Jeremy Taylor.

The whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) online

. (page 3 of 50)
Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) → online text (page 3 of 50)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the priest, by the words of Christ, hath given to him the or-
dinary power of a judge ; and that, as such, he hath power of
remitting and retaining sins : yet this power of judging may
be such, as that it may be performed without enumeration of
all the particulars we remember. For the judgment the priest
is to make, is not of the sins, but of the persons. It is not said
" Quaecunque," but " Quorumcunque remiseritis peccata."
Our blessed Saviour, in these words, did not distinguish two
sorts of sins, one to be remitted, and another to be retained ;
so that it should be necessary to know the special nature of
the sins: he only reckoned one kind, that is, under which
all sins are contained. But he distinguished two sorts of
sinners ; saying, ' Quorum,' and ' Quorum ;' z the one of pe-
nitents (according to the whole design and purpose of the
Gospel), and their sins are to be remitted ; and another of
impenitent, whose sins are not to be remitted, but retained.
And therefore it becomes the minister of souls to know the
state of the penitent, rather than the nature and number of
the sins. Neither gave he any power to punish, but to par-
don, or not to pardon. If Christ had intended to have given

* Vide Yasquez in 3 torn. iii. q. 90, art. 1, dub. 2, sect. 3.

i Ubi supra. * Vide Padre Paolo, Hist. Cone. Trid. lib. ir.



IMPOSED UPON CONSCIENCES. 19

to the priests a power to impose a punishment according to
the quality of every sin, the priest indeed had been the exe-
cutioner of the Divine wrath; but then, because no punish-
ment in this life can be equal to the demerit of a sin which
deserves the eternal wrath of God, it is certain the priest is
not to punish them by way of vengeance. We do not find
any thing in the words of Christ, obliging the priest directly
to impose penances on the penitent sinner; he may volun-
tarily submit himself to them if he please, and he may do
very well, if he do so ; but the power of retaining sins, gives
no power to punish him, whether he will or no ; for the
power of retaining is rather to be exercised upon the impe-
nitent, than upon the penitent. Besides this, the word of
' remitting' sins, does not certainly give the priest a power to
impose penances ; for it were a prodigy of interpretation to
expound ' remittere' by ' punire.' But if by * retaining' it be
said, this power is given him ; then this must needs belong
to the impenitent, who are not remitted ; and not to the
penitent, whose sins at that time they remit, and retain not ;
unless they can do both at the same time. But if the
punishment designed, be only by way of remedy, or of dispos-
ing the sinners to true penitence ; then if the person be
already truly penitent, the priest hath nothing to do, but
to pardon him in the name of God. Now certainly both
these things may be done without the special enumeration
of all his remembered sins. For, 1. The penitent may, and
often does, forget many particulars ; and then, in that case,
all that the priest can expect, or proceed to judgment upon,
is the saying in general, ' He is truly sorrowful for them, and
for the time to come will avoid them :' and if he then absolve
the penitent, as he must and usually does ; it follows, that
if he does well (and he can do no better), he may make a
judgment of his penitent without special enumeration of his
sins ; and if the priest pardons no sins but those which are
enumerated, the penitent will be in an evil condition in most
cases : but if he can and does pardon those which are forgot-
ten, then the special enumeration is not indispensably ne-
cessary ; for it were a strange thing, if sins should be easier
remitted for being forgotten, and the harder for being re-
membered ; there being in the Gospel no other condition men-
tioned, but 'the confessing, and forsaking them :' and if there



20 AURICULAR CONFESSION

be any difference, certainly he, who, out of carelessness of
spirit, or the multitude of his sins, or want of the sharpness
of sorrow (for these commonly are causes of it), forgets many
of his sins, is, in all reason, further from pardon, than he
whose conscience being sore wounded, cannot forget that
which stings him so perpetually. If he that remembers
most, because he is most penitent, be tied to a more severe
discipline, than he that remembers least, then, according to
this discipline, the worst man is in the best condition. But
what if the sinner, out of bashfulness, do omit to enumerate
some sin ? Is there no consulting with his modesty ? Is there
no help for him, but he must confess, or die? St.Ambrose a
gives a perfect answer to this case : " Lavant lacrymae de-
lictum, quod voce pudor est confiteri, et veniae fletus consu-
lunt, et verecundae lacrymae sine horrore culpam loquuntur.
Lacrymae crimen sine offensione verecundise confitentur."
And the same is almost in words affirmed by Maxim us Tau-
rinensis: 6 " Lavat lacryma delictum, quod voce pudor est
confiteri : lacrymae ergo verecundiae pariter consulunt et
saluti; nee erubescunt in petendo, et impetrant in rogando."
And that this may not seem a propriety of St. Peter's re-
pentance, because sacramental confession was not yet insti-
tuted (for that Bellarmine offers for an answer) ; besides that
sacramental confession was, as I have made to appear,
never instituted, either then, or since then, in Scripture, by
Christ, or by his apostles ; besides this, I say, St. Ambrose
applies the precedent of St. Peter to every one of us ;
" Flevit ergo amarissime Petrus : flevit ut lacrymis suutn
posset lavare delictum ; et tu si veniam vis mereri, dilue
culpam lacrymis tuam." And to the same sense also is
that of Cassian : " Quod si, verecundia retrahente, revelare
[peccata] coram hominibus erubescis, illi quern latere non
possunt, confiteri ea jugi supplicatione non desinas, ac di-
cere, 'Tibi soli peccavi, et nialum coram te feci,' qui et absque
illius verecundi0e publicatione curare, et sine improperio
peccato donare consuevit." To these I shall add a pregnant
testimony of Julianus Pomerius, or of Prosper;* 1 "Quod
si ipsi sibi judices fiant, et veluti suae iniquitatis ul tores
hie in se voluntariam pcenam severissimae animadversionis

In Lucam, lib. x. c. 22. b Horail.iii.de Poenitentia Petri.

Collat. ix. c. 8. <i De Vita Contemplative, lib. ii. c. 7.



IMPOSED UPON CONSCIENCES. 21

exerceant, temporalibus poems mutaverint aeterna supplicia,
et lacrymis ex vera cordis compunctione fluentibus restin-
guent aeterni ignis incendia." And this was the opinion of
divers learned persons in Peter Lombard's time,* that if
men fear to confess lest they be disgraced, or lest others
should be tempted by their evil example ; arid therefore
conceal them from man, and reveal them to God ; they
obtain pardon.

Secondly : For those sins, which they do enumerate; the
priest, by them, cannot make a truer judgment of the peni-
tent's repentance and disposition to amendment, than he can
by his general profession of his true and deep contrition, and
such other human indications, by which such things are sig-
nified. For still it is to be remembered, he is not the judge
of the sin, but of the man. For Christ hath left no rules, by
which the sin is to be judged ; no penitential tables, no
chancery tax, no penitential canons; neither did the apostles:
and those which were in use in the Primitive Church, as they
were vastly short of the merit of the sins, so they are very
vastly greater than are now in use, or will be endured : by
which it plainly enough appears, that they impose penances
at their pleasure, as the people are content to take them ;
and for the greatest sins, we see they impose ridiculous pe-
nances ; and themselves profess they impose but a part of
their penance that is due : which certainly cannot be any
compliance with any law of God, which is always wiser,
more just, and more to purpose. And therefore, to exact a
special enumeration of all our sins remembered, to enable
the priest only to impose a part of penance, is as if a prince
should raise an army of ten thousand men to suppress a
tumult, raised in a little village against the petty constable.
Besides which, in the Church of Rome, they have an old rule,
which is to this day in use among them ;

Sitque modus poense justs moderatio culps ;
Quae tanto levior, quanto contritio major.

And therefore, " fortiter contritus leviter plectatur;
he that is greatly sorrowful, needs but little penance."
By which is to be understood, that the penance is but to
supply the want of internal sorrow ; which the priest can no

Lombard. Sent lib. iv. d. 7, ad fineni lit. C.



22 AURICULAR CONFESSION

way make judgment of, but by such signs as the penitent is
pleased to give him. To what purpose then can it be to
enumerate all his sins ; which he can do with a little sorrow
or a great one, with attrition or contrition, and no man
knows it, but God alone? And it may be done without any
sorrow at all, and the sorrow may be put on, or acted; and
when the penance is imposed, as it must needs be less than
the sin, so it may be performed without true repentance.
And therefore, neither is the imposing penance any sufficient
signification of what the priest inquires after. And because
every deliberate sin deserves more than the biggest penance
that is imposed on any man for the greatest, and in that, as
to the sin itself, there can be no error in the greatness of it ;
it follows, that, by the particular enumeration, the priest
cannot be helped to make his judgment of the person; and
by it or any thing else he can never equally punish the sin ;
therefore, supposing the priest to be a judge, the necessity
of particular confession will not be necessary : especially if
we consider,

Thirdly : That by the Roman doctrine, it is not necessary
to salvation, that the penitent should perform any penances,
he may defer them to purgatory if he please ; so that special
confession cannot be necessary to salvation for the reason
pretended, viz. that the priest may judge well concerning
imposing penances, since they are necessary only for the
avoiding purgatory, and not for the avoiding damnation.
4. This further appears in the case of baptism ; which is the
most apparent and evident use of the power of the keys, it
being truly and properly the intromission of catechumens
into the house of God, and an admitting them to all the pro-
mises and benefits of the kingdom, and, which is the greatest,
the most absolute, and most evident remission of all the sins
precommitted ; and yet towards the dispensing this pardon,
no particular confession of sins is previous, by any necessity
or Divine law. Repentance in persons of choice and discre-
tion is, and was always, necessary : but because persons were
not tied to confess their sins particularly to a priest before
baptism ; it is certain, that repentance can be perfect with-
out this confession. And this argument is yet of greater
force and persuasion against the Church of Rome ; for since
baptizing is for remission of sins, and is the first act of the



IMPOSED UPON CONSCIENCES. 23

power of the keys, and the evident way of opening the doors
of the house of God, and yet the power of baptizing is, in the
Church of Rome, in the absence of a priest, given to a lay-
man, and frequently to a deacon; it follows, that the power
of the keys, and a power of remitting sins, is no judiciary
act ; unless a layman be declared capable of the power of
judging, and of remitting of sins. 5. If we consider, that,
without true repentance, no sin can be pardoned : and with it
all sins may ; and that no one sin is pardoned as to the final
state of our souls, but at the same time all are pardoned : it
must needs follow, that it is not the number of sins, but the
condition of the persons, the change of his life, the sorrow of
his heart, the truth of his conversion, and his hatred of all
sin, that he is to consider. If his repentance be a true change
from evil to good, from sin to God, a thousand sins are par-
doned as soon as one ; and the infinite mercy of God does
equally exceed one sin and one thousand. Indeed, in order
to counsel or comfort, it may be very useful to tell all that
grieves the penitent, all that for which he hath no rest, and
cannot get satisfaction : but as to the exercising any other
judgment upon the man either for the present, or for the
future ; to reckon up what is past seems not very useful, or
at all reasonable : but as the priest, who baptizes a convert,
judges of him, as far as he can, and ought ; that is, whether
he hath laid aside every hinderance, and be disposed to re-
ceive remission of sins by the Spirit of God in baptism : so
it is in repentance, the man's conversion and change are to
be considered ; which cannot be by what is past, but by what
is present, or future.

And now, 3. Although the judicial power of the priest
cannot infer the necessity of particular confession ; yet if the
judicial power be also of another nature than is supposed,
or rather be not properly 'judicium fori, the judgment of a
tribunal,' coercive, penal, and exterminating, by proper effect,
and real change of state and person ; then the superstruc-
ture, and the foundation too, will be digged down. And this
therefore shall be considered briefly. And here the scene is
a little changed, and the words of Christ to St. Peter are
brought in as auxiliaries, to prove the priest's power to be
judicial ; and that, with the words of Christ to his apostles,
John, xx. must demonstrate this point. 1 . Therefore I have



24 AURICULAR CONFESSION

the testimony and opinion of the Master of the Sentences/
affirming that the priest's power is declarative, not judicial;
the sentence of an ambassador, not of a judge; " Sacerdoti-
bus tribuit potestatem solvendi et ligandi ; id est, ostendendi
homines ligatos vel solutos ; The priest's power of loosing
and binding, is a power of shewing and declaring who are
bound, and who are loosed. For when Christ had cured the
leper, he sent him to the priest, by whose judgment he was
to be declared clean: and when Lazarus was first restored to
life by Christ, then he bade his disciples loose him and let
him go." And if it be inquired, To what purposes is the
priest's solution, if the man be pardoned already? it is an-
swered ; that " Although he be absolved before God, yet he
is not accounted loosed in the face of the Church, but by the
judgment of the priest." But we have the sentence of a
greater man g in the Church, than Peter Lombard; viz. of
St. Jerome himself, who discourses this affair dogmatically
and fully, and so as not to be capable of evasion : speaking
of those words of Christ to St. Peter, " I will give to thee
the keys of the kingdom of heaven ; whatsoever thou shalt
bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven ; and whatsoever
thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven:" "This
place (saith St. Jerome) some bishops and priests not under-
standing, take upon them something of the superstitiousness
of the pharisees, so as to condemn the innocent, or think to
acquit the guilty; whereas God inquires not, what is the
sentence of the priest, but the life of the guilty. In Levi-
ticus, the lepers were commanded to shew themselves to the
priests, who neither make them leprous nor clean ; but they
discern who are clean, and who are unclean. As, therefore,
there the priest makes the leprous man clean or unclean : so
here, does the bishop, or the priest, bind or loose; i. e. accord-
ing to their office, when he hears the variety of sins, he knows
who is to be bound, and who is to be loosed." St. Ambrose 11
adds one advantage more, as consequent to the priests'
absolving of penitents; but expressly declares against the

1 Sent. lib. iv. dist. 18, lit. F. e St. Jerome in Matt. lib. iii. ad c. 16.

h Homines in remissione peccatorum ministerium suum exhibent, non jus ali-
cnjus potestatis exerceut: neque enim in suo, sed in nomine Patris, Filii, et
Spiritus Sancti, peccata dimittuntur. Isti rogant, divinitas donat, &c. St. Ambros.
de Spir. S. lib. iii. c. 19.



IMPOSED UPON CONSCIENCES. 25

proper judicial power ; " Men give their ministry in there mis-
sion of sins, but they exercise not the right of any power :
neither are sins remitted by them in their own, but in the
name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Men pray, but
it is God who forgives : it is man's obsequiousness, but the
bountiful gift is from God. So likewise, there is no doubt,
sins are forgiven in baptism, but the operation is of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Here St. Ambrose affirms
the priest's power of pardoning sins to be wholly ministerial
and optative, or by way of prayer. Just as it is in baptism, so
it is in repentance after baptism : sins are pardoned to the truly
penitent ; but here is no proper judicial power. The bishop
prays, and God pardons : the priest does his ministry, and
God gives the gift. Here are three witnesses against whom
there is no exception ; and what they have said was good
catholic doctrine in their ages ; that is, from the fourth age
after Christ, to the eleventh : how it hath fallen into heresy
since that time is now not worth inquiring ; but yet how
reasonable that old doctrine is, is very fit to consider.

Of necessity it must be true ; because whatever kind of
absolution or binding it is, that the bishops and priests have
power to use ; it does its work intended, without any real
changing of state in the penitent. The priest alters nothing ;
he diminishes no man's right ; he gives nothing to him but
what he had before. The priest baptizes, and he absolves,
and he communicates, and he prays, and he declares the
will of God ; and, by importunity, he compels men to come,
and if he find them unworthy, he keeps them out : but it is
such as he finds to be unworthy : such who are in a state of
perdition, he cannot, he ought not, to admit to the ministries
of life. True it is, he prays to God for pardon, and so he
prays that God will give the sinner the grace of repentance :
but he can no more give pardon than he can give repentance ;
he that gives this gives that.

And it is so also in the case of absolution : he can
absolve none but those that are truly penitent : he can give
thanks indeed to God on his behalf ; but as that thanksgiv-
ing supposes pardon, so that pardon supposes repentance :
and if it be true repentance, the priest will as certainly find
him pardoned, as find him penitent. And, therefore, we find,
in the old penitentials and usages of the Church, that the



26 AURICULAR CONFESSION

priest did not absolve the penitent in the indicative or judi-
cial form. To this purpose it is observed by Goar, in the
Euchologion,' that now, " many do freely assert, and tena-
ciously defend, and clearly teach, and prosperously write, that
the solemn form of reconciling, ' Absolve te a peccatis tuis,'
is not perhaps above the age of four hundred years ; and that
the old form of absolution in the Latin Church, was com-
posed in words of deprecation, so far as we may conjec-
ture out of the ecclesiastical history, ancient rituals, tra-
dition, and other testimonies without exception." And in
the Opuscula k of Thomas Aquinas, he tells that a doctor said
to him, that the optative form, or deprecatory, was the usual,
and that then it was not thirty years since the indicative form
of 'Ego te absolve' was used; which computation comes
near the computation made by Goar. And this is the more
evidently so, in that it appears, that in the ancient discipline
of the Church, a deacon might reconcile the penitents, if the
priest were absent: "Si autem necessitas evenerit, et pres-
byter non fuerit praesens, diaconus suscipiat poanitentem, ac
det sanctam communionem:" 1 and if a deacon can minister
this affair, then the priest is not indispensably necessary,
nor his power judicial and pretorial.

But besides this, the power of the keys is under the
master in the hands of the steward of the house ; who is the
minister of government : and the power of remitting and
retaining being but the verification of the promise of the keys,
is to be understood by the same analogy, and is exercised in
many instances, and to many great purposes, though no man
had ever dreamt of a judicial power of absolution of secret
sins ; viz. in discipline and government, in removing scandals,
in restoring persons 'overtaken in a fault' to the peace of
the Church, in sustaining the weak, in cutting off of cor-
rupt members, in rejecting heretics, in preaching peace by
Jesus Christ, and repentance through his name, and minis-
tering the word of reconciliation, and interceding in the
ministry of Christ's mediation; that is, being God's ambas-
sador, he is God's messenger in the great work of the Gos-
pel, which is repentance and forgiveness. In short, binding
and loosing, remitting and retaining, are acts of government
relating to public discipline. And of any other pardoning

1 rage 676. k Opusc. xxii. ' Alcuin. de Divin. Offic. cap. de Jejunio.



IMPOSED UPON CONSCIENCES. 27

or retaining, no man hath any power but what he ministers
in the word of God and prayer, unto which the ministry of
the sacraments is understood to belong. For what does the
Church, when she binds a sinner or retains his sin, but sepa-
rate him from the communication of public prayers and sacra-
ments ? according to that saying of Tertallian ; ln "Sum-
mum futuri judicii prsejudicium est, si quis ita deliquerit, ut
a communicatione orationis et conventus et omnis sancti
commercii relegetur." And the like was said by St. Austin ; n
" Versetur ante oculos imago futuri judicii, ut cum alii acce-
dunt ad altare Dei, quo ipse non accedit, cogitet quam sit
contremiscenda ilia poena, qua percipientibus aliis vitam seter-
nam, alii in mortem praecipitantur aeternam." And when the
Church, upon the sinner's repentance, does restore him to
the benefit of public assemblies and sacraments, she does
truly pardon his sins, that is, she takes off the evil that was
upon him for his sins. For so Christ proved his power on
earth to forgive sins, by taking the poor man's palsy away :
and so does the Church pardon his sins by taking away that
horrible punishment of separating him from all the public
communion of the Church : and both these are, in their
several kinds, the most material and proper pardons.

But, then, as the Church gives pardon proportionable
to the evil she inflicts, which God also will verify, if it be
done here in truth and righteousness ; so there is a pardon,
which God only gives. He is the injured and offended per-
son, and he alone can remit of his own right. But yet
to this pardon the Church does co-operate by her ministry.
Now, what this pardon is, we understand best by the evils
that are by him inflicted upon the sinner. For to talk of
a power of pardoning sins, where there is no power to take
away the punishment of sin, is but a dream of a shadow : sins
are only then pardoned when the punishment is removed.
Now, who but God alone can take away a sickness, or rescue
a soul from the power of his sins, or snatch him out of the
devil's possession ? The Spirit of God alone can do this, ' it is
the Spirit that quickeneth,' and raiseth from spiritual death,
and giveth us the life of God. Man can pray for the Spirit,
but God alone can give it ; our blessed Saviour obtained for
us the Spirit of God by this way, by prayer. " I will pray

Apolog. c. xxxix. n Homil. v.



28 AURICULAR CONFESSION

unto the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,
even the Spirit of truth ;" and, therefore, much less do any of
Christ's ministers convey the Spirit to any one but by prayer,
and holy ministries in the way of prayer : but this is best
illustrated by the case of baptism. " It is a matter of equal
power," said Alexander of Ales, " to baptize with internal
baptism, and to absolve from deadly sin. But it was not fit
that God should communicate the power of baptizing inter-
nally unto any, lest we should place our hope in man." And
St. Austin (if at least he be the author of the 'Scala Paradisi')?
says, " The office of baptizing the Lord granted unto many ;
but the power and authority of remitting sins in baptism, he
retained unto himself alone ; wherefore St. John, ' antono-
mastice et discretive, by way of distinction and singularity,'
affirms, that, He it is who baptizes with the Holy Ghost."
And I shall apply this to the power of the keys in the mi-
nistry of repentance, by the words of St. Cyprian : q " Remis-
sio peccatorum, sive per baptismum sive per alia sacramenta
donetur, proprie Spiritus Sancti est, et ipsi soli hujus effi-



Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 11) → online text (page 3 of 50)