The Moral Order of the World.
The Decalogue
(the ten commandments).

Extract from The Catholic Book of Faith, An Adult Catechism, by Rev. Albert Drexel. First published in German under the title: Katholisches Glaubensbuch.

The Moral Order of the World. The Decalogue (the ten commandments). In particular the sixth commandment.

From divine revelation we know that God has solemnly proclaimed the ten commandments (the Decalogue) to man for his moral conduct as a person and in a community, with the instruction to observe them. The first three commandments relate to man's conduct toward God, belief in God, adoration of God, reverence of God and especially keeping holy the seventh day of the week ("the day of the Lord") by resting from work and turning towards God.

The fourth commandment regulates the relation of children to parents and also parents to children, in the spirit and will of God. Mutual conduct between subordinates and superiors is indicated at the same time in this commandment. In general the fifth commandment refers extensively to man's conduct toward his fellow man and his respecting his good reputation. The sixth commandment refers in its close sense to the moral conduct of man personally, and his relation to his fellow-man, including the moral regulation between man and woman, their vocation to establish a family, and the procreation and upbringing of children.

The seventh commandment deals with the ownership and protection of possessions. Social justice with all its related questions and problems also falls under this commandment. In the supplementary sense the seventh commandment is joined to the tenth commandment, and similarly the ninth commandment in a certain way is the completion of the sixth commandment. The eighth commandment commands man to respect truth in demanding from every single person inner truthfulness, honesty and uprightness. This eighth commandment prohibits every form of lie, slander, pretence and misrepresentation, of deceitfulness and falsehood.

All these commandments and their respective prohibitions are in themselves extensively clear and generally understandable, although special difficulties and questions may arise with one or another commandment, which may be interpreted and solved at times by experts trained in morals and law. Pastors and theologians are especially qualified for this.

Above all, there are two commandments, which could give reason for difficulties and doubts, obscurity and dubiousness in special questions: the sixth commandment and also the commandment of respect for possessions of one's fellow man, because here the whole wide field of social equality and equal justice is included, which contains a special kind of problem. Two ethical or moral-theological fundamental statements should be remembered here: Man is not the absolute owner, but ultimately the trustee of all his property; every man has the right to what is necessary to live. Besides theology, sociology and social ethics, various Popes of the 19th and 20th century have referred to this fact in social encyclicals. I point out here only the encyclical about workers, Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII and the two encyclicals Mater et Magistra of Pope John XXIII and Populorum Progressio of Pope Paul VI.

A special focal point has been stressed lately as the result of flaring up of conflicts against the Biblical-Christian and religious-moral teaching of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, because what is called the "new morality" concerns above all and especially the moral sphere in the strict sense, which is: moral purity and chastity.

Concerning the sixth commandment and offences against it, progressivist innovators have objected that all too strict measures have been used. And in judging sins against chastity, sin has been spoken about too soon, and it has been exaggerated. They put into question sins against chastity. But in addition to this, the innovators have conceded far-reaching liberties-- and this is much more grave-- concerning sexual intercourse, that is, in the moral conduct of man to man, whether it is two different sexes or the same sex. The "playful character" is stressed, and also that in the pleasurable sensations in the partnership a relative personal, sensual allowance for the senses has to be granted.

The advocates of this "new morality" using North European statistics, make is plausible that the "attitude and behavior of young people have deviated from the accepted civil and religious morals which were acknowledged as right." As if statistics of actually established errors in the moral sphere could give proof against the Christian morals founded by God. Then they continue to speak very generally about "the relaxed happiness of togetherness." This means that the regulation of a morality with pure abstinence which has been applied up to now, has to be removed, so that the partners are able to "experience now their sexual union with more freedom." Finally it is demanded and stated: "Our consciousness of truth of today does not permit the actual norms valid in the past, which regulated sexual behavior in the sphere of masturbation, pre-marital relations, homosexual activity and marital activities outside and after marriage, norms simply seen as 'sacrosanct' commandments."

In relation to this, modernistic moralists turn against the validity of firm norms, and they allow themselves to speak of a moral relativism (inconstancy). Unscrupulously and openly it is declared: "There exists no concrete norm-- beginning with the barrier of incest," and continuing with the ban of homosexuality or polygamy, etc., which was known everywhere and at all times and acknowledged by everyone. "What has been permitted for one culture is prohibited for another, and something that has been prohibited in one culture, clearly meant a sign of power and goodness in another." As if moral errors, for example incest and polygamy, such as were practiced at some times and in some places in Africa, the South Seas and other places, could furnish evidence in some way against the Christian and moral norms established by God. Gustave Ermecke is correct when he says: "What uncatholic inaneness! And it calls itself knowledge!"

One can see that in the battle against the "new morality," it is a really a matter of being completely against it. This becomes clear from a quotation which was taken from a speech to a Catholic, Christian audience, words said openly and without discussion: "What can be said about such an absolution 'from the commandments'? Here the demand of obedience to the commandments of God made by Pope Pius XII is meant. Is this interpretation really the only possible and correct one? Is it perhaps by chance the only religious or Catholic one? In other words, does the sacrament of our morality lie only and exclusively in a return to what has stood firmly as the commandments of God during all the ages of the Church, and which was repeatedly successful against all the assaults of passion or soft adaptation to other desires?"

So far this is the image and face of the "new morality." The question is now: Has Christian morality really changed substantially from what it was in the Catholic Church since the days of the apostles and up to our days, so that with some justification and in truth a "new morality" or a new moral order could be spoken of? This question will be answered by four principles as an orientation for every Catholic and every Christian.

The first principle: every human being and Christian is obliged by God and before God to practice and preserve individual moral purity. It is clear that this is not always easy for a single person, and it differs unequally depending on natural disposition and education. It demands sacrifice, struggle, surmounting and self-control. Saint Paul said that we must fight against the visible and invisible temptations and powers. Moral purity is correlated with thoughts, speech and conduct.

It is true that in the Church's past a too strict measure was often applied by religious instructors in schools and by strict parents and educators, a measure which was petty and which encouraged anxiety and scruples, instead of reducing them. An all too rigorous view of personal purity could have a tragic effect. There were cases in which a person suffered continuously and severely from an impulse and temptation of self-defilement (masturbation). In his confused consciousness, he thought he was living in mortal sin and that he was therefore "damned," and was driven by this almost to despair. I know about such a case that ended in suicide.

What can be said about this? According to the Christian moral teaching of the Church, three things or conditions belong to a really serious or "mortal" sin: first, it has to be a serious, severe, matter; second, there has to be a clear understanding of the severity of the offence (sin); and third, there has to be free will and being free from interior and exterior hindrance. Of course each man is different according to his disposition, his education and environment; yes-- he is indeed very different. In the sexual sphere there are, undoubtedly, cases of unusually strong carnal dispositions. And there are such conditional mental dispositions (states of soul) which only God knows of and which only he decides, whether an individual offence (sin) has been involved; I think about masturbation.

It has to be admitted that in the past of the Church, when religious or educated persons judged offences against other commandments of the Decalogue, they often used petty judgments, which in a way can form and lead man to a false conscience. Parallel with this often went a crass and sharp emphasis which stressed Divine judgment and the punishments of hell. Both are an excess in moral strictness, which led mostly to visual imaginations of the punishments of hell. This excess is not the teaching of the Church, and is not fundamental in Biblical-Christian moral discipline, but is rather something subjectively interpreted and explained by depressed, pessimistic and petty clergymen and educators. Without doubt, even in seminaries for priests, a pastoral-moral deepening and psychological education and a sympathetic understanding were missing. This has had negative consequences here and there in sermons, in religious instruction and in the confessional.

But all this does not change the stability and validity of the sixth commandment, and also the fact that it is the will of God-- the same as always-- that every human being, individually and personally, should respect and practice moral purity. And one should always be aware throughout, that impurity is a sin, and that there may also exist a serious offence in the moral conduct of an individual man, and that man, as a Christian, should make an honest effort to safeguard moral purity. If an offence, for example, masturbation, is a small, a severe or no sin against the sixth commandment, depends to what extent the person acted with a clear conscience and knowledge and was totally free. Indeed, it can be said, that in most cases a more or less strong impulse of nature and of outward stimulation, causes susceptibility that influences the sensual pleasure, in such a way that one cannot speak of a really severe sin. However, man must really try with such weaknesses and susceptibilities, to maintain his purity seriously and honestly, and to do all this all the more so, since yielding to it only leads too easily to a habit and gradually weakens moral resistance. In the confessional, it is sufficient to say to the priest: "I have failed in self-abuse against the sixth commandment, and I accuse myself of it, as I became guilty before God." Pollution in sleep or half-sleep is never a mortal sin.

The second principle: Impurity, which means to sin against purity, becomes essentially more serious, when it concerns an impure act with someone or with other persons. And this is so, because man implicates himself with the sin of another, of which he is then guilty. This has to be impressed emphatically, and with earnestness and love, upon the minds of children, because it is very important for the education of the family and above all in the teaching of religion and morals, precisely in a time when the youth-- as perhaps never before-- have been exposed to moral and sexual dangers, to great and constant dangers, to stimulations and temptations. In the upbringing of children, the value and importance of moral purity must be aimed at and worked for, to form morally strong characters. Only a morally pure youth is strong and stays strong. Only such a youth has the ability to ensure a nation with hope, health and strength for continuance and success.

The third principle: