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If he be asked what his own opinion is, he must not speak contrary to it: but when the question only is asked in order to a resolution, he may point to go that way, where by his own sentence he may be safe, and by reason of the other's necessities, he may be more advantaged. The reason of this is, because when two opinions are equally probable, the scales are turned by piety, or charity, or any good thing that is of collateral regard, -and, therefore, makes a greater degree of artificial probability, and is, in such cases, sufficient for determination. For in direct reason, the case is equal, and in the indirect, there is great advantage on the side of charity, or accidental necessity, or compliance with any fair and just interest. Christian religion is the best natured institution in the world.
The like case it is, when the opinion of the curate is such, that the inquirer will probably abuse it to licentiousness and evil mistake; for then the curate may prudently conceal his own sentence, and borrow his brother's candle to light a person that is in danger.
When the Guide of Souls is of a different Opinion from his
Charge or Penitent, he is not bound to exact Conformity to his own Opinion that is but probable, but may proceed according to the Conscience of the Penitent.
That is, supposing the opinion of the penitent to be probable, and that he did the action • bona fide,' and as an act commendable or permitted; he is not to be troubled with what is past, lest that be turned into a scruple which was no sin, and lest the curate judge. unrighteous judgment, and prescribe afflictions for that for which God shall never call him to judgment; for in this case it is, that no man can be the judge of another man's conscience.
But if the opinion of the penitent be certainly false, or the parent, or protector, 'or the occasion of a sin, the guide of his soul must not comply at all with it, but discover the error and the danger. He that kills his brother because he is zealous in another opinion, and thinks he does God good service, must not be permitted in his erring conscience, and criminal persuasion; for the matter hath altered the case, and in the relations of duty, the error is always vincible, and, therefore, intolerable: and, therefore, Peter Lombard's mother, upon her death-bed, was admonished to confess her sin in having three children by illegal mixtures, though she was foolishly persuaded it was no sin, because her sons did prove to be such excellent persons, and instruments of divine glory.
RULE XV. '
The Sentence and Arbitrement of a prudent and good man,
though it be of itself but probable, yet is more than a probable Warranty to Actions otherwise undeterminable.
“Sicut vir prudens definierit,” is the great measure, which Aristotle and all the moral philosophers assign to very many cases and questions. If two cases, that seem equally probable, have in them different degrees of safety, that the safest is to be chosen is certain; but oftentimes the sentence and opinion of a good man is the only rule by which we judge concerning safety. When piety and religion are in competition for our present attendance, sometimes piety to our parents is to be preferred, sometimes an action of religion in its own season; but what portion of our services is to be allowed to the one and the other, is, sicut vir prudens definierit,” “according as a good and a prudent man shall determine.” To bury the dead is good, to relieve the living poor is ordinarily better ; but yet there was a time in which there was a proper season for that, and not for this; and our blessed Saviour commended Mary's devotion and choice in so doing; but when we also may do one or the other, depends upon circumstances and accidents, which are not immediately the subject of laws, but of prudent consideration. Human laws bind the conscience of their subjects, but yet give place to just and charitable causes; but which are competent and sufficient is not expressly and minutely declared, but is to be defined by the moderation and prudence of a good man.
That we are to be careful in the conduct of our temporal affairs, in paying of our debts, in making provisions for our children, is certain and confessed: but besides the general measures and limits of carefulness described by our blessed Saviour, our earnestness of prosecution, our acts of provision and labour, are to be esteemed regular or irregular by the sentence of a wise and a good man. The significations of love to our children and nearest relatives, the measures of compliance with the fashions of the world, the degrees of ornament or negleet in elothing, intention of our actions and passions, and their degrees, the use, and necessities, and pretences for omissions in good things, and generally all the accidental appendages of action, are determinable only this way: and a probability is enough to determine us; but that this is the way of introducing the probability is upon this reason; because next to the provision of laws, stands the man who is obedient to laws and understands them, and next to the reason of the law stands the analogy and proportion of these laws; and, therefore, this is the next best to the laws, it stands nearest to reason, is the best guide that is left us, and, therefore, a proper measure of conscience in the destitution of that which is most proper.
There are many other rules concerning the exercise of a probable conscience, in the cases and questions of kings and priests, of advocates and judges, in matters of sacraments and government, which are to be referred to the place of their proper matter ; but this is also to be determined by the rules here assigned, and have no particular consideration, except what merely relates to the matter.
OF A DOUBTFUL CONSCIENCE.
A doubtful Conscience assents to neither Side of the Question,
and brings no direct Obligation.
The conscience being, in its proper operations, positive and practical ; when it is neither, it is not properly and directly conscience; and because it binds to obedience by its determination and assent, and its consequent inclining the will when the understanding is not determined, nor the will inclined, there can no action follow, but a total suspension of action is its proper consequent.
Upon this there is only a reflex act of conscience and understanding; for by considering that our conscience is doubtful and indeterminable, we are obliged to suspend our action; but then this is the act, not of a doubtful, but of a right conscience, because in this we are certain, and right, and determined: so that a doubtful conscience is but an equivocal and improper conscience; like an unresolved will, or an artist with his hands bound behind him; that is, the man hath a conscience, but it is then in chains and fetters, and he wears a hood upon his eye, and his arm in a string, and is only to be taught how to cut the knot, and to do some little things of advantage, or security to his intermedial state of impediment; but a doubtful conscience can be no rule of human actions.
But yet some collateral and indirect obligations are passed upon the man by that state of infelicity, according to the nature of the doubt.
In order to which, doubts are considered, either as relating to the law, or as relating to matters of fact, viz. whether such a thing be lawful or not? or whether I did such an action or no, by which I am bound to restitution or repentance ?
Doubts also are negative or positive, that is, they are still upon us, because there is no means to determine the understanding; as no man can ever be resolved whether the number of the stars be even or odd; when is the precise minute in which a man first comes to the use of reason; and this is called a negative doubt. The positive enters by the indifferency of the arguments, and their equal weight on both sides : as if it be doubted, whether the souls departed enjoy the beatific vision before the day of judgment? whether residence on a benefice be an indispensable precept, or in what cases it obliges not? whether ecclesiastical persons be bound, by justice or by charity, to give all that they can prudently spare, to the poor? These are positive doubts, because there are many arguments on either side.
The negative doubt is either metaphysical or moral, or it is only a suspicion; that is, there are several degrees of such a doubt, for the determination of which there is no sufficient instrument.
Lastly, sometimes a doubt is placed only in the understanding, without any other effect but the trouble of thoughts ; and then for method's sake, and right understanding of the rules of practice, it is called a speculative doubt. Sometimes this doubt passes on to the conscience, and hath influence upon the action or event; so as to be an impediment to it, or the spoil of it, that is, so as to cause that it shall not be done, or, if it be done, that it becomes a sin: and this is called a practical doubt.
According to these distinctions, the following rules are useful in order to practice.
A negative Doubt neither binds to Action, nor Inquiry, nor Repentance; but it binds only to Caution and Observance.
1. “ That it binds not to action," I affirm upon ground, by which the same is affirmed concerning all doubting consciences. It binds from action ; for whatsoever is done with a doubting conscience (that is, without faith, or fulness of persuasion that it is lawful to do it), is a sin. St. Paul gave us the rule, “ Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." “ Quod dubitas, nè feceris,” said Cicero". For if we do it with a doubting conscience, we do it without our rule, which is the dictate of our conscience; and since no action is indifferent between lawful and unlawful (though between good and bad there may), to do without our rule of lawful and permitted is to do against it, even that which is not permitted, and therefore is unlawful. Add to this,
(2.) He that does not know whether it be lawful or no, does that which he is not sure but it may be forbidden by God, and displeasing to him: and to do that which I know
* Rom. xiv. 23. b
Bp. Taylor alludes, perhaps, to the following passage : “ bene præcipiunt, qui vetant quidquam agere, quod dubites, æquum sit, an iniquum :" De Offic. i. c. 9. Ø 8. Heusinger, p. 76. (I. R. P.)