Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Confessional. Part 28.

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

First and foremost, a preliminary act of faith and hope of obtaining pardon by the merits of Christ should be made. How can he repent of his sins who does not believe that there is a God and that God is offended by sin, who does not believe that God is faithful to His promises and merciful to sinners, and who does not hope that God will pardon him? These acts of faith and hope, though they need not be made explicitly, are the foundations of contrition; on them are built up the remaining elements which go to form the perfect act. These are: —

1. The knowledge of the hatefulness of sin as an offense against God, and of the awful punishments which the sinner incurs. This knowledge is necessary in order to acquire contrition, for the law of man's nature makes him love and strive for what his reason proposes to him under the appearance of good, and hate and avoid what it presents as evil.

2. An act of the will, which desires to avoid the evil now known as such; on this follows: —

3. The hatred of past sins which have caused that evil, and the desire of undoing the sin committed. This desire, in the abstract, is only a velleity and quite inefficacious, for that which is done cannot be undone; but it is of efficacy in so far as it means a wish to undo, if it were possible, the sin by which God has been offended and punishment incurred.

4. From this hatred there arises in the rational appetite or in the will a sorrow and real distress that the sins have been committed ; hence also follows: —

5. In the sensitive appetite, by picturing to ourselves the horror and evil consequences of sin, a certain hatred and sorrow, which may become so keen as to produce sighs and tears.

6. The resolve and firm determination never more to sin and offend God, or, what comes to the same thing, a resolution to observe faithfully and perfectly God's commands.

7. Finally, there appears in the truly repentant sinner a willingness to render satisfaction to God for past sins, to chastise and punish himself, and to repair God's honor.

Contrition is either perfect or imperfect 1 according as the sorrow and hatred arise from a motive of perfect love or of some supernatural motive which is inferior to perfect love. Since we understand here by love (caritas) the amor benevolentiæ, by which we love God above all things for His own sake, i.e. on account of His infinite perfections, we may define perfect contrition (contritio) as a sorrow and hatred for past sins together with a firm purpose never more to sin, because sin is an injury to God, who is loved above all things for His own sake.

Imperfect contrition (attritio) may be founded on many other supernatural motives; these are usually, as the Council of Trent declares, the fear of hell or punishment and the hatefulness of sin. Thus imperfect contrition may be defined: sorrow and detestation of past sin with the determination never more to sin, because sin is an offense against God, who utterly abhors it on account of its hatefulness and avenges it with punishment. The thought of God, the supreme Lord of all, infinitely holy, to whom sin is detestable by its shamefulness, fills the sinner with confusion; the thought of God, who punishes sin with infinite justice, fills him with fear of the punishments of sin, and, impelled by this fear, he repents of having offended God by his sin.

Perfect and imperfect contrition coincide in this respect, that they are both a supernatural sorrow and hatred for sin regarded as an injury to God; they differ, however, specifically in this, that perfect contrition proceeds from perfect love of God, and imperfect contrition from a variety of other less noble motives; they also differ in their efficacy. 2

1 This is the distinction given by the Council of Trent in Sess. 14, cp. 4: Perfect contrition is very aptly and simply called contritio in its restricted meaning, while imperfect contrition is called attritio. The figure is taken from solid bodies which, when pounded to dust, are contrita, but when broken into fragments are attrita. " The heart of man may be compared to wood for kindling. By contrition (contritio and attritio) the heart is rubbed; as the rubbing is increased, the heart, like wood, becomes drier and warmer, till there bursts forth a flame; this flame is sanctifying grace; and just as fire consumes wood, so charity consumes the crushed heart (cor contritum) and burns out its sin." (Oswald, Die dogmat. Lehre von den heilig. Sakramenten, II. Bd. Funft. Teil, Zweit. Abschnitt, Erst. Hauptst. § 7, S. 82.)

2 Since perfect contrition arises from perfect love, it is of great importance, after considering the infinite goodness and dignity of God, to make an act of love and then an act of sorrow. The synod assembled in 1725 under Benedict XIII offers a form of contrition which was composed for the use of children: " My Lord and my God, who art infinitely good and holy, I love Thee above all things and repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee so often by my sins. I detest them above all other evils. I humbly beg Thy forgiveness, and I promise with the help of Thy grace never more to offend Thee." (Collect. Lacensis Cone, Tom. I. p. 458, Fribourg, 1870.) Another form is given by St. Alphonsus: "My God, Thou art infinitely good; therefore I love Thee above all things; and because I love Thee I am sorry for all the sins which I have committed against Thee, O infinite Goodness. My God, I will never more sin against Thee; I will rather die than offend Thee again." Perfect contrition might be aroused also in the following manner: " O Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all love, I love Thee above all things, and therefore 1 am sorry for all my sins and detest them above all things, because by them I have offended Thee and incurred Thy anger. I am firmly resolved never more to offend Thee." (Mulier, Theol. Moral. 1. c. § 112.)