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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Exposition on the Sixth Commandment of the Law by St. Thomas Aquinas

1. 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' (Ex. xx. 14). After the forbiddal of murder there comes the forbiddal of adultery; and very fitting this is, for husband and wife are as one body. God said (Gen. ii. 24), 'They shall be two in one flesh.' After an injury, therefore, inflicted on a man himself, there can be none greater than an injury inflicted on a woman who is married to him.

Wife and husband alike are forbidden to commit adultery; but we will speak first of the adultery of the wife, for her sin has a look of being the greater.

By adultery she commits three mortal sins: 

1. unbelief; 2. treachery; 3. theft. 

These sins are indicated in Scripture, where it is said (Ecclus. xxiii. 32, 33), 'So every woman also that leaveth her husband and bringeth in an heir by another; for first she hath been unfaithful to the law of the Most High; and secondly she hath offended against her husband; and thirdly she hath fornicated in adultery, and hath had children of another man.'

1. Unbelief. She sins by unbelief; and that in three ways.

a. The Law of God. She does not believe in the divine law, for it is God Himself who has forbidden adultery.

b. The Ordinance of God. She goes against the ordinance of God. Our Lord said (St. Matt. xix. 4-6), 'Have ye not read that He who made man from the beginning made them male and female? And He said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.'

c. The sacrament of God. She goes against the ordinances of the Church and against a sacrament of God. Marriage takes place in the face of the Church, and God is called upon as a witness, and as a surety that the husband and wife will keep their plighted faith. The prophet Malachias says (ii. 14), 'You have said, For what cause? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee, and the wife of thy youth, whom thou hast despised. Yet she was thy partner and the wife of thy covenant.' An adulterous woman therefore sins, a. against the law; b. against the ordinance; c. against the sacrament of God.

2. Treachery. She sins by treachery, because she forsakes her husband. St. Paul teaches this (1 Cor. vii. 4), 'The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband.' Without the consent of her husband she cannot even observe chastity. In the sin of adultery, therefore, she is guilty of betrayal, in that she gives herself to another. So it is said (Prov. ii. 17, 18), 'She forsaketh the guide of her youth; and hath forgotten the covenant of her God.' (Let husbands sinning in this way remember that these terrible words are true in substance also about themselves.)

3. Theft.She sins by theft. It must be so if she give to her husband the children of another. Indeed this is the greatest of thefts, when a whole inheritance is given to those who have no right to it. In such a case she should strive to induce her children to adopt a state of poverty, or to take such steps at any rate as would hinder them from inheriting the property of her husband.

An adulterous woman therefore is:

1. sacrilegious; 2. a traitoress; 3. a thief.

II. Sin of Husbands 

The sin of husbands in this matter is no less grievous than the sin of the wife, though sometimes they flatter themselves that it is not. This is plain from three things.

1. Equality. We see it from the equality between the sins. St. Paul says (1 Cor. vii. 4), 'The husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife.' So far then as regards duties of the married state, neither husband nor wife can do anything without the other's consent. It was to signify this that God did not make woman from the foot of man or from his head, but from one of his ribs. Marriage therefore is a perfect state only in the law of Christ. One Jew had many wives, but one wife had not many husbands; and thus there was no equality.

2. Strength. We see it from the strength of the man. St. Peter says (1 Ep. iii. 7), 'Ye husbands, likewise dwelling with them according to knowledge, giving honour to the woman as to the weaker vessel, and as to the coheirs of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.' A man therefore breaks faith with his wife if he ask from her what he is not willing to give in return.

3. Authority. We see it from the authority of the man. St. Paul says (1 Cor. xi. 3), ' The head of the woman is the man;' and again (1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35), 'Let women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith. But if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.' The man therefore is the teacher of the woman, and for this reason God gave the commandment at the beginning to Adam. Now as a priest is worse than a layman, and a bishop is worse than a priest, if they do not the things that they ought, because it is the duty of the priest and the bishop to teach others, so an adulterous man, breaking faith with his wife, and not acting towards her as he ought to act, is worse than she would be, for he does not the things that he ought. Wives, however, should bear in mind our Lord's words about the Scribes and Pharisees (St. Matt, xxiii. 3),'All things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not: for they say and do not.'

III. 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.' 

As has been said, God has forbidden adultery both to husbands and wives. We must also bear in mind that fornication is a mortal sin. The Apostle says (Heb. xiii. 4), 'Fornicators and adulterers God will judge;' and again (1 Cor. vi. 9, ] 0), 'Do not err, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers . . shall possess the kingdom of God.' Now, nothing but mortal sin keeps us out of the kingdom of God. Though in fornication there is not given the body of a wife, yet there is given the body of Christ; for our bodies are made His, being consecrated to Him in Baptism. If, then, every one should refrain from injury to a wife, much more should he refrain from doing injury to Christ; as St. Paul says (1 Cor. vi. 15), ' Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? God forbid.' It would be heresy to deny that fornication is a deadly sin. 

Further, we see that this command forbids not only adultery, but every kind of fleshly sin. Again, it is heresy to say, as some have said, that the married state cannot be free from sin. For St. Paul says (Heb. xiii. 4), 'Marriage honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.' Husbands and wives may of course commit sin with regard to one another; but if they keep themselves in the grace of God, all their acts in the married state may be meritorious of eternal life. On the other hand these acts may be venial sins or they may be mortal sins. Husband and wife may desire children; and that is a virtuous desire. They may strive to fulfil every duty of their state; and then they act justly. On the other hand, they may indulge too much in sensual gratification; and so commit venial sin or mortal sin, as the case may be. 

IV. Now these sins of uncleanness are forbidden for five reasons.

1. Death of soul. They destroy the soul. It is said (Prov. vi. 32), 'He that is an adulterer for the folly of his heart shall destroy his own soul.' He says, 'for the folly of his heart,' because in such a case the flesh rules the spirit.

2. Death of body. They deprive of life. It is said (Lev. xx. 10), 'If any man commit adultery with the wife of another, and defile his neighbour's wife, let them be put to death, both the adulterer and the adulteress;' and again (Deut. xxii. 21), 'They shall cast her out of the doors of her father's house, and the men of the city shall stone her to death, and she shall die.' Such a one may sometimes not be punished bodily; but that is all the worse for the sinner. Bodily punishment, patiently borne, is a help towards forgiveness of sin. The punishment, nevertheless, will come in the next life.

3. Waste of temporal gifts. They waste goods which God gives us. So it is said of the Prodigal Son (St. Luke xv. 13), 'Not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country, and there wasted his substance, living riotously.' Again (Ecclus. ix. 6), 'Give not thy soul to harlots in any point, lest thou destroy thyself and thy inheritance.'

4. They cast a slur on the offspring. It is said (Wisd. iii. 16,17),' The children of adulterers shall not come to perfection, and the seed of the unlawful bed shall be rooted out. If they live long they shall be nothing regarded, and their last old age shall be without honour.' Again (1 Cor. vii. 14), 'Otherwise your children should be unclean; but now they are holy.'

5. They deprive men, and still more women, of honour. It is said (Ecclus. ix. 10), 'Every woman that is a harlot shall be trodden upon as dung in the way.' Of the man it is said (Prov. vi. 33), 'He gathereth to himself shame and dishonour, and his reproach shall not be blotted out.' St. Gregory also says that sins of the flesh, though of less guilt than sins of the spirit, are of greater infamy. The reason is because these things are in common with beasts; as it is said (Ps. xlviii. 13), 'Man, when he was in honour, did not understand; he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them.' 


O Jesus, Thou God of the clean in heart, keep me from all defilements of the flesh. Save me from all stains on the white raiment in which I should walk with Thee. I am a member of Thy mystical body; and I have a great desire, dear Lord, to be always, body and soul, pure in Thy sight.

By Thy help I will never take Thy members and make them members of the devil. Save me, my own Brother, from vileness such as this.

Oftentimes, Jesus, Thou givest me Thy sweet body for food and Thy life-giving blood for drink. Then I carry Thee in my body. O, may I always glorify Thee, my God, according to Thy will.

Oftentimes in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar Thou givest me Thy soul. Thy soul, my Jesus, is the soul of God. It is made to the image and likeness of God. It is hypostatically united to God. It is Thy soul, Thou Eternal Word, Thou second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, Thou begotten Wisdom of the Father. O, may I always glorify Thee, my God, when Thy soul dwelleth in me. Amen 


O Holy Ghost, Thou God of light and healing, cleanse me with the sweetness of Thy fire. If Thou wilt help me I will never grieve Thee by faithlessness to Thy word. O my bright and beautiful God, keep me, soul and body, pure for Thyself. As I think of Thee, my heart leaps up to Thee with joy; Thy light enfolds me; Thy mercy heartens me; and Thy justice pierces me through and through. O adorable Spirit of God, I ask Thee in the gentleness of Thy love and the tenderness of Thy pity to give me a great loathing of all sins that come from the desire of the flesh. If I trust to Thee, and lean on Thee, I can overcome these temptations; but if I trust to myself I can only kill my soul.

O Thou all-holy God, watch over me, that I may inherit the blessing which Jesus promised to the clean in heart. Amen 


Eternal Father, Thou hast given me Thy Son and Thy Spirit. With blessed Philip, the Apostle of Thy Son, I long to see Thee, the Father. I know that the sight of Thee is enough for every true desire. Nothing that is defiled can come to Thee or enter into Thy presence. O my heavenly Father, keep me pure, and let my soul rest safely in Thy everlasting arms.


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