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Presumption

Presumption

(Lat. praesumere, "to take before", "to take for granted").

Presumption is here considered as a vice opposed to the theological virtue of hope. It may also be regarded as a product of pride. It may be defined as the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God's mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them. Presumption is said to offend against hope by excess, as despair by defect. It will be obvious, however, to one who ponders what is meant by hope, that this statement is not exact. There is only a certain analogy which justifies it. As a matter of fact we could not hope too much, assuming that it is really the supernatural habit which is in question.

Suarez ("De spe", disp. 2a, sect. 3, n. 2) enumerates five ways in which one may be guilty of presumption, as follows:

  1. by hoping to obtain by one's natural powers, unaided, what is definitely supernatural, viz. eternal bliss or the recovery of God's friendship after grievous sin (this would involve a Pelagian frame of mind);
  2. a person might look to have his sins forgiven without adequate penance (this, likewise, if it were based on a seriously entertained conviction, would seem to carry with it the taint of heresy);
  3. a man might expect some special assistance from Almighty God for the perpetration of crime (this would be blasphemous as well as presumptuous);
  4. one might aspire to certain extraordinary supernatural excellencies, but without any conformity to the determinations of God's providence. Thus one might aspire to equal in blessedness the Mother of God;
  5. finally, there is the transgression of those who, whilst they continue to lead a life of sin, are as confident of a happy issue as if they had not lost their baptismal innocence.

The root-malice of presumption is that it denies the supernatural order, as in the first instance, or travesties the conception of the Divine attributes, as in the others. Theologians draw a sharp distinction between the attitude of one who goes on in a vicious career, precisely because he counts upon pardon, and one whose persistence in wrongdoing is accompanied, but not motivated, by the hope of forgiveness. The first they impeach as presumption of a very heinous kind; the other is not such specifically. In practice it happens for the most part that the expectation of ultimate reconciliation with God is not the cause, but only the occasion, of a person's continuing in sinful indulgence. Thus the particular guilt of presumption is not contracted.

SLATER, Manual of Moral Theology (New York, 1908); RICKABY, Moral Teaching of St. Thomas (London, 1896); ST. THOMAS, Summa (Turin, 1885); BALLERINI, Opus Theol. Morale (Prato, 1899).

JOSEPH F. DELANY

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Presumption

Presumption

(IN CANON LAW)

A term signifying a reasonable conjecture concerning something doubtful, drawn from arguments and appearances, which by the force of circumstances can be accepted as a proof. It is on this presumption our common adage is based: "Possession is nine points of the law". Presumption has its place in canon law only when positive proofs are wanting, and yet the formulation of some judgment is necessary. It is never in itself an absolute proof, as it only presumes that something is true. Canonists divide presumption into;

  • (1) presumption of law (juris), or that which is deduced from some legal precept or authority expressed in law or based upon precedents or similarities, and
  • (2) presumption of a judge or man (judicis or hominis), when the law is silent on the subject and an opinion must be formed according to the way that circumstances and indications would affect a prudent man or judge.

There are several sub-varieties of presumption of law. Thus, it is called presumption of law alone (juris tantum) when a thing is judged to be so until the contrary is proved. Hence the legal formulæ: "Everyone is presumed innocent until his guilt is proved"; "Once bad always bad" (i. e. in the same species of ill-doing, if amendment is not certain); "What is known in a remote place is known in a neighbouring place", and others similar. It is denominated presumption juris et de jure, when the law so strongly supports the presumption that it is held to be certain in judicial proceedings. Against such a presumption no proofs are admitted except the evident truth. Thus, goods described in the inventory made by a guardian are presumed to belong to the possessions of the deceased, nor would the later testimony of the guardian himself to the contrary ordinarily be admitted. As to the presumption judicis or Hominis, it is called (a) vehement, when the probability is very strongly supported by most urgent conjectures. Thus, a birth would be held illegitimate, which took place eleven months after a husband's decease. A vehement presumption is considered equivalent to a full proof in civil causes of not too great importance. As to whether it should have sufficient effect in criminal causes to produce the condemnation of an accused person, canonists do not agree. It is termed (b) probable, when it arises from less urgent and only less probable conjectures and indications. Such presumption is looked on as merely a semi-proof, unless it be sustained by public rumour, in which case it is held as sufficient proof. Finally, it is denominated (c) rash, or temerarious, if it rests on insufficient conjectures or scarcely probable arguments. Such presumption is to be entirely rejected as a proof.

The foundation of these legal presumptions is to be sought in the natural conclusions drawn from the ordinary happenings of common life and the consideration of the motives that usually sway men in given circumstances. The general rules are thus formulated: "What is natural is presumed to be in the person or case in question"; "Change is not to be presumed"; "Presumption is to be formed from the favourable side". As to effects, when there is question of presumption juris, it abstracts from the necessity of proof; not so presumption hominis. A judge can follow the first in civil cases even when doubt remains, not so the second. The former places the burden of proof on the adversary, but the latter does not. Finally, the first is considered of itself equivalent to proof, while the second needs corroboration from something extraneous to itself.

TAUNTON, The Law of the Church (New York, 1906), s. v. Presumption; FERRARIS, Bibliotheca canonica, VI (Rome, 1890), s. v. Prœsumptio.

WILLIAM H. W. FANNING.

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