aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
« Prev Penance and Indulgences Next »

§ 117. Penance and Indulgences.


The sacrament of penance was placed in close connection with baptism by the Schoolmen, as it was later by the council of Trent, which called it a "sort of laborious baptism."17111711    Duns Scotus had spoken of the "satisfaction which is the doing of a laborious work," quae est executio operis laboriosi. Report IV. 16. 1, quoted by Schwane, p. 669.rtullian’s illustration, the Schoolmen designated penance the second plank thrown out to the sinner after shipwreck as baptism is the first.17121712    Tertullian, de Poen, XII. So also Jerome. See the Lombard, Sent., XIV. 1, Migne, 868; Bonaventura, Sent., XIV. 1, Peltier’s ed., V. 553; Brevil., VI. 10, VII. 323; Th. Aq., III. 84. 6, Migne, IV. 862; Supplem., VI. 3. 936; Alb. Magnus, In Sent., Borgnet’s ed., XXIX. 404 sq.he priesthood in securing and strengthening its authority. The treatment given to it by the Schoolmen is even more elaborate than the treatment they give to the eucharist.17131713    The Lombard devotes two and a half times the space to penance that he does to the eucharist; Migne’s ed., pp. 868-899, as against pp. 856-868 on the eucharist; Hugo of St. Victor, Migne’s ed., 550-578, as against 462-471 on the eucharist; Th. Aquinas, Migne’s ed., 852-1023, as against 695-852 on the eucharist, and Bonaventura nearly four times as much space devoting to penance, Peltier’s ed., vol. V. 533-709, vol. VI. 1-129, and to the eucharist, vol. V. 415-533.

One feature in which this sacrament differs from the others is the amount of positive activity it requires from those who seek the grace involved in it. Contrition, confession to the priest, and the performance of good works prescribed by the priest were the conditions of receiving this grace. Everything depends upon God, and yet everything depends upon the subjection of the penitent to the priest and his act of absolution. It is in connection with this sacrament that the doctrine of the keys comes to its full rights. Here a man is absolved from sin and reunited with the Church, and reconciled to Christ through the mediation of the sacerdotal key.17141714    Absolvitur homo a peccato, et reunitur ecclesiae et reconciliatur Christo, mediante clavi sacerdotali, Bonaventura, Brevil., VI. 10, Peltier’s ed., VII. 323.

Two perversions of Scripture were the largest factors in developing the theory of meritorious penance. The first was the false interpretation of John 20:23, "Whosoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven, and whosoever sins ye retain they are retained." The passage was interpreted to mean that Christ conferred upon the Apostles and the Church judicial authority to forgive sins. The Protestant theory is that this authority is declarative. The second factor was the Vulgate’s translation of the New Testament for the word "repent," poenitentiam agite, "do penance," as if repentance were a meritorious external exercise, and not a change of disposition, which is the plain meaning of the Greek word μετανοέω, "to change your mind."17151715    The Rheims Version translates the word "do penance," though not uniformly, thereby utterly confusing the English reader who involuntarily puts into the New Testament word the Church’s sacramental invention.

The confusion of the New Testament idea and the Church’s doctrine is evident enough from the twofold meaning Peter the Lombard and Thomas Aquinas give to the thing called penance. Baptism, they said, is a sacrament, but penance is both a sacrament and a virtuous state of the mind. In the New Testament the latter is intended. The theologians added all the mechanism of penance.17161716    Poenitentia dicitur et sacramentum et virtus mentis, Lombard XIV. l, p. 869; Th. Aq., Migne, IV. 850 sqq. While we use two words, "repentance" and "penance," the Schoolmen use only the one word, poenitentia, thus mystifying the mind as if repentance of heart, or μετανοία, did not include the entire meaning of the original word.

At the close of the twelfth century a complete change was made in the doctrine of penance. The theory of the early Church, elaborated by Tertullian and other Church fathers, was that penance is efficient to remove sins committed after baptism, and that it consisted in certain penitential exercises such as prayer and alms. The first elements added by the mediaeval system were that confession to the priest and absolution by the priest are necessary conditions of pardon. Peter the Lombard did not make the mediation of the priest a requirement, but declared that confession to God was sufficient. In his time, he says, there was no agreement on three aspects of penance: first, whether contrition for sin was not all that was necessary for its remission; second, whether confession to the priest was essential; and third, whether confession to a layman was insufficient. The opinions handed down from the Fathers, he asserts, were diverse, if not antagonistic.17171717    Sent., XVII. 1, Migne, p. 880. The finished sacramental theory of penance owed not a little to the tract de vera et falsa poenitentia, composed perhaps in the twelfth century and foisted upon Augustine. Gratian inserted nearly all of it in his Decretals, as did Peter the Lombard. According to Lea, I. 210, the work was still quoted as Augustine’s as late as the seventeenth century. Lea regards it as the composition of two authors of the fifth and twelfth centuries.

Alexander of Hales marks a new era in the history of the doctrine. He was the first of the Schoolmen to answer clearly all these questions, and to him more than to any other single theologian does the Catholic Church owe its doctrine of penance. Thomas Aquinas confirmed what Alexander taught.17181718    This is shown by Müller’s notable work,Der Umschwung, etc. Abaelard’s statement presenting the old view, and the statement of Thomas Aquinas representing the new view, are given in Köhler, pp. 11-18.

In distinction from baptism, which is a regeneration, Thomas Aquinas declared penance to be a restoration to health and he and Bonaventura agreed that it is the efficacious remedy for mortal sins. Thomas traced its institution back to Christ, who left word that "penance and remission of sins should be preached from Jerusalem," Luke 24:47. James had this institution in mind when he called upon Christians to confess their sins one to another.17191719    Summa, III. 84. 7; Supplem., VIII. 1, Migne, IV. 864, 943.

Penance consists of four elements: contrition of heart, confession with the mouth, satisfaction by works, and the priest’s absolution. The first three are called the substance of penance and are the act of the offender. The priest’s absolution is termed the form of penance.17201720    Lombard, XVI. 1, Migne, p. 877; Alb. Magnus, Borgnet’s ed., XXIX. 536. Th. Aq., 90. 1, 2, Migne, IV. 912 sq., and Bonaventura, Brevil., VI.10, Peltier’s ed., VII. 323, also call the first three "the integral parts" of penance. So also Abaelard, Ethica, 17-24.

1. Contrition was defined as the sorrow of the soul for its sins, an aversion from them, and a determination not to commit them again. The Lombard and Gratian taught that such contrition, being rooted in love, is adequate for the divine pardon without confession to a priest or priestly absolution.17211721    See Schwane’s strong condemnation of this opinion, which he declares to be beyond a doubt the Lombard’s, p. 662.

At the side of the doctrine of contrition the Schoolmen, beginning with Alexander Hales, placed the novel doctrine of attrition, which was most fully emphasized by Duns Scotus. Attrition is the negative element in contrition, a sort of half repentance, a dread of punishment, Galgenreue, "scaffold-repentance," as the Germans call it.17221722    Timor servilis principium est attritionis, Alex. of Hales quoted by Schwane, p. 664. Th. Aquinas, Supplem., I. 2, Migne, IV. 919, is much more moderate than Alexander, Bonaventura, and Duns. Caesar of Heisterbach calls "servile fear a gift of God," Koeniger, p. 31. At the close of the Middle Ages, Gabriel Biel took the position that attrition is changed by confession and absolution into contrition. See Seeberg, Dogmengesch., II. 121.e father went out to meet him. According to this doctrine, a man may be forgiven and saved who is actuated simply by the fear of hell and punishment and has neither faith nor filial love in his heart. All he is required to do is to diligently go through the other steps of the process of penance, and the priest’s pardon will be forthcoming.17231723    See Hahn, p. 413; Schwane, p. 666. The council of Trent, XIV. 4 (Schaff’s Creeds, II. 145 sq.), adopted the word "attrition" and defined it as an imperfect contrition. The doctrine of attritio formed a centre of discussion in the warm debate over indulgences started by Janssen’s work and participated in by Kolde, Kawerau, Dieckhoff, etc. Harnmack is very severe upon the doctrine as the dry rot in the Catholic system, Dogmengesch., II. 482, 504 sqq.

2. Confession to the priest, the second element in penance, is defined by Thomas Aquinas as the making-known of the hidden disease of sin in the hope of getting pardon.17241724    Aquinas quotes Augustine’s definition, Supplem., VII.1, IX. 3, Migne, IV. 940, 954.17251725    Migne, IV. 939. supplication for such offences and that is sufficient. They do not separate the soul either from God or the Church.17261726    Th. Aq., III. 87. 1, Migne, IV. 890; Supplem., VI. 1, 3, VIII. 3, Migne, IV. 934, 936, 945. With characteristic exhaustiveness, Thomas goes into the question whether a man can confess sins he has never committed, Migne IV. 936. rites.

By the action of the Fourth Lateran, 1215, confession to the priest at least once a year was made a test of orthodoxy. Beginning with Alexander of Hales, the Schoolmen vindicate the positions that confession, to be efficacious, must be made to the priest, and that absolution by the priest is an essential condition of the sinner’s pardon. Bonaventura, after devoting much time to the question, "Whether it is sufficient to confess our sins to God," answered it in the negative. At greater length than Peter the Lombard had done, he quoted the Fathers to show that there was no unanimity among them on the question. But he declared that, since the decision of the Fourth Lateran, all are to be adjudged heretics who deny that confession to the priest is essential. Before that decision, such denial was not heresy.17271727    In Sent., IV. 17. 2, Peltier’s ed., V. 674, ante hanc determinationem hoc non erat heresis, etc. Albertus Magnus also declared it was not sufficient to confess to God only, Borgnet’s ed. XXIX. 603.

Confession must be made to the priest as Christ’s vicar. In case of necessity, no priest being available, a layman may also hear confession.17281728    Th. Aq., Supplem., VII. 1, 2, Migne, IV. 943 sq.; Bonaventura, Sent., XVII. 3. 1, Peltier’s ed., V. 695. Caesar of Heisterbach speaks of confession to an unbeliever as efficacious in the article of death, provided the unbeliever does not ridicule the sacrament, Koeniger, p. 73. God but not to the Church, and in order to be so reconciled and admitted to the other sacraments he must also, as opportunity offers, confess again to the priest.

Priests were forbidden to look at the face of a woman at the confessional, and severe punishments were prescribed for betraying its secrets, even to degradation from office and life-long confinement in a convent.17291729    Fourth Lat., can. 21, synods of Treves, 1227, Canterbury, 1236, etc. the whole of the Jordan ran into their mouths.17301730    See Hefele, VI, 30.

3. Satisfaction, the third element in penance, is imposed by the priest as the minister of God and consists of prayer, pilgrimages, fastings, payments of money, and other good works. These penal acts are medicines for spiritual wounds and a compensation to God for offences against Him, as Thomas Aquinas,17311731    Supplem., XV. 3, Migne, IV. 978. Duns Scotus (quoted by Seeberg, 412) says, satisfaction is the voluntary return of an equivalent redditio voluntaria aequivalentis.f Henry II. after Becket’s death, Philip I. of France, and Raymund of Toulouse.

Satisfaction differs from contrition and confession in the very important particular that one person can perform it for another. To prove this point, Thomas Aquinas used the words of the Apostle when he said, "Bear ye one another’s burdens." Gal. 6:2.

4. The fourth element in the sacrament of penance was the formal sentence of absolution pronounced by the priest. This function, which Schwane calls the main part of the sacrament of penance,17321732    Schwane, p. 670.



« Prev Penance and Indulgences Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |