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Paris, May 28, 1656
You did not suppose that anybody would have the curiosity to know who we were; but it seems there are people who are trying to make it out, though they are not very happy in their conjectures. Some take me for a doctor of the Sorbonne; others ascribe my letters to four or five persons, who, like me, are neither priests nor Churchmen. All these false surmises convince me that I have succeeded pretty well in my object, which was to conceal myself from all but yourself and the worthy monk, who still continues to bear with my visits, while I still contrive, though with considerable difficulty, to bear with his conversations. I am obliged, however, to restrain myself; for, were he to discover how much I am shocked at his communications, he would discontinue them and thus put it out of my power to fulfil the promise I gave you, of making you acquainted with their morality. You ought to think a great deal of the violence which I thus do to my own feelings. It is no easy matter, I can assure you, to stand still and see the whole system of Christian ethics undermined by such a set of monstrous principles, without daring to put in a word of flat contradiction against them. But, after having borne so much for your satisfaction, I am resolved I shall burst out for my own satisfaction in the end, when his stock of information has been exhausted. Meanwhile, I shall repress my feelings as much as I possibly can for I find that the more I hold my tongue, he is the more communicative. The last time I saw him, he told me so many things that I shall have some difficulty in repeating them all. On the point of restitution you will find they have some most convenient principles. For, however the good monk palliates his maxims, those which I am about to lay before you really go to sanction corrupt judges, usurers, bankrupts, thieves, prostitutes and sorcerers- all of whom are most liberally absolved from the obligation of restoring their ill-gotten gains. It was thus the monk resumed the conversation:
"At the commencement of our interviews, I engaged to explain to you the maxims of our authors for all ranks and classes; and you have already seen those that relate to beneficiaries, to priests, to monks, to domestics, and to gentlemen. Let us now take a cursory glance at the remaining, and begin with the judges.
"Now I am going to tell you one of the most important and advantageous maxims which our fathers have laid down in their favour. Its author is the learned Castro Palao, one of our four-and-twenty elders. His words are: 'May a judge, in a question of right and wrong, pronounce according to a probable opinion, in preference to the more probable opinion? He may, even though it should be contrary to his own judgement- imo contra propriam opinionem.'"
"Well, father," cried I, "that is a very fair commencement! The judges, surely, are greatly obliged to you; and I am surprised that they should be so hostile, as we have sometimes observed, to your probabilities, seeing these are so favourable to them. For it would appear from this that you give them the same power over men's fortunes as you have given to yourselves over their consciences."
"You perceive we are far from being actuated by self-interest," returned he; "we have had no other end in view than the repose of their consciences; and to the same useful purpose has our great Molina devoted his attention, in regard to the presents which may be made them. To remove any scruples which they might entertain in accepting of these on certain occasions, he has been at the pains to draw out a list of all those cases in which bribes may be taken with a good conscience, provided, at least, there be no special law forbidding them. He says: 'Judges may receive presents from parties when they are given them either for friendship's sake, or in gratitude for some former act of justice, or to induce them to give justice in future, or to oblige them to pay particular attention to their case, or to engage them to despatch it promptly.' The learned Escobar delivers himself to the same effect: 'If there be a number of persons, none of whom have more right than another to have their causes disposed of, will the judge who accepts of something from one of them, on condition- expacto- of taking up his cause first, be guilty of sin? Certainly not, according to Layman; for, in common equity, he does no injury to the rest by granting to one, in consideration of his present, what he was at liberty to grant to any of them he pleased; and besides, being under an equal obligation to them all in respect of their right, he becomes more obliged to the individual who furnished the donation, who thereby acquired for himself a preference above the rest- a preference which seems capable of a pecuniary valuation- quae obligatio videtur pretio aestimabilis.'"
"May it please your reverence," said I, "after such a permission, I am surprised that the first magistrates of the kingdom should know no better. For the first president has actually carried an order in Parliament to prevent certain clerks of court from taking money for that very sort of preference- a sign that he is far from thinking it allowable in judges; and everybody has applauded this as a reform of great benefit to all parties."
The worthy monk was surprised at this piece of intelligence, and replied: "Are you sure of that? I heard nothing about it. Our opinion, recollect, is only probable; the contrary is probable also."
"To tell you the truth, father," said I, "people think that the first president has acted more than probably well, and that he has thus put a stop to a course of public corruption which has been too long winked at."
"I am not far from being of the same mind," returned he; "but let us waive that point, and say no more about the judges."
"You are quite right, sir," said I; "indeed, they are not half thankful enough for all you have done for them."
"That is not my reason," said the father; "but there is so much to be said on all the different classes that we must study brevity on each of them. Let us now say a word or two about men of business. You are aware that our great difficulty with these gentlemen is to keep them from usury- an object to accomplish which our fathers have been at particular pains; for they hold this vice in such abhorrence that Escobar declares 'it is heresy to say that usury is no sin'; and Father Bauny has filled several pages of his Summary of Sins with the pains and penalties due to usurers. He declares them 'infamous during their life, and unworthy of sepulture after their death.'"
"O dear! " cried I, "I had no idea he was so severe."
"He can be severe enough when there is occasion for it," said the monk; "but then this learned casuist, having observed that some are allured into usury merely from the love of gain, remarks in the same place that 'he would confer no small obligation on society, who, while he guarded it against the evil effects of usury, and of the sin which gives birth to it, would suggest a method by which one's money might secure as large, if not a larger profit, in some honest and lawful employment than he could derive from usurious dealings."
"Undoubtedly, father, there would be no more usurers after that."
"Accordingly," continued he, "our casuist has suggested 'a general method for all sorts of persons- gentlemen, presidents, councillors,' &c.; and a very simple process it is, consisting only in the use of certain words which must be pronounced by the person in the act of lending his money; after which he may take his interest for it without fear of being a usurer, which he certainly would be on any other plan."
"And pray what may those mysterious words be, father?"
"I will give you them exactly in his own words," said the father; "for he has written his Summary in French, you know, 'that it may be understood by everybody,' as he says in the preface: 'The person from whom the loan is asked must answer, then, in this manner: I have got no money to lend, I have got a little, however, to lay out for an honest and lawful profit. If you are anxious to have the sum you mention in order to make something of it by your industry, dividing the profit and loss between us, I may perhaps be able to accommodate you. But now I think of it, as it may be a matter of difficulty to agree about the profit, if you will secure me a certain portion of it, and give me so much for my principal, so that it incur no risk, we may come to terms much sooner, and you shall touch the cash immediately.' Is not that an easy plan for gaining money without sin? And has not Father Bauny good reason for concluding with these words: 'Such, in my opinion, is an excellent plan by which a great many people, who now provoke the just indignation of God by their usuries, extortions, and illicit bargains, might save themselves, in the way of making good, honest, and legitimate profits'?"
"O sir!" I exclaimed, "what potent words these must be! Doubtless they must possess some latent virtue to chase away the demon of usury which I know nothing of, for, in my poor judgement, I always thought that that vice consisted in recovering more money that what was lent."
"You know little about it indeed," he replied. "Usury, according to our fathers, consists in little more than the intention of taking the interest as usurious. Escobar, accordingly, shows you how you may avoid usury by a simple shift of the intention. 'It would be downright usury,' says he 'to take interest from the borrower, if we should exact it as due in point of justice; but if only exacted as due in point of gratitude, it is not usury. Again, it is not lawful to have directly the intention of profiting by the money lent; but to claim it through the medium of the benevolence of the borrower- media benevolentia- is not usury.' These are subtle methods; but, to my mind, the best of them all (for we have a great choice of them) is that of the Mohatra bargain."
"The Mohatra, father!"
"You are not acquainted with it, I see," returned he. "The name is the only strange thing about it. Escobar will explain it to you: 'The Mohatra bargain is effected by the needy person purchasing some goods at a high price and on credit, in order to sell them over again, at the same time and to the same merchant, for ready money and at a cheap rate.' This is what we call the Mohatra- a sort of bargain, you perceive, by which a person receives a certain sum of ready money by becoming bound to pay more."
"But, sir, I really think nobody but Escobar has employed such a term as that; is it to be found in any other book?"
"How little you do know of what is going on, to be sure!" cried the father. "Why, the last work on theological morality, printed at Paris this very year, speaks of the Mohatra, and learnedly, too. It is called Epilogus Summarum, and is an abridgment of all the summaries of divinity- extracted from Suarez, Sanchez, Lessius, Fagundez, Hurtado, and other celebrated casuists, as the title bears. There you will find it said, on p. 54, that 'the Mohatra bargain takes place when a man who has occasion for twenty pistoles purchases from a merchant goods to the amount of thirty pistoles, payable within a year, and sells them back to him on the spot for twenty pistoles ready money.' This shows you that the Mohatra is not such an unheard-of term as you supposed."
"But, father, is that sort of bargain lawful?"
"Escobar," replied he, "tells us in the same place that there are laws which prohibit it under very severe penalties."
"It is useless, then, I suppose?"
"Not at all; Escobar, in the same passage, suggests expedients for making it lawful: 'It is so, even though the principal intention both of the buyer and seller is to make money by the transaction, provided the seller, in disposing of the goods, does not exceed their highest price, and in re-purchasing them does not go below their lowest price, and that no previous bargain has been made, expressly or otherwise.' Lessius, however, maintains that 'even though the merchant has sold his goods, with the intention of re-purchasing them at the lowest price, he is not bound to make restitution of the profit thus acquired, unless, perhaps, as an act of charity, in the case of the person from whom it had been exacted being in poor circumstances, and not even then, if he cannot do it without inconvenience- si commode non potest.' This is the utmost length to which they could go."
"Indeed, sir," said I, "any further indulgence would, I should think, be rather too much."
"Oh, our fathers know very well when it is time for them to stop!" cried the monk. "So much, then, for the utility of the Mohatra. I might have mentioned several other methods, but these may suffice; and I have now to say a little in regard to those who are in embarrassed circumstances. Our casuists have sought to relieve them, according to their condition of life. For, if they have not enough of property for a decent maintenance, and at the same time for paying their debts, they permit them to secure a portion by making a bankruptcy with their creditors. This has been decided by Lessius, and confirmed by Escobar, as follows: 'May a person who turns bankrupt, with a good conscience keep back as much of his personal estate as may be necessary to maintain his family in a respectable way- ne indecore vivat? I hold, with Lessius, that he may, even though he may have acquired his wealth unjustly and by notorious crimes- ex injustilia et notorio delicto; only, in this case, he is not at liberty to retain so large an amount as he otherwise might.'"
"Indeed, father! what a strange sort of charity is this, to allow property to remain in the hands of the man who has acquired it by rapine, to support him in his extravagance rather than go into the hands of his creditors, to whom it legitimately belongs!"
"It is impossible to please everybody," replied the father; "and we have made it our particular study to relieve these unfortunate people. This partiality to the poor has induced our great Vasquez, cited by Castro Palao, to say that 'if one saw a thief going to rob a poor man, it would be lawful to divert him from his purpose by pointing out to him some rich individual, whom he might rob in place of the other.' If you have not access to Vasquez or Castro Palao, you will find the same thing in your copy of Escobar; for, as you are aware, his work is little more than a compilation from twenty-four of the most celebrated of our fathers. You will find it in his treatise, entitled The Practice of our Society, in the Matter of Charity towards our Neighbours."
"A very singular kind of charity this," I observed, "to save one man from suffering loss, by inflicting it upon another! But I suppose that, to complete the charity, the charitable adviser would be bound in conscience to restore to the rich man the sum which he had made him lose?"
"Not at all, sir," returned the monk; "for he did not rob the man- he only advised the other to do it. But only attend to this notable decision of Father Bauny, on a case which will still more astonish you, and in which you would suppose there was a much stronger obligation to make restitution. Here are his identical words: 'A person asks a soldier to beat his neighbour, or to set fire to the barn of a man that has injured him. The question is whether, in the essence of the soldier, the person who employed him to commit these outrages is bound to make reparation out of his own pocket for the damage that has followed? My opinion is that he is not. For none can be held bound to restitution, where there has been no violation of justice; and is justice violated by asking another to do us a favour? As to the nature of the request which he made, he is at liberty either to acknowledge or deny it; to whatever side he may incline, it is a matter of mere choice; nothing obliges him to it, unless it may be the goodness, gentleness, and easiness of his disposition. If the soldier, therefore, makes no reparation for the mischief he has done, it ought not to be exacted from him at whose request he injured the innocent.'"
This sentence had very nearly broken up the whole conversation, for I was on the point of bursting into a laugh at the idea of the goodness and gentleness of a burner of barns, and at these strange sophisms which would exempt from the duty of restitution the principal and real incendiary, whom the civil magistrate would not exempt from the halter. But, had I not restrained myself, the worthy monk, who was perfectly serious, would have been displeased; he proceeded, therefore, without any alteration of countenance, in his observations.
"From such a mass of evidence, you ought to be satisfied now of the futility of your objections; but we are losing sight of our subject. To revert, then, to the succour which our fathers apply to persons in straitened circumstances, Lessius, among others, maintains that 'it is lawful to steal, not only in a case of extreme necessity, but even where the necessity is grave, though not extreme.'"
"This is somewhat startling, father," said I. "There are very few people in this world who do not consider their cases of necessity to be grave ones, and to whom, accordingly, you would not give the right of stealing with a good conscience. And, though you should restrict the permission to those only who are really and truly in that condition, you open the door to an infinite number of petty larcenies which the magistrates would punish in spite of your grave necessity, and which you ought to repress on a higher principle- you who are bound by your office to be the conservators, not of justice only, but of charity between man and man, a grace which this permission would destroy. For after all, now, is it not a violation of the law of charity, and of our duty to our neighbour, to deprive a man of his property in order to turn it to our own advantage? Such, at least, is the way I have been taught to think hitherto."
"That will not always hold true," replied the monk; "for our great Molina has taught us that 'the rule of charity does not bind us to deprive ourselves of a profit, in order thereby to save our neighbour from a corresponding loss.' He advances this in corroboration of what he had undertaken to prove- 'that one is not bound in conscience to restore the goods which another had put into his hands in order to cheat his creditors.' Lessius holds the same opinion, on the same ground. Allow me to say, sir, that you have too little compassion for people in distress. Our fathers have had more charity than that comes to: they render ample justice to the poor, as well as the rich; and, I may add, to sinners as well as saints. For, though far from having any predilection for criminals, they do not scruple to teach that the property gained by crime may be lawfully retained. 'No person,' says Lessius, speaking generally, 'is bound, either by the law of nature or by positive laws (that is, by any law), to make restitution of what has been gained by committing a criminal action, such as adultery, even though that action is contrary to justice.' For, as Escobar comments on this writer, 'though the property which a woman acquires by adultery is certainly gained in an illicit way, yet once acquired, the possession of it is lawful- quamvis mulier illicite acquisat, licite tamen retinet acquisita.' It is on this principle that the most celebrated of our writers have formally decided that the bribe received by a judge from one of the parties who has a bad case, in order to procure an unjust decision in his favour, the money got by a soldier for killing a man, or the emoluments gained by infamous crimes, may be legitimately retained. Escobar, who has collected this from a number of our authors, lays down this general rule on the point that 'the means acquired by infamous courses, such as murder, unjust decisions, profligacy, &c., are legitimately possessed, and none are obliged to restore them.' And, further, 'they may dispose of what they have received for homicide, profligacy, &c., as they please; for the possession is just, and they have acquired a propriety in the fruits of their iniquity.'"
"My dear father," cried I, "this is a mode of acquisition which I never heard of before; and I question much if the law will hold it good, or if it will consider assassination, injustice, and adultery, as giving valid titles to property."
"I do not know what your law-books may say on the point," returned the monk; "but I know well that our books, which are the genuine rules for conscience, bear me out in what I say. It is true they make one exception, in which restitution is positively enjoined; that is, in the case of any receiving money from those who have no right to dispose of their property such as minors and monks. 'Unless,' says the great Molina, 'a woman has received money from one who cannot dispose' of it, such as a monk or a minor- nisi mulier accepisset ab eo qui alienare non potest, ut a religioso et filio familias. In this case she must give back the money.' And so says Escobar."
"May it please your reverence," said I, "the monks, I see, are more highly favoured in this way than other people."
"By no means," he replied; "have they not done as much generally for all minors, in which class monks may be viewed as continuing all their lives? It is barely an act of justice to make them an exception; but with regard to all other people, there is no obligation whatever to refund to them the money received from them for a criminal action. For, as has been amply shown by Lessius, 'a wicked action may have its price fixed in money, by calculating the advantage received by the person who orders it to be done and the trouble taken by him who carries it into execution; on which account the latter is not bound to restore the money he got for the deed, whatever that may have been- homicide, injustice, or a foul act' (for such are the illustrations which he uniformly employs in this question); 'unless he obtained the money from those having no right to dispose of their property. You may object, perhaps, that he who has obtained money for a piece of wickedness is sinning and, therefore, ought neither to receive nor retain it. But I reply that, after the thing is done, there can be no sin either in giving or in receiving payment for it.' The great Filiutius enters still more minutely into details, remarking 'that a man is bound in conscience to vary his payments for actions of this sort, according to the different conditions of the individuals who commit them, and some may bring a higher price than others.' This he confirms by very solid arguments."
He then pointed out to me, in his authors, some things of this nature so indelicate that I should be ashamed to repeat them; and indeed the monk himself, who is a good man, would have been horrified at them himself, were it not for the profound respect which he entertains for his fathers, and which makes him receive with veneration everything that proceeds from them. Meanwhile, I held my tongue, not so much with the view of allowing him to enlarge on this matter as from pure astonishment at finding the books of men in holy orders stuffed with sentiments at once so horrible, so iniquitous, and so silly. He went on, therefore, without interruption in his discourse, concluding as follows:
"From these premisses, our illustrious Molina decides the following question (and after this, I think you will have got enough): 'If one has received money to perpetrate a wicked action, is he obliged to restore it? We must distinguish here,' says this great man; 'if he has not done the deed, he must give back the cash; if he has, he is under no such obligation!' Such are some of our principles touching restitution. You have got a great deal of instruction to-day; and I should like, now, to see what proficiency you have made. Come, then, answer me this question: 'Is a judge, who has received a sum of money from one of the parties before him, in order to pronounce a judgement in his favour, obliged to make restitution?'"
"You were just telling me a little ago, father, that he was not."
"I told you no such thing," replied the father; "did I express myself so generally? I told you he was not bound to make restitution, provided he succeeded in gaining the cause for the party who had the wrong side of the question. But if a man has justice on his side, would you have him to purchase the success of his cause, which is his legitimate right? You are very unconscionable. Justice, look you, is a debt which the judge owes, and therefore he cannot sell it; but he cannot be said to owe injustice, and therefore he may lawfully receive money for it. All our leading authors, accordingly, agree in teaching 'that though a judge is bound to restore the money he had received for doing an act of justice, unless it was given him out of mere generosity, he is not obliged to restore what he has received from a man in whose favour he has pronounced an unjust decision.'"
This preposterous decision fairly dumbfounded me, and, while I was musing on its pernicious tendencies, the monk had prepared another question for me. "Answer me again," said he, "with a little more circumspection. Tell me now, 'if a man who deals in divination is obliged to make restitution of the money he has acquired in the exercise of his art?'"
"Just as you please, your reverence," said I.
"Eh! what!- just as I please! Indeed, but you are a pretty scholar! It would seem, according to your way of talking, that the truth depended on our will and pleasure. I see that, in the present case, you would never find it out yourself: so I must send you to Sanchez for a solution of the problem- no less a man than Sanchez. In the first place, he makes a distinction between 'the case of the diviner who has recourse to astrology and other natural means, and that of another who employs the diabolical art. In the one case, he says, the diviner is bound to make restitution; in the other he is not.' Now, guess which of them is the party bound?"
"It is not difficult to find out that," said I.
"I see what you mean to say," he replied. "You think that he ought to make restitution in the case of his having employed the agency of demons. But you know nothing about it; it is just the reverse. 'If,' says Sanchez, 'the sorcerer has not taken care and pains to discover, by means of the devil, what he could not have known otherwise, he must make restitution- si nullam operam apposuit ut arte diaboli id sciret, but if he has been at that trouble, he is not obliged.'"
"And why so, father?"
"Don't you See?" returned he. "It is because men may truly divine by the aid of the devil, whereas astrology is a mere sham."
"But, sir, should the devil happen not to tell the truth (and he is not much more to be trusted than astrology), the magician must, I should think, for the same reason, be obliged to make restitution?"
"Not always," replied the monk: "Distinguo, as Sanchez says, here. If the magician be ignorant of the diabolic art- si sit artis diabolicae ignarus- he is bound to restore: but if he is an expert sorcerer, and has done all in his power to arrive at the truth, the obligation ceases; for the industry of such a magician may be estimated at a certain sum of money.'"
"There is some sense in that," I said; "for this is an excellent plan to induce sorcerers to aim at proficiency in their art, in the hope of making an honest livelihood, as you would say, by faithfully serving the public."
"You are making a jest of it, I suspect," said the father: "that is very wrong. If you were to talk in that way in places where you were not known, some people might take it amiss and charge you with turning sacred subjects into ridicule."
"That, father, is a charge from which I could very easily vindicate myself; for certain I am that whoever will be at the trouble to examine the true meaning of my words will find my object to be precisely the reverse; and perhaps, sir, before our conversations are ended, I may find an opportunity of making this very amply apparent."
"Ho, ho," cried the monk, "there is no laughing in your head now."
"I confess," said I, "that the suspicion that I intended to laugh at things sacred would be as painful for me to incur as it would be unjust in any to entertain it."
"I did not say it in earnest," returned the father; "but let us speak more seriously."
"I am quite disposed to do so, if you prefer it; that depends upon you, father. But I must say, that I have been astonished to see your friends carrying their attentions to all sorts and conditions of men so far as even to regulate the legitimate gains of sorcerers."
"One cannot write for too many people," said the monk, "nor be too minute in particularising cases, nor repeat the same things too often in different books. You may be convinced of this by the following anecdote, which is related by one of the gravest of our fathers, as you may well suppose, seeing he is our present Provincial- the reverend Father Cellot: 'We know a person,' says he, 'who was carrying a large sum of money' in his pocket to restore it, in obedience to the orders of his confessor, and who, stepping into a bookseller's shop by the way, inquired if there was anything new?- numquid novi?- when the bookseller showed him a book on moral theology, recently published; and turning over the leaves carelessly, and without reflection, he lighted upon a passage describing his own case, and saw that he was under no obligation to make restitution: upon which, relieved from the burden of his scruples, he returned home with a purse no less heavy, and a heart much lighter, than when he left it- abjecta scrupuli sarcina, retento auri pondere, levior domum repetiit.'
"Say, after hearing that, if it is useful or not to know our maxims? Will you laugh at them now? or rather, are you not prepared to join with Father Cellot in the pious reflection which he makes on the blessedness of that incident? 'Accidents of that kind,' he remarks, 'are, with God, the effect of his providence; with the guardian angel, the effect of his good guidance; with the individuals to whom they happen, the effect of their predestination. From all eternity, God decided that the golden chain of their salvation should depend on such and such an author, and not upon a hundred others who say the same thing, because they never happen to meet with them. Had that man not written, this man would not have been saved. All, therefore, who find fault with the multitude of our authors, we would beseech, in the bowels of Jesus Christ, to beware of envying others those books which the eternal election of God and the blood of Jesus Christ have purchased for them!' Such are the eloquent terms in which this learned man proves successfully the proposition which he had advanced, namely, 'How useful it must be to have a great many writers on moral theology- quam utile sit de theologia morali multos scribere!'"
"Father," said I, "I shall defer giving you my opinion of that passage to another opportunity; in the meantime, I shall only say that as your maxims are so useful, and as it is so important to publish them, you ought to continue to give me further instruction in them. For I can assure you that the person to whom I send them shows my letters to a great many people. Not that we intend to avail ourselves of them in our own case; but, indeed, we think it will be useful for the world to be informed about them."
"Very well," rejoined the monk, "you see I do not conceal them; and, in continuation, I am ready to furnish you, at our next interview, with an account of the comforts and indulgences which our fathers allow, with the view of rendering salvation easy, and devotion agreeable; so that, in addition to what you have hitherto learned as to particular conditions of men, you may learn what applies in general to all classes, and thus you will have gone through a complete course of instruction." So saying, the monk took his leave of me. I am, &c.
P.S. I have always forgot to tell you that there are different editions of Escobar. Should you think of purchasing him, I would advise you to choose the Lyons edition, having on the title page the device of a lamb lying on a book sealed with seven seals; or the Brussels edition of 1651. Both of these are better and larger than the previous editions published at Lyons in the years 1644 and 1646.
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