He is nevertheless under obligation to continue the performance of his penance until it is completed. In theological language, this penance is called satisfaction and is defined, in the words of St. It is an act of justice whereby the injury done to the honour of God is required, so far at least as the sinner is able to make reparation poena vindicativa ; it is also a preventive remedy, inasmuch as it is meant to hinder the further commission of sin poena medicinalis.
Satisfaction is not, like contrition and confession, an essential part of the sacrament , because the primary effect, i. The Catholic doctrine on this point is set forth by the Council of Trent , which condemns the proposition: "That the entire punishment is always remitted by God together with the guilt, and the satisfaction required of penitents is no other than faith whereby they believe that Christ has satisfied for them"; and further the proposition: "That the keys were given to the Church for loosing only and not for binding as well; that therefore in enjoining penance on those who confess, priests act contrary to the purpose of the keys and the institution of Christ ; that it is a fiction [to say] that after the eternal punishment has been remitted in virtue of the keys , there usually remains to be paid a temporal penalty" Can.
As against the errors contained in these statements, the Council Sess. The most notable of these is the judgment pronounced upon David : "And Nathan said to David : the Lord also hath taken away thy sin : thou shalt not die. Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme , for this thing, the child that is born to thee, shall surely die" 2 Samuel , 14 ; cf. Genesis ; Numbers sqq. David's sin was forgiven and yet he had to suffer punishment in the loss of his child.
The same truth is taught by St. Paul 1 Corinthians : "But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world". The chastisement here mentioned is a temporal punishment, but a punishment unto Salvation. This the Reformers themselves admitted. Calvin Instit. Chemnitius "Examen C. Some of the texts already cited Confession expressly mention satisfaction as a part of sacramental penance.
To these may be added St. Augustine , who says that " Man is forced to suffer even after his sins are forgiven, though it was sin that brought down on him this penalty. For the punishment outlasts the guilt, lest the guilt should be thought slight if with its forgiveness the punishment also came to an end" Tractate on the Gospel of John , no. Among the motives for doing penance on which the Fathers most frequently insist is this: If you punish your own sin , God will spare you; but in any case the sin will not go unpunished.
Or again they declare that God wants us to perform satisfaction in order that we may clear off our indebtedness to His justice. Hence, too, the practice of granting indulgences , whereby the Church comes to the penitent's assistance and places at his disposal the treasury of Christ's merits. Though closely connected with penance, indulgences are not a part of the sacrament ; they presuppose confession and absolution , and are properly called an extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment incurred by sin. Seal of confession Regarding the sins revealed to him in sacramental confession, the priest is bound to inviolable secrecy.
From this obligation he cannot be excused either to save his own life or good name , to save the life of another, to further the ends of human justice , or to avert any public calamity. The only possible release from the obligation of secrecy is the permission to speak of the sins given freely and formally by the penitent himself. Without such permission, the violation of the seal of confession would not only be a grievous sin , but also a sacrilege.
It would be contrary to the natural law because it would be an abuse of the penitent's confidence and an injury, very serious perhaps, to his reputation. It would also violate the Divine law , which, while imposing the obligation to confess, likewise forbids the revelation of that which is confessed. That it would infringe ecclesiastical law is evident from the strict prohibition and the severe penalties enacted in this matter by the Church. Furthermore, by a decree of the Holy Office 18 Nov. These prohibitions, as well as the general obligation of secrecy, apply only to what the confessor learns through confession made as part of the sacrament.
He is not bound by the seal as regards what may be told him by a person who, he is sure, has no intention of making a sacramental confession but merely speaks to him "in confidence"; prudence , however, may impose silence concerning what he learns in this way. Nor does the obligation of the seal prevent the confessor from speaking of things which he has learned outside confession, though the same things have also been told him in confession; here again, however, other reasons may oblige him to observe secrecy.
The same obligation , with the limitations indicated, rests upon all those who in one way or another acquire a knowledge of what is said in confession, e. Even the penitent, according to some theologians , is bound to secrecy; but the more general opinion leaves him free; as he can authorize the confessor to speak of what he has confessed, he can also, of his own accord, speak to others.
But he is obliged to take care that what he reveals shall cast no blame or suspicion on the confessor, since the latter cannot defend himself. In a word, it is more in keeping with the intention of the Church and with the reverence due to the sacrament that the penitent himself should refrain from speaking of his confession. Such, undoubtedly, was the motive that prompted St. Leo to condemn the practice of letting the penitent read in public a written statement of his sins see above ; and it needs scarcely be added that the Church , while recognizing the validity of public confession, by no means requires it; as the Council of Trent declares, it would be imprudent to prescribe such a confession by any human enactment.
Public penance An undeniable proof both of the practice of confession and of the necessity of satisfaction is found in the usage of the early Church according to which severe and often prolonged penance was prescribed and performed. The elaborate system of penance exhibited in the "Penitentials" and conciliar decrees , referred to above, was of course the outcome of a long development; but it simply expressed in greater detail the principles and the general attitude towards sin and satisfaction which had prevailed from the beginning.
Frequently enough the latter statutes refer to the earlier practice either in explicit terms or by reiterating what had been enacted long before. At times, also, they allude to documents which were then extant, but which have not yet come down to us, e. Cyprian , Epistle Or again, they point to a system of penance that was already in operation and needed only to be applied to particular cases, like that of the Corinthians to whom Clement of Rome wrote his First Epistle about A.
At the close, therefore, of the first century, the performance of penance was required, and the nature of that penance was determined, not by the penitent himself, but by ecclesiastical authority. Three kinds of penance are to be distinguished canonical, prescribed by councils or bishops in the form of "canons" for graver offences.
This might be either private, i. When accompanied by certain rites as prescribed in the Canons, it was solemn penance. The public penance was not necessarily canonical; it might be undertaken by the penitent of his own accord. Solemn penance, the most severe of all, was inflicted for the worst offences only, notably for adultery , murder , and idolatry , the "capital sins ". The name of penitent was applied especially to those who performed public canonical penance. Augustine, "De utilitate agendae poenit. The penitential process included a series of acts, the first of which was confession.
Regarding this, Origen , after speaking of baptism , tells us: "There is a yet more severe and arduous pardon of sins by penance, when the sinner washes his couch with tears, and when he blushes not to disclose his sin to the priest of the Lord and seeks the remedy" Homil.
SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: Supplementum Tertiae Partis
Again he says: "They who have sinned , if they hide and retain their sin within their breast, are grievously tormented; but if the sinner becomes his own accuser, while he does this, he discharges the cause of all his malady. Only let him carefully consider to whom he should confess his sin ; what is the character of the physician; if he be one who will be weak with the weak, who will weep with the sorrowful, and who understands the discipline of condolence and fellow-feeling.
So that when his skill shall be known and his pity felt, you may follow what he shall advise. Should he think your disease to be such that it should be declared in the assembly of the faithful —whereby others may be edified, and yourself easily reformed—this must be done with much deliberation and the skillful advice of the physician" Homil.
Origen here states quite plainly the relation between confession and public penance. The sinner must first make known his sins to the priest , who will decide whether any further manifestation is called for. Public penance did not necessarily include a public avowal of sin. As St. Augustine also declares, "If his sin is not only grievous in itself, but involves scandal given to others, and if the bishop [ antistes ] judges that it will be useful to the Church [to have the sin published], let not the sinner refuse to do penance in the sight of many or even of the people at large, let him not resist, nor through shame add to his mortal wound a greater evil " Sermo cli, n.
It was therefore the duty of the confessor to determine how far the process of penance should go beyond sacramental confession. It lay with him also to fix the quality and duration of the penance: "Satisfaction", says Tertullian , "is determined by confession; penance is born of confession, and by penance God is appeased" On Penance 8. If the confessor deemed it necessary , he obliged the penitent to appear before the bishop and his council [ presbyterium and these again decided whether the crime was of such a nature that it ought to be confessed in presence of the people.
Then followed, usually on Ash Wednesday , the imposition of public penance whereby the sinner was excluded for a longer or shorter period from the communion of the Church and in addition was obliged to perform certain penitential exercises, the exomologesis. The nature of these exercises varied according to the sin for which they were prescribed. According to Tertullian On Penance 9 , " Exomologesis is the discipline which obliges a man to prostrate and humiliate himself and to adopt a manner of life that will draw down mercy.
As regards dress and food, it prescribes that he shall lie in sackcloth and ashes , clothe his body in rags, plunge his soul in sorrow, correct his faults by harsh treatment of himself, use the plainest meat and drink for the sake of his soul and not of his belly: usually he shall nourish prayer by fasting , whole days and nights together he shall moan, and weep, and wail to the Lord his God , cast himself at the feet of the priests , fall on his knees before those who are dear to God , and beseech them to plead in his behalf".
At a very early period, the exomologesis was divided into four parts or "stations", and the penitents were grouped in as many different classes according to their progress in penance. The lower class, the flentes weeping remained outside the church door and besought the intercession of the faithful as these passed into the church.
The audientes hearers were stationed in the narthex of the church behind the catechumens and were permitted to remain during the Mass of the Catechumens , i. The substrati prostrate , or genuflectentes kneeling , occupied the space between the door and the ambo , where they received the imposition of the bishop's hands or his blessing. Finally, the consistentes were so called because they were allowed to hear the whole Mass without communicating, or because they remained at their place while the faithful approached the Holy Table.
This grouping into stations originated in the East, where at least the three higher groups are mentioned about A.
Sacrament of Penance
Basil Epistle , chapter 22 and Epistle , chapter In the West the classification did not exist, or at any rate the different stations were not so clearly marked; the penitents were treated pretty much as the catechumens. The exomologesis terminated with the reconciliation, a solemn function which took place on Holy Thursday just before Mass.
The bishop presided, assisted by his priests and deacons. A consultation concilium was held to determine which of the penitents deserved readmission; the Penitential Psalms and the litanies were recited at the foot of the altar ; the bishop in a brief address reminded the penitents of their obligation to lead henceforth an upright life; the penitents, lighted candles in hand, were then led into the church; prayers , antiphons and responses were said, and, finally, the public absolution was given.
See Schmitz, "Die Bussbucher u. Kirche", Mainz, ; Funk in "Kirchenlex. Louis, Regarding the nature of this absolution given by the bishop , various opinions have been put forward. According to one view, it was the remission, not of guilt but of the temporal punishment; the guilt had already been remitted by the absolution which the penitent received in confession before he entered on the public penance.
This finds support in the fact that the reconciliation could be effected by a deacon in case of necessity and in the absence of a priest , as appears from St. Cyprian Epistle Speaking of those who had received libelli from the martyrs he says: "If they are overtaken by illness, they need not wait for our coming, but may make the exomologesis of their sin before any priest , or, if no priest be at hand, and death is imminent, before a deacon , that thus, by the imposition of his hands unto penance, they may come to the Lord with the peace which the martyrs had besought us by letters to grant.
There is the further consideration that the bishop did not necessarily hear the confessions of those whom he absolved at the time of reconciliation, and moreover the ancient formularies prescribe that at this time a priest shall hear the confession, and that the bishop , after that, shall pronounce absolution. But sacramental absolution can be given only by him who hears the confession.
And again, the public penance often lasted many years; consequently, if the penitent were not absolved at the beginning, he would have remained during all that time in the state of sin , incapable of meriting anything for heaven by his penitential exercises, and exposed to the danger of sudden death Pesch , op. Palmieri , op. The writers who hold that the final absolution was sacramental , insist that there is no documentary evidence of a secret confession; that if this had been in existence , the harder way of the public penance would have been abandoned; that the argument from prescription loses its force if the sacramental character of public penance be denied; and that this penance contained all that is required in a sacrament.
Hogan in "Am. While this discussion concerns the practice under ordinary circumstances, it is commonly admitted that sacramental absolution was granted at the time of confession to those who were in danger of death. The Church , in fact, did not, in her universal practice, refuse absolution at the last moment even in the case of those who had committed grievous sin. Leo states expressly that he was applying the ecclesiastical rule ecclesiastica regula. Shortly before, St. Celestine had expressed his horror at learning that "penance was refused the dying and that the desire of those was not granted who in the hour of death sought this remedy for their soul "; this, he says, is "adding death to death and killing with cruelty the soul that is not absolved " Letter to the bishops of the provinces of Vienne and Narbonne, c.
That such a refusal was not in accordance with the earlier practice is evident from the words of the Council of Nicaea : "With respect to the dying, the ancient canonical law shall now also be observed, namely, that if any one depart from this life, he shall by no means be deprived of the last and most necessary viaticum " canon If the dying person could receive the Eucharist, absolution certainly could not be denied.
If at times greater severity seems to be shown, this consisted in the refusal, not of absolution but of communion; such was the penalty prescribed by the Council of Elvira for those who after baptism had fallen into idolatry. The same is true of the canon 22 of the Council of Arles which enacts that communion shall not be given to "those who apostatize , but never appear before the Church , nor even seek to do penance, and yet afterwards, when attacked by illness, request communion".
The council lays stress on the lack of proper disposition in such sinners, as does also St. Cyprian when he forbids that they who "do no penance nor manifest heartfelt sorrow" be admitted to communion and peace if in illness and danger they ask for it; for what prompts them to seek communion is, not repentance for their sin , but the fear of approaching death" Epistle 51 , no.
A further evidence of the severity with which public penance, and especially its solemn form, was administered is the fact that it could be performed only once. This is evident from some of the texts quoted above Tertullian , Hermas. Origen also says: "For the graver crimes, there is only one opportunity of penance" Hom. Ambrose : "As there is one baptism so there is one penance, which, however, is performed publicly" On Penance II.
Augustine gives the reason: "Although, by a wise and salutary provision, opportunity for performing that humblest kind of penance is granted but once in the Church , lest the remedy, become common, should be less efficacious for the sick. It may well be admitted that the discipline of the earliest days was rigorous, and that in some Churches or by individual bishops it was carried to extremes. This is plainly stated by Pope St. Innocent in his letter Ep. The question had been raised as to what should be done with those who, after a lifetime of licentious indulgence, begged at the end for penance and communion.
The former custom was that penance should be granted, but communion denied; for in those times persecutions were frequent, hence, lest the easy admission to communion should fail to bring back from their evil ways men who were sure of reconciliation, very rightly communion was refused, while penance was granted in order that the refusal might not be total. But after Our Lord had restored peace to his Churches, and terror had ceased, it was judged well that communion be given the dying lest we should seem to follow the harshness and sternness of the heretic Novatian in denying pardon.
Communion, therefore, shall be given at the last along with penance, that these men, if only in the supreme moment of death, may, with the permission of Our Saviour , be rescued from eternal destruction. The office of poenitentiarius had already been abolished in the East by Nestorius , Patriarch of Constantinople, in consequence of a scandal that grew out of public confession. Soon afterwards, the four "stations" disappeared, and public penance fell into disuse. Excommunication continued in use, and the interdict was frequently resorted to. The performance of penance was left in large measure to the zeal and good will of the penitent; increasing clemency was shown by allowing the reconciliation to take place somewhat before the prescribed time was completed; and the practice was introduced of commuting the enjoined penance into other exercises or works of piety , such as prayer and almsgiving.
According to a decree of the Council of Clermont , those who joined a crusade were freed from all obligation in the matter of penance. Finally it became customary to let the reconciliation follow immediately after confession. With these modifications the ancient usage had practically disappeared by the middle of the sixteenth century.
Some attempts were made to revive it after the Council of Trent , but these were isolated and of short duration. In the British and Irish Churches The penitential system in these countries was established simultaneously with the introduction of Christianity , was rapidly developed by episcopal decrees and synodal enactments, and was reduced to definite form in the Penitentials. These books exerted such an influence on the practice in Continental Europe that, according to one opinion, they "first brought order and unity into ecclesiastical discipline in these matters" Wasserschleben, "Bussordnungen d.
Kirche", Mainz, , p. In any case, it is beyond question that in their belief and practice the Churches of Ireland , England , and Scotland were at one with Rome. The so-called Synod of St. Patrick decrees that a Christian who commits any of the capital sins shall perform a year's penance for each offence and at the end shall "come with witnesses and be absolved by the priest " Wilkins, "Concilia", I, p.
Another synod of St.
Patrick ordains that "the Abbot shall decide to whom the power of binding and loosing be committed, but forgiveness is more in keeping with the examples of Scripture ; let penance be short, with weeping and lamentation, and a mournful garb, rather than long and tempered with relaxations " Wilkins, ibid. Patrick", London, The confessor was called anmchara animae carus , i. Columba was anmchara to Aidan, Lord of Dalraida, A. Columba", ed. Reeves, p. The "Life of St. Columba" relates the coming of Feachnaus to Iona , where, with weeping and lamentation, he fell at Columba's feet and "before all who were present confessed his sins.
Then the Saint weeping with him, said to him: 'Arise, my son and be comforted; thy sins which thou hast committed are forgiven; because, as it is written, a contrite and humble heart God doth not despise,'" ibid. The need and effects of confession are explained in the Leabhar Breac: "Penance frees from all the sins committed after baptism. Every one desirous of a cure for his soul and happiness with the Lord must make an humble and sorrowful confession; and the confession with the prayers of the Church are as baptisms to him.
As sickness injures the body, so sin injures the soul ; and as there is a cure for the disease of the body, so there is balm for that of the soul. And as the wounds of the body are shown to a physician, so, too, the sores of the soul must be exposed. As he who takes poison is saved by a vomit, so, too, the soul is healed by confession and declaration of his sins with sorrow, and by the prayers of the Church , and a determination henceforth to observe the laws of the Church of God.
Because Christ left to His Apostles and Church , to the end of the world , the power of loosing and binding. Columbanus , which orders can. For it is better to wait till the heart be sound and free from scandal and envy , than daringly to approach the judgment of the tribunal; for the altar is the tribunal of Christ , and His Body, even there with His Blood, judges those who approach unworthily.
As, therefore, we must beware of capital sins before communicating, so, also, from the more uncertain defects and diseases of a languid soul , it is necessary for us to abstain and to be cleansed before going to that which is a conjunction with true peace and a joining with eternal salvation ". In the "Life of St.
Maedoc of Ferns" it is said of the murdered King Brandubh: "And so he departed without confession and the communication of the Eucharist. Maedoc which is called Ferns , where the kings of that land are buried " Acta SS. The metrical "Rule of St. Carthach", translated by Eugene O'Curry , gives this direction to the priest : "If you go to give communion at the awful point of death, you must receive confession without shame, without reserve.
The practice of public penance was regulated in great detail by the Penitentials.
That of St. Cummian prescribes that "if any priest refuses penance to the dying, he is guilty of the loss of their souls. Other Penitentials bear the names of St. Finnian, Sts. David and Gildas , St. Columbanus , Adamnan. The collection of canons known as the "Hibernensis" is especially important, as it cites, under the head of "Penance" bk. Augustine , St. Jerome , and other Fathers, thus showing the continuity of the Irish faith and observance with that of the early Church. See Lanigan , "Eccl. The confessor was the scrift ; confession, scrift spraec ; and the parish itself was the scriftscir , i.
The practice in England can be traced back to the times immediately following the country's conversion. Bede H. In his youth, having committed some sin , he went to a priest , confessed, and was given a penance to be performed until the priest should return. But the priest went to Ireland and died there, and Adamnan continued his penance to the end of his days. When St. Cuthbert on his missionary tours preached to the people, "they all confessed openly what they had done,. Alcuin declares that "without confession there is no pardon" P. Lanfranc has a treatise, "De celunda confessione", i.
The penitentials were known as scrift bocs. The one attributed to Archbishop Theodore says: "The deacon is not allowed to impose penance on a layman ; this should be done by the bishop or priests" bk. II, 2 : and further; "According to the canons, penitents should not receive communion until their penance is completed; but we, for mercy's sake, allow them to receive at the end of a year or six months" I, An important statement is that "public reconciliation is not established in this province, for the reason that there is no public penance"—which shows that the minute prescriptions contained in the penitential were meant for the guidance of the priest in giving penance privately, i.
Among the excerptiones , or extracts, from the canons which bear the name of Archbishop Egbert of York d. His Penitential prescribes IX that "a bishop or priest shall not refuse confession to those who desire it, though they be guilty of many sins " ibid. The Council of Chalcuth A. The canons published under King Edgar have a special section "On Confession" which begins: "When one wishes to confess his sins , let him act manfully, and not be ashamed to confess his misdeeds and crimes, accusing himself; because hence comes pardon, and because without confession there is no pardon; confession heals; confession justifies" ibid.
The Council of Eanham : "Let every Christian do as behooves him, strictly keep his Christianity , accustom himself to frequent confession, fearlessly confess his sins , and carefully make amends according as he is directed" can. Among the ecclesiastical laws enacted by King Canute , we find this exhortation: "Let us with all diligence turn back from our sins , and let us each confess our sins to our confessor, and ever [after] refrain from evil-doing and mend our ways" XVIII, Wilkins, ibid.
The Council of Durham c. But since we obtain the pardon of our sins by true confession, we prescribe in accordance with the canonical statutes that the priest in giving penance shall carefully consider the amount of the penance, the quality of the sin , the place, time , cause , duration and other circumstances of the sin ; and especially the devotion of the penitent and the signs of contrition. The Scottish Council c. Explicit instructions for the confessor are found in the statutes of Alexander, Bishop of Coventry , especially in regard to the manner of questioning the penitent and enjoining penance.
This is an objective law and an objective reality, verified in so many ways in the human psyche and in the spiritual life as well as in society, where it is easy to see the signs and effects of internal disorder. The mystery of sin is composed of this twofold wound which the sinner opens in himself and in his relationship with his neighbor. Therefore one can speak of personal and social sin: From one point of view, every sin is personal; from another point of view, every sin is social insofar as and because it also has social repercussions.
Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community. This individual may be conditioned, incited and influenced by numerous and powerful external factors. He may also be subjected to tendencies, defects and habits linked with his personal condition.
In not a few cases such external and internal factors may attenuate, to a greater or lesser degree, the person's freedom and therefore his responsibility and guilt. But it is a truth of faith, also confirmed by our experience and reason, that the human person is free. This truth cannot be disregarded in order to place the blame for individuals' sins on external factors such as structures, systems or other people. Above all, this would be to deny the person's dignity and freedom, which are manifested-even though in a negative and disastrous way-also in this responsibility for sin committed.
Hence there is nothing so personal and untransferable in each individual as merit for virtue or responsibility for sin. As a personal act, sin has its first and most important consequences in the sinner himself: that is, in his relationship with God, who is the very foundation of human life; and also in his spirit, weakening his will and clouding his intellect. At this point we must ask what was being referred to by those who during the preparation of the synod and in the course of its actual work frequently spoke of social sin.
To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual's sin in some way affects others. This is the other aspect of that solidarity which on the religious level is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the communion of saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that "every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world.
Consequently one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world.
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In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family. According to this first meaning of the term, every sin can undoubtedly be considered as social sin.
Some sins, however, by their very matter constitute a direct attack on one's neighbor and more exactly, in the language of the Gospel, against one's brother or sister. They are an offense against God because they are offenses against one's neighbor. These sins are usually called social sins, and this is the second meaning of the term. In this sense social sin is sin against love of neighbor, and in the law of Christ it is all the more serious in that it involves the Second Commandment, which is "like unto the first. Also social is every sin against the rights of the human person, beginning with the right to nd including the life of the unborn or against a person's physical integrity.
Likewise social is every sin against others' freedom, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and adore him; social is every sin against the dignity and honor of one's neighbor. Also social is every sin against the common good and its exigencies in relation to the whole broad spectrum of the rights and duties of citizens. The term social can be applied to sins of commission or omission-on the part of political, economic or trade union leaders, who though in a position to do so, do not work diligently and wisely for the improvement and transformation of society according to the requirements and potential of the given historic moment; as also on the part of workers who through absenteeism or non-cooperation fail to ensure that their industries can continue to advance the well-being of the workers themselves, of their families and of the whole of society.
The third meaning of social sin refers to the relationships between the various human communities. These relationships are not always in accordance with the plan of God, who intends that there be justice in the world and freedom and peace between individuals, groups and peoples. Thus the class struggle, whoever the person who leads it or on occasion seeks to give it a theoretical justification, is a social evil. Likewise obstinate confrontation between blocs of nations, between one nation and another, between different groups within the same nation all this too is a social evil. In both cases one may ask whether moral responsibility for these evils, and therefore sin, can be attributed to any person in particular.
Now it has to be admitted that realities and situations such as those described, when they become generalized and reach vast proportions as social phenomena, almost always become anonymous, just as their causes are complex and not always identifiable.
Hence if one speaks of social sin here, the expression obviously has an analogical meaning. However, to speak even analogically of social sins must not cause us to underestimate the responsibility of the individuals involved. It is meant to be an appeal to the consciences of all, so that each may shoulder his or her responsibility seriously and courageously in order to change those disastrous conditions and intolerable situations.
Having said this in the clearest and most unequivocal way, one must add at once that there is one meaning sometimes given to social sin that is not legitimate or acceptable even though it is very common in certain quarters today. According to this usage, which can readily be seen to derive from non-Christian ideologies and systems-which have possibly been discarded today by the very people who formerly officially upheld them-practically every sin is a social sin, in the sense that blame for it is to be placed not so much on the moral conscience of an individual, but rather on some vague entity or anonymous collectivity such as the situation, the system, society, structures or institutions.
Whenever the church speaks of situations of sin or when the condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of higher order.
The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals. A situation-or likewise an institution, a structure, society itself-is not in itself the subject of moral acts. Hence a situation cannot in itself be good or bad. At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.
But here we come to a further dimension in the mystery of sin, one on which the human mind has never ceased to ponder: the question of its gravity. It is a question which cannot be overlooked and one which the Christian conscience has never refused to answer. Why and to what degree is sin a serious matter in the offense it commits against God and in its effects on man? The church has a teaching on this matter which she reaffirms in its essential elements, while recognizing that it is not always easy in concrete situations to define clear and exact limits.
Already in the Old Testament, individuals guilty of several kinds of sins - sins committed deliberately, 75 the various forms of impurity, 76 idolatry, 77 the worship of false gods 78 - were ordered to be "taken away from the people," which could also mean to be condemned to death. In reference also to these texts, the church has for centuries spoken of mortal sin and venial sin.
But it is above all the New Testament that sheds light on this distinction and these terms. Here there are many passages which enumerate and strongly reprove sins that are particularly deserving of condemnation. In a text of his First Letter, St. John speaks of a sin which leads to death pros thanaton , as opposed to a sin which does not lead to death me pros thanaton.
It is a question of the loss of the true life or "eternal life," which for John is knowledge of the Father and the Son, 84 and communion and intimacy with them. In that passage the sin that leads to death seems to be the denial of the Son 85 or the worship of false gods. This is manifested above all in apostasy and idolatry: repudiating faith in revealed truth and making certain created realities equal to God, raising them to the status of idols or false gods. In another passage of the New Testament, namely in St. Matthew's Gospel, 88 Jesus himself speaks of a "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" that " will not be forgiven" by reason of the fact that in its manifestation, it is an obstinate refusal to be converted to the love of the Father of mercies.
Here of course it is a question of external radical manifestations: rejection of God, rejection of his grace and therefore opposition to the very source of salvation 89 -these are manifestations whereby a person seems to exclude himself voluntarily from the path of forgiveness. It is to be hoped that very few persist to the end in this attitude of rebellion or even defiance of God.
Moreover, God in his merciful love is greater than our hearts, as St. John further teaches us, 90 and can overcome all our psychological and spiritual resistance. So that, as St. Thomas writes, "considering the omnipotence and mercy of God, no one should despair of the salvation of anyone in this life. But when we ponder the problem of a rebellious will meeting the infinitely just God, we cannot but experience feelings of salutary "fear and trembling," as St. Paul suggests. In the light of these and other passages of sacred Scripture, doctors and theologians, spiritual teachers and pastors have divided sins into mortal and venial.
Augustine, among others, speaks of letalia or mortifera crimina, contrasting them with venialia, levia or quotidiana. After him, it was St. Thomas who was to formulate in the clearest possible terms the doctrine which became a constant in the church. In defining and distinguishing between mortal and venial sins, St.
Thomas and the theology of sin that has its source in him could not be unaware of the biblical reference and therefore of the concept of spiritual death. According to St. Thomas, in order to live spiritually man must remain in communion with the supreme principle of life, which is God, since God is the ultimate end of man' s being and acting. Now sin is a disorder perpetrated by the human being against this life-principle. And when through sin, the soul commits a disorder that reaches the point of turning away form its ultimate end God to which it is bound by charity, then the sin is mortal; on the other hand, whenever the disorder does not reach the point of a turning away from God, the sin is venial.
Furthermore, when sin is considered from the point of view of the punishment it merits, for St. Thomas and other doctors mortal sin is the sin which, if unforgiven, leads to eternal punishment; whereas venial sin is the sin that merits merely temporal punishment that is, a partial punishment which can be expiated on earth or in purgatory.
Considering sin from the point of view of its matter, the ideas of death, of radical rupture with God, the supreme good, of deviation from the path that leads to God or interruption of the journey toward him which are all ways of defining mortal sin are linked with the idea of the gravity of sin's objective content. Hence, in the church's doctrine and pastoral action, grave sin is in practice identified with mortal sin. Here we have the core of the church's traditional teaching, which was reiterated frequently and vigorously during the recent synod. The synod in fact not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, 95 but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.
It must be added-as was likewise done at the synod-that some sins are intrinsically grave and mortal by reason of their matter. That is, there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object. These acts, if carried out with sufficient awareness and freedom, are always gravely sinful.
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This doctrine, based on the Dccalogue and on the preaching of the Old Testament, and assimilated into the kerygma of the apostles and belonging to the earliest teaching of the church, and constantly reaffirmed by her to this day, is exactly verified in the experience of the men and women of all times.
Man knows well by experience that along the road of faith and justice which leads to the knowledge and love of God in this life and toward perfect union with him in eternity, he can cease to go forward or can go astray without abandoning the way of God; and in this case there occurs venial sin. This however must never be underestimated, as though it were automatically something that can be ignored or regarded as "a sin of little importance.
For man also knows, through painful experience, that by a conscious and free act of his will he can change course and go in a direction opposed to God's will, separating himself from God aversio a Deo , rejecting loving communion with him, detaching himself from the life principle which God is and consequently choosing death. With the whole tradition of the church, we call mortal sin the act by which man freely and consciously rejects God, his law, the covenant of love that God offers, preferring to turn in on himself or to some created and finite reality, something contrary to the divine will conversio ad creaturam.
This can occur in a direct and formal way in the sins of idolatry, apostasy and atheism; or in an equivalent way as in every act of disobedience to God's commandments in a grave matter. Man perceives that this disobedience to God destroys the bond that unites him with his life principle: It is a mortal sin, that is, an act which gravely offends God and ends in turning against man himself with a dark and powerful force of destruction. During the synod assembly some fathers proposed a threefold distinction of sins, classifying them as venial, grave and mortal.
This threefold distinction might illustrate the fact that there is a scale of seriousness among grave sins. But it still remains true that the essential and decisive distinction is between sin which destroys charity and sin which does not kill the supernatural life: There is no middle way between life and death. Likewise, care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of " fundamental option"-as is commonly said today-against God, intending thereby an explicit and formal contempt for God or neighbor.
For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God's love for humanity and the whole of creation; the person turns away from God and loses charity. Thus the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by individual acts. Clearly there can occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint and which have an influence on the sinner's subjective culpability. But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to the construction of a theological category, which is what the "fundamental option" precisely is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin.
While every sincere and prudent attempt to clarify the psychological and theological mystery of sin is to be valued, the church nevertheless has a duty to remind all scholars in this field of the need to be faithful to the word of God that teaches us also about sin. She likewise has to remind them of the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world.
Over the course of generations, the Christian mind has gained from the Gospel as it is read in the ecclesial community a fine sensitivity and an acute perception of the seeds of death contained in sin, as well as a sensitivity and an acuteness of perception for identifying them in the thousand guises under which sin shows itself. This is what is commonly called the sense of sin.
This sense is rooted in man's moral conscience and is as it were its thermometer. It is linked to the sense of God, since it derives from man's conscious relationship with God as his Creator, Lord and Father. Hence, just as it is impossible to eradicate completely the sense of God or to silence the conscience completely, so the sense of sin is never completely eliminated. Nevertheless, it happens not infrequently in history, for more or less lengthy periods and under the influence of many different factors, that the moral conscience of many people becomes seriously clouded.
By a deformation of conscience? By a numbness or 'deadening' of conscience," 97 Too many signs indicate that such an eclipse exists in our time. This is all the more disturbing in that conscience, defined by the council as "the most secret core and sanctuary of a man," 98 is "strictly related to human freedom For this reason conscience, to a great extent, constitutes the basis of man's interior dignity and, at the same time, of his relationship to God. When the conscience is weakened the sense of God is also obscured, and as a result, with the loss of this decisive inner point of reference, the sense of sin is lost.
This explains why my predecessor Pius XI, one day declared, in words that have almost become proverbial, that "the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin. Why has this happened in our time. A glance at certain aspects of contemporary culture can help us to understand the progressive weakening of the sense of sin, precisely because of the crisis of conscience and crisis of the sense of God already mentioned. At the very most, sin will be reduced to what offends man.
But it is precisely here that we are faced with the bitter experience which I already alluded to in my first encyclical namely, that man can build a world without God, but this world will end by turning against him. It is therefore vain to hope that there will take root a sense of sin against man and against human values, if there is no sense of offense against God, namely the true sense of sin.
Another reason for the disappearance of the sense of sin in contemporary society is to be found in the errors made in evaluating certain findings of the human sciences. Thus on the basis of certain affirmations of psychology, concern to avoid creating feelings of guilt or to place limits on freedom leads to a refusal ever to admit any shortcoming. Through an undue extrapolation of the criteria of the science of sociology, it finally happens-as I have already said-that all failings are blamed upon society, and the individual is declared innocent of them. Again, a certain cultural anthropology so emphasizes the undeniable environmental and historical conditioning and influences which act upon man, that it reduces his responsibility to the point of not acknowledging his ability to perform truly human acts and therefore his ability to sin.
The sense of sin also easily declines as a result of a system of ethics deriving from a certain historical relativism. This may take the form of an ethical system which relativizes the moral norm, denying its absolute and unconditional value, and as a consequence denying that there can be intrinsically illicit acts independent of the circumstances in which they are performed by the subject. Herein lies a real "overthrowing and downfall of moral values," and "the problem is not so much one of ignorance of Christian ethics," but ignorance "rather of the meaning, foundations and criteria of the moral attitude.
Finally the sense of sin disappears when-as can happen in the education of youth, in the mass media and even in education within the family-it is wrongly identified with a morbid feeling of guilt or with the mere transgression of legal norms and precepts. The loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking, off of one's filial relationship to God in order to situate one's life outside of obedience to him, then to sin is not merely to deny God.
To sin is also to live as if he did not exist, to eliminate him from one's daily life. A model of society which is mutilated or distorted in one sense or another, as is often encouraged by the mass media, greatly favors the gradual loss of the sense of sin. In such a situation the obscuring or weakening of the sense of sin comes from several sources: from a rejection of any reference to the transcendent in the name of the individual's aspiration to personal independence; from acceptance of ethical models imposed by general consensus and behavior, even when condemned by the individual conscience; from the tragic social and economic conditions that oppress a great part of humanity, causing a tendency to see errors and faults only in the context of society; finally and especially, from the obscuring of the notion of God's fatherhood and dominion over man's life.
Even in the field of the thought and life of the church certain trends inevitably favor the decline of the sense of sin.
For example, some are inclined to replace exaggerated attitudes of the past with other exaggerations: From seeing sin everywhere they pass to not recognizing it anywhere; from too much emphasis on the fear of eternal punishment they pass to preaching a love of God that excludes any punishment deserved by sin; from severity in trying to correct erroneous consciences they pass to a kind of respect for conscience which excludes the duty of telling the truth. And should it not be added that the confusion caused in the consciences of many of the faithful by differences of opinions and teachings in theology, preaching, catechesis and spiritual direction on serious and delicate questions of Christian morals ends by diminishing the true sense of sin almost to the point of eliminating it altogether?
Nor can certain deficiencies in the practice of sacramental penance be overlooked. These include the tendency to obscure the ecclesial significance of sin and of conversion and to reduce them to merely personal matters; or vice versa, the tendency to nullify the personal value of good and evil and to consider only their community dimension. There also exists the danger, never totally eliminated, of routine ritualism that deprives the sacrament of its full significance and formative effectiveness.
The restoration of a proper sense of sin is the first way of facing the grave spiritual crisis looming over man today. But the sense of sin can only be restored through a clear reminder of the unchangeable principles of reason and faith which the moral teaching of the church has always upheld. There are good grounds for hoping that a healthy sense of sin will once again flourish, especially in the Christian world and in the church. This will be aided by sound catechetics, illuminated by the biblical theology of the covenant, by an attentive listening and trustful openness to the magisterium of the church, which; never ceases to enlighten consciences, and by an ever more careful practice of the sacrament of penance.
In order to understand sin we have had to direct our attention to its nature as made known to us by the revelation of the economy of salvation: This is the mysterium iniquitatis. But in this economy sin is not the main principle, still less the victor. Sin fights against another active principle which-to use a beautiful and evocative expression of St.
Paul-we can call the mysterium or sacramentum pietatis. Man's sin would be the winner and in the end destructive, God's salvific plan would remain incomplete or even totally defeated, if this mysterium pietatis were not made part of the dynamism of history in order to conquer man's sin. We find this expression in one of St. Paul's pastoral letters, the First Letter to Timothy. It appears unexpectedly, as if by an exuberant inspiration.
The apostle had previously devoted long paragraphs of his message to his beloved disciple to an explanation of the meaning of the ordering of the community the liturgical order and the related hierarchical one. Next he had spoken of the role of the heads of the community, before turning to the conduct of Timothy himself in the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Without in the least betraying the literal sense of the text, we can broaden this magnificent theological insight of St. Paul into a more complete vision of the role which the truth proclaimed by him plays in the economy of salvation: "Great indeed," we repeat with him, "is the mystery of our religion," because it conquers sin.
It is profoundly significant that when Paul presents this mysterium pietatis he simply transcribes, without making a grammatical link with what he has just written, three lines of a Christological hymn which-in the opinion of authoritative scholars- has used in the Greek-speaking Christian communities.
In the words of that hymn, full of theological content and rich in noble beauty, those first-century believers professed their faith in the mystery of Christ, whereby:. The mystery or sacrament of pietas, therefore, is the very mystery of Christ. It is, in a striking summary, the mystery of the incarnation and redemption, of the full passover of Jesus, the Son of God and son of Mary: the mystery of his passion and death, of his resurrection and glorification.
What St. Paul in quoting the phrases of the hymn wished to emphasize was that this mystery is the hidden vital principle which makes the church the house of God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Following the Pauline teaching, we can affirm that this same mystery of God's infinite loving kindness toward us is capable of penetrating to the hidden roots of our iniquity!
John too undoubtedly referring to this mystery, but in his own characteristic language which differs from St. Paul's, was able to write that "anyone born of God does not sin, but he who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. It is not a question therefore of a sinlessness acquired through one's own virtue or even inherent in man, as the Gnostics thought.
It is a result of God's action. In order not to sin the Christian has knowledge of God, as St. John reminds us in this same passage. But a little before he had written: "No one born of God commits sin; for God's seed abides in him. But there is another aspect to the mysterium pietatis: The loving kindness of God toward the Christian must be matched by the piety of the Christian toward God.
In this second meaning of the word, piety eusebeia means precisely the conduct of the Christian who responds to God's fatherly loving kindness with his own filial Piety. In this sense too we can say with St. Paul that "great indeed is the mystery of our religion. In this sense too piety, as a force for conversion and reconciliation, confronts iniquity and sin. In this case too the essential aspects of the mystery of Christ are the object of piety in the sense that the Christian accepts the mystery, contemplates it and draws from it the spiritual strength necessary for living according to the Gospel.
Here too one must say that "no one born of God commits sin"; but the expression has an imperative sense: Sustained by the mystery of Christ as by an interior source of spiritual energy, the Christian,being a child of God, is warned not to sin and indeed receives the commandment not to sin but to live in a manner worthy of "the house of God, that is, the church of the living God. Thus the word of Scripture, as it reveals to us the mystery of pietas, opens the intellect to conversion and reconciliation, understood not as lofty abstractions but as concrete Christian values to be achieved in our daily lives.
Deceived by the loss of the sense of sin and at times tempted by an illusion of sinlessness which is not at all Christian, the people of today too need to listen again to St. And as to that imperfect contrition, which is called attrition, because that it is commonly conceived either from the consideration of the turpitude of sin, or from the fear of hell and of punishment, It declares that if, with the hope of pardon, it exclude the wish to sin, y it not only does not make a man a hypocrite, and a greater sinner, but that it is even a gift of God, and an impulse of the Holy Ghost, --who does not indeed as yet dwell in the penitent, but only moves him, --whereby the penitent being assisted prepares a way for himself unto justice.
And although this attrition cannot of itself, without the sacrament of penance, conduct the sinner to justification, yet does it dispose him to obtain the grace of God in the sacrament of Penance. For, smitten profitably with this fear, the Ninivites, at the preaching of Jonas, did fearful penance and obtained mercy from the Lord. Wherefore falsely do some calumniate Catholic writers, as if they had maintained that the sacrament of Penance confers grace without any good motion on the part of those who receive it: a thing which the Church of God never taught, or thought: and falsely also do they assert that con-trition is extorted and forced, not free and voluntary.
On Confession. From the institution of the sacrament of Penance as already explained, the universal Church has always understood, that the entire confession of sins was also instituted by the Lord, and is of divine right necessary for all who have fallen after baptism; because that our Lord Jesus Christ, when about to ascend from earth to heaven, left priests His own vicars, as presidents and judges, unto whom all the mortal crimes, into which the faithful of Christ may have fallen, should be carried, z in order that, in accordance with the power of the keys, they may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness or retention of sins.
Whence it is gathered that all the mortal sins, of which, after a diligent examination of themselves, they are conscious, must needs be by penitents enumerated in confession, even though those sins be most hidden, and committed only against the two last precepts of the decalogue,--sins which sometimes wound the soul more grievously, and are more dangerous, than those which are committed outwardly. For venial sins, whereby we are not excluded from the grace of God, and into which we fall more frequently, although they be rightly and profitably, and without any presumption declared in confession, as the custom of pious persons demonstrates, yet may they be omitted without guilt, and be expiated by many other remedies.
But, whereas all mortal sins, even those of thought, render men children of wrath, b and enemies of God, it is necessary to seek also for the pardon of them all from God, with an open and modest confession. Wherefore, while the faithful of Christ are careful to confess all the sins which occur to their memory, they without doubt lay them all bare before the mercy of God to be pardoned: whereas they who act otherwise, and knowingly keep back certain sins, such set nothing before the divine bounty to be forgiven through the priest: for if the sick be ashamed to show his wound to the physician, his medical art cures not that which it knows not of.
We gather furthermore, that those circumstances which change the species of the sin are also to be explained in confession, because that, without them, the sins themselves are neither entirely set forth by the penitents, nor are they known clearly to the judges; and it cannot be that they can estimate rightly the grievousness of the crimes, and impose on the penitents, the punishment which ought to be inflicted, on account of them. Whence it is unreasonable to teach, that these circumstances have been invented by idle men; or, that one circumstance only is to be confessed, to wit, that one has sinned against a brother.
But it is also impious to assert, that confession, enjoined to be made in this manner, is impossible, or to call it a slaughter-house of consciences: for it is certain, that in the Church nothing else is required of penitents, but that, after each has examined himself diligently, and searched all the folds and recesses of his conscience, he confess those sins by which he shall remember that he has mortally offended his Lord and God: whilst the other sins, which do not occur to him after diligent thought, are understood to be included as a whole c in that same confession; for which sins we confidently say with the prophet; From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord.
For the rest, as to the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, although Christ has not forbidden that a person may,--in punishment of his sins, and for his own humiliation, as well for an example to others as for the edification of the Church that has been scandalized,--confess his sins publicly, nevertheless this is not commanded by a divine precept; neither would it very prudent e to enjoin by any human law, that sins, especially such as are secret, should be made known by a public confession.
Wherefore, whereas the secret sacramental confession, which was in use from the beginning in holy Church, and is still also in use, has always been commended by the most holy and the most ancient Fathers with a great and unanimous consent, the vain calumny of those is manifestly refuted, who are not ashamed to teach, that confession is alien from the divine command, and is a human invention, and that it took its rise from the Fathers assembled in the Council of Lateran: for the Church did not, through the Council of Lateran, ordain that the faithful of Christ should confess,--a thing which it knew to be necessary, and to be instituted of divine right,--but that the precept of confession should be complied with, at least once a year, by all and each, when they have attained to years of discretion.
Whence, throughout the whole Church, the salutary custom is, to the great benefit of the souls of the faithful, now observed, of confessing at that most sacred and most acceptable time of Lent,--a custom which this holy Synod most highly approves of and embraces, as pious and worthy of being retained.
On the ministry of this Sacrament, and on Absolution. But, as regards the minister of this sacrament, the holy Synod declares all these doctrines to be false, and utterly alien from the truth of the Gospel, which perniciously extend the ministry of the keys to any others soever besides bishops and priests; imagining, contrary to the institution of this sacrament, that those words of our Lord, Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven, f and, Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven the m, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained, g were in such wise addressed to all the faithful of Christ indifferently and indiscriminately, as that every one has the power of forgiving sins,-public sins to wit by rebuke, provided he that is rebuked shall acquiesce, and secret sins by a voluntary confession made to any individual whatsoever.
It also teaches, that even priests, who are in mortal sin, exercise, through the virtue of the Holy Ghost which was bestowed in ordination, the office of forgiving sins, as the ministers of Christ; and that their sentiment is erroneous who contend that this power exists not in bad priests. But although the absolution of the priest is the dispensation of another's bounty, yet is it not a bare ministry only, whether of announcing the Gospel, or of declaring that sins are forgiven, but is after the manner of a judicial act, whereby sentence is pronounced by the priest as by a judge: and therefore the penitent ought not so to confide h in his own personal faith, as to think that,--even though there be no contrition on his part, or no intention on the part of the priest of acting seriously and absolving truly,--he is nevertheless truly and in God's sight absolved, on account of his faith alone.
For neither would faith without penance bestow any remission of sins; nor would he be otherwise than most careless of his own salvation, who, knowing that a priest but absolved him in jest, should not care fully seek for another who would act in earnest. On the Reservation of Cases. Wherefore, since the nature and order of a judgment require this, that sentence be passed only on those subject to that judicature , it has ever been firmly held in the Church of God, and this Synod ratifies it as a thing most true, that the absolution, which a priest pronounces upon one over whom he has not either an ordinary or a deligated jurisdiction, ought to be of no weight whatever.
And it hath seemed to our most holy Fathers to be of great importance to the discipline of the Christian people, that certain more atrocious and more heinous crimes should be absolved, not by all priests, but only by the highest priests: whence the Sovereign Pontiffs, in virtue of the supreme power delivered to them in the universal Church, were deservedly able to reserve, for their special judgment, certain more grievous cases of crimes.
Neither is it to be doubted,--seeing that all things, that are from God, are well ordered-but that this same may be lawfully done by all bishops, each in his own diocese, unto edification, however, not unto destruction, in virtue of the authority, above that of other inferior priests, delivered to them over their subjects, especially as regards those crimes to which the censure of excommunication is annexed.
But it is consonant to the divine authority, that this reservation of cases have effect, not merely in external polity, but also in God's sight. Nevertheless, for fear lest any may perish on this account, it has always been very piously observed in the said Church of God, that there be no reservation at the point of death, and that therefore all priests may absolve all penitents whatsoever from every kind of sins and censures whatever: and as, save at that point of death, priests have no power in reserved cases, let this alone be their endeavour, to persuade penitents to repair to superior and lawful judges for the benefit of absolution.
On the necessity and on the fruit of Satisfaction. Finally, as regards satisfaction,--which as it is, of all the parts of penance, that which has been at all times recommended to the Christian people by our Fathers, so is it the one especially which in our age is, under the loftiest pretext of piety, impugned by those who have an appearance of godliness, but have denied the power thereof, i --the holy Synod declares, that it is wholly false, and alien from the word of God, that the guilt k is never forgiven by the Lord, without the whole punishment also being therewith pardoned.
For clear and illustrious examples are found in the sacred writings, whereby, besides by divine tradition, this error is refuted in the plainest manner possible. And truly the nature of divine justice seems to demand, that they, who through ignorance have sinned before baptism, be received into grace in one manner; and in another those who, after having been freed from the servitude of sin and of the devil, and after having received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have not feared, knowingly to violate the temple of God, l and to grieve the Holy Spirit.
Neither indeed was there ever in the Church of God any way accounted surer to turn aside the impending chastisement of the Lord, than that men should, with true sorrow of mind, practise these works of penitence. Add to these things, that, whilst we thus, by making satisfaction, suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Jesus Christ, who satisfied for our sins, from whom all our sufficiency is; p having also thereby a most sure pledge, that if we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him.
For we who can do nothing of ourselves, as of ourselves, can do all things, He cooperating, who strengthens us. Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ: in whom we live; in whom we merit; in whom we satisfy; bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, r which from him have their efficacy; by him are offered to the Father; and through him are accepted by the Father.
Therefore the priests of the Lord ought, as far as the Spirit and prudence shall suggest, to enjoin salutary and suitable satisfactions, according to the quality of the crimes and the ability of the penitent; lest, if haply they connive at sins, and deal too indulgently with penitents, by enjoining certain very light works for very grievous crimes, they be made partakers of other men 's sins. But let them have in view, that the satisfaction, which they impose, be not only for the preservation of a new life and a medicine of infirmity, s but also for the avenging and punishing of past sins.
For the ancient Fathers likewise both believe and teach, that the keys of the priests were given, not to loose only, but also to bind. But not therefore did they imagine that the sacrament of Penance is a tribunal of wrath or of punishments; even as no Catholic ever thought, by this kind of satisfactions on our parts, the efficacy of the merit and of the satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured, or in any way lessened: which when the innovators seek to understand, they in such wise maintain a new o be the est penance, as to Fake away the entire efficacy and use of satisfaction.
On Works of Satisfaction. The Synod teaches furthermore, that so great is the liberality of the divine munificence, that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father, not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken of ourselves for the punishment of sin, or by those imposed at the discretion of the priest according to the measure of our delinquency, but also, which is a very great proof of love, by the temporal scourges inflicted of God, and borne patiently by us. First, therefore, as regards its institution, It declares and teaches, that our most gracious Redeemer,--who would have his servants at all times provided with salutary remedies against all the weapons of all their enemies,--as, in the other sacraments, He prepared the greatest aids, whereby, during life, Christians may preserve themselves whole from every more grievous spiritual evil, so did He guard the close of life, by the sacrament of Extreme Unction, as with a most firm defence.