Pragmatic necessity over scriptural guidelines: Basil of Seleucia and the swearing of oaths at later-Roman church councils

Wuk, Michael (2023) Pragmatic necessity over scriptural guidelines: Basil of Seleucia and the swearing of oaths at later-Roman church councils. Journal of Early Christian Studies, 31 (1). ISSN 1086-3184

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Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive

Abstract

This article considers the late antique episcopal prioritization of pragmatism over strict adherence to the rules of Christianity. The need to choose between following the scriptures and bending to more immediate concerns often arose in relation to the practice of oath-swearing, which had been forbidden by Jesus (Matt 5.33–37) but was nonetheless a regular feature of ecclesiastical affairs. To explore this dilemma, this paper focuses on the proceedings of several fifth-century church councils and the actions of Basil, bishop of Seleucia, Isauria. At an ecclesiastical meeting in 449, Basil refused to swear an oath and cited Jesus’s proscription in explanation. However, not only was this objection highly irregular in the context of church councils but Basil himself later demanded that his episcopal colleagues take oaths at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. A closer examination of Basil’s apparent vacillation on the acceptability of oath-swearing suggests that the bishop’s initial objection to the practice was motivated by episcopal politics, rather than his religious principles. Even though later-Roman bishops were often held up as obedient followers of God’s commands, these senior clergymen regularly bowed to the necessity of oath-taking, thereby prioritizing the practical ahead of the scriptural.

Keywords:Oath-taking, Bishops, Church councils, Scripture
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V110 Ancient History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V130 Medieval History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V621 Christian studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V610 Theology
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:48354
Deposited On:11 Apr 2022 13:22

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