Jesuit moral theologian; b. Nottuln, Westphalia, 1600; d. Münster, Jan. 31, 1668. He taught the humanities, philosophy, theology, and particularly moral theology in various colleges, and is best remembered for his teaching at Cologne. Socius of his provincial, rector of the colleges of Hildesheim and Münster, confessor and adviser of the Prince Bishop of Münster, Christoph Bernhard von Galen, Busenbaum was known for his ardent piety, his prudence, his keen knowledge in directing souls, and his talent for teaching.
He wrote two works: Lilium inter spinas, written in German and dedicated to virgins consecrated to God but living in the world (Cologne 1659); and Medulla Theologiae Moralis facili ac perspicua methodo resolvens casus conscientiae ex variis probatisque authoribus concinnata (Münster 1650). The Medulla immediately achieved great popularity. During Busenbaum's life there were 40 editions; in 1670 the 45th edition appeared in Lisbon; and from 1670 to 1770, there were 150 editions published in the different countries of Europe.
By its clarity, its precision, and its methodical arrangement the Medulla became the classic type of manual for moral theology as taught in seminaries. The great commentaries written after the model of the Medulla further extended its influence. One example of such a commentary was the Theologia Moralis of Claude lacroix, SJ (Cologne 1707–14). In 1757 F. A. zaccaria, SJ, brought out the most complete edition of it. St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote his Theologia Moralis as a kind of
commentary on the Medulla (Padua 1737). The last great commentary on it was that of Antonio ballerini, the revision of which, the Opus theologicum morale in Busenbaum medullam (7 v., Prato 1889–93) was the work of D. palmieri.
Sources. Busenbaum made frequent use of the manuscript "summae" of cases of conscience written by his confreres, Hermann Nünning and Friedrich Spe, professors of moral theology. He also used the work in manuscript of Maximilien Buchier, SJ. In addition to these immediate sources, all the authors of practical moral theology who had written since the middle of the 16th century are to be encountered in the Medulla. It was Busenbaum's merit to have been able to discern in the mass of opinion found in his sources the views that deserved to be regarded as having permanent value. In including them in his manual, which was destined to exert so wide an influence, Busenbaum contributed effectively to the stabilization of theological opinion on a number of critical points.
Method. Busenbaum's method was strictly casuistic and analytical. It was also more rationalistic than theological, for he regarded the Decalogue as making explicit the obligations of the natural law. There is also a notable emphasis upon the idea of obligation in his writing, and this is no doubt a consequence of the purpose he had in mind in writing, which was the practical formation of confessors. Moral theology, as he saw it, was particularly necessary to enable the priest to fulfill his office of judge in the Sacrament of Penance. It is his duty to pronounce sentence, approving what is good and condemning what is not. A professional moralist should not be expected, therefore, to write a treatise on moral perfection but should content himself with producing something to help the ordinary confessor in the exercise of his judicial function.
False accusations. There was nothing startling to be found in Busenbaum's moral doctrine. A small number of his opinions were condemned as laxist by Alexander VII and Innocent XI, but there is nothing surprising in this if one considers the enormous number of matters upon which he passed judgment. Certainly he fared no worse than other reputable moralists, and his teaching on the whole is unquestionably orthodox. Nevertheless, he was vigorously denounced at one time for his teaching on two points: tyrannicide and the doctrine that the end justifies the means.
As to tyrannicide, Busenbaum actually wrote: "In order to safeguard his life or the integrity of his members, it is even permitted for a son, a religious, a subject, to defend himself, going so far even as to kill his father, his abbot or his prince, if need be, unless the death of the latter would bring about serious consequences, such as wars…." (Medulla 126.96.36.199). This was no more thanthe application to a particular case of the teaching on legitimate self-defense propounded by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Antoninus, D. Soto, D. Concina, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and many others. However, the fear of having this text exploited against them caused the French Jesuits in 1669 to ask the general of the society to have it suppressed. In numerous editions of Busenbaum's work, therefore, this proposition is missing. Opposition to the moral theology of Busenbaum reached its height in 1757 at the time of the attempted assassination of Louis XV, King of France, by Damiens. The Medulla was condemned and burned by the Parlement of Toulouse in 1757; it was condemned by the Parlement of Paris in 1763 and was burned in the public square. Impartial authors have recognized the falsity of the accusations cast against the Medulla.
As to his supposed doctrine that the end justifies the means, Busenbaum did no more in fact than affirm a truth of common sense. When a person has a right to do something, he has by that very fact the right to use the legitimate means necessary for its performance. Busenbaum himself expressly excluded violence, injustice, and, in general, the use of means intrinsically bad (opcit. 188.8.131.52). M. Reichmann has retraced the history of the controversies raised by this formula.
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