Are the precepts of the Decalogue
set down in an appropriate way?
It seems that the precepts of the
Decalogue are not set down (tradantur) in an
Objection 1: The affirmative
precepts order one toward acts of the virtues, whereas
the negative precepts draw one back from acts of the
vices. But with respect to any subject matter
whatsoever, there are virtues and vices opposed to one
another. Therefore, in any subject matter about
which a precept of the Decalogue gives direction, there
should have been both an affirmative precept and a negative
precept. Therefore, it is inappropriate for there
to be affirmative precepts for some subject matters
and negative precepts for others.
Isidore says that every law is based on reason. But all
the precepts of the Decalogue belong to divine law.
Therefore, a reason should have been given for each of the
precepts, and not just for the first and third.
Through the observance of the precepts one merits rewards
from God. But God’s promises have to do with the rewards
attached to the precepts. Therefore, a promise should
have been made in each of the precepts, and not just in
the first and the fourth.
The Old Law is called the ‘law of fear’, because it was
through threats of punishment that it induced men to
observe the precepts. But all the precepts of the
Decalogue belong to the Old Law. Therefore, a threat of
punishment should have been made in each of the precepts,
and not just in the first and the second.
All the precepts of God should be retained in memory; for
Proverbs 3:3 says, “Write them on the tablets of your
heart.” Therefore, it was inappropriate for a mention of
memory to be made in just the third precept. And so it
seems that the precepts of the Decalogue were
inappropriately set down.
But contrary to this:
Wisdom 11:21 says, “You have ordered all things in
measure, and number, and weight.” Therefore, a
fortiori, He has preserved an appropriate mode of
setting down the precepts of His law.
The highest wisdom is contained in the precepts of divine
law; hence, Deuteronomy 4:6 says, “This is your wisdom,
and understanding in the sight of nations.” But it is the
role of wisdom to dispose of all things in a fitting
manner and order. And so it ought to be clear that the
precepts of the Law have been set down in an appropriate
Reply to objection 1:
The negation of one of two opposites always follows
from the affirmation of the other, but it is not always
the case that the affirmation of one of two opposites
follows from the negation of the other. For instance,‘If
something is white, then it is not black’ is valid,
but ‘If something is not black, then it is white’ is
not valid. For the negation extends to more things
than the affirmation does. Hence, it is likewise
the case that ‘One should not do harm’, which is a negative
precept, extends to more persons as a primary dictate
of reason than does ‘One ought to give obedience (or
benefits) to someone’.
it is a dictate of reason in the first instance that
one ought to give obedience (or benefits) to those from
whom he has received benefits, as long as he has not
yet repaid them. But, as Ethics 8 says,
there are two beings in return for whose benefits no
one can make sufficient repayment, viz., God and his
father. And this is why there are only two affirmative
precepts, one having to do with honoring one’s parents
and the other having to do with the celebration of the
Sabbath in commemoration of God’s favors.
Reply to objection 2:
The precepts that are purely moral have an obvious reason
behind them, and so there was no need for a reason to
be added to them.
However, some precepts are such that
either a ceremonial precept or the specification of
a moral precept is added to them. For instance,
in the first precept there is the addition of “You shall
not make graven images,” and in the third precept the
day of the Sabbath is specified. And this is why
a reason had to be given in these two cases.
to objection 3: Men order their acts for the
most part toward some sort of usefulness. And
so the promise of a reward had to be attached to those
precepts from which no usefulness seemed to follow or
by which some sort of usefulness was impeded.
Now since parents are already in their receding years,
no usefulness is expected from them. And
so a promise is attached to the precept about honoring
one’s parents. The same holds for the precept
that prohibits idolatry. For this precept seems
to impede the apparent usefulness which men believe
they can attain by entering into a pact with the demons.
Reply to objection 4:
As Ethics 10 says, punishments are especially
necessary for those who are prone to evil. And
so a threat of punishment is added only to those precepts
in which there was a tendency toward evil.
men were prone to idolatry because of the general practice
of the Gentiles. Similarly, there were also men
prone to perjury because of the frequency of oaths.
This is why a threat is attached to the first two precepts.
Reply to objection 5:
The precept about the Sabbath is posited as a commemoration
of a past favor, and this is
why it contains a specific mention of memory.
An alternative reply is that the precept about the Sabbath
has adjoined to it a specification that does not belong
to the law of nature, and that is why this precept requires
a special admonition.