Caspar Erich Schieler.

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Archbishop of New York

New York, Aug. 31, 1905

Copyright, 1905, by Benziger Brothers.


"There is nothing more excellent or more useful for the
Church of God and the welfare of souls than the office of Con-
fessor. By his sacred ministry the sinner is lightened of the
burden of sin, freed from the yoke of Satan and concupiscence,
and clothed again with the robe of innocence previously lost.
Weak knees are confirmed (Is. xxxv. 3) ; that is, men weak and
idle in mind receive new vigor, and lastly the just are aroused
and enkindled to persevere in goodness and to reach with freshly
spurred zeal for the crown of justice laid up for them (2 Tim.
iv. 8).

"How great and arduous is the office of Confessor appears
clearly from the fact that by it he is made a judge in the place
of Christ and that of his judgment he must some day render
a strict account to the Supreme Judge. To him, therefore,
apply the words with which the pious king of Israel charged the
judges appointed by him, 'Take heed what you do: for you
exercise not the judgment of man, but of the Lord God; and
whatever you judge, it shall redound to you' (2 Paral. xix. 6).
In this tribunal, however, the priest may not consider himself
to be only a Judge to hear the culprit's confession, to correct
him, and then, having imposed sentence, to send him away. He
must also act the part of the Shepherd and, following the example
of the Good Shepherd, must know his sheep, bring back to the
fold those that strayed away and fell among thorns, and finally
lead them unto wholesome pastures and the waters of eternal
refreshment. He must be a Physician giving suitable remedies
to the sick, and treating and healing with anxious and skillful




hand the wounds of the soul. Lastly he must be a Father, and
like the father in the Gospel cheerfully receive with the kiss
of peace the prodigal son returning from exile, where he had
been lost and consumed by hunger and filth; he must vest the
son found again with the first robe, refresh him with the fatted
calf and delicious dishes, and restore him to the former place and
dignity of heir and son.

" Therefore let the priest who goes to hear confession seriously
ponder over these offices of judge, shepherd, physician, and
father, and endeavor, as far as in him lies, to fulfill them in deed
and work. Above all let him remember that he acts in the
place of Christ and as an ambassador for God, as the Apostle
often tells us" (Cone. Bait. PI. II. nn. 278, 279, 280).

The present volume is a practical commentary upon these
weighty words of the Fathers of the Baltimore Council. The
tremendous responsibility of the Catholic priest exercising the
ministry of the Sacrament of Penance must appear in a truly
dazzling light to the mind of every one who but glances over
the following pages. Human intelligence can never fully
grasp the true significance of this divine sacrament, which
works at the same time forgiveness of sin and sanctification by
grace; which is for poor fallen man at once the judgment of
God's infinite hatred of sin and the manifestation of His infinite
mercy for the repentant sinner; which brings humiliation and
punishment while it fills the soul returning to God with un-
speakable joy and comfort. Who can tell the number of souls
troubled by sin and sinful temptations who have found peace
and consolation, strength and holy courage in this sacrament ?
the number of souls kept not only for days, but for years in
the bondage of evil passion and Satan who were, by the words
of absolution, freed from that ignominious slavery and led
again to enjoy the freedom of the children of God? the num-
ber of souls snatched from the brink of perdition by the strong
hand of God extended to them through His minister in the con-


fessional? the number of souls buried in spiritual death by
grievous sin who were brought out from their tombs to super-
natural life and the sunshine of heavenly grace by the power of
sacramental confession? Only the book of life reveals them all.
To be the minister of such a sacramenl is, indeed, a glorious
calling. Most excellent in itself and most useful for the Chris-
tian people is the office of Confessor. But the Fathers of the
Council tell us it is also a most arduous office. In very truth,
the faithful administration of the Sacrament of Penance demands
a great deal more of the personal cooperation of the minister
with the recipient than any other sacrament. Not to mention
the fact that in the other sacraments, marriage alone excepted,
the acts of the recipient desirous to receive the sacrament
have nothing directly to do with the substance and validity
of the sacrament, while in confession these acts are not a mere
condition, but form the materia ex qua the sacrament ari
there is not the slightest doubt whatever of the most serious
and grave duty of the confessor to assist the penitent as far
as possible towards a worthy and profitable confession. He
is not only bound, as in all other sacraments, to insure the validity
of the sacrament and to assure himself of the required disposi-
tion of the recipient, but here more than elsewhere he must
himself effect and bring forth, as well as he can, the worthy and
right disposition of the penitent. Nor is this all. Confession
is not merely to free the sinner from sin for a few passing mo-
ments; it must so strengthen his will and direct his heart thai
he will avoid the coming danger and resist the future tempta-
tion. Herein lies the difficult and arduous task of the confessor.
It is in the discharge of this duty that the priest needs all
the love and charity, patience and meekness, of the spiritual
father; all the prudence and close attention, the knowledge
and experience of the spiritual physician; all the understanding
of the holy law and the firmness, impartiality, and discretion
of the spiritual judge; the watchful care and patient search of


the spiritual shepherd ; the holy knowledge and wisdom of the
spiritual teacher; the fervid prayer, saintly life, and burning
zeal for souls necessary to him who is to be the minister of
Jesus Christ unto sinful man redeemed by His precious blood.

Even this is not all. Confession is not only a means of
cleansing the sinner from the stain of sin and vice, and of
giving him strength and courage in the battle against tempta-
tion ; but it is also to help the just and holy man to rise continu-
ally higher on the ladder of Christian perfection. It is the
sacrament for saint and sinner. The greatest saints of God in
holy Church had the greatest reverence and desire for holy con-
fession. St. Charles Borromeo went to confession every day.
Hence the tender care of the flowers and fruits of Christian
virtue in the heart of his penitent is another important duty of
the father confessor. How is he to fulfill it in a maimer profit-
able to the penitent and to himself, unless he is well acquainted
with the principles and facts of the spiritual life by a thorough
study of Christian ascetics and the earnest practice of Christian
perfection ? What a responsibility when a soul called by God to
the higher walks of Christian life, and willing to follow the call,
be it in the world or in the cloister, falls into the hands of an
ignorant, neglectful, or heedless confessor ! But what glory to
God, what happiness of soul, what merit for heaven, when by
holy zeal and skillful effort the minister of God in holy confes-
sion leads the Christian soul, panting after God as the hart
panteth after the fountains of water (Ps. xlii. 2), into the sanctu-
ary of God's love, grace,, and mercy ! What a glorious ministry !

We can only hope and pray that Catholic priests will care-
fully read the beautiful and instructive lessons that Dr. Schieler's
book offers, and ponder over them day and night. There is
no greater blessing for Church and State, society and individual,
than an army of priests who are confessors according to the
spirit of Christ; for they are in a fuller sense than others " good
stewards of the manifold grace of God " (1 Petr. iv. 10).



An English translation of Dr. Schieler's exhaustive work on
"The Sacrament of Penance," for the use of theological stu-
dents and missionary priests, had been advised by some of our
bishops and professors of theology. It was felt that, under
present conditions, a work in the vernacular on a subject which
involved to a very large extent the practical direction of souls
was an actual necessity for many to whom the Latin texts deal-
ing with the important questions of the Confessional were for
one reason or another insufficient.

There was one serious objection to the publication of a work
in English, which, since it deals with most delicate subjects,
might for this reason cause an unqualified or prejudiced reader
to misunderstand or pervert its statements, so as to effect the
very opposite of what is intended by the Church in her teaching
of Moral and Pasloral Theology. Between the two dangers of
a lack of sufficiently practical means to inform and direct the
confessor and pastoral guide of souls in so difficult and broad a
field as .is presented by the missions in English-speaking coun-
tries, and the fear that a manual from which the priest derives
his helpful material of direction may fall into the hand of the
ill-advised, for whom it was not intended, the latter seems the
lesser evil, albeit it may leave its deeper impression upon cer-
tain minds that see no difficulty in using the sources of informa-
tion in which the Latin libraries abound.

One proof of both the necessity and the superior advantage
of having a vernacular expression of this branch of theological
literature, for the use of students and priests in non-Latin coun-
tries, is readily found in the fact that authorized scholarship and
pastoral industry in Germany have long ago seen fit to supply this
need for students in its theological faculties, and for priests on
the mission, and that the benefit of such a course has shown
itself far to overlap the accidental danger of an unprofessional
use of the source of Moral Theology in the hands of a lay-reader,


or one hostile to the Catholic Church who might pervert its doc-
trine and arouse the zeal of the prudish.

The work was, therefore, not undertaken without serious
weighing of the reasons for and against its expediency from the
prudential as well as moral point of view. As a competent trans-
lator of it, the name of the Rev. Richard F. Clarke, S.J., of the
English Province 1 , whose editions of Spirago's catechetical volumes
had given him the advantage of special experience in kindred
work, suggested itself to the publishers. Father Clarke actu-
ally undertook the translation, and had fairly completed it when
death overtook him. The manuscript was placed in my hands
with a request to prepare it for publication. After much delay,
due to a multiplicity of other professional duties, I found it pos-
sible, with the cooperation of the Rev. Dr. Charles Bruehl, who
kindly consented to undertake the principal work of revision, to
complete the volume which is now placed at the disposal of our
clergy. There is probably room for some criticism in parts
wherein I have undertaken to alter the expressions of the author
and of the original translator, with a view of accommodating
the matter to the temperament of the English reader. In this
I may have sinned at times both by excess and by deficiency;
but these blemishes can, I trust, be eliminated in future editions
of a work which, for the rest, contains so much of instructive
material as to prove itself permanently useful to the theologian
and pastor.

In some cases I would not wish to be understood as sharing
the author's views, nor should I have deemed an insistence upon
the often-cited opinions of casuists quite so essential in a work of
this kind as it seemed to the learned author. But in this I did
not feel authorized to depart from his text, even if I had not fully
appreciated the advantage of his ample references and quota-
tions in matters of detail. Whatever we think of the author's
personal views, his citations of the masters in the science of mor-
als give to his book certain advantages entitled to recognition.

With these restrictions borne in mind, it would be difficult to
exaggerate the usefulness of a work such as this, which directs
the priest in the sacramental ministry of Penance as indicated
by the laws and practice of the Church.

The aim of every pastor must in the first place be to rouse the


consciences of the individual members of his flock to motives of
pure and right living. The Gospel of Christ furnishes the model
of such living, and the Church is the practical operator under
whose direction and authority the principles of the Gospel are
actively carried into society, from the lowest to the highest
strata. The sacramental discipline of the Confessional is the
directest and most powerful instrument by which the maxims
and precepts of the Gospel are made 1 operative and fruitful
in the individual conscience. A prominent non-Catholic writer
of our day has characterized the Catholic Church as the Empire
of the Confessional. So she is, and her empire is the strongest,
the most penetrating, permanent, and effective rule for the good
conduct of the individual and the peace and prosperity of the
community that can be conceived.

On the proper operation, therefore, of the Sacrament of Pen-
ance depends in the first place all that we can look for of satis-
faction and peace upon earth. But the administration of the
Sacrament of Penance is solely in the hands of the priest or con-
fessor. If he knows what to do, if he is wisely diligent in doing
what the discipline of the Confessional instructs him to do,
he will rule his people with order and ease, he will gain their
gratitude and their love, he will reap all the fruits of a happy
ministry, and his name will be in benediction among men of
good will within and without the fold.

The Confessional is a tribunal. It demands a certain knowl-
edge of the law, exercise of discretion and prudence in the appli-
cation of the law, and the wisdom of kindly counsel to greater
perfection. As the lawyer, the judge, the physician, learn their
rules of diagnosis and prescription in the first instance from
books and then from practice, so the future confessor, for three
or four years a student of theology, deems it his first and
most important duty to study Moral Theology, and this with
the single and almost exclusive purpose of making use of it
in the Confessional. Moral Theology gives him the principles
of law and right, the rules to apply them to concrete cases,
and certain precedents by way of illustration, in order to render
him familiar with actual and practical conditions. But the
young priest learns much more during the first few months and
years of his actual ministry by sitting in the Confessional and


dealing with the consciences of those who individually seek his

There is some danger that the practical aspect, with all the
distracting circumstances of sin's work in the soul, may in time
obscure the clear view of principles and make the confessor what
the criminal judge is apt to become during long years of incum-
bency, oversevere or overindulgent, as his temper dictates. He
may thus lose that fine sense of discrimination, that balanced use
of fatherly indulgence and needful correction, which the position
of the representative of eternal justice and mercy demands.

To obviate this result, which renders the Confessional a mere
work of routine and absolution, instead of being, as it should be,
a means of correction and reform, the priest, like the judge, needs
to read his books of law and to refurbish his knowledge of theory
and practice and his sense of discernment. But the theological
texts with which he was familiar under the Seminary discipline,
where nothing distracted him from the attentive use of them,
are not now so readily at hand. Their Latin forms are a speech
which, if not more strange and difficult than during his Seminary
course, seems more distant and uninviting. The priest, even
the young priest, would rather review his Moral Theology in
the familiar language in which he is now to express his judgments
to his penitents.

This fact alone suggests the pertinent use of the book before
us. There the confessor, the director of the conscience, finds all
that he was taught in his Moral Theology. He finds much more ;
for the author has made the subject a specialty of treatment
which leads him to light up every phase of the confessor's task.
He has himself studied all the great masters in the direction of
souls from the Fathers of the Church down to the Scholastics of
the thirteenth century; and more especially those that follow,
who have entered into the theory and art of psychical anatomy
-Guilelmus Paris, Cardinal Segusio, St. Thomas, St. Bona-
venture, Gerson, St. Charles Borromeo, Toletus, De Ponte,
St. Francis of Sales, Lugo, Lacroix, Concina, Cajetan, and
Bergamo, St. Alphonsus, Reuter, and finally those many doctors
of the last century who have written upon the duties of the con-
fessor in the light of modern necessities and special canon law.

It is hardly necessary to explain to the priest who has passed


over the ground of the sacramental discipline as found in his
theological text-books, how the subject is here presented in the
detail of analysis and application to concrete conditions. Pen-
ance is a Virtue and it is a Sacrament. To understand the full
value of the latter we must examine its constituent elements,
the matter, form, conditions, the dispositions and acts of the
penitent, sorrow for sin, purpose of amendment, actual accusa-
tion of faults in the tribunal — requisites which are dealt with
by Professor Schieler in the traditional manner, but with clear-
ness and attention to detail.

Of special importance are the suggestions in the third chapter,
touching the integrity of the Confession : the number, circum-
stances certain and doubtful, of the sins, and the reasons which
excuse the penitent from making a complete confession; like-
wise the treatment of invalid confessions, of general confessions,
their purpose, necessity, or danger as the case may be ; satisfac-
tion, its acceptance or commutation.

The main object of the treatise lies, however, as might be sup-
posed, in the exposition of the confessor's powers and jurisdic-
tion, and of the reservation and abuse of faculties. These
matters are in the first place discussed from the theoretical stand-
point. Then follows the application, which takes up the second
principal part of the work. Here we have the confessor in the
act of administering the Sacrament. He is told how he is to
diagnose the sinner's condition by the proposal of questions and
by ascertaining his motives — how far and to what end this
probing is lawful and wise. Next the qualities of the confessor,
his duties and responsibilities, are set forth in so far as they must
lead him to benefit his penitent both in and out of the tribunal of
penance. The obligation of absolute secrecy or the sigillum is
the subject of an extended chapter.

From the general viewpoint which the confessor must take of
his penitent's condition and the safeguards by which he is to pro-
tect the penitent both as accused and accuser, our author leads
us into the various aspects of the judge's duties toward penitents
in particular conditions. Thus the sinner who is in the constant
occasion of relapse into his former sin, the sinner who finds him-
self too weak to resist temptation, the penitent who aims at
extraordinary sanctity, the scrupulous, the convert, form sepa-


rate topics of detailed discussion. The last part of the volume
deals with the subjects of confessions of children, of young men
and young women, of those who are engaged to be married, of
persons living in mixed marriage, of men, religious women, of
priests, and of the sick and dying.

Some of our readers may recall that we have protested against
too implicit a reliance on an artificial code of weights and measures
in the matter of sin ; and to them it may seem that in seconding
the translation of such a work as this we go contrary to the prin-
ciples advocated, because our author presents the same applica-
tion of canon law and judicial decision which has been sanctioned
by the great moralists and canonists of the schools. But let the
reader remember that in the text-books of the Seminary, we have
as a rule the principles and precepts presented in their skeleton
form so as to leave the impression of fixed maxims, which cannot
be altered, although they are in many cases only the coined con-
victions of individual authors, to whose authority the student
is taught to swear allegiance. In the present volume princi-
ples and precepts are so discussed that they admit of an all-sided
view, and as a result do not hinder that freedom of judgment
which is so essential a requisite in a good judge and, therefore,
in a confessor. For the rest we felt it, of course, to be our duty
toward the author to preserve his train of thought and reasoning,
and if anything is needed to make his exposition especially appli-
cable to our missionary conditions of time and place, it will be
easily supplied by any one who shall have read and studied the

present work.

H. J. Heuser.




1. The Virtue of Penance ......... 17

2. The Sacrament of lVnance 20

:>. Necessity of the Sacrament of Penance . .... 22

1. Forgiveness of Venial Sin 29

5. The Constituent Parts of the Sacrament of Penance in General . 37

6. The Remote Matter of the Sacrament of Penance in Particular . :i!i

7. The Form of the Sacrament ........ 50

8. Conditional Absolution „ 59



9. Who can Receive the Sacrament of Penance 70


10. Extent and Efficacy of Contrition 7 1

11. The Essential Features of Perfect Contrition ..... 76

12. The Effects of Perfect Contrition and the Obligation of Pro-

curing it . . . . . . - . .81

13. Imperfect Contrition 88

1-1. The Necessary (Qualities of Contrition its

15. The Relation of Contrition to the Sacrament Ill


The Purpose of Ami xdment

16. Necessity and Nature of the Purpose of Amendment . . . 121

17. Properties of the Purpose of Amendment 126

18. The Purpose of Amendment with regard to Venial Sin . 133











Article I. Essence, Necessity, and Properties of Confession
Essence and Necessity of Confession ....
Properties of Confession


Article II. The Integrity of tin Confession

Necessity of the Integrity of Confession .
Extent of the Integrity of Confession
The Number of Sins in Confession .
The Confession of the Circumstances of Sins
The Confession of Doubtful Sins
Sins omitted through Eorgetfulness or Other Causes not Blame-

Reasons Excusing from Complete Accusation ....

Article III. The Means to be employed in Order to make a Perfect

The Examination of Conscience

Invalid Confessions .....

General Confession

The Manner of Hearing General Confession
Plan for making a General Confession .










33. The Imposition of Penance by the Confessor 256

34. The Acceptance and Performance of the Penance by the Penitent 271

35. The Commutation of the Penance 274



Online LibraryCaspar Erich SchielerTheory and practice of the confessional : a guide in the administration of the sacrament of penance → online text (page 1 of 58)