Choose a topic from Vol 1:


God's existence known by reason
Nature of God
Providence of God and Problem of Evil


Nature of man
Existence and nature of the soul
Immortality of the soul
Destiny of the soul
Freewill of man


Nature of religion
Necessity of religion

The Religion of the Bible

Natural religion
Revealed religion
Mysteries of religion
Value of the Gospels
Inspiration of the Bible
Old Testament difficulties
New Testament difficulties

The Christian Faith

The religion of the Jews
Truth of Christianity
Nature and necessity of faith

A Definite Christian Faith

Conflicting Churches
Are all one Church?
Is one religion as good as another?
The fallacy of indifference

The Failure of Protestantism

Protestantism erroneous
Greek Orthodox Church
Salvation Army
Witnesses of Jehovah
Christian Science
Catholic intolerance

The Truth of Catholicism

Nature of the Church
The true Church
Hierarchy of the Church
The Pope
Temporal power
Outside the Church no salvation

The Catholic Church and the Bible

Not opposed to the Bible
The reading of the Bible
Protestants and the Bible
Bible Only a false principle
The necessity of Tradition
The authority of the Catholic Church

The Church and Her Dogmas

Dogmatic truth
Development of dogma
Dogma and reason
The Holy Trinity
Grace and salvation
The Sacraments
Holy Eucharist
The Sacrifice of the Mass
Holy Communion
Extreme Unction
The Millenium
Prayer for the Dead
The resurrection of the body
The general Judgment
The End of the World

The Church in Her Moral Teachings

Mental restriction
Ecclesiastical censures
Index of Prohibited Books
The Inquisition
Catholic Intolerance
Protestant services
Prohibition of drink
Sunday Observance
Convent life
Mixed Marriages
Birth control

The Church in Her Worship

Holy Water
Sign of the Cross
Liturgical ceremonial
Spiritual Healing
The use of Latin
Devotion to Mary
The Rosary
The Angelus
Devotion to the Saints
The worship of relics

The Church and Social Welfare

Poverty of Catholics
Catholic and Protestant countries
The Church and education
The Social Problem
The Church and Capitalism
The Church and the Worker


823. What is Confession?

Confession is a Sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ by which those who fall into sin after Baptism may be restored to God's grace. Confession is called the Sacrament of Penance because it supposes that the recipient is truly repentant of his sins. It involves the admission of one's sins made to a duly approved Priest in order to obtain absolution.

824. All men are equal. How can a Priest set himself above others and presume to be their judge?

All men equally share a common humanity, but not all are equal in office and responsibility. Also no man could have the right to set himself above others in this matter. If Christ had not endowed His Priests with power to forgive sin they could not possess it. But He endowed them with this power, and they forgive sin not in their own name but in the name of Christ. A criminal has to answer to the state for his crimes against civil law. How then can a fellow citizen act as judge and pass sentence upon him? In his official capacity he is delegated by the state and acts in the name of the state. Now Christ died to pay the price of our sins and He surely has the right to say how forgiveness shall be applied. We cannot deny the right of Christ to administer forgiveness through agents of His own choosing, nor can we insist that He must forgive us on our conditions whilst we ignore His conditions.

825. We Protestants believe that God alone can forgive sin.

And that is the Catholic teaching also. But the question concerns the way in which God has chosen to administer that forgiveness. We Catholics add that God can delegate His power if He wishes, just as the supreme authority in the state can delegate a judge to administer justice. Would you deny to God that power?

826. But can you prove that God did delegate that power to men?

Yes. Christ was God, and in St. Jn. XX., 21-23 we read these remarkable words, "As the Father hath sent Me I also send you. When He said this He breathed on them; and He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." Now Christ's mission was to destroy sin, and He gave that same mission to His Apostles. Knowing that their merely human power as men was quite insufficient, He gave them a special communication of the Holy Spirit for this special work. To say that Christ did not confer a true power to forgive sin is to rob the whole ceremony and the words of Christ of any real meaning. And it was obviously a power to be exercised, Christians applying to the Apostles for forgiveness.

827. Give me one instance where any Apostle ever forgave sin.

St. Paul certainly exercised the power of binding and loosing from sin and the effects of sin in the case of the incestuous Corinthian. In 1 Cor. V., 3, we find him saying, "I have already judged him that hath done so"; and in 2 Cor. II., 10, he justifies his forgiveness of the repentant man by saying, "If I have pardoned anything, I have done it in the person of Christ."

828. I believe that the Apostles received the power, but it was for them only and has not been handed on in the Church.

Christ commissioned His Church to teach all nations till the end of the world. The Apostles had to hand on all essential powers to their successors. And the conditions of salvation must be the same for us as for the first Christians. If those subject to the Apostles had to obtain forgiveness from their fellow men, there is no reason why we should be exempt. We share the same privileges as the early Christians and must have the same obligations. Till the Reformation all Christians went to confession. In the 4th century we find St. Ambrose defending Confession by saying that if a man can forgive sin by baptizing, he claims nothing greater when he claims the power to forgive sin through the Sacrament of Penance. That Priests possessed such power was Christian doctrine in his time and is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Greek Church, which broke away from the Catholic Church in the ninth century, has retained this Apostolic practice. Protestantism gave up the practice in the 16th century because it was uncomfortable and mortifying. But once admit such a principle, and one could abolish every uncomfortable commandment of God.

829. Forgiveness through the mediation of a Priest is opposed to the doctrine that Christ is the only Mediator.

One Mediator redeemed us. The Priest does not redeem us; he is but an accredited agent of the one Mediator. Confession is but one way of applying the mediation of Christ to men even as Baptism is another. And if Baptism is a Sacrament for the destruction of sin which we ourselves did not commit but which we inherit from Adam, another Sacrament is most fitting for the destruction of sins which we do personally commit after our Baptism. Christ certainly thought so, and instituted the Sacrament of Confession. If you believe in one Mediator, so do we; but we listen to that one Mediator and do as He has commanded us.

830. What is wrong with confessing our sins directly to God in prayer?

Since it is God who has been offended, God has the right to lay down the conditions of forgiveness. You cannot insist that God must forgive you on your own conditions. And Christ certainly did not give His Priests power to forgive sin knowing that no one would have to seek forgiveness from Priests at all.

831. Is it possible to secure forgiveness without confessing to a Priest?

Catholics who are unable to find a Priest are forgiven if they make an act of perfect contrition or sorrow, but such an act supposes at least the intention of going to Confession when the opportunity presents itself. For perfect sorrow supposes the will to do God's will. Protestants and other non-Catholics can also secure forgiveness by perfect sorrow, if they are not responsible for their ignorance of the law of Christ. For lack of knowledge would be a condition of true sorrow in those who do not comply with the actual law. Such people would go to Confession if they realized the obligation. But who can know that he has such perfect contrition? Perfect contrition implies a hatred of the sin to be forgiven, not from any motive, but because it has offended God. It implies intense sorrow for having committed it; the will to make full reparation of the harm done; and the firm purpose to avoid committing it again. What certainty has one that he possesses such dispositions? Is his sorrow supernatural? Is his conviction of forgiveness merely self-persuasion; a case of the wish being father to the thought? He has no definite and personal revelation that he is forgiven. Catholics who receive sacramental absolution are at least not left in such doubts and anxieties, for even though their sorrow be not as perfect as it should be, the Sacrament itself will supply for certain defects.

832. But people can simulate sorrow, or deceive the Priest by telling him only so much as they wish.

Catholics know that they cannot deceive God. God uses the Priest as His agent or instrument. Even though the penitent have not supreme sorrow, yet he must be genuinely sorry and is obliged to confess all grave sins. If he deceives the Priest then, although the Priest utters the words of absolution in good faith, God does not apply the effects of those words to the soul. A Catholic goes to Confession when he wants his sins forgiven. He knows that if he merely pretends sorrow or deceives the Priest in serious matters, not only are none of his sins forgiven, but he goes away with an additional mortal sin of sacrilege. He does not go to Confession for the sheer joy of adding to his sins. If he is not sorry and does not intend to make a genuine Confession, he just stays away and goes on with his sins. Only when sincerely desirous of recovering God's grace does he present himself in the confessional. He is not so foolish as to go through the farce you suggest.

833. Then a Priest can absolve only on certain conditions?

Yes. The penitent must tell fully and sincerely all his serious sins; he must be truly sorry for having committed them; determine to try to avoid them for the future; and promise to make good any injury to others whether by defamation of character or by theft of money or goods.

834. Do not Catholics sin because they know they can get absolution in Confession?

Does a man break his leg because he knows that a doctor can set it? Catholics regard sin as a very great evil and no Catholic thinks that he is morally free to commit any sin, with or without Confession. If he does commit sin he knows that he can get it forgiven provided he repents and determines to try to serve God for the future. Above all he knows that Confession gives him no permission at all to commit the same sins again, and if he has the intention of doing so he knows that the absolution is null and void. Might I ask whether Protestants can sin because they know that they can get forgiveness without Confession? Or it there no forgiveness for Protestants?

835. Confession is like washing a child and letting it play in the mud again.

It is not The Church washes the child and forbids it to play in the mud again. But if it does play in the mud again in spite of the prohibition, of course she is prepared to wash it again if it be truly sorry—as any true mother would do. If readiness to forgive is to be the cause of further sins, what will you say to God who declares that if a man's sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow provided he repents?

836. Even though the Church forbids it, I know a Catholic who does confess and sin again.

He does not sin again because of his Confession; nor does his fall say that he was not truly repentant when he confessed. Christ said something about forgiving seventy times seven. How often would you forgive? And isn't it better to try, fail through weakness, and repent, than to abandon all efforts to return to God's grace?

837. But if Confession does not stop sin what is the good of it?

Confession is an immense help in the prevention of further sin. Remember that Christ did not institute this Sacrament precisely to prevent further sin, but to forgive sin once it has been unhappily committed. To prevent sin there are other Sacraments, and other means such as good example, religious instruction, prayer, and the grace of God. But if, in spite of these helps, a man falls through strong temptation, as anyone is likely to do, it is a very great good that his sin can be forgiven.

838. It is easy to confess to a fellow man and get forgiveness. But it is not so convenient to remain in humble doubt.

The humiliation of Confession is an inconvenience not found in Protestantism, and from that point of view Protestantism is easier. On the other hand Christ was too merciful to leave us without some definite assurance of forgiveness, and He gave us a very definite Sacrament to alleviate our anxiety.

839. Did not Priests invent Confession in order to obtain the money required for absolution?

No money is ever paid for absolution. If absolution cannot be given, $10,000 would not obtain it. If it can be given, it cannot be refused, and it would be mortal sin on the part of any Priest to suggest payment for it. Moreover, if any man came to me and offered to purchase forgiveness from me I would tell him that he was suggesting a mortally sinful procedure, and send him away with his money and without absolution unless he retracted his ideas and repented of his sin. In that case I would absolve him, without of course touching a penny of his money. Meantime no Priest would be so foolish as to invent Confession. Priests would gladly be free from the burdensome duty of sitting for hours in the confessional. Had Christ not imposed it, and Priests could prove Confession unnecessary, they would be the first to demand its abolition.

840. Do not Priests use the confessional to obtain all domestic and state secrets?

No. Catholics tell their own sins only. The Priest finds it hard enough to listen patiently to that much, without wishing to hear all household secrets, nor will he allow penitents to speak of other people's misdeeds. In any case no Priest can make use of knowledge acquired whilst hearing Confessions. One of the strictest laws of the Church obliges him never to betray what he hears in the confessional.

841. Did not the Lateran Council in 1215 first oblige auricular Confession?

No. It decreed that Catholics must go to Confession at least once a year, merely specifying how often one must go. If the idea of auricular Confession were then introduced for the first time, and Christians were not used to it, there would have been an uproar of protest throughout the whole Church. But all Christians were perfectly familiar with auricular Confession, and no protest arose.

842. Do Priests themselves go to Confession?

Of course. The obligation falls upon them as upon the laity. Nor can any Priest give himself absolution. He must kneel at the feet of some other Priest in order to secure forgiveness.

843. Who hears the Confession of the Pope?

Any Priest to whom the Pope chooses to confess.

844. Did not St. Augustine warn Priests that the hearing of Confessions is dangerous to virtue?

The only reference that remark of danger has to the Sacrament of Confession is to prove that St. Augustine knew quite well of its existence. All he desired to do was to insist upon the virtue required in the Priest who undertakes the duty. Even so, a warning against a possible danger does not suggest that Priests yield to that danger. One could give a lecture upon the danger of drink without suggesting that the listeners were subject to its influence.

845. Is it not demoralizing for young girls to be asked by the Priest whether they have been guilty of improper behavior?

Priests have no obligation to examine the conscience of the penitent. The penitent must do that. If a young girl, or anybody for that matter, has been guilty of improper conduct, then such conduct is demoralizing. But the confession of that sin, sorrow for it, and the resolution not to commit it again, is not demoralizing.

846. When will Catholics realize that Priests are sinful beings like themselves?

All Catholics know that Priests are human beings who need Baptism and redemption by Christ just as everyone else. But they also know that they are not acting in their ordinary capacity as human beings, and that the value of absolution does not depend upon the personal worthiness of the Priest. Meantime God alone knows whether men, including Priests, are actually and personally in a state of sin.

847. When will they see the folly of confessing to such men?

Only when they completely forget their Christian faith, for Christ Himself appointed this means of forgiveness.

848. We Protestants regard Confession as an intolerable burden.

Why should you worry about a thing which does not affect you? Let Catholics, who do go to Confession, do the worrying. They find it full of compensating consolations. Your only worry should be your ignoring of the words of Christ as recorded in St. John XX., 21-23.

849. The shame of having to tell their sins keeps Catholics away from their Church and from Christ.

How do you know? Catholics know that God commanded Confession as a means oi recovering His friendship and that for this the price is negligible. They know that shame did not keep them from committing the sin as it should have done, and they will not let false shame keep them from confessing it. They know that they fully deserve the humiliation involved; but it is better to manifest it to one man who is strictly obliged to forgive it and forget it, than to have it manifested on the Last Day, when every man's unforgiven crimes will be made manifest to the bitter humiliation of those who died with unrepented grave sins. They know that if they feel too ashamed to tell it, they have but to ask the Priest to help them, and that he will do so in such a way that they can acknowledge what is required without any offense against delicacy. Their sins have offended God, not the Priest, and no Priest has any reason to feel hurt personally or to exhibit anger. Also, far from despising a penitent, a Priest rather admires the humility and sincerity of those who confess their sins with deep sorrow. The difficulties of Confession are imagined by those who have never been to Confession.

850. Can a Priest forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which Christ says shall not be forgiven in this world or the next?

There is no sin too great to be forgiven provided one sincerely repents of it. Christ really referred to evil dispositions of soul which are so hardened that one will lack the will to repent. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not blasphemy as commonly understood, but a determined resistance to the very grace of the Holy Spirit which is meant to save us. Thus the Pharisees who saw the miracles of Christ could not deny them to be miracles; yet rather than yield to the grace being offered them, they said that Christ wrought them with the help of the devil, and not by God. A man who rejects the very means God adopts to convert him is little likely to make good use of other graces offered by God, and Our Lord warns us very strongly to beware of sinning against the light, since it seldom ends in repentance. Yet even such a man with the help of special grace could repent of his bad dispositions and thus be converted and forgiven. Any unforgivableness, therefore, is on account of a man's bad dispositions, not on account of the nature of the sin. There is no absolutely unforgivable sin such as cannot be forgiven even though a man repents.

851. Will a Catholic who is convicted of murder go to Heaven if he confesses his sin to a Priest?

If he has confessed his sin sincerely and with genuine sorrow, his sin will be forgiven and his soul saved.

852. What of the thief who is not discovered by the police?

The Priest orders him to make restitution, giving back to the owner the money or goods stolen. Only when he promises to do so will he receive absolution for his sin before God. But the penitent is not obliged to give himself up to the police. It is their business to prove the crime and arrest him.

853. Will the Priest tell the police or is it a sacred secret?

The Priest will certainly not tell the police. He can never act upon information submitted to him for the purpose of absolution before God.

854. Is not such a Priest an enemy to the state?

No. State laws control men in their capacity as citizens of the state. But a Priest does not hear confessions in his capacity as a citizen of the state. He is acting, not as a human being, but as an agent of God. You might as well oblige God, since He knows all things, to reveal all crimes to the police. The Priest would never have known had he not been doing a duty in the name of God. In any case, he is obliged by both the natural and positive laws of morality in this matter to die rather than reveal such things.



Prefer a PRINT version?