Casuistry is that branch of Christian morals which treats of cases conscientiae (cases of conscience); that is to say, of questions of conduct in which apparently conflicting duties seem at first to perplex and disturb the moral faculty, and make it necessary to trace, with a careful exclusion of everything but moral considerations, the consequences of the rules of morality (Whewell, History of Moral Ph;losophy, 24). Kant calls caspistry "the dialectics of conscience." In this sense the word might have a good meaning; but its ordinary use is to designate sophistical perversion or evasion of the moral law. Pope supplies examples of both shades of signification, as, first, in the good sense:
"Who shall decide when doctors disagree, And soundest casuists doubt, like you and me?"
Again, in the unfavorable sense:
"Morality by her false guardians drawn, Chicane in furs, and catsutisiry in lawn."
But the theory of "collision of duties," on which this so-called science of casuistry rests, is unsound. Duty is one, though there may be various ways of performing it, and with regard to these, instruction and guidance of course may be needed. What appears to be collision of duties is generally only a collision between duty and inclination. In true Christian ethics, principles of life are set forth, not rules for individual cases. There is nothing like casuistry in the moral teaching of Christ and his apostles. If the "eye be single, the whole body will be full of light;" and if the ultimate aim of man be to do the will of God, this aim, by the aid of the divine Spirit, will clear up all special perplexities as they arise. "When truth must be dealt out in drams or scruples, the health of the soul must be in a very feeble and crazy condition." Bishbop Heber tells us that when Owen was dean of Christ Church, a regular office for the satisfaction of doubtful consciences was held in Oxford, to which the students at last gave the name of "Scruple shop" (Heber's Works of Jeremy Taylor, 1:270). "The cure for diseased consciences is not to be found in a 'scruple shop,' but in the love and care of the great Physician. The law of love, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is a solvent of all subordinate moral questions in the practice of life. For the application of this law our reason must be constantly and carefully used" (Wesley, Works, 2:129).
2. Casuistry in the Church of Rome. — As the Roman doctrines of penance and absolution grew up in the Middle Age, casuistry grew up also, in the form of decisions on special cases of moral difficulty. "The schoolmen delighted in this species of intellectual labor. They transferred their zeal for the most fanciful and frivolous distinctions in what respected the doctrines of religion to its precepts; they anatomized the different virtues; nicely examined all the circumstances by which our estimate of them should be influenced; and they thus rendered the study of morality inextricable, confounded the natural notions of right and wrong, and so accustomed themselves and others to weigh their actions, that they could easily find some excuse for what was most culpable, while they continued under the impression that they were not deviating from what, as moral beings, was incumbent upon them" (Watson, Theol. Dictionary, s.v.). The works which contained collections of cases of conscience, and of which the title commonly was Summa Casuum Conscientice, or something resembling this, were compiled at first for the use of Roman confessors. It was requisite for them to knew, for instance, in what cases penance of a heavier or lighter kind was to be imposed; and what offenses must, for the time, exclude the offender from the communion. The first systematic work on casuistry was that of Raymond of Pennaforti, who published a Summa de Casibus Paenitentialibus, which came into very general use in the 13th century, largely followed by succeeding casuists. In the 14th and 15th centuries the number of such books increased very greatly. "These Summae were in common speech known by certain abbreviated names, borrowed from the name of the author or his birthplace. Thus there was the Astesana, which derived its name from its author, Astesanus, a Minorite of Asti, in Piedmont (Nuremburg, 1482); the Angelica, compiled by Angelus de Clavasio, a Genoese Minorite (Nuremb. 1492); the Pasana or Pisanella, which was also termed Bartholina or Magistruccia (Par. 1470); the Pacifica (Venice, 1574), the Rosella, the Sylvestrina." In these works the subjects were usually arranged alphabetically, and the decisions were given in the form of responses to questions proposed, the opinions being often quoted from or supported by the authority of the Scriptures, or the fathers, or schoolmen. There was no attempt to lay down general principles which might enable the inquirer to determine for himself the matter by which his conscience was disturbed. The lay disciple was supposed to be in entire dependence upon his spiritual teachers for the guidance of his conscience, or, rather, for the determination of the penance and mortification by which his sins were to be obliterated. Moreover, a very large proportion of the offenses which were pointed out in such works were transgressions of the observances required by the Church of those days, and referred to matters of which conscience could not take cognizance without a vary considerable amount of artificial training. Questions of rites and ceremonies were put upon an equal footing with the gravest questions of morals. The Church had given her decision respecting both; and the neglect or violation of her precepts, and of the interpretations of her doctors, could never, it was held, be other than sinful. Thus this body of casuistry was intimately connected with the authority and practices of the Church of Rome, End fell into disuse along with them (Whewell, l. c.).
After the Reformation, the vices of the casuistical system developed themselves in the Church of Rome more fully than ever before. The so- called Moral Theology really poisoned the very fountains of morality. SEE JESUITS; SEE PASCAL. The abbé Maynard published in 1851 a defense of the Jesuits and of their casuistry, under the title Les Provincials et leur refutation (2 vols. 8vo), which is ably reviewed in the Christian Remembrancer (July, 1852), from which we take the following passage: "The first source of the Jesuitical casuistry is to be sought in the inherited habits of thought which had been formed in the Middle-age schools. Conditions, restrictions, distinctions multiplied, of course; but so did the authorities and decisions, inventing doubts, extending liberty, and taking away scruples. Its next cause was the practical need of casuistry (under the Romish system) — the endeavor to fix what cannot be fixed — the limits, in every possible case, of mortal sin. Doubtless moral questions are very important and often very hard. But there are endless questions on which no answer can be given except a bad one — which cannot be answered in the shape proposed at all. We may think it very desirable to be able to state in the abstract, yet for practical use, the extreme cases, which excuse killing, or taking what is not our own; but if we cannot get beyond decisions which leave the door open for unquestionable murders or thefts, or shut it only by vague verbal restrictions, unexplained and inexplicable, about 'prudence,' and 'moderation,' and 'necessity,' and 'gravity of circumstances,' it is a practical illustration of the difficulty of casuistry, which seems to point out that, unless we can do better, we had best leave it alone. But these men were hard to daunt. They could not trust the consciences of mankind with principles of duty, but they could trust without a misgiving their own dialectic forms, as a calculus which nothing could resist. The consequence was twofold. Their method often did fail, and in the attempt to give exact formulae of right and wrong action, they proved unable to express the right without comprehending the wrong with it. From all evil designs the leaders, at any rate, may be safely absolved; though whether they did not lose their sense of the Peality of human action in the formal terms in which they contemplated it, may be a question. But, though the design of corrupting morality is one of the most improbable charges against any men, the effect may more easily follow, even where not intended. These casuists would not trust the individual conscience, and it had its revenge. They were driven onward till they had no choice left between talking nonsense, or what was worse. They would set conscience to rights in minutest detail, and so they had to take the responsibility of whatever could not be set to rights. Nature outwitted them; it gave up its liberty in the gross, and then forced them to surrender it again in detail. And thus, at length, under the treatment of compilers and abridgers, and under the influence of that idea of authority which deferred to opinions on the same rule as it deferred to testimony — exhibited in the coarsest brevity, and with the affectation of outbidding the boldest precedents — grew up that form of casuistry which is exhibited in the Escobars and Baunys; which, professing to be the indispensable aid to common sense, envelops it in a very Charybdis of discordant opinions; amid whose grotesque suppositions, and whimsical distinctions, and vague yet peremptory rules, bandied about between metaphysics and real life, the mind sinks into a hopeless confusion of moral ideas, and loses every clew to simple and straightforward action." The principal casuists of the Roman Church are Vasquez († 1604), Sanchez (†1610), Suarez († 1617), Laymann († 1635), Filliucius († 1622), Bauny († 1649), Escobar († 1669), Busenbaum († 1669). Most of these names are immortalized in Pascal's Provincial Letters (see also each name in its proper place in this Cyclopaedia). See also Migne, Dictionnaire de cas de Conscience (Paris, 1847, 2 vols. 4to). The books of so-called Moral Theology, in the Roman Catholic Church, are generally repertories of casuistry. The most important of them of late are Ligorio, Theologia Moralis (Paris, 1852, 6 vols. 12mo); Gury, Casus Conscientiae (Lyons, 1866, 2 vols. 8vo).
3. Protestant Casuistry. — The Reformation, of course brought the office of such casuistry to an end. "The decision of moral questions was left to each man's own conscience; and his responsibility as to his own moral and spiritual condition could no longer be transferred to others. For himself he must stand or fall. He might, indeed, aid himself by the best lights which the Church could supply — by the counsel of wiser and holier servants of God; and he was earnestly enjoined to seek counsel of God himself by hearty and humble prayer. But he could no longer lean the whole weight of his doubts and his sins upon his father confessor and his mother Church. He must ascertain for himself what is the true and perfect law of God. He could no longer derive hope or satisfaction from the collections of cases, in which the answer rested on the mere authority of men fallible and sinful like himself. Thus the casuistical works of the Romanists lost all weight, and almost all value, in the eyes of the Reformed churches. Indeed, they were looked upon, and justly, as among the glaring evidences of the perversions and human inventions by which the truth of God had been disfigured. But even after the sophistry and the moral perversion connected with casuistry were exploded, the form of that science was preserved, and many valuable moral principles in conformity to it delivered. The writers of the Reformed churches did not at first attempt to substitute anything in the place of the casuistical works of the Romish Church. Besides an aversion to the subject itself, which, as remarked above, they naturally felt, they were, for a considerable period after the Reformation, fully employed upon more urgent objects. If this had not been so, they could not have failed soon to perceive that, in reality, most persons do require some guidance for their consciences, and that rules and precepts, by which men may strengthen themselves against the temptations which cloud the judgment when it is brought into contact with special cases, are of great value to every body of moral and Christian men. But the circumstances of the times compelled them to give their energies mainly to controversies with the Romish and other adversaries, and to leave to each man's own thoughts the regulation of his conduct and feelings." — Whewell, History of Moral Philosophy in England (Lond. 1852, 1 vol. 8vo, p. 28 sq.).
In the writings of the early reformers (e.g. Melancthon and Calvin) there may be found moral directions approaching to casuistry. But the first regular treatise on casuistry in the Protestant Church was Perkins, The whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience, distinguished into three Books (Lond. 1602, 1606; also in his Works, vol. 2, Lond. 1617; in Latin, Hanov. 1603; and in Perkinsii Opera, Geneva, 1624). SEE PERKINS. He was followed by Henr. Alstedius (Reformed), Theologia Casuum, in 1621 (Hanover, 4to); F. Balduinus, Tract. de Casibus Conscientice (Vitemb. 1628, 4to; Lips. 1684, 4to); Amesius (Ames, q.v.), De Conscientia, ejus jure (t Casibus (Amst. 1630); Osiander, Theologia Casualis (Tubingen, 1680, 8vo). For other writers on casuistry in the Lutheran and Reformed churches, see Walch, Bibliotheca Theologica, vol. 2, cap. 6. In the Church of England we find bishop Hall, Resolutions and Decisions of divers practical Cases of Conscience (Lond. 1649, 8vo); bishop Sanderson, Nine Cases of Conscience (London, 1678, sm. 8vo); Jeremy Taylor, Ductor
Dubitantium, or Rule of Conscience (Works, Heber's edition, vols. 12-14). To casuistry belongs also Baxter's Christian Directory, a Sum of Practical Theology (fol. 1673; and in Baxter's Practical Works, vols. 2-6; transl. into German, Frarkf. 1693, 4to). Dickson, professor at Edinburgh, had previously published Therapeutica Sacra (Latin, 1656; English, 1695), a work which Baxter lauds highly. There is still at the University of Cambridge, England, a professorship of Moral Theology or Casuistical Divinity, which was held by the late Dr. Whewell. See Whewell, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (Lond. 1852, 8vo); Winer, Theolog. Literatur, vol. 1, § 13, d.; Herzog, Real-Encyklopädie, 2:607, 787; Orme, Life of Baxter, vol. 2, ch. 5; Hagenbach, Theolog. Encyklopädie, § 94; Stäudlin, Geschichte der theol. Wissenschaften, 1:342 sq.; Schweitzer, in Studien u. Kritiken, 1850, p. 554; Gass, in hgen's Zeitschrift, 12:152; Bickersteth. Christ. Student, p. 468.