Here is a second installment of my simple exposition of the Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer. This part of the Catechism concentrates on the Ten Commandments and also refers to Christ's Summary of the Law. As with every section of the Catechism, one could use this section as the basis of thematic Bible study by refering to many texts or one could develop a more abstract and comprehensive theological statement. However, in this commentary, I confine myself to a few Scriptural references and simple comments.
Question. You said that your Sponsors did promise for you, that you should keep God's Commandments. Tell me how many there are? Answer. Ten.
Comment: Saying that there are ten basic commandments is rooted in Scripture and ancient custom. The Ten Commandments have been an important element in Christian catechesis since at least the time of St. Augustine, but different traditions have divided them in different ways. In general, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and the Reformed groups have followed the enumeration we see in our Catechism. Roman Catholics and Lutherans organized the text differently. They have combined the command against having other gods with the one about worshipping idols, and they have divided the command against coveting into one against coveting relationships and another against coveting property.
Regardless of the organization, the ideas are the same, and the basic rules can be memorized by the average person with a little effort. There are many things that human beings should or should not do, but these ten cover basic principles and actions. These basics can be applied to all areas of human life.
Question. Which are they?
Answer. The same which God spake in the twentieth Chapter of Exodus, saying, I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
I. Thou shalt have none other gods but me.
II. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and show mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments.
III. Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his Name in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.
IV. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work; thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.
V. Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
VI. Thou shalt do no murder.
VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
VIII. Thou shalt not steal.
IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.
Question. What dost thou chiefly learn by these Commandments?
Answer. I learn two things; my duty towards God, and my duty towards my Neighbour.
Comment: The Catechism follows our Lord's example by summarizing all the commandments in the two Great Commandments to love God and the neighbor (St. Matthew 22:37-40). Commandments I-IV are primarily about how to love God, and Commandments V-X are primarily about how to love one's neighbor.
Question. What is thy duty towards God?
Answer. My duty towards God is To believe in him, to fear him, And to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength: To worship him, to give him thanks: To put my whole trust in him, to call upon him: To honour his holy Name and his Word: And to serve him truly all the days of my life.
Comment: This short summary of the teaching of the First Great Commandment is simple and in words that most people can still understand. Loving God is not merely some warm feeling; it involves belief, fear, worship, thanksgiving, trust, prayer, respect for divine revelation and service.
Question. What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour?
Answer. My duty towards my Neighbour is To love him as myself, and to do to all men as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the civil authority: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt nobody by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men's goods; But to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, And to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.
Comment: This summary of the teaching of the Second Great Commandment is beautiful, but unfortunately somewhat problematic for many modern English-speakers. Loving our neighbors is not merely or primarily a matter of kind or warm feelings; true love for people involves a number of actions and attitudes. This duty extends from the first people most of us know, our parents, to all those we encounter in the various states and stages of life.
Honoring parents extends to actually aiding them, and it extends to all those who have legitmate authority over us- teachers, clergy, supervisers and bosses of all kinds, magistrates and government officials. Not committing murder extends to other behaviors that harm people and to attitudes toward people (see St. Matthew 6:21-22). Not stealing implies being true and just in all dealings with others. Not committing adultery extends to more than outward sexual relations; it includes general attitudes about sex and other physical pleasures- such as moderation in eating and drinking. Not bearing false witness extends to the general need to be honest in our words. And not coveting is already a commandment which has mental and spiritual dimensions that overlap with all other commandments about dealing with other people.
So far the Catechism has dealt with rather general aspects of Christian life. It started with Christian identity by reference to Baptism and with general beliefs by reference to the Apostles' Creed. We have now seen basic religious and moral commandments. With this general background, the next section will move into the practices of Christian devotion.