11. Treatment of Individual Souls
- Title: Studies in Soul Tending or Pastoral Work in its Relation to the Individual
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Prayer in General
- 3. Fasting
- 4. Fasting Communion
- 5. Meditation
- 6. Intercession
- 7. Scheme of Private Devotion
- 8. Thoughts of Divine Immanence in Worship
- 9. Priest’s Relations with His People
- 10. On the Practice of Auricular Confession
- 11. Treatment of Individual Souls
- 12. The Sick
- 13. Care in Preparation for Reception of the Holy Communion
- Appendix: Standard Theological Works
THE TREATMENT OF INDIVIDUAL SOULS
ONE of the great needs in the training of candidates for Holy Orders is some systematised and specialised instruction in the method of treatment for individual souls. The practice of Confession is referred to in the Exhortation in the Communion Service, as well as in the rubric in the Office for the Visitation of the Sick. The priest’s duty in this respect is a form of pastoral work to his preparation for which too little regard has been paid in the past.
It is to be feared that the systematic observance of the conduct of private confessions has to a large extent fallen into disuse, or, still worse, has been undertaken by those whose capacity for such delicate work is more than doubtful. Before venturing upon this duty a large degree of acquaintance with human nature in its inner depths and in its varied forms of development is required on the part of the practitioner.
Incalculable mischief has resulted from the taking in hand of this form of pastoral work by those who were inadequately fitted for it. How is this fitness to be attained?
In the first place the practitioner must study the subject in relation to his own soul, remembering that in its main features human nature is always the same.
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The duty of self-examination must be explained and strictly enforced. Not only must your instruction to this effect be given clearly and wisely, but you must watch its results. Beware of false diffidence in inviting and urging confidence; remember the absolute necessity for free and unrestrained inter course between penitent and priest on the subject of the spiritual condition and of spiritual difficulties.
Be on the watch for indications of a desire to open the heart to you, and be on the alert to meet it more than half-way; otherwise you may lose golden opportunities. Better risk repulse than miss the chance of saving, or even helping, a soul.
You will often find that the desire for the relief arising from such confidential dealing has long been existent in the heart, and only restrained by timidity or diffidence. In such cases the penitent is often, owing to the priest’s neglect, driven to seek relief in other quarters, from more faithful if less qualified confidants. The attainment of the person’s confidence must be regarded as indispensable, must be aimed at, planned for, striven for, prayed for. Until it has been attained the priest can hardly consider his ministrations, so far as regards the case in question, as other than a failure.
The practice of confession may be regarded as having two forms. The first is that which may be called Plenary Confession, or the confession which is made by one who, for the first time in any real and complete sense, seeks reconciliation with God, and entrance upon the definite practice of the spiritual life. He may be a baptised person who has not lived up to his baptismal vocation; at all events, he is one who has never yet fairly and definitely sought and attained the
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condition of reconciliation with God. The second form of confession is that which is made by one to whom the act of conscious approach to God and of yielding up the soul to Him for pardon and grace is not a new one, but who has already known what it is to experience the gift of absolution at former periods in his life, with greater or less frequency and regularity.
In the first of these two cases the penitent is, of course, required to look back upon his entire life past.
He is carrying about with him, unabsolved, the whole burden of a life’s sin, and must realise that burden in its entirety before bringing it to the foot of the cross for the double gift of absolution and cleansing. To call to mind all the sins of a lifetime, or even any considerable fraction of them, is manifestly impossible.
But it is none the less necessary, by dint of careful research and self-examination, to arrive at an idea of the general tenor of that special form of sin which has characterised the individual’s life; and also to call to mind the leading special acts of sin to which the conscience testifies as standing out prominently in his life’s history. This process of research will call for the exercise of great care and unremitting attention, so as to make the confession sufficiently comprehensive to represent a true view. of the life’s sin. Of course, the object sought in leading a sinner to open out the secrets of his heart to Christ, whether it be directly or through the agency of the human priest, is not that of (as it were) informing the Lord Himself, or even the earthly priest, on the subject. It is rather that of bringing before the penitent’s own view a sufficiently full and comprehensive idea of his condition as a sinner before God, as to awaken within him the sentiment of heartfelt repentance, and a fervent desire
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for cleansing from the guilt of sin and release from its yoke. Hence definite and particular confession is necessary, whether the confession is made to Christ Himself alone or to the priest as His representative.
As a matter of fact, the disuse of so-called ” auricular confession,” which took place after the Reformation, has too often led to the disuse of real confession in any sense whatever. A man is satisfied with acknowledging in a general way his condition as a sinner, without realising in any true sense what that condition means, namely, what those sins are for which he asks forgiveness. The omission is a most dangerous one, if not even fatal. In the first place, the sinner fails in the comprehension of the character and heinousness of the sins of which he supposes himself to repent; and hence, it is questionable whether his repentance can possess that depth and reality which is needful to make it fully effectual. In the second place, the lack of self-examination into the various forms of sin which most easily beset him will tend to deprive him of that knowledge of those sins which is needful to enable him to guard against them for the future. Hence, fulness and explicitness in self-examination and expression of sin is to be carefully enforced from the outset.
The presentment of the sins of a lifetime as an -act of penitence before the cross of Christ by one who has never definitely performed such an act in the past forms a crisis in his life, calling for the most solemn attention and care at the hands of both penitent and practitioner. The preparation for it must necessarily take a considerable time; anything like haste or lack of due deliberation may be fatal. Some amount even of delay may be found necessary to enable the penitent
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to arrange fully and clearly before his own view the consciousness of his condition and needs as a sinner, and also to make sure of his mind as regards his desire for new life, and his purpose to set about it. Yet should delay be found necessary, it is imperative that there should be no slackening in his efforts after attaining the consummation he desires, for such slackening will generally mean falling away. The penitent should be warned that his sincerity may be tried by apparent delay in the inward response made to his efforts after reconciliation with God. It is by such delay that the winnowing process is effected, whereby those who are but half-hearted drop off and show themselves unworthy of the gift which they wish for and affect to seek. The failure is simply because the seeker is not really in earnest. Some response, however, in the way of a comforting sense of accept ance will always be in some degree vouchsafed.
The penitent should be taught to distinguish between faith and assurance. Faith does not mean, nor does it imply, the presence of assurance. Faith may be accompanied by much doubt. Faith means the acceptance at God’s hands of a gift which God has promised to bestow on certain conditions. Faith is simply the fulfilment of those conditions. Faith is an act always, not a feeling. Belief is not faith, nor any part of faith, although it is essential to lead a man to perform the act of self-surrender in which faith really consists.
As has already been intimated, the priest must ascertain from the penitent the scope of the confession to be made, whether it should include the whole of his past life, or whether it simply looks back to some former act of confession which has been complete of
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its kind, and followed by a full and satisfactory absolution. It will, of course, come to the same thing, whether this has been done by the aid of a priest, or by direct communication with our Lord Himself.
The latter, no doubt, is by far the best method when the penitent is sufficiently nurtured in the spiritual life to be qualified to practise it. Moreover, it should be the priest’s declared aim to assist the penitent in attaining such a degree of maturity as will enable him to dispense with the services of an earthly practitioner in this particular respect. Yet it is most desirable, especially in the case of the young (that is, of boys), that the practice of direct auricular confession should be revived, though in such a form as not to rouse a prejudice in those who might otherwise be disposed to take alarm.
The priest should, however, beware of keeping the penitent in leading strings longer than is necessary.
There can be no doubt that the more excellent way is that of direct, personal confession to a Personal Christ.
The practice of retaining a penitent in the observance of auricular confession longer than is necessary may be attended by three evils.
(1) It may tend to cultivate an effeminate type of life, and hinder the development of the masculine qualities of judgment, discretion, and self-control.
(2) It may be an obstacle to that direct and con fidential communion with the Personal Christ which is the ideal of the spiritual life.
(3) Even supposing it were the best way, yet when we consider the comparatively very small number of priests who are qualified to administer this sacrament, one has to take into account the danger accruing to the penitent in case of his removal to a place where
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there is no priest duly qualified for this purpose, if his training has made him dependent upon this practice for the sustenance of his spiritual life.
No priest should be satisfied with taking up a case which has formerly been dealt with by another priest, and following it on the identical lines observed by his predecessor, unless his own judgment commends this course as suitable and sufficient in the particular case before him. Each priest has his own separate responsibility, his own judicial position, for the exercise of which he must answer directly to his Master. Sup posing one who has been in the habit of regular confession should come to him for this purpose, the priest must satisfy himself by careful inquiry that the man’s spiritual life is in a state suitable for the bestowal of absolution, before he consents to pronounce it. If his predecessor has been in the practice, only too common, of a superficial treatment of souls, the priest must beware of confirming his mistakes, perhaps to the fatal injury of an immortal soul. Let him beware of the condemnation of ” healing the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” 1 He must be deep and searching in his inquiries as to the consciousness of sin as a reality in its inner depths and springs, as well as in certain external exhibitions of a more or less serious character.
At the same time, let him beware of making the smallest shade of reflection, directly or indirectly, on a brother priest, for any neglect or incompetence he may have shown in his dealing with the penitent.
The priest must be on his guard against manifesting anything like disgust or repulsion, whatever the nature of the sin may be. Deepest seriousness, and the fullest 1 Jer. viii. n.
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sense of heinousness, may be combined with the tenderest gentleness and the utmost kindliness. Re member the very fact that the penitent comes to you with his offering of humble acknowledgment, that he is of his own accord, and so far as he can do so, opening his heart to your view, entitles him to your deepest personal interest and regard. Let it be seen that the acknowledgment of his sin does not repel you from him, but draws you closer to him. In any case, you cannot judge the relative degrees of criminality; forms which to you may seem grossest, may possibly, in God’s sight, be less offensive than others which may appear to you to be comparatively slight.
You have invited your penitent to such a degree of confidence as he may think well to repose in you, or you may think well to seek from him. How closely you may press such investigation will, of course, depend upon your own judgment, and this will call for the nicest discrimination. The question whether he should be urged to make a full and complete disclosure of his spiritual condition calls for careful consideration on your part. You have to satisfy yourself that, if he does not commit himself wholly into your hands, he is capable of taking care of himself; that is to say, of entering by his own individual efforts into such direct and close intercourse with our Lord as his Confessor, Absolver, and Director, as will be sufficient for the maintenance of his spiritual life. This is ideally the best condition which a Christian can attain; and to help him in attaining this is the chief object which the priest should have in view.
Supposing he fails to show any disposition to yield his full confidence, and yet you feel that he is not capable of taking care of himself, what are you to do?
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You cannot force his confidence. The cause of his reserve very probably lies in the fact that what is being concealed is some very serious form of spiritual disease, lying possibly at the very root of his character, and calling for full and drastic treatment as essential to his salvation. Hence you cannot afford to disregard any symptoms which would seem to point to such a condition of things, and, leaving these unattended to, pass on to deal with other matters. It will generally be the case that those features of soul-sickness which a man is most indisposed to reveal, are just those very features which most strongly call for disclosure for the purpose of spiritual treatment. Yet you cannot force a man’s confidence.
Bear in mind the two main objects of your efforts, First, the endeavour by kindly and gentle but searching inquiry to ascertain the real condition of the man’s soul towards God, with a view to leading him to ascertain it for himself, and so to recognise in himself the nature of that element of sin which is the barrier between himself and God.
Secondly, the endeavour to point out to him as the Object of his loving trust, and of his grasp by faith, the Personal Christ, as the Forgiver of his sin and the Cleanser from its stain.
The process may be difficult and tedious, but if it is set about with serious earnestness, and persevered in with the determination not to give up, together with heartfelt prayer for guidance, success will generally be attained. At all events, the priest will have saved his own soul. The great difficulty is that of impressing upon the sinner an adequate consciousness of sin.
How sadly familiar to the faithful priest, in response
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to his efforts gently to arouse that consciousness, is the vague and pointless rejoinder, ” Yes, we are all sinners “! This expression in itself may almost be taken as a sign of failure hitherto in the effort to awaken anything like the sentiment of repentance. It is not until a man has been brought to say with the repentant king: ” / have sinned against the Lord/ l or with the publican: ” God be merciful to me a sinner/ 2 that he can be safely regarded as truly realising the nature of sin as affecting his own person. This is one of the main reasons calling for explicit ness and categorical method in the confession of sin. A man hardly realises that he is a sinner, until his conscience points out to him what those sins are wherein his sinfulness consists, at least in their main features. In fact, we may almost say that it is only by contemplating instances of sin that the character of sin as a disease can be distinctly recognised.
It is true that there are forms of sin even the very glance at which may seem to carry with it a touch of defilement, and which must therefore be regarded as in a sense exceptions to the above rule. Nevertheless, these forms have to be dealt with, and it is in dealing with these that the highest degree of skill as exercised by a spiritual physician is called for. In dealing with women, unless called for by extreme urgency, this department should be altogether avoided. With men, however, the case is different. It is oftentimes in this particular department of temptation that the sinner stands in greatest need of help, and in which his confidence is to be most anxiously invited. Yet even in the case of male penitents absolute particulars should be avoided, although investigation should be 1 2 Sam. 12:133. * St. Luke 18:13.
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made into the degree and extent of the sin, its frequency of commission, and aggravating circumstances.
The patient should, of course, be warned not to implicate any other person in his admissions; he should also be discouraged from those efforts at mitigation and palliation, or excuse, which in so many cases hopelessly neutralise any advance toward true contrition.
Reference has been made to the necessity for con templating sin in the form of definite and concrete acts in order to convey a distinct idea of its reality as sin, and its application to the individual, considered apart from the general infection of the human race at large. At the same time the priest must carefully avoid the very common mistake of allowing a confession to consist of a mere list of acts of commission or instances of omission. One great purpose of his investigation is that of penetrating below the external surface of the life of action and omission, into those inner depths of the soul where lie the springs of purpose and motive, and from which those active results really proceed. His aim must be, in the first place, to ascertain what is usually known as the besetting sin, which really means that peculiar bent of character which is proper to the individual, and which is the source of the good in him as well as the evil; but which, human nature being what it is, more naturally tends to evil than to good. Something will be said a little later in reference to the different aspects of tendency such as are here signified.
The disclosure by the penitent of the different forms of sinful act or sinful omission of which he feels himself to be guilty, will be utilised by the priest to assist him in arriving at a diagnosis of the system of
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inward tendency or character which finds expression in those acts or omissions. Hence he deals with them, not as isolated entities, but as different symptoms of one underlying disease; and his efforts are directed towards the disease itself, thus striking at the root of the varied results which it occasions. He must bear in mind, too, that it is not so much for his own information that these researches are being made, as for that of the penitent himself. The priest’s object is to open the penitent’s eyes to those sources from which proceed the various forms of evil which are tending to his ruin. Hence the mistake of simply assigning penance as a remedy, which may be more or less effectual, for a symptom, while yet the disease itself, from which as a plant or weed the symptom grows, is left untouched and unregarded. The symptoms have, of course, to be dealt with separately. Each outcome or aspect of evil needs careful consideration; but that consideration should be based upon the inner cause from which all forms of sin, as manifested in that particular individual, spring. It must be borne in mind that the only true secret of successful conflict with sin consists in the substitution of the active principle of personal love for a Personal Christ in the place of the old principle of self-seeking or self-will.
It is only by the expulsive effect of a new and nobler attachment that any real probability of victory over old and inveterate habit can be attained. This new love-principle then must be cultivated, and when fairly set on foot will be found the mightiest of all engines in spiritual conflict.
The priest should distinctly set before the penitent the fact that our Lord Himself, in His Personal Presence, is the true High Priest, and that the earthly
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priest’s part is only that of assisting the penitent in bringing himself into direct communication with our Lord. It should be explained that since such official human intervention is often helpful, and sometimes necessary, you gladly offer yourself in your priestly capacity as the outward means for obtaining the in ward and spiritual grace.
Instruct him next to open out his heart to you J freely and completely, as a patient his case to his! physician, assuring him that you can be of little use otherwise; at the same time make it quite clear to him that he may depend absolutely upon your heart felt sympathy, tender compassion, and inviolable confidence. The whole thing should be made as solemn as possible, and endued with the character of a religious act.
The attitude of the priest is that of sitting, except during prayer, absolution, and benediction. The attitude of the penitent is that of kneeling; this, however, may, if it appear absolutely necessary on account of infirmity, be deviated from. The attitude of kneeling is requisite, because confession is being made to Christ Himself as personally present, and in a spirit of deepest humiliation. In all such cases regard must be paid to freedom from physical strain or uneasiness as the result of the posture maintained; at all events, to such an extent as would be likely to hinder the free action of mind and spirit.
The priest will, of course, provide himself with a suitable Office for the purpose. He may possibly fail to nricTany at present published which will in all respects satisfy him. In this case he will have to com pile one for himself, including possible extemporaneous prayer such as may give expression to the special
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requirements of the individual and the occasion.
But if this is done, let the whole Office be carefully planned and pre-arranged. He will generally find it desirable to begin by prayer for himself, aloud, to the effect that the Great High Priest may guide him in dealing faithfully, wisely, tenderly, with this member of his flock, making him the means of aiding the penitent in drawing near to the Good Shepherd and opening his heart to His gracious view; further, for the penitent, that he may be moved to open his heart fully, freely, and without reserve to him who now acts as Christ’s unworthy representative; that he may be led to confess fully sins committed, duties omitted, actions, words, and thoughts which have offended his purity; that he may grieve for them, may turn from them, may cast them from him, may seek and obtain, at the Saviour’s hands, the gift of pardon through His Blood, which may atone for the past. Then he will pray for the gift of His Spirit to convey grace and power to enable him to shun sin for the future, and to take up his cross of duty and self-denial and to follow in his Saviour’s steps.
It will be observed that the object at present in view is that of avoiding formality, and the observance of stereotyped forms and methods, whilst maintaining unimpaired the full essence of the sacrament. It is not, therefore, thought desirable to insist upon the use by the penitent in the act of confession of the ordinary cut-and-dried formula; though if such has been his previous custom, there is no reason why he should not follow it. In any case, the priest himself may prefer that he should be instructed to do so. This, of course, is a matter of indifference. The formula should not be used if it is likely to arouse unfavourable prejudice
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on the part of the penitent or others. The priest who truly cares for his flock will ever be tender in dealing with them, and on his guard against inflicting a wound, however slight, and however unreasonable be the state of feeling which renders the person susceptible to it. We will therefore suppose him entering upon the subject of confession in a kindly but serious manner, somewhat as follows, ” Now let us address ourselves to the subject before us. You have come to open out your heart to me, who am a sinner like yourself, but to whom God has entrusted the charge of watching for and caring for the souls which belong to Him. Let me ask you to open out your heart to me. Do it as in the presence of our Saviour Himself, Who is truly present, and Who is the True Confessor. What I say to you I shall try to say as though He said it, because I am here as His representative, His spokesman. Utterly unworthy though I am, and needing, as I do, just what you need, try to think of yourself as speaking to Him and listening to Him.”
The penitent will need careful assistance in making his confession. The priest may begin by asking him his own view of his condition as regards the relation of his soul to God. (We are now supposing a person who is making his first confession to this particular priest.) Of course, his first inquiry is with reference to any former confession which the penitent may have made; and, such having been the case, the priest will have to make further inquiry for his own guidance as to whether he is safe in taking that former confession as the starting-point of his own investigation.
The first thing would be to ascertain the present position of the penitent’s soul towards God, i.e.
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whether he may be regarded as living in any real sense the spiritual life a life in which the governing presence of God is realised, and which is being consciously submitted to that governance. If this is the case, it will generally be possible to trace the last full performance of a definite act of self-examination, confession, and absolution to some definite period, which may be taken as the starting-point of the new period of investigation.
The priest must beware of satisfying himself with inquiry into specific instances of sin, and overlooking the duty which should stand foremost in the work he is engaged in, namely, that of ascertaining whether the love of God, together with humble trust in Christ Jesus, is actively present in the heart of the penitent.
In other words, is his life a converted one? 1
(a) Is the life which the penitent is now leading the result of conversion on his part, considered as an act of his own or possibly as a course of action?
It is of imperative importance that the priest should at the outset make sure of the state of things in this respect.
(b) Is the life of the penitent one which is being led ” in the Spirit,” in however imperfect a manner, and not ” in the flesh,” that is, in a state of bondage 1 This word ” conversion ” is, perhaps, of all the words in the practice of religion, the one most entirely misunderstood; the result, no doubt, of a gross mistranslation of the word where it occurs in Scripture. How it has been allowed to pass from generation to generation uncorrected is inexplicable. It is needful to be clear on this point. There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as being converted, in Acts 3:19, the word which St. Peter used in the passage rendered in our Authorised Version, ” Repent, therefore, and be converted,” is given in the Greek as tiriffrptyare, a word which can mean nothing less than ” turn about.” Conversion is an action, not an experience; something to be done, not to be asked for; though the grace and power to do it may, of course, be subjects for prayer.
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to the lower nature? Plain direct questioning will be necessary to elicit the truth on this subject, but it will be useless to proceed until this point has been cleared up.
(c) Is the penitent a child of God who has already yielded up his allegiance to God as his Ruler and Guide, S or is he only an inquirer seeking after that condition < as not yet having attained it? It is very possible that the penitent may hitherto have deceived himself on this subject, as well as possibly his spiritual directors.
His efforts at religion thus far may have been of the most superficial character, not having included the actual giving up of his heart to the love and service of God.
The question in brief may be expressed as follows, Can you say that you are now conducting your life with a direct view to fulfilling the will of God in so. doing, and of subduing your own will when it is in opposition to His? Is this the set purpose of your present life, even though you know it to be hindered by many shortcomings and failures?
Suppose that the penitent should be able to answer in the affirmative, and to satisfy the priest that he is justified in doing so, the course of the confession will proceed accordingly. But let the priest remember the very serious danger, and let me say even probability, of self-deception on the part of the penitent in this respect. The responsibility of his director in this point is very serious. The danger of confirming the inquirer in his self-deception, and thus hindering instead of helping the hope of his salvation, is one that may well dismay a spiritual director. He trembles as he remembers the Lord’s awful saying: ” If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
1 St. Matt. 15:14.
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Should the answers have turned out to be really satisfactory, the priest’s further task is comparatively easy; he will, none the less, need careful and close examination to assist the penitent in realising, it may be, even the nature of his besetting sin. The degree of ignorance oftentimes exhibited on this subject, even in those who are really heart and soul Christians, is well-nigh incredible. This point will, therefore, have to be carefully taken up, and the penitent assisted to trace the various developments of the central sin in the different forms of sinful act and sinful omission which characterise his life. He must be taught in all respects to judge himself, to watch himself, to maintain a continual attitude of alertness. He must be.
taught that the universal antidote for every form of deflection from the course of duty is to be found in the love of Christ, that is, love for Christ. He must learn to apply this antidote in its different aspects to each department of need, coming to understand how various forms and developments of love are capable, by varied application, of overpowering corresponding forms of evil; how self-love l is only to be expelled by \
bringing against it the application of higher love.
Let us suppose however that, as will most generally be the case, the priest is led to the conclusion that the inquirer has not yet converted his life, but is still living under the control of his lower nature, even though he may sincerely desire to be set free from the tyrant’s yoke. His first duty is, of course, to set clearly before the penitent the object which is to be attained, 1 The term ” self-love,” however, it is to be observed, is a misnomer, strictly speaking. Love means outgoing from self. There are such things as self-gratification, and so forth, but there is really no such thing as self-love. (See 2 Cor. 5:14, and 2 Cor. 10:5 in the Greek.),
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namely, the love of Christ, and participation in that life of glory and purity and beauty which is Christ’s as the result of His Incarnation; by which latter term is meant the act of His taking into communion with Himself in His infinite Godhead the nature of man in its entirety, in order that by that definite contact it might be transformed and infused with His own life and restored to mankind in its ennobled and glorified condition. Of course this grand and mysterious truth is set before the inquirer in such a form, and with such a degree of child-like plainness and simplicity, as may be necessary in order to enable him to take it in such a manner as to assist him to realise its application to himself as answering to the deepest cravings of his nature. He will generally be slow in grasping this aspect of saving truth. The motive most usual in bringing a sinner to his knees is that of mere selfish fear; its question is, ” What must I do to be saved? “a distinctly selfish motive. Nor, as we may believe, is even this selfish approach necessarily rejected. Even though the sinner be rather driven to Christ by his fears than drawn to Him by his affections, he will not on that account be excluded. If the higher motives will not suffice to bring him to Christ, a lower one may have this effect; if he cannot go to Him as the Magi did, ” with the offering of a free heart,” at all events he may approach Him as ” fleeing from the wrath to come.” l Yet, though self-interest be the first motive for the approach, it cannot be really effective in attaining its object unless the penitent proceed to the further step of seeking Love by an effort which has an element of love within it. There is profound signi ficance in those words of our Lord, ” Her sins, which1 St. Matt. 3:7.
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are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” 1 The priest’s endeavour, therefore, would be to set before the penitent, as far as he is capable of receiving it, this particular aspect of the work of salvation the invitatory attitude of a loving Saviour, rather than the mere offer of deliverance from a dreaded penalty.
This is the ideal method of approach, though, in the majority of cases perhaps, he will find the inquirer incapable of apprehending it at the outset.
One great requisite in dealing with a penitent at this early stage is that of tenderness and consideration, not expecting too much, nor too rapid an advance.
The priest finds him, at all events, ” grieved and wearied with the burden of his sin “; or it may be perhaps hardly even ” grieved “; rather oppressed and terrified, seeking safety, that is, release from penalty rather than release from the power, and cleansing from the stain of the sin itself. It is to this latter point, therefore, that his attention is first directed, and he will find his chief difficulty in the effort to impress upon the inquirer a sense of the heinousness of sin as considered in itself, and quite apart from penal consequences that may be threatened. One who has not taken this form of pastoral work in hand can form no idea of the difficulty which is often experienced in bringing about the result which is now under consideration. The fact of realising it as a difficulty to be dealt with, yes, struggled with, is perhaps the best means of guiding the priest in fitting himself to encounter it. He feels that the whole welfare of his undertaking depends upon his success in leading the inquirer to make from his heart spontaneously the free confession: “I have sinned against the Lord ” consciousness of doing despite to a1 St. Luke 7:47.
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Father’s love that is the only view of sin which can lead to repentance in any true sense. To this point therefore, the director is seeking to guide his pupil; how it is to be done must depend in great measure upon his own judgment; his success in so doing will depend very greatly upon his own personal interest in the matter, his sympathy with the penitent, and his own attainment as regards love for the Lord. Intense earnestness will be necessary on his own part as a means yC of conveying the same sentiment to his hearer. There |) is nothing so contagious as real earnestness unless it I be real indifference. The priest should bear this fact I in mind throughout, in order that it may consciously I influence his treatment of his patient.
/ Nowadays we may recognise a special unwillingness /to realise and recognise sin as a serious barrier between the soul and God; it is rather looked upon as a misfortune, as an obstacle to a man’s own welfare. Hence the necessity of enforcing the conception of the love of God as requiring the response of love on the part of the creature which is its object. Sin consists in wilfully ” grieving the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed ” 1 sealed with the seal of a Father’s love.
The inquirer should be led to recognise his sin in its twofold effect (1) That of defilement, making him an object unfit for the Father’s loving view.
(2) That of crippling, paralysing his capability for effort after good, after carrying out that work of love which belongs to his position as a child of a loving Father.
He must be shown that God is ” of purer eyes than to behold evil,” 2 and that evil in any form must 1 Eph. 4:30. * Hab. 1. 13.
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necessarily be offensive to the eyes of Him with Whom the law of Order which is Love is the law of His own Person, and the law of the universe of His realm. Sin is nothing more and nothing less than a breach, wilful and deliberate, of this universal law which is not only God s, but which also is God Himself, namely, that perfect order which is love. Sin consists in being out of harmony with the All-harmonious.
It is not proposed that the priest should endeavour to instil these particular sentiments into the mind of his patient, but rather that his own soul be possessed with them and directed by the spirit which would be the necessary outcome of a loving consciousness of these grand truths.
Now would come the enumeration of acts and habits of personal sin in the way of commission and omission, and including sins of thought, word and deed. These should be dealt with, as has already been urged, in relation to the main principle lying at the root of all the love or non-love of God. Hence, as has been already intimated, care should be taken to inquire into the extent to which each form of offence has been practised or indulged, guarding against anything like softening down or mitigation. The object, in view is that of leading the penitent to a realisation, as full and complete as possible, of his condition as an offender against the Divine Love; and further, to a recognition of those particular forms of sin wherein his state as a sinner mainly consists.
The inquiry must be searching and explicit, but not to the extent of pressing for details such as may be offensive in character. Let not the priest fail to exact acknowledgment of the kind of sin, and the degree of sin the extent to which it has been carried, and its
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frequency; whether as an occasional thing or a con firmed habit; how far striven against, and to what extent and under what circumstances found irresistible.
Let him examine the patient definitely as to the forms which it takes in its lesser developments, and in any approaches to it which may fall short of actual indulgence in the sin itself. Let him ascertain, and point \out to the offender, the avenues through which the / tempter makes his advances, and which therefore need (to be carefully kept in mind and fortified against future attacks. Insist on his keeping nothing back which may be needful to delineate the sin in question in its full extent. Remember that your main object is to get at, and open to the sinner’s view, the springs and sources of his sin, and to show how these find their development in definite practice, in action and omission.
In the majority of cases, perhaps in almost every case with which he is dealing for the first time, the priest will find it necessary to open the patient’s eyes to an entirely new view of the character and degree of his sinfulness. His own view is almost sure to be a superficial one, or perhaps even an entirely mistaken one.
What he regards as his leading sins may possibly be comparatively slight ones, that is, in comparison with others deeper down, of the extent of which perhaps he has little or no idea. He may thus have failed entirely to learn the real forms of sin for which he specially needs pardon and cure. Beware of healing ” the hurt of my people slightly.”
There are three main aspects under which most forms of sin may be grouped, the first two answering to two leading forms of temperament (i) First there is the sin of self-indulgence in its various aspects and developments.
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This form of tendency is often associated with a character of kindness, even generosity, and especially with dispositions of easy good nature. A person with this type of temperament will be placable, not easily offended, and easily appeased. He will even exhibit a certain capacity for self-denial (so long as it does not touch the true inner springs of his selfishness) for the sake of giving pleasure to others, the motive being the pleasure thus afforded to himself in gratitude or reciprocal good offices. The evil of it consists in the underlying motive of self -pleasing. It may go to the extent of the foulest vice, or excess in any form, depending on the constitution and circumstances. In any case, such a one is a lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God. Dives is a type of this form of sin.
” In their lifetime they seek their good things.” x Such people make this present state their rest, and that rest is in creature comforts. What is their sin?
It is represented by the second commandment in the First Table and by the seventh in the Second Table (seeRom.1. 25).St. Paul, in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, verses 25 to the end, gives an awful picture of the depths of abomination to which indulgence in this form of sin may lead. But the extent of the sin depends not so much on the grossness of its form as in the degree in which the sinner yields himself to the temptation as it appeals to his particular case; upon the degree of completeness in which he gives himself up to it, in which, in fact, he forsakes God for the idol. For example, a man who would shudder with horror at the form in which this sin is depicted in the passage to which reference has been made, may, nevertheless, incur guilt as deep in the sight of God by1 St. Luke 16:25.
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his indulgence in what may appear a much less heinous aspect of it, simply because this latter happens to be the only form in which this kind of sin has an attraction for him.
The symptoms of this class of sin will be shown in deflections from duty as well as in positive acts of transgression, and especially in sloth or indisposition for the fulfilment of duty. The priest will form his judgment with reference to the prevalence of this class of sin by careful consideration, and by comparing the various instances of sinful act or omission which the penitent has to confess. He must remember that they are only symptoms, and must make it his effort to trace them to their source. For example, dis honesty, duplicity, i.e. untruth in any form, may often be the direct consequences of this form of sin, and the cure of these faults must therefore oftentimes be sought (in the work of tracing it out to its source and seeking (to apply the remedy there. A test question for this kind of treatment is such a one as this, ” In what kind of things do you place your feeling of rest? In what directions do you turn as your source of solace and comfort under care and wear and tear? ”
The opposite of this form of sin antidote and substitute is the love of God.
(2) The second form of tendency is that which we might designate as consisting in the spirit of uncharity.
Its root is pride. It may be accompanied by a considerable capacity for real self-denial and a fair degree of freedom from tendencies towards indulgence in the natural appetites or in the habit of indulgence.
It is active and energetic; in fact, one of its symptoms is that of contempt for those who are otherwise, for the idle, self-indulgent, sensual, One of its leading
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symptoms, therefore, is that of a spirit of censoriousness.
Its developments are exhibited in a disposition for malice in all its forms and degrees; it may go to the extent which tempts to murder or the infliction of other injury, or it may simply take the form of permanent resentment. It may exhibit itself in the shape of hasty anger (0>juoe) or of settled ill-will (bpyit).
The extent of the sinfulness would not depend so much on the actual degree to which it has been carried, as to that degree and form to which the position and circumstances of the sinner would tempt him to carry it. Hence the impossibility of appraising the degree of sinfulness in any case. The varying constitution of the sinner and the varying forms of temptation as applied to various instances may bring about the result that the sin which is intrinsically identical in two or more instances of its performance may be attended with widely varying degrees of guilt in the perpetrators.
One main characteristic, and at the same time most serious form, in which this class of disposition is manifested is that of the spirit of unforgivingness.
This is one of the most obstinate forms of sin; most difficult to eradicate. It may not lead the sinner to any overt act, or even language expressive of the feeling, but it lies hidden in the heart, making it impossible for the sinner to use the Lord’s Prayer with any reality, and hence, of course, for him to obtain pardon for his own sins. The vital necessity for special attention to, and drastic dealing with, this form of sin is manifest from the fact of our Lord’s reference to it in this prayer, and also from the corollary which follows this prayer in St. Matthew’s version of it, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly
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Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” l Men of this class of temperament are generally the staunchest friends, whereas those of the first class are not to be so depended upon. Johnson realised this thoroughly when he said, ” I love a good hater “; yet this is not the true fulfilling of the charge, ” Love your enemies… For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans so? ” 2 The achievement of this state of mind may appear impossible where grievous wrong has been suffered and never repented of; and, of course, the term ” love ” is not to be understood in the same sense in which it is ordinarily applied with reference to objects of positive affectionate regard. The ” love “which is required in this injunction may be regarded as amounting, in the first place, to the absence of resentment, and in the second place, to that remarkable form of sentiment which Seeley so graphically sets forth in his Ecce Homo, and which he designates by the term ” enthusiasm of humanity,” i.e. love for humanity as such.
The stress laid by our Lord on the virtue of philanthropy treating it as something the existence of which in the character necessarily involved the possession of all other elements of excellence is no doubt the key-thought to the wKole system of Christian ethics. He lays it down as the principle on which the final judgment of mankind at the end of the world will be based: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat… Inasmuch as ye have done, it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto1 St. Matt. 6:14, 15. * St. Matt. 5:44-46.
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me.” 1 Seeley speaks of the enthusiasm of humanity as ” the passion which can lift a man clean out of all sin whatever.” He takes it to be something more than the love of individuals as such, or yet the love of a state or community or race which would be a passion of the same nature as patriotism for ” The patriot,” he says, ” is not by any means above the temptation to private injustice or treachery, nor will he become more so when his country is the world.” 2 He regards this enthusiasm as ” a third kind of love,”3 “not of the race nor of the individual, but of the race in the individual;… the love not of all men nor yet of every man, but of the man in every man.” 4 The true view of this form of love is that which recognises in it the love for the Ideal Man, that is, the Christ in every man. This was one of the great maxims which St. Vincent de Paul set forth as the guiding rules of his own life, namely, that one of looking for the Christ in every_ man, in his dealings even with the most unresponsive and repulsive members of his charge, and addressing himself to that.
There are certain sins which are common to both classes, and which are to be accounted for by the motives which the priest’s knowledge of each class supplies, for example, disobedience to authority, masterfulness, arrogance, deceit, fraud, dishonesty in all its forms. These two classes will branch into innumerable varieties, and will even appear to mingle in the same individual. Some persons seem predisposed to deceitfulness and undue secretiveness, but if the scrutiny be carried to the root of the character in question, such tendencies may generally be traced to one or other of1 St. Matt. 25:35-40. * Ecce Homo, cap. xiii.
3 Ibid. * Ibid.
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the two fundamental principles, those namely which stand in contrast respectively to the two leading principles of religion, the self-seeking character having for its contrast the love of God, the uncharitable character having for its contrast the love of neighbour.
What is to be aimed at then is a love of man for man apart from any individual claims for love. This may perhaps be taken as a good definition of the modern term ” altruism.” The highest motive for this is the love of Christ and of all humanity, because Christ is in it, permeates it throughout. Our Lord Himself teaches us that this is the essence of Christianity. Its absence, therefore, must necessarily involve a repudiation of the root principle of Christianity. It is this which constitutes the seriousness of the offence, while at the same time it is one of the most delusive of all forms of sin, because it is free from the grossness which imparts a repellent character to other forms of sin, and even carries with it a spurious aspect of justice, of dealing with others as they deal with you. Very full and careful treatment will therefore be necessary in dealing with this subtle and dangerous form of evil.
It has been said that pride was the root principle underlying this class of sin tendency. The pride here referred to does not indeed include the form of it which is known as vanity, for this rather belongs to the former class, that of self-pleasing. The form of pride which is now in question has for its outcome the tendency to masterfulness, arrogance, harshness on the one hand, and disobedience, insubordination, or lack of consideration for the claims of authority, respect, deference, reverence, on the other. If the first of these two classes may be characterised by the term
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selfishness, the term self-will is perhaps the most comprehensive designation of the second.
(3) There is a third class of sin which may be called Satan-sin, and may be said to consist in the defiance of God.
It is no doubt the sin against the Holy Ghost, and is that which lies at the root of the Third Command ment, being the sin of direct enmity against God.
Profanity, in a sense, may be regarded as a sin under this class, for profanity has its source in anger against God.
The sin against the Holy Ghost calls for special attention, for a large proportion of penitents, if not all, are at one time or another oppressed by the dread of being guilty of this sin, and therefore in a hopeless condition. The case to which our Lord refers in speaking of this sin should be carefully noted. 1 It was after the dawn of conviction began to show itself in the hearts of the observers of His miracle of evicting a dumb spirit, leading them to cry out, ” Is not this the son of David? ” The Pharisees at once set them selves to stifle this budding life at its outset; they ascribed our Lord’s miracle to the agency of Satan himself, against whose tyrannous rule it was actually aimed. The sin consisted in the fact that the Pharisees recognised the budding life as true life, and the work of God’s Spirit, yet, nevertheless, set themselves in opposition against it from motives of enmity against Christ as its Giver, If the charge had been actuated on their part by mere fanaticism or ignorance it would not have been an act of direct and conscious antagonism to the Holy Spirit. Hence, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost signifies the direct and conscious attempt1 St. Matt. 12:22, 23. Cp, St. Mark 3:22-29.
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to oppose His influence for the promotion of life in the hearts of others, and is therefore spiritual murder so far as regards the will and effort of the perpetrator.
Moreover, to be really guilty of it a man must necessarily have stamped out within himself whatever he had of the Spirit’s life or capacity for life; he must have committed spiritual suicide before he can wilfully attempt spiritual murder wilfully, for a man may even lead others into temptation and sin, and thus bring fearful guilt upon his soul, without yet having reached the condition of one who has wholly abandoned himself to the opposition against God as God, and good as good; and for him there may be hope. His motive may have been simply that of self-gratification in some form. The penitent who is troubled by fears on this subject may be comforted by the assurance that the very fact of anxiety on the subject is a strong presumption that the Holy Spirit is still striving with his soul, and hence, that the door of hope is still open to him.
It must be remembered that every form of sin has as its natural issue the final result of death death in its full and ultimate sense that of utter separation from God. Whatever produces wilful separation of the human will from God’s will, or of the human heart from God’s love, is soul-destroying, and has death as its goal, the death that means hell. 10:1 The question, ” What is Hell? ” is better left unanswered, except in so far as that it means the horror of great darkness, the disintegration of all the faculties, the misery in all departments of sensation, which must come about when the cosmos of human nature is cast into hopeless and final disorder by permanent separation from God, by Whose loving presence and operation the Order at all points which is man’s normal condition (as love from a physical, and as happiness from a mental point of view) can alone be maintained. ” The worm that never dies “; ” The gnawing of hopeless remorse “; ” The fire that is never quenched “; or ” Passion ever raging, never satisfying “; ” The chains of hamper
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There are different degrees in this condemnation corresponding to differing degrees in glory, ” even as one star differeth from another in glory.” Sins which have their source merely in passion, in the abuse of natural faculties and dispositions, are, no doubt, as surely fatal to the soul’s life as any other form of evil.
They incur damnation, yet not so deep and so black as that which represents the condition of the man who has deliberately assumed the position of a satan (an enemy to God and good), ranging himself under the standard of the great Satan as fighting in the ranks of Hate against the Love-principle of the cosmos. This latter is, no doubt, the ” sin unto death ” of which St. John speaks as past praying for (if this is the meaning of the passage I St. John 5:16.), i.e. sin which has carried the soul to the actual consummation of spiritual death.
We may safely take it as an unquestionable fact that no sin is in itself unpardonable if only the will toing constraint “; are but figures of speech shadowing forth certain features of this awful condition. But be it observed, they are all self-caused, not God-inflicted, and follow as necessary consequences of a course of action of which, in their earlier aspects, they are characteristic features. In those earlier aspects they are attended with a certain measure of what may be called pleasure, and, no doubt, is real pleasure, because not yet divested from the condition of things in which good and evil are mingled. (Pleasure, no doubt, is in its essence good; as part of the Divine intention for the happiness of His creatures. Its abuse may be a means of gross sin, as, say, the indulgence of our first parents in the forbidden fruit, namely, their selection in defiance of the Divine Will of the time and manner of their participation of that form of good which God’s will had reserved for His own.) In their final form, no doubt, the pleasure attending such exercises has vanished, and nothing but horror remains. It is not God Who punishes; the punishment is self-inflicted, and consists really in the rejection of those benefits which the loving presence of God conveys.
The question why God permits it, or, in other words, permits evil, must remain unanswered while the world lasts. It is not a question with which we are concerned, for the state of perdition is not one which we need incur. The door of salvation is open for us, and for all who are willing to accept the invitation to enter.
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repent and turn from it be present. Sin which is characterised as beyond the reach of pardon is only so because the sinner has destroyed within himself the faculty for repentance. Sin against the Holy Ghost then may be said to represent the climax of a course of wilful self-hardening, whereby the will has not only extinguished within itself, deliberately and knowingly, every invitatory impulse which the Holy Spirit lovingly exerts for its salvation, but has definitely placed itself in a position of conscious antagonism to the will of God as such. The reading adopted in the Revised Version for St. Mark 3:29, ” Is guilty of an eternal sin/ would seem to represent the true solution of the difficulty often alleged in the idea of an infinite penalty for a finite sin. The fact is that the sentence is eternal only because the sin is eternal, and is actually the natural accompaniment of the sin and not an external punishment. Repentance can never fail in securing pardon.
It may, however, oftentimes be difficult to make sure of the existence of true repentance, of distinguishing true sorrow for sin as such sorrow which leads the sinner necessarily to turn from his sin, to hate sin as sin and not only as the cause of penalty from the mere slavish dread of the penalty which is the consequence of sin. It is sometimes as difficult for the sinner as for the priest to make this distinction, to be really sure of the genuineness of his repentance. Many instances of clear self-deceiving in this respect might be adduced from every priest’s pastoral experience, instances in which the unreality of the repentance is evinced by the disappearance of the sentiment which stimulated it as soon as the emotion of fear which was its moving cause has been removed. In fact, we may say that the
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only safe test of genuineness of repentance is that which is found in the witness of a changed life in encounter with temptation. What is known as ” death-bed repentance ” must always have an element of un certainty about it, although, of course, the principle of hope is always to be encouraged.
The penitent then will, in many cases, need to be guided in the detection of his besetting sin, and be taught to follow it up into the various departments of his life. He must ascertain what special acts of offence it may have directly or indirectly occasioned.
The object the priest has in view should always be that of leading the penitent to learn and to keep track of the working of these tendencies for himself; the priest’s motive being that of getting the penitent to be, as soon as possible and as fully as possible, independent of external priestly ministration. He must learn to be quick at recognising any deflection from the straight onward course of dut}^ from the direction of the ” single eye ” fixed on Christ. He is to be guarded most emphatically against a superficial view of sin..This is one of the main dangers incident to the spiritual life. Little instances of forgetfulness or indifference will often take up in the person’s mind the place which should be occupied by the thought of deeper sins which they are apt to overlook. In all cases where the sins confessed are mere peccadillos (and every experienced priest is aware how frequent such cases are, even among those in the habit of making confession), it is an un questionable fact that the penitent is losing sight of grave and serious sins which sorely need treatment, and to which it is the priest’s business to open the penitent’s eyes. While human nature is what it is, grave sin must always be present and more or less as
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a habit, though it may be striven against and to a great extent kept under. Where there is no sign of this conscious recognition of real, grave sin, and of a steady conflict being carried on against it, the priest may feel assured that serious danger exists, to a sense of which the penitent needs to be aroused.
His object then should be that of training the penitent in self-examination and self-detection, and the priest should not be satisfied until he has led him to a true view of the nature of his own peculiar form of sin, in such a manner as to enable him to enter into and realise that state of feeling on the subject which is expressed in the Confession of the Communion Service. Let him take this as a test of the truth and fulness of the apprehension of his sinfulness in God’s sight. When once this condition of true apprehension of sin is attained, and the penitent has learnt to follow out his sin into its various aspects of omission and commission, of thought, word, and deed, and has learnt to gauge his whole conduct unsparingly by this test, he is on the way to fit himself for the higher form of confession, namely, that which is made directly to Christ Himself without the intervention of a human priest.
The investigation into the penitent’s position as a sinner having been thus completed, the priest next proceeds to set briefly but distinctly and gently before the penitent a view of the general form and character of the sins which he has confessed, and to instruct him to bring them, as a conscious act on his own part, into the presence of Christ; and, as it were, lay them down at the foot of the cross.
He must be taught to realise that it is from the sin that he seeks to be free, not the sin’s punishment,
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except in a secondary sense. Hence the necessity of renouncing sin as a definite act. When the penitent has once succeeded in grasping a true sense of his condition as a sinner a consummation which he may now be supposed to have fairly attained his part in the sacramental act of confession may be said to have seven stages, (1) That of recalling the sin, realising, recognising it as an awful fact.
(2) The experience of sorrow for sin as an offence against the Divine Love. This necessarily implies such a recognition of that Love as involves some degree of responsive love on the penitent’s part.
(3) The act of will in renouncing the sin thus recognised, deliberately putting it from him as implied in the work of conversion.
(4) The act of confession proper, submitting the sin for absolution to the great High Priest, laying it before him as it were with a full sense of utter culpa bility.
(5) The acceptance by an act of faith of the gift of pardon, the gift which, as it were, abolishes the sin, and hence at once conveys to the penitent the blessing of admission to the Divine Love, from which the sin while present had debarred him.
(6) The act of seeking the grace of the Holy Spirit to fortify his soul for its warfare against sin in the future.
(7) The act of setting about the use of that grace; for, no doubt, the effort to this end must follow instantaneously on the reception of the gift in order to make it effectual.
As has been urged already, the priest must keep before the penitent’s view the presence of the Personal
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Christ, and remind him of the fact that it is to this Presence that every word and action on his part must be consciously addressed. It may be well, after the view of the penitent’s sinfulness has been clearly put before him, that the priest should address to him the question: “Do you now renounce these sins which you now confess? ” and that the penitent should answer: “I renounce them all.” Also, after setting before him the view of the great High Priest as the Forgiver of sin, that he should address to him the question: ” Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ as thy Redeemer and the Forgiver of thy sins? ” to which it will be enough for him to reply by the simple expression, “I believe.” The priest then lays his hand on the penitent’s head and pronounces the Absolution as given in the Office for the Visitation of the Sick.
It will generally be found desirable, after the confession of sin has been completed, and before the two questions and answers referred to, that a short prayer or collect should be used asking for grace to approach the coming sacramental gift in the true spirit of penitence and faith. After the Absolution will follow one or two suitable collects, concluding with the twofold form of blessing in the Visitation of the Sick, beginning with the words, ” O Saviour of the world.”
The almost startling distinctness and positiveness with which the action of Absolution is expressed in the form just referred to has deterred many devout and conscientious priests from its use. And, in fact, the responsibility attending its use may well be regarded as so awful as to make necessary the utmost searching of heart before a man dares to take it into his lips.
The peril of contributing towards the perdition of a
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soul by encouraging it in a condition which falls short of that which is contemplated in the action, is something which may” well appear almost too weighty for mortal man to bear. Of course anything like perfection in the qualifications of penitence and faith which the sinner is supposed to bring to the sacrament is out of the question; but the element of reality and deep sincerity must be present, as well as true comprehension of what is implied in both. Before taking into his lips these awful words the priest must be enabled to assure himself that his part in the matter has been fully and faithfully fulfilled, and that in his conscience he is persuaded that the penitent’s part has also been fully and faithfully fulfilled to the best of his capacity.
The spiritual director must bear in mind the necessity of warning the penitent of the dangers attending thejreactioa which, in the natural course of things, will be likely to follow the strain of devotional effort involved in the exercise in which he has been engaged. The glow of spiritual fervour and exaltation of faith by the consciousness of the unspeakable blessed ness of the gift which has been received is a form of emotion which, from its very nature, must be transient.
There is danger lest, in the cooling down of the emotion, the good results which it has been the means of stimula tion may be suffered to fade and die. In any case, the cooling down of religious emotion gives the adversary the opportunity of which he is never slow to take advantage. No doubt this is one of the great tests of the sincerity and earnestness of the penitent, of the reality of his confession and his acceptance of the absolution. The true test of earnestness, reality in the work of undertaking, consists not in what the man says or does under the influence of excited feeling, but
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in what he says and does when the excitement has died away, when effort has to be made as it were in cold blood, and often as it might seem against the grain.
It may no doubt be said that the most effectual efforts of the spiritual life, and those which bring the greatest blessing, are those which are made under these circum stances, and which are only accomplished by determined opposition to the inclination of the time being. Our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness immediately following the outpouring of grace consequent upon the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him by the waters of Jordan; l and again, St. Paul’s translation into the third heaven followed by the ” thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet ” 2 him, are instances evidently intended to warn us of the general rule in I spiritual things: after great grace, great trial. The penitent therefore needs to be warned at this critical moment to exercise watchfulness at the time of cooling emotion which is certainly at hand; warned that his sincerity is to be tested, not by his feelings at the present time, but by his actions when the present feeling of fervour has passed away.
The question will naturally be raised as to the length of time which would necessarily be occupied in the process of treatment which has been sketched in the preceding pages, and the writer would take advantage of this opportunity to express his conviction of the necessity of such a prolonged course of treatment, especially in the case of those who are novices in the realities of the spiritual life, if the treatment is to be productive of any permanent effect and is to penetrate into the real depths of the man’s inner nature. His experience would teach him that a man cannot be1 St. Mark 1. 9-1 3a. * 2 Cor. 12:2-10.
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hurried into the possession of spiritual life. The mind must be left to ” work out its own salvation with fear and trembling/ * only guided in so doing by wise and kindly direction; and can only attain it step by step, each stage of advance being carefully made sure before the next is aimed at. The writer would commend this view most earnestly to the consideration of his younger brethren. His own experience is to the effect that more than one interview, sometimes several, will be found necessary before the confession is satisfactorily completed and the penitent may be regarded as ripe for absolution.
1 Phil. 2:12.