The First Book of Homilies Homily 7 Against Swearing and Perjury Almighty GOD, to the intent his most holy Name should be had in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commands that no man should take his Name vainly in his mouth, threatening punishment unto him that irreverently abuses it by swearing, for swearing, and blasphemy. How and in what causes it is lawful to swear. To the intent therefore that this commandment may be the better known and kept, it shall be declared unto you, both how it is lawful for Christian people to swear, and also what peril and danger it is vainly to swear, or to be forsworn. First, when Judges require others of the people for declaration or opening of the truth, or for execution of justice, this manner of swearing is lawful. Also when men make faithful promises with calling to witness of the Name of GOD, to keep covenants, honest promises, statutes, laws and good customs, as Christian Princes do in their conclusions of peace, for conservation of commonwealths, and private persons promise their fidelity in Matrimony, or one to another in honesty and true friendship: and all men when they do swear to keep common laws, and local statutes, and good customs, for due order to be had and continued among men, when Subjects do swear to be true and faithful to their King and Sovereign Lord, and when Judges, Magistrates, and Officers swear truly to execute their Offices, and when a man would affirm the truth to the setting forth of God's glory (for the salvation of the people) in open preaching of the Gospel, or in giving of good counsel privately for their souls health: all these manner of swearing, for causes necessary and honest, be lawful. But when men doe swear of custom, in reasoning, buying and selling, or other daily communications (as many are common and great swearers) such kind of swearing is ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden by the commandment of GOD. For such swearing is nothing else, but taking of GOD'S holy name in vain. And here is to be noted, that lawful swearing is not forbidden, but commanded by Almighty GOD. For we haue examples of Christ, and godly men, in holy Scripture, that did swear themselves, and required othes of others likewise. And GOD'S Commandment is, Thou shalt dread thy Lord GOD, and shalt swear by his Name (Deuteronomy 6.13). And Almighty GOD by his Prophet David saith, All men shall be praised that swear by him (Psalms 63.11). Thus did our Saviour Christ swear divers times, saying, Verily, verily (John 3.3). And S. Paul sweareth thus, I call GOD to witness (2 Corinthians 1.23). And Abraham (waxing old) required an oath of his servant, that he should procure a wife for his son Isaac, which should come of his own kindred (Genesis 24.3): and the servant did swear that he would perform his masters will. Abraham also being required, did swear unto Abimelech the king of Gerar, that he should not hurt him, nor his posterity (Genesis 21.23), and likewise did Abimelech swore unto Abraham. And David did swear to be and continue a faithful friend to Jonathan, and Jonathan did swear to become a faithful friend unto David. Also God once commanded, that if a thing were laid to pledge to any man, or left with him to keep, if the same thing were stolen, or lost, that the keeper thereof should be sworn before Judges, that he did not convey it away, nor used any deceit in causing the same to be conveyed away, by his consent or knowledge. And Saint Paul saith, that in all matters of controversy between two persons, whereas one saith, Yea, and the other, Nay, so as no due proof can be had of the truth, the end of every such controversy must be an oath administered by a Judge (Hebrews 6.16). And moreover GOD by the Prophet Jeremiah saith, Thou shalt swear, The Lord lives, in truth, in judgement, in righteousness (Jeremiah 4.2). So that whosoever sweareth when he is required of a Judge, let him bee sure in his conscience that his oath have three conditions, and he shall never need to be afraid of perjury. What condition an oath ought to have. First, he that sweareth, may swear truly, that is, he must (setting apart all favour and affection to the parties) have the truth only before his eyes, and for love thereof, say and speak that which he knoweth to be truth, and no further. The second. The second is, he that taketh an oath, must doe it with judgement, not rashly and unadvisedly, but soberly, considering what an oath is. The third. The third is, he that sweareth, must swear in righteousness: that is, for the very zeal and love which he bears to the defence of innocence, to the maintenance of the truth, and of the righteousness of the matter or cause: all profit, disprofit, all love and favour unto the person for friendship or kindred laid apart. Why wee bee willed in scripture to swear by the Name of God. Thus an oath (if it have with it these three conditions) is a part of GOD'S glory, which we are bound by his commandments to give unto him. For he willeth that we shall swear only by his name, not that he hath pleasure in oaths, but like as he commanded the Jews to offer sacrifices unto him, not for any delight that he had in them, but to keep the Jews from committing of idolatry: so he commanding vs to swear by his holy name, doeth not teach us that he delighteth in swearing, but he thereby forbidden all men to give his glory to any creature in heaven, earth, or water (Isaiah 42.8). Hitherto you see, that oaths lawful are commanded of GOD, used of Patriarchs and Prophets, of Christ himself, and of his Apostle Paul. Therefore Christian people must think lawful oaths, both godly and necessary. Commodities had by lawful oaths made and observed. For by lawful promise and covenants confirmed by oaths, Princes and their Countries are confirmed in common tranquillity & peace. By holy promises with calling the name of GOD to witness, we be made lively members of Christ, when we profess his Religion receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. By like holy promise the Sacrament of Matrimony knits man and wife in perpetual love, that they desire not to be separated for any displeasure or adversity that shall after happen. By lawful oaths, which Kings, Princes, Judges, and Magistrates doe swear, common laws are kept inviolate, Justice is indifferently ministered, harmless persons, fatherless children, widows, and poor men, are defended from murderers, oppressors, and thieves, that they suffer no wrong, nor take any harm. By lawful oaths, mutual society, amity, and good order is kept continually in all commonalities, as Boroughs, Cities, Towns, and Villages. And by lawful oaths, malefactors are searched out, wrong doers are punished, and they which sustained wrong, are restored to their right. Therefore lawful swearing can not be evil, which brings unto us so many godly, good, and necessary commodities. Vain swearing is forbidden. Wherefore when Christ so earnestly forbad swearing, it may not be understood, as though hee did forbid all manner of oaths: but he forbade all vain swearing and forswearing both by GOD, and by his creatures, as the common use of swearing in buying, selling, and in our daily communication, to the intent every Christian man's word should be as well regarded in such matters, as if he should confirm his communication with an oath. For every Christian man's word (saith S. Jerome) should be so true, that it should be regarded as an oath. And Chrysostom witnessing the same, saith, It is not convenient to swear: for what needeth us to swear, when it is not lawful for one of us to make a lie unto another? An objection. Peradventure some will say, I am compelled to swear, for else men that do commune with me, or do buy and sell with me will not believe me. An answer. To this, answereth S. Chrysostom, that he that thus saith, sheweth himself to be an unjust and a deceitful person. For if he were a trusty man, and his deeds taken to agree with his words, he should not need to swear at all. For he that uses truth and plainness in his bargaining and communication, he shall have no need by such vain swearing, to bring himself in credence with his neighbours, nor his neighbours will not mistrust his sayings. And if his credence be so much lost indeed, that he thinketh no man will believe him without he swears, then he may well think his credence is clean gone. For truth it is (as Theophylactus writes) that no man is less trusted, than he that useth much to swear. And Almighty GOD by the Wise man saith, That man which sweareth much shall be full of sin, and the scourge of GOD shall not depart from his house (Ecclesiasticus 23.11). Another objection. But here some men will say, for excusing of their many oaths in their daily talk: Why should I not swear, when I swear truly? An answer. To such men it may be said, that though they swear truly, yet in swearing often unadvisedly, for trifles, without necessity, and when they should not swear, they be not without fault, but doe take GOD'S most holy name in vain. Much more ungodly and unwise men are they, that abuse GOD'S most holy name, not only in buying and selling of small things daily in all places, but also in eating, drinking, playing, communing and reasoning. As if none of these things might be done, except in doing of them, the most holy name of GOD bee commonly used and abused, vainly and irreverently talked of, sworn by, and forsworn, to the breaking of GOD'S commandment, and procurement of his indignation.