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church of Rome was immensely rich; and it caused a lively and extensive movement in a province which had long been at peace. The first impulse came from the Jesuits, to whom the Jansenists opposed themselves. We must distinguish from both the theological moralists, who remained faithful to their ancient teaching."
5. We may be blamed, perhaps, for obtruding a pedantic terminology, if we make the most essential distinction in morality, and one for want of which, of subjec more than any other, its debatable controversies objective have arisen, that between the subjective and objective rectitude of actions; in clearer language, between the provinces of conscience and of reason, between what is well meant and what is well done. The chief business of the priest is naturally with the former. The walls of the confessional are privy to the whispers of self-accusing guilt. No doubt can ever arise as to the subjective character of actions which the conscience has condemned, and for which the penitent seeks absolution. Were they even objectively lawful, they are sins in him, according to the unanimous determination of casuists. But though what the conscience reclaims against is necessarily wrong, relatively to the agent, it does not follow that what it may fail to disapprove is innocent. Choose whatever theory we may please as to the moral standard of actions, they must have an objective rectitude of their own, independently of their agent, without which there could be no distinction of right and wrong, nor any scope for the dictates of conscience. The science of ethics, as a science, can only be conversant with objective morality. Casuistry is the instrument of applying this science, which, like every other, is built on reasoning, to the moral nature and volition of man. It rests for its validity on the great principle, that it is our duty to know, as far as lies in us, what is right, as well as to do what we know to be such. But its application was beset with obstacles; the extenuations of ignorance and error were so various, the difficulty of representing the moral position of the penitent to the judgment of the confessor by any process of language so insuperable, that the most acute understanding might be
Geschichte der Cultur, vol. vi. part i. p. 390.
Directory office of
foiled in the task of bringing home a conviction of guilt to the self-deceiving sinner. Again, he might aggravate needless scruples, or disturb the tranquil repose of innocence. 6. But though past actions are the primary subject of auricular confession, it was a necessary consethe confes quence that the priest would be frequently called upon to advise as to the future, to bind or loose the will in incomplete or meditated lines of conduct. And as all without exception must come before his tribunal, the rich, the noble, the counsellors of princes, and princes themselves, were to reveal their designs, to expound their uncertainties, to call, in effect, for his sanction in all they might have to do, to secure themselves against transgression by shifting the responsibility on his head. That this tremendous authority of direction, distinct from the rite of penance, though immediately springing from it, should have produced a no more overwhelming influence of the priesthood than it has actually done, great as that has been, can only be ascribed to the reaction of human inclinations which will not be controlled, and of human reason which exerts a silent force against the authority it acknowledges. 7. In the directory business of the confessional, far more than in the penitential, the priest must of casuistry. strive to bring about that union between subjective and objective rectitude in which the perfection of a moral act consists, without which in every instance, according to their tenets, some degree of sinfulness, some liability to punishment remains, and which must at least be demanded from those who have been made acquainted with their duty. But when he came from the broad lines of the moral law, from the decalogue and the Gospel, or even from the ethical systems of theology, to the indescribable variety of circumstance which his penitents had to recount, there arose a multitude of problems, and such as perhaps would most command his attention, when they involved the practice of the great, to which he might hesitate to apply an unbending rule. The questions of casuistry, like those of jurisprudence, were often found to turn on the great and ancient doubt of both sciences, whether we should abide by the letter of a general law, or let in an equitable interpretation of its spirit. The consulting
party would be apt to plead for the one; the guide of conscience would more securely adhere to the other. But he might also perceive the severity of those rules of obligation which conduce, in the particular instance, to no apparent end, or even defeat their own principle. Hence there arose two schools of casuistry, first in the practice of confession, and afterwards in the books intended to assist it; one strict and uncomplying, the other more indulgent and flexible to circumstances.
8. The characteristics of these systems were displayed in almost the whole range of morals. They were, Strict and however, chiefly seen in the rules of veracity and of it. especially in promissory obligations. According to the fathers of the church, and to the rigid casuists in general, a lie was never to be uttered, a promise was never to be broken. The precepts especially of Revelation, notwithstanding their brevity and figurativeness, were held complete and literal. Hence promises obtained by mistake, fraud, or force, and above all, gratuitous vows, where God was considered as the promisee, however lightly made, or become intolerably onerous by supervenient circumstances, were strictly to be fulfilled, unless the dispensing power of the church might sometimes be sufficient to release them. Besides the respect due to moral rules, and especially those of Scripture, there had been from early times in the Christian church a strong disposition to the ascetic scheme of religious morality; a prevalent notion of the intrinsic meritoriousness of voluntary self-denial, which discountenanced all regard in man to his own happiness, at least in this life, as a sort of flinching from the discipline of suffering. And this had doubtless its influence upon the severe casuists.
9. But there had not been wanting those who, whatever course they might pursue in the confessional, Convenience found the convenience of an accommodating mo- of the latter. rality in the secular affairs of the church. Oaths were broken, engagements entered into without faith, for the ends of the clergy, or of those whom they favoured in the struggles of the world. And some of the ingenious sophistry, by which these breaches of plain rules are usually defended, was not unknown before the Reformation. But casuistical
writings at that time were comparatively few. The Jesuits have the credit of first rendering public a scheme of false morals, which has been denominated from them, and enhanced the obloquy that overwhelmed their order. Their volumes of casuistry were exceedingly numerous; some of them belong to the last twenty years of the sixteenth, but a far greater part to the following century.
10. The Jesuits were prone for several reasons to embrace the laxer theories of obligation. They were the Jesuits. less tainted than the old monastic orders with that superstition which had flowed into the church from the East, the meritoriousness of self-inflicted suffering for its own sake. They embraced a life of toil and danger, but not of habitual privation and pain. Dauntless in death and torture, they shunned the mechanical asceticism of the convent. And, secondly, their eyes were bent on a great end, the good of the Catholic church, which they identified with that of their own order. It almost invariably happens that men who have the good of mankind at heart, and actively prosecute it, become embarrassed, at some time or other, by the conflict of particular duties with the best method of promoting their object. An unaccommodating veracity, an unswerving good faith, will often appear to stand, or stand really, in the way of their ends; and hence the little confidence we repose in enthusiasts, even when, in a popular mode of speaking, they are most sincere; that is, most convinced of the rectitude of their aim.
11. The course prescribed by Loyola led his disciples not to solitude, but to the world. They became of this. the associates and counsellors, as well as the confessors, of the great. They had to wield the powers of the earth for the service of heaven. Hence, in confession itself, they were often tempted to look beyond the penitent, and to guide his conscience rather with a view to his usefulness than his integrity. In questions of morality, to abstain from action is generally the means of innocence, but to act is indispensable for positive good. Thus their casuistry had a natural tendency to become more objective, and to entangle the responsibility of personal conscience in an inextricable maze of reasoning. They had also to
retain their influence over men not wholly submissive to religious control, nor ready to abjure the pleasant paths in which they trod; men of the court and the city, who might serve the church though they did not adorn it, and for whom it was necessary to make some compromise in furtherance of the main design.
12. It must also be fairly admitted, that the rigid casuists went to extravagant lengths. Their decisions were often not only harsh, but unsatisfactory; Extravathe reason demanded in vain a principle of their ance of iron law; and the common sense of mankind im- casuists. posed the limitations, which they were incapable of excluding by any thing better than a dogmatic assertion. Thus, in the cases of promissory obligation, they were compelled to make some exceptions, and these left it open to rational inquiry whether more might not be found. They diverged unnecessarily, as many thought, from the principles of jurisprudence; for the jurists built their determinations, or professed to do so, on what was just and equitable among men; and though a distinction, frequently very right, was taken between the forum exterius and interius, the provinces of jurisprudence and casuistry, yet the latter could not, in these questions of mutual obligation, rest upon wholly different ground from the former.
13. The Jesuits, however, fell rapidly into the opposite extreme. Their subtilty in logic, and great in- Opposite genuity in devising arguments, were employed Jesuits. in sophisms that undermined the foundations of moral integrity in the heart. They warred with these arms against the conscience which they were bound to protect. The offences of their casuistry, as charged by their adversaries, are very multifarious. One of the most celebrated is the doctrine of equivocation; the innocence of saying that which is true in a sense meant by the speaker, though he is aware that it will be otherwise understood. Another is that of what was called probability; according to which it is lawful, in doubtful problems of morality, to take the course which appears to ourselves least likely to be right, provided any one casuistical writer of good repute has approved it. The multiplicity of books, and want of uniformity in their decisions, made this a broad path for the conscience. In the latter instance, as in many others, the