The Large Catechism
I.7. The Seventh Commandment
Thou shalt not steal.
After your person and spouse temporal property comes next. That also God
wishes to have protected, and He has commanded that no one shall subtract
from, or curtail, his neighbor's possessions. For to steal is nothing else than to
get possession of another's property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all
kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor. Now,
this is indeed quite a wide-spread and common vice, but so little regarded and
observed that it exceeds all measure, so that if all who are thieves, and yet do
not wish to be called such, were to be hanged on gallows the world would soon
be devastated and there would be a lack both of executioners and gallows. For,
as we have just said, to steal is to signify not only to empty our neighbor's coffer
and pockets, but to be grasping in the market, in all stores, booths, wine- and
beer-cellars, workshops, and, in short, wherever there is trading or taking and
giving of money for merchandise or labor.
As, for instance, to explain this somewhat grossly for the common people, that it
may be seen how godly we are: When a manservant or maid-servant does not
serve faithfully in the house, and does damage, or allows it to be done when it
could be prevented, or otherwise ruins and neglects the goods entrusted to him,
from indolence idleness, or malice, to the spite and vexation of master and
mistress, and in whatever way this can be done purposely (for I do not speak of
what happens from oversight and against one's will), you can in a year abscond
thirty, forty florins, which if another had taken secretly or carried away, he would
be hanged with the rope. But here you [while conscious of such a great theft]
may even bid defiance and become insolent, and no one dare call you a thief.
The same I say also of mechanics, workmen, and day-laborers, who all follow
their wanton notions, and never know enough ways to overcharge people, while
they are lazy and unfaithful in their work. All these are far worse than sneak-
thieves, against whom we can guard with locks and bolts, or who, if
apprehended, are treated in such a manner that they will not do the same again.
But against these no one can guard, no one dare even look awry at them or
accuse them of theft, so that one would ten times rather lose from his purse. For
here are my neighbors, good friends, my own servants, from whom I expect good
[every faithful and diligent service], who defraud me first of all.
Furthermore, in the market and in common trade likewise, this practice is in full
swing and force to the greatest extent, where one openly defrauds another with
bad merchandise, false measures, weights, coins, and by nimbleness and queer
finances or dexterous tricks takes advantage of him; likewise, when one