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canonical satisfaction imposed upon him; or shall affirm, that those who labour to confess all their sins wish to leave nothing to be pardoned by the divine mercy; or, finally, that it is not lawful to confess venial sins : let him be accursed.
68. Whoever shall affirm, that the confession of every sin, according to the custom of the church, is impossible, and merely a human tradition, which the pious should reject; or that all Christians, of both sexes, are not bound to observe the same once a year, according to the constitution of the great Council of Lateran ; * and therefore that the faithful in Christ are to be persuaded not to confess in Lent: let him be accursed.
“9. Whoever shall affirm, that the priest's sacramental absolution is not a judicial act, but only a ministry to pronounce and declare that the sins of the party confessing are forgiven,
* This is not a dead letter. The following extracts describe its operation in Italy :
“If every true-born Italian, man, woman, and child, within the Pope's dominions, does not confess and receive the communion at least once a year, before Easter, his name is posted up in the parish church; if he still refrain, he is exhorted, entreated, and otherwise tormented ; and if he persist in his contumacy, he is excommunicated, which is a very good joke to us, but none at all to an Italian, since it involves the loss of civil rights, and perhaps of liberty and property.”—Rome in the Nineteenth Century, ii. 262.
“Every Italian must at this time confess, and receive the communion. A friend of ours, who has lived a great deal in foreign countries, and there imbibed very heterodox notions, and who has never to us made any secret of his confirmed unbelief of Catholicism, went to-day to confession with the strongest repugnance. What can I do?' he said. "If I neglect it, I am reprimanded by the parish priest; if I delay it, my name is posted up in the parish church; if I persist in my contumacy, the arm of the church will overtake me, and my rank and fortune only serve to make me more obnoxious to its power. If I chose to make myself a martyr to infidelity, as the saints of old did to religion, and to suffer the extremity of punishment in the loss of property and personal rights, what is to become of my wife and family? The same ruin would overtake them, though they are Catholics; for I am obliged not only to conceal my true belief, and profess what I despise, but I must bring up my children in their abominable idolatries and superstition; or, if I teach them the truth, make them either hypocrites or beggars.' I shall not enter into the soundness of my friend's arguments, or defend the rectitude of his conduct ; but certainly the alternative is a hard one; and I believe there are thousands whose virtue would not be proof against it; for this reason he would not live a day in Italy if he could live out of it, which is not in his power.”—Ibid. iii. p. 160.
so that he believes himself to be absolved, even though the priest should not absolve seriously, but in jest; or shall affirm, that the confession of the penitent is not necessary in order to obtain absolution from the priest : let him be accursed.
“ 10. Whoever shall affirm, that priests living in mortal sin have not the power of binding and loosing; or that priests are not the only ministers of absolution, but that it was said to all believers, “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;' and, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained ;' by virtue of which words any one may absolve from sin, from public sin by [public] reproof, if the offender shall acquiesce therein, and from private sins by voluntary confession : let him be accursed.
“11. Whoever shall affirm, that bishops have not the power of reserving to themselves certain cases, excepting such as relate to the external polity of the church, and therefore that the reservation of cases does not hinder priests from absolving, even in such reserved cases : let him be accursed.
66 12. Whoever shall affirm, that the entire punishment is always remitted by God, together with the fault; and therefore that penitents need no other satisfaction than faith, whereby they apprehend Christ, who has made satisfaction for them : let him be accursed.
" 13. Whoever shall affirm, that we can by no means make satisfaction to God for our sins, through the merits of Christ, as far as the temporal penalty is concerned, either by punishments inflicted on us by him, and patiently borne, or enjoined by the priest, though not undertaken of our own accord, such as fastings, prayers, alms, or other works of piety; and therefore that the best penance is nothing more than a new life : let him be accursed.
“ 14. Whoever shall affirm, that the satisfactions by which peniten ts redeem themselves from sin through Christ Jesus, are no part of the service of God, but, on the contrary, human traditions, which obscure the doctrine of grace, and the true worship of God, and the benefits of the death of Christ: let him be accursed.
“15. Whoever shall affirn, that the keys are given to the
church to loose only, and not also to bind ; and that therefore when priests impose punishments on those who confess, they act in opposition to the design of the keys, and against the institution of Christ; and that to maintain, that if the power of the keys be denied, both temporal and eternal punishment remain to be endured, is to advance a mere fiction : let him be accursed.”
The contrariety between Scripture and this decree is too evident to require any proof. How different is Popery from the simple, intelligible system of the word of God ! Who that was previously unacquainted with the fact could have supposed that the “repentance” of the New Testament would be metamorphosed into popish “penance," and that besides the “gudly sorrow” for which the sacred writers plead, wherein the essence of true repentance consists, auricular confession to a priest would be declared necessary, and satisfaction demanded, even to God—as if that were possible for a sinful being ? To maintain that all this was intended by the Saviour, when he said, 66 Repent ye and believe the gospel,” and to assert that it was acted upon by the apostles and their fellow-labourers, in the absence of all evidence in support of the allegation, may indeed be consistent with the religion of Rome; but that religion has long ago received its appropriate designation, and the impartial student of prophecy will know where to fix the charge of fraud, and imposture, and “ deceivableness of unrighteousness.”
By the doctrine and practice of penance, the priesthood is armed with tremendous power. The director of a king's conscience, for instance, has the means of inflicting incalculable misery on millions. The refusal to give absolution till his behests are obeyed may enable him to procure the sanction of measures of the most cruel and tyrannical character, and even to advance for them a claim to sanctity, as in the persecution of alleged heretics. Illustrations of this remark are not infrequent in the histories of Spain, Portugal, and France. Many an act of despotism, many a deed of oppression, has been committed, and many a martyr's fire has blazed, to make satisfaction for some royal sin, and move the confessor to absolve his sceptered slave. If the proud masters of millions have thus succumbed to a shaven crown, none can be surprised that their ignorant subjects have participated in the thrældom. The awful majesty of the priest may well appal the penitent. He is to him as Christ, as God; he holds the keys of heaven and hell; he may bind or loose, remit or retain sin. These are they that “creep into houses, and lead captive silly women” and foolish men. With such pretensions and authority, it is not to be wondered at that they obtain absolute sway. The enthralled Catholic will do anything, go anywhere, submit to any privation or suffering, that his ghostly father may choose to enjoin ; and he believes, in his simplicity, that when the words “ I absolve thee” are uttered, his sins are all forgiven.
“ Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” was the primitive exhortation to a troubled conscience. Such language is never employed by the Romish priesthood ; it presents too short and easy a path to pardon to serve their purpose. The Redeemer occupies but a subordinate station in their system; his commands are nullified or superseded by tradition; the sufficiency of his atonement is denied, or merged in the vaunted efficacy of fastings, pilgrimages, and painful austerities: under pretence of exalting him, they have thrust him from his throne, and usurped his place; and every member of the hierarchy is to his flock as prophet, priest, and king.
Here is the show of liberty and consolation, but the sad reality of bondage. At the early age of seven years, the Roman-catholic child is taught to kneel before his confessor, and ransack his young heart for sin. From that time till the hour of his death, he is bound under the heaviest penalties to disburden his soul at stated periods to the priest. Nor is he allowed to conceal anything. It is not enough to confess actions and words; thoughts, purposes, wishes, must be equally disclosed. The laws of delicacy are rudely violated, and the timid female dares not refuse to answer questions which other lips than those of her spiritual instructor would not have presumed to utter in her presence, or even to withhold from him such feelings and imaginations as are kept secret from the dearest earthly friend. It is industriously inculcated that concealment is mortal sin. Hence absolution often fails to produce comfort. Some trivial matter, some thought which the penitent was ashamed to avow, remained unacknowledged. The
tender conscience is racked and torn with agony; no peace can be enjoyed till all obstacles are surmounted, and the tongue is made willing to betray the most retired privacies of the soul.
Thus the priest becomes entire master. Confession may not reach the ear of Deity but by his intervention ; and pardon is supposed to be bestowed, not when the gracious promises of the gospel are believed, but at the will of a sinful fellow-mortal.
“ Confession,” say the compilers of the Catechism, “contributes powerfully to the preservation of social order. Abolish sacramental confession, and that moment you deluge society with all sorts of secret crimes-crimes too, and others of still greater enormity, which men, once that they have been depraved by vicious habits, will not dread to commit in open day, The salutary shame that attends confession restrains licentiousness, bridles desire, and coerces the evil propensities of corrupt nature."* Seldom have so much misrepresentation and untruth been conveyed in so few words. The very reverse of these statements is the fact, as might be shewn by a comparative view of the state of morals in popish and protestant countries. History fully warrants the assertion, that priestly absolution, as practised in the Romish church, offers a large bounty to crime; and that the confessional is a school of every vice. †
The effects of this system on the moral character of the priests are of the most deplorable kind. What else could have been expected ? As a celebrated writer justly remarks—6. The practice of auricular confession would entail a thousand evils and dangers upon the parties concerned, even apart from the unnatural condition to which one of these parties has been
* Page 272. +“ I have often heard of wicked young men saying to each other, “Come, let us go to confession, and the curate will teach us a great many corrupt things which we never knew. And many young girls have told me in confession, that in order to become acquainted with details on those matters pleasing to their corrupt nature, they went purposely to the confessional to speak about it with their spiritual father.”—Confessions of a French Catholic Priest, p. 110, New York, 1837. The chapter whence this extract is taken describes scenes of such villainy as we have been accustomed to look for only in the records of the middle ages : their recurrence in the nineteenth century shews the incurable corruption of the papal system.-See also M'Gavin's Protestant, vol. ii. pp. 306, 329-339.