The Second Commandment
Thou Shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in Vain

His name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.--LUKE ii. 21.

The sublime dignity of the name of our Saviour is indicated in the words of today's Gospel which show that it was conceived in heaven by God, and announced on earth by an angel. Such an origin and such announcement were indeed fitting the name of Him who was in reality not only man, but also God Himself. As we owe to the Person of God all respect, and all homage, so do we owe His name the highest reverence of which we are capable. Unfortunately, however, in these days the name of God is only too often dishonored; and it is needful, therefore, at this time that we should meditate on the second Commandment, and recall our duties towards God's holy name.

I. What the second Commandment requires, 1. This precept demands that due reverence be given to all the names by which God is designated. 2. We honor God's name in the following ways: (a) by publicly acknowledging Him as our Lord and Master; (b) by respectfully hearing and meditating on His word; (c) by praising and thanking Him both in adversity and prosperity; (d) by imploring His assistance; (e) by the taking of lawful oaths and vows. 3. An oath is the calling on God to witness the truth of what one says or promises. To be lawful an oath must have the following qualities: (a) the one swearing must affirm what he believes to be true, or must promise what he intends to fulfill; (b) it must be taken with judgment, i.e., it must be made prudently and in a serious manner; (c) it must be just, i.e., one must never affirm or promise under oath what is unlawful, e.g., to steal; an unjust oath not only does not oblige, but it would be a sin to keep it. 4. That it is lawful to take oaths under proper conditions is clear both from the teaching of Scripture, and from the fact that an oath is a profession of faith in God and promotes justice and peace among men. Our Lord reproved the practice of the Jews of taking oaths on trivial occasions and without necessity, but He did not forbid taking necessary oaths. 5. The second Commandment requires that we keep our lawful oaths and vows. 6. A vow is a deliberate promise made to God regarding something which is good, within our power, and better than its opposite, and to the keeping of which we bind ourselves under pain of sin.

II. What the second Commandment forbids. I. The irreverent use of the name of God or of any holy thing, especially in a cursing and blasphemous manner, i.e., when one wishes evil to or speaks contemptuously of God or sacred things. 2. Perjury or the taking of a false oath. 3. This precept is also violated by swearing to do that which is seriously wrong, by swearing without sufficient reason or by false gods, by disrespectfully using the words of Scriptures, or by failing to keep our lawful vows. 4. Cursing, i.e., the calling down of evil on any of God's creatures; and profanity, i.e., speaking lightly of holy things.

CONCLUSION, 1. The second Commandment is the only one which is accompanied by a threat, and this shows us how hateful to God are the sins which violate it. The perjurer and blasphemer have often been visibly punished in this world. 2. Those who have habituated themselves to the use of cursing and blasphemous language should not hold themselves free from grievous sin, unless they are manfully striving to overcome those habits. A proof that one can refrain from profanity, cursing, blasphemy, and the like, is that he never uses such language in the presence of ladies, employers, or any decent company. 3. Profanity and blasphemy are the language of hell, as praise and glorification of God's name are the language of heaven. Let us practice now the speech we hope to use for eternity. 4. In order to make reparation for blasphemy let us always say the Divine Praises after Benediction or Mass with great devotion.

Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part III
Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.(1)


The second Commandment is necessarily comprised in the first, which commands us to worship God in piety and holiness. For he who requires that honor be paid him, also requires that he be spoken of with reverence and must forbid the contrary, according to these words of the Lord in Malachy: "The son honoreth the father, and the servant his master; if then I be a father, where is my honor?"(2) However, on account of the importance of the obligation which it imposes. God wished to make the law, which commands His name to be honored, a distinct Commandment, and this He did in the clearest and simplest terms.


This observation should convince the pastor that on this point it is not enough to speak in general terms; that the importance of the subject is such as to require it to be dwelt upon at considerable length, and to be explained to the faithful in all its bearings with distinctness, clearness, and accuracy.(3)

This diligence on the part of the pastor cannot be deemed superfluous, since there are not wanting those who are so blinded by the darkness of error as not to dread to blaspheme His name, whom the angels glorify. Men are not deterred by the Commandment of God from shamefully and daringly outraging His divine majesty every day, or rather every hour and moment of the day. Who is ignorant that every assertion is accompanied with an oath? that every conversation teems with curses and imprecations? To such lengths has this impiety been carried, that there is scarcely anyone who buys, or sells, or transacts ordinary business of any sort, without having recourse to swearing, and who, even in matters the most unimportant and trivial, does not profane the most holy name of God thousands of times. It therefore becomes more imperative on the pastor, not to neglect, carefully and frequently to admonish the faithful how grievous and detestable is this crime.


But in the exposition of this Commandment the pastor will show that besides a negative, it also contains a positive precept commanding the performance of a duty, and will give to each a separate exposition.

In the first place, to facilitate the explanation of these matters it is necessary to know what the precept commands and what it prohibits. It commands us to honor the name of God, and when solemnly appealing to Him by an oath, to do so with due reverence. It prohibits us to contemn the divine name, to take it in vain, or swear by it falsely, unnecessarily, or rashly. When therefore we are commanded to honor the name of God, the command, as the pastor will show, is not directed to the letters or syllables of which that name is composed, or in any respect to the mere name; but to the meaning of a word used to express the Omnipotent and Eternal Majesty of the Godhead, Trinity in Unity. Hence we at once perceive the superstition of those among the Jews who, whilst they hesitated not to write, dared not to pronounce the name of God, as if the divine power consisted in the four letters of the name and not in the signification of the name.

Although in this Commandment the word "name" is expressed in the singular number, "Thou shall not take the name of God," this is not to be understood to refer to any one name, but to every name by which God is generally designated. For He is called by many names, such as "the Lord," "the Almighty," "the Lord of Hosts," "the King of Kings," "the Strong," and by others of similar nature which we meet in Scripture, and which are all entitled to the same veneration.


The pastor will also teach how the name of God is to be honored. Christians, whose tongues should every day celebrate the divine praises, are not to be ignorant of a matter so important, indeed so necessary to salvation. The name of God may be honored in a variety of ways; but all may be reduced to the following heads.

In the first place. God's name is honored when we openly and confidently confess Him to be our Lord and our God; and when we acknowledge and also proclaim Christ to be the author of our salvation.

It is also honored when we pay a religious attention to His word, which announces to us His sovereign will; make it the subject of our daily meditation; and strive by reading or hearing it, according to our respective capacities and conditions of life, to become acquainted with it.

Again, we honor and venerate the name of God, when from a sense of religious duty we celebrate His praises, and under all circumstances, whether prosperous or adverse, return Him unbounded thanks. Thus spoke the prophet: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all he hath done for thee." * Among the Psalms of David there are many, in which, animated with singular piety towards God, the Psalmist chants in sweetest strains the divine praises. We have also the admirable example of Job, who, when visited with the heaviest and most appalling calamities, never ceased, with lofty and unconquered soul, to give praise to God. When, therefore, we labor under affliction of mind or body, when oppressed by misery and misfortune, let us instantly direct all our thoughts, and all the powers of our souls, to the praises of God, saying with Job: "Blessed be the name of the Lord."(5)

The name of God is not less honored when we confidently invoke His assistance, either to relieve us from our afflictions, or to give us constancy and strength to endure them with fortitude. This is in accordance with His own wishes: "Call upon me," He says "in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."(6) We have illustrious examples of such supplications in many passages of Scripture, and especially in the sixteenth, forty-third, and one hundred and eighteenth Psalms.

Finally, we honor the name of God when we solemnly call upon Him to witness the truth of what we assert. This mode of honoring God's name differs much from those already enumerated. Those means are in their own nature so good, so desirable, that our days and nights could not be more happily or more holily spent than in such practices of piety. "I will bless the Lord at all times," says David, "his praise shall be always in my mouth."(7) Oaths, on the other hand, although in themselves lawful, should not be used often.


The reason of this difference is that oaths have been instituted only as remedies to human frailty, and a necessary means of establishing the truth of what we assert. As it is inexpedient to have recourse to medicine, unless when it becomes necessary, and as its frequent use is most pernicious; so, with regard to oaths, we should never recur to them, unless when there is a weighty and just cause, and frequent recurrence to them, far from being advantageous, is on the contrary highly prejudicial. Hence the excellent observation of St. Chrysostom: "Oaths were introduced among men, not at the beginning of the world, but long after; when vice had spread far and wide over the earth; when all things were disturbed and universal confusion reigned throughout; when, to complete human depravity, almost all mankind debased the dignity of their nature by prostrating themselves in degrading servitude to idols. Then only was it that the custom of oaths was introduced. For the perfidy and wickedness of men was so great that it was with difficulty that man could be induced to credit the assertion of his fellowman, and it was necessary to call God to witness the truth of each one's statements."(8)


Since in explaining this part of the Commandment our chief object is to teach the faithful the conditions necessary to render an oath reverential and holy, it is first to be observed, that to swear, whatever the form of words may be, is nothing else than to call God to witness; thus to say, "God is my witness," and "by God," mean one and the same thing.

To swear by creatures, such as the holy Gospels, the cross, the names or relics of the saints, and so on, in order to prove our statements, is another way of taking an oath. Of themselves, it is true, such objects give no weight or authority to an oath; it derives its obligation from God, whose divine majesty shines forth in them. Hence to swear by the Gospel is to swear by God Himself, whose word is contained and revealed in the Gospel. This holds equally true with regard to those who swear by the saints, who are the temples of God, who believed the truth of His Gospel, were faithful to its dictates, and diffused its doctrines among the remotest nations of the earth.

This is also true of oaths uttered by way of execration, such as that of St. Paul: "I call God to witness upon my soul."(9) By this form of oath we subject ourselves to God as the avenger of falsehood. We do not, however, deny that some of these forms may be used without constituting an oath; but even in such cases it will be found useful to observe what has been said with regard to an oath, and to regulate such forms by the same rule and standard.


Oaths are of two kinds. The first is an affirmatory oath and is taken when we religiously affirm anything, past or present; such was the affirmation of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Galatians: "Behold, before God, I lie not."(10) The second kind of oath, to which comminations may be reduced, is called promissory. It looks to the future, and is taken when we promise and affirm for certain that such or such a thing will be done. Such was the oath of David, who swore to Bethsabee his wife, by the Lord his God, that Solomon, his son, should be heir to his kingdom and successor to his throne.(11)


Although to constitute an oath it is sufficient to call God to witness, yet to constitute a holy and just oath many other conditions are required; and these it is the duty of the pastor carefully to explain. The other conditions, as St. Jerome observes,(12) are briefly enumerated in these words of the prophet Jeremias: "Thou shalt swear: as the Lord liveth, in truth and in judgment, and in justice."(13) These words briefly sum up all the conditions, which constitute the perfection of an oath--truth, judgment, justice.


Truth, then, holds the first place in an oath. What is asserted must be true and he who swears must believe what he swears to be true, founding his conviction not upon rash grounds or vain conjecture, but upon motives of undoubted credibility.

Truth is a condition not less necessary, as is clear, in a promissory than in an affirmatory oath. He who promises must be disposed to perform and fulfill his promise at the appointed time. As no conscientious man will promise to do what he considers opposed to the most holy Commandments and will of God; so, having promised and sworn to do what is lawful, he will never fail to adhere to his engagement, unless, perhaps, change of circumstances should so alter the complexion of the case, that he could not stand to his promise without incurring the displeasure and enmity of God. That truth is necessary to a lawful oath David also declares in these words: "He that sweareth to his neighbor, and deceiveth not."(14)


The second condition of an oath is judgment. An oath is not to be taken rashly and inconsiderately, but after mature deliberation and calm reflection. When about to take an oath, therefore, we should first consider whether it be or be not necessary, and whether the case, if well weighed, be of sufficient importance to demand an oath. Many other circumstances of time, place, etc., are also to be taken into consideration; and in taking an oath we should never be influenced by love or hatred, or any other passion, but by the nature and necessity of the case.

Unless this careful consideration and reflection precede, an oath must be rash and hasty; and of this character are the irreligious affirmations of those, who, on the most unimportant and trifling occasions, swear without thought or reason from the influence of bad habit alone. This is but too prevalent among buyers and sellers. The latter, to sell at the highest price, the former to purchase at the cheapest rate, make no scruple to strengthen with an oath their praise or dispraise of the goods on sale.

Since, therefore, judgment and prudence are necessary, and since children are not able, on account of their tender years, to understand and judge accurately, Pope St. Cornelius decreed that an oath should not be administered to children before puberty, that is before their fourteenth year.


The third and last condition of an oath is justice; a condition which is especially requisite in promissory oaths. Hence, if a person swear to do what is unjust or unlawful, he sins by taking the oath, and adds sin to sin by executing his promise. Of this the Gospel supplies an example. King Herod, bound by a rash oath, gave to a dancing girl the head of John the Baptist as a reward for her dancing.(15) Such was also the oath taken by the Jews, who, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, bound themselves by oath not to eat, until they had killed Paul.(16)


These explanations being borne in mind, there can be no doubt that they who observe the above conditions and who guard their oaths with these qualities as with bulwarks, may swear with a safe conscience.(17)

This is easily established by many proofs. For the law of God, which is pure and holy, commands such an oath to be taken: "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt serve him only, and thou shalt swear by his name."(18) "All they," says David, "shall be praised that swear by him."(19)

The Scriptures also inform us that the Apostles, the lights of the Church, sometimes made use of oaths, as appears from the Epistles of St. Paul.(20)

Even the angels sometimes swear. "The angel," says St. John in his Apocalypse, "swore by him who lives for ever." (21) In fine, God Himself, the Lord of angels, swears and, as we read in many passages of the Old Testament, has confirmed His promises with an oath. This He did to Abraham and to David.(22) Of the oath sworn by the Almighty David says: "The Lord hath sworn, and He will not repent: thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech."(23)

In fact, if we consider the matter attentively and in all its bearings, and examine the origin and purpose of an oath, it can be no difficult matter to explain the reasons why it is a laudable act. An oath has its origin in faith, by which we believe God to be the author of all truth, who cannot deceive or be deceived, "to whose eyes all things are naked and open,"(24) who, in fine, superintends in an admirable manner all human affairs, whose providence governs the world. Filled with this faith we appeal to God as a witness of the truth, as a witness whom it would be wicked and impious to distrust.

With regard to the end of an oath, its scope and intent is to establish the justice and innocence of man, and to terminate disputes and contests. This is the doctrine of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews.(25)

Nor does this doctrine at all clash with these words of the Redeemer, recorded in St. Matthew: "You have heard that it was said to them of old; thou shalt not forswear thyself, but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord; but I say to you not to swear at all; neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; neither by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor 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 speech be yea, yea: no, no; and that which is over and above these is of evil." (26)

It cannot be asserted that these words condemn oaths universally and under all circumstances; since we have already seen that the Apostles and even our Lord Himself made frequent use of them. The object of the Redeemer was rather to reprove the perverse opinion of the Jews, that the only thing to be avoided in an oath was a lie. Hence even on the most trivial occasions they did not hesitate to make frequent use of oaths, and to exact them from others. This practice the Redeemer condemns and reprobates, and teaches that an oath is never to be taken, unless necessity require it. The reason of this is that oaths have been instituted as remedies for human frailty. They are signs either of the inconstancy of him who takes them, or of the obstinacy of him who refuses to believe without them. Thus an oath has its source in the corruption of our nature, and can be justified by necessity alone.

When our Lord says: "Let your speech be yea, yea; no, no,"(27) He evidently forbids the habit of swearing in familiar conversation and on trivial matters. He therefore admonishes us particularly against an habitual propensity to swearing; and this admonition the pastor will impress deeply and repeatedly on the minds of the faithful. That countless evils grow out of the unrestrained habit of swearing is proved by the evidence of Scripture, and the testimony of the holy Fathers. Thus we read in Ecclesiasticus: "Let not thy mouth be accustomed to swearing, for in it there are many falls";(28) and again: "A man that sweareth much shall be filled with iniquity, and a scourge shall not depart from his house."(29) In the works of St. Basil and St. Augustine against lying, much more can be found on this subject.(30)


So far we have considered what this Commandment requires, not what it prohibits. By the Second Commandment we are forbidden to take the name of God in vain. It is clear that he who swears rashly and without deliberation commits a grave sin. That this is a most serious sin these words declare: "Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain." In these words the Almighty would seem. to assign the reason why a rash oath is so grievous a crime; namely, that it derogates from the majesty of Him whom we profess to recognize as our Lord and our God. This Commandment, therefore, forbids to swear falsely, because he who does not hesitate to appeal to God to witness falsehood, offers a grievous injury to God, charging Him either with ignorance, as though the truth could be concealed from His all-seeing eye, or with malice and dishonesty, as though God could bear testimony to falsehood.

Among false swearers are to be numbered not only those who affirm as true what they know to be false, but also those who swear to what is really true, believing it to be false.(31) The essence of a lie consists in speaking contrary to one's belief and conviction; and such persons, therefore, as swear to what they believe to be false, are evidently guilty of a lie, and therefore of perjury.

On the same principle, he who swears to that which he thinks to be true, but which is really false, also incurs the guilt of perjury, unless he has used proper care and diligence to arrive at the truth. Although he swears according to his belief, he nevertheless sins against this Commandment.

Again he who binds himself by oath to the performance of anything, not intending to fulfill his promise, or, having had the intention, neglects its performance, is also guilty of perjury. This equally applies to those who, having bound themselves to God by vow, neglect its fulfillment.

This Commandment is also violated, if justice, which is one of the three conditions of an oath, be wanting. Hence he who swears to commit a mortal sin, for example, to perpetrate murder, violates this Commandment, although he should have really intended to commit the crime, and his oath should have possessed what we before pointed out as a necessary condition of every oath, that is, truth.

To these are to be added oaths sworn through a sort of contempt, such as an oath not to observe the Evangelical counsels of celibacy and poverty. None, it is true, are obliged to embrace these counsels, but by swearing not to observe them, one contemns and despises them.

This Commandment is also sinned against, and the second condition of an oath, which is "judgment," is violated by swearing on slight grounds and mere conjecture, even though what is sworn be true, and believed to be true by him who swears. For notwithstanding its truth, such an oath is not unmixed with a sort of falsehood, seeing that he who swears with such indifference exposes himself to extreme danger of perjury.

To swear by false gods is likewise to swear falsely. What more opposed to truth than to appeal to lying and false deities as to the true God?(32)

Scripture, when it prohibits perjury says: "Thou shall not profane the name of thy God," (33) thereby forbidding all irreverence not only to His name, but also to those things to which, in accordance with this Commandment, reverence is due. Of this nature is the Word of God, the majesty of which has been recognized and revered not only by the pious, but also sometimes by the impious, as we read in Judges of Eglon, king of the Moabites.(34) But he who, to support heresy and impiety, distorts the Sacred Scriptures from their genuine and true meaning, is guilty of the most flagrant irreverence towards the Divine Word; and of this we are admonished by these words of the prince of the Apostles: "There are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."(35)

It is also a shameful irreverence of the Scripture, to pervert the words and sentences which it contains, and which should be mentioned with due reverence, to some profane purpose, such as scurrility, fable, vanity, flattery, detraction, superstition, satire, and the like. Such profanation of the Divine Word the Council of Trent commands to be severely reprehended.(36)

In the next place, as they honor God who, in their affliction implore His help, so they, who invoke not His aid, deny Him due honor; and these David rebukes when he says: "They have not called upon the Lord, they trembled for fear where there was no fear."(37)

Still more enormous is the guilt of those who, with impure and impious lips, dare to curse or blaspheme the holy name of God, that name which is to be blessed and praised above measure by all His creatures, or even the names of the Saints who reign with Him in glory. So atrocious and horrible is this crime that the Sacred Scriptures, sometimes when speaking of blasphemy use the word "blessing."(38)** The expression to bless here is a euphemism meaning to bid farewell to, to neglect, to curse.


As, however, the dread of punishment has often a powerful effect in checking the tendency to sin, the pastor, in order the more effectively to move the minds of men and the more easily to induce to an observance of this Commandment, will diligently explain the remaining words, which are, as it were, its appendix, and which run thus: "FOR THE LORD WILL NOT HOLD HIM GUILTLESS THAT SHALL TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD HIS GOD IN VAIN." (39)

In the first place the pastor will teach that with very good reason has God joined threats to this Commandment. For we are thus taught at once the grievousness of sin and the goodness displayed in our regard by a beneficent God, who, far from desiring the death of the sinner, deters us by these salutary threats from incurring His severity, doubtless in order that we may experience His kindness rather than His anger. The pastor will urge this consideration with indefatigable earnestness, in order that the faithful may be made sensible of the grievousness of the crime, may detest it still more, and may employ increased care and caution to avoid its commission.

He will also observe how prone Christians are to this sin; since it was not sufficient to give the command, but also necessary to accompany it with threats. The advantages to be derived from this thought are indeed incredible; for as nothing is more injurious than a listless security, so the knowledge of our own weakness is attended with the most salutary consequences.

He will next observe that the punishment, which awaits the violation of this Commandment, is not fixed and determinate. The threat is general: it declares that he who is guilty of the violation shall not escape unpunished. The chastisements, therefore, with which we are every day visited, should impress this crime upon our minds. It is easy to conjecture that men are afflicted with heavy calamities because they violate this Commandment. This thought should inspire greater caution for the future.

Deterred, therefore, by a holy dread, the faithful should use every exertion to avoid this sin. If "for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account on the day of judgment," what shall we say of those heinous crimes which involve great contempt of the divine name?

Sermon: The Holy Name of God
by the Rev. G. Lee; C.S.SP.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.--MATT. vi. 9.

To be right-minded in religious matters is to view them as did our Lord, for He is the wisdom of God. Even as man He is altogether full of grace and understanding; and as He is explicitly our Way, our Truth, and our Life, there can be no value m the directions, standards, tendencies which we adopt, unless they are modeled and measured on Him. He is, of course, the sovereign exemplar in all His acts and words; yet there are special points which may be taken as peculiarly illustrative of His great lesson. His devotion to His Father's name is characteristic. He most lovingly revered it, most watchfully honored it, most filially championed it. We see that He makes it the first duty of all who would pray aright, the first obligation of all His worshiping brethren, to seek that God's name be sanctified: Hallowed be thy name! And when His own prayer is bursting into the final vehemence of its suffering appeal, the words are: "Father, glorify thy name" (John xii. 28). He even seems to sum up all His labors, all His teaching and ministry, in this one thing: "I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world" (Ib. xvii. 6).

His Church, following, as she always does, in His footsteps, keeps this devotion to the divine name in the very forefront of her doctrine and practice. It is like an abridgment of her liturgy and life. From the early hour at which she baptizes us in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to the last moment when she blesses us in that same name, this devotion is communicated to us by every movement of her lips and by every touch of her hand.

The name of God can evidently be taken for God--as Holy Scripture often takes it--and then devotion to it is simply all religion. But to the pronouncing, the hearing, the ordinary verbal use of it, there attaches and has always attached an immensity of special obligation and special worship. Men may use it well, and they may use it ill; our duty in the matter can be brought before us under the three terms: Reverence, respect, love.


Reverence for the name of God is so embedded both in nature and grace, that if its claims are at all understood they are immediately admitted. To name a person is to bring him up before us; and the person named God is our Creator; hence our infinite and infinitely worshipful Master. There is not an atom of our being, either bodily or spiritual, that should not, spontaneously, at the sound of that name cry out, "Lord!" The Psalmist is but voicing the creature's true apostrophe when he exclaims: "O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!" (Ps. viii); and the same creature's necessary reflection should be: "Holy and terrible is his name" (Ps. cx).

With earliest revelation there comes the impressive fact that the Sovereign Being's true name cannot be pronounced by men nor given to them. It is tremblingly represented by four mysterious characters to which the High Priest, when in the Temple, may give awestruck sound: other worshipers must reverently use substitutes for the ineffable word. The great fear of desecrating God's name, implied in this practice, had undeniably an abiding influence on the speech and also on the thought of the people. When their all-holy Lord was recalled to them they instantly bowed their heads and restrained their tongues. If other idle words were not blameless, surely the idle pronouncing of so awful a name could not escape condemnation. In what is styled "the discipline of the mouth," their wise men instructed the Jews not to let "the naming of God be usual" with them, nor to "be accustomed to swearing"; for "everyone that sweareth, and nameth, shall not be wholly pure from sin." And "a man that sweareth much shall be filled with iniquity; and a scourge shall not depart from his house" (Ecclus. xxiii).

Now, though Christians approach God with more filial familiarity than did the Jews, their use of His name should certainly be none the less observant: rather should it be more delicately, more tenderly reverential. Why introduce it uselessly, trivially? If as a prayerful exclamation, then let it clearly be a prayer. And as to idle swearing, hear the Son of Man recommending us not to swear at all, because whatever we may swear by has some relation to our God. It should be, as He indicates, unnecessary, since "Yes--yes," "No--no" suffices; and, as things really go among men, it is injurious for no one believes the trivial, especially the frequent swearer; and his house--that is his company-- is under the scourge of having to listen to him.

But if reverence for the name of God prohibits its merely idle use, much more does it prohibit its offensive use. To introduce it in combination with words otherwise vile and sinful is horrid profanity. The common, wretchedly common, practice of uttering it in anger--though it be just but uttered--is an intolerable abuse; yet men who really dislike sin often weakly enslave themselves to that disgusting habit. Of course, anger is a first weakness, and so where it is shown no great manliness can be expected; but if religious principle be for the moment forgotten, the mere proprieties of life, respect for others and for one's own place in human society, should give the strength to keep a mouth closed when what may escape out of it is likely to be malodorous. And like anger, the association of anything unjust or foul with holy names is always deplorable and outrageous. Though their use in such connection be not meant as additional sin, nor perhaps so apprehended, yet a Catholic, given at all to coarse-mouthedness, would do well to remember the ancient warning: "Nor shalt thou defile the name of thy God: I am the Lord" (Lev. xviii. 21). Even St. Paul's word to his disciple, though it has other wide senses, can here have a pertinent application: "Let everyone depart from iniquity who nameth the name of the Lord" (2 Tim. ii. 19).

Under the head of reverence to God's name there should be little need of referring to the injury that is worse than irreverence, to the sin which early worshipers were afraid to name, blasphemy. That indeed is a word to no purpose, a scurrility not to be mentioned among those who are called saints. In some languages happily its explicit introduction is not common, though forms of expression which imply it are often assumed both ignorantly and viciously. As a fearfully impious sin it has excited the horror of all creatures who know themselves to be creatures; and accounts of its immediate punishment are current in every land. Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, spoke many things against God and wrote letters full of blasphemy; then an angel cut off his army and drove himself home to be slain by his children. Similarly fared the blaspheming Philistine, Goliath, and the blaspheming apostate, Julian. Many others may be cited from more recent history.

A priest does not like, my brethren, to suppose that any person present needs admonition against this most fatal crime, this most unchristian iniquity. But if some man or boy finds that he makes the least approach to it, he should seriously recall the sovereign decree: "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die" (Lev. xxiv. 16). No doubt the Lord of all mercy offers forgiveness even to blasphemers, though their offense has a certain desperateness about it. Let them, at least, hasten to take advantage of so special a mercy, and be cleansed from this abnormal villainy, doing "penance to give him glory" whose long-suffering is so adorable.


Respect for God's name may be taken as something different from that reverence for it which we have been considering. Respect bears particularly on the consequences of introducing Him, by introducing His name, into our proceedings. Things cannot be the same as they were before He was called to take part in them, the same as if in their regard no sacred appeal, adjuration, offering, had ever been made. When the Almighty has been invoked, He may be counted on. He must be counted with; for import necessarily attaches to the drawing down of His name. This truth should be impressed on us by the fact that a special divine precept sanctions its subject-matter. The Second Commandment runs exactly to this point: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain"--in vain, that is not in truth, as St. Augustine explains (Serm. viii) ; and if not without truth of words and things, neither without respect.

That a man who is himself a liar, should in order to be believed call in God's testimony and yet deceive, is an outrage on the eternal truth. The perjurer, as such an offender is styled, makes --as far as it depends on him--his Creator a partner in his deception; and this the All-holy can never endure. Our Lord was putting the extreme case, the absolutely intolerable and impossible case, when He urged on the prevaricating Jews that if He said He did not know His Father, He should be like them--a liar. The perjurer lies and solemnly asks God to father his lie! Surely God is patient.

Besides the unspeakable injury to God's majesty implied in all perjury, there is great wrong done to human society by false witness, especially in public affairs. Under authoritative demand for testimony, to swear to what one does not know, or to the contrary of what one does know, is to undermine the civic edifice, to vitiate the first principles of men's intercourse one with another. If no sacredness secures truth in word and declaration, where or how is it to be found ? With pagans of any civilization, as with Hebrews and Christians, "an oath for confirmation is the end of all their controversy" (Heb. vi. 16). It is, then, at once a matter of humanity and of religion to exclude perjury and close all its dangerous approaches.

Now our Catechism puts on the same line as taking false oaths another offense that may not seem quite similar: this is, the breaking of lawful oaths. In malice the sins are most closely related, the malice being the absence of respect for God's name, the denial of import to its introduction. Notice, my brethren, how comprehensive is the prohibition to take that name in vain, and how explicit the menace that "the Lord will not hold him guiltless" who shall do so. Guiltless he certainly cannot be, though the degree of his guilt may vary according to the vainness of his swearing. It is vain, my brethren, to swear in promise to what you cannot perform; if you know your inability, your swearing is even false: 'tis most plainly false when you have no intention of doing what you promise. To swear to do what is morally wrong is not only vain but sacrilegious, because of the attempted connection between God's authority and man's iniquity. An immoral act can have no sanction, much less the sanction of a sacred oath; and Catholics in any obscurity on this very practical point should seek enlightenment from their Catechism, if necessary from their confessor. But when the thing promised under oath is possible and right, then wantonly to neglect the doing of it is to disrespect God's name. If He has been called in to bear witness that you will keep a lawful promise, and if it remains lawful and fairly within your power, while you prove unfaithful, how can you escape involving His honor in what people rightly call your perjury and perfidy? Be careful, therefore, my brethren, about taking promissory oaths; but if you have lawfully taken them, be equally careful about their fulfillment.

Obligatory promises made to God Himself are of further and still higher sacredness. They concern some greater good, are direct worship of the Creator, and are called vows. It is certainly most excellent to make them--provided, of course, that they be observed. "Vow ye, and pay to the Lord your God" (Ps. Ixxv), sings holy David; and his wise son adds: "It is much better not to vow, than after a vow not to perform the things promised" (Eccl. v. 4). God is not alone invoked in a vow, but is also asked to accept an offering; the withdrawal or canceling of that consecrated oblation--without His permission or the permission of those who hold His place--is sacrilegious affront and mockery. Hence have all religious-minded people everywhere entertained fear and abhorrence of the violation of vows. Hence, too, though great the merit of such personal offerings, they are not usually to be made without safeguards and solemnities proportioned to their consequence, not, especially, without the direction and authorization of those who have charge of our souls.


The third and best exercise of the hallowing of God's name consists in loving it. If we truly love it, we shall not only reverence and respect it, but also proclaim and glorify it. The love of the divine name gives us a title to exultant and secure happiness both here and hereafter. "All they that love thy name shall glory in thee," sings the Psalmist (Ps. v) ; and concerning the promised heavenly Sion he adds: "They that love his name shall dwell therein" (Ps. Ixviii). To love God's name ought to be easy and natural for those who remember that it represents Himself, who is our supreme good; and as often as we hear it we should hear also some such pleading as that of the inspired lawgiver with the undutiful people: "Is not he thy Father, that hath possessed thee, and made thee and created thee?" (Deut. xxxii. 6.)

The confident strength it inspires is a winning reason for loving it; for if a vain use of it is pernicious, a believing use is inexpressibly efficacious and salutary. In both the Old Covenant and the New we have the mighty promise: "It shall come to pass that every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel ii. 32; Rom. x. 13). Hence in all dangers and struggles the loving invocation of the divine name insures divine help. God is pledged to the man who calls on Him: "I will protect him," He says, "because he hath known my name" (Ps. xc). And His servants kept Him up to His promise; for, on occasion, they cried out: "But thou, O Lord, art among us, and thy name is called upon by us: forsake us not" (Jer. xiv. 9). Certainly He did not forsake them: His hand was with them, their shield in peril, their sword in battle, as long as love of His name taught them to invoke it trustingly. See the youthful David going forth to answer the challenge of the blasphemous giant who had terrified armies. To the horrid threats and imprecations of the grim idolater the ruddy shepherd boy has but to answer: "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts"--and he conquers magnificently. So, too, my brethren, may we conquer and overcome every adversary, every opposition, if we know how to use the name of our God.

For us, Christians, there should be particular facility and delight in invoking the Lord, for we know Him more intimately than did even the best Hebrews, we know personally what to call Him. 'Twas of us He said: "Therefore, my people shall know my name in that day: for I myself that spoke, behold I am here" (Is. lii. 6). He is here. He is one of us, and Jesus is His name-- His name in the message of the angel, in the declaration of the foster-father, in the heart of the immaculate mother, in the decree of the eternal Father, in His own choice, in the Holy Ghost by whom He was incarnate and by whom alone we can say--the Lord Jesus! How glorious to have that name in our possession! But how pitiful not to use it!--or to abuse it! Jesus, Lord! thy name is sweet; 'tis as oil poured out, a salutary balsam. 'Tis as honey and the honeycomb. With thy saints even we may repeat: nothing sweeter is sung, nothing more harmonious is heard, nothing more consoling is conceived, than Jesus, Son of God, Son of the Virgin!


Conclude, then, my brethren, to make your daily and hourly repetition of the great "hallowed be thy name" a reality and a rule of life. That opening petition of the Our Father may well be taken to express our whole duty to God and to Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. It especially determines our proper use of holy names, most of all of that one name, the only one "given to men whereby we must be saved" (Acts iv. 12). Fear of God's name we are to entertain, because of its sacred greatness, because of its divinity; but a believing, a trusting, a loving fear. Not for us the fear of the perfidious enemies of the Saviour of the world, who, having slain Him and then heard that He was risen from the dead, shuddered at the preaching of His name and wanted to prevent all mention of it. Our fear is to be one of loyal respect, of filial reverence, of fond affection. 'Tis to be a fear that our best naming of that name may be too unworthy, a fear that we may take from its glory and hinder its efficacy. We must aspire to fear in some such way as did the Virgin mother when, in her exultant Magnificat, she paused to say: "And holy is his name"; even to fear as did her Son, of whom it was prophesied that He should be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. That blessed fear leads on to love, is accompanied by it and submerged in it. If we have genuine fear of the Lord's name we shall infallibly have that equal love of it for which the Church constantly prays: timorem pariter et amorem; and then great must be our confidence that of each of us individually the Master we follow may repeat: "I will write upon him the name of my God," and that to us all collectively may be fulfilled His crowning promise: "They shall see his face and his name shall be on their foreheads" (Apoc. iii. 12; xxii. 4). In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

1. Exod. xx. 7.
2. Malach.i.6.
3. On the second commandment see St. Thomas, IIa. llae., q. 122. art. 3; la. IIae., q. 100, art. 5.
4. Ps. cii. i.
5. Job.i. 21.
6. Ps. xlix. 15.
7. Ps. xxxiii. 2.
8. Ad. pop. Antioch. horn. 26.
9. 2 Cor.i.23. 10. Gal.i.20. 11. 3 Kings i. 17.
12. St. Hieron in hunc. locum.
13. Jerem. iv. 2.
14. Ps. xiv. 4.
15. Matt. xiv. 7. 16. Acts xxiii. 12. 17. Ps. xviii. 8.
18. Deut. vi. 13. 19. Ps. Ixii. 12.
20. 2 Cor. i. 23. Philem. i. 8. I Thess. ii. 10.
21. Apoc. x. 6.
22. Heb. vi. 17. Gen. xxii. 16. Exod. xxxiii. I.
23. Ps. cix. 4. 24. Heb. iv. 13.
25. Heb. vi. 16. 26. Matt. v. 34-37.
27. Matt. v. 37. 28. Eccl. xiii. 9. 29. Eccl. xxiii. 12.
30. Basil, in Ps. 14, on the words: "qui jurat proximo suo"; Aug., lib.
de mendacio, c. 14; see 12. q. 2. c. primum est. 31. Aug., de verbis Apost, serm. 28, quoted in 21. q. 2. cap. homines.
32. Aug. epist. 54.
33. Lev. xix. 12.
34. Judges iii. 20.
35. Pet. iii. 16.
36. Sess. 4. at the end.
37. Ps. xiii. 5. et liii. 26
38. Kings xxi. 13. Job i. n. et il. 9.
39. Exod. xx.7.

(Music: If you Love Me by Tomas Tallis (16th Century)
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