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BR 45 .H363 v. 17
Whelpton, H. Urling.
The sacrament of penance



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EDITED BY THE REV. W. J. SPARROW SIMPSON, D.D.



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE



HANDBOOKS OF
CATHOLIC FAITH AND PRACTICE

Cloth, each 2s. 6d. net.

INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF MORAL THEOLOGY.

By the Rev. F. G. Belton, B.A.
MONASTICISM. By the Rev. Father Dents, M.A.
CHURCH MUSIC. By the Rev. A. S. Duncan- Jones, M.A.

SOME DEFECTS IN ENGLISH RELIGION. By the Rev. J.
Neville Figgis, D.D,

THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.

SACRIFICE, JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN. By the Rev. S. C.
Gayford, MA.

THE DOCTRINE OF THE MINISTRY. By the Rev. H. F.

Hamilton, D.D.
CATHOLIC OR ROMAN CATHOLIC? By the Rev. T. J.

Hardy, M.A.

CONSCIENCE OF SIN. By the Rev. T. A. Lacey, M.A.

THE LATER TRACTARIANS.'By the Rev.Can. S. L. Ollard.M.A.

THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. By the Rev. H. Leonard
Pass, M.A.

RECENT FRENCH TENDENCIES. By the Rev. G. C. Rawlin-
son, M.A.

CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTIST. By R. Ellis Roberts.
THE PRAYER OF CONSECRATION. By the Rev. W. J.

Sparrow Simpson. Introduction by the Lord Bishop of

Oxford.

THE RESERVED SACRAMENT. By the Rev. Darwell
Stone, D.D.

EUCHARISTIC SACRIFICE. By the Rev. Darwell Stone,
D.D.

THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE. By the Rev. H. U.
Whelpton, M.A.

THE EPISCOPATE AND THE REFORMATION. By the
Rev. Professor J. P. Whitney, D.D.

THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH.

LONDON : ROBERT SCOTT,
Roxburghe House, Paternoster Row, E.C.



THE SACRAMENT



OF PENANCE







oc^






THE REV. H. URLINGWHELPTON,M.A

Vicar of S. Saviour's, Eastbourne.



LONDON: ROBERT SCOTT

ROXBURGHE HOUSE
PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:

THE YOUNG CHURCHMAN CO.,
MILWAUKEE, WIS.

M CMXVI I
All rights reserved



INTRODUCTION

^HpHE reader will note that in the

-"■ following pages the treatment of the

subject is pastoral rather than scholarly,

and far more colloquial than literary. I

have merely attempted to reply to the

questions which persons so often ask

about the Sacrament of Penance by trying

to formulate the results of some few years

of experience both as penitent and as

priest. I have been obliged to touch

upon several highly controversial points,

but I trust that I have not done so in any

controversial spirit; and I hope to be

pardoned all the imperfections and errors

which will be found in this effort to handle

so great and so solemn a theme.

H. U. W.
v



CONTENTS



I
Why we Confess .



PAGE



• •



II

What we Confess 25

III

Before we Confess 38

IV
How we Confess 53

V

After we Confess ..... 65

VI

The Priest's Attitude towards Sin . 76

VII

The Meaning of Forgiveness . . 84

VIII
The Nature of Sin .... 94

IX

The Unchecked Results of Sin . . 107

vii



THE SACRAMENT OF
PENANCE

i

Why we Confess

" While I held my tongue, my bones consumed
away through my daily complaining." Psalms
xxxii. 3.

BEFORE we proceed to consider
the Sacrament of Penance in par-
ticular, just a few introductory thoughts
about Sacraments in general.

Man consists of two parts : the visible
part called body, and the invisible part
called soul ; therefore religion, being
intended for the entire man and not
for any one part of him, is concerned

9



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

with body and soul alike. The body,
we believe, does not exist for its own
sake ; it exists so as to provide avenues
of communication for the soul. Through
the body the soul receives impressions
from and expresses intentions to the
outside world. This is true of every
department of life, and when we come
to apply this general truth to the special
instance of religion we get the Sacra-
ments.

Looking back to early Christian
writers and primitive liturgies, we find
the number of Sacraments not limited
to two, or even to seven, but used con-
cerning almost any outward act and
ordinance of religion. In the Latin
Bible " Sacrament " was the transla-
tion of the Greek word " Mystery,'' so
that wherever in the New Testament
we find the word " Mystery " early

10



' WHY WE CONFESS

Churchmen in Rome, and elsewhere,
read the word " Sacrament. " St. Paul,
for example, says, " Great is the mys-
tery of godliness. God manifest in the
flesh " : therefore the Incarnation was
frequently called a Sacrament. Again,
St. Paul says concerning Holy Matri-
mony, " It is a great mystery,' ' and that
was the origin of marriage being counted
among the Sacraments. St. Cyprian
refers to the practice of Morning and
Evening Prayer as a Sacrament. The
sign of the cross, the use of holy water,,
the reading of the Gospel, all these were
called Sacraments, besides many other
pious customs. This is the first historic
stage of the use of the word " Sacra-
ment " in the Church : it was used in a
very loose and wide sense to denote any
outward and visible sign of inward and
spiritual grace given unto us.

ii



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

In the second historic stage we find
the number of the Sacraments definitely
fixed at seven. The first writer who
speaks of the Seven Sacraments is Peter
Lombard, an Italian monastic author
of the twelfth century. It was charac-
teristic of this period to arrange every-
thing according to some neat and sym-
metrical formula, and the number seven
was a special favourite as being the per-
fect number. But the number of seven
applied to the Sacraments is not of
really ancient authority ; it commenced
in a period nearer to our own date than
to the date of Christ and the Apostles.

Then, for us in England, we come to
a third age, when the number of Sacra-
ments seems to be narrowed down from
seven to two. But notice how in each
case the number of the Sacraments is
reduced. It is not a matter of actual

12



WHY WE CONFESS

practice, but only of definition, (i)
When the number of Sacraments was
reduced to seven, it did not mean that
any of these things, the sign of the cross,
or use of holy water, or Morning and
Evening Prayer, or reading the Gospels,
were discontinued : it only meant that
they were no longer called Sacraments.
Therefore (ii) when the number of
Sacraments was further reduced in the
English Prayer Book from seven to two,
it does not mean that the remaining
five are to be discontinued : it only
means that the name Sacrament is to
have a more exclusive use ; it is to be
reserved for cases in which it is definitely
recorded in the New Testament that
the outward and visible sign was or-
dained by Christ Himself. It is not
recorded that our Blessed Lord ordained
Confirmation, Holy Orders, and Anoint-

13



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

ing of the Sick, though it is natural
to suppose that He did. Holy Matri-
mony had been ordained in the time of
man's innocency, long centuries before
the Incarnation. Although our Blessed
Lord conferred the power of the keys,
He ordained, so far as we know, no out-
ward form for the ministry of Absolu-
tion. Therefore these five " commonly
called Sacraments " are distinguished in
rank, by the compilers of our Prayer
Book, from the two Sacraments of the
Gospel.

But whether we are, with the Cate-
chism, apparently to count only two
Sacraments, or whether, like Medieva-
lists, we are to speak of seven Sacra-
ments, or whether, like the primitive
Church, we may talk of any number of
Sacraments, all this is, after all, only a
matter of words ; there is no matter of

14



WHY WE CONFESS

principle at stake. No one, e.g., would
read the Gospels any the less reverently
or devotionally because such reading
was once called a Sacrament but now is
called so no longer ; and the same thing
is true of many other edifying customs
which are outward and visible signs of
inward and spiritual grace given unto
us. The great purpose of all Sacra-
ments is to be channels of grace. Each
of them is a means whereby we receive
grace ; a pledge to assure us of grace.
In other ways we may, and often do,
receive grace from God. But in the
Sacraments we must, provided only that
we approach them with the proper in-
terior disposition. The abundant tor-
rent of Divine grace is constantly over-
flowing its channels. But you cannot
always, in every case, make sure that
it will. Therefore, if you want the

15



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

grace of God, the safe and sure way to
get it is to seek for grace in the coven-
anted means of grace, the Sacraments of
Holy Church.

So far about the Sacraments in general.
Now about the Sacrament of Penance
in particular. The purpose of this Sacra-
ment is that the penitent may, in the
words of the Prayer Book, " receive the
benefit of Absolution together with
ghostly counsel and advice : to the
quieting of his conscience, and avoiding
of all scruple and doubtfulness.' ' Abso-
lution means (i) the official expression
of the Church's judgment, that a certain
person is fit to receive Holy Communion.
But then the only possible hindrance to
this fitness is mortal sin unrepented,
therefore unforgiven. Therefore Abso-
lution means (ii) that in the Church's
judgment this person's repentance is

16



WHY WE CONFESS

adequate and sufficient : it is the utmost
he can possibly do in the way of repent-
ance, therefore his sins are forgiven by
God, Who forgives the sins of all them
that are penitent. This judgment has
always been exercised in the Church in
reliance upon the commission of Christ
Himself : " Whatsoever ye shall loose
on earth shall be loosed in heaven " ;
and again, " Whosesoever sins ye remit,
they are remitted unto them."

There are three views as to the meaning
of these words of Christ : (i) 'that Christ
meant what He said, and that the words
are true ; (ii) that Christ meant what
He said, and that the words are one of
the mistakes of Christ ; (iii) that Christ
did not mean what He said, but that the
words must be explained away into
meaning something else : it does not
matter much what : anything or every-

17 B



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

thing except their plain and obvious
sense. The Church has always held the
first of these views ; the Unitarians
naturally hold the second ; other Protes-
tant Dissenters, except the Unitarians,
liave invented the third. I can under-
stand the Church's view, and I believe
it ; I can understand the Unitarian view,
though I do not believe it ; the third
view I can neither believe nor understand,
because it amounts to this : that the
Eternal Wisdom of God came and spake
words such as never man yet spake, in
order that those words might be ex-
plained away !

The commission to remit or retain sins
was originally given by our Blessed
Tord not to any particular order of the
ministry, but to the Church at large ;
therefore, in cases of emergency, lay
people have given absolution, notably

18



WHY WE CONFESS

in the Middle Ages and on the battlefield,
when dying soldiers used to confess to
one another and absolve one another.
But normally an organized body can act
only through its duly authorized and
accredited agents. This is true of all
organized bodies, true of the State, true
of the Church, and Absolution has been
universally held to be the prerogative of
the priesthood ; therefore, in the Service
of Ordination to the Priesthood, our
Blessed Lord's words are applied per-
sonally by the ordaining Bishop to each
new priest he ordains : " Whose sins thou
dost forgive, they are forgiven; whose
sins thou dost retain, they are retained. "
Therefore in the ministry of Absolu-
tion there are two things to be distin-
guished : (i) the general power of for-
giveness residing in the Catholic Church,
the mystical Body of Christ ; (ii) the

19



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

special authority to exercise this power
committed at his Ordination to each in-
dividual priest. This distinction is care-
fully preserved in the only form of sacra-
mental absolution contained in the
Prayer Book : " Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who hath left power to His Church to
absolve all sinners who truly repent and
believe in Him, of His great mercy for-
give thee thine offences. " That is the
first thing ; then comes the second :
" By His authority committed to me, I
absolve thee from all thy sins. ,,

This was precisely the position of St.
Paul when he absolved a certain Corin-
thian after a grievous sin : "I forgave
it in the Person of Christ,' ' i.e. not in
any private or personal capacity, but as
being the appointed mouthpiece, for the
purpose, of Holy Church, the mystical
Body of Christ.

20



WHY WE CONFESS

The effect of Absolution is further
defined in the Prayer Book to be " the
avoiding of all scruple and doubtful-
ness.' ' We know that God forgives the
sins of all them that are penitent, there-
fore there is no room for doubtfulness
about God. Perfect contrition, all theo-
logians have agreed, is always enough to
secure God's forgiveness. Where scruple
and doubtfulness come in is not about
God, but about ourselves. We may well
wonder how far our own contrition is
perfect, or our repentance is genuine,
especially in view of frequent and dis-
couraging relapses ; whether we are
doing everything possible, not leaving a
stone unturned to secure deeper contri-
tion and surer amendment ; how far we
dare trust again our own judgment about
ourselves, which certainly deceived us
when it led us into sin.

21



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

For my own part I can only say that
the more I contemplate the bewildering
contradictions of my own heart and con-
science, the more occasion I find for
scruple and doubtfulness. Not because
I doubt for a moment that God pardons
the penitent, but because I find in myself
so many things so inconsistent with real
penitence that I simply dare not take
my own pardon for granted, and pro-
nounce, as it were, my own Absolution.
Looking back many years, to the time
before I went to confess, I can see now
that I never understood that article of
the Creed, " I believe in the forgiveness
of sins." This has been my own experi-
ence. This, or something very much
like it, I am always being told, is the ex-
perience of many souls. That is why we
confess. We have some idea of what the
Christian life ought to be like ; and then

22



WHY WE CONFESS

we look at our own lives : " the scanty
triumphs grace hath won : the broken
vow, the frequent fall." True, indeed.,
that the Prodigal Son was pardoned
when he returned to the father's home,,
but suppose he afterwards wandered
away again, and yet again ? In the face
of so much earthliness, weakness, and
inconsistency, how can I be sure of the
things that belong unto my peace ?
" Then thought I to understand this :
but it was too hard for me " ; " While I
held my tongue, my bones consumed
away through my daily complaining " ;
" But while I was thus musing the fire
kindled ; and at last I spake with my
tongue ! " The dark spell of lonely
silence is broken ; I learn that nothing
has befallen me but what is common to
men ; the same afflictions are accom-
plished in our brethren which are in the

23



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

world. I listen to a judgment which is,
at all events, calmer and clearer than
any mere self -judgment can ever be ;
and then, far more precious than this
natural human sympathy, there comes
the gift of supernatural Divine grace,
the inestimable benefit of Absolution.



24



II

What we Confess

" Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth
speaketh." St. Matthew xii. 34.

PUBLIC speakers have been divided
into two classes. There is the
man who has something to say ; there
is the man who has to say something.
Possibly, from time to time, you have
noted this difference in the pulpit. In
Parliament the distinction has become
quite familiar, (i) A responsible min-
ister rises to make an important state-
ment of policy. Here is the man with
something to say. The House is
crowded, and everybody listens with

25



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

strained attention. (ii) Later on, a
member rises to speak, because the party
whip has told him that, for tactical
reasons, he positively must fill up twenty
minutes by talking. Here is the man
who has to say something. The House
rapidly empties itself, until the attend-
ance is reduced to a bare minimum.

The same distinction exists between
people who come to Confession. The
penitential discipline of modern Rome
is addressed to those who have to say
something. Confession must be made
before every Communion, and the mini-
mum for the laity is once a year, though
greater frequency is encouraged. In
seminaries the students for the ministry
are told that they ought to confess once
a week at least. Better still if they
come on every alternate day ; and fur-
ther, if they find no new sins on their

26



WHAT WE CONFESS

consciences committed since their last
Absolution, they are advised to rake up
some old sins out of the past (sins already
absolved) to make material for their next
confession ; because it is morally certain
that those old sins must have left some
poisonous remains down in the depths
of their hearts.

All this sounds, to our ears, horribly
forced and artificial. But then you must
necessarily become forced and artificial
if you have once started with the idea
that you have to say something.

The Church of England takes the
opposite line. It addresses the invita-
tion to Confession not to those who must
say something at certain stated inter-
vals, but to those who have something to
say. The Confession is to be valued not
because it is made in mechanical obedi-
ence to certain ingenious and casuistical

27



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

rules, but because it is natural and spon-
taneous, because, in the case of every
penitent when kneeling to make Confes-
sion, " out of the abundance of the heart
the mouth speaketh." All this is brought
out clearly in the words of the Prayer
Book invitation to Confession. It pro-
fesses to address those only who " can-
not quiet their own consciences/' This
is what we have already considered.
Why we confess is because we hesitate
to trust our own judgment about the
completeness and adequacy of our repent-
ance. There are certain reasons we find
in ourselves which make us distrust our
own self -judgment : therefore whenever
we " cannot quiet our own consciences/'
we must have something to say when we
give these reasons for self-distrust ; they
are what we confess.

In another place the Prayer Book en-

28



WHAT WE CONFESS

joins special Confession on a sick per-
son "if he feel his conscience troubled
with any weighty matter/ ■ There is
no definition as to what kind or degree of
sin does or does not constitute " weighty
matter.' ' This is left for the penitent to
decide ; and consciences differ consider-
ably. A man may deem a weighty
matter what to another is only a trifling
slip or an every day occurrence ; it de-
pends partly upon the standard of holi-
ness to which each soul has felt itself
called ; it depends partly upon the depth
of " conviction of sin " ; it depends
upon several things. " Let every man
be fully persuaded in his own mind."
But everybody whose " conscience is
troubled with any weighty matter,' ! has
something to say. The " weighty mat-
ter " is what we confess.

But the most expressive phrase of the

29



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

Prayer Book on the subject of Confession
is when the penitent is invited to come
and " open his grief. " How much there
is implied in that short form of words !
A whole history of sin, sorrow, distress,
anxiety, and effort ! If we come to
Confession, there must be some grief for
us to open, otherwise the words are
meaningless so far as we are concerned,
and we are excluded from the scope of
the invitation.

Therefore from the Prayer Book
phrases we can gather how the Sacra-
ment of Penance is placed before us by
the Church in England. It is not im-
posed as a discipline from outside that
everybody, at all costs, must say some-
thing or other. It is offered as an oppor-
tunity and a privilege to those only who
know and feel within themselves that
they have something to say.

30



WHAT WE CONFESS

Supposing that you have some import-
ant question to decide, it makes a great
deal of difference at what precise moment
you are called upon to make your de-
cision. Your mind will be affected, in
coming to any decision, by the consider-
ation you have recently been occupied
with. The Prayer Book specifies the
exact time for deciding whether or not
to come to Confession, and that time is
immediately after a severe and searching
self-examination. The duty of self-
examination is enjoined by the Prayer
Book in the strongest possible terms ; not
as a matter of choice, but as an absolute
and vital necessity before every Com-
munion. Communicants who approach
the Altar without any self-examination,
are compared to Judas Iscariot at the
Last Supper and the First Eucharist.
It is only after this serious self-examina-

3i



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

tion, the Prayer Book says, " according
to the rule of God's Commandments/ '
that we are in a position to decide
whether God intends the Sacrament of
Penance for us ourselves, or only for
other people, not so good as we are. It
is my duty as a parish priest (the Prayer
Book says, before every Communion)
to " exhort you to search and examine
your own consciences, and that not
lightly and after the manner of dissem-
blers with God." It is, further, my
duty, as a parish priest, to provide every
facility for those who wish to " open
their grief." It is also probably my
duty, as a penitent, to let you know my
own personal experience of the value of
the Sacrament of Penance, in the spirit
of the psalmist, " Come hither and
hearken, all ye that fear God : and I
will tell you what He hath done for my

32



WHAT WE CONFESS

soul." But at this point my responsi-
bility ceases, and yours begins. It is not
my duty to come and rout you out, one
by one, and press you to come to Con-
fession. I never have done anything
like this in my life, and I hope that I can
safely say that I never shall. Supposing,
for a moment, that I were to do such a
thing, it is to be feared that some people
would be found misguided enough to
come to Confession for the totally inade-
quate reason that I had recommended it.
But these victims of my rash impor-
tunity would come on entirely wrong
grounds. The whole thing would be
forced and artificial, instead of natural
and spontaneous. They would come for
the false reason because, as they sup-
posed, they had to say something, in-
stead of for the true reason, because they
quite certainly had something to say.

33 c



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

Remember always that the Church of
England presupposes, in all her com-
municants, a habit of the most solemn
self-examination, and further she tells
us that the time to think about Confes-
sion is not when it is suggested to us by
this or that person from outside, but
when we are confronted in the sight of
God with the results of our self-examina-
tion. These humiliating results are what
we confess.

We confess our sins, not other people's
sins, but strictly and exclusively our own
sins. We don't confess our temptations
nor our general imperfections, nor our
grievances, nor our sentiments, but just
our sins. Sins are the only things that
really matter to anybody who is striving
after true repentance. " I acknowledge
my transgressions, and my sin is ever
before me," and then " out of the abun-

34



WHAT WE CONFESS

dance of the heart the mouth speaketh.'*
Every sin has a name, and the purpose
of every name, whether of a sin or of
anything else, is to avoid all laborious
and minute description. There is only
one thing that matters, in Confession,
about a sin, and that is its sinfulness :
how far it was committed against know-
ledge and against grace ; how far it was
obstinate and deliberate, or else almost
unintentional ; whether it occurs habit-
ually and often, or else at rare intervals,
or perhaps once only.

It is only the spiritual aspect of the sin
that matters in Confession. Everything
else is irrelevant. Any attempt at a
detailed " reconstruction,' ' or any dwell-
ing upon outward aspects, would gener-
ally be unspeakably morbid and mis-
chievous, and quite inconsistent with
the penitential frame of mind ; " the

35



THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

remembrance of them is grievous unto
us." The outward surroundings of a sin
are not part of its sinfulness, therefore


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