The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal

Your Faith
Doug Culp
September, 2014

The “seventh word” of the Decalogue primarily reveals to us that God wants us to act justly and with charity in our relationships with one another. In this way, we are able to live in communion with God, who is just and loving. Specifically, the Seventh Commandment “commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men’s labor.” It forbids the unjust taking or keeping of goods belonging to one’s neighbor and the wronging of another as it regards his or her goods.  

The Seventh Gift: You shall not steal

Justice and charity

Justice is the moral virtue that “consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” In terms of one’s neighbor, justice requires respect for the rights of each person and working for harmony in human relationships so that equity with regard to persons and the common good is promoted.

Charity is the theological virtue by “which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” In other words, charity is both the new commandment and the virtue by which we keep the commandments that Christ gave us. It is the greatest of the virtues because it disposes us to participate most intimately in the life of God, who is love itself.

So here we can begin to see the relationship that must exist between justice, the human virtue, and charity, the theological virtue. As stated above, justice “consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” What is due to God and neighbor? In a word, love is. Charity, then, makes justice possible.

Respect for human dignity

The Seventh Commandment really concerns respect for human dignity. Respect for human dignity requires “the practice of the virtue of temperance, so as to moderate attachment to this world’s goods; the practice of the virtue of justice, to preserve our neighbor’s rights and render him what is his due; and the practice of solidarity, in accordance with the golden rule and in keeping with the generosity of the Lord.”

And it looks like something …

This respect for human dignity, as expressed through the Seventh Commandment, has clear implications for us. Obviously, theft is forbidden. Theft is defined as “usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner.” This prohibition remains intact even if a particular act does not contradict civil law. For example, we should not deliberately keep items that are lent to us or that are lost. In addition, business fraud, paying unjust wages, price-gouging, appropriation and use of the common good of an enterprise for private purposes, doing poor work, tax evasion, forgery of checks, excessive expenses and waste are all prohibited.

The Seventh Commandment also obligates us to keep our promises and to honor contracts. It forbids acts or enterprises “that for any reason – selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian – lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity.” Justice and charity likewise require respect for the integrity of creation and proper stewardship.  

The special case of the poor

The Seventh Commandment does more than simply provide us with a list of things we should avoid. Since the “seventh word” of the Decalogue “commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men’s labor,” it calls us to a proactive care for the poor as both a witness to fraternal charity and a work of justice.

Love for the poor is blessed by God, for it is through what we have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize us as his disciples. Love for the poor “is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need.’” 

Consequently, an immoderate love of riches or the use of riches for selfish reasons is incompatible with a love for the poor. St. John Chrysostom stated this truth as follows, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” St. Gregory the Great put it like this, “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” 


The Ten Commandments Bible geography facts

Jericho is a town in the West Bank, Palestine, near the Jordan River. It was the scene of a famous battle between the Israelites, led by Joshua, and Canaanites in the Bible. It is believed by some to be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the world. 

The earliest settlement was located at the present-day Tell es-Sultan, about a mile and a half from the current city. The city was an important trading post and stopping point on the journey through the Jordan valley and remains a viable commercial center and a market town for local agricultural products such as dates, citrus fruits and barley. Its history has seen various populations living and ruling there, such as the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings (1750–1580 B.C.E.), the Canaanites, and, after the seventh century, by Muslim Arabs.

Did you know?

Jericho literally means “fragrant.”


All quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2401-2462) except as otherwise noted.


Doug Culp is the CAO and secretary for pastoral life for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. He holds an MA in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.