1902 Encyclopedia > Liguori, Liguorianism

Liguori, Liguorianism




LIGUORI, LIGUORIANISM. The name Liguorian-ism has been popularly given in the present century to a particular school of moral and devotional theology in the Roman Catholic Church by the controversial oppo-nents of that school, whether themselves Roman Catholics or not. It is derived from the name of one of its principal and most influential exponents, Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, a theologian, saint, and doctor of the Roman Church. In strictness, the term is not accurate, for Liguori was in no sense the founder of the school, nor did he innovate upon, develop, or exaggerate its principles and maxims. He was simply a fair representative of the national type of piety of Italian devotees in his day; and, as a casuist, he was a diligent compiler, whose avowed design was to take a middle course between the two principal varieties of teaching in moral theology current in his own time, avoid-ing their extremes of severity or laxity. His own words, in the preface to his Homo Apostolicus, a work intended for the guidance of priests in hearing confession, explain clearly the intention of his bulkier treatise, the Theologia Moralis. He says :—" When compiling that work, I spent the labour of fifteen years in perusing and weighing the teaching of very many writers whom I examined, some of whom I found more lenient than is just; . . . while I found others who, strongly disliking such indulgence, fell into the other extreme of excessive rigour. And this was my principal task, to select from such a mass of opinions those decisions which, on the one hand, should uphold the obedience due to the precepts of God and of the church, and on the other should not add burdens which God has not imposed, by binding every one to that perfection which, through human weakness, is morally impossible to the general body of believers." A brief glance at the names of those casuists whom he cites most frequently, as Covarruvias, Soto, Lessius, Vasquez, Bonacina, the doctors of Salamanca, Sanchez, Diana, &c, shows them to belong mainly to the hundred years between 1580 and 1680, and therefore to the period of Jesuit predominance in moral theology, and of the prevalence of those maxims which Pascal lashed in the Provinciates, many of which were soon after condemned by Pope Innocent XL in 1679. But, as Liguori embodies also in his materials the casuistical authors of the succeeding century, who were taught some caution by those mishaps of their predecessors, his works represent the final stage of casuistry in what is accounted a purified and moderate form, and have a yet greater importance, in that they have been accorded an official approval and authorization from the highest authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, such as those of no previous casuist of the post-Reformation era can allege. They are fully sanctioned, encouraged, and recommended for general use amongst the Roman Catholic clergy, and in fact only just fall short of being actually enjoined. Consequently they themselves, and the works based on them by Scavini and Gaume, as also the kindred manual of Gury, are all but universally found in use, and it is thus easy to learn from them what is now the accredited moral theology pre-valent throughout the Latin obedience. So much being premised, we may now turn to the life of Liguori himself, and thence to the analysis of the system which he expounds.

Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, son of Giuseppe de' Liguori, a Neapolitan noble, and of Anna Cavalieri de Brindes, his wife, was born at Marianella, near Naples, on September 27,1696. He was educated chiefly at home, though he attended an Oratorian school at Naples for a time ; and, as his father desired that he should rise to office in the magistracy, he was especially directed to the study of jurisprudence, both civil and canonical. He took the degree of doctor in this faculty in January 1713, being then little more than six-teen years old. He was called to the bar in due course, and obtained considerable practice, while his biographers dwell much on the high moral tone of the rules he laid down for his guidance in the conduct of professional business. The loss of an important suit in which he was engaged as counsel for a Neapolitan noble against the grand-duke of Tuscany, and in which he had entirely mistaken the force of a leading document, so mortified him that, acting on a temper already disposed towards the monastic life, it induced his withdrawal from the legal profession, which he never resumed after this defeat. He soon adopted the ecclesiastical dress as a candidate for orders, which he received in December 1724, when he entered as a novice into the Congregation of Missions, being ordained priest in December 1726.

He soon became popular as a preacher and as a confessor, obtaining much influence in Naples and its vicinity. In 1732 he founded the "Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer," usually known as Redemptorists, or, as they are often named, Liguorians, whose special object is the religious instruction of the rural poor and other uneducated classes, establishing the first house of the society, in the force of much opposition, at the little town of Scala, about 8 miles from Salerno. The headquarters were transferred somewhat later to Ciorani, and in 1743 to Nocera dei Pagani, which is still the chief house. The confirmation of the rule and institute was obtained from Benedict XIV. in February 1749, and in the following year Liguori, who had previously made some minor literary ventures, published one of his most famous and popular books, Le Glorie di Maria, a book intended to promote the cultus of the Blessed Virgin; and in 1753 he issued his yet more celebrated Moral Theology, dedicating it to Pope Benedict XIV., expressly as a "via media" treatise. An Italian version of this book, somewhat abridged, recast, and adapted for the use of the clergy, was his next task; and, on this shorter treatise becoming popular, and a demand for it arising outside of Italy, he translated it into Latin, and issued it in 1755 as the Homo Apostolicus.

In 1762, being then sixty-six years of age, he accepted the bishopric of Sant' Agata dei Goti, a small town in the province of Benevento, at the express desire of the pope (though he had several years before refused the arch-bishopric of Palermo, offered him by the king of Naples), and by a very unusual concession was permitted to retain his superiorship of the Redemptorists, governing them by means of a vicar-general. He worked diligently in this sphere of labour for thirteen years, busying himself with practical reforms of various kinds in his diocese, notably in trying to raise the standard of clerical life and work, while not intermitting either his literary pursuits or his efforts to promote the growth of his Redemptorist institute. In 1775, being then seventy-nine years of age, he obtained permission from Pius VI. to resign his bishopric, on the plea of enfeebled health, and retired to the Redemptorist house at Nocera dei Pagani, where he died August 1, 1787, aged nearly ninety-one. He was decreed the rank of " Venerable " very speedily, being so named by Pius VI. in 1796, was beatified by Pius VII. in 1816, canonized by Gregory XVI. in 1839, and finally declared a " Doctor of the Church " by Pius IX., March 11,1871. He is one of the most copious of the later Roman theologians, and his productiveness extended over a period of thirty years, from the issue of his Visits to the Blessed Sacrament in 1747 till the appearance of no fewer than eleven treatises in 1777 ; but his only writings necessary to be added here to those already named are his treatises De Usa Moderato Opinionis Probabilis, 1754, recast and reissued in 1756 ; Praxis Confessarli, 1756 ; six apologies in defence of his views on probabilism and of his Moral Theology, in the same year, followed by three more in 1768 ; Verità della Fide, against Helvetius and the deists, 1767 ; Storia delle Eresie, directed chiefly against the Jansemsts and Molinists, 1772 ; Dissertazioni teologiche morale, 1772 ; and Vindicim pro suprema Pontificia potestate, adversus Justinum Febronium, in the same year.

He was a man of naturally amiable and gentle disposition, ascetic and self-denying in his personal habits, indefatig-ably diligent in many forms of activity, and of more than respectable abilities, though with the emotional side of his character in greater relief than its intellectual side. He was learned, as learning was understood amongst the Italian clergy of the 18th century, though altogether lacking in critical faculty, whence he is quite untrustworthy as a controversialist, not only as habitually quoting spurious or interpolated authorities, but by adding matter of his own to amplify genuine quotations which fall short of proving his case. In estimating the nature of his moral teaching, not only have these personal characteristics to be steadily kept in mind, but also the fact that his life exactly synchronizes with that epoch of European history which was the seed-time of the Revolution, and when, owing to reaction from the fervid theological controversies of the 16th and 17th centuries, a general languor, coldness, and indifference towards religious questions reigned in all parts of Western Christendom. It was Liguori's firm belief that only the most lenient and gentle treatment could win back the alienated laity ; and consequently, though he professed to steer a middle course between errors of laxity and severity in moral teaching, and fully believed himself to have done so, yet in fact such a treat-ment was impossible to one who viewed the question as he did. For, while he regarded errors on the side of laxity as pardonable mistakes committed through excess of zeal in winning over penitents, contrariwise he looked on the stricter method of the rigorists, who upheld a loftier morality, as not merely inexpedient, but as positively and intentionally evil, as designed to make religion odious by making it impossible, and so to prepare the way for the triumph of unbelief. He identified all teaching of the sort with Jansenism, and Jansenism, from its resistance to various pontifical decrees, seemed to him all but equivalent to atheism.

Hence the opinions of rigorist theologians find almost no place in his writings, save for the purpose of censure, since he did not regard them as authorities to be relied on; and accordingly the line he draws is not, what he probably thought it, an intermediate one between rigorism and laxity, but between a greater and a lesser degree of laxity, depending on the working of the principle known as " Probabilism." The meaning of this principle (due to the scholastic form of the Aristotelian dialectic, and thus visible in germ as early as St Thomas Aquinas, though not taking final shape till the writings of Medina, Valencia, Vasquez, and others, mainly, but not exclusively, Jesuits, at the close of the 16th century) is simply this :—when a doubt arises as to the binding force of some divine or human precept in any given case, it is permissible to abandon the opinion in favour of obedience to the law—technically known as the " safe " (ticta) opinion—for that which favours non-compliance, provided this laxer opinion be " probable." And by " probable " is meant any judgment or opinion based on some reasonable grounds, though with some doubt that the opposite view is perhaps the true one (Gury, Theol. Mor., vol. i. n. 51). It may be probable in two chief ways,—intrinsically, because of reasons drawn from the nature of the thing itself, or extrinsically, because supported by one or more theologians of repute; and its degree of probability may vary according to a variety of conditions. Casuists are divided into six classes according to their mode of regarding probability :—(1) Rigorists, who lay down that the safer way, that of obedience to the law, is always to be followed; (2) Mitigated Rigorists, or " Tutiorists," who, holding that the law is always the safer and better way, yet allow that an opinion of the highest intrinsic probability in favour of liberty may sometimes be followed; (3) Probabiliorists, who hold that the law is always to be obeyed unless an opinion clearly very probable (probabilior) is opposed to it; (4) Equiprobabilists, who teach that in a balance of opinions the less safe opinion may be lawfully followed, provided it be as probable, or nearly as probable, as its opposite; (5) Moderate Proba-bilists, according to whom it is lawful to follow the less safe and somewhat less probable opinion, provided it have some degree of real probability, even if the opposite opinion be clearly more probable; (6) Laxists, who hold that even slightly probable opiuions may be followed ; but, as they were condemned by Innocent XL, they no longer exist as an avowed school, but are still latent under classes 4 and 5.

On further examination, it appears that the right of judging of the intrinsic probability of an opinion is restricted to persons of considerable learning, and specially versed in moral theology, since they alone can know that there is not any certain argument in opposition. All other inquirers must fall back on extrinsic probability, that is, on what may be called " counsel's opinions." And, informing a judgment on this basis, the following rules are laid down by F. Gury :—a moderately educated person may accept as probable any opinion which he finds asserted by distin-guished theologians of the present day, and may follow even a single author of repute, though teaching contrary to the commonly received view, provided he brings forward some fresh argument, and can urge reasonable pleas against former solutions ; while an ignorant man may take the word of any person whom he thinks trustworthy, able, and learned, that a particular opinion is probable {Theol. Mor., vol. i. n. 54). Some classes of things are, however, ex-cluded by Roman casuists from the operation of this prin-ciple ; as, for example, all questions relating to matters of faith, in which the very highest degree of probability is not sufficient to excuse from following the safe opinion, which is that of the Roman Church. Liguori's own posi-tion is that of an equiprobabilist, and he therefore, as a rule, leans to the laxer side.





Before proceeding to illustrate the exact nature of his teaching by extracts from his works, it is desirable to ascertain what degree of authority attaches to those works in virtue of the position now accorded to him. In the first place, one of the earliest steps in the process of canonization is a strict review of every writing of the candidate proposed, whether published or unpublished. Every single proposi-tion therein must be separately considered, and be judged on its own merits, without taking the author's probable intention into account, and if even one passage be found which fails to stand this test, as containing any moral or theological error, the process is stopped at once, unless proof be adduced that the author had in his lifetime formally and fully retracted the erroneous opinion. But a decree of the Congregation of Rites, confirmed by Pius VII. in 1803, declared that in none of the writings of Alfonso de' Liguori was anything found meriting censure, and the testimony of Artico, bishop of Asti, and prince-prelate of the papal household, is that the examination had been unusually severe, that Liguori's system of morality had been discussed more than twenty times, and that the approval of the congregation was perfectly unanimous. Next, in the year 1831, Cardinal Rohan-Chabot, archbishop of Besangon, submitted a case to the cardinal grand ' penitentiary, desiring to know, whereas the teaching of Liguori's Moral Theology was resisted by some persons in his diocese, as too lax, dangerous to salvation, and contrary to the moral law, whether a professor of theology might safely follow and teach the opinions in that work, and further, whether a confessor should be molested for follow-ing those opinions in the confessional, solely on the ground that they had been pronounced free from censure by the apostolic see, and without having examined them inde-pendently himself. To the former of these questions an affirmative reply was given, to the latter a negative one. Thirdly, in the bull of canonization, issued by Gregory XVI. in 1839, the entire absence of error in Liguori's writings is once more asserted.

So far, no more is implied than the entire orthodoxy and moral soundness of Liguori's writings, vouched for to the ordinary Roman Catholic by the fact of his canonization. And, though the liberty is thereby taken away of directly censuring any proposition in the writings of a saint as doctrinally or morally untenable, yet there is no precise obligation to follow all things contained therein. It is still lawful to challenge the opinions of a saint, if it be done modestly and with the production of strong reasons (Bened. XIV., Be Canoniz., ii. 32, 12); but this liberty is very seriously abridged if the saint be also a " Doctor of the Church." For the meaning of that title is that the person who bears it is one who has not merely transmitted the teaching of the church to others, but has taught the church itself (Bened. XIV, Be Canoniz., iv. ii. xi. 11), and whose doctrine has consequently been generally followed and authorized by the church. The number of these doctors of the church is very small; and, in the special case of Liguori, he is not only the latest so named, but the only post-mediaeval casuist who has yet been canonized. Accordingly, it is not merely permissible, as heretofore, to follow his teaching, but it is now clothed with so high a degree of authority that it becomes matter of grave doubt whether even such a modified expression of dissent from his teaching as occurs in the Apologia of Cardinal Newman in 1864 be now feasible without risk of censure. For the letters apostolic of Pius IX. declare that the works of Liguori may be used publicly in the same manner as the writings of other doctors of the church, such as Augustine, Gregory the Great, and Thomas Aquinas ; with, however, this notable difference that, whereas the teaching of those earlier doctors is necessarily qualified and conditioned by the subsequent development of theology, and by the suc-cessive glosses which they have received, on the other hand, Liguori's recent date makes him the sole authoritative interpreter of all moral theologians earlier than himself, while no writer has yet appeared to modify authoritatively, much less to supersede, his own moral teaching.

It may seem, at first sight, that a great advantage is gained by having thus a standard text-book on morals, even if some exceptions may be taken to its rulings in certain cases, because it may be expected to check serious divergency of opinion, and to put, indirectly at least, a high ethical ideal before the body of religious teachers. This, however, can be the case only when such a text-book expressly repudiates the principle of probabilism, and so comes to be ranked amongst rigorist works. For once probabilism is conceded as part of the system, as is the case with Liguori, then every opinion not officially con-demned by authority, which is set down in the text-book itself, and is fortified with the names of any casuists of repute, becomes thereby probable and sanctioned, even though it be not the one professed by Liguori himself. Thus it may freely be followed by any priest in the confes-sional ; and, what is yet more startling, it is the common and preferable doctrine that a penitent in confession can require absolution to be given him as a right, if he claim to have followed a probable opinion as to the act involved, even though not only the opposite opinion may be the more probable in the coufessor's judgment, but that of the penitent seem absolutely false, and the confessor is there-fore bound sub gravi to absolve in such a case (Lig., Theol. Mor., vi. 605); nor is it necessary that the opinion which the penitent advances should really convince or satisfy his own conscience. It is enough that it stands in the books, and is citable. Accordingly, the only practical effect of such a text-book as Liguori's is to undermine all rigorist propositions, and to make tenable every lax proposition, except the very few which have been specifically condemned.

As regards Liguori himself, his usual method is to begin with taking very high ground, and to state in unexception-able terms the moral obligation of the precept with which he is concerned, but then to evacuate it of all real force by exceptions and qualifications. That such was felt to be the case, even in the relaxed society of his own day, appears from the frequency with which, even before his death, his moral teaching was impugned in Italy and France as of dangerous consequences, and from the number of apologies he was obliged to put forward in its defence.

He lays down broad general propositions, such, for example, as that all voluntary departure from the divine rule, whether of human and natural law or of revealed law, is sin {Theol. Mor., ii. 1, 1); that nearly all sins against the decalogue are mortal sins {Ibid., ii. 52, 2); that all sins, whether mortal or venial, deserve punishment {Ibid., ii. 51, 1, 2); and, specifically, that all lying and falsehood is a breach of one precept of the decalogue {Ibid., vi. \,prooem.), and all theft and dishonesty a breach of another {Ibid., iv. 518); but the favourable impression which such un-impeachable rulings produce is not maintained on further inq uiry.

In the first place, he lays down that, to make any act sinful, three conditions must be fulfilled :—(1) it must be done with consent of the will; (2) it must be free, that is, it must be in the power of the will to do it or leave it undone; (3) there must be intellectual consciousness {advertentia) of its evil nature. These look specious enough, and against the first no objection can be raised. But Liguori then alleges that violent gusts of passion or desire, which disturb the reason, and take away liberty of action, sometimes excuse from sin {Ibid., ii. 1,2). He is not speak-ing of actual insanity, which is not under consideration; and he adds that evil acts done by a drunken person are either not sinful at all, or are at most venial sins {Ibid., ii. 1, 4), because the effect cannot be more sinful than the cause. And as to the degree of advertence necessary as a condition of sin, he first mentions the stricter view, that actual and immediate attention to the nature of the act is not required, but that a virtual knowledge of its character suffices, by which a man might reasonably be expected to recognize it, since otherwise all evil-doers who are blinded by their passions, or by a long course of malpractices, may go on taking no notice, and continue to commit sins with moral impunity. He then states the laxer and com-moner view, that some direct advertence of the sinful nature of the act is necessary to constitute sin in doing it, and proceeds to reconcile these two opinions by ruling that voluntary ignorance, whether due to conscious neglect, to deliberate following of passion, to a course of evil habit, or to omission of the degree of consideration which the act demands, does not excuse from sin; but that all other forms of it do acquit the offender. The obscurity insepar-able from some of these qualifications complicates a sufficiently simple matter, and in any case the doubter is at liberty to fall back on the laxer opinion. But there is one exception;—unbelievers and heretics cannot plead ignorance as their excuse. All their errors, of whatever kind, are imputed to them as sin {Ibid., ii. 1, 4). A further difficulty is created by the distinction made between mortal and venial sins, and by the inferences drawn from this distinction. " A mortal sin is that which, by reason of its gravity, dissolves grace and friendship with God, and merits eternal punishment. It is called mortal, because it takes away the principle of spiritual life, that is, habitual grace, and brings death on the soul. A venial sin is that which, by reason of its slightness, does not take away grace and friendship, though it abates the warmth of charity, and deserves temporal punishment. It is called venial, because, without damage to the principle of spiritual life, that is, grace, it brings on the soul an easily curable weakness, and easily obtains pardon" {Ibid., ii. 51). This seems at first merely a recognition of the broad practical distinction between serious and trifling offences acknowledged by every sound ethical thinker and by every civilized penal code. But its consequences go much further, for in the Roman system of casuistry the aim is as a rule to attenuate mortal sins into venial ones; while these latter are regarded as of such little moment as scarcely to deserve the very name of sin. This appears from the fact that, whereas the canon (xxi.) Omnis utriusque sexus fidelis of the council of Lateran (1215), which first made private confession compul-sory, enjoins the confession of all one's sins at least yearly, on the other hand, the council of Trent (Sess. xiv. c. 5) lays down that only mortal sins need be so disclosed, while venial sins, though they may be named in confession, according to the practice of devout persons, can be passed over in silence without any fault. And Liguori gives his own sanction to the proposition that a Christian does not sin gravely who proposes to commit every one of the venial sins {Theol. Mor., v. 1, 12). Such being the light estimate of these sins, it might be fairly supposed that great care would be taken to mark them off so clearly from mortal sins that even the least instructed conscience could not confuse them with each other. But every sin which, considered in itself, is mortal, becomes venial if any one of these three conditions be absent:—full advertence and deliberation ; entire consent; for the most part, gravity of the subject matter. Insufficient deliberation may be known in three ways :—imperfect consciousness of the sinfulness of the act, as if one were half asleep; subsequent regret, and a conviction that you would not have done the act had you fully apprehended it; such disturbance, through passion, alarm, or distraction, as to confuse the sense of what you were doing. Imperfect consent is established by the presence of a doubt in any one's mind whether he did really consent; by the habitual disposition being that of regarding mortal sin as a worse evil than death ; by consciousness of having proceeded very timidly and hesitatingly in the action; by being half asleep, so as to be only doubtfully conscious, and being of opinion that the act would not have been done in case of full possession of the senses. And gravity of the subject matter is to be decided, not merely on the merits of the thing in itself, but in its relation to the end proposed by the agent. If it make but little for this end, it is trifling; if much, then it becomes serious (Theol. Mor., ii. 54, 55, 56).
It is obvious that each of these subdivided qualifications admits of indefinite hair-splitting, and so that the security apparently provided by the general distinction between mortal and venial sins is elusive. It is true that there are also causes which will raise a venial sin to the rank of mortal; but the ascending process is more uncertain and difficult than the descending one. A venial sin, committed deliberately as a stepping-stone to a mortal sin, is to be judged in respect of this its object, and so becomes mortal. A venial sin, so passionately clung to as to make its votary ready to commit a mortal sin rather than forego its indul-gence, also becomes mortal. But in neither of these cases is it necessary to confess the venial sin, only the mortal sin to which it has led up. The third mode of a venial sin becoming mortal is when it is committed with the formal and express purpose of disobedience to a superior, or to a precept, just because it is a precept. And in this case alone, because of the supreme place given to obedience in the Roman system, wherein it is not only the first and highest of virtues, but practically almost the only one insisted on for all, there is no manner of withdrawal from the category of mortal sins (Theol. Mor., ii. 59, 60, 61).

So far, only the general principles on which Liguori's system is based have been explained. It next remains to exhibit their prac-tical application, both as regards his own statements aud also as regards those opinions of other casuists which, though not accepting them for himself, he yet embodies without censure in his work, thereby giving them the character and sanction of probability. It will simplify the inquiry to limit it mainly, though not exclusively, to the teaching on falsehood and theft.

Both of these are declared by Liguori to be sins of grave charac-ter, and in regard to the former he cites, amongst other authori-tative condemnations, these words of Pope Innocent III. : "Not even to defend our life is it lawful to speak falsely." He adds that persons who are being lawfully questioned by such as have a right to interrogate, as judges in court, or a priest in the confessional, are bound to disclose truly all that they know of the matter inquired into. Those who are questioned by such as have no right to interrogate them, or are questioned irregularly by lawful authority, are not bound to communicate their knowledge, and may set aside and avoid such questioning by any lawful means,—such means however, not including falsehood, nor answers made with mental reservation, making the words actually spoken false, this latter mode of evasion having been formally condemned by Innocent XI. in 1679, though it was permitted by the casuists of the immediately preceding period. This is all tenable enough, but its apparent force is easily reduced by a little ingenuity.





In the first place, he distinguishes amphibology or equivocation from mental reservation, and names three varieties of equivocation : (1) that of a word having two quite different senses, as volo in Latin means to "wish" and to " fly,"—to which may he added the fre-quent English ambiguity of two distinct words having the samesound, as air and heir; (2) a sentence having two main meanings, as '' This book is Peter's," which may signify his ownership or his author< ship ; (3) that of words having two senses, one more common than the other, or one literal and the other metaphorical. The example he gives of this last form is the phrase " I say No," uttered by a person who wishes to conceal something as to which he is ques-tioned. The words seem to his hearer to denote express denial of the fact; the meaning in which he uses them is merely " I utter the word 'No,'" this sentence being complete in itself. "It is certain," adds Liguori, "and the common opinion of all, that it is lawful for a just cause to use equivocation in the manners described, and to confirm it with an oath. . . . And the reason is because we do not then deceive our neighbour, but for a just cause permit him to deceive himself; and besides, we are not bound, if there be a just cause, to speak so that others may understand. And any honest object for retaining any good things that are useful to our body or spirit may be a just cause" (Theol. Mor., iv. 151).

But suppose that it is impossible to allege a just cause, is it then mortal sin to swear with such equivocation ? Some of the stricter casuists say so, but Liguori sides with the laxists, and declares it merely venial, except in a court of law or in formal contracts,— alleging that, save in these two cases, any reasonable cause, such as desire to be quit of troublesome and irregular questioning, is sufficient to mitigate the sin. He adds, however, two cautions— that a more serious cause is required to justify equivocation with an oath than without one, and that, in proportion as the equivocal words employed give greater occasion for mistake, a graver cause is required for their proper use, a qualification instantly modified by the next clause, which lays down that, when words which are in themselves equivocal, having two equally valid meanings, are used, then they give little or no cause for error, and may be used on the very lightest grounds.

Next, as to mental reservation, or "restriction," which is the technical name, this was expressly condemned in three propositions by Innocent XL, forbidding it in all cases. According to the analogy of all prohibitory laws, this general prohibition of the genus should include prohibition of all the species also. But the casuists, unable to oppose direct resistance to the papal decree, have turned its flank by inventing a new distinction which was unknown in 1679. They have now divided mental restriction into two main heads, the first of which, absolute or " pure" mental restriction (by which is meant such reservation as cannot possibly be observed by the hearers, or conjectured from the attendant circumstances), is always illicit, whether with or without an oath. But "non-pure" mental restriction (that is, such as may conceivably be observed and inferred from attending circumstances, such as an in-audible whisper, or a qualifying gesture) does not, they allege, fall under the ban of Innocent XL, and is always lawful for a just cause. " The reason of this opinion is that, if it were not permissible to use non-pure mental restriction, there would be no lawful means of con-cealing a secret, which one could not disclose without loss or incon-venience, which would be as hurtful as lying to human intercourse. And therefore the condemnation passed by the pope on mental restriction is rightly to be understood of a restriction taken absolutely and strictly, for that alone can be called true mental restriction which takes place in the mind alone, and so remains hidden, and can in no wise be recognized from external circumstances" (Theol. Mor., iv. 152). And the following illustrations are supplied. (1) A confessor may affirm with an oath that he is ignorant of a crime which he has heard in confession, secretly meaning thereby that he is ignorant of it as a mere man, though not as a minister of religion. (2) An accused or a witness, Si irregularly questioned by the judge in court, may swear that he knows nothing of a crime which he does in fact know of, understanding thereby that he does not know it so as to be legally bound to answer or depose concerning it. This alarming proposition is apparently corrected by the warning that, when the interrogation of the judge is in due form, then the person questioned is bound to obedience, and barred from all equivocation. But this safeguard is at once fatally weakened by the further pro-visions that, if the act be not a crime in the witness's opinion, he need not disclose it, and that if the crime be altogether hidden (i.e., where only the criminal himself and the witness know the facts), the witness is not merely permitted, but is actually bound, to say that the accused did not commit it. And the accused is equally free to do so, unless there be already " half-full" proof against him, because, in the absence of such a degree of presumption, the judge has no legitimate right to question him as to his guilt. Those who have deceived the court by such sworn equivocation are, Liguori rules, entitled to absolution without the declaration of the truth being imposed as a condition. (3) A needy man, who has made away, for his maintenance, with property due to his creditors, may affirm to the judge that he has nothing. (4) A witness asked by the judge whether he has had any conversation with the accused may deny it, meaning that he has not talked with him so as to co-operate in the crime. (5) An adulteress, questioned by her husband as to her guilt, may deny it in any of these four ways : (a) that she has not broken the marriage-tie, because it is not voided by adultery ; (b) if she have gone to confession, she may say that she is innocent of the crime, because it has been remitted in confession ; (c) that she has not committed adultery, using the word in its fre-quent Biblical sense of "idolatry " ; (d) that she has not committed it so as to be bound to tell him of it (Theol. Mor., iv. 153-162).

Promises are no safer than assertions under this code. As usual with Liguori, a broad statement of their binding character is pre-fixed to the qualifications which leave nothing but the outer shell remaining. For we are told (a) that "the whole obligation is com-monly understood as depending on the intentions of the promisers, and not binding unless that be confirmed with an oath or a formal document, in the absence of which it may be considered a mistake or a jest"; and (fi) that "it is certain that every promise, even an accepted one, does not bind, if after the date of the promise it be-comes impossible, or very hurtful, or unlawful, or useless, and generally speaking, when there has been a serious change of circum-stances, which, if foreseen, would' have prevented the promise; such a promise is always presumed to have been made under some such tacit condition" (Theol. Mor., iv. 720).

Theft is treated in a very similar fashion. A broad general rule is laid down as to its sinfulness, and this is at once traversed by the following doctrine : "It is certain that a man who is in extreme necessity may purloin other people's goods, enough to relieve him-self from such necessity. So the doctors in common say, agreeing with St Thomas." Extreme necessity is defined as meaning risk of loss of life, or of some limb or other important bodiiy member, peril of perpetual captivity, or of any serious disease or discredit. And Liguori, contradicting the stricter casuists, in-cludes under the same heading the case of a man of rank ashamed to work or to beg, who may then lawfully steal to maintain himself. Then the case is put whether a poor man in extreme need is free to steal before asking. One rigorist lays down that it is a mortal sin to do so, because no man can be held to be in extreme necessity who can get what he wants by asking. But the laxer casuists rule that, though he is bound to ask first, he sins only venially by omitting to do so ; and Liguori solves the difficulty by saying that the robber sins mortally if what he takes is not absolutely necessary to relieve his want, but that, if he does so need it that the owner, if aware of the fact, would be bound by the laws of charity to give it him, then he does not sin even venially by stealing it, because he has in that case an absolute right to take it (Theol. Mor., iv. 520).

Some of these rulings are contrived so as to evade the condemna-tion passed by Innocent XI. on the proposition that "it is allowable to steal, not only in extreme necessity, but also in grave necessity." But a more direct conflict with the papal ruling appears in respect of another censured proposition, that "men and women servants may secretly pilfer from their employers to compensate themselves for their work, which they account as of more value than the wages they receive." This is explicit enough, but it is at once set aside by the casuists, who allege that the rule holds good only in the case of a servant who has of his free will contracted to accept a low salary, as he thereby bars himself from compensation; but if he has made the bargain under any sort of constraint, as, for instance, being in great poverty, and thus glad to take any situation, he is at liberty to steal to the amount of what he considers his just additional wages. Some casuists do, indeed, question the servant's right to be judge and assessor in his own cause, but the point is ruled practically in his favour (Theol. Mor., iv. 522, 523, 524). Again, servants may purloin such eatables and drinkables as are not locked up, provided they do so for their own consumption, and not to sell out of doors, and so long as each such theft is singly trifling (Ibid., iv. 54). Even when restitution is enjoined, there is a notable provision in favour of the thief. If he is uncertain who it is he has robbed, he is to make restitution in one or other of certain ways, one of which is that if he be poor he may apply the proceeds of the theft to him-self or to his family (Prax. Confess., ii. 44).

In addition to these glosses on the decalogue, there is one element of doubtfulness introduced into nearly all questions of theft, which is, as to the "gravity of matter," constituting the offence mortal or venial according to the degree of this factor, and a comparison of the various places where Liguori employs the term "gravitas materiee " shows that in all cases where numerical expression can apply he means quantity. Accordingly, he, in common with many other casuists, constructs a sliding tariff of guilt, depending, as a rule, on the amount stolen (Theol. Mor., iv. 526-528).

A few brief citations from other decisions will show that the same principles applied to questions of lying and theft extend to the remaining forms of sin. (1) A man of high position may lawfully kill any one who attempts to slap his face, if there be no other way of warding off the insult (Theol. Mor iv. 38). (2) He who kills A, meaning to kill B, is not bound to make compensation, because the homicide is casual and inadvertent as regards A ; and similarly if a man burns down the house of his friend, meaning to burn that of an enemy (Ibid., iv. 628, 629). (3) Though we are bound to love our enemies, we are not bound to salute them, to speak to them, to visit them if sick, to comfort them in any trouble, to receive them into our house, or to hold any kind of familiar inter-course with them (Ibid., v. 3, 28). (4) A servant may help his master, by lifting him on his shoulders, or by providing him with a ladder, to enter a house, even forcibly, for immoral purposes; for the act is innocent and colourless in itself, nay, even an act of charity or good-will, and the servant is not responsible for the subsequent conduct of his employer (Ibid., iii. 3, 66).

For all practical purposes, the probabilism which is at the base of all this casuistical method, and which is simply the substitution of an external authority for the dictates of conscience, is now in absolute possession throughout the Latin obedience, having finally conquered the resistance it has encountered at intervals since its first formulation as a working theory. Although it owes its chief development to the Jesuits, yet some of its ablest opponents were members of that company, such as Comitolus, Kebellus, Gisbert, and even two of the generals, Mutio Vitellesehi and Tirso Gonzales; while the Sorbonne and the Dominicans were also engaged in fre-quent controversy against its upholders, and in censuring the teaching of several of Liguori's favourite authorities, such as Lessius, Escobar, Tamburini, Bauny, Viva, Busembaum, and Diana.

Authorities.—Glattini, Vila di Liguori, Roma, 1815; Life of St Alphonso Maria de' Liguori, edited by F. W. Faber, 4 vols., London, 1848-49 ; Theologia Moralis S. Alphonsi de Ligorio, 10 vols., Mechlin, 1845; Homo Apostolicus, 3 vols., Mechlin, 1849; Scavini, Theologia Moralis Universa, 4 vols., Paris, 1855; Gury, Compendium Theologia; Moralis, 3 vols., Parma, 1852, and Casus Conscientix, 2 vols, Lyons, 1864; The Provincial Letters of Pascal, edited by John de Soyres, Cambridge, 1880; Article M Probabilisme," in Richard and Giraud,
Bibliolheque Sacre'e, vol. xix., 29 vols., Paris, 1822-27 ; Besombes, Moralis Christiana, 2 vols., Toulouse, 1745 (the best of the anti-probabilist treatises); Meyiick, Moral and Devotional Theology of the Church of Rome, according to the Teaching of S. Alfonso de Liguori, London, 1857; Charge of Archdeacon Sinclair, ill 1867. (R. F. L.)



The above article was written by Rev. R. F. Littledale, LL.D., D.C.L.



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