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St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica

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  • Aquin.: SMT XP Q[1] Out. Para. 1/2 SUPPLEMENT (XP): TO THE THIRD PART OF THE SUMMA THEOLOGICA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS GATHERED FROM HIS COMMENTARY ON BOOK IV OF THE SENTENCES (QQ[1] -99) OF THE PARTS OF PENANCE, IN PARTICULAR, AND FIRST OF CONTRITION (THREE ARTICLES)
      • Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF THE QUALITY OF CONFESSION (FOUR ARTICLES)
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Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] Out. Para. 1/1 - OF THE QUALITY OF CONFESSION (FOUR ARTICLES)

We must now consider the quality of confession: under which head there
are four points of inquiry:

(1) Whether confession can be lacking in form?

(2) Whether confession ought to be entire?

(3) Whether one can confess through another, or by writing?

(4) Whether the sixteen conditions, which are assigned by the masters,
are necessary for confession?


Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether confession can be lacking in form?

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that confession cannot be lacking in form. For it
is written (Ecclus. 17:26): "Praise [confession] perisheth from the dead
as nothing." But a man without charity is dead, because charity is the
life of the soul. Therefore there can be no confession without charity.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, confession is condivided with contrition and
satisfaction. But contrition and satisfaction are impossible without
charity. Therefore confession is also impossible without charity.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it is necessary in confession that the word should agree
with the thought for the very name of confession requires this. Now if a
man confess while remaining attached to sin, his word is not in accord
with his thought, since in his heart he holds to sin, while he condemns
it with his lips. Therefore such a man does not confess.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Every man is bound to confess his mortal sins. Now if a
man in mortal sin has confessed once, he is not bound to confess the same
sins again, because, as no man knows himself to have charity, no man
would know of him that he had confessed. Therefore it is not necessary
that confession should be quickened by charity.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, Confession is an act of virtue, and is part of a
sacrament. In so far as it is an act of virtue, it has the property of
being meritorious, and thus is of no avail without charity, which is the
principle of merit. But in so far as it is part of a sacrament, it
subordinates the penitent to the priest who has the keys of the Church,
and who by means of the confession knows the conscience of the person
confessing. In this way it is possible for confession to be in one who is
not contrite, for he can make his sins known to the priest, and subject
himself to the keys of the Church: and though he does not receive the
fruit of absolution then, yet he will begin to receive it, when he is
sincerely contrite, as happens in the other sacraments: wherefore he is
not bound to repeat his confession, but to confess his lack of sincerity.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: These words must be understood as referring to the
receiving of the fruit of confession, which none can receive who is not
in the state of charity.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: Contrition and satisfaction are offered to God: but
confession is made to man: hence it is essential to contrition and
satisfaction, but not to confession, that man should be united to God by
charity.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[1] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: He who declares the sins which he has, speaks the truth;
and thus his thought agrees with his lips or words, as to the substance
of confession, though it is discordant with the purpose of confession.


Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether confession should be entire?

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that it is not necessary for confession to be
entire, namely, for a man to confess all his sins to one priest. For
shame conduces to the diminution of punishment. Now the greater the
number of priests to whom a man confesses, the greater his shame.
Therefore confession is more fruitful if it be divided among several
priests.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, confession is necessary in Penance in order that
punishment may be enjoined for sin according to the judgment of the
priest. Now a sufficient punishment for different sins can be imposed by
different priests. Therefore it is not necessary to confess all one's
sins to one priest.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it may happen that a man after going to confession and
performing his penance, remembers a mortal sin, which escaped his memory
while confessing, and that his own priest to whom he confessed first is
no longer available, so that he can only confess that sin to another
priest, and thus he will confess different sins to different priests.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] Obj. 4 Para. 1/1

OBJ 4: Further, the sole reason for confessing one's sins to a priest is
in order to receive absolution. Now sometimes, the priest who hears a
confession can absolve from some of the sins, but not from all. Therefore
in such a case at all events the confession need not be entire.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, Hypocrisy is an obstacle to Penance. But it savors of
hypocrisy to divide one's confession, as Augustine says [*De vera et
falsa Poenitentia, work of an unknown author]. Therefore confession
should be entire. Further, confession is a part of Penance. But Penance
should be entire. Therefore confession also should be entire.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, In prescribing medicine for the body, the physician
should know not only the disease for which he is prescribing, but also
the general constitution of the sick person, since one disease is
aggravated by the addition of another, and a medicine which would be
adapted to one disease, would be harmful to another. The same is to be
said in regard to sins, for one is aggravated when another is added to
it; and a remedy which would be suitable for one sin, might prove an
incentive to another, since sometimes a man is guilty of contrary sins,
as Gregory says (Pastoral. iii, 3). Hence it is necessary for confession
that man confess all the sins that he calls to mind, and if he fails to
do this, it is not a confession, but a pretense of confession.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Although a man's shame is multiplied when he makes a
divided confession to different confessors, yet all his different shames
together are not so great as that with which he confesses all his sins
together: because one sin considered by itself does not prove the evil
disposition of the sinner, as when it is considered in conjunction with
several others, for a man may fall into one sin through ignorance or
weakness, but a number of sins proves the malice of the sinner, or his
great corruption.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: The punishment imposed by different priests would not be
sufficient, because each would only consider one sin by itself, and not
the gravity which it derives from being in conjunction with another.
Moreover sometimes the punishment which would be given for one sin would
foster another. Again the priest in hearing a confession takes the place
of God, so that confession should be made to him just as contrition is
made to God: wherefore as there would be no contrition unless one were
contrite for all the sins which one calls to mind, so is there no
confession unless one confess all the sins that one remembers committing.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: Some say that when a man remembers a sin which he had
previously forgotten, he ought to confess again the sins which he had
confessed before, especially if he cannot go to the same priest to whom
his previous confession was made, in order that the total quantity of his
sins may be made known to one priest. But this does not seem necessary,
because sin takes its quantity both from itself and from the conjunction
of another; and as to the sins which he confessed he had already
manifested their quantity which they have of themselves, while as to the
sin which he had forgotten, in order that the priest may know the
quantity which it has under both the above heads, it is enough that the
penitent declare it explicitly, and confess the others in general, saying
that he had confessed many sins in his previous confession, but had
forgotten this particular one.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[2] R.O. 4 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 4: Although the priest may be unable to absolve the penitent
from all his sins, yet the latter is bound to confess all to him, that he
may know the total quantity of his guilt, and refer him to the superior
with regard to the sins from which he cannot absolve him.


Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether one may confess through another, or by writing?

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that one may confess through another, or by
writing. For confession is necessary in order that the penitent's
conscience may be made known to the priest. But a man can make his
conscience known to the priest, through another or by writing. Therefore
it is enough to confess through another or by writing.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, some are not understood by their own priests on account
of a difference of language, and consequently cannot confess save through
others. Therefore it is not essential to the sacrament that one should
confess by oneself, so that if anyone confesses through another in any
way whatever, it suffices for his salvation.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, it is essential to the sacrament that a man should
confess to his own priest, as appears from what has been said (Q[8], A[5]
). Now sometimes a man's own priest is absent, so that the penitent
cannot speak to him with his own voice. But he could make his conscience
known to him by writing. Therefore it seems that he ought to manifest his
conscience to him by writing to him.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] OTC Para. 1/2

On the contrary, Man is bound to confess his sins even as he is bound to
confess his faith. But confession of faith should be made "with the
mouth," as appears from Rm. 10:10: therefore confession of sins should
also.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] OTC Para. 2/2

Further, who sinned by himself should, by himself, do penance. But
confession is part of penance. Therefore the penitent should confess his
own sins.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] Body Para. 1/1

I answer that, Confession is not only an act of virtue, but also part of
a sacrament. Now, though, in so far as it is an act of virtue it matters
not how it is done, even if it be easier to do it in one way than in
another, yet, in so far as it is part of a sacrament, it has a
determinate act, just as the other sacraments have a determinate matter.
And as in Baptism, in order to signify the inward washing, we employ that
element which is chiefly used in washing, so in the sacramental act which
is intended for manifestation we generally make use of that act which is
most commonly employed for the purpose of manifestation, viz. our own
words; for other ways have been introduced as supplementary to this.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: Just as in Baptism it is not enough to wash with anything,
but it is necessary to wash with a determinate element, so neither does
it suffice, in Penance, to manifest one's sins anyhow, but they must be
declared by a determinate act.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: It is enough for one who is ignorant of a language, to
confess by writing, or by signs, or by an interpreter, because a man is
not bound to do more than he can: although a man is not able or obliged
to receive Baptism, except with water, which is from an entirely external
source and is applied to us by another: whereas the act of confession is
from within and is performed by ourselves, so that when we cannot confess
in one way, we must confess as we can.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[3] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: In the absence of one's own priest, confession may be made
even to a layman, so that there is no necessity to confess in writing,
because the act of confession is more essential than the person to whom
confession is made.


Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Thes. Para. 1/1

Whether the sixteen conditions usually assigned are necessary for
confession?

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Obj. 1 Para. 1/1

OBJ 1: It would seem that the conditions assigned by masters, and
contained in the following lines, are not requisite for confession:


Simple, humble, pure, faithful,

Frequent, undisguised, discreet, voluntary,

shamefaced,

Entire, secret, tearful, not delayed,

Courageously accusing, ready to obey.


For fidelity, simplicity, and courage are virtues by themselves, and
therefore should not be reckoned as conditions of confession.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Obj. 2 Para. 1/1

OBJ 2: Further, a thing is "pure" when it is not mixed with anything
else: and "simplicity," in like manner, removes composition and
admixture. Therefore one or the other is superfluous.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Obj. 3 Para. 1/1

OBJ 3: Further, no one is bound to confess more than once a sin which he
has committed but once. Therefore if a man does not commit a sin again,
his penance need not be "frequent."

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Obj. 4 Para. 1/1

OBJ 4: Further, confession is directed to satisfaction. But satisfaction
is sometimes public. Therefore confession should not always be "secret."

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Obj. 5 Para. 1/1

OBJ 5: Further, that which is not in our power is not required of us.
But it is not in our power to shed "tears." Therefore it is not required
of those who confess.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] OTC Para. 1/1

On the contrary, We have the authority of the masters who assigned the
above.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Body Para. 1/5

I answer that, Some of the above conditions are essential to confession,
and some are requisite for its well-being. Now those things which are
essential to confession belong to it either as to an act of virtue, or as
to part of a sacrament. If in the first way, it is either by reason of
virtue in general, or by reason of the special virtue of which it is the
act, or by reason of the act itself. Now there are four conditions of
virtue in general, as stated in Ethic. ii, 4. The first is knowledge, in
respect of which confession is said to be "discreet," inasmuch as
prudence is required in every act of virtue: and this discretion consists
in giving greater weight to greater sins. The second condition is choice,
because acts of virtue should be voluntary, and in this respect
confession is said to be "voluntary." The third condition is that the
act be done for a particular purpose, viz. the due end, and in this
respect confession is said to be "pure," i.e. with a right intention. The
fourth condition is that one should act immovably, and in this respect it
is said that confession should be "courageous," viz. that the truth
should not be forsaken through shame.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Body Para. 2/5

Now confession is an act of the virtue of penance. First of all it takes
its origin in the horror which one conceives for the shamefulness of sin,
and in this respect confession should be "full of shame," so as not to be
a boastful account of one's sins, by reason of some worldly vanity
accompanying it. Then it goes on to deplore the sin committed, and in
this respect it is said to be "tearful." Thirdly, it culminates in
self-abjection, and in this respect it should be "humble," so that one
confesses one's misery and weakness.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Body Para. 3/5

By reason of its very nature, viz. confession, this act is one of
manifestation: which manifestation can be hindered by four things: first,
by falsehood, and in this respect confession is said to be "faithful,"
i.e. true. Secondly, by the use of vague words, and against this
confession is said to be "open," so as not to be wrapped up in vague
words; thirdly, by "multiplicity" of words, in which respect it is said
to be "simple" indicating that the penitent should relate only such
matters as affect the gravity of the sin; fourthly none of those things
should be suppressed which should be made known, and in this respect
confession should be "entire."

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Body Para. 4/5

In so far as confession is part of a sacrament it is subject to the
judgment of the priest who is the minister of the sacrament. Wherefore it
should be an "accusation" on the part of the penitent, should manifest
his "readiness to obey" the priest, should be "secret" as regards the
nature of the court wherein the hidden affairs of conscience are tried.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] Body Para. 5/5

The well-being of confession requires that it should be "frequent"; and
"not delayed," i.e. that the sinner should confess at once.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] R.O. 1 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 1: There is nothing unreasonable in one virtue being a
condition of the act of another virtue, through this act being commanded
by that virtue; or through the mean which belongs to one virtue
principally, belonging to other virtues by participation.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] R.O. 2 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 2: The condition "pure" excludes perversity of intention, from
which man is cleansed: but the condition "simple" excludes the
introduction of unnecessary matter.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] R.O. 3 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 3: This is not necessary for confession, but is a condition of
its well-being.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] R.O. 4 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 4: Confession should be made not publicly but privately, lest
others be scandalized, and led to do evil through hearing the sins
confessed. On the other hand, the penance enjoined in satisfaction does
not give rise to scandal, since like works of satisfaction are done
sometimes for slight sins, and sometimes for none at all.

Aquin.: SMT XP Q[9] A[4] R.O. 5 Para. 1/1

Reply OBJ 5: We must understand this to refer to tears of the heart.





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