Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Confessional. Part 92.

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


From this teaching it follows that he who has a negative doubt as to whether he sinned is not stricte loquendo obliged to confess before communicating; but in order to make sure of the required dispositions he ought either to make an act of perfect contrition or receive sacramental absolution after confessing something which is included under materia certa.

For the rest it is in practice generally recommended to the faithful, in order to secure peace of soul, to mention even their doubtful mortal sins, though there is no obligation to do so, and the confession without the accusation of these sins is complete; they must, however, be instructed to confess these sins as doubtful and not as certain. If a penitent have only sins of this sort to accuse himself of, he has a right to conditional absolution on the first accusation of them. It is better, however, to add other certain matter as the sins of one's past life; this is required if the absolution is to be unconditional.

In practice the following rules might be profitably observed: —

1. If there be a doubt as to whether the matter of a sin be grave, ill-instructed penitents (pænitentes rudes) should confess their doubts because (a) they cannot guide their own consciences, or they do so with great difficulty, and because (b) for the most part they do not know how to distinguish between mortal and venial sin. Exception, of course, is made for the scrupulous who are not in the habit of frequently committing mortal sin. Well-instructed penitents are certainly not obliged to confess doubtful mortal sins, since they are in a position to guide their own consciences; yet they are advised to do so, for then their confessor is informed of the dangers to which his penitent is exposed and can warn, instruct, and free him from them.

2. If the doubt turns on the free consent of the will or full advertence, (a) penitents of timorous consciences, who do not ordinarily sin mortally, are in no way obliged to confess doubtful sins, for the presumption is in their favor: ex communiter contingentibus fit prudens præsumptio. Since they are not in the habit of sinning mortally, it is fair to presume that their doubtful sins are not mortal; indeed they ought not infrequently to be deterred from confessing them if they are inclined to scrupulosity. " A man of approved virtue who is worried as to whether he has consented to an impure temptation may be morally certain that he has not consented; for it is morally impossible that a will so constant in good resolutions should change without giving unmistakable signs." (b) Penitents who, though not timorous, are not lax are certainly not obliged to confess a doubtful consent, though they may be advised to do so to secure peace of conscience and the other benefits which follow from the practice, (c) If, however, the penitent has a lax conscience, he is obliged to confess his doubtful sins, for the presumption is against him. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Confessional. Part 91.

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



The grounds for this opinion, and the objections to the opposite view, are so convincing that it may be regarded as the more probable and be followed tuta conscientia. The following objection has no weight. Since confession is a necessary means for salvation, and since in such a case a man must take the safer means rather than trust to a probable opinion, he is thus obliged to confess peccata dubia. A distinction must be made. The Sacrament of Penance, and particularly the absolution in which its efficacy for the most part consists, may certainly be called a necessary means for salvation in re vel in voto with regard to those who have committed mortal sin after Baptism; besides, if a man doubt whether he has sinned grievously, either perfect contrition or absolution are necessary, and for that reason confession also in so far as this is required to obtain valid absolution or sanctifying grace through the absolution; but the integrity of confession can be regarded as necessary only in so far as it is proved to be the prescribed means of obtaining absolution licite et valide. The proof, however, for the necessity of confessing doubtful sins is so little substantiated that, as we have shown, the very opposite is proved from the words of the Council and the explanation of St. Alphonsus.'

When one considers the teaching of those older theologians who maintained the necessity of confessing mortalia negative dubia, it is not difficult to see that, while their mode of expression comprises more, yet, they really meant to say that a penitent is not to consider himself free from all obligation of confessing his sin for some paltry reason which is in his favor, though knowing at the same time that there are weighty reasons to be urged against him and his freedom from mortal sin. 1


1 Cf. Lehmkuhl, 1. c.; Mazzotta, 1. c. De oris confessione, cp. 4. St. Alphonsus declares very precisely that St. Thomas' doctrine on this matter is not against us: " He does not speak of a penitent who after diligent examination of conscience comes to the conclusion that his sin is doubtfully mortal and then lays aside his doubt in accordance with the rule that there is no certain obligation where it is question of a doubtful transgression; he Is rather considering the case of the penitent who is certain that he has performed a sinful act but cannot decide whether it was gravely sinful or not; such a penitent is, of course, obliged to take pains to remove the doubt, and if he cannot settle he must submit it to the judgment of his confessor, whose office it is to distinguish between sin and sin." S. Alph. 1. c. n. 474 (fin.).