To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.


N Book I of De Officiis, blue Cicero believes that “good faith” is thus called because what has been said is performed, and hence it is called the foundation of justice, i. e. the constant and true standard for our words, our deeds, and our contracts. But if what has been said is not done, then the name of good faith perishes, and from this arise among men hatreds, grudges, hostilities, lawsuits, quarrels and wars. So from the very beginning it has been mankind’s concern to maintain and support that good faith by helps, to keep it from dying by the devising of agreements, promises, pledges, sureties, contracts, actions and judgements involving witnesses. And, inasmuch as there is nothing which holds men to their duty more than fear of the gods, ultimately the oath was invented, which might bind, obligate, and confirm good faith more securely than any fetters, inasmuch as a divinity is involved. Hence every good man has always stood in dread of this religion, to the extent that in every age of the world many have preferred to forfeit their lives rather than ignore their oaths, so as never to be regarded as perjurers, and a number of these I have mentioned at their proper places. But since there is no man who does not occasionally swear an oath either out of malice or for the sake of his own advantage, or out of custom and habit, he who has sworn can easily lapse into perjury, the worst crime in human memory, for its sole avenger is God. It has a twofold penalty, namely the divine one of destruction and the human one of disgrace, so such a risk ought to make an impression on all mortals. For is there any man at all who can avoid God’s vengeful hand? So I have thought I would be doing something welcome and useful if I wrote a single Book entitled On Swearing and Perjury. And when this was completely finished, I thought it right to conjoin it with another dialogue in this series, On Truth and Falsehood, because these two are so greatly related in their subjects and their treatment, in such a way that the oath (which is a religious affirmation) might rightfully take first place, and then the dialogue On Truth and Falsehood could come next. For an oath is no trifling affirmation of truth, which, if it is obscure or hidden, is brought to light in this way alone, by means of sworn witnesses; and, obviously, perjury has a close connection to falsehood, since the one does violence to good faith and the other to truth. Hence the reader can easily derive more pleasure and profit from these two when they are taken in combination. And so, best of grandees, I have dedicated this little work, crammed with good faith and truth, to you, since you, being a man of outstanding character, consummate prudence, and much experience in affairs, and who holds the first place in the Privy Council, a place where everything is managed in accordance with equity and good law, which (one can readily perceive) derive from good faith and truth alike. In result, I have had no hesitation in publishing this work of mine, composed with no little care, in your name, made great by both your martial glory and the virtue of your mind, so that someday, by the reading of it, other men who desire to conduct all their affairs with the same method and manner that you yourself are punctual in observing, will receive instruction, and so that my dutifulness towards you, with which I greatly cherish you, may never be failing. Farewell. London, the month of March, 1553.



spacerhave previously written a book, a dispute or dialogue entitled On Truth and Falsehood, and, inasmuch as the oath has great power in the determination of truth, as obviously is established by means of witnesses who are not permitted to give courtroom testimony save upon their oath, and insofar as there is no difference between perjury and falsehood (since the man who tells lies readily perjures himself), I have thought it worthwhile if I wrote one Book, no less illuminating, On Swearing and Perjury. When I was considering such a thing, it chanced that two of my friends paid me a visit, men equally flourishing in their wit and learning, Matteo and Teseo, and both the nature of their names and the similarity of their characters make me love them to a wonderful degree and hold them dear. For my brother Gian Matteo, erudite in all the goodly arts, died a premature death while publicly professing philosophy at Padua. And Teseo was my uncle, a man excellently versed in the law and in justice. And these friends of mine, as was their wont, most amiably asked me if I was working on something. I replied I was intending to write a dialogue On Swearing and Perjury. Then both of them, well prepared for speaking both by nature and by their training, said, “We would be happy to dispute about these things in your presence, if such is your command.” I praised the fine eagerness of both, and bade Teseo (the elder of the two) to organize the discussion. And he, immediately entering into this honorable combat, said, “I shall first of all set forth what it is that we must discuss, lest our discourse seem rambling and threadbare. An oath is a religions affirmation coupled with an assertion of good faith, with the Almighty invoked so that you may understand it is made in the sight of God. And perjury is the crime of breaking one’s good faith in taking his oath. That is to say, it is a failure to perform that which you have sincerely sworn to do (for otherwise you should not swear), in which case your good faith and your oath are overlooked. Or it is a false swearing with intent to misrepresent, a thing filled with impiety and deceit.”
spacer 2. Them Matteo said, “You have not been maladroit in setting forth the subject of our forthcoming dispute. But I ask you, who introduced this manner of oath-taking into our customs?” “Either by those,” he said, “to whom nothing could be credible unless they themselves saw it being done, so little trust did they place in others, measuring another man’s great by the yardstick of their own small, or by people who thought that men would stand by their promises more securely if they were bound by the bonds of some sacrament. This was originally done by Jacob, (as is told in the story at Genesis 48), blue who extracted from Joseph a promise that he would bury him in the tomb of his ancestors, so that that father might have no doubt that his command would be obeyed. And the legalist Caius also wrote about this thing in Book XII of the Digest in this way: blue “Conscientious oath-taking is relied upon as an important means of shortening litigation. Disputes are settled in this way by virtue of agreement between litigants or on the authority of a judge.” Furthermore “swear” is a most honorable verb, derived from iure (“rightfully”), because he who takes an oath in accordance with the law’s command solemnly swears he shall observe it. And God appears to have been the originator of swearing, as is said in Psalm 109, blue The Lord hath sworn, and He shall not repent. For we thus attribute to God a human personality, body, and use of His individual limbs, in order to have a better sense and understanding of His divinity. Likewise, at Genesis 22, blue we have By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord. For when He was blessing Abraham there was no higher power by whom He might swear when He was affirming that his seed would wonderfully increase. And furthermore, there ways in which oaths are sworn are many and various. This was the one observed among the Hebrews: The Lord liveth in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness, as is said in Jeremiah, chapter 4. blue And, as St. Jerome says, blue swearing should have these things for its companions, since it is perjury in their absence. Other peoples had other forms of swearing. If any Roman took his oath, he would hold a piece of flint in his hand saying, “If I am being wittingly deceptive, then may Jupiter cast me from the ranks of good men, as I cast away this stone, to the benefit of the city and its citadel.“ They particularly swore by Good Faith, since they placed such weight on swearing that their magistrates that, as Dionysius of Halicarnassus tells us, blue they handed down most of their decisions in accordance with sworn testimony. Likewise they swore by Jove. In his Academics blue Cicero wrote, “I would swear by Jupiter and my household gods that I am inflamed with a desire of discovering the truth, and that I do truly feel what I say.” Or by things dear to themselves. In Ovid, Laodamia swears to her husband Protesilaus as follows: blue “By your return, by your body, by my gods, I swear, and by the twin torches of our love and our marriage.”
spacer 3. There were other statements made by the ancients when they wished to maintain something upon their oath, such as that of Plautus, where Blepharus says in the Amphitryo, blue “Hang me if I was still inside or if I sent him.” Or, as Cicero writing to Atticus, blue “Damme if I’m not writing what I feel.” Or the same to the same, “You ask me what you can say on their behalf. Hang me if I know.” We Christians likewise employ these manners of speaking in lieu of taking an oath when we make some assertion. Thus in First Timothy the Apostle writes, blue “In the sight of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His elect angels, I charge you to observe these things.” And in First Corinthians, chapter 15, “I protest by your rejoicing, I die daily.” Likewise he writes in Galatians, “behold, before God, I lie not,” and in Romans, “For God is my witness, Whom I serve with my spirit.” And we have a custom of swearing on the Gospel, introduced by the Emperor Justinian, as our Polydore asserts in Book IV of his De Inventoribus Rerum, blue since the Gospel, the foundation of our religion, should be desecrated for no reason whatsoever, so that a true sacrament made upon it should in no wise be held in contempt. There is likewise a means of taking solemn oaths prescribed for our pontiffs, kings, and magistrates, who, as soon as they are installed in office, immediately swear they will duly and chastely maintain the rights and laws of their order, their kingdom, and city, and likewise the institutions and customs of their ancestors, and that they will perform their offices with all diligence, for it is the responsibility of those who preside over others to serve the needs and commodity of those over whom they preside. And what of the fact that all the others swear their fealty to kings in conceived words, just as their peoples and those who serve them take their oaths to them and other minor princes?
spacer 4. Then Matteo said, “I fail to understand what it means to swear ‘in conceived words.’” To this Teseo replied quicker than words can describe, “You fail to understand? I’ll keep you away from any ignorance concerning this manner. For it was the custom, or rather a just law (as we can learn from the title de iureiurando of the Pandects) blue that when a controversy arose between some parties, one would “defer,” i. e., he would offer the other an oath while promising to abide by what he said. Then, according to the choice of the swearing party, he would dictate the words which he should he use in his oath. And since the swearing party should “conceive” (i e., understand and fix in his mind what he was about to utter), it came about that he who pronounced the words was said to swear ‘in conceived words’ when he gave his oath in this manner. And even nowadays, when a prefect, judge, or magistrate compels a person to swear his oath, in the same way he composes some verbal formula in fitting and appropriate words, and require the swearing party to understand these words and swear according to them, pledging himself to be observant of all the promises dictated by somebody else, in these conceived words. For example, as Vegetius says in De Re Militaria, blue soldiers were accustomed to take an oath of a traditional formula to pledge themselves to military service, swearing to obey their general’s command with a will, and he himself likewise swore his oath in conceived words, and nowadays our soldiers do the same. And this ritual of oath-taking was observed by the Romans in entering into alliances and truces, and it is obvious that our princes and city-senates imitate them. And indeed this custom is retained by men of all orders who are enlisted in some college. But they are best observed by our courtroom magistrates, particularly when jurymen are sworn in. For among our Englishmen there are twelve-man juries who hand down their dread decisions about life and death and decide nearly all courtroom cases, and, inasmuch as these are mostly men ignorant both of the law and of the subject at controversy, when a case is brought before them for their judgment, then advocates for both parties plead their cases in front of a judge, who presides as an umpire over such an important trial. This done, for the benefit of the jurymen the judge briefly summarizes the arguments advanced by the litigants’ lawyers in defense of their positions, outlines the case, and advises them that they must bear in mind their oath and arrive at a just decision about the matter at hand.
spacer 5. Now let us pass on to the commonest means of swearing, in which, very frequently, there is involved no religion, no fear of the Almighty, and no good faith, as some men resort to them out of their eagerness to deceive most astutely, whereas others in their inconsiderate speech employ them quite foolishly. For they swear by God, by Jesus, by Christ, and by His body and blood, His wounds, and the individual parts of His body, by the Holy Ghost, by the Mass (which we also call the Eucharist), by the Cross, by the faith, by holy Mary our Lady, and all the individual saints, or by their souls, by holy churches, by heaven and earth, and by the sun and the moon. Equally, they do the same in their everyday discourse, old and young alike, women and also children who, shaped by their parents’ manners, are often led to acquire this same habit. They likewise swear idle oaths by whatever comes to hand, by their house, by fire, light, bread, wine, a cup, salt, and other things, even shameful ones, or however their particular part of the world abuses its speech, in such a way that it would appear they can make no affirmative statement if it goes unsupported by an oath. This nevertheless involves considerable abuse of religion, when, in the presence of other men, someone swears by God’s foot and (flippantly) by His fingernails. Once upon a time, our pious people was accustomed, should the need arise, to swear an oath by their worship of God. But now, at the behest of I know not what demon of perversity, it is commonly unashamed to swear obscenely by God’s rectum. Hence it often happens in our churches that by a similar error paraclytus blue is recited with a short penultimate, i. e. rudely, instead of paracletus, which is what an advocate and comforter is called in Latin. If the bishops of such places were to correct this vicious, corrupt practise by insisting on pure clean Latin, that would not be inconsistent with their office and dignity. But no more about this.”
spacer 6. “You have taught me sufficiently, nay abundantly about the first and the various kinds of swearing,” said Matteo. “But now, in approaching this thing let us return to first principles. You have told me that the beginning of swearing was made by God, on the showing of the prophet David, who said The Lord hath sworn. But at Matthew 5 blue Christ forbids this above all else, where He instructs His disciples, But I say unto you, swear not at all. On the basis of this, in interpreting that statement at Jeremiah 4 you have just cited, Jerome writes as follows: blue ‘And how does the Gospel forbid us to swear?” Likewise in his commentary on this chapter of Matthew he writes, “Gospel truth does not admit swearing.” But what, damn it, is this discrepancy, since at John 10 Christ says, I and my Father are one., and God the Father both swears and commands us to swear our oaths, as at Exodus 22, blue If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast to keep, and if it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods, and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. So shall Christ the Son ordain anything concerning the swearing of oaths contrary to what God the Father has ordained? Here I fail to understand how there can be any agreement, and so I desire to learn from you the cause and the logic of such a great inconcinnity, which strikes me as being greater than I can comprehend with my senses or my understanding.”
spacer 7. Then Teseo said, “You invite me to enter into a most difficult and obscure discussion, whether or not it is forbidden by Christ to swear. And so, should the need arise, I trust you will allow me to rely on patrons or advocates in this case, the ones I hope for more than all others, Ambrose and Augustine, easily the princes among our theologians.” “Now I see,” said the other, “that you come equipped, armed and prepared for a bitter fight with both armies and their generals. Commence as soon as you will, you may think the bugle has already blown.” “I shall act on my own behalf, as they say,” said Teseo, “and afterwards I shall fall back on my advocates. And so, when Christ said But 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, by this He is reputed to have taught His disciples that, if they needed to affirm or deny something, their statement should always be true and pure, and nothing should issue from their mouths that differed from what was in their minds. And to indicate this, two words were sufficient, “yes” and “no”, or “yes” and “and yet,” so that there would be no need at all for swearing, from which perjury was often wont to arise (nothing more criminal and pernicious, or more foul and unspeakable, and it is at all times the case that perjury serves as the starting-point for some greater wrongdoing.) And so, as St. Ambrose opined, blue Christ does not wish you to swear so that you will not perjure yourself, or, if we deal with each other sincerely, faithfully and lovingly, undoubtedly no room will remain for oath-taking, and the man who does not swear is unable to commit perjury. But our Saviour does not flatly forbid swearing, since, as St. Augustine attests in his ninth epistle to Hilarius, “swearing is not a sin. Rather, Christ said, Swear not at all, because he added to this that this cometh from evil. Ambrose thought that Christ added this because He was not speaking only with His disciples, but also with the multitude, whose good faith could quickly be undermined. In the first Book of his treatise on the Sermon on the Mount, blue Augustine gives a clear explanation of the nature of this evil and and the multitude’s weakness, saying: ‘it is understood that the Lord gave the command not to swear in this sense, lest any one should eagerly seek after an oath as a good thing, and by the constant use of oaths sink down through force of habit into perjury. And therefore let him who understands that swearing is not to be reckoned among things that are good, but rather among things that are necessary, refrain as far as he can from indulging in it, unless by necessity, when he sees men slow to believe what it is useful for them to believe, except they be assured by an oath. To this, accordingly, reference is made when it is said, let your speech be, Yea, yea, nay, nay; this is good, and what is to be desired. "For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil; i.e., if you are compelled to swear, know that it comes of a necessity arising from the infirmity of those whom you are trying to persuade of something; which infirmity is certainly an evil, from which we daily pray to be delivered, when we say, Deliver us from evil. Hence He has not said, Whatsoever is more than these is evil; for you are not doing what is evil when you make a good use of an oath, which, although not in itself good, is yet necessary in order to persuade another that you are trying to move him for some useful end; but it cometh of evil on his part by whose infirmity you are compelled to swear. But no one learns, unless he has had experience, how difficult it is both to get rid of a habit of swearing, and never to do rashly what necessity sometimes compels him to do.’ This is what he says.
spacer 8. “And Jerome has no dissimilar opinion. In his commentaries on Matthew he gives advice that agrees with Augustine: blue ‘Then consider that here our Saviour does not forbid swearing by God, but only by heaven and earth and Jerusalem, and by your head &c. For this is what Moses ordains at Deuteronomy 6:  Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by His name.’ If I am not mistaken, you now have a resolution of your complex question.” Then Matteo said, “Excellent, nothing could be better. But, since one thing always arises out of another, I have become filled with this scruple and doubt: should I not be permitted to swear by heaven and earth?” “I’ll fully remove this hesitation from your mind, ” replied Teseo. “This is quite impermissible. But why, you will perhaps ask? Because Christ forbade this manner of swearing, as you have just heard.” Then the other: “For what reason did He forbid it?” “Not without reason,” said Teseo. “Even the Jews did not think they should swear to the Lord by such lowly things, as Augustine learnedly attests in this same book On the Sermon on the Mount. blue Wherefore Christ Himself at Matthew 5 advises them of this in no uncertain terms to that they might not go astray, taking it from Leviticus: blue You shall not commit perjury, but pay to the Lord that which you have sworn. Paul understood this selfsame thing, namely that an oath is due to God, when he said in 1 Corinthians, blue  I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. And to show that he is indebted to God, he adds, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Matteo expressed no little admiration for that form of swearing, and suddenly replied, “But I tell you, I deny that that in saying this the Apostle swore an oath.”
spacer 9. At this point, Teseo said, “That you deny this and turn your back on it is the mark of a keen disputer, but nevertheless you are hardly consistent with the facts, for thus he swore to the Galatians: blue  before God, I lie not, a form of oath-taking I have already listed. But if you do not believe my telling the truth over such a small issue, you may abide by Augustine’s testimony and verdict. For he thus interprets that passage of Paul to the Galatians: blueBefore God I lie not. The Apostle frequently swears this oath. And what more pious than this form of swearing? And this kind of oath-taking is not contrary to Christ’s precept, which is to prevent evil, not suffered by the man doing the swearing, but rather that of the unbeliever, who, wishing an oath to be sworn for his own benefit, compels another to swear. For thus our Lord is understood to have forbidden us to swear, so that a man might not swear, insofar as this is within his power. But the Apostle of course knew of this teaching of our Lord and swore nonetheless. So those who think that this is not an oath are not to be heeded.’ For what do those folk say about that  I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily? Thus, the Apostle did not swear, insofar as this was within his power. He did not swear out of the desire to do so or the delight in its doing, or wish to say more than Yes, yes, and No, no, and his motivation was not is evil, but rather the infirmity or incredulity of those who could not otherwise be moved to have faith.”
spacer 10. Here Matteo said, “Why did Christ not say it is an evil? For he scarcely seems to be doing aright who swears for the sake of someone else, because Christ forbade this.” “You appear to be doing something already finished,” said Teseo. “For it has already been shown on the authority of Augustine, that it is permissible to swear something true, but not false, when necessity obliges, and, as has already been said, doing so is not considered either a sin or something wrong, unless it arises from nature’s infirmity, which Christ does call an evil. Such is the case of evidence given in a trial for homicide, since, although it arises from a murder, which is an evil, it itself is scarcely called such, since it is permissible to resort to an oath in a doubtful matter, nor is it forbidden to require this in such a case, as Augustine says in his epistle 154 to Publicola: blue ‘Although it is said, thou shalt not swear, I do not recall it ever being said in Holy Scripture that we should not accept the sworn testimony of someone else.’” “You certainly have explained everything most fitly,” said Matteo. “But there remains one thing we should certainly not omit, which is why Moses and David represented God as swearing, something you touched upon at the beginning of our discourse, since I can hardly bring myself to believe that God would be willing to take an oath since He is all-powerful, as if there were somebody who would not trust Him.”
spacer 11. “It certainly is a great problem,” said Teseo, “to pose a question about God’s words or actions. Wherefore, since I lack the wit to solve it, I would prefer that you heed Ambrose, that most learned of doctors, dealing with many things in accordance with divine inspiration, rather than myself. For at the end of the first Book he wrote Concerning Cain and Abel, blue he discoursed about this very matter in this way: ‘God does not solemnly swear because He has need of a believer’s trust or because, deprived of the confirmation of witnesses. He requires the aid of an oath. He does not act as human beings do, We bind ourselves by a solemn oath to swear to tell the whole truth. God’s very utterance inspires trust. His speech is a solemn oath. God is to be trusted, but not because of an oath. Rather, the oath is to be trusted because of God. Wherefore, then, does Moses speak of God as if He were in the act of taking an oath? Because we, as mortals, are bound by limitations. We wrap ourselves in the folds of public opinion as a sea-urchin does in his shell. We act like a snail who cannot breathe in the free air of heaven unless he is protected by his shell. We behave in a similar manner because we are cabined and confined in the earthy recesses of human custom. Wherefore, since we tend to believe that to be true which is confirmed by a solemn oath, lest we should falter in our trust, the same action is ascribed to God.’ Thus far Ambrose.” “By thunder, you have made quite clear the things which had been creating no little doubt in me,” said Matteo. “But being zealous to understand the definition of our proposed argument, I beg you not to begrudge our returning to it. For after you have shown it is permissible to swear, if you regard yourself as being under that necessity, then teach me what form of oath we should employ, and how far we should go in its use.”
spacer 12. “I shall continue,” said the other. “Now it is clear enough that we ought to swear by God, inasmuch as the holier the thing by which we swear, the firmer our oath is deemed to be, and swearing is nothing other than confessing the power of the Almighty, Whom you call to witness and champion your good faith. Wherefore, of you recall our earlier conclusion, Christ entirely forbids us to swear by lesser things. So before you bind yourself by your oath, if you wish to swear aright, you should look to it that nothing is more sacred and important to you than knowing for sure that which you are about to swear, partially because your oath is a sign and outward show of that knowledge, partially an attestation of your good conscience, and partially that your oath is something worthy of invoking God. For the common run of mankind, quite ready to swear oaths because of its scorn of religion, does something quite other than what it should, since it swears without knowledge and without forethought. Likewise those hawkers of goods for sale, always catering to their own advantage, swear rashly and conspicuously perjure themselves. And men who stupidly swear oaths while paying no heed to what is true and what is false sin just as much as those plunged in great guilt by taking oaths with the intent to deceive. For they are speaking falsehood and, as St. Augustine says, blue every falsehood is a sin.” “What about it?” said Matteo. “Let the multitude see to its own sinning. I consider it more trustworthy when it has not taken an oath than when it has, since it is wholesome to place no faith in its testimony. Enough of these things, what would you think if I were to take an oath by Jupiter?” “You would have sinned,” Teseo unhesitatingly replied, “as it says in Augustine’s same letter to Publicola where he writes, blue ‘He who swears by false gods sins. But if he preserves good faith in what he has sworn, he is not to be chided. But if a man has sworn an oath in such a way that he has broken his good faith, then he is said to have sinned twice, by swearing by gods he should not, and by acting in bad faith.’”
spacer 13. Then Matthew: “So I must abandon my oath by Jupiter, since it cannot be given without incurring guilt.” “You should abandon it entirely,” Teseo replied, “but this does not apply to the other party to whom you gave it. For if you employed good faith concerning a just matter, and he was glad to have entered into an agreement with you, then he will by no means have any share of the guilt you incurred in swearing by a vain demon. And from this we gather that it is less evil to swear truthfully by a bad divinity than to swear falsely by our true God.” “But both are bad,” Matteo said. “Undoubtedly,” said the other. “It is forbidden by that divine Commandment, thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain, and likewise that Commandment, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Hence Joshua went to great lengths to avoid that crime, who in chapter 23 blue exhorted his followers, when they come into foreign, not to swear by the names of their gods.” “Let this be an end to this subject,” said Matteo. “For nothing is farther from my intention than that in our disputation we should come to the point where we might lose the thread of our discourse by becoming entangled in details. So I will ask you whether or not we must always keep faith in our swearing.” Then Teseo responded, “Regarding these things you ask me, Cicero’s simple, terse formula will perhaps satisfy you, for in Book III of De Officiis he draws this distinction: blue ‘an oath sworn with the clear understanding in one's own mind that it should be performed must be kept; but if there is no such understanding, it does not count as perjury if one does not perform the vow.’ For perjury is not false swearing, but rather swearing something in all sincerity, as in the ‘conceived words’ of our legal tradition, and then not performing it. Euripides acutely said, blue ‘my tongue swore, but my mind was still unpledged.’”
spacer 14. “Oh what a fine sentiment, quite worthy of poetical frenzy!” said Matteo. “Can anything be said more worthy of dumb beasts than that in a serious matter men’s words have no weight, but that this be granted only to the mind, which is unstable because of its constant motions?” “Get away with you,” said Teseo. “I quoted you this poetic fancy with the words ‘perhaps will satisfy you.’ But now, understanding what you are driving at, I myself shall dispute, God willing. It is by no means consonant with reason, equity and honor that you wittingly swear something while thinking, planning, or intending to do something different, as if your mind were more asleep than usual at the time you swore your oath. To be frank about it, an idea of that kind, that false swearing is not perjury and that you don’t have to stand by your oath if you don’t mean it in your mind, is scarcely to be babbled about among the Sauromatians, blue for this is the mark of a cheat and a swindler, as is clear in that verse of Euripides. Wherefore we will not stand by this, nor cling to this custom of antiquity. For, if it is not repudiated, it manifestly follows that the worst of liars would have no difficulty in finding dodges for excusing his perjury, a thing Christ did not wish to have happen, for He bade us not to speak deceitfully. For thus the Apostle Peter would have been able to shrug off that perjury he committed (as is reported in the New Testament) when he took an oath he was no disciple of Christ, which was done unwillingly because he was overcome by a sudden fit of fear. For he immediately regretted having committed this sin. By the same logic, Herod could have excused his criminal oath, being free to claim that he was more in his cups than sober when he took it. For when he heard that the head of John the Baptist, that most innocent and holy prophet in all history, he energetically feigned sadness and chagrin, albeit instead of this he was dissimulating the pleasure he was about to gain from cruelly committing so great a crime.
spacer 15. “But let me quickly return to your question about keeping good faith in swearing. What you swore on your oath you should very scrupulously observe, as is quite clear from the argument just set forth. For, should you swear by Jupiter, then I beg you reflect on what has been disputed previously. If you truly do as you say you will, you are above criticism. Hence it follows that you should perform what you undertook and promised. And so, if you are not forbidden to swear by Jupiter, you all the more so if you have sworn something to somebody in the name of the true God, so that you should think you are bound as if by a religious vow, just as is said in Matthew (citing Leviticus), blue Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But let us turn to the laws of warfare. As Cicero teaches in that some Book III of De Officiis, blue the good faith of an oath made to an enemy must often be maintained, when one is dealing with a legitimate and declared enemy. Hence one can read in Livy blue how the Roman consul Marcus Atillius Regulus was taken prisoner in Africa, and, having been administered an oath, sent back to the Senate; and, since the captive Carthaginians were not returned, he chose to return to that city, where he was put to death, and how some Romans captured after the Battle of Cannae were sent to the Senate for the same reason, and, failing to obtain their object, returned to Hannibal. For agreements and promises often stand bound, confirmed and corroborated by oath, and are greatly to be observed if they are not compelled by force or deceit, or extracted by fear. Hence the law is that all actions made because of deceit, force, or fear are null and void, as is stated in the civil law, in the section On Agreements, and on those entered into because of force or violence in Book II of the Code. blue There are furthermore other promises which a wise man would not enter into in the first place, and only the most stupid or ill-starred would observe. Among these especially is that vow which Jeptha, prince of Gilead, blue made that he would offer up to God the first person to enter his doorway.
spacer 16. “But someone might say this was a vow rather than an oath, the thing with which we are concerned. Indeed, this could be said, inasmuch as in an oath the substance of one’s good faith exists in his word, where a vow involves only the mind’s intention. But, as Cicero says in Book II of De Legibus, blue in the case of a vow made promising something to God we were bound as if by an oath of affirmation. Hence a man who breaks his good faith in either case is properly adjudged an impious perjurer. So we may continue. This man, having made a vow of this kind and having conquered the Ammonites, came home rejoicing in his victory, and the first person to meet him was his one daughter, who had come to congratulate him. And when he saw her, good God, what a horror overcame Jeptha! What a doom this unhappy father had pronounced for his daughter because of his vow! But this little girl, endowed with a manly spirit, did not choose to beg her father for her life, but only for a two months’ delay so that she might join with the other girls her age in mourning her virginity, destined to be lost by this cruel death. And when those days had past, the girl was sacrificed straightway, as is written at Judges 11. And there was more piety and gravity in the daughter than in the father. For he, firstly , acting contrary to the requirements of paternal affection, he vowed his daughter; second, he condemned the girl (and nothing in his life was dearer or more pleasing) to an undeserved death; third, he introduced a novel and impious form of sacrifice, whereas for religion’s sake she steadfastly endured her execution.”
spacer 17. Then Matteo replied, “I certainly disagree with your opinion concerning Jeptha. For I do not regard his pronouncement as foolish, since the Holy Spirit (which had already poured itself into him) put this idea in his mind, and he gained a glorious victory, as is said in that same place in the book you just cited.” “It was a crime full of both folly and unheard-of cruelty,” replied Teseo. “and you attribute it to God? Pardon me for saying so, but you are deluded. From the very beginning, God abhorred the use of human victims in sacrifices, since, although He desired the firstborn of every living creature to be consecrated and dedicated to Himself, He made the sole exception of Man, and wished him to be redeemed for a price, as is stated in Exodus 13. blue And so Jeptha sinned: he sinned insofar as he promised and vowed to God that which God did not command to be rendered to Himself. So this promise should not have been kept, rather than having such a hateful crime committed. God Himself has set us many an example of failing to keep a promise, or of not always keeping one, for He sometimes mitigated His sense for mercy’s sake. For when Isaac was brought to him as a sacrificial victim, at the last moment God chose to intervene and substitute a ram to be offered up in his place. Likewise the people of Israel was at first marked down for punishment because of their faithlessness, but then, begged by Moses, He decided to spare it. The former of these instances is recorded in Genesis 22, and the latter in Numbers 14.”
spacer 18. Here Matteo interposed, “Teseo, we have consumed nearly the whole day in bandying words back and forth, so we must hasten along so that we are not obliged to leave our conversation unfinished by time’s constraint. If I recall aright, we divided our entire dialogue into two parts, namely into the religion of oath-taking and the impiety and fraud of perjury. As an experienced teacher you have very copiously and sententiously defined the first part. The other remains, and, if you please, let us devote the remainder of today to the second, so that we may we finish what we originally set out to do. Since it is treacherous and criminal to break faith, something bold-facedly and impudently done by perjurers, evil-minded and wicked men, I should like to know to whom is granted the power to punish such gentlemen, and what manner of punishment is established by the law.“
spacer 19. Then the other replied, “I shall oblige you, since you press and urge me so enthusiastically. God is the single avenger of perjury, and the law does not define it otherwise, as is written in Book IV of the Code. blue Neglect of the religion of an oath has its sufficient avenger, and the penalty prescribed by law is nothing other than what God Himself has appointed.” “For what reason,” Matteo asked, ”does human law, which commands everything we must do and forbids the contrary, as is its proper function, fail to attend to the punishment of this wrongdoing?” “I believe this is done deliberately,” answered Matteo, “because of the monstrosity of the crime. For just as the ancients desired there to be great religion in swearing, so that it would bind good faith all the more firmly, so they always accounted its violation a form of turpitude, to the degree that they preferred to forfeit their lives rather than break it in this manner, as we recall that the Roman consul Marcus Attilius Regulus and many others endowed with great-heartedness bravely did. Since neglect of an oath was regarded as such a criminal offense, the lawmakers, thinking it beyond their power to appoint a penalty for so great a crime, referred the matter to God, so that He might inflict punishment justly and yet sharply, so that the punishment would befall only a few but all men would be stricken with fear. And God has visited men with disgraces, losses, exiles, floggings, and death, and then visited everlasting punishments on those scurvy perjurers. But a little further on we may more conveniently divide these penalties for perjury into two classes, divine and human.”
spacer 20. “This, no doubt,”said Matteo, ”is the reason why a great many men perjure themselves fearlessly. For where there is no immediate punishment, there is no respect about sinning. So among us Italians there is a familiar proverb in circulation, if there’s no other penalty than sinning. This is on the lips of a man who burns with a zeal for taking revenge, as if he says he’s holding his hand out of fear of being punished. It is obvious that the average man is more afraid of punishment than of committing a sin. And assuredly this is so: for how many men can be found who would not commit theft if they enjoyed impunity?” “Why say this?” asked Teseo. “You strike me as having the notion either that there is no penalty attached to perjury, or that by not taking immediate vengeance God is winking at men’s misdeeds. Are you of that opinion?” Then the other replied, “I do not know what my opinion is, beyond knowing this for sure, that a punishment which follows upon a felony either slowly nor not at all is held in light regard.” “Tell me, Matteo,” said Teseo, “have you ever seen much perjury not being punished in its own good time?” “I’ve never seen this,” answered Matteo, “but in part I have heard, and in part I have read that the one of these two things occurs. But I have read in 1 Kings blue how David, fearing King Saul, retired to the desert, and, there being in need, asked for food from Nabal, a rich man, and how he unkindly refused to help a friend with his riches; and how because of this an irate David vowed he would kill that boorish, churlish ingrate at his earliest convenience. When he was hastening to commit this intended crime, behold, he was met by Nabal’s wife Abigail, a woman both very handsome and very wise. When she learned that David had been shabbily treated by her husband, she fetched foodstuffs and set them at his feet, humbly begging that he spare herself, her husband, and their family. Appeased by the entreaties of this excellent woman, David lost all thought of committing the murder. At this point, someone could say that David was thus a perjurer, because he did not perform that which he had sworn to do, and yet he received no punishment for this sin.”
spacer 22. “I wholeheartedly agree with you,” said Teseo, “but God, in Whose hand resides the punishment of such wrongdoings (as I have already said), freed the man from blame so that he might not violate that divine commandment thou shalt not kill. And David rightly appreciated that this was a supreme act of kindness on God’s part. He repaid God, saying to Abigail, blue Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, Which sent thee this day to meet me. And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. For in very deed, as the Lord God of Israel liveth. I greatly congratulate you on your keenness of wit, and am happy that you brought up that very puzzling oath of David from chapter 25 of that same 1 Samuel, which is as follows. When in the desert David’s sheep were being closely guarded by David, and that ungrateful soul repaid his good turn with an evil one, then David, thirsting for revenge, swore, So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light. This curse was a form of oath, as if, for example, a man were to say, hang me if I forget these insults, a subject to which I shall soon return. But this is a usage of common speech, which prevents it from being an oath: I mean, if one person should swear an an oath that another man is supposed to fulfill, something which is unjust, as it would be here if David’s enemies were to be endangered by David’s own perjury. So a man speaking about third parties as if about himself should say, “May God do this to me if I leave &c.” And thus it seems that this passage should be expounded.”
spacer 23. “Well then,” said Matteo, “allow me to act my part. I have frequently heard from our preachers that, out of His mercy, kindness, and grace, God is wont to defer His punishment and castigation of wrongdoers, so that they may have a space of time to repent (although what part of mankind does this?) This is established by the oracle at Ezechiel 33,  blue I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” “You’re telling me,”asked Teseo, “that punishment is often put off by God, though it should be visited on malefactors? Indeed, evil quickly befalls the man it visits, because God compensates his pleasure in having his punishment delayed with extreme pains. And this is obvious, for as soon as God vehemently reproached Adam for his sin and castigated him harshly, He did not suffer mankind’s evildoing, which had gradually crept in, to prevail on this earth for any length of time, but rather (as is told in the Book of Genesis) eradicated the entire human race save Noah and his family, and then, awaiting another occasion, He decided to inflict bitter punishment on the Jews, who in their sinfulness scarce let a day pass without its sinning and its perjuries.
spacer 24. “Not to go into the matter any further, I shall mention the beginning of this divine punishment and chastisement, made in the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judea. For he, as Josephus plainly relates in Book X of his Antiquities, blue was nominally made king by the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar after Joachim, his nephew by his brother, was captured and delivered to Babylon, although in fact he was only a provincial governor, since he had sworn an oath to the Babylonian king that he would preserve that province for him and never enter into league with the Egyptians. But after a few years, when he came to detest such a precarious position of power, he made a treaty with the King of Egypt. Learning of this, the Babylonian suddenly took up arms and made a forced march to avenge this insult, while the Egyptian made no delay in coming to the aid of his friend. The Babylonian overtook him on the march and put him to rout with ease, and soon bent all his effort to destroying Zedekiah. Meanwhile the prophet Jeremiah most of all men advised Zedekiah and urged him to surrender, maintaining that in that way he would do the most to serve his own interest and that of his nation. But he, reckoning it would be death to yield to the man whom he had just recently offended, was less careful than was reasonable in paying attention to this divine counsel. In the end, hard pressed by the enemy, he fled, and in his flight he and his sons were taken prisoner and brought to Nebuchadnezzar. The king is supposed to have said to him, “God Almighty wanted you, a very ungrateful oath-breaker, to fall under my power.” These words spoken, he first commanded his sons to be killed in his sight, and then for the unhappy king’s eyes to be gouged out. And so he was brought to Babylon, just as Jeremiah had predicted, and, blinded, he did not see it, as Ezechiel had prophesied. For the fact that these two prophecies did not agree in their wording (although they did in their import), was the reason why Zedekiah had failed to heed those prophets, albeit they were forecasting the truth. And the city of Jerusalem was likewise sacked by its enemies. Hence you may learn that steadfastness in keeping one’s word is always most dear to God, and that He is particularly displeased when the religion of an oath is neglected. For He willed that Zedekiah’s crime be punished most sharply, just as Ezechiel had predicted in chapter 17, blue where he threatened, shall he break the covenant, and be delivered? In interpreting this passage, St. Jerome reveals the mystery of this thing, saying, From this we gather that good faith must be maintained even between enemies. You must not consider to whom, but rather by Whom, you have sworn your oath. He who has trusted you and been deceived is found to be far more faithful, because he respected God’s name, than are you, who took advantage of God’s divine majesty to set traps for your enemy, and indeed for your friend.
25. “So now do you understand that God is not slow to exact vengeance, nor does He leave any perjury unpunished? Wherefore that attestation of salvation, written to the Hebrews by the Apostle blue but meant for us all in common, is not to be scorned, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for He is the sole avenger of perjury. Be mindful of what I previously showed you. You shake your head, as if turning your back on me? I see these ancient examples of God’s hand do not terrify you. Therefore let us pass over these and come to modern ones, for what we see always makes a stronger impression on us than what we hear. How many men within our memory, men of the highest, the middling, and the lowest degree, stained by base perjury, have been roughly handled by God? But, just as the sound of a collapsing hut is less loud than of a falling tower, and is not heard so far away, therefore the misfortunes of a private citizen, albeit grave and piteous, cannot move men’s minds as much as the downfalls of public men, which sometimes entail no little disgrace. So for the sake of their examples I shall remind you of some princes who suffered the greatest of punishments for their perjury by their death, although for brevity’s sake I shall pass over some kings whom we know to have lived during your boyhood, who, always inviting destruction by their perjury, did not go untouched, but invited shipwreck both for their own affairs and for their kingdoms. So first hear of the misfortune of Caesare Borgia, that canny architect of perjury, who was first a wealthy Cardinal, and then, resigning that dignity, as Duke of Valentinois, employed force of arms to gain mastery in Italy. He would daily enter into rash treaties with his neighboring allies, but then, taking absolutely no account of considerations of good faith, would break it. When even his friends found this intolerable, even his nearest intimates, day by day more of them deserted this preeminent gentleman, particularly the Orsini faction. But Valentinois, well skilled in using the dodges of pretense and dissimulation, employed friendly appeals to reconcile some of the Orsini. By renewing his treaty and sworn oath, he brought them with himself to the ancient town of Senigallia in Umbria, where he treacherously murdered Paolo Orsino, Vitellozzo Vitelli, Leporoto, and the Duke of Gravina, the noblest and stoutest of men, setting the most bestial example in human history. Not long thereafter, Valentinois, pressed by men’s just hatred and his own perjury, was driven from his dominion and fled to his Spaniards. But even in that place he was not secure, but rather was immediately thrown in prison because at another time he had managed to offend King Ferdinand of Spain, and his life was at stake. He rescued himself from this peril hanging over his head and betook himself to Navarre, where he was ultimately killed in a war being waged between neighbors.
spacer 26. Then we have the fate of Ludovico Sforza Duke of Milan, a most noble and highly prestigious man, who suffered it because of blind mischance and the ever-changing condition of human affairs. For since his nephew Duke Gian Galeazzo (the son of his brother) was a little boy unfit for rule, he undertook the management of Milan’s affairs, and swore to do all things for the benefit of his republic and his nephew. And thus Ludovico governed until the death of the Duke his nephew, at which time he became Duke, although at death his nephew had left behind a son. Not long thereafter King Louis XII of France declared war against him, claiming that the succession to the ancient dukedom of Milan was rightfully his, and ultimately, thanks to betrayal by his soldiers, captured the Duke and took him off to France. Thus Ludovico, a captive for ten years and more, departed his life after having suffered a miserable existence. The third I shall mention was a man established in the highest rank of dignity, who at this same time suffered a bloody death for his perjury in England. He was Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was at York (a city in the north, one hundred and eighty miles removed from London), when he was informed of the death of his brother, King Edward of England. Hearing of this, he immediately assembled the nobles and bade each one swear an oath in conceived words that they would be loyal to his nephew Edward, his brother’s son, the rightful heir, and he was the first to take this oath. These things done, Richard swiftly returned to London, and, as if unsworn, made himself king, as is told in the English History. blue But he did not long rejoice in this honor: by popular consent a conspiracy was formed against him, and two years later he was killed in battle. Thanks to the tormented lives and piteous ends of these men who perjured themselves, who I have mentioned in order to terrify you, all men understand that they must dread lest they suffer the same. For, as is said in the Gospel proverb, blue if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
spacer 27. “I don’t agree about that proverb,” responded Matteo. Then Teseo immediately stated, “I shall explain it by borrowing what our Polydore wrote in his volume of sacred proverbs. For when Christ was being mistreated by the Jews, He exclaimed against the future evils of his nation, warning the women of Jerusalem who were lamenting His blue misfortune, He compared himself to a fruitful tree, and the Jews to a withered one, as it stands at Luke 23, saying, if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? That is to say, If the Jews do not think it criminal to visit punishment on Me, Who am like a thriving tree bearing goodly fruit among them, what a conflagration will they suffer, being like withered and completely useless ones? Thus Christ foretold that after a brief time Jerusalem would be sacked by the Roman. And so (to come to the point), if powerful princes cannot escape chastisement when they perjure themselves, what will befall private citizens who commit perjury with intent to deceive? So this is the first divine penalty for perjury, which the law calls “ruination,” as I shall read out to you presently.
spacer 28. “But I find a second kind of punishment described in Book II of Cicero’s De Legibus, blue which is as follows: ‘The divine punishment of perjury is destruction: the human penalty is infamy.’ In this context, I must speak about this infamy, the second punishment for perjury. But so that the matters before us might be discussed in their proper order, it follows that the perjury of the princes just discussed should, more than any other example, serve to deter their soldiers and subjects from rashly incurring it, so that they might be far more diligent in avoiding it, having been made aware how praiseworthy it is to abide by the good faith they have pledged, and how loathsome it is not to do so. If, therefore a soldier who has bound himself to his commander by taking a military oath suddenly deserts, he becomes a perjurer, and after having branded with this mark with shame, should he be overtaken, he is immediately summoned to his deserved destruction, in accordance with his divine punishment. But if he escapes his mortal peril and becomes the follower of the enemy commander, he endures his human punishment, which is disgrace. For he will be called a runaway: nothing fouler, since no more trust will be placed in him. The same thing will befall any citizen who does not abide by his pledge of loyalty to his king, governor, or the ruler of his republic, for, showered with every kind of ignominy, he will be branded a traitor. Observe what devastation perjury inflicts on mankind. But if a soldier, a citizen, or a people act otherwise towards his prince, as is the duty of a good and faithful man, then he can know for certain that he is walking a straight path, since (as Paul says to the Romans) blue it behooves us to be subordinates, i. e. subjects, to another man’s government and be steadfast in our duty. Wherefore he commands us, Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. But let our discourse now turn those who, if they chance to be branded for their perjuries, are pulled down from the highest place to the lowest with a great noise and likewise a great affliction, where they burn in fire’s heart.”
spacer 29. “Since you have been like a horse running a race,” said Matteo , ”until now I have not ventured to hold you back with my petty questions. But now, when you are sweating from your effort, I’ll cool you off a little, fearing lest, as is your habit, you interrupt our proposed subject with some digression. So pray tell me this at this timely juncture, who are these men who you say are cast down so low if they have perjured themselves?” Then Teseo answered, “Not to beat about the bush, our bishops, who possess such a position in society that they should never cease urging it by word and deed to live aright, or allow religion to weaken, or justice to be violated in any way whatsoever. So those who have taken vows to adhere to God’s laws will be quite visited by the penalty of perjury if ever men deal badly with religion on account of their negligence, greed, pride, fear, or intemperance. And the rest of the priesthood, if they are bound by any vow, are not immune to the perils of this punishment by failing in their duty. And people say that monks have a share in perjury because of the vows they make. For each one swears to live chastely, own no property, and be obedient to his superiors, something which monks are not thought easily to observe, since they are human and do not all live the same style of life. For chastity, the most important of those three vows, is not wont to flourish among men abounding in leisure. Likewise, those not lacking anything needful and requisite for a cultivated life cannot rightly be said to possess nothing. And finally, those who claim personal liberty appear quite unwilling to obey others, as do those monks who daily withdraw themselves from the power of Christ’s bishops, those pastors and rulers of all His flock, so that they can stay at home enjoying their own authority. If therefore submission, which means any promised vow by which a monk is obliged to God, is not observed, does that monk not sin? And at the same time, does he not perjure himself? startme
spacer 30. “So what will be done to him because of this? Likewise, those placed in charge of colleges of students enjoying the leisure for letters and the goodly arts, are wont to take an oath that they will very punctually exert themselves so that the institutions of their colleges and the decrees of their founders are duly upheld. The students who enter these pious and erudite societies for learning’s sake do the same. Because they should have a proper understanding of what law, justice, and reason require, such they are students of such things) they sin and are punished much more seriously, as Christ not inappropriately shows in a parable in Luke. blue The servant who understood his master’s will and did not do as he wished received many lashes, but he who failed to understand and did something that deserved a whipping received few. For every man’s misdeeds should be weighed, not by what he did, but by who he is. But magistrates stand in the greatest peril, I mean those who are placed in some position of power, such as a consul, a praetor, and governors of cities and provinces, or those who pronounce the law, by whom I mean those who decide cases and enjoy jurisdiction, men we also call judges and bishops’ vicars, to whose good faith all the law is entrusted. These men are unable to deviate even a finger’s breadth, as they say, from their duty without becoming branded with the mark of foul perjury, nor do they have any refuge from their sin because the minute they are appointed as magistrates they take a strong oath that they will piously pronounce the law and uphold justice, the laws, and the customs, manners and institutions which have the force of law. If any of them are led even slightly astray from the path of righteousness by entreaty or bribery, by fear or deceit, favor or dislike, they immediately become perjurers subject to the punishment of which we have already sufficiently spoken.”
spacer 31. “It would be more gratifying to all good men,” said Matteo, “were you to say that magistrates are bound to face the same penalties by which they check and punish malefactors. For a magistrate cannot be said to be innocent if the side having a bad case in a litigation comes off victorious while the good one fails.” “Are you unaware what the appointed penalty for an unjust magistrate in our civil law?” asked Teseo. “I am quite ignorant.” “If you want, I’ll tell you,” said Teseo, “what you can read in the first Book of the Code. blue First of all, you should be aware that most praetors and magistrates hold office for only a year, and that no man can serve as praetor in the city of his birth, lest the cause of his kinsmen or friends leads him to deviate from the dictates of an upright conscience. Next, when he remits his jurisdiction he is forbidden to leave his city for forty days, so that he might be available to answer complaints about injuries, should any be lodged against him. Should he be convicted of any crime, he will be fined, and this fine is so disgraceful that henceforth it would be rare thing for him to gain any magistracy. As I have stated, this human penalty is no small thing. And this is the reason why praetors rarely commit some misdeed with the result that they are afterwards held to account when they are compelled to pay money. This risk of dishonor and this kind of shaming does not pertain to English magistrates, not because they are more pious than others, but many of them, especially senior judges, hold office in perpetuity and held accountable for the way they have exercised their power, since the national law thus permits. For the English have and maintain their own common law, while the other nations of our Christian world employ the civil law.”
spacer 32. “All the worse for that commonwealth,” said Teseo, “since those who manage public law are never held accountable. For, since it is the part of every wise man to live in such a way that he always imagines he is going to be held accountable, and so lives more righteously, so the governor of the commonwealth is to be held all the more so because he should not just do his duty to this man or to that, but to all equally, so at all times he should be ready to explain how he has conducted himself with respect to the common weal. For beyond doubt the man who comports himself otherwise is unworthy to be entrusted with any public business, since most often the laws, without which no state can long endure, are easily trampled underfoot, dissolved, and torn asunder thanks to the ruler’s negligence. Furthermore if there are any judges who are not entirely good men, they often turn the laws to their own profit, if they have no fear of punishment.
spacer 33. “Very truly spoken,” said Teseo. “For it is by means of unjust magistrates that the laws are most particularly undermined and broken. But because in my discourse I said that English magistrates, particularly the senior ones, hold office perpetually, you seem to imagine they go unpunished if they act amiss, and so are worse at dealing with pubic matters. This is not the case, as I shall show presently. And yet I would not deny that they sometimes stray from the straight-and-narrow. For there are prefects of their counties, I mean of their districts, called sheriffs, whose principal duty is to execute the instructions of the senior magistrates and attend to other matters necessary and convenient for the law. And no man obtains this responsibility without swearing his oath, and it lasts no more than a year. So when sheriffs receives a warrant drawn up against someone by the judges, if he is bound by friendship to the fellow, or if he is corrupted by a bribe, he deals with the matter by using only two words. For he writes back to the judges not found, even though the accused is right in front of his face every day. So the case is put off for three months, since among the English court is in session every third month, and not for many days at that. But if a sheriff gives such a fine answer to the judges, he does not do so with impunity, for English law has very severe sanctions against misdemeanors of this kind. There is another class of judges, numbering twelve, I have already mentioned, and their corruption is sometimes the reason why a bad cause prevails with ease, whereas a good one quickly fails, because these jurors, sworn though they are, are seduced from their duty, either by favor towards their friends or by money, and do not pay heed or attention to the truth of the matter at hand. This is far different from what King William I of England, a Norman, intended, for he established this form of judgment, as is stated in Book IX of the Anglica Historia. Thus nothing among mortals remains unsullied. If (as rarely occurs) these jurors are found out and convicted for the crime of perjury, and condemned by the judgment of good men, they are publicly subjected great disgrace and public scheming Mounted on horseback and crowned with paper dunce-caps on which PERJURER is written, they are led around the entire city or market-place. So in this way the majesty of the jury system is occasionally lessened and besmirched by the perjury of its members. So you can understand that justice prevails even among English judges.
spacer 34. “But let me speak a bit more about judges. There is a sage and wholesome old dictum of the Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, blue Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thus a magistrate employs fetters and lashes to coerce and compel others to live aright, and it is very base if he himself does not live a praiseworthy life, does not fairly pronounce law for the people, and does not manage public business in a friendly way. Because he has assumed the role of a judge, he ought to abandon that of being a friend so that he might cultivate and observe justice more chastely, constantly upholding it in his courtroom, inasmuch as the foundation of justice is to harm no man, to serve the public advantage, and deal out justice to each person, with respect to the time, his station in life, and his dignity.
spacer 35. ”God love me, you’ve made a fine ending to your speech!” said Matteo. “But since I fail to see how things of this kind can be accomplished, if justice is to be maintained and take up residence in our market-place, where everything is full of corruption and plundering, where there are so many hireling witnesses who make up their minds to commit perjury even before their tongues swear and offer any testimony, who in the Greek fashion (as the proverb has it), blue testify on each other’s behalf with no respect for the truth; so many conniving, rapacious lawyers; so many procurators acting as agents for other men’s affairs, who, only grasping after profit, promise litigants it will be a sure thing that they emerge victorious, be their cases sound or unsound; so many pettifoggers armed with their wiles; so many bad cases brought by men who have no other recourse than to attempt to suborn the judges. Hence are made countless profits, and from this the sons of judges, advocates and procurators inherit fine, large patrimonies, which, since they are ill-gotten, they frequently eat up with their feasting, squander on gambling, and bankrupt themselves with other vices to the extent that in this way this one part of perjury’s penalty descends to their undeserving children. In this context I could mention by name a great number of such heirs by way of illustration, who once were masters of huge fortunes assembled by courtroom-plunder, who later lived out their lives in poverty, quite undeserving of this, who could have turned out quite otherwise.”
spacer 36. “You entertain doubts about Justice’s mansion?” asked Teseo. “She does not keep within the bounds of her own household, but rather, since she is the mistress and queen of the virtues, whenever she hears that there is some court being conducted with truth and good faith in a manner worthy of herself, there she goes a-flying as soon as ever she can, and there she lingers, amidst principled and just magistrates, fair and upright jurymen, faithful barristers and diligent attorneys, and procurators who are men of integrity, guiding and directing their minds in accordance with the sure yardstick of reason, so that each man will regard his duty as sacred, and no avarice can do violence to this. On the other hand, she does not seek out a courtroom full of corruption, she does not dwell in such or haunt one from which good faith, law and right have been removed by false and perjured magistrates, advocates and procurators.
spacerspacer 37. “As you see, one thing after another distracts me from my course, but now let us wend our way homeward. On the basis of civil law, it has already been shown that there is a double penalty for perjury, I mean divine, which inflicts the ruin which God metes out to perjurers who have dealt roughly with religion, and human, which is disgrace. The same penalty remains for those who are unashamed to perjure themselves openly. Thus in Book XII of the Digests blue we read that he who has sworn by the emperor’s genius to pay some money but later refuses to do so is first to be given a clubbing, and then to be turned loose with a placard, written in Greek, saying DO NOT SWEAR LIGHTLY. Nowadays we have the same custom, for among us too false, perjured witnesses and men who doctor public documents and produce forged wills, I men those we call notaries, are branded by one kind of disgrace or another. Either they are crowned with paper hats and whipped through our cities and market-places, or are branded, or have some portion of their tongue cut out, as a permanent mark of shame, since the tongue which has spoken deceptively can articulate nothing more, or one of their ears is cut off, having previously been nailed to a pole.”
spacer 38. “That’s well done,” Matteo said, “and it would be no less well if this mark of infamy were to be branded onto not a few merchants, craftsman and vendors (most particularly of horses) who openly perjure themselves, so that at their peril they would more attentively learn not to lie.” “Indeed, your chastisement would be especially severe,” said Teseo, “if you were the public prosecutor of vices. Men of this tribe are in the habit of swearing frequently, but unadvisedly so and, as I think, without any intent to deceive. And so they do not earn the penalty of disgrace as do these who lie with their rash claims, although I fear that they suffer divine punishment, which is the ruin for many of them, since some frequently suffer the shipwreck of their fortunes in the world at large, some lose their family estates at home, some suffer calamity, some fall ill, and yet others are plunged in perpetual sorrow because God, who keeps accounts of pious and impious men, is not unaware in what spirit each of them took his oath. And so they ought to think that they are being penalized as they deserve, as I expect many of them do.” “Pardon me for saying so, my Teseo,” said Matteo, ”but you are mistaken to no small degree if you imagine that such men think they have encountered those misfortunes because of their perjury, since experience has taught them they can lie most falsely and perjure themselves most maliciously with impunity. They are so so far from abhorring their habit of perjuring themselves that they don’t even notice they are doing so when they speak. So you should think that the whole crew of them deserve punishment when the they have purjured themselves. As you perceptively and sagely showed at the outset of our conversation, committing perjury consists either of being deceptive in one’s oath, neglecting and abandoning it, or swearing falsely with the intent to deceive. So it behooves those who swear an oath either to maintain their good faith and keep it free from blemish, or to swear without deceit, if they do not wish to become perjurers. But what percentage of merchants, craftsmen, and sellers of all manner of goods do not commit perjury in their oath-taking for profit’s sake?”
spacer 39. “Possibly a goodly percentage,” Teseo replied. “But to conclude our discussion of individual sinning in exercising this habit, I would have you know that countless merchants are quite upright fellows, and there are honest craftsmen by whose effort are produced, and by whose artistry are manufactured, many things which are sought for the necessary uses of human existence. But considerations of practicality bring it about that in the marketplace and in the food stalls there is no middle ground: the seller praises his wares to high heaven, whereas the buyer holds them in scorn, the latter so he may buy them more cheaply and the former so he may sell them more dearly. Hence it comes about that they both swear their oaths, not, I think for the sake of deception (for this is what allows something to fetch a fair price), but for the sake of transacting business, and so the merchant can conduct his business without committing perjury, and the craftsman can vend his finished work. Nevertheless, many sellers of livestock, particularly horses, refuse to do this, being clever and deceptive more than the common run of mankind. For the horse is an animal both noble and very necessary for human life, but because of the intolerable labors in which it is compelled to break itself, it is rarely sound of body. So when those horse-dealers are trying to sell a sickly horse, having taken care beforehand to disguise its faults with medications, they do not wait for the buyer to ask if it is sound, but take the lead in perjuring themselves, maintaining that, to the best of their knowledge, the beast is free of every defect, and thus they slyly cheat the buyer, although in good equity they should not conceal the horse’s fault from the buyer, and, if they have, they should make good the buyer’s loss. For, as Cicero says in Book III of De Officiis, blue it is prescribed by civil law that, in the case of most goods, defects should be acknowledged, with a penalty established. Thus it was enjoined that the buyer should not be kept ignorant of what the seller knows. If this very fair law were duly observed all over the world, it would be to the advantage of both buyer and seller, because the one would not be deceived, and the other would not occasionally be obliged to pay the price for perjury.”
spacer 40. “You have spoken at length,” said Matteo, “but without explaining all the cheats of craftsmen, who are clearly sinkholes of lies and perjuries. For in the shop and in the marketplace we see almost every kind of corrupt wares, since custom has granted these craftsmen excessive licence in debasing gold, silver, tin, and other metals, and likewise sheep’s wool, linen, weights and measures, corn, and also wine, as some cheating tavern-keepers do, selling wine which is diluted or what Cicero calls ‘spoiled,’ blue I mean wine drawn from down in the lees now that the cask is empty, or immature wine mixed in with sweet, or acidic wine with that of a smooth finish. And if the purchaser chances to notice that the object for sale is impure, dishonest, or not genuine, he will attempt to buy it for less, and then every seller, for his own sake, is quite ready to conceal his deception, and what gods does he not call to witness, what perjuries does he not spew forth, affirming and swearing that nothing is less corrupted than his wares? Furthermore (and this if by far the worst feature), this is done with impunity.”
spacer 41. “You think so?” asked Teseo. “They don’t who eventually suffer the appointed penalty. Indeed, in Book XI of Plato’s Laws blue it is prescribed that the seller and adulterated goods is first deprived of his goods, and then whipped. But in the civil law, as is clear from Books IV and XLVIII of the Digests, blue he who sells something with malice aforethought is compelled to pay a double fine and then is banished to an island. But what does this have to do with the divine penalty for perjury? Enough has been said about that already.” Then Matteo: “This won’t require a long discussion: what will you say if I bring up a form of misdeed that goes unpunished, untimely though it may be? For the supervisors of the grain-supply are in the habit of mixing corrupt grain with fresh in their storehouses, and thus to sell them in the market.” “The supervisors are in the habit of so doing,” said Teseo, “because it is not forbidden. For you should now that the chief consideration is always the advantage of the state. This is well established, for example by the law in Book X of the Code blue “Everything kept in the storehouses, etc.” To which Mato replied, “If a law should be established, three is no contrary argument. But, since it is beginning to become evening, you must hasten on to the rest, so that our disputation may not be cut short by the time of day.” “Only a little remains,” said Teseo. “I hope to finish before sundown. Now that we have said a great deal about perjurers, you should hear about the reward appointed them. The law says that we should not believe perjured men. And they are scarcely unaware of this law, so that, lest absolutely no credence be placed in their oaths, they are sly, unprincipled men who regard nothing as more important than heaping crime upon crime by expressing the hope that the plague might strike them if what they say is untrue. Good Christ, with what evils they would visited if the ruination they pretend to wish for straightway befell them! Nevertheless, they hardly escape something that is in all ways prepared to fall on their heads in its own good time.”
spacer 42. “Then I’ll delay you a little bit,” Matteo said, “by interrupting to ask how this custom came about that a man foolishly wishes ill for himself in order to gain greater credit.” Teseo replied, “I’ve heard of nothing more ancient than that response which Rebecca gave to Jacob, the son, when he was fearful about deceiving his father Isaac. The story in Genesis is too well known to bear repeating. For Rebecca, being given a revelation about the future (as we read in chapter 27 of that Book) understood that, although Jacob was a younger son, he enjoyed primacy. Hence she urged him to visit his father and ask for his blessing, although it was Esau’s prerogative since he had been born before Jacob, so that it was rightfully his. And, since Jacob had to discard his own identity and assume that of Esau, he replied to his mother, ‘I am afraid lest my father think he has been deceived by me, so that I gain nothing but his curse, instead of his blessing.’ His mother replied, ‘Let the curse fall on me.’ For you should understand that Isaac was blind and Esau had a hairy body whereas Jacob was smooth, so that he was readily identified by his father when he grasped him by the arm, and yet gave him his blessing. After this, Rebecca, being instructed in divine mysteries, did everything in accordance with God’s will and experienced no curse, because from the beginning it had been decided by God that Jacob was greater than Esau in authority, power, and reputation. Hence I would imagine that henceforth we have used such formulae of swearing not only to confirm our oath, but also as a means of attesting and affirming something, as has clearly been shown already.
spacer 43. “But another rash statement was ultimately very pernicious to the Jews, so that they became chronic perjurers, as can be seen from Exodus 24, blue where it is written, And he said unto Moses, ‘Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off. And Moses alone shall come near the Lord: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him.’ And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. And the people swore an oath (as Ezechiel attests at the end of chapter 16) blue that they would attend, do and perform this. And yet later they forgot all their duty and, thus stained by perjury, exclaimed over their destruction. But let us make John blue an eloquent narrator of this thing. Pilate saith unto them, ‘What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. You can regard this as God’s oracle, since nothing has been truer. For the Jews contracted such great guilt from this matter that, first, that their nation and all its fortune was destroyed by the Romans during the reign of Titus Vespasian, about the forty-third year after the death of Christ, and then because those who survived that great slaughter were able to gain no sure and lasting home on the face of this earth, but wandered to and fro like despised castaways, are even nowadays regarded as abject, and are objects of loathing and reproach to the rest of mankind, and are the targets of their curses. And so God in His own good time metes out retribution to every man the deserved fruit of his impiety and iniquity. I’ll set before your eyes another oracular statement pronounced out of the mouth of a perjurer.”
spacer 44. “An oracle pronounced out of the mouth of a perjurer, you say?” asked Matteo. “Are such scurvy perjured men God’s messengers? Explain, please, since as far as I can see this does not hang together.” “You have plenty of free time,” said Teseo, “cutting short my discourse over a matter of no great importance.” But it is not I, but rather our Polydore, who I predict will satisfy you, who in Book II of his De Prodigiis, blue is not obscure in pointing out and explaining the thing about which you ask: ‘I say that there is one kind of prophet who understands what he predicts, and another, false, kind who is capable of being deceived and does not comprehend his own pronouncements. Such was the prophet Saul, King of Judea, such was Caiaphas, and such was Balaam.’ So Polydore. Thus those wicked folk the Jews uttered this deadly pronouncement, as I have already said, which came into their mouths by divine inspiration, wherewith they pronounced their own doom. But they did not understand what it portended until their downfall was at hand. Thus Earl Godwin of Kent, an English perjurer, uttered a prophecy which he did not only fail to understand, but did not even believe to be true. For in the annals of the English blue it is related how after the death of King Canute III, after the English had cast the servile yoke of the Danes from off their necks., having killed some of the Danes and ejected the rest from the island, their council of elders immediately summoned King Etheldred’s son Alfred to come and occupy the throne, for at that time he was living in exile with Duke William of Normandy, together with his brother Edward. Receiving the news of the council’s intention, Alfred hastened home, and the members of the council decided that Earl Godwin should go in person to meet Alfred after he landed in England. But he, being both a factious conniver and an ambitious man, was convinced that Alfred, who was an intelligent person, would stand in his way when it came to enjoying outstanding authority among the rest of the nobility, so he decided to remove him. Therefore, having collected a sizeable armed band, he went to meet the young man, and killed him along the way together with nearly his entire escort. Returning to London, in wonderful ways he excused himself of blame in front of the council and at the same time began to urge that Alfred’s brother Edward be fetched and made king. For he preferred this, because Edward was a good man and a straightforward friend of truth but quite naive, whom he believed would be such a prince that he could ingratiate himself with him with no difficulty. Not long thereafter Edward was recalled home, with everybody’s high expectations, and was made king. Subsequently it chanced that one day the king was dining with Godwin seated at his side, when the Earl’s son Harald, a young man very outstanding for his youth and virtue, was serving as the royal steward. He was giving Edward something to drink when he caught one of his feet and came close to falling, but used his other foot to retained his balance, though spilling the wine from the cup. Then his father Godwin jokingly said, ‘now one brother helps the other.’ This statement filled the king with a sudden pang of longing for his brother, so he turned to the Earl and said, ‘So my brother would have helped me on every occasion — had you alone permitted.’ Because of his guilt for the sin Godwin suddenly grew afraid, and so tried to clear his name with an act of perjury, saying, ‘Your most sacred majesty, if I was the cause of your brother’s murder, I pray that by the will of God this piece of bread choke me.’ Having said these words, he confidently ate the bread, which immediately blocked his mouth so that he dropped to the ground dead. Oh perjury, you have great power, since because of your crime God unexpectedly seeks such requital from mortals! This Godwin had committed other evil deeds, as can be seen in those same annals, but it was his perjury alone that brought the man to his doom. What do you imagine became of his soul, after he died for denying the truth?”
spacer 45. “Nothing very good,” replied Matteo, “seeing that he was one of those men of whom, according to John, blue Christ said, Ye shall die in your sins, being doomed to suffer for their misdeeds in the Underworld, because in life they had not cleansed themselves by repentance.” “I greatly affirm what you say about these things, for, truth to tell, they can pertain to you,” said Teseo. “You yourself will judge if you have chosen to ponder aright the perils wherein you always exist. I cannot refrain from, in some part, deserving well of you at the end of our dispute, if you don’t mind, by saying some things I have decided to say, just as a father lovingly advises his son, who wants him to be untouched by any vice or sin.” Then Matteo, “Since you are thus disposed towards me, I will certainly regard as fair and good to be informed of whatever there is about me you think is in need of correction” Teseo said, “I would have you to to sea less often and cease your traveling. For, because of the uncertain mischances which occur more often at sea than on the land, death overhangs you at every second, and thus it comes about that many of our folk are quite unready suddenly to migrate to their other life. I would not have you be one of their number, and therefore, if you are wise you will tarry at home longer, where you have plenty to occupy your days and nights.” “Hang me if I’m lying, thus far I have traveled abroad for no other reason than that I’m eager to improve my education,” answered Matteo.
spacer 46. “So make use of your learning at home,”said Teseo. ”For you have an ample household, a wife, children, and a large staff of handmaids, servants and household lackeys, well fed, well clad, energetically swearing (as happens these days) and vigorously swearing and perjuring themselves. Why do they imagine what they don’t cut a dashing and worthy figure in society, deserving to belong to a great household in the service of some preeminent gentleman, unless they are chattering away, maintaining some shady thing upon their oath? What of the fact that those of their listeners who are not rascals themselves immediately take a dislike to such accursed statements, such as both their ears and their mind shrink from hearing? What of the fact that all good men shun such uncontrolled perjurers, withdraw from their company, and, when they catch sight of them, shudder and flee from them as from some evil omen? For they are convinced that some evil end always eventually overtakes these gentlemen who hold God and religion in equal contempt, who can say next to nothing without taking an oath. And what, I ask, about the fact the womenfolk, who are not excessively honest, particularly in this sinful age, are not entirely unpracticed at swearing and committing perjury, inasmuch as they are always pertly spicing their little chats with oaths and witticisms? Which indeed is far removed from the dignity of a materfamilias, who should be grave, modest, and frugal. For a matron swearing shamelessly acts entirely contrary to womanly modesty. And doesn’t her handmaid learn lying and perjury from her mistress no less than good or bad habits? It follows that it is of great interest to a very wise, excellent mistress to speak chastely, cleanly, and truthfully, for she knows for sure that her serving girls are always more than ready to imitate herself. And won’t little boys and girls have far less reverence for oath-taking when they have heard their parents employ an oath empty-headedly, and mention the words ‘God’ and ‘religion’ when speaking of something trifling, silly, or base. Won’t those little boys and girls, in accordance with their tender young age, prove teachable in carefully imitating all that? I have spoken individually of all the people who go to make up a household, and showed how each one is caught up in perjury. Now it is up to you to take care lest your household seem to lack a governor, for many sins are often committed in one because of its governor’s negligence.”
spacer 47. Matteo replied, “Those sins, if any such there be, are unfamiliar to me, nor am I aware of any. But I am not denying this or turning my back on the situation, although I am of the opinion that a goodly part of a household goes astray because of the depravity of their minds rather than the negligence of their governor, who is vigilant in making sure that it be free of every vice. If you know otherwise, pray instruct me, so that I have nothing to fret about.” Teseo said, “You must pay attention to one part of your household before all others, the one consisting of your sons. For, as the common saying goes, ‘your shirt is closer to your skin than is your jacket.’ Just as his shirt is closer to a man than his jacket, so a son ought to seem more important to a father than any of his servants. And so I will say something about the upbringing of sons, particularly about restraining and curbing their swearing and perjuring. Wise fathers exercise supreme diligence in teaching their sons, by giving them instruction, criticism, and correction. Unwise ones, on the other hand, take the lead in staining, contaminating, and polluting the tender young minds of their children. There are many fathers, I tell you, from whose mouths no utterance can be heard by their sons which is not preceded by an oath. I omit and pass over how many of these same fellows heedlessly say things which are not just dishonorable but downright obscene, and this makes their sons more impudent, so that they are less hesitant in following in their fathers’ footsteps in industriously swearing and committing perjury, who ought to be receiving daily improvement by good discipline and emerge far more modest boys. Wherefore there’s nothing at all more foul and corrupt than to hear little boys and girls babbling unclean words and oaths before they attain the age of reason.”
spacer 48. “If there is any fault,” retorted Matteo, “it’s no great one, since for the sake of relaxation a paterfamilias sometimes speaks jokingly in the presence of his servants no less than among outsiders, so as go gain a little surcease from his anxious preoccupations and daily cares.” “Is it proper,” asked Teseo, ”to call jokes those scurrilous conversations and pernicious, stupid witticisms by which a governor overturns his household?” “What?” responded Matteo, “Is it not permissible for a paterfamilas occasionally to be happy, facetious, and cheerful? Do you want him constantly to be caught up in serious matters, never giving himself over to gaiety, friendly joshing, joking and laughter, by which a good father, exhausted by domestic worries, may quickly free himself from the chains of his body?” Teseo responded, “I’ll readily allow you to rejoice with happiness, exult with triumph, and merrily joke, as long as this involves no harm for yourself (the apple of my eye) and others. I said that there are many perjurers in a household (to limit ourselves to our business at hand), even if it does not suffer from one single disease, and that these fellows are ruined by the fault of its governor because he is the man responsible for that vice, or at least the man who refuses to banish it. And so there’s pretty much nobody in a house who is blameless, and this is often wont to invite its downfall, as I have shown to have happened on other occasions by the clear examples I have given you. Furthermore, you must greatly strive for the welfare of all who are in your charge, so that none of them in any way falls into God’s hand because of that grave sin. For, as we have agreed, He is the sole avenger of that pernicious crime.”
spacer 49. “That’s good, friendly advice,” said Matteo. “And if any sin has been committed, it will quickly be emended.” “I am thrilled,” Teseo then said, “since from your pious attitude it is clear that you genuinely and greatly fear God, a judge both fair and severe, by Whose grace we helped if we are good men; but if we are evildoers, we can by no means escape His vengeful hands. The evil habit of swearing in particular draws many men into this danger, which I think should be avoided just as much as a bow aimed in our direction. For, just as a poisoned arrow is shot from a bow, so out of the habit of swearing grows perjury, more dread and pestilential than any arrow. For the former kills and slaughters the body, but the second destroys and damns the soul. These things, which ought to make an impression on all perjurers, should also deter from any manner of swearing those who desire to lead an upright existence in this human life for the sake of gaining one in heaven. For which reasons, since this disputation we have had today pertains to the advantage of all men, if I have the free time in the future and you think it worthwhile, perhaps we can commit it to writing, so that it will be as useful, fruitful and profitable for others as it has been for ourselves.” Matteo replied, “I am so far from misliking your very prudent advice, that I urge you to pursue this as soon as you can, so that posterity may learn we have spent many hours joined together in this careful, copious conversation, and that it has been conducive to the discipline of living aright.”

The end of the dialogue on swearing and perjury