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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Witness, False.

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The early civil and ecclesiastical laws were very severe in their denunciation and punishment of this crime. We learn from Aulus Gellius that the punishment of false witness among the old Romans, by the law of the twelve tables, was to cast the criminal headlong from the top of the Tarpeian rock. Afterwards, by the law called Lex Remmia, false witnesses were burned in the face and stigmatized with the letter k, denoting that they were calumniators. In opposition to these the law designates honest men as homines integrae frontis, or men without such mark. And, though the Christian law abolished it, as it did other laws of undue severity, still false accusation and calumny were corrected with suitable punishments, such as infamy, banishment, and suffering the same evil, by the law of retaliation, which the accuser intended to draw upon others. The substance of the law is as follows: If any one called another man's credit, or fortune, or life, or blood into question in judgment, and could not make out the crime alleged against him, he should suffer the same penalty that he intended to bring upon the other. And no one could formally implead another at law till he had bound himself to this condition, which the law terms vinculum inscriptionis, the bond of inscription.

While the civil laws were thus severe, the ecclesiastical laws did all that fell within their province to effect the same results. By a canon of the council of Eliberis the false witness in any case was to do penance five years, and in case the false accusation was of murder, the criminal was to be debarred from communion to the very last, as in the case of actual murder. The councils of Agde and Vannes impose a general penance upon such offenders, without naming the term or duration of their penance, which was left to the discretion of the bishop, who was to judge of the sincerity of their repentance. But the first council of Aries obliges them to do penance all their lives, and the second only moderates their punishment so far as to leave it to the bishop to determine of their repentance and satisfaction. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. book 16, chapter 10: 9, and chapter 13, 1.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Witness, False.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/w/witness-false.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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