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oaths

oaths. From early days the taking of solemn religious oaths was regarded as an essential part of the political and social order. Monarchs swore oaths at their coronations, vassals swore oaths on doing homage, jurors swore oaths on being empanelled. Difficulties began at the Reformation when oaths were devised to make it impossible for catholics to take them: the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy in 1559 demanded an oath from all ministers, judges, graduates, or mayors that they acknowledged the queen as supreme governor of the church. The next century saw torment by oaths. Right-thinking persons in 1644 were required to take an oath to support the Solemn League and Covenant and in 1662 to repudiate it. quakers were in the most disagreeable of all positions since their refusal to take oaths on principle was regarded as utterly subversive, and they suffered imprisonment and loss of property. James II, when duke of York, was forced to resign as lord high admiral because the oath of office under the Test Act contained a declaration against transubstantiation which, as a catholic, he could not take. The first group to obtain concessions was the quakers, who lobbied hard after the Glorious Revolution. In 1689 they were allowed to make a solemn declaration of loyalty, in 1696 they were permitted to affirm in civil cases, and in 1749 to affirm whenever an oath was required by statute, though they were still excluded from public office. A collision of oaths kept catholics out of Parliament until 1829, since George III insisted that any concession would damage the protestant constitution and breach his coronation oath. Jews remained ineligible for Parliament after 1829 since the oath was on the true faith of a Christian, and were not admitted until 1858. Atheists had to wait until after the Bradlaugh case. In 1888 the Oath Act cleared up the whole matter by permitting a solemn affirmation in all cases.

J. A. Cannon

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Oaths

Oaths. A self-curse in Judaism which would be fulfilled if certain conditions were not met. Oath-taking was common in Ancient Israel. In Talmudic law, oaths were used as a means of judicial proof in civil cases and could not be sworn by known liars, minors, the deaf and dumb, or the insane. Taking an oath involved holding the Scroll of the Law and swearing by God or one of his attributes (B.Shevu. 38b). See also CURSING.

In Christianity, Matthew 5. 33–7 has been taken by some (e.g. Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, Waldensians) to preclude any kind of oath-taking; but more generally it has been understood as a prohibition on swearing.

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