MEANING OF IN VAIN
vain" has a threefold meaning. Sometimes it is said of that which is
"They have spoken vain things every one to his neighbor."2
takes the name of God in vain when one uses it to confirm that
not true: "Love not a false oath."3 "Thou shalt not live
hast spoken a lie in the name of the Lord."4 Any one so doing does
to God, to himself, and to all men.
It is an
insult to God because, when you swear by God, it is nothing other
call Him to witness; and when you swear falsely, you either believe
be ignorant of the truth and thus place ignorance in God, whereas
things are naked and open to His eyes,"5 or you think that God
whereas He hates it: "Thou wilt destroy all that speak a
you detract from His power, as if He were not able to punish a lie.
such a one does an injury to himself, for he binds himself to the
of God. It is the same thing to say, "By God this is so," as to
"May God punish me if it is not so!"
finally, does an injury to other men. For there can be no lasting
unless men believe one another. Matters that are doubtful may be
by oaths: "An oath in confirmation puts an end to all
Therefore, he who violates this precept does injury to God,
to himself, and harmful to other men.
"vain" signifies useless: "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men,
they are vain."8 God's name, therefore, is taken in vain when it
confirm vain things.
Old Law it was forbidden to swear falsely: "Thou shalt not take the
the Lord thy God in vain."9 And Christ forbade the taking of oaths
in case of necessity: "You have heard that it was said to them of
Thou shalt not forswear thyself. . . . But I say to you not to swear
all."10 And the reason for this is that in no part of our body are
in the tongue, for "the tongue no man can tame."11 And thus
matter one can perjure himself. "Let your speech be: Yea, yea; No,
I say to you not to swear at all."12
well that an oath is like medicine, which is never taken continually
in times of necessity. Hence, the Lord adds: "And that which is
above these is evil."13 "Let not the mouth be accustomed to
for in it there are many falls. And let not the name of God be
thy mouth, and meddle not with the names of saints. For thou shalt
escape free from them."14
"in vain" means sin or injustice: "O ye sons of men, how long
be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity?"15 Therefore, he who
to commit a sin, takes the name of his God in vain. Justice consists
good and avoiding evil. Therefore, if you take an oath to steal or
some crime of this sort, you sin against justice. And although you
keep this oath, you are still guilty of perjury. Herod did this
John.16 It is likewise against justice when one swears not to do
good act, as not to enter a church or a religious community. And
this oath, too, is not binding, yet, despite this, the person
is a perjuror.