The Catechism of Trent
However, on account of the importance of the obligation, God wished to make the law, which commands His own divine and most holy name to be honoured, a distinct Commandment, expressed in the clearest and simplest terms.
This diligence cannot be deemed superfluous, since there are not wanting those who are so blinded by the darkness of error as not to dread to blaspheme His name, whom the Angels glorify Men are not deterred by the Commandment laid down from shamelessly and daringly outraging Him divine Majesty every day, or rather every hour and moment of the day Who is ignorant that every assertion is accompanied with an oath and teems with curses and imprecations? To such lengths has this impiety been carried, that there is scarcely anyone who buys, or sells, or transacts business of any sort, without having recourse to swearing, and who, even in matters the most unimportant and trivial, does not profane the most holy name of God thousands of times.
It therefore becomes more imperative on the pastor not to neglect, carefully and frequently, to admonish the faithful how grievous and detestable is this crime.
In the part which commands us to honour the name of God, the command, as the pastor should show the faithful, is not directed to the letters or syllables of which that name is composed, or in any respect to the mere name; but to the meaning of a word used to express the Omnipotent and Eternal Majesty of the Godhead, Trinity in Unity Hence we easily infer the superstition of those among the Jews who, while they hesitated not to write, dared not to pronounce the name of God, as if the divine power consisted in the four letters, and not in the signification.
Although this Commandment uses the singular number, Thou shalt not take the name of God, this is not to be understood to refer to any one name, but to every name by which God is generally designated For He is called by many names, such as the Lord, the Almighty, the Lord of hosts, the King of kings, the Strong, and by others of similar nature, which we meet in Scripture and which are all entitled to the same and equal veneration
The reason of this difference is that oaths have been instituted only as remedies to human frailty, and a necessary means of establishing the truth of what we assert As it is inexpedient to have recourse to medicine unless, when it becomes necessary, and as its frequent use is harmful; so with regard to oaths, it is not profitable to have recourse to them, unless there is a weighty and just cause; and frequent recurrence to them, far from being advantageous, is on the contrary highly prejudicial Hence the excellent observation of St Chrysostom Oaths were introduced among men, not at the beginning of the world, but long after; when vice had spread far and wide over the earth; when all things were disturbed and universal confusion reigned out; when, to complete human depravity, almost all mankind debased the dignity of their nature by the degrading service of idols. Then at length it was that the custom of oaths was introduced. For the perfidy and wickedness of men was so great that it was with difficulty that anyone could be induced to credit the assertion of another, and they began to call on God as a witness.
To swear by creatures, such as the holy Gospels, the cross, the names or relics of the Saints, and so on, in order to prove our statements, is also to take an oath Of themselves, it is true, such objects give no weight or authority to an oath; it is God Himself who does this, whose divine majesty shines forth in them Hence to swear by the Gospel is to swear by God Himself, whose truth is contained and revealed in the Gospel (This holds equally true with regard to those who swear) by the Saints, who are the temples of God, who believed the truth of His Gospel, were faithful in its observance, and spread it far and wide among the nations and peoples.
This is also true of oaths uttered by way of execration, such as that of St Paul I call God to witness upon my soul. By this form of oath one submits himself to God’s judgment, who is the avenger of falsehood We do not, however, deny that some of these forms may be used without constituting an oath; but even in such cases it will be found useful to observe what has been said with regard to an oath, and to conform exactly to the same rule and standard.
Truth is a condition not less necessary in a promissory than in an affirmatory oath He who promises must be disposed to perform and fulfil his promise at the appointed time As no conscientious man will promise to do what he considers opposed to the most holy Commandments and will of God; so, having promised and sworn to do what is lawful, he will never fail to adhere to his engagement, unless, perhaps by a change of circumstances it should happen that, if he wished to keep faith and observe his promises, he must incur the displeasure and enmity of God That truth is necessary to an oath David also declares in these words: He that sweareth to his neighbour, and deceiveth not.
Unless this careful consideration and reflection precede, an oath must be rash and hasty; and of this character are the irreligious affirmations of those, who, on the most unimportant and trifling occasions, swear without thought or reason from the influence of bad habit alone. This we see practiced daily everywhere among buyers and sellers. The latter, to sell at the highest price, the former to purchase at the cheapest rate, make no scruple to strengthen with an oath their praise or dispraise of the goods on sale.
Since, therefore, judgment and prudence are necessary, and since children are not able, on account of their tender years, to understand and judge accurately, Pope St. Cornelius decreed that an oath should not be administered to children before puberty, that is, before their fourteenth year.
This is easily established by many proofs. For the law of God, which is pure and holy, commands: Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt serve him only, and thou shalt swear by his name. All they, writes David, shall be praised that swear by him.
The Scriptures also inform us that the most holy Apostles, the lights of the Church, sometimes made use of oaths, as appears from the Epistles of the Apostle.
Even the Angels sometimes swear. The angel, writes St. John in the Apocalypse, swore by him who lives for ever.
Nay, God Himself, the Lord of Angels, swears, and, as we read in many passages of the Old Testament, has confirmed His. promises with an oath. This He did to Abraham and to David. Of the oath sworn by God David says: The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.
In fact, if we consider the whole matter attentively, and examine the origin and purpose of an oath, it can be no difficult matter to explain the reasons why it is a laudable act.
An oath has its origin in faith, by which men believe God to be the author of all truth, who can never deceive others nor be deceived, to whose eyes all things are naked and open, who, in fine, superintends all human affairs with an admirable providence, and governs the world. Filled with this faith we appeal to God as a witness of the truth, as a witness whom it would be wicked and impious to distrust.
With regard to the end of an oath, its scope and intent is to establish the justice and innocence of man, and to terminate disputes and contests. This is the doctrine of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews.
It cannot be asserted that these words condemn oaths universally and under all circumstances, since we have already seen that the Apostles and our Lord Himself made frequent use of them. The object of our Lord was rather to reprove the perverse opinion of the Jews, who had persuaded themselves that the only thing to be avoided in an oath was a lie. Hence in matters the most trivial and unimportant they did not hesitate to make frequent use of oaths, and to exact them from others. This practice the Redeemer condemns and reprobates, and teaches that an oath is never to be taken unless necessity require it. For oaths have been instituted on account of human frailty. They are really the outcome of evil, being a sign either of the inconstancy of him who takes them, or of the obstinacy of him who refuses to believe without them. However, an oath can be justified by necessity.
When our Lord says: Let your speech be “yea, yea”; “no, no,” He evidently forbids the habit of swearing in familiar conversation and on trivial matters. He therefore admonishes us particularly against being too ready and willing to swear; and this should be carefully explained and impressed on the minds of the faithful. That countless evils grow out of the unrestrained habit of swearing is proved by the evidence of Scripture, and the testimony of the most holy Fathers. Thus we read in Ecclesiasticus: Let not thy mouth be accustomed to swearing, for in it there are many falls; and again: A man that sweareth much shall be filled with iniquity, and a scourge shall not depart from his house. In the works of St. Basil and St. Augustine against lying, much more can be found on this subject.
On the same principle, he who swears to that which he thinks to be true, but which is really false, also incurs the guilt of perjury, unless he has used proper care and diligence to arrive at a full knowledge of the matter. Although he�swears according to his belief, he nevertheless sins against this Commandment.
Again, he who binds himself by oath to the performance of anything, not intending to fulfil his promise, or, having had the intention, neglect its performance, guilty of the same sin. This equally applies to those who, having bound themselves to God by vow, neglect its fulfilment.
To these are to be added oaths sworn through a sort of contempt, such as an oath not to observe the Evangelical counsels, such as celibacy and poverty. None, it is true, are obliged to embrace these divine counsels, but by swearing not to observe them, one contemns and despises them.
But he who, to support heresy and the teaching of the wicked. distorts the Sacred Scriptures from their genuine and true meaning, is guilty of the greatest injury to the Word of God; and against this crime we are warned by these words of the Prince of the Apostles: There are certain things hard to be understood. which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
It is also a foul and shameful contamination of the Scripture, that wicked men pervert the words and sentences which it contains, and which should be honoured with all reverence, turning them to profane purposes, such as scurrility, fable, vanity, flattery, detraction, divination, satire and the like �� crimes which the Council of Trent commands to be severely punished.
In the first place (the pastor) should teach that with very good reason has God joined threats to this Commandment. From this is understood both the grievousness of sin and the goodness of God toward us, since far from rejoicing in man’s destruction, He deters us by these salutary threats from incurring His anger, doubtless in order that we may experience His kindness rather than His wrath. The pastor should urge and insist on this consideration with greatest earnestness. in order that the faithful may be made sensible of the grievousness of the crime, may detest it still more, and may employ increased care and caution to avoid its commission.
He should also observe how prone men are to this sin, since it was not sufficient to give the command, but also necessary to accompany it with threats. The advantages to be derived from this thought are indeed incredible; for as nothing is more injurious than a listless security, so the knowledge of our own weakness is most profitable.
He should next show that God has appointed no particular punishment. The threat is general; it declares that whoever is guilty of this crime shall not escape unpunished. The various chastisements, therefore, with which we are every day visited, should warn us against this sin. It is easy to conjecture that men are afflicted with heavy calamities because they violate this Commandment; and if these things are called to their attention, it is likely that they will be more careful for the future.
Deterred, therefore, by a holy dread, the faithful should use every exertion to avoid this sin. If for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account on the day of judgment, what shall we say of those heinous crimes which involve great contempt of the divine name?