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The Ninth Commandment

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Here is commandment number nine directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maid servant, or his ox or ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. Alright then, since most of us have neither ox nor ass, maidservant or manservant, we are down to not coveting our neighbor’s house and wife. Since the tenth commandment specifically covers not coveting our neighbor’s goods, we are left here with not coveting our neighbor’s wife. The distinction between the ninth and tenth commandments is interesting. The ninth expresses envy over living relationships or things. Back in Moses time, a person’s animals were as important as human relationships. The ninth commandment forbids us to be envious of who and what our neighbor is in relationship with. Outside of it being just good advice for a civilized society, it is good advice for our hearts as well.

From a theological standpoint, the ninth commandment is telling us that God has put us exactly where he wants us, and given us all we need to be the person God wishes us to be. That our happiness doesn’t lie in another’s home, but rather in the people and circumstances God places before us. These last two commandments sum up, are indicative of, all the ones before. If we honor God we do not have the idols of the world as our god. If we honor our father and mother, we honor all our relationships for their holy value. If we are not jealous or restless with who we are, we do not steal or kill, or bear false witness. If we do all those things right, we have no trouble with coveting the wrong things.

I hope you begin to see the linkage between all the Ten Commandments. They are not individual, separate demands, but rather permutations, particulars around larger relational requirements with a good and gracious God who wishes relationship with him.

I do not wish to go into the particulars of this commandment, frankly because it involves one of the four ways God loves us. This touches on the Eros or romantic aspect of how we are loved by God. Many people become quite uncomfortable talking about this aspect of God’s love. I, having been married and experiencing all four of these aspects of love (Philia, agape, storge, eros), I can more readily speak that God must love us with all four. Which means our human desire for romantic love, our need for union with the “other” is in our nature and not sinful. It is necessary, because the eros portion of love is the creative portion. God cannot love us without it because his love flows from creation. I do not see having this eros love as a battle, something we either need to tame or remove entirely from our being. I therefore, have trouble with the explanation of this commandment in the catechism (CCC#2514-2527), which examines this desire purely as a dysfunction… as something wrong. The desire to love romantically is the life force of love and it is necessary and joyful. The problem I see with it, I see with any power. Think of eros as a nuclear reactor. If you manage the power properly it can give light and warmth to all, but if you pull out all the damping rods, the reactor can blow and contaminate everything around it for years to come. That is the power of eros. For many years the Church, knowing its power, says not to touch it at all. As I read the Catechism, those thoughts still permeate their thinking. As any one of you married couples will attest, the love, every aspect of it, was the joy of relationship you cherished with your spouse.

I remember when I was first in the seminary. Having come from a marital relationship, I really thought there would be a plethora of knocks at my door, (I will try to be discrete) what it was like…were they missing anything? Nobody ever asked me, which I thought odd. I still wonder how hard it must be for a priest to talk about sex (there I said it!).

Coveting another is using the gift of eros, the energy of creative love for the wrong purpose. That is what is sinful, using any gift from God in a harmful and non-creative manner. I could talk much more on this but I am honestly afraid that if I said too much that will stir up some negative comments. Let me finish by summarizing what I said. To have the feelings for romantic love is not wrong, it is a gift from God and a necessary one because it is the only aspect of love that is creative. It is sinful when we misuse the ‘energy’ of that love in a non-creative and selfish goal. To me that is what this ninth commandment speaks to.