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concerned, which without an oath are indeterminable, but there are but few necessities to confirm a promise by an oath. And therefore the reverence of the name of God ought not to be entrenched upon in accidents of little or no necessity; God, not having made many necessities in this case, would not, in the matter of promise, give leave to use his name but when an extraordinary case happens. An oath in promises is of no use for ending questions and giving judicial sentences; and the faith of a Christian, and the word of a just person, will do most of the work of promises; and it is very much to the disreputation of our religion or ourselves, if we fall into hypocrisy or deceit, or if a Christian asseveration were not of value equal with an oath. And therefore Christ forbidding promissory oaths, and commanding so great simplicity of spirit and honesty, did consonantly to the design and perfection of his institution, intending to make us so just and sincere, that our religion being infinite obligation to us, our own promises should pass for bond enough to others, and the religion receive great honour, by being esteemed a sufficient security and instrument of public intercourse". And this was intimated by our Lord himself, in that reason he is pleased to give of the prohibition of swearing: "Let your communication be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more, cometh of evil":" that is, as good laws come from ill manners, the modesty of clothing from the shame of sin, antidotes and physic by occasion of poisons and diseases; so is swearing an effect of distrust, and want of faith or honesty, on one or both sides. Men dare not trust the word of a Christian, or a Christian is not just and punctual to his promises, and this calls for confirmation by an oath. So that oaths suppose a fault, though they are not faults always
m Μὴ ὀμνύναι θεούς· ἀσκεῖν γὰρ αυτὸν δεῖν ἀξιόπιστον παρέχειν.-Hierocl.
Vide Marc. Anton. in Descriptione Viri Boni, lib. iii. pre ögnov deóμevoç. Τῶν δικαίων ναί ἐστι ναὶ, καὶ οὗ ἐστιν οὖ, tritum est; ità scil. ut facta dictis respondere justorum sit.
Κάλλιστον, καὶ βιοφιλέστατον, καὶ ἁρμοστὸν τῇ λογικῇ φύσει τὸ ἀνώμοτον, οὕτως ἀληθεύειν ἐφ ̓ ἑκάστους δεδιδαγμένῃ, ὡς λόγους ὅρκους εἶναι νομίζεσθαι. — Philo.
Verbum sacerdotis apud Christianæ ecclesiæ ministros etiam hodie manet loco juramenti. Ad eundem sensum apud antiquos fuerunt verba illa prætoris ex edicto perpetuo, "Sacerdotem Vestalem et flaminem dialem in omni mea jurisdictione jurare non cogam.”—A. Gell, lib. x. c. 15.
n Matth. v. 37.
themselves; whatsoever is more than yea or nay, is not always evil, but it always cometh of evil. And, therefore, the Essenes esteemed every man that was put to his oath no better than an infamous person, a perjurer, or at least suspected, not esteemed a just man: and the heathens would not suffer the priest of Jupiter to swear, because all men had great opinion of his sanctity and authority: and the Scythians derided Alexander's caution and timorous provision, when he required an oath of them; "Nos religionem in ipsa fide novimus, Our faith is our bond:" and they who are willing to deceive men will not stick to deceive God, when they have called God to witness P. But I have a caution to insert for each, which I propound as an humble advice to persons eminent and publicly interested.
22. First: That princes, and such as have power of decreeing the injunction of promissory oaths, be very curious and reserved, not lightly enjoining such promises, neither in respect of the matter trivial, nor yet frequently 9, nor without great reason enforcing. The matter of such promises must be only what is already matter of duty or religion; for else the matter is not grave enough for the calling of God to testimony but when it is a matter of duty, then the oath is no other than a vow, or promise, made to God in the presence of men. And because Christians are otherwise very much obliged to do all which is their duty, in matters both civil and religious, of obedience and piety; therefore it must be an instant necessity, and a great cause, to superinduce such a confirmation as derives from the so sacredly invocating the name of God; it must be when there is great necessity that the duty be actually performed, and when the supreme power either hath not power sufficient to punish the delinquent, or may miss to have notice of the delict. For in these cases it is reasonable to bind the faith of the obliged persons by the fear of God after a more special manner; but else there is no reason sufficient to demand of the subject any farther security than their own faith and contract. The reason of this advice relies upon the strictness of the words
• Curtius, lib. vii.
P Qui non reverentur homines, fallent Deos. - Cicero pro Roscio.
4 Οὐ γὰρ πίστεως τεκμήριον πολυορκία, ἀλλὰ ἀπιστίας ἐστὶ, παρὰ τοῖς εὐφρονοῦσι, - Philo in Decal.
of this precept against promissory oaths, and the reverence we owe to the name of God. Oaths of allegiance are fit to be imposed in a troubled state, or to a mutinous people: but it is not so fit to tie the people, by oath, to abstain from transportations of metal, or grain, or leather, from which, by penalties, they are with as much security, and less suspicion of iniquity, restrained.
23. Secondly: Concerning assertory oaths and depositions in judgment, although a greater liberty may be taken in the subject matter of the oath, and we may, being required to it, swear in judgment, though the cause be a question of money, or our interest, or the rights of a society; and St. Athanasius purged himself by oath before the emperor Constantius: yet it were a great pursuance and security of this part of Christian religion, if, in no case, contrary oaths might be admitted, in which, it is certain, one part is perjured to the ruin of their souls, to the intricating of the judgment, to the dishonour of religion; but that such rules of prudence and reasonable presumption be established, that upon the oath of that party which the law shall choose, and, upon probable grounds, shall presume for, the sentence may be established. For, by a small probability, there may a surer judgment be given, than upon the confidence of contradictory oaths; and after the sin the judge is left to the uncertainty of conjectures as much as if but one part had sworn; and to much more, because such an oath is, by the consent of all men, accepted as a rule to determine in judgment. By these discourses we understand the intention of our blessed Master in this precept: and I wish by this, or any thing else, men would be restrained from that low, cheap, unreasonable, and inexcusable vice of customary swearing, to which we have nothing to invite us that may lessen the iniquity, for which we cannot pretend temptation, nor allege infirmity, but it begins by recklessness and a malicious carelessness, and is continued by the strength of habit, and the greatest immensity of folly. And I consider that Christian religion, being so holy an institution, to which we are invited by so great promises, in which we are in
r ̓Αλλ ̓ οἶπες πρότεροι ὑπὲς ὅρκια δηλήσαντο
τέρενα χρόα γύπες ἔθενται,
- Hom. Iliud. lib. iv.
structed by so clear revelations, and to the performance of our duties compelled by the threatenings of a sad and insupportable eternity, should more than sufficiently endear the performance of this duty to us. The name of a Christian is a high and potent antidote against all sin, if we consider aright the honour of the name, the undertaking of our covenant, and the reward of our duty. The Jews eat no swine's flesh, because they are of Moses, and the Turks drink no wine, because they are Mahometans; and yet we swear for all we are Christians, than which there is not in the world a greater conviction of our baseness and irreligion. Is the authority of the holy Jesus so despicable? are his laws so unreasonable, his rewards so little, his threatenings so small, that we must needs, in contempt of all this, profane the great name of God, and trample under foot the laws of Jesus, and cast away the hopes of heaven, and enter into security to be possessed by hell-torments for swearing, that is, for speaking like a fool, without reason, without pleasure, without reputation, much to our disesteem, much to the trouble of civil and wise persons with whom we join in society and intercourse? Certainly hell will be heated seven times hotter for a customary swearer, and every degree of his unreasonableness will give him a new degree of torment, when he shall find himself in flames, for being a stupid, an atheistical, an irreligious fool. This only I desire should be observed, that our blessed Master forbids not only swearing by God, but by any creature; for every oath by a creature does involve and tacitly relate to God. And therefore, saith Christ, "Swear not by heaven, for it is the throne of God;" and he that sweareth by the throne of God, "sweareth by it, and by him that sitteth thereon." So that it is not a less matter to swear by a creature than to swear by God; for a creature cannot be the instrument of testimony, but as it is a relative to God; and it, by implication, calls the God of that creature to witness. So that although, in such cases in which it is permitted to swear by God, we may, in those cases, express our oath in the form of advocating and calling
s Ομνυμι δ ̓ ἱερὸν αἰθές ̓, οἴκησιν Διός. -- Sophoc. Menal,
Qui per salutem suam jurat, Deum jurare videtur; respectu enim divini numiris jurat. — Ulpian. J. C. Concil. Chalc. c. 25.
the creature, (as did the primitive Christians swearing by the health of their emperor, and as Joseph swearing by the life of Pharaoh, and as Elisha swearing by the life of Elias', and as did St. Paul, protesting "by the rejoicing he had in Jesus Christ "," and as we, in our forms of swearing in courts of judicature, touch the Gospels, saying, "So help me God, and the contents of this book ;" and in a few ages lately past, bishops and priests sometimes swore upon the cross, sometimes upon the altar, sometimes by their holy order :) yet we must remember that this, in other words and ceremonies, is but a calling God for witness; and he that swears by the cross, swears by the holy crucifix, that is, Jesus crucified thereon. And these, and the like forms, are, therefore, not to be used in ordinary communication, because they relate to God; they are as obligatory as the immediate invocation of his holiness and majesty; and it was a Judaical vanity to think swearing by creatures was less obliging: they are just with the same restraints made to be religious as the most solemn invocation of the holy and reverend name of God, lawful or unlawful as the other unless the swearing by a creature come to be spoiled by some other intervening circumstance, that is, with a denying it to relate to God; for then it becomes superstition as well as profanation, and it gives to a creature what is proper to God; or when the creature is contemptible, or less than the gravity of the matter, as if a man should swear by a fly, or the shadow of a tree; or when there is an indecorum in the thing, or something that does, at too great distance, relate to God: for that which, with greatest vicinity, refers to God in several religions, is the best instrument of an oath, and nearest to God's honour; as in Christianity are the holy sacrament, the cross, the altar, and the Gospels; and, therefore, too great a distance may be an indecency next to a disparagement.
t 2 Kings, ii. 2.
u 1 Cor. xv. 31. Vide suprà, num. 19. * Per tua jurares sacra, tuumque caput. Mart. Deut. xxx. 19. Isa. i. 2. Micah, i. 2. S. August. Epist. ad Publicolam; et lib. li. Duo Patroni, Sect. Si quis juraverit; et lib. Non erit, D. de Jurejurando. Tertul. ad Scap.
Testor, chara, deos- teque, tuumque
Dulce caput, magicas invitam accingier artes. — Virgil. lib. iv. Æneid.
Perque meos oculos; et dolucre mei. - Ovid.