Quinisext Council, Canon 94.previous | next
As for those who take Greek oaths, the Canon makes them liable to penances; and we decree their excommunication.
Greek customs ought to be hated by Christians. For this reason the present Canon excommunicates those Christians who in accordance with the custom of the Greeks swear, either by the gods falsely so called of the Greeks, by saying, for instance, “by Jupiter” or “by Zeus,” or who swear by the elements, by saying, for instance, “by the Sun,” or “by the Heaven above us,” and the like; just as c. LXXXI of Basil subjects them to penances. St. Basil, however, canonizes eleven years those men who without any great necessity due to tortures deny the faith or eat things that have been sacrificed to idols and take the oaths of the Greeks, just as they themselves, that is to say, believe in them. The present Canon of the Council excommunicated, as Balsamon says, not only these men, but also Christians who have not denied the faith but have taken oaths in accordance with the custom of the Greeks. Wherefore no such oath, nor indeed any other oath taken in the face of an unrecognized or disreputable religion, is to be kept, according to ch. 19 of Title XIII of Photius.
Not only are oaths that are taken in accordance with the custom of the Greeks forbidden to Christians, but every oath in general. For the Lord says that we are not to swear at all under any conditions whatsoever, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by our own head; but, instead of any oath, we are to say only yea, yea, and nay, nay; whatever else we say beyond this is of the Devil (Matt. 5:34–37). This very same thing is affirmed also by James the Brother of God. But then again even the prophet of the Old Testament Hosea prohibits oaths by saying: “and swear not, As the Lord liveth” (Hosea 4:15; James 5:12). That is why St. Basil the Great in his c. XXIX says that swearing an oath is forbidden once for all, and so much the more that oath which is taken with a view to injuring someone else. Hence those rulers who swear to injure the ones who are ruled and who are their subjects, are commanded by him to repent because of their having taken an oath all too rashly and not to insist upon those oaths to wreak injury on others. But also in his c. X he accuses Severus of acting contrary to Canon and binding the Presbyter Kyriakos by an oath contravening the legislation of the Gospels. So much for the fact that one ought not to take oaths. But in case anyone should actually do so anyhow, and violate it, he is canonized in a general way and indefinitely in c. LXIV by the same St. Basil to abstain from Communion for ten years. But in his c. LXXXII the delinquent is canonized definitely and according to circumstances: if it were due to violence and necessity that he violated the oath, he is penanced six years; but if he violated it without being under any necessity to do so, he is sentenced to seven years’ penance. In his c. XXVIII, and particularly in Def. 137 of his Epitomized Definitions, the same St. Basil says that it is ludicrous for anyone to promise God not to eat pork, or to sentence himself to abstain for such a length of time from some other food or drink. Accordingly no such uneducated promises ought to be made, and the use of foods should be a matter of indifference. If, nevertheless, in accordance with his c. XVII he allowed Bianor to celebrate the Liturgy notwithstanding that he had sworn not to celebrate the Liturgy, the fact is that he did not do this as a matter of course, but, on the contrary, 1) because that man had taken the oath as a result of violence and under threat of danger; 2) he allowed him to conduct the Liturgy secretly and in another place, and not there where he had taken the oath; and 3) he adds that he must repent because he took an oath. But as for all perjurers that are in holy orders and those that are clerics, they are deposed from office according to Ap. c. XXV; see the Interpretation of the latter.
 That is why divine Chrysostom, in opposition to those who want to have oaths taken, says (Hom. 8 on statues): “Well, then (you tell me), what is one to do when it is necessary to swear (take oath)?” And he replies: “Wherever there is a transgression of the law, there can be no necessity. And is it possible (you ask me) for one not to swear at all? What do you say?” He answers: “God commanded, and you ask whether it is possible to keep His commandment. It is more impossible not to keep His commandment than to keep it.” And again he says (Catechism I for those about to be enlightened [by baptism]): “I wish to eradicate an evil of long standing which has been a custom. I want to eradicate, I mean, not only wicked and false oaths, but also the good and true oaths. But, you tell me, such or such a person, a virtuous man, a man in holy orders, a sober and reverent person, swore an oath. Well, if you want to, you may tell me that St. Peter or St. Paul or an angel from heaven was the one who took an oath. For even those who are supposed to have taken an oath are supposed to be so great, I myself will not stand abashed at their greatness. Because the law which forbids every oath in general, and which I will read to you, is not Peter or of Paul or of angels, or in general of fellow servants, but of God Himself who is the king of all. When royal letters are read, servants ought to remain silent, no matter how high officials they may be. For if you are going to assert that Christ Himself commanded us to take oaths, or that Christ Himself does not chastise those who take oaths, show me where He says this, and I will be persuaded. But if Christ is so insistent in forbidding us to take oaths, and is so careful to provide against the taking of oaths entirely as to class the man who takes an oath with the Evil One (by which is meant the Devil), since He says “for whatsoever is more than these cometh from the Evil One” (Matt. 5:37), what is the idea of your referring to such or such a man? For God will not judge a person who takes an oath because some fellow servant before him took an oath as a result of indolence, but, instead, He will condemn him because he transgressed the express command of His law. ‘I commanded,’ He will tell the person in the day of judgment; ‘you ought to have obeyed my command, and not bring forward the example of this man or that, and be looking at the transgressions of others as though they were something to whet one’s appetite for more.’ And further below he goes on to say: “Though the transgressor of the law concerning oaths were ten thousand times wonderful and great, he would have to expiate this transgression without fail by paying the penalty due for it, since God is not a respecter of persons.” Hence it is that St. Basil the Great in regard to the penances which he provides excommunicates men for a week in case they swear any other oath than yea, yea and nay, nay; whereas he excommunicates women for two weeks if they happen to take any such oath. But even Chrysostom himself (Hom. 15 on statues, and 17 on the Gospel of St. Matthew) canonizes anyone that swears the vain oaths to which the majority of men are accustomed by obliging him not to eat his supper, but to go to sleep supperless, if he will be corrected. But if he will not be corrected, he is to be cut off from holy Communion and from the Church, like fornicators, adulterers, and murderers. The same Chrysostom (Hom. 5 and 14 and 15 on statues, and sel. discourse 28 concerning an oath) condemns to the same penances also those who perjure themselves, and those who force them or compel them to perjure themselves, or to take oaths. These things being as stated, let Balsamon (in his interpretation of c. XXIX of Basil), as well as those following him, be ashamed and keep their mouth shut, instead of saying that it is a lawful thing for good and true oaths to be taken, for one thing because the imperial laws permit oaths to be taken, and for another thing because for one not to swear at all is only for the perfect, but for one to swear is for the imperfect, and it is consequently impossible for the commandments to be kept by all men. As respects the first allegation, we reply what we have previously said in various places, viz., that emperors and kings often fail to make laws for the best, according to Chrysostom, and that, according to the emperors and kings themselves, all laws that conflict with the divine law ought to be annulled, and especially those which are opposed to the divine Scriptures and the Gospels. As respects the second allegation, we reply that all commandments, and consequently that concerning oaths, must be kept by all human beings. For this reason on the one hand the Lord commanded the Apostles to teach the faithful to keep not some of the commandments, and to ignore others, but to keep all commandments without exception that He Himself gave them; and that anyone who violated or ignored even one of the least of His commandments will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand St. Basil the Great (Preamble to Definitions in Extenso) says that it is a great piece of arrogance for us to become judges of God the Legislator, and to approve some of His laws as good, but to frown upon others as bad, at a time when He Himself has commanded us to keep all His commandments. For if all of them were not necessary for our salvation, it would not have been written, nor would it have been commanded, that all of them must be kept. We know that in the Old Testament true and lawful oaths were permitted (Deut. 6:13; Ps. 63:11; Jer. 4:2; and alibi). Yes, they were permitted; but they were not required by legislation. Permission is one thing, and legislation is quite another. They were permitted on account of the imperfectness and infantileness of the Jews for the sake of keeping them free from idolatry. The divine Gospel, with firm decisiveness, not only does not permit anyone to take an oath in the name of God, but not even on his own head, by commanding that unless our righteousness shall exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). For one must not swear by any of the creatures, since in such a case the oath would be one involving the Creator, according to St. Chrysostom. The expression, on the other hand, “Yea, by your own boasting,” or “I adjure you by the Lord,” and whatever else St. Paul says in connection with the name of God by way of affirmation, these are figures of a semblance to oaths, but not a veritable oath, as St. Chrysostom says. (It may be that St. Paul is saying these things, first as a result of great necessity and compulsion, and secondly, by no means because of anything human, or anything in any way growing out of this world, but to avoid imperiling the faith, and in general by way of upholding God and things divine, and as a matter of economy, and not of exactness and of legislation.) If anyone should swear by God, let us suppose, for all the tens of thousands of pounds of gold in the world, he would be conflicting with and violating the third commandment of the Decalogue, which decrees that no one shall take the name of God in vain; for the whole world, and everything that is in the world, is vain because it is paltry and perishable. Knowing this fact from an innate law of consciousness that is common to all men, that man by the name of Clinias who was a disciple of Pythagoras, and a heathen, and was in a position to avoid the loss of three talents by taking a true oath, did not, however, take an oath, but, instead, paid the talents, as St. Basil the Great bears witness as respecting this very fact. Note, moreover, that while the civil laws, after an oath has been investigated, that is, has been examined and proved false, then proceeds to chastise the perjurers, the sacred Canons, on the other hand, in dealing with those perjurers whose oath has been scrutinized, assigns to the places of penitents, but as for those whose oath has not been investigated and proven, they merely exclude them from Communion, and not from the Church and from praying along with the faithful. See the 18th ch. of Title XIII of the Nomicon of Photius, and the comments of Balsamon in connection therewith, but in particular and above all Armenopoulos, Book I, Title 7. It should be borne in mind, too, that an oath taken on the holy Gospel is taken on the God Himself whom it represents and who speaks through it. I wish to add also that which Athanasius the Great says with respect to the third commandment of the Decalogue: “If one is at all worthy to pronounce the name of God, of course he is trustworthy and credible and deserves to be believed even without an oath. For anyone that is capable as to what is greater, is capable also as to what is lesser. But if, on the other hand, he does not deserve to be believed without an oath, then neither is he worthy to pronounce the name of God.” And note how this great Father in two words proves that it is a matter of superfluity for an oath to be taken in any case. That explains why the civil laws themselves do not require trustworthy witnesses to take an oath. Moreover the 7th Ecum. C. in its sixth Act says: “Let us not accustom the mouth to swearing, but let us listen to the Lord’s voice saying ‘But I say unto you, Swear not at all’” (Matt. 5:34). And see the Footnote to Ap. c. LXXV. In addition to all that has been said, Chrysostom adds this brief and remarkable observation: “If you believe that the man is truthful, do not compel him to take an oath; but if you know that he is a liar, do not compel him to commit perjury” (Sermon 15 on statues, page 566 of volume VI). See also in Sermon 14 on statues how vehemently he prohibits oaths). But do please note also the Novella of Basil the Macedonian, Leo, and Constantine (page 135 in Book II of the Corpus Juris Graecoromani) who explicitly prohibit anyone from taking an oath and who assert that swearing is prohibited by the divine Gospel and the Scriptures, and furthermore that the turns and cases of this world being nothing but vanity, in accordance with Solomon’s statement, it is plain that whenever anyone swears in connection therewith by the name of God, he is taking this name in vain, as we too have declared.
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