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is dangerous in another, and on each side of the probability there is a danger and a safety. Vittoria Columbina, a Venetian lady, was married to five magnificoes successively; and they all being dead, and she left very rich, young, and tempted to a sixth marriage, advises with her confessor whether or no she may lawfully do it? He tells her, that it is not only probable, but certain that she may; but it were better if she kept her widowhood, and after so much sense of mortality, retire to religion. But that he may determine her case with more certainty, she tells him, she had once resolved with herself to live a widow, but finds she shall not be free from temptation in that state, and desires him to tell her if she
may lawfully marry notwithstanding that resolution, which now to be something altered, he perceives by her question. He answers, that it is the surest course to determine for chastity and abstinence, her state of widowhood being more certainly pleasing than the other. But then she hints her temptation, and asks, if some sure course is not to be taken for her being secured in that point too? This arrests his thoughts upon a new consideration, but the result is this:
1. When there are two securities to be provided for, one of the thing, and the other of the person; that of the person is first to be provided for. It is the safer part of the question to determine on the side of chastity, or virginity, or widowhood; but this may be the unsafer side to the person, who, if he suffers temptation, is to be provided for by that answer which gives him remedy and
2. But if it happens that there is danger on either side to the person, that is the surer side which provides against that temptation, which is strongest and most imminent, and which, if it prevails, is of the worst consequence.
3. This is also to be understood in those cases when temporal life is offered in question against the danger of a sin. Michael Verinus, a young gentleman of Spain, by reason of his living a single life, was pressed with so great inconvenience, that he fell into a lingering and dangerous sickness. The physicians advise him to use his remedy, though he be not married, and being it was in order to his health, which was not else to be recovered, they presumed it
lawful, or did not care whether it were or no; but, however, they advise him to it. He doubts of it, and dares not be uncharitable and die for want of remedy, if he might have it, and yet dares not commit an act of uncleanness; but finding on either hand a sin threatening him, and if he flies from a lion, he meets a bear, or is told that a bear is in the way: he at last flies from the evil beast that stood before him, and chooses that way which was evidently the safest, not to his health, but to his salvation; not, to his body, but his soul; and chose rather to die, than to do that which he was certainly persuaded to be a sin, and of the other he was not
Sola Venus potuit lento succurrere morbo :
Ne se pollueret, maluit ille mori. In other things, the prudence of a guide must be his only rule.
The sum is this:
1. If the doubt be equal and the danger equal, the doubt must be laid aside, or there can be no action consequent: and for the danger, if you choose one, you may choose either, for there is no difference; a dagger or a sword is all one to him that must die by one.
2. If the doubt be unequal and the danger equal, the resolution must be on that side, where there is the most confidence; that is, where the less cause of doubting is apprehended, as if I have but enough to give one alms, and I see two ready to perish, and I can relieve but one; the danger is equal, for “pasce fame morientem ; si non pavisti, occidisti,” said St. Ambrose; but one is my friend, and the other is a stranger; in this case the doubt is unequal, and I ought to prefer my friend.
3. If the danger be unequal, and the doubt equal, the resolution must be made in compliance with our safety. For there is nothing to weigh down in the doubt, yet there is something to weigh down in the danger, and that is sufficient.
4. If the doubt be unequal, and the danger unequal, there we must take the least danger, though on the least side of the probability, because there can no degree of sin be consented to; and, therefore, when by our own fault or infelicity we must be forced to fall upon one, we must take
the less, by the same reason for which we are to refuse all that we can.
Mævius Caligarius, a Román gentleman, and newly converted to Christianity, observes that his friend Agricola was pursued by his enemies unto death, and was by them asked concerning him, whether he were in his house
He knew he was, but knows also that if he confesses it, he shall die. He doubts whether it be lawful to lie to save his friend's life or no, and cannot resolve whether it be or no, but inclines rather to think it is not lawful. But he considers if it be lawful, then he is guilty of his friend's death, who refused to save him at an innocent charge. But if it be not lawful, he does but tell an officious lie, so long as the doubt remains, he must rather venture upon an uncertain sin in the officious lie, than the uncertain but greater sin of homicide. These are the cases in which the danger is on both sides.
5. But if there be danger on one side only, and a doubt on both sides, there is no question but that side is to be chosen, where there is no danger; unless the doubt on one side be contemptible and inconsiderable, and the other not so.
It is lawful for the Conscience to proceed to Action against a
Doubt that is merely speculative. In a sure conscience the speculative and the practical are the same in certain consequence, as I have already a proved in its own plaee; but in a doubting conscience the case is differing. For though it be ordinarily true here also, that he that doubts speculatively, does also doubt practically; as if he doubts concerning all usurious contracts, whether it be lawful or no to use any, he doubts all concerning this which himself uses, if it be usurious. But because there may intervene a special case, and that which is true in general may be altered in the particular, it may happen that he may be certain and determined in the particular when he is not
Chap. 2. rule 3.
so in the general; that is, when the case is special, by privilege, or exemption, or the ceasing of the reason, or by any other special case he may think himself acquitted, when yet the action is culpable in its whole kind.
But by a speculative doubt sometimes is meant not the general, but the question abstracted from circumstances; and in this it sometimes happens, that though the conscience doubt concerning the question, yet it does not doubt concerning the practice. Titius is possessed of a field on which he entered by inheritance, and wholly without fraud and violence; but yet upon some supervening notices he afterwards doubts, whether the field be his own by a just title ; but because he is informed by his confessor and others on whom he does and may rely, that possession is a collateral title, and that what he so possesses, he may still dwell upon, till it be certain that it is not his own; he rests at quiet in his mind, because possession is stronger than his doubt, though it cannot prevail against demonstration.
Mary of Rheims, the wife of a soldier, is told by his captain that her husband was killed at the battle of Pavia; after her year of mourning was expired she marries again to a citizen of Rheims, and cohabits with him two years; after which she is told that her first husband escaped to Tarentum, and there lives in obscurity. Upon this she doubts whether the citizen be really her husband or no; yet living with him he demands her to pay her conjugal duty, she inquires whether during this doubt she may or no; and is answered affirmatively upon the same grounds : the citizen is in possession of the marriage, and this is not to be disturbed by a doubt, but by a certainty, especially since the doubt is but a speculative doubt, not a practical. For it is no good argument to say, I doubt whether this man
husband or no, therefore if I consent to him, I commit adultery; for the presumption lying upon the possessor, though his title be dubious, yet his possession is not, and either of them both are to have a portion in the effect, and therefore the certain possession in a dubious title is to be preferred before a dubious title without possession, and therefore this kind of doubt ought not to hinder the effect of the present duty. For in this case it is not true; the antecedent is doubtful, therefore so is the consequent. For
as out of falsehood truth may come, so out of doubts may come certainty. I see a great way off father Grimaldi moving his lips; I suppose he is disputing, whom yet I was told not to be alive. I argue thus: · He disputes
, therefore he is not dead.'. The consequent is certain, but the antecedent doubtful; so it is in the present case.
I doubt whether this woman be and ought to be my wife, but because she is legally so and so reputed and in possession, I do infer that therefore I must pay my duty to her, till it be certain that she is not my wife. For though I doubt of the person whether or no she be my wife,--yet I am certain, or I may be certain of this, that he that approaches to her who is in possession of marriage, may do it lawfully; he only does fornicate who approaches to her, of whom I am certain, that she is not my wife. But if of this proposition also I doubt, the doubt is practical,--and I may not do it, till by some means the doubt be resolved or laid aside. But so long as it is a question speculative, the action may be determinate and lawful, and introduced upon many accounts.
For the fuller manifestation of which secret, because it is of great concernment, and hath influence upon the conscience in many great actions and intercourse of human society, it is remarkable that we cannot argue thus; this man is not • bonæ fidei possessor,' a possessor by a just faith, therefore he possesses it ‘mala fide,' by an unjust: so neither does this follow,—this man possesses it not with an evil faith, therefore he possesses it with a good faith. It does neither way follow negatively. But this consequence is good; he is a possessor by a good faith, therefore he does not possess it by an evil. Or, he is a possessor by an evil faith, therefore he does not possess it by a good; it follows either way affirmatively. The reason of the difference is this; if it be good, it cannot be bad,—and if it be bad, it cannot be good; if it be one, it cannot be the other; but it may happen that it may be neither good nor bad, for there is a medium or a third between good and bad faith or honesty of possession; and this consists in a speculative doubt, by which the possessor doubts whether that which is in his hands, be in his right, or belongs to him or to another; and that he who so