Taken from THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927
SECTION B: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT OF GOD
2. IDOLATRY OR THE WORSHIP OF FALSE GODS.
Every human creature feels himself to be dependent upon one supreme Being, and therefore is conscious of an inward impulse to adore that supreme Being. He who does not adore the true God will adore a creature. This is idolatry. He who does not worship God in the manner which He has revealed and which the Church prescribes, will ere long come to worship Him after a debased and foolish fashion. This is the false worship of God.
1. Idolatry is the worship of a creature which is regarded as a deity; e.g., the sun, fire, animals, imagesl etc.
Idolatry is frequently met with in the history of the Jews: witness the worship of the golden calf (Exod. xxxii.), or the adoration of the statue Nabuchodonosor set up (Dan. iii.). Remember the soldiers who fought under Judas Machabeus, and who fell in battle because they had idols concealed under their coats. Judas had prayers and sacrifices offered for the men who were thus punished. In the time of persecution some of the early Christians were guilty of idolatry, because from fear of the torture awaiting them, they offered incense upon the altars of the pagan gods. And at the French revolution the people of France fell into the sin of idolatry when a woman, personating the Goddess of Reason, was adored in the house of God.
To this day the heathen worship idols.
The heathen changed the glory of the Creator into the glory of creatures (Rom. i. 23). In Asia, where the heavenly bodies shine with greater brilliance than in northern lands, the people looked upon the sun, the moon, the circle of stars as gods, and also fire, the source of light, the wind and the great waters (Wisd. xiii. 2). The Egyptians mostly worshipped animals which were either useful or hurtful, such as the cat, the hawk, the crocodile, and especially Apis, a black bull with a white scar on its forehead and other peculiar marks, which was kept in their temple. The Romans and Greeks again worshipped statues and images of the pagan gods. And as the heathen had fallen away from the true God, as a punishment He permitted them, through the practice of idolatry, to degrade themselves by the most hideous vices (Rom. i. 28). They represented their divinities as vicious themselves, and the patrons of vice in others; by indulging in the vice of which any particular god was the protector, they thought to do him honor. This worship of false gods was nothing less than the service of devils (1 Cor. x. 20), for the devil was the animating spirit of idolatry; he dwelt in the idols and oftentimes spoke through them. David says: "The gods of the Gentiles are devils" (Ps. xcv. 5.). How thankful we ought to be to almighty God for the blessings of the Gospel. It is to show our gratitude for this benefit that we stand while the Gospel is read during Mass. Three-quarters of the human race are still plunged in pagan darkness, that is to say about eight hundred millions are heathens. They are to be found principally in Africa, India, China and Japan. Every year the Holy Father sends out more missioners to the heathen. Catholics ought to support these missioners by their prayers and their alms. The Association for the Propagation of the Faith, and of the Holy Childhood of Jesus, have been instituted for this object.
2. Another form of idolatry is when a human being gives up his whole self to a creature.
It would be absurd to call a man an idolater because he offers to a false god a few grains of incense which he ought to offer to the true God, and not to apply the same term to one who devotes his whole life to the world instead of to God. The avaricious are pre-eminently idolaters (Eph. v. 5), for they consecrate their every thought, their every exertion, they sacrifice their health, their life to Mammon, to the pursuit of this world's goods. "Covetousness is the service of idols" (Col. iii. 5).
All who are engrossed in material interests are guilty o£ idolatry, especially the avaricious, the proud, the intemperate, the unchaste.
Whatever a man desires and adores, that is his god. The god of the avaricious is gold (Osee viii. 4); the god of the proud is honor, the god of the glutton is his belly (Phil. iii. 19); the god of the unchaste his own lusts (1 Cor. vi. 15). The greed of gain, the pride of life, sensual pleasures, are worshipped by the worldling. Parents are also guilty of idolatry, if they cherish an inordinate affection for their children (Wisd. xiv. 15).
3. The service of idols is high treason against the majesty of God, and the most heinous of sins.
St. Thomas Aquinas declares the worship of idols to be the
greatest of all sins. Among the Jews it was punishable by death (Exod. xxii. 20). On one occasion no less than twenty-three thousand Jews were put to death by God's command for this transgression (Exod. xxxii. 28). He who worships idols incurs the curse of God (Deut. xxvii. 15). Think of the lamentable condition of the heathen; some of them have become so degraded through idolatry that they have sunk into the vice of cannibalism. The Apostle says idolaters, adulterers, the covetous, drunkards, and others, shall not possess the kingdom of God (1 Cor. vi. 10).