The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT: “Thou Shalt Not Have Strange Gods Before Me.”
The entire law of Christ depends upon charity. And charity depends on two precepts, one of which concerns loving God and the other concerns loving our neighbor.
Now God, in delivering the law to Moses, gave him Ten Commandments written upon two tablets of stone. Three of these Commandments that were written on the first tablet referred to the love of God; and the seven Commandments written on the other tablet related to the love of our neighbor. The whole law, therefore, is founded on these two precepts.
The First Commandment which relates to the love of God is: “Thou shalt not have strange gods.” For an understanding of this Commandment, one must know how of old it was violated. Some worshipped demons. “All the gods of the Gentiles are devils.” This is the greatest and most detestable of all sins. Even now there are many who transgress this Commandment: all such as practise divinations and fortune-telling. Such things, according to St. Augustine, cannot be done without some kind of pact with the devil. “I would not that you should be made partakers with devils.”
Some worshipped the heavenly bodies, believing the stars to be gods: “They have imagined the sun and the moon to be the gods that rule the world.” For this reason Moses forbade the Jews to raise their eyes, or adore the sun and moon and stars: “Keep therefore your souls carefully . . . lest perhaps lifting up thy eyes to heaven, thou see the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error thou adore and serve them, which the Lord thy God created for the service of all the nations.” The astrologers sin against this Commandment in that they say that these bodies are the rulers of souls, when in truth they were made for the use of man whose sole ruler is God.
Others worshipped the lower elements: “They imagined the fire or the wind to be gods.” Into this error also fall those who wrongly use the things of this earth and love them too much: “Or covetous person (who is a server of idols).”
Some men have erred in worshipping their ancestors. This arose from three causes.
(1) From Their Carnal Nature.–“For a father being afflicted with a bitter grief, made to himself the image of his son who was quickly taken away; and him who then had died as a man, he began now to worship as a god, and appointed him rites and sacrifices among his servants.”
(2) Because of Flattery.–Thus being unable to worship certain men in their presence, they, bowing down, honored them in their absence by making statues of them and worshipping one for the other: “Whom they had a mind to honor . . . they made an image . . . that they might honor as present him that was absent.” Of such also are those men who love and honor other men more than God: “He that loveth his father and mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” “Put your trust not in princes; in the children of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
(3) From Presumption.–Some because of their presumption made themselves be called gods; such, for example, was Nabuchodonosor (Judith, iii. 13). “Thy heart is lifted up and thou hast said: I am God.” Such are also those who believe more in their own pleasures than in the precepts of God. They worship themselves as gods, for by seeking the pleasures of the flesh, they worship their own bodies instead of God: “Their god is their belly.” We must, therefore, avoid all these things.
WHY WE SHOULD ADORE ONE GOD
“Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.” As we have already said, the First Commandment forbids us to worship other than the one God. We shall now consider five reasons for this.
God’s Dignity.–The first reason is the dignity of God which, were it belittled-in any way, would be an injury to God. We see something similar to this in the customs of men. Reverence is due to every degree of dignity. Thus, a traitor to the king is he who robs him of what he ought to maintain. Such, too, is the conduct of some towards God: “They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man.” This is highly displeasing to God: “I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven things.” For it must be known that the dignity of God consists in His omniscience, since the name of God, Deus, is from “seeing,” and this is one of the signs of divinity: “Show the things that are to come hereafter, and we shall know that ye are gods.” “All things are naked and open to His eyes.” But this dignity of God is denied Him by practitioners of divination, and of them it is said: “Should not the people seek of their God, for the living and the dead?”
God’s Bounty.–We receive every good from God; and this also is of the dignity of God, that He is the maker and giver of all good things: “When Thou openest Thy hand, they shall all be filled with good.” And this is implied in the name of God, namely, Deus, which is said to be distributor, that is, “dator” of all things, because He fills all things with His goodness. You are, indeed, ungrateful if you do not appreciate what you have received from Him, and, furthermore, you make for yourself another god; just as the sons of Israel made an idol after they had been brought out of Egypt: “I will go after my lovers.” One does this also when one puts too much trust in someone other than God, and this occurs when one seeks help from another: “Blessed is the man whose hope is in the name of the Lord.” Thus, the Apostle says: “Now that you have known God . . . how turn you again to the weak and needy elements? . . . You observe days and months and times and years.”
The Strength of Our Promise.–The third reason is taken from our solemn promise. For we have renounced the devil, and we have promised fidelity to God alone. This is a promise which we cannot break: “A man making void the law of Moses dieth without mercy under two or three witnesses. How much more think ye he deserveth punishment who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean, by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the Spirit of grace!” “Whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man.” Woe, then, to the sinner who enters the land by two ways, and who “halts between two sides.”
Against Service of the Devil.–The fourth reason is because of the great burden imposed by service to the devil: “You shall serve strange gods day and night, who will give you no rest.” The devil is not satisfied with leading to one sin, but tries to lead on to others: “Whosoever sins shall be a slave of sin.” It is, therefore, not easy for one to escape from the habit of sin. Thus, St. Gregory says: “The sin which is not remitted by penance soon draws man into another sin.” The very opposite of all this is true of service to God; for His Commandments are not a heavy burden: “My yoke is sweet and My burden light.” A person is considered to have done enough if he does for God as much as what he has done for the sake of sin: “For as you have yielded your members to serve uncleanness and iniquity, unto iniquity; so now yield your members to serve justice unto sanctification.” But on the contrary, it is written of those who serve the devil: “We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways.” And again: “They have labored to commit iniquity.”
Greatness of the Reward.–The fifth reason is taken from the greatness of the reward or prize. In no law are such rewards promised as in the law of Christ. Rivers flowing with milk and honey are promised to the Mohammedans, to the Jews the land of promise, but to Christians the glory of the Angels: “They shall be as the Angels of God in heaven.” It was with this in mind that St. Peter asked: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
(For “Questions for Discussion” see Chapter 6.)
1. “The Decalogue is the summary and epitome of the entire law of God,” is the opinion of St. Augustine (Quest. cxl super Exod., lib. ii). “Although the Lord had spoken many things, yet He gave only two tablets of stone to Moses. . . . If carefully examined and well understood, it will be found that on them depend whatever else is commanded by God. Again, these ten commandments are reducible to two, the love of God and our neighbor, on which ‘depend the whole law and the prophets’ ” (“Roman Catechism,” “The Decalogue,” Chapter I, 1).
2. Ps. xcv. 5
3. I Cor., x. 20.
4. Wis., xiii. 2.
5. Deut., iv. 15, 19.
6. Wis., xiii. 2.
7. Eph., v. 5.
8. Wis., xiv. 15.
9. “Ibid.,” 17.
10. Matt., x. 37.
11. Ps. cxlv. 3.
12. Ezech., xxviii. 2.
13. Phil., iii. 19.
14. Rom., i. 23.
15. Isa., xlii. 8.
16. “Ibid.,” xli. 23.
17. Heb., iv. 13.
18. Isa., viii. 19.
19. Ps. ciii. 28.
20. Osee, ii. 5.
21. Ps. xxxix. 5.
22. Gal., iv. 9, 10.
>23. Heb., x. 28-29.
24. Rom., vii. 3.
25. III Kings, xviii. 21.
26. Jerem., xvi. 13.
27. John, viii.
28. “Super Ezech.,” xi.
29. Matt., xi. 30.
30. Rom., vi. 19.
31. Wis., v. 7.
32. Jerem., ix. 5.
33. Matt., xxii, 30.
34. John, vi. 69. “The faithful should continually remember these words, ‘I am the Lord thy God.’ They will learn from these words that their Lawgiver is none other than their Creator, by whom they were made and are preserved. . . . ‘Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’ appear at first to relate solely to the Jews liberated from the bondage of Egypt. But if we ponder on the meaning of the salvation of the entire human race, these words will be seen to apply still more specifically to all Christians who are liberated by God, not from the bondage of Egypt, but from the bondage of sin and ‘the powers of darkness, and are translated into the kingdom of His beloved Son’ (Col., i. 13). . . . And when it is said, ‘Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me,’ it is the same as to say: ‘Thou shalt worship Me who am the true God, thou shalt not worship strange gods.’ . . . It should be accurately taught that the veneration and invocation of the Angels, of the Saints, and of the blessed souls who enjoy the glory of heaven–and, moreover, the honor which the Catholic Church has always paid even to the bodies and ashes of the Saints-are not forbidden by this Commandment” (“Roman Catechism,” “First Commandment,” 1, 2, 5, 8).