Catholicism For Dummies
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According to Exodus in the Old Testament, God issued his own set of laws, the Ten Commandments, to Moses on Mount Sinai.

In Basic Beliefs of Catholicism, the Ten Commandments are considered divine law because God himself revealed them. And because they were spelled out specifically with no room for ambiguity, they’re also positive law. That's why they’re also known as divine positive law.

Ten Commandment tablets ©Alswart / Adobe Stock

The 10 Catholic commandments that form the divine positive laws apply to the family as a whole as well as its individual members. However, they are not the only laws that Catholics are duty-bound to follow.

Catholics are also expected to be law-abiding citizens and follow natural moral law, canon law (also known as church law), and all legitimate and ethical civil laws of their city, state, and nation — provided they don’t contradict the laws of God or the church.

The Ten Commandments of the Catholic church are not negotiable. They apply to every human being above the age of reason (at least 7 years old). If you look at the Ten Commandments in order, you’ll see that the first three deal with your personal relationship with God, whereas the final seven deal with your interpersonal relationships (loving your neighbor).

For the most part, the Catholic church's ten commandments are simple and clear, with many of the rules verging on common sense. For example, most people don’t need to be told to honor their parents or not to steal, cheat, lie, or take an innocent life. However, for some people, relying on common sense isn’t enough. So in His divine mercy, God revealed His divine positive law to remove all doubt and ambiguity.

The church doesn’t see the Catholic Ten Commandments as arbitrary rules and regulations from the man upstairs; rather, they are commandments for protection. Obey them and eternal happiness is yours in heaven. Disobey them and suffer the consequences.

Of course, being a devout Catholic does not stop at following the 10 Commandments. In order to understand how they fit into the overall belief system, you must also consider the other pillars of faith.

Along with the Ten Commandments, Catholic church members recognize the Creed, the seven sacraments, and the Our Father as the four pillars of faith because they’re the foundations upon which the Catholic Church is built.

For more information and resources about the basic articles of the Catholic faith, take a look at the Catholicism For Dummies Cheat Sheet before reading on to learn about the Ten Commandments in order.

What are the Ten Commandments in order according to Catholicism?

When you study the Ten Commandments in order, Catholic beliefs become laid out as a clear set of moral principles that form the foundation of Judeo-Christian religious and ethical traditions. These have been the cornerstone of ethical and legal systems throughout history. Following, are the commandments in order, beginning with the main theme of each, the actual commandment in quotes, and explanations.
  1. Honor God. “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any gods before Me.”

    This commandment forbids idolatry, the worship of false gods and goddesses, and it prohibits polytheism, the belief in many gods. It insists, instead, on monotheism, the belief in one God. This commandment forbids making golden calves, building temples to Isis, and worshipping statues of Caesar, for example.

    These pagan concerns are of little concern to the church of today. Rather, there are several relevant ways to obey the first of the Catholic commandments in the modern world:
    1. Rejecting false belief systems like astrology, numerology, New Age spirituality, or the Church of Scientology
    2. Tuning out distractions by putting God ahead of career, fame, and fortune
    3. Spending quality time with God and never neglecting prayers
    4. Honoring Mary and the saints through prayer, rather than idolizing them
  2. Honor God's name. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

    According to the 10 Commandments, Catholic church faithfuls are required to honor the name of God. It makes sense that if you’re to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then you’re naturally to respect the name of God with equal passion and vigor. This means avoiding blasphemy by using the names of God or Jesus Christ to show anger or hostility. The bible teaches Catholics to respect holy things and holy oaths. Making jokes, watching movies, or reading books that are disrespectful to God or anything considered holy is a no-go.

  3. Honor God's day. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”

    The Jewish celebration of Sabbath (Shabbat) begins at sundown on Friday evening and lasts until sundown on Saturday. Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians go to church on Sunday, treating it as the Lord’s Day, instead of Saturday, to honor the day Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Catholics are required to:

    1. Attend Catholic Mass every Sunday or Vigil Mass on Saturday each week. Skipping Mass without valid reason is considered a mortal sin.

    2. Avoid doing any servile work (unnecessary hard labor) on the Lord’s Day. Pastors can transfer the obligation to another day, but only for serious reasons – like for congregation members who are doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, etc.

  4. Respect your parents. “Honor thy father and mother.”

    This commandment obliges the faithful to show respect for their parents — as children and adults. Children must obey their parents, and adults must respect and see to the care of their parents when they become old and infirm.

    Adult children who abandon, abuse, or neglect their elderly parents are violating the fourth commandment just as much as younger children who refuse to show respect or obedience. However, the Catholic Church believes this commandment means more than just keeping order in the home. It also implies respect and honor for everyone in legitimate positions of authority — whether civilian, military, or ecclesiastical.
  5. Honor human life. “Thou shalt not kill.”

    The better translation from the Hebrew would be “Thou shalt not murder” — a subtle distinction but an important one to the Church. Killing an innocent person is considered murder. Killing an unjust aggressor to preserve your own life is still killing, but it isn’t considered murder or immoral.

    However, it’s essential to note the use of deadly force is only morally permitted if it’s the last resort in self-defense and if the person isn’t innocent. More subtle violations of the fifth commandment include growing angry in your heart, harboring feelings of hatred or revenge, being criminally negligent, and committing personal abuse by intentionally neglecting to take care of your own health and safety — such as abusing drugs and alcohol.

    Mutilation and torture of human or animal life are also considered a sin.

  6. Honor human sexuality. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

    This is one of the moments where examining the Ten Commandments in order becomes a little tricky, as both the sixth and ninth commandments honor human sexuality. This commandment forbids the physical act of having immoral sexual activity, specifically adultery, which is sex with someone else’s spouse or a spouse cheating on their partner.

    This commandment also includes fornication, which relates to any form of sexual activity between unmarried people. This includes prostitution, pornography, homosexual activity, masturbation, group sex, rape, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and necrophilia.

    The Church believes that sexual intercourse was ordained by God and designed exclusively for a husband and wife. Only sex between a husband and wife is considered moral, and even then, the couple must be mutually respectful of each other.

  7. Honor the property of others. “Thou shalt not steal.”

    This commandment forbids the act of taking someone else’s property. The Catholic church believes that this commandment also denounces cheating people of their money or property, depriving workers of their just wage, or not giving employers a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. Embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion, and vandalism are all considered extensions of violations of the seventh commandment.

    Showing disrespect for the private ownership of someone else’s property — be it money or possessions — is also considered a sinful act. However, although the church sees property as a fundamental right, it’s not considered absolute. For example, if a person owns more food than he needs, he is obligated to donate a portion of his goods and share them with a person who is starving.
  8. Honor the truth. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

    The eighth commandment condemns lying. Because God is regarded as the author of all truth, the church believes that humans are obligated to honor the truth. The most obvious way to fulfill this commandment is not to lie — intentionally deceive another by speaking a falsehood. So, a good Catholic is the kind of person you want to buy a used car from.

    Figures of speech, metaphors, hyperboles, and fairy tales aren't considered lies because the listener isn’t expecting accurate facts, and the speaker doesn’t intend to deceive. But intentionally lying is always considered sinful, even if the reasons are noble. Concealing the truth is not considered a lie, however. After all, the Seal of the Confessional is a fundamental principle for Catholic priests.
  9. Honor human sexuality. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”

    The ninth commandment forbids the intentional desire and longing for immoral sexuality. To sin in the heart, Jesus says, is to lust after a woman or a man in your heart with the desire and will to have immoral sex with them. Just as human life is a gift from God and needs to be respected, defended, and protected, so, too, is human sexuality. Catholicism regards human sexuality as a divine gift, so it’s considered sacred in the proper context: marriage.

    Under the Ten Commandments of the catholic church, marriage is considered the best, most sacred, and most efficient union of man and woman because God created marriage. It signifies the permanent, faithful, and hopefully fruitful covenant. Human sexual activity is designed to promote unity and procreation. Whenever that formula is altered or divided, the church sees it as living in sin.
  10. Honor the property of others. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”

    The tenth commandment forbids the wanting or taking of someone else’s property. Along with the Seventh Commandment, this commandment condemns theft and the feelings of envy, greed, and jealousy in reaction to what other people have.

    In a wider context, the church believes that, although private property is a right, it’s subservient to higher values, such as human life and national security. So although Catholics don’t believe that governments have the right to usurp private property and nationalize businesses, they do believe they have an obligation to protect private property and to help individuals and other nations in great need.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Rev. Fr. John Trigilio, Jr., PhD, ThD, is President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and a member of the faculty at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Rev. Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD, is co-host with Father Trigilio of a weekly television program on EWTN called Web of Faith. With Father Trigilio, he is the co-author of previous editions of Catholicism For Dummies.

Rev. Fr. John Trigilio, Jr., PhD, ThD, is President of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and a member of the faculty at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Rev. Fr. Kenneth Brighenti, PhD, is co-host with Father Trigilio of a weekly television program on EWTN called Web of Faith. With Father Trigilio, he is the co-author of previous editions of Catholicism For Dummies.

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