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De Moor on God's Essential Vindicatory Righteousness: The Testimony of Conscience

So stands the second Argument: the Third follows close behind, which will be no less suitable for the confirmation of our assertion. Namely, that our thesis is confirmed by the Testimony of the Conscience of all men and the unanimous Consent of Nations. More specifically, as the mind righly delights in deeds, and, when one has properly performed his duty, the soul is imbued with a pleasing tranquility, with whatever more pleasant pleasure; so, contrariwise, after the perpetration of an evil deed, the mind, conscious of the fact, trembles and is torn with frightful torments. That happens, not only in the matter of crimes committed openly because of fear of a human Judge, who might exact vengeance; but in the case of those that were perpetrated secretly and with no witnesses, and so all are hidden; in this case truly Conscience is a thousand witnesses! according to the expression of QUINTILIAN:[1] even indeed in the case of those men that acknowledge no superior on earth, and to whom it is accordingly allowed by other men to sin with impunity. Whence then in similar cases is this terror of mind and this secret stroke of Conscience? is it that men fear for themselves from themselves? But love of self, if one have nothing else to fear, keeps everyone possessing sound reason from laying hands upon himself? Is it that they fear others? But they either are ignorant, and hence are not able to investigate the crime: or they are inferior, and are accordingly destitute of the power of punishing the offender. What remains? Except that those horrors of mind derive from that Divine Righteousness of Judgment, Natural in such a way that Judge that He impresses the knowledge of it upon the souls of all men; so that at this point Conscience might act as His Vicar, and this also might be the Judge and Avenger on earth of men of profligate wickedness, and who in other respects desire to shake off all reverence for Deity. Indeed, it is ἀδύνατον/impossible to derive the fear of punishment from any other source, which fear has such deep roots in the souls of all that it is not able to be expelled from the soul in any way. And indeed, everyone by daily use has experience of this truth to such an extent that even from this it is able to established more than sufficiently; but in addition full of testimonies, in which this forum of Conscience is alleged, are all books, full are the words of the wise, to such an extent that it would hardly be necessary to invoke the full antiquity of the example for assistance. Great is the force of Conscience, thus speaks CICERO in pro Milone, chapter XXIII, O Judges, and great upon both sides, that they that commit nothing do not fear, and those that sin think that punishment is ever before their eyes. Upon which passage see the excellent Comment of ABRAM,[2] citing also another passage of CICERO, book I de Legibus, chapter XIV, in which he writes of the wicked: They suffer punishments, not so much by judgments (which formerly were nowhere to be found, and today there are none in a great many places; yet where they are, they are quite often false), as that the furies agitate and pursue them, not with burning torches as in the fables, but by anxiety of conscience and torment of guilt. Add OVID, book I Fastorum, verses 485, 486.

As each man’s conscience is, so doth it, for his deeds,

conceive within his breast either hope or fear.

And also JUVENAL,[3] Satire XIII, verses 192-198.

…but why shouldest thou suppose them

to escape, whom the mind, conscious of the evil deed,

holdest thurder-struck, and lashest with unheard blows,

his own soul as torturer shaking the unseen whip?

Now, it is a grievous punishment, and much more cruel than

any devised by the stern Cædicius or by Rhadamanthus,[4]

to carry in one’s breast night and day one’s own accusing witness.

PLUTARCH, de sera Numinis Vindicta, hence compares a wicked man to a fish that has bitten a hook, even if it be not yet roasted or divided by cooks, subjoining on page 554 of the Royal edition, Ἔχεται γὰρ ἕκαστος ἀδικήσας τῇ δίκῃ, καὶ τὸ γλυκὺ ἀδικίας ὥσπερ δέλεαρ εὐθὺς ἐξεδήδοκε· τὸ δὲ συνειδὸς ἐγκείμενον ἔχων καὶ ἀποσίνων, Θύννος βολαῖος πέλαγος ὡς διαστροβεῖ, for as soon as one has acted wickedly, he is now bound to punishment, and, with the sweetness of the disgraceful act devoured on the spot like food, having conscience pressing and buffeting within, is agitated as the sea is agitated by the impetus of tunafish. And just how great is the force of this sort of disturbed Conscience, one may see in the notable example of Nero; who, although he was not expecting punishment to be inflicted by men for the murder of his mother, yet was vexed beyond measure by his Conscience on account of the crime, as it is read in SUETONIUS’[5] Vita of Nero, chapter XXXIV, Yet he was not able, either then or ever afterwards, to bear his Conscience on account of the crime, although he was supported by the congratulations of the soldiers, senate, and people; for he often confessed that he was hounded by an apparition of his mother and by the whips and blazing torches of the Furies: Indeed, he even, with rites performed by the Magi, attempted to summon her ghost and entreat it for forgiveness. Crellius himself shall here serve the confirmation of our opinion, when he writes in his libro de Attributis Dei, chapter XXIII, Certainly Conscience itself renders every man guilty; and at the same time it acknowledges sin, especially grievous sin, arraigns it before its own tribunal, and judges it to be desering of punishment.

[1] Institutio Oratioria, book V, chapter 11. Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (42-c. 122) was a Roman rhetorician.

[2] Nicholas Abram (1589-1655) was a French Jesuit theologian and classical scholar.

[3] Decimus Junius Juvenalis was a Roman poet, flourishing at the turn of the second century.

[4] In Greek mythology, Rhadamanthus was a Cretan king, of such inflexible integrity that he was made one of the judges of the dead in the underworld.

[5] Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 75- c. 130) was a Roman historian.

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