A Pilgrim's Catechism

The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey

Towards the Reign of God 

 Philippe de Champagne:  Moses and the Ten Commandments



What is the significance of the Ten Commandments?


God reveals himself once and for all to humanity and to each person in every moment but, because of our creatureliness, our physical and cultural situation, our personal sinfulness and the evil that surrounds us, we understand only in part.


When the Israelites came out of slavery in Egypt they encountered God at the holy mountain in a privileged moment.  Of course every moment is privileged but the Israelites, coming out of a long period of slavery, allowed this particular moment to be special for them.


At the holy mountain they realized as no people had before them that God is a God for his people.  They still did not understand that God was for all of humanity not just Israel but nevertheless to have recognize God’s concern was a breakthrough.  They also realized that God was calling them into freedom.  They thought it was merely freedom in the Land.  They did not yet grasp that God was sharing his life with them and calling them to grow in that life. 


The Israelites also realized for the first time in history that God demanded moral behavior of his people.  The Ten Commandments and their further development in Exodus and Deuteronomy are the result of an attempt to make explicit the morality that God requires.  This effort which shows remarkable similarity to the Code of Hammurabi embodies the best morality of the time.


It is a morality like all moral codes, however, that, once uttered, needs to be surpassed.


A lesson to be learned from the formation of the moral code in the Pentateuch is that a final absolute moral code is impossible in history.  Only God outside of history is absolute and the moral conclusions that we do reach are all subject to further development and refinement.  There are no final moral answers within history, only a participation in the final, absolute truth that is God himself.        









What is the significance of the Ten Commandments?