Choose a topic from Vol 3:


Reason proves God's existence
Primitive monotheism
Mystery of God's inner nature
Personality of God
Providence of God and the problem of evil


Immortal destiny of man
Can earth give true happiness?
Do human souls evolve?
Is transmigration possible?
Animal souls
Freedom of will
Free will and faith


Religion and God
The duty of prayer
The mysteries of religion
Can we believe in miracles?

The Religion of the Bible

Historical character of the Gospels
Canonical Books of the Bible
Original Manuscripts
Copyists' errors
Truth of the Bible
New Testament "contradictions"

The Christian Religion

Christianity alone true
Not the product of religious experience
Compared with Buddhism, Confucianism, Mahometanism, Bahaism, etc.,
Rejected by modern Jews
The demand for miracles
The necessity of faith
Difficulties not doubts
Proofs available
Dispositions of unbelievers

A Definite Christian Faith

One religion not as good as another
Changing one's religion
Catholic convictions and zeal
Religious controversy
The curse of bigotry
Towards a solution

The Problem of Reunion

Efforts at the reunion of the Churches
The Church of England as a "Bridge-Church"
Anglicans and the Greek Orthodox Church
The "Old Catholics" of Holland
Reunion Conferences
Catholic Unity
The Papacy as reunion center
Protestant hostility to Catholicism
The demands of charity

The Truth of Catholicism

Necessity of the Church
The true Church
Catholic claim absolute
A clerical hierarchy
Papal Supremacy
Temporal Power
Unity of the Church
Holiness of the Church
Catholicity of the Church
Catholic attitude to converts
Indefectible Apostolicity
Necessity of becoming a Catholic

The Church and the Bible

Catholic belief in the Bible
Bible-reading and private interpretation
Value of Tradition and the "Fathers"
Guidance of the Church necessary

The Dogmas of the Catholic Church

Dogmatic certainty
Credal statements
Faith and reason
The voice of science
Fate of rationalists
The dogma of the Trinity
Creation and evolution
The existence of angels
Evil spirits or devils
Man's eternal destiny
The fact of sin
Nature and work of Christ
Mary, the mother of God
Grace and salvation
The sacraments
Holy Eucharist
The Sacrifice of the Mass
Holy Communion
Marriage and divorce
Extreme Unction
Man's death and judgment
Resurrection of the body
End of the World

Moral Teachings of the Catholic Church

Catholic intolerance
The Spanish Inquisition
Prohibition of Books
Liberty of worship
Forbidden Socieities
Church attendance
The New Psychology
Deterministic philosophy
Marriage Legislation
Birth Prevention
Monastic Life
Convent Life
Legal defense of murderers
Laywers and divorce proceedings
Judges in Divorce
Professional secrecy

The Church in Her Worship

Why build churches?
Glamor of ritual
The "Lord's Prayer"
Pagan derivations
Liturgical symbolism
Use of Latin
Intercession of Mary and the Saints

The Church and Social Welfare

The Church and Education
The Social Problem
Social Duty of the Church
Catholicism and Capitalism


820. I cannot but regard the whole business of Confession as an unjustified usurpation of conscience.

To declare independence of a means appointed by God is the usurpation of rights which do not belong to us. We get forgiveness from God in the way God appointed. The Church exists to take us to God. When we want to be reconciled with God, we apply to the Church, and God's reply comes to us through the Church. When you remember that all are obliged by this law of Confession, Pope, bishops, priests, and laity, you must see that all idea of usurpation is excluded. If the clergy were conscious that Confession was an unjust usurpation of authority over the laity, they would not submit to the obligation of Confession themselves. No. It is not a usurpation. The practice of Confession is due to our faith in Christ, and a spirit of obedience to His manifest will. And those who refuse the obligation, forfeit also its graces and privileges.

821. God alone forgives sin through our own personal application.

Of course, the one who is offended is the one who must do the forgiving. But you overlook one point. He who can forgive immediately and personally, can also communicate forgiveness through agents of his own choice. A King can forgive a rebellious subject himself, or he can give his authority to an official empowering him to do so. In both cases, forgiveness would ultimately rest upon the authority of the King. So, too, forgiveness of sin must rest ultimately upon the authority of God. In that sense, God alone can forgive sin. But if you say that God cannot delegate His authority, how could authority be given by Christ to His Apostles? When Christ said to them, "Receive the Holy Ghost: whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven," did He give them any real power, or was He uttering words He knew to be meaningless? And if He gave them real power, and they did have authority to forgive sin, what becomes of your assertion that God alone can do so? The Apostles were men, after all. And if there were men in the early Church from whom Christians could secure forgiveness, why should conditions in the same Church differ now, in so vital a matter? If you deny that the power to forgive sin was handed on in the Church, you may as well deny that the power to baptize, or even the commission to preach the Gospel was handed on. In fact, you would have to deny that Christ ever meant His Church to continue through the ages just as He had constituted it. Personal dispositions of sorrow, and the will to make necessary reparation are always necessary for the forgiveness of sin. But, granted these dispositions, we are to secure forgiveness from those whom God Himself has authorized to forgive sin in His name. The priests of the Catholic Church have that power, transmitted to them from the Apostles, who received it from Christ.

822. St. Paul says, "There is one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy II., 5.

That text in no way militates against Catholic doctrine. For Catholic doctrine teaches that in Confession Jesus exercises His mediation by using human instruments or agents. After all, Baptism is a Sacrament instituted by Christ, and to be administered by human beings in His name. Yet no one ever worries lest the human beings who administer Baptism should be interfering with the mediation of Christ. And if Christ can institute one Sacrament for the conferring of grace by human instrumentality, why could He not institute another Sacrament, such as that of Confession? The principle is the same in both cases. The mediation of Christ is not affected in this matter. It is all a question of how Christ willed His own mediation to be applied to men. It is then, a question of fact. Did Christ will His mediation to be applied to men by means of sacramental absolution of sins, an absolution administered in His name by men? He did. Otherwise His words to the Apostles, very much human beings, are simply unintelligible. He breathed on them; said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost"; and then declared the scope and purpose of this new gift of supernatural power. "Whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven."

823. In your own Roman Catholic Version I read, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ the just." 1 John II., 1.

And did you think that the Catholic Church has been unaware for two thousand years of the existence of those words in her own Version of the Bible?

824. According to your own Church's Version, Jesus is revealed as the sinner's advocate before God; not the priest. How will you reply to that?

Without the slightest difficulty. For you are stating Catholic doctrine. Every Catholic knows that, even in the confessional, it is Christ who forgives the sin through the priest to whom He has merely delegated His own power. The priest is but the instrument used by Christ, our one great Advocate, in the work of forgiving sin. No priest, therefore, dreams that, by his own natural and human power, he can forgive sin. He exercises a communicated power which is ever proper to Christ who remains the sinner's real advocate before God.

825. By paying the price of our sins which is death, and by conquering death, He is in a position to forgive sin and to be our Advocate, our Intercessor, and our Mediator.

That is quite true. But you must not stop at that. You must go on from there and ask how Jesus chose to exercise His mediation. And it is evident that He chose to do so through His chosen Apostles and their successors.

826. If we attempt to come any other way, Jesus said, we are thieves and robbers.

It is true that we must come by the way He Himself has appointed. After all, it is for the Savior to dictate the terms of salvation, not the sinner who is to be saved.That is why we Catholics accept Confession. But when you deny the existence of any power to forgive sin in the Church, despite the witness of the Word of God, it is you who wish to go a different way from that appointed by Christ.

827. The priest, after all, is an ordinary mortal.

The prophet Isaiah was a human being like anyone else, how then did he have prophetic power? God gave it to him, and he had it, not insofar as he was a human being, but insofar as he was commissioned by God. So, too, insofar as he is an ordinary mortal, the priest cannot forgive sin. But insofar as he is ordained a priest he is not an ordinary mortal; for not all ordinary mortals have been ordained priests. It is only insofar as he has been ordained a priest, therefore, that he can forgive sin. In John XX., 23, you will read that Christ said to the Apostles, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven." If you said to Christ, "But, Lord, these men are ordinary mortals; how can they forgive sin?" He would reply, "By the power I have just given them. And I had to give them that special power precisely because as ordinary mortals they would never be able to do so."

828. Priests, being only human, are just as liable to commit sin as other men.

Not just as liable. It is just as possible for a priest to sin, but not just as probable. The state and duties of a priest preserve him from many of the occasions of sin a layman has to meet.

829. If a priest is a sinner, how can he possibly forgive the sin of another person?

That question arises from your notion that a priest forgives sin by his own personal and human powers, in virtue of his own merit and holiness. He does not. It is the power of Christ operating through the priest, and applying the merits of Christ, not of the priest, to the penitent. The personal worthiness or unworthiness of the priest cannot rob him of his ordination, nor of the priestly powers conferred by that ordination. For example, supposing that a judge in a law court has been guilty of dishonesty on Wednesday in his personal private life, how can he sit in judgment on another man in court on Thursday and condemn or acquit him in a similar matter? His jurisdiction is from the state, and he judges, not in virtue of his personal worth, but as an agent through whom state authority operates. So, too, the authority of Christ operates through the priest in his official capacity, and quite independently of that priest's personal holiness or otherwise.

830. Is a Catholic who confesses to a priest any better off than a Protestant who confesses to God?

Yes, in many ways. Firstly, the one who goes to Confession seeks forgiveness in the way our Lord prescribed instead of laying down his own conditions. Secondly, by confessing to a priest, the Catholic benefits by an act of Christian humility the other avoids. Thirdly, the Catholic receives many Sacramental graces the other does not receive. Fourthly, the Catholic has an objective and solid assurance of forgiveness where the other has but subjective persuasion. Fifthly, the Catholic can secure sound advice as to his or her spiritual life and the will of God concerning reparation or restitution to be made, whilst the other is left to uninstructed self-guidance.

831. The attraction of Confession must be because it is most consoling.

It is most consoling. And yet that is not our reason for the practice of Confession. Our reason lies in our obedience to the will of Christ. And obedience is independent of feelings whether of consolation or repugnance. Christ did intend Confession to be a help and a consolation to troubled souls. But such consolation is an effect of Confession. It is not the cause of our belief in Confession. Faith in Christ and His Church is the cause of our belief in Confession, and a sense of duty makes the Catholic seek absolution should he be so unfortunate as to fall into sin.

832. Is a priest obliged to observe complete secrecy concerning the sins confessed to him?

Yes. The obligation is absolute. In no way at all may a priest ever betray the sins of a penitent to others.

833. So the priest must keep secret even the confessions of murder!

A priest is obliged to keep secret whatever he hears in Confession. And the sins confessed do not necessarily include murder. The obligation of secrecy falls on the priest the moment a man tells his sins in Confession, for the simple reason that the priest would know nothing about them unless the man did tell them in Confession. And since he tells his sins solely for the good of his soul, and not for any considerations affecting this world, the priest must behave towards this world as if he had never heard those sins. Before the Confession, the priest knows nothing, and is as little able to betray the sinner as any other man. And the sinner is quite free to leave the priest in that state of ignorance, by not confessing to him at all. If he does confess to this or that priest, it is for the sake of his soul, and the whole matter is beyond any jurisdiction proper to this world. A priest may use only that knowledge which comes to him in the ordinary way in which knowledge comes to any other citizens. He cannot use knowledge confided to him in the confessional, and confided to him not as to a fellow man, but as to the representative of God.

834. If a murderer went to Confession, would the priest give him absolution?

If he happened to be a Catholic, and was indeed truly sorry, yes. But remember that, if a man is truly sorry, that includes the intention to fulfill all the conditions required for absolution. He would be prepared, therefore, to make such reparation as the law of God might require. For example, if he murdered a man upon whom a wife and children were dependent for their very existence, he would be obliged to provide for their upkeep in place of the breadwinner of whom he had deprived them. As far as possible, men are obliged to repair the harm they do to others.

835. My point is as to whether the priest could give absolution, knowing that the man had not confessed publicly to the crime.

The priest could certainly do so, provided the man were sincerely sorry for his sin against God's commandments, and were prepared to make such reparation as he could of harm to others. The law of God does not require that one who commits a crime should denounce himself to the state. Civil law itself does not require that. Even after his arrest, civil law allows a criminal to plead not guilty. Therefore, it certainly does not expect a man to denounce himself as guilty before his arrest.

836. If this man could get absolution for such a heinous offense, I think the Church would be encouraging such crimes.

That is absurd. The priest must warn the man that absolution cannot be given unless he resolves to avoid such sins for the future. Absolution is given, therefore, only on the understanding that the man determines not to commit any further murders. Is it encouraging sin to urge people not to commit it?

837. The man might resolve to sin no more, yet before long do so.

If he did so, it would not be because he had resolved not to do so. To whatever cause you might attribute his later sin, you certainly could not attribute it to the fact that he confessed his previous sin and resolved not to be guilty of it again.

838. If he were truly sorry once again, he could receive absolution again, though his crimes might never be revealed publicly.

That is perfectly true. But what is your objection to that? If you object to the fact that a man who is truly sorry for his sins can get forgiveness no matter how serious and frequent has been his guilt in the past, you object to the mercy of God. If, on the other hand, you object to the fact that state officials have never discovered the man's crimes, you object merely to the inefficiency of those officials. But I don't see why the failure of the police to detect and arrest a criminal should prevent that criminal from repenting of his sin against God's laws, and securing God's forgiveness.

839. If my reasoning is wrong, please point out my error.

To my mind your errors are legion. You seem to think that a man ought not to be forgiven by God for a present sin, for which he is truly sorry now, because he was forgiven a past sin for which he was truly sorry then. Again, you seem to regard the forgiveness of sin at any time as a kind of permission to commit still further sin in the future. A further error is the implied idea that the priest in the confessional is an agent employed on behalf of civil jurisdiction. He is not. Another little error is your notion that one who violates state laws is obliged to denounce himself to state authorities. And, worse still, you argue as if the failure of the state to vindicate its own laws forbids God to forgive those who repent of having violated His laws. All these ideas are erroneous, and as they form the basis of your argumentation, that must be rejected as erroneous also.

840. If a murderer's victim goes to hell, how could the murderer in common justice be forgiven, and get to heaven?

Justice, common or otherwise, does not enter into this particular phase of the question. The victim committed a mortal sin. The murderer did not make him commit it. And the victim had no right to be in that state and unrepentant, when death happened to come. The murderer causes his death even as a flash of lightning might have caused it. But the being in mortal sin was the victim's personal fault, despite God's warning, "Be ye ready, for ye know not the day and the hour." Now, as the victim committed mortal sin, so the murderer, granting sanity, also commits a mortal sin in killing the victim. Had the victim repented sincerely of his mortal sin prior to his death, his soul would be saved. If the murderer sincerely repents, he will be saved. You may say, "Yes. But the murderer will live on and have time to repent. But the victim does not." Yet remember that the victim did have time and should have repented after he had committed his sin instead of remaining in that state of soul until death surprised him. God's mercy is available to every soul whenever the soul chooses to turn to Him with an act of perfect sorrow. If the victim fails to do so, he loses his soul through his own fault. If the murderer does so, he saves his soul through God's mercy. Salvation of soul is an individual responsibility and to every man sufficient grace is offered. Anyone who commits a serious sin and does not return to the friendship and love of God by prayer and an act of perfect sorrow and repentance before the day is out, is simply a fool.

841. Why is a priest hidden from view behind a curtain in the confessional?

The privacy of the confessional is solely in favor of the penitent, not in favor of the priest. People are obliged to confess their sins to a priest, not to the general public. As they prefer to see a doctor in the privacy of his surgery, when dealing with bodily disease, so they prefer to speak of their spiritual diseases to a priest in the privacy of the confessional. The priest would much prefer to sit in the open fresh air rather than in so small, confined, and uncomfortable a place, but he puts up with the self-sacrifice for the benefit of those who seek consolation, advice, and absolution from him.

842. When Christ had any dealings with people He did not screen Himself off.

Christ did not finally commission His Church to begin her work until Pentecost Sunday. Only then did all the powers He conferred upon her begin to be exercised in the preaching of the new religion, and you could scarcely expect to find confessionals until Christian Churches had been built. Meantime, you will notice that Christ reserved His private conversation with the woman taken in adultery until her accusers had been made to slink away. Jesus alone remained, and the woman. So, too, when He spoke to the woman by the well and mentioned to her that the man with whom she was living was not her husband, he reserved this betrayal of her sin to her for a moment when His disciples were absent in the city. Whether privacy be secured by retiring from others or sending them away is immaterial, so long as the privacy demanded by justice and charity be secured.

843. Do you think a priest's personal opinion of a penitent would be lowered by hearing his Confession?

No. Confession is a most impersonal thing. I may be very friendly personally with some Catholic man. Should he ask me to hear his Confession, the moment I enter the confessional, our relations completely change. I am no longer his personal friend for the purposes of this action. I am simply any priest. He is no longer acting in any capacity as my friend. He is just any soul. As professionally as any surgeon concentrating on the physical troubles of a patient, I concentrate on the spiritual troubles of the penitent, whoever he may be. The moment the words of absolution have been said, the priest dismisses all thought of what he has heard in the confessional; and five minutes later you would find him talking with the penitent on the normal friendly basis as if no Confession had been made at all. No one has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a greater sympathy with human frailties, than a priest. All human beings have their faults. If a friend asks me to hear his Confession, it is not a shock to me to hear that he has faults. That I know quite well, without his confessing to me. All he does is to confess his particular faults to me, as he would otherwise confess them to some other priest. I merely hear them in my capacity as a priest, give the spiritual advice I would give to any soul in similar circumstances, pronounce the words of absolution if warranted, and then dismiss the matter, consigning all that I have heard to that oblivion in which thousands of Confessions lie buried and forgotten.

844. Are not young priests taught all kinds of indelicacies and abominations in the name of moral theology as a preparation for the confessional?

No. They are fully trained in a knowledge of the spiritual diseases of humanity, just as medical men in bodily diseases. But minute descriptions are not necessary, not as necessary in fact as they are in medical training. A priest is trained to know facts concerning the ways in which God's commandments can be broken, the causes, effects, and remedies. But minute descriptions of the facts are not necessary. If human legislation needs a special body of men trained legally to explain its extent and application, you can be quite sure that God's legislation also needs a body of men trained in the science of its interpretation and application. Yet outside the Catholic Church, men who would never consider themselves competent to interpret human law, think themselves fully capable of interpreting Divine law for themselves. A mistake in interpreting human legislation might mean a civil offense against the state, and, of course, that would be terrible. But a mistake in interpreting Divine law would only be an offense against God, and, of course, that doesn't matter. Catholics are wiser. The Catholic Church puts at their disposal a body of men who have all had a full four years' course in the science of moral theology and canon law, and Catholics consult them. Protestant clergymen have not had this training, and, in any case, how many of their own people consult them on purely personal and interior matters of conscience? One High-Church Anglican clergyman admitted to me that he had no real training at all for the hearing of Confessions, and said that he had to hear them, though the Anglican Church had no right to let him be ordained with such inadequate training in moral theology.

845. If I were a Catholic, I would have to confess all my venial and mortal sins in all their sordid, revolting, and soul-polluting details.

You would not have to confess every one of those sins. Catholics have no obligation to confess venial sins. Your mistake in that matter, of course, does not affect your question, for Catholics are obliged to confess their mortal sins, which are necessarily the more grave. But, even as regards mortal sins, you are again mistaken in thinking that penitents have to go into all the sordid, revolting, and soul-polluting details. They have not to describe their sins; they have to confess the sinful facts of which they have been guilty. Commenting on the strange notions held by some non-Catholics concerning this matter, non-Catholics who have had no experience of the confessional in practice and who rely on their peculiar imagination, G. K. Chesterton says, "Nobody has to go into such morbid detail confessing to a priest as in confessing to a doctor. What matters in the confessional is the moral guilt, not the material details. But the material details are everything in medicine, even for the most respectable physician, let alone all the anarchial quacks who have been let loose to hear confessions in the name of psychoanalysis."

846. Moral corruption appears to me to he almost inescapable, owing to the very nature and purpose of the confessional.

You do not understand the nature and purpose of the confessional. If you were to contrast the nature of the confessional with the nature of the doctor's surgery, you would find the confessional a thousand times better safeguarded against abuses than the surgery. Yet you don't suggest that moral corruption is almost inescapable in the medical profession. Again, the purpose of the confessional is the destruction of sin, and the prescribing of precautions against sin. Naturally a priest does not go to the confessional expecting to hear a list of the penitent's virtues. He expects to hear the story of human frailties. But he hears this story with a sense of responsibility and in a frame of mind which is bent on the salvation of souls to the exclusion of any particular interest in the nature of the sins confessed. Also, when a priest is conscious that he is the representative of the mercy of Christ, and that he is administering a Sacrament of Christ, he is in an atmosphere of grace which is in itself a protection. No medical physician, whether by circumstances or the nobility of his duties, is so well safeguarded as the spiritual physician in the Catholic confessional.



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