« PreviousContinue »
dients, or rather, the preparatory steps for that act of sorrow or contrition, which is the essential concomitant of confession; and not only its concomitant, but so much superior and more important, that the Catholic Church believes and teaches, and, in her daily practice manifests that belief—that, if from circumstances a person have no means of practising confession, if illness surprise the sinner before the minister of repentance can approach him—if accident place him out of the reach of such a comforter, and there be no one to apply the consolations of that institution—an act of contrition, including a willingness, if in his power, to practise confession, because it is an institution established by Christ for the forgiveness of sins, will of itself procure their pardon, and reconcile him as completely with his God, as if he had confessed all his crimes, and received absolution. This, I say, is the practice and feeling of every Catholic, not only of the instructed, but also of the most illiterate and least educated; that, in cases of sudden illness, or danger of being surprised by death, a fervent act of sorrow, is equivalent to all that Christ instituted for the forgiveness of sins.
And what is that sorrow?- I will read you its definition in the words of the Council of Trent, of that council which has most clearly defined the Catholic doctrine on this subject. “ Contrition,” that is, sorrow—such being the technical term used in the Church for it; “ which holds the first place among the acts of penance (or repentance) is sorrow and detestation of sio committed, with a determination not to sin again. The holy synod declares, that this contrition contains, not only the abandoning of sin and a purpose of new life, but also a hatred of the old.”* Thus you see what is expected of every penitent, before absolution can be considered of any avail, or confession worth any thing to his salvation.
II. And now we come to the second part of this Sacrament. The Catholic Church teaches that the sinner, being thus sorry for having offended God, and sorry upon the motive which I
* Sess. xiv. cap. iv.
have stated that is, on account, not of evil thence resulting to himself, but of the graciousness and infinite goodness of the God whom he has injured, must next perform an outward act, which would seem of itself the natural and spontaneous consequence of this feeling. Catholic divines have again and again described this sorrow for sin, when they say that it must be supernatural, that is, that its motives must be exclusively drawn from the attributes of God, from the consideration not of what sin has brought on us, but of the manifestations of love which we receive from Him, and still more of His own essential goodness—that it must be supreme-that is, detesting, abhorring, and hating sin beyond every other evil on earth; and that it must be universal-embracing without a single exception, every fault or transgression whereby we have offended so good a God. Now, these dispositions naturally dispose the soul to make any compensation or atonement that may
be quired, for the offences it has committed. Not only so, but it is the very nature of love itself to make that manifestation -love, which was the last step in the work of conversion. We find it thus in the case of Magdalen; who did not rest satisfied with merely being sorry for having offended God, or with only regretting the evil done, and retiring from it, and by a new life, proving her sorrow; but must brave contumely and insult, and every other humiliation, to give public evidence of her feelings. She breaks through the crowd of attendants, penetrates into the house of the rich Pharisee, of one belonging to the proudest and most conceited class of men-she rushes forward and intrudes upon his solemn banquet, casts herself at the feet of her spiritual physician, weeps bitter tears, and lavishing all her precious things on his feet, shows by outward deeds, that she really loved God, that she was overwhelmed with grief from having offended Him, and was ready to make any reparation to His outraged majesty. Thus, the natural tendency of repentant love is to make some outward manifestation, to testify itself in some way by an act of sorrow, and even of humiliation before others.
way forms the
and so to seek that forgiveness which it so inuch desires. And therefore, even thus, we have a most perfect consistency in this institution, linking it harmoniously with the feelings that precede it; although of course this natural and spontaneous origin, in no
ground on which the Catholic Church believes and enjoins it.
She maintains, then, that the sinner is bound to manifest his offences to the pastors of his Church, or rather, to one deputed and authorized by the Church for that purpose; to lay open to him all the secret offences of his soul, to expose all its wounds, and, in virtue of the authority vested by our Blessed Saviour in him, to receive through his hands, on earth, the sentence which is ratified in heaven, of God's forgiveness. But as the primary object of this institution is the salvation of the soul, and as there may be cases where, by too easily receiving pardon, sufficient impression would not be made on he sinner to lead him to amendment of life; as it may happen that the dispositions wherewith it is approached, are not sufficiently manifest, or that the sorrow is not sufficiently supreme; as also from constant relapse into sin, after forgiveness, it may appear that there was not a solid resolution of amendment, and consequently a sincere and efficient sorrow for the crimes and offences committed, so it may be prudent to deny that absolution. We believe that this case also has been provided for, by Christ, inasmuch as He gave to the Church a power of retaining sins, that is, of withholding forgiveness, or delaying it to a more seasonable time.
Before entering into proofs of this doctrine, allow me to examine how far it is the sort of institution which we should expect our Saviour to have made. I have shown you already that, consistently with the plan followed by Him, in the establishment of His religion, and according to the method of action which He has uniformly chosen, we should have expected some outward institution wherein the forgiveness of sins should be committed to his Church, and His sacred Blood be applied
to the soul, for the cleansing of it from guilt. I did not, how. ever, then enter
the nature of the institution. Allow me now to premise a few remarks on the aptness of such an institution as Confession, for the ends for which we believe it appointed.
1. In the first place, it seems the institution most conform able to the wants of human nature, whether we consider it in its native constitution, or in its fallen state. As to the first, it seems natural to the mind to seek relief from guilt, by manifestation:
: we are not surprised when we hear of culprits, who have been guilty of some great crime, and have escaped the vengeance of the law, leading a restless and unhappy life, until, .of their own accord, they confess their guilt, and meet the punishment which the law awards. We are not astonished when we hear of those condemned to death, being most anxious to find some person to whom they may disclose their guilt, and when we hear it declared again and again, that they could not have died in peace, unless they had manifested their transgressions. All this shows, that human nature finds herein the most natural and obvious relief, that even in that confession some balm is applied to the soul's inward suffering; because it is the only method left of making compensation to that society against which such men have transgressed. Nay, this feeling goes much farther; for the culprit, who at once humbly acknowledges his guilt, gains our compassion, and we cannot in our minds consider him any longer as the black and hardened villain, which before we were inclined to suppose him. We immediately trust that such a one is truly sorry for what he has done; and consequently his iniquity, although the crime may be equal, is not so great as his who daringly denies it. If the declaration of our Blessed Saviour had not been made to the penitent thief, or if it had not been recorded, we should in our minds have distinguished between the two companions of His sufferings, between him who humbly confessed that he died according to his deserts, and him who persisted in hardened
effrontery to the end. If, therefore, God did establish
any outward form, whereby the conscience might be saved from sin, we cannot conceive one more adapted to that purpose, than the manifestation of sin.
It is, however, congenial to our nature, not merely in its general constitution, but still farther in its present fallen state. For what, my brethren, is sin? It is a rising up of the pride of man against the majesty of God. The sinner, fully aware of the consequences of his iniquity, instructed in the end to which sin must lead him, seems to stand up before God's judgment-seat, and, looking his future judge in the face, insults Him by the commission of what he knows He will one day fully avenge. Now, what would be the natural corrective of this? the humiliation before others of that proud spirit that hath raised itself up against God, by its kneeling at the feet of man, and asking forgiveness, and owning itself guilty of having insulted God on his eternal throne. Pride is the very principle and root of all evil; and as the third portion of this sacrament, Satisfaction, which I shall reserve for another occasion, tends to correct that concupiscence and those passions, which are the stimulants of sin, this seems to be the most completely opposed to that pride which is its principle.
So true is this connexion between the confession of our guilt and the reparation made to the majesty of God, that His holy word considers the two as almost identical. For thus Josue spake to Achan; “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and confess, and tell me what thou hast done; hide it not."
There are some beautiful reflections of Pascal's on this subject. He
expresses himself astonished that any man could treat the confession of sin to one individual, under such circumstances as the Catholic Church prescribes, as any thing but the most lenient mitigation of what ought naturally to be expected. You have sinned before mankind, and outraged God by your offences; and you might naturally expect full compensation to be
* Jo. vii. 19.