The Pledge of our Rule

What follows is an explanation of the obligation of service in the Order for the sake of military and ex-military men, who having pledged allegiance to a sovereign power, wonder if they can serve with us and how their previous obligations may or may not conflict.

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Saint Leonard of ReresbyAccording to the Rule of our Order, the men who serve in a military capacity pledge the service of some number of years with the Order.  This pledge, being a religious one, pertains to the supernatural order and is subordinate to the vows of Baptism which the Catholic man undertook either personally, when he converted, or through the mediation of his parents, who presented him at the Baptismal font, and ratified as an adult, when renewing his vows of Baptism and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation (Chrism).

The Pledge of the Rule reads thus:

“For the love of Our Most High Lord and King, Jesus Christ, I pledge the service of X number of years, as a __________ (grade of service), in defense of my brother Christians and for the liberation of their persons, properties and lands, even unto the risk of life and limb; for which purpose I promise obedience to the Master of this Order and pledge to take up the Cross!”

The Nature of the Pledge

The nature of this pledge has 4 causes: that which is pledged to be done, that which one pledges, the motive for pledging and the purpose for the pledge.  That which is pledged to be done is the defense and liberation of our brothers Christians, their persons property and lands. That which one pledges is service in the Order. The motive for pledging is the love of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the pledge is 1) to bind the one pledging to obedience to the Master of the Order, 2) to insure the fulfillment of what is pledged and what is pledged to be done, 3) to protect the one pledging from other motivations, 4) to publicly witness and profess the charity which is its motive and cause.

How this Pledge differs from a Military Oath

The Pledge of our Holy Rule differs from a Military Oath, in three ways: 1) in the manner of the swearing, 2) in the nature of the act promised, and 3) in the dignity of the superior to whom the promise is made.

First a Military Oath contains 2 parts, 1) the promise  and 2) a sworn testimony; the oath being added to the pledge of military service as a solemn testimony to the truthfulness of the one promising.  Since it is a divine precept of the Decalogue that “One should not take the Name of the Lord, thy God, in vain”, a pledge sealed with an oath binds a man by a grave obligation of religion under precise circumstances, regardless of whether what is promised is a natural or supernatural work or act of virtue.

An explicit oath contains the words, “I swear” or some solemn declaration such as “Amen, Amen.”. An implicit oath contains some ritual custom proper to an oath, such as placing one’s hands upon the Bible or upon the flag of one’s nation. Most Military Oaths are explicit oaths because of their words, and our Pledge is an implicit oath because it is made with the right hand upon the Gospels.

Thus, any oath which invokes the Name of the One True God, whether generically (“God”), or specifically in a Christian sense, (“Jesus Christ”) involves an act of natural or supernatural religion respectively.  The virtue of religion is a species of the virtue of justice, namely the justice which a created creature owes its creator. When the Oath invokes God generically its an act of natural religion if the context is secular or indifferent to the Catholic faith. When an Oath invokes God specifically, as Jesus Christ, or any Person of the Trinity, singly or collectively, its an act of supernatural religion.

Second, just as there are promises of the natural and supernatural orders, so oaths.  And, just as the obligations to God as He has revealed Himself are more principal and more obliging that the obligations we have to Him as a creature, so promises and oaths of the supernatural order are superior to those of the natural order. Every Christian by his Baptismal vows is bound a priori to God and His service by an act of supernatural religion which can never be undone and by an obligation which remains in time and in eternity. These are the highest vows any human creature can undertake and one can never escape from them by any other promise.

Third, a Military Oath to a sovereign power or ruler is an act which regards a natural and proper superior (except in the case of the Vatican or the Knights of Malta).  Any Oath or promise can be made to a proper or improper superior. A proper superior is one which one has in virtue of nature, birth, citizenship or duty. An improper superior is one who becomes such in virtue of a free will decision. Oaths which are equally just and right, are more principal when they are made to proper superiors, and superior when they are made to supernatural superiors rather than to natural ones.  Our natural superiors are our fathers, the leaders of our nation, our employers. An improper superior is the leader of a free will association such as a club or religious Order.  One owes greater duty therefore to God than to country, to ones father than to one’s political leader, to one’s employer than to the head of one’s club. In matters ecclesiastical or in affairs which regard the freedom of the Catholic religion, all Catholics owe the Pope greater obedience than the leader(s) of his own country, the fathers of their families, or their employers, bishops or general superior of their Order.  Our Pledge is made to the Grand Master of our Order, who is at present an improper superior of supernatural dignity only to those who are members of our Order.

Can a Military Oath ever be in conflict with one’s Baptismal Vows?

Saint Bonifilius

Saint Bonifilius of Foligno

Conflicts which arise over the Nature of the promise

For this reason, first of all, if any Christian promise to God that which is contrary to God’s Will, as revealed in Scripture and Tradition, his obligation to his Baptismal vows, since they require the opposite, make such a promise null and void. If what he promises is not contrary, then he is obliged to keep it under the pain of mortal sin, that is, under a grave obligation, which if he fail in anything essential to the duty undertaken, he would be committing a mortal sin.  However, if the Christian promises that which in most circumstances is not contrary to God’s Will, as revealed, but in special circumstances might or could be, then, again, in most circumstances he would be obliged but in those special circumstances he would not be obliged to fulfill his promise.

And thus it can arise that a Military Oath, that is, a pledge of service by a member of the armed forces of a sovereign state, could in certain circumstances or at all times not be obliging to a Christian.  Whether and when this is the case depends, then, on what the obligation states and for what purpose his Nation or sovereign is employing the service which he has pledged.  Thus, if a Nation or sovereign is not acting contrary to God’s Will, a Christian soldier should fulfill his Military Oath. If the Nation through its leaders has decided to ask him, in virtue of his oath (even implicitly) to do what is contrary to God’s will, he is not obliged. For this reason, it is a principle of the natural and supernatural law, as well as of international law, that a soldier is never excused by the fact that he has sworn allegiance to his Nation or its laws, of the crimes which result in an unjust war or which are contrary to the Natural or Moral Law or to international law.  And since the Laws of God are unalterable, neither is he excused by his Military Oath from keeping the 10 Commandments or practicing the Christian Faith.

Hence, no Catholic military man, who by his oath and the obedience which he is obliged by it to keep, is excused from mortal sin if he obey a superior who commands him to do what is immoral or contrary to the Catholic Faith, whether that regard an unjust war or the violation of the Divine, Natural or Moral Law.  Thus a superior cannot command a Catholic soldier to transport, purchase or distribute pornography, to attend the religious services of a false religion, to kill the innocent, or to do anything which persecutes Catholics in matters of their religious liberty or of any human being in matters of his human liberty and dignity. Nor could he be commanded to allow the innocent to be slaughtered when he had the opportunity to help without risking the non fulfillment of other graver duties.

Conflicts which arise from the different dignity of the ones to whom things are promised

Thus, second, if one has a duty to God, the Pope, or any superior which prevents him from fulfilling to do what he has promised a lower superior to do, then he must omit fulfilling what is requested by the inferior superior, but this principle is only operative if the nature of the things obliged and their necessity are equal, as we shall see below. Because it could be that the Pope orders all to say a Rosary at noon on a certain day, but that a Catholic solider is commanded to enter into battle just before this and by fulfillment of a duty to that lesser superior, regarding a more urgent necessity, be exempt from the command of his higher superior, the Pope, to a thing of lesser necessity, though of a superior order, i. e. the supernatural order.

For these reasons, no oath or promise excuses a Catholic from the Divine, Moral, or Natural Law, nor does it oblige him to obey a superior who commands that evil be done or that a good gravely necessary be omitted. And for this reason, it is the Christian alone, on account of the dignity and justification conferred upon him in Baptism and preserved by grace, prayer and his own fidelity, who is truly the most free and honest man upon earth, even in the fulfillment of his most grave of promises, since they cannot in any way be or be understood as a diminishment or excuse of his obligations to and liberty won by Christ Jesus, His Divine Sovereign and True Lord.

Can a Military Oath ever be in conflict with the Pledge made in this Order?

Thus, in conclusion we can state several moral principles which regard this question:

1) For those who take the Pledge of our Order, if the Military Oath which they have taken is still in force, that inasmuch as it promises what is in harmony with the Natural or Moral Law, it will never be contrary or contradictory to the Pledge made in this Order.

2) That those who have taken a Military Oath, the obligations of which are still in force, are obliged to keep that oath only to the extent that what is commanded is in harmony with the Natural, Moral, Divine, or International Law and, if they be Christians, their Baptismal Vows and the Law of God as revealed in Scripture and Tradition.

3) That those who have taken a Military Oath, which is no longer in force, have no operative moral conflicts with assuming any other vow or promise which is honest, good and just;

4) That if there arises any conflict between what is promised by the Pledge of our Rule and the obligations of a Military Oath still in force, the obligations of one’s Baptismal vows determine which is to be kept, for in matters of necessity no one can be obliged by any oath to do what is immoral or which would result in the harm of others; and thus, neither can one break a previous promise which is still binding nor can a Christian use the excuse of a previous obligation to fail in his primary allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Church, which allegiance for every Christian soldier is superior to any owed to or pledged to any secular power.

Can the obedience owed to any man, even the Pope, excuse from works of mercy?

There remains, then, the question, “Whether the obedience which is owed to any creature, whether as a creature or inasmuch as he is a representative of God, can ever oblige a man not to undertake a work of mercy?”

First, a work of mercy cannot be undertaken if the means to achieve it deprive another of what he is justly owed or if grave necessity demands that these be used for another purpose.  Thus, if a Jihadi is running towards an innocent to slit his throat, one who could intervene cannot pause to give a thirsty man something to drink and thus excuse oneself from saving the innocent from death.  This is a general principle of necessity. Yet, as many a military man knows, in war one often does not have the time to save everyone and that by aiming to help some, others will be lost. In this one does not sin, nor does one sin by obeying a commander to whom such a decision belongs by his rank and office.

But when there is no necessity, no man, not even the Pope, could command that a man not undertake a work of mercy for the needy, simply because Jesus Christ, the King of Kings has already commanded His own, that all Christians, to undertake the works of Mercy, saying, “I leave you a great command, that you should love one another as I have loved you.”

At the present, when Christians are being attacked, slaughtered, dispossessed and abandoned, who can doubt that the Military man who is not obliged by an oath, or even the Military man who is bound by an oath, but who is not forbidden by his superior, come to the aid of the needy or take the Pledge of our Rule? Especially since such a need is so urgent.

Determining whether to take the Pledge of Our Rule

For these reasons, to avoid conflicts, the Order requires that volunteers for military service with us manifest to us,  during the application period, whether they are still bound by a Military Oath and to what extent they are.  And  for those who are, we require that they seek first permission of those superiors to whom they have pledged service or that they seek the legitimate absolution of — that is liberty from — or dispensation from any obligation which conflicts with service in our Order.

Unlike the promise made by the Crusaders of old, which by Papal authority dispensed a man from the obligation to pay debts, to fulfill his marriage vows or care for his family, to serve his Liege lord, or to remain in his convent, the promise of our Rule, being in an association of Catholics, does not have this effect. However, if a military man resigns from the armed forces of his nation to serve Christ in our Order, inasmuch as he resigns what is a natural obligation to have the freedom to undertake a supernatural service and sets aside a natural superior to serve Christ the King, his sacrifice has a double merit and is a most noble and Catholic profession of heroic virtue.

However, if one is no longer bound by a Military Oath, the pledge of service in our Order would take precedence to the obligations he has to his natural superiors inasmuch as they do not conflict and do not involve a grave violation of such obligations to honest things.  And for this reason, all those men who must care for their family should not take our pledge if by its fulfillment they gravely fail in that natural duty. Indeed,  we prefer that they care for their wives and children in such cases rather than risk harm or injury to do a work of mercy which is not strictly an obligation to them before they take the Pledge of our Order. However, if they should decide to serve with us, and can demonstrate that there is no major conflict, we will accept their pledge of service.

In Summation:

The Pledge of our Holy Rule involves a promise sealed with an oath,* which is both an act of the supernatural order and obliging gravely in virtue of the supernatural oath attached. By it, the one pledging takes the Grand Master of our Order as his superior and places himself at the disposition of the Order for its good works during the term of service.

As such, the Catholic soldier who serves in the Order, in virtue of the Pledge of Our Rule, merits doubly from the good works he does and the fulfillment of his promise in their doing, and thus becomes a true holy warrior, whose actions have value not only on the temporal plane but also on the supernatural plane. In fulfilling such a pledge in faith and in the state of grace, such a soldier expiates a great number of sins and merits a great number of graces, because all that he does is sanctified by his pledge of heroic charity.

The Order, moreover, is not a proper society but improper society, since it comes into being by the free-will decision of its members not by birth or blood.  It is, however, not a natural society but a supernatural one, and to this extent is superior to any sovereign power of the natural order. Membership in it does not excuse from the natural duty of allegiance to one’s nation which every member has,* but by its pledge its members are freed from the error of nationalistic idolatries and placed in a supernatural order to Christ the King, forming in a certain sense a true part of His royal army on Earth.

The superior of the Order, the Grand Master, however, is inferior to the Pope or any Bishop or pastor of souls since he is an improper superior of supernatural dignity, being a superior only to its own members. Only after being recognized and/or erected by the Church would it become formally a supernatural society, and its Grand Master a proper superior of supernatural dignity to its members. However, on account of the honesty and holiness of its form, ends and purpose, it does not need the permission of any superior on earth to be constituted or to operate, since its existence, form, nature and purpose are sanctioned both explicitly and implicitly by public revelation and ecclesiastical tradition, and its members by their Baptismal vows have a divine right to belong to it and serve in it.


* The act of placing one’s hand upon the Gospels during the ritual of the pledge, is equivalent to a supernatural oath; and the invocation of the Name of the Lord Jesus, makes the matter and form of the oath an act of the supernatural virtue of religion.

* Only if the Order would gain sovereign status, would its members be free from the allegiance to their sovereign states of citizenship.

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