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St. Thomas Aquinas
Explanation of the Sacraments

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Penance
 
The fourth Sacrament is Penance. The matter,27 as it were, of this 
Sacrament is the acts of the penitent, which are called the three parts of 
Penance. The first part is a heart-felt contrition, by which one is sorry 
for the sins one has committed, and determines not to sin again. The second 
part is confession, which consists in this that the sinner confesses all 
the sins of which he is mindful to the priest; and all of them at one time 
to one priest, not dividing them to a number of priests. The third part is 
satisfaction, which is enjoined according to the judgment of the priest; 
and consists especially in fasting and prayer and almsgiving.
 
The form of this Sacrament is the words of absolution which the priest 
speaks when he says: "I absolve thee" ("Ego te absolvo"). The minister of 
this Sacrament is the priest having authority to absolve, which is either 
ordinary or by commission of his superior. The effect of this Sacrament is 
absolution from sin.28
 
Concerning this Sacrament is the error of the Novati, who say that any one 
who has sinned after having been baptized cannot receive pardon through the 
Sacrament of Penance. Against this are the words: "Be mindful therefore 
from whence thou art fallen; and do penance, and do the first works."29
 
 
 
 



27
. 51. Thomas uses here the words: "quasi materia." The "Roman Catechism" 
("Penance," 13) follows this teaching. "The faithful should be especially 
informed on the matter of this Sacrament. That it differs from the other 
Sacraments in that for them the matter is something, whether natural or 
artificial; the matter as it were (quasi-materia) of Penance is the acts of 
the penitent, i.e., contrition confession, and satisfaction. This has thus 
been defined by the Council of Trent. . . It is not because they are not 
the real matter that they are called by the Council the matter as it were, 
but because they are not of that sort of matter which is applied 
externally, such, for instance, as water in Baptism and chrism in 
Confirmation."
 


28
. "A knowledge of it [the form of Penance] will excite the faithful to 
receive the grace of this Sacrament with the greatest possible devotion. 
The form is: 'I absolve thee,' as may be inferred not only from the words: 
'Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven' 
(Matt., xviii. 18), but also from the teaching of Christ Our Lord, handed 
down to us by the Apostles. . . . The minister of the Sacrament of Penance 
must be a priest possessing ordinary or delegated jurisdiction, as is 
evident in the law of the Church. Whoever performs this sacred duty must be 
invested not only with the powers of orders, but also with that of 
jurisdiction. We have greatest proof of this ministry in the words of Our 
Lord: 'Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins 
you shall retain, they are retained' John, xx. 23). These words were not 
addressed to all, but only to the Apostles, who are succeeded in this 
ministry by priests" ("Roman Catechism," loc. cit., 54).
 


29. Apoc., ii. 5.




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