III. "YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME"
2110 The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than
the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes
superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents
a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary
by defect to the virtue of religion.
2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and
of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the
worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance
in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or
necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental
signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior
dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.41
2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires
man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities
than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection
of "idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see."
These empty idols make their worshippers empty: "Those who
make them are like them; so are all who trust in them."42
God, however, is the "living God"43 who gives life
and intervenes in history.
2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains
a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing
what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and
reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons
(for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the
state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and
mammon."44 Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast"45
refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the
unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion
2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one
God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man
and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion
of man's innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who "transfers
his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God."47
Divination and Magic
2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other
saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting
oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever
concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about
it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse
to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices
falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.48 Consulting
horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens
and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums
all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the
last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate
hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving
fear that we owe to God alone.
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts
to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and
have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for
the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to
the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned
when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when
they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms
is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or
magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful
against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not
justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation
of another's credulity.
2118 God's first commandment condemns the main sins of irreligion:
tempting God, in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony.
2119 Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty
power to the test by word or deed. Thus Satan tried to induce
Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple and, by this gesture,
force God to act.49 Jesus opposed Satan with the word of God:
"You shall not put the LORD your God to the test."50
The challenge contained in such tempting of God wounds the respect
and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt
about his love, his providence, and his power.51
2120 Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily
the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons,
things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin
especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this
sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present
2121 Simony is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual
things.53 To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the spiritual
power he saw at work in the apostles, St. Peter responded: "Your
silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain
God's gift with money!"54 Peter thus held to the words of
Jesus: "You received without pay, give without pay."55
It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and
behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their
source in God. One can receive them only from him, without payment.
2122 The minister should ask nothing for the administration
of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by the competent
authority, always being careful that the needy are not deprived
of the help of the sacraments because of their poverty."56
The competent authority determines these "offerings"
in accordance with the principle that the Christian people ought
to contribute to the support of the Church's ministers. "The
laborer deserves his food."57
2123 "Many . . . of our contemporaries either do not
at all perceive, or explicitly reject, this intimate and vital
bond of man to God. Atheism must therefore be regarded as one
of the most serious problems of our time."58
2124 The name "atheism" covers many very different
phenomena. One common form is the practical materialism which
restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic
humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself,
and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history."59
Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation
of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds
that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation
by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving
him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life
2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism
is a sin against the virtue of religion.61 The imputability of
this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the
intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more
than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that
they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present
its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral,
or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal
the true nature of God and of religion."62
2126 Atheism is often based on a false conception of human
autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence
on God.63 Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose
the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought
to perfection in God. . . . "64 "For the Church knows
full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret
desires of the human heart."65
2127 Agnosticism assumes a number of forms. In certain cases
the agnostic refrains from denying God; instead he postulates
the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing
itself, and about which nothing can be said. In other cases,
the agnostic makes no judgment about God's existence, declaring
it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny.
2128 Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for
God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from
the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience.
Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.
IV. "YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FOR YOURSELF A GRAVEN IMAGE
. . ."
2129 The divine injunction included the prohibition of every
representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains:
"Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to
you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act
corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form
of any figure. . . . "66 It is the absolutely transcendent
God who revealed himself to Israel. "He is the all,"
but at the same time "he is greater than all his works."67
He is "the author of beauty."68
2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained
or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward
salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent,
the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.69
2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the
seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against
the iconoclasts the veneration of icons - of Christ, but also
of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming
incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy"
2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to
the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the
honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and
"whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed
in it."70 The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful
veneration," not the adoration due to God alone:
Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves,
considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect
as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward
the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward
that whose image it is.71
2133 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength"
2134 The first commandment summons man to believe in God,
to hope in him, and to love him above all else.
2135 "You shall worship the Lord your God" (Mt 4:10).
Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs
to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts
of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first
2136 The duty to offer God authentic worship concerns man
both as an individual and as a social being.
2137 "Men of the present day want to profess their religion
freely in private and in public" (DH 15).
2138 Superstition is a departure from the worship that we
give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as
in various forms of divination and magic.
2139 Tempting God in words or deeds, sacrilege, and simony
are sins of irreligion forbidden by the first commandment.
2140 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism
is a sin against the first commandment.
2141 The veneration of sacred images is based on the mystery
of the Incarnation of the Word of God. It is not contrary to
the first commandment.
~CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH