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January 10, 2012
What does the First Commandment really mean?
By Father Rocky Hoffman *

By Father Rocky Hoffman *

Where can I find information on the Catholic teachings on the First Commandment and "graven images"?  Various Christian denominations have differing opinions on the topic. Specific question involves taxidermy (animal heads) and if it would be considered “graven” by church teaching.  Any information would be appreciated.

Whenever you have a question about the Ten Commandments, the first place to start is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically nos. 2129 to 2132.  Since I can not improve upon what the magisterium teaches in this regard, let me copy the pertinent text for your consideration: 

2130   Already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the Ark of the Covenant, and the cherubim.

2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints.  By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new “economy” of images. 

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols.  Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.”  The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone.

As for your particular concern with taxidermy, it would only be considered a “graven image” if people venerated or adored the trophy, since it only represents an animal, and does not represent or lead us directly to God.  But I don’t think that’s what most people do!

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.  Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University.  His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.

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