Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Confessional. Part 52.

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

After exposing the three views which have divided theologians on this point, St. Alphonsus concludes: The last two views are certainly the more probable; but since the first has also a certain probability, it must in practice be followed ante factum. He holds that a penitent would be obliged to repeat his confession if he had confessed in good faith without an express purpose of amendment, though with real contrition such as would include a virtual purpose; his argument being that, since the first opinion is sufficiently probable, a penitent who had certainly incurred mortal sin is bound to avow the same in a confession that was certainly and not merely probably valid. Now, as we have shown above, the first opinion can hardly lay claim to any probability, though the holy Doctor concedes it as such mainly because he was misled by Lacroix into believing that he had distinguished authorities on his side.

Besides, St. Alphonsus teaches in another part of his Moral Theology (1. c. n. 505) that the penitent should not be obliged to repeat his confession unless there be a moral certainty of its invalidity — a doctrine quite in accordance with the sententia communis and with excellent reason maintained by Lacroix, Gobat, etc., in opposition to Antoine, one of the most conspicuous rigorists of his time.

In the case under consideration it may be decided with moral certainty that a confession made with a virtual purpose of amendment is rather valid than invalid, especially since, according to St. Alphonsus himself, the champions of all these opinions unite in declaring that a confession made without an express resolution of amendment need not be repeated, for they would certainly have decided for the repetition if they had thought such a confession invalid. Hence theologians deny communissima sententia that a formal purpose of amendment (if the contrition is based on a universal motive) is necessary necessitate sacramenti; they admit that confessions are valid without the express purpose of amendment. Add to this that St. Alphonsus in his Homo Apostolicus taught that confessions made with only a virtual purpose of amendment need not be repeated. 1

We conclude with the following principles: —

1. In order to receive the Sacrament validly and to share in its essential effects, a virtual or implicit purpose of amendment is sufficient if the sorrow proceed from a universal motive.

2. If confession has been made without a formal and express purpose of amendment, there is no obligation to repeat the confession as though it had been invalid.

3. The faithful should be taught and urged to make a formal resolution of amendment in the course of their preparation for confession.

The reason of this last prescription is not so much to be found in any doubt with regard to confessions made without the express purpose of amendment, but to secure a more abundant fruit from the Sacrament. We shall certainly with the grace of God make more earnest endeavors to avoid sin and to reform if we expressly, deliberately, and with all our heart resolve to avoid sin. Indeed, as Lehmkuhl justly observes, apart from the grace of the Sacrament and the instruction and advice of our confessor, the frequent reception of this Sacrament serves to secure us against relapse, for our wills need a frequent stimulus to remain firm in the hatred of sin. Not infrequently one cause of our relapses is a weak purpose of amendment.

1 The Turin edition of his Moral Theology defends the doctrine held in the present work, and shows that the holy Doctor was always expending labor on the text of the Moral Theology and correcting it up to the end of his life. Aertnys, moreover, declares (appealing to S. Alph. Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 53, Lib. III. n. 700, and Lib. VI. n. 505) that there is no obligation of repeating the confession ; and Marcus (Institut. Moral. Alphons. P. III. Tract. V. Diss. II. cp. I. art. II. n. 1680) adopts Scavini's view: In praxi no one need be disturbed in this matter, since it can hardly happen that a really contrite penitent will omit the formal purpose of amendment. Miiller (1. c. § 117) requires for the validity of the confession a formal resolution to amend, and maintains that confessions made without the formal resolution are to be repeated.