Lately I’ve been doing some reading in the bible and I’ve realized that on the sermon on the mount, Jesus says not to take any oaths. And recently I have also been looking at some catholic colleges and specifically I’m looking at Franciscan University and according to their website, many staff and programs have taken an “oath of fidelity” to the magisterium, and this is making me feel as though the catholic college I want to go to is disobeying our Lord. What am I missing here? :shrug:
“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”
- Matthew 5:33-37
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it."
- Matthew 23:16-22
An oath is basically calling upon God to be a witness to the truth of a statement. The occasional necessity of an oath for very serious matters is accepted by Scripture: “When a man makes a vow to the LORD or binds himself under oath to a pledge, he shall not violate his word, but must fulfill exactly the promise he has uttered” (Numbers 30:3) and “When you make a vow to the LORD, your God, you shall not delay in fulfilling it; for the LORD, your God, will surely require it of you and you will be held guilty…whatever your tongue utters you must be careful to do, just as you freely vowed to the LORD, your God, with your own mouth” (Deuteronomy 23:22,24).
The problem was that tradition had permitted all sorts of “lesser oaths/vows” that were considered more morally permissible to break. It became a kind of game by which rather than simply swearing by God that you were telling the truth or would do something you would instead swear by something else whereby there was an acceptable list of reasons to break the vow/oath. Jesus addresses this in his comments about the “blind guides.”
Jesus condemned the idea of using levels of oaths to hedge our responsibility to tell the truth or fulfill a promise. Jesus is also warning against speaking and acting in such a manner that the truthfulness of our statements are only believed if sworn by oath, such a way of living would clearly be contrary to the commandment against lying. This would be similar to the Essenes who were reported to have taught that “he who cannot be believed without swearing an oath is already condemned.” And yet the Essenes still required an oath to join them and would take an oath in a Jewish court.
In general day to day life we should avoid oaths and vows because they too casually call upon God to be a witness, such a cavalier attitude towards God is irreverent. If we fulfill the commandments to be truthful and loving we shall have no need for oaths for neither our honesty nor motives would be called into question by anyone who knows us. However there are occasions where the gravity or solemnity of the situation would appropriately call for an oath.
In colleges and universities the authenticity of the Catholic teachings at the academic organization are a very serious thing. Oaths ensuring the faculty are teaching properly is indeed appropriate.