Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
6. Of the Remote Matter of the Sacrament of Penance in Particular.
The remote matter of this Sacrament are, as we have already seen, the sins committed after Baptism. Those committed before Baptism are forgiven entirely in Baptism, wherefore they are not, properly speaking, subject to the Sacrament of Penance. Again, a man is not under the Church's jurisdiction till he is baptized, and this Sacrament of Penance is administered by virtue of the jurisdiction which the Church exercises over her members. The sins which are confessed are not, however, materia ex qua, as is water in the Sacrament of Baptism, by means of which the Sacrament is conferred, but materia circa quam, with regard to which the penitent performs the necessary acts and receives absolution. As, for example, in a lawsuit the matter proposed for decision and the sentence are called the matter of the case, so here the sins which form the object of the sacramental process instituted for the remission of sins are regarded as the remote matter of penance. This remote matter is divided into: —
1. Necessary and free matter (necessaria et libera), i.e. necessary as a consequence of the divine command, by which definite sins (a definite materia remota) must be submitted to the sacramental tribunal and the power of the keys, so that the penitent who wilfully neglects this course cannot receive the Sacrament validly. By free matter we understand those sins which the penitent voluntarily confesses whilst not bound to do so by divine law.
2. Certain and doubtful (certa et dubia), i.e. matter which in the judgment of the confessor is a certain and valid object of absolution; or matter regarding which absolution cannot be pronounced without misgiving.
3. Finally, sufficient and insufficient (sufficiens et insufficiens), i.e. such matter as suffices for the administering of the Sacrament and the granting of absolution, whether the matter be necessary or free, and such over which sacramental absolution cannot be pronounced.
Necessary matter comprises all grievous sins committed after Baptism and not at any former time submitted directly to the power of the keys; of all and each of them the penitent is obliged to accuse himself.
Sins are remitted directly when they have been remitted per se quite independently of other sins. This is the case when they have been explicitly confessed to a priest having the required jurisdiction. Sins are forgiven indirectly when they are remitted in conjunction with other sins, and not per se. This happens when a penitent omits a sin through invincible ignorance or forgetfulness or inability; or if a confessor without proper jurisdiction, for serious reasons, gives absolution. In both cases such sins are remitted in conjunction with the other sins which have been explicitly confessed and over which the priest had jurisdiction. This must be so, for a penitent cannot at the same time experience God's mercy by the remission of the sins which he has confessed and also be an object of God's wrath with respect to his other sins; moreover, the inpouring grace, through the remission of the sins that have been confessed, is not compatible with the presence of mortal sin remaining in the soul.
It is in consequence of Christ's institution that all the sins committed after Baptism and not yet directly forgiven, and also the sins only indirectly forgiven, must of necessity be revealed to the priest; for in appointing the priest to be His representative, Christ made him the judge before whom all mortal sins must be brought, that, in virtue of the power of the keys, he might pass sentence of loosing or binding. Over sins which have not yet been directly remitted the confessor has pronounced no judgment, for they were unknown to him; hence, in accordance with Christ's command, even sins indirectly forgiven must be submitted by confession to the power of the keys in order that they may obtain direct forgiveness.