Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Confessional. Part 40.

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

14. The Necessary Qualities of Contrition.

If the Sacrament of Penance is to be received validly and with fruit, the contrition must be real, formal, supernatural, universal, supreme, and sacramental. 

1. First of all, the contrition must be real or genuine. Now contrition is, according to the Council of Trent, a grief of the soul and a horror of sin. A sorrow expressed only in words would be a sham sorrow; that would not do: a real sorrow is required. A sorrow merely imaginary, even without guilt on the part of the penitent, in which case his good faith would certainly save him from the guilt of a sacrilege, could not possibly supply for the want of a necessary and essential part of the Sacrament. Hence God's command by the prophet Joel: Scindite corda vestra et non vestimenta vestra — Rend your hearts and not your garments (the sign of mourning; Joel ii. 3). And truly it is meet that sorrow should begin there where sin had its origin, namely, in the heart; for from the heart, as the Scripture tells us, come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc. 

The contrition must be formal, i.e. explicit; a virtual or implicit contrition, such as is contained in another act, say in an act of love or the resolution to confess and receive absolution, is not enough even though it excludes the affection towards sin.

Thus a penitent might conceivably elicit an act of perfect love without making any act of contrition, and then, after confessing his sins, be justified in virtue of the act of perfect love, though he would not validly receive absolution if he confined himself to the act of love. The contrition must be quite explicit, for it is the essential matter of the Sacrament, and virtual matter here would be about as practical as virtual bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Hence it is not enough to say: "I love thee, 0 my God, above all things, because thou art the sovereign good; forgive me my sins." Such words are only an act of love and a prayer for pardon, not a formal act of sorrow. The words must be explicit : "I am sorry for my sins." 

Hence we see the error in the opinion held by several of the older theologians, who called attrition any kind of sorrow which did not come up to the standard of perfect contrition by want of an adequate motive of sorrow, or through deficiency of resolution of amendment, or because sin was not shunned as the greatest of evils.

Others besides have conjectured that it was necessary and sufficient for absolution in the Sacrament that the penitent believes he had contrition, i.e. that he ought to make efforts to be contrite and to believe that he has perfect contrition; such a putative sorrow, according to them, was sufficient, however distinct it might be from the sorrow of perfect contrition.

Both views are false. If imperfect contrition were only a velleity, instead of being a real horror of sin, it would not be sufficient for the Sacrament, and such sorrow could never be called genuine attrition. On the contrary, any sorrow which has the properties enumerated above is sufficient even if the penitent knowingly confine his efforts to imperfect contrition without aspiring to perfect it. 

There were also some theologians who maintained as a probable opinion that the virtual sorrow included in a formal act of love or in a resolution of amendment was sufficient. This view is stigmatized by Suarez as rash, by Vasquez as false. Other theologians, however, consider that this condemnation is too severe.

On this question Reuter remarks that a penitent need not be worried about the formal act of sorrow if he has elicited an act of perfect love while reflecting on his sins (memor peccatorum), for it is morally impossible for any one with his sins before his eyes to elicit an act of perfect love of God without detesting his sins. The same may be said with regard to the purpose of amendment, for it is morally impossible to form it without having formal sorrow. This is made clear from the consideration of any practical resolution which is based on supernatural motives ; for if the hatred of sin is not yet a formal detestation and sorrow of past sin, it becomes so in any one who reflects that he has been guilty of sin.