OAK, WORSHIP OF (ok, 6v). Oak groves in ancient times were used as places of religious assembly; altars were set up in them (Josh. xxiv:26); Jacob buried idolatrous images under an oak, which, as a sacred tree, would free them from disturbance (Gen. xxxv:4). (See OAK.) OATH (oth), (Heb. sheb-oo-aw'), an ap peal to God in attestation of the truth of what you say, or in confirmation of what you promise or undertake.
The Latin term is jusjurandum, or juramentum. Cicero (De iii, 29) correctly terms an oath a religious affirmation; that is, an affirma tion with a religious sanction. This appears from the words which he proceeds to employ: that an oath is an appeal to God, as the source and the vindicator of justice and fidelity.
(1) Elements. IIence it appears that there are two essential elements in an oath: first, the human, a declared intention of speaking the Iruth, or performing the action in a given case; secondly', the Divine, an appeal to God, as a Be ing who knows all things and will punish guilt. According to usage, however, there is a third element in the idea which 'oath' commonly con veys, namely, that the oath is taken only on sol emn, or, more specifically, on juridical occasions. The canon law gives all three elements when it represents judicium, veritas, justitia,.as entering into the constitution of an oath—judicitim, judg ment or trial on the part of society; veritas, truth on the part of the oath-taker; justitia, justice on the part of God. An oath is accordingly a re ligious undertaking either to say (juramentum as sertorium), or to do (juramentum promissorium) something entered into voluntarily with the cus tomary forms. Being a religious undertaking, the appeal will vary according to the religious opinions of the country in which the oath is taken. In some instances it will be an appeal immediately to God; in others, to objects sup posed to have Divine power ; and by a natural declension, when men have left the only true God, they may appeal in their oaths even tu stocks and stones. Accordingly the Roman swore, 'per caput slaws vel sztorum filiorum,' or 'per gen izon principis;' that is, by his own head or those of his children, or by the genius of the em peror. We shall have by and by to notice similar errors and abuses among the Jews.
(2) Essence. The essence of an oath lies ob viously in the appeal which is thereby made to God, or to Divine knowledge and power. The customary form establishes this, 'So help me God.' The Latin words (known to have been used as early as the sixth century), whence our English form is taken, run thus: 'Sic me Deus adjuvet et !wee sancta Evangelia;' so moy God and tlzese holy Gospels help MC ; that is, 'as I say the truth.' The present custom of kissing a book containing the gospels has in England takcn the place of the latter clause in the Latin formula.
If, then, an appeal to God is the essence of an oath, oath-taking is a practice which cannot be justified. Such an appeal is wrong, because it is a mere act of a creature's will, being unrequired and unsanctioned by God, in a case in which God is made a party to a certain course, which course may or may not bc agreeable to his mind (because a wish on the part of the oath-taker for punish ment, should he fail in his undertaking, or any part of the same, is an act unbecoming a frail man; unseemly in its very nature, and awful to think of when man's sinfulness and God's power are rightly apprehended); because it relaxes the general bonds of religion, and morality, and truth; (for in establishing an occasion when justice must be done, it authorizes the idea that its ob servance is not imperative on other occasions) ; and because it is founded on an essentially false view of religious obligation_; for as God sees, knows, and governs all things, and as all things so each thing, so man is bound universally to speak the truth and perform what he undet takes, bound as much in each and in all the actions of his life, as his dependence and God's sovereignty can bind a rational and accountable bcing; so that it is radically false to suppose that there is or can be anything special in the obligation of an. oath; the tendency, of which falsity is not to raise, but to degrade the character, to reduce the general standard of truth and rcctitude,to weaken the moral sense, by encouraging the idea that on special occasions, and of course on special oc casions only, truth is to be spoken and promises performed.