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not but may grieve my friend, or trouble him, cannot consent with my love to him; and, therefore, every act of a doubting conscience is against charity. In the question of lawful or unlawful, not to know it to be lawful, is to enter upon it with a mind willing to admit the unlawful; it is all one to be in the dark, as to be without a candle or a star, and either of them is as bad, as full of ignorance and obscurity, as if we shut our eyes, or put the candle out. When, therefore, it happens that our conscience doubts whether such an act be a sin or no, a good man will be sure not to sin; but in that case, and while the doubt remains, he can have no security, but by not doing it.
2. “ It binds not to inquiry,” because there is no competent means to find out a resolution; for that is the state of the question, that is the definition of a negative doubt. Fabiola doubts whether in her childhood she did ever take God's name in vain; and although she be bound to inquire in all the reasonable and remembered parts of her life, because of them she may find some records, and in that case the doubt is not negative; yet of the state of childhood she cannot be obliged to make inquiry, because there was then no law, no register, no court kept, no judgment, no choice; that is, she cannot be obliged to an effect that is impossible, and to an act that is to no purpose.
3. “ It binds not to repentance:" In case she fears exceedingly, supposing this still to be a negative doubt, that is, such a one, for the proper resolution of which there are no competent arguments or instruments. Fabiola not knowing whether she did or no, and it being impossible afterwards to find it out, Fabiola is not tied to ask forgiveness for the blasphemies of her childhood : for no obligation can come from what is not, or cannot be, known.
This is to be understood to be true of that sort of negative doubt which is called metaphysical, when there is no possibility of knowing; as it is impossible to know what little pretty fantasm made us to smile when we hanged upon our mothers' breasts; and the doubt is only founded upon the possibility that the thing might have been, though now it be impossible to find out whether it was or no. It is possible that being a child I might laugh at Scripture, or mock an apostle ; but if this could bring an obligation to an act of repentance, then the same obligation passes upon all men in all actions and periods of their lives, for all things, and in all cases in which they do not remember all, or did not obserye every circumstance, or did not consider every minute, or weigh every degree. For in every thing there is a possibility, that I might have done something very ill.
But there is a negative doubt which is called morally negative; that is, when there is no way of being readily and clearly determined, but yet the doubt is founded upon some light conjecture, and no more. I was tempted, or I had an opportunity,--or an evil thought came cross me,--and I know my own infirmity; and this, according to the degrees of the conjecture, can oblige us to a general and conditional repentance; thus, if I did amiss, God of his mercy impute it not unto me. “I know not, my conscience does not accuse me," so St. Paul, “ but I am not hereby justified; God is greater than my conscience." By this, set the words of St. John, and they will determine the case : “ If our hearts condemn us not, then have we peace towards God;" that is, the doubt in this matter ought to be laid down, if our hearts do not pass sentence against us; but not so wholly but that we may provide against a danger not actually felt: we ought to be peaceful, but not too confident, when there is any probability of error and deception. The peace is warranted by St. John; the wariness is exemplified in St. Paul.
4. “ It doth bind to caution and observance.” Every thing does so, where either there is a danger, or any is suspected, or any is possible, or any ever was : and therefore, for this there needs no peculiar reason, only according to the approach of the negative doubt to any degrees of its being positive; that is, to a probability that it is as we doubt, the observance ought to be stricter, and the caution more severe, which happens in that imperfect kind of imperfection, in suspicion, which is but the image of doubting.
For there is yet another sort of doubting, which may be called a privative doubt. Titius is invited to eat with one of another communion. First he checks at it, but because he knows no reason against it, nor indeed did ever dispute, or hear the question disputed, whether it be lawful or no, he goes. The question is, whether he did well or no ?
Concerning which the case is evident, that whatsoever is
not of faith is sin, that is, if it be not done with a persuasion that it is lawful. But if a man be persuaded that he may lawfully do any thing against which he knows no law, no commandment, no reason; this is not a doubting conscience, but a probable, and, therefore, need not to abate the action. But if this also turn into a doubt, the case is altered. For he that thinks he may not do it, or doubts whether he may or no do a thing for which he hath no command, or no positive and affirmative warrant, and that it is no sufficient reason or warrant for the doing it that he knows nothing against it, unless he also have something for it ;—this man, thus persuaded or abused, may not proceed to action. For in this case he hath nothing for it, and one great thing against it, even this proposition,—that a thing is not to be done in such a case,which is the case of a privative doubt. But for the thing itself, the next rule gives an account of it.
A privative Doubt cannot of itself hinder a Man from acting
what he is moved to by an extrinsic Argument, or Inducement that is in itself prudent or innocent.
1. “It cannot of itself hinder,” that is, abstracting from the circumstance of accidental doubting or not doubting. The reason is, because there being no law against it by which he is actually ruled, and no reason appearing in defiance of it, that is, there being no intrinsical dissuasive, the conscience is only left to be conducted or persuaded by the extrinsical.
For all actions are left indifferent, till, by a superinduced law, they are restrained; which superinduced law wants its publication, if inculpably I have no notice of it in my conscience. But this is to be allowed with this caution: That this entering upon actions, against which we know no reason or law, be not sudden, and violent, and careless, like the rushing of a horse into a battle without consideration ; but that we consider according to our strength, and to our time, whether there be any reasons for or against the act in question, and if we find none, let us make none; that is, let us not, by our unreasonable and impertinent doubting, place a snare for our own feet there, where none is placed by the prohibition.
2. If it be a matter that concerns the interest of another, let us always be the more wary, and remember, if there be nothing against it, there must be something for it either in the matter, or in the manner, either in justice, or in charity, or at least by the securities of the safer part, by which, if we find no reward, yet we are sure to find indemnity.
This whole advice is of great use in the circumstances of the duty that concerns the married pairs ; in which the doctors of cases of conscience have spoken what they please, and in many things wholly by chance or fancy; and the holy state of marriage ought to be rescued from many of their snares and intricacies by which they have troubled it, as will appear when I shall speak to the rules of that affair.
In Doubts of Right, or Law, we are always bound to inquire ;
but in Doubts of Fact not always.
The reason is, because ignorance of our duty is always a sin; and, therefore, when we are in a perceived, discernible state of danger, he that refuses to inquire after his duty, does not desire to do it.
In matters of fact we are bound ordinarily to inquire, because we must not be ignorant of the state of our consciences, and what obligation there is to restitution, or repentance, which the more particular it is, the more perfect it is. But this I say, that though ordinarily it be true that we are obliged, yet in some cases it may happen, that it is safer to trust the event of things with a general repentance, than that the conscience of some men be tempted with a particular notice of the fact.
1. This happens in those that are weak-hearted, soft, and apt to every impression in too deep a regard. A Castilian gentleman being new recovered from the sad effects of a melancholy spirit, and an affrighting conscience, and being
entertained by some that waited on him with sports and innocent pastimes to divert his scaring thoughts; he with his company
many arrows in a public field at rovers : at that time there was a man killed, whether by his arrows or no, he knew not, and is forbidden to inquire; and his case had in it reason enough to warrant the advice. The knowledge of it could not have done him so much good, as it would have done him hurt; and it was better he should be permitted to a doubting than to a despairing conscience, as in his case it was too likely to have happened. It is better to be suspected than to be seen.
2. This also is so to be advised, when the inquiry into the doubt of fact may be prejudicial to a third person. A priest going to the West Indies, by misfortune wounds one of his company, whom, with much trouble and sorrow, he leaves to be cured of his hurt, but passes on to his voyage, which he finished at a huge distance from the place of his misfortune. The merchants come the next year that way, and he is unwilling to inquire concerning his sick friend; desirous he was to know good of him, but infinitely fearful lest he be dead : consulting, therefore, with his superior in the case, was directed not to inquire, upon this account; because, if the man were dead, the priest would be irregular, and a whole parish unprovided for, and left without rites and sacraments, and public offices, which then and there could not easily be supplied.
But in matters of right or duty, inquiry must be made, ever, when the question is of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of what is to be done; because we enter upon danger, and despise our own safety, and are careless of our duty, and not zealous for God, nor yet subjects of conscience, or of the Spirit of God, if we do not well inquire of an action we are to do, whether it be good or bad. But when the act is done, and done with an actual persuasion that it was lawful, the conscience of that person is not easily to be disturbed, which is to be understood with these cautions :
1. When the question was probable on either side, and, at the time of action, was chosen with its just measures and provisions ; then, although the complice or partner of the act do change his opinion, and think himself bound to repent, yet he is not bound to trouble the other. Antony, a gentle