Page images


How can these two objections be reconciied? How is confession so difficult a practice, and how, at the same time, does it hold out an encouragement to that evil of which it is received as the remedy? And if this answer hold with regard to that portion of the Sacrament of Penance, whereof I have already treated, you will see that the contradiction becomes still stronger, when you

take into consideration the third part with its accessaries, which will forin the subject of this evening's entertainment; that is, the doctrine of satisfaction.

But even here we are once more assailed by the same contradictory forms of reasoning. We are told, and that by learned divines of the present day, that this very principle, that

can make satisfaction to God, is enough to reconcile Catholics, through a corrupt sentiment of pride, to our doctrine of penance; that we call in the aid of that pride which is always too near to every man, by the idea that he can expiate his sins, or in any way make satisfaction to the divine justice; which feeling insinuates itself into his heart, and becomes more congenial to his spirit, than that process or means which other religions suppose necessary for justification. Assuredly they must know but little of the human heart, who reason thus. For, take a system which not merely exacts from the sinner all the sorrow and regret for sin which others ever demand; nay,

which is not satisfied with merely the same determination never again to offend, and to reform his life, but, in addition to this, imposes a course of painful humiliation, consisting first, of a declaration of hidden sins to another fellow-creature, and then of the persuasion that he must punish himself, and crucify his flesh, that he must fast, and weep, and pray, and give alms according to his ability; and will


for a moment imagine that all these difficulties become quite palatable, only because joined to the idea that an infinitely small portion of them has some sort of connexion with a power, on the sinner's part, to please and satisfy God? For you will see that the whole merit, so called, of Catholic satisfaction, reduces itself to nothing more than this. Yes, I say that they must have taken a very super

ficial measure of the understanding, and of the passions and feelings of men, who fancy that any other system opposes a severer barrier to sin, and can act powerfully on the offender, which does not demand from him the slightest outward act that can be disagreeable, and which places the entire difficulty in the consideration, that, by another exclusively, and by the application of His merits, the sinner is to be justified. Balance the two together-weigh the systems, one against the otherexamine the internal structure of one, as I analysed it for you at our last meeting; view it in its outward circumstances, calculate the painful sacrifices which it demands—and, comparing it with the other, tell me which system, supposing each to be equally efficacious, the sinner would prefer, as most easy for obtaining pardon of his sins?

But what a pity that this Protestant doctrine did not appear much earlier in the Church—what a pity that some among her zealous pastors in ancient times, holding a similar principle, did not then come forward, and standing in the vestibules and outward courts of churches in great cities, cry out to the penitents clothed in sackcloth and ashes, some of whom had been for twenty and thirty years doing penance there, “ Ye miserable deluded men, what are you doing? You that from a fond idea, that by these painful acts you are satisfying divine justice, are in sooth setting at naught the merits of the Son of God? You are undergoing all this suffering to no purpose; you are not acquiring the slightest favour or grace from God; on the contrary, you are only outraging his mercy and power, and denying the efficacy of his Christ's saving blood! Why not raise up your souls to God, and laying hold of the merits of your Redeemer, without all these penitential works, in one moment be justified; and the time which you are now losing, might be devoted to other, and more useful pursuits.” Such, no doubt, had been the preaching of a Protestant, had he existed, in days of old. Think you

that those holy penitents would have listened to it?—think you that, with the example of David and the saints before them,

who feared not to expiate their sins, in humiliation and affliction before God and his people, they would on the preaching of these doctrines, have opened their eyes, and discovered the principle on which they acted to be erroneous? Or can you believe, that so soon after the establishment of Christianity, its vital principle was already lost?

But, my brethren, let us examine a little more closely the two principles of justification. It is said that the Catholic destroys the efficacy of Christ's merits, because he believes that it is in his power to satisfy the divine justice, in some respect for sin: in other words, that the intervention of any human act in the work of justification, or this introduction of human merits, is radically opposed to simple justification, through the merits of Christ. I would ask is there not as much done by man, in any other system, as there is here? How is it that in the other system, he lays hold of the merits of his Saviour, and by their application, to himself obtains justification? Is not man a sinner, and is not this a much more difficult act for one immersed in sin? Does it not imply greater power and energy in the criminal, than our doctrine that God alone can indeed forgive sins, but that He demands humiliation and painful sacrifices, to appease, in some degree, His offended majesty ? Surely this is not giving very much to man, strengthened by grace;

for will see, the Catholic maintains grace to be the chief instrument in the work of satisfaction. But how much more do you attribute to man, when you suppose that, in a moment, while wallowing in his iniquities, he can appropriate to himself all the sublime merits of Christ, and by an effort of his will, so completely clothe himself in them, as to stand justified and holy in the sight of God? The latter attributes to man, a valid, complete act of justification, the other imposes upon him painful conditions, subject to a sacramental action, with the consoling thought that God will accept

But, proceeding a little nearer still with the investigationwhat is the Catholic doctrine regarding satisfaction? I have

as you


proved to you, in the first instance, that sin is forgiven by a sacrament instituted by Christ for that purpose, for which the power of pronouncing judicial sentence of remission was communicated to the pastors of the Church. Now, through the whole of this process, which I showed you the Catholic doc trine requires for the forgiveness of sin, the entire power of forgiveness is vested exclusively and entirely in God: inasmuch as the minister no more acts in his own name, than he does in the sacrament of baptism, whereby it is believed that sin is forgiven; but is simply God's representative in taking cognizance of the case, and pronouncing thereon, with the assurance that ratification of his sentence will necessarily and infallibly follow. We believe that sin is forgiven and can be forgiven by God alone,—we believe, moreover, that in the interior justification of the sinner, it is only God that has any part; for it is only through His grace as the instrument, and through the redemption of Christ as the origin of grace and forgiveness, that justification can be wrought. And, in fact, no fasting, no prayers, no alms-deeds, no work that we can conceive to be done by man, however protracted, however extensive or rigorous they may be, can, according to the Catholic doctrine, have the most infinitesimal weight for obtaining the remission of sin, or of the eternal punishment allotted to it. This constitutes the essence of forgiveness, of justification, and in it we hold that man of himself has no power.

Now, let us come to the remaining part of the sacrament. We believe that upon this forgiveness of sins, that is, after the remission of that eternal debt, which God in His justice awards to transgressions against His law, He has been pleased to reserve a certain degree of inferior or temporary punishment, appropriate to the guilt which had been incurred: and it is on this part of the punishment alone, that, according to the Catholic doctrine, satisfaction can be made to God. What the grounds of this belief are, I will state just

At present, I wish to lay down the doctrine clearly and


intelligibly; that it is only with regard to the reserved degree of temporal punishment that we believe the Christian can satisfy the justice of God. But is even this satisfaction any thing of his own? Certainly not; it is not of the slightest avail, except as united to the merits of Christ's passion, for it receives its entire efficacy from that complete and abundant purchase made by our Blessed Saviour. Such is our doctrine of satisfaction, and herein consists that self-sufficiency, that power of self-justification, which has been considered sufficient to account for the Catholic's subjecting himself to the painful work of repentance, imposed upon him by his religion.

But after all, the whole of the question necessarily rests on this consideration. Is it God's ordinance, that when He has forgiven sin, and so justified the sinner, as to place him once more in a state of grace, He still reserves the infliction of some degree of punishment for his transgressions? We say, that undoubtedly it is; and I would appeal, in the first instance, to the feelings of any individual; nor do I believe there is any one, however he


think himself in a state of grace before God—however he may flatter himself that his sins are taken away—who will not answer the appeal. Why is it that, when calamity falls upon him, he receives it as a punishment for his sins? Why do our natural feelings prompt us to consider our domestic and personal afflictions as sent by God on account of our transgressions, although, at the moment when they come, we may not be conscious of lying under actual guilt? This is a feeling which pervades every form of religion, and more naturally that of Christ; because it is impossible to be familiar with the word of God, without receiving an impression, that He does visit the sins of men on their heads, although they may have endeavoured, with reasonable hope of success, to obtain their forgiveness. No doubt when we consider the trials of the just, we know they are sent for their purification, to make them more single-hearted, and to detach them from the world; we know that thereby God wishes to purge them from those lesser offences which might otherwise easily escape their attention;

« PreviousContinue »