We concluded our preceding article by quoting Chapter VI of the decrees of the Council of Trent on the Roman Catholic doctrine of the sacrament of penance. This sixth article or chapter decrees that absolution must be granted by the priest. It also teaches that even priests, who themselves are in mortal sin, exercise the office of forgiving sins, as the ministers of Christ and through the virtue of the Holy Ghost Who was bestowed upon them in ordination. This absolution of the priest must not be viewed merely as a bare ministry, as simply declaring that sins are forgiven, but as a judicial act, whereby sentence is pronounced as by a judge: And, lastly, the penitent must not think that he is truly and in God’s sight absolved merely on account of his faith. The absolution by the priest is absolutely necessary unto the forgiveness of his sins. However, as we shall now see in Chapter VII there are certain exceptions or reservation of cases.
On The Reservation Of Cases
Wherefore, since the nature and order of a judgment require this, that sentence be passed only on those subject (to that judicature), it has ever been firmly held in the Church of God, and this Synod ratifies it as a thing most true, that the absolution; which a priest pronounces upon one over whom he has not either an ordinary or a delegated jurisdiction, ought to be of no weight whatever. And it hath seemed to our most holy Fathers to be of great importance to the discipline of the Christian people, that certain more atrocious and more heinous crimes should be absolve& not by all priests, but only by the higher priests; whence the Sovereign Pontiffs, in virtue of the supreme power delivered to them in the universal Church, were deservedly able to reserve, for their special judgment, certain more grievous cases of crimes. Neither is it to be doubted,—seeing that all things, that are from God, are well ordered,—but that this same may be lawfully done by all bishops, each in his own diocese, unto edification, however, not unto destruction, in virtue of the authority, above (that of) other inferior priests, delivered to them over their subjects, especially as regards those crimes to which the censure of excommunication is annexed. But it is consonant to the divine authority, that this reservation of cases have effect, not merely in external polity, but also in God’s sight. Nevertheless, for fear lest any may perish on this account, it has always been very piously observed in the said Church of God, that there be no reservation at the point of death, and that therefore all priests may absolve all penitents whatsoever from every kind of sins and censures whatever: and as, save at that point of death, priests have no power in reserved cases, let this alone be their endeavor, to persuade penitents to repair to superior and lawful judges for the benefits of absolution.—end of quote of this seventh chapter on the sacrament of penance as decreed by the Council of Trent. Notice, please, how arbitrarily, without any quotation from Scripture, the Roman Catholic Church has expressed itself here on this “sacrament.” They say that there are special cases, more atrocious and heinous sins that should be absolved, not by all priests, but only by the highest priests. However, for fear that any might perish on this account, that Church declares that there be no reservation at the point of death, and that, in case of imminent death, all priests may absolve all penitents and that regardless of the nature or severity of the crime that may have been committed. And now let us notice, in Chapter 8 of the decrees of this Council on the Romish doctrine of penance, what the Romish Church teaches with respect to the necessity and the fruit of satisfaction. This constitutes the heart of the Romish doctrine of penance.
On the Necessity and on the Fruit of Satisfaction/
Finally, as regards satisfaction,—which as it is; of all the parts of penance, that which has been at all times recommended to the Christian people by our Fathers, so is it the one especially which in our age is, under the loftiest pretext of piety, impugned by those who have an appearance of godliness, but have denied the power thereof,—the holy Synod declares, that it is wholly false, and alien from the Word of God, that the guilt is never forgiven by the Lord, without the whole punishment also being therewith pardoned. For clear and illustrious examples are found in the sacred writings, whereby, besides by divine tradition, this error is refuted in the plainest manner possible. And truly the nature of divine justice seems to demand, that they, who through ignorance have sinned before baptism, be received into grace in one manner; and in another those who, after having been freed from the servitude of sin and of the devil, and after having received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have not feared, knowingly to violate the temple of God, and to grieve the Holy Spirit. And it beseems the divine clemency, that sins be not in such wise pardoned us without any satisfaction, as that, taking occasion there from, thinking sins less grievous, we, offering as it were an insult and an outrage to the Holy Ghost, should fall into more grievous sins, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. For, doubtless, these satisfactory punishments greatly recall from sin, and check as it were with a bridle, and make penitents more cautious and watchful for the future; they are also remedies for the remains of sin, and, by acts of the opposite virtue, they remove the habits acquired by evil living. Neither indeed was there ever in the Church of God any way accounted surer to turn aside the impending chastisement of the Lord, than that men should, with true sorrow of mind, practice these works of penitence: Add to these things, that, whilst we thus, by making satisfaction, suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Jesus Christ, who satisfied for our sins, from whom all our sufficiency is; having also thereby a most sure pledge, that if we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him. But neither is this satisfaction, which we discharge for our sins, so our own, as not to be through Jesus Christ. For we who can do nothing of ourselves, as of ourselves, can do all things, he co-operating, who strengthens us. Thus, man has not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ: in whom we live; in whom we merit; in whom we satisfy; bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from him have their merits and by him are offered to the Father; and through him are accepted by the Father. Therefore the priests of the Lord ought, as far as the Spirit and prudence shall suggest, to enjoin salutary and suitable satisfactions, according to the quality of the crimes and the ability of the penitent; lest, if haply they connive at sins, and deal too indulgently with penitents, by enjoining certain very light works for very grievous crimes, they be made partakers of other men’s sins. But let them have in view, that the satisfaction, which they impose, be not only for the preservation of a new life and a medicine of infirmity, but also for the avenging and punishing of past sins. For the ancient Fathers likewise both believe and teach, that the keys of the priests were given, not to loose only, but also to bind. But not therefore did they imagine that the sacrament of Penance is a tribunal of wrath or of punishments; even as no Catholic ever thought, that, by this kind of satisfaction on our parts, the efficacy of the merit and of the satisfaction of our Lord Jesus Christ is either obscured or in any way lessened: which when the innovators seek to understand, they in such wise maintain a new life to be the best penance, as to take away the entire efficacy and use of satisfaction.
On Works of Satisfaction
The Synod teaches furthermore, that so great is the liberality of the divine munificence, that we are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father, not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken of ourselves for the punishment of sin, or by those imposed at the discretion of the priest according to the measure of our delinquency, but also, which is a very great proof of love, by the temporal scourges inflicted of God, and borne patiently by us.
Before we make a few observations on this Roman Catholic doctrine of Penance as expressed in this decree of the Council of Trent, we wish to quote the Canons on this “sacrament” as adopted by this Council, in which Rome anathemizes those who deny this “sacrament.”
If any one saith, that in the Catholic Church Penance is not truly and properly a sacrament, instituted by Christ our Lord for reconciling the faithful unto God; as often as they fall into sin after baptism: let him be anathema.
If any one, confounding the sacraments, saith that baptism is itself the sacrament of Penance, as though these two sacraments were not distinct, and that therefore Penance is not rightly called a second plank after shipwreck: let him be anathema.
If any one saith, that those words of the Lord the Savior, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive, they aye forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained, are not to be understood of the power of forgiving and of retaining sins in the sacrament of Penance, as the Catholic Church has always from the beginning understood them; but wrests them, contrary to the institution of this sacrament, to the power of preaching the gospel: let him be anathema.
If any one denieth, that, for the entire and perfect remission of sins, there are required three acts in the penitent, which are as it were the matter of the sacrament of Penance, to wit, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which are called the three parts of penance; or saith that there are two parts only of penance, to wit, the terrors with which the conscience is smitten upon being convinced of sin, and the faith, generated by the gospel, or by the absolution, whereby one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ: let him be anathema.
If any one saith, that the contrition which is acquired by means of the examination, collection, and detestation of sins,—whereby one thinks over his years in the bitterness of his soul, by pondering on the grievousness, the multitude, the filthiness of his sins, the loss of eternal blessedness, and the eternal damnation which he has incurred, having therewith the purpose of a better life,—is not a true and profitable sorrow, does not prepare for grace, but makes a man a hypocrite and a greater sinner; in fine, that this (contrition) is a forced and not free and voluntary sorrow: let him be anathema.