Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Confessional. Part 94.

Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke



II. If a man is certain that he has committed a grave sin but doubts upon slight grounds whether he has confessed it, he must accuse himself of it; but if he has a sufficient probability that it has been confessed, he is under no obligation.

In this case some positive reason is required to show that he has complied with the obligation of confessing the sin, for an undoubted command is not satisfied by a doubtful fulfilment; but where there is really good reason to suppose that the sin has been confessed, that is, a reason which, though open to some doubts, offers some probability, the obligation may, in accordance with the principles of probability, be regarded as not binding. "For if we are to avoid making laws and duties odious, we ought to concede something to human probability taken in a broad sense; thus presumption in a case of this kind often presents proof of sufficient probability and security."

Hence a man who is accustomed to make his confessions with care, and later on is unable to remember whether he has confessed this or that sin, may presume that he has confessed it, and he is not obliged to confess it again. This is the teaching of many eminent theologians. Although St. Alphonsus affirms that a man is obliged to mention again a sin which has probably been already confessed, he does not condemn the contrary opinion. If, again, a man who has been converted from a habit of sin, and for a long period has been leading a good life, begins to doubt whether, in the confessions either general or particular which have been made with suitable care, some sin or circumstance has been withheld, he may be forbidden to mention that sin or circumstance, or even to think of the past at all. Finally, scrupulous people ought only to confess their past sins when they are quite certain that they have never confessed them; this is the sententia communissima.

On the whole it is recommended in practice to mention doubtfully confessed sins, because their confession helps much to peace of soul and allays all anxieties.

Quite distinct from the preceding question is the case in which a man fully confesses as certain some sin which he has committed, but which neither he nor the confessor considered at the time as a mortal sin; if afterwards, in consequence of better instruction or advice, he discovers that the sin was mortal ex genere suo, he is not obliged to repeat it, for it was already perfectly confessed and it is not necessary for the validity of confession that the penitent or confessor should know that the matter of a sin is grave, and it is the matter only that is involved in this case. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Confessional. Part 93.

Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke


If, then, a pious person who often renews his resolution never to sin mortally is not certain that he has ever revoked that resolution; if he is startled when he perceives the evil and promptly repels the temptation, and doubts whether he has given way; if he remembers that he was in an excited state of mind; if he cannot tell whether the thought or action took place in sleep or in waking moments, the presumption is that there was no full consent.

The presumption, however, is against those who are accustomed to fall easily into grave sin; had they withstood the temptation they would remember what effort they made to overcome it. Hence Lacroix very justly concludes that such people never have a real negative doubt, since the presumption determines the probability of consent or resistance to the temptation.

Now comes the question as to what the penitent ought to do who has confessed a mortal sin as doubtful and afterwards discovers that he has certainly committed it; is he obliged to confess the sin anew or may he consider the case closed? The sin has undoubtedly been remitted directly by the power of the keys, since the conditional sentence "if thou hast really sinned" becomes absolute where the condition has been verified. St. Alphonsus teaches that sins confessed as doubtful should be mentioned again as certain if it turns out that they are certain; and this doctrine he affirms to be the common opinion. The defenders of this view maintain as their great argument that the sin was not confessed as it was in the conscience at the moment when it was committed; then it was a peccatum certum; moreover, they argue, the sentence passed on a doubtful sin is quite different from that passed on a sin which is certain. Yet in the case of sins which have been confessed in round numbers St. Alphonsus himself teaches that even when the penitent afterwards recalls the exact number, he is not obliged to confess again; why, then, should this obligation be imposed on the penitent who has confessed his sin as doubtful when he discovers later that it was certain? A man who has confessed that he has committed a mortal sin about ten times and later discovers that the number was twelve must either confess as certain the two or more sins which were previously confessed as doubtful, or, if this obligation is denied, he cannot be obliged to confess a sin again which he has discovered to be certain after having already confessed it as doubtful. That in the first instance the penitent is free of all obligation to confess again, is the sententia communissima, and it is borne out by the practice of the faithful ; hence in the other case the same freedom must be granted, for both decisions rest on the same grounds. Nor can it be objected that the number of the sins is merely a circumstance, while the sin itself is a substantial fact, for the number belongs to the very substance, since it indicates so many substantial acts.

It is true that St. Alphonsus calls the affirmative opinion communis; but since Lugo (though even he gave his adhesion practically to the view of St. Alphonsus in consideration of the great number of theologians who favored it) has combated the view with strong arguments, later theologians adopted his side, so that the affirmative proposition maintaining the duty of confessing again can no longer be considered as communis. At present, as Ballerini aptly shows, the other view is the communior sententia and is established on good external and internal probability, and may be unhesitatingly considered as probabilior et communior.