THE SECOND COMMANDMENT OF GOD
The Second Commandment is this: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;” that is to say, thou shalt not utter it without reverence. By the name of God is not meant the mere word alone, but the majesty appertaining to the Most High.
We owe reverence to almighty God because He is a Lord of infinite majesty, and of infinite bounty.
Reverence is a mixture of fear, love, and esteem. If it was said of a monarch that he had many millions of subjects, that he had an army of a hundred thousand warriors who could take the field at his command, that by a word from his lips he could make the happiness or misery of multitudes, you would fear that monarch. But if you were told of his goodness, his endeavors to promote the welfare of his subjects, you would love and esteem him. So will you feel towards God, if you contemplate His infinite perfections and His great love towards man. Consider the perfections of God! There are upon earth some fifteen hundred millions of human beings; each one of these God knows, preserves, guides. He hears their prayers, He helps them in their necessities; He rewards or punishes them for the most part here below. How vast is the knowledge of this supreme Being! Millions of orbs revolve in space; God has created them all, He maintains them all, He gives them all motion. How boundless is His power! Think of the unseen world alone, peopled by millions of celestial spirits; He knows each one, He preserves each one in existence, He guides and directs each one, and by each and all He is adored. How great is His majesty!”Who is like to Thee among the strong, O Lord? Who is like to Thee, glorious in holiness, terrible and praiseworthy, doing wonders?” (Exod. xv. 11.) On account of the great majesty of God we should fear Him, and should love Him by reason of His infinite goodness. Fear and love are the component parts of reverence.
1. In the Second Commandment God commands us in the first place to show due respect to His divine majesty. This we must do in the following manner:
We should frequently call upon the name of God with true and heartfelt devotion, especially at the commencement of all we do and in time of trouble.
Newton, the great astronomer, had the deepest respect for the name of God; he uncovered his head and bowed low whenever it was uttered in his presence. Many devout Christians bow their head when they pronounce the name of Jesus in prayer; the priest does so in celebrating Mass. St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who when a child is said to have been he whom Our Lord set in the midst of the disciples, at the time that He said “Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. xviii. 4), loved to repeat the name of Jesus; shortly before his death he said: “This name shall never leave my lips or be effaced from my heart.” And, in fact, after his martyrdom, the holy name was found inscribed on his heart. In the Litany of the Holy Name we invoke the name of Jesus again and again, because it is the most powerful of all names, and through it we can obtain all we need. “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you” (John xvi. 23). By the name of Jesus the apostles and saints worked miracles; St. Peter said to the lame man at the gate of the Temple: “In the name of Jesus Christ arise and walk” (Acts iii. 6). Christ promised that in His name devils should be cast out (Mark xvi. 17). The devils tremble at the name of Jesus; they take flight when they hear it, even when it is uttered by evil men, so great is its potency. The name of Jesus is also all-powerful to fill the heart with joy; it is compared to oil (Cant. i. 2); as oil gives light, alleviates pain, and affords nourishment, so does the name of Jesus, when we call upon it. St. Vincent Ferrer declares it to be a defense in all dangers spiritual and temporal, and the means of healing bodily infirmities. All graces are combined in this holy name: “There is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts iv. 12). “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. ii. 10). An indulgence of twenty-five days is granted for each invocation of this holy name, and a plenary at the hour of death for those who have frequently invoked it during life (Clement XIII., Sept. 5, 1759). To pronounce this name is indispensable for obtaining the indulgence at the hour of death. Would that every Christian could say with St. Bernard: “The name of Jesus is honey to the taste, melody to the ear, joy to the heart.” No one who clings to mortal sin can devoutly call on this name: “No man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. xii. 3). In beginning every wish, before every action however insignificant, we should call on the name of God, or make the sign of the cross, with the usual words: “All whatsoever you do, in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Col. iii. 17). Thus we shall merit the divine blessing, and earn a reward for every action; Our Lord promises that any one who gives to another a cup of cold water in His name shall not be unrewarded (Mark ix. 40). We should also call upon the name of God in the time of trouble; He has said: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me” (Ps. xlix. 15). In the year 1683 the Christians obtained a brilliant victory over the Turks; their battle-cry was the names of Jesus and Mary. In the hour of death above all we should breathe the name of Jesus; like St. Stephen whose last words were: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts vii. 58.)
2. We ought to show respect for all that appertains to divine worship; more especially for the servants of God, for holy places, sacred things, and religious ceremonies.
We ought to show respect for the ministers of God. In this Count Rudolph of Hapsburg set an excellent example. One day when out hunting he met a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament to the sick. Instantly he dismounted, and offered his horse to the priest. And when the latter on his return, gave back the horse to the count, he would not take it, saying it must thenceforth be devoted to the service of the sanctuary. The priest predicted that good fortune and happiness would attend his career, and so it did; nine years later Rudolph was elected emperor. Our Lord bids us reverence His priests; He says: “He that despiseth you, despiseth Me” (Luke x. 16). “Touch not My anointed” (1 Par. xvi. 22). St. John Chrysostom says that the honor shown to the priest is shown to God Himself. God also requires us to show respect to holy places and things. When He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and Moses approached somewhat near, He said to Him: “Come not nigh hither; put off the shoes from thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exod. iii. 5). Under the Old Dispensation the people were strictly forbidden to touch the Ark of the Covenant (Numb. iv. 15). “Reverence My sanctuary” (Lev. xxvi. 2). Enter into the house of God as if you were entering into heaven, and leave behind you all that savors of earth. “Holiness becometh Thy house, O Lord!” (Ps. xcii. 5.) We should also manifest respect for all religious services. St. Elizabeth of Hungary removed her crown from her head whenever she heard Mass. Out of respect for the Gospel we stand up when it is read, and we preserve a grave demeanor when we approach the sacraments.
3. We ought frequently to praise and magnify almighty God on account of His infinite perfections and goodness, especially when He reveals His perfections in a special manner, or confers a benefit upon us.
The three children in the fiery furnace sang a canticle of praise when God preserved them from being hurt by the flames (Dan. iii.). When Tobias recovered his sight, he immediately blessed the Lord (Tob. xi. 17). Remember the Magnificat, the song of praise uttered by the Mother of God, and the Benedictus, the canticle of thanks giving pronounced by Zacharias on his cure (Luke i.). Whenever you receive any favor from God, say: Deo gratias, “Thanks be to God,” or Glory be to the Father, etc., and frequently repeat the salutation: “Let Jesus Christ be praised!” In some parts of Germany and Switzerland, this pious greeting takes the place of the good morning, or good day, in use among us. And if you are prevented by infirmi ties from praising God with your lips, at any rate praise Him in your heart; for God, Who hears not as we hear, requires not audible sound; He reads the heart, and is content with our good will. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all Pie hath done for thee” (Ps. cii. 1). “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be always in my mouth” (Ps. xxxiii. 2). “Blessed be the name of the Lord, from henceforth now and forever. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise” (Ps. cxii. 2, 3). In praising God, we do the best for ourselves, for thereby we draw down upon ourselves the divine blessings in great abundance.
4. Furthermore, God prohibits everything which is a violation of the reverence due to His divine majesty; and in particular:
Taking the name of God in vain.
Many people have the habit of thoughtlessly exclaiming at every trifle that surprises them: “Good Lord! My God!” and the like. It is a bad habit; correct yourselves of it, and endeavor to correct others also, as it shows a want of due reverence for the name of God. Those who truly love God cannot stand by unmoved and hear His holy name profaned. This careless, flippant use of the name of God or of any other sacred name is at least a venial sin. “Let not the naming of God be usual in thy mouth, for thou shalt not escape free from sin” (Ecclus. xxiii. 10). “The Lord will not hold him guilt less that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain” (Exod. xx. 7). “We take good care,” says St. John Chrysostom, “not to wear out our best clothes by putting them on every day; so we must beware lest we thoughtlessly utter the name of God, which is worthy of our profoundest reverence.” The Jews did not venture to pronounce the word Jehovah; they always spoke of “The Lord.”
5. Swearing. By this is meant the use of holy names in a moment of anger as an imprecation against certain persons or things.
For instance parents, when angry, wish ill to their children, using the name of God or of heaven; workmen call down evil on the tools they employ. Out of the mouth of a Christian none but blessings should proceed (1 Pet. iii. 9). Should the same mouth wherewith we pray, wherewith we receive the sacred body of the Lord, be employed to curse our neighbor and offend against God?
Almighty God often punishes those who curse others by allowing the curse to be fulfilled.
St. Augustine speaks of a certain mother who cursed her refractory sons, they having gone so far as to strike her. Immediately they were seized with a convulsive movement of the limbs, from which, after wandering through many lands, they were at length cured at Hippo, by touching the relics of St. Stephen. St. Ignatius of Loyola once asked an alms of a Spanish nobleman; the latter flew into a rage, and said: “May I be burned alive if you are not a rogue deserving the hangman’s rope.” Shortly after, on the occasion of festivities to celebrate the birth of an heir to the throne, a barrel of gunpowder exploded in the nobleman’s house, and he was so severely burned that he expired in agony a few days later. Working-people who curse and swear over their work, or call down imprecations upon the horses they are driving, cannot expect their labor to prosper. Thus God rewards those who use bad language: “He loved cursing, and it shall come upon him” (Ps. cviii. 18).
A man who indulges the bad habit of swearing commits many sins, and is in danger of eternal perdition.
As one tells from the language a stranger speaks of what country he is a native, so when oaths flow freely from a man’s lips, one may conclude he belongs to hell; there is reason to fear that he does not belong to the kingdom of God, for he talks the language of hell. The Fathers used to consider swearing as a sign of perdition. Those who curse shall perish (Ps. xxxvi. 22); they shall not possess the kingdom of God (1 Cor. vi. 10). Ordinary swearing is a venial sin, provided no serious evil is worked to one’s neighbor, yet it is a greater sin than taking God’s name in vain, because not only is it a disrespect towards God, but an offense against charity.
6. Indecorous behavior towards persons who are consecrated to the service of God, holy places, sacred objects or actions.
As we treat a priest, in his priestly capacity, so we treat God Himself, for Christ said: “He that despiseth you, despiseth Me” (Luke x. 16). He who abuses or despises a priest is guilty of dishonoring God, and deserves the same chastisement as the Jews who abused and. despised the Son of God. St. John Chrysostom says the want of respect for ecclesiastical superiors is the source of all evil. How severely the little boys were punished who mocked the prophet Eliseus (4 Kings ii. 24). We also offend God by unseemly behavior in church, laughing, whispering, staring about, lolling, etc. St. Ambrose says of people who behave badly in church that they come with small sins and go away with great ones. Insults offered to God in His house are more offensive to Him than those offered elsewhere; we ourselves resent most of all rudeness shown to us in our own house. This is why the meek and gentle Saviour drove those who bought and sold out of the Temple, saying: “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. xxi. 13). “If any man violate the Temple of God, him shall God destroy” (1 Cor. iii. 17). The same respect is due to holy things as to holy places. When David was bringing the ark back to Jerusalem, an Israelite named Oza ventured to lay hold of it. God struck him and he died (2 Kings vi. 7). King Ozias was punished with leprosy, because he entered the sanctuary and wanted to burn in cense (2 Par. xxvi. 21). To disturb religious services or show contempt for them is also sinful. Of this sin the sons of Heli were guilty when they interfered with the Jewish sacrifices (1 Kings ii.). In the present day sometimes evil disposed persons interrupt sermons, processions, or other services, or insult priests who are taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick. These offenders are punishable by law as disturbers of divine worship.
7. Blasphemy. Of this sin those are guilty who revile God, His saints, or speak contemptuously of objects connected with His worship.
The Emperor Julian the Apostate always spoke of the Son of God as the Galilean (at that time a word of insult); even at his death, which was occasioned by the thrust of a lance, he is said to have exclaimed: “Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!” Ungodly persons are often heard to utter bitter revilings against God, especially in time of suffering and affliction, as if they did not deserve the trials He sends them. It is blasphemy to speak scornfully of God, or of His actions; or to attribute to a creature what is the prerogative of the Creator. The people sinned thus who when King Herod made an oration to them, cried: “It is the voice of a god and not of a man” (Acts xii. 22). The Jews committed this sin. God says by the mouth of the prophet: “My name is continually blasphemed all the day long” (Is. Iii. 5). To speak contemptuously of holy places and things is a kind of blasphemy, as a reflection upon God, Whom we are told to praise in His holy places (Ps. cl. 1).
Sacrilege is another kind of blasphemy. This consists in putting to an improper and degrading use what pertains to the service of God.
The King of Babylon, Baltassar, committed sacrilege when, in a state of inebriation, he commanded the sacred vessels that had been taken from the Temple at Jerusalem, where they were used in the worship of the true God, to be brought to serve as drinking cups at the feast. The mutilation of statues or defacing of crucifixes is a sacrilege. Would it not be considered a treasonable act to treat the crown or the portrait of an earthly monarch with contumely? Again, those who receive the sacraments unworthily, who appropriate to themselves Church property, or who commit a theft in church, come under the same condemnation. It is said that Jews and Free masons have sometimes obtained consecrated Hosts, which they subjected to horrible profanation. Such conduct is simply satanic.
Blasphemy is essentially a diabolical sin, and one of the gravest transgressions.
Blasphemy may be called a sin peculiar to devils and reprobates, for as the Holy Spirit speaks by the mouth of the good, so the devil speaks by the mouth of the blasphemer (St. Bernardin). The blasphemer is worse than a dog; for a dog does not bite the master who is kind to him when he chastises him, whereas the blasphemer reviles God, from Whom he has received so many benefits, oblivious of the fact that God only afflicts him for his own good. When the saintly Bishop Polycarp was offered his life if he would blaspheme Christ, he answered: “For eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has done me nothing but good; how could I speak evil of my King and Master?” St. Jerome says that all sins are slight in comparison with this, for by all others one offends against God indirectly, but by this sin one offends against the Most High Himself, not against His image. “Whom hast thou blasphemed, against whom hast thou exalted thy voice? Against the holy One of Israel” (4 Kings xix. 22). All other sins arise from human frailty or ignorance, but blasphemy comes from the malice of the human heart (St. Bernard). Other sins bring some advantage to the sinner; pride desires to gain importance, avarice money, intemperance the pleasures of the table, but this sin brings a man no profit, no pleasure. The Jews punished the blasphemer with death. St. Thomas Aquinas declares blasphemy to be a mortal sin, unless it is committed in a hasty moment without deliberation. “Oughtest thou not to fear that fire will fall from heaven upon thee and consume thee, if thou dost venture to asperse the name of the Almighty? Will not the earth open and swallow thee up? Deceive not thyself, O man, thou canst not escape the hand of an omnipotent God!” (St. Ephrem.)
God punishes blasphemy with severe chastisements in time, and with everlasting damnation hereafter; it is also punishable by human law.
“God is not mocked” (GaL vi. 7). When King Baltassar profaned the vessels of the sanctuary, judgment fell upon him immediately: an unseen hand wrote his fate upon the wall. That same night the enemy entered the city; he was slain and his kingdom became part of the Persian empire (Dan. v.). Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, blasphemed God; shortly after he lost two hundred thousand men in the war against the Hebrews, and was assassinated by his own sons. Michael III., Emperor of Constantinople, made public mockery of the sacraments on the feast of the Ascension; at night there was a tremendous earthquake, and some time later the emperor was murdered. An Israelite cursed God in the wilderness; he was put into prison till Moses had ascertained what was God’s will; and the Lord said: “Let all the people stone him” (Lev. xxiv. 14). As a man who throws a stone up to the sky, cannot touch, much less injure any of the heavenly bodies, but may break his own head if the stone falls back upon it, so blasphemous words do no harm to the Being against Whom they are directed; they only fall back upon the head of him who utters them, to his own perdition. Thus the blasphemer whets the sword to pierce his own heart (St. John Chrysostom). Our Lord says that whosoever reviles his neighbor shall be in danger of hell fire (Matt. v. 22); how much more he who reviles God! Under the Old Law, when God was not so well known, it was said: “He that curseth father or mother shall die the death” (Exod. xxi. 17). How much more shall judgment overtake those who in this age of knowledge and enlightenment, curse, not their parents, but the Lord, their God!”They shall be cursed that shall despise Thee” (Tob. xiii. 16). “He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die” (Lev. xxiv. 16). Blasphemy is also punished by the secular authority. St. Louis of France made it a law that any one who blasphemed God should be seared on the lips with a red-hot iron. This was done to a wealthy citizen of Paris, with the result that before long no blasphemous word was heard in the kingdom. St. Jerome on one occasion rebuked an ungodly man for his impious words; when asked why he presumed to do so, he said: “A dog may bark in his master’s defense, and am I to stand by silent when God’s holy name is blasphemed? I would sooner die than forbear to speak.”
8. Simony. This consists in selling spiritualities for money, or the equivalent of money.
In the Middle Ages simony was a common sin; bishop’s sees and benefices were sometimes sold to the highest bidder. It is simony to offer a priest money for absolution, to sell relics, to charge a higher price for objects, such as crosses and rosaries, because they have been blessed. This sin takes its name from Simon the magician, who offered the apostles money when he saw that by the imposition of hands the Holy Ghost was given, saying: “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I shall lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost” (Acts viii. 19). He who is guilty of the sin of simony is excommunicated; to him the words of St. Paul apply: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts viii. 20). To give money for Masses is, however, not simony; it is much the same as giving some one an alms and asking for his prayers. Nor is the payment of fees to the parish priest for the exercise of his ministerial functions to be reckoned as simony, because these fees are not a price paid for the discharge of spiritual duties, but a contribution towards the maintenance of the priest. Otherwise St. Paul would not have written these words: “They who work in the holy place eat the things that are of the holy place, and they that serve the altar partake with the altar; so also the Lord ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel” (1 Cor. ix. 13, 14).
The object of the Confraternity of the Holy Face is to make reparation for blasphemies and irreverences committed against God.
It is well known that Our Lord miraculously imprinted His sacred countenance upon the cloth handed to Him by Veronica on the way to Calvary. The Emperor Tiberius, when sick, had this cloth brought to Rome, and the mere sight of it sufficed to cure him. Veronica is said to have given it to St. Clement, the fellow-worker with St. Peter, and his successors in the see of Rome. Thus it came to St. Peter’s, where it is yet preserved. In 1849, at Christmas, it was exposed, and for three hours it was surrounded by a halo of brilliant light. This cloth still bears the impression of Our Lord’s features; they are distinctly discernible, and show how He was maltreated by the barbarous soldiery. In fact, this image affords striking evidence of the irreverence of man towards God. The sight of it inspires us with pious horror and heartfelt contrition. For a long time no copy was permitted to be made of it; this is no longer the case, and the prints of it are now venerated, God making known by miracles and speedy answers to prayer, how highly He approves of this devotion. At Alicante, in Spain, after a long period of drought, a picture of the Holy Face was carried in procession; a tear was seen to roll from the eyes of the picture, and in a few days rain fell abundantly. In Tours a large number of cures were effected in presence of a picture of the Holy Face, and it was there, by means of the exertions of the pious M. Dupont, that the Confraternity of the Holy Face was instituted, its object being to make atonement for sins of blasphemy. In the revelations of St. Gertrude we read that Our Lord said to her: “Those who venerate the image of My humanity (My human countenance) shall be interiorly enlightened by the radiance of My Godhead.” And to Sister Saint Pierre, in 1845, He said: “As one can purchase whatever one will with a coin of the realm, stamped with the king’s head, so those who adore My countenance will obtain all they desire.” Again: “The more you seek to efface from My countenance the marks of disfigurement caused by blasphemers, the more I will restore your soul, defaced by sin, to its original beauty, so that it may appear as if it just came from the waters of Baptism.”
This article, THE SECOND COMMANDMENT OF GOD is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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