Colloque – Making Sense of the Oath in Late Antiquity and the Earlier Middle Ages: Religious Act, Social Bond, Holy Sacrament

Making Sense of the Oath in Late Antiquity and the Earlier Middle Ages: Religious Act, Social Bond, Holy Sacrament

Oaths appear as an almost universal feature and an indispensable tool in societies both past and present. Their use in Christianity, however, can be characterized by a tension rooted in the fact that its founder had explicitly forbidden that oaths be sworn in the Sermon of the Mount. Despite or even contrary to this prohibition, the period between the 4th and the 11th centuries can be described as one of enormous diversification and spread in the use of oaths. This process generated a great deal of reflection and debates on the swearing of oaths, its permissiveness, its significance and meaning, and also its limits.

The conference seeks to investigate these reflections and debates on the oath. It will start from late antiquity, the period in which Christianity came to dominate the discourse on this topic, then focus on the 9th century, when several theologians began to regard the oath as a holy sacrament, and end with the eleventh century, two of whose major conflicts were centered around oath-taking: the Peace of God movement and the Investiture Controversy. In so doing, the conference aims to address several key topics:

1. Between criticism and affirmation: the Christian oath as a religious act and the prohibition to swear in theology and exegesis
2. The dangers of perjury: stipulation, reservation, cautiousness, and penance
3. Uses of oaths in other religions and in interreligious communication
4. Personal obligation and the creation of social bonds and legal trust: the oath and Christian concepts of promise, will and the ability to contract
5. Holy obligation, the dissolution of oath bonds, and the right to resist: discourses of political theory centered around the oath
6. Narrative justice: historiographical and hagiographical narratives constructed along the interplay between oath and perjury

Admission free; please register at


Programme :

Thursday, 15th December (Room 2.2058)

14:00 – 14:30 : Stefan Esders (Freie Universität Berlin) – Welcome and Introduction

Session 1 – The Christian Oath in Roman Society

14:30 – 16:00 : Bernd Kollmann (Universität Siegen) – Jesus’ Teaching on Oaths in its Ancient Context
Moshe Blidstein (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) – Religious Authority and the Cancellation of Oaths and Vows in the Roman Empire
Coffee break

16:30 – 18:00 : Kevin Uhalde (Ohio University) – The Shape of Early Christian Fidelity: Tertullian on Swearing and Repentance
Nicholas Wheeler (University of Toronto) – Two Cases of Perjury: The Fourth Century Origins of the Canonical Norm against Perjury in the Latin Church

Friday, 16th December (Room 2.2059)

Session 2 – Obligations, Promises, Vows and Oaths: Redefining Social Relations in an Age of Transition

9:00 – 10:30 : Susanna Elm (University of California at Berkeley) – Condicio — Religious Bonds and Social Acts in Augustine
Claudia Rapp (Universität Wien) : Promise — Prayer — Contract — Oath: Religious Frameworks and Legal Norms for Social Interactions in Early Byzantium
Coffee break

11:00 – 12:30 : Andrew Marsham (University of Edinburgh) – Oath and Covenant in the Qur’an
Jamie Wood (University of Lincoln) – Oath-Taking in Early Medieval Iberia: Contextualising ‘Pactual’ Monasticism
Lunch break

Session 3 – Fidelity, Oath-Taking and Narrative Justice: The Carolingian Empire and After

14:00 – 15:30 : Jennifer R. Davis (The Catholic University of America / The American Academy in Berlin) – Re-imagining the Oath during the Reign of Charlemagne
Short break

15:40 – 17:10 : Mayke de Jong (Universiteit Utrecht) – “Fides” after the Battle of Fontenoy (25 June 841): Nithard and Paschasius Radbertus
Heiko Behrmann (Freie Universität Berlin) – Oath-Taking and Perjury in the Annals of St. Bertin: Tracing the Political Thought of Hincmar of Rheims
Coffee break

17:30 – 19:00 : Ian Ward (Princeton University) – The End of the Carolingian Oath of Loyalty in the Tenth Century
Theo Riches (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster) – Differentiating Sacred and Profane in the Eleventh-Century Oath: A Bishop’s Job, But Does Anyone Have to Do it?

Saturday, 17th December (Room 2.2059)

Session 4 – Framing the Oath in Early Medieval Theology, Exegesis and Canon Law

09:00 – 10:30 : Owen Phelan (Mount St. Mary’s University) – Oaths and Bishops in the Ninth Century
Gerda Heydeman (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften / Freie Universität Berlin) – “Ego autem dico vobis non iurare omnino”: The Prohibition to Swear (Matthew 5:33–37) in Carolingian Exegesis
Coffee break

11:00 – 11:45 : Stefan Esders (Freie Universität Berlin) – Dissolving the Oath (7th–11th centuries)
11:45 – 13:00 : Kate Cooper (University of Manchester) / Conrad Leyser (Worcester College / University of Oxford) – Conclusive Remarks
Final Discussion

Informations pratiques :

Prof. Dr. Stefan Esders
Lukas Bothe
in collaboration with
Dr. Gerda Heydemann (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften/Freie Universität Berlin)

Venue: Freie Universität Berlin Fabeckstr. 23-25 Room 2.2058/2.2059 D-14195 Berlin

Information and programme:
Tel.: +49 30 838 585 33

Lukas Bothe
Binger Str. 40, 14197 Berlin
+49 30 838 58533

Source : Freie Universität Berlin

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