Front Page Titles (by Subject) X.: ST. AUSTIN'S WORDS - 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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X.: ST. AUSTIN’S WORDS - 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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ST. AUSTIN’S WORDS
The Good and the Bad do and suffer very often the same things; nor ought we to judg of the nature of their Actions by what either does, or what either suffers, but from the Motives on which they act or suffer. Pharaoh oppress’d the People of God with excessive Labor. Moses, on the other hand, punish’d the Transgressions of the same People by the most severe Punishments. The Actions of each side were much alike, but their Ends very different: One was an errant Tyrant, bloated with Pride and Power; the other a Father, fill’d with Charity. Jezabel put the Prophets to death, and Elias the false Prophets; but that which put Arms into the hands of one and t’other, was no less different than that which drew on the deaths of each. In the same Book, where we find St. Paul scourg’d by the Jews, we find the Jew Sosthenes scourg’d by the Greeks for St. Paul; there’s no difference between ’em if we only look at the Surface of the Action, but there’s a great deal of difference if we look at the Occasion and Motive. St. Paul is deliver’d to the Jailer to be cast into Irons, and St. Paul himself delivers the incestuous Corinthian to Satan, whose Cruelty much exceeds that of the most barbarous Jailers; yet he delivers this Man to Satan only that his Flesh being buffeted his Soul might be sav’d.115When the same St. Paul deliver’d Philetus and Himeneus to Satan to teach ’em not to blaspheme,116he did not intend to render Evil for Evil, but judg’d it an Act of Goodness to redress one Evil by another.<405>
Here’s another new Flight of those little Reasonings which pass well enough in a Croud, where not one of a thousand has the Skill to distinguish where the Comparison holds, and where it does not. St. Austin breaks his heart to prove what no body living denys, That the same Action may be good or bad, according to the difference of Circumstance. If a Prince punishes a seditious Province to the rigor, from no other design than just to hinder its revolting anew, this is an Action of Justice; but it’s an Act of Cruelty and Avarice, if he rigorously punishes a slight Offence in the same Province, in hopes an unreasonable Severity may make it rebel, and give him a Pretence of reducing the People to Beggary. I’l allow St. Austin then, that Moses did well in punishing the Israelites, and Pharaoh as ill in oppressing ’em; a difference which arose not purely from Moses’s proposing, as his end, the Reformation of this People, and Pharaoh its Ruin; but from their being punish’d without any demerit by Pharaoh, and not by Moses. But to unhinge St. Austin’s Comparisons all at once, I need only shew, that he instances on one hand in certain violent Proceedings arising from Aversion, or some other unjust Passion, and compares these with other Actions, afflictive indeed to our Neighbor, but at the same time enjoin’d by a special Revelation from God, and consequently operating under Circumstances, in which the Agent or instrumental Cause might be sure of their producing a good Effect. I speak with relation to Moses, Elias, and St. Paul. These were all Pro-<406>phets, who understood by an immediate divine Inspiration that ’twas proper to proceed in a way of Punishment; and in this case ’twas allowable in them to exercise Severity, because there was no room to doubt but God, who ordain’d the means, had a purpose of turning it to his own Glory in a singular and extraordinary manner. In this case one has an assurance both of the Justice of the Action, and of the right Disposition of the Circumstances, and of the good Success. Can any one say as much for Theodosius’s persecuting the Arians, or Honorius the Donatists? What assurance had either, that God wou’d give a blessing to their Violences, or make ’em an efficacious means of enlightning the Understanding, or turning the Hearts of those in Error? It’s evident they had no such assurance, and that the Probability was much stronger on the other hand, that these methods wou’d rather rivet ’em in their Errors, and produce false Conversions rather than any real Change; so that ’twas the highest Temerity to venture on the ways of Violence in such a posture of Affairs. As to the Case of Sosthenes, I can’t imagine what St. Austin wou’d infer from it; since ’twas an Act of the Rabble, who without the least regard to the Proconsul there present, or the place they were in, rush’d in a tumultuous manner on the Head of the Synagogue.117
I have one Remark more at hand, which will absolutely demolish all these Arguments of St. Austin. It’s plain that the whole force of his Reasonings turns on this Supposition; That when Men treat Hereticks hardly in hopes of converting ’em, they act from a Principle of Charity, a<407> Motive which changes the nature of hard usage in such a manner, that it presently becomes a Good-work; whereas it’s downright Sin, if proceeding from Hatred, Insolence, or Avarice. It’s plain likewise, that the reason which makes Men imagine there’s a Motive of Charity in the case, can be no other than this, or something very near it, to wit, That they look on ill usage as a very proper means for making a Heretick think of getting instructed, and entring on a Search after Truth and the right way to Salvation. So that St. Austin’s Reasoning amounts to this:
Treating one’s Neighbor ill, from a Principle of Charity, is a Good-work.
Now it’s treating him ill from a Principle of Charity, to give him such ill Treatment of any kind, as may oblige him to get instructed and heal the Diseases of his Soul.
It’s therefore a Good-work to give him this sort of ill Treatment.
This is one of the most dangerous, and at the same time the most absurd Sophism in Morality that e’er was fram’d; for by this rule one might justify the most execrable Actions. Shou’d I see my Neighbor puff’d up with Pride, shou’d I see his Vanity fed by a vast Estate, and by an extraordinary Esteem and Respect for his Person; I might safely endeavor to lessen his Fortune and blast his Reputation: To this end I might set fire to his House, invent and raise a thousand Calumnys of him; and if one in a private station might not lawfully do this, yet the Prince may; as St. Austin maintains he may justly keep a Heretick poor, in hopes of awakening him out of his slumber. The Prince, I say, might justly beggar<408> this proud Man, and eat him up with his Soldiers, or get him falsly impeach’d of High Treason, declare him attainted in his Blood, and brand him as a Traitor. Shou’d any one murmur at this hard usage of the Man, we might tell him upon St. Austin’s Scheme, that truly it wou’d be unjust, if proceeding from any other Motive than that of Charity; but since it’s only design’d to rescue the Man from Damnation, into which his Vanity, founded on his Opulency and Honors, drove him head-long, it was perfectly just. I desire no more of my Readers, than calmly and impartially to compare the Effects which Jails, Fines, Chicanes, and a continual Anxiety of Life, might produce on a Heretick, in order to make him renounce his Opinions from Heart and Mouth; with the Effects which the taking away his Substance and Good Name might have upon this proud Man: and I persuade my self they’l allow, that if the Treatment in the first case be capable of changing the Heart of a Heretick, the Treatment in the second case must likewise change the Heart of this proud Man; and consequently he may be rob’d of his Goods and Good Name from a Principle of pure Charity (according to the Minor of my Syllogism) which will become a Good-work according to the Major of the same Syllogism. So that here’s a Sophism for justifying the most execrable Actions; which was the thing to be prov’d.
The more one examines this matter, the more he discovers the Illusion good St. Austin was under. He imagin’d, that as those things which are absolutely indifferent, and left to our own discretion, become good or evil according to the<409> Motive or Intention; so those which are expresly commanded or forbidden are subject to the same alteration, by virtue of the different Motives upon which we act. But as from hence it wou’d follow, that Robbery, Murder, Perjury, Adultery, wou’d cease to be Sins, when practis’d with a design of humbling our Neighbor, and bringing him to Repentance, or in general when practis’d from any Motive of Charity; it manifestly follows, that we must distinguish between Dutys of Obligation, and those which are left to our own Choice. Now refraining from the Goods or Good Name of our Neighbor, not swearing a false Oath, not debauching our Neighbor’s Wife or his Daughter, not smiting, reviling, or insulting him, are all matters of Obligation; and therefore whatever Benefit he may be suppos’d to reap from our calumniating, or from our smiting him, &c. what Benefit soever, I say, he may reap from hence with regard to Salvation, it’s by no means allowable to treat him after this manner. God does not require us to endeavor the Salvation of our Brethren at the expence of his Laws; and we wou’d do well to leave it intirely to his Providence to reclaim ’em if he sees fit, either by Poverty, or Sickness, or Shame, and make ’em sensible of the ill use which they have made of their good Fortune. This altogether shews how much of Illusion there is in this pretended Charity, which prompts us to do evil to our Neighbor with a design of bringing him to good; and consequently, that Princes are grosly misled when they ruin their Subjects, when they banish, imprison, and expose ’em to<410> a thousand Straits and Vexations, under pretence of obliging ’em to get themselves instructed. An Apology therefore for Persecution, built on so rotten a Foundation, can never stand.
There’s only one Case, as I can think of, in which a Man may dispense with the Precepts of the Decalogue in hopes of procuring the spiritual Good of his Neighbor; and that is, where the Party finds himself favor’d with the Gift of Prophecy and that of Miracles, and led immediately and extraordinarily by the Spirit of God. In this case he may kill a Man, as St. Peter kill’d Ananias and Saphira his Wife; he may maim him, he may cover from head to foot with Leprosy and Ulcers, get the Ship cast away in which he has all his Effects, &c. because, as I have already observ’d,118 he acts from the express Order of God, who by the transcendent Eminence of his Nature is exempted from all Rule, and by his Quality of Searcher of the Heart and Reins is able to perceive the Sutableness and Congruity of Circumstances and corporeal Actions, to the Inflexions and Modifications of the Soul; insomuch as there’s no room to doubt of the good Success of these violent and acute Remedys. And therefore it is that St. Paul positively assures us he deliver’d the incestuous Corinthian to Satan, only in order to save his Soul; and Himencus and Philetus, that he might teach ’em not to blaspheme. But as for any Underling, or mere common Man, confin’d within the Sphere of human Knowledg, and incapable of foreseeing what effects Poverty and Anguish may have upon the Mind of a Heretick; for him, I say, to take upon him to spurn the Commands against Stealing, against smiting<411> his Neighbor, &c. upon a pretence that the Party, to deliver himself from Hunger and Pain, will set about examining his Errors, and o’ course perceive ’em; is undoubtedly the greatest Presumption, and the most ridiculous Pretension in the world.
By the way ’twill be useful to observe, that in the case of Moses’s punishing the Israelites he had to deal with a People who were under no Error of Conscience; for they well knew that the Actions for which they were punish’d, were evil and unjustifiable. St. Paul in like manner did not excommunicate Persons who believ’d they had acted aright. The incestuous Corinthian was no such Fool as to maintain, that Incest was an Action commanded or indulg’d by Jesus Christ; and as for Himeneus and Philetus, the Apostle affirms they had not only cast away the Faith, but also a good Conscience: consequently their Error was not attended with Sincerity, as the Errors of those are whom Princes take upon ’em to persecute, at the abominable instigation of Priests and Monks.
I wou’d likewise have People once more to observe what I have said in other Parts of this Commentary,119 to wit, that Men having receiv’d a standing Rule of their Actions from God, are by no means allow’d to depart from this Rule, on pretence of imitating the ways of God himself, or the Methods he makes use of either by the Intervention of natural Causes, or of Men endu’d in an extraordinary manner with the Gift of Miracles. For example, God shall make use of Tempests, Earthquakes, Infections, Hail, Mists, Locusts, &c. for punishing the People of a Coun-<412>try, and awaking ’em to Repentance; or perhaps he shall commission a Moses to inflict all these Plagues. Does it therefore follow, that Kings or other Men may set whole Fields of Corn on fire, poison the Fountains, and create as much as in them lies a Dearth or Sickness, in a Country whose Inhabitants are wicked and impenitent? Another Example; God sends his Apostle a Thorn in the Flesh, he permits a Messenger of Satan to buffet him, and this for the good of his Servant, and most certainly knowing that his own Power shall be manifested thro the Apostle’s Infirmity. Have we now any right of imitating this Conduct towards those whom we see puff’d up with the great Talents which God has vouchsafed ’em? Is there a King upon earth, who hearing of a famous Doctor in his Dominions, admir’d for his Learning and Eloquence, and holy Life, has a right of sending him a Thorn in the Flesh to humble or to mortify him; such as suborning false Witnesses to blast his Reputation in some inferior Court, or giving him a Potion to weaken his Body and Mind? We make no doubt but there are Women in the world, who, thro the special Favor of God, have had the sad mortification in their Childhood of losing their Beauty by the Small-Pox. God who has a love for ’em, and who knows they wou’d make an ill use of their Beauty, and that the loss of this Jewel will engage ’em more intensly to the solid Contemplations of the World to come, disfigures ’em most justly, and from a Motion of pure Grace. May a King lawfully imitate this Conduct? And when he sees a fair Lady pride her self in her Beauty,<413> catching all the Men in her way, and caught her self in the Snares of Love, may he without a crime destroy all her natural Charms? May he in charity hire a Ruffian to mangle her Face; may he send her a Box, which in the opening shall set fire to a Preparation of Sulphur or Gunpouder, and for ever ruin her Bloom and lovely Complexion? May he bribe her Physician to prescribe her a Pouder or Potion, which shall throw her into a languishing Sickness, end in a frightful Jaundice, ghastly Looks, and an offensive Smell? It’s plain he cannot; and that this Prince wou’d make himself ridiculous to all the World, shou’d he gloss such a Conduct with the specious pretence of Charity; as that he design’d to preserve this fine Woman from the Dangers to which her Soul was expos’d, and sequester her from the Vanitys and Pleasures of the World to think only upon things above. There’s infinitely a greater probability, that the disfiguring such a Woman, and throwing her into a languishing Sickness, wou’d mortify her Vanity, and accomplish her Conversion, than that the quartering a hundred Dragoons on a Hugonot shou’d put him in the right way of perceiving he is a Heretick, and of sincerely embracing the Romish Faith. Yet the World wou’d hiss such a Prince, or his Directors of Conscience, who took these methods of converting the Ladys; and yet they applaud his endeavoring to convert Protestants the same way.
I shall conclude this Article with the following Remark; That nothing is more groundless than St. Austin’s Distinction of those Cudgellings, ransacking of Houses, and other ways of Violence<414> which proceed from a Motive of Charity, and those which are exercis’d without this Principle of Charity. True Charity is that which inclines us to keep those Laws of God which forbid Robbery, Blood-shed, and Battery: for by the same Distinction a Prince might innocently set fire to all the Citys in the Kingdom, and every year destroy a great part of the Harvest; still pretending that his Design was to humble his Subjects, who don’t think enough upon God in convenient Houses and great Plenty.
[115. ]1 Corinthians 5:5.
[116. ]1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Timothy 2:17.
[117. ]Acts 18:17.
[118. ]See above, p. 310.
[119. ]See above, p. 152, p. 302.