Jeremy Taylor.

The whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) online

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doubt but if a judge's conscience were effectively determined
against a law, and that he did believe it to be unjust and
unlawful, he ought to follow his conscience. As if a judge
did believe it to be a sin to put a man to death for stealing
thirteen pence halfpenny, he might not condemn such a thief
to the gallows. And he is not excused by saying, ' It is not the
judge but the law that does amiss.' For if the judge believe
the law to be unjust, he makes himself a partner in the in-
justice by ministering to an unjust law against his conscience.
For not only he that commands evil to be done, is guilty, but
he that obeys such a command. In this case, either the judge
must lay aside his opinion or his office : for his conscience
must not be laid aside.

30. (7.) The instance of a priest and an excommunicate
person unworthily absolved will no way conclude this ques-
tion. 1. Because the case is infinitely differing between
condemning an innocent, and acquitting the guilty. If any
man pretends he is satisfied in conscience that the accused
person is criminal, though it cannot be legally proved, yet
there is no wrong done, if the accused man be let free ; an
inconvenience there may be, but the judge must not be per-
mitted to destroy by his private conscience, against or with-
out legal conviction, because the evil may be intolerable if it
be permitted, and the injustice may be frequent and insuffer-
able; but if it be denied, there may sometimes happen an
inconvenience by permitting a criminal to live, but there can
be no injustice done. It may have excuse, and it may have
reason, and it may have necessity, that a judge refuse to con-
sent to the death of an innocent ; but that he should against
his conscience kill him, can have no warrant : and if he be
not innocent, there may be reason to let him alone, but none
to condemn if he be. Conscience can oblige a judge to an
unsolemn absolution, but not to an illegal and unsolemn
condemnation. This should have been considered in the
Earl of Stratford's case. The law hath power to forgive the
criminal, but not to punish the guiltless. And therefore if
a man be absolved when he deserved it not, we may suppose
him pardoned, and the private priest is not his judge in
that case. For to refuse to communicate him is an act of
public judicature, and to absolve him is an act of the same
power, and therefore must be dispensed by authority, not by


usurpation, that is, by the public sentence, not by the private
minister, since to give the holy communion to such a person
is not against any essential duty of a Christian. And there-
fore, if the priest knows him unworthy to communicate, he
may separate him so far as he hath power to separate him,
that is, by the word of his proper ministry ; let him admo-
nish him to abstain, represent his insufficiency, threaten^him
with the danger ; but if he will despise all this, the private
priest hath no more to do, but to pray and weep for him, and
leave him to God and the Church. But of this I am to speak
more largely in its proper place.

31. (8.) As for the case of a priest hearing confessions,
though he find Titius accused by Caius, yet if Titius does
not accuse himself, Titius is rather to be believed in his own
case than Caius in another man's. Because in this inter-
course every man is so concerned to do his duty, that every
man is to be believed for himself and against himself, because
if he speaks false, himself only is the loser. 2. Caius accus-
ing Titius may, for aught the confessor knows, tell a lie
and abuse him, and therefore he cannot pretend knowledge
and conscience against Titius ; and so this comes not home
to the present case, which supposes the judge to know the
accused person to be innocent. 3. This argumentsupposes that
a man cannot be absolved unless he enumerate all his sins
to the priest ; which being in many cases false (as I have shewn
otherwhere 1 ), that which relies upon it can signify nothing.

32. (9.) Last of all, although the judge must lay aside his
affections, and his will, and his opinion, when he sits upon
the seat of judgment, because these are no good measures
of judicature, nor ought to have immediate influence upon
the sentence ; yet he cannot lay aside his knowledge, and if
he lay aside his conscience, he will make but an ill judge.
2. And yet the judge must lay his affections and his will
aside never but when they tempt him to injustice. For a
judge must not cease to he merciful when it does not make
him unjust ; nor need he cease to please himself, so long as
he is pleased to do right : these, if they do hurt, indeed must
be left off, else not ; and therefore it cannot with any colour
from hence be pretended, that he must lay aside his know-
ledge, when it is the only way by which he can do good.

1 L'n urn Necessarium.


33. (10.) To the authority of St. Ambrose, what I have
already said is a sufficient answer. For he speaks of a judge's
office regularly and usually, not what he is to do in cases ex-
traordinary, and such is the present question. But he that
said, " Sicut audit, ita judicat," would no less have said,
" Sicut videt, ita judicat." The seeing of his eyes is as sure
a measure as the hearing of his ears.

34. (11.) As for the words of Ulpian, I will give no other
answer than that Panormitan and Covaruvias, who urge them
and are concerned to make the most of them, do yet confess
that they make as much against them as for them, and that
they say true, will appear to an ordinary understanding that
considers them.

(12.) For although no judge must do acts of a private
authority, yet he may as well use his own private knowledge
as he may use the private knowledge of the witnesses ; for
their knowledge is as private as the judge's till it be brought
into open court, and when it is brought thither, it is as pub-
lic as theirs ; but however, to argue from the authority to
the knowledge is a plain paralogism ; for the prince who
armed him with public authority, did not furnish him with a
commission of knowledge, but supposed that to be induced
by other ways.

(13.) And therefore the judge may, when he hath called
witnesses, reject them upon his own certain knowledge, as
well as use arts of discovery, or any other collateral ways to
secure the innocent. For it may as well be inquired con-
cerning the judge's using his knowledge to the infatuating
or discovering the falsehood of the evil witnesses, as to the
rejecting them. For if he must absolutely take all for granted
which they say, then he must use no arts to invalidate their
testimony ; but if he may do that, he may do the other, and
yet the calling in of witnesses may be to many good purposes,
and by the collision of contraries light may arise, and from
falsehood also truth may be produced, like a fair child from
a foul mother. And after all, though this question is not to
be determined on either side by authorities, yet because
amongst the writers of cases of conscience very many rely
much upon the testimony of authors, I think it not amiss to
say, that this sense of the question which I defend, was the
sentence of many eminent divines and lawyers, particularly


Nicolaus Lyra, Adrianus, Angelas, Navarre, Hostiensis, Cal-
derinus, Panormitan, Martinus, Johannes Arborgeus, Olden-
dorp, Corrasius, Lessius, Bresser, and divers others ; and
therefore, besides the strength of the reasons, I walk the more
confidently by having such good company.

35. To conclude : All those advices of prudence which are
given by the adverse party in this affair, as expedients for the
judges to proceed by in such cases, I am ready to admit, if
they will secure their conscience and the life of the innocent
oppressed. But if they will not, but that the judge must give
sentence for law or for conscience, the case to me seems very
clear. God is greater than our conscience, but our conscience
is greater than any thing besides. " Fiat jus et pereat mun-
dus," said St. Austin ; " ad hsec, imagine ne naturae veritas
obumbretur, curandum." For images and forms of things, the
natural and substantial truth of things, may not be lost or pre-
judiced. Let justice be done, whatsoever be the event.

" Accipere personam improbi non est bonum, ut pervertas
justum in judicio ; It is not good to receive the person of
a wicked man, thereby to overthrow the righteous in his
cause. " m


The Goodness of an Object is not made by Conscience, but is
accepted, declared, and published by it, and made personally

1. No object can have its denomination from the judgment
of reason, save only that from thence it may be said to be
understood to be good, to be declared, to be consented to ;
all which supposes the object to be good, or to be so appre-
hended. Just as an emerald is green before the eye perceives
it so : and if the object were not in itself good, then the
reason were deceived in consenting to it, and a deceiver in
publishing it.

2. This is true in respect of the material, fundamental, and
proper goodness of the object; for this it hath independently

m Prov. xviii. 5.


of the conscience : and the rectitude of the conscience is
dependent on this, and consequent to the perception of it.
But yet there is a formal, extrinsical, and relative goodness
passed upon an object by the conscience, by whose persuasion,
although an evil object do not become naturally good, yet it
becomes personally necessary ; and in the same proportion a
good object may become evil.

3. The purpose of this is to remonstrate that we must
rather look to the rule than to the present persuasion ; first
taking care that our conscience be truly informed, before it
be suffered to pass a sentence ; and it is not enough that our
conscience tells us thus, unless God hath told the conscience.
But yet if the conscience does declare, it engages us, whether
it be right or wrong. But this hath in it some variety.

4. (1.) The goodness of an act depends upon the good-
ness of an object, that is, upon its conformity to a rational
nature and the commands of God. For all acts of will and
understanding are of themselves indefinite and undetermined
till the relation to an object be considered ; but they become
good or bad, when they choose or refuse that which is good
or bad respectively. To will to do an act of theft is bad,
because theft itself is so : to be willing to commit an act of
adultery is evil, because all adultery is evil : and on the other
side, to be willing to do an act of justice is therefore good,
because justice itself is good. And therefore Aristotle defines
justice by a habitude or relation to its object. It is " volun-
tas dandi suum cuique, a will of giving to every one their
due." And therefore our conscience, because it is to receive
its information from the rule by which every action is made
good or bad, and its motion from the object, is bound to take
in that only which is really and truly good, and without sin
or error cannot do otherwise.

5. (2.) Although conscience is bound to proceed this way,
yet sometimes the younger takes the elder brother by the
heel, or gets out before him, and the act gets before the ob-
ject by indirect means. For though all things should be
thought good because they are good, yet some things are
made good because they are thought so ; and the conscience
looking upon its object finds error dressed up in the shape
of truth, and takes it in, and adopts it into the portion of
truth. And though it can never be made really and natu-


rally good, yet by being supposed so by the conscience, it
is sometimes accepted so by God.

6. (3.) Although the rule by which good and bad are mea-
sured be in itself perfect, yet it is not always perfectly re-
ceived by us. Good is proportionable to reason ; and as
there is ' probabiliter verum,' so there is ' probabiliter bonum,'
' a probable good,' as well as ' a probable truth :' and in the
inquest after this, we often shew a trick of humanity, even
to be pitifully deceived ; and although when it is so, it is an
allay of the good it intends, yet it does not wholly destroy it :
God, in his goodness, accepting at our hands for good what
we really and innocently suppose to be so. Just like the
country fellow that gave a handful of water to his prince ;
he thought it a fine thing, and so it was accepted. For when
the action and the rule are to be made even, if either of them
comply and stoop, the equality is made. God indeed requires
the service of all our faculties, but calls for no exact mea-
sures of any but the will. For the acts of the will are perfect
in their kind, but our understanding is imperfect, therefore
this may find an excuse, but that never.

7. (4.) Upon this account it is, that though the goodness
or badness of an act depends upon the quality of the object
regularly and naturally, yet the acts become irregularly or
accidentally good or bad by the conscience, because the
conscience changes the object ; that is, the act is good by
the object really good, or so apprehended. The object always
changes or constitutes the act, but the conscience changing
the object immediately, hath a mediate influence upon the act
also, and denominates it to be such as in the event it proves.
But then in what degrees, and to what events, this change
is made, is of more intricate consideration.

What Changes can be made in moral Actions by the Persuasion
and Force of Conscience.

8. (1 .) Whatsoever is absolutely and indispensably neces-
sary to be done, and commanded by God expressly, cannot
be changed by conscience into an evil, or into that which is
unnecessary. Because in such cases where the rule is plain,
easy, and fitted to the conscience, all ignorance is voluntary,
and spoils the consequent act, but never can legitimate it.
And the same reason is for things plainly and expressly


forbidden, as adultery, murder, sacrilege, and the like ; they
can never become good by any act of conscience. And
therefore in such cases it often happened, that God did
declare his judgment to be contrary to the opinion which men
had of themselves and of their actions. Sometimes men live
conti'ary to their profession; 'they profess' the worship of
God, but deny him in their hearts, 11 even when they least
think they do. Thus the Israelites having constrained Aaron
to make a golden calf, proclaimed a feast, " To-morrow is a
feast unto Jehovah : " but God says of them, " They offered
sacrifice to devils, and not to God." And so it was with
their children after them, who killed and persecuted the
apostles and servants of Jesus, and thought they did God
good service. He that falls down before an idol, and thinks
to do honour to the Lord, or robs a temple, and thinks it is
for religion, must stand or fall, not by his own fancy, but
by sentence of God, and the rule of his law; " Protestatio
contra factum," is invalid in law. To strike a man's eye out,
and say he did it in sport, to kill his brother, and think it is
well done, because done to prevent his sin, though it may be
thought charity by the man, yet it is murder before God.

9. (2.) Where the rule is obscure, or the application full
of variety, or the duty so intricate, that the conscience may
inculpably err; there the object can be changed by con-
science, and the acts adopted into a good or an evil portion
by that influence. He that thinks it unlawful to give money
to a poor Turk, hath made it to become unlawful to him,
though of itself it seems to be a pious act. So also it is in
the uncertain application of a certain proposition. It is cer-
tainly unlawful to commit adultery ; but if Jacob supposes
he lies with Rachel, and she prove to be Leah, his con-
science hath not changed the rule, but it hath changed the
object and the act ; the object becomes his own by adoption,
and the act is regular by the integrity of the will. This is
that which is affirmed by the apostle, " I know and am
persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean
of itself, but he that thinketh it is unclean, to him it is un-
clean."? This instance is in a case in which they might
easily be mistaken, and innocently abused, by reason of the

Titus, i. 16. Deut. xxiii. 17.

f Rom. xir. 14. Vide Cbrysost in bunc locum. St. Ambros. ib. ; Theophyl.ib.


prepossession of their minds by Moses's law ; and therefore,
in such cases the conscience rules. They who believe them-
selves married, may mutually demand and pay their duty ;
but if they be not married, it is fornication or adultery, as
it happens. But if conscience says they are married, it is
not adultery, but an act of duty ; because the same con-
science that declares for the marriage, obliges also to pay
their duty, as a matter of necessity. Wherever the under-
standing is wrong, and the will is wholly right, the action
is accepted, and the error pardoned.

10. (3.) When the act is materially evil, the conscience
adopting it into a good portion, that is, believing it to be
good, does not make a perfect change, but leaves an allay
in the several degrees of its persuasion. For it is impossible
that a right conscience and a wrong should have no differ-
ence in the effect, especially if there be any thing criminal
or faulty in the cause of the error. When two men take
up arms in a different cause, as suppose one for his prince,
and the other against him ; though they be both heartily
persuaded, and act according to conscience, yet they do
not equally do . well or ill. The one shall be accepted,
and, it may be, the other pardoned, or excused in various
degrees. But this which needs a pardon for one thing, is
not* in the whole constitution of it, good for any thing, nor
can it be accepted to reward.

(4.) If the conscience dictate a thing to be necessary, the
thing is become necessary, and at no hand to be declined.
This was it which St. Paul said, " He that is circumcised, is
a debtor of the whole law;" q meaning, that though Christ
had broken the yoke of Moses, yet if conscience did take up
one end of it, and bound it upon itself, the other end would
be dragged after it, and by the act of conscience become
necessary. If a man inquires, whether he is bound to say
his prayers kneeling, or whether he may do it standing, or
lying, or leaning ; if his conscience be persuaded that he
must do it kneeling, it is necessary he should do so, and he
may not d'o it in his bed ; because the conscience is a law-
giver, and hath authority over the man, and ought to prevail,
when the contrary part is only that they may do otherwise.
For whether this part be true or false, the matter is not SQ

i Gal. T. 3.


great, because there is no danger if a man do not make use
of a liberty that is just : he can let it alone and do well
enough : and therefore to follow the other part which is sup-
posed necessary, must needs be his safest way.

But if the question be, whether it be necessary to keep
a holy day, or necessary to let it alone ; there, if the con-
science determine that for necessary to be done, which is
necessary to be let alone, the man is indeed bound to follow
his conscience, but he cannot escape a sin. For conscience
makes no essential alterations in the thing, though it makes
personal obligations to the man ; and if it be an evil super-
stition to keep a holy day, it cannot be made lawful, because
the conscience mistaking calls it necessary. And if this were
otherwise, it were not a pin-matter what a man thought;
for his thinking so becomes his law, and every man may do
what is right in his own eyes. And therefore God was
pleased expressly to declare it, that if a prophet did mislead
the people, both he and they should perish ; and our blessed
Saviour signified the same thing in a parabolical expression,
" If the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch."
But in this case there is a fault somewhere, and the man
smarts under the tyranny, not the empire, of his conscience ;
for conscience can have no proper authority against the law
of God. In this case, that which the conscience falsely calls
necessary, becomes so relatively and personally (that is, he
thinks so, and cannot innocently go in the right way, so long
as his guide conducts him in the wrong, and yet cannot inno-
cently follow his guide, because she does abuse him), but in
itself, or in the Divine acceptation, it only passes for a
' bonum,' something there is in it that is good, and that God
may regard ; there is a ' prceparatio animi,' a willingness
to obey.

12. (5.) If the conscience being mistaken in a question,
whether an action be good or no, calls that good which is
nothing but indifferent ; the conscience alters it not, it is
still but lawful ; but neither necessary nor good, but rela-
tively and collaterally : the person may be pitied, and have
a gift given him in acknowldgement, but the thing itself
cannot expect it. When the lords of the Philistines, that
they might deprecate the Divine judgments, offered to God
golden mice and emerods, the thing itself was not at all


agreeable to the way by which God chose to be worshipped:
but their conscience told them it was good, it therefore
became lawful to them, but not good in itself; and God, who
is the Father of mankind, saw their heart, and that they
meant it for good, and he was pleased to take it so. But the
conscience, I say, cannot make it good. For to be good or
bad is wholly another consideration than to be necessary or
not necessary. This distinction is relative to persons, and
therefore can be made by conscience in the sense above
allowed. But good and bad is an abstract consideration,
and relates to the materiality of the object, and is before the
act of conscience, not after.

13. (6.) If the conscience being mistaken calls a thing
lawful, which is not so in the rule or law of God, there the
conscience neither makes an alteration in the thing, nor
passes an obligation upon the person. Elenora de Ferrante
was married to a Spanish gentleman, who first used her ill,
then left her worse. After some years she is courted by
Andrea Philippi her countryman, to marry him. She in-
quires whether she may or no, and is told by some, whom
she ought not easily to have believed, that she may ; and so
she does. But being told, by her confessor, of her sin and
shame, she pretends that she did it ' bono animo,' her con-
science was persuaded she might do it, and therefore hopes
to be excused or pardoned. He answers her, that her con-
science could not make that lawful which God had forbid-
den, and therefore she ought not to pretend conscience ; for
though her conscience did say it was lawful, she was not
bound to follow it ; because though she must do nothing
that is unlawful, yet she is not tied to do every thing that
is lawful : and though her conscience can give her a law, yet
it cannot give her a privilege. She is bound to do what
her conscience says is necessary, though it be deceived : and
if she does not, she sins against her conscience, which can
never be permitted or excused. But if her conscience tells
her only it is lawful so to do ; if she does not do the thing
which her conscience permits, she offends it not, because,
though it allows, yet it does not command it. If therefore
she does it, and there be an error in the conscience, the sin
is as great as the error, great as the matter itself ; as if the
fact materially be adultery, it is also morally so, and the



persuasion of the conscience does not excuse it from being
such. The reason is plain ; for since the conscience, when
she allows, does not command, if the person chooses that
thing which materially is a sin, it is in pursuance of her own
desires, not in obedience to her conscience. It is lust more
than conscience. But yet whereas she says she hopes for
pardon in this case, there is no question but she may. For
she sinned as St. Paul did in persecuting the Church ; he did
it ' ignorantly,' and so did she. Here only was the difference ;
he was nearer to pardon than she ; because he thought he
was bound to do so, and therefore could not resist his con-
science so persuaded : she only thought she might do it, and
therefore might have chosen. The conscience hath power
in obligations and necessities, but not so much, nor so often,
in permissions.


Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) → online text (page 49 of 50)