Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Appendix to Psalm 15: Concerning the Oath

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Appendix to Psalm 15: Concerning the Oath

Article excerpt

At the end of our commentary upon Psalm 15, those things that should have been addressed, we are now added here by way of an appendix at last when, by the grace of the Lord, the whole work has been completed. Why was it not done? (I do not think that a reason should be given at all, especially when this can be mended easily enough.) In that part, it was neglected by a lack of due consideration (something that lurks in large and prolix works). In the last two verses of Psalm 15, the prophet requires, among other things, this kind of integrity from a citizen of the kingdom of God, so that he neither changes what he swore to his neighbor nor gives his money to him for usury. [Therefore,] it would be worthwhile to annotate something concerning both oath-taking and usury, especially because in our day everything is filled with oaths and because usury has grown to such an enormous extent. I know full well that those kinds of people who, up to this point, are far away from the integrity of Christian piety such that they are not even possessed by any reverence for the divine name much less motivated by an internal spirit of charity, do not have ears to hear. Indeed, lest I should abandon the duty of being a faithful admonisher, I will admonish simply and candidly what a pious person should realize and to what he should attend.

It is not necessary that I should define what an oath is. It is rather well-known and customary how it requires a declaration. It is an oath, in which, God is a witness by a citation of his name, either we testify about the truth of something, or, because it is imposed, we inviolably promise that we will guard ourselves. We are speaking not about a frivolous matter but about a legitimate oath.

The rationale for an oath is this: It is presumed that there exists in all mortals the belief that there is a divinity, to whom (1) all secret things are open, (2) trust as well as truth are most highly esteemed, and on the contrary to whom, (3) treachery, fraud, and falsehood are exceedingly displeasing. It is the pursuit of righteousness that punishes perjurers with a deserved vengeance, maintained by the public use, so that we may use the name of this divinity, the God of all, for the purpose of testifying in order to produce belief in those things whose truth we cannot render certain and resolute without some pact. We also appoint God as the avenger, if we should either swear something falsely or not render what was promised. Concerning which [point] all are convinced that it is not allowed that an abuse of God's name should go unpunished. The duty of this sort of oath-taking existed perpetually from the beginning, especially by our ancestors, not only among the Jews but also among the heathen nations. By taking an oath, those things that are doubtful and uncertain are confirmed. Also, if something arises that is disputed, it is settled by the intervention of an oath. For this reason, the apostle says in Hebrews 6[:16], "People vow by one greater than they are, and the end of every controversy is at the confirmation of oaths." There is nothing obscure about these things. Therefore, they do not need a broader disclosure, but we must advance to those things about which there is more debate, [namely] whether or not it is permitted for Christians to take an oath; second, what is an abuse of an oath; and third, concerning the dissolution of oaths.

Whether the Use of Oaths is Permitted to Christians

This question would not be necessary if the Anabaptists in our time had not thrown the consciences of many into confusion by that erroneous doctrine by which they strive to destroy absolutely every oath from the public, as if [oaths] were illicit. Thus, by the pretext of Christ's words in Matthew 5[:33-37] in which he says, "On the contrary you have heard that the ancients had said, 'you will not swear falsely, but you will pay to the Lord what you have vowed. …

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