Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Confessional. Part 32.

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

12. The Effects of Perfect Contrition and the Obligation of Procuring it.

Perfect contrition restores the sinner to grace at once, even before he has approached the Sacrament of Penance, though the desire of receiving the Sacrament is necessary; it removes the eternal punishment and in part the temporal punishment.

The first part of this statement is fidei proximo, for the Council of Trent teaches that perfect contrition reconciles man to God before the Sacrament is received, but that this reconciliation by perfect contrition is not effected without the desire, which is included in the act of contrition, of receiving the Sacrament. This doctrine was confirmed by the condemnation pronounced by Gregory XIII and Urban VIII on the twenty-first and thirty-second of the propositions of Baius. Baius and Jansenius taught among other things that perfect contrition without the Sacrament cannot restore to grace unless in exceptional circumstances, e.g. in martyrdom, at the hour of death, when there is no possibility of confessing, or when it is summe intensa.

Finally, this doctrine of the efficacy of perfect contrition is clearly expressed in Holy Scripture and in the monuments of tradition; the proofs belong to the domain of dogmatic theology. We add only a single consideration which springs from a well-known principle: Perfect contrition arises from love and is in its essence nothing but an act of love. Now perfect love unites us to God, so that we live in Him and He in us. This perfect union with God overcomes all separation from Him which arose through sin.

Such, then, is the effect of perfect contrition, however poor and weak it may be, for in spite of this it is a sorrow which is inspired and informed by perfect love. Nor does a greater or less degree change the species; the Council of Trent is positive in its declaration that perfect contrition reconciles us to God, and assigns no limit which must be attained before producing this effect. Such, too, is the unanimous teaching of St. Thomas, St. Alphonsus, and the other great theologians.

The sinner is restored to grace by perfect contrition without the Sacrament only when he has the intention of receiving it, for the actual, or at least intentional, reception of the Sacrament is the one single means ordained by Christ for the removal of mortal sin. This intention is included in the act of perfect contrition, as the Council of Trent goes on to teach; hence all theologians hold that the implicit desire (votum implicitum) is sufficient, for whoever has true contrition has the wish to fulfill all the commands of God, and hence the command of Christ enjoining the confession of sin. Perfect contrition is an act of perfect love, and this urges man to fulfill the commands of God in accordance with Christ's words: "He who loves Me will keep My word." Hence it may happen that a sinner is justified by an act of perfect contrition without any actual confession; it is sufficient that he does not exclude the purpose of confessing his sin.

The resolution to confess the sin does not include the resolution to confess it as soon as possible (quam primum). It is enough to confess when a precept of God or of the Church urges.

The other effect of perfect contrition, the remission of eternal punishment, follows from what we have been already considering; moreover the condemnation of Barns' seventieth proposition makes this doctrine proxima fidei. This, too, is the teaching of all Catholic theologians. The guilt is removed by sanctifying grace; but one who has sanctifying grace is a child of God, and has as his heritage a claim to heaven.

Finally, we gather from the Council of Trent and the common doctrine of theologians  that a part also of the temporal punishment of sin, in proportion to the intensity of contrition, is remitted, so that a very great and perfect contrition may blot out all the temporal punishment.

Two very practical remarks, applicable both to confessor and to penitent, may find their place here.

Mortal sin is not forgiven, and the sinner is not reconciled to God, till he has made good the injury done to God; in other words, till he has done penance. This is a truth of faith.  4It follows, then, that he who has the misfortune to fall into sin is obliged to repent of it, and in such wise as to obtain forgiveness; to adopt any other course is to frustrate the whole end of his existence. He must therefore make an act of perfect contrition, or supplement the imperfect contrition by the Sacrament of Penance.

This obligation is certainly pressing when there is danger of death, because it is the necessary means for salvation, and every man is bound by love of God and of himself to take precautions against being forever an enemy of God and of being involved in eternal damnation.