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lower obligation, and to employ it is an insult when the higher is fairly supposed to exist. On this principle the early church properly prohibited the clergy from taking oaths. Their word was sufficient, and there was no necessity to add the religious sanction to men dedicated to religion.

IV. As the enforcement of a promise supposes that a man is not sufficiently alive to the intrinsic obligation of goodness, and as its formal expression as an oath implies that he may also be naturally insensible to the paramount duty of religion, it is necessary in each. case that the secondary obligation be impressed upon his mind by solemnity in administering the oath; that his sense of awe, and shame, and devotion, however vague, be roused by publicity, admonition, or explanation, or preparation of some kind; and that it be recorded and kept before his eyes constantly, if possible. In all these points the administration of oaths in this country has been lamentably and criminally defective. And from this neglect have arisen chiefly the present efforts to abolish them altogether, and the mistakes as to their real value.

V. The occasions on which an oath is enforced should be rare, because it is addressed to imperfect minds; it is an appeal to feelings rather than principles, and therefore works on springs, not like the highest motives to virtue, strengthening with their daily use, but, like all other secondary excitements, liable to exhaustion and decay. Shame is perhaps the most delicate and perishable principle within us; very strong while it lasts, and lasting while it is not used too freely, but vanishing rapidly when trespassed on too roughly. Men cannot be roused too frequently to act, but they can be made to feel far too often, until the feeling is dead.

VI. As the occasions are rare, so they should be connected with some elevating and religious thoughts. Not that the name of God is profaned, as men now assert, by common use. If it were so, it would be profaned every hour in the heart and the lips of every good man. Nor that it is profaned by employment on trivial occasions, for nothing is too small to be consecrated to some high purpose of morality or religion. But it is profaned when we use it, as in the administration of oaths is too frequently done, for bad or idle purposes, for some selfish object, to save the trouble of patient investigation, to relieve ourselves from the responsibility of rightful superintendence, to remove unjustifiable doubts, or to confirm frivolous statements. From not discriminating between these and purposes strictly good, men have been accustomed to speak of many official oaths, particularly those taken by inferior officers in the universities and in certain other public bodies, as frivolous profanations of the name of God to menial and ludicrous ends; not remembering that the old system of domestic servitude under the influence of the church was at one time placed, throughout its whole extent, upon the basis of a religious relation, and consecrated by oaths;nor that a university, as a peculiarly religious institution, retains the same system, and binds all her members by a religious obligation to discharge their several duties; nor, lastly, that although externally the office of a clerk of the market may have far less dignity to the eye than the office of vice-chancellor, each in his own station has temptations as strong to resist; exercises precisely the same principles in discharging his trust faithfully; requires precisely

VOL. IX.-Oct., 1838.

52

the same views and obligations to raise and support him; is, as a moral agent, on exactly the same level, whether his fidelity is shown in fixing the price of meat, or enforcing the statutes. This, how. ever, is but another instance of our want of vision.

VII. The occasions must be such as to require a promise; that is, when either it is impossible to enforce, without it, the proper administration of a responsible power, or from any reasons it is desirable to leave a trust in irresponsible hands, unfettered by too many external restrictions; and this latter may be the case, either from a wish to allow opportunities for the exercise of moral agency, or from the necessity of establishing a principle of equity in a man's own conscience, to modify, as unforeseen exigencies may require, the strict written law, so that the latter may not destroy the spirit, nor the necessity of consulting the spirit open too wide a door for the innovation of personal caprice.

VIII. The impositions of oaths must be superintended and checked by competent authority, lest bad men should abuse their seeming and real obligation to the injury of weak minds.

IX. They should not be enforced upon the bad, because they are then futile and possess no binding power, and the violation of them brings additional guilt upon the perjurer, destroys the sanctity of an oath in the eyes of others, and in the absence of immediate retribution raises doubts of a moral government above us. Some classes of men are excluded by our laws from giving evidence; and it might, perhaps, be desirable if, instead of indiscriminately compelling all witnesses to swear, an admonition were substituted, and the oath reserved for particular occasions, at the discretion of the judge. This would at once remove one of the greatest blots in our system of oaths, arising from the notorious perjuries in some of the courts of the metropolis.

X. Upon the same principle they are highly objectionable when a strong temptation exists to violate them, either openly or by sophistry. The exact proportion of external obligation which it is expedient to lay upon the conscience is one of the most delicate problems in moral government. It must be measured with reference to the amount of strength in the internal principle of virtue, and must assist, encourage, and, as it were, provoke it to higher efforts; but not to efforts wholly beyond its reach, for fear of the consequences of failure. In this point of view, considering the tenets, nature, and position of the Romish Church, few men will doubt that whatever criminality attaches to the violation of the emancipation oath, no little culpability is fixed upon those who imposed it. And it would, perhaps, be more consonant with true ethical and political wisdom, and with the dignity of the legislature, and less destructive to national morality, and the consciences of the offending parties themselves, if the oath were now abolished, since it was found to be openly transgressed, and the legislature has not courage - enough, or honor, to punish the transgression as it deserves.

XI. We come now to the last condition, which has been before our eyes in the previous questions, and which has assumed prominent position from late discussions in the legislature, and still later regulations in both the universities of England.

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stated in a general form, the principle is self-evident. But there is in the words "impracticable and illegal" more than one ambiguity, which are likely to cause great mischief, if indeed the mischief is not done already. The decisions, on this point, of casuists, and principally of Catholic Christian authorities, (for we are treating the subject of oaths as Christians, and not as heathens,) may be briefly stated; and it will be seen that they include what is very important, the true theory of a dispensing power.

In the first place, a distinction must be drawn between cases where an illegality or impossibility is known to exist at the time when the oath is imposed, and when it is either made known or is created subsequently. In the former case we use the words of Augustin, (Epist. 125.) "Even if death be threatened, a Christian ought rather to die than swear to that which he cannot or ought not to perform." And an oath which cannot be rightfully taken, of course cannot be rightfully imposed. Upon the same principle rash oaths, or general promises, made thoughtlessly, which may chance to place us in the position of doing an illegal act, without any power of dispensation, "salvâ conscientia," are also highly culpable. To risk a sin is the next sin to its positive commission.

But the case in which the impracticability of an oath becomes known after it has been taken requires more discrimination. It must be obvious that scarcely a single promise can be made relating to future time, or in the slightest degree connected with the contingencies of human life, in which it is not possible for such a subsequent discovery to be made. We are ignorant, and must be ignorant, even after every precaution of inquiry, not only of the extent of our physical power, but of many human and even moral and divine laws. We cannot see all the remote relations in which we stand, and may stand-cannot calculate chances-cannot arrest the movements of others, or fix the conditions of our conduct-cannot foresee, or state, or provide for the hundredth part of the cases which may occur, to qualify, render void or impracticable the laws under which we propose to act. In compacts and covenants, as in every other duty of life, we must act, if we act at all, in sincerity and honesty of heart, but in very great blindness of understanding. And if we are not to act till mathematical certainty is attained, we must sit still for ever. Either, therefore, there can be no compacts and no covenants whatever, or they must be subject to certain qualifications, and accompanied with a dispensing power, placed somewhere or another. There is no middle course, because no multiplication of express limitations, no stretch of imagination to comprehend every possible contingency, not even the utmost simplicity and facility of the act promised, can put it wholly beyond the reach of some casual interference. A man may swear that the next minute he will raise his hand to his hat, but before that minute arrives his arm may be struck with palsy. Now as society cannot exist without promises and compacts, it also neces cessarily sanctions the essential conditions attached to them. Bishop Sanderson has enumerated them very clearly, and has distinctly asserted, what no man in his senses can doubt, that no formal expression of them is required to prove their necessary existence in the mind of the person who imposes the promise, nor therefore to prove their necessary

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employment by the promiser to limit the extent of his promise, without any risk of perjury. If the obstacle to the strict fulfilment be a physical law, the conscience is released by the performance of all within our power. it be a moral or religious law, then to make the engagement is a sin, and we must suffer for it; but to fulfil it is a still greater sin, and is therefore prohibited. If it be a great practical inconvenience, by which one part of a promise interferes with another, the higher end must be preferred to the lower, the spirit to the letter. If it be human legislation, supposing the law to have existed previous to the promise, it ought not to have been resisted, and therefore the promise is void; but the conscience can only be cleared by fulfilling in some other shape so much of it as is lawful. But if the law be made subsequent to the promise, as in any law now passed by the parliament prohibiting obedience to collegiate statutes, then will come in the comparison between the duty of performing the promise, and the duty of obedience to the laws. And as all laws and all obedience derive their obligation from the laws of God, it will be necessary to direct our conduct by the simple principles of religion. If our conscience recognizes in the laws of the land the laws of God, it is justified in submitting to the proposed limitation or alteration in the promise. And thus the members of colleges consented to the abrogation of so much of their oaths as bound them to popish practices. But if not, then the duty is obvious to give up all the personal advantages which we obtained by the promise, and, as we can no longer fulfil it without disobedience, or depart from it without a sin, to place those persons to whom it was taken as nearly as possible in their original position, without becoming ourselves parties to any infraction of their wishes. It is obvious that on this principle any perversion of ecclesiastical institutions to any purposes but those of the church must be followed by the resignation or expulsion of all their conscientious members.

But in every one of these cases it is evident that the last decision, on the impracticability or inexpediency, rests with the conscience of the party who makes the promise. If this is not the final appeal, there can be no need of a promise, for a promise is only imposed as the last moral check, where all other checks must terminate. And it is also absolutely necessary, that in making its decision the conscience should be regulated by two principles: the first, to take a rule of interpretation, and a sanction for any relaxation of the strict letter of the compact, not from its own momentary feeling, but from some unbiased, external, and independent authority-from long precedent-from the conduct of others-from the opinions of sound and disinterested judges. The second principle is, to choose for the most part that interpretation which is accompanied with the greatest personal sacrifice. When these two rules have been observed, the conscience is wholly relieved.

It is surely needless to remark, that no doctrine can be more remote than this from the principles of Popery. There the dispensing power is vested, not in the conscience of the individuals, checked by, and harmonizing with, the decision of rightful interpreters of God's will, but in the judgment of the so called church alone, and that judgment but another word for its selfish and criminal interests. In the theory of oaths, as in every other question, we may trace the

respective principles of Popery, dissent, and of the true catholic Christianity of the English Church. Dissent gives absolute power to the unbridled fancy of the individual. Popery subjects it servilely and blindly to the will of another. Catholic Christianity calls on it to act, and to act manfully and energetically, but with constant and reverential deference to right authorities, and with distrust of its own imaginations.

Why the necessity of this dispensing power in the human conscience renders it equally necessary to convert a promise to man into a promise to and in the presence of God-in other words, into an oath-will appear by some subsequent observations.

XII. But having stated that neither promises nor oaths can be rightly enforced where the fulfilment of them is impracticable, it is necessary here also to guard against another dangerous ambiguity in this word. It means, first, what is impracticable even to a perfect man-one as nearly perfect, that is, as man may be; and, secondly, what is unfulfilled solely from our moral defects, from our not choosing to fulfil it. In the former sense, a promise or oath to do what is impracticable is an absurdity, and a mockery of God. In the latter sense, it is at times absolutely necessary: it is absolutely necessary to lay down general laws for moral agents, which we cannot hope they will wholly perform; absolutely necessary to surround them with the highest moral influences, which we know will very often fail of effect; and absolutely necessary, in certain conditions, to make men promise, and promise in the presence of God, to do that which is never likely to be done by any one with the infirmities of a man. This will sound paradoxical, but it is still true. The mere existence of Christianity is the best evidence of its truth. And the explanation lies here.

It very often happens that it is right and necessary to enforce, and enforce by a promise, obedience not only to one particular act, but to a variety of laws. Whenever a complicated trust is formed, particularly if it embraces a number of persons, and is to continue permanent for years, this must happen, and it must be permitted, otherwise no such trusts can be framed, and the most valuable institutions in the country will be lost. But a system of general laws, by their very nature, and from the nature of man, must be liable, even under the best intention, to occasional neglect and infraction. Exact obedience, therefore, is a moral impossibility, and no one can expect it. But yet it must be demanded, and demanded to specific laws; otherwise there is no security whatever for the fulfilment of the trust. What must we do? Not abolish the promise; not annihilate the trust, and with it all its uses; but contrive with the promise to connect provisions which, while they leave the law of obedience perfect, may secure relief to the conscience for accidental or necessary infractions.

In all such systems of laws provisions of this kind are found. No man wise enough to be a legislator could be ignorant enough to omit them. They are to be found on a very grand scale both in the Levitical and the Christian law; and, in our own civil institutions, one of the most useful is the conversion of a promise into an oath. The problem, in fact, here is the same with the great problem of all moral education applied to frail and imperfect beings. It is to reconcile the greatest fear with the greatest safety-the strongest obligation

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