Which is worse?

Which is worse in these hypothetical examples? Or are they equal?

A thousand people individually steal $1 from me. Each one of these thousand people is aware that a large number of other people are doing the exactly the same thing.

One person steals $1000 from me.

What is the gravity of the sins involved?

Stealing is stealing. Just because others are doing it or it is less or more money does not make it any less wrong.

I agree, the 7th commandment is very clear.

So doesn’t that mean that if one thousand people stole it would be worse, since one thousand people fell into sin instead of one?

Agreed, with the one thousand stealing, they all fell into sin. Which one committed a “bigger” sin? Hm, it all depends on the intention. Just as God might judge us on how much love we pour out onto every good actions, he might also judge on how much evil was poured out into evil actions.

I could be mistaken, but did the Church once or perhaps still hold that theft was more or less serious depending on whether it involved stealing more or less than one full day’s wages from the victim?

I believe it also depends on the intent, was the money stolen to feed a starving family?

Good one. I think that the second one (1000 people steal $1 each) is worse because the real purpose behind it is just malice. Unless someone needs $1 in order to stay alive, it’s unlikely that they have much to gain except to see the victim in pain and to enjoy the fun of the conspiracy. While the $1000 thief is also guilty of breking the 7th commandment, it could be that he is not wishing harm upon his victim–he is just being opportunist (not to say that that’s okay, it just doesn’t seem as bad as deliberately scheming to hurt a man just to get a $1 bill).

In the end though, God is the judge, and only he knows the intention and conscience of the person(s) involved.

Theft admits of “parvity of matter” (smallness of matter).

Yes there are thefts which are “grave matter” and those which are “light matter”.

Both are *forbidden *by the 7th Commandment. Both are sin.

And with theft – it can be a bit more complicated --stealing a cheap pencil itself can be said to be very small --but if I do so knowing that it is the prized pencil that a person kept from his Great Great Grandfather --such is rather different.

Intention does not change theft into a good.

Nor does circumstances.

However in the the case of necessary use of say “food” such is simply not theft.

See CCC for details of such.

2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.191


A few questions come to mind.

What’s the intent? During an emergency for example, it might be necessary to take things that don’t belong to you without the owner’s permission. Are we talking about a one-time grab or a series of thefts? How much does the loss affect the owner?

It seems to me that the first is worse than the second. I can’t think of a realistic emergency situation where $1 will improve your circumstances. And at this point, theft has become a societal rather than an individual menace.

Neither. Rejoice in tribulation.

What’s worse is taking from someone else rather than being robbed yourself.


An important distinction, lost on most people. The right to private property is really quite limited, admitting to only what is necessary for us to discharge our moral duty. This doesn’t mean we can’t own more than that, it only means we have no moral right to more than that, and that our moral duties may well oblige us to give our excess (yes, even all of it) to those in urgent need.

I would not quite put it that way – it is not that one does not have a moral right to more than that --in the sense that I can just say --hey you have too much and take it. But yes we should give alms etc and use our goods for the good of others.

We have an obligation to give from our superfluidity – and sometimes from our need.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.