Catechism of the Catholic Church
Part Three: Life in Christ
Section Two: The Ten Commandments
"Teacher, what must I do . . .?"
2052 "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" To the
young man who asked this question, Jesus answers first by invoking the
necessity to recognize God as the "One there is who is good," as the
supreme Good and the source of all good. Then Jesus tells him: "If you
would enter life, keep the commandments." And he cites for his questioner
the precepts that concern love of neighbor: "You shall not kill, You shall
not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false
witness, Honor your father and mother." Finally Jesus sums up these
commandments positively: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
2053 To this first reply Jesus adds a second: "If you would be perfect,
go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure
in heaven; and come, follow me." This reply does not do away with the
first: following Jesus Christ involves keeping the Commandments. The Law
has not been abolished, but rather man is invited to rediscover it in
the person of his Master who is its perfect fulfillment. In the three
synoptic Gospels, Jesus' call to the rich young man to follow him, in the
obedience of a disciple and in the observance of the Commandments, is
joined to the call to poverty and chastity. The evangelical counsels
are inseparable from the Commandments.
2054 Jesus acknowledged The Ten Commandments, but he also showed the power
of the Spirit at work in their letter. He preached a "righteousness
[which] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees" as well as that of the
Gentiles. He unfolded all the demands of the Commandments. "You have
heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill.' . . . But
I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable
2055 When someone asks him, "Which commandment in the Law is the
greatest?" Jesus replies: "You shall love the Lord your God with all
your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the
greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love
your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and
the prophets." The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this
twofold yet Single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law:
The commandments: "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You
shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are
summed up in this sentence: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the
The Decalogue in Sacred Scripture
2056 The word "Decalogue" means literally "ten words." God revealed
these "ten words" to his people on the holy mountain. They were written
"with the finger of God," unlike the other commandments written by
Moses. They are pre-eminently the words of God. They are handed on to
us in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Beginning with the Old
Testament, the sacred books refer to the "ten words," but it is in the
New Covenant in Jesus Christ that their full meaning will be revealed.
2057 The Decalogue must first be understood in the context of the Exodus,
God's great liberating event at the center of the Old Covenant. Whether
formulated as negative commandments, prohibitions, or as positive precepts
such as: "Honor your father and mother," the "ten words" point out the
conditions of a life freed from the slavery of Sin. The Decalogue is a
path of life:
If you love the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his
commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and
This liberating power of the Decalogue appears, for example, in the
commandment about the sabbath rest, directed also to foreigners and
You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the
LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an
2058 The "ten words" sum up and proclaim God's law: "These words the Lord
spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire,
the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no
more. And he wrote them upon two tables of stone, and gave them to
me." For this reason these two tables are called "the Testimony." In
fact, they contain the terms of the covenant concluded between God and his
people. These "tables of the Testimony" were to be deposited in "the
2059 The "ten words" are pronounced by God in the midst of a theophany
("The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst
of the fire."). They belong to God's revelation of himself and his
glory. The gift of the Commandments is the gift of God himself and his
holy will. In making his will known, God reveals himself to his people.
2060 The gift of the commandments and of the Law is part of the covenant
God sealed with his own. In Exodus, the revelation of the "ten words" is
granted between the proposal of the covenant and its conclusion -
after the people had committed themselves to "do" all that the Lord had
said, and to "obey" it. The Decalogue is never handed on without first
recalling the covenant ("The LORD our God made a covenant with us in
2061 The Commandments take on their full meaning within the covenant.
According to Scripture, man's moral life has all its meaning in and
through the covenant. The first of the "ten words" recalls that God loved
his people first:
Since there was a pasSing from the paradise of freedom to the slavery of
this world, in punishment for Sin, the first phrase of the Decalogue, the
first word of God's commandments, bears on freedom "I am the LORD your
God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of
2062 The Commandments properly so-called come in the second place: they
express the implications of belonging to God through the establishment of
the covenant. Moral existence is a response to the Lord's loving
initiative. It is the acknowledgement and homage given to God and a
worship of thanksgiving. It is cooperation with the plan God pursues in
2063 The covenant and dialogue between God and man are also attested to by
the fact that all the obligations are stated in the first person ("I am
the Lord.") and addressed by God to another personal subject ("you"). In
all God's commandments, the Singular personal pronoun designates the
recipient. God makes his will known to each person in particular, at the
same time as he makes it known to the whole people:
The Lord prescribed love towards God and taught justice towards neighbor,
so that man would be neither unjust, nor unworthy of God. Thus, through
the Decalogue, God prepared man to become his friend and to live in
harmony with his neighbor.... The words of the Decalogue remain likewise
for us Christians. Far from being abolished, they have received
amplification and development from the fact of the coming of the Lord in
The Decalogue in the Church's Tradition
2064 In fidelity to Scripture and in conformity with the example of Jesus,
the tradition of the Church has acknowledged the primordial importance and
significance of the Decalogue.
2065 Ever Since St. Augustine, The Ten Commandments have occupied a
predominant place in the catechesis of baptismal candidates and the
faithful. In the fifteenth century, the custom arose of expresSing the
commandments of the Decalogue in rhymed formulae, easy to memorize and in
positive form. They are still in use today. The catechisms of the Church
have often expounded Christian morality by following the order of the Ten
2066 The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the
course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the
Commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become traditional in
the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confessions. The
Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in
the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities.
2067 The Ten Commandments state what is required in the love of God and
love of neighbor. The first three concern love of God, and the other seven
love of neighbor.
As charity comprises the two commandments to which the Lord related the
whole Law and the prophets . . . so The Ten Commandments were themselves
given on two tablets. Three were written on one tablet and seven on the
2068 The Council of Trent teaches that The Ten Commandments are obligatory
for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them;
the Second Vatican Council confirms: "The bishops, successors of the
apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples,
and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain
salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the
The unity of the Decalogue
2069 The Decalogue forms a coherent whole. Each "word" refers to each of
the others and to all of them; they reciprocally condition one another.
The two tables shed light on one another; they form an organic unity. To
transgress one commandment is to infringe all the others. One cannot
honor another person without blesSing God his Creator. One cannot adore
God without loving all men, his creatures. The Decalogue brings man's
religious and social life into unity.
The Decalogue and The Natural Law
2070 The Ten Commandments belong to God's revelation. At the same time
they teach us the true humanity of man. They bring to light the essential
duties, and therefore, indirectly, the fundamental rights inherent in the
nature of the human person. The Decalogue contains a privileged expression
of The Natural Law:
From the beginning, God had implanted in the heart of man the precepts of
The Natural Law. Then he was content to remind him of them. This was the
2071 The commandments of the Decalogue, although accessible to reason
alone, have been revealed. To attain a complete and certain understanding
of the requirements of The Natural Law, Sinful humanity needed this
A full explanation of the commandments of the Decalogue became necessary
in the state of Sin because the light of reason was obscured and the will
had gone astray.
We know God's commandments through the divine revelation proposed to us in
the Church, and through the voice of Moral Conscience.
The obligation of the Decalogue
2072 Since they express man's fundamental duties towards God and towards
his neighbor, The Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content,
grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige
always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments
are engraved by God in the human heart.
2073 Obedience to the Commandments also implies obligations in matter
which is, in itself, light. Thus abusive language is forbidden by the
fifth commandment, but would be a grave offense only as a result of
circumstances or the offender's intention.
"Apart from me you can do nothing"
2074 Jesus says: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in
me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you
can do nothing." The fruit referred to in this saying is the holiness
of a life made fruitful by union with Christ. When we believe in Jesus
Christ, partake of his mysteries, and keep his commandments, the Savior
himself comes to love, in us, his Father and his brethren, our Father and
our brethren. His person becomes, through the Spirit, the living and
interior rule of our activity. "This is my commandment, that you love one
another as I have loved you."
2075 "What good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" - "If you would
enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:16-17).
2076 By his life and by his preaching Jesus attested to the permanent
validity of the Decalogue.
2077 The gift of the Decalogue is bestowed from within the covenant
concluded by God with his people. God's commandments take on their true
meaning in and through this covenant.
2078 In fidelity to Scripture and in conformity with Jesus' example, the
tradition of the Church has always acknowledged the primordial importance
and significance of the Decalogue.
2079 The Decalogue forms an organic unity in which each "word" or
"commandment" refers to all the others taken together. To transgress one
commandment is to infringe the whole Law (cf. Jas 2:10-11).
2080 The Decalogue contains a privileged expression of The Natural Law. It
is made known to us by divine revelation and by human reason.
2081 The Ten Commandments, in their fundamental content, state grave
obligations. However, obedience to these precepts also implies
obligations in matter which is, in itself, light.
2082 What God commands he makes possible by his Grace.
Cf. Mt 5:17.
Cf. Mt 19:6-12, 21, 23-29.
Cf. Mt 5:46-47.
Mt 22:37-40; cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18.
Ex 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4.
Ex 31:18; Deut 5:22.
Cf. Deut 31:9. 24.
Cf. Ex 20:1-17.
Cf. Deut 5:6-22.
Cf. for example Hos 4:2; Jer 7:9; Ezek 18:5-9.
Ex 25:16; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29; 40:1-2.
Cf. Ex 19.
Cf. Ex 24:7.
Origen, Hom. in Ex. 8,1: PG 12, 350; cf. Ex 20:2; Deut 5:6.
St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres., 4, 16, 3-4: PG 7/1, 1017-1018.
St. Augustine, Sermo 33, 2, 2: PL 38, 208.
Cf. DS 1569-1570.
Cf. Jas 2:10-11.
St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4, 15, 1: PG 7/l, 1012.
St. Bonaventure, Comm. sent. 4, 37, 1, 3.