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not two masters, but one, that is, God; and conscience is his deputy and subordinate. And in order to this, it is not illadvised in the fourth objection, to follow the right conscience of a wiser man; to do so, is a good expedient for the laying down our error; but it is not directly obligatory, so long as the error is confident; for I must not follow a wiser man in his right, if I believe him to be in the wrong; and if I believe him to be in the right, and he really be so, then I have laid aside my error, and, indeed, to do this is our duty; but this cannot be done till the error be discovered: till then I must follow my own conscience, not the conscience of another man.
6. To the sixth, I answer, that the law of conscience cannot derogate from the law of God, when they are placed in the eye of reason over-against each other; that is, when the conscience sees the law of God, no law, no persuasion, no humour, no opinion, can derogate from it. But an erring confident conscience believes that it follows God when it does not, so that the law of God hath here a double effect. The law of God, apprehended by the conscience, binds him to action; but the law of God, real and proper, binds the man to lay aside his error. For he that goes against the matter and the instance of the law of God, does yet at the same time obey the sanction and authority, because he proceeds to action in obedience to, and in reverence of the law of God. The wife of Amphitryon was kind to her lord, when she entertained Jupiter in his semblance; and, for Sosia’s sake, Mercury was made much of: and because the error is dressed like truth, for truth's sake we hug and entertain the error. So here. The law of God is not despised, much less evacuated by following the dictate of conscience, because it is for the sake of God's law that this conscience is followed; and therefore, since by accident they are made opposite, the event of it cannot be that one must cease,--for both may and must stand, but nothing must cease but the error.
7. And therefore, although the will must cease from its own pleasure, when God's will is known to be clear against it, yet the understanding must not cease from that which it supposes to be the will of God till the error be discovered; but when it is, then it must as much cease from its own ways as the will must; for every understanding, as well as every proud will, must be submitted to the obedience of Jesus.
8. For conscience being God's creature, and his subordinate, cannot possibly prejudice the rights of God; for as soon as God's right appears, and his laws are read, conscience doth and must obey; but this' hinders not but that conscience must be heard when she pretends the law of God for her warrant, so long as it is not known but that she says true.
9. For it is in this as it is in all contracts and oaths, so long as they seem lawful they must be observed, and must not be rescinded until it be discovered that they are against the law of God; and so it is with the dictates of an erring conscience.
10. And the reason is plain, because conscience does not make a real change in extreme objects (as I have formerly discoursed'); the things are good or bad by their proportions to God's law, and remain so, whatever the conscience thinks : but yet they put on vizors and shapes, and introduce accidental obligations by error. Indeed, the error brings in no direct obligation but that it be discovered and laid down: but so neither can it hinder but that conscience shall still retain the power that God hath given it, directly and principally; that is, that it be the man's rule and guide; for the fallacy that runs through all the objections, is this,—that the erring conscience is in its obligation considered as erring. Now it does not bind, as erring, but as conscience; that is, not by its error, but by its nature, and the power of God, as being the reporter and record of his commands. Against which, he that bids our conscience to proceed, indeed gives ill counsel. He that counsels a man to follow his erring conscience, invites him to folly; he tells him he is in error, and bids him not lay it down. But he that advises him to follow his conscience, though it happens in the truth of things that his conscience be in error, meddles not at all in the countenancing the error, but in the power of conscience.
11. For all the obligation which our conscience passes on us, is derivative from God, and God commands us to follow
b Cha. 2. Rule 9.
our conscience, but yet he commands us not to sin; because his commanding us to follow our conscience supposes our conscience instructed by the Word of God and right reason, and God had appointed sufficient means it should be: but that conscience offers a sin to the obedience, is wholly the man's fault, and besides the intention of God. God hath not made us to sin, but hath committed us to the conduct of conscience, which, by prevaricating its instructions, hath betrayed us.
By this it appears what manner of obligation is passed upon us by an erring conscience; the conscience always hath the same commission as being the same faculty, the same guide: but because itself is bound to the laws of God and right reason, so far as it follows them, so far it binds. But because when it is in error, it also pretends them, by them it still binds, till the illusion be discovered. Durandus expressed this by a distinction of words, in which himself only made the difference. Ligat, sed non obligat:" so he. That is, it hath not the same power that is in a right conscience. But it binds us so, that we cannot proceed to good. A right conscience directly and finally binds us to the action itself: an erring conscience cannot do that, because the action it offers is criminal, but it makes us take that instead of what it ought to bind us to; that is, it hath the same authority, but an evil exercise of it; the formal obligation is the same, but when it comes to be instanced, it binds us to that in which it hath no power. For though it hath power over us, yet it hath no direct power in that particular matter.
Cordubensis and Vasquez contradict this expression of Durandus, affirming that an erring conscience does “ ligare et obligare;" I cannot well translate the words into a distinction, but their meaning is this, that we are not bound positively to follow the error, but yet so that we must not do the contrary. Which, indeed, is the same thing; and they going to reprove Durandus' distinction, that hath no difference, they do it by a contradiction that hath in it no opposition. For to say that an erring conscience does so bind us that we must not contradict it, is to say that it positively binds us to follow it. For if it commands us to follow it, and we must not go against that command, is it not notorious and evident that we must positively follow it? But for the establishing the measures of obedience in the present case, these following rules are the best proportions.
The Measures of Obedience due to an erring Conscience.
1. If an erring conscience commands a thing that is of itself indifferent, we are bound to follow it, and we may do it without sin. Because, if it be indifferent, it is therefore lawful, and it cannot cease in itself to be lawful, by being supposed to be necessary. Indeed, if a governor commands us to do a thing indifferent, and says it is necessary, we may not do it under that compliance; that is, we may not betray our Christian liberty, and accept that as simply necessary which Christ hath left under liberty. We must do the thing, but not own the necessity. But if an erring conscience bid us do an indifferent, and represent it as a necessary action, though it may be a sin to believe it necessary, yet it is no sin to do the action; for nothing that supervenes, can alter the nature of the thing, and a new personal necessity introduced by an erring conscience, by making it seem necessary to him, changes it not from being lawful in itself. But then it infers this also, that as it may be done without sin, so without a sin it cannot be left undone: because the error hath made it sonally necessary, and the truth of God hath made it lawful really.
2. If an erring conscience dictate a thing to be good which is not good,—not to follow that dictate, and not to do that thing, is no sin; because every good is not necessary, and it may be good, or seem so; and yet to omit it in certain circumstances, may be equally good or better.
3. If an erring conscience affirm that which is good, or which is indifferent, to be evil and vicious; as if it says, it is a sin to spit upon the pavement of a church, or that it is superstition to serve the poor in an hospital, it is no sin to omit that indifferent or that commendable action; because here is no, command of God to countermand the resolution of conscience, and therefore the error may become a snare and a hinderance, but no direct cause of sin; because such actions in themselves not being necessary, it cannot be criminal upon a less reason to omit them. But upon the same account it is a sin to do them, because they are not of faith, and the con
science being persuaded against them, they are sins. For any deficiency of a necessary ingredient makes a sin.
4. If an erring conscience say that such an action is lawful only, when of itself it is good and laudable,' we sin not if we do it, or if we do it not. For in this case, neither is there any direct obligation from God, nor any indirect obligation from conscience, and therefore the man is wholly permitted to his liberty: although it may be a pious action to pray kneeling on the ground with bare knees, or prostrate on our faces, yet if conscience says it is in no sense laudable, but that it is lawful only, we may safely do it; but then there is no other effect of such an action, than there is of scratching a man's head with one finger: and it cannot be commendable in him to do an action, in which he believes there is no worthiness.
5. If an erring conscience commands what is simply evil, or forbids to do that which is absolutely commanded, the man sins, whether he obeys or obeys not. In one case he sins against his rule, and in the other against his guide, and any one miscarriage is enough to introduce a sin. But this will be the matter of the next rule. The use of these rules is not at all effective upon erring consciences, while the error remains : for the advices supposing the error are not applicable to them, who will not suppose themselves in error. But they are applicable to consciences recovered from their error, and are useful in the conduct of their repentance, because they describe the respective measure of sin and innocence, and what obligations of sorrow and amends are left behind when the error is
gone. To these may be added those rules which I have already given", concerning the changes which can be made in moral actions, by the persuasion and force of conscience.
c Ch. 2. Rule 9.