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The positive Laws of Jesus Christ cannot be dispensed with
by any human Power. 1. I HAVE already in this book 1 given account of the indispensability of the natural laws, which are the main constituent parts of the evangelical ; but there are some positive laws whose reason is not natural nor eternal, which yet Christ hath superinduced; concerning which there is great question made whetlier they be dispensable by human power. Now concerning these I say, that all laws given by Christ are now made for ever to be obligatory, and he is the King of heaven and earth, the head and prince of the catholic church, and therefore hath supreme power; and he is the ” wonderful Counsellor, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” and his wisdom is supreme, he is the wisdom of the Father, and therefore he hath made his laws so wisely, so agreeably to the powers and accidents of mankind, that they can be observed by all men and all ways, where he hath passed an obligation. Now because every dispensation of laws must needs suppose an infirmity or imperfection in the law, or an infirmity in the man, that is, that either the law did infer inconvenience which was not foreseen, or was unavoidable; or else the law meets with’ the changes of mankind with which it is not made in the sanction to comply, and therefore must be forced to yield to the needs of the man, and stand aside till that necessity be passed: it follows that in the laws of the holy Jesus there is no dispensation; because there is in the law no infirmity, and no incapacity in the man: for every man can always obey all that which Christ commanded and exacted : I mean, he hath no natural impotency to do any act that Christ hath required, and he can never be hindered from doing of his duty.
2. (1.) And this appears in this; because God hath appointed a harbour whither every vessel can put in, when he meets with storms and contrary winds abroad : and when we are commanded by a persecutor not to obey God, we cannot be forced to comply with the evil man; for we an be secure against him by suffering what he pleases, and therefore dis
bi Clap. 1. rule 10.
obedience to a law of Christ cannot be made necessary by any external violence: I mean, every internal act is not in itself impedible by outward violence: and the external act which is made necessary, can be secured by a resolution to obey God rather than men.
3. (2.) But there are some external actions and instances of a commandment, which may, accidentally, become impossible by subtraction of the material part; so for want of water a child cannot be baptized ; for want of wine or bread we cannot communicate ; which indeed is true ; but do not infer, that therefore there is a power of dispensing left in any man or company of men; because in such cases there is no law, and therefore no need of dispensation; for affirmative precepts, in which only there can be an external impediment, do not oblige but in their proper circumstances and possibilities : and thus it is even in human laws. No law obliges beyond our power; and although it be necessary sometimes to get a dispensation even in such cases, to rescue ourselves from the malice or the carelessness, the ignorance or the contrary interests, of the ministers of justice, who go by the words of the law, and are not competent or not instructed judges in the matter of necessity or excuse, yet there is no such need in the laws of God. For God is always just and always wise, he knows when we can and when we cannot ; and therefore as he cannot be deceived by ignorance, so neither can he oppress any man by injustice, and we need not have leave to let a thing alone, which we cannot do if we would never so fain; and if we cannot obey, we need not require of God a warrant under his hand, or an act of indemnity, for which his justice and his goodness, his wisdom and his very nature, are infinite security: and therefore it cannot be necessary to the church, that a power of dispensing should be intrusted to men, in such cases where we cannot suppose the law of God to bind. That is our best security, that we need no dispensation.
4. (3.) In external actions and instances of virtue, or of obedience to a commandment of Jesus Christ, wherever there can be a hinderance, if the obligation does remain, the instance that is hindered, can be supplied with another of the same kind. Thus relieving the poor hungry man, can be hindered by my own poverty and present need, but I can visit him that is sick, though I cannot feed the hungry, or I
can give him bread when I cannot give him a cloak; and therefore there can need no dispensation when the commandment, if it be hindered in one instance, can as perfectly, and to all the intentions of our lawgiver, be performed in another.
5. (4.) In external actions which can be hindered and which cannot be supplied by the variety of the instances in the same kind, yet if the obligation remains, they may be supplied with the internal act, and with the spiritual. Thus, if we cannot receive actual baptism, the desire of it is accepted; and he that communicates spiritually, that is, by faith and charity, by inward devotion and hearty desire, is not guilty of the breach of the commandment, if he does not communicate sacramentally, being unavoidably and inculpably hindered. For whatsoever is not in our power, cannot be under a law, and where we do not consent to the breach of a commandment, we cannot be exposed to the punishment. This is the voice of all the world, and this is natural reason, and the ground of justice, without which there can be no government but what is tyrannical and unreasonable. These things being notorious and confessed, the consequents are these:
6. (1.) That there is no necessity that a power of dispensing in the positive laws of Christ should be intrusted to any man, or to any society. Because the law needs it not, and the subjects need it not: and he that dispenses, must either do it when there is cause, or when there is none. If he dispenses when there is no cause, he makes himself superior to the power of God by exercising dominion over his laws: if he dispenses when there is cause, he dispenses when there is no need. For if the subject can obey, he must obey, and man cannot untie what God hath bound: but if he cannot obey, he is not bound, and therefore needs not to be untied: he may as well go about to unbend a straight line, or to number that which is not, as to dispense in a law, to which in such cases God exacts no obedience.
7. Panormitan i affirms that “ the Pope hath power to dispense in all the laws of God, except in the articles of faith;" and to this purpose he cites Innocentius“ in cap. Cum ad Monasterium, de Statu Monachorum." Felinus affirms that
i Cap. Proposuit. de Concess. Præpend. n. 20.
In cap. Quæ in Ecclos. Inconst. n. 19, 20.
" the Pope can change the form of baptism, and that he can with one word, and without all solemnity, consecrate a priest, and that he can by his word alone make a bishop:” and though these pretences are insolent and strange, yet in fact he does as much as this comes to : for the Pope gives leave sometimes to a mere priest to give confirmation, which by divine right is only belonging to bishops by their own confession. That the blessed eucharist is to be consecrated in both kinds is certainly of divine right ; and so confessed by the church of Rome : but the Pope hath actually dispensed in this article and given leave to some to consecrate in bread only, and particularly to the Norwegians a dispensation was given by Innocent VIII. as I have already noted out of Volaterranus.
8. There are some learned men amongst them who speak in this question with less scandal, but almost with the same intentions and effects. Some of their divines,-particularly the bishop of the Canaries says that “ the Pope hath not power to dispense in the whole, or in all the laws of God, but in some only;" namely, where the observation of the law is 'impeditiva majoris boni,'• a hinderance or obstruction to a greater spiritual good;'as it may happen in oaths and vows:”— and (Sanchez adds) in the consecration of the blessed sacrament in both kinds : in these, say they, the Pope can dispense; but where the observation of the laws in the particular brings no evil or inconvenience, and does never hinder a greater good, there the laws are indispensable; such as are 'confessions, baptism, using a set form of words in the ministration of the sacraments.' So that the meaning is, the Pope never wants a power to do it, if there be not wanting an excuse to colour it; and then, in effect, the divines agree with the lawyers; for since the power of dispensing is given in words indefinite and without specification of particulars, if it be given at all; the authority must be unlimited as to the person, and can be limited only by the incapacity of the matter ; and if there could be any inconvenience in any law, there might be a dispensation in it: so that the divines and the lawyers differ only in the instances; which if we should consider, or if any great interest could be served by any, there can be no doubt but it would be found a sufficient
i Canns Relect. de Pænitent. p. 5. ad finem.
cause of dispensation. So that this is but to cozen mankind with a distinction to no purpose; and to affirm that the Pope cannot dispense in such things which yield no man any good or profit: such as is the using a set form of words in baptişm, or the like ; and they may at an easy rate pretend the Pope's power to be limited, when they only restrain him from violating a divine law, when either the observation of it is for his own advantage, as in confession (meaning to a priest), or when it serves the interest of no man to have it changed, as in the forms of sacraments.
9. But then, that I may speak to the other part; to say that the Pope may dispense in a divine law, when the particular observation does hinder a greater spiritual good, and that this is a sufficient cause,' is a proposition in all things false, and, in some cases, even in those where they instance, very dangerous. It is false, because if a man can by his own act be obliged to do a thing which yet is impeditive of a greater temporal good, then God can by his law oblige his obedience, though accidentally it hinder a greater spiritual good. Now if a man have promised, he must“ keep it though it were to his own hinderance,” said David m; and a man may. not break his oath, though the keeping of it hinder him from any spiritual comforts and advantages ; nay, a man may neglect a spiritual advantage for a temporal necessity; and in the Bohemian wars, the king had better been at the head of his troops, than at a sermon, when Prague was taken.
But I consider (for that is also very material) that it is dangerous. For when men, to justify a pretence, or verify an. action, or to usurp a power, shall pretend that there is on the other side a greater spiritual good, they may very easily, deceive others, because either voluntarily or involuntarily they deceive themselves; for when God hath given a commandment, who can say that to let it alone can do no more good to a man's soul than to keep it? I instance in a particular which is of great interest with them. If a man have vowed to a woman to marry her, and contracted himself to her ' per verba de præsenti;' she, according to her duty, loves him passionately, hath married her very soul to him, and her heart is bound up in his : but he changes his mind, and enters into religion ;. but stops at the very gate, and asks who shall warrant him
m Psal. xv.