Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Confessional. Part 3.


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

Part I


1. The Virtue of Penance.

At all times penance has been the necessary means (necessitate medii ad salutem) of obtaining pardon for those who had committed mortal sin. "If we do not do penance, we shall fall into the hands of the Lord," is the warning of the Old Testament (Ecclus. ii. 22). And when God sent His prophets, it was to arouse men to repentance by the announcement of His wrath, and threatening punishments. The forerunner of Our Lord solemnly exhorts the assembled crowds, "Do penance; the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Our Lord Himself insists on the same point with awful determination, "Unless you do penance you shall all likewise perish" (Luke xiii. 3). He proclaims as the task of His own public ministry and the great mission of His Church, "to call sinners to repentance" (Luke v. 32). Accordingly, the burden of the Apostles' preaching was, "Do penance" (Acts ii. 38), for "God hath also to the gentiles given repentance unto life" (Acts xi. 18).

Thus penance is indispensable to the sinner by divine ordinance, as the Council of Trent expressly teaches (Sess. xiv. c. 1). It is not less clearly dictated by natural law. "For reason prompts man to do penance for the sins which he has committed; but divine command determines the manner according to which it is to be performed." (S. Th. S. Theol. III. Q. 84, art. 7 ad 7.)

Taken in its widest sense, penance may be defined as a regret for some past action. Such a regret is not necessarily virtuous, for a morally indifferent or even a good action may be to us a source of displeasure and grief. But even in its restricted meaning, denoting grief, on account of some bad action, penance does not yet include the idea of virtue. Grief is caused by the perception of anything we look upon as an evil. Now sin may be regarded as an evil in more than one way. Then only does our penance rise to the height of a virtue, if we feel sorry for our sins, not by reason of some temporal disadvantage we have incurred, but for God's sake, whose holy law we have transgressed and whose majesty we have outraged. In other words, the virtue of penance requires that we detest sin as an evil of a higher, supernatural order.

Penance is not a virtue of its own and specifically distinct from other virtues. St. Thomas considers it as belonging to the virtue of justice, because by it we perform an act of justice toward God, since we restore to Him the honor of which sin has deprived Him, and make reparation for our wrongdoings. (S. Th. S. Theol. III. Q. 85, art. 3 ad 3.) Apparently, it springs from the virtue of religion, as an effect thereof; for to detest one's sin as an injustice done to God implies an acknowledgment of His sovereign goodness and majesty. This submission to God is an act of the virtue of religion. (Cf. Müller, Theol. Mor. Lib. III. Tit. II. § 106.) Furthermore, Lehmkuhl (Theol. Mor. Tom. II. § 1, De Poenit. n. 251; cf. Palmieri, Pœnit. (Rome, 1879), p. 18 et seq.) is right in attaching the act of penance to virtues of different species. For sin, being in many ways an evil and opposed to holiness and duty, may be deplored from different reasons; and so our penance belongs to that virtue which supplies the motive of sorrow. Thus, a sinner may loathe his impurity from a love of purity, his intemperance from a love of temperance, his pride from a love of humility; he may also abhor sins because they are repugnant to more general virtues, such as the love of God and gratitude toward God. (While theologians are united in admitting a virtus generalis pænitenliæ having its own material and formal object, they fail to agree on the definition of the formal object. Cf. Suarez, Lugo, and more especially Palmieri, I. e.)