More and more, the casuistry exposed by Pascal in the Provincial Letters 3701 becomes an important subject for the investigation of Americans. Nobody who has any pretensions to scholarship can afford to be ignorant of these letters; for they belong to literature, and not merely to theology. But they belong in a sense to the past; not that “the Society of Jesus” has ceased to maintain all that Pascal has exposed, and to practice even worse, but that the Latin churches have, since the days of Pascal, been formally subjected to a system of casuistry, in some respects superficially reformed, but in all other respects radically bad, and corrosive to society. In Pascals day this casuistry could only be charged upon individuals, and upon societies and communities: the Roman Church everywhere adopted it, but was not formally committed to it. But in the system of Liguori this corrupt morality has been made authoritative and dogmatic; so that in all the Latin churches it becomes the base of the confessional. For moral purposes, it is the Bible of the millions who resort to their confessors and “directors.” These remarks, however, are here introduced merely with reference to the morals of Clement with regard to truth. 3702
I have briefly indicated, in the footnotes, the points which are to be noted in forming an opinion of our authors conceptions of this vital principle. They seem to me conformed to the Gospel; to the teachings of Him who allows no hair-splittings, but says, “Let your yea be yea, p. 557 and your nay, nay.” But, as the text stood in the Edinburgh translation, it did injustice to Clement in one passage, which I have modified. It reads, “He (the Gnostic) both thinks and speaks the truth, unless, at any time, medicinally, as a physician for the safety of the sick, he may lie, or tell an untruth.” To this, Clement adds significantly, “according to the Sophists.” That is to say, our author tolerates the Christian who has not got beyond the Sophists with respect to benevolent deceptions. As killing is not always murder, so some, even among stern moralists, have maintained that deception by word of mouth is not always lying. This is the extent to which Clement tolerates sophistry, and he goes on to demand the practice of truth in Gospel terms. Now, thank God, the English word “lie” is always infamous; and there is nothing like it, in this respect, in other languages. The Sophists themselves did not so understand the Greek word (ψεῦδος), when they apply it to the benevolent deception of a physician, or to the untruths used benevolently with the insane. Nothing infamous attaches to the French word mensonge when used for what are deemed “innocent deceptions.” With this whole system of sophistry I have no patience at all; but, in justice to the Sophists, let us not make them worse than they were. They did not understand that such deceptions were lies. Hence, for “lie,” I have used the word deceive, correcting a needless rendering of the text, and one to which Clement should not be made to extend even a contemptuous toleration.
In this respect, the holy Jeremy Taylor and Dr. Johnson go further than Clement, and seem to allow that benevolent deceptions may be innocent. Sanderson sustains a sterner morality, and is more generally accepted. Liguoris system is verbally as strong as the Gospel itself: lying is a mortal sin, and never justifiable. But, when he comes to the definition of a lie, it is made so feeble, that the worst liar that ever lived need never resort to it. He may practice all manner of subterfuge, and even perjury, without telling a lie. As, e.g., if he points up his sleeve, while he swears that he did not see the criminal there, he tells no lie: it is the business of the judge and jury to watch his fingers, etc.
This unfortunate word Gnostic hides the force of Clements teaching, throughout this work. Here he virtually expounds it, and we see that it refers even more to the heart than to the head. It carries with it the conduct of life by knowledge; i.e., by “the true Light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.” (See p. 607, footnote.)
The Primitive Fathers never dream of anything as dogma which cannot be proved by the Scriptures, save only that the apostolic traditions, clearly proved to be such, must be referred to in proving what is Holy Scripture. It is not possible to graft on this principle the slightest argument for any tradition not indisputably apostolic, so far as the de fide is concerned. Quod semper is the touchstone, in their conceptions, of all orthodoxy. No matter who may teach this or that, now or in any post-apostolic age, their test is Holy Scripture, and the inquiry, Was it always so taught and understood?