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infirmity; and then also fears, that in judging concerning the matter of his commutation he shall be remiss and partial
. Now he considers that he ought to consult with his superiors ; and as he is going to do so, he begins to think that his superior did once chide him for his scruple, and that now much more he will do it, and therefore will rather seek to abolish the opinion of obligation than change it into another burthen; and since he knows this before hand, he fears lest it shall be expounded to be in him an artifice to get himself eased or chidden out of his duty, and cozened from his obligation. What shall the man do? He dares not trust himself; and if he goes to another, he thinks that this will the more condemn him; he suspects himself, but this other renders him justly to be suspected by himself and others too. Well ! he goes to God and prays him to direct him ; but then he considers that God's graces are given to us working together with God's Spirit, and he fears the work will not be done for him because he fails in his own part of co-operating; and concerning this he thinks he hath no scruple, but certain causes of fear.
After a great tumbling of thoughts and sorrows, he begins to believe that this scrupulousness of conscience is a temptation, and a punishment of his sins : and then he heaps up all that ever he did, and all that he did not, and all that he might have done, and seeking for remedy grows infinitely worse, till God at last pitying the innocence and trouble of the man, made the evil to sink down with its own weight, and like a sorrow that breaks the sleep, at last growing big, loads the spirits, and bringing back the sleep that it had driven away, cures itself by the greatness of its own affliction. In this case, the religion is not so great as the affliction.
But because a scruple is a fear, or a light reason against a stronger and a sufficiently determined understanding, it can bring no other work to the conscience, but that it get itself eased of the trouble, which is to be done by the following rules.
A Conscience, sufficiently instructed by its proper Arguments
of Persuasion, may, without Sin, proceed to Action against the Scruple and its weaker Arguings or stronger Tremblings.
This is the best remedy that is in nature and reason.
St. Bernard preached rarely well, and was applauded; but the devil, offering to him the temptation of vain glory, he, in his resisting it, began to think that he had better leave off to preach than begin to be proud; but instantly the Holy Spirit of God discovered to him the deception, and the devil's artifice, who would, at any rate, have him leave off to preach ; and he answered, “I neither began for thee, nor for thee will I leave off. This is a right course in the matter of scruple; proceed to action; and as the reason or the fear in the scruple was not inducement enough to begin, so neither to leave off.
Against a doubting conscience a man may not work, but against a scrupulous he may. For a scrupulous conscience does not take away the proper determination of the understanding; but it is like a woman handling of a frog or a chicken, which, all their friends tell them, can do them no liurt, and they are convinced in reason that they cannot, they believe it and know it; and yet when they take the little creature into their hands, they shriek, and sometimes hold fast, and find their fears confuted, and sometimes they let go, and find their reason useless.
Valerius, of Hippo, being used always to fast till high noon of festivals, falls into an illness of stomach, and is advised to eat something in the morning ; all the reason of the world that is considerable and pressing, tells him he may do it lawfully, but because he hath not been used to it, and good people in health do not do it, he is fearful to do that which others do not, that need it not; this is a slight ground, and with it perfectly may stand his practical determination of conscience, that it is lawful for him; which final determination, because it is the next and immediate rule of actions, cannot be impeded by that, which suffers this persuasion still to remain,-because the doing only against such a persuasion can only be a sin; for
that only is the transgression of the immediate law: to do conformably to such determination is to do it with faith; and if the scruple can lessen it, yet it only makes the man the weaker, but cannot destroy the assent.
Add to this, that since scruples do sometimes make men mad, do detriment to our health, make religion a burden, introduce a weariness of spirit and tediousness,-it cannot be a sin to stop all this evil, and directly to throw away the scruple, and proceed to contrary actions.
But this is to be understood only, when the scruple is such that it leaves the conscience practically determined. For if the scruple prevails upon his weakness so far as to rifle the better reasons, the conscience loses its rule and its security, and the scruple passes into a doubt, and the law into a consultation, and the judgment into opinion, and the conscience into an undiscerning, undetermined faculty.
Hither is to be reduced the case of a perplexed conscience; that is, when men think that which part soever of the contradiction they choose, they sin; for though that be impossible to wise men, yet all men are not wise; and if it were impossible in the thing, yet it is certainly possible upon the distempers of some men: and because a man hath contrary reasonings and divided principles within, as our blessed Lord had a natural desire not to die, and yet a reasonable and a holy spiritual desire to submit to his Father's will, and if he please, to die; so hath every man desires to please an appetite, or secure an interest of secular designs, and a reason to serve the interest of his spirit in spiritual designs: but although, in our blessed Lord, the appetites of nature were innocent and obedient, and the spirit always got a clear victory, and the flesh resisted not, yet in us it is not so: and sometimes spiritual complications do disturb the question, and make the temporal end seem religious or pious; and the contrary pretence is pious too, and yet a duty will be omitted which way soever be chosen, or a sin committed as is supposed: here the case seems hard. It is certain that there is no such case in the world, that it is necessary for a man to sin which part soever he takes,--and unless it be his own fault he cannot think so; but some men are wild in their reasonings, and err in circles, and cannot untie the knot themselves have knit. Some are weary, and many are involved, and more are foolish; and it is as possible for a man to
be a fool in one proposition as in another, and, therefore, his
be this, that which part soever he chooses, he shall sin ;'-—what is to be done here? is the question.
The case is this : Pratinus, a Roman soldier, turns Christian, and having taken his military sacrament before, and still continuing the employment, he is commanded to put to death certain criminals, which he undertakes, because he is bound to it by his oath. Going to the execution he finds they were condemned for being Christians; then he starts, remembering his sacrament or oath on one side, and his faith on the other ; that is, his religion on both; by which he is bound neither to be perjured, nor to kill his brethren: the question is not how he might expedite his doubt, and secure his conscience by choosing the surer part, but what he is to do,—this perplexity remaining, that is, he not being able to lay aside either part of the doubt; for his question is not whether of the two he shall do, but is persuaded that to do either is a high crime.
1. Concerning this, it is evident, that if the cases be equal, and the event not to be distinguished by him in the greatness of its consequent or malice of it, it is indifferent to him which he chooses; and, therefore, there can be no rule given, which he must take, unless he could be convinced of one that it is lawful, and the other unlawful; but in this case that not being to be done, he ought to know, that, in this case, he sins not if he takes either, because all sin is with liberty and choice, at least with complacency: but his error is an infelicity and no sin, if he neither chooses it, nor delights in it, which in the present case he is supposed not to do.
2. But if, in the event of the actions and parts of choice, there be a real or apprehended difference, he is bound to choose that part, which he believes to be the less sin,—this being a justification of his will, the best that can be in the present case; but if he chooses that, which is of worse event, he hath nothing to excuse it.
He that is troubled with Scruples, ought to rely upon the
Judgment of a prudent Guide.
The reason is, because his own understanding is troubled and restless, and yet his reason determined ; and, therefore, he can but use the best way of cure, which, in his particular, is to follow an understanding that is equally determined as is his own, and yet not so diseased.
Add to this, that God hath appointed spiritual persons, guides of souls, whose office is to direct and comfort, to give peace and conduct, to refresh the weary, and to strengthen the weak, to confirm the strong, and instruct the doubtful; and, therefore, to use their advice is that proper remedy, which God hath appointed. And it hath also in it this advantage, that there is in it humility of understanding, a not relying on our own wisdom, which, by way of blessing and disposition, will obtain of God that we be directed. 66 Consule bonos, prudentesque viros, et acquiesce eisa,” was an old advice, and derived from Solomon and Tobit; “ lean not on thy own understanding,” but ask counsel of all that are wise, and despise not any counsel that is profitable.
When a Doubt is resolved in the Entrance of an Action, we
must judge of our Action afterwards by the same Measures as before : for he that changes his Measures, turns his Doubt into a Scruple.
The reason of the rule is this, that which is sufficient for satisfaction before, is sufficient for peace afterwards. A Christian, in the diocese of Salamis, being faint in his sto
a Antonin. in sum. 1. p. tit. 3. c. 10.