GOD'S GREATEST GIFTS
The Commandments and the Sacraments
Saint Thomas Aquinas

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.

The First Commandment which relates to the love of God is: Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. For an understanding of this Commandment, we must know how it was violated in earlier times.

 

A. How the First Commandment was violated

1. Some people worshipped demons: "All the gods of the Gentiles are devils."2 This is the greatest and most detestable of all sins. Even now there are many who transgress this Commandment, such as those who practice divinations and fortune-telling. Such things, according to St. Augustine, cannot be done without some kind of pact with the Devil. "I would not that you should be made partakers with devils."3

2. Some worshipped the heavenly bodies, believing the stars to be gods: "They have imagined the sun and the moon to be the gods that rule the world."4 For this reason Moses forbade the Jews to raise their eyes or adore the sun, moon, and stars: "Keep therefore your souls carefully ... test perhaps lifting up thine eyes to heaven, thou see the sun, the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error, thou adore and serve them which the Lord thy God created for the service of all the nations."5 The astrologers sin against this Commandment in that they say that these bodies are the rulers of souls, when in truth they were made for the use of man whose sole ruler is God.

3. Some worshipped the lower elements: "They imagined the fire or the wind ... to be gods."6 Into this error also fall those who wrongly use the things of this earth and love them too much: "... covetous persons (who serve idols)...."7

4. Some worshipped their ancestors (for three reasons):

a. From their carnal nature

"For a father being afflicted with a bitter grief made to himself the image of his son who was quickly taken away; and him who then had died as a man, he began now to worship as a god, appointing him rites and sacrifices among his servants."8

b. Because of flattery

Being unable to worship certain men in their presence, they, bowing down, honored them in their absence by making statues of them and worshipping one for the other: "Whom they had a mind to honor ... they made an image ... that they might honor as present him that was absent."9 Of such also are those men who love and honor other men more than God: "He that loveth his father and mother more than me is not worthy of me."10 "Put your trust not in princes nor in the children of man, in whom there is no salvation."11

c. From presumption

Some, because of their presumption, had themselves called gods. Such, for example, was Nebuchadnezzar. 12 "Thy heart is lifted up and thou hast said, 'I am God.'"13

d. From desire for pleasure

Such also are those who believe more in their own pleasures than in the precepts of God. They worship themselves as gods, for by seeking the pleasures of the flesh they worship their own bodies instead of God: "Their god is their belly."14 We must therefore avoid all these things.

 

B. Reasons why we should adore one God

As we have already said, the First Commandment forbids us to worship other than the one God: Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. There are five reasons for this:

1. God's dignity

The first reason is the dignity of God which, were it belittled in any way, would be an injury to God. We see something similar to this in the customs of men. Reverence is due to every degree of dignity. Thus, a traitor to the king is he who robs him of what he ought to maintain. Such, too, is the conduct of some toward God: "They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man."15

This is highly displeasing to God: "I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven things."16 For it must be known that the dignity of God consists in His omniscience, since the name of God (Deus) is from "seeing"; and this is one of the signs of divinity: "Show the things that are to come hereafter and we shall know that ye are gods."17 "All things are naked and open to His eyes."18 But this dignity of God is denied Him by practitioners of divination, and of them it is said: "Should not the people seek of their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?"19

2. God's bounty

We also should worship only God because we receive every good from Him. This also is of the dignity of God, that He is the maker and giver of all good things: "When Thou openest Thy hand, they shall all be filled with good."20 And this is implied in the name of God (Deus) which is said to be "distributor" (that is, dator) of all things, because He fills all things with His goodness. You are indeed ungrateful if you do riot appreciate what you have received from Him and, furthermore, if you make for yourself another god as the sons of Israel made an idol after they had been brought out of Egypt: "I will go after my lovers."21

We do this also when we put too much trust in someone other than God, such as may occur when we seek help from another: "Blessed is the man whose hope is in the name of the Lord."22 Thus, the Apostle says: "Now that you have known God ... how can you turn again to the weak and needy elements? ... You observe days and months and times and years."23

3. The strength of our promise

The third reason we should worship the one God is taken from our solemn promise. For we have renounced the Devil and we have promised fidelity to God alone. This is a promise which we cannot break: "A man making void the Law of Moses dieth without mercy under two or three witnesses. How much more think ye he deserveth punishment who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, hath esteemed unclean the blood of the testament by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the Spirit of grace!"24 Whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man."25 Woe, then, to the sinner who enters the land by two ways and who "halts between two sides."26

4. The terrible burden of serving the Devil

The fourth reason we should worship the one God is because of the great burden that is imposed on us by service to the Devil: "You shall serve strange gods day and night, who will give you no rest."27 The Devil is not satisfied with leading us to one sin, but tries to lead us on to others: "Whosoever sins shall be a slave of sin."28 It is, therefore, not easy for us to escape from the habit of sin. Thus St. Gregory says: "The sin which is not remitted by penance soon draws man into another sin."29 The very opposite of all this is true of service to God, for His Commandments are not a heavy burden: "My yoke is sweet and my burden is light."30 A person is considered to have done enough if he does for God as much as he has done for the sake of sin: "For as you have yielded your members unto iniquity to serve uncleanness and iniquity so now yield your members to serve justice unto sanctification.31 But on the contrary, it is written of those who serve the Devil: "We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction and have walked through hard ways."32 And again: "They have labored to commit iniquity."33

5. The greatness of the reward

The fifth reason we should worship the one God is taken from the greatness of the reward or prize. In no law are such rewards promised as in the law of Christ. To the Mohammedans are promised rivers flowing with milk and honey; to the Jews, the Promised Land; but to Christians, the glory of the angels: "They shall be as the angels of God in Heaven."34 It was with this in mind that St. Peter asked: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."35

 

NOTES:

2. Ps. 95:5 (Revised Standard Version: Ps. 96:5)
3. 1 Cor. 10:20
4. Wisd. of Sol. 13:2
5. Deut. 4:15,19
6. Wisd. of Sol. 13:2
7. Eph. 5:5
8. Wisd. of Sol. 14:15
9. Wisd. of Sol. 14:17
10. Matt. 10:37
11. Ps. 145:2-3 (RSV: Ps. 146:3)
12. Jth. 3:13 (RSV: Jth. 3:8)
13. Ezek. 28:2
14. Phil. 3:19
15. Rom. 1:23
16. Isa. 42:8
17. Isa. 41:23
18. Heb. 4:13
19. Isa. 8:19
20. Ps. 103:28 (RSV: Ps. 104:28)
21. Hos. 2:5
22. Ps. 39:5 (RSV: Ps. 40:4)
23. Gal. 4:9,10
24. Heb. 10:28-29
25. Rom. 7:3
26. 3 Kings 18:21 (RSV: 1 Kings 18:21)
27. Jer. 16:13
28. John 8:34
29. St. Gregory the Great, Homily 11 on Ezekiel, 24
30. Matt. 11:30
31. Rom. 6:19
32. Wisd. of Sol. 5:7
33. Jer. 9:5
34. Matt. 22:30
35. John 6:68


The above excerpt of Chapter 1, pages 3-8 is taken with permission from:

Saint Thomas Aquinas. God's Greatest Gifts.
With a forward by Ralph McInerny, Ph. D.
(Sophia Institute Press, 1992, softcover, 100 pgs)

 

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