Monday, 13 March 2017

The Confessional. Part 90.

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

If a penitent doubts positively whether he has sinned in some action, and it is probable that advertence or consent, etc., was wanting, or that full deliberation or consent was absent, he is not obliged to accuse himself of this action in confession.

On the other hand, theologians are not so clear as to the obligation of confessing sins which are doubtful dubio negativo pro utraque parte. The older theologians, among whom St. Thomas and other eminent doctors are to be found (Sanchez enumerates forty), insist on the duty of confessing this class of doubtful sins. This opinion is founded on the decree of the Council of Trent declaring that all grave sins quorum conscientiam habent (sc. pænitentes) must be confessed; thus the penitent must confess the sins as they are in themselves, those which are certain as certain and those which are doubtful as doubtful. This is the general and constant practice of the faithful, and by that fact we may consider it as proceeding from Christ's institution.

Other theologians, of no small weight both by their number and authority, do not impose the obligation of confessing these doubtful sins. St. Alphonsus also defended this view in a very convincing manner on internal grounds. The Council of Trent binds penitents only to reveal those sins quorum conscientiam habent; it says nothing about uti sunt in conscientia, or telling undoubted sins as certain and doubtful as doubtful, .but only quorum conscientiam habent, which means those of which they have certain knowledge; for, according to St. Bernard, conscientia is nothing more than cordis scientia and judicium practicum on the sins incurred. Now doubtful knowledge is neither knowledge (scientia) nor a judgment (judicium), but a suspensio judicii; hence no one can have a conscientia peccati who has no proof that he has incurred sin. This is the answer to the arguments of the first opinion. Weight is added to this answer by the very words of the same Council: "It is well known that in the Church of God nothing more is demanded of the penitents but that each one after diligent examination . . . confess those sins by which he is conscious to himself of having grievously offended his Lord and God; the remaining sins, however, which do not occur to him after diligent examination are considered as included generally in the same confession," Since, therefore, concludes the holy Doctor, the penitent is not bound to confess his venial sins, he is not bound to confess the doubtful ones, for the Council says he is not obliged to confess any but the mortal sins of which he has knowledge; but to doubt is not " to have knowledge'' it is rather " to be wanting in knowledge." Moreover, an onus certum ought not to be inflicted for a delictum dubium, and in the doubt whether the law exists there is no obligation to observe the law. Finally, he who doubts without good foundation should not heed the doubt. The faithful, it is true, do confess these doubtful sins in order to gain peace and ease of conscience, but not because they are bound to do so; it is also customary and general for them to confess those which are positively dubious, and no one holds that this is of obligation, not even our opponents.