THE Seventh Commandment is protective of the right of property which is

vested in every human being enjoying the use of reason. Property means

that which belongs to one, that which is one's own, to have and to

hold, or to dispose of, at one's pleasure, or to reclaim in the event

of actual dispossession. The right of property embraces all things to

which may be affixed the seal of ownership; and it holds good until the

wner relinquishes his claim, or forfeits or loses his title without

offense to justice. This natural faculty to possess excludes every

alien right, and supposes in all others the duty and obligation to

respect it. The respect that goes as far as not relieving the owner of

his goods is not enough; it must safeguard him against all damage and

injury to said goods; otherwise his right is non-existent.

All violations of this right come under the general head of stealing.

People call it theft, when it is effected with secrecy and slyness;

robbery, when there is a suggestion of force or violence. The swindler

is he who appropriates another's goods by methods of gross deception or

false pretenses while the embezzler transfers to himself the funds

entrusted to his care. Petty thieving is called pilfering or filching;

stealing on a large scale usually has less dishonorable qualificatives.

Boodling and lobbying are called politics; watering stock, squeezing

out legitimate competition, is called financiering; wholesale

confiscation and unjust conquest is called statesmanship. Give it

whatever name you like, it is all stealing; whether the culprit be

liberally rewarded or liberally punished, he nevertheless stands

amenable to God's justice which is outraged wherever human justice


Of course the sin of theft has its degrees of gravity, malice and

guilt, to determine which, that is, to fix exactly the value of stolen

goods sufficient to constitute a grievous fault, is not the simplest

and easiest of moral problems. The extent of delinquency may be

dependent upon various causes and complex conditions. On the one hand,

the victim must be considered in himself, and the amount of injury

sustained by him; on the other, justice is offended generally in all

cases of theft, and because justice is the corner stone of society, it

must be protected at all hazards. It is only by weighing judiciously

all these different circumstances that we can come to enunciate an

approximate general rule that will serve as a guide in the ordinary

contingencies of life.

Thus, of two individuals deprived by theft of a same amount of worldly

goods, the one may suffer thereby to a much greater extent than the

other; he who suffers more is naturally more reluctant to part with his

goods, and a greater injustice is done to him than to the other. The

sin committed against him is therefore greater than that committed

against the other. A rich man may not feel the loss of a dollar,

whereas for another less prosperous the loss of less than that sum

might be of the nature of a calamity. To take therefore unjustly from a

person what to that person is a notable amount is a grievous sin. It is

uniformly agreed that it is a notable loss for a man to be unduly

deprived of what constitutes a day's sustenance. This is the minimum of

grievous matter concerning theft.

But this rule will evidently not hold good applied on a rising scale to

more and more extensive fortunes; for a time would come when it would

be possible without serious guilt to appropriate good round sums from

those abundantly blessed with this world's goods.

The disorders necessarily attendant on such a moral rule are only too

evident; and it is plain that the law of God cannot countenance abuses

of this nature. Justice therefore demands that there be a certain fixed

sum beyond which one may not go without incurring serious guilt; and

this, independent of the fortune of the person who suffers. Theologians

have fixed that amount approximately, in this country, at five dollars.

This means that when such a sum is taken, in all cases, the sin is

mortal. It is not always necessary, it is seldom necessary, that one

should steal this much in order to offend grievously; but when the

thief reaches this amount, be his victim ever so wealthy, he is guilty

of grave injustice.

This rule applies to all cases in which the neighbor is made to suffer

unjustly in his lawful possessions; and it effects all wrongdoers

whether they steal or destroy another's goods or co-operate

efficaciously in such deeds of sin. It matters not whether the harm be

wrought directly or indirectly, since in either case there may be moral

fault; and it must be remembered that gross negligence may make one

responsible as well as malice aforethought.

The following are said to co-operate in crime to the extent of becoming

joint-partners with the principal agent in guilt: those in whose name

the wrong is done, in obedience to their orders or as a result of any

other means employed; those who influence the culprit by suggesting

motives and reasons for his crime or by pointing out efficient means of

arriving thereat; those who induce others to commit evil by playing on

their weaknesses thereby subjecting them to what is known as moral

force; those who harbor the thief and conceal his stolen property

against their recovery; those whose silence is equivalent to

approbation, permission or official consent; those finally who before,

during or after the deed, abstain from performing a plain duty in

preventing, deterring or bringing to justice the guilty party. Such

persons as the foregoing participate as abettors in crime and share all

the guilt of the actual criminals; sometimes the former are even more

guilty than the latter.

The Tenth Commandment which forbids us to covet our neighbor's goods,

bears the same relation to the Seventh as the Ninth does to the Sixth.

It must, however, be borne in mind that all such coveting supposes

injustice in desire, that is, in the means by which we desire to obtain

what is not ours. To wish for, to long ardently for something that

appeals to one's like and fancy is not sinful; the wrong consists in

the desire to acquire it unjustly, to steal it, and thereby work damage

unto the neighbor. It is a natural weakness in man to be dissatisfied

with what he has and to sigh after what he has not; very few of us are

free from this failing. But so long as our cravings and hankerings are

not tainted with injustice, we are innocent of evil.