The Baltimore Catechism

Lesson 32: FROM THE SECOND TO THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

345. Q. What is the Second Commandment?

A. The Second Commandment is: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

“In vain” — that is, without necessity.

346. Q. What are we commanded by the Second Commandment?

A. We are commanded by the Second Commandment to speak with reverence of God and of the saints, and of all holy things, and to keep our lawful oaths and vows.

A very common sin against this Commandment is to use the words and sayings of Holy Scripture in a worldly or bad sense. The Church forbids us to use the words and sayings of Holy Scripture to convey any meaning but the one God intended them to convey, or at least to use them in any but a sacred sense.

347. Q. What is an oath?

A. An oath is the calling upon God to witness the truth of what we say.

We declare a thing to be so or not, and call God to be our witness that we are speaking truly. This is one of the most solemn acts that men can perform in the presence of their fellowman. All the nations of the earth regard an oath as a most sacred thing, and one who swears falsely is the vilest of men–a perjurer. God is infinite truth and hates lies. What a frightful thing then to call Him to sanction a lie!

348. Q. When may we take an oath?

A. We may take an oath when it is ordered by lawful authority or required for God’s honor or for our own or our neighbor’s good.

An oath is generally taken in a court of law when the judge wishes to find out the truth of the case. We may be a witness against one who is guilty, or in defense of an innocent person, and in such cases a lie would have most evil consequences. The judge has a right, therefore, to make us take an oath that we will testify truly. Officers of the law, magistrates, judges, etc., take an oath when entering upon their duties that they will perform them faithfully.

349. Q. What is necessary to make an oath lawful?

A. To make an oath lawful it is necessary that what we swear be true, and that there be a sufficient cause for taking an oath.

350. Q. What is a vow?

A. A vow is a deliberate promise made to God to do something that is pleasing to Him.

“Deliberate” — that is, with full consent and freedom. If we are forced to make it, it is not valid. “To God,” not to another; though we may vow to God that we will do something in honor of the Blessed Virgin, or of the saints, or for another. “Something pleasing,” because if we promise something that is forbidden by God or displeasing to Him, it is not a vow. A solemn promise, for instance, to kill your neighbor or steal his goods could not be a vow. You would commit a sin by making such a vow, and another by keeping it, for if you promise something you cannot do without committing sin then you must not keep that promise. We have an example in the life of St. John the Baptist. King Herod was leading a sinful life, and St. John rebuked him for it. The wife of the king’s brother — Herodias was her name — hated St. John for this, and she sought to have him killed. Once when the king had a great feast and all his notables were assembled, this woman’s daughter danced before them, and the king was so pleased with her that he vowed to give her whatever she asked. He should have said, if it is something pleasing to God, but he did not. Her mother made her ask for the head of John the Baptist. The king was sad, but because he had made the vow or promise he thought he had to keep it, and ordered St. John to be beheaded and his head brought to her. (Matt. 14). He was not bound to keep any such vow, and sinned by doing so.

Again, they also commit sin who become members of such secret societies as the freemasons or similar organizations, promising to do whatever they are ordered without knowing what may be ordered; for they sin not only by obeying sinful commands, but by the very fact of being in a society in which they are exposed to the danger of being forced to sin. Such secret societies are forbidden by the Church because they strive to undermine its authority, and make their rules superior to its teaching. They also influence those in authority to persecute the Church and its ministers, and do not hesitate to recommend even assassination at times for the accomplishment of their ends. Therefore the Church forbids Catholics to join societies of which

  1. the objects are unlawful,
  2. where the means used are sinful, or
  3. where the rights of our conscience and liberty are violated by rash or dangerous oaths.

The Church does not oppose associations founded on law and justice; but on the contrary, has always encouraged and still encourages every organization that tends to benefit its members spiritually and temporally, and opposes only societies that have not a legitimate end. Therefore you may understand that labor unions and benefit societies in which persons are leagued together for their own protection or the protection of their interests are not secret societies, though they may conduct their meetings in secret.

351. Q. Is it a sin not to fulfill our vows?

A. Not to fulfill our vows is a sin, mortal or venial according to the nature of the vow and the intention we had in making it.

“Vows” — that is, lawful vows. When a man who is in the habit of getting intoxicated vows not to take liquor for a certain time, he generally intends to bind himself only under venial sin; that is, if he breaks that pledge or promise it will be a venial and not a mortal sin; but he can make it a mortal sin by intending, when he takes the pledge, that if he breaks it he will be guilty of mortal sin.

352. Q. What is forbidden by the Second Commandment?

A. The Second Commandment forbids all false, rash, unjust, and unnecessary oaths, blasphemy, cursing, and profane words.

“Rash” — swearing a thing is true or false without knowing for certain whether it is or not. “Blasphemy” is not the same as cursing or taking God’s name in vain. It is worse. It is to say or do something very disrespectful to God. To say that He is unjust, cruel or the like, is to blaspheme. We can blaspheme also by actions. To defy God by a sign or action, to dare Him to strike us dead, etc., would be blasphemy. We have a terrible example of blasphemy related in the life of Julian the Apostate. An apostate is one who renounces and gives up his religion, not one who merely neglects it. Julian was a Roman emperor and had been a Catholic, but apostatized. Then in his great hatred for Our Lord he wished to falsify His prophecies and prove them untrue. Our Lord had said that of the temple of Jerusalem there would not be left a stone upon a stone. To make this false Julian began to rebuild the temple. In making the preparation he cleared away the ruins of the old building, not leaving a single stone upon a stone, and thus was instrumental himself in verifying the words of Our Lord; for while the ruins remained there were stones upon stones. He wished to defy God, but when he began to build, fire came forth from the earth and drove back the workmen, and a strong wind scattered the materials. Afterwards Julian was wounded in battle, an arrow having pierced his breast. He drew it out, and throwing a handful of his blood toward heaven, said: “Thou hast conquered, 0 Galilean,” meaning Our Lord. This was a horrible blasphemy–throwing his blood in defiance, and calling the Son of God a name which he thought would be insulting (see Fredet’s Modern History, Life of Julian). Therefore we can blaspheme by actions or words, doing or saying things intended to insult Almighty God. “Profane words” — that is, bad, but especially irreverent and irreligious words.

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