The Seventh Commandment expressly forbids: Theft, robbery, cheating, usury, injuring the property of another, detention of goods that have been found or lent, and the non-payment of debts.
1. Theft is the secret purloining of another man’s goods contrary to the rational will of their owner.
Judas was a thief; he had the purse, and appropriated a part of the common money (John xii. 6). Few sins are more common than theft, and this fact may be accounted for in the first place by the covetousness of the human heart, and also by the abundant opportunities afforded for stealing. Occasion makes the thief. But if a man steal when he is starving, or as the only means of saving his life in an extremity, it is not to be reckoned as a sin, provided he has the intention to restore what he has stolen when he is in better circumstances (Prov. vi. 30). Our Lord did not rebuke the apostles when, in passing through a cornfield, they plucked the ears of corn and eat the grain because they were hungry (Matt. xii. 1). To conceal or purchase goods that are known to be stolen is to render one’s self a partner in the sin.
2. Robbery is theft accompanied by personal violence.
If a robber kills, or mortally wounds his victim, the crime is said to be robbery with murder. Of this the robbers were guilty who attacked the Jew on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke z. 30). The forcible extortion of alms is also equivalent to robbery.
3. Cheating consists in injuring one’s neighbor in his possessions by crafty means.
For instance, by the use of false weights and measures, the issue of counterfeit coin, the adulteration of food, the falsification of documents, the removal of boundary-marks, smuggling, or arson in view of obtaining the insurance money. “Let no man overreach, or circumvent his brother in business” (1 Thess. iv. 6).
4. Usury consists in making use of the needy circumstances of another to one’s own profit (Exod. xxii. 25).
The usurer is called a money-lender, if he lends money at a high rate of interest to one who is in pecuniary difficulties, or a speculator, if he buys up corn and keeps it until a time of scarcity, in order to, sell it at a high price. Under the appearance of helping a man in need, the usurer involves him in greater complications. He is like a doctor who instead of strengthening his patient, saps the little force he had; or like a spider that weaves a web more and more closely; round the unhappy fly and sucks every drop of its blood. Usurers are murderers of the poor; they take from them their means of livelihood, and thus deprive them of life.
5. Willfully injuring another man’s property, keeping back: what one has found or what has been lent to one, and refusing! to pay one’s debts, is equivalent to stealing.
We may injure our neighbor in his property by setting it on fire, by treading down his crops, damaging his goods, fishing or shooting on his grounds without permission, etc. To keep what one has found, and not to return what has been lent to the owner is theft. Joseph’s; brethren did well in directly taking back the money they found in! their sacks. The more valuable the object one finds, the greater the obligation to give it up to the owner; and if one does not know to whom it belongs, one ought to take steps to discover him. Many people are very careless in returning books, instruments or implements which they have borrowed, and they show displeasure if the owner asks for them. Be careful about lending and very careful about returning. The non-payment of debts also is a kind of stealing. It is a bad thing to get into debt; the debtor is like a man who, when his legs begin to fail him, hobbles onward with a crutch. But it is a sin to borrow and not pay again (Ps. xxxvi. 21). Many people get into debt to satisfy their craving for amusement, to gratify their passions, or for the sake of dressing above their station, and they scarcely think this wrong. Tradespeople sin when they fraudulently declare themselves bankrupts. But most blameworthy of all are those who do not pay their servants and workpeople; this is a sin that cries to heaven. It is theft, and a sort of murder, too, to keep back the wages of a poor laborer, who lives on his daily earnings. “The wages of him that hath been hired by thee shall not abide with thee until the morning” (Lev. xix. 13). “Pay him the price of his labor the same day” (Deut, xxiv. 15). “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom. xiii. 8).
1. We are in danger of committing mortal sin if we take from our neighbor as much as he requires to support him one day in a manner suitable to his position.
Our sin against our neighbor is greater or less in proportion to the wrong we do him. To steal a few pence from one who is utterly destitute, or a few shillings from a laboring man is a mortal sin; it is equivalent to stealing a considerable sum from a rich man. It is also a sin to take trifling sums repeatedly from the same person, for in time they make a large amount. One ought not to take the smallest thing that is not one’s own. Fidelity in small things is most important, for God punishes little sins, and unfaithfulness in small things leads to grave sins. By disregarding petty thefts many a criminal has come to the gallows.
This article, Sins against the Seventh Commandment is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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