|The Bear wagers you know Pascal.|
Blaise Pascal wrote against the casuistry of Jesuits in his Lettres Provinciales, particularly letter VI, from which the Bear shall quote below. There was hardly any sin which Jesuits might not excuse. Today, the word "casuistry" is only used in a negative connotation, as avoiding guilt through clever argumentation. The reality, though, has never been more alive.
Instead we use terms like "pastoral approach," or "mercy," or "gradualism."
Pascal turned the writings of the Jesuit casuists against them wittily, although in an admittedly polemical fashion. Here is how they introduce a new doctrine into the Church without doing anything officially, as explained by a Jesuit character:
Pay attention now, while I explain our method, and you will observe the progress of a new opinion, from its birth to its maturity. First, the grave doctor who invented it exhibits it to the world, casting it abroad like seed, that it may take root. In this state it is very feeble; it requires time gradually to ripen. This accounts for Diana, who has introduced a great many of these opinions, saying: ‘I advance this opinion; but as it is new, I give it time to come to maturity — relinquo tempori maturandum.’ Thus in a few years it becomes insensibly consolidated; and, after a considerable time, it is sanctioned by the tacit approbation of the Church, according to the grand maxim of Father Bauny, ‘that if an opinion has been advanced by some casuist, and has not been impugned by the Church, it is a sign that she approves of it.’Sound familiar? Recall that Pascal was writing in the 17th century! And what was the goal of the Jesuit casuists? Pascal places into the mouth of his Jesuit character a little speech that rings shockingly true today.
Men have arrived at such a pitch of corruption nowadays that, unable to make them come to us, we must e’en go to them, otherwise they would cast us off altogether; and, what is worse, they would become perfect castaways. It is to retain such characters as these that our casuists have taken under consideration the vices to which people of various conditions are most addicted, with the view of laying down maxims which, while they cannot be said to violate the truth, are so gentle that he must be a very impracticable subject indeed who is not pleased with them. The grand project of our Society, for the good of religion, is never to repulse any one, let him be what he may, and so avoid driving people to despair.When Pascal tries to interpose the laws of the Church as an objection, his imaginary Jesuit interlocutor is unruffled.
“True,” he replied; “but this shows you do not know another capital maxim of our fathers, ‘that the laws of the Church lose their authority when they have gone into desuetude — cum jam desuetudine abierunt — as Filiutius says. We know the present exigencies of the Church much better than the ancients could do.Even homosexuality was excused. When Pope Pius V's legislation against homosexual acts among clergy was brought up (without mentioning the sin itself) Pascal was invited to examine the Jesuits' written response. He writes: "I did so that very night; but it is so shockingly bad that I dare not transcribe it."
The Bear has written before of the importance of the concept of "desuetude." Notice how former dogmas are merely silently abandoned when they become inconvenient?
The historical memory is an important thing. As Jeremiah 13:23 reminds us, the leopard does not change its spots.
The Church is merciful to the repentant. How much more merciful could she be than to forgive every sin, no matter how horrible, to those who confess them sincerely?
But we are worse off with our present-day casuists than was the Church in Pascal's day. Today sinners don't want forgiveness. They feel entitled to denial of the sin and themselves to be granted vindication and acceptance. The casuists of our day seem more than happy to comply.
Even Francisco Suarez would probably be scratching his head at that.