Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Confessional. Part 39.

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

3. A third opinion demands, not a beginning of imperfect love, but perfect love in its first stages, that is, caritas initialis. It need not, however, be so strong as to suffice to remove sin of itself, nor need it be independent of other motives, such as servile fear. Such sorrow, however, would be no longer attritio, but contritio, which in any degree by itself justifies the sinner apart from the Sacrament.

4. The fourth opinion goes yet further and requires that along with attritio there should be not only pure love, but in such measure that of itself it should move the sinner to bewail his sins and give them up. This is of its nature contritio, whence the defenders of this last opinion are called contritionists. 

This question is not one of mere theoretical interest, but is of highly practical application; for if the acts of the penitent are the materia proxima of the Sacrament, and if it is the confessor's duty to make certain of the presence of these acts before giving absolution, he must do so also with respect to contrition; for this reason he must study the nature and properties of contrition in order to secure the integrity of the Sacrament.

From this it is at once apparent that the contritionist must proceed differently from the attritionist. The former will, if he is true to his principles, not only investigate whether the penitent's sorrow for sin be joined with belief and hope of pardon, but also whether that sorrow proceed from the love of God, or at least the beginning of it, which love must be a love of God above all things. This investigation, however, is very difficult, and wearisome to confessor and penitent, at least if the latter be uninstructed. The attritionist, on the contrary, merely inquires whether his penitent has sorrow springing from a motive of faith and the hope of forgiveness this inquiry offers no difficulty to either confessor or penitent. Once it is established that the sorrow comes from a motive of faith and is joined to the hope of pardon, one may fairly presume and conclude that there is amor initialis, so that further investigation is superfluous; for if we hope for good from any one, we have already at least a beginning of love for him.

Moreover, the confessor will observe that since the view requiring a beginning of love with imperfect contrition is more probable than the opposite, probabilitate externa et interna, it is also the safer; since, however, in giving and receiving the Sacraments an explicit papal decision enjoins the adoption of the safer view, it is not only of counsel but of precept, strongly binding, to elicit before receiving the Sacrament of Penance together with contrition an act of love, if only initial love. Though the initial love which is comprised in the imperfect contrition is not the love of benevolence or caritas, but the amor concupiscentiæ, yet caritas is in no way excluded from it, and cannot be excluded without grievous sin on the part of the penitent. Would it not be the sign of a bad disposition if a man were expressly unwilling to avoid sin if it did not deprive him of heaven or lead him to hell? "I do not say," says St. Francis de Sales on this subject, "that this sorrow excludes the perfect love of God; I say only that it does not of its own nature include it; it neither rejects it nor embraces it; it is not opposed to love, but it can exist without it."

Thus imperfect contrition disposes the penitent towards perfect love. Any one who desires and hopes to attain so great a boon as the grace of God, all unmerited as it is, will certainly be unable to refrain from meditating on the infinite love which procures him this great grace, and from that he will rise to the love of God for His own sake as infinitely good and lovable. Hence St. Thomas says that whenever a man hopes to get a benefit from God he is led to love God for His own sake only. 

We add one more practical observation: The imperfect contrition arising from fear of hell, which excludes the desire of sin, and in which is contained at least virtually the hope of pardon, is quite sufficient to secure the fruit of the Sacrament of Penance; yet we ought to take pains that we have, as far as possible, perfect contrition, not only because this is more pleasing to God, but also because in this way the grace is made more certain and more grace is obtained and a greater measure of the temporal punishment remitted; because we are thus more sure of attaining true and necessary attrition, and finally, because we fulfill in this manner the precept which binds us to make, from time to time during our lives, an act of love. Indeed if a penitent chose to dwell only on the lowest motives of contrition, it would be a sign that his heart was not sufficiently fixed upon God, and there would be occasion for suspecting that there still lurked in his soul an undue affection for sin, curbed only by fear of punishment.