Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Oath of Office

Blessed Charles of Austria taking the Coronation Oath as King of Hungary; notice the slightly off-center cross on the top of the Crown of St. Stephen.

In light of the recent inauguration, it is worth pondering the practice of taking the oath of office.  Certainly an oath is a solemn act, in which an individual traditionally calls upon Almighty God to witness to the truth of one's promise to act in a certain way.  (Cf., Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Oaths) In the case of an oath of office, the new office-holder solemnly promises or affirms that he will act in a proscribed manner or refrain from certain acts in office.

For the purposes of this post, I will note an example of three different manners of oaths of office, a secular Republican office, a secular office in a Monarchy, and an Ecclesiastical office.

In the United States of America, we are rather familiar with the Federal Oath of Office that is said by officials or employees of the Federal Government:
"I, [name], 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.

5 U.S.C. §3331"

This oath had been motified in the midst of the American Civil War ("enemies foreign and domestic," and originally also included a promise that one had not aided or supported an cause contrary to that of the Constitutional government of the United States.  This second half, promising a future course of action without mention of the past, has survived the decades since that conflict.

Here is a clip of President Ronald Reagan taking the Oath of Office in 1981:

Oaths of office in the various states of the Union are slightly different.  Take this example of the oath of office in the Commonwealth of Virginia:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the
United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that
I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent upon me
as .......... according to the best of my ability, (so help me God)."


Here is a clip of the current Governor of Virginia, his excellency, Robert McDonnell, taking the oath of office in Richmond, Virginia (at about 4:55), after Ken Cuccinelli taking his oath as Attorney General, and William Bolling as Lieutenant Governor:

In a monarchy, of course, there are several different manners of oaths, far more ancient in form than those of our modern Republics, the most famous being the actual coronation oath of the monarch themselves.  Here is the formula used by Queen Elizabeth II upon her coronation:
"The Queen having returned to her Chair, (her Majesty having already on Tuesday, the
4th day of November, 1952, in the presence of the two Houses of Parliament, made
and signed the Declaration prescribed by Act of Parliament), the Archbishop standing
before her shall administer the Coronation Oath, first asking the Queen,

Madam, is your Majesty willing to take the Oath?
And the Queen answering,
I am willing.
The Archbishop shall minister these questions; and the Queen, having a book in her
hands, shall answer each question severally as follows:

Archbishop. Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the
Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other
Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws
and customs?

Queen. I solemnly promise so to do.
Archbishop. Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed
in all your judgements?

Queen. I Will.
Archbishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the
true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the
United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you
maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the
doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in
England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the
Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do
or shall appertain to them or any of them?

Queen. All this I promise to do.
Then the Queen arising out of her Chair, supported as before, the Sword of State
being carried before her, shall go to the Altar, and make her solemn Oath in the sight
of all the people to observe the premises: laying her right hand upon the Holy Gospel
in the great Bible (which was before carried in the procession and is now brought from
the Altar by the Archbishop (The Bible to be brought) and tendered to her as she
kneels upon the steps), and be brought saying these words:

The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me

Then the Queen shall kiss the Book and sign the Oath. And a Silver Standish
Queen having thus taken her Oath shall return again to her Chair, and the Bible shall
be delivered to the Dean of Westminster

Here is a clip that, at about 4:35, includes the Coronation Oath of Elizabeth II:

An official within a monarchy, of course, has a particular loyalty, not only to the prescribed manner of government, but to the actual person of the monarch, who, in a sense, represents the government as its sovereign.  Such an oath harkens to that taken by a vassal to his lord.  For example, here is the text of a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom:
"I (name of Member) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

Finally, holders of Ecclesiastical offices often take an oath of office, this in addition to whatever vows or solemn promises taken upon entrance into the Clerical state.  For instance, this is the oath taken by a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church:
"I [name and surname], Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, promise and swear to be faithful henceforth and forever, while I live, to Christ and his Gospel, being constantly obedient to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church, to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff [Name of current Pope], and of his canonically elected Successors; to maintain communion with the Catholic Church always, in word and deed; not to reveal to any one what is confided to me in secret, nor to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to Holy Church; to carry out with great diligence and faithfulness those tasks to which I am called by my service to the Church, in accord with the norms of the law.

So help me Almighty God

May our public officials ever live up to the high ideals and virtues proscribed by their oaths, and may honor and integrity be their watchwords.

Live well!

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