« Castor, Saint Casuistry Casus Reservati ('Reserved Cases') »


CASUISTRY: The name of a special form of discipline, or branch of ethics, constituting a somewhat elaborated scheme of doctrine concerning proper moral action in single and concrete instances. The evaluation of this kind of activity evolves itself generally as consequence of a lawful and rightful apprehension of the moral walk, whereby we accentuate external conduct according to definite prescriptive rules. Coordinately with a fundamental moral cede for this action, certain ethical norms with legal adjuncts were in practical operation so far back as the Jewish "scribes and Pharisees."

Teaching of Jesus and Paul.

Jesus came forward in sharpest contrast with this casuistical doctrine of morals. As he suffered his disciples to become derivately participant of his integral community with God, he kindled in them a love to God, which was to verify itself in love to men. To this love he brought back the conception of the Law fulfilled; and accordingly he teaches in the place of casuistry a direction of life spontaneously individual. Even where he appears himself to set up casuistical requirements (Matt. v. 21 sqq., vi. 1 sqq., xxii. 17 sqq.; Luke xiv. 3 sqq.) it is always expressly in order to lay emphasis upon the spiritual interpretation of the Law, over against legalizing constructiveness. These thoughts were but dialectically expanded through Paul's epistles, inasmuch as he teaches that faith in God's grace in Christ has its operation in the love which fulfils the requirements of God's will in agreement with the spirit of the Law. Yet he knew that even though faith and love be present, still the certainty is not immediately vouchsafed as to what is right in this or that particular instance (Rom. xii. 2; Phil. i. 9, 10). He, therefore, dwells on a persistently proving examination of God's will, and gives corresponding instructions to his own congregations; which instructions now and then through their touching upon particular conditions have a certain casuistic stamp about them (cf. I Cor. vii. 8, 10); but, in distinction from every form of casuistic legalism by means of morally postulated direction, they seek to develop the proper moral consciousness of the congregations themselves.

Development of Casuistry.

But even early in the postapostolic age, the tendency set in, coordinately with a one-sided intellectualizing conception of the faith, to regulate by outward legalism the moral life as thus robbed of its religious mainspring; and the same tendency involved the casuistical treatment of ethics. Still further was this disposition fostered in Western theology through the influence of Stoicism, and in part through the legalizing development of ecclesiastical doctrine. It shows itself even in Augustine, despite his obliteration of ethics, and continued to be characteristic of the entire Western Catholic ethical system. What ministered still more widely to the development of casuistry was the very early and momentously elaborated ecclesiastical institution of penance, with the infliction of ecclesiastical penalties for individual sins. The appertaining customary rules of the ancient forms of procedure and the relevantly codified decrees of separate synods were brought together, supplemented, and arranged by the compilers. There thus arose the definite manuals on penance for the use of confessors; among which the best known were those attributed to Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (d. 690) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735). A still greater amplification of casuistry was promoted by the entire method of the scholastic ethics, with its subtle disputations; by the influence of the canonical repetition; and by the universally obligatory institution of auricular confession (1215). Under such influences there arose a distinctive systematic discipline, which in contradistinction to the philosophic and legal came to be designated as theological casuistry. The scholars who cultivated the same constituted, under the name of casuists or schemists, both in the Middle Ages and at Roman Catholic universities much later still, a special class of teachers, notably so as against the canonists. The writings which embodied this discipline were the so-called "summæ of cases of conscience " (summæ casuum conscientiæ). Of these the most ancient was compiled in the thirteenth century by Raymond of Peñaforte (printed at Lyons, 1719). There then followed a good many such writings while scholasticism was approaching the term of its decay through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The most renowned of these summæ, which are usually designated in brief by the author's name or birthplace, are the following: the Astesana (printed 1468, and often); Pisanella (written 1338; printed, Paris, 1470); Pacifica (written c. 1470; printed, Venice, 1576); Rosella; Angelica; and lastly the one usually known as summa summarum; properly the compilation 439merely of Sylvester Prierias, which dates from the beginning of the Reformation period.

Casuistry in Protestantism.

As the Reformers revived the Pauline idea of a free motive power in faith, casuistry proper was fundamentally set aside, and they even occasionally declared themselves expressly opposed to it (Calvin, "Institutes," IV. x. 1 sqq.; Luther, Resol. i. concl. Ecc., ii.). Existing conditions nevertheless gave rise to a certain evangelical counterpart to the Roman Catholic casuistry. The Reformatory movement introduced a multitude of new problems in morality. So in difficult contingencies people frequently appealed for enlightenment to the Reformers and other persons of esteem, or in turn to the theological faculties. In this way the collected letters of Luther and Calvin, as well as Melanchthon's counsels (Berathschlagungen, etc., issued by Petzel, 1601), have furnished copious illustrations at large in the matter of evangelical resolutions of conscience. The systematic collections of faculty decisions (Thesaurus consiliorum, etc., by Dedekenn; Gerhard's In richtigerer Ordnung, 1676) even early denote the transition to a distinctive evangelical casuistry. The more legalizing spirit of the post-Reformation era became thus practically effective. Even here, however, the various particular moral transactions were not viewed, in their development, as in the Roman Catholic casuistry, but as fruits of faith, of knowledge in part, and of the life according to the spirit of Christ. The Reformed theology took precedence in the elaboration of casuistry. The first treatise of this kind is that of the Cambridge professor William Perkins (d. 1602; see Perkins, William), A Case of Conscience (originally in English; Latin by Meyer, 1603), of a strict Puritan tone. A similar book of kindred thought was written by his pupil the Scotchman William Ames (De conscientia, Amsterdam, 1630). Somewhat prior to this, the German theologian Alstedt had published a work on casuistry (Theologia casuum, Hanover, 1621). But although he represented casuistry as a singularly important science, there were in the Reformed Church only a few English theologians that still espoused casuistry. The first Lutheran work on casuistry grew out of lectures delivered by Professor Baldwin at Wittenberg in opposition to the Roman Catholic casuistry, and with the design of systematically setting forth the import of the faculty's opinions. His manuscript was published after his death by the Wittenberg Theological Faculty (Tractatus de casibus conscientæ, Frankfort, 1659). Of the remaining Lutheran writings of this nature; there should still be noted the works of Dannhauer (1679), Bechmann (1692), and Johannes Olearius (1699). Pietism, although Spener's views on moral questions (Theologische Bedenken, 1700; Letzte theologische Bedenken, 1711) have a casuistical tone, still contributed not a little to the shelving of casuistry, in that it deepened the understanding with reference to the interdependency of the Christian's total transactions with his religious-moral basic intuitions. After Buddeus in his moral theology had shown casuistry to be superfluous, only isolated works on the subject appeared in the Lutheran Church.

In the Roman Catholic Church, on the contrary, the ethics of the Jesuits came to be out and out casuistical. And even apart from them, in that quarter, casuistry was cultivated (cf. P. Lambertini, Casus conscientiæ, Augsburg, 1763; S. Sobiech, Compendium theologiæ moralis, Breslau, 1822).

F. Sieffert.

Bibliography: F. D. Maurice, The Conscience: Lectures on Casuistry, London, 1872; K. F. Stäudlin, Geschichte der christlichen Moral, Göttingen, 1808; W. M. L. de Wette, Christliche Sittenlehre, vol. ii., part 2, Berlin, 1821; S. Pike and S. Hayward, Religious Cases of Conscience, new ed., Philadelphia, 1859; C. Beard, Port Royal, pp. 262–291, London, 1861; J. Cook, The Conscience, Boston, 1879; W. Gass, Geschichte der christlichen Ethik, i., ii., parts 1–2, Berlin, 1881–87; W. T. Davison, The Christian Conscience, a Contribution to Ethics, London 1888; C. E. Luthardt, Geschichte der christlichen Ethik, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1888–93. Many of the treatises on ethics deal with the subject of casuistry.

« Castor, Saint Casuistry Casus Reservati ('Reserved Cases') »
VIEWNAME is workSection