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Hermann Busembaum

Hermann Busembaum

Moral theologian, born at Notteln, Westphalia, 1600; died at Münster, 31 January, 1668. He entered the Society of Jesus in his nineteenth year. After completing his studies, he taught the classics, philosophy, and moral and dogmatic theology, in various houses of the order. He was rector of the colleges of Hildesheim and Münster, socius to the provincial, and again rector at Münster when he died. His prudence, keenness of intellect, firmness of will, large-heartedness and tack combined to form a rare character. These natural gifts were heightened by a singular innocence of life and constant communion with God. Hence we are not surprised to learn that he was eminently successful as a director of souls. He was chosen by Christoph Bernard von Galen, the Prince-Bishop of Münster, as his confessor, and became his most trusted advisor; and much of the growth and enduring spiritual activity of that diocese is due to these two men. Towards the end of his life Busembaum was attacked by a lingering and extremely painful sickness. He died peacefully and with sentiments of great piety. He was a holy man; but it was as a great theologian that he is especially remembered. In 1645 as Southwell says, or according to De Backer in 1650, appeared his principal work: Medulla theologiæ moralis facili ac perspicua methodo resolvens causa conscientiæ ex variis probatisque auctoribus concinnata. This work is a classic; its conciseness, clearness, method, depth, vastness of theological lore comprised into so small a volume, sanity of judgment, and practical utility proclaimed its author to be a man gifted in a superlative degree with the moral instinct and the powers of a great teacher. Busembaum's name became in a short while one of the important ones in moral theology. In his preface to the first edition, he acknowledges his indebtedness to two Jesuits, Hermann Nünning and Friedrich Spe, whose manuscripts he had before him while composing his own work, and he claims for them a share in whatever good his "Medulla" was to effect. The author lived to see the fortieth edition of his little book. Up to the year 1845 over two hundred editions had appeared, which gives us an average of more than one edition for every year of its existence. The book was printed in all the great centres of the Catholic world, Münster, Cologne, Frankfort, Ingolstadt, Lisbon, Lyon, Venice, Padua, and Rome; it was used as a textbook in numberless seminaries for over two centuries. This success was certainly phenomenal. Nor was Busembaum less fortunate in his commentators. Three of the greatest moralists of their respective periods, La Croix, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, and, in our own days, Ballerini, took the "Medulla" as their text and commented on it in their masterly volumes. St. Alphonsus wished to put into the hands of the students of his congregation the book that would help them most to master in a limited time and with order the difficult science of moral theology. During several years, he had read very many authors, but his choice finally fell on Busembaum.

The foregoing statements give full assurance of Busembaum's orthodoxy and authority. For it is incredible that the Church would have tolerated in the schools in which her future priests were being trained for the sacred ministry a book that taught a morality which was not her own. The attacks made on Busembaum have been singularly futile. He was accused of teaching doctrine that was subversive of authority and of the security of kings. This charge was founded on the following proposition:

Ad defensionem vitæ et integretatis membrorum licet filio et religioso et subdito se tueri, si opus sit, cum occisione, contra ipsum parentem, abbatem, principem, nisi forte propter mortem hujus secutura essent nimis magna incommoda, ut bella. (Lib. III, Pt. I, tr. iv, dub. 3, "De homocidio")

Busembaum lays down this principle: according to natural law it is permitted to repel by force an unjust aggressor, and if it be necessary for the saving of one's life, to kill him. In such cases, however, the person attacked should have the intention of defending himself and should not inflict greater harm or use more force than is necessary for self-defense. Then according to his method, Busembaum applies the principle to various cases; and among them is the one to which the adversaries object. So that the proposition that caused the trouble is merely an application of a principle of the natural law to an individual case. This proposition is taken almost verbatim from St. Antoninus. It is essentially the same as the doctrine of St. Thomas, who says:

And therefore as it is permitted to resist robbers so also it is permitted to resist evil rulers in similar circumstances, unless perchance to avoid scandal, should it be feared that any serious disturbance might result. (II-II:69:4)

St. Alphonsus refers to this proposition of Busembaum in a letter to his editor, Redmondini, 10 March, 1758, and remarks "the proposition is not at all condemnable." The truth of the matter is that our author is here following in the footsteps of very eminent theologians, and the doctrine is not singular. Another objection is that Busembaum defends the principle, the end sanctions the means; the sense of the objection being that when the end is lawful, means in themselves unlawful are justified; that is, if the end is good, one may do something that is against the natural law to attain that end. Now the truth is that Busembaum teaches the opposite: Præceptum naturale negativum, prohibens rem intrinsece malum no licet violare ne quid ob metum mortis. (A negative precept of natural law which prohibits a thing intrinsically evil can never be lawfully transgressed not even under the influence of the fear of death, Lib. I, tr. ii, c. iv, dub. 2, n. 1) So that it is not lawful to do a thinG which is wrong in itself, even to escape death. The incriminated passage occurs under the question which Busembaum puts: Quid liceat reo circa fugam poenæ (Lib. IV, c. iii, d. 7, a. 2). He answers:

It is lawful for the accused even when really guilty to escape before and after the sentence of death or of some punishment equal to death, v.g. life imprisonment, has been passed. The reason is because man's right to the preservation of his life is so great that no human power can oblige him not to preserve it, if there be well-grounded hope of his doing so; unless indeed the public weal demand otherwise. Hence the accused may escape. . .unless indeed charity urge him not to do so, when the harm to the guards is greater than that which would come to himself. 1) Much more so may he flee so as not to be captured. . .but he must use no violence by wounding or striking the ministers of justice. 2) He may also, at least before the tribunal of conscience, deceive the guards--excluding violence and injury--by giving them for instance food or drink to induce sleep, or by bringing it about that they will be absent; he may snap his chains, or break open the prison; because when the end is lawful, the means are also lawful.

Here therefore we have the explicit exclusion of unlawful means, and the sense of the phrase is only this: when the end is lawful, then is the use of means in themselves indifferent, i. e., not unlawful, permitted. We must here remark that there is in the "Medulla" a very small number of solutions taken from and defended by other authors, which were afterward rejected by Alexander VII and Innocent XI. But these solutions are not peculiar to Busembaum. nor should we be surprised that an author who solves almost numberless practical cases should err at times in his application of laws and principles to particular, intricate instances. The real wonder is that the mistaken applications of Busembaum's great work are so very few.

Hurter, Nomenclatur, II, 259; Thoelen, Menologium, (Roermond, 1901), 73; Sommervogel, Bibl. de la c. de J. (Paris, 1891), II, 445; Fritz in Kirchenlex. s. v. Busembaum; Duhr, Jesuitenfabeln (Freiburg im Br., 1899), 432, 524; Reichmann, Der Zweck heiligt die Mittel (Freiburg im Br., 1903), 13, 22, 121; Letters of St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri (New York, 1896), Pt. II, Special Correspondence, I, let. xxxvi.


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