Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Confessional. Part 94.

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

II. If a man is certain that he has committed a grave sin but doubts upon slight grounds whether he has confessed it, he must accuse himself of it; but if he has a sufficient probability that it has been confessed, he is under no obligation.

In this case some positive reason is required to show that he has complied with the obligation of confessing the sin, for an undoubted command is not satisfied by a doubtful fulfilment; but where there is really good reason to suppose that the sin has been confessed, that is, a reason which, though open to some doubts, offers some probability, the obligation may, in accordance with the principles of probability, be regarded as not binding. "For if we are to avoid making laws and duties odious, we ought to concede something to human probability taken in a broad sense; thus presumption in a case of this kind often presents proof of sufficient probability and security."

Hence a man who is accustomed to make his confessions with care, and later on is unable to remember whether he has confessed this or that sin, may presume that he has confessed it, and he is not obliged to confess it again. This is the teaching of many eminent theologians. Although St. Alphonsus affirms that a man is obliged to mention again a sin which has probably been already confessed, he does not condemn the contrary opinion. If, again, a man who has been converted from a habit of sin, and for a long period has been leading a good life, begins to doubt whether, in the confessions either general or particular which have been made with suitable care, some sin or circumstance has been withheld, he may be forbidden to mention that sin or circumstance, or even to think of the past at all. Finally, scrupulous people ought only to confess their past sins when they are quite certain that they have never confessed them; this is the sententia communissima.

On the whole it is recommended in practice to mention doubtfully confessed sins, because their confession helps much to peace of soul and allays all anxieties.

Quite distinct from the preceding question is the case in which a man fully confesses as certain some sin which he has committed, but which neither he nor the confessor considered at the time as a mortal sin; if afterwards, in consequence of better instruction or advice, he discovers that the sin was mortal ex genere suo, he is not obliged to repeat it, for it was already perfectly confessed and it is not necessary for the validity of confession that the penitent or confessor should know that the matter of a sin is grave, and it is the matter only that is involved in this case.