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September 20, 2005

Ch. XXIX. Q. 153. What is the benefit of Penance?

THE BENEFIT of Penance, properly speaking, is a remission of actual sins committed after Baptism. But, incidentally, (a.) true contrition is made more likely: (b.) Grace is imparted whereby virtue is recovered.1

2. The benefit of this Sacrament depends, as we have seen, upon moral conditions. It is absolute when those conditions are fulfilled. All the sins of the penitent are then remitted. In fact no sin can be remitted while another sin remains unforgiven; for, in order that contrition should be sufficient to secure forgiveness, it must be accompanied by hatred of all sin and have reference to every past offence, whether separately recalled or not. Such contrition secures plenary absolution.2 Furthermore, the soul cannot re-incur guilt for sin once remitted, although the guilt of subsequent sin of the same nature may be increased by the ingratitude which it expresses.3

3. Forgiveness is promised to all children of grace who truly repent, and the Sacrament of Penance is not always necessary to secure such forgiveness. Yet, if it were never necessary, it would not have been instituted and preserved so universally. Its value to the spiritual life is analogous to that of medicine in the natural life. Mortal sin deadens the spiritual life and alienates the very grace which is needed for repentance. A special and remedial flow of grace is needed, such as this Sacrament produces, to quicken the soul and enable it to resume its penitential functions. Then, too, many have thought that a grace of prophylactic nature is imparted in Penance," such as will protect the soul from the peculiar temptations with which it is assailed and help it to recover those virtues which have been lost.4

4. The Anglican Communion calls upon her members to make use of this Sacrament when they cannot “quiet their consciences” by other means. Thus she leaves the question of resorting to the Sacrament to be decided by the penitent. In very many cases, however, the non-use of the Sacrament means a failure to treat the necessity of repentance seriously, or even ignorance of that necessity. The clergy are, therefore, under obligations to warn such persons of the risk which they incur. As Dr. Pusey somewhere says, the true method of bringing souls to Confession is to deepen their sense of sin. When that is achieved they will not usually be able to “quiet their consciences” except by Auricular Confession.5

1 S. Thos., III. 86, 87, 89: Schouppe, XIV. 253-260: Blunt's Th. Dic., "Absolution": Forbes' 39 Arts., XVI: Pearson on the Creed, X. 648-650.

2 S. Thos., Ill, 86. 3.

3 S. Thos., III. 88: Schouppe, XIV. 260.

4 S. Thos., III., 86. 2: 89: Percival's Digest, 151: Pusey's University Sermons, Vol. I. Ser. 2, 3.

5 Notes and Questions from Pusey, 125-127.

Posted by Trevor at September 20, 2005 10:47 AM