Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter X: A Continuation of the Answer to the Difficultys against the Rights of an erroneous Conscience. An Examination of what they say, that if Hereticks retaliate on those who persecute 'em, they are guilty of Injustice. Arguments to prove, that a fal - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
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Chapter X: A Continuation of the Answer to the Difficultys against the Rights of an erroneous Conscience. An Examination of what they say, that if Hereticks retaliate on those who persecute ’em, they are guilty of Injustice. Arguments to prove, that a fal - Pierre Bayle, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’ 
A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’, edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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A Continuation of the Answer to the Difficultys against the Rights of an erroneous Conscience. An Examination of what they say, that if Hereticks retaliate on those who persecute ’em, they are guilty of Injustice. Arguments to prove, that a false Conscience may sometimes excuse those who follow it, tho not in all Cases.
Having shewn, as I presume I have, that Hereticks are oblig’d to avoid whatever is not conformable to the Dictates of their Conscience as at least the greater Evil; from whence I infer’d, that they have a Right of doing every thing for the propagating their Errors, which they know God has enjoin’d for propagating the Truth: I might very well have rested here, as having sufficiently prov’d, that Hereticks have a Right of persecuting the Orthodox, supposing<319> God had any where enjoin’d the persecuting Error. However to omit nothing that can farther be desir’d, I shall here examine another very important Question, to wit, Whether a Heretick in doing what his Conscience dictates, may not only avoid the greater Evil, but also all Evil, and perform a good Action.
Before I proceed, I think my self oblig’d to remove a rock of Offence out of the way of my Readers. Some I know will be startled at my advancing, that an erroneous Conscience gives a Right of committing Evil; or to use the Terms of the Author of the Critique Generale on Mr. Maimbourg’s History,97 that Error in the guise of Truth, enters upon all the Rights and Prerogatives of Truth. This sounds somewhat harsh and extravagant; and I own I have met with other Expressions of this kind in the same Author, which to me appear’d somewhat crude and undigested at the first reading: but upon better thoughts I am clearly of his Opinion, to wit, that when Error is dress’d out in the Vestments and Livery of Truth, we owe it the same Respect as we owe to the Truth itself; just as, when a Messenger comes with a Master’s orders to a Servant, the Servant is oblig’d to receive him, tho perhaps the Messenger’s no better than a Cheat or Sharper at the bottom, who has surreptitiously come by the Master’s Orders. To say that this Sharper acquires all the Rights of a faithful Messenger with regard to the Servant to whom he delivers his Master’s Orders, is a manner of expression, which in a Subject of this nature may appear somewhat confus’d to an unpractis’d Reader: but bating this the parallel is<320> just; and if the Author of the Critique meant no more by it, than that the Servant was oblig’d to receive this Sharper civilly, and cou’d not offer him the least Injury without becoming unfaithful to his Master, I must intirely agree with him. Yet he ought to have observ’d one remarkable Difference betwixt the Sharper and a Heresy; to wit, that the Sharper being a distinct Person from the Servant, and conscious he has no right to come with the Master’s Orders, can’t do this without a Sin; but the Heresy under the colors of Truth, being nothing distinct from the Heretical Soul in which it exists (for the Modifications of the Mind are not Entitys distinct from the Mind) is no way conscious of its being only the fantom of Truth, and consequently the Heretical Soul knows not that it either deceives or is deceiv’d. Now fully persuaded of her being in a good State, she has quite another Right of imposing such and such Acts on her self, which in the eternal Order of Morality are to follow upon such and such Persuasions; she has, I say, much a better right in this respect than the Sharper: For the Sharper has not the least Right or Authority, as existing outside the Mind of the Servant, but as he is objectively in the Servant’s Mind; that is, to express my self more intelligibly, all his Right consists in the Idea, or in the Persuasion the Servant is under, that this Sharper is a faithful Messenger from his Master. If the Sharper usurps this Right, he is punishable beyond dispute; but the Soul modify’d by a Heresy from a sincere Persuasion, whether punishable when exercising her Right, is all the Question. There’s no manner of doubt but she is when her Right is ill ac-<321>quir’d. Nor let it seem strange to any one, that I say, a Soul is liable to Punishment, when only exercising her own Right; for all agree that a Person may abuse his Right, and commit Injustice in the exercise of his Right. It’s an Axiom that, summum Jus summa Injuria, a Man may be very unjust in stretching his Right to the utmost rigor. Have not Princes a Right of punishing and pardoning, yet don’t they often make a wrong use of it? Without entring therefore into tedious Discussions, ’twill suffice to observe, that the Word Right or Jus is equivocal; sometimes it’s taken for the Power of doing such a thing; and sometimes for the Justice of an Action. Children have a Right in some cases to marry in spite of their Parents, and if they do no one can molest ’em; yet this hinders not but by exercising this Right they may sometimes abuse it, physically and morally speaking. ’Twere abusing my Readers to enlarge on a matter so evident.
Having remov’d this rub out of our way, I make no scruple to say, that had God in the Scriptures commanded the propagating the Truth by Fire and Sword, Hereticks might unblameably persecute the Truth with Fire and Sword; which is a new and demonstrative Argument against the literal Sense confuted in this Commentary. My Reasons are these.
I. Let’s keep to the Passage which serves for a Text to this Commentary: It’s evident from what we have seen in several parts of this Work, that if the words Compel ’em to come in, contain’d a Command of forcing People into the Bosom of the Church, they are liable to Constraint, not<322> only by Fine, Imprisonment, and Banishment, but also by capital Punishment. We may therefore suppose, that this Passage contains a Law for persecuting to the utmost rigor. Now as this Law is conceiv’d in general terms, there can be no ground to imagine, but the Intention of the Legislator is general, and indifferently address’d to all who own the Gospel for the reveal’d Word of God. But if the Intention of God be general, all they, to whom this Law is known, are oblig’d to obey it: now this they cannot do but by persecuting those who entertain a Belief opposite to the Truth; God then it seems has commanded ’em to persecute those whom they suppose in Opinions opposite to the Truth. And if they do this, what ground is there for Complaint?
The better to perceive the force of this Argument, which seems at first sight to be far fetch’d and drag’d in by head and shoulders, ’twill be proper to observe, that all the Precepts which God has given in his Word in general terms, are obliging, not only on those who are in the visible Communion of that Church which understands the Scriptures rightest, but on those also who live in heretical Societys. This is evident from the Examples of Prayer, Alms-giving, Charity to our Neighbor, honoring our Father and Mother, renouncing our Lusts, Covetousness, Lying, Uncleanness, &c. ’Tis the Mind of God, not only that the Orthodox shou’d obey these Precepts, but those also who have the misfortune of falling into any Heresy, and even while they continue in their Errors; in the midst of all their Delusions he intends they shou’d obey these Precepts, and approves all Acts of Vertue in obedience to ’em.<323> And why shou’d not we think the same with regard to this general Order, Compel ’em to come in? Why shou’d the greatest part of Christians not observe it; and why do better in transgressing it? All the Disparitys which can be alledg’d, will serve only to shew, that had God given any Law at all in this matter, he had restrain’d it by some particular Expressions, by saying, for example, I ordain, that they who believe such and such points, constrain those who do not. Just as if it were a deadly Sin in a Protestant to give an Alms for God’s sake, all the Ideas of Order incline us to believe, that the Precept of Alms-giving had bin address’d to those only, who had such or such a Mark of Christianity, those, for example, who own’d the Pope’s Supremacy. But as all Men living, be they of what Religion they will, may do a good Work in giving Alms, hence it comes, that the Precept of Alms-giving is indifferently address’d to all Mankind, and so of all the other general Precepts. Seeing therefore the pretended Order for persecuting is general, we must believe, that the Intention of God is, that People of all Denominations shou’d obey it.
We are further to observe, that the Nature of all general Laws is such, that the Application of ’em must be left to the Discretion of those who fulfil ’em, unless it be otherwise prescrib’d by the Legislator. For example, the Command in the Decalogue, Honor thy Father and thy Mother, prescribes not to Children such or such a particular kind of Honor, nor obliges ’em to apply this Honor to such or such a kind of Person. The whole Intention of it is, that they pay to him, whom they believe their Father, the Honors in<324> use in their own Country; so that in a Country, where being cover’d in the presence of a Superior, or walking before him, were ordinary marks of respect, a Child who behav’d himself thus, not only towards him who begot him, but to him whom he believes to be his Father, wou’d as perfectly fulfil this Law of God, caeteris paribus, as a Child, who in this Country of ours shou’d stand always uncover’d before his Father, shou’d walk at a distance behind him, &c. Let’s apply this to the Law, Compel ’em to come in; the mildest Construction we can put upon it is, that all shou’d pitch upon that kind of Constraint which makes the deepest Impression in their own Country, and make use of it against those whom they believe to be in a wrong way: and thus things being in other respects equal, a Lutheran who shou’d compel a Papist to turn Lutheran, wou’d obey the Order of God altogether as regularly as a Papist who compel’d a Lutheran to go to Mass.
When St. Paul says, Do good unto all, especially to those who are of the Household of Faith; does he mean, that a Papist shou’d do good unto all, but especially to the Calvinists, or that a Calvinist shou’d do good to all, but especially to the Papists? No, this were extravagant: We must therefore of necessity suppose, since the Scripture ought to be the Rule of all Christians in all Ages, that St. Paul commands Christians in the distribution of their Favors, to prefer those whom they believe to be Orthodox, to those whom they think to be Heterodox. We can’t understand him otherwise; for the Holy Spirit, which dictated the Scriptures, with regard to the future as well as to the present time, cou’d not but foresee, that<325> Christians wou’d be divided into several Sects: so that the Rule of their Manners must have bin form’d, not upon an Hypothesis of Union and Agreement, but upon that of their Divisions and Schisms. Now since upon this second Hypothesis the Preference of the Orthodox in the distribution of our Benefits stands recommended, it follows, that the meaning of the Precept must be, that we must prefer those whom we believe to be Orthodox; this Preference is a natural Consequence of the Love of Truth: St. Paul therefore might well have recommended it in general; and he cou’d not have recommended it in general, had it bin a Sin in all, except one Society of Christians only. If we apply this to the words, Compel ’em to come in, we shall plainly find, that they justify Compulsion on the part of Hereticks as well as Non-Hereticks. Methinks I hear ’em tell me, that these words of the Parable, as well as those of St. Paul, imply in the first place, that People shou’d be Orthodox, and afterwards compel; and prefer those of the Houshold of Faith. But this Sense is absurd; for I may say the same of the Precepts, Honor your Father, protect the Innocent, relieve those in Distress, that they oblige not till one is converted. But while a Body is in the road of Instruction and Preparation, must not he honor his Father, relieve the Poor; and if he is so unfortunate as never to find the Truth, must he live all his Life without the Practice of these Vertues? This is so ridiculous, that there’s no standing by it: we must therefore say, that God directly, absolutely, and without any previous condition, wou’d have all Men, whether<326> Hereticks or Orthodox, be charitable and vertuous.
II. Another Reason is this. Our Adversarys own that Conscience which knows the Truth obliges, and that we act right in doing what it prescribes to be done. Now this cannot be true but in virtue of some, either necessary, or positive Law of the Author of all things, which we may represent in these terms: My Will is, that Truth oblige Men to a Necessity of following it, and they who do follow it shall perform a good Action. Now it does not appear how such a Law cou’d be signify’d to Mankind, without its authorizing reputed as well as real Truth: so that the same Law, which tells us, we may securely follow the Dictates of a Conscience which knows the Truth, intends also, that we may securely follow the Dictates of a Conscience, which believes it knows the Truth, after having us’d all the reasonable means of not being deceiv’d. What makes me speak at this rate is, that I suppose all Men may clearly and distinctly conceive, when they seriously consider it, that this is the Mind and Intention of all Legislators.
A King, who ordains all the Judges of his Kingdom to punish the Guilty, and acquit the Innocent, authorizes ’em by the same Order, to punish all those who shall appear to them Guilty, and acquit those who shall appear to them Innocent. I don’t say, that he authorizes ’em to examine the Accusations and Defences only in a slight transient way, or means, he’l excuse ’em if thro Sloth or Neglect they punish the Innocent, and acquit the Guilty; I only say, he<327> authorizes ’em to govern themselves by what, upon a thorow Examination, shall appear to ’em just: so that if after such Examination, they acquit a Man who appears to ’em guilty, tho perhaps he’s perfectly innocent at bottom, or if they condemn a Man in reality guilty, but who appears to them innocent; they betray their Trust, and deserve themselves to be punish’d, their Conduct discovering a manifest Contempt of the Laws, whereof they have the Execution, and a formal purpose of disobeying their Sovereign. I might alledg a hundred Examples to my purpose of particular Laws; but I shall only add two more, and leave it to the Reader to apply my Remark to those which shall offer to his own Mind.
A General, who shou’d give his Troops Orders to shew a respect for the Ladys, and spare the Lives of all the Women in the sacking of a Town, wou’d think his Orders obey’d if the Soldiers shew’d a regard for all those they had taken for Ladys, and spar’d all they had taken for Women. No matter if there were Tradesmens Wives of a good Presence, and well enough dress’d to pass upon them for Ladys; or Youths in Womens Clothes, whom they had taken for Girls: Their respecting these Tradesmens Wives, or sparing the Lives of these Youths, wou’d be no breach of their General’s Orders; whereas if they had not done so, ’tis plain, they had disobey’d him: because it is to be presum’d, that the Application of the Order to such and such Persons depends upon him who is to execute it, and who is only oblig’d to use Diligence and Sincerity in the applying it.<328>
When upon a Treaty of Peace a Prince stipulates, that all his Subjects shall enjoy a free Trade in the Dominions of another neighboring Prince, ’tis certain he does not intend to authorize the Piracys of those who might put out his Colors only to surprize the Ships of other Nations, or favor their Frauds; but ’tis as certain he means, that the other Prince shall allow full Liberty of Trade to all whom he shall take to be Subjects of that Prince he treats with: so that shou’d this other Prince make him such a Confession as this, I expel’d such and such Merchants out of my Dominions who were indeed afterwards found not to be your Subjects, tho that was more than I knew; ’tis plain ’twou’d be confessing he had violated the Treaty, and might actually and very justly be constru’d so by his Ally. Whence it appears, that the Intention of the covenanting Powers is to stipulate, as well for those who are really Subjects, as for those who shall appear to be such, till fairly detected.
If we carefully examine it, we shall find, that all the Examples which can be alledg’d to the contrary are either in matters so obvious, that one cannot be mistaken for the other, but it must be visible the mistake was wilful; or else these Examples suppose a mistrust of the Sincerity of others, arising from our Ignorance of the Hearts of Men. But be this how it will, as God, to whom all the Thoughts of the Heart are intuitively known, can never condemn, either from Suspicion or Distrust, those who take the Appearance for the Reality; it follows, that his Methods of proceeding can only be judg’d of by the Examples I alledg. Therefore when he de-<329>clares the Law of Constraint, the Nature of things requires by a Consequence which appears inevitable, that the reputed Truth shou’d exert it self in the same way as the real.
This will appear still more plainly, if we consider the condition of those to whom this Law is declar’d; we shall see ’twou’d be altogether useless if they were oblig’d to nothing on the score of reputed Truth: for in this case they might safely make a Jest of a thousand things, which to them appear to be Truths; and because the real Truth must appear such before they can follow it, they must often remain in a State of Suspence and Inactivity with regard to this very Truth: for thus they might say to themselves, We are not oblig’d to follow all that appears to us real and absolute Truth; How are we sure, that we now know this Truth, or that we have so much as the Appearance of Truth? But I shan’t insist on this, I content my self with saying in this place, that Man not being able to put the Law in question in execution without a previous search after the Truth, it follows, that he’s oblig’d to search after it. Now as soon as he believes he has found it, he ought to follow it; and if he cou’d not safely follow it then, his Search wou’d be to no purpose. The Intention therefore of the Legislator must be, when he establishes the Rights of Truth, and the Impunity of those who follow it, to establish this for Truth in general, that is, for that which is Truth with regard to each Person: saving always a liberty to all, of enquiring into the Causes which make Falshood appear to be Truth to such and such.
III. Let’s add in this one Remark more: When God says, It is my Will that the Truth neces-<330>sarily oblige all Men to follow it, and they who do follow it shall do a good Action; either he means all sort of Truths, or only some certain Truths. It’s plain he does not understand all sort of Truths, but those only which are duly reveal’d and declar’d to the Man: for how can it be imagin’d, that this Truth of Fact, God brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and gave ’em a Law which leads to Salvation, shou’d be obliging, I won’t say upon the People of America, but upon those of the Eastern parts of Asia, who had never so much as heard there was any such People as the Jews? How shou’d it be imagin’d, that this other Truth of Fact, the Foundation of all Christianity; Jesus Christ,the Son of God, suffer’d death to redeem Mankind, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, after having declar’d what we must believe and do, in order to eternal Salvation; shou’d be obliging, I won’t say upon the People of the Terra Australis, who perhaps never had a thought, that there were any other Race of Men upon Earth besides themselves, but even on the Nations of Asia and Africa? I think what Thomas Aquinas says very reasonable, that ’twere Imprudence to believe the Articles of our Faith propos’d unbecomingly, preach’d by Persons infamous and impious, and prov’d by ridiculous Reasons.98 If therefore all sort of Gospel-preaching does not oblige, by a much stronger Reason may we be excus’d for not believing when no one has ever told us a word of the Matter. A Cordelier99 of our own Nation, Francis de Sancta*Clara, gives us<331> the Opinions of several able Divines in this matter, he’s worth consulting. Let’s say then confidently, that God means not, that= all sorts of Truths shou’d oblige to the belief of ’em: there are only some certain Truths which do; and which are these? Such as are reveal’d and plainly enough declar’d, to render those inexcusable who believe ’em= not.
This manifestly shews, that God proposes the Truth to us in such a manner as to lay us under an Obligation of examining what it is that’s propos’d, and inquiring whether it be the Truth or no. From whence we may conclude, that he requires no more of us, than to examine and search after it diligently; and that when we have examin’d it to the best of our Power, he will accept of our Assent to the Objects which to us appear true, and of our Love for ’em as for a Present from Heaven. It’s impossible a sincere Love for an Object, which we receive as a Gift from God upon a diligent Inquiry, and our Esteem for it in consequence of this Persuasion, shou’d be evil, even tho there shou’d be an Error in this Persuasion.
IV. This reasoning will appear much more solid, if we consider what sort of Creatures they are to whom God reveals the Truths of Religion, by what means, and with what degrees of Light. These Creatures are Souls united to Body, which for some years have no use of Reason, nor Facultys for discerning Truth from Falshood, or suspecting, that those who instruct ’em can teach ’em any thing false; so that at this Age they believe every thing that’s told ’em without bogling at any Obscurity, Incomprehensibility, or Absur-<332>dity. Then they are Creatures which carry a Body about ’em, the Cause of the Soul’s being incessantly taken up in its whole Capacity, with a thousand confus’d Sensations, and a thousand unavoidable worldly Cares. The Passions and Habits of Childhood, the Prejudices of Education, take possession of us before we are aware what it is we admit into our Minds. All this renders the Search after Truth exceeding painful: and as God is the Author of the Union of Soul and Body, and intends not that human Society shall be destroy’d, but that every one shou’d diligently follow his lawful Calling, it’s evident he ought to deal by such Creatures with allowance for those Obstacles which are involuntary, and partly of his own appointment, when they obstruct their Search after Truth, and sometimes render the attaining it impossible. To this we must add one thing more, which we all know by undoubted Experience, to wit, That God has not printed any Characters or Signs on the Truths which he has reveal’d, at least not on the greatest part of ’em, by which we might certainly and infallibly discern ’em, for they are not of a metaphysical or mathematical Evidence; they don’t produce in our Souls any stronger Persuasion than Falshoods do, they don’t excite any Passions which Errors do not excite. In a word, we distinguish nothing in the Objects which appear to us true, and are so in reality, beyond what we find in Objects which appear true, and yet are otherwise. This being the case, there’s no comprehending how God shou’d impose any necessity on Man of loving the real Truth, without imposing the same necessity of loving the reputed<333> Truth: and to speak without mincing the matter, one can’t consult the Idea of Order without distinctly conceiving, that the only Law God in his infinite Wisdom cou’d have impos’d on Man with regard to Truth, is that of embracing all Objects which appear true upon the utmost use of the Lights afforded him for discerning the Truth of ’em. The infinite Wisdom of God necessarily and indispensably requires, that he shou’d proportion his Law to the State in which he himself has rang’d his Creatures; it requires then, that he sute ’em to the condition of a Soul united to a Body, which must be fed and nourish’d, live in Society, pass from a state of Childhood to youthful Age, and struggle out of its natural Ignorance by the Assistance and Instructions of its Parents. Now this Soul is incapable of discerning when its Persuasions are false, and when true; because they have both the same Signs, and the same Characters upon ’em: it must therefore either mistrust ’em all, despise ’em all, and so never perform one Act of Vertue; or else trust to ’em all upon an inward feeling, that they appear to her true and genuin, and upon a thorow Conviction of Conscience.
I know they’l tell me, that all the Obstacles to the finding the Truth which I have here spoken of, being the Consequence of the Rebellion of the first Man, and the just Chastisement of all his Posterity, God is not oblig’d to regulate himself by a Condition which Man has drawn upon himself by his own Fault; and that he has still a Right of dealing with Man upon the old foot, that is, according to the Condition from which he is fallen by the ill use Adam made of his Liberty. I have a thousand things to answer to this; but<334> to limit my self to what is but just necessary, I insist on the three following Observations.
I. That it no way appears, that the Weaknesses of Childhood are a consequence of the Sin of Adam, no more than the continual Sensations produc’d in us by the Actions of Objects on our Organs. There’s not the least probability, had Man continu’d in a State of Innocence, that his Children had come into the World with sufficient measures of Reason and Judgment, or that they had not grown up by little and little in Wisdom and Understanding as they do in Stature; the Laws of the Union of Soul and Body had, during their whole Lives, diverted the Forces of the Mind, so that the conceiving things spiritual had ever bin attended with Difficulty. Thus Man being plac’d in Circumstances which wou’d have render’d the discerning Truth from Falshood very troublesom; Man, I say, as created to multiply his Kind by the way of natural Generation; Order, which is the immutable Law of God himself, requires, that God shou’d accommodate himself to this condition of Man.
In the second place I say, that all the Consequences of the Sin of Adam, with regard to his Posterity, such as their being inclin’d to things sensible, their depending too much upon Bodys, being thwarted by Passions and Prejudices; all these, I say, being necessary Dependancys on the Laws establish’d by God from his mere Free-will in uniting Spirits to Matter, and in ordaining, that Man shou’d multiply by the way of Generation; Order, the unalterable Law of God, requires, that he shou’d sute his dealings with Man to that condition which Man is reduc’d to by the Fall of Adam.<335>
In the third place, that if notwithstanding the Rebellion of the first Man, God has, with regard to the Body, perfectly accommodated himself to the condition into which Sin has brought us, as we shall see by and by; it is much more reasonable to believe, he has accommodated himself to it with regard to the Soul.
Now he had not suted himself to the State we are reduc’d to, I mean, to the necessity we are under of bestowing a great part of our time on the Affairs of this Life, to the almost unsurmountable Subjection to the Prejudices of Education, to that continual Diversion of the Forces of the Mind, by Sensations and Passions mechanically excited in us upon the presence of other Bodys; he had not, I say, accommodated himself to this State, had he absolutely condemn’d all deference for reputed Truth, and rigorously exacted the Knowledg of absolute Truth at our hands, and the sifting it out from amidst all the false Images and Appearances of it, by that weak ray of Light which is our lot in this Life, and which resembles a faint Dawn rather than the perfect Day-light, as St. Paul confesses when he says, that now we see by a Glass, &c.100
He has therefore impos’d no such Laws on us, nor Duty, but such as is proportion’d to our Facultys, to wit, that of searching for the Truth, and of laying hold on that, which upon a sincere and faithful Inquiry, shall appear such to us, and of loving this apparent Truth, and of governing our selves by its Precepts how difficult soever they may seem. This imports, that Conscience is given us as a Touch-stone of Truth, the Knowledg and Love of which is injoin’d us.<336> If you demand any thing further, it’s plain you demand Impossibilitys; and ’tis easy to demonstrate it.
If you demand any thing further, it’s plain you demand that a Man shou’d fix his Love and his Zeal on nothing but absolute Truth, known certainly and acknowledg’d for such. Now it is impossible, in our present state, to know certainly that the Truth which to us appears such (I speak here of the Truths of Religion in particular, and not of the Propertys of Numbers, or the first Principles of Metaphysicks, or Geometrical Demonstrations) is absolutely and really the Truth: for all that can be expected from us, is being fully convinc’d we are possess’d of the perfect Truth; being sure we are not deceiv’d; that others are deceiv’d, and not we; all equivocal Marks of Truth; because they are to be found in the very Pagans, and the most abandon’d Hereticks. It’s plain then, we can’t by any infallible Mark or Character distinguish what is really Truth when we believe it, from what is really not so when we believe it is. This Discernment is not to be made by us upon any evidence in the nature of the Things; for on the contrary, all the world agree, that the Truths God has reveal’d to us in his Word, are deep and unsearchable Mysterys, which require the captivating our Understandings to the Obedience of Faith. Nor yet is this Discernment to be founded on the Incomprehensibility of Things; for what can be more false, or more incomprehensible at the same time, than a square Circle, than a first Principle essentially false, than a God the Father by natural Generation, such as the<337> Jupiter of the Heathens? Nor yet on the Satisfactions of Conscience; for a Papist is as fully satisfy’d of the Truth of his Religion, a Turk of his, and a Jew of his, as we are of ours. Nor last of all, on the Zeal and Courage which an Opinion inspires; for the falsest Religions have their Martyrs, their incredible Austeritys, a Spirit of making Proselytes, which often exceeds the Zeal of the Orthodox, and an extreme Devotion for their superstitious Ceremonys. In short, Man has no characteristick Mark to discern the Persuasion of the Truth from the Persuasion of a Lye. So that it’s requiring an Impossibility, to require this Discernment at his hands. When he has done all he can, the Objects he examines shall only appear to him some false and others true. All then that can be requir’d from him, is, that he endeavor to make those which are true appear such to him; but whether he compasses this, or whether those which are false still appear to him true, he ought to be left to his own Persuasion. What follows will sufficiently illustrate this matter.
Ever since the Protestants have quitted the Romish Communion, the great Objection against ’em has bin, That by destroying the Authority of the Church, they bring themselves under a necessity of finding out the Truth by searching the Scriptures; and that this Search surpassing the Power of any private Person, People are left destitute of any well-grounded Certainty of their Faith, since it’s ultimately resolv’d into this Foundation: I fancy I have reason to understand the Scripture so and so, therefore I have reason to understand it so. We on the other hand com-<338>plain, that after having answer’d this Objection a thousand times over, they shou’d still propose it on all occasions, especially in France, where they refine and improve it as much as possible. But it must be own’d, they have reason in one respect to propose it over and over, because it’s never fully answer’d, and never can be answer’d upon supposing, as we commonly do, that God requires of Man the Knowledg of absolute Truth, exclusive of all apparent Truth, and requires his certainly knowing that he does know it. Let’s fairly own our mistake; neither Learned nor Ignorant can ever arrive at this by any methods of Search and Inquiry: for never will these methods lead us to the Criterion of Truth, which is an Idea so clear and distinct that we perceive that the thing cannot possibly be otherwise, after having fairly consider’d all the grounds of doubting, I mean all the Objections of an Adversary. It is utterly impossible to arrive at such a degree of Certainty with regard to this single Point of Fact, that such a Text of Scripture is justly render’d; that a Word which is now in the Greek or Hebrew Copys, has bin always in ’em; and that the Sense which the Paraphrasts, the Commentators, and Translators give it, is exactly that of the Author. We may have a moral Certainty of this, and founded on very high Probabilitys; but after all, this kind of Certainty may subsist in the Soul of one who is actually deceiv’d, and therefore is no infallible Character of Truth: This is not what we call Criterium Veritatis, that irresistible Evidence, whereby we know, for example, that the Whole is greater than its Part; that if from<339> equal things we take things equal, the remainder will be equal; that six is half twelve, &c.
But the Roman Catholicks are in another respect very ridiculous in pressing these Difficultys, because it’s no less impossible for them to get over ’em by their Scheme, than for us by ours; and because they have no Expedient, upon their Principles, for satisfying that Condition which they suppose God exacts, to wit, the knowing from certain and undoubted Knowledg, that what they take for Truth is not an apparent Truth, such as all other Sects take for Truth, but Truth absolute and real. The way they propose for coming at this Certainty, is a thousand times more perplext than that of Protestants, as our Authors have sufficiently shewn; since in the first place it supposes the very same Difficultys and Inconveniences in appealing to the Scriptures for an Examination of all the Texts relating to the Fallibility or Infallibility of the Church; and the searching over and above into the History of former Ages, in order to discover what is really an Apostolical Tradition from that which is only so in the vain Imaginations of a Party.
In a word, there’s no possibility of attaining a certain Knowledg of the Church’s Infallibility, either from Scripture, or from natural Light, or Experience; and if there were, yet they who believe it infallible, wou’d owe their being in a true Opinion to a lucky chance, without being able to assign any necessary Cause of their Belief, or perceiving in their Souls any Criterion of Truth, which another who believ’d the quite contrary might not perceive in his: for the<340> most that a Papist cou’d perceive in his own mind, wou’d be a Sentiment of Conviction affording him a perfect Tranquillity, and great Pity, Hatred, or Contempt for his Adversarys; and these might perceive the like in themselves. They can therefore each be assur’d of no more than what each inwardly feels, to wit, that they are persuaded, these that the Church is infallible, those that she is not.
This single Consideration, duly weigh’d and thorowly meditated on, were sufficient to make us perceive the Truth of what I wou’d here establish, That God in the present Condition of Man exacts no more from him than a sincere and diligent Search after Truth, and the loving and regulating his Life by it, when he thinks he has found it out. Which, as every one sees, is a plain Argument that we are oblig’d to have the same deference for a reputed as for a real Truth. Whereupon all the Objections upon the Difficultys of examining the Scriptures vanish like so many vain Fantoms; since every Man living, be he ever so ignorant, has it in his power to give one sense or other to what he reads or hears, and to perceive that such a Sense is the true; and here’s what renders it Truth to him. It’s enough if he sincerely and honestly consult the Lights which God has afforded him; and if, following its Discoverys, he embraces that Persuasion which to him seems most reasonable, and most conformable to the Will of God. This renders him Orthodox in the sight of God, tho thro a defect, which he cannot rectify, his Judgments may not be always a faithful Representation of the real natures of Things; just as<341> a Child is Orthodox in taking the Husband of his Mother for his natural Father, when perhaps he is a Neighbor’s Child. The main thing is living vertuously afterwards; and therefore every one ought to employ all the Facultys and Forces of his Soul in honoring God by a cheerful discharge of all moral Dutys. The reveal’d Light is so clear in this respect, I mean in respect of the Knowledg of moral Dutys, that very few can mistake, if in the Sincerity of their Minds they desire to understand ’em.
There’s no need of advertising my Reader, that I don’t here exclude the Operations of Grace from the Act which makes us adhere to reveal’d Truths. I’m free to own, that ’tis Grace which makes us perceive that such or such a Sense of Scripture is true, and which disposes our Mind in such a manner, that precisely the Sense which is true shall appear true to us. But I maintain, that the Grace which produces this Perception, does not however afford us any certain and convincing Argument of the Sense which we believe true. We believe it firmly; and without being able to defend it against a learned and subtil Adversary, we remain convinc’d notwithstanding that it is the reveal’d Truth. Let People call this an Effect of Grace as much as they please, God forbid I shou’d contest it: still I say, that as Faith affords us no other Criterion of Orthodoxy than the inward Sentiment and Conviction of Conscience, a Criterion common to all, even the most heretical Souls; it follows; that all our Belief, whether Orthodox or Heterodox, is finally resolv’d into this, that we feel it, and it seems to us that this or that is<342> true. Whence I conclude, that God exacts not from either Orthodox or Heretick a Certainty grounded on scientifick Search or Discussion, and consequently accepts from each their loving whatever appears to ’em true. Whether the Orthodoxy I here attribute to those who are in the main deceiv’d, will avail to their Salvation, is another Question; I shall however observe, that neither the Orthodoxy of this sort of Men, nor that of those who embrace the real and absolute Truth, is that which saves: Men may believe ever so well, but without Holiness no one shall see God. ’Tis true, one might say that God in favor of absolute Orthodoxy forgives Sins committed against Conscience, which he does not forgive to those who are in Error.
This may serve to quiet the Uneasiness of those who complain, that our Principles tend to save too many Souls. Let ’em be in no pain; there will be never the less room in Heaven for them. I can’t for my part see where the great harm wou’d be, of opening the Gates of Paradise somewhat wider on the side of the Acts of the Understanding, and taking that great offence out of the way of the Profane, which makes ’em hate Christianity, and hinders their conceiving God under the Idea of a Being beneficent and loving to his Creatures: I speak of that Opinion which damns all the Race of Men from Adam to the Day of Judgment, except a very small Handful, who had inhabited Judaea before the Messias, and have made but a small part of the Christian Church ever since. But be that how it will, my Opinion saves not a Soul the more; because how innocent soever a<343> Man may be with regard to his speculative Opinions, he sins often against Conscience, he does not perform what he believes it were fit he did, and what he knows wou’d be well-pleasing to that God whom he adores: and therefore without bringing those Modifications of his Soul, which were not conformable to absolute Truth, into the account at the Day of Judgment, God will find other criminal Modifications enough in it, Desires and Wills not conformable to the Idea he had of his moral Duty. Beside that there are Opinions enough to be answer’d for, which grow up with us either thro inexcusable Sloth, or Sensuality; which Opinions I’m far from excepting out of the number of punishable Transgressions.
And here a Question offers, which it may be necessary to examine in a few words: Whether all Errors spring from a ground of Corruption, lulling Men in a neglect of all means of Instruction, or prepossessing ’em for or against such and such Opinions?
That I may not grasp at too much, I shall confine my self to the present Heresys in the Christian Church, and declare my Opinion.
I don’t think there’s any just reason for saying, that they who find not such and such Doctrines in Scripture, are under a wilful Blindness of Understanding, or prejudic’d by a hatred for these Doctrines; and that this is the cause of their not being undeceiv’d by the Arguments of their Adversarys, or by examining into the Scriptures. There might be some ground for this Suspicion, if the Question were concerning Doctrines which thwart the Inclinations and carnal<344> Lusts of Men; but it happens, I don’t know how, that these are the Points about which Christians are least of all divided. We are all agreed about the Doctrines which teach Men to live soberly and righteously, to love God, to abstain from Revenge, to forgive our Enemys, to render Good for Evil, to be charitable. We are divided about Points which tend not to make the Yoke of Christian Morality either heavier or lighter. The Papists believe Transubstantiation; the Reform’d believe it not. This makes not for the Flesh one way or other. The Papists don’t believe that this Opinion obliges ’em to live a jot better, than the Reform’d think themselves oblig’d to do, from a Belief that Jesus Christ in his Divine Nature, and the whole Holy Trinity, is intimately present to all their Thoughts, Words, and Actions: and shou’d we come to believe Transubstantiation, we shou’d not think Holiness and Purity more necessary to Salvation than we did before. It’s a mere childish Illusion then to fancy that our carnal Lusts, or a Corruption of Heart, or any other such inordinate State, hinders our perceiving a literal Sense in the words, This is my Body.
Now as we are all satisfy’d that the Roman Catholicks do us the greatest injustice in imputing our Aversion for this Doctrine to a Principle of Corruption; so I am inclin’d to think, we do the Socinians an injustice in saying, that a Principle of Corruption hinders their finding the Doctrine of a Trinity in Scripture: for what greater Burden wou’d this new Doctrine lay on ’em? Wou’d their Remorse be the sharper when they fell into Sin? Wou’d they think them-<345>selves the more oblig’d by it to obey God, and resist the Temptations of the Flesh and the World? It’s plain they wou’d not; and that ’tis the same in this respect, whether they believe a God one in Nature and Person, or whether they believe a Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Divine Nature.
But it’s Pride, it’s Vanity which hinders their submitting the Light of their Reason to Divine Authority. This is precisely what the Papists object against the Reform’d, and that in a very confident, but at the same time a most unjust manner: for were there any foundation for their Reproach, ’twou’d follow that we had the Vanity to doubt even things which we believ’d were affirm’d by God. Now this is a Thought which can never enter into any Mind, not even into that of the Devil; because every Understanding that has the Idea of a God, conceives by this word a Being which knows all things to the utmost degree of Certainty, and which is not capable of a Lye: so that the Devil, who told Eve the contrary of what God had reveal’d to her, yet cou’d not possibly think that he himself spoke Truth; He knew that what God had told her was true. It’s therefore the most extravagant monstrous Conceit to say, that Protestants have too much Pride to submit their Lights to those of God; because it’s saying they join together these two Acts in their Understanding: 1. I know that God says so. 2. I know that the thing is false, and that I my self know how it is better than God. We see to what Extravagancys of Supposition these Men are driven; and we ought to stand corrected by<346> ’em, and not impute the Socinians refusing to believe a Trinity to a like Principle. The Question between Christians is not, whether what God has reveal’d be true or false, but only whether he has reveal’d this or that: and who sees not that this Dispute concerns not either the Authority or Veracity of God, any more than our doubting whether such a one did or did not say such words, calls his Faith and Honor in question?
All that can be said with any color of Reason is, That the Prejudices of Education hinder mens seeing what really is in Scripture. But as it is true in the general of all Men in the world, except a very few who change perhaps upon rational grounds, that ’tis owing to Education that they are of any one Religion rather than another (for if we had bin born in China, we shou’d have bin all of the Chinese Religion; and if the Chinese were born in England, they’d have bin all Christians; and if a Man and a Woman were transported to a desert Island, strongly persuaded, as of an Article necessary to Salvation, that in Heaven the Whole is not greater than the Part, this at the end of two or three hundred years after wou’d be an Article of Faith in the Religion of the Country): As, I say, this generally speaking is true, there’s nothing more in it than a random Reproach, which all Mankind will mutually make one another with some reason in one sense, and without reason in another, so long as it shall please God to preserve Human Kind by the way of Generation; whereby there will be a necessity of our being Children before we come to discern Good and Evil,<347> and shall learn to discern ’em asunder according as our Parents think fit; who’l always be sure to instruct us in their own way, and give us a turn which we shall think our selves oblig’d to keep, as a most precious Pledg from ’em all the rest of our life. I am of opinion, that in a Dispute between two Men, one of whom has bin bred up in the true Faith, the other in a Heresy; when they come to consult Scripture, the Prejudices of one side operate as much as the Prejudices on the other; and the Malice of the Heart, the Corruption and carnal Affection are as much suspended in one as t’other. Not that I deny but Man is sometimes answerable for his Errors; as when finding a Pleasure in Actions which he knows to be wicked, he endeavors to persuade himself into a contrary Opinion; or finding Comforts in a state which he believes right, he declines all inquiry for fear of discovering it is not.
One thing I had advanc’d which needs some further Explication, to wit, That the Disorder into which our Nature is faln, has not hinder’d God’s establishing Laws admirably well design’d for the Preservation of the Body; What reason then is there to think he shou’d leave us destitute with regard to the Soul? What I wou’d be at is this:
The Condition of Man is such, that there’s a necessity of his avoiding certain Bodys, and drawing near to others: without this it were impossible for him long to subsist. But he is too ignorant to distinguish those Bodys which are pernicious, from those which are beneficial to him. ’Twou’d require a great deal of Meditation, of Experience and Reasoning, to discover<348> this; yet as there’s a continual necessity of his approaching some Bodys and removing from others, he might die a thousand times over, if he had so may Lives to lose, before he cou’d make one suitable Movement. To obviate this Inconvenience, God has ordain’d Laws, which readily inform him when he ought to approach and when draw off from certain Objects. This is perform’d by Sensations of Pleasure or Pain, imprest on him at the presence of certain Bodys; whereby he knows not what Bodys are in themselves, this is not necessary to his Preservation, but what they are with respect to him: a Knowledg indispensably necessary, and at the same time sufficient.
What! God shall have no regard to the Sin of the first Man, he shall provide Mankind a quick and easy means of discerning what is necessary for the Preservation of the animal Life, and yet refuse him the means of discerning what is proper for preserving the Life of the Soul? This is not probable, nor conformable to the Idea of Order.
Nor let it be alledg’d, that there’s at least a select Number to whom God vouchsafes this means; for this were false on the Principle I confute: nor can it be maintain’d, without allowing that the Conscience and inward Sensation we have of the Truth, is to every particular Person the Rule of what he ought to believe and practise. In effect, if what I have bin saying is false, there is not a Man in the world who acts prudently or reasonably, when he believes that what appears to him true, merits his Love and Submission; and a Christian fully persuaded<349> of all the Mysterys of the Gospel, and perceiving in his Conscience all the Vivacity of the strongest Conviction, might still have ground enough to despise it all, if he had room to doubt whether this were the Rule of his Conduct. Now for my fifth Reason.
V. This new Reason may answer two purposes: first to shew that we are oblig’d to follow the Suggestions of an erroneous Conscience; and secondly, that we may in many cases follow ’em without Sin. Let’s see which way.
If what I here advance were not true, Man wou’d be reduc’d to the strangest state of Pyrrhonism that e’er was heard of: for all our Pyrrhonists hitherto have contented themselves with barring all Affirmations and Negations upon the absolute Natures of Objects; they left our moral Actions uncontested, nor ever disapprov’d Mens proceeding in the Dutys of civil Life, upon the Judgment of Conscience. But here’s a Pyrrhonism which deprives us of this Liberty, and changes us into so many Stocks or Statues which can never venture to act for fear of eternal Damnation. This I prove, because the only certainty we have that all the Acts which to us appear righteous and well-pleasing to God, ought to be practis’d, is our perceiving interiorly in our Consciences that we ought to practise ’em; but this Certainty is no Criterion according to our Adversarys, that we ought to practise ’em, or that by practising of ’em we shall not incur eternal Damnation: therefore there is not a Man in the world who ought not to apprehend that he risks eternal Damnation, by practising what his Conscience suggests as ne-<350>cessary in order to Salvation. Now no prudent Man ought to do that which he only apprehends may hazard his Salvation; he ought therefore, if he’l demean himself wisely, to live like a Statue, and never give way to the Impulses of his Conscience. Who wou’d not stand amaz’d at such horrible Notions? I’m satisfy’d that any intelligent Reader, who examines this Argument without prepossession, will find it unanswerable, and own, that if a full and intire Conviction of Conscience ben’t a sufficient warrant to us that we don’t commit a Sin, the most Orthodox Christians are the most imprudent, and the rashest Men alive in performing any Action from the Lights and Dictates of their Consciences.
But is there any remedy for this Evil? Yes, by saying, that God having united our Soul to a Body destin’d to live amidst an infinite number of Objects, which fill it with confus’d Sensations, lively Sentiments, Passions, Prejudices, and numberless Opinions, has given it a Guide, and as I may say a Touchstone, for discerning amidst this Croud of Objects and different Doctrines that which shou’d best sute it self; that this Touchstone is Conscience, and that the interior Sentiment of this Conscience, and its full and intire Conviction, is the final Criterion of that Conduct which every one ought to keep. No matter whether this Conscience presents to one Man such an Object as true, to another as false; is it not the same in the bodily or animal Life? Does not one man’s Tast tell him that such Food is good, and the Tast of another tell him it’s bad? And does this Diversity hinder each from finding his Sustenance? And is it not sufficient that the<351> Senses shew us the relation which Bodys have to our selves, without discovering to us their real Qualitys? It’s sufficient, in like manner, that the Conscience of every particular Person shew him not what Objects are in themselves, but their relative Natures, their reputed Truth. Every one will by this means discern his own Nourishment. He must, ’tis true, endeavor to find the best, and employ his utmost diligence in the Search; but if when fairly offer’d, his Conscience kecks, finds an utter disrelish for it, and a longing for some other thing, let him in God’s name leave the one, and cleave to the other.
This Principle is exceeding fruitful towards removing a hundred otherwise unsurmountable Difficultys, to wit, that God requires no more than a sincere and diligent Search after Truth, and the discerning it by a Sentiment of Conscience, in such a manner, that if the Combination of Circumstances hinders our discovering the real Truth, and makes us find the relish of Truth in a false Object, this reputed and relative Truth is to us instead of the real Truth; as with regard to the Nourishment of the Body, it’s sufficient if by our Tast we discover the relative nature of Foods. If by this I shou’d seem to suppose that God has some indulgence for us on the score of our Opinions, I declare my Belief is, that he has none with regard to those Acts which are not conformable to the Dictate of Conscience. What Marcus Aurelius says in the nineteenth Article of his fifth Book, appears to me divine: “He has his Conversation among the Gods, who does what the Genius will have him do,<352> which Jupiter has given every one for his Guide and Guardian, and which is an* Emanation of God himself, the Reason and Understanding of every one.” There’s more force in the Greek.
VI. A sixth Argument which follows from the foregoing, is, That if it be suppos’d that God absolutely requires the chusing of the real Truth in matter of Religion, on pain of eternal Damnation if the Party chuses amiss; the Conversion of an Infidel to the Christian Religion, upon Principles of Reason and Prudence, will be utterly impossible: for if it ben’t sufficient that this Infidel chuse what to him appears true in Christianity, if he must of necessity light precisely on the real Truth, or else be damn’d; ’twill be fit he examine the Principles of all the different Sects of Christianity, and compare ’em together, know the Objections of all sides and the Answers, inform himself of the different Foundations they go upon; and if after all no Sect appear to him to have the essential Character of Truth to its Doctrines, to wit, demonstrative Evidence; and if for want of this Evidence he find no Security in the proofs of Sentiment, in that Relish of Truth, in that interior Conviction of Conscience, which makes it appear to him that the Truth lies in this or in that Communion: if, I say, he finds no Security from all this, because, according to the Opinion of my Adversarys, it must be own’d to him, that this Conviction is not a sufficient Guide; and that for one who is<353> sav’d by following it, there are a hundred actually damn’d; it’s plain that this Infidel can never resolve to quit the Errors he is in. But according to my Principles he might forsake ’em with a reasonable Assurance of doing well, when upon a sincere and exact Research, he had, by an inward Sentiment, discover’d the Truth, either in this Communion or in that.
We see then, that in the present Condition of Mankind, a State divided into several general Religions, each of which is subdivided into several Sects, who mutually anathematize each other; ’twere putting Men upon a desperate issue, and rendring their Salvation impossible, to tell ’em they are not oblig’d to follow what appears true to them: They can’t but own that that which is really Truth, when it appears such, is not distinguish’d by any infallible Criterion from that which is not true, when yet it does appear so; however, that one is oblig’d, on pain of eternal Damnation, to follow what is true altho it does not appear such, and reject what is false altho it appear true.
VII. My seventh and last Reflection is, That there are a great many important Errors, which acquit from all Sin, when believ’d true, those, who were it not for this Conviction might deserve eternal Damnation. I have given, for one example, a Woman who beds with an Impostor, sincerely believing him to be her Husband, and deceiv’d by the resemblance; and a Bastard, for another example, who succeeds to the Estate of his Mother’s Husband, whom he had honestly taken for his Father, and thereby deprives the true Heirs of their Right. It must be remem-<354>ber’d, that the Impostor in the first Example is very criminal, because he commits the Sin knowingly: This is the only cause of Sin in him; for were he persuaded, tho without any ground, that the Woman he beds with was his lawful Wife, in this case he wou’d be as innocent as she. I have never read of a Case of this kind, where the Mistake was reciprocal on the part of the Man as well as the Woman. In that famous Cause of Martin Guerre, which a Counsellor of the Parliament of Tholouze, call’d Coras, mentions in his Pleas, the Mistake was only of the Woman’s side. But after all, it is not impossible that a Husband may meet with a Wife so like his own, and he be so like her Husband, that they may make an involuntary Exchange, by which two mistaken Husbands and two mistaken Wives may bed with all the Innocence in the world.
Whence I infer, that Ignorance without Malice or Affectation acquits in the most criminal Cases, as those of Adultery and Theft, and consequently in all other Cases: so that a sincere Heretick, even an Infidel, is accountable to God only for his evil doings committed under the Conscience of their being evil. For I can never persuade my self, that Actions committed by ’em from the Instincts of Conscience, I mean a Conscience not wilfully and maliciously blinded, are really Sins. If they be, I desire to know why in the fore-mention’d Examples the Facts are not constru’d to be Theft or Adultery; when yet there’s as much certainty as there can be in things of this kind, that it is as impossible for a Protestant to discover the Truth of Transubstantiation,<355> as for a Man to discover that his Mother’s Husband did not beget him. This is what I shou’d offer to a Roman Catholick who believ’d Transubstantiation. As to the Distinction of Persons and Nature in God, there’s reason to believe, that a Turk or a Jew wou’d find it as hard to frame their Minds in such a manner as to be intirely convinc’d of these Truths, as to discover the Intrigues that their Mother might have had. I even believe there are a great many Orthodox Peasants, who are no otherwise Orthodox with regard to these Mysterys, than as they are honestly resolv’d not to believe any thing that destroys the Doctrines of the Church: for any thing further, they have not the least Idea of ’em, that’s conformable to the Truth. The English*Cordelier, whom I had cited before, observes, that the subtle Scotus teaches, there’s an invincible Ignorance with relation to these Points, in a Man of a very mean Understanding, who comprehends not what is meant by the Terms Person or Nature; and that it’s sufficient for this sort, if they believe in gross as the Church believes. This Cordelier requires explicit Acts of Faith only concerning things obvious and easily conceiv’d, Quae sunt grossa ad capiendum, says he in his barbarous Latin; such as that Jesus Christ was born, that he suffer’d, &c. He likewise says, That to the end an Ignorance be inexcusable and not invincible, ’tis not sufficient that it might have bin remov’d, if the Party had desir’d Instruction; but that he must also have reflected at some time or other on what he was<356> ignorant of: for if it never came into his Mind, he believes the Ignorance invincible; because it is impossible a Man shou’d inform himself of that which never came into his Thoughts. What he wou’d say is undoubtedly this, That to render an Ignorance sinful, there must have bin a Thought and Reflection made by the Party; that he was ignorant of certain things of which he might have got a thorow Information; but that he banishes the Thoughts of ’em out of his Mind. This seems but reasonable: for the State in which one is utterly destitute of the Idea of any particular thing, not depending on our Will; because to will that such an Idea shou’d not offer, this very Idea must be actually in the Mind; it follows that this State is involuntary: there’s therefore no Sin in being in such a State. Now no one can get out of this State, unless the Idea of the thing in which we shou’d have bin instructed offer; and it depends not on our Will, that an Idea which is absolutely unknown to us present it self to our Understanding: the Ignorance therefore is invincible (tho in its nature easily remov’d) if the Party has never bethought himself that he was ignorant of such a thing. I cited another Author who is a† Jansenist, and who has these remarkable words: It’s very true, that the Law of Nature enjoins in general the endeavoring to make a right use of our Reason, and the avoiding Error as much as possible, and Falshood of what kind soever; but it does not for all this condemn those of Sin, who are unaffectedly deceiv’d about Matters which they are not oblig’d to know; as<357> St. Austin expresly decides in his Book of the Profitableness of Faith.
These Words, Which they are not oblig’d to know, are somewhat indefinite; every one will stretch or stint ’em according as he best finds his own Account. For my part I’m of opinion, that natural Light, or the Idea of Order, shews, that we are not oblig’d to know any thing but what is sufficiently notify’d; nor to believe any thing but what has bin evinc’d by sound Reasons. But this sufficiency of Notification, this soundness of Reasons supposes an essential Proportion to the Nature of the Understandings of those who are to be instructed; for the Degree of Evidence, which is sufficient for the persuading one Man, is not so for another. And who can know these Proportions but God alone? Who but he can tell how far the Force of Education reaches, and where the ill use of our Free-will begins? The Effects of each are very different; those of the first beget Habits in us by a kind of Mechanism, which we seem not answerable for, because we receive ’em without suspecting any ill, and before we are capable of having the least mistrust of what our Parents teach us. ’Tis very probable, shou’d People agree in making all the Children of a City believe, that ’twas the Will of God they shou’d kill all the Inhabitants of another City, they wou’d firmly believe it, and never come off of this belief, unless they went thro a new course of Instruction. So that when the Decalogue were made known to them, it must be prest upon ’em with much stronger Reasons, than wou’d be necessary for others who had a better Education. Education is undoubtedly ca-<358>pable of making the Evidence of Truths of Right utterly disappear.
I have one Objection more to answer. If God, say they, contented himself with every one’s embracing and loving that which was the Truth in relation to him, what need he have left us a Scripture? I answer, That this hinders not but the Scripture may be very necessary, because in matters which are perfectly clear it’s an uniform Rule of Conscience to all Christians; and in those which are less clear, ’tis respected by all Partys, since all agree, that be the Sense of the Scriptures what it will, it’s infallibly true. So that it serves in the general, as a Rule for all Christians; and the rankest Hereticks, who search it for Proofs of their Tenets, do even in this pay a Homage to the Word of God. Besides, that tho God is content that every one, after having search’d for the Truth to the best of his Power, shou’d hold to that which to him appears such, he yet wills and intends, that Men shou’d rectify their Opinions if they can; and that others endeavor by Reasons to the best of their Power, the setting those aright, who have not made the happiest Choice for themselves: now the Scriptures are very useful this way. St. Jerom* makes a Remark, that as long as the Babylonians left the sacred Vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem in the Temples of their Idols, God was not offended at ’em, because after all they put ’em to a sacred and religious Use; but when once they chang’d the Property, and employ’d ’em to profane Uses, God punish’d their<359> Sacrilege. Videbantur, says he, rem Dei secundum pravam quidem opinionem, tamen Divino cultui consecrasse.101 These words do plainly favor my Hypothesis, and prove in particular, that as long as a Heretick owns the Scripture as his Topick, and Magazin of all his Proofs, he leaves God the whole Glory of his Authority inviolate in general, tho he swerves in particular Applications, and thro mere Error, from the Mind of God: and there’s something of Illusion, or at least a lack of Consideration, in pretending that of two Men, one of whom understands the Scriptures better than the other, the first must necessarily have a greater Reverence for the Scriptures and for God than the second. For I wou’d fain know from those who pretend so, whether it is not manifest, that whoever gives a Text of Scripture the true Sense, does it, not because it is the true Sense, but because he believes it so, and that God wou’d be offended at him, if he understood it in any other. I can’t conceive any thing in the best Interpreter beside this that can render him well pleasing to God in this particular matter, or found the good Disposition that he is in. Then I ask ’em again, Whether they don’t think, that the reason why another gives a false sense to Scripture is, not that this Sense is false and that he believes it false, but because he believes it really true, and believes that God wou’d be displeas’d with him if he understood it otherwise. I don’t desire that this be granted with regard to every particular Heretick; yet I think it can’t be deny’d with regard to some: for ’twere surely the strangest, the har-<360>diest, and even the most extravagant thing in nature to decide, that these two Acts concur in the Soul of every Heretick in the World: I find such a Sense of Scripture false, and unworthy of God, yet I am resolv’d to maintain that this Sense is the true; and my being persuaded, that by maintaining this Sense I shall teach a Falshood which shall offend God, is a ruling Motive with me. It must be allow’d then, that whatever begets the good Disposition of an Orthodox, with regard to his interpreting Scripture, may be found in a Heretick, and therefore that one does not necessarily love and reverence God and his holy Word more than the other.
Add to this, that from the Idea we are able to form of a Person of the most consummate Wisdom and Justice, we must conceive, that if having given his Servants Orders upon his taking a Journy into a distant Country, he found on his Return that they apprehended ’em differently; and whilst unanimously agreed that his Command was the only Rule they ought to follow, the only Dispute among ’em was concerning the Command it self; he wou’d declare they had all an equal regard for his Orders, but that some had a better Understanding than others, and took the true meaning of his Words; It’s certain that we conceive clearly and distinctly that he cou’d declare nothing but this; and therefore right Reason requires, that we shou’d conceive the same of God, as to what he shall declare concerning those who are Orthodox, and Hereticks, from a sincere Principle. Now an Excellence of Understanding is not that which makes one Man more acceptable to God than another, even tho he shou’d employ it faithfully to the finding out<361> the Truth, but the good Will and sincere Intention of applying one’s utmost Forces and Facultys to the finding out and practising what God requires of us.
I conclude, by saying, That what Care soever God takes to give us general Rules, whether by natural Light or by his reveal’d Word; still we each of us stand in need of a particular Rule, which is Conscience, by the favor of which we give those the Lye, who without it might tell us there was no certainty in any thing, and apply this Sentence to us:
[97. ]Bayle, Nouvelles Lettres, OD, vol. 2, p. 221b.
[98. ]Not found; but see Summa theologiae, 1, q. 46, a. 2.
[99. ]Franciscan, member of the Order of Friars Minor.
[* ]In his Deus Natura & Gratia, p. 86, &c. [Franciscus a Sancta Clara, Deus, natura, gratia, 1634.]
[100. ]1 Corinthians 13:12.
[* ]ἑκάστῳ προστάτην καì ἡγεμόνα ὁ Ζεάς ἔδωκεν, ἀπόσπασμα ἑαυτοȗ. οὑ̑τος δέ ἐστιν ὁ ἑκάστου νοȗς καì λόγος. [The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antonius, ed. A.S.L. Farquharson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1944), V.27, vol. 1, p. 90–92.]
[* ]Francis a Sancta Clara, ubi supra. [See above, p. 258, note.]
[† ]Traité de la Foi humane, Par. 1. ch. 8. [See above, p. 111, note 49.]
[* ]In Cap. 6. Danielis. [Rather, cap. 5. Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 25, col. 519.]
[101. ]“They seemed a thing consecrated to divine worship, though according to a perverted opinion of God.”
[102. ]Terence, Eunuch, I.61: “If you tried to turn these uncertainties into certainties by a system of reasoning, you’d do no more good than if you set yourself to be mad on a system”; translated J. Sargeaunt, Loeb Classical Library, 1920, p. 241.