First Book of Homilies - Homily 7 Against Swearing and Perjury. Almighty God, intending his most Holy Name should be held in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commands no one should take his name vainly in the mouth, threatening punishment to those who irreverently abuse it by swearing, or 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 to 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 we make faithful promises calling to witness 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 common good, and private persons promise their fidelity in matrimony, or one to another in honesty and true friendship: and all people when they swear to keep common laws, and local statutes, and good customs, for due order to be had and continued among all, when subjects 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 one 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 good counsel privately for their souls health: all these ways of swearing, for causes necessary and honest, is lawful. But when folk do swear of custom, in reasoning, buying and selling, or other daily communications (as may be common and great swearers) such kind of swearing is ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden by the commandement 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 have examples of Christ, and Godly men, in Holy Scripture, that did swear themselves, and required oaths of others likewise. And God's Commandment is, You shall fear your Lord God, and shall swear by his Name (Deuteronomy 6.13). And Almighty God by his prophet David said, Everyone shall be praised that swear by him (Psalms 63.11). So did our Saviour Christ swear at divers times, saying, Verily, verily (John 3.3). And St. Paul swears so, 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 to Abimelech the King of Gerar, that he should not hurt him, nor his posterity (Genesis 21.23), and likewise Abimelech swore to Abraham. And David swore to be and continue a faithful friend to Jonathan, and Jonathan did swear to become a faithful friend to David. Also God once commanded, that if a thing were laid to pledge to anyone, or left with them 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 says, Yes, and the other, No, 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 says, you shall swear, The Lord lives, in truth, in judgment, in righteousness (Jeremiah 4.2). So that whosoever swears when he is required of a Judge, let him be sure in his conscience that his oath have three conditions, and he shall never need to be afraid of perjury. What Conditions an Oath Ought to Have? First, those that swear, may swear truly, that is, they must (setting apart all favour and affection to the parties) have the truth only before their eyes, and for love thereof, say and speak that which they know to be truth, and no further. The Second. The second is, they that take an oath, must do it with judgment, not rashly and unadvisedly, but soberly, considering what an oath is. The Third. The third is, they that swear, must swear in righteousness: that is, for the very zeal and love which they bear 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 to the person for friendship or kindred laid apart. Why We be Willed in Scripture to Swear by the Name of God. Thus an oath (if it meets these three conditions) is a part of God's glory, which we are bound by his commandments to give him. For he wills that we shall swear only by his name, not that he has pleasure in oaths, but like as he commanded the Jews to offer sacrifices to him, not for any delight that he had in them, but to keep the Jews from committing of idolatry: so he commanding us to swear by his Holy Name, does not teach us that he delights in swearing, but he thereby forbids all to give his glory to any creature in heaven, earth, or water (Isaiah 42.8). So you see that lawful oaths 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. Properties 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 and 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 husband and wife in perpetual love, that they desire not to be separated for any displeasure or adversity that shall later happen. By lawful oaths, which Kings, Princes, Judges, and Magistrates do swear, common laws are kept inviolate, Justice is indifferently ministered, harmless persons, fatherless children, widows, and poor folk, are defended from murderers, oppressors, and thieves, that they suffer no wrong, nor take any harm. By lawful oaths, mutual society, good will, and good order is kept continually in all communities, 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 to us so many godly, good, and necessary things. Vain Swearing is Forbidden. Wherefore when Christ so earnestly forbad swearing, it may not be understood, as though he did forbid all manner of oaths: but he forbids 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's word should be as well regarded in such matters, as if they should confirm communication with an oath. For every Christian's word (saith St. Jerome) should be so true, that it should be regarded as an oath. And Chrysostom witnessing the same, says, It is not convenient to swear: for what need of us to swear, when it is not lawful for any of us to lie? An Objection. In life, some will say, I am compelled to swear, for else men that do communicate with me, or do business with me will not believe me. An Answer. To this, St. Chrysostom says, this shows you are an unjust and deceitful person. For if you were a trusty person, and your deeds agree with your words, you should not need to swear at all. Those who use truth and plain speaking in bargaining and communication, have no need of such vain swearing, to show credibility with our neighbours, and the neighbours will not mistrust our sayings. And if credence be so much lost indeed, that no one will believe without swearing, then we may well think credence is clean gone. For truth it is (as Theophylact writes) that no one is less trusted than those who use many oaths. And Almighty God, by the wise man says, those who swear much are be full of sin, and the scourge of God will not depart from their house (Ecclesiasticus 23.11). Another Objection. But here some 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 it may be said, that though they swear truly, yet in swearing often unadvisedly, for trifles, without need, and when they should not swear, they are not without fault, but take God's most Holy Name in vain. Much more ungodly and unwise are they, that abuse God's most Holy Name, not only in trading small things daily in all places, but also in eating, drinking, playing, talking and reasoning. As if none of these things might be done, except in doing of them, the most Holy Name of God be commonly used and abused, vainly and irreverently talked of, sworn by, and forsworn, to the breaking of God's commandment, and gaining his indignation.