Pleading the Fifth

I spend the time working through source languages and translations in part because of a basic fondness for etymology, philology, and history. I consider it all the more worthwhile, however, when dealing with the Word of God because of the contemplation it necessarily engenders. An aspect of Catholic teaching that I appreciate enormously is the idea that the full significance of God’s revelation will take centuries of faithful work to grasp (CCC 66). Even one or two or four words of Scripture will reward and encourage care-ful reading.

Exodus 20:13

Hebrew :  לא תרצח׃ ס or לֹ֥֖א תִּֿרְצָֽ֖ח׃ ס (ca. 1300BC – 600BC)
Greek :  ου φονεύσεις (LXX ca. 130BC)
Latin :  non occides (BSV ca. 400)
Middle English :  Thou schalt not sle. (WYC 1395)
German :  Du sollst nicht töten. (LUTH 1545)
Early Modern English :  Thou ſhalt not murder (DR 1635)
English :  Thou shalt not kill (DRA 1899)
English :  You shall not kill (NAB 1970)
English :  You shall not murder (NRSVCE 1989)

«This post is from work written for a class in Catechist Formation»

In this case, in addition to seeing some shifts and changes over time and pondering the full sense of the meaning in English (by way of the interpretation of the Magisterium), we can also follow all the way back to the Hebrew רָצַח (ratsach) which would, in a primitive reading, mean “to break or dash to pieces.” Whatever else we might find in this Commandment then, it may do us well to spend time thinking of it beyond the scope of “murder” or “killing” and, instead, in the sense of ‘breaking’ or ‘dashing’ – or “destroying life.”

It was thinking about it in this way that helped to illuminate the aspect of the assigned reading that initially caught my attention:

“Selfishness diminishes the value of life. Emotional force can be just as destructive as physical. As each of us moves through life, we do so as builder or destroyer.”

I’d not really thought about “Thou shalt not kill” in those terms before. On the surface it seems so simple to say to oneself, “Well, I’m not a murderer! I would never, could never, be a murderer!” But thinking about the emotional destructiveness we can bring about, I went further.

1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death. 15 Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.

We can see how are hate and anger tied to murder, because they work towards the destruction of life. Hate is murder.

What do we do when we hate?

Let us not think that hate and love are simple opposites; they are too alike to be truly opposed. It may seem strange, but consider the way each functions: Both are dedicated to their objects; whether we love or hate, we give our energy and our effort and our days. Consider, who writes reviews? Those who love and those who hate. Who marches in solidarity or in protest or in support? Those who love and those who hate. Who yells from the rooftops? Those who love and those who hate. Who will carry out acts of wonder or horror? Those who love and those who hate. Love and Hate are related, they are both active, invested, and passionate. They both burn. The Sacred Heart burns with Love, but the hating heart is not truly cold, the difference is that its fire is destructive. No, the cold heart belongs to indifference, for indifference is passive and without energy. Indifference ‘lets die’—and we are cautioned against our sins of omission as well—but it doesn’t even care enough to actively “kill” or “destroy.” Indifference is an agent of entropy.

No, love and hate are not opposites. The opposition we sense between them is that which is between Life and Death. For hate exerts the same energy as love but directs it towards destruction. That is to say, more poetically, Hate gives Life over into the hands Death. Wouldn’t this be a direct inversion of Christ’s own salvific effort? We might better translate the 5th commandment as “You shall not add to death.”

Spe Salvi (6)
The true shepherd … has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through.

And if we become at all unclear about who was, exactly, the enemy over whom Christ was victorious, let us just remember that the kingdom of death is the very Kingdom of Satan (CCC 550). Taken this far, it would almost seem that hate should be even worse than murder. Hate takes life from the hated and from the hater and, because it can seem so small and innocuous, hate easily draws others into its activity—it is much easier to rouse a crowd to hatred than to murder…though the latter may quickly follow on the former. Hate, then, takes all this energy from all these lives—and, as a result, diminishes the energy each has available for love—and hands it all over to the kingdom of death.

Let’s translate the 5th Commandment one last time, in this light:

“Do not give Christ’s victory to His vanquished!”


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