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Section C. Definitions Of An Oath.
1. Definitions Not Implying The Imprecatory Form.
We shall find many definitions of an oath which imply nothing of direct imprecation, both among Christian and Heathen writers. Cicero calls it " an affirmation under the sanction of religion*." Gregory of Nazianzen defines it to be "a solemn affirmation of the truth, as in the presence of God^." The author of Fleta seems to have embraced in his view, those corrupt modes of swearing by other attestations than by a direct appeal to God himself, which disgraced Christendom too long, and, unhappily, have not yet ceased to be its shame;— "an oath is an affirmation, or negation on some point, confirmed by the attestation of a holy thingJ." This corresponds very closely with the authorized definition at the present time in Spain, "An oath is an attestation, or affirmation, on any subject, by the name of God, and some sacred thing. And no one ought to swear by heaven or earth, nor by any
* Cic. de Off. iii. 29.
t Greg. Naz. In defln. Juram. Dom. Exod. xxii. 11. See Sanderson.
X Fleta, lib. v. 22.
creature;—by nought except what is holy and sacred*." Dr. Sanderson, in his Lectures before the University of Oxford, professing to supply its full definition, says, "an oath is a religious act, in which, to establish a point in doubt, God is invoked as a witness-)-." Dr. Johnson describes an oath to be "an affirmation, negation, or promise, corroborated by the attestation of the Supreme Being."
Voet, in his notes on the Pandects, defines it to be "a religious affirmation of the truth, or an invocation of the name of God in witness of the truth:** and our celebrated Coke defines it thus; "An oath is an affirmation or denial by any Christian of any thing lawful and honest before one or more that hath lawful authority for advancement of truth and right, calling upon God to witness that his testimony is true."—3 Inst. 7^
2. Definitions Of An Oath Implying An Imprecation.
Other definitions there are, which imply the clause of imprecation or curse; thus, in the Pandects, an oath is defined to be "a religious asseveration by the invocation of God as an avenger, if the juror, knowingly, should deceive!"
* Perez, Compendio del Derecho Publico y Commun de Espana, 1784. -f De Jur. Prom. Oblig. Prselec. 1.1710. X Pandect, xii. 2.
Agreeably to which, Puffendorf defines an oath to be "a religious asseveration, by which we either renounce the mercy, or imprecate the vengeance of Heaven, if we speak not the truth." Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, in the preliminary proceedings in the case of Omychund and Barker, said, "What is universally understood by an oath is, that the person who takes it, imprecates the vengeance of God upon him if the oath he takes is false." In giving judgment however, the same learned person speaks very differently, "All that is necessary to an oath is an appeal to the Supreme Being, as thinking him the rewarder of truth and the avenger of falsehood." In the same cause Sir Dudley Rider, then Attorney General said, "All that in point of nature and reason is necessary to qualify a person for swearing is the belief of a God, and an imprecation of the Divine Being upon him, if he swears falsely*."
M. Merlin describes it as being " as well a promise, the sincerity of which is guaranteed by the invocation of the name of God, as also the affirmation of a fact, for the truth of which God is taken as witness." Michaelis, to whose chapter on oaths and perjury we cannot refer without mingled sentiments of approval and dissatisfaction, appears to go to the full length of regarding it in all cases, as "a solemn
call to God to punish us, both here and hereafter, through all eternity, if we tell a falsehood, or do not keep our promise*." Bishop Burnet, who writes very satisfactorily on the subject, thus instructs us; —" An oath is an appeal to God, either upon a testimony that is given, or a promise that is made, confirming the truth of the one and the fidelity of the other. It is an appeal to God, who knows all things, and will judge all men; so it is an act that acknowledges both his omniscience and his being the Governor of this world, who will judge all at the last day according to their deeds, and who must be supposed to have a more immediate regard to acts in which men made him a party -f\" We have already seen that our own form, "So help me God," is at once very classical and very heathenish J. The definition of an oath most nearly corresponding with the imprecation really implied in that form, is one quoted by Brissonius. "The nature of an oath involves our saying, 'may the Deity so far favour me as that is true which I affirm §.'"
* Mich, on the Laws of Moses, 256.
$ Asconius Peedianus apud Briss.
OUR LORD'S OATH BEFORE THE HIGH PRIEST.
I Have alleged our Saviour's example when adjured by the High-Priest as decisive, establishing beyond further dispute the lawfulness of an oath to Christians. The interpretation of the passage in the Gospel (St. Matt. xxvi. 63), which I have deemed the only sound interpretation, represents our Lord as having taken a judicial oath before the constituted authorities of his country. A doubt has been suggested on the correctness of that interpretation. The other arguments brought forward would, I think, independently of this, satisfactorily establish the legality of an oath. But this argument, if it be sound and unassailable itself, is so entirely conclusive, admitting of no appeal, that I felt anxious to put my reader in possession of the nature of the evidence, and the result of my inquiries, which, I confess, have left no doubt whatever in my own mind on the subject.
The question, and I believe the only question is this; did the High Priest, when he addressed our Saviour, actually administer an oath to him, agreeably to the laws and customs of the Jews? Or did he merely call upon him (urging the strongest