Week 15 - Catholic Ethics (p. 471-672)

Further expressing the deep continuity between Catholocism and Judaism, the Church then leads us to the "Decalogue" as the guide to Christian life. Their original location is either Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. There is nothing essentially "new" about the Decalogue in human history, for
"From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of the natural law. Then he was content to remind them of them. This was the Decalogue." -St. Irenaeus (pt. 2070)
But important to remember that the 10 commandments are not abstract moral principles that we are to follow by our own effort. The title to this section is called "Life in Christ," meaning we follow the 10 commandments by abiding in the same Christ (who dwells in us by the Holy Spirit) who fulfilled the law perfectly (pt. 2074).

But before getting to the big Ten, the Catechism establishes the freedom of the human creature. This may seem obvious, but there are many contemporary systems of thought that deny human freedom, e.g. Behaviourism, Determinism, some forms (but not all) of Protestantism.

Freedom is one of the manifestations of God's image within human beings. Freedom entails responsibility. Freedom does not simply mean the ability to choose good or bad - by choosing the bad continually one can lose one's freedom (how "free" is an alcoholic?), and by choosing the good continually one can increase in freedom. Christ died in order to restore the freedom which we lost at the Fall.

In heaven we will be perfectly free, because we will only be able to choose the good.

The Beatitudes are also covered in the Catechism at this point because they illustrate that joy that underlies the following of the law in other Christ, rather than the commandments being a chore we do out of duty. The Beatitudes "depict the countenance of Jesus Christ"(pt. 1717).

John Henry Newman called conscience the "aboriginal Vicar of Christ," by which he means all humans from time immemorial have had a "voice" within them telling them what is right or wrong. The Catechism defines conscience as
"a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed." (pt. 1778)
Unless you've either never committed sin or are an alien, you should be able to relate.

Conscience however needs to be educated. For example, someone who thinks there is nothing wrong with cheating has a poorly educated conscience. Conversely, someone whose conscience condemns them for trivial or insignificant matters also has an undeveloped conscience. St. Paul's words on this matter are instructive as well.

The process of learning the 10 commandments is educating the conscience. But no matter how well educated your conscience is, YOU SHOULD NEVER ACT AGAINST CONSCIENCE (see pt. 1790).

This site is a fun introduction to the virtues listed in the Catechism.

Classic definition of sin: "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law." - St. Augustine (see point 1859)

Classic definition of love: "To love is to will the good of another." - Thomas Aquinas (point 1766)

The Ten Commandments

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." -Jesus

1. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no strange gods before me.
NOT INCLUDED: Use of images or statues, provided we worship of venerate through them, not to them.
2. You shall not take my name in vain.
INCLUDED: Going to mass perfunctorily, saying "Jesus Christ!" when you stub your toe.
3. Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
INCLUDED: As much as is within our power, we should not work too little or too much. We should attend mass weekly as well as holy days of obligation.

"You shall love your neighbor as youself" -Jesus

4. Honor your father and your mother.
INCLUDED: Taking care of parents in old age
5. You shall not kill. (now with upgrade!)
INCLUDED: Abortion and Euthanasia.
6. You shall not commit adultery. (now with upgrade!)
See notes from Weigel's talk
7. You shall not steal.
INCLUDED: Withholding our excess from the poor who have a right to it! "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them an deprive them of life" -St. John Chrysostom (pt. 2446)

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
INCLUDED: Gossip, slander. A good rule is not to say anything about someone that you wouldn't say to if they were present, or simply Eph. 4:29. Not to mention Matt 12:36-37! Ouch!
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife (or husband!).

10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Remember the antidote, to covetousness, GRATITUDE!
In addition to all this, there is also our Lord's injunction to "be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Therefore all this would be an utterly impossible burden without him, but with him it is an exciting challenge to nothing less than Sainthood!

A Greek vase depicting Orestes and the Furies, a classical of example of conscience condemning the perpetrator of an unjust act (see point 1781)

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