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Summa Theologica
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Whether all perjury is sinful?

Objection 1: It would seem that not all perjury is sinful. Whoever does not fulfil what he has confirmed on oath is seemingly a perjurer. Yet sometimes a man swears he will do something unlawful (adultery, for instance, or murder): and if he does it, he commits a sin. If therefore he would commit a sin even if he did it not, it would follow that he is perplexed.

Objection 2: Further, no man sins by doing what is best. Yet sometimes by committing a perjury one does what is best: as when a man swears not to enter religion, or not to do some kind of virtuous deed. Therefore not all perjury is sinful.

Objection 3: Further, he that swears to do another's will would seem to be guilty of perjury unless he do it. Yet it may happen sometimes that he sins not, if he do not the man's will: for instance, if the latter order him to do something too hard and unbearable. Therefore seemingly not all perjury is sinful.

Objection 4: Further, a promissory oath extends to future, just as a declaratory oath extends to past and present things. Now the obligation of an oath may be removed by some future occurrence: thus a state may swear to fulfil some obligation, and afterwards other citizens come on the scene who did not take the oath; or a canon may swear to keep the statutes of a certain church, and afterwards new statutes are made. Therefore seemingly he that breaks an oath does not sin.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Verb. Apost. Jacobi; Serm. cxxx), in speaking of perjury: "See how you should detest this horrible beast and exterminate it from all human business."

I answer that, As stated above (Q[89], A[1]), to swear is to call God as witness. Now it is an irreverence to God to call Him to witness to a falsehood, because by so doing one implies either that God ignores the truth or that He is willing to bear witness to a falsehood. Therefore perjury is manifestly a sin opposed to religion, to which it belongs to show reverence to God.

Reply to Objection 1: He that swears to do what is unlawful is thereby guilty of perjury through lack of justice: though, if he fails to keep his oath, he is not guilty of perjury in this respect, since that which he swore to do was not a fit matter of an oath.

Reply to Objection 2: A person who swears not to enter religion, or not to give an alms, or the like, is guilty of perjury through lack of judgment. Hence when he does that which is best it is not an act of perjury, but contrary thereto: for the contrary of that which he is doing could not be a matter of an oath.

Reply to Objection 3: When one man swears or promises to do another's will, there is to be understood this requisite condition---that the thing commanded be lawful and virtuous, and not unbearable or immoderate.

Reply to Objection 4: An oath is a personal act, and so when a man becomes a citizen of a state, he is not bound, as by oath, to fulfil whatever the state has sworn to do. Yet he is bound by a kind of fidelity, the nature of which obligation is that he should take his share of the state's burdens if he takes a share of its goods.

The canon who swears to keep the statutes that have force in some particular "college" is not bound by his oath to keep any that may be made in the future, unless he intends to bind himself to keep all, past and future. Nevertheless he is bound to keep them by virtue of the statutes themselves, since they are possessed of coercive force, as stated above (FS, Q[96], A[4]).

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