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Chapter 12: Commandments
      518. How to Divide Up the Ten Commandments?

{518.1} Q. Why do Catholics and Protestants divide up the Ten Commandments differently?

{518.2} A. Allow me, please, to answer this question with a personal illustration. When I was a Protestant seminarian, one of my Old Testament professors denounced the "shameful" way in which the Catholic Church has tinkered with the Ten Commandments. Protestants, he reminded us, claim that the First Commandment is "You shall have no other gods before me," and the second is, "You shall not make for yourself a graven image."

{518.3} Now, he said, look at what the Catholic Church does. To cover up the fact that Catholics do worship graven images, he explained, they combine the first two commandments. This is an attempt to bury the restriction against worshiping graven images inside the First Commandment.

{518.4} He went on. There have to be 10. The Catholic Church is one short. So what does the Church do? It splits the rightful Tenth Commandment against covetousness in two, giving the Catholics the requisite number. Along with my classmates, I was shocked by this revelation of Rome's deceit. "How dare they?" we wondered.

{518.5} That professor has gone to be with the Lord. Now that, in purgatory (I presume), he has taken a remedial course in theology, I know he sees the truth of the matter. Only after I became a Catholic did I understand why the Church's catalog of the commandments differs from the Protestant version.

{518.6} To begin with, what Protestants call the Second Commandment is only a specification of the first. We are commanded to have no other gods. That, of course, excludes the worship of graven images. These are not two commandments: this is one commandment.

{518.7} Then there is the charge that the Catholic Church wrongfully splits the last commandment in two in order to have a full number. The Catholic Church does split the last commandment of the Protestant version because that commandment condemns two very different kinds of covetousness. The Ninth Commandment is directed at "lust or carnal concupiscence" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2529), while the Tenth "forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power." (Catechism, No. 2552).

{518.8} Yes, there is a difference in Catholic and Protestant listing of the Ten Commandments. It is due not to Catholic deceit, however, but to a lack of precision in Protestant thought.

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