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Our young Protestant friend may think lightly of all this now; for he is fresh from the schools, in the heyday of life, with his spirits elastic, and his prospects radiant. Youth, health, talents, learning, eloquence, troops of affectionate and applauding friends, how can he look upon life as he will one day when these disappear or lose their value in his estimation, and, with his ideals all unrealized, he is obliged to look round for something solid and permanent on which he may rest, some safe shelter from the storms and tempests of life?
“ Beatus qui intelligit quid sit amare Jesum, et contemnere seipsum propter Jesum. Oportet dilectum pro dilecto relinquere, quia Jesus vult solus super omnia amari. Dilectio creaturæ fallax et instabilis. Dilectio Jesu fidelis et perseverabilis. Qui adhæret creaturæ, cadet cum labili. Qui amplectitur Jesum, firmabitur in ævum. Illum dilige, et amicum tibi retine, qui, omnibus recedentibus, te non relinquet, nec patietur in fine perire. Ab omnibus oportet te aliquando separari, sive velis, sive nolis. Teneas te apud Jesum, vivens ac moriens; et illius fidelitati committe, qui, omnibus deficientibus, solus potest juvare. » * We know the writer well. We know God has once spoken by his grace to his heart, and called his attention to the Church, and, as secure as he may now feel, as secure as all his education has tended to make him feel, the great question, What shall I do to be saved? will one day press upon his heart, and demand an answer. The answer with which he now amuses himself and his people will then appear to him a bitter mockery, a sort of Mephistopheles laugh over the deep agony of the once innocent, now guilty, Margaret. When that question comes up, may the good God grant him to be true to the promptings and inspirations of divine grace!
We have concluded our reply. We have answered our young
friend at full length. We have not spared his reasongs, but we trust we have said nothing to wound his sensibilities, or to indicate any want of that esteem for him we began by expressing. We beg him to read and study what we have replied, for it concerns the most momentous question that can possibly occupy the thoughts of man. If what we have said fail to satisfy him, we shall be happy to receive his objections, and pledge ourselves, in advance, to remove, as far as a complete logical reply can remove any objections, whatever objections he can urge, without denying that very reason on the
* De Imitatione Christi, Lib. II., Cap. 7.
authority of which he objects. All we ask is, that he do not repeat his old objections, without undertaking to show that our replies are not to the point, are unsound in principle, or not sustained by the facts in the case.
ART. II. – 1. Manuel des Confesseurs. 2. Praxis Confessarii, Auctore S. ALPHONSO DE LIGORIO. 3. The Catholic Question in America. New York. 1813. 4. Le Prêtre, et la femme de Famille, par MICHELET. 5. Entire Absolution of the Penitent. A Sermon preached
by Dr. Pusey, in Christ Church Cathedral. Oxford. Feb
It may be allowed us, like the scribe of the Gospel, to bring forth from our treasures old things and new, in treating of a usage coeval with Christianity, but which has recently been assailed with no ordinary violence, whilst it has received the homage of a numerous and distinguished class of the Anglican clergy. A veil of mystery hangs over the confessional. The whisperings of the penitent reach the ear of the confessor, there to die away without impress or echo. The counsels, reproofs, exhortations, and injunctions of the spiritual father share in the privilege of secrecy. As might be expected, persons practically unacquainted with this tribunal view it with vague apprehension ; and where prejudice has clouded the mind, distrust, suspicion, and evil surmises are indulged of proceedings dark and foul, defying proof and eluding investigation. For some ages, the training for this function of the ministry partook of its secret character, it being deemed unsafe to commit to writing the sacramental forms, or the rules by which the priest was to be guided in the difficult science of directing conscience, artium regimen animarum, — but that period of reserve has long since passed away. The disciplina arcani is scarcely conceivable, now that the press has divulged and spread abroad, not only the mouldering volumes of the monastic libraries, but even the loose sheets to which confidential communications were sometimes committed ; and the Gospel adage, that no secret shall remain unrevealed, is now literally fulfilled in the many treatises which prepare the priest for the exercise of the absolving power. Of these we have noted two at the head of
our list; - the first, a French manual for confessors, which the Anglican Bishop of St. David's, Dr. Thirlwall, on occasion of the Maynooth discussion last year, mentioned with commendation ; — the second, a treatise of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, embodying the principles of his famous work on Moral Theology, and applying them to practice. A glance at this work will satisfy the reader that the holy author was a stranger to the Oxford principle of reserve in communicating knowledge, since he contemplates every imaginable abuse of the ministry, in order to mark its penalties and remedies.
The sermon of Dr. Pusey, recently delivered on his resuming the function of preaching in Christ Church cathedral, at Oxford, after three years' suspension on suspicion of orthodoxy, presents him still laboring for the restoration of ancient doctrine and discipline, which he fancies may be recovered from the ruins of the English Church. He boldly advocates the power of forgiveness, and highly commends the practice of confession, deeply deploring its neglect; but, as if it were not allowed him to see the whole truth, or to proclaim it, from his present position, he spoils his manly advocacy of the forgiving power, by presenting confession as a disciplinary rite, wbich, although of great advantage, is not of absolute necessity. This is the more surprising, since it appears, from a letter which, a few months ago, he addressed to an inquiring friend, that he recommends the most detailed examination of conscience on the ten commandments, the seven deadly sins, and other particulars, as a preparation for confession; which could not be reasonably hoped to be made so minutely, if no divine precept rendered it necessary. We may, however, congratulate ourselves on the near approach of this distinguished man to correct sentiments, and his high esteem of a practice which generally forms the most serious obstacle to conversion ; and we may hope that light will soon be granted him to view it as it truly is, a divine ordinance, in which the mercy and wisdom of our Saviour-God are wonderfully displayed.
In truth, the reasoning of the learned professor on the power communicated to the Apostles should have led him to acknowledge the divine institution of confession ; for the power is manifestly discretionary and judicial, to be exercised wisely and justly; consequently, with full cognizance of the cause on which judgment is to be passed. Christ cannot be thought to have sent his Apostles to forgive or retain sins, at their good pleasure, but rather so as to give to the penitent full assurance of pardon,
and leave the impenitent burdened with their sins. If the power, as Dr. Pusey contends, was real and effectual, and not a mere proclamation, in general terms, to whoever might prove fit to enjoy its benefit, it belonged to the Apostles and their successors to inquire, examine, and judge, — to ascertain the guilt of the applicant, and his repentance, — to determine his obligations, — to prescribe the conditions which he must fulfil, and, finally, to pronounce sentence. The authority of acquitting or condemning necessarily implies the right to sit in judgment.
The fact related in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the A postles may be fairly considered an instance of special confession of sins committed after baptism. When the sons of Sceva had adjured some possessed persons in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preached, a man possessed by an evil spirit rushed on them, and compelled them to seek safety in flight. This filled with terror the inhabitants of Ephesus, of whom many who had already made profession of Christianity were awakened to a sense of their sins, and many also resolved to abandon altogether whatever might lead them to relapse into superstitious practices; “ many of them who believed came confessing and declaring their deeds."* From the Greek verb, which is in the perfect participle, it is clear that they had been already believers, consequently members of the Church by baptism. Their confession regarded special acts, as the Greek term indicates. It embraced, as Kuinoel and Bloomfield acknowledge, “ sins of every kind,” since distinct mention is made by the sacred writer of the two classes of penitents, of whom the latter offered their magical books to be consumed. The burning of bad books is an evidence of conversion, such as penitents have, at all times, been called on to give, when suing for pardon. There is, then, every reason to believe that a detailed confession of sins was made on this occasion. Bloomfield maintains that the confession consisted in the open avowal of their sinful practices, not in a confidential communication made in secret to a minister of religion ; but of this there is no proof in the sacred historian. The publicity of the act which followed, namely, the burning of the books, does not prove that the confession was public. It is clear, at least, that it was a special confession, which could not lose its sacramental character, if made to the priest of God, in the presence of the faithful.
In the early ages of the Church, confession was regarded as
so essential and prominent a part of penance, that the whole penitential discipline was frequently called by the Greek term souołóynois, which strictly denotes confession, and which is borrowed from the passage of the Acts just quoted. This was urged as the only means by which the sinner could quench the flames which his iniquity had enkindled. - If still you draw back," said Tertullian, “ let your mind turn to that eternal fire which confession will extinguish ; and that you may not hesitate to adopt the remedy, weigh the greatness of future punishment. This stern African sees no alternative but confession or hell-fire. St. Cyprian, in milder language, expresses the same sentiment : -“I entreat you, brethren, let all confess their faults, while he that has offended enjoys life; while his confession can be received, and while the satisfaction and pardon imparted by the priests are acceptable before God”. + 'St. Basil affirms the same necessity : — Necessarily,” he says,
our sins must be confessed to those to whom has been committed the dispensation of the mysteries of God.”
If Dr. Pusey will consult Lactantius, he will feel bound to put a term to his hesitancy, and pass from a society from which confession has been long since discarded, practically, if not in theory, to the true Church, whose title to the Catholic name is confirmed by her tenacity in retaining this divine institution. 6. Now," he writes,
all heretical sects deem themselves particularly Christians, and think theirs is the Catholic Church, it should be known, that, where is confession and penance, by which the sins to which weak men are subject are cancelled, there is the true Church.”
We long to see the amiable Doctor relieved from the awkwardness of his position, and enjoying the consolations for which his heart evidently yearns. He now proclaims the Eucharistic sacrifice in churches without altars ; he affirms the power of forgiveness in the midst of his brethren, who disavow the sublime authority ; whilst others, once associated with him in the work of restoration, are gathered around altars on which the perpetual sacrifice is offered, and humbly kneel at the confessional to receive the assurance of divine forgiveness.
For a considerable time past, the Puseyite school have acknowledged that confession was practised in the early ages, but they maintain that it was public, originally springing from
* De Pænit., c. xii.
+ De Lapsis.