St. Augustine in his writings remarks that the Decalogue is the summary and epitome of all laws: Although the Lord had spoken many things, He gave to Moses only two stone tablets, called "tables of testimony," to be placed in the Ark. For if carefully examined and well understood, whatever else is commanded by God will be found to depend on the Ten Commandments which were engraved on those two tables, just as these Ten Commandments, in turn, are reducible to two, the love of God and of our neighbour, on which "depend the whole law and the prophets."
Since, then, the Decalogue is a summary of the whole Law, the pastor should give his days and nights to its consideration, that he may be able not only to regulate his own life by its precepts, but also to instruct in the law of God the people committed to his care. The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth, because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts. To the priests of the New Law this injunction applies in a special manner; they are nearer to God, and should be transformed from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. Since Christ our Lord has called them light, it is their special duty to be a light to them that are in darkness, the instructors of the foolish, the teachers of infants; and if a man be overtaken in any fault, they who are spiritual should instruct such a one.
In the tribunal of penance the priest holds the place of a judge, and pronounces sentence according to the nature and gravity of the offence. Unless, therefore, he is desirous that his ignorance should prove an injury to himself and to others, he must bring with him to the discharge of this duty the greatest vigilance and the most practiced acquaintance with the interpretation of the law, in order to be able to pronounce, according to this divine rule, on every act and omission; and, as the Apostle says, to teach sound doctrine, free from error, and heal the diseases of the soul, which are sins, in order that the people may be acceptable to God, pursuers of good works.
In these instructions the pastor should propose to himself and to others motives for keeping the Commandments
Now among all the motives which induce men to obey this law the strongest is that God is its author. True, it is said to have been delivered by angels, but no one can doubt that its author is God. This is most clear not only from the words of the Legislator Himself, which we shall shortly explain, but also from innumerable other passages of Scripture that will readily occur to pastors.
Who is not conscious that a law is inscribed on his heart by God, teaching him to distinguish good from evil, vice from virtue, justice from injustice? The force and import of this unwritten law do not conflict with that which is written. Who is there, then, who will dare to deny that God is the author of the written, as He is of the unwritten law ?
But, lest the people, aware of the abrogation of the Mosaic Law, may imagine that the precepts of the Decalogue are no longer obligatory, it should be taught that when God gave the Law to Moses, He did not so much establish a new code, as render more luminous that divine light b which the depraved morals and longcontinued perversity of man had at that time almost obscured. It is most certain that we are not bound to obey the Commandments because they were delivered by Moses, but because they are implanted in the hearts of all, and have been explained and confirmed by Christ our Lord.
The reflection that God is the author of the law is highly useful, and exercises great influence in persuading (to its observance); for we cannot doubt His wisdom and justice, nor can we escape His infinite power and might. Hence, when by His Prophets He commands the law to be observed, He proclaims that He is the Lord God; and the Decalogue itself opens: I am the Lord thy God; and elsewhere (we read): If I am a master, where is my fear?
That God has deigned to make clear to us His holy will on which depends our eternal salvation (is a consideration) which, besides animating the faithful to the observance of His Commandments, must call forth their gratitude Hence Scripture, in more passages than one, recalling this great blessing, admonishes the people to recognise their own dignity and the bounty of the Lord Thus in Deuteronomy it is said: This is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of nations, that hearing all these precepts they may say: Behold a wise and understanding people, a great nation; again, in the Psalm (we read): He hath not done in like manner to every nation, and his judgments he hath not made manifest to them.
If the pastor explain the circumstances which accompanied the promulgation of the Law, as recorded in Scripture, the faithful will easily understand with what piety and humility they should receive and reverence the Law received from God.
All were commanded by God that for three days before the promulgation of the Law they should wash their garments and abstain from conjugal intercourse, in order that they might be more holy and better prepared to receive the Law, and that on the third day they should be in readiness When they had reached the mountain from which the Lord was to deliver the Law by Moses, Moses alone was commanded to ascend the mountain. Thither came God with great majesty, filling the place with thunder and lightning, with fire and dense clouds, and began to speak to Moses, and delivered to him the Commandments
In this the divine wisdom had solely for object to admonish us that the law of the Lord should be received with pure and humble minds, and that over the neglect of His commands impend the heaviest chastisements of the divine justice.
The pastor should also teach that the Commandments of God are not difficult, as these words of St Augustine are alone sufficient to show: How, I ask, is it said to be impossible for man to love to love, I say, a beneficent Creator, a most loving Father, and also, in the persons of his , brethren to love his own flesh? Yet, "he who loveth has fulfilled the law." Hence the Apostle St. John expressly says that the commandments of God are not heavy; for as St. Bernard observes, nothing more just could be exacted from man, nothing that could confer on him a more exalted dignity, nothing more advantageous. Hence St. Augustine, filled with admiration of God's infinite goodness, thus addresses God : What is man that Thou wouldst be loved by him ? And if he loves Thee not, Thou threatenest t him with heavy punishment. Is it not punishment enough that I love Thee not ?
But should anyone plead human infirmity to excuse himself for not loving God, it should be explained that He who demands our love pours into our hearts by the Holy Ghost the fervour of His love; and this good Spirit our heavenly Father gives to those that ask him with reason, therefore, did St. Augustine pray: Give what thou commandest and command what thou pleasest. As, then, God is ever ready to help us, especially since the death of Christ the Lord, by which the prince of this world was cast out, there is no reason why anyone should be disheartened by the difficulty of the undertaking. To him who loves, nothing is difficult.
Furthermore, it will contribute much to persuade (obedience to the law) if it is explained that such obedience is necessary, especially since in these our days there are not wanting those who, to their own serious injury, have the impious hardihood to assert that the observance of the law, whether easy or difficult, is by no means necessary to salvation.
This wicked and impious error the pastor should refute from Scripture, especially from the same Apostle by whose authority they attempt to defend their wickedness. What, then, are the words of the Apostle? Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Again, inculcating the same doctrine, he says: , new creature, in Christ, alone avails. By a new creature in Christ he evidently means him who observes the Commandments of God; for, he who observes the Commandments of God loves God, as our Lord Himself testifies in St. John: If anyone love me, he will keep my word.
A man, it is true, may be justified, and from wicked may become righteous, before he has fulfilled, by external acts, each of the Commandments; but no one who has arrived at the use of reason can be justified, unless he is resolved to keep all of God's Commandments.
Finally, to leave nothing unsaid that may be calculated to induce the faithful to an observance of the law, the pastor should point out how abundant and sweet are its fruits. This he will easily accomplish by referring to the eighteenth Psalm, which celebrates the praises of the divine law. The highest eulogy of the law is that it proclaims the glory and the majesty of God more eloquently than even the heavenly bodies, whose beauty and order excite the admiration of all peoples, even the most uncivilised, and compel them to acknowledge the glory, wisdom and power of the Creator and Architect of the universe.
The law of the Lord also converts souls to God; for knowing the ways of God and His holy will through the medium of His law, we turn our steps into the ways of the Lord.
It also gives wisdom to little ones; for they alone who fear God are truly wise. Hence, the observers of the law of God are filled with pure delights, with knowledge of divine mysteries, and are blessed with plenteous joys and rewards both in this life and in the life to come.
In our observance of the law, however, we should not act so much for our own advantage as for the sake of God who, by means of the law, has revealed His will to man. If other creatures are obedient to God's will, how much more reasonable that man should follow it?
Nor should it be omitted that God has preeminently displayed His clemency and the riches of His goodness in this, that while He might have forced us to serve His glory without a reward, He has, notwithstanding, deigned to identify His own glory with our advantage, thus rendering what tends to His honour, conducive to our interests.
This is a great and striking consideration; and the pastor, therefore, should teach in the concluding words of the Prophet that in keeping them there is a great reward. Not only are we promised those blessings which seem to have reference to earthly happiness, such, for example, as to be blessed in the city, and blessed in the field: but we are also promised a great reward in heaven, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, which, aided by the divine mercy, we merit by our holy and pious actions.
I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing. The Law, although delivered to the Jews by the Lord from the mountain, was long before written and impressed by nature on the heart of man, and was therefore rendered obligatory by God for all men and all times.
It will be very useful, however, to explain carefully the words in which it was proclaimed to the Hebrews by Moses, its minister and interpreter, and also the history of the Israelites, which is so full of mysteries.
(The pastor) should first tell that from among the nations of the earth God chose one which descended from Abraham; that it was the divine will that Abraham should be a stranger in the land of Canaan, the possession of which He had promised him; and that, although for more than four hundred years he and his posterity were wanderers before they dwelt in the promised land, God never withdrew from them, throughout their wanderings, His protecting care. They passed from nation to nation and from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to hurt them, and He even reproved kings for their sakes.
Before they went down into Egypt He sent before them one by whose prudence they and the Egyptians were rescued from famine. In Egypt such was His kindness towards them that although opposed by the power of Pharaoh who sought their destruction, they increased to an extraordinary degree; and when they were severely harassed and cruelly treated as slaves, God raised up Moses as a leader to lead them out in a strong hand. It is especially this deliverance that the Lord refers to in the opening words of the Law: I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
From all this the pastor should especially note that out of all the nations God chose only one whom He called His people, and by whom He willed to be known and worshipped; not that they were superior to other nations in justice or in numbers, and of this God Himself reminds the Hebrews, but rather because He wished, by the multiplication and aggrandisement of an inconsiderable and impoverished nation, to display to mankind His power and goodness.
Such having been their condition, he was closely united to them, and loved them, and Lord of heaven and earth as He was, He disdained not to be called their God. He desired that the other nations might thus be excited to emulation and that mankind, seeing the happiness of the Israelites, might embrace the worship of the true God. In the same way St. Paul says that by discussing the happiness of the Gentiles and their knowledge of the true God, he provoked to emulation those who were his own flesh.
The faithful should next be taught that God suffered the Hebrew Patriarchs to wander for so long a time, and their posterity to be oppressed and harassed by a galling servitude, in order to teach us that none are friends of God except those who are enemies of the world and pilgrims on earth, and that an entire detachment from the world gives us an easier access to the friendship of God. Further He wished that, being brought to His service, we should understand how much happier are they who serve God, than they who serve the world. Of this Scripture itself admonishes us: Yet they shall serve him, that they may know the difference between my service and the service of the kingdom of the earth.
(The pastor) should also explain that God delayed the fulfilment of His promise until after the lapse of more than four hundred years, in order that His people might be sustained by faith and hope; for, as we shall show when we come to explain the first Commandment, God wishes His children to depend on Him at all times and to repose all their confidence in His goodness.
Finally, the time and place, in which the people of Israel received this Law from God should be noted. They received it after they had been delivered from Egypt and had come into the wilderness; in order that, impressed by the memory of a recent benefit and awed by the dreariness of the place in which they journeyed, they might be the better disposed to receive the Law. For man becomes closely attached to those whose bounty he has experienced, and when he has lost all hope of assistance from his fellowman, he then seeks refuge in the protection of God.
From all this we learn that the more detached the faithful are from the allurements of the world and the pleasures of sense, the more disposed they are to accept heavenly doctrines. As the Prophet has written: Whom shall he teach knowledge, and whom shall he make to understand the hearing? Them that are weaned from the milk, that are drawn away from the breasts.Back