The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied
in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the
Commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become tradi
tional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confessions.
The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found
in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities.
The Ten Commandments state what is required in the love
of God and love of neighbor. The first three concern love of God,
and the other seven love of neighbor.
As charity comprises the two commandments to which the
Lord related the whole Law and the prophets... so the Ten
Commandments were themselves given on two tablets.
Three were written on one tablet and seven on the other.
The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments
are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound
to keep them;
the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bish-ops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission
of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every
creature, so that all menmay attain salvation through faith, Baptism
and the observance of the Commandments.”
The unity of the Decalogue
The Decalogue forms a coherent whole. Each “word” re
fers to each of the others and to all of them; they reciprocally
condition one another. The two tablets shed light on one another;
they form an organic unity. To transgress one commandment is to
infringe all the others.
One cannot honor another person without
blessing God his Creator. One cannot adore God without loving all
men, his creatures. The Decalogue brings man’s religious and
social life into unity.
The Decalogue and the natural law
The Ten Commandments belong to God’s revelation. At
the same time they teach us the true humanity of man. They bring
to light the essential duties, and therefore, indirectly, the funda
mental rights inherent in the nature of the human person. The
Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the natural law:
27 St. Augustine,
33, 2, 2: PL 38, 208.
28 Cf. DS 1569-1570.