BASICS OF CATHOLICISM: 15. THE TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS: THE SUMMARY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Sep 2, 2019
Following the outline of The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, (NSJBC) our next unit will be an in-depth look at the Ten Commandments along with the Precepts of the Church (the NSJBC calls the precepts the “Commandments of the Church.”). Though the official Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the sacraments before covering the commandments and morality, in the interest of keeping this presentation of basics of Catholicism straight forward and simple we will follow the order given by the NSJBC.
In treating the commandments, the NSJBC begins by introducing all of the Ten Commandments within the context of what Jesus identified as the “two greatest commandments:” To love the Lord our God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments (which are not directly two of the ten) are revealed by Jesus to be the “greatest” of all commandments when He is asked by a scholar of the law (in Matthew 22:35-40) which is the greatest commandment. In giving these two commandments as the greatest, Jesus is both answering with roots in the Old Testament and as a way of bringing the Old Testament to fulfillment. He draws his reply from the well-known passages of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 on the love of God and from Leviticus 19:18 on love of neighbor. By drawing from these two passages, he is establishing himself in full keeping with what the scribes and Pharisees were well familiar. However, Jesus goes on to emphasize these two commandments as the greatest of all by saying that the whole law and prophets depend upon these two – and therefore stating that the Old Testament founded upon them, as the whole Old Testament is comprised of “the Law” and “the Prophets.” Thus, his answer is reasonable to the scholars in being rooted in the covenant, while at the same time pointing toward the right fulfillment of the covenant – which Jesus Himself will accomplish in His perfect love of offering Himself.
In the NSJBC, Lesson 15 rightly uses these two greatest commandments to introduce the Ten Commandments that were revealed to Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai (as given in both Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.) The ten, which are also called the “Decalogue” (or literally “Ten Words”) contain a unity within them such that these commandments in their entirety express the faithful living of the covenant such that if one were to break one of these commandments, they are breaking the whole of the covenant. As for the content of the ten themselves, the first three of the ten express the love of God as given by the first great commandment, while the remaining seven show us more specifically what it is to love your neighbor as yourself.
In this introduction, recognize that the “love” which fulfills the commandments is a love, that “wills the good of the other,” or “offers oneself on behalf of another/others,” placing others first such that we surrender ourselves to God and to His love for us, and that we seek the good of others ahead of our own good. Accordingly, we will proceed in the coming installments to look at each of the ten commandments and six precepts (though some lists only show five) in detail from the perspective of love that is both humble before the Lord and always seeks the good others ahead of ourselves and our own good.