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action is determined by its own exercise, not by an antecedent reason.
But neither can it be, in all cases and questions, that the determination can be totally omitted; as if the question be whether this ought to be done, or ought to be let alone, and both of them seem equally probable; so also if the question be, whether it may be done, or may be let alone : in these cases, it is certain one part must be chosen ; for the very suspending the act is not a suspending of the choice, the not doing it is a compliance with one of the probabilities. The lazy fellow in the apologue, that told his father he lay in bed in the morning, to hear Labour and Idleness dispute whether it were best to rise or to lie still, though he thought their arguments equally probable, yet he did not suspend his act, but, without determining, he put the sentence of Idleness in execution: and so it must be in all questions of general inquiry concerning lawful or unlawful, necessary or not necessary; the equal probability cannot infer a suspension or an equal noncompliance.
But neither can the second be true; for the will must not alone be admitted an arbitrator in this affair; for besides that it is of dangerous consequence to choose an opinion because we will, it is also unnatural, the will being no ingredient into the actions of understanding. The will may cause the understanding to apply a general proposition to a particular case, and produce a practical judgment by that general measure, without particular arguments in the question apportioned to the proper matter, as I before discoursed a. But when the understanding is wholly at dispute about the proper arguments of two propositions, if the will interposes, the error that happens, if the conclusion falls on the wrong side, is without excuse, because it is chosen; and the truth is not so safe and useful, because it came by an incompetent instrument, by that which was indifferent to this truth or the other. Indeed, if there be no other way to determine the question, the will must do it, because there is no avoiding it; but if there be any other way, this must not be taken; but ordinarily there is.
The third way, therefore, is this: The determination may
be made by any thing that can be added to either side " in
As the action that is prepared, stands more ready for my circumstances; that which does me less violence, is more proportionable to any of those events, which in prudence are to me considerable. It is indifferent whether Paula Romana give her alms to the poor of Nicopolis, or to the poor dwelling near the monastery of Bethlehem; but because these dwelt nearer, and were more fitted for her circumstances, this was enough to turn the scale and make the determination. It is like putting on that garment that is nearest me, not this rather than the other; nor yet this because I will, but this because it is here. The use of this rule is, to prevent a probable conscience to become doubtful, and yet (as much as may be) to avoid the interposition of the will in the practical judgments of conscience.
This rule is to be enlarged with this addition; That if the conscience, by reason of the equal probability of two opinions so standing without any determining and deciding circumstances and accidents, cannot decree on any side neither by intrinsical nor extrinsical means, that is, neither by proper arguments nor collateral inducements, no action ought to follow; but the case of which the question is, if it can be, ought to be omitted, as in the case of a doubting conscience; which, though as I showed before, cannot happen when the question is general of lawful or unlawful, necessary or unnecessary, yet it may happen in particular cases, as whether this thing be lawful or that, whether this is to be done or the other. It may happen that neither of them ought, and, in the present supposition, neither of them can; that is, if the man suffers his dispute to pass into a doubt.
In other cases, a man may safely take any course, which he finds probable, equally disputed, uncertain in itself, contrarily determined by doctors disputing with fair arguments. For in this case malice is no ingredient; and if interest be, it is therefore lawful, because it is an extrinsical motive, apt and reasonable to be considered, and chosen, and pursued by fair means, if the interest itself have no foulness in it.
But of all the external motives, that can have influence in the determination of a sentence between two probabilities, a relation to piety is the greatest.
He that chooses this,
because it is most pious, chooses his opinion out of consideration, and by the inducement of the love of God. That which causes more honour to God, that which happily engages men in holy living, that which is the most charitable, and the most useful,—that is to be preferred. But this is to be conducted with these cautions :
1. That the disposition to piety or charity be not made to contest an apparent truth. It is hugely charitable to some men, if it could be made true, to say that God is merciful to, all sinners and at all times; and it is ten thousand pities to see a man made to despair upon his death-bed, upon the consideration of his past evil life; but this consideration must, not, therefore, be pretended against the indispensable plain necessity of a holy life, since it is plainly revealed, that “ without the pursuing of peace with all men, and holiness, no man shall see God.”
2. If both the probabilities be backed and seconded by their proper relations to piety, to take one of them is not a competent way to determine the probability; but it must be wholly conducted by the efficacy of its proper reasons, or by some appendage in which one prevails above the other, when one opinion is valued because it is apt to make men fear, and not to be presumptuous; and another, because it is apt to make men hope, and never to despair; the balance is equal, and must be turned by neither of these. Scotus and Durandus, Gabriel and Almain, Medina, and some few others, taught, • That the death of Christ did not make satisfaction to God for the sins of the whole world, by the way of perfect and exact justice, but by God's gracious acceptance of it, and stipulation for it.' This opinion does, indeed, advance the honour of God's mercy, but the contrary advances the dignity of Christ's suffering; and, therefore, it must be disputed and determined by some other instruments of persuasion. God the Father is on one side, and God the Son on the other; and though he who honours one, honours both, yet he that prefers one, may seem also to disparage both.
3. The relation to piety, and the advantages which come to it by the opinion, must not be fantastic, and relying upon a weak opinion and fond persuasion, but upon true reason or real effects. It is a common opinion among the ancients,
that Anna, the mother of the blessed virgin-mother of God, had been married to three husbands successively, and that the blessed virgin was the second wife of Joseph; they who think that the second and third marriages are less perfect than the first, think it more pious to embrace the other opinions, viz. that Anna was married to none but Joachim, and that Joseph was only married to the holy Virgin Mary: but because this is to take measures of things, which God hath not given us, and to reckon purities and impurities by their own fancies, not by reason and revelation from God, therefore this fantastic relation to piety is not weight enough to carry the question along with it.
In other cases the rule holds : and by these measures our conscience can be supported in a storm, and be nourished and feasted every day, viz. if we take care :
1. That we avoid every thing that we know to be a sin, whether it be reproached by its natural impurity and unreasonableness, or, without any note of turpitude, it be directly restrained by a law.
2. That we fly every appearance of evil, or likeness of sin b.
3. That we fly every occasion or danger of sin.
4. That we avoid all society or communication with sin, or giving countenance and maintenance to it. By these measures and analogies, if we limit our cases of conscience, we cannot be abused into danger and dishonour.
It is not lawful to change our practical Sentence about the
same Object, while the same Probability remains. A man may change his opinion as he sees cause, or alter the practice upon a new emergent reason; but when all things are equal without and within, a change is not to be made by the man, except it be in such cases in which no law, or vow, or duty, or the interest of a third, is concerned; that is, unless the actions be indifferent in themselves, or innocent in their circumstances, and so not properly considerable in the fears of conscience, in which cases a man's liberty is not to be prejudiced.
bi Thess. v. 22.
This stating of the rule does intimate the proper reasons of it, as appears in the following instances : Juan, a priest of Messina, having fasted upon the vespers of a holy day, towards the middle of the night hath a great desire to eat flesh; he, dwelling by the great church, observed that the clocks in the neighbourhood differed half an hour: he watches the first clock that struck midnight; and as soon as it had sounded, he ate his meat, because then he concluded that the ecclesiastical fasting-day was expired, and that, therefore, it was then lawful, by the laws of his church, to eat flesh. But being to consecrate the blessed eucharist the next morning, and obliged to a natural fast before the cele bration of the holy sacrament, he changed his computation, and reckoned the day to begin by the later clock; so that the first day ended half an hour before the next day began, and he broke his fast because the eve was past, and yet he accounted that he was fasting, because the holy day was not begun. This was to cozen the law, and if it be translated to more material instances, the evil of it will be more apparent, but in this the unreasonableness is as visible. The like is the case of a gentleman living in the neighbourhood of Rome. Baptista Colonna happened to be in Rome on the three and twentieth of August, which is usually the eve of St. Bartholomew, but there it is kept on the twenty-fourth day: he refused to fast on the ordinary day of the vigils, as he used to do, because in Rome, where he then was, the custom was otherwise; he ate his meals, and resolved to keep it the next day : but on the morrow, being very hungry and desirous of flesh, he changed his sentence, and went out of Rome to the neighbourhood, and kept the feast of St. Bartholomew without the eves. This is to elude the duty, and to run away from the severity of the law, by trifling with the letter.
If the case be not complicated with a law, yet it is often infolded with the interest of a third person, and then is not to be changed, but remains invariable. Mævius promised to Sertorius to give him a servant, either Ephodius or Taranta, but resolves to give him Taranta , immediately after the