Today’s Catechism sections discuss sins against the first commandment. Supporting material comes from the “Summa Theologica”.

III. "You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me"

2110 The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.


2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.41


2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of "idols, (of) silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see." These empty idols make their worshippers empty: "Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them."42 God, however, is the "living God"43 who gives life and intervenes in history.

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon."44 Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast"45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.46

2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man's innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who "transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God."47

Divination and magic

2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.


2138 Superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic.

St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the sin of superstition in the “Summa Theologica” (Secunda Secundæ Partis , 92, 1).

Article 1. Whether superstition is a vice contrary to religion?

Objection 1. It would seem that superstition is not a vice contrary to religion. One contrary is not included in the definition of the other.

But religion is included in the definition of superstition: for the latter is defined as being "immoderate observance of religion," according to a gloss on Colossians 2:23, "Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in superstition." Therefore superstition is not a vice contrary to religion.

Objection 2. Further, Isidore says (Etym. x): "Cicero [De Natura Deorum ii, 28 states that the superstitious were so called because they spent the day in prayingand offering sacrifices that their children might survive [superstites] them." But this may be done even in accordance with true religious worship. Thereforesuperstition is not a vice opposed to religion.

Objection 3. Further, superstition seems to denote an excess. But religion admits of no excess, since, as stated above (81, 5, ad 3), there is no possibility of rendering to God, by religion, the equal of what we owe Him. Therefore superstition is not a vice contrary to religion.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Decem Chord. Serm. ix): "Thou strikest the first chord in the worship of one God, and the beast of superstition hath fallen." Now the worship of one God belongs to religion. Therefore superstition is contrary to religion.

I answer that, As stated above (Question 81, Article 5), religion is a moral virtue. Now every moral virtue observes a mean, as stated above (I-II, 64, 1). Therefore a twofold vice is opposed to a moral virtue. One by way of excess, the other by way of deficiency. Again, the mean of virtue may be exceeded, not only with regard to the circumstance called "how much," but also with regard to other circumstances: so that, in certain virtues such as magnanimity and magnificence; vice exceeds the mean of virtue, not through tending to something greater than the virtue, but possibly to something less, and yet it goes beyond the mean of virtue, through doing something to whom it ought not, or when it ought not, and in like manner as regards other circumstances, as the Philosophershows (Ethic. iv, 1,2,3).

Accordingly superstition is a vice contrary to religion by excess, not that it offers more to the divine worship than true religion, but because it offers divineworship either to whom it ought not, or in a manner it ought not.

Reply to Objection 1. Just as we speak metaphorically of good among evil things--thus we speak of a good thief--so too sometimes the names of the virtues are employed by transposition in an evil sense. Thus prudence is sometimes used instead of cunning, according to Luke 16:8, "The children of this world are moreprudent [Douay: 'wiser'] in their generation than the children of light." It is in this way that superstition is described as religion.

Reply to Objection 2. The etymology of a word differs from its meaning. For its etymology depends on what it is taken from for the purpose of signification: whereas its meaning depends on the thing to which it is applied for the purpose of signifying it. Now these things differ sometimes: for "lapis" [a stone] takes its name from hurting the foot [laedere pedem], but this is not its meaning, else iron, since it hurts the foot, would be a stone. On like manner it does not follow that "superstition" means that from which the word is derived.

Reply to Objection 3. Religion does not admit of excess, in respect of absolute quantity, but it does admit of excess in respect of proportionate quantity, in so far, to wit, as something may be done in divine worship that ought not to be done.


41 Cf. ⇒ Mt 23:16-22.
42 ⇒ Ps 115:4-5, 8; cf. ⇒ Isa 44:9-20; ⇒ Jer 10:1-16; ⇒ Dan 14:1-30; ⇒ Bar 6; ⇒ Wis 13: 1- ⇒ 15:19.
43 ⇒ Josh 3:10; ⇒ Ps 42:3; etc.
44 ⇒ Mt 6:24.
45 Cf. ⇒ Rev 13-⇒ 14.
46 Cf. ⇒ Gal 5:20; ⇒ Eph 5:5.
47 Origen, Contra Celsum 2, 40: PG 11, 861.
48 Cf. ⇒ Deut 18:10; ⇒ Jer 29:8.