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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: "Thou Shalt Not Steal."
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The Lord specifically forbids injury to our neighbor in the Commandments.

Thus, "Thou shalt not kill" forbids us to injure our neighbor in his own

person; "Thou shalt not commit adultery" forbids injury to the person to

whom one is bound in marriage; and now the Commandment, "Thou shalt not

steal," forbids us to injure our neighbor in his goods. This Commandment

forbids any worldly goods whatsoever to be taken away wrongfully.1


Theft is committed in a number of ways. First, by taking stealthily: "If

the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come."2 This is

an act wholly blameworthy because it is a form of treachery. "Confusion . .

. is upon the thief."3


Secondly, by taking with violence, and this is an even greater injury:

"They have violently robbed the fatherless."4 Among such that do such

things are wicked kings and rulers: "Her princes are in the midst of her as

roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves, they left nothing for the

morning."5 They act contrary to God's will who wishes a rule according to

justice: "By Me kings reign and lawgivers decree just things."6 Sometimes

they do such things stealthily and sometimes with violence: "Thy princes

are faithless companions of thieves, they all love bribes, they run after

rewards."7 At times they steal by enacting laws and enforcing them for

profit only: "Woe to them that make wicked laws."8 And St. Augustine says

that every wrongful usurpation is theft when he asks: "What are thrones but

forms of thievery?"9


Thirdly, theft is committed by not paying wages that are due: "The wages of

him that hath been hired by thee shall not abide by thee until the

morning."10 This means that a man must pay every one his due, whether he be

prince, prelate, or cleric, etc.: "Render therefore to all men their dues.

Tribute, to whom tribute is due, custom, to whom custom."11 Hence, we are

bound to give a return to rulers who guard our safety.


The fourth kind of theft is fraud in buying and selling: "Thou shalt not

have divers weights in thy bag, a greater and a less."12 And again: "Do not

any unjust thing in judgment, in rule, in weight, or in measure."13 All

this is directed against the keepers of wine-shops who mix water with the

wine. Usury is also forbidden: "Who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who

shall rest in Thy holy hill? . . . He that hath not put his money out to

usury."14 This is also against money-changers who commit many frauds, and

against the sellers of cloth and other goods.


Fifthly, theft is committed by those who buy promotions to positions of

temporal or spiritual honor. "The riches which he hath swallowed, he shall

vomit up, and God shall draw them out of his belly,"15 has reference to

temporal position. Thus, all tyrants who hold a kingdom or province or land

by force are thieves, and are held to restitution. Concerning spiritual

dignities: "Amen, amen, I say to you, he that entereth not by the door into

the sheepfold but climbeth up another way is a thief and a robber."16

Therefore, they who commit simony are thieves.


1. St. Thomas also treats of this Commandment in the "Summa Theol.," II-II,

Q. cxxii, Art. 6.


2. Matt., xxiv. 43.


3. Ecclus., v. 17.


4. Job, xxiv. 9.


5. Soph., iii. 3.


6. Prov., viii. 15.


7. Isa., i. 23.


8. "Ibid.," x. 1.


9. "The City of God," IV, 4. "It must be seen that the word 'steal' is

understood not only of the taking away of anything from its rightful owner

privately and witbout his consent, but also the possession of that which

belongs to another, contrary to his

will, although not without his knowledge. Otherwise we would say that he

who forbids theft does not also forbid robbery, which is accomplished by

violence and injustice. . . . So robbery is a greater sin than theft,

inasmuch as it not only deprives another of his property, but also offers

violence and insult to him. Nor can it be a matter of surprise that the

Commandment is expressed in the lighter word, 'steal,' instead of 'rob.' A

good reason for this is that theft is more general and of wider extent than

robbery" ("Roman Catechism," "Seventh Commandment," 3-4).


10. Lev., xix. 13.


11. Rom., xiii. 7.


12. Deut., xxv. 13.


13. Lev., xix. 35-36.


14. Ps. xiv. 1, 5.


15. Job, xx. 15.


16. John, x. 1.


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