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equivocal conscience calls on him to the contrary; yet he sins if he does not obey, because in such notorious and evident propositions an error is not only malicious in the principle, but voluntary all the way; and therefore may easily, and must certainly be laid aside in every period of determination.
Whatsoever cases are between these, partake of the extremes, according to their proper reason and relation.
The Error of an abused Conscience ought to be reformed, some
times by the Command of the Will, but ordinarily by a contrary Reason.
1. If the error did begin upon a probable reason, it cannot be reformed but by a reason seeming equal to it, because a less reason hath not naturally the same efficacy with a greater; and to assent to a less probability against a greater, is to do against reason, against all that by which this lesser reason is outweighed a. For in this case the will can have no influence, which, not being a cognoscitive and discoursing faculty, must be determined by its own motives when it is not determined by reason, that is, by the motives of understanding. Now the motives of will, when it is not moved by right reason, are pleasure and profit, ambition and revenge, partiality and pride, chance or humour: and how these principles can disabuse a conscience is very hard to understand, how readily and certainly they do abuse it, is not hard. Whether the stars be even or odd? whether the soul be generated; or created and infused ? whether it be lawful to fight or rail against a prince, what hath the will to do with it? If the will meddles, and makes the resolution, it shall be determined, not as it is best, but as it falls out by chance, or by evil, or by vain inducements. For in the will there is no argument good but reason ; I mean, both in the matter of nature and of grace; that is, reason changed into a motive, and an instrument of persuasion, from whatsoever inducing principle.
a Vide Chap: 4.
2. Some have affirmed b, that the error of a conscience may fairly be deposed upon any probable argument, though of less persuasion; which, if it could be admitted, would give leave for a man to choose his side as he pleases; because, in all moral things, as dressed with circumstances, it is very easy to find some degrees of probability, but very difficult to find a case against which nothing can be disputed. And therefore, if it happens that a man be better persuaded of his error than of the contrary truth, that truth cannot be chosen wisely, nor the error honestly deposed, because it is done against the way of a man, not absolutely, but comparatively against
3. If the reason on both sides seems equally probable, the will may determine by any of its proper motives that are honest; any prudent interest, any fair compliance, any custom, in case these happen to be on the right side. When the arguments seem equal, the understanding or conscience cannot determine. It must either be a chance, and a special providence of God, or a particular grace, that casts us on the right side. But whatsoever it be that then determines us to the right, if of itself it be innocent, it is in that case an effect of God's grace, and an apt instrument of a right conscience.
4. When the conscience is erroneous, and the error unreasonable, commenced wholly upon interest, trifling regards, or vicious principles, the error may be deposed honestly, though there be no reason thought of to the contrary, besides the discovery of the first abuse. The will in this case is enough. “ Volo servare animam meam,” said one; “ I will, I am resolved to save my own soul.” A man may, and ought to hate the evil principle of his error, and decline it upon the stock of indignation, which in this case is a part of repentance. And this insinuates the reason of this discourse. For,
Repentance is founded principally in the will; and whatsoever a man is to leave upon the stock of repentance, he may do it wholly upon the stock of his will, informed, or inclined by general propositions, without any cognizance of the particulars of the present question. Eratosthenes coming among the Persian magi, and observing their looser customs of marrying their sisters and their mothers, falls in love with his half-sister Lampra, and marries her. A while after, perceiving that he entered
b Sanchez select. 99. disp. 41. num. 27. Merolla in florileg. verb. conscientiâ, nu. 14. Bardus de conscientiâ discep. 3. cap. 11.
upon this action upon no other account but lust and fancy, and compliance with the impurer magi, he began to hate his act for the evil inducement, and threw away her and his folly together. This he might do without any further reasonings about the indecency of the mixture, by perceiving that a crime or a folly stood at the entrance, and invited him to an evil lodging. He that begins without reason, hath reason enough to leave off, by perceiving he had no reason to begin : and in this case the will is the great agent, which therefore here is no ill principle, because it leaves the error upon the stock of grace and repentance a.
5. If the will entertained the error without any reason at all, as oftentimes it does, it knows not why, she may also depose it honestly without any reason relating to the particular, upon this general, that it could not make the action to be conscientious to have it done without any inducement. But then the taking up the contrary truth upon as little reason, is innocent, because it happens to be on the right side; but it is not virtue nor conscience till it be persuaded by something, that is a fit inducement either in the general or in the particular.
The Error of a Conscience is not always to be opened to the
erring Person by the Guides of Souls, or any other charitable Adviser.
If the error began with a sin, and still dwells there upon the same stock, or if it be productive of a sin, it is always to be discovered, though the greatest temporal inconvenience were certainly consequent to the discovery. Because a man must not be suffered to lie in sin, no, not a minute, if he can be recovered or rescued from it; and no temporal advantage or disadvantage can be considerable in this case, which is the case of a soul; an error that is vincible, is all the way criminal, and must not be permitted.
a Vide Chap. 4. Rule 5.
2. If the error be invincible, and innocent or pitiable in the cause, and yet ends in an intolerable event, and the effect be a crime or a great danger to souls, the error must be discovered by them that can.
The Novatians erred in the matter of repentance: the inducing cause of their error was an over-active zeal, and too wary a tenderness in avoiding scandal and judging concerning it. God served the ends of his glory by the occasion of that error, for he uses to bring good out of every evil; and the church, under a better article, grew as wary as the Novatians, as watchful against scandal, as severe against lapsed persons. Now, although in this case the error was from an innocent cause, yet because it landed them upon a course of discipline and persuasion that was not innocent, they were not to be permitted in their error, though the dissolution of the error might or would have occasioned the remission of discipline. For their doctrine of repentance was dishonourable to the mercies of God, an instrument of despair, a rendering the power of the keys and the ministry of the order ecclesiastical in a manner wholly useless, and would, if it were pursued to its just consequents, have hindered repenting sinners to revert to the folds of the church; and therefore, for the accidental good which God brought, or which was likely to have come from that error or the innocence of its principle, it was not to be concealed, but reproved and destroyed because it dwelt in sin. He that believes that repentance to be sufficient, which hath in it nothing but sorrow for what is past, and a present purpose without amendment really in the future, upon no pretence is to be complied withal in the palliation of his error, because the consequence of his error is such a danger, or such a state of sin, for which nothing can make amends.
3. If the error be invincible, and the consequent of the persuasion be consistent with the state of grace, the error must be opened or not opened, according to prudent considerations relating to the person and his state of affairs. So that the error must rather be suffered than a grievous. scandal, or an intolerable, or a very great inconvenience. To this purpose Comitolus says, it was determined by a congregation of learned and prudent persons in answer to a strange and a rare case happening in Venice: a gentleman ignorantly did lie with his mother; she knew it, but intended it not, till for her curiosity and in her search whether her son intended it to her maid, she was surprised and gotten with child: she perceiving her shame and sorrow hasten, sent her son to travel for many years; and he returned not till his mother's female birth was grown to be a handsome pretty maiden. At his return he espies a sweetfaced girl in the house, likes her, loves her, and intends to marry her. His mother conjured him by all that was sacred and profane that he should not, saying, she was a beggar's child, whom for pity's sake she rescued from the streets and beggary, and that he should not, by dishonouring his family, make her to die with sorrow. The gentleman's affections were strong, and not to be mastered, and he married his own sister and his own daughter. But now the bitings of the mother's conscience were intolerable, and to her confessor she discovered the whole business within a year or two after this prodigious marriage, and asked whether she was bound to reveal the case to her son and daughter, who now lived in love and sweetness of society, innocently, though with secret misfortune, which they felt not. It was concluded negatively, she was not to reveal it, lest she bring an intolerable misery in the place of that which to them was no sin; or lest upon notice of the error they might be tempted, by their mutual endearment and their common children, to cohabit in despite of the case, and so change that into a known sin, which before was an unknown calamity; and by this state of the answer, they were permitted to their innocence, and the children to their inheritance, and all under the protection of a harmless, though erring and mistaken conscience.
4. If it be doubtful whether more good or hurt may be consequent to the discovery, it is better to conceal it. Because it is more tolerable to have a good omitted, than to have an evil done. That may sometimes be lawful, this can never; and a known evil that is not a sin, is rather to be admitted than an unknown, which no man can tell whether it will arrive. But in this, the prudence of a good and a wise