Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter X: An Answer to a second Disparity; to wit, That when a Judg gives Sentence against a Person falsly accus'd of Murder, it's an Ignorance of Fact; whereas if he condemns as Heresy what is really Orthodox, it's an Ignorance of Right. I shew that it' - 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: An Answer to a second Disparity; to wit, That when a Judg gives Sentence against a Person falsly accus’d of Murder, it’s an Ignorance of Fact; whereas if he condemns as Heresy what is really Orthodox, it’s an Ignorance of Right. I shew that it’ - 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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An Answer to a second Disparity; to wit, That when a Judg gives Sentence against a Person falsly accus’d of Murder, it’s an Ignorance of Fact; whereas if he condemns as Heresy what is really Orthodox, it’s an Ignorance of Right. I shew that it’s as hard to discover the Truth in Charges of Heresy, as in those for Murder.
A Marginal Note, which I had taken care to insert by the way,211 might inform my Readers, that I don’t take a Charge of Heresy to be in every sense a Question of Fact. I’m sensible there’s a Question of Right contain’d under it in one respect. For example, in the Action for Heresy against Michael Servetus,212 there was first a Charge of his denying the Trinity. This was a Question of Fact, which might be prov’d either by the Writings of this Heretick, or by the Depositions of those who had heard him teach, or by his own Confession. When this Question of Fact was clear’d, the next thing was to find out the Qualification or Nature of his Doctrine, whether rash, scandalous, erroneous, heretical, impious; and this was properly the Question of Right: which yet cou’d not be prov’d, but by<589> resolving it anew into the Class of matters of Fact, seeing Servetus was agreed with his Accusers and Judges in this Thesis, That if his Doctrine was contrary to the Word of God, it was false and impious. Now, as he alledg’d that it was not contrary, but very agreeable to Scripture, ’twas necessary to examine the Passages, which he pretended did either not favor the Doctrine of a Trinity, or did favor the Doctrine of the Unity of God, as well in Person as Nature: whereby any one may see, that the Question now is only concerning this Fact, to wit, whether such a thing be contain’d in the Book call’d Holy Scripture.
But not to draw out my Discussion of the second Disparity to too great a length, I am willing to quit the Advantage of this Observation, and for the present allow my Adversarys these two points: First, that all Prosecutions for Heresy are properly matters of Right. Secondly, that there’s good Reason for not excusing an Ignorance of Right at human Tribunals: for tho it may possibly happen, that a Man is honestly and innocently ignorant of what the Laws of the Land ordain; yet, as the Judges can’t discern, whether he speaks sincerely or no, they can’t take up with his Excuse, for fear of the Disorders which might happen upon it; since a world of Malefactors and Disturbers of the publick Peace might make use of the same Justification: therefore, to prevent a general Evil, they’l make no exception to this general Rule, Ignorantia Juris non excusat.213 This may possibly be unjust, and very hard upon particular Per-<590>sons; but ’tis necessary to sacrifice something to the publick Good of the Society.
This is undoubtedly the Reason why human Tribunals admit no Excuse upon an Ignorance of Right; but let’s beware imagining, that God proceeds by the same Reason: as he is the Searcher of Hearts, he knows most assuredly, whether such or such a Person be under an invincible Ignorance of Right; and if he be, absolves him as freely as if the Ignorance were only of Fact.
I have ruin’d this Distinction of Fact and Right to such a degree, by shewing,214 that where the discovering the Truth is as difficult in one Case as in the other, our Ignorance is no more culpable in one Case than in the other; that the Author of the Treatise of the Rights of the two Sovereigns, who has wrote against the two last Chapters of the second Part of my Commentary, has quitted this Post, and granted that there may be an invincible Ignorance of Right, and that invincible Ignorance excuses as well with regard to matters of Right as of Fact.215 We shall hereafter see what Advantages this Concession gives me; at present I shall not insist on it: ’Twill suffice for accomplishing what I’m now upon, if I can shew, that it is not more difficult to discover, whether a Person, accus’d of Murder, Adultery, Poisoning, be guilty (these are Questions of Fact) than to discover, whether such or such a Doctrine be Heretical, which is properly a Question of Right. If I can make this out, I totally overthrow the second Disparity, and my Comparison will have its full and intire effect. Let’s try what can be done.<591>
It is not necessary to make a tedious Enumeration of Causes, which sometimes render the Ignorance of Facts invincible to human Judicatures. ’Tis well known, that the Heart of Man has depths unfathomable to the clearest-sighted Judges; that there are false Witnesses of a consummate Experience, ready at Evasions, steddy, intrepid; that true Witnesses may have short Memorys, and sometimes differ in their Evidence; and last of all, that Circumstances sometimes conspire in such a manner, by an unaccountable Juggle and Combination for the puzzling an Affair, that there’s no Light to be seen thro it: and then it happens, either that it’s put off to a longer day, or that the Judges determine themselves to that which the Proceedings observ’d in all the due Forms conduct, to wit, the pronouncing such a Man guilty, who yet is not, or pronouncing him innocent, when perhaps he is not. Will any one say, that the examining of speculative Doctrines is encompass’d with as many Difficultys? Yes, without doubt.
Considerations on the Dispute of Jansenism, as to what regards the Fact.
There has arisen in our own days a very famous Dispute about a Book of Jansenius.216 His Enemys drew five Propositions out of it, which were condemn’d at Rome. The Jansenists own’d, that these Propositions were capable of receiving a Heretical Sense, but in that sense they were not found in Jansenius; they own’d ’em heretical in the Sense the Pope had condemn’d ’em, but deny’d that Jansenius understood ’em in that Sense. Upon this<592> we had nothing but Book after Book concerning this particular Fact, whether these Propositions were really contain’d in Jansenius. The Pope declar’d for the Affirmative, but the Jansenists refus’d to submit to his Decision, because, in matters of Fact, neither the Authority of the Pope, nor that of Councils, is infallible. Upon this they condescended to treat with the Gentlemen of Port-Royal; and not being able to obtain of ’em the believing by a divine Faith, what the Pope had decided concerning the Fact, they insisted at least on their believing it by a human Faith:217 but the Jansenists shew’d the Injustice of this demand, by so many invincible Reasons, that at last the opposite side were contented with their Promise of a respectful silence upon the Point. Who can avoid making two Observations upon this, one in appearance against me, the other really favorable to my Position?
1. That Disputes about Fact are the hardest in Nature to be decided, since so small a Party had, for so many Years together, bin able to maintain against the whole Body of Jesuits, favor’d by the Pope, and by a world of Doctors and Prelates besides, that what was imputed to Jansenius, was not really in his Book; without their being able in the issue, to bring it to a fair decision.
2. That Disputes upon this Question, Whether such a Doctrine be Heretical, are the hardest in nature to be clear’d: for if in a strife depending on a single Book, as this of Jansenius, compos’d within a few Years, and whose Stile and Phrase must consequently be more intelligible than if written some Ages ago, the<593> two contesting Partys cou’d never be brought to agree, that certain Propositions were contain’d in this Book; how will it be, when, to prove any Proposition Heretical, we must shew the contrary Proposition from the Scripture and Fathers; the Scripture, I say, and the Fathers, which make up a vast number of Volumes, written a long time ago, and in a Stile very different from the Tast and Manner of our Age?
Considerations on the same Dispute as to Right.
To set this matter in still a clearer Light, it won’t be amiss to dwell somewhat longer on the Dispute about Jansenius. I know his Disciples were loth to jump over the Barrier of the Council of Trent, or maintain, as perhaps they had the Skill and Capacity to do, had they judg’d it proper, that this Council had not decided upon the Doctrines which Jansenius was accus’d of having deny’d in the five Propositions; my meaning is, that they own’d these Propositions Heretical in the Sense that Rome had condemn’d ’em. But my Reader will easily conceive, had a Set of able Calvinist Advocates taken up the Cause where the Jansenists drop’d it, and insisted on a Re-examination of these Propositions, maintaining they were Orthodox in the Sense in which the Pope had declar’d ’em Heretical; that this wou’d have open’d a Field for endless Broil and Contention, which ’twere impossible to make an end of, but by a way of Authority, much as in civil or criminal Causes, where the Right is determin’d by a Majority of Voices, and as to<594> which the Judges, after having carefully weigh’d the Allegations, think they have nothing to answer, provided they condemn only what appears to them fit to be condemn’d; tho they don’t think it impossible, but that what they do condemn may at bottom be wrongfully condemn’d. ’Tis true, the Church of Rome has found out a particular Secret, which other earthly Judges have not; for she pretends, that God never permits what is really false to appear true, to the Majority of the Fathers assembl’d in an Oecumenical Council: but this is another Question.
As I may take occasion in the third Part,218 to enlarge on the Difficultys which attend the Discussion of Controversys, I shall be as short on it in this place as possible; and therefore shall content my self with shewing my Reader, that in order to know, whether the five Propositions of Jansenius, understood in the Sense at Rome, were Heretical or no, it had bin necessary,
1. To be profoundly skill’d in Metaphysicks, in order to know whether the Attributes of a Being infinitely perfect, are better reconcil’d to the Free-will of Man, than to an irresistible Necessity of his doing Evil without Grace, and doing Good with Grace. This Study might likewise be of great use for settling the Sense of several obscure Scripture-Passages.
2. To be Master of the Greek and Hebrew Tongues, Biblical Criticism, and of the Customs of the Jews in our Saviour’s Days; for, beside that the Sense of Texts, alledg’d by the contending Partys, may sometimes depend on the force of Particles, and this again on a certain Disposition of the Words, ’twou’d be of consequence to<595> be assur’d, that no Faults had crept into the Copy, and to know how the antient Versions and Paraphrases are agreed on this head. Then how many Phrases are there in the New Testament, which are purely Allusions to Proverbs, or Customs of the Jews of those times? Some learned Men pretend, that to understand what St. Paul says concerning Predestination, Vocation, and Election, it were necessary to know what Prejudices the Jews of that Age were under.
3. To read over the Fathers of the four or five first Centurys with great Care and Application, in order to know how they understood those Texts of Scripture, which seem to prove or condemn the five Propositions of Jansenius. This is of Consequence, whatever some may think to the contrary; because, if the Scripture, for the first four or five hundred years after Jesus Christ, was understood in such a certain Sense, this were a strong Presumption, that God design’d we shou’d hold to this Sense. Now the reading over so many Volumes, so as to understand ’em, is no such easy matter; you may understand your Demosthenes and Cicero perfectly well, and yet be often at a loss in reading the Fathers for want of some new Greek and Latin Vocabularys, because the Fathers have Words in each of these Languages, which you might look out long enough in Stevens and Callepin.219 You must know their Opinions before you can well understand their Terms; and whereas the ordinary way of understanding an Author’s Opinions, is to understand his Words, you must here sometimes be acquainted before-hand with your Author’s Opinions, before you can understand his Words. Nor is it enough to exa-<596>mine the Passages themselves, alledg’d pro and con, in the Dispute about Jansenism: Very often to understand the Sense of two or three Lines only, one must read over a large Treatise; he must be acquainted with the Stile and way of his Author, and his particular View and Design in such a Work.
4. In the last place, maturely and impartially to weigh the Reasons, which each Party alledges, to justify the Sense it gives the Passages from Scripture and the Fathers, the reciprocal Objections, the Solutions, the Replys, the Rejoinders, &c.
I now make bold to ask my Reader a Question or two; first, Whether it is not absolutely necessary to do all this, if one wou’d fulfil the Duty of an exact Judg? For if the Judges, in mere Civil Causes, ought to examine all the Deeds and Parchments of the Partys, and the Pleadings of the Advocates; by a much stronger Reason, ought they to be careful in examining ’em all when the Dispute is concerning the Truths of Religion, and the inflicting of Punishment on a world of People, in case they be convicted of Heresy.
The next thing I’m to ask my Reader is, Whether he thinks there ever was a criminal Cause (tho puzzl’d and banter’d as much as the late Popish Plot220 among our selves) harder to be trac’d and brought to a fair Decision in the very critical point of Truth, than that in which it were necessary to perform the four Requisites just now mention’d, in order to find whether the five Propositions be Heretical. Shou’d any Reader be capable of answering me, that the deciding these five Propositions is much easier than clearing the most perplext, civil, or criminal Cause, I own I have not a word more to say; for all I<597> cou’d say wou’d be of no use, to one who did not perceive, that the four premis’d Requisites surpass the Strength, the Patience, and Parts of most Judges in the World.
From whence I conclude, either that there can be no Tribunal upon Earth for judging of Heresy, and inflicting Punishments on the Convict; or else, that God requires no more from them, than he does from those who are to judg and condemn upon Murder; that is, to examine the Cause as diligently and conscientiously as they can: And shou’d it after this unfortunately happen, that they inflicted the Punishment due to Heresy on an Orthodox Person, or the Punishment of Death on a Man falsly accus’d of Murder; God will never judg ’em for the Mistake. Now if this be so, there’s an end of the Dispute; Heretical Princes are as much authoris’d to punish the Orthodox, as Orthodox Princes to punish Hereticks; which is the Consequence I had bin laboring all this while.
I might have added, in favor of what I maintain’d, that in criminal Causes the Judg has the advantage of interrogating living Witnesses, of laying Trains for ’em, and catching ’em by Surprize, of taking hold of what they say one day, and by it wresting the Truth from ’em the next; in fine, of making ’em answer ay, or no, to every short peremptory Demand, that he’s pleas’d to make, and turn’d as he thinks fit: whereas the Witnesses to be consulted in a Cause of Heresy, are dumb and dead Witnesses, unable to plead or protest against those who make ’em say what perhaps they never dream’d of. I own the Judges and Partys torture these<598> Witnesses, much more than they do those in criminal Causes: but this, if I may be allow’d the Expression, is acting the part of Father Martin,221 and making the Question and the Answer out of their own Head; for he who tortures a Text of Scripture, or a Passage from the Fathers, till it gives a favorable Answer, forges the Answer out of his own Brain: And thence it is, that while one Side, by dint of Torture, forces such a Sense from a Text, the opposite Side wrings out a quite contrary Sense by the same Methods. So that the Judges are much more gravel’d here, than when they have a Criminal at the Bar, desperately bent on denying the Fact, or Witnesses sworn to conceal the Truth.
Whether the discussing the Fathers may well be dispens’d with.
Let People talk as long as they please, that there’s no need of troubling one’s Head to know, what was the Faith of the first Ages of the Church; this won’t lessen the Difficulty: because if the Accus’d, in the first place, shou’d boast that his Opinions are agreeable to the Sense of the first Fathers; the Judges cannot dispense with the examining ’em. Dare they condemn a Man, whose Faith was really agreeable to that of the primitive Church? This were unrighteous, and hard to be digested; they must therefore, before they pronounce Sentence of Condemnation, let the Accus’d see, that the Fathers are against him, which brings the tedious thorny Discussion fairly about.<599>
In the second place, shou’d the Accus’d make a mock of the Authority of the first Ages of Christianity, and their Adversarys suggest thus; That the Scripture having its Obscuritys, which St. Peter himself, as obscure at least as St. Paul, owns in his Judgment on the Epistles of St. Paul:222 it’s very probable, that Difficultys were started in the very days of the Apostles, about the Sense of their Writings, as the same St. Peter insinuates; which Difficultys the Apostles themselves, or their immediate Disciples, might have satisfy’d by word of Mouth: whence it follows, that the Sense, which the Fathers of the first Ages gave to some obscure Texts of Scripture, might be founded on these verbal Explications, which had not as yet bin vary’d or corrupted. If, I say, the Accusers shou’d suggest thus, must not the Accus’d of necessity make their Defence, and maintain, that the Fathers of the first Ages err’d in many points; which brings about by a Backdoor that Discussion which they wou’d decline, and gives a Trouble over and above to the Judges, of examining the Reasons on which the Accuser wou’d appeal to the Authority of the Fathers?
In the last place, suppose they were to proceed upon the Testimony of Scripture only, won’t there still remain three of the four above-mention’d Requisites for qualifying a Judg; and might not any one very reasonably cry out upon these three Requisites only, Who is sufficient for these things?<600>
Whether it be easy to give the Definition of Heresy.
Methinks I hear some Body suggest, that in order to know whether an Opinion be heretical, there needs no more than considering it by this Definition, Heresy is an Opinion, maintain’d with Obstinacy, against the Decisions of the Church. But what a wretched Expedient is this? for here you are presently stop’d; first upon the Notion of Obstinacy; next upon that of Church: where you’l quickly find your self in the most boisterous Ocean in the World. For by the Church, you understand the True; but the Question is, How to find this True Church? ’tis sought for in the Scriptures, and purest Tradition; but this is matter of long and tedious Brawl. To say, that the Church of Rome is the true Church, is saying nothing, unless it be prov’d; and to prove it so, in effect, all sorts of Discussions present.
Shou’d another pretend to mend the matter, by giving a juster Definition, and saying, That a Heretick is he who denys a fundamental Article of the Christian Religion, he’l find himself no less mistaken: for as no Christian will acknowledg, that what he denys is a Fundamental; ’twill be necessary to prove it upon him, by shewing, from the Word of God, the characteristick Mark of a fundamental Truth. And here’s a new source of endless Discussion.
I shall say no more upon this Head; I fear I have said too much for any intelligent Reader, who undoubtedly must have perceiv’d,<601> from the first Pages of this Chapter, that it’s much harder to discover the Truth in Trials for Heresy, than in those for Murder, Adultery, or Poisoning: whence they might justly conclude, to the Ruin of the second Disparity, that if a Judg is not answerable before God for having, in some Cases, acquitted the Guilty, and condemn’d the Innocent; neither will that Judg be answerable, who protects a Heretick and punishes an Orthodox, supposing God had enjoin’d the punishing of Hereticks.
[211. ]See above, p. 430, note.
[212. ]See above, p. 198, note 83.
[213. ]Translation: “Ignorance of the law does not excuse.” See A. Friedberg (ed.), Corpus iuris canonici (Leipzig, 1879; reprint Graz: Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, 1959), vol. 1, col. 422, para. Notandum.
[214. ]See above, p. 240.
[215. ]See above, p. 399.
[216. ]See Appendixes, “Grace, Original Sin, Predestination,” p. 587.
[217. ]Ibid., p. 588.
[218. ]Of the unpublished answer The Rights of Two Sovereigns. See above, p. 390, note 168.
[219. ]Robert Estienne, Dictionarium seu Latinae linguae Thesaurus, Paris, 1531; Ambrosii Calepini, Dictionarium latino-graecum, Lyons, 1681.
[220. ]The Catholic plot to kill Protestants and burn London, an invention of Titus Oates.
[221. ]“Faire le Prêtre Martin” and “Prêtre Martin qui chante et qui répond” were apparently proverbial expressions referring to someone who answers his own questions. See http://www.amicale-genealogie.org/Les_Saints_Patrons/Les_Saints_Patrons_novembre.htm.
[222. ]“So also our brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures”; 2 Peter 3:15–16.