Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

5 Dec

Stone tabletsThis week we will treat the Sixth and Ninth Commandments together. First, we have the Sixth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2331-2400):

You shall not commit adultery.

It is generally understood that this commandment applies not merely to adultery itself, but all misuses of one’s sexuality. Amidst a culture that is largely addicted to sex (see this amazing article by Dr. Peter Kreeft), this commandment calls us to reexamine how we understand the incredible gift of human sexuality.

The Ninth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2514-33) provides:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

As we shall see, this commandment forbids cultivating thoughts and desires that are connected to actions forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

It’s easy to look at the Sixth Commandment simply from the standpoint of prohibited activities. But if we look just a little deeper, we will quickly see it’s all about fostering the virtue of chastity. It is a moral virtue requiring much effort, but at the same time it’s a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is expressed in our friendship with others.

Chastity is related to the cardinal virtue of temperance, in that it helps us to moderate our sexual passions according to reason and Christian morality. All men and women are called to chastity according to our state in life. Chastity is not the same as continence or celibacy, which entails refraining from sexual activity. Even married people with active, healthy sex lives are called to live chastely. Sex is not evil. In fact it’s more than good. It’s holy.

The “theology of the body” taught by Blessed John Paul II has helped us to understand the gift of human sexuality in a healthy, more holistic way that recognizes the complementarity (see Catechism, no. 372) of man and woman. Theology of the body helps us to understand our sexuality as a way of seeking the good of others rather than using them as objects.

Some of the principal sins against the virtue of chastity include fornication, adultery, masturbation, pornography, prostitution, and homosexual acts.

The Sixth Commandment upholds the life-giving love of husband and wife, which is the basic building block of the family and society, and which is called to image the love of Christ for His beloved bride, the Church (cf. Eph. 5:21-32).

The goods of the Sacrament of Marriage include fidelity, indissoluble unity, and children. Marital relations symbolizes and expresses the mutual gift of self to one another in marriage, and so it is ordered to these “goods.” The marital act has a unitive or love-giving meaning, as well as a procreative, or live-giving meaning. These two meanings cannot be separated.

The Church has always seen in large families a sign of God’s blessing (cf. Ps. 127:3-5). Sometimes, however, for serious reasons a married couple may discern that they should defer pregnancy for a time. In such instances, the Church highly recommends the various methods of Natural Family Planning (“NFP”). However, a legitimate reason to postpone pregnancy does not justify recourse to immoral means of achieving that goal, such as contraception or sterilization.

The sins against the dignity of marriage include:

Adultery: sexual relations between a married person and one who is not his or her spouse. Marital infidelity is a serious act of injustice against one’s spouse.

Divorce: the dissolution of a marriage pursuant to secular law. God designed the marriage bond to be indissoluble (cf. Mt. 19:6), and so divorce is contrary to the plan of God and introduces disorder into the family and into society.

Cohabitation or free unions: Fornication, or any sexual relations outside of marriage, is gravely sinful. It becomes worse when the couple perpetuates this sexual relationship by “living together” outside of marriage, or by trying to redefine marriage to suit their preferences (e.g., “gay marriage”).

All of us have been affected in some way by the various sins against chastity and against the dignity of marriage. In providing this brief overview of this commandment, I cannot stress enough God’s desire to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17) and welcome everyone into His covenant family, the Church. These sins are real, and God does ask us to turn away from them (cf. Jn. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). But our principal message must always be one of welcome, reconciliation, and hope.

As I mentioned earlier, the Ninth Commandment deals with our thoughts and intentions that are related to the Sixth Commandment. Our Lord explains in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27-28).

The Lord calls us to be pure of heart (cf. Mt.5:8), not only through the virtue of chastity, but also through purifying our hearts, guarding our eyes (whether it’s the beach or the Internet), disciplining our imagination, and persevering in prayer.

Paragraph 530 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up our challenge today:

Purity requires modesty which, while protecting the intimate center of the person, expresses the sensitivity of chastity. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their communion. Purity frees one from wide-spread eroticism and avoids those things which foster morbid curiosity. Purity also requires a purification of the social climate by means of a constant struggle against moral permissiveness which is founded on an erroneous conception of human freedom.”

6 Responses to “Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments”

  1. John Huggins December 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Question: So it would seem that coveting your neighbor’s wife would involve lusting after her. What about cases where lust and/or sexual desire isn’t present but emotional desire is. Would this be, strictly speaking, a violation of the 9th Commandment?

  2. Leon Suprenant December 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Good question, John! I would say it could be. Of course a fleeting emotion is not a sin but rather something that should be subject to the mind and will. However, intentionally fostering that sort of emotion and running with it would seem to be a failure to guard one’s heart, which is what the 9th commandment is all about. And remember, “covet” is the verb form of avarice or greed. So it would seem that a desire for another’s spouse even if it’s not explicitly sexual would be inappropriate and within the purview of that commandment.

  3. terry hill December 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    The italicized NOT is absent in the email.

    • Leon Suprenant December 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks, Terry. Yes, that was an unfortunate typo that I subsequently corrected. Sorry for the confusion in the earlier version that you read.

  4. John Huggins December 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Thanks Leon! It would seem to me to be a form of coveting your neighbor’s wife if you desired her in any capacity knowing full well she is married. That being said, I could not find anywhere the mention of this. If you develop feelings (but not sexual in nature) for a married woman do you confess that you violated the 9th Commandment per se? The CCC and other theoligical resources specifically direct our attention to the element of lust in which the Commandment is violated and nothing further. It is an interesting, and, (I suspect) common sin today.

  5. Leon Suprenant December 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    I would think that at the beginning the sin could be more of a failure of prudence/discretion in putting one’s “heart” in harm’s way. I also think what you describe could be even more of an issue for women, who tend to be motivated more by the desire for affection and the satisfaction of emotional needs rather than the satisfaction of sexual needs, though of course that’s not universally the case.

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