Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Confessional. Part 41.

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

Mary Magdalene drying Christ’s feet Origin Veneto or Umbria, c. 1280-1300 

2. The sorrow which disposes for the worthy reception of the Sacrament must on the one hand be prompted by divine supernatural grace which begins, accompanies, and perfects the whole work of salvation, and on the other must proceed from some supernatural motive based on faith; for the dispositions required for a supernatural gift must be supernatural. The second condition is more important, for God will certainly give grace to a man to do that which he is obliged to do. Merely natural or worldly love or fear will give rise to natural sorrow; supernatural sorrow springs from a supernatural fear or love of God. The distinction between the two is not merely quantitative but qualitative; they have nothing in common, and no amount of natural sorrow will ever rise to the dignity of supernatural sorrow. Natural sorrow is of no efficacy in the work of conversion. When the prophets exhort to repentance they do not confine themselves to exhort the sinner, "Be converted," but, "Be ye converted to the Lord your God." A true penitent was, in their eyes, not one who turned from his sins; they required that he should also turn to God. Sorrow, then, must have a religious character, must be prompted by divine grace, must spring either from fear or love of God.

If sorrow is to have this Supernatural character, it must be based on supernatural motives suggested by faith. Faith is the first condition for justification which the Council of Trent demands of the sinner; in addition to this other conditions are laid down, especially the act of hope. These acts need not be formally elicited, but it is required that the motive of sorrow for sin should proceed from faith if it is to be of use for salvation.

We may thus approach the question which, as Lehmkuhl says, many moralists treat with a certain scrupulosity — whether before the Sacrament is received explicit acts of faith and hope must be made, or whether implicit acts are sufficient. Lehmkuhl himself answers the question as follows: To require that the penitent should elicit an act of faith with its formal object explicitly and with deliberation before or apart from the act of contrition is unreasonable; there would be reason for it only in the case of a penitent who had lost his faith by sinning against it. But an act of faith meaning the assent to a proposition of faith which springs from the habit of faith (assensum in aliquam veritatem ut fide notam ab habitu fidei oriundum), is rightly demanded since it is otherwise impossible to derive contrition from a supernatural motive. Thus there is no doubt that a formal and explicit act of faith is necessary; but this is certainly present if the necessary contrition be there.

Accordingly St. Alphonsus is quite justified in believing that he can reconcile the divergent views of the theologians by teaching that formal faith is certainly necessary, but not reflex faith: that is a separate and distinct consideration of the grounds of faith. It is just the same with regard to hope; for if a man receive the Sacrament in a genuine spirit of penance in order to get forgiveness of his sins, he is making an act of hope explicite (though not yet reflexe, still exercite) that God will grant him pardon in the Sacrament through the merits of Christ. All this, however, holds good only for the faithful who are instructed in the things necessary for salvation.