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The Catechism Of The Council Of Trent

Utility and Necessity of explaining this Commandment

The great happiness which is proposed to the peacemakers of being called the children of God should powerfully incite pastors to explain with diligence and accuracy the doctrine comprised in this commandment; for no better means can be adopted to promote good-will amongst men, than the due and holy observance of the law announced by this commandment, if properly explained, for then we might hope that, united in the strictest bonds of union, mankind would cultivate perfect peace and concord. The urgent necessity of explaining this commandment to the faithful is clearly perceived from two considerations. Immediately after that immense deluge of the whole earth took place, this was the first prohibition issued by the Almighty: I will require your blood of your lives, says he, at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man. Next, amongst the precepts of the Old Law first expounded by our Lord in the Gospel this is first, as may be seen by consulting the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, where the Redeemer says: It was said thou shalt not kill, &c. The faithful should also hear with willing attention a commandment, the observance of which must be the security of their own lives; for the words, Thou shalt not kill, utterly forbid homicide; and they should be heard by all men with the same pleasure as if God, expressly naming each individual, were to prohibit injury to be offered him, under a threat of the wrath of God, and other very heavy chastisements. As, then, this commandment is pleasant to be heard, so also should its observance be an agreeable duty.

What is Forbidden as well as Commanded in this Commandment

In the development of this law our Lord points out its twofold obligation; the one forbidding us to kill; the other commanding us to embrace our enemies in concordant friendship and charity, to have peace with all men, and finally, to bear with patience every manner of inconvenience.

It is lawful to feed on Beasts and to slay Animals

With regard to the prohibition of slaughter, [the pastor] must first show what are the limits which restrict the prohibition contained in this law. In the first place, we are not prohibited to kill animals, for, if intended by God to be the food of man, it must also be lawful to kill them. On this subject St. Augustine says: When we hear the words, thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this to have been said of the fruits of the earth, which are insensible; nor of irrational animals, which form no part of our great society.

It is lawful to sentence Men to death, or to slay them, in Judgment

Another kind of slaying is also permitted, which applies to those civil magistrates, to whom is given the power of life and death, by the legal and judicial use of which they punish the guilty, and protect the innocent. Far from involving the crime of murder, the just exercise of this power is an act of paramount obedience to this divine law, which prohibits murder. For since the end of this commandment is the preservation and security of human life, to the attainment of this end the punishments inflicted by the civil magistrates, who are the legitimate avengers of crime, naturally tend, giving security to human life by repressing audacity and outrage with punishments. Hence these words of David: I will early destroy all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord.

They are not guilty of Murder who slay the Enemy in Just War

In like manner, neither do they sin, who, actuated not by motives of cupidity or cruelty, but by the sole desire of promoting the public good, take away the life of the enemy, in a just war. There are, moreover, on record instances of slaughter executed by the special command of God himself: the sons of Levi, who put to death so many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin: after the slaughter, they were thus addressed by Moses: Ye have consecrated your hands this day to the Lord.

He is not guilty of breaking this Commandment who slays a Man by accident

He that kills a man accidentally, not with intent or design, is not guilty of having violated this commandment: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, says the book of Deuteronomy, whom he hated not in times past, as when a man goeth unto the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour that he die, he shall flee unto one of these cities and live. Such deaths, because inflicted without intent or design, are by no means reckoned among sins; and in this we are fortified by the opinion of St. Augustine: Far be it, saith he, that what we do for a good or lawful end should be imputed to us, if, contrary to our intention, any evil accrue.

Two Cases in which Guilt attaches to Accidental Death

There are, however, two cases in which guilt attaches to accidental death; the one, when it is caused by a person engaged in some unjust act; when, for instance, a person strikes or kicks a woman in a state of pregnancy, and abortion follows. The consequence, it is true, might not have been intended by the striker; but this does not exculpate the offender, because the act of striking a pregnant woman was in itself absolutely unlawful. The other case is, when death is caused by negligence, incaution, or want of due circumspection.

It is also lawful to slay another in Self-defence

On the same principle, if a man kill another in self-defence, having used every precaution consistent with his own safety [to avoid the infliction of death], he evidently is not liable to this commandment. These, indeed, which we have just mentioned, are the cases of slaughter not contemplated by this commandment; and with these exceptions, the prohibition embraces all others, whether with regard to the person who kills, the person killed, or the means used to kill.

No one is allowed to slay on his own responsibility

As to the persons who kill, no exception whatever is made, he they rich or powerful, masters or parents; but all, without exception of person or distinction of rank or condition, are forbidden to kill.

No one whatever can fail of being safe under this Law

With regard to the persons killed, the obligation of the law is no less extensive, as it embraces every human creature; nor is there an individual, how humble or lowly soever his condition, who is not defended by this law. It also forbids suicide; for no man possesses such absolute dominion over his life, as to be at liberty to put a period to his existence; and hence, the words of the commandment do not say, thou shalt not kill another, but simply, Thou shalt not kill.

In how many ways this Commandment may be violated

Finally, if we consider the numerous means by which murder may be committed, [the law] makes no exception; for not only does it forbid to take away the life of another by laying violent hands on him, by using a sword, a stone, a stick, a halter, or poison; but it also strictly prohibits the accomplishment of the same deed by counsel, aid, assistance, or any other means. In this the slowness and dullness of apprehension of the Jews were extreme, for they thought that solely to abstain from shedding human blood was sufficient to satisfy the obligations of this commandment but the Christian man, who, instructed by the interpretation of Christ, has learned that this precept is spiritual, and commands us to keep not only our hands unstained, but likewise our heart pure and undefiled, will not deem such a compliance sufficient, how ample soever it may have appeared to the Jews. For the gospel teaches that it is unlawful for one even to be angry, whereas our Lord says: But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be guilty of hell fire.

How a Man may, or may not, sin by being angry

From these words it is plain, that he who is angry with his brother, although he may confine his anger within his own breast, is not exempt from sin; that he who gives indication of that anger sins grievously; and that he who dreads not to treat his brother with harshness, and to utter reproaches against him, sins much more grievously. This, it is true, is to be understood of cases, in which no cause of wrath exists. For, to animadvert on those who are placed under our authority, when they commit a fault, is an occasion of anger, which God and his laws permit; but the anger of a Christian man should be, not the impulse of carnal feeling, but the dictate of duty, proceeding from the influence of the Holy Spirit, for it becomes us to be temples of the Holy Ghost, in which Jesus Christ may dwell.

How Men may perfectly observe this Law, and how many sin against it

Our Lord has also left us many other lessons of instruction, touching the perfect observance of this law, such as not to resist evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also: and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. From what has been already said, one may perceive how prone men are to the sins prohibited by this commandment, and how many are guilty of murder, if not in fact, at least in desire.

How severely in the Sacred Letters God detests Homicide

And whereas the sacred Scriptures prescribe remedies for so dangerous a disease, it is the duty of the pastor, to spare no pains in making them known to the faithful. Amongst these the most efficacious is to form a just conception of the enormity of the crime of murder; and this may be clearly seen from very numerous and strong testimonies of Scripture, for so great is the detestation of homicide, expressed by God in the sacred writings, that he declares that, for the life of man, he will exact vengeance from the beast of the field, and orders the beast that shall have injured man to be slain. And if [God] commanded man to abhor the use of blood, he did so for no other reason, than to impress on his mind the obligation of entirely refraining, both in act and desire, from the enormity of shedding human blood.

How great a Crime is the Murder of Man is shown from Reason

For murderers are the worst enemies of the human race, and consequently of nature, destroying, to the utmost of their power, the universal work of God, by taking away man, for whose sake God declares that he created all things. Nay, as in Genesis it is prohibited to slay a man, because God created man to his own image and likeness, he therefore, who removes his image, offers a signal injury to the Creator, and seems, as it were, to lay violent hands on God himself! Having meditated on this with a mind inspired from above, David bitterly complains of bloody men in these words: Their feet are swift to shed blood. He does not simply say, they kill, but, they shed blood; words which he employed to amplify that detestable crime, and to mark emphatically their enormous cruelty; and, to declare first of all how precipitately they are hurried along, by a certain diabolical impulse, to the commission of that enormity, he said: Their feet are swift.

What God commands to be done in this Precept

But the injunctions of Christ our Lord, touching the observance of this precept, have for their object to induce us to have peace with all men; for, interpreting the commandment, he says: Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, first be reconciled to thy brother; and then come and offer thy gift, &c. In unfolding the particulars of this admonition, the pastor must teach, that all without any exception are to be embraced in charity, to which, in his exposition of this precept, he will animate the faithful as much as possible, for therein most conspicuously shines forth the virtue of loving our neighbour. For since hatred is evidently forbidden by this commandment, for, whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; it hence certainly follows, that the commandment inculcates charity and love.

Of the Duties of Charity contained in this Precept

And, inculcating as it does charity and love, this law must also enjoin all those offices and actions that are consequent thereon. Charity suffereth long, saith St. Paul; we are therefore enjoined patience, in which, the Saviour teaches, we shall possess our souls. Charity is kind; beneficence is, therefore, her companion and associate. The virtue of benignity and beneficence is one of great latitude; and its principal office is to relieve the necessities of the poor, to supply food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked; and our liberality should be proportioned to the necessity of the recipient.

In what manner the Love of our Enemies must be the most perfect of all the Duties of Charity

These works of beneficence and goodness, which in themselves are exalted, become still more exalted when done to an enemy, for the Saviour saith: Love your enemies, do good unto them that hate you; and the apostle doth admonish, saying: If thy enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Next, if we consider the law of charity, which is kind, we shall find that to practise all the offices of mildness, kindliness, and other kindred virtues, is prescribed by that law.

In what respect Charity towards our Neighbour, which is here enjoined, chiefly shines forth

But a duty of pre-eminent excellence, and one most replete with charity, and which it behoves us most to practise, is to pardon and forgive from our heart injuries which we have received. To a full compliance with this duty the sacred Scriptures, as we already observed, frequently admonish and exhort us, not only pronouncing those who really do so blessed, but also declaring that, whilst to those who neglect or refuse to comply with this precept, pardon is denied by God, it is extended to those who discharge this duty. But, whereas the desire of revenge is almost natural to the minds of men, it becomes necessary for the pastor to exert his utmost diligence not only to teach, but also earnestly to persuade, the faithful, that a Christian should forget and forgive injuries. And in order to be enabled to subdue the pertinacity of those, whose minds are obstinately and obdurately bent on revenge, as this is a matter frequently inculcated by sacred writers, he will consult them on the subject, and have in readiness the arguments, and they are most powerful and persuasive, that are piously employed by those Fathers.

By what considerations Hatred is to be chiefly restrained, and the Faithful induced to forget Injuries

The three following, however, demand particular explanation. First, every effort is to be made to persuade him who conceives that he has received an injury, that the man of whom he desires to be revenged was not the chief cause of the loss or injury. This is exemplified in the conduct of that admirable man Job, who, when violently assailed by the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, and by the devil, without at all directing his attention to them, as a righteous and truly pious man, exclaimed, with no less truth than piety: The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. The words and example of that man of patience should therefore convince Christian men, and the conviction is a most just one, that whatsoever we endure in this life comes from the Lord, who is the Father and Author of all justice and mercy.

Men who persecute us are the Ministers and Agents of God, even though they do so with an Evil Intent

But he, whose benignity is boundless, punishes us not as enemies, but corrects and chastises us as children. To view the matter in its proper light, men in such cases are nothing more than the ministers and agents, as it were, of God; and although one man may malignantly hate and foster the worst disposition towards another, yet, without the permission of God, he can in no wise injure him. Influenced by this reflection, Joseph patiently endured the wicked counsels of his brethren, and David the injuries inflicted on him by Shimei. To this matter also eminently applies an argument which St. Chrysostom has seriously and learnedly handled, that no man is injured but by himself; for let those who deem themselves injured consider the matter aright, and they will find that in reality they received no insult or injury from others. For although they may have experienced actual injury from external causes, yet they themselves are their own greatest enemies, by wickedly contaminating their souls with hatred, desire of revenge, and envy.

What Advantages result to those who freely forgive Injuries

The second [argument] embraces two advantages, which especially appertains to those who, influenced by a pious desire to please God, freely remit injuries. In the first place, God has promised that he who forgives shall himself obtain forgiveness; a promise which at once proves how acceptable to God is this duty of piety. Next, by the forgiveness of injuries we are in some sort ennobled and perfected in our nature; for thereby we are, in some degree, assimilated to God, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

What, and how many Disadvantages result from the Hatred of Enemies

Finally, the disadvantages into which we fall through revenge, when we are unwilling to forgive injuries, are to be explained. The pastor, therefore, will represent to those who are unwilling to forgive their enemies, that hatred is not only a grievous sin, but also that by habitual indulgence it takes deeper root. For the man of whose heart this passion has taken hold thirsts for the blood of his enemy; filled with the hope of revenge, he spends days and nights in constant mental agitation, so much so, that he seems never to repose from the thought of slaughter, or of some wicked project; and thus never, or, at least, not without extreme difficulty, can he be induced fully to forgive, or even partially to remit, an injury. Justly, therefore, is revenge compared to a wound in which the weapon sticks fast.

Many Sins are shown to result from Hatred

There are also many inconveniences and sins which follow inseparably, as it were, in the train of this vice of hatred; and hence these words of St. John: He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. He therefore must, of necessity, err frequently; for how can one possibly view in a favourable light the words or actions of the man whom he hates? Hence arise rash and unjust judgments, anger, envy, depreciation of character, and the like, in which also are often involved those who are connected by ties either of friendship or of blood; and thus does it frequently happen that from this one sin arise many. Hatred has been denominated the sin of the devil, not without good reason, since the devil was a murderer from the beginning; and hence the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, when the Pharisees sought his life, said that they were begotten of their father the devil.

Remedies against Hatred

But, besides the reasons already mentioned, which may afford grounds for detesting this sin, other and most opportune remedies are laid down in the pages of the sacred writings; and of these remedies the first and greatest is the example of our Saviour, which we should place before us for imitation. When scourged with rods, crowned with thorns, and finally nailed to a cross, he, in whom even the least suspicion of fault could not be found, the sprinkling of whose blood, as the apostle beareth witness, speaketh better than Abel, poured out this most pious prayer: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Another remedy prescribed by Ecclesiasticus is to call to mind death and the day of judgment: Remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss; as if he had said: frequently, and again and again, reflect that thou must soon die, and as at such a season it will be most desirable and necessary for thee to obtain the supreme mercy of God, thou shouldest now, and at all times, place that hour before thine eyes; thus will be extinguished within thee that insatiate desire of revenge; for thou canst find no means better adapted, none more efficacious, to implore the mercy of God, than the forgiveness of injuries, and the love of those who may have injured you or yours in word or deed.

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