral. The act becomes a moral act when certain objects are introduced into its nature, or essence. “Using a hammer that is one’s own” is an instance of making use of one’s own property and is an act, as Thomas says, “good in its genus.”10 It is a good action because the circumstances that specify something intrinsic to the nature of the action-namely that the hammer belongs to the user-are good. “Taking a hammer that belongs to someone else,” however, contains the circumstances that necessitate some wrongdoing: stealing. The evil object of taking another’s property is necessitated by the specifying circumstance that the hammer does not belong to the one taking it. Since “the primary evil is that which is from the object…this action is said to be ‘evil in its genus,’ genus here standing for species.”11 To translate Thomas’ terminology, the species of an action is either good or evil, and is determined by a “circumstance added to the object that specifies the action.”12
Specifying circumstances affect the essence of an act itself and are therefore objective, but there is another kind of circumstances that are entirely subjective, varying from agent to agent. These are the circumstances of the agent, and “are in an action as accidents thereof.”13 This means that anything relating to the agent, such as moral education, invincible ignorance, pressure from outside sources, and other accidents that may be the reason why an individual acts may affect the extent to which he can be judged. Circumstances of the agent only affect the culpability of the agent, not the nature of the action itself. It is on this point that the Proportionalists are confused; they equate personal choices (and therefore culpability) with the essence of an action. A person’s bad intentions may make a good act bad, but they can never make an intrinsically evil act good, because the evil in such an act is wedded to the very “whatness” of the act itself.
Though it sounds as if the Church is holding a double standard, Thomas explains why this is not the case. There are four ways in which an act is good: by its genus, species, specifying circumstances, and end. “Nothing hinders an action that is good in one of the ways mentioned above, from lacking goodness in another way. And thus it may happen that an action which is good in its species or in its circumstances is ordained to an evil end, or vice versa; circumstances can transform an action, but only from a good act to a bad one. An action is not good simply, unless it is good in all those ways: since ‘evil results from any single defect, but good from the complete cause.'”14 So, an action that is good by its nature (that is, in its specifying circumstances) may be evil in other ways that disallow it from being a good act. Similarly, an action that is bad by nature can absolutely never be a good act. Put simply, it is just more difficult to be good than evil.
Lest his readers be confused on any points thus far, Thomas gives an account of an entire moral act, with all circumstances and intentions, hidden and visible, shown in their respective positions. Naturally his language is rather complicated, but by applying what has been dealt with previously regarding circumstances, one finds the explanation quite satisfactory. He begins by discussing how the “interior action of the will” (that is, the person’s intent and consent to an action) and the “external action of the will” (that which is actually done visibly) are both determined in species by their ends. Now, when the will consents interiorly, the action becomes formal-even before the body is able to carry it out. Material cooperation occurs when the body carries out what the will has ordered. Thus, the consent of the will is the first action in any circumstance, so if a person already consents to something evil but does not have the chance to carry it out, he has already committed a sin.15
Thus, St. Thomas’ discussion of circumstances is a death blow to Proportionalism. The difference between specifiying circumstances and circumstances of the agent will hardly allow any room for evasion. One can hardly claim that a person’s intention will make an evil act good when even the interior decision to do something evil without carrying the evil out is a grave sin. The only possible plea, when one has done evil, is that his circumstances, as an agent, were so grave that they either lessen or eliminate his culpability. Those circumstances do not touch the nature of the act itself. In the face of the difficulty, one should not attempt to escape the moral norms, but should embrace them, for it is an opportunity to prove one’s faith. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “And this is what takes place through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth of freedom and of love: in him we are enabled to interiorize the law, to receive it and to live it as the motivating force of true personal freedom: ‘the perfect law, the law of liberty’ (James 1:25).”16
1 Veritatis Splendor, 75.2.
2 Ibid. 74.3.
3 Ibid. 75.2.
4 Ibid. 75.2.
5 Ibid. 75.3.
6 Ibid. 76.1.
7 Ibid. 75.1.
8 Ibid. 81.3.
9 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, q. 18, a. 2.
12 Ibid. q. 18, a. 10.
13 Ibid. q. 18, a. 3.
14 Ibid. q. 18, a.4.
15 Ibid. q.18, a. 6
16 Veritatis Splendor, 83.2.
Basis of Catholic Christian Moral Teachings
The basis of all Catholic Christian morality is our belief in the God who created all things and in Jesus who taught us even better how to live. We believe we are created in God’s image and that we, and all creation, are basically good. Yet we recognize our own tendencies toward evil, especially in an excess of our desires. The Ten Commandments are part of the code known to the early Israelites that helped them to live better lives in relationship with Yahweh. We believe in the same values, with certain changes because of our knowledge of Jesus Christ. [Read more…]