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Oaths are either statements of fact or promises calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually their god, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow. Those who conscientiously object to making an oath will often make an affirmation instead. The essence of a divine oath is an invocation of divine agency to be a guarantor of the oath taker's own honesty and integrity in the matter under question. By implication, this invokes divine displeasure if the oath taker fails in their sworn duties. It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one's duty, such as in testimony to the facts of the matter in a court of law.


  • It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.
    • Aeschylus, Frag. 385, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • I will not disgrace my sacred arms
    Nor desert my comrade, wherever
    I am stationed.
    I will fight for things sacred
    And things profane.
    And both alone and with all to help me.
    I will transmit my fatherland not diminished
    But greater and better than before.
    I will obey the ruling magistrates
    Who rule reasonably
    And I will observe the established laws
    And whatever laws in the future
    May be reasonably established.
    any person seek to overturn the laws,
    Both alone and with all to help me,
    I will oppose him.
    I will honor the religion of my fathers.
    call to witness the Gods …
    The borders of my fatherland,
    The wheat, the barley, the vines,
    And the trees of the olive and the fig.
    • Athenian Ephebic Oath (translated by Clarence A. Forbes); reported in Fletcher Harper Swift, The Athenian Ephebic Oath of Allegiance in American Schools and Colleges, University of California Publications in Education (1947), vol. 11, no. 1, p. 4.
  • Oaths were not purpos'd, more than law,
    To keep the Good and Just in awe,
    But to confine the Bad and Sinful,
    Like mortal cattle in a penfold.
  • He that imposes an Oath makes it,
    Not he that for Convenience takes it.
    Then how can any man be said
    To break an oath he never made?
  • I will take my corporal oath on it.
  • Juravi lingua, mentem injuratam gero.
    • I have sworn with my tongue, but my mind is unsworn.
    • Cicero, De Officiis (44 B.C.), III. 29.
  • In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.
  • They fix attention, heedless of your pain,
    With oaths like rivets forced into the brain;
    And e'en when sober truth prevails throughout,
    They swear it, till affirmance breeds a doubt.
  • And hast thou sworn on every slight, pretence,
    Till perjuries are common as bad pence,
    While thousands, careless of the damning sin,
    Kiss the book's outside, who ne'er look'd within?
    • William Cowper, Expostulation, line 384; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 563.
  • ἡ γλῶσσ᾽ ὀμώμοχ᾽, ἡ δὲ φρὴν ἀνώμοτος
    • My tongue swore, but my mind is not on oath.
      • Euripides, Hippolytus, (translated by David Kovacs), (428 B.C.), line 612.
  • There is no constitutional or legal requirement that the President shall take the oath of office in the presence of the people, but there is so manifest an appropriateness in the public induction to office of the chief executive officer of the nation that from the beginning of the Government the people, to whose service the official oath consecrates the officer, have been called to witness the solemn ceremonial. The oath taken in the presence of the people becomes a mutual covenant. The officer covenants to serve the whole body of the people by a faithful execution of the laws, so that they may be the unfailing defense and security of those who respect and observe them, and that neither wealth, station, nor the power of combinations shall be able to evade their just penalties or to wrest them from a beneficent public purpose to serve the ends of cruelty or selfishness.
  • I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
  • In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.
  • Between 1525 and 1800 more than two hundred decrees were issued by various European governments denouncing the Anabaptists. These denunciations were often based on the Anabaptist position that conscious adult believers should be baptized and not unknowing infants. But they were also denounced for their refusal to bear arms. Like the early Christians, their refusal extended to any participation in the state. They also refused to swear oaths, including oaths of allegiance, a stand that can be traced at least as far back as the Cathars. In the Middle Ages oaths had been essential to the warrior code, and rejecting them was rejecting war. Today oaths seem less important, and most contemporaries never swear an oath. But Americans are still required as young children to pledge allegiance to the flag, one of the first steps in conditioning young Americans for war. This assertion can be easily tested: denounced the saying of the pledge of allegiance and see if the people who are outraged are not the same people who promote war.
  • I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations and with no purpose to construe the Constitution by any hypercritical rules.
  • You can have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government; while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend" it.
  • He that sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.
  • Trust none;
    For oaths are straws, men's faiths are wafer-cakes,
    And hold-fast is the only dog.
  • I write a woman's oaths in water.
    • Sophocles, Fragment, 694; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 564.
  • I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
    • Oath of Office, United States Code (1982 ed.), vol. 1, title 5, section 3331, p. 538. This oath is taken by any individual, except the president, "elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services".

Quran and Hadith

  • Quran (66:2) - "Allah has already ordained for you the dissolution of your oaths..."
  • Quran (2:225) - "Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts".
  • Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths ye have sworn. But keep to your oaths. Thus doth Allah make clear to you His signs, that ye may be grateful.
    • Quran 5:89
  • So we returned to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! We asked you for mounts, but you took an oath that you would not give us any mounts; we think that you have forgotten your oath.' He said, 'It is Allah Who has given you mounts. By Allah, and Allah willing, if I take an oath and later find something else better than that. then I do what is better and expiate my oath.' "
    • Sahih Bukhari 7:67:427
  • If you ever take an oath to do something and later on you find that something else is better, then you should expiate your oath and do what is better."
    • Sahih Bukhari 9:89:260
  • So far as I am concerned, by Allah, if He so wills, I would not swear, but if, later on, I would see better than it, I (would break the vow) and expiate it and do that which is better.
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4044
  • Abu Huraira reported: A person sat late in the night with Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him), and then came to his family and found that his children had gone to sleep. His wife brought food for him. but he took an oath that he would not eat because of his children (having gone to sleep without food) He then gave precedence (of breaking the vow and then expiating it) and ate the food He then came to Allah s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and made mention of that to him, whereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace he upon him) said: He who took an oath and (later on) found something better than that should do that, and expiate for (breaking) his vow.
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4052
  • Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: He who took an oath and then found another thing better than (this) should expiate for the oath (broken) by him and do (the better thing).
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4053
  • Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: He who took an oath and (later on) found another thing better than that, he should do that which is better, and expiate for the vow (broken by him).
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4054
  • This hadith is narrated on the authority of Suhail with the same chain of transmitters (with these words): "He should expiate for (breaking) the vow and do that which is better."
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4055
  • 'Adi reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: When anyone amongst you takes an oath, but he finds (something) better than that he should expiate (the breaking of the oath), and do that which is better.
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4058
  • Abd al-Rahman b. Samura reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to me: Abd al-Rahman b. Samura, don't ask for authority for if it is granted to you for asking for it, you would be commissioned for it (without having the support of Allah), but if you are granted it without your asking for it. You would be helped (by Allah) in it. And when you take an oath and find something else better than that, expiate for (breaking) your oath, and do that which is better. This hadith has also been transmitted on the authority of Ibn Farrukh.
    • Sahih Muslim 15:4062

See also

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