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RULE OF CONSCIENCE.
BOOK I. Continued.
OF CONSCIENCE, THE KINDS OF IT, AND THE GENERAL
RULES OF CONDUCTING THEM.
OF THE CONFIDENT, OR ERRONEOUS CONSCIENCE,
An erroneous Conscience commands us to do what we ought to
omit; or to omit what we ought to do, or to do it otherwise
than we should.. In this, there is no other difficulty but in the last clause. For when our blessed Lord had propounded an instance of perfection, he that not only obeys the counsel, but thinks it to be a commandment, and necessary to be done in all times and
persons, enters into an error at the gate of zeal, and at the same place lets out the excellency of his love. Christ hath recommended renunciation of the world, spiritual castration for the kingdom of God, dying for our enemies, &c. He that in zeal, with charity and prudence, follows these advices, will find his reward swell high; but he whose zealous desire to grow towards perfection, shall so determine his practice, as that, by degrees, he shall think these counsels individually necessary, hath abused his conscience, laid a snare for others, put fetters upon Christian liberty, and is passed into that state of doing it, that though he entered
first by love, he is gone beyond it, and changed it into fear, and scruple, and superstition: he is at last got so far that he would not do it at all, if he durst do otherwise; and he dares not, because his love was zealous, and his zeal was imprudent, and his imprudence was a furious snare, and the passion of a mighty folly.
But an erroneous conscience is generally abused by two manners of proceeding. 1. By a true application of a false proposition, thus:
Whatsoever is done against my conscience is a sin: But to allow of magistrates is against my conscience: Therefore, it is certainly a sin that they be allowed. The first proposition is not true, unless it be understood of him only, against whose conscience it is done, and then it is always true, either absolutely, or relatively, originally, or accidentally. But if it be intended to conclude, that because it is against my conscience to allow them, therefore it is simply unlawful, or unlawful to every one else, this is a paralogism, and makes an erring conscience. Or, secondly, the conscience is abused, and made erroneous by a false application of a true proposition.
Whatsoever is forbidden by God is a sin:
Therefore, every oath is a sin. Every thing here is true but the conclusion. The second proposition is true, but not universally. For St. James saying a, “ Swear not at all,” forbids all kinds of oaths materially : that is, in that sense in which any is forbidden, in the same all are forbidden. Without just authority and occasion, it is not lawful to swear by God; therefore, without such authority, neither is it lawful to swear by a creature. So that his words mean thus; except in such a case, swear not at all,”—that is, not with any
kind of oath; for unless that case occurs to warrant it, this or that oath is criminal as well as any: that is, it is no excuse in common talk to say, it was but a slight oath;' for you must not swear at all.
The Causes of Error are, 1. Ignorance, either of right or fact. For no other divi
sion of ignorance can concern the relation of an erring conscience. For, although a man is otherwise concerned in ignorance, if it be vincible, otherwise if it be invincible, yet his will is concerned in that directly, and his conscience but collaterally and indirectly.
2. Fear, whether it be pusillanimous or superstitious, that is, whether it begin upon religion, or upon natural imbecility, they alike abuse the conscience. Ignorance makes it erroneous, but takes not away its confidence, but oftentimes increases it: fear makes it erroneous too; and though it begins in doubting, it ends in a silly choice, which grows to as much confidence as it can, so much as to establish the
3. To this usually is reduced a morose humility and abjection of mind, which, because it looks pitifully and simply, some men in charity think it laudable; so Antonius particularly; and it is the same that St. Gregory b recommends, “ Bonarum quippe mentium est, ibi etiam aliquo modo culpas suas agnoscere, ubi culpa non est :" " It is the sign of a good mind to accuse themselves of a fault when there is none."-- Which, if it relates to the present affairs, is dangerous and illusive. For if the question be in a case of conscience, and the conscience be determined upon its proper grounds innocently and right, there to acknowledge a fault in the conscience or determination, is to make the rule itself crooked, to introduce eternal scruples and irresolution, to disturb our own peace, and a device to snatch at a reward by thrusting it from us, and to think to please God by telling of a lie. But if the saying relates to all the whole action in all its conjugation of circumstances and appendages, then it may consist with humility and prudence both, to suspect a fault where there is none; to fear lest we have erred by excess of degrees in passion, or by remissness and slackness of action, or by obliquity of intention, or intertexture of some undecency, or weariness, or sensuality, or complacency, and fantastic deliciousness, or something secret, and we know not what: but even in this case, we
best follow St. Paul's expedient and manner of expression, “ Nihil mihi conscius sum,” “ I am, guilty of
b Part. 1. decret. dist, 6, c. 4.
nothing," my heart smites me not, “ Yet I am not hereby justified; for God is greater than my conscience :” I may, for aught I know, have done something amiss, or my duty not well; but as I cannot accuse myself, so neither can I acquit myself, but refer myself to God's equal and merciful sentence. What goes beyond this, may abuse the conscience, not only by a secret scruple, but by an evil principle and false conclusions: and this, although it looks like modesty, and seems contrary to confidence, and therefore cannot be so well reduced to this kind of conscience, but to the doubting, or the scrupulous; yet I have chosen to place it here for the reason above mentioned. It looks in at the door with a trembling eye, but being thrust in, it becomes bold. It is like a fire-stick, which, in the hand of a child being gently moved, gives a volatile and unfixed light, but being more strongly turned about by a swift circular motion, it becomes a constant wheel of fire: or like a bashful sinner sneaking to his lust, till he be discovered, and then he is impudent and hardened. And there are very many wise men, who tremble in their determinations,—and not being able clearly to resolve, fall upon one part by chance, or interest, or passion, and then they are forced for their peace sake to put on an accidental hardness, and a voluntary, not a natural confidence. But this confidence is commonly peevish, impatient, and proud, hating all contradiction and contradictors; because it was only an art to sleep, and to avoid the first trouble, and therefore hates every thing that brings them forth from their fantastic securities.
Other causes of an erroneous conscience here usually are assigned, but inartificially I suppose, and not of present concernment or relation. Such as are the subtraction of the Divine aids, God's leaving a man, and giving him over eis voûv adóxipov, and to believe a lie; perplexity, or irresolution, self-love, pride, prejudice, and passion; perit enim omne judicium, cum res transierit in affectum; quia affectus obscurat intellectum, ne recte judicet,” said Seneca. When affection sits judge, there reason and truth are seldom admitted to plead; or if they are, yet they cannot prevail.
Impedit ira animum, ne possit cernere verum.
But these are no otherwise causes of an erroneous conscience, but as they are causes of ignorance, or deception; for in this case I reckon them to be but one; an error being nothing else but an ignorance of truth, which whether it be culpable or inculpable, and at what gate it enters, is of another disquisition, , and shall be reserved to its proper place.
An erroneous Conscience binds us to Obedience, but not so as a
right Conscience does. The object can move the will no otherwise, than as it is propounded by the understanding. If it be propounded as evil, the will that chooses it under that formality, is criminal and malicious. If it be propounded as good, the will that rejects it so propounded, despises good; for it is so to the will, if it be so to the understanding, which is the judge and the immediate rule of all human actions. And he that does a good thing while he believes it to be evil, does choose the evil, and refuse the good; for he does therefore, because he believes it evil, or though he thinks it so, and therefore, is equally disposed to choose a real evil; for that this is not so, is but extrinsical and accidental to his choice.
If this were not thus, but that it were possible to be otherwise, then we might suppose that a man might do a thing reasonably, for which he hath no reason; and an humane action without the natural process of humanity, that is, to choose by chance, and unnaturally, to choose for a reason that he hath not, and a good that appears not, which is like beholding of a thing that he sees not. The Jew thinks it is his duty to be circumcised, and to keep the Sabbath. While in this error he is confident, by what argument can he be moved to omit it? If you give him reasons, you seek to cure his error, and to alter his persuasion; but while this persuasion is not altered, how can he be moved to omit it? If you give him no reasons, you desire him to omit it, because he thinks he ought not, and to do an action because it seems unreasonable, and follow your opinion because he believes it false ; that is, to obey you be