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Lesson 5

The Fifth Commandment

Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13)



     What are we commanded by the fifth commandment?


By the fifth commandment we are commanded to take proper care of our own spiritual and bodily well-being and that of our neighbor.


Saint Julian the Hospitaller

     What does the fifth commandment forbid?


The fifth commandment forbids murder and suicide, and also fighting, anger, hatred, revenge, drunkenness, reckless driving and bad example.


Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.  And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  (I John 3:15)

You Shall Not Kill

This commandments commands us to care for our own life and health and the life and health of our neighbor.  We are also required to respect human life, born and unborn.


The fifth commandment forbids unjust killing, such as proceeds from human malice or passion; it also forbids doing any harm to the integrity or health of the body.

We must respect the human person because human life is sacred and apart from any other function it may have in society.  Charity in our society needs to be concerned not only with the individual, but also with the welfare of human society.

We are obliged to use ordinary means to preserve life, such as proper food, sleep, clothing and shelter.  Extraordinary means must be used when a person is very necessary to his family, the Church or society; in this case, extraordinary means become morally obligatory according to the need for sustaining a person's life.

Murder is the direct and deliberate taking of an innocent person's life.   It is a grievous sin because it is an invasion of the rights of God, who alone is the Master of human life.  Human life begins at the moment of conception.

It is sinful to even want to take away the life of an innocent person because this would be murder by intention.

The Church looks favorable upon the transplanting of vital organs provided the loss of such organs does not deprive the donor of life itself.  The special concern is to know when a donor is really dead.

Examples of breaking the fifth commandment would be:

  1. Murder

  2. Suicide

  3. Abortion - the Church has always held that abortion, as a deliberate killing of an unborn child, at any time after conception, is a mortal sin.

  4. Feticide - Another form of abortion, which is the destruction of a living fetus by a variety of physical or chemical means.

  5. Genocide

  6. Euthanasia

  7. Sterilization

The Church's position when it comes to war is that, although regrettable, war is not always and necessarily sinful.

A war is considered just when declared by proper authority undertaken as a last resort, and when those waging war use no more destructive means than are necessary to achieve an early and just peace.  The purpose for which the war is fought must be a good one.

The Church  teaches that all warfare, which intends indiscriminately the destruction of entire cities or wide areas with their inhabitants, is to be condemned.