255. Penance may be considered as a virtue and as a Sacrament. As a virtue it means "penitence", or re pentance of sin"; of this we shall treat hereafter (n. 343). As a Sacrament it signifies an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to forgive sins committed after Baptism. Thus it gives sanctifying grace for it is only by sanctifying grace that sin is destroyed, since mortal sin is the death of the soul and sanctifying grace gives spiritual life, The main questions regarding the Sacrament are these. 1. Is there in the Church the power to forgive sins committed after Baptism? 2. Is this power to be exercised by means of an exterior sign. Both questions are answered by the Church in the affirmative, and the reasons for the doctrine are certain and clear.
1. There exists in the Church the power to forgive sins committed after Baptism. For Christ gave to His Apostles the power to forgive sins, and to loosen all bonds that would keep back the soul from entering Heaven; therefore the power to pardon all sins committed after Baptism those committed before Baptism are remitted by Baptism itself. Christ promised this power to St. Peter, saving "I will give to thee (Peter) the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in Heaven and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall he loosed also in Heaven (Matt. XVI, 19). A short time after, He made the same pronmise to all the Apostles, without however mentioning the Keys (ib. XVIII, 18). What Christ had thus promised to give, He gave on the day of His Resurrection: "As time Father sent Me, I also send you. When He had said this, He breathed on them, and He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose you shall retain, they are retained" (Jo. XX, 21-23).
That this power was not to die with the Apostles, is evident from the fact that their mission was to continue till the end of time: "Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. last verse). St. Ambrose states this explicitly: "It seemed impossible that water should wash away sin; then Naaman the Syrian believed not that his leprosy could be cured by water. But God, who has given so great a grace, made the impossible possible. In the same manner it seemed impossible for sin to be forgiven by penitence; Christ granted this to His Apostles, which has been from time Apostles transmitted to the offices of the priests" (Poen. II, 12).
256. 2. This power of the priests is to be exercised by an outward sign. For the Church being a visible body, its ministry must be visible (xi. 77). Besides, the priests are to forive or retain at their discretion; and it cannot be known which of the two they determine on in a given case, except by the outward expression of their judgment. The words "I forgive thee thy sins" are the direct utterance of this judgment; they are the form of the Sacrament. But the judgment cannot properly be pronounced unless the sins and the repentance of the sinner be manifested; this can only be properly done by his confession amtd his request for pardon, which acts of the penitent may be called the matter, to which the form is applied.
The use of the Sacrament is frequently referred to in the Scriptures and in the early writings of the Fathers. St. Paul says: "God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. V, 18); and the Acts narrate that, when he was preaching at Ephesus, "Many of them that believed came confessing and declaring their deeds" (XIX, 18). St. James bids the faithful call in the priests of the Church to anoint the sick man, and adds: "If he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess therefore your sins one to another" (V, 14-16). The Apostles' Creed professes belief "in the remission of sins". St. Cyprian says: "I beseech you, brethren, let each confess his sins, while he that has sinned is yet among the living, while his confession can be admitted, while the satisfaction and the remission made through the priests are pleasing before the Lord" (De Laps. p. 383). St. Chrysostom, commenting on the words, "Whose sins you shall forgive", writes: "What power could be greater than this? The Father has given all power to the Son, and the priests have all of it entrusted to them by the Son" (De Sacerd. n. 5). 257. Besides, the Sacrament of Penance is the only ordinary means by which mortal sins committed after Baptism can be pardoned. For what would have been the use of giving to the Church the Keys of Heaven, to be used in the remission of sins, if anyone could enter Heaven without the Keys? Tertullian asks : "Is it better to be damned secretly than openly absolved? If thou draw back from confession, consider in thine heart that hell-fire which confession shall quench for thee. . . . When therefore thou knowest that against hell-fire, after that first protection of Baptism, ordained by the Lord, there is yet in confession a second aid, why dost thou abnndon thy salvation?" (De Poenit. IX-XII.) True, perfect contrition obtains the pardon of sin, but it implies the desire of confession (n. 344).
258. Though public confession was practised in the early Church, and has been practised in all ages of her existence, even to the present day, yet already in the second century Origen wrote of it: "This should be prescribed with great deliberation, and on the very experienced advice of that physician" (In Ps. 37, n. 6). By "that physician" he designates the priest to whom, he says, the secret confession has first been made. Sozomen, who wrote in the fifth century, explains, in his History of the Church, how confession was practised in the early ages. He writes: "God has commnanded to pardon sinners, even if they have often transgressed. Now, it is a grievous burthen to confess before the whole congregation. Therefore one of the priests was appointed, conspicuous for virtue, prudence, and fidelity to keep secrets; to him those who had sinned confessed their deeds, and he absolved the penitents, appointing for each a penance according to his faults, that he might make up for his sins" (L. VII, c. 16). What can be clearer, and more conformable to the present practice?
259. The Church has always claimed the power to forgive all kinds of sins. About the year 200, she condemned the Montanists for denying pardon to murderers, idolators, and apostates. When the Scriptures speak of "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost" as a sin that shall never be forgiven (Matt. XII, 31, 32), they mean that it rarely is forgiven, because those guilty of it will rarely manifest such sentiments as would justify their absolution (n. 210, 3). Such modes of speaking are used in Scripture on other occasions also; as when Christ said it was impossible for the rich to be saved (Luke XVIII, 25). It was a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit when the Jews ascribed to Satan the miracles which Christ wrought in confirmation of His mission; the same sin is committed by those who obstinately refuse to accept the clear evidences of revelation. Certain texts of the Fathers require a similar interpretation (n. 210, 3).
260. The chief doctrines taught on the Sacrament of Penance by the Council of Trent (Sess. 14) are these 1. Penance is a Sacrament instituted by Christ for reconciling the faithful to God, as often as after Baptism they fall into sin (can. 1). 2. Sacramental confession to a priest alone, which the Catholic Church has always practised, is not a human invention (can, 6). 3. It is necessary by Divine law to confess each and every mortal sin which, after due and diligent preparation, are in the memory, and this even if they are hidden sins, and forbidden only by the last two precepts of the Decalogue, together with the circumstances that change the species (can. 7). This Council also renewed time commandment, laid by the Lateran Coucil of 1215 on all the faithful, to confess at least once a year (can. 8).
What led to the enactment of the law of yearly confession was this. Peter of Blois, who wrote before 1200 states that in the beginning of the Church all who assisted at Mass communicated; that it was later on enacted that they should communicate every Sunday; later, at least three times a year, at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas (Alzog, Church Hist. II, p. 504). The Council of Lateran, A. D. 1215, relaxed the former law relating to Holy Communion, limiting its obligatory reception 247 Penance and Extreme Unction. to once a year; and it added explicitly the obligation, which St. Paul had taught, and which had been insisted on all along, of cleansing the conscience from sin before partaking of the sacred Body and Blood of Christ (1. Cor. XI, 23). Thus it required Confession at least once a year.
261. Luther was at first inclined to retain the Sacrament of Penance; but he sacrificed it to his fundamental doctrine of salvation by faith alone; and so do all his followers. The other Protestants seem to consider an abandonment of sin as and ipso facto remission of all sins. The English Church admits that Christians may fall into sin and rise again, but it denies that Penance is a Sacrament of the Gospel; and it is silent as to the steps to be taken to rise from sin, except that the Book of Common Prayer contains forms of absolution. The acts which penitents must perform to obtain the benefits of this Sacrament will be explained farther on (Part III, nn. 341-345).
262. The effects of the Sacrament of Penance are most salutary. 1. It pardons the guilt of the sins, mortal and venial, which are confessed and repented of. 2. It infuses or increases sanctifying grace. 3. It remits the eternal punishment, if it was due. 4. It secures actual graces to avoid sins in future. 5. It may also remit, wholly or in part, the temporal punishment still to be undergone for sins whose guilt is now pardoned.
But the Council of Trent teaches (can. 12): "The whole punishment of sin is not always remitted by God with the fault." For when Adam's sin was pardoned in view of the merits of the promised Redeemer, he was still condemned to a long expiation (Gen. III, 19). "For this remaining debt", says the Council, "satisfaction is made to God, through the merits of Christ, by such punishments as are inflicted by Him and borne with patience, or are enjoined by a priest; and by those which are voluntarily undertaken, such as fastings, prayers, alms, or other works of piety". It teaches also (can. 15) that the penance enjoined by the priest in Confession is binding in virtue of the power of the Keys, which was not given for loosing only, but also for binding. This imposing of a penalty is well suited to the form in which this Sacrament is instituted, namely as a tribunal, which supposes a judicial sentence. The penance imposed should be (ch. 8) "Salutary and convenient, according to the quality of the sins and the power of the penitent".
263. An indulgence is a special use of the absolving power. While in the tribunal of Penance the guilt and at least the eternal punishment of sin are taken away, an indulgence cancels, wholly or in part the remaining penalty still to be borne in this world or in the next. It is a privilege of sovereign power in the State to remit the death penalty, to commute any heavier to a lighter punishment, and to remove punishment altogether. Christ gave an analogous power to His Church when He said to Peter: "Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matt. XVI, 19). When the Sovereign Pontiff, and those who exercise authority under him, grant an indulgence, they apply to a soul the infinite merits of Christ's sufferings, and time superabundant satisfactions of the Saints. They require for this purpose that the person thus benefited shall perform some appointed good work, to which the gaining of the indulgence is attached. Most Protestants brand this practice with the note of laxity; but in reality the sects require much less for the entire cancelling of all punishment due to sin: in their theory, an act of faith in Christ's merits is all-sufficient.
The Church has defined only two points regarding her indulgences; namely that she has the power to grant them, and that they are salutary to the Christian people. As early as the third century we find that the Church, at the intercession of confessors of Christ, relaxed the canonical penances of those who had committed public sin, and considered this indulgence as valid before God. But the exact manner in which the indulgences are applied to souls is not known to us. Plenary indulgences release from all penalty, as far as the person, under the unknown laws of God's providence, is capable of being thus benefited. The effect of partial indulgences is in some way proportioned to the effect which would have been secured by a certain amount of canonical penance. Those applicable to the departed are offered to God on behalf of such souls; but God is not bound to accept them, or apply them to the souls prayed for; still less do we know the exact extent of the benefit obtained. St. Augustine said: All suffrage offered for the dead profit those who while on earth lived so as to deserve to be profited" (Ench. 110). As to the duration of the future sufferings, we have no reliable information.
264. As Confirmation is, in a manner, the complement of Baptism, making the recipient a perfect Christian, so Extreme Unction, for those in danger of death by sickness, is the complement of the Sacrament of Penance. For it supplies the last purification for the sinner's soul which is about to pass into eternity; or, if the favor is desirable, it may remove the sickness, which is a penalty of sin.
It has all the requisites of a Sacrament. There is,
1. The outer sign, consisting of the matter and form. The matter is the anointing of the senses with olive oil especially blessed for the purpose, the form is the prayer pronounced for the pardon of the sins; 2. The grace signified, besides the increase of sanctifying grace, is the strengthening of the soul and the removal of the remnants of sin. For unction is often used to denote sanctifying grace, and also such actual graces as are analogous to the effects produced by oil, which gives light, soothes wounds, strengthens for contests, etc.; 3. The institution of Christ is shown by St. James, who says. "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up : and if he be in sins, they shall he forgiven him (V, 14, 15). St. James here evidently directs the use of this Sacrament for the obtaining of effects which may be confidently expected, and which God alone can produce. Therefore God must have connected them with that rite. St. Innocent I, in the fourth century, speaks of it as "a species of Sacrament"; he remarks that it is administered by priests "for this reason, that Bishops, hindered by their engagements, cannot go to every sick person" (Ep. 25 ad Decent.). The blessing of the oil belongs to the Bishop, but a priest can perform it if delegated to do so by the Pope.
This Sacrament should be given to all those who, after coming to the use of reason, are in danger of death by sickness. It is profitless, and therefore wrong, to renew Extreme Unction while the same danger of death continues. It is unwise to defer the reception of it too long, because many actual graces are thus prevented, and restoration to health is not in the ordinary course of Divine Providence when the patient is so ill that his cure would require an evident miracle (See also n. 232).
The definitions of the Council of Trent embrace these points: that Extreme Unction is truly a Sacrament, that it confers grace, remits sin, raises up the sick man when this is expedient for salvation, and that the grace of healing has not ceased; also that a priest is the minister of this Sacrament.
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