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Thus, one man will say to me: “I am, Sir, the slave of intemperance; and this vice has obtained so dominant a mastery over me that I am powerless to resist. The habit has become a second nature to me.” The name of dipsomania is now given to a morbid thirst for drink when it reaches a certain stage. It is a great sedative to a man's conscience when his medical adviser characterizes his criminal propensity by the name of a disease.
Another will excuse his frequent outbursts of anger, of oaths, and profanity on the pretext that his will is impotent to control the habit. A third will avow that he cannot overcome the rebellion of the flesh.
Nay, do we not see the habitual sin of theft often condoned on the plea that it is rather a disease of the mind than a depravity of the will? The oldfashioned sin of shop-lifting is frequently called by the harmless name of kleptomania.
Even the awful crime of suicide is excused on the flimsy pretext that the self-destroyer was laboring under a temporary aberration of mind.
And worse than all, murder itself is extenuated and often pardoned on the dangerous and unwarrantable assumption that a man, under certain impulses, is so far controlled by his animal passions as to be deprived of the use of his free-will. This plea, moreover, has acquired such consistency and strength, as to be admitted even in the courts of justice. I sometimes read with painful interest the trial of a murderer whose only defense is temporary aberration of mind. An astute lawyer is employed. He
. sees at once that the murder cannot be denied, and he accordingly sets up the plea of emotional insanity. The advocate begins by congratulating the cause of justice that the case is to be tried before a jury so enlightened and so impartial as that assembled before him. The jury at once wake up to a sense of their importance, and assume a complacent and attentive air. The lawyer then enters into an elaborate disquisition on the periodical madness of his client. He remarks upon the strange manner in which he was seen to talk and act a few hours before the murder, and declares that this suspension of his moral perception continued until the deed was committed, when his sanity was suddenly restored. The jury vindicate by a verdict of “Not guilty," the character of intelligence given them by the lawyer. This may be called justice in the eyes of men, but in the sight of God it is mockery. Before His tribunal, no crime shall pass unavenged.
It would, indeed, be unwarrantable and unjust in me to accuse the honored professions of law and medicine of magnifying the influence that certain diseases and passions exercise on the will. Science and observation have demonstrated the fact that dipsomania and kindred diseases may sometimes render a man irresponsible for some specific actions which are affected by those distempers. But it cannot be denied that these are much abused terms, which cover a multitude of sins, as an eminent
physician once avowed to me. I maintain that many try to soothe a guilty conscience by ascribing to mental or bodily maladies what, by right, is attributable to a perverted will. The man that makes his passions responsible for his crimes, is less excusable than the astrologer whom Shakespeare holds up to ridicule: “We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars : as if we were villains by necessity ; fools, by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by enforced obedience of planetary influence.” i
“O liberty !” exclaimed Madam Roland, “how many crimes are committed in thy name!” And just as demagogues sin against their fellow-men by exaggerating the prerogatives of civil liberty, so do men commit crimes against God, by underrating the power and responsibility of moral liberty.
I admit that temperament, natural inclinations, and, above all, force of habit exert a strong influence over our moral actions :
“He that once sins, like him that slides on ice,
But this influence is never so dominant as to enslave. the will, so long as reason maintains her empire.
* King Lear, Act I. Juvenal, Sat., 13, Dryden's Translation.
Besides, as we voluntarily repeat the sins that produce the habit, we become responsible before God for the evil habit itself that we have contracted. But a generous and determined will can always overcome the most vicious temper and the most habitual vices. St. Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, had in his early life been addicted to the most licentious habits, and he continued in them from the age of eighteen till his thirty-second year. From the day of his conversion till the hour of his death, he was a model of austerity.
How To EXERCISE OUR FREE-WILL.
How sublime is the gift of free-will! It is a faculty that distinguishes us from the brute creation. Man is the only earthly being that enjoys the prerogative of moral freedom. It is a faculty that we possess in common with the angels and that makes us like even to God Himself; for God and angels and men are the only beings that possess free-will.
What a potent instrument for good or for evil is this great gift! If rightly employed, it elevates us to the plane of angelic sanctity; if abused, it degrades us to the level of the demons. The angelic hosts are perpetually happy, because they made a righteous use of their free-will when it was put to the test. The demons are eternally miserable, owing to the perverse use of their will.
It is the exercise of the will that distinguishes the saint from the sinner, the martyr from the apostate, the hero from the coward, the benevolent ruler from the capricious tyrant. The names of Nero, of Diocle
1 St. Thomas, 14. Quaest. LXXXIII., 1.