Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Confessional. Part 75.

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

The wounding and killing of a man are external actions which in ratione peccati complete the sinful act of the will, and so it is not enough to confess, "I had the desire to wound." If he has inflicted a wound, it is enough to say, "I have dealt a wound," for he has sufficiently indicated by that avowal the internal act. If, again, a man wounded another intending to kill, it is not enough to say, "I intended to kill," but he must add, "and I wounded the man."

With regard to the obligation of confessing the effect ¹ of a mortal sin theologians are not of one mind, since it is not always clear whether the evil effect flowing from a cause voluntarily chosen is in sese a sin or not. It is certain that the malus effectus of a sinful action must be confessed if such effect fall under a reservation, or under a censure, or if the question of restitution is to be settled. However, it is certain that if such effects were not at all foreseen, there is no obligation to confess them. Thus a murder committed under the influence of drink need not be confessed, supposing that such a consequence had been altogether unforeseen.

As to the other cases, those theologians who deny that the malus effectus voluntarius in causa is a sin, because the effect is no longer in se voluntary or, being beyond the control of the will, is desired only in its cause (voluntarius in causa est), maintain that such an effect need not be confessed. Other theologians, as St. Thomas, Suarez, Soto, Sanchez, etc., make a distinction, teaching that the malus effectus is no sin, when the evil will has been retracted by contrition and repentance before the act has taken place whose effect cannot be hindered; if, however, the evil will lasts, the effect is a sin. Hence a priest who, to escape saying his office, would throw his breviary into the sea, but repent of his act immediately after, is not obliged to confess the omission of his office, since the omission was not a sin, but only the evil effect of a sin already repented of. So, too, a man who has given another poison and, before death takes place, confesses his crime with sorrow is not obliged, after death has taken place, to accuse himself again of murder. On the other hand, the evil effects which take place when the will did not retract must be confessed, since they are at least the completion of the external sin and share in the malice of the cause. Mazzotta makes a distinction here which is very apt. He says: if an effect follows from a sinful act, and though it may be prevented, is not so prevented, the penitent must confess the effect because it completes his neglect in so far as this is an external sin; if the effect cannot be hindered, there is no obligation per se loquendo to confess the malus effectus, for it is neither a sin in se nor does it externally complete the sin. To the preceding we add two observations: —

1. Since the duty of making a complete confession rests on a command, we are not obliged per se to confess what is probabiliter not enjoined by the precept, for, in accordance with sound principles of probabilism, a doubtful law has no binding force. To this we may add, that a confession is valid in which the penitent omits nothing through any grievous fault of his own, that is, knowingly or through culpable ignorance and carelessness. Now the principles of probability furnish a practically safe conscience with regard to the limits of a command; hence in this case the confession is entire, at least formally entire, and that is sufficient for the validity and grace of the Sacrament.

2. If the penitent, through forgetfulness or for some lawful reason, without any blame attaching to him, omits to mention something which is necessary for the integrity of the confession, he is bound to disclose it on the next occasion; for, by the decision of the Council of Trent, each and every mortal sin of which one is conscious must be mentioned, that it may be directly remitted; hence if sins occur to the mind which have not yet been confessed, they must be submitted to the power of the keys. Thus Alexander VII condemned the proposition: Sins which have been forgotten or omitted in confession on account of instant danger to life or for any other reason, need not be mentioned in the next confession (cf. Prop. 11 damn.).

¹ The effect of a mortal sin is omne id quod consequitur ad totum peccatum completum in individuo; e.g. the wish to kill is externally completed in esse peccati by the giving of poison; the death which ensues is called the effectus peccati.