Types of Oath

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

Last week we began this discussion on oaths. A couple of persons made comments in the last edition that dealt with the introductory part of oath taking. Their comments cum questions would be addressed in subsequent editions. In this edition, we simply wanted to treat types of oath. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "an oath is an invocation to God to witness the truth of a statement.

It may be express and direct, as when one swears by God Himself; or implicit and tacit, as when we swear by creatures, since they bear a special relation to the Creator and manifest His majesty and the supreme Truth in a special way: for instance, if one swears by heaven, the throne of God (Matthew 5: 34), by the Holy Cross, or by the Gospels

In other words, God is the principal witness at every oath because every oath may either be "express and direct" or "implicit and tacit" in the solicitation of God's witnessing. Depending on people's beliefs, they may invoke other beings. However, we must acknowledge that though pagans might invoke different deities: uhere, anyanwu, igwe, omabe, odo, adoro, etc. these deities are either creatures of God or creatures of those created by God, namely, human beings.

In spite of their beliefs, those deities are not God, and can never be God who is Alpha and Omega. Depending on one's perspectives, there are different types of oaths. But from whatever perspective one looks at oath, you can really place in any of these categories provided by the Catholic Encyclopedia:

1. Oaths can be affirmative. Affirmative oaths are promissory. In this type of oath, the oath taker makes some promise of what he/she might do in future; or to, presently, witness to what he/she did in the past.

2. Oaths can be simple. That they are called simple oath does not mean they are not to be taken seriously. Some simple oaths are imprecatory while others are execratory when, for instance, God's assistance is invoked, for example: "I pledge to Nigeria my country to be loyal, honest . so help me God"; or where God's vengeance, punishment, anger are invoked as we can see in Psalm 35.

3. Oaths can be private or public. From this perspective, oath can be taken by an individual. In which case, the oath is an issue between the person and his/her God, and nobody else. It can also be taken between few individuals - whereby it is binding on those who took it; as in the case of covenant oath.

Private oaths taken between few individuals is not necessary public oath because public oath is taken when it, necessarily has some public implication. For instance, in the case of someone who has a public authority, his/her oath has public implication, and as such becomes a public oath. Next week, we shall be looking at people's obligations when they take oath. After that, we shall look at what oath are permissible for us as Christians.

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