Friday, 3 February 2017

The Confessional. Part 73.

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

22. Extent of the Integrity of Confession.

For a complete confession it is necessary to state clearly and precisely not only all mortal sins, but their number and species and the circumstances which change the species. This is the doctrine of the Council of Trent when it enjoins the confession of each and every sin; to do this a man must give the number of the mortal sins committed. One who has missed Mass ten times and merely confesses, "I have missed Mass," has not confessed each and every sin, for an indeterminate number, by the very fact of being undetermined, does not necessarily mean the number ten; it may mean ten, but that possibility does not indicate the number. With regard to the confession of the species and of the circumstances changing the species, the Council teaches expressly that the circumstances which change the kind (species) of sin ought to be confessed. Since those circumstances are to be expressed which change the kind of sin, nothing can be clearer than that, in accordance with the decision of the Council, the sins are to be confessed according to their species. ¹

The reasons which the Council ² gives for insisting on the duty of confessing the species of sin are that otherwise the sins would not be perfectly revealed by the penitent or understood by the judge, and that without a knowledge of the species of the sin the judge would be unable to pronounce on the gravity of the sin and to inflict a suitable punishment for it.

Thus the reasons which hold for the completeness of the confession require also the species and number of the sins; without them the confession has not the completeness which is demanded for it. The confessor is a judge who must have the most accurate knowledge of his penitent in order to pronounce sentence and inflict the necessary penalty. Now he cannot know the state of his penitent unless he is acquainted with the number and species of his sins, for it is the species which determines the nature or essence of the sin. Besides, the sins ought to be confessed according to their malice, but this can be estimated only from the kind of sin and the number of times it has been committed. Not all sins against the sixth commandment have the same malice or belong to the same species, for to the special malice of impurity may be added that of sacrilege or adultery if the sinner be consecrated by vow to God or in the married state. And there is no doubt that one who has committed a crime ten times is more deserving of punishment than he who has fallen only once.

¹ It is to be noted that in speaking of the classification of sins we abstract from the physical, we confine ourselves to the moral species which indicates the peculiar malice of the sin; for instance, the ordeal by fire is physically distinct from the ordeal by water, but morally they are in the same species, because the malice is the same in both sins. Cf. Suarez, De Poenit Disp. 22, Sect. 2, n. 3.

² Sess. XIV. cp. 5.