Pope Pius XII on the Ten Commandments - II

Source: District of Asia

These notes present a summary (not a translation) of a discourse addressed by the Pope Pius XII, on 22nd February 1944, to the parish priests of Rome and to the preachers of the Lenten Conferences in the Eternal City (A.A.S., XXXVI, 1944, pp. 71-87). The subject set for the conferences was the Decalogue, and since the Holy Father points out in his discourse those aspects of the subject which he desired to be specially stressed, it has seemed to us that our readers will find therein useful material for their instructions. Here we present the second part that deals with the commandment in particular.

(1) The Principle of Authority (Fourth Commandment).

In the past there were serious disorders; but at any rate certain pillars stood fast to support the moral edifice: above all, faith in God, parental authority, and public authority. With the decline of faith in God, and with the widespread misuse of authority, we see today the rejection not only of authority in one or other particular form, but of the very principle of authority itself.

Remedies: (a) Parental authority must be restored, even in those spheres in which it has been specially invaded: e.g. education. (b) All who wield public authority even down to employers of labour and school-teachers-must give an example of virtuous life and use their power in accordance with the principles of justice and charity.

(2) Respect for truth and personal rights (Fifth and Eighth Commandments).

"In the sphere of mutual faith and truthfulness the prevalent atmosphere has become so corrupt that the man of good faith can hardly breathe in it." In these days of vaunted civilization the violation of right has reached a pitch known only in the darkest periods of history.

Men are losing respect for human life. Only faith in a personal God can give the strength to observe the proper limits in this matter: outside the cases of legitimate self-defence, of just war waged by just means, and of capital punishment lawfully inflicted, human life is inviolable.

3) The worship due to God (First and Second Commandments).

Even among the faithful the sense of the worship due to God is being weakened. Self-interest shows itself even in the practice of religion, which becomes a sort of commercial transaction between man and God. God's help is asked in temporal affairs, and if this is not forthcoming faith wavers.

Men need to be reminded:

(a) That religion implies first and foremost the worship and service of God.

(b) That for the Christian the present life should be dominated by the thought of the life to come.

(c) That there are divine commands which are binding at all times and in all circumstances.

The great truths of faith must be recalled to men's minds, especially among the higher classes. The present state of the world is an object lesson which should help to emphasize them.

(4) The keeping holy of Sundays and Holidays (Third Commandment). 

The Church cannot be accused of being unreasonable in her insistence on this precept; she shows here all the "goodness and kindness" of which our Saviour is the model. But she must vigorously oppose the process of profanation and secularization which is depriving the Sunday entirely of its sacred character, and so estranging men from God. Pastors of souls will make allowances in cases of necessity, and have regard to abnormal social and economic conditions which it is impossible to change in a day. But they will direct their efforts towards ensuring (a) the suspension of servile work on Sundays and holidays, especially public work; (b) the reducing of Sunday work in the home to a minimum, so that servants too may receive the advantage of Sunday rest; (c) abstention from excessive indulgence in sport on Sundays, such as to leave no time for prayer and recollection and no opportunity for cultivating the intimacies of family life; (d) the exclusion of those recreations, such as immoral films, which make Sunday a day of sin.

"Heroic, almost superhuman zeal" will be necessary to bring this about; but upon the sanctification of the Sunday will depend in great measure not only the salvation of souls but also the restoration of a healthy family and social life, and its protection against the forces of dissolution which threaten it.

(5) The Sixth Commandment.

It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the nations which claim to be most highly civilized are the worst offenders against this commandment; even the Eternal City is not free from traces of the prevalent moral devastation. Social and economic reforms may do much for the salvation of marriage and the family; but fundamentally the problem is a religious one.

The whole sphere of sex is corrupted by the "cinema outlook" on marriage: here we have "an irreverent and shameless display of conjugal infidelity and of all that contaminates marriage; here marriage is shown as free from all moral restraints, as nothing else than the scene and source of sensual enjoyment. Instead, it should be shown as the work of God, as sacred institution, as a natural duty and a source of pure joy in which the spiritual element is ever predominant, as a school-and also the triumph- of a love that remains faithful even to death and to the threshold of eternity." It is the duty of pastors to restore this Christian vision of wedlock.

Restore respect for married life, such as it appears in unfallen nature and in revelation; respect for the God-given powers to raise up new life, to build the family, and conserve the human race. The young must be trained to chastity of mind and heart and taught to remain continent until marriage. But this is not the final purpose of Christian education in this matter; the young must learn that chastity protects the life of the spirit against all the dangers that threaten it. The youth who conquers in the struggle for purity will also observe the other commandments, and so be fit to build a family according to God's designs. On the contrary, how can one expect the young man who has never known self-restraint to be chaste and faithful in marriage?

The remedies against the misuse of marriage and conjugal infidelity -these two cankers of family life-are (a) holy thoughts, (b) a chaste life, and (c) self-control. Holy thoughts especially about woman. The cinema outlook on marriage has deprived man of his respect for woman, and woman of respect for herself. Christians must be brought back to the traditional ideal of pure womanhood: the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God.

(6) The Seventh Commandment.

"Let no man overreach nor circumvent his brother in business; because the Lord is the avenger of all these things" (I Thess. iv, 6). The social and economic upheavals of the present time make the Apostle's warning especially opportune; for two reasons:

(i) The fifth and seventh commandments, which forbid any attack upon our neighbour's life or property, need to be observed nowadays with special exactness; world-wide economic disturbances tend to make men disregard the rights of others; the dam which protects social life against the torrent of human selfishness must be strengthened, not weakened.

(ii) With so many millions of people needy and homeless by reason of the atrocities of war, such practices as dishonesty in business, the wicked. exploitation of present difficulties, and especially the charging of exorbitant prices and the cornering of the necessities of life, may easily become a crime against the community and a sin crying to heaven for vengeance. Far from giving way to such temptations, the true Christian will take the opportunities, provided nowadays in such abundance, of exercising the corporal works of mercy. Have we not the solemn assurance of Christ Himself that it is upon our performance of these that our eternal salvation will depend (Matt. xxv, 34-46)?

(7) The social doctrine of the Church.

The same is true of our performance or neglect of duties arising out of social justice. Catholics are warned against giving countenance to certain dangerous social doctrines, and are reminded of the words of Pius XI: 

Those who wish to be apostles amongst the socialists must profess Christian truth whole and entire, openly and sincerely, and without any connivance with error. If they wish in truth to be heralds of the Gospel, let their chief endeavour be to convince socialists that their demands, so far as they are just, are vindicated much more cogently by the principles of the Christian faith, and promoted much more efficaciously by the power of Christian charity.

The Church has her own social doctrine, elaborately developed from the earliest times until the present day. What she has especially before her eyes is the value and dignity of human nature, redeemed and raised to the supernatural order through the blood of Christ, and by grace destined for heaven. Catholics have therefore ever been the champions of what is according to nature; they have consequently regarded it as unnatural that a section of the people harshly known as the proletariat-should be condemned to a permanent and hereditary condition of precarious existence; and they have always been among the first to demand the amelioration of their lot by legislative action. But, while the Church applauds all legal measures for the relief of the working classes, what she desires above all is the establishment of an economic order which by its own structure shall create secure and stable conditions for them; always in accordance with the maxims of social justice thus expounded by the same Pontiff:

Each class must receive its due share, and the distribution of created goods must be brought into conformity with the requirements of the common good and of social justice. The great evil of the present distribution of wealth, with the vast disparity between a few who are excessively rich and countless human beings who live in destitution, is recognized by every thinking man.

The vital need is that the faithful as a whole should have the courage and energy to put these principles into practice, and the knowledge necessary in order to be able to defend and spread them. The discrepancy between theory and practice has already been noted. Let it not be found in this matter of social justice. Let none of the faithful have any excuse for seeking at the hands of false teachers the social benefits which Catholic doctrine offers in abundance.