Are vows permissible or forbidden?

Are vows permissible or forbidden?

The Bible in fact says: “Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. ” (Eccl. 5:5).

A vow is an expression of an agreement between a human being and God, so there is no going back on it.

The vow, however, must be healthy from the spiritual point of view, though, because it is not good to form an agreement with God in which there is something at fault. 

On one occasion the Jews vowed to remain fasting until they had killed the apostle Paul (Acts 23:12). Their vow was wrong and unlawful…

So not every vow is according to God’s will, some vows might not be lawful.

Jephthah the Gileadite vowed that if he was victorious, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever thing first came out from the door of his house to meet him on his return. (Judg. 11:30) And even though he was met by his young daughter, he fulfilled his vow and sacrificed her as a burnt offering to the Lord! To be sure, God would not have approved of this action at all, for the vow was for something not permissible. The Lord never commanded in His holy law that human beings should be offered as burnt sacrifices!

Concerning the parents vowing to have their child baptised at some far off place, they might actually be endangering the fate of their child. Suppose circumstances should, for example, prevent their reaching that place, or if the child should die before being baptised, how could they carry the responsibility of his eternal life? Also, the child’s being deprived of partaking of the holy sacraments, until such time as circumstances made it possible for him to be baptised (according to his parents’ wishes), would mean that he was being deprived of heavenly grace and blessings which could otherwise be at work within him. And the parents in this case would bear the responsibility for this before God. 

So this kind of vow is completely wrong, especially since the effect of baptism does not change from one place to another, but is the same.

Receiving the blessing of a particular place, however, or of a particular saint, considering the risk involved, must be a matter confined to being purely one’s personal wish. It should not ever be elevated to the level of becoming a vow.

It is the risk involved which makes us judge this case from the theological point of view by taking into consideration the possibility of this vow being broken, for our lives are in the hands of God, and a child can die even though he is perfectly healthy.

If the child’s health was in danger, then the vow would have to be broken, thus the sin of breaking a vow would be committed, which is less serious than the death of a child unbaptised, and by breaking the vow, we would have chosen the lesser of two evils.

In both cases, the Church’s disapproval is incurred by those who made the vow, i.e. the parents.

Generally speaking, these things should be made a matter of personal wishes rather than vows. People should pray about them and say: ‘O Lord, we would very much like to have our child baptised in the holy place of such and such’. But they shouldn’t vow. And at the same time, even if it is only a personal wish, they should not be slow in carrying it out, for the Bible says: ” When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it. ” (Eccl. 5:4).. 

When it comes to the vow of celibacy, or the vow of monasticism, I do not advise these to be made by young people, or by those who have only recently become acquainted with the spiritual life…

It is not forbidden, because there is nothing wrong with it in itself, but there is a risk that the idea might be just the result of a temporary enthusiasm, or a passing influence. Or if the one who has made such a vow should suddenly be afflicted by severe spiritual attacks from the point of view of his body, he may regret having made the vow, and want to go back on it, or yearn to get married, or end up living in sin.

Instead of making a vow of celibacy, present your wish as a desire, and make it a matter of prayer to God.

Say to Him: ‘I should like, O Lord, to be celibate, or become a monk. Please grant me this desire, if it is according to Your will.

As for those who are grown up and spiritually mature, who have tested themselves for a long time, and whom heavenly grace has helped along the path to victory, then there is nothing to prevent them from consecrating themselves to God. Even so, I would advise them not to delay too much in case the opponent stirs up uncalled for attacks against them. 

As far as the vow of fasting until the end of war is concerned, this is not something practical.

Whoever said that wars on earth would come to an end?! They are ever present and, according to the Bible, will remain so until the end of the world. (Matt. 24) If, however, the vow concerns a specific war in a definite place, and if the one making the vow is mature, and capable of fasting, then there is no objection in this case.

When it comes to fasting, though, and the vows of celibacy and monasticism, it is necessary to ask advice from one’s spiritual father.

It would not be right for a person to pursue these matters according to his own ideas, without having received guidance. If he were not to ask advice from his spiritual father in such important cases as these, then what would he ask him about?!

As a general rule, a person making a vow should not pronounce it quickly.

It requires reflection, thought, advice and prayer, however, before making the vow…