The Rule of Conscience (Ductor dubitantium)
Jeremy Taylor
1660 AD

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Introduction:

  1. In 1660 AD, Jeremy Taylor, Bishop, used the term "scruples" to describe people who were insane. He rejected the idea that the body was the etiology and placed the origin squarely and firmly in the mind: "A scruple is a great trouble of mind proceeding from a little motive, and a great indisposition, by which the conscience though sufficiently determined by proper arguments, dares not proceed to action, or if it doe, it cannot rest . . . That it is a great trouble, is a daily experiment and a sad sight : Some persons dare not eat for fear of gluttony, they fear that they shall sleep too much, and that keeps them waking, and troubles their heads more, and then their scruples increase. If they be single persons, they fear that every temptation is a . . . burning which the Apostle so carefully would have us to avoid, and then that it is better to marry then to suffer it; and if they think to marry, they dare not for fear they be accounted neglecters of the glory of God which they think is better promoted by not touching a woman." He clearly identified this as a conflict of conscious whose origin is the mind not the body. They also confess to sins in order to be told they are ok. This is an common attention getting advice like when you put yourself down in order to get a compliment. Basically, it is a narcissistic way of getting others to praise and take notice of how spiritual you are! "They repent when they have not sinned, and accuse themselves without form or matter". This often occurs in Christians who secretly sin, then attempt to make up for it with good works. Generally people who behave this way have indeed committed some secret sin (usually sexual) and their conscience is rightly bothering them. "After a great tumbling of thoughts and sorrows he begins to believe that this scrupulousness of conscience is a temptation, and a punishment of his sins, and then he heaps up all that ever he did, and all that he did not, and all that he might have done, and seeking for remedy grows infinitely worse, till God at last pitying the innocence and trouble of the man made the evil to sink down with its own weight, and like a sorrow that breaks the sleep, at last growing big, loads the spirits, and bringing back the sleep that it had driven away, cures it self by the greatness of its own affliction." Rather than just stop sinning and repenting openly, they chose to continue sinning thus incurring the pains of cognitive dissonance. Taylor understood the solution was in the mind, not the body! (The Rule of Conscience (Ductor dubitantium), Jeremy Taylor, 1660 AD)
  2. "A scruple as Taylor defined it is in psychiatric terminology today called an irrational fear or obsessional phobia. He recognized that the patient 'knows not what or why' he fears, in other words that his anxiety is unconsciously determined. He also made the valid observation that the mood of the obsessional is fundamentally sad even though he does not appear so, because an obsessive- compulsive neurosis is a means of warding off expected or dreaded evil or punishment. In the account of William of Oseney, quoted here, the illness began with overscrupulosity in religious matters, sometimes an early symptom of impending mental breakdown with which priests are more familiar than psychiatrists. This typical case history shows how obsessions may spread to rule the patient's life and lead to psychotic breakdown in his case followed by recovery." (300 years of Psychiatry, Richard Hunter, 1963, p163)

The Rule of Conscience (Ductor dubitantium), Jeremy Taylor, 1660 AD

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)
MA Cantab., DD Oxon, Bishop of Down and Connor

Ductor dubitantium, or the rule of conscience, 1660 London, Royston 2 vols. VOL I, pp. 208, 216-7, 210-I

SCRUPLES: OBSESSIONAL NEUROSIS

A scruple is a great trouble of mind proceeding from a little motive, and a great indisposition, by which the conscience though sufficiently determined by proper arguments, dares not proceed to action, or if it doe, it cannot rest . . . That it is a great trouble, is a daily experiment and a sad sight : Some persons dare not eat for fear of gluttony, they fear that they shall sleep too much, and that keeps them waking, and troubles their heads more, and then their scruples increase. If they be single persons, they fear that every temptation is a . . . burning which the Apostle so carefully would have us to avoid, and then that it is better to marry then to suffer it; and if they think to marry, they dare not for fear they be accounted neglecters of the glory of God which they think is better promoted by not touching a woman. When they are married they are afraid to doe their duty, for fear it be secretly an indulgence to the flesh, and to be suspected of carnality, and yet they dare not omit it, for fear they should be unjust, and yet they fear that the very fearing it to be unclean should be a sin, and suspect that if they doe not fear so, it is too great a sign they adhere to Nature more then to the Spirit. They repent when they have not sinn'd, and accuse themselves without form or matter; their virtues make them tremble, and in their innocence they are afraid; they at no hand would sin, and know not on which hand to avoid it: and if they venture in, as the flying Persians over the river Strymon, the ice will not bear them, or they cannot stand for slipping, and think every step a danger, and every progression a crime, and beleeve themselves drowned when they are yet ashore . . . Scruple is a little stone in the foot, if you set it upon the ground it hurts you, if you hold it up you cannot goe forward; it is a trouble where the trouble is over, a doubt when doubts are resolved . . . Very often it hath no reason at all for its inducement, but proceeds from indisposition of body, pusillanimity, melancholly, a troubled head, sleepless nights, the society of the timorous from solitariness, ignorance, or unseasoned imprudent notices of things, indigested learning, strong fancy and weak judgement; from any thing that may abuse the reason into irresolution and restlesness . . . The scrupulous man is timorous, and sad, and uneasy, and he knows not why. As the melancholy man muses long, and to no purpose, he thinks much, but thinks of nothing; so the scrupulous man fears exceedingly, but he knows not what nor why. It is a Religious melancholy, and when it appears to be a disease and a temptation, there needs no more argument against its entertainment. We must rudely throw it away.

William of Oseney was a devout man, and read two or three Books of Religion and devotion very often, and being pleased with the entertainment of his time, resolved to spend so many hours every day in reading them, as he had read over those books several times; that is, three hours every day. In a short time he had read over the books three times more, and began to think that his resolution might be expounded to signify in a current sense, and that it was to be extended to the future times of his reading, and that now he was to spend six hours every day in reading those books, because he had now read them over six times. He presently considered that in half so long time more by the proportion of this scruple he must be tied to twelve hours every day, and therefore that this scruple was unreasonable; that he intended no such thing when he made his resolution, and therefore that he could not be tied : he knew that a resolution does not binde a mans self in things whose reason does vary, and where our liberty is intire, and where no interest of a third person is concerned. He was sure that this scruple would make that sense of the resolution be impossible at last, and all the way vexatious and intolerable; he had no leisure to actuate this sense of the words, and by higher obligations he was faster tied to other duties : he remembered also that now the prosit of those good books was receiv'd already and grew less, and now became chang'd into a trouble and an inconvenience, and he was sure he could imploy his time better, and yet after all this heap of prudent and religious considerations, his thoughts revolv'd in a restless circle, and made him fear he knew not what. He was sure he was not oblig'd, and yet durst not trust it; he knew his rule, and had light enough to walk by it, but was as fearful to walk in the day as children are in the night. Well! being weary of his trouble, he tells his story, receives advice to proceed according to the sence of his reason, not to the murmurs of his scruple; he applies himself accordingly. But then he enters into new fears; for he rests in this, that he is not oblig'd to multiply his readings, but begins to think that he must doe some equal good thing in commutation of the duty, for though that particular instance become intolerable and impossible, yet he tied himself to perform that which he beleev'd to be a good thing, and though he was deceived in the particular, yet he was right in the general, and therefore that for the particular he must make an exchange. He does so; but as he is doing it, he starts, and begins to think that every commutation being intended for ease, is in some sense or other a lessening of his duty, a diminution of his spiritual interest, and a note of infirmity; and then also fears, that in judging concerning the matter of his commutation he shall be remiss and partial . . . What shall the man doe ? He dares not trust himself; and if he goes to another, he thinks that this will the more condemne him; he suspects himself, but this other renders him justly to be suspected by himself and others too. Well ! he goes to God and prays him to direct him; but then he considers that Gods graces are given to us working together with Gods Spirit, and he fears the work will not be done for him because he fails in his own part of cooperating; and concerning this he thinks he hath no scruple, but certain causes of fear. After a great tumbling of thoughts and sorrows he begins to believe that this scrupulousness of conscience is a temptation, and a punishment of his sins, and then he heaps up all that ever he did, and all that he did not, and all that he might have done, and seeking for remedy grows infinitely worse, till God at last pitying the innocence and trouble of the man made the evil to sink down with its own weight, and like a sorrow that breaks the sleep, at last growing big, loads the spirits, and bringing back the sleep that it had driven away, cures it self by the greatness of its own affliction.

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