Are the precepts of the Decalogue
correctly distinguished from one another?
It seems that the precepts of the
Decalogue are not correctly distinguished from one another
[in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5:7‑22]:
Objection 1: Worship
(latria) is a virtue different from faith (fides),
and the precepts are given with respect to acts of the
virtues. But what it says at the beginning of
the Decalogue, viz., “You shall not have strange gods
before me,” has to do with faith, whereas what is then
added, viz., “You shall not make graven images,” has
to do with worship. Therefore, as Augustine says,
these are two precepts and not just one.
The affirmative precepts contained in the Law, e.g.,
“Honor your father and your mother,” are distinct from the
negative precepts, e.g., “You shall not kill.” But “I am
the Lord your God” is affirmative, whereas what is added,
“You shall not have strange gods before me,” is negative.
Therefore, as Augustine claims, they are two precepts and
are not contained under a single precept.
In Romans 7:7 the Apostle says, “I would have not known
concupiscence, if the Law had not said, ‘You shalt not
covet’.” So it seems that the precept “You shall not
covet” is a single precept. Therefore, it should not be
split into two precepts.
But contrary to this
is the authority of Augustine in Glossa super Exodum,
where he says that there are three precepts having to do
with God and seven having to do with our neighbor.
The precepts of the Decalogue are divided up in different
ways by different authors.
For example, Hesychius, in commenting on Leviticus 26:26
(“..... so that ten women are baking bread in one oven”),
says that the observance of the Sabbath does not belong
to the ten precepts, because it is not the case that
the letter of this precept must be observed for all
times. Yet he distinguishes four precepts that
have to do with God:
(a) The first is: “I am the Lord your God.”
(b) The second is: “You shall not have strange
gods before me” (In like manner, Jerome also distinguishes
these two in commenting on Hosea 10:10 (“..... because
of their two iniquities”).)
(c) The third precept, he claims, is: “You shall
not make graven images for yourselves.”
(d) The fourth is: “You shall not take the name
of the Lord your God in vain.”
On the other hand, he claims that there are six precepts
that have to do with our neighbor:
(a) The first is: “Honor your father and your
(b) The second is: “You shall not kill.”
(c) The third is: “You shall not commit adultery.”
(d) The fourth is: “You shall not steal.”
(e) The fifth is: “You shall not bear false witness.”
(d) The sixth is: “You shall not covet.”
However, first of all, it seems wrong for the precept
having to do with the observance of the Sabbath to be
placed among the precepts of the Decalogue if it has
nothing at all to do with the Decalogue.
Second, since Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two
masters,” it would seem that “I am the Lord your God”
and “You shall not have strange gods” have the same
meaning and fall under the same precept. This
is why Origen, who also distinguishes four precepts
ordered toward God, takes these two as one precept,
while positing (a) “You shall not make graven images”
as the second precept, (b) “You shall not take the name
of the Lord your God in vain” as the third precept,
and (c) “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath” as the fourth
precept. The other six precepts he posits in the
same way that Hesychius does.
However, since making graven images or likenesses is
prohibited only insofar as they are not worshipped as
gods (for as Exodus 25:18‑20 says, God commanded
that an image of Seraphim be made for the tabernacle
itself), Augustine more correctly places “You shall
not have strange gods” and “You shall not make graven
images” under a single precept.
coveting (concupiscentia) another’s wife for
sexual intercourse has to do with concupiscence (concupiscentia)
of the flesh, whereas coveting other things that are
desired as possessions has to do with concupiscence
of the eyes. Hence, Augustine posits two precepts
here, one against coveting another’s goods and one against
coveting another’s wife. And so Augustine posits
three precepts in relation to God and seven in relation
to one’s neighbor. And this is better.
Reply to objection 1:
Worship is nothing other than a certain declaration (protestatio)
of faith, and so it is not the case that one precept
should be given about worship and another about faith.
Instead, a precept should be given about worship rather
than about faith, since the precept of faith is
presupposed by the Decalogue in the same way that the
precept of love is. For just as the first general
precepts of the law of nature are known per se to
anyone who has natural reason and so do not need to be
promulgated, so too the precept that one ought to believe
in God (credere in Deum) is a first precept and is
known per se to anyone who has faith. For as
Hebrews 11:6 says, “He who comes to God must believe that
He exists.” And so this precept needs no promulgation
other than the infusion of faith.
Reply to objection 2:
The affirmative precepts are distinct from the negative
precepts when the one is not included
in the other. For instance, the precept that no
man should be killed is not included in the precept
about honoring one’s parents, or vice versa.
By contrast, when the affirmative precept is included
in the negative one, or vice versa, then it is not the
case that there are different precepts about the matter
in question. For instance, the precept “You shall
not steal” is not a different precept from “Take care
of another’s property” or “Return another’s property
to him.” And for the same reason, the precept
about believing in God and the precept about not believing
in strange gods are not diverse precepts.
Reply to objection 3:
All types of coveting (concupiscentia) share a
general definition, and this is why the Apostle speaks in
the singular about the commandment concerning coveting.
Yet the reason why Augustine distinguishes different
precepts about not coveting is that the types of coveting
differ from one another in species. For as the
Philosopher says in Ethics 10, the types of desire
(concupiscentia) differ from one another in species
according to the differences among the actions or among
the things desired.