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as these are not rashly communicated to every one, but to those only who understand by what method they may be cured: so the confession of sins must be made to such
persons as have the power to apply a remedy."* He tells us who those
persons are: “ Necessarily, our sins must be confessed to those, to whom has been committed the dispensation of the mysteries of God.” | In his canons, he declares, that persons who had been guilty of secret crimes, and had confessed them, are not to be obliged to confess them publicly:—“That women, guilty of adultery, and who had confessed it, should not be made public, agreeable to what the Fathers had pointed.”I Clearly, the same discipline as is observed now, that they who receive the confession should be careful not to betray it. This is, again, auricular confession made to an individual. St Gregory of Nyssa, another eminent Father of the Greek Church, thus writes: “ You whose soul is sick, why do you not run to a physician? Why do you not confess and discover your malady to him by confession? Why do you suffer your
disease to increase till it be inflamed and deeply rooted in you? Re-enter into your own breasts; reflect upon your own ways. You have offended God, you have provoked your Creator, who is the Lord and judge, not only of this life, but of the life to come. -Inquire into the disease wherewith you are seized; be sorry;
yourselves, and communicate
your affliction to your brethren, that they may be afflicted with you; that so you may obtain the pardon of your sins. Show me bitter tears, that I may mingle mine with yours. Impart your trouble to the priest, as to your Father; he will be touched with a sense of your misery. Show to him what is concealed without blushing; open the secrets of your soul, as if you were showing to a physician a hidden disorder; he will take care of your
honour and of your cure." Again:-“ Whoever secretly steals another * In Regul. Brev. quæst. ccxxix. T. 2. 492. + Ibid. quaest. cclxxxviii. p. 516.
Ep. cxcix. ad Amphiloch. Can. 34. T. iii. p. 295.
man's goods, if he afterwards discover, by confession, his sin to the priest, bis heart being changed, he shall cure the wound: but then he must give to the poor, and thereby clearly show, that he is free from the sin of avarice."* I
pass over a great many others, and quote one passage from St Ambrose, the great light of the Church at Milan: “ There are some who ask for penance, that they may at once be restored to communion. These do not so much desire to be loosed, as to bind the priest; for they do not unburden their own conscience, but they burden his, who is commanded not to give holy things to dogs; that is, not easily to admit impure souls to the holy communion.”+ So that the persons who pretended to expect forgiveness, except by a complete and clear manifestation of their consciences, only deceived themselves and their director. To this authority we may add that of St Pacianus: _“I address myself to you,” he says, “who, having committed crimes, refuse to do penance; you, who are so timid, after you have been so impudent; you, who are ashamed to confess, after you
have sinned without shame.—The Apostle says to the priest: Impose not hands lightly on any one; neither be partakers of other men's sins. (1 Tim. v. 22.) What then wilt thou do, who deceivest the minister? Who either leavest him in ignorance, or confoundest his judgment by half communications? I entreat you, brethren, by that Lord whom no concealments can deceive, to cease from disguising a wounded conscience. A diseased man, if possessed of sense, hides not his wounds, however secret they may be, though the knifeor fire should be applied.—And shall a sinner be afraid to purchase, by present shame, eternal life? Shall he dread to discover his sins to God, which are ill hidden from him, and at the time that he holds out assistance to him?"The confession, therefore, was complete—it extended to all sins, and obliged the sinner to manifest the whole state of his conscience to the minister of God. * Ep. Canon. ad Letoium, C vi. T. i. p. 954. # Ib. c. ix. p. 434.
# Paræn. ad Pænit. Ibid. p. 316.
These examples might be sufficient. I will, however, readone or two more from the same century. St Jerome, after alluding to the institution of God regarding leprosy, thus writes:“ In like manner with us, the Bishop or Priest binds or looses; not them who are merely innocent or guilty: but having heard, as his duty requires, the various qualities of sins, he understands who should be bound, and who loosed."* Here is precisely the same reasoning which I drew from my text, that the priest must not be content merely to give absolution on a vague impression of the guilt, or innocence, of the party, but that, only on judging of the different sins, can he know how to direct his sentence. I will just step, for one moment, over the limits I prescribed myself; and give you one decisive passage from Pope Leo. Thus he writes to the Bishops of Campania:“ Having lately understood, that some of you, by an unlawful usurpation, have adopted a practice which Tradition does not allow, I am determined by all means to suppress it. I speak of penance, when applied for by the faithful. There shall be no declaration of all kinds of sins, given in writing, and publicly read: for it is enough, that the guilt of conscience be made known to the Priest alone by a private confession. That confidence, indeed, may be thought deserving of praise, which, on account of the fear of God, hesitates not to blush before men; but there are sins, the public disclosure of which must excite fear; therefore, let this improper practice be put an end to, lest many be kept from the remedies of penance, being ashamed, or dreading to make known to their enemies such actions, as may expose them to legal punishment. That confession suffices, which is first made to God, and then to the priest, who will offer up prayers for the sins of penitents. And then will more be induced to apply to this remedy, when the secrets of the confessing sinner shall not be divulged in the hearing of the people.”+ I should think that these passages, although I had prepared
* Comment. in C. xvi. Mat. T. iv. pars II. p. 75. + Ep. cxxxvi. al. Ixxx. ad Episc. Companiæ, p. 719.
twice as many, must satisfy any unprejudiced person, that the doctrine of confession is not modern, and was not, as is commonly stated, introduced by the Council of Lateran. If any one will peruse the canon of that Council, he will find, that so far from establishing, it supposes the practice to exist over the entire Church. For it simply says, that “all the faithful, men and women, shall confess their sins, at least once a-year, to a priest approved by the Church.” It sanctions a discipline already observed in the Church, that all should confess their sins, at least once a-year, to their pastors. It takes for granted, that all knew this duty; and surely it could hardly be conceiv. ed possible to introduce a new institution of this nature into this or any other country, by any act of convocation or of any other legislative body, enacting simply, that all the members of the Established Church shall confess their sins once a-year to the clergy. I ask, whether such a canon as this enacts? or whether such a doctrine could be first introduced by it? Any person who should, three or four hundred years hence, say that such a practice had been so introduced into this country, would be considered very foolish and credulous. We must, therefore, conclude that it did exist, long before this canon, and that the canon only regulated the times of its observance. If
you look to the nature of this institution, which the early Reformers used to call the “butchery of the soul,” as being something too severe, too torturing, and cruel, to be practised, I would ask, could any one bring himself to believe, that an institution, which could merit such a name and character, could have been introduced so silently and so easily into any Church? Could it have been so introduced as to extend immediately to all ranks, beginning with the sovereign Pontiff himself? Could it have been possible to induce all orders and conditions of men, the most learned as well as the rude, the noble as well as the plebeian, ecclesiastics as much as laymen, to go before their fellow-men, and cast themselves at their feet, and lay open all their hidden transgressions? I ask, if any thing but a conviction from the beginning, that it was
an institution necessary for obtaining of forgiveness, could have secured the complete and constant exercise of this practice throughout the Church? The more difficult it is
represented, the more it is said to do violence to natural feelings, to tyrannize over the human mind, the more difficult is it to suppose that it could have been brought into the Church, in this simple way, in later times. Or even, could it have been possible to find any other period, at which it could have been so introduced ?
But, my brethren, it is also very common to speak of this institution as one which tends to disturb the peace of families; -as one which causes great demoralization; and which leads, by the facility of obtaining pardon, to the commission of sins, from a conviction that the remedy is so easy. I have already said sufficient regarding this latter observation—I have already shown, that we require, not only whatever is required by others for the forgiveness of sin, but also a more perfect disposition, and, besides confession, the performance of that satisfaction, or those works of penance, which will form the subject of another discourse. Now, it is rather inconsistent to charge our sacrament, with two contradictory defects; one of which makes it a burden too heavy to bear, and the other an incentive to sin, by rendering forgiveness so easy. These are two irreconcilable qualities, one only can belong to it; only one, at least, should be imputed to it. But is this heavy charge of immorality grounded? You will find quite the contrary expressed in their writings who caused this institution to be rejected in many parts of Europe. Thus Luther expressly says, that, although, according to him, the praetice of confession, as used in the Catholic Church, cannot be clearly proved from Scripture, yet he considers it a most excellent institution; and so far from wishing to see it abolished, he rejoices at its existence, and exhorts all to use it. So that, Even a human institution, he thinks it is to be approved. In the articles of Smalkeld, we find that the practice of confession is to be continued; especially