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S. ALFONSO DE LIGUORI'S THEORY
No fairer exponent of Roman teaching can be had than S. Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, as the following facts will show. In 1787 he died. In 1803 the sacred Congregation of Rites decreed, that in all the writings of Alfonso de Liguori, edited
and inedited, there was not a word that could be justly found fault with. Pius VII. ratified the decree, and proceeded, in less than thirty years after Liguori's death, to his beatification. Monsignor Artico, Bishop of Asti, and Prince Prelate of the Papal Household, published a letter declaring that the ex(amination of Liguori's work had been conducted with par
ticular severity, that his system of Morality had been more than twenty times discussed by the Sacred Congregation, and
that all had agreed voce concordi, unanimi consensu, unâ voce, "unâ mente. In 1831 Cardinal de Rohan-Chabot, Archbishop of Besançon, propounded the following questions for the oracular response (oraculum requirit) of the Sacred Penitentiary :'1. Whether a Professor of sacred theology may with safety ' follow and profess the opinions
which the Blessed Alfonso de' Liguori professes in his Moral Theology ? 2. Whether a Con'fessor should be disturbed for following all the opinions of the * Blessed Alfonso de' Liguori in the confessional, simply on the 'grounds that the Holy Apostolic See had declared that it
found nothing in his works worthy of censure ? The answer given to the first question was in the affirmative. Liguori's opinions might be followed and professed with safety. The answer to the second was in the negative. No such Confessor was to be disturbed in his course. This decision was formally signed and dated as issuing from the Sacred Penitentiary on the 5th of July, 1831. Immediately the Cardinal Archbishop
'1. Theologia Moralis S. Alphonsi de Ligorio, &c. Parisiis, 1845.
2. Homo Apostolicus, Auctore D. Alphonso de Ligorio. Moguntiæ, 1842. 3. Compendium Theologiæ Moralis $. Alphonsi de Ligorio, Auctore D. Neyraguet. Liburni, 1851.
4. A Treatise of Equivocation. London, 1851. 5. Cases of Conscience. London, 1853.
wrote to his Clergy requiring that the judgment of Rome
should be fully adhered to, and that the opinions of the Blessed * Alfonso de' Liguori should be followed and reduced to prac
tice, all doubt whatever being thrown aside. Pope Gregory XVI. confirmed the decree in a few weeks, and in 1839 Alfonso exchanged his title of Blessed for that of Saint. His life, full of adulation, has lately been published in England with Cardinal Wiseman's approbation; and it was but last year that his Glories of Mary were cordially recommended to the faithful' by “ Nicholas Card. Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster. Given at Westminster on the Feast of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, 1852.'
Thus we have a Roman Bishop, who has been beatified and canonized, whose works, together with all the opinions in them, have been commended by Cardinals, approved by the Sacred Congregation, and ratified by Popes. Nor has this taken place long ago. Liguori is Rome's last saint, and his teaching is, on Rome's own showing, the latest authoritative exponent of her moral system, put into the hands of her confessors and directors with her special approbation and sanction.
No more need be said to prove that if Liguori's teaching is lax, if it falls short of a high standard, if it is subversive of the plain principles of morality, Rome's teaching is so too. Our present purpose is not to exhibit the most revolting features of his books: the laws of decency would forbid that. Abstaining from all quotations which would have to be veiled under a dead language, we shall confine ourselves almost wholly to the examination of a single question, What is Rome's theory of Truthfulness and of Lying ? This lies at the very foundation of morals. Our first extract will contain her doctrine of Amphibology.
• We must distinguish between Amphibology or Equivocation, and Mental Restriction. Amphibology can be in three fashions: 1. When a word has two senses, as the word volo means both to wish and to fly. 2. When tence bears two main meanings, as, This book is Peter's, may mean that the book belongs to Peter, or, that Peter is the author of it. 3. When words have two senses, one more common than the other, or one literal, the other metaphorical. ... Thus, if a man is asked about something which it is to his interest to conceal, he can answer, No, I say ; that is, I say the word, no. Cardenas doubts about this, but saving his better counsel, he seems to do so without reason, for the word I say really has two senses; it means to utter [make use of a word] and to assert. We here employ it in the sense of utter.'—4. 151.
Simple examples of these three forms of equivocation would be the following:-1. While we were making these arrange
• ments the heir was present,' meaning the air was present. 2. The old, “ Aio te Æacida Romanos vincere posse,' or, “Mr. H. is a man about town, meaning, that he is frequently in London. 3. “Is the grass green ?" If you reply · It is not, you have told
a lie ; if you answer “No, I say,' you have used an equivoca
I tion, because you mean not to deny the fact, but to state that you are employing the word No.
• Well then,' continues S. Alfonso, “it is certain, and held by all doctors alike, that for a good reason it is allowable to use equivocation in these ways which have been explained, and confirm it with an oath. So say Lessius, Cardenas, and the Salamanca Doctors. The reason is, that thus we do not deceive our neighbour, but, on good reason, allow him to deceive himself; and again, we are not bound to speak according to the understanding of others if there is good reason; and any honest object, such as keeping our goods spiritual or temporal, is a good reason.
But now, if you have not a good reason, is it a mortal sin to swear amphibologically, or with non-pure mental restriction ? Viva says so, as well as Toletus, Angles, Armilla, Navarrus ; so does Busembaum, together, as he declares, with Layman, Sanchez, and “the common opinion.” But he has no right to claim Sanchez, and to call his own opinion the “ common” one,
Sanchez follows the contrary, and so do Lugo, Cajetan, the Salamanca Doctors, Soto, Valdez, Prato, Hurtado, Candido, Leandro, and Lessius ; and even Busembaum thinks it “probable.” This, then, is the “ probable" opinion, and the reason of it is, that in oaths of this kind there are already present truth and justice ; good judgınent or discrimination is all that is wanting, and the absence of that is only venial. Nor is there anything in what Viva says, that a man swearing in this way calls on God to witness to what is false, for in fact he calls upon Him to witness what is true, according to his own meaning, although for good reason he allows the other to be deceived by reason of his carelessness or inadvertence. This must not, however, be done in a trial, or in contracts. It is an inference from the opinion given above, that for swearing in this way, in all cases except trials or contracts, it is not necessary to have a reason of any importance in itself, but any reasonable cause is sufficient, such as to free oneself from a man's troublesome questions which he has no right to ask. Note here, however, first, that you must have a better reason for equivocating with an oath than without it ; and secondly, that in proportion as the words give the more occasion for a mistake, the better the reason must be ; whence they say, that when words give scarcely any reason for a mistake, like words which are simply equivocal and bear two meanings one equally well with the other, the very lightest reason is an excuse.
Mental Restriction is of two kinds, one purely mental, which cannot be discovered in any manner by others; the other, not purely mental, which can become known from circumstances connected with it. Purely mental restriction is never allowable, nor an oath with it, as is shown by the three propositions condemned by Innocent XI. On the contrary, it is allowable to use non-pure mental restriction, even with an oath, if it can be discovered by circumstances. This is proved from John vii. 8, where Christ said, “I go not up to this feast," and yet Scripture says that he afterwards went up. He understood " I go not up openly (as the Disciples inquired) but secretly." .. This opinion is held in common by Gonet, Layman, Paludanus, Adrian, Soto, Wigandt, Cardenas, La Croix, Holzmann, Sporer, Viva, and the Salamanca Doctors ; Collet also has the same opinion, with Vanroy and Boudart, saying, that even the overstrict theologians declare that non-pure mental restrictions are not unlawful, arguing from S. Augustine, who, in his Book against Lying, c. 10, says, “ Although every one who tells a lie may wish to conceal the truth, yet not every one who wishes to conceal what is true tells a lie.” Even the extremely rigid Contensonius agrees, for in explaining the passage in John about Christ's
going up to the feast, he says that Christ used somewhat obscure words, which a man of thought might easily interpret and discover the meaning. S. Thomas favours this view by saying, “ that to be silent about the truth, and to express falsehood, are different things." He says, too, “ It is not lawful to tell a lie for the purpose of freeing another from any kind of danger; it is lawful, however, to hide the truth prudently under some dis
; simulation, as S. Augustine says in his Book against Lying.” The reason of this opinion is, that if it were not allowable to use non-pure mental restriction, there would be no way of lawfully concealing a secret which a man could not discover without loss or inconvenience, and this would be as harmful to intercourse between man and man as lying. The condemnation passed by the pontiff on mental restriction is rightly to be understood of restriction purely and strictly taken, for that alone ought to be called true mental restriction which takes place solely in the mind, and there remains concealed, and can by no means be discovered from outward circumstances.'—4. 151, 152.
We have thus stated the principles of Amphibology or Equivocation, and of Mental Restriction, in Liguori's own words. It will be seen that there are three sorts of equivocation, all of which are allowable, even with the addition of a solemn oath. Accordingly, a man may swear that the heir was present, meaning that the air was present. He
that another person is a man about town, meaning that he frequently goes to London. To the question, Is the grass green? he may answer with an oath, ‘I say, no,' meaning, not to deny the fact, but to affirm that he was using the word No. Mental restriction, since the days of Innocent XI., is of two sorts, pure, and non-pure. Pure mental restriction is that which, in the nature of things (ullo modo) is undiscoverable ; non-pure mental restriction is that which, in the nature of things, is discoverable, but which, nevertheless, the person with whom we are dealing does not discover. An example of the first would be the secret insertion of a negative into an affirmative oath, without any external sign: an example of the second would be the secret insertion of a negative in a whisper not observed by the other party. Thus, ' I swear that I will do it, ' with the mental insertion of not,' meaning “I swear that I will not do it,' would be pure mental restriction; and, as such, has been condemned by Pope Innocent, and is disallowed by Liguori
. But, “I swear that I will do it,' with the insertion of not' under the cover of a cough, or with the addition of a 'perhaps' in an unobserved whisper, would be non-pure mental restriction, and such an oath might, according to Rome's moral teaching, be taken by a man who had no intention of fulfilling what the other party considered that he had bound himself to perform. We will presently proceed to point out the very grave effects which, on Liguori's own showing, the admission of these and like principles have on all security and good faith in dealings between man and man; on the security of oaths, of vows, of promises, of
evidence; on truthfulness in general. But first we must make a few remarks suggested by the passage which has been quoted.
Three technical expressions are used, the special meaning of which it may be well to recal to our readers’ minds. These are mortal sin,' probable and more probable opinions, common opinion.'
For an act to be sin at all, it must fulfil three conditions. It must be voluntary, it must be free, and its wickedness must be recognised. Those acts which fulfil these conditions are then arbitrarily divided, according to Roman teaching, into mortal and venial sins. For a sin to be mortal, it is required that the consent of the will should be perfect, that the recognition of the intellect should be full and deliberate, and that the materia, or thing about which the sin is, should be of a certain gravity.' A mortal sin puts a man out of the grace of God, a venial sin does not, but only diminishes the man's own fervour, and is so light a thing thať it need never be confessed. What sins are mortal, and what venial, is left to the decision of the casuists. We will not here pause to point out the irreconcilable differences between doctors of greater and less rigidity on so vital a point as this. We may say, however, in passing, in order to show how totally impossible it is that the arbitrary division into mortal and venial can be really maintained, that after pages of patient calculation Liguori is reduced to the conclusion that a theft of 48. by the same individual, and in identically the same state of mind, from a merchant of great opulence, and from a very rich nobleman, is a mortal sin in the first case, and a venial sin in the last; that is, that the first, on account of its own grave importance, destroys favour and friendship with God, and deserves eternal punishment;' that the other, on account of its insignificant
6 importance does not take away favour and friendship, though ‘it diminishes our fervour of charity, and deserves temporal
punishment;' that the one takes away the principle of spiritual life,' the other is not worth confessing. Again, we find that the sin committed by a nobleman's son in stealing 101. from his father, is a venial sin, but that once to omit attending mass on Sunday is mortal.
Pascal will explain to us the doctrine of Probable Opinions in his own inimitable manner :
"“ The generality of our authors,” said the monk, “and, among others our four-and-twenty elders, thus explain it : “An opinion is called probable when it is founded upon reasons of some consideration. Hence it may sometimes happen that a single very grave Doctor may render an opinion probable.'... Hear Sanchez, one of the most famous of our Fathers : You may doubt, perhaps, whether the authority of a single good and learned Doctor renders an opinion probable. I answer that it does ; and this is confirmed by Angelus, Sylvester, Navarre, Emanuel Sa, &c.'. . . You don't