Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Confessional. Part 43.

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

Not all theologians, however, admit temporal punishments as motives of supernatural sorrow (among them Vasquez and Toletus); they try to weaken the argument drawn from the Council of Trent by asserting that the Council does not speak of two motives, which apart from one another can give rise to sufficient contrition, but that the words are to be taken conjunctively, so that the fear of earthly punishments must be joined to fear of the pains of hell, since the latter only are made known to us by faith. Our proof is in no way invalidated by this argument; besides, many theologians, and those the most famous, stand by the first view, so that it may be considered as the sententia communis. The words of one of them, the eminent Suarez, may be quoted here. He writes: "Hence I infer that such sorrow [as is required for the valid reception of the Sacrament of Penance] must proceed from a divine and supernatural motive. That a temporal and human sorrow is not sufficient is plain from the words of the Council of Trent, and the reason is not to be misunderstood, for such a motive does not deprive the will of the affection towards sin." And in another place he writes: "Vega (1. 13 in Trid. c. 14) concedes that sorrow based on the fear of other punishment apart from hell-fire is sufficient for attrition. This view is correct if we suppose that the fear is not merely human and natural. Granted that the pains be only temporal, if they are considered as inflicted by God, as proclaiming God's .anger, as being a foretaste in some way of the divine punishments in the next life if we do not reform, they can move us to a supernatural sorrow which may fairly be classed with the sorrow which is based on the fear of hell; thus we exercise the virtue of Christian hope when we look to God for temporal benefits in so far as they affect in any way our eternal life or fall under the special and supernatural providence of God."

Since, however, the negative proposition denying the efficacy of sorrow springing from fear of earthly punishments for reception of the Sacrament is the safer one and is not altogether improbable, it is the view which must be adopted in practice; so a penitent should not confine himself to the thought of the temporal penalties, but use it to proceed to the consideration of the divine justice as revealed in eternal penalties, "for," as Lugo expresses it, " this consideration will create the fear of God, who can inflict both one and the other penalty." This last reflection will certainly move him to a determined resolution to avoid sin as the greatest of evils, and to avoid it even if that involves other suffering. If, however, a man dwell on the thought of the suffering which his sins have drawn upon him, or on the suffering which usually follows in the train of sin, he will not necessarily be induced thereby to resolve steadfastly to shun sin more than any other evil; for it is possible that the avoiding of sin may involve him in greater misfortunes in this life than those which would come from committing the sin; and it is impossible that the fear of a less evil will effectually nerve a man to endure the worse evil. Nevertheless the sorrow and purpose of amendment, if they are to be of any use for justification, must be such as to determine the man implicite to endure all the evils of this life rather than commit sin; and though the penitent is not obliged to reflect explicite on the matter, yet the motive of his sorrow and amendment must be so powerful that, as long as this motive is present, it would compel him to choose any suffering rather than sin. Finally, it may be mentioned that the consideration of the temporal suffering is a powerful weapon in the hands of the confessor to move an obstinate and unrepentant sinner to contrition, and thence to lead him to higher and safer motives.