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What is a Vow?

A Vow refers to an oath or a promise made by a person. While the meaning of a Vow is similar to that of a promise, a Vow is used in a more official context than a casual promise.

Marriage Vows

Marriage Vows symbolize important words or binding promises each partner in a couple makes to the other person during an official or sometimes casual wedding ceremony. Traditional marriage customs have developed over the period of history. These traditions keep changing as a reflection of human society’s growth and development.

For instance, in earlier times, the partners' consent was not as necessary as it is now. At least in Western societies and the cultures it has influenced, a person’s consent did not have any importance. More specifically, protestants, for example, considered the marriage Vow to be a divine law that cannot be changed. Since the marriage Vow only needs a ‘conciliar assertion,’ marriage is a form of divine ordinance. The Scripture also supports marriage Vows.

Divine Vows

A religious Vow refers to a transaction between a diety and a person. Within the worldview of the nuns and the monks, a person is supposed to promise some goods or render some service to their deity of choice to keep their Vow. More often than not, a person is asked to devote a valuable gift or service to God. This Vow is an oath where the deity acts as both the witness and the recipient of a promise.

For instance, as mentioned in the Bodhisattva Vows or the Book of Judges. In the context of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law, taking a Vow or an oath is not deemed an act of worship (cultus), such as the liturgical celebration, but it is considered an act of religion. They are regarded as acts of religion mainly because of their sacred character and the fact that they entail religious obligations. One crucial attribute of the Vow is that it involves the capacity in which non-Catholics are recognized. Non-Catholics can make a Vow, which must also be fulfilled because of the virtue of religion.

God is usually asked to grant the wish of a person who has made this Vow. This is because once a deity enters into covenants or contracts with a man, a deity’s benevolence is claimed through the medium of this Vow. Consequently, this diety needs to value the gratitude of the person who makes the Vow. On the other hand, by making a Vow, a petitioner’s spiritual attitude and righteousness begin to outweigh merely ritual details. Even though these rituals are all all-important in magical rites, a Vow acts above them.

The old magical usage of a Vow and the relatively developed notion of personal power approached via a prayer have existed alongside each other. For instance, in the Maghreb (in North Africa), the maidens of Mazouna carry a doll called ghonja through the streets every evening in times of drought. During this procession, the doll is a dressed-up wooden spoon that symbolizes a rain spirit that dates back to pre-Islamic times. During this procession, one of the girls often carries a sheep on her shoulders, and her companions sing a song.

The Vow is very different from the notion of an established cult and is never provided in the calendar dedicated to a religion. As W. W. Fowler, an English clergyman, and entomologist, observes in his work that the Roman Vow (votum) “was the exception, and not the rule; it was just promise made by an individual at some crucial moment in his life, not the recurring or the ordered ritual of the family or even the State.' However, it was understood otherwise mainly because it contained a significant element of ordinary prayer.

In Greek, prayer and the Vows are one and the same words. The characteristic that differentiated a Vow was that it was a promise. As the Greek Church Fathers and the Suda remark, this promise was either of things one can offer to God in the future or of austerities one can undergo. This was primarily because offering and austerity, sacrifice, and suffering, are calculated equally to appease an offended deity’s wrath or to win his goodwill.

The act of differentiating a Vow from an oath is a difficult one. While a Vow is an oath by default, an oath can only become a Vow if the divine acts as not merely a witness but a recipient of the promise. In the Christian context, we have heard about Fathers taking Vows of abstaining from wine and flesh diet. A hair-offering was imperative in some form or other in any case of an individual being concerned with creating or confirming a tie connecting them with a shrine, a god, or a particular religious circle. They began this hair offering by cutting their locks at the shrine or the place of worship. They left these locks as a soul token and never grew them afresh until and unless the Vow was fulfilled.

For instance, Achilles Vowed not to cut his hair until he should return safely from Troy and consecrated it to the river Spercheus. Another example is the Hebrew Nazarite, whose strength resided in his flowing locks. He cut his locks off and burned them on the altar once the days of his Vow were over. He did this to symbolize his return to ordinary life after achieving his mission. Among the ancient Chatti, young men took an effort and allowed their hair and beards to grow endlessly. They Vowed to court danger in that disguise until they had each slain an enemy.

In Christianity, the Vow is much more critical than an oath because, contextually, a Vow binds one to God, whereas an oath only binds one to man. This stipulation was explained further by St. Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher, theologian, and priest, who said -

The obligation for both a Vow and an oath arises from a Divine thing but in distinguished ways. He mentioned that the commitment of a Vow arises from the fidelity and trust we owe God, which links us to fulfill all our promises to Him. Conversely, the obligation of an oath arises from the reverence we owe Him, which binds us to execute all our commitments to Him.

Barachiel Angel

Vehuel Angel

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