Catholic University of America.

American ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 online

. (page 70 of 78)
Online LibraryCatholic University of AmericaAmerican ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 → online text (page 70 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

here inflammation of the brain the danger is at once evident The
symptoms of this serious affection are violent headache, flushed
face, irregular pulsation and also irregular respiration, and finally
coma. Unconsciousness in cases of this kind is often the sequel
of convulsions. In severe cases of brain-fever, too, there is some-
times an occurrence of meningeal haemorrhage resulting in coma.
But whether there be haemorrhage or not it is always advisable to

Heart-disease, — Coma is found also in heart-disease. When
death occurs it is usually due to the gradual failure of the heart's
action owing to the weak state of the person. The gradual sus-
pension of animation is marked by conspicuous cyanosis, swelling
of the feet, and weak, irregular pulsation.

It may be stated here that when deaths occur from electrical
shocks, drowning, sun-stroke, or intense cold, the warning symp-
toms will be noticed to be faint and slow respiration conjoined
with pallor of features, and rigidity of extremities is the rule.

Bronchitis and Nephritis. — Two other diseases remain to be
remarked upon, viz., acute bronchitis and nephritis. In the former,
heart-trouble is frequently found to be a concomitant, hence the
danger is very grave. In the fatal stage are observable a feverish
condition, rapid respiration, profuse expectoration, sleeplessness
passing into delirium, and ending in coma. As regards the latter,
nephritis being akin to uraemia, convulsions and subsequent
coma are the certain signs of immediate danger.

In concluding this portion of our paper we would draw at-
tention to the fact that coma sometimes apparently exists in cases

Digitized by



of hysteria. Hence, at times this may cause unnecessary per-
turbation of mind in an inexperienced priest. Cases are common
in which the subject of such a disorder lies to all seeming in a
perfectly comatose condition. The touching of the eye-balls,
however, will show that the patient is not really so, as he will
flinch and blink when so tested. Furthermore, it is by no means
a rare occurrence for a person to appear totally insensible, while
de facto such a one is sensible to all that is taking place around
him, though unable to give any tokens of sensiUlity. Hence the
wisdom of reciting prayers aloud, which may have the happy
eflect of awakening sentiments of sorrow and piety in one who,
as far as can be judged, is quite devoid of all consciousness.

Having treated the subject of coma from a medical standpoint,
let us pass on now to consider some practical questions that arise
in connection with unconsciousness, in the light of moral

It may be asked what is a priest to do when he is summoned
to a parishioner in probable danger of death and quite insensible ?
Again, ought a priest to repeat the last blessing if the sick man
recovers consciousness, inasmuch as the Holy Name could be
invoked neither mentally nor orally in such a comatose condition ?

The first question may be viewed, under a threefold aspect,
viz.: (d) Total unconsciousness, per se ; {b) Unconsciousness in
the commission of a gravely sinful act; {c) Unconsciousness
supervening upon a refusal of the Sacraments.

As regards the duty of a priest who is called upon to attend a
parishioner who lies in probable danger of death and quite insen-
sible, the course of action to be followed is, I think, clearly set
forth by Ferraris, Vol. V, De moribundo. He says : " Moribun-
dus qui nullum poenitentiae signum dedit, nee dare potest, si ipse
prius probe et Christiane vixerit, et Sacramenta frequentaverit,
probabilius absolvi potest sub conditione." It is true the fore-
going rule would seem to suppose knowledge of the sick person's
previous life. But where such knowledge is unobtainable, as is
often the case in hospitals, the principle would undoubtedly be in
all cases of this kind, '* In dubio stat praesumptio '' so far as his
fitness for the reception of the Sacraments is concerned.^

' Vide AhsohiHo, Art. 2, a. n. 4 ad 7.

Digitized by



A priest, therefore, who is called to a dying man who is uncon-
scious, and has no knowledge of his previous life, should certainly
absolve conditionally and anoint. But should the d3dng man
have become unconscious in actu peccati mortalis, the matter
assumes a different complexion.

This question is dealt with at some length by St. Alphonsus,
Lib. 6, Tract 4, De poenitentia, No. 483, Dub. 3.

After giving the different opinions of theologians for or against
absolution in such a case, the author goes on to state his own
OfMnion in these words : " Si enim Ucite absolvi potest et debet
aegrotus sensibus destitutis, qui nullum dederit poenitentiae sig-
num, si Christiane vixerit, eo quod de ipso prudenter praesumi
potest, quod in extremo vitae, si aliquod lucidum intervallum habet,
velit absolutionem Sacramentalem redpere, sic etiam potest et
debet absolvi (sub conditione) homo Catholicus etiamsi in actual!
peccato sensibus destituatur ; pro hoc enim etiam merito prae-
sumi potest quod ipse in proximo periculo suae damnationis con-
stitutus cupiat ommi modo suae aetemae saluti consulere."

From this teaching we gather that anyone who becomes
unconscious in the commission of a gravely sinful act should be
conditionally absolved and anointed, provided he has led a Christian
life. On this matter, also, we find Kenrick saying. Cap. IX, De
absoluHoney No. 211: "Qui in ipso peccati actu morte correpti
sunt, V. g. rixando, lasciviendo vel nimis potando, non possunt
absolvi, quum sint in peccato mortali manifesto ; quod si aliquan-
diu supervixerint, licet sui non compotes vel extra se abrepti furore
quem dicunt * mania a potu,' poterit quis conjicere eos intus dolere,
quamvis turbata phantasia nequeant sua sensa pandere, quem eos
absolventem sub conditione non improbamus." Kenrick's words
would seem more severe than those of the author above quoted.
For//r j^ anyone who is o'endered comatose in ipso peccati actu
cannot be absolved; though per accidens if such a one, for
example, were suffering from alcoholic mania, and after his linger-
ing awhile there were reasonable grounds for supposing sorrow
for sin, though not clearly manifested, a priest, he says, is not to
be condenmed for giving conditional absolution.

Interesting are the words of Scavini, Tract. X, disp. i. Cap. Ill,
Art II, sec. 2, page 126: "Si nulla signa dedit, negant moribun-

Digitized by



dum absolvendum esse (ne sub. cond. quidem) Abelly, Busem-
baum, Layman ac Lugo. Sed probabilior et hodie etiam commu-
nior sententia cum Billuart, Cardenas, Concina, Croix, Juvenin,
etc., contrarium tenetur, quamvis moribundus ille non ita Christiane
vixerit. Clare id docet Augustinus, qui didt, ' quae baptismatis,
eadem reconciliationis est causa, si forte poenitentes finiendae
vitae periculum, praeoccupaverit ; nee ipsos enim ex hac vita
sine arrha suae pads exire velle debet mater ecdesiae.* Tunc
enim prudens adest dubium, quod infirmus vel ante sensuum
destitutionem, vel post in aliquo lucido intervallo advertens dam-
nadonis suae periculum velit et petat absolutionem signis vere
sensibilibus, uti sunt suspiria, motus corporis, anxietas respirationis,
etc.; licet a praesentibus non perdpiantur, quod quidem aliquando
contigisse narrant."

The author then explains that in such a contingency, sighing,
restlessness, and the like, may be taken as signs of repentance
suffident to warrant absolution, and quotes the well-known dictum
of Augustine: "Sacramenta sint propter hominem, non homo
propter Sacramenta : et satius sit dare nolenti quam negare vo-
lenti.'* Again, with regard to those becoming unconscious in ipso
acta peccati, he says : " Plerique satis probabiliter cum Cardenas,
Gormaz, Holzman, Pontio, etc., cum aiunt adhuc esse absolvendum
sub condltione, modo constet fuisse Catholicum— quia de quolibet
potest esse praesumptio, quod si unquam rationis usu donetur,
optet omni modo damnationem vitare." — But let us consult a more
recent authority. Father Lehmkuhl, pag. 107, Vol.^II, De extrema
unctione, 577, 3, states: "Quare excludi non debent ab extrema
unctione (i) sensibus destituti, qui parum Christiane vixerunt;
(2) neque qui ipso actu peccati, signo poenitentiae non manifesto,
sensibus destituuntur : quibus quamquam S. Eucharistia danda non
est, tamen cum conditionata absolutione extrema unctio onmino
concedenda est. Nam si forte internum actum attritionis miser
peccator habuit, longe tutius, imo certo ejus salus procurabitur
per unctionem, per absolutionem valde dubie." Worthy of atten-
tion are the words which appear at page 365, sec. 5 14, De moribun-
dis sensibus destitutis :

" Verum homo eo ipso, quod Christiane vixit, imo eo ipso
quod ostendit, se velle vivere et mori in unione cum Christi ecde-

Digitized by



sia, satis videtur ostendere desiderium suum, quo velit pro ultimo
vitae tempore per sacerdotis ministerium reconciliationem cum
Deo sibi forte necessariam recipere. Ergo vere aliquam accusatio-
nem generalem publicam fecit, eamque ad totam ecclesiam omnes-
que sacerdotes a quibus absolvi possit. Neque talis desiderii
aliqualis manifestatio deest in eo qui parum Christiane vixit, vel in
ipso etiam peccato sensibus esse destitutus videtur ; nam eo quod
mansit in ecclesia ostendit, se sperare et cupere, ut in ultimo vitae
tempore per ecclesiam cum Deo reconcilietur."

To sum up, therefore, the course of action to be taken by a
priest when called to a dying man who has become unconscious
in the commission of a gravely sinful act, would seem to be clear.
Though such a one should have lived a careless Catholic life,
provided he has not renounced his faith, he should be condition-
ally absolved and anointed.

I have given citations from different authors at some length,
because I think that they throw light on the third phase of the
original question concerning the administration of the Sacraments
to one who has become unconscious after positively refusing all
priestly ministration. In this last case it must be observed there
is not even an habitual or interpretative intention of receiving the
Sacraments at the time of unconsciousness ; there is, rather, an
intention to the contrary. What, then, must be done in this case ?
Let us go, again, to Father Lehmkuhl. After explaining how a
person is to be dealt with who being unconscious can give no sign
of sorrow or external manifestation equivalent to accusation of sin,
he goes on to say {De moribundis, pag. 365, sect. 3, no. 515):
" Haec explicatio excluditur utique in eo, qui antea sacerdotem
repulit, dein sensibus destitutus reperitur. Quem igitur ut absol-
vere possis, ad aliud recurrere debes, nimirum aut ad aliquam, ctsi
dubiam, declarationem mutatae mentis coram aliis factam, aut ad
signum aliquod, quod fortasse pro doloris manifestatione sumi
potest, sive aliis sive sacerdoti datum, ut pressio manuum, oculo-
rum obtutus, suspiria, etc. Quorum si aliquod etsi dubie, adest,
absolutio conditionata tentanda est.'*

What should be done by a priest in the case we are consider-
ing would depend, we think, upon whether the dying man never
regains consciousness ; whether he has momentary consciousness,
or recovers his senses for a period, say, of five or ten minutes.

Digitized by



The first supposition presents no difficulty. For the man is
dying in manifesto peccato morUiIisLnd therefore cannot be absolved.
To absolve such would be " dare sancta cantbus** or, in other
words, to cast pearls before swine. But were there a momentary
gleam of consciousness, the case would seem to be different so fiur
as the mode of procedure on the part of the priestly ministrant is
concerned. Did the priest know that the dying man before him
had at any time practised his religion, then we think he should
have the benefit of the probability that he would turn his heart to
God, if only for a moment The fact of regaining consciousness
even momentarily would furnish reasonable gfrounds of hope that
there was a change of mind, in sighs, or looks not observable by
those about him, which would justify conditional absolution and
Extreme Unction. For as Kenrick would refuse absolution to one
becoming insensible in ipso actu peccati mortaUs, and yet would
not disallow conditional absolution in the case of a drunkard who
after lingering awhile had a partial clearing of the mind — so when
there is practical certainty of a lucid interval a priest would be
justified in acting on the broad and elastic principle of Augustine,
" Sacramenta propter homines." Did, however, the dying man
recover consciousness sufficiently long to ask for the priest, if
absent, or give evidence to bystanders of a change of mind — ^and
no such sign Mras forthcoming — then, equally with the case of one
never regaining consciousness, absolution and Extreme Unction
must be denied, since ** non licet dare sancta canibus."

We will conclude this paper with the consideration of the ques-
tion as to whether the last blessing should be repeated after the
recovery of consciousness, when it was imparted to one in a state
of coma which made the invocation of the Holy Name impossible
even mentally. To answer this question it is necessary to bear in
mind the wording of the decree relating to this matter. The
decree S. Cong, of Ind., Sept. 23, 1775, and Sept 22, 1892, runs
thus : " Invocatio saltem mentalis S.Smi Nominis Jesu est condi-
tio sine qua non pro universis Christifidelibus qui in mortis arti-
culo constituti plenariam indulgentiam assequi volunt vi hujus
benedictionis." It will be noticed that this decree does not state
that the invocation of the Holy Name is essential to the valid
imparting of the blessing, but is a sine qua condition for the gain-

Digitized by



ing of the Plenary Indulgence in the moment of death. Now the
indulgence in question, as Lehmkuhl points out, remains sus-
pended until death ensues. The logical conclusion would seem to
be, therefore, that provided the Holy Name be invoked any time
between the imparting of the blessing and the moment of death,
the Plenary Indulgence is gained ; wherefore there is no reason
why the blessing should be repeated after the person, in the case
we suppose, regained consciousness and was able to invoke the
Holy Name. The invocation of the Holy Name as an essential
condition for gaining the Plenary Indulgence is on all fours with,
say, the last fulfilment of a prescribed condition for gaining the
Jubilee Indulgence. What is required is that the last obligation
be discharged in a state of grace. But, further, it is clear from
Konings-Putzer's Commentarium in Fac, 1897, p. 258, and Resp.
S. C. Ind., 12 Martii 1855, ^ well as from the Analecta, May,
1894, p. 223, that the state of grace is not essential to the valid
imparting of the blessing ; a fortiori^ therefore, the invocation of
the Holy Name is not essential to the valid bestowal of the last
blessing ; and as we would not repeat the blessing because it was
given to one at the time in mortal sin, neither would a priest
re-impart the last blessing because a person at the time it was
bestowed was unable to invoke the Holy Name mentally or orally.

Alfred Manning Mulugan.
Birmingham^ England,


FATHER SHEEHAN is a retiring man. But his work has
gone out into the world, and created for him a personality
quite different from that of the earnest student who combines with
his love for books the fervent zeal of the parish priest, careful of
the poor and the sick and of the little children of his village who
realize their spiritual father's deep sympathy for them.

Of this public personality we may speak without intrusion upon
those rights of domestic privacy, to which every man of noble
instincts lays claim. And what we would say of it is briefly told.
It is this : Father Sheehan's work is not simply to be read ; it is

Digitized by



worthy of being studied, of being analyzed, as it reflects the dif-
ferent moods of his soul, and reveals the inner purpose of his
observations. He does not write the modem novel with its plots
calculated in the first order to entice the curious imagination. He
rather paints us pictures that have a charm of coloring and a real
meaning for us — pictures like those of *' Father Dan " or of
"Dolores*' in My New Curate, or of little "Ursula" in The
Triumph of Failure, or of " Herr Messing " and " Father Rector "
in Geoffrey Austin : Student,

But, after all, these figures which linger in the memory are not
the real story ; they are part of the stage setting to make us under-
stand the moral, the philosophy, the deep lessons of practical life
which are to be derived from the unconscious analysis of the mo-
tives and providences that are woven into the tapestry of human
history, or rather which direct the action of the shuttle that passes
life's threads from one side of the web to the other. Father
Sheehan is essentially a tendency writer. Like Dickens and
Thackeray, though in a different way, he teaches with a definite
purpose to bring home to our understanding certain fundamental
truths and cautions.

For five years almost without interruption, Father Sheehan's
best work has appeared in these pages. My New Curate alone,
after running serially through the numbers of the Review, had a
sale, when published in book form, of more than twenty-eight
thousand copies in less than two years. Luke Delmege followed,
creating similar interest, not only among Catholic readers, but also
in the literary world, where thought is valued, at large. Now
comes the new serial, Under the Cedars and the Stars, and among
those who read not merely to be amused by plots and pictures of
fairy tales or invented stories, this book is finding its just appre-
ciation. Perhaps the readers of The Ecclesiastical Review
will say : Why do you not publish Under the Cedars and the Stars
in The Ecclesiastical Review? We answer: first, because the
new serial is of a character which finds more ready reception
among the thoughtful laity than among the average missionary
clergy, who form the great bulk of the readers of The Ecclesi-
astical Review. It is no disparagement of the high-minded-
ness, the spirit of self-sacrifice, and the zeal for souls which ani-

Digitized by



mate the greater part of our working priests to say that they
prefer to read that which appeals to their practical sense and
applies to their common-day pastoral work. We must of course
treat, as belonging to the special province of an ecclesiastical
magazine, those topics of theological science and moral practice
which fall in with the line of professional and vocational duties to
which we are pledged. But beyond this field, embracing dogma,
morals, canon law, church history, liturgy, and ecclesiastical art,
we should not often go, unless, as in the case of a purely clerical
serial, like My New Curate, the articles are nothing else than pas-
toral theology in popular disguise. In this role we trust Father
Sheehan will soon appear again in the Review. In the mean-
time The Dolphin is actually being read by many priests who,
having a taste and the opportunity for study in the literature of
observation, either subscribe for, or see the magazine on the
library tables in their parishes.

And here we must confess to a design with some malice pre-
pense. We believe that The Dolphin helps the clergy in their
pastoral work, not only by interpreting the rites and ceremonies,
the motives and aspirations of our holy Mother Church, but also
by raising the literary and educational standard among the faith-
ful. We have too often explained the purpose of The Dolphin,
which is now in many respects a magazine superior to The Eccle-
siastical Review, because it is less professional, and appeals to
a broader sense of Catholic culture.

Some of our wealthy Catholics say it is too high for them,
too high in its style, and too high in price. They would rather
read something with pictures in it, and cheaper. Well, to these
we have no appeal to make ; their money will go for opera tickets
and concerts, and drives, and parties, in which, if literature is at
all mentioned, it is probably by way of criticism that " Catholics
have not any education or style, or books or magazines worth
reading." But most priests know better. They have a care to
raise their people by opening libraries and reading-circles, and by
assisting movements for the promotion of art and letters ; and
they want to elevate the educational tone of their people. These
read and propagate The Dolphin for the same reason that makes
them recommend a good book. If it be a trifle high, it is because of

Digitized by



the good material which will raise the aspirations, refine the tastes
of its readers, and make them, as a thoughtful editor of one of
our leading journals says, " proud of having a Catholic magazine
that vies with the best in any other field of letters and art"

But we meant to speak of Father Sheehan. Perhaps there is
no better way of recommending the reading of Under the Cedars
and the Stars than by giving some extracts from the current num-
ber of The Dolphin. They happen to have special application
to the priestly calling ; ordinarily, they refer to life in its intellec-
tual and moral aspects generally. These following paragraphs,
however, are typical, and will make known the trend and char-
acter of the sketches, and they will perchance convince one or
another among our readers that they do not expend in vain their
energy, or even their surplus mite, if they devote it to the spread
of good literature by making The Dolphin accessible to an ever-
increasing circle of readers.


What a wonderful camera is the mind ! The sensitized plate
can only catch the material picture painted by the sunlight The
tabula rasa of the mind can build or paint its own pictures from
the black letters of a book. Here is a little series that crossed the
diorama of imagination this afternoon. A great bishop, reading
his own condemnation from his pulpit, and setting fire with his
own hand to a pile of his own books there upon the square of his
cathedral at Cambrai; and then constructing out of all his wealth
a monstrance of gold, the foot of which was a model of his
condemned book, which he thus placed under the feet of Christ,
so that every time he gave Benediction, he proclaimed his own


Number two picture is that of a great preacher of world-wide
reputation, going down into the crypts of the cathedral that was
still echoing with the thunders of his eloquence ; and whilst the
enthusiastic audience was filing from the doors, and every lip was
murmuring : " Marvellous !" " Wonderful," "Unequalled," strip-
ping himself bare and scourging his shoulders with the bitter
discipline, until it became clogged with his blood, he murmur-

»From ''Usder the Cedars and the Stars,'* The Dolphin, December, 1902.

Digitized by



ing, as each lash fell : ^^ Miserere meiy Deus, secundum magnam
ndsericordiam tuamr

Number three is that of a lowly village church, hidden away
from civilization in a low-lying valley in the south of France. It
is crowded, it is always crowded, night and day ; and the air is
thick with the respiration of hundreds of human beings, who
linger and hover about the place, as if they could not tear them-
selves away. No wonder! There is a saint here. He is the
attraction. It is evening. The Angelus has just rung. And a
pale, withered, shrunken figure emerges from the sacristy and
stands at the altar rails. Insignificant, old, ignorant, his feeble
voice scarcely reaches the front bench. There is seated an
attentive listener, drinking in with avidity the words of this old
parish priest. He is clothed in black and white. He is the
mighty preacher of Notre Dame, and he sits, like a child, at the
feet of M. Vianney.

Number four is a lonely chateau, hidden deep in the woods
of France, away from civilization. It has an only occupant — a
lonely man. He wanders all day from room to room, troubled
and ill at ease. His mind is a horrible burden to himself. He is

Online LibraryCatholic University of AmericaAmerican ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 → online text (page 70 of 78)