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ment, or the total discharge of the weight imposed, was made in consideration of the merits and sufferings of God's holy servants, and that such commutation or remission was considered valid, we shall have sufficient proof that Indulgences were in use, upon the same grounds whereon we admit them now. The scholastic precision of the middle ages may have prescribed for them more definite terms, and may have classified them, the source and effects, under distincter and clearer forms. But the doctrine as to substance is the same, and has only shared the fate, or rather the advantage, of every other doctrine, of passing through the refinement of judgment, which sifted the dogma till it was cleared of all the incumbrance of indefinite opinion, and stript of the husk of an ill-defined terminology. And for this purpose does divine Providence seem to have interposed that school of searching theology, between the simplicity of faith in ancient days, and the doubting latitude of opinion in modern times. Now, therefore, let us at once enter upon
proofs of this aoctrine, which forms but the completion of that already expounded, regarding the power of the Church in the remission of sin. For, a tribunal which has the power of forgiving guilt, and substituting a smaller satisfaction to the majesty of the offended, must surely have the comparatively insignificant authority, still further to modify, or even to commute, the satisfaction which it has imposed.
The New Testament seems to furnish a clear instance of such a power being exercised. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, St Paul not only severely reproved, but manifestly punished grievously, a member of that Church, who had fallen into a scandalous sin. These are his words:--"I, indeed, absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, him that hath so done. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus; to deliver such a one to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”*
1 Cor. v. 3-5.
Several remarks present themselves naturally upon the perusal of this text. First, a punishment is here inflicted of a severe character. We do not, indeed, precisely know what is meant by the delivery of the sinner to Satan. According to some, it signifies literally his condemnation to possession, like the instance of the swine in the Gospel;* others suppose
it to mean the infliction of a painful sickness; a third party understands by it excommunication from the Church. Secondly, this punishment, whatever it may have been, was remedial, intended to reclaim the sinner, and, by the injury of the body, to rescue the soul from eternal loss. Thirdly, the act here dlescribed was not within the terms, strictly so called, of remission or retention of actual guilt; inasmuch as it was performed, and the punishment inflicted, by the whole congregation, with St Paul at their head, but only in spirit, that is, sanctioning by bis authority and concurrence all their acts. But the sacramental forgiveness, or retention of sin, has never been considered a congregational act, or one to be performed by the body of the faithful, nor even by any pastor of the Church, however dignified, at a distance. Hence we must conclude, that a penance of some sort was imposed upon
the incestuous Corinthian, intended for his amendment, and for reparation of the scandal and disedification committed before the Church. For this, also, is clearly intimated by the Apostle, in the verses preceding and subsequent to the passage which I have read.
Well, the consequences of this heavy infliction were such as St Paul probably foresaw, and certainly such as he must have desired. The unfortunate sinner was plunged into a grief so excessive, as to appear dangerous to his welfare. The sentence which had been pronounced is revoked, and under circumstances somewhat varied, though on that account more interesting. It appears from the second Epistle of St Paul to the same Church, that the Corinthians did not wait for his answer upon this subject, or even if they did, that he remitted the whole conduct and decision of the matter to
* Mat. viii.
their charitable discretion. For he thus writes : - To him that is such a one, this rebuke is sufficient that is given by many. So that, contrariwise, you should rather pardon and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up
with over-much sorrow. For which cause I beseech
you would confirm your charity towards him. For to this end also did I write, that I may know the experiment of you, whether you be obedient in all things. And to whom you doned any thing, I also. For what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned any thing, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ."* Here, again, St Paul alludes to the severity of the chastisement inflicted, owing to its being conveyed in a public reproof of the entire congregation. He then entreats them to forgive him and comfort him; and adds, that he has already confirmed the sentence which they have passed, or were going to pass. Evidently, therefore, the entire transaction is not a ministerial one, affecting the forgiveness of the crime, for that could not be in the hands of the flock.
But no less is it evident, that the term of punishment is abridged, and the sentence reversed, before the completion of the awarded retribution is arrived; and this was in consequence of the very great sorrow manifested by the penitent, which was considered an equivalent for the remaining portion. This is precisely what we should call an Indulgence; or a remission of that penance enjoined by the Church, in satisfaction of God's justice. But it is likewise manifest, that such a relaxation must have been considered perfectly valid before Heaven. For as the punishment was inflicted that his soul might be saved, it would have been an endangering of that salvation to remove the punishment, unless the same saving effects would ensue after its relaxation.
After this striking example in the word of God, we shall not be surprised at finding the Church, in the earliest times, claiming and exercising a power similar in every respect. We must naturally expect to see it initate the Apostie, first in im* 2 Cor. ü. 5--10.
posing, and then in remitting or modifying, such temporary chastisements. To understand its practice clearly, it may be necessary to premise a few words on the subject of canonical penance. From the age of the apostles, it was usual for those who had fallen into grievous offences, to make a public confession of them—whereof I gave one or two examples in treating of confession-and then to subject themselves to a course of public penance, which received the name of canonical, from the canons or rules whereby it was regulated. Such penitents, as we learn from Tertullian, and other early writers, put on a black and coarse habit, and, if men, closely shaved their heads.* They presented themselves before the assembly of the faithful on the first day of Lent, when the presiding bishop or priest placed ashes on their heads, a custom still preserved in the Catholic Church; whence the name of AshWednesday given to that day. The term of this penance was various, according to the grievousness of the offence. It lasted sometimes only forty days; at others, three, seven, and ten years; for some enormous crimes, its duration was the natural life of the penitent. During this course, every amusement was forbidden, the sinner's time was occupied in prayer and good works, he practised rigorous fasting, and came only on festivals to the Church, where he remained with the penitents of his class; first lying prostrate before the door, then admitted at stated intervals within, but still for a time excluded from attendance on the liturgy, till he had accomplished his prescribed term of satisfaction.
There are the strongest reasons to believe, that in most cases, absolution preceded the allotment of this penance, or at least that it was granted during the time of its performance; so that all or much of it followed sacramental abso tion. The custom of the Roman Church, and of others, was, that the penitents should be yearly admitted to communion, on Holy Thursday, a circumstance incompatible with the idea of their receiving no pardon till the conclusion of their penance. * Tertull.“ Lib. de Pænit.” St. Pacian, “Parænes. ad Pænit.” lib. ii. &c.
Innocent I., the Council of Agde iu 506, St Jerome, and others, mention this usage.
But while these penitential observances were considered of the greatest value and importance, the Church reserved to itself the right of mitigation under various circumstances, which I will now explain.
1. The extraordinary sorrow and fervour manifested by the penitent, during the performance of his task, was always considered a justification of a proportionate relaxation. Thus, the Council of Nicea prescribes on this subject:"In all cases, the disposition and character of repentance must be considered. For they who by fear, by tears, by patience, and by good works, manifest a sincere conversion, when they shall have passed over a certain time, and begun to communicate in prayer with the faithful, to these the bishop may show more indulgence: but not to those who manifest indifference, and think it enough that they are allowed to enter the Church. These must complete the whole period of penance."† St Basil
says, in like manner, that “he who has the power of binding and loosing, can lessen the time of penance to the truly contrite."I The Council of Lerida says,—“Let it remain in the power of the Bishop either to shorten the separation of the truly contrite, or to separate the negligent a longer time from the body of the Church.” That of Ancyra, in 314, decrees as follows:“We decree, that the Bishops, having considered the conduct of their lives, be empowered to show mercy, or to lengthen the time of penance. But chiefly let their former and subsequent life be examined, and thus lenity be shown them."S
2. Another motive of relaxation the approach of a persecution, when the penitents would have an opportunity of testifying their sorrow by patient endurance, and where it was thought inexpedient to leave them unfortified by the blessed Eucharist, and the participation in the prayers of the
* See Bellarmine, tom. iii. p. 960, Par. 1613. | Ep. Can. ad Amphiloch. | Can. xii. Conc. Gen. T. ii. p. 35. § Conc. Gen. T. i. can, v. p. 1458.