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520

Part Three

II.

T

aking

the

N

ame of

the

L

ord

in

V

ain

2150

The second commandment

forbids false oaths.

Taking an

oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It

is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one’s own

truthfulness. An oath engages the Lord’s name. “You shall fear the

Lord your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name.”

81

2151

Rejection of false oaths is a duty toward God. As Creator

and Lord, God is the norm of all truth. Human speech is either in

accord with or in opposition to God who is Truth itself. When it is

truthful and legitimate, an oath highlights the relationship of hu­

man speech with God’s truth. A false oath calls on God to be

witness to a lie.

2152

Aperson commits

perjury

when he makes a promise under

oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on

oath he does not keep it. Perjury is a grave lack of respect for the

Lord of all speech. Pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed

is contrary to the holiness of the divine name.

2153

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained the second

commandment: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old,

‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what

you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all. . . . Let what

you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes

from the evil one.”

82

Jesus teaches that every oath involves a

reference to God and that God’s presence and his truth must be

honored in all speech. Discretion in calling upon God is allied with

a respectful awareness of his presence, which all our assertions ei­

ther witness to or mock.

2154

Following St. Paul,

83

the tradition of the Church has un­

derstood Jesus’ words as not excluding oaths made for grave and

right reasons (for example, in court). “An oath, that is the invoca­

tion of the divine name as a witness to truth, cannot be taken un­

less in truth, in judgment, and in justice.”

84

81

Deut

6:13.

82

Mt

5:33-34, 37; cf.

Jas

5:12.

83 Cf.

2 Cor

1:23;

Gal

1:20.

84 CIC, can. 1199 § 1.

215

2476

1756

2466