Obligations under Oath

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

Are people sincere when they take oaths? Do they mean those words they pronounce under oaths? Don't rush to proffer answers yet, let's first, do some kind of experiment: get a "mind scanner", and scan through people's minds as they make oaths. If there is anything as a "mind scanner", and we use it for this experiment, the results would be outrageous: Lies in high places.

Deceptions before the Almighty. Manipulations of human circumstances, and so on, and so forth, could, possibly, be our results. As a matter of fact, our results might reveal the proverbial truth that: "olu eji ebite ego abughi olu eji akwu ya". In other words, people's commitment before the oath might not be the same after. But then, the truth is that oath taking is not just a mere formality or an act to "fulfill all righteousness"; neither is it an opportunity to lie or to deceive.

Oath taking is a serious act. When we take oaths, we oblige ourselves to abide by the words of our oath. It is like committing ourselves to the saying that: "our word is our bond". In taking oaths, we invoke God who is Omnipresent to witness to our testimonies of the past; and thus, confirm if we were right or wrong. In taking oaths, we invoke God who is Omniscient to witness to our narration of what the truth is all about because He knows if we lie or tell the truth.

In taking oaths, we invoke God who is Omnipotent to adjudicate our innocence or punish our guilt when we lie or not live up to our oaths. Our primary obligation under oath is to say the truth; or to fulfil what we obliged ourselves to do; or be prepared to face the consequences of not complying with our obligations. However, it is good to note that there are certain conditions that must be in place to make our commitments under oath obligatory.

These conditions include: The first condition is that, our oath taking must be an intentional and deliberate action. For us to be bound by what we swear under oath, there should be no atom of coercion. We must have understood the implications of our oath, and then, go forth to bind ourselves under such oath. If we did not understand, or if we did not intend our oath, the obligations would be impositions, and might not be binding upon us.

The second condition is that, our oath taking must be lawful. In other words, the oath itself must be lawful, and it must be lawful for the person under oath to execute his/her obligations. That is to say that that particular oath must be lawfully approved by, not just the constitutions of the people, group, community, state, or nation, but be universally acceptable under the law.

In the case of oaths taken in the Church, that particular oath must have been approved by God, by the Code of the Canon Law, by the teaching of the Church, by the teachings of the Magisterium, or approved by the competent Church authority. Where the oath is not lawful, its obligations are not binding on people. The third condition is about the possibility of the person under oath to execute the obligations of the oath.

Where the oath prescribes obligations beyond the means of the oath taker, he/she may not be bound by such obligations. It must be noted, however, that obligations considered to be beyond someone's means, do not include our obligations to God as Christians. Otherwise, no one would possibly keep God's calls to us. Next week, we shall look at things that may nullify our obligations under oath. And then look at what oath are permissible for us as Christians.

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