When the secret intention wilfully disagrees with the spoken promise, we call that sort of dishonesty, an equivocation, or mental reservation. To purposely mislead by one's deceitful statement is to equivocate; to withhold one's inner consent from what he outwardly says is a mental reservation, a disagreement between a person's purpose and pledge. Such a difference between the will and the word, an unspoken qualification partially or wholly altering a statement so as to lead the hearer astray is mental reservation.
For the causes and reasons behind such deceptive actions there is much scope for speculation. A doctor may temper an explanation of the facts according to his knowledge of the hearer's ability to listen helpfully. In the face of danger, fear suggests dodging. The historian James A. Froude tells in the Divorce of Catherine (page 326), that:
The Abbots and Priors had sworn to the Supremacy (of King over Pope), but had sworn reluctantly, with secret reservations to save their consciences.
Here is the report, as Froude gas it, of a case where allegiance to a foreign power was mentally approved but openly denied. The moral danger of the practice is evident and Blaise Pascal in his Provincial Letters has exposed its possibilities with wit and vigor in discussing the Jesuits within his Church. In the ninth letter, July 3, 1656, we find the following dialogue beginning with the explanation by a monk of the Jesuitical use of equivocations, words and sentences of intentional deceitfulness and then passing to the use of mental reservations:
"I would now say a little about the facilities we have invented for avoiding sin in worldly conversations and intrigues. One of the most embarrassing of these cases is how to avoid telling lies, particularly when one is anxious to induce a belief in what is false. In such cases, our doctrine of equivocations has been found of admirable service, according to which, as Sanchez has it, ' it is permitted to use ambiguous terms, leading people to understand them in another sense from that in which we understand them ourselves."'
"I know that already father," said I.
" We have published it so often," continued he, " that at length, it seems, everybody knows of it. But do you know what is to be done when no equivocal words can be got? "
"I thought as much," said the Jesuit; "this is some thing new, sir: I mean the doctrine of mental reservations. 'it man may swear.' as Sanchez says in the same place. ' that he never did such a thing (though he actually did it). cleaning within himself that he did not do so on a certain dale or before he was born, or understanding any other such circumstance, While the words which he employs have no such sense as would discover his meaning. And this is very convenient in many cases, and quite innocent, when necessary or conducive to one's health, honor, or advantage.' "
" Indeed, father! is that not a lie, and perjury to boot?"
"No," said the father; "Sanchez and Filiutius prove that it is not: for, says the latter, 'it is the intention that determines the quality of the action.' And he suggests a still surer method for avoiding falsehood, which is this:
After saving aloud I swear that I hare not done that, to add, in a low voice today; or after saying aloud, I swear, to interpose in a whisper, that I say, and then continue aloud, that I have done that. This, thou perceive, is telling the truth." "I grant it," said I, "it might possibly, however, he found to be telling the truth in a low key, and falsehood in a loud one, besides, I should be afraid that many people might not have sufficient presence of mind to avail themselves of these methods.'
' Our doctors," replied the Jesuit, "have taught, in the same passage, for the benefit of such as might not be expert in the use of these reservations, that no more is required of them, to avoid lying. than simply to say that they have not done what these have done, provided 'they have, in general, the intention of giving to their language the sense which an able man would give to it.' Be candid. now, and confess if you have not often felt yourself embarrassed, in consequence of not knowing this""
' Sometimes," said l.
"And will you not also acknowledge," continued he, "that it would often prove very convenient to be absolved in conscience from keeping certain engagements one may have made? "
"The most convenient thing in the world!" I replied " Listen, then, to the general rule laid down by Escobar:
'Promises are not binding, when the person in making them had no intention to bind himself. Now, it seldom happens that any have such an intention, unless when they confirm their promises by an oath or contract; so that when one simply says, I will do it, he means that he will do it if he does not change his mind: for he does not mish. by saving that. to deprive himself of his liberty He gives other rules in the same strain, which you may consult for yourself, and tells us, in conclusion, 'that all this is taken from Molina and our other authors, and is therefore settled beyond all doubt ""
"My dear father," I observed, "I had no idea that the direction of the intention possessed the power of rendering promises null and void."
' You must perceive," returned he, " what facility this affords for prosecuting the business of life." Needless to say that the attempt to involve the subject in a fog of difficulties by supposing extreme cases where equivocation and mental reservation may be believed necessary, as to save life, for example, is not to deal with the matter squarely. As the Scriptures say, "Let your yea be yea; and your nay nay" (James v, 12), remembering an example of such sincerity as that of Paul who wrote in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (I, 18), "But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay," not two mutually destroying statements meaning naught in truth, but a straightforward affirmation, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (see Equivocation).
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