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blushes not to disclose bis sins to the priest of the Lord, and seek the remedy." Again, “ We have all power to pardon the faults committed against ourselves, but he on whom Jesus breathed, as he did on the apostles,” that is, the priest," he forgives, provided God forgives, and retains those of which the sinner repents not, being his minister, who alone possesses the power of remitting.” Once more from the same father: “ They who have sinned, if they hide and retain their sin within their breasts, are grievously tormented; but if the sinner becomes his own accuser, while he does this he discharges the cause of all his malady. Only let him carefully consider to whom he should confess his sin ; what is the character of the physician; if he be one who will be weak with the weak, who will weep with the sorrowful, and who understands the discipline of condolence and fellow-feeling ; so that when his skill shall be known, and his pity felt, you may follow what he shall advise. Should he think your disease to be such that it should be declared in the assembly of the faithful, whereby others may be edified and yourself easily reformed; this must be done with much deliberation, and the skilful advice of the physician.” Here again we have him implying the necessity of a manifestation of sin, and speaking just as we do now, telling each person to be careful to seek that person that he thinks best able to assist him, should he think that more public confession, of wbich I have already spoken, necessary; so that the practice of public confession in the church, so far from excluding private confession, supposes it, and that public confession was only to be made by the advice of a director, who should be consulted for that purpose: and you have seen from other passages from Origen, that he says, it is only the priests who have the power of remitting sins, and that, consequently, these sins must be manifested.
So, a little later, we have several very strong passages in the writings of St. Basil, who was particularly zealous in keeping up the system of the penitential canons, and whose system of penitential observances was established in the whole of the east. He says, “ In the confession of sins, the same method must be observed as in laying open the infirmities of the body;" that is to say, For, as these are not rashly communicated to every one, but to those only who understand by wbat method they may be cured, so the confession of sins must be made to such persons as have the power to apply a remedy.” Then 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”—that is manifestly the priests of God. In his canons he says, “ Persons who have been guilty of secret crimes and have confessed Chem, are not to be obliged to confess them publicly, according to what the fathers have appointed;" thus the same discipline was to be observed then as is observed now; and those who had received the con
fession should be careful not to betray it. This is again auricular confession, not public confession—it is confession made to one individual. St. Gregory, of Nyssa, another distinguished father of the Greek
“ You, whose soul is sick, why do you not run to a physician? Why do you not 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 ; shew 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. Open to him the secrets of your soul, as if you were showing to him a hidden malady: he will take care of your honour and of your health.”
I pass over a great number of others, and quote one passage from St. Ambrose, the great light of the church at Milan. He says, * There are some who ask for penance, that they may at once be restored to communion;" that is, who require to be forgiven their sins without going through a course of public penance. Now see the consequences : “ 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, he says, " the persons who expect to be forgiven, unless they make a clear manifestation of their consciences, are only burdening the priest with responsibility.”
I close the extracts from this century by one from another Latin father, St. Pacianus, who says, “ I address myself to you 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 mens' sins. What then wilt thou do who deceivest the minister? Who either leavest him in ignorance, or confoundest his judgment by half communications. I intreat you, brethren, by that Lord whom no concealments can deceive, to cease from disguising a wounded conscience. A diseased man, possessed of sense, hides not his wounds, however secret they may be, though the knife or fire should be applied. And shall a sinner be afraid to purchase, by present shame, eternal life? And shall he dread to discover his sins to God, which are ill bidden from him, and at the same time he holds out assistance to bim? Thus, on the one hand, the confession is called confession to God; and, at the same time, it is said to be performed to one of the ministers of God, and you are to be careful not to deceive him, either by concealing any thing, or by only partially communicating. The confession, therefore, was com
plete, it extended to all sins, and obliged the sinner to manifest the whole state of his conscience to the minister of God.
These examples may be sufficient, though there are many others which might be adduced. I will read one more, however, because it is from the same century, and from a document of the greatest value in ecclesiastical antiquity. He says, “ As to the penitents, whether they be doing penance for greater or smaller faults, if no emergency intervene, they may be absolved on the Thursday before Easter, according to the practice of Rome. But in estimating grievous sins, it is the duty of the priest to judge upon attending at the confession of the signs of repentance, and then to order him to be loosed when he shall see due satisfaction. But if there be danger of death, he must be absolved before Easter." St. Jerome says, “ 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.” Precisely the same reasoning which I made upon the text from St. John, that the priest must not be content merely to give his absolution vaguely, upon the idea of the guilt or the innocence of the individual; but it is only by judging of the quality of different sins, he knows how to direct his sentence.
Now I should suppose that these passages, to which I could add twice as many, or even more, must satisfy every unprejudiced person, that confession is not such a modern practice as is alleged; that it was not introduced, as it has been said, by the council of Lateran. If any one will take the decrees of that council on the subject, he will find, that so far from introducing confession, it supposes it to be universally established over the whole church; and all that it prescribes regards the discipline only, which is to be at present observed in the church, viz., that all shall confess their sins, at least once a year, to the pastors appointed by the church. It takes it for granted, that all knew they were to confess their sins; it supposes that they fully understood this duty, and we can hardly conceive, that such a new institution should be introduced in this country, or in any other, by a convocation, or any one act of a legislative body, enacting simply, that all the members of the Established Church should confess their sins once a year to their clergy. I should wish to know, if such a canon as this were made, it
had not been known for three hundred or four hundred years ? Who would not think any person exceedingly illogical, and exceedingly unreasonable to say, that such a practice was introduced by such a council? We just reason in the same way, and must acknowledge, consequently, that it did exist long before this canon, and that the canon only regulated the times for its observance. Still more will this be
apparent, if we only consider the way in which this institution is ordinarily spoken of. The old reformers used familiarly to call it, “ The butchery of the soul.” It was considered something too torturing, too severe, too cruel to be even practised. I should wish to know, can any one think it possible that an institution, which, by any sort of distortion, merited that name, could be introduced very easily and very silently into the church; if it could be possible in any community, to introduce the practice of confession, as found among Catholics, universally extending to all ranks, beginning with the sovereign pontiff himself, and proceeding down to the lowest and the meanest ; if it would be possible to induce all ranks of men to go to a fellow man like themselves, and lay before him all their secret transgressions ; if any thing but a conviction, that from the beginning such was a necessary institution for obtaining forgiveness could have given it that extent, that complete and regulated consistency of exercise, which is to be found in this practice throughout the whole of the church? The more, therefore, its difficulties are exaggerated, the more it is spoken of as a violation of human feeling, as a torture and a cruelty, the more is the difficulty increased, of supposing it to have been brought into the church in later times. Neither will it be possible to find any other period at which it is pretended it was first brought into the church. For those who consider it a modern innovation, generally refer to the council I quoted, and say, it was then introduced, introduced by a simple canon, by saying that all the faithful, of either sex, should confess their sins to the priest appointed by the church, once in
But, my brethren, it is also very common to speak of this institution as one destructive to the peace of families, as one which causes great demoralization, as one which leads to facility of committing sin from the conviction that the remedy is so easy. I have already said sufficient regarding this latter observation ; I have already shown you, that we require every thing that is required by others, and that besides that we enjoin, not merely a more perfect disposition, as I before showed you, but also enjoin this more difficult practice: and we also enjoin the performance of satisfaction, the practice of penance, which will become the subject of another discourse.
Now it is rather inconsistent to charge this institution with two such opposite defects; to make it, on the one hand, a burden too severe for human nature to bear; and, on the other, to suppose it to be an incentive to sin, by making its performance appear more easy. These two qualities are certainly irreconcilable the one with the other; and, at any rate, we have a right to demand, that only one of them should be imputed to this institution. But is this the case ? We find rather, I should think, quite the contrary to be shown, in the writings of those
persons who bave been the cause of the institution being rejected by a great portion of Europe. Luther writes expressly to this effect, " The practice of confession, as now exercised in the Catholic Church, cannot be clearly proved from Scripture, yet I consider it a most excellent institution, and one I do not wish to see abolished. I rejoice it exists here, and I exhort all to make use of it.” So far from his feeling that there was any thing injurious in its being made an institution of the church, on the contrary, considered it important that it should be preserved. The articles of Smalkeld, in like manner, expressly say, that « The practice of particular confession of sins to the pastors of the church is to be continued; it is of the greatest use, especially," it says, “ for the guidance and preservation of youth, who are thus directed to the path of virtue.” You are doubtless all of you aware, that the same is the practice, at any rate, of the Established Church; that the practice of confession is therein inculcated, precisely in the same terms as it is by us, for it is expressly enjoined, that when the clergyman visits any one who is sick (it occurs in the order for the visitation of the sick) “ Here sball the sick person be moved to make a special confession of his sins, if be feel bis conscience troubled with any weighty matter. After which confession the priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and keartily desire it) after this sort, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who bath left power to his church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences : and by bis authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This is word for word the absolution pronounced by the Catholic priest in our church on confession. I do not quote this merely for the purpose of showing any inconsistency in it, for showing that the practice and the creeds of the church are at variance, not even to show the inconsistency of those men who impute to us, as a grievous and nionstrous innovation, and a corruption of Christianity, that which their own church enjoins as a relief for the guilty conscience; the inconsistency of those who charge us with assuming to ourselves a power, while it is used in precisely the same terms, and exercised in the same words, by the ministers of their own profession. It not for this purpose that I mention it, I adduce it merely to show, that even those who led to its abolition in practice, were themselves convinced of its utility; and that so far from believing it a pernicious practice; so far from considering it a means, or an instrument of evil, they considered it the best means of relieving the conscience on the one hand, and at the same time of guiding men into a state of peace on the other. Not only so, but they did really either believe, or affected to believe, that God had left that power in his church, and that he had committed to his pastors the power of absolving sins; that in order to pronounce absolution, a special confession of