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Absolution Requires the Cooperation of the Penitent ... 3 
Faith in the Pardon not Essential ..... 4 

Exaggerated Definitions of Contrition 5 

Attrition Attempts at its Classification .... 7 

Differentiation of Attrition and Contrition ... 8 

Servile Attrition The Fear of Hell . .11 

Natural and Supernatural Servile Attrition . . . . . 15 
Jansenism The Bull Unigenitw ..... .17 

Imaginary Attrition 21 

Acts of Contrition ....... 22 

Motives of the Penitent ... 23 

Abstinence from Sin Amendment of Life 24 

Avoidance of Occasions of Sin 35 

Forgiveness of Injuries . 41 

Restitution and Reparation . . . ... . .43 

Commutation of Restitution 59 

Commutation under the Santa Cruzada 64 

Capacity of the Penitent . . , -.. . . . 71 


Public Penance Obsolete under the Barbarians .... 73 
Revived under Louis le Debonnaire .... .74 

Reserved for Public Sins .76 

Becomes Known as Solemn Penance and Disappears . 79 

Medieval Public Penance Its Disuse 81 

Private Penance Its Origin 93 

It Replaces Public Penance . - 95 




Growth of Penitential Canons ... .102 

The Penitentials .103 

Penance Enforced and Punitive, not Sacramental . . . .107 
Becomes Secularized under the Later Carlovingians . . .110 
Modification Wrought by the Sacramental Theory . 114 

Severity of the Earlier Penance 116 

Various Penitential Observances 121 

Pilgrimages 123 

Almsgiving .......... 135 

Masses . . .142 


Mitigation of Penance Discretion of the Priest . . .146 

Commutations ... . . . . . . .150 

Pecuniary Redemptions . . . . . . . 155 

The Papal Penitentiary . . .160 

The Taxes of the Penitentiary . .165 


Sacramental Penance is Satisfaction . . . . . .169 

Penance Becomes Discretional . 170 

The Penitential Canons Nominally in Force ,177 

Increasing Laxity .......... 180 

Reform Attempted by the Council of Trent Its Failure . .184 

Remonstrances against Minimized Penance 189 

The Jansenists and Rigorists . . . . . . . .191 

Reform Attempted by Leopold I. of Tuscany . . . .194 

Modern Penance Scarcely more than Formal . . . .197 

Explanations Offered for the Change 200 

Causes of the Change . 204 

Sufficiency of Penance .210 

Obligation of Performance of Penance . . . . .213 

Forgetfulness to Perform Penance . . . . . .216 

Time of Performance 217 

Unjust and Unreasonable Penance . . . . . .218 

Performance in the State of Grace . . . . . .220 

Vicarious Penance 224 

Medicinal Penance . . . 229 



Duty of the Confessor to Appraise Sins . \ . 

Early Attempts at Classification . . 235 
Division into Mortals and Venials 

Accurate Differentiation Impossible . 240 
Doctrine of Parvitas Mater ice . 

Influence of Extrinsic Circumstances . . 247 
Invincible Ignorance 

Question of Consent ... 253 

Material and Formal Sins . 254 

Necessity of Advertence Peccatum Philosophicum . 254 

Rules for Recognition of Mortal Sins ... . 258 

Increase of Mortal Sins ... . 260 

Sinful Thoughts . . 261 

Cumulation of Sins . . .263 

Venial Sins Their Remission .... . 264 

Their-Confession 270 

Doubtful Sins .275 

Forgotten Sins ...... 280 

The Confessor is the Final Arbiter ... . . 


Consensus of Opinions Impossible ... . 285 

Complication and Confusion . .... . 287 

Opinion as a Guide to Action . ... . . . 289 

Tutiorism and Probabiliorism ....... 290 

The Confessor Must Accept His Penitent s Opinion . 297 

Rise of Probabilism at End of Sixteenth Century . . 303 

Opposition of the Gallican Church Of the Holy See . . . 306 

Support of Probabilism by the Jesuits ...... 309 

The General Thyrsus Gonzalez and His Book . . . .311 

The Theory of Probabilism .318 

Definitions of Doubt 319 

Certainty, its Necessity and Acquisition . . . 321 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Probability .... 325 

Different Degrees of Probability 329 

Limitations of Probabilism in Law and Medicine .... 335 

in Heresy and Matters of Faith ..... 338 

Probabilism Inapplicable on the Death-Bed ..... 341 



Tutiorism Assumed to be Condemned 342 

Revival of Probabilism . ... . . . 343 

Its Influence on the Downfall of the Jesuits . . . . . 345 

Rigorism Stigmatized as Jansenism ...... 348 

The New Reflex Probabilism ....... 351 

Doctrine of Possession ........ 353 

Doctrine of Insufficient Promulgation of Law . . . 357 

Increase of Laxity under the New Probabilism .... 363 

Preponderating Influence of St. Alphonso Ligtiori . . .366 

His System of Equiprobabilism . . . . . . 371 

Recent Attempts to Frame Other Systems . . . . . 374 

Influence of Probabilism . . . . . . . 376 

Sin Merely a Matter of Opinion 378 

Ignorant Penitents not to be Instructed 379 

Canons Against Usury Eluded 385 

Casuistry, its Origin and Development ...... 386 

Theft under Necessity 392 

Occult Compensation ........ 394 

Bribery of Judges Inordinate Profits . . . . 398 

Mental Reservation and Mendacity . . . . . 4()1 

Tendencies of Modern Moral Theology .... 408 


Services Rendered by the Church . . . . . . .412 

Theory of Confession Benefits Expected from it . . . .413 

Effects of Enforced Confession 415 

Absolution, not Amendment, the Object . . . .417 

Evils of Facile Absolution . . . . . . .419 

Artificial Morality . . . . . . . . . 421 

Prevalence of Fictitious Confession . . . . . 422 

Effect of Minimized Penance . . . . . . . 425 

Condition of Popular Morals ....... 426 

Catholic and Protestant Morality Compared 428 

Modern Comparative Statistics .431 

Authority of the Confessor 438 

Political Use of Confession by the Church . . . . 443 

Royal Confessors . . . 446 

Conclusion 455 




ii. -i 




WHILE, in the development of sacerdotalism, the Church has 
magnified the functions of the priest as the delegate of God, it has 
not wholly relieved the sinner of responsibility. Powerful as may 
be the formula Ego te absolvo when uttered in the sacrament, it 
would be a mistake to assume that it works its beneficent end with 
out conditions and without the cooperation of the beneficiary. Even 
when the culpa has been removed, Dr. Amort tells us that the re 
mission of the pcena is only proportionate to the merits and desert 
of the penitent. 1 It therefore remains for us to see what have been 
the teaching and the practice of the Church with regard to the 
essentials requisite on the part of the penitent to render the sacra 
ment effective. The proper comprehension of this is of vital im 
portance, not only to the sinner but to the confessor, for the latter 
commits a mortal sin each time that he wrongly refuses absolution 
to the deserving or grants it to the unfit, and many conscientious 
priests, we are told, refuse service in the confessional through fear 
for their own souls. 2 That such fear should exist is natural, for the 
correctness of the confessor s decision must depend on many factors 
which he can by no possibility estimate with accuracy, and we shall 
see how intricate are the problems involved, and how discordant, in 
many cases, are the opinions of the doctors. The position, in fact, 
of the conscientious confessor is by no means an enviable one, and 

1 Amort de Indulgentiis IF. 251." Absolutio sacramental is facta a sacerdote 
vel episcopo tantum remittit partem pcenae proportialem merito, disposition!, 
contritioni ac fervori poenitentis." 

2 Salvatori, Istruzione pratica per i novelli Confessori, P. n. 


would be much worse but for the comfortable doctrine of invincible 

The first prerequisite to the enjoyment of the fruits of the sacra 
ment is a knowledge of the truths of religion, and we ha v e just seen 
how the Lutherans insisted on this, and provided for it in the Verhor. 
It is the same in the Catholic Church, and confessors dealing with 
those not known to them are instructed always to begin with an 
examination into the soundness of the penitent s faith. Ignorance 
of the leading points of doctrine is a mortal sin, but it is not suffered 
to prove a serious obstacle in the confessional, for the penitent is not 
required to know the articles of the creed by heart, and it suffices 
for him to express his assent when asked such questions as " Do you 
believe that there are three persons in the Trinity?" 1 Only obsti 
nate disbelief can thus serve as a barrier. 

Curiously enough, in view r of the absolute assurances of the in 
fallible efficacy of the sacrament, faith in it is not among the requi 
sites. The Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith produced a 
not unnatural antagonism on the part of the Church. St. Augustin 
had said that the belief and faith of the recipient had nothing to do 
with the integrity of the sacrament of baptism, but had a great deal 
to do with his own salvation, and this dictum had been gathered 
into the compilation of Gratian. 2 But the doctrine of justification 
by faith, which was at least as old as St. Hiliary of Poitiers, was 
practically irreconcilable with that of the sacraments, and when it 
became necessary, in favor of the latter, to break down confidence 
in the sufficing efficacy of contrition, it was pointed out that no one 
could know whether his contrition was sufficient, so that it had to be 
supplemented by sacramental confession. 3 Thus, in scholastic the 
ology, the insistance on faith disappeared, and when Luther promul 
gated his revolutionary doctrines Cardinal Caietano, in 1518, had no 
hesitation in denouncing as a fantasy the assertion that faith is even 
more requisite than contrition. Absolute faith in pardon he declared 

1 Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univers. Diss. v. cap. vi. Q. 5 | 1. 

2 S. Augustin. de Baptismo contra Donatistas, in. 14. Cap. 151 \ 1, P. in. 
Dist. iv. 

See also Ps. Augustin. de vera et falsa Pc&nitentia cap. 2." Poenitentia itaque 
quee ex fide non procedit utilis non est. Oportet autem credere remedium 
poenitentise a Salvatore concedi." 

8 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse Suppl. Q. iv. Art. 2. 


to be an impossibility, and that we are not intended to feel certainty 
about it ; it is erecting a new Church to add a fourth condition to 
the three recognized ones of contrition, confession and satisfaction ; 
efficient as is the sacrament, no man can know whether he has re 
ceived it with or without infused charity, and therefore he must be 
ever uncertain as to his pardon by God. 1 These were not the doc 
trines that had commonly been allowed to reach the people, and, as 
the Apology of Melanchthon shows, the Lutherans made ample use 
of them in contrasting the doubts which they assumed were felt by 
Catholics as to their own means of salvation with the confident 
assurances of the new promises. Leo X. was more prudent in con 
demning the Lutheran doctrine, and confined himself to the bare 
denial of the assertion that if the penitent believes himself to be 
absolved he is absolved. 2 By the time of the council of Trent the 
controversy had raged too openly for such reticence to be longer 
possible. It could safely deny the doctrine that faith in the satis 
faction of Christ is sufficient satisfaction for sin, and it showed due 
caution in declaring that no one should doubt the mercy of God, the 
merits of Christ or the efficacy of the sacrament, although no one 
could have the absolute certainty of faith that he had obtained grace. 3 
From these postulates the deduction was easy that faith in the pardon 
of his sins is not one of the requisites for the sinner to obtain abso 
lution and enjoy its benefits. 4 

More abstruse and difficult were the questions which arose over 
the degree of contrition or attrition which suffices to enable the peni 
tent to win remission of sin in the sacrament. We have seen (I. 
p. 212) how the original doctrine of pardon for contrition, while it 
could not be denied, was virtually argued away by defining efficient 
contrition as containing the vow to confess and obtain absolution, 
and also how it was displaced by attrition through the ingenious 
theory of the sacramental virtue which converted the weaker into 
the stronger emotion (I. p. 102). Contrition thus practically dis- 

1 Caietani Opusc. Tract, xviu. Q. 4, 5. 

2 Leonis PP. X. Bull. Exsurge Domine, Prop. 12. 

3 C. Trident. Sess. vi. De Justificatione, cap. 9; Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. 
can. 12. 

4 Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. $ 1. For authorities on both sides see Liguori, 
Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 439. 


appeared from the scene, while the theologians rivalled each other 
in denning the superhuman height of sorrow which the word was 
intended to express. Alexander Hales tells us that the true penitent 
ought rather to choose the eternal pains of hell than to commit or to 
have committed a single mortal sin, and this feeling should be life 
long, even after absolution ; contrition is the total conversion of the 
reason and will to God, so that God is loved above all things and 
sin detested beyond all things. 1 Aquinas describes the suffering as 
the greatest that can be endured, and that it should last through 
life. 2 Caietano defines the conditions of contrition to be to love 
God above all things lovable, to hate sin above all things hateful, 
and to avoid it above all things avoidable. 3 The Tridentine Cate 
chism describes it as the most poignant grief that imagination can 
conceive. 4 Sufficing contrition is thus a purely scholastic conception, 
and, as though to render it still more unattainable, it is burdened 
with conditions of infused grace, charity, and preveuient inspiration, 
which render it the work of God rather than of man, for it is only 
contritio inform/is until it is vivified with charitas formata. Besides 
all this, it infers a complete change of heart and change of life. 
Thus the ordinary penitent might safely be taught that without the 
sacrament there was no hope of placating God and no chance of 
salvation. 5 

When we turn to attrition the scene changes. It is true that the 
doctors wrangle among themselves when discussing it, for the varia 
tions of human emotions are so infinite and so subtile that classifica- 

1 Alex, de Ales Summae P. IV. Q. xvn. Membr. ii. Art. 1 | 6 ; Art. 2 $ 2 ; 
Membr. vii. Astesani Summae Lib. v. Tit. ix. Art. 1-4. 

2 S. Th. Aquinat. Summae Suppl. Q. in. Art. 1, 2 ; Q. iv. Art. 1. 

3 Caietani Tract, iv. De Contritione Q. 1. 

4 Catech. Trident. De Pcenit. cap. 5. 

5 It is true that when Michael Bay taught that contrition, even when in 
formed with perfect charity and including the vow of confession, is insufficient 
without the sacrament, except in case of necessity or martyrdom, Pius V , in 
1567, condemned the proposition as erroneous (Pii PP. V. Bull. Ex omnibus, 
Prop. 71). Frassinetti, moreover, admits (New Parish Priest s Practical 
Manual, pp. 383-4) that a penitent to whom absolution is refused may justify 
himself by a single act of sincere contrition, to which the confessor should 
exhort him in dismissing him, but in the absence of knowledge as to the 
amount of contrition requisite or elicited, such speculations are purely theo 
retical, and can have no place in the practical system which the Church has 


tion and definition are impossible, while the Church, in undertaking 
to regulate the destiny of its children, renders classification and defi 
nition imperative in practice, if the administration of the sacrament 
is to be more than the mysteries of a magician. A great theologian, 
like Cardinal Caietano, frames a classification, and another great 
theologian, like Domingo Soto, pronounces it a hallucination absurd 
and impracticable ; T while the Holy See discreetly avoids uttering an 
authoritative definition, the council of Trent carefully restricts itselt 
to vague generalities and the Tridentine Catechism, in effusively 
dilating on contrition, is silent as to attrition. 2 In fact, as the estab 
lished definition of the sacrament makes it consist of contrition, con 
fession and satisfaction, the substitution of attrition for contrition, 
though unavoidable, was dangerous. As we have seen, it was eluded 
by the scholastic assumption that attrition becomes contrition in the 
sacrament, but the fathers of Trent did not venture to declare this 
openly. In the first draft of the decree it was so asserted, but Juan 
Emilio, Bishop of Tudela, pointed out that the doctors were not 
unanimous as to this, and the ambiguous phrase was substituted that 
it helps the penitent to the path of righteousness. 3 Domingo Soto, 
who was one of the theologians of the council, says it is inconceiv 
able that the sacrament effects this change and only admits it when 
one having attrition imagines it to be contrition and on taking the 
sacrament receives grace enabling him to be contrite. 4 

Yet evidently, from the very definition of contrition, not one 
penitent in a myriad can come thus prepared to the confessional, 
and, unless the means of salvation are admitted to be beyond the 
reach of ordinary human nature, it is idle to doubt that attrition 
must suffice in the sacrament, which is neatly put in the assertion 
that under the old law contrition was necessary, but now it is replaced 
by confession. 5 The only question worth practical discussion there- 

1 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. ii. Art. 5. 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. iv. Catechism. Trident. De Poenit. 
cap. 5, 6. 

3 Pallavicini Hist. Concil. Trident. Lib. xil. cap. x. n. 26. The clause at 
first read " verum etiam sufficere ad sacramenti hujus constitutionem," for 
which was substituted the existing " quo poenitens adjutus viam sibi ad justitiam 

4 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. ii. Art. 5. Of. Zerola Praxim Sacr. 
Pcenit. cap. xxiv. Q. 37. 

5 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 607. 


fore is what nature and degree of attrition suffice, and here, in the 
complexity and varieties of human emotions there is ample matter 
for endless and subtile discussion. Such discussion, however, is not 
mere word-spinning, for, in the impossible task which the Church has 
taken on itself, it is the duty of the confessor to grant absolution 
only when he feels sure that he is carrying out God s will, and he 
must, if he regards his functions as other than the baldest formalism, 
scrutinize the heart of every penitent to gauge the extent and depth 
of his repentance and determine whether it entitles him to the benefit 
of the sacrament. 1 To discharge this awful responsibility aright he 
must have rules and guidance ; to furnish these is the object of the 
infinite distinctions and disquisitions of the moralists, and if the 
result of their tireless labors is merely to add doubt to doubt and 
to darken counsel it is only another proof of the futility of man s 
endeavor to control the unsearchable ways of God. 

It is not necessary for us to plunge into the dialectic Malebolge 
thus created, but a cursory view of some of the debated questions 
will serve to show the nature of the problems confronting the con 
fessor and the attempts made for their solution. There is first the 
distinction between the two great divisions of repentance, contrition 
and attrition. That this was recognized at a comparatively early 
period is shown in the pseudo-Augustin s tract de vera et falsa Pcem- 
tentia, the main object of which was to differentiate them, 2 but the term 
attrition, to express imperfect repentance, seems first to have made its 
appearance toward the end of the twelfth century, when its use by 
Alain de Lille indicates that it was a word already recognized in the 
schools. 3 Alexander Hales asserts that attrition and contrition are 
not simply different degrees, but are different things, arising from 
different origins, the one from gratia gratis data, the other from gratia 
gratum faciens ; when a man is attrite for some of his sins he still has 

" Ex his igitur collegi poterunt quse ad veram contritionem maxime sunt 
necessaria ; de quibus fidelem populum accurate oportebit docere, ut quisque 
intelligat qua ratione comparare earn possit, regulamque habeat qua dijudicet 
quantum absit ab ejus virtutis perfectione." Catechism. Trident. De Poeni- 
tentia cap. vi. 

The rigorist Habert, in telling us that absolution is of no benefit to those 
who have not the disposition requisite to its reception, adds that this is the 
condition of the majority of penitents (Praxis Sacr. Poenit. Tract, v.). 

2 Ps. Augustin. Lib. de vera et falsa Poenit cap. ix. 

3 Alani de Insulis Regulae Theolog. Reg. 85 (Migne OCX. 665). 


a desire for others ; when grace is infused and he becomes contrite, 
he loses all evil desire and he sorrows for all. 1 On the other hand, 
St. Bonaventura reduces contrition to such simple terms that it is 
indistinguishable from attrition ; if the grief is equal to that from a 
temporal misfortune it is a work of perfection and more than is neces 
sary ; the confessor is not to ask whether the penitent would undergo 
death or any other evil rather than commit sin, for this is to tempt 
him. 2 Aquinas regards attrition as an inferior grade of contrition ; 
the one is imperfect, the other perfect repentance ; but he agrees with 
Hales that the one cannot become the other, they are not habits but 
acts, and in contrition there is infused grace. 3 Astesanus defines attri 
tion to be a disposition de congruo for the removal of sin ; when God 
infuses grace it becomes contrition and washes out the sin. 4 Durand 
de S. Fountain holds that attrition is merely the fear of punishment, 
but it is the first stage towards contrition, the latter being accom 
panied with infused grace and sufficing for the removal of sin. 5 

Divested of scholastic details the differentiation thus practically 
reduced itself to the impalpable distinction of the presence or absence 
of grace, and St. Antonino, in accepting this, renders the diagnosis 
still more impenetrable by informing us that sorrow, however weak, 
is contrition if informed with grace ; however strong it may be, it is 
merely attrition if not informed with grace. 6 His contemporary, John 
Nider, is rigorous beyond any of the Quesnellian errors condemned in 
the bull Uniyenitits, for he tells us that all true attrition has its sole 
source in love of God ; the detestation of sin must arise, not from a 
sense of its turpitude, which is shared by heathen philosophers, but 
from the fact that it is offensive to God ; and if a man has true attri 
tion the sacrament will convert it into contrition. 7 The matter did 
not become clearer with time and the labors of successive generations 
of theologians. Domingo Soto argues in a circle when he tells us 
that attrition is that which is insufficient without the sacrament, while 
contrition suffices of itself; he rigorously defines both contrition and 

1 Alex, de Ales Summae P. IV. Q. xvn. Membr. v. Art. 1. 

2 S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. P. 1, Art. 2, Q. 1. 

3 S. Th. Aquinat. Summae Suppl. Q. i. Art. ii. iii. 

4 Astesani Summas Lib. v. Tit. 1. Art. 2, Q. 1 ; Tit. 9, Q. 1-4. 

5 Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. ii. 

6 S. Antonini Summae P. in. Tit xvii. cap. 18. 

7 Jo. ^Nider Praeceptorium Divinae Legis, Praecept. in. cap. viii. ix. 


attrition to be a detestation of sin above all other detestable things 
and an absolute intention of never sinning for any object whatever, 
for, without this, attrition is not worthy of the name and is insuffi 
cient even with the sacrament. His efforts to differentiate the two 
are purely speculative, however, for when he turns to practice he says 
that penitents can scarce tell which they have, while priests find it im 
possible to determine, nor, especially with the ruder classes, is it worth 
while to waste time in endeavoring to find out ; it suffices to tell them 
that it should spring from love of God. 1 Melchior Cano says that 
the distinction between contrition and attrition is easy, and he pro 
ceeds to point out four differences, which prove to be merely defini 
tions ; on the great question whether one can be converted into the 
other he naturally sides with his fellow Thomists against the Scotists, 
in denying it. 2 The generalizations of the council of Trent 3 gave no 
substantial aid in supplying a practical differential diagnosis, and 
since then the moralists have continued the endless debate with addi 
tional refinements and distinctions. 4 The intricacy of the subject is 
seen in Palmieri s devoting sixty pages to the conditions of perfect 
contrition and more than seventy to those of attrition, 5 but this wealth 
of definition would appear a trifle superfluous when he explains away 
the Tridentine definition of contrition that it is in essence a detes 
tation of and sorrow for the sin committed and a resolve to sin no 
more the detestation becoming merely " I wish I had not sinned/ 
the sorrow a necessary part or mode of the detestation, and the 
resolve sufficient if it is merely virtual. 6 Moreover, the use of in 
dulgences is logically enough held to prove that infused grace is 
superfluous for the remission of punishment. 7 

Of far greater moment in practice is the question as to the amount 
or degree of attrition requisite to entitle the penitent to absolution 
and to enable him to enjoy its benefits. It matters not that the priest 
bestows the sacrament on him if he imposes an "impediment" in 
the way which renders it invalid. Any " fiction " on his part, either 

Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. ii. Art. 5 ; Dist. xvm. Q. iii. Art. 3. 

Melchior. Cani Kelect. de Pcenit. P. in. (Ed. 1550, fol. 34-5). 

C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 4. 

S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 433 sqq. 

Palmieri Tract, de Pcenit. pp. 221-353. 

Ibid. pp. 214, 217-18. 

La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1234. 


through intentionally imperfect confession or insufficient repentance 
is such an impediment and leaves him subject to mortal sin and 
eternal perdition, however regular may be his performance of the 
precept of annual confessions: in fact, according to the stricter theo 
logians, such a confessio informis is only a fresh sin. 1 No question, 
therefore, in the economy of salvation can be of more practical im 
portance than the definition of sufficing attrition, and none has been 
more minutely and resolutely explored and debated. Nor, when 
the conclusions of the theologians are reduced to practice in the con 
fessional, would it be easy to overestimate the influence of its reflex 
action on the moral conceptions of the faithful. 

Discarding the purely theological concepts of prevenient inspira 
tion, infused grace and charity or love of God, the imperfect repent 
ance known as attrition may spring from a sense of the turpitude of 
sin or from a dread of its consequences here and hereafter. The fear 
of hell is described, in the Rule which passes under the name of St. 
Basil the Great, as a most wholesome emotion which should be 
utilized to the utmost in exciting a salutary detestation of sin, while, 
on the other, hand, St. Augustin denounces it as an abject motive 
with which charity can hold no relations. 2 Certainly penitence, 
selfishly springing from the baser motives of man s nature, is an 
unsatisfying source of a claim on a share in the Passion and on the 
mercy of God, and as soon as the schoolmen commenced to investi 
gate they so pronounced it. It became known as servile attrition 
attritio servilis or formidolosa, and has remained the subject of active 
controversy ever since. Abelard declared emphatically that love of 
righteousness is the only source of efficient repentance ; that which 
arises from fear of hell is but despair leading to damnation. 3 The 
pseudo-Augustin is equally decided ; false penitence is that which 
comes from fear of punishment : it is worthless and only brings the 
soul to perdition. 4 Cardinal Pullus says the same ; it is worthless, 
for the penitent is coerced and would sin if he dared. 5 Gratian 

1 Caietani Opusc. Tract, v. cap. 5. Whether such a confession has to be 
repeated is however an open question, with authorities on both sides. 

2 S. Basilii Eegula, Interrog. 117 (Migne, GUI. 529). S. Augustin. Epist. 
CXL. cap. 21. 

3 P. Abaelardi Epit. Theol. Christian, cap. 35. 

4 Ps. Augustin. de vera et falsa Poenit. cap. 9. 

5 R. Pulli Sentt. Lib. v. cap. 31. 


passes over the question in silence ; it was apparently a scholastic 
subtilty which did not concern the canonists. Peter Lombard does 
not even allude to the fear of hell as a factor in true repentance. 1 
Yet the question must have been already fermenting in the schools, 
and opinions were beginning to change, for, about 1170, Lombard s 
disciple, Peter of Poitiers, shows that debate was earnest whether 
servile attrition is good or evil, a merit or a sin, compatible or incom 
patible with charity, and he concludes that it is a gratuitous gift of 
God, not in itself meriting eternal life, but leading to a desire for 
charity. 2 Alexander Hales makes a concession in the refinement 
that contrition should be felt for the sin and not for the punishment, 
except in so far as it is a consequence of sin. 3 Aquinas merely says 
that while we may feel sorrow for the punishment, contrition is con 
cerned exclusively with the sin. 4 The Dominican theologians for 
the most part took the severer view. Passavanti teaches that the 
most fervent servile attrition with the sacrament does not save from 
damnation. 5 St. Antonino regards the fear of hell as wholly insuf 
ficient in itself, and John Nider declares that sorrow arising from 
such fear is not attrition in any sense and is only a fresh actual sin 
deserving of punishment. 6 The Franciscans taught a laxer doctrine. 
It was not necessary for Duns Scotus to discuss servile attrition 
when he asserted that it suffices for the sinner to feel some dis 
pleasure for his sin and to have at the time no intention of repeating 
it ; all sacraments work of themselves, and only require that no 
impediment be placed in their way to obstruct their efficiency. 7 His 
disciples accepted his views and applied them ; Astesanus says that 
love of God and fear of hell are both useful ingredients in repent 
ance, and Piero d Aquila seems to know nothing but servile attrition 
the fear of punishment is the source of all repentance. 8 Angiolo 

1 P. Lombard! Sentt. Lib. iv. Dist. xv. $ 7. 

2 P. Pictaviens. Sentt. Lib. in. cap. 18. 

3 Alex, de Ales Summae P. IV. Q. xvn. Membr. iii. Art. 2. 

4 S. Th. Aquinat. Summae Suppl. Q. n. Art. 1. 

5 Jac. Passavanti, Lo Specchio della vera Penitenza, Dist. iv. cap. 1. 

6 S. Antonini Summae P. I. Tit. xx. Jo. Nider Prgeceptorium Divinas Legis, 
Praecept. in. cap. viii. ix. 

7 Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. iv. ; Dist. xvn. Q. unic. 

8 Fr. de Maironis in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. 1. Vorrillong in IV. Sentt. Dist. 
xiv. Astesani Summae Lib. v. Tit. 1, Art, 2, Q. 2, 3. P. de Aquila in IV. 
Sentt. Dist, xiv. Q. ii. 


da Chivasso is not quite so positive ; he considers the emotion caused 
by dread of punishment as contrition ; he tells us that all the doctors 
consider it efficacious, but he regards this as perhaps doubtful, espe 
cially when the mind is clouded in sickness. 1 Between these two 
schools there were teachers of varying degrees of laxity. John of 
Freiburg s conception of contrition is almost wholly servile ; in de 
scribing its six causes, sorrow for offending God and yearning for 
reconciliation are absent, and in their place appear the fear of hell 
and the loss of heaven. 2 Guido de Monteroquer treats the fear of 
hell as only one of the ingredients of contrition ; he admits that there 
are very few whose grief over their sins equals that which they feel 
for temporal misfortunes, but he discountenances too close a com 
parison, and confessors should never interrogate their penitents as 
to this. 3 Gabriel Biel teaches that fear of hell leads to detestation 
of sin and, if accompanied with faith in divine mercy, to love of 
God. 4 

Servile attrition had thus been gradually winning its way ; its suf 
ficiency was a comfortable doctrine, and in the increasing laxity 
which preceded the Reformation it became generally accepted. The 
more rigid theologians might insist on the dispositio congrua as re 
quisite for the reception of the sacrament, but Caietauo admits that 
it was generally absent, and his contemporary Prierias argues it away ; 
it suffices to wish to have regret for sins committed and to obtain 
grace from God to avoid them ; this is virtual attrition and is con 
verted into contrition by the sacrament, which impresses on the 
recipient a disposition known as ornatus. 5 It is true that Giovanni 
da Taggia asserts that confession is invalid when its chief motive is 
fear of hell, but Latomus assured his Lutheran controversalists that 
the requisite grace is conferred in the sacrament. 6 Thus the sacra 
ment became more and more a magic formula which supplied defi 
ciencies in both the grantor and grantee, and Melchior Cano, 

Summa Angelica s. vv. Contritio | 1 ; Pcenitentia \ 15. 

Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 21. 

Manip. Curator P. n. Tract 1, cap. 2, 6. 

Gab. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. ii. Art. 3, Dub 3. 

Caietani Opusc. Tract, v. De Confessione Q. 4. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. 
Confessio Sacr. i. $$ 24, 26. 

6 Summa Tabiena s. v. Confessio Sacr. | 29. Latomus de Confessione secreta, 


Dominican though he was, asserts that all the doctors define attrition 
to be simply the imperfect regret arising from fear of punishment. 1 

After the vigorous Lutheran assault the Church might have been 
expected to check this tendency to laxity, but the council of Trent 
declared that servile attrition, if unaccompanied by a desire to sin, 
is a gift of God which opens the way to justification in the sacra 
ment ; it is true that it added a warning to the penitent that if 
contrition is absent he must not flatter himself that he is truly ab 
solved before God, 2 but the recognition of servile attrition was 
enough. The practical application of its utterances is seen in a 
catechism issued, in 1578, by the Bishop of Pavia for the examina 
tion of priests applying for licenses to hear confessions, where it 
appears that the penitent is only required to express some sorrow for 
his sins and an intention to perform penance and abstain. 3 We need 
scarce wonder that the Tridentine Catechism complains that for the 
most part the people believe that no heartfelt sorrow is requisite, and 
that an external semblance of it suffices, 4 or that Father Fornari in 
his instructions to confessors alludes to attrition as the most that can 
be expected, as though contrition had altogether disappeared from 
the confessional. 5 What that attrition was is explained by Chieri- 
cato, who tells us that before the council of Trent attrition meant 
perfect sorrow, based on the love of God up to the point where God 
infused grace, so that it became contrition, but that since the council 
it is held to mean merely the sorrow caused by fear, so that it cannot 
become contrition, though it may serve to introduce the love of God, 
and thus become contrition. 6 In fact, the Tridentine fathers had so 
successfully eluded a decision that the question whether any love 
of God is required in the sacrament remained open. 7 

The sufficiency of servile attrition being thus admitted, the next 

1 Melchior. Cani Kelect. de Pcenit. P. in. (Ed. 1550, p. 33). 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Poenit. cap. 4, 6. 

3 Confessionale Savonarolae, jubente Hypp. de Rubeis Episc. Papiensi, per 
R. D. Alex. Saulium, Taurini 1578, fol. 81-2. " Dummodo adsit non solum 
aliqualis dolor de prseteritis sed etiam propositum satisfaciendi et abstinendi 
de futuro." 

4 Catechism. Tridentin. De Poenitentia cap. xii. 

5 M. Fornarii Institutio Confessarior. Tract. I. cap. 1. For the wide and 
long-continued popularity of this work, see De Backer, III. 307. 

6 Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xiv. n. 9. 

7 Tournely de Sacr. Poenit. Q. V. Art. ii. 


step was to subdivide it into natural and supernatural. For the 
source of this distinction we may quote Domingo Soto, who thinks 
it probable that attrition caused by the fear of hell suffices with the 
sacrament ; if the fear is of earthly punishment it does not suffice, 
though the confession is valid, but if the fear is of worldly evils to 
be inflicted by God, then it may be regarded as sufficing attrition 
with the sacrament. 1 Thus natural attrition came to be known as 
that caused by fear of disgrace or human punishment, and super 
natural as that which arose through fear of punishment by God, 
whether in this world or the next. 2 It was reducing the old defini 
tions of repentance to the lowest denomination and smoothing the 
sinner s path to heaven to teach that regret for sin caused by dread 
of infamy or justice suffices in the sacrament, but theologians were 
found to defend this doctrine as probable. In the sixteenth century 
Azpilcueta says that he had heard it maintained. 3 Even so good an 
authority as St. Francis Xavier virtually accepts natural attrition as 
sufficing when he instructs confessors who find sinners insensible to 
threats of hell to terrify them into repentance by predicting for them 
all sorts of misfortunes loss of money and of reputation, defeats in 
law-suits, imprisonment, incurable diseases etc. 4 It continued to be 
taught, and, in 1679, Innocent XI. was obliged to condemn it, 5 though 
he did not condemn the proposition, which was common among theo 
logians, that actual attrition is unnecessary, and that virtual suffices. 6 
The more rigorous party in the Church was not satisfied with the 
increasing laxity which sought to degrade doctrine to the level of 
current practice, and it endeavored to elevate somewhat the concep 
tion of supernatural servile attrition. When theologians were found to 
teach that the mere verbal assertion of sorrow and of wish to abstain, 
or sorrow because the penitent could not be sorry enough, or that a 
passing momentary dread of punishment constituted formal attrition 

1 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. iii. Art. 3. Tarnburini Method. 
Confess. Lib. i. cap. 1, | 5. 

2 Viva, Trutina Theol. in Prop. LVK. Innocent. PP. XI. Trotta a Veteri 
Exposit. Propos. Damnat. Tract, n. Art. Ivii. 

3 Azpilcueta Man. Confessar. cap. I. n. 8. 

4 S. Fran. Xaverii Nov. Epist. Lib. iv. Epist. 4 (Romae, 1667, pp. 289-90). 

5 Innoc. PP. XL Deer. 2 Mart. 1679, Prop. LVII. Of. Arsdekin Theol. 
Tripart. P. nr. P. ii. Tract. 4, cap. 5. 

6 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. xxxi. n. 8. 


sufficient for the validity of the sacrament, 1 there could not but be 
minds that would seek to revert to the earlier and loftier conceptions 
of the Fathers. Willem van Est, who was inclined to what became 
known as Jansenism, contends that fear of hell does not suffice unless 
combined with love of righteousness. 2 Pere Seguenot went further, 
for, in a translation of St. Augustin s tract De Virginitate, he took 
occasion to assert that attrition is insufficient, and that contrition 
proceeding from perfect charity is requisite, propositions which the 
Sorbonne, in 1638, condemned as disturbing to quiet souls, contrary 
to the safe and common practice of the Church and derogatory to 
the sacrament. 3 The convenient vagueness of the Tridentine defini 
tion left ample room for opposing views, and, in 1666, the learned 
Christian Wolff issued a treatise to prove that it meant that charity 
is requisite for the remission of sins, and that servile attrition is 
merely useful, though sometimes necessary. 4 This raised a lively 
debate, and, in 1667, Alexander VII. issued through the Inquisition 
a decree prohibiting all mutual abuse by the contending theologians 
until the Holy See should decide the question, though incidentally it 
asserted that the majority deny the necessity of any charity. 5 The 
rigorous party had to contend not only with the prevailing laxity of 
practice, but with the stigma of Jansenism which their opponents 
used against them most effectively. When they urged that the fear 
of hell is not supernatural, and that attrition based solely upon it, 
without love of God, is not a good or supernatural emotion, Alex 
ander VIII., in 1690, condemned these propositions, and Viva de 
clares them to be Baian and Jansenist with a flavor of Lutheranism, 
while Francolini assumes that the denial of the sufficiency of attrition 
without inchoate charity is a modern Jansenist error, though there 
would seem to be force in the remark of Juenin that demons grieve 
over their sins not because of the offence to God, but because of the 
punishment. 6 Fenelon did not hesitate to denounce as scandalous 
the doctrine that attrition arising from fear is sufficient, but he added 

1 Em. Sa Aphorism! Confessar. s. vv. Absolutio n. 13 ; Contritio n. 4. Alph. 
de Leone de Offic. et Potestate Confessar. Recol. xx. n. 114. 

2 Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. gl. 

8 D Argentre" Collect. Judic. de novis Erroribus III. i. 126. 

4 Chr. Lupi Dissert, circa Contritionem et Attritionem (Opp. XI. 205). 

5 Index Alex. PP. VII. Index Deer. n. 92. 

6 Viva Theol. Trutina in Alex. PP. VIII. Prop. xiv. xv. Francolini Discipl. 


that the requirement of predominant charity is equally dangerous, 
and he sought to find a middle term in which the love of God should 
balance the love of sin. 1 The great assembly of the Gallican clergy, 
in 1700, under the lead of Bossuet, condemned the doctrine that 
servile attrition suffices without at least inchoate love of God as rash, 
scandalous, pernicious and tending to heresy, and it ordered all 
priests so to instruct their penitents. 2 The strife between laxism 
and rigorism, between the Jesuit theology and the so-called Jansen 
ism, waxed hotter and hotter, but the Jesuit influence in Rome be 
came preponderating, and finally, after a long struggle, Clement XL, 
in 1713, issued the bull Unigenitus, directed primarily against Pas- 
quier Quesnel, condemning 101 propositions, among which it de 
nounced as Jansenist errors the assertion that the fear of hell by 
itself leads only to despair, and that abstinence from sin through 
fear alone is external and not internal. 3 The lively resistance which 
the bull aroused in France almost threatened a schism of at least a 
portion of the Gallican Church from Rome. Under heavy pressure 
from Louis XIV. the bull was accepted, nominally at least, by a 
partial assembly of bishops after a discussion of four months, but 
many recalcitrated and the contest continued, with threats of the 
gravest character from Clement and almost open rebellion on the 
part of the dissidents. Matters went so far that four bishops, with 
the Cardinal de Noailles, Archbishop of Paris, at their head, inter 
jected an appeal to a future council, in which they were sustained by 
the Sorbonne and the faculties of Reims and Nantes. The appeals 
were put on the Index, the privileges of the Sorbonne were sus 
pended, and the Roman Inquisition ordered the prosecution as 
heretics of all who should criticize the bull. 4 The bishops com- 

Pceiiit. Lib. in. cap. viii. n. 1. Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. iv. cap. 2, 
Art. 3. 

1 Fenelon, sur le Commencement de 1 Amour de Dieu (CEuvres, Paris. 1838 
II. 347). 

2 Habert Theol. Moral. De Prenit. cap. vin. iv. Juenin de Sacramentis 
Diss. vn. Q. iv. cap. 4, Art. 2, $ 4. 

3 Clement. PP. XI. Const. Unigenitus. Prop. 60, 62, 66 (Bullar. VIII. 120). 

4 Premiere Instruction Pastorale de Mgr. le Card, de Noailles, Paris, 1719, 
I. 41; n. 127, 157, 163, 166-76. Index Bened. PP. XIV. 1744, p. 263. Clem 
ent. PP. XI. Const, drcumapecta, 18 Nov. 1716; Deer. S. Inquisit. 2 Maii 
1714; 3 Aug. 1719 (Bullar. VIII. 180, 402, 404). 

For the violent means adopted to procure the acceptance of the bull and the 

II. 2 


plained that the simple negation of the Quesnellian propositions was 
vague and left the door open to the most deplorable laxity, leading 
to general demoralization, and they begged the pope to give such 
definitions or explanations as would enable them to avert these evils, 
but the only reply was that the bull was sufficiently clear to those 
not wilfully perverse, and that all who would not accept it as it 
stood would be cut off from the Church. 1 So heated was the debate 
that the Benedictine Dom Thierry de Viaixnes, in 1727, did not 
hesitate to say that in the general council to which he appealed the 
bull would be burnt and its author condemned as a heresiarch. 2 It 
was not till 1729 that the Sorbonne made its final submission and 
disavowed its rebellious proceedings, 3 but this by no means put an 
end to the agitation. The performances of the Convulsionnaires at 
the tomb of Francois de Paris in the cemetery of S. Medard, until 
its closure by royal order in 1732, illustrate the spiritual exaltation 
of the opponents of the bull, and, as late as 1736, the Jansenist 
Bishop of Senez declared that the miracles operated at the inter 
cession of Paris proved that the bull was not fit to be accepted. 4 
In 1762 the so-called Jansenists had their reprisals on the Jesuits, 
but the agitation continued until the Revolution absorbed all other 

The papal tactics of defining only by negation could lead to no 
positive affirmation of doctrine, but the Holy See cautiously held 
aloof from committing itself to any precise determination of a matter 
incapable of absolute definition. When the rigorists accused the 
laxists of administering the sacraments without requiring a due 
amount of contrition, the latter retorted that in practice the rigorists 

protests of the Parlements of the kingdom, see Le Temoignage de V Universite 
de Paris au sujet de la Constitution Unigenitus, Paris, 1716. 

1 Noailles, Instruction, i. 21, 31-2, 39, 44, 46, 50. Clement. PP. XI. Const. 
Pastoralis Officii, 28 Aug. 1718 (Bullar. VIII. 207). 

2 Colonia, Bibliotheque Janseniste, Ed. 1735, p. 6. 

3 D Argentre, III. I. 172. 

4 Doyen, Vie du Bienheureux Francois de Paris ; Eecueil de Pieces, p. clxv. 
(Utrecht, 1743). 

The immense literature which accumulated around the performances of the 
Convulsionnaires may well be forgotten, but worth preserving is the epigram 
posted on the gate of S. Medard after its closure 

De part le Eoy defence a Dieu 
De faire miracle en ce lieu. 


did the same, and that otherwise the sacrament would scarce ever 
be granted. 1 Although Rome thus evaded the decision of a question 
on which depends the efficacy of nearly every sacrament administered 
to penitents, it did not hesitate, when not speaking ex cathedra, to 
teach the sufficiency of servile contrition without charity. In a series 
of vernacular instructions, drawn up by Benedict XIII., and ordered 
by the council of Rome, in 1725, to be used in all parishes, the defi 
nition of attrition is the servile one of the council of Trent, as arising 
from the fear of hell, or of loss of paradise, or the turpitude of sin, 
but it added, what the Tridentine fathers were careful to elude, that 
this suffices, adding the explanation that this is the common opinion, 
though it is still undecided by the Holy See. 2 Benedict XIV. there 
fore was wise when he warned the bishops not to assert absolutely 
the sufficiency of mere servile attrition, or the necessity of inchoate 
charity, for it is sub judice, and either side may be sustained with 
impunity. 3 While thus either may be employed in practice, Ferraris 
asserts that the motive of attrition is charity towards ourselves rather 
than towards God, for it arises from fear of temporal or eternal pun 
ishment, and, with the sacrament, this suffices for justification ; as 
for the love of God, he contents himself with the reflection that 
attrition leads to it, explicitly or impliedly, formally or virtually. 4 
Liguori tells us that the great mass of authorities are in favor of the 
sufficiency of mere servile attrition, even if it arises only from the 
fear of temporal evils to be sent in chastisement by God, but he 
adds that the other opinion does not lack probability and is safer. 5 

The rigorists were not wholly silenced and endeavored to avoid 
the Quesnellian errors by dividing timor servilis into simpliciter ser- 
vilis and serviliter servilis, the former being fear of punishment with 
out desire to sin, while in the latter there is desire restrained by fear. 

1 Francolini Clericus Eomanus munitus Disp. x. n. 2, 4. 

2 C. Eoman. aim. 1725, Tit. xxxn. cap. 3 (Romae, 1725, p. 138). "Bastando 
il dolore imperfetto, cioe PAttrizione, gia spiegata di sopra, 6 pura, 6 al piu 
quella che e congiunta con quale principle di amor benevolo verso Dio, il che 
rimana finora indeciso dalla Sante Sede." A Latin version may be found in 
the Cottectio Lacensis, I. 458. 

3 Bened. PP. XIV. De Synodo Diceces. Lib. vm. cap. xiii. n. 9. 

4 Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Poenit. Sacram. Art. n. n. 7, 8, 10. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 440-5. For the still unsettled 
dispute over this question see the Vindicice Afphonsince, pp. 426 sqq. (Romse, 


Of course the attrition aroused by the former is supernatural, and 
Father de Charmes holds that all servile attrition to be efficient with 
the sacrament must include some love of God. 1 The belligerent 
rigorist Concilia is unsparing in his denunciation of the teaching 
of the laxists as an effort to reconcile pagan morals with heavenly 
rewards. 2 This resistance was in vain. The Jansenist movement in 
Tuscany, under the Grand-Duke Leopold I., in denouncing the effi 
cacy of mere servile attrition as leading only to supposititious con 
versions, gave the laxists the opportunity desired, and Pius VI. 
condemned the doctrine as false and rash, contrary to the safe prac 
tice of the Church, and derogatory to the power of the sacrament. 3 
Thus the Church at last spoke in terms which, if not wholly unam 
biguous, could be construed as condemning all but the laxer require 
ments, and its teachers have availed themselves of the opportunity. 
Miguel Sanchez treats as Jansenist and Lutheran the demand for 
predominant charity ; as for the other points, they are merely a 
question of words, for there is no attrition that does not impliedly 
contain charity. 4 Palmieri argues that for the sacrament to reconcile 
the sinner with God requires only the removal of unretracted sin, 
and this is accomplished by attrition arising solely from servile fear. 5 
The Catechism of the Council of Baltimore asserts that " imperfect 
contrition " suffices, arising through the fear of hell or the hateful- 
ness of sin, and it says nothing about this becoming contrition in the 
sacrament. 6 

There is still another dilution of repentance the attntio existimata, 

1 Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univ. Diss. v. cap. iii. Q. 3, Artt. 1, 2. Tournely de 
Sacr. Pcenit. Q. v. Art. 1. 

2 Concilia Theol. Christian, contract. Lib. ix. Diss. 1, cap. 7, 5, 6. "Sed 
NOVA VIA MEDIA una conjungit paganicos mores et regni seterni prsemium ; 
sacramenta Christi et voluptates mundi ; lucein et tenebras ; bonum etmalum." 
Ibid. cap. 9, \ 3, n. 4. 

3 Istruzione Pastorale di Mgr. Vescovo di Chiusi e Pienza (Guiseppe Panni- 
lini) | xxxvi. (Firenze, 1786, p. 89). Catechismo per i Fanciulli ad uso delle 
citta e Diocesi di Cortona, Chiusi, Pienza, Pistoja, Prato e Colle, Lezioni 11, 
12 (Pistoja, 1786). Compendio dell Educazione overo Istruzione Cristiana, 
cap. 22 (Napoli, 1784). Atti e Decreti del Concilio di Pistoja dell Anno 1786, 
pp. 142-3, 147. Pii PP. VI. Const. Auctorem Fidei, Prop. xxv. xxxvi. 

4 Mig. Sanchez Prontuario de la Teol. Moral. Trat. vi. Punto iv. \ 2. 

5 Palmieri Tract, de Pcenit. p. 344. 

6 Catechism of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, 1886, p. 35. 


or imaginary attrition, in which the penitent thinks that he has attri 
tion, but in reality has none. Already in the fourteenth century Dn- 
rand de S. Pourgain takes note of this and holds that it suffices for the 
penitent to consider himself contrite, for God supplies what is lack 
ing, or the sacrament makes it good. 1 The question theoretically is 
both a puzzling and an important one, for it is recognized as a self- 
evident fact that no one can rightly gauge and jestimate the depth 
and reality of his own emotions, and when once it is admitted that 
he may deceive himself into thinking that he is attrite when he is 
not, the basis becomes unstable of the whole elaborate superstructure 
erected by the labors of the theologians. As it is impossible, how 
ever, to know whether the penitent s belief in his own attrition is 
well or ill-founded, or how God may regard it in case he is mistaken, 
the matter is practically purely speculative. Some doctors of high 
authority invoke the aid of invincible ignorance for the benefit of 
the penitent f others argue, like Durand, that in view of his good 
faith God supplies a sanctifying grace sufficient for justification, 3 but 
the opinion of the insufficiency of such attrition is more common, 
and to this Palmieri inclines, though he comforts the penitent by 
assuring him that if he does what he can he may rest assured that 
his attrition will become sufficient in confession. 4 After all, the 
futility of these speculations which have so greatly exercised the 
theological mind for the last seven hundred years, is shown in the 
assertion of Liguori that many confessors simply ask the penitent 
" Do you ask God s pardon for all these sins, and do you repent of 
them in your heart?" and then, without another word, confer abso 
lution. 5 Possibly this may help to explain the complaint of the 

1 Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. XVII. Q. xiii. 

2 Melchior. Cani Eelecta de Pcenit. P. v. (Ed. 1550, p. 121). 

3 Berteau Director Confessarior. Ed. xxi. Venet. 1684, p. 489. This is proba 
bly the work condemned by the Sorbonne, in 1638, as containing " non tantum 
multa inepta et ridicula sed etiam turpia et obscaena" (D Argentre, III. i. 16). 
It was not, however, condemned in Rome, and seems to have continued largely 
in use for at least half a century. 

4 Palmieri Tract, de Pcenit. pp. 353-7. Of. Escobar Theol. Moral. Lib. viz. 
Examen. iv. cap. 5, n. 28. Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 1881. Arsdekin 
Theol. Tripart. P. in. P. ii. Tract. 4, cap. 5. Busenbaum Medullse Theol. 
Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. cap. 1, Dub. 2, n. 2. Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univ. 
Diss. v. cap. iii. Q. 1. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio Praxis Confessarii Cap. i. 2, n. 10. 


council of Bordeaux, in 1859, that in most cases the fruit of the 
sacrament is lost through lack of contrition. 1 

The progressive exaltation which we have traced in the power 
ascribed to the sacrament as a substitute for the demands made upon 
the conscience of the penitent naturally leads to a formalism supplant 
ing the essentials which the earlier Church regarded as alone constitut 
ing a claim for pardon. A necessary preparation for confession is the 
eliciting of what is called an " Act of Contrition," but we are told 
that if at Easter a Christian has not access to a confessor he is not 
bound to elicit an act of contrition, for Avhen the Church imposes an 
obligation for an external act we are not held to an internal one if 
the external one is impossible, since the obligation to the internal 
one is secondary. 2 Thus the sign had replaced the thing ; confession, 
which had originally been merely one of the tokens of contrition, had 
become the sole essential, and contrition without it is useless ; the 
obligation to God has been transferred to man. The act of contrition 
itself is, however, but another illustration of the formalism which 
tends to satisfy itself with externalities. It is a formula expressing 
sorrow for sins committed and intention of amendment and is re 
garded as of great virtue under various circumstances. Thus if a 
priest in mortal sin is obliged to celebrate mass or create "scandal " 
by its omission, and has no opportunity of confessing and obtaining 
absolution, he can qualify himself by eliciting an act of contrition 
with an intention to confess. 3 These formulas are sometimes elabo 
rate and sometimes simple, and are even turned into vernacular verse 
to aid the memory of the rude and uninstructed. 4 Theoretically, the 

1 C. Burdigalens. ami. 1859, Tit. in. cap. 5 \ 3 (Coll. Lacens. IV. 761). 

2 Summa Diana s. v. Serous t n. 42. A similar mechanical conception of 
morals is exhibited in the dictum that contrition need not be felt for remitted 
sins if they recur to the memory, for the object of contrition is reconciliation 
to God, and this has been obtained. Ibid. s. v. Attritio et Contritio n. 5. 

3 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xi. Jo. Gersonis Regular Morales (Ed. 1488, 
xxv. E.). Casus Conscientise Bened. PP. XIV. Oct. 1736, cap. 3. 

Father de Charmes suggests another mode of escape from scandal for a priest 
who through lack of absolution is unfit to celebrate mass. It is to scratch the 
thumb with a knife and then bandage it and exhibit it as the reason for not 
celebrating. Theol. Univ. Diss. v. cap. vi. Q. 5, | 3. 

4 Tamburini (Method. Confessionis Lib. I. cap. 1, $ 6) gives the following for 
an act of contrition "Pranitet me intime de peccatis meis propter Deum quern 
sumrne diligo, emendationem propono in futurum." Also this for attrition 


act of contrition to be effective must be based upon a corresponding 
internal emotion, which, as we may easily believe the moralists, is by 
no means easy, 1 and in fact Liguori tells us that the ignorant are 
mostly unable to perform it. 2 This would seem to imply that it may 
be made a matter of training, but when an emotion of this kind is to 
be summoned at will or at command, it is not uncharitable to believe 
that the form in most cases replaces the substance, and we have the 
authority of Liguori that very few penitents take the trouble thus to 
prepare themselves for confession. 3 

Another question relating to contrition, which has greatly agitated 
the schools, is whether the sacrament can be valid and yet informe, 
or inoperative in consequence of the repentance not extending over 
all the mortal sins committed. The impossibility of solving the 
problem only rendered the debate more attractive, and hosts of great 
names are arrayed on either side, but the majority are in the affirma 
tive, wherefore we are told that this is the more probable opinion and 
that the sacrament remains dormant until it is vivified by the removal 
of the impediment. If the penance is thus performed in mortal sin, 
it too revives and removes the punishment ex opere operate* 

Closely connected with the question of the sufficiency of attrition 
is the motive which leads the penitent to seek the sacrament. We 
have seen that it is regarded as invalid if dread of infamy or justice 
is the only source of attrition ; it is not easy to differentiate this from 

" Mihi displicet peccasse propter mala quse Deus mihi immittere vel bona quibus 
me privare potest." 

Equally simple is one of Benedict XIV. (Casus Conscientise, Sept. 1739, cas. 
2). "Pcenitet me offendisse Deum quia summe bonum est, nee ultra hoc in 
aeternum faciam." 

More ornate is one contained in the instructions for children issued by 
Benedict XIII. (Concil. Roman, ann. 1725, p. 440) 

Oflfesi il mio Signore, 

Mio Dio, mar di pieta, fonte d amore ! 

Ingrato offesi a torto 

Chi sol per amor mio in Croce e morto. 

Pentami, sommo Ben, Bonta infmita : 

Mai piu ti ofFendero, mai piii, mia Vita. 

1 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 2098. 

2 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 624. 

8 Ejusd. Praxis Confessar. cap. I. 2, n. 10. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 672, 1244. 


other worldly motives, but theologians draw nice distinctions under 
which it is difficult to exclude any one. A woman goes to confession 
and communion and mass because her companions do so and she 
desires their esteem are her sacraments sacrilegious? A man is 
charitable, partly from kindness and partly from desire of reputation 
is there merit in it ? Of old it was held that confession from such 
motive is invalid, but modern casuists assure us that if the vain-glory 
is per accidens, the merit is not lost. 1 

If the question as to the degree of sufficing attrition has proved 
so intricate and embarrassing, that of amendment and abstinence 
from sin has provoked no less discussion and is perhaps even more 
difficult of resolution in practice. In the early Church, as we have 
seen, repentance was held to imply conversion of heart and amend 
ment of life, and Chrysostom was regarded as a heretic because he 
was willing to admit the relapsed to repeated penance. It was on 
this that were founded the disabilities imposed on penitents to pre 
serve them from temptation, and the definition by Gregory the Great 
of the true mode of performing penance differs little from that of 
Luther that it is to grieve over past sins and not to repeat them. 2 
Human nature, however, is too frail to stand such a test enforced in 
all its strictness, while human wisdom is incapable of framing a rule 
which shall apply to all cases the line of demarcation existing be 
tween the earnest Christian who falls repeatedly yet always strives to 
rise again and the habitual sinner who regards the pardon of his 
offences simply as a licence for renewing them. Yet it was to this 
impossible task that the Church bound itself when it undertook to 
guide the consciences of all its subjects and to wield the keys of 
heaven and hell, and on the wise discharge of the duty thus assumed 
depends for the most part the moral influence which it attributes to 
the confessional. 

In the profound alteration produced in the Church by its struggle 
with the Barbarians and their nominal conversion, the old-time strict 
ness necessarily disappeared. If the convert could be brought to 
confess and ask for reconciliation it did not answer to hold him to too 
strict an accountability for his future conduct. Among the Peniten- 

1 Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio I. | 5, 24. Gury Casus Conscienti^ I. 33-4. 

2 Gregor. PP. I. Homil. in Evangel, xxxiv. 15." Poenitentiam quippe 
agere est et perpetrata mala plangere et plangenda non perpetrare." 


tials therefore we find little thought bestowed on amendment of life 
in assigning penance, though in some of the later ones, which bear 
the sacerdotal impress of the Pseudo-Isidorian movement in the 
ninth century, it claims a place among the seven methods of obtain ing 
pardon. 1 That the forgers of the false decretals sought to restore the 
importance of abstention from sin is seen in a phrase attributed to 
Pius I., that fasting and prayer and other good works are useless 
unless the mind is withdrawn from sin. 2 A canon is attributed to 
the great council of Piacenza under Urban II. in 1095, which if 
enforced would have settled the question for the future, for it forbids 
any one to be received to penance who will not dismiss hatred from 
his heart, or a concubine, or any other mortal sin. 3 

When the schoolmen commenced their labors it was apparently 
not thought worth while to complicate the effort to popularize con 
fession by too rigid a construction of the old rule. Hugh of St. 
Victor quotes Ambrose and Gregory and Isidor to the effect that 
penitence is naught if it is followed by fresh sins, but he argues that 
subsequent sins only prove that the sinner is then no longer penitent, 
not that he has not been. 4 Peter Lombard follows in the same line 
of thought : he struggles with the ancient authorities and seeks to 
prove that an intention at the time to sin no more suffices, and that 
relapse into sin can be cured by renewed repentance ; if contrition 
works amendment it is the sufficing contrition which in itself remits 
sin and renders the sacrament superfluous 5 leading to the deduction 
that the sacrament is for those who cannot refrain from sin. In the 
desire to extend the use of confession the barriers were thrown down, 
and Alexander III. evasively ordered even those to be received to 
confession who asserted that they could not abstain a precept which 
became embodied in the canon law. 6 Yet the old teachings of the 

1 Poenit. Merseburg. a Prolog ; Pcenit. Ps. Gregor. III. cap. 2 (Wasserschleben, 
pp. 388, 537). 

2 Gratian cap. 21 Caus. xxxnr. Q. iii. Dist. 3. P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. iv. 
Dist. xv. \ 3. It is perhaps significant that Gratian, while quoting the passage, 
endeavors to explain it away as applicable only to solemn penance and not to 
the general custom of the Church. 

3 Bertold. Constant. Chron. ann. 1095. Curiously enough, there is no such 
canon among those attributed to the council in the collections. 

1 H. de S. Victore Summae Sentt. Traet. VI. cap. iv. 

5 P. Lombard! Sentt. Lib. iv. Diss. xiv. $ I ; Dist. xv. 7. 

6 Cap. 5 Extra Lib. v. Tit. xxxviii. 


Fathers could not be thus superseded without a struggle. Alain de 
Lille endeavored to reconcile the old and the new by defining peni 
tence to be contrition for sins with the intention to avoid them ex 
pressed through the mouth of the confessor. 1 Adam de Perseigne is 
more conservative in saying that confession is useless without amend 
ment ; even when there is an earnest desire to abandon sin, if it is 
unsuccessful, good works will not purchase absolution ; they may 
procure some mitigation of the torments of hell, or they may be 
repaid during life by worldly prosperity, but this is all. 2 Eudes of 
Paris, in 1198, and Richard Poore of Salisbury, in 1217, order the 
confessor to inquire of the penitent whether he will abstain from sin, 
and if he refuses to promise he is to be denied absolution, lest in 
relying upon it he be led into fresh sin. 3 

When, by the Lateran canon of 1216, confession was made obliga 
tory, the question as to abstention from sin, as a condition precedent 
to absolution, acquired fresh importance, and the Church found itself 
involved in difficulties not easily resolved in practice, especially as 
regards the assurances to be exacted of the penitent. William of 
Paris declares that pardon of sin is only to be promised for aban 
donment of sin, yet he is emphatic in the precept that no vow or 
oath or even promise is to be required of the penitent, lest it prove a 
snare to entice him to greater sin. 4 It was a dilemma of which either 
horn might prove provocative of evil, for Berenguer, Bishop of 
Gerona, instructs his priests that those who will not promise to ab 
stain are to be refused absolution, 5 and St. Bonaventura tells the 
confessor that absolution cannot be granted without abandonment 
of sin ; that he must exact a promise to abstain, for it is a mortal 
sin to confer absolution on those who refuse to do so, like the pest 
iferous ignoramuses who thus grant licence to confirmed concubina- 
rians, usurers and other habitual sinners, a power which not the pope 
nor St. Peter himself nor all the angels possess. 6 In 1284, the 
council of Nimes is emphatic on the subject and strictly insists that 

1 Alani de Insulis de Arte Oath. Fidei Lib. iv. (Fez, Thesaur. I. u. 497). 

2 Adami de Persennia Epist. xx. (Martene Thesaur. I. 751). 

3 Odonis Episc Paris. Synod. Constitt. cap. vi. 8 ; R. Poore Constitt. cap. 
xxx. (Harduin. VI. ir. 1940; VII. 97). 

4 Guillel. Paris, de Pcenitentia cap. 24, 26; de Sacr. Poenitentise cap. 21. 

5 Espaiia Sagrada, XLIV. 20. 

6 S. Bonaventurse Confessionale cap. iv. Partic. 2, 3. 


absolution and communion are to be refused to those who have not a 
firm resolution to abstain. 1 How this was to be recognized does not 
appear, and, in 1287, the council of Liege contents itself with refus 
ing absolution to those who will not say that they wish to abstain. 2 
John of Freiburg reflects the uncertainty of the period in the mass 
of confused and conflicting authorities which he cites. There could 
be no doubt as to the principle, but its reduction to practice was 
quite a diiferent thing, and he concludes that although, if the peni 
tent will not abstain his good works will be fruitless, still he is to 
be received to absolution and be exhorted to amendment. 3 The 
Scotists, with their tendency to laxity, argued that it is sufficient if 
the penitent at the time of receiving the sacrament has not the 
actual intention of committing sin, 4 but Astesanus adds that if the 
penitent professes readiness to abstain and the sin is a grave one, an 
oath should be exacted of him. 5 Durand de S. Pourgain admits that 
the question as to penitents who will not abstain is a difficult one ; he 
cites the arguments on both sides and avoids expressing a decided 
opinion, except that it is safer to make such a fictitious penitent 
confess again. 6 The council of Cambrai, in 1310, was more rigid 
and ordered absolution to be refused to those who had not the 
intention to abstain, but penance was to be imposed, and they were 
to be urged to the performance of good works in the hope that these 
would induce God to illuminate their hearts. 7 About 1330 Gnil- 
laume de Trie, Archbishop of Reims, in his instructions to confessors 
only requires the penitent to promise to abstain as much as he can. 
Chancellor Gerson alludes to the Scotist doctrine that absence of 
actual intention suffices, as a very merciful one, and holds the safer 
and more probable opinion to be that actual intention not to sin is 
requisite, 9 but how the test is to be applied is not stated. St. 

1 C. Nemausens. arm. 1284 (Harduin. VII. 910). 

2 Job. Leodiens. Statut. Synodal, aim. 1287, cap. 4 (Hartzheim III. 686). 

3 Job. Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 137, 139. 

4 Job. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. 4. Fr. de Maironis in IV. Sentt. Dist. 
xiv. Q. 1. 

5 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. 

6 Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. xiii. 

7 C. Cameracens. ann. 1310 (Hartzbeim IV. 114). 

8 Statuta Synod. Remens. Sec. Loc. Praecept. 4 (Gousset, Actes etc. IF. 540). 
See also C. Suession. ann. 1403 (Ibid. p. 630). 

u Job. Gersonis Regular Morales (Ed. 1488, xxv. H.). 


Antonino follows the council of Cambrai ; if a penitent is not dis 
posed to abandon his sins, absolution is to be refused and some good 
works are to be enjoined. 1 Another authority of the period throws 
the responsibility on the penitent, who ought to have the firm inten 
tion of sinning no more, for there are many who feel true contrition 
and confess well, but if the evil desires remain in their hearts their con 
fessions are naught. 2 A ngiolo da Chivasso and Bartolommeo de Chaimis 
say that no promises or oaths are to be exacted, but it is a mortal sin 
to absolve the penitent who will not agree to abandon a mortal sin. 8 

In the progressive laxity of the pre-Reformation period Caietano 
explains that what commonly passes for attrition in the confessional 
is the regret of having sinned felt by habitual concubinarians and 
usurers accompanied by a velleity of intention to reform which by 
no means implies an intention to do so. In fact, he says it is almost 
universal for penitents to admit their intention of not abandoning 
their sins ; in these the virtue of the sacrament does not convert 
attrition into contrition, yet the confession is valid and need not be 
repeated. 4 Even so severe a moralist as Savonarola is contented 
with mere displeasure, provided there is not an absolute intention to 
continue sinning. 5 Such being the custom, the speculations of the 
theologians are only of interest as illustrations of the impossibility 
of reducing their theories to practice. Prierias shows the conflict 
between the two by saying that if a penitent declares that he cannot 
abandon a sin he must be refused absolution but then the confessor 
must never allow any one to depart in despair, and if he absolves 
the absolution is good and will have its effect when the sinner truly 
repents. 6 Thus the confessors kept on absolving while the sinners 

1 S. Antonini Instruct, de Audientia Confessionum, fol. lib. 

2 Eaynaldi Confessionale (sine nofa, sed circa 1476). 

3 Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio iv. 13 ; vi. g 1, 3. Bart, de Chaimis Inter- 
rogat fol. 92. Cherubim de Spoleto Sermones Quadragesimales Serm. LXII. 

4 Caietani Opusc. Tract, iv. De Attritione Q. 1 ; Tract, v. De Confessione cap. 
5. Yet elsewhere he instructs the confessor to commence by asking the peni 
tent whether he is a concubinarian or usurer or detainer of others property ; 
and if the answer is affirmative to refuse to listen further. Even those who 
hold incompatible benefices by virtue of papal dispensations are to be rejected. 
Caietani Summula s. v. Interrogatio. 

5 Savonarolse Confessionale fol. 346. 

6 Summa Sylvestrina s. vv. Confessio Sacram. 1. 1 27 ; Confessor in. 15 ; iv. % 3. 
The theory that an absolution, imperfect because of fictitious confession 


kept oil sinning, and the system was sufficiently elastic to allow the 
consciences of both parties to be at ease, though Domingo Soto 
argues against the lax opinion that, if the penitent declares his ina 
bility to abstain, still his confession fulfils the Lateran precept. 1 

The council of Trent abstained from any disquieting definitions 
and contented itself with specifying that attrition excludes the will 
to sin, and with anathematizing the Gregorian and Lutheran doctrine 
that the best penitence is a new life, 2 which was negative rather than 
positive, and left the door open for those who at the moment might 
have no definite intention of continuing their evil courses. The 
Tridentine Catechism was equally reserved ; it described contrition 
as comprising a firm and certain intention of amendment, but it 
gave no instructions as to the treatment of relapsed or habitual 
sinners. 3 The reforming zeal of S. Carlo Borromeo broke in some 
what rudely on this comfortable opportunism, with the positive 
command that in the Milanese province no concubinarian, usurer, 
blasphemer, or other habitual sinner should be admitted to con 
fession until he should, for some months, have given evidence of 
amendment. 4 This wholesome severity unfortunately was only local, 
while laxity was general. Manuel Sa tells us that a mere inten 
tion to abstain suffices for absolution even if the confessor has no 
confidence in its effectiveness, though when a man frequently returns 
with the same sin it is well sometimes to defer the absolution. 5 In 
this latter case Bishop Zerola only suggests a warning to the sinner 

becomes valid when the penitent subsequently repents, is, like so many other 
points, a matter in dispute between the severer and laxer schools. A fictitious 
confession (confessio fictd) is one in which some sin is concealed or the penitent 
has not the intention of abandoning sin. Aquinas holds (Summse Supplem. 
Q. ix. Art. 1) that when the fiction disappears the absolution becomes good 
and need not be repeated, though the fiction itself is a sin requiring subse 
quent confession. Chancellor Gerson, on the other hand, says (Regulae Mor 
ales, Ed. 1488, xxv. H.), that the more probable though severer opinion is that 
there is no absolution and that the confession must be repeated. The modern 
theory appears to be that if the fiction is material or unintentional, the sacra 
ment revives ; if it is formal or malicious, the sacrament is wholly invalid. 
Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 1397. 

1 Dom Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvin. Q. iii. Art. 3. 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 4 ; can. xiii. 
?> Catechism. Trident. De Poenitentia cap. 6. 

4 S Caroli Borrom. Instruct. Confessar. (Ed. Brixise, 1676, pp. 76, 80). 
& Em. Sa Aphorismi Confessar. s. v. Absolutio n. 12. 


that, if he does not abstain, he will lose the fruit of his confession ; 
if he absolutely refuses to reform he is not to be sent away in de 
spair, but some good work is to be enjoined in the hope that God 
may enlighten him. 1 Escobar teaches that actual intention to abstain 
is not necessary, but virtual suffices, if there is good faith. 2 Willem 
van Est was regarded as rigorous, but he shows us how little share 
moral improvement had in the formalism of the confessional when 
he tells us that Luther s saying "A new life is the best penitence " 
was false, and therefore was properly condemned. 3 Diana informs 
us that it is a disputed question whether attrition should include an 
express or only an implied intention to abstain, and he explains that 
a sufficient intention may coexist with a probable expectation of 
relapse. 4 Tamburini states that an explicit intention is laudable, 
and is by some thought necessary, but it is probable that the mere 
detestation of sin suffices, because no one wishes to do what he 
detests. 5 

Even more relaxed doctrines than these were put forward and 
were largely practised. Antonio Molina says that he would absolve 
and admit to communion every week a penitent coming to him with 
the same array of sins. 6 Gobat tells us that he was accustomed to 
absolve six or eight times a penitent confessing the same sins, and 
then advise him to seek a confessor who could do him more good 7 
so that a sinner could thus sin and be absolved indefinitely. Juan 
Sanchez asserts that the confessor has no right to ask the penitent 
whether he is an habitual sinner, and that if he does so the latter 
can equivocate or lie in reply ; absolution he says is not to be re 
fused or deferred to a penitent habitually sinning against the law of 
God, of nature, or of the Church, even if there is no hope of amend 
ment, provided he professes sorrow and proposes to amend ; he has 
a right to absolution, and to deny it is to deprive him of the grace of 

1 Zerola Praxis Sacram. Poenitent. cap. xxvi. Q. 14, 15. 

2 Escobar Theol. Moral. Tract, vii. Exam. iv. cap. 5, n. 28. 

3 Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. 1. 

4 Summa Diana s. v. Attritio et OontrUio n. 9. 

5 Tamburini Method. Confessionis Lib. I. cap. 1, $ 3. This work appeared 
in 1645, and had a wide circulation for a century. See De Backer II. 618. 

6 Ant. Molina de Sacerdotio cap. vi. (Juenin. de Sacrain. Diss. IV. Q. viii. 
cap. 1, 3). 

7 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 524. 


the sacrament as an aid in overcoming the habit. 1 The two former 
of these propositions of Sanchez were condemned by Innocent XI. in 
1679, 2 and he further ordered the superiors of the religious Orders 
to instruct confessors to deny absolution to those not prepared to 
mend their ways, though the force of this injunction was somewhat 
weakened by its being mainly directed against women who dressed 
too expensively or immodestly. As we shall see hereafter, Innocent 
favored the rigorist section of the Church, and his assistance was 
sorely needed by them in the losing battle which they were fighting. 
Juenin, whom we may take as their representative, taught that ab 
solution is to be refused to those who have not a firm and constant 
resolve to sin no more ; he advocated the rule of S. Carlo Borromeo 
(which was adopted by the assembly of the Gallican clergy in 1656 s ), 
and he devotes a long section to combating the arguments of those 
who held that the sinner should be absolved toties quoties as often 
as he was in need of it. These arguments show the impossibility of 
the rigid administration of the sacrament. It was urged that peni 
tents would be driven to despair ; that at the moment they may have 
true contrition ; that by refusal they are angered and driven away ; 
that it would be impossible for them to obey the command of Easter 
communion, and that denying them the Eucharist would cause 
scandal, and that greater scandal would be created by deferring 
marriages through the inability to obtain the preliminary sacrament ; 
that people s reputations would be destroyed ; but more significant 
than all is the plea that custom makes law, and it is the custom to 
absolve habitual sinners, even though there is no sign of their amend 
ment beyond a verbal promise a custom the existence of which 

1 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. ix. n. 7, 11, 12; x. n. 16. 

2 Innoc. PP. XI. Deer. 2 Mart. 1679, Prop. Iviii. Ix. For a discussion on 
the subject, see Salmanticens. Cursus Theol. Moral. Tract, xvil. cap. ii. n. 164 
-7. Also, Busenbaurn Medullee Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. cap. 1, Dub. 
2, n. 9. 

3 The Instructions of S. Carlo were printed by the assembly and addressed 
to all the bishops of France, with a circular, in which it is said " Nous avons 
ete sensiblement touchez de douleur voiant la facilite" malheureuse de la plus- 
part des confesseurs a donner Pabsolution a leurs penitens sous des pretextes 
pieuses de les retirer peu a peu du peche par cette douceur et de ne les porter 
pas dans le desespoir ou dans un entier mepris de la religion." Arnauld, Theol. 
Morale des Jesuites, p. 363. 


Juenin reluctantly admits. 1 La Croix, in fact, not only claims that 
it is the universal custom of the Church, but that the rigorists mani 
fest lack of faith in the grace of the sacrament when they require 
amendment as a condition of absolution. 2 Besides, Aquinas had 
pointed out that in the forum of the confessional the penitent is the 
sole witness both for and against himself, from which it was argued 
that nothing more could be required of him than a profession of a 
desire to amend his ways, 3 and even more lax than this w r as the 
advice of some casuists that with "fragile" penitents confessors 
should tell them not to think about the future ; present intention 
suffices, and they can piously trust to God to be merciful whatever 
may happen. 4 

In 1725, Benedict XIII. in his instructions for children, specified 
the intention to sin no more as indispensable for the sacrament of peni 
tence, 5 and he approved the twelve articles presented to him by Car 
dinal Noailles, among which was one forbidding absolution to those 
whose signs of sincere conversion were doubtful. 6 Yet Reiffenstuel 
repeats the opinion of Tamburini that no formal or actual intention 
to abstain is requisite, for it is sufficiently implied in the act of con 
trition, 7 and this was regarded by the probabilists as the more probable 
opinion, and therefore the one to be followed in practice, though La 
Croix tells us that if the penitent happens to think of it he ought 
to utter an expression of an intention not to sin, in order to avoid 

1 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q vii. cap. 4, Artt. 5, 6, 7. 

2 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1231." Ex dictis sequitur non 
praerequiri probationem vitse emendatae, quidquid putaverint similes Rigoristae 
dicentes per emendationem explorandum esse an pcenitens habuerit verum 
dolorem necne. . . . Deinde universalis praxis Ecclesiae est contraria; 
ergo plane imprudenter hoc requireretur. Denique hoc ipsum est specialiter 
contra fidem sacramenti, cujus gratia per absolutionem causata debet juvare ad 
emendationem vitas ; ergo male prserequiretur emendatio ante absolutionem." 

3 S. Th. Aquinat. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. iii. Art. 3 ad 2. Jo. Sanchez 
Selecta de Sacramentis, Disp. ix. n. 6. Francolini Clericus Romanus rnunitus 
Disp. x. n. 9. 

Pontas (Diet, de Gas de Conscience, s. v. Absolution cas 8, 13, 29) disapproves 
of this as a principle which is not to be followed in practice, but he can only 
suggest that the matter must be left to the judgment of the confessor. 

4 Zuccherii Decisiones Patavinse, Jan. 1707, n. 29. 

5 C. Roman, ann. 1725, p. 441. Coll. Lacens. I. 458. 

6 Atti e Decreti del Concilio di Pistoja, pp. 99-100. 

7 Reiffenstuel Theol. Moral. Tract, xiv. Dist. vi. n. 49. 


exposing the sacrament to the danger of nullity. 1 Benedict XIV. 
argues that the confession is valid if the penitent believes that he 
will promptly repeat the same sins, and some of the moralists assert 
that sufficing detestation of sin is compatible with the admitted 
certainty of relapse. 2 As a sort of compromise a custom arose of 
prescribing in advance a penance to be performed whenever the sin 
should be repeated, such as the recitation of a third of the Rosary. 
Benedict XIV. seems to see nothing objectionable in this, except that 
the performance is not obligatory, because it is medicinal and not 
sacramental, 3 and it is approved by theologians of both the rigorous 
and laxer schools, 4 but Liguori discountenances it, saying that the 
result is generally unfortunate; 5 in fact the penitent must almost 
infallibly regard it as sufficient expiation, under which he can con 
tinue to sin indefinitely with a safe conscience. 

It is evident that the class known as habitual sinners offers a 
problem difficult to solve indeed, one which the Church has not yet 
succeeded in solving if we may judge from the variety of methods 
proposed. Tamburini cut the Gordian knot by the application of 
the doctrine of advertence and argued that habitual sins are only 
material and not formal, through lack of the requisite degree of ad 
vertence, and therefore need not be confessed. 6 Arsdekin assumes 
that the universal practice is to absolve the sinner as often as he pre 
sents himself; to postpone absolution is merely to stimulate the 
sinner to fresh sins in the expectation of getting them remitted 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 893. 

2 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscientise, Aug. 1743, cas. 3. Marchand Trib. 
Animamm Tom. I. Tract, iv. Tit. iii. Q. 3, Concl. 2 Sporer Theol. Moral. T. 
III. P. m. n. 310. 

Chiericato (De Poenit. Decis. xm. n. 15) ingeniously explains this doctrine 
by pointing out that intention is an act of the will which may resolve not to 
sin, while the intellect independently recognizes the futility of the resolution. 

3 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscientise, Dec. 1742, cas. 1. There are, how 
ever, theologians who assert the more probable opinion to be that such condi 
tional penance is binding. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1229. 

4 Azpilcuetse Man. Confessar. cap. xxvi. n. 25. Henriquez Summze Theol. 
Moral. Lib. v. cap. xxi. n. 1. Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 755. La Croix 
Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1248. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 14. 
Habert Praxis Sacr. Po3nit. Tract, v. Eeg. 2. Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univ. 
Dissert, v. cap. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio Praxis Confessar. cap. I. g ii. n. 13. 

6 Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. ii. cap. iii. | 3, n. 23-25. 

II. 3 


together he argues that this is not in contravention of the decree of 
Innocent XL, and he clinches the matter by asking the more rigorous 
confessor how he would like to be so treated himself and thus be 
practically suspended from his functions. 1 Salvatori, who is not a 
decided laxist, says that if an habitual sinner shows signs of repen 
tance he should be absolved without postponement, and relates an 
experience of S. Filippo Neri with a youth of this class who had 
been refused absolution by all the confessors to whom he had applied. 
The saint absolved him at once, imposing only the penance of con 
fessing again when he should relapse. Three days afterwards he 
returned with the same sin and Filippo again absolved him. This 
went on for some months until the victory was gained and the youth 
finally reached a stage of angelic perfection. 2 On the other hand, 
there are both laxists and rigorists who argue against the too easy 
absolution of sinners who show no signs of amendment, and it is 
agreed that immediate relapse without resistance argues that there 
was no sufficing attrition and therefore the prior confession is invalid 
and must be repeated. 3 The Roman Ritual, too, warns the confessor 
not to absolve those who refuse to abandon their sins and amend their 
lives. 4 In practice, however, all this seems easily to be explained 
away. Palmieri tells us that the common acceptation of the inten 
tion to sin no more is that it suffices if it is virtual. 5 Mach admits 
that habitual sinners offer a difficult problem, but he argues that if a 
man returns again and again with the same sin it is an evidence in his 
favor ; to deprive him of the sacraments would be to deprive him of 
the most efficacious means of grace, and every effort should be made 
to save his soul and not to drive him to despair. 6 Father Joseph 
Fa di Bruno is careful to explain to the penitent that in expressing 
a resolution to sin no more " you do not thereby impose on yourself 

1 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap 3, Q 13, 14. 

2 Salvatori, Istruzione per i novelli Confessor! P. n. \ \ . 

3 Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univ. Dissert. V. cap. vi. Q. 5 3. Alasia Theol. 
Moral. T. n. p. 334 (Taurini, 1834). Gerdil, Parere sulla Lettera Pastorale di 
Mgr. N. N. (Opp. Ed. Napoli, 1855, T. VI. p. 505). Habert Theol. Moral. De 
Poenit. cap. xi. \ iii. Q. 2. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 505. 
Gousset Theol. Morale II. n. 442. 

* Eituale Eoman. Tit. in. cap. 1. 5 Palmieri Tract, de Poenit. p. 214. 

6 Mach, Tesoro del Sacerdote, II. 261-2 (Torino, 1876). As this work bears 
the approbation of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, June 27, 1864, 1 presume 
it may be regarded as a safe guide. 


a fresh obligation/ l while Father Miiller counsels charity and quotes 
approvingly a dictum of Liguori that to defer absolution in such cases 
for entire months is a doctrine of the Jansenists. 2 The Tridentine 
Catechism had warned the confessor that the chief thing he has to 
dread is that a penitent dismissed without absolution will return no 
more, 3 and the warning apparently is heeded. 

Intimately connected with the question of the intention to sin no 
more is another of supreme importance, which has been the subject 
of prolonged debate the obligation to avoid all occasions and temp 
tations of sins. This was implied in the disabilities inflicted on public 
penitents in the early Church, forbidding them to engage in trade or 
military service, neither of which could be followed without sin. 
Although during the period of the Penitentials we hear little of this, 
it was retained, as we shall see, in the solemn penance in so far as 
that obsolescent rite survived during the later middle ages. Some 
attempts were made to apply it to private penance. Gregory VII., 
at the council of Rome in 1078, and Urban II., at the council of 
Amalfi in 1089, denounced as false the penance of those w r ho did not 
abandon the callings in trade or courts which could scarce be carried 
on without sin, and this utterance was confirmed in the council of 
Clermont in 1095, repeated in the second Lateran council of 1139, 
and embodied in the compilation of Gratian. 4 Possibly this gave 
rise to the explanation which Peter the Deacon oifers of the crusad 
ing enthusiasm shown at the council of Clermont that penitents pre 
ferred the toil and dangers of the crusade to living unarmed among 
their neighbors. 5 It gave the principle moreover a standing in the 
confessional, which led Cardinal Henry of Susa, when commenting 
upon the canon, to explain that the abandonment of war and com 
merce is to be understood as applying to those subjected to solemn 

1 Joseph Faa di Bruno, Catholic Belief, p. 310. 

2 Miiller s Catholic Priesthood, I [I. 159-64. Cf. Gury, Comp. Theol. Moral. 
II. 632-8, with Ballerini s notes and the arguments of the Eedemptorists in the 
Vindicice Alphonsiance pp. 660 sqq. 

3 Catech. Tridentin. de Poenit. cap. xi. " Quoniam sacerdoti maxime veren- 
dum est ne semel dimissi amplius non redeant." 

4 C. Eoman. ann. 1078, cap. 5 ; Synod. Urban, ad Melphiam arm. 1089, cap. 
16 ; C. Claromont. ann. 1095; C. Lateran. n. ann. 1139 (Harduin. VI. 1. 1581; 
VI. n. 1687, 1736, 2212). Cap. 6, 8, Caus. xxxm. Q. iii. Dist. 5. 

5 Chron. Casinens. Lib. iv. cap. xi. 


penance who are not expected to lead a secular life, 1 but shortly 
afterwards St. Bonaventura treats as in force for all penitents the 
rule that the soldier or trader must abandon his calling before he 
can obtain absolution/ and John of Freiburg virtually repeats the 
injunctions of Gregory "VII. and Urban II. as applicable to all 
cases. 3 A quaint anonymous penitential of the period instructs the 
confessor always to inquire the trade of a penitent, for there are 
some callings wholly sinful, such as those of strumpets and actors, 
some can scarce be followed without sin, like trade ; some are entirely 
useless, such as flower-weaving and dice-making ; some are necessary 
but can hardly be exercised faithfully, as those of stipendiaries 
[vicars ?] and schoolmasters. When prostitutes and actors come to 
confession they are not to be admitted to penance unless they aban 
don their callings, for they cannot otherwise be saved. 4 Dr. Weigel 
holds that the abandonment of evil trades is a necessary feature of 
sufficing contrition, and the refusal to do so is equivalent to selecting 
eternity in hell. 5 St. Antonino directs the confessor to disregard the 
penitent s despair and to refuse absolution to those who will not live 
chastely or abandon sinful means of livelihood ; making dice, for 
instance, is a mortal sin, and the business must be given up before 
absolution can be granted, and Savonarola extends this to making 
and dealing in cards. 6 Angiolo da Chivasso is less rigid ; the con 
fessor should scold and admonish the penitent to abstain from all 
evil companionship and other causes of sin, but he must not exact 
an oath or even a promise to do so, 7 while, on the other hand, the 
usually lax Prierias refuses absolution to one who will not abandon a 

1 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. v. De Poen. et Kemiss. 51. 

2 S. Bonaventurse Confessionale cap. iv. Partic. 1. 

3 Jo. Friburgens. Summae Confessar. Lib. in. Tit. xxxv. Q. 126. 

4 Dollinger, Beitrage zur Sektengeschichte der Mittelalters, II. 623-4. The 
good father asks why the Church does not suppress prostitutes in place of 
enduring them, so that they are seen in the courts not only of princes, but of 
bishops. He finds the answer in the universal frailty of the flesh, so that 
scarce any one can be persuaded to continence, wherefore strumpets are endured 
by the Church and in the Church for the avoidance of greater evils. 

5 Weigel Clavic. Indulgent, cap. xlv. 

6 S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. xvii. cap. 20; Ejusd. Confessionale fol. 
326. Savonarolse Confessionale fol. 59. 

7 Summa Angelica s. v. Interrogationes. 


sinful trade he is to be told that such absolution would be invalid, 
and is to be left to the mercy of God. 1 

The council of Trent paid no special attention to the question 
beyond the general principle of excluding the will to sin in its defi 
nition of attrition, 2 but the exigencies of the Counter-Reformation 
called forth more rigid teachers who greatly extended the sphere of 
the confessor s supervision over the lives of his penitents. S. Carlo 
Borromeo found in this a field for the exercise of his rigorous virtue 
and dilates upon it in much detail. The concubinarian must aban 
don his mistress, the professional gambler give up his calling ; arms, 
trade, the magistracy, the law, all lead to sin, and unless the penitent 
can follow his profession without sinning he must quit it ; besides, 
there are such occasional causes as evil companionship, going to balls, 
idleness, frequenting taverns, etc., all of which fall under the care 
and responsibility of the confessor, who may absolve once or twice 
on promise of amendment, but not oftener, and must then refuse the 
sacrament until he has proof that the occasion of sin has been aban 
doned. 3 St. Francis Xavier had laid down a virtually similar rule, 
and the Roman Ritual forbids a confessor to absolve a penitent who 
will not abandon a proximate occasion of sin ; 4 but while the oppor 
tunity which this gave to the spiritual director of controlling his 
penitents was eagerly embraced, it was easy to find arguments for 
the exercise of opportune laxity. Occasions of sin were distinguished 
into proximate and remote, the differentiation of which was very 
clear in theory, but its application in practice was admitted to be 
almost impossible, 5 while at the same time it facilitated a decision in 
whatever sense the confessor might desire, for the remote occasion 
need not be avoided while the proximate must be. 6 The Jesuit 
Fornari shows us, in the nice distinctions which he draws, how com 
pletely the matter was in the hands of the confessor, to be severe or 
lenient at his discretion. The penitent, he says, is not bound to 
remove a remote occasion of sin, nor even a proximate one, if he is 

1 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor iv. $ 3. 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Poenit. cap. 4. 

3 S. Carol. Borrom. Instruct. Confessar. pp. 63-66. Of. Zerola Praxis Sacr. 
Poenit. cap. xxvi. Q. 17. 

4 S. Francesco Saverio Avvisi ai Confessari. Eituale Roman. Tit. in. cap. 1. 

5 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. x. n. 3. 

6 Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 1819. 


contrite and there is a probable opinion that he will resist the temp 
tation, nor if it will cause scandal, or grave inconvenience, loss of 
honor or of reputation or of worldly goods. Such remedies as fre 
quent use of the sacrament should be tried ; if these fail, the ques 
tion of absolving him is difficult ; if he shows signs of contrition and 
amendment he should be absolved ; if not, absolution should be 
refused and cautious efforts be made to separate him from his partner 
in guilt. 1 

This reflects the line of argument adopted by the fashionable 
moralists of the seventeenth century. It was highly important for 
those who occupied the post of confessors in the courts of kings and 
in the houses of great nobles to be able to reconcile the sacraments 
with the presence of " proximate causes" of sin, and rules which 
permitted this could also be made applicable to their mistresses, 
their servants, and the large portion of the community whose avo 
cations were more or less sinful. The readiest mode to accomplish 
this was the principle that the avoidance of the occasion of sin is 
not obligatory when it may cause scandal or too great a loss or in 
convenience, and this became the accepted teaching. 2 Some of the 
deductions from this principle were so audaciously lax as to call 
down condemnation from Alexander VII. in 1666, and Innocent XI. 
in 1679, 3 but the principle itself was not condemned, and Viva s 

1 Mart. Fornarii Institt. Confessar. Tract, n. cap. 15 Of. Jo. Sanchez Se- 
lecta de Sacramentis Disp. x. n. 20. 

2 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. x. n. 11. 20. Escobar Tract, vii. 
Exam. iv. cap. 8, n. 44. Berteau, Director. Confessar. p. 339. Layman Theol. 
Moral. Lib. V. Tract, vi. cap. 4, n. 9. Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 527, 530. 
Busenbaum Medullse Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. cap. 1 Dub 2 n 
8, 10. 

Busenbaum merely embodied in concise and convenient shape the lax doc 
trines current among the theologians of the period. His work had a phe 
nomenal success for a century, for the number of its editions is reckoned at 
nearly two hundred. See De Backer, II. 87, VII. 161. It formed the basis of 
two of the great moral theologies of the eighteenth century, La Croix and 
Liguori, though the latter, after the expulsion of the Jesuits from France and 
Spain, seems to have grown somewhat ashamed of it (Dichiarazione del Sis- 
tema che tiene 1 Autore, n. 1.). 

"Non est obligandus concubinarius ad ejiciendam concubinarn si hsec nimis 
utilis esset ad oblectamentum concubinarii, vulgo Reyalo, dum deficiente ilia 
nimis segre ageret vitam et alise epulse tsedio magno concubinarium afficerent 
et alia famula nimis difficile inveniretur." Alex. PP. VII. Deer. 18 Mart. 


commentaries on these papal utterances show how the nice distinc 
tions drawn between the various degrees of moral impossibility 
which justify the sinner in continuing to expose himself to tempta 
tion render the subject one in which the honest confessor may grope 
blindly while the dishonest one can justify his penitent in following 
his inclinations. 1 

All theologians were not thus lax. Henriquez, though by no 
means a rigorist, orders absolution to be deferred until proximate 
occasions are removed, irrespective of temporal disadvantage, and 
even Caramuel, under pressure of the Roman censorship, insists 
strongly on this point. 2 The Gallican rigor ists were of course severe 
in regard to it. Juenin demands the rigid enforcement of the rules 
prescribed by S. Carlo Borromeo ; the confessor is warned that he 
must not allow himself to be moved by the tears of a woman who, 
if she abandons her lover, will be exposed to starvation, and if she 
stays with him hopes that he will marry her ; a trader may be 
granted a respite, but if he repeatedly yields he must leave his trade 
if he expects absolution ; and Cardinal de ISToailles included this 
principle in the articles approved by Benedict XIII. 3 Benedict XIV., 
however, was not quite so rigid, and recognized that concessions must 
be made to the weakness of human nature, which is incapable of 
the sacrifices demanded. 4 The long and intricate discussion of the 
subject by Liguori shows its inherent difficulty as well as the im 
portance ascribed to it. In principle he follows his model, Busen- 

1666, Prop. XLI. (Juan Sanchez, ubi sup., was the author of this propo 

" Potest aliquando absolvi qui in proxima occasione peccandi versatur quam 
potest et non vult omittere, quinimmo directe et ex proposito quserit aut ei se 
ingerit." Innoc. PP. XI. Deer. 2 Mart. 1679, Prop. LXI. 

" Proxima occasio peccandi non est fugienda quando causa aliqua utilis aut 
honesta non fugiendi occurrit." Ib. Prop. LXII. 

"Licituni est quserere directe occasionem proximam peccandi pro bono 
spirituali aut temporali nostro vel proximi." Ib. Prop. LXIII. 

1 Viva, Theol. Trutina in Prop. XLI. Alex. VII. n. 2. 

2 Henriquez Sumime Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. cap. xxviii. n. 3. Caramuelis 
Theol. Fundament, n 511-17. 

3 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. VI. Q. vii. cap. 4, Art. 8. Atti e Decreti del 
Concilio di Pistoja, p. 99. 

4 Benedict! PP. XIV. Casus Conscientise, Apr. 1739, cas. ii. iii. ; Jun. 1739, 
cas. i. 


baum ; great loss or inconvenience render the occasion of sin one of 
those necessary ones which must be endured ; if abandoning a call 
ing will disable a penitent from living according to his station he 
can continue in it, but he asserts that his own practice was more 
rigid, and he wishes that all confessors would do likewise, for in such 
case there would be very much fewer sins committed and souls lost, 
as experience shows that penitents when absolved for the most part 
neglect their promises and relapse with the greatest ease. For him 
self, he would scarce allow a betrothed man during his engagement 
to visit more than once or twice the house in which his future bride 
resides, in view of the sinful desire which her presence must excite. 
Yet the nice distinction of danger into periculum formate and ma- 
teriale, and of occasions of sin into remota and proximo., proximo, per 
se and per accidens, intrinsica and e-xtrirmea, necessaria and volun- 
taria, in esse and non in esse, show how readily the confessor can lose 
himself in a cloud of metaphysical subtilties in which he can find 
justification for any desired conclusion. 1 Modern teaching for the 
most part follows Liguori, though a recent Spanish manual goes far 
beyond him in instructing the confessor to use every effort to detach 
his penitent from all occupations and amusements which may distract 
from supererogatory works of piety, even though they may not in 
terfere with the recognized works of precept. 2 The priest thus has 
the widest discretion in regulating the lives of those under his direc 
tion, though under the rules of probabilism, as we shall see hereafter, 
an instructed penitent, if he sees fit to exercise his power of choice, 
can compel his confessor to grant him absolution, for there are a 
sufficient number of doctors ranged on either side to render both the 
lax and the rigid opinions probable. This may explain the extreme 
laxity of practice which in courts so long rendered licence compatible 
with the observances of religion, 3 and it is an encouraging evidence 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. in. n. 438-41; Lib. v. n. 63; 
Lib. vi. n. 452-61. In his Praxis Confessarii, n. 66-9, he is somewhat more 

2 Mach, Tesoro del Sacerdote, II. 259. Miiller, Catholic Priesthood, III. 150 
sqq. Sala, Prontuario del Confessor, p. 11 (Vich, 1866). 

"Se habia descubierto el medio de servir juntamente a Dios y al mundo, 
dejuntar un continue regalo con exterior devocion, una vida licenciosa con 
mucha freqiiencia de sacramentos, una conciencia serena en niedio de gravi- 
simos peligros." Pastorales de Don Francisco Armana, Obispo de Lugo p. 
326 (1773). 


of improvement that the most recent commentator on Liguori lays 
down the rule that probabilism is not to be employed in deciding 
cases of proximate occasions of sin. 1 

These questions, so earnestly debated, are of no little importance 
to confessors who have in charge the rich and governing classes and 
to spiritual directors who undertake the guidance of individuals, for 
they afford the opportunity of making the priestly influence felt in 
all the details of daily life, but to parish priests and their flocks, 
except in scattered rural districts, there can scarce be opportunity 
for the application of the principles involved. When the parishioners 
of a large parish confine themselves to the precept of annual sacra 
ments and flock to Easter confession to a priest enclosed in a confes 
sional, there can be no opportunity for the minute consideration of 
individual cases or of watching them and observing whether abso 
lution is followed by amendment or whether proximate occasions of 
sin are avoided. In fact, however rigid may be the regulations of 
the Church, the habitual practice must be lax, else war and com 
merce, litigation and social life in Catholic lands would show some 
results of their influence. Theatres and ball-rooms, houses of pros 
titution and foundling hospitals and the petty swindles of trade are 
the standing evidence that the precepts of the Church as to the avoid 
ance of occasions of sin are generally recognized as impracticable 
among populations which at the same time are tenacious of the 
observance of the sacraments. 

Another requisite essential to the validity of confession is the for 
giveness of injuries and the eradication from the heart of all senti 
ments of hatred. As one of the foundation principles of Christ s 
teaching, and implied in one of the chief petitions of the Lord s 
Prayer, this could not be otherwise, and we have seen how promi 
nently it figured among the seven sources of pardon before the de 
velopment of the power of the keys. It is never lost sight of in the 
prescriptions of the theologians, the unanimity of whose utterances 
renders their individual citation superfluous, and I need only quote 
the very complete and emphatic utterance of the Tridentine Catechism 
in its definition of contrition. 2 Thus refusal to return the salute of 

1 Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse, n. 83. 

2 Catch. Trident. De Pcenit. cap. vi. In the English version " In the fourth 
and last place, and the condition is no less important, true contrition must be 


an enemy or to accept his social invitations is an evidence of abiding 
rancor which unfits the penitent for the sacrament. 1 Yet even this 
did not escape the insatiable ardor of the casuists, and the distinctions 
which they draw come perilously near in practice to obliterating the line 
between forgiveness and revenge. 2 It is possible that the continued 
enunciation of the precept in the confessional may have had some 
influence in softening the ferocity of manners and in bringing home 
to the conscience the injunctions of Christian charity, but the social 
condition of Christendom since the institution of enforced confession 
shows that the rule of the abandonment of hatred as a preliminary to 
absolution can never have been effectively insisted upon. But in this, as 
in so much else, the artificial system built up with such infinite care 
had to accommodate itself to the imperfections of human nature, and 
it became admitted that confession could lawfully be postponed when 
a man suffering under a grievance was not in a congruous disposition 
for the sacrament. 3 This sometimes continued for prolonged periods. 
In the trial by the Inquisition of Toledo, in 1564, of a certain Pierre 
de Bonneville for Lutheranism, he said that he had not confessed or 
taken communion for two years because of his hatred for Diego del 
Campo, a rival in trade, who had grievously injured him. 4 Evi 
dently such abstention was a recognized precaution, and it is further 
illustrated by the case of Fray Manuel Gorvea, a learned and pious 
Dominican of Oaxaca in Mexico, who, in 1798, declined the prior- 
ship of Tehuantepec, to which he had been elected, for the reason 
that he was not in condition to discharge the duties of the position, 
because he had not confessed or communed for three years in conse- 

accompanied with forgiveness of the injuries which we may have sustained 
from others. This our Lord emphatically declares and energetically inculcates 
when he says If you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father 
will forgive you also your offences ; but if you will not forgive men neither 
will your Father forgive you your offences. " 

1 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 224-5. 

2 Viva Theol. Trutina in Prop. xiu. xiv. xv. Innocent. PP. xi. 

3 Clericati de Poenit. Decis. XLIX. n. 12. Yet Benedict XIV. says of a case 
in which a man abstains for three years from confession and communion for 
fear of committing sacrilege because he cannot overcome his hatred for the 
slayer of his brother, that in so doing he commits six mortal sins, one for 
each confession and each communion omitted. Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Con- 
scientiaB Apr. 1737, cas. 2. 

* MSS. Konigl. Universitats Halle, Yc. 20 T. V. 


quence of a secret hatred, which he could not overcome, against a 
fellow Dominican, Fray Rodriguez. In view of the weekly confes 
sion required of members of religious orders, this could scarce have 
escaped attention, but Fray Gorvea apparently did not suffer in the 
estimation of his brethren, for he was subsequently chosen to be 
Provincial of his Order. 1 Thus the regulation intended to render 
the confessional a valuable discipline in Christian charity, has, in 
some cases at least, only resulted in rendering it nugatory. It should 
be added that the prescription of forgiveness only applies to private 
rancor, and does not prevent an injured party from prosecuting an 
offender or having recourse to legal remedies. 2 

A further prerequisite for absolution is the restitution of property 
unjustly acquired and reparation for any injuries inflicted, where 
this is possible. It would be superfluous to insist on this as a 
necessary element in any repentance worthy of the name : it was so 
regarded in the early Church, and St. Augustin emphatically de 
clares that, where it is possible and is not performed, penitence is but 
pretence and sin can expect no pardon. 3 In the crude compilations 
of the Penitentials this is recognized confusedly : the good fathers 
who were struggling to soften the manners of their barbarian con 
verts adapted themselves to the customs of the savage tribes, without 
much care for consistency or regard for the distinction between the 
forum externum and iniemum, so long as they could bring the 
offender to acknowledge his guilt and to make amends to God and 
man. They found the principle of the wer-gild everywhere estab 
lished, whereby all offences against person and property were reck 
oned in money value, and codes were scarce more than tariffs of com 
pensations to be accepted by the injured party if he chose to forego his 
right of private vengeance. The rude courts of the period were for the 
most part impotent to enforce these penalties, and the peace-loving 
missionaries of Christ sought to aid them by taking the payment 
into account in fixing the penance of the offender, while they further 
endeavored to throw the protection of the Church around the slave, 
who had no personal rights under the law. Thus, in a body of 
ancient Welsh canons, a man seducing a virgin or a widow must pay 

1 MSS. of David Fergusson, Esq. 

2 Salvatore, Istruzione pratica per i novelli Confessori, P. I. $ xi. 

3 S. Augustin. Epist. CLIII. cap. vi. n. 20, ad Macedon. 


the dower to the kindred, besides undergoing a year s penance. 1 In 
an Irish Penitential, infliction of blows or wounds by a layman is 
visited with forty days penance and a payment to the injured party 
to be estimated by a priest or a just man, and a very similar pro 
vision, with the addition of providing a leech, is found in a late 
penitential in which there are few barbarian elements. 2 In another, 
an adulterer pays to the injured husband the price of his wife s 
chastity, and in the same collection there is an instance of what we 
shall see largely practised in subsequent ages, in which the payment 
goes not to the sufferer but to the poor, or rather to the Church : a 
man guilty of theft undergoes one year and three quarantines of 
penance, besides giving alms to the poor and a banquet to the priest. 3 
In another, a man who carries off a girl pays her wer-gild to the 
kindred and marries her if they so desire, in addition to which both 
undergo fasts for a year ; for burglary committed on a church the 
penance is seven years, in addition to making good the damage in 
flicted. 4 A canon widely current provides that a cleric who commits 
homicide shall undergo ten years penance and serve the parents of 
the slain, replacing their lost son ; if he refuses, he is to be banished 
for life and become a wanderer like Cain. 5 A man who has a child 
by his slave-girl shall set her free and undergo a year s penance. 6 
Even more remarkable in its care for the slave is the provision that 
if a man seizes the earnings of his bondman he shall make restitu 
tion and undergo penance at the discretion of the priest. 7 Instances 
of the use made of the penitential system to promote the settlement 
of feuds by inducing the payment of compositions are frequent. 
Thus, in Theodore s Penitential, homicide committed through re 
venge for a slaughtered kinsman is subject to seven or ten years 

1 Lib. Davidis g 6 (Wasserschleben, p. 101). 

2 Poenit. Vinniai $ 9 ; Pcenit. Pseudo-Roman, cap. viii. $ 7 (Wasserschleben, 
pp. 110, 369). 

3 Poenit. Columbani B. cap. xiv. xix. (Ibid. 357, 358). 

4 Pcenit. Ps. Ecberti Lib. iv. cap. xiii., xxiv. (Ibid. 334, 336). 

5 Pcenit. Columbani B. cap. 1 ; Pcenit. Merseburg. a, cap. 1 ; Poenit. Bobiens. 
cap. 1; Pcenit. Parisiens. cap. 1 (Ibid. pp. 355, 391, 407, 412). 

6 Pcenit. Merseburg. a, cap. 60 ; Poenit. Cummeani cap. iii. I 32 ; Pcenit. 
Vallicell. II. cap. 35 (Ibid. pp. 397, 474, 561). 

7 Pcenit. Theodori cap. xix. 30 (Thorpe s Ancient Laws, II. 19). In the 
recension given by Wasserschleben (p. 217) there is only a simple prohibition, 
without a penalty, and so also in Poenit. Ps. Ecberti, Addit. g 35 (p. 348). 


penance, but if the slayer will pay the wer-gild of the slain, his 
penance is shortened by one-half. So with theft ; if the penitent 
will seek reconciliation with the injured party and make restitution, 
he is told that it will greatly shorten his penance, but if he cannot 
or will not do so, he must endure to the end. 1 In a later collection, 
to which the name of Theodore was ascribed, the general rule is 
expressed that a homicide or thief, who has not compounded with 
the injured party, if he comes to priest or bishop for- confession, 
must forthwith make such composition ; if he is too poor to do so, 
or does not know who are the injured parties, his penance is to be 
augmented. 2 

The principles thus established continued in force when the wer- 
gild was dying out and settled laws were commencing to replace the 
reign of brute force. In the eleventh century Bishop Burchard 
tells us that if a man injures another in a quarrel he must pay the 
expenses of the physician and perform penance ; if he is unable to 
do this his penance is for a year ; if he sheds blood treacherously he 
must pay for the injury either in money or in labor and fast on 
bread and water for forty days. 3 Thus the Church preserved the 
tradition that restitution or reparation must accompany repentance, 
and in its efforts to enforce this it unquestionably rendered a signal 
service to the cause of slowly advancing civilization, though the age 
was too rude to accept it as a general principle, and its enunciation 
in special cases was still required, as when, in 1095, the council of 
Clermont decreed that if a man had seized another s heritage no 
priest should receive him to penitence until he had rendered due 
satisfaction. 4 How difficult it still was to establish the principle 
in daily practice is seen in a case in which a man burnt a neighbor s 
house, refused reparation and was excommunicated, to evade which 
he secretly confessed the crime to the priest, while still refusing to 
make compensation. The case was considered so doubtful that it was 
referred to St. Ivo of Chartres to decide whether the priest should 
receive him to communion, and St. Ivo returned an equivocal answer 
which was meaningless. 5 

1 Pcenit. Theodori Lib. I. cap. iv. 1; cap. iii. 3 (Wasserschleben, p. 

2 Capitula Dacheriana, cap. 89 (Wasserschleben, p. 153). 

3 Burchardi Decret. Lib. xix. cap. 101. 

* C. Claromont. aim. 1095, cap. xxi. 5 S. Ivon. Carnotens. Epist. CLVI. 


When the schoolmen commenced to reduce everything to system, 
they naturally treated this as a general precept. Peter Lombard 
quotes S. Augustin, and in almost the same words asserts that no 
one who has unjustly taken anything which he is able to restore 
must imagine that he repents and can obtain pardon unless he makes 
restitution. 1 That this should become generally accepted was a 
matter of course, though the difficulty of practically establishing it 
is indicated by Alain de Lille alluding to it as a counsel and not a 
precept. 2 About 1198, Eudes of Paris, and, in 1217, Richard Poore 
of Salisbury, however, instructed their priests that in cases of robbery, 
rapine, usury and fraud, restitution is obligatory, and penance is not 
to be assigned until it is made, an example which was followed in 
sundry other local councils. 3 The principle soon became recognized, 
and St. Ramon de Penafort was able to declare it a settled rule that 
for sins such as simony, usury, rapine, arson, sacrilege, theft, etc., no 
penance could be awarded without restitution. 4 

The question speedily arose whether restitution thus made by 
order of the confessor is part of the penance or satisfaction, and 
whether it thus has a sacramental character. Bishop William of 
Paris seems to have been the first to pronounce on this by declaring 
that it is no part of satisfaction, but simply that without it sin can 
not be remitted, 5 yet some thirty years later St. Bonaveutura tells us 
that it was commonly though erroneously reckoned as part of satis 
faction. The latter, he explains, is a penance voluntarily assumed, 
to which the penitent is only bound by his sin and the judgment of 
the priest, while restitution is a duty to which he is bound by law, 
whether the priest imposes it or not; and in another passage he 
speaks of it as a condition precedent to absolution, without which no 
penance enjoined will profit the penitent. 6 Both the leaders of the 
two great schools of medieval theology, Aquinas and Duns Scotus, 

1 P. Lombardi Sentt. Lib. iv. Dist. xv. $ 7. 

2 Alani de Insulis Lib. de Pcenit. (Migne, COX. 304). 

3 Odonis Constitt. cap. vi. ; Eich. Poore Constitt. cap. ix. ; Walteri Dunel- 
mens. Constitt. arm. 1255; C. Claromont. ann. 1268, cap. vii. (Harduin. VI. II. 
1940; vn. 91,492,597). 

4 S. Eaymundi Surnmae Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. $ 4. 

5 Guillel. Paris, de Sacr. Poanit. cap. 20. 

6 S. Bonaventurae in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. P. ii. Art. 2, Q. 4. Confessionale 
cap. iv. Partic. 2. 


take the same view ; it is simply cessation from sin, requisite to 
salvation ; it is not satisfaction, but a condition indispensable to it, 
and merely an act of justice. 1 This became the accepted doctrine of 
the Church, though as late as the sixteenth century Prierias allows us 
to infer that there were doctors who still maintained it to be a portion 
of satisfaction, and even in the eighteenth century Renter says that 
restitution, reconciliation with enemies and avoidance of occasions of 
sin can be imposed as penance. 2 

As it thus became the duty of the confessor, before conferring 
absolution, to see that the penitent made restitution and reparation 
for all unjust gains and wrongs inflicted, a new and enormously 
wide sphere of influence and of control over the fortunes of his 
flock was opened to him. The theologians explored this diligently 
and extended its boundaries in every direction, not as a simple 
academic question, but as a practical matter essential to the proper 
discharge of the duties of the confessional. Aquinas, treating it 
rather from a moral than from a sacramental standpoint, says that 
reparation should be made for injuries to reputation, even when 
they arise from unnecessarily revealing a crime actually committed ; 
if the evil cannot be undone, the reparation should be made in 
money. Princes, he argues, through whose negligence robberies are 
committed, should refund their losses to the sufferers, for their reve 
nues are payment for enforcing justice. 3 Cardinal Henry of Susa, 
treating the subject as a practical matter, had already given it an 
elaborate discussion, which shows how intricate and perplexing were 
the responsibilities assumed by the Church in undertaking to con 
trol the conscience of each of its children. Spoils made in a just war, 
he says, may be righteously kept, but those gained in an unjust war 
must be restored, and he proceeds to consider the restitutions due 
from false witnesses, corrupt judges and officials, the promulgators 
of unjust laws, the dealings of merchants, the subterfuges of usurers, 
the manufacture of weapons, etc. 4 There was not a sphere of human 

1 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. XV. Art. 4 ad 5; Summae Sec. Sec. Q. 
Ixii. Art. 2. Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 2. 

c 2 S. Antonini Sumrnse P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 20. Gab. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. 
xv. Q. ii. Art. 2, Concl. 3. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Satisfactio I 10. Eeuter 
Neoconfessarius instructus n. 17. 

3 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse Sec. Sec. Q. LXII. Art. ii. ad 2, Art. viii. 

4 Hostiens. Aureee Summse Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss. $ 61. 


activity, from the loftiest to the humblest, which was not thus sub 
jected to the tribunal of the confessional with the priest as its arbi 
trary and irresponsible judge, except, as we shall see hereafter, in so 
far as he might be controlled by the "probable" opinion of the 
penitent. The immense space given in the books to the exhaustive 
discussion of all the intricacies of human transactions in their bear 
ing upon the duty of restitution reflects at once the difficulty of the 
subject and its importance to every confessor. Each new teacher 
exhausted his ingenuity in extending the application of the principle, 
and many of their speculations are admirable inculcations of moral 
duty. Astesanus points out that in cases of injury to persons the 
canon law (Cap. 1 Extra Lib, v. Tit. xxxvi.) adopts the rule in 
Exodus xxi. 18-19, that the aggressor shall pay for the loss of time 
and expenses of the injured, but in the confessional the rule must be 
that if mutilation occurs the compensation should not only be this, 
but all damages arising during life from the loss of a member, with 
consolation for the affliction, and this should be larger and more 
carefully weighed in the case of a poor man dependent upon hi& 
labor than in that of a rich man. Injuries to the soul are to be even 
more scrupulously treated than those of the body; such injuries arise 
from leading astray or setting an evil example, and are to be rectified 
by bringing back the erring, or setting a good example or by pray 
ing and procuring prayers for him. The discussion and distinctions 
of all possible varieties of injury to body, soul, and reputation are 
interminable, and the amount of compensation proves a very trouble 
some and complex problem. It was even a disputed question whether 
one unable to make pecuniary restitution should surrender himself 
as a slave to the injured party. 1 Piero d Aquila is equally emphatic, 
though not so diffuse ; so delicate is his sense of the need of repara 
tion that he considers the denial of a true accusation to be a wrong 
inflicted on the accuser, and though the accused cannot be expected 
publicly to admit that the accuser is not a calumniator, he must find 
some way to withdraw the imputation. 2 These were not mere refine- 

1 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxix. Artt. 2, 3, 4. 

2 P. de Aquila in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. 2, 3. Fra Piero is an example of 
the little connection between such teachings and moral principle. In two 
years, 1344 and 1345, while serving as inquisitor in Florence, he accumulated 
7000 florins by outrageous extortion on the citizens and by selling licences to 
bear arms ; he was prosecuted at the instance of the Republic, and was obliged 


ments of the schools ; the practical instructions to confessors carry 
the principle of restitution and reparation to impossible lengths, with 
great amplitude of examples, thus extending the jurisdiction of the 
confessional over every detail of private and public life. He who is 
responsible, by counsel or otherwise, for an unjust war is held bound 
to make compensation for all losses and damages thence arising ; he 
who unjustly impedes any one from obtaining an office or benefice, 
secular or ecclesiastical, must render full satisfaction for the injury. 1 
It was generally admitted that an advocate defending an unjust 
cause, or procuring unnecessary delays, or introducing quibbles, must 
make restitution to the injured party; if through imprudence or 
negligence his client suffers, he must make good the loss, as also if 
he serves for a percentage or charges inordinate fees, and the con 
fessor is instructed to inquire minutely of his legal penitents as to 
all these matters. 2 As for the clergy, the holder of a benefice is only 
entitled to a decent and congruous support ; if there is a surplus, he 
must distribute it to the poor; to spend it on luxuries or to accumu 
late it and bequeath it to relatives is a robbery of the poor and a 
mortal sin ; he is bound to make restitution, nor can he obtain valid 
absolution without doing so. 3 Obedience to a sovereign does not 
justify a subject in following him to an unjust war, and any spoils 
taken in such war must be restored. To make restitution a man 
must strip himself to the barest necessaries of life, and those casuists 

to fly. He was a fit precursor of the Franciscans of the fifteenth century, of 
whom Pius II. remarked that they were excellent theologians, but, for the 
most part, cared nothing about virtue. See the Author s History of the Inqui 
sition of the Middle Ages, II. 279 ; III. 173. 

1 S. Antonini Confessionale, fol. 28, 29. Even in modern times Salvatori 
holds (Istruzione pratica per i novelli Confessori, P. i. | xiv.) that preventing 
an ecclesiastic from obtaining a benefice by telling the truth about him 
requires reparation before absolution can be granted. 

2 Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 69-70. Em. Sa Aphorismi Confessar. s. v. 
Advocatus n. 1. 

St. Augustin expressed a wish that lawyers who by improper means gain an 
unjust cause should be forced to return their fees, but he adds that many most 
learned and reputable men do this not only with impunity, but boastfully. It 
seems never to have occurred to him that it was a matter that could come 
within the jurisdiction of the Church. Epist. CLIII. n. 25, ad Macedon. 

3 Clericati de Poenit. Decis. x. n. 16-19. The question whether the duty of 
restitution devolves upon the heirs of such beneficiaries is a troublesome one 
on which opinions are divided. Ib. n. 22. 

II 4 


are wrong who argue that if a defrauded man is rich the penitent 
need only give what he can conveniently spare. 1 These are not 
obsolete and antiquated questions; the large space given to their 
discussion by modern authorities, though not in quite so minute 
detail as by the older ones, shows that their study is still earnestly 
inculcated on confessors, while their intricate and complicated char 
acter causes many differences of opinion between the doctors. 2 

It would detain us too long to pursue the matter through endless 
debates which involve almost every human relation. It will suffice 
to glance at the discussion, which lasted for centuries, on the subject 
of adulterine children. A woman in confession reveals that she has 
been unfaithful to her husband, and that one of her children is the 
offspring of an adulterer, or a man confesses that he has seduced 
another s wife, and that he is the father of a child whom the unsus 
pecting husband is rearing as his own. What measure of restitution 
and reparation must the confessor prescribe before he can grant 
absolution, and how can the penitent make such reparation without 
rendering the guilt and shame public ? Incidentally the question 
was decided by Innocent III., early in the thirteenth century, in 
response to a cardinal seeking his advice as to a woman who had 
confessed to him that she had foisted upon her husband a suppositi 
tious child, in order to prevent his inheritance passing to strangers. 
Innocent answers that she can be admitted to penance, provided the 
defrauded heirs are strangers, and that competent penance be im 
posed on her, and he supports this by adducing the case of a woman 
confessing that a child is adulterine. 3 As this decretal is embodied 
in the canon law, it must be held as in force, and as in neither case 
is there any allusion to compensation or reparation due to the de 
frauded heirs, it is evident that as yet these scruples had not assumed 
practical shape, and that such matters were prudently hushed. Yet 
within a quarter of a century of the publication of this decretal in 
the compilation of Gregory IX. we find Cardinal Henry of Susa 
treating the subject in a wholly different spirit. The confessor, he 
says, must act according to the quality and character of the parties. 
If the adulteress is one of those who, as they say in Lombardy, wear 

1 Savonarolse Confessionale, fol. 58. 

2 Summa Diana s. vv. Restituere, Restitui, Detractio, Fartum, Pugna etc. 
S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 547-706. 

3 Cap. 9 Extra Lib. V. Tit. xxxviii. 


the breeches quod lumbare sive bragarium portant and can safely 
do so, she should be told to reveal it to her husband, and then, if he 
sees fit not to compensate those who suffer, she is released from re 
sponsibility. If, as is more frequently the case, there would be 
danger to all parties from such a revelation, and the putative son is 
a timid and God-fearing man, he can be told of his birth under an 
oath of secrecy, and be persuaded to enter a convent or depart for a 
distant land, and when thus removed from the inheritance the cost 
of his bringing up can probably be dropped. If the son is not 
likely to acquiesce in this, the matter should be kept secret, and the 
mother, if she has property in her own right, must compensate the 
defrauded heirs as far as possible, or, if there are no heirs, she can 
give the amount in "alms" under the advice of the bishop. If she 
has nothing, she must make the firm resolve to compensate the par 
ties whenever she is able, and let her contrition meanwhile suffice. 
The confessor is, of course, cautioned to perform his part in the 
delicate transaction with the utmost tact and discretion, and, above 
all, not to break the seal of the confessional. 1 As this was a case 
which might any day call for decision by the confessor it remained 
a constant subject of discussion among the doctors. Duns Scotus 
follows in the same line of thought as Cardinal Henry, and his dis 
ciples virtually agree with him. 2 Bartolommeo de Chaimis contents 
himself with directing that the wife shall compensate her husband, 
or his heirs if he is dead, for the nurture and education of the child 
though he omits to point out how this is to be done without ex 
posure. 3 Gabriel Beil treats the question at much length, without 
reaching any definite conclusion, except that the danger of murder 
and discord in case of open confession must in most cases overbal 
ance the obligation of restitution. 4 Pacifico da Novara insists that 
the woman is not obliged to run any risk of life or reputation, while 
Godschalck Rosemond holds that she must make good the damages 
at any expense to herself. 5 The post-Tridentine theologians keep 

1 Hostiens. Aureae Sumrnse Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss. 61. 

2 Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. ii. ad Arg. 7. Fr. de Maironis in IV. 
Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. ii. Astesani Summse Lib. V. Tit. xxxix. Q. 5. 

3 Bart, de Chaimis Interrogat. fol. 63a. 

4 Gab. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. ii. Art. 2, Concl. 2. 

5 Somma Pacifica cap. 10 De Restltutwne. Gods. Rosemundi Confessionale 
cap. v. P. ii. De Spuriis. 


up the discussion. Manuel Sa sets forth the opinions of various 
authorities ; some, he says, hold that an adulterer, believing a child 
to be his, is bound to refund the expenses of its nurture, and, if a 
girl, to furnish her dower, while others deny that it is a positive 
obligation ; some declare that a woman is required to admit that her 
child is adulterine, even at the risk of life, others that she is not 
even bound to risk her reputation, while others again make it depend 
on whether the inheritance is or is not more important than her 
reputation ; a son, it is generally admitted, is not bound to believe 
such a statement, even under oath, from his mother, and abandon 
his inheritance. 1 Tamburini applauds a suggestion of the older 
doctors, that the mother assemble her children and inform them that 
one of them is illegitimate, and if exposed will forfeit his share in 
the estate, when each one, fearful that he may be the victim, will 
willingly agree that the matter shall remain secret. 2 Zuccheri argues 
that, as there can scarce be a case in which admission will not imperil 
life or reputation, and as a son is not obliged to believe his mother 
in such matters, she can be excused from open confession. 3 Corel la 
presents the arguments of the doctors, admits that the woman is not 
obliged to reveal her infamy, and reaches no decision save the con 
venient one that she should endeavor to make good the expenses out 
of her private means and bring up the illegitimate child to enter the 
Church. 4 Liguori teaches virtually the same and shows the modern 
relaxation from ancient rigor by adding that a woman is not required 
to betray herself at the risk of domestic strife and her husband s 
hatred. 5 A more intricate case is when there is doubt whether a 
child is illegitimate or not, and here the doctors are naturally at 

1 Ein. Sa Aphorismi Confessar. s. v. Adulterium n. 2, 3. 

2 Tamburini Expl. Decalogi Lib. VII. cap. iii. $ 4, n. 12. 

3 Zuccherii Decisiones Patavinae, Martii 1708, n. 50-53. 

4 Corella Praxis Confessionalis, P. I. Tract, vi. cap. 3, n. 18-22. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. in. n. 651-2. A case of the kind 
occurred in Paris about the year 1700. A woman on the death-bed con 
fessed that one of her three children was adulterine. The confessor insisted 
that she should divulge it to her husband, and finally agreed to do it himself 
after her death. On receiving the information the widower naturally asked 
which of the three was illegitimate, but the good priest in his zeal had for 
gotten to enquire, and the father was obliged to treat them all alike, while 
feeling uncertain as to each, Lenglet Du Fresnoy, Traite du Secret de la 
Confession, p. 108. 


odds whether the adulterer, in view of the doubt, ought to contribute 
to its support. 1 

This will serve as an example of the infinite questions crowding 
into the confessional as to the practical application of the principle 
of restitution. With regard to its enforcement, the difficulty is uni 
versally acknowledged and has been variously met. In the first 
place, opinions have differed as to the power of the confessor to remit 
the obligation of restitution. Cardinal Henry of Susa holds that it 
cannot be remitted unless the absolute poverty of the penitent renders 
it impossible, in which case contrition must suffice. 2 John of Frei 
burg says that the confessor can dispense with it, and he treats of a 
somewhat curious complication apt to arise in such cases : a priest 
utters the customary public excommunication of whosoever has stolen 
or found a missing article ; the thief confesses and is absolved with 
out making restitution ; the loser grows impatient and asks for a 
second publication of the excommunication ; what is the priest to do ? 
The answer is that he must delude the loser with some "pious" fraud, 
failing which he must repeat the excommunication with ambiguous 
and equivocal formulas, so that he may seem to utter the ban while 
in reality he does not 3 the morality of which device we need not 
pause to examine. Bartolommeo de Chaimis says that it is a mortal 
sin for a priest to grant absolution without enforcing restitution, 
while Angiolo da Chivasso and Prierias do not require it as indispen 
sable in advance of absolution, but merely warn the penitent that 
without he will not enjoy the benefit of the sacrament. 4 Some doc 
tors hold the confessor pecuniarily responsible for any damages arising 
from his granting absolution without insisting on reparation, 5 but 
Father Gury informs us that this is only the case when he unjustly 
denies that there is obligation, and not when it arises from ignorance. 6 
The case, however, is purely hypothetical in view of the secrecy of 
the confessional, but, even if it were not, modern laxity on the subject 
of restitution renders it unimportant, for, with the exception of a few 

1 Voit Theol. Moral. I. n. 65. 

2 Hostiens. Aurese Summae Lib. v De Remiss, g 1. 

3 Jo. Friburg. Sumrase Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 54, 126. 

4 Bart, de Chaimis Interrogat. fol. 92a. Summa Angelica s. v. Qonft 
1. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor in. 15. 

5 Em. Sa Aphorismi Confessar. s. v. Confessor n. 31. 

6 Gury Casus Conscient. I. 16. 


rigorists, the authorities advise that the monition to make restitution 
be omitted if the confessor thinks it not likely to be obeyed, because 
the penitent in disobeying will fall into mortal sin, and his spiritual 
damage is more to be dreaded than the pecuniary loss to the other 
party. 1 

It appears, indeed, to be the universal experience that when the 
performance is not insisted upon before absolution all promises and 
assertions of intention to make restitution are vain, for the penitent, 
feeling himself relieved of his sins, takes no further thought as to 
the reparation enjoined on him as the Tridentine Catechism says, 
nothing but absolute coercion will be effective. 2 Absolution condi 
tioned on restitution is out of the question, for, as we have seen, it 
cannot be granted dependent on future events, and it is even a sin to 
attempt it. 3 The only way to insure restitution therefore is to defer 
absolution until the restitution is made ; this was ordered by S. Carlo 
Borromeo and other theologians, and Liguori says that it was his own 
practice, 4 but other expedients have been attempted. In 1389 the 
statutes of John, Bishop of Nantes, order that no priest shall grant 
absolution until the penitent furnishes good security to make restitu 
tion and satisfaction to all persons and places injured, within a fixed 
time. 5 This shows how little respect was paid to the seal of confes 
sion at the period, and was not a usual expedient, though St. Antonino 
and Bartolommeo de Chaimis prescribe that, in the case of notorious 
usurers on the death-bed, absolution shall not be granted unless the 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio Praxis Confessarii cap. I. $ 2 ; Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. 
n. 614. 

As early as the seventeenth century we see the dawn of this relaxed teaching 
in the statement of Marchant (Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. 5, Q. 7 
Concl. 3) that if there is a probable opinion against the necessity of restitu 
tion, and a more probable one requiring it, and the confessor foresees that the 
penitent will not obey, he should act on the less probable opinion. 

2 S. Antonini SummtB P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 19, 19. Catech. Tridentin. De 
Poenit. cap. xiii. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. in. n. 456, 682. 
Mach, Tesoro del Sacerdote, II. 257. 

3 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 267. 

4 S. Caroli Borrom. Instruct. Confessarior. Dom. Soto de Justitia et Jure 
Lib. iv. Q. vii. Art. 4. Rebelli de Obligationibus Justitise P. n. Lib. xvii. De 
Officio Confessarii. Pet. de Aragon de Justicia et Jure Q. LXII. Artt. ii. vii. 
Pontas Diet, de Cas de Conscience s. v. Absolution cas 27, 28. S. Alph. de 
Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. in. n. 456. 

5 Stat. Jo. Episc. Nannetens. ann. 1389 cap. 14 (Martene Thesaur. IV. 986). 


moribund or his heirs offer competent security to refund all ill-gotten 
gains. 1 Yet, from the living, St. Antonino says elsewhere that no 
oath to make restitution is to be exacted, and Baptista Tornamala 
insists that neither oath nor security is to be required, unless, indeed, 
there is reason to doubt the penitent s assurances in consequence of 
his having repeatedly broken such promises. 2 The Tridentine Cate 
chism directs priests to be satisfied with a promise, although it 
expresses so little faith in the performance. 3 Some moralists since 
then have held that not even a promise is to be exacted, 4 but Father 
de Charmes takes the practical view that, if the amount at stake be 
large, absolution should be postponed till its payment, while if small 
it can be granted on the strength of a promise. 5 Padre Mach agrees 
with Liguori that trusting to promises is unsafe, as experience shows 
that their performance is rare, 6 and we are also told that little depen 
dence is to be placed on the assertions of penitents as to their ina 
bility to make restitution. 7 Such admissions would seem to warrant 
the assumption that the theologians have little faith in the grace 
which is asserted to be bestowed in the sacrament. 

In spite of the requirements which carry the responsibility for 
injuries and unjust gains to such extremes as we have seen, the 
casuists have little trouble in arguing it away. Benedict XIV. tells 
us that if a stolen article perishes in the thief s hands and would 
also have perished in the owner s, whose house was subsequently 

1 S. Antonini Confessionale fol. 70. Bart, de Chaimis Interrogat. fol. 108-9. 
Diana (Summa s. v. Restitui n. 32) insists that the moribund, if able, must 

make restitution himself and not leave the duty to his heirs, for otherwise the 
restitution is conditional on his death, and moreover the heirs do not often 
perform it. 

2 S. Antonini Summge P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 19 19. Summa Kosella s. v. 
Restitutio XVI. 

3 Catech. Trident. De Poenit. cap. xiii. 

4 Reginald. Praxis Fori Poenit. Lib. I. n. 20. 

5 Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univers. Diss. v. cap. vi. Q. 5, \ 6. 

6 Mach, Tesoro del Sacerdote, III. 257. 

7 Istruzione per i novelli Confessori, P. I. n. 254 (Roma, 1726). 

The degree of inconvenience to which the penitent is bound to subject him 
self in order to pay his debts or make restitution has, of course, been a subject 
of debate. Salvatori (Istruz. per i novelli Confessori P. u. \ ii.) prescribed that 
he should restrict himself to the bare necessaries of life, but this raised an 
outcry as an excess of rigor, so he modified it to a decent maintenance for 
himself and family according to their station in life. 


burnt, the thief can be absolved without making restitution. 1 A son 
can with a safe conscience steal from his father money with which to 
gamble, provided the sum is moderate and such as beseems the con 
dition of the family. 2 A man who wins at cards through seeing a 
negligent adversary s hand, or by knowing the backs of the cards, if 
they are not specially marked, is not to be held to restitution, for this 
is not fraud, but rather industry, approved by the common custom of 
gamesters, and does not vitiate the contract of the game. 3 A man can 

1 Bened. PP. xiv. Casus Conscientiae, Nov. 1741, cas. 2. 

2 Ibid. Oct. 1744, cas. 1. 

3 Ibid. Nov. 1739, cas. 1. These cases illustrate the modern laxity of 
morals. The Apostolic canons refuse communion to all who will not abstain 
from games of chance (can. 41, 42), and this was carried through all the collec 
tions up to Gratian (cap. 1 Dist. xxxv.). In the middle ages, as a rule, all 
gambling gains were regarded as illicit and not to be retained. St. Bonaven- 
tura drew the distinction that if the challenge to play came from the winner, 
they must be restored to the loser ; if the loser had been the challenger they 
must be given in alms (In IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. P. ii. Art. 2, Q. 2). In 1286 the 
council of Nimes (Harduin. VII. 912) insists on such gains being returned as a 
condition of absolution. Aquinas (Summse Sec. Sec. Q. xxxn. Art. vii. ad 2) 
is somewhat more lax and regards it rather as a matter of custom and secular 
law. Astesanus (Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxxi. Art. 4) devotes a whole article to 
the question and concludes that it is the common and safer opinion that all 
such gains should be restored in the confessional. Progressive laxity is shown 
in Savonarola s opinion (Confessionale, fol. 59) that fair winnings do not require 
to be restored, but he urges that they ought to be given in alms. 

The insane prevalence of gambling in the middle ages is strikingly illustrated 
by the special laws issued on the subject, in 1276, by Alfonso the Wise of Cas 
tile. He declares gambling debts legal and only strives to prevent fraud and 
other excesses. Ordenamiento de las Tafurerias, ley iv. 

Clerics were strictly prohibited from gambling by the canons of innumerable 
councils down to that of Trent (Sess. xxn. De Reform, cap. 1), but to no effect, 
for in the seventeenth century Laymann says (Theol. Moral. Lib. in. Tract, iv. 
cap. 22) that custom has modified this severity and that gaming is permissible 
to ecclesiastics, provided it is not so public as to cause scandal. Even religious, 
sent by their superiors to the universities to study, can risk a moderate portion 
of their allowance in games of chance, but their winnings belong to the 
monastery. Of course, restitution is only required for fraudulent gains. Diana 
is perhaps even somewhat more relaxed (Summa s. v. Ludus n. 2, 3, 7). A priest 
can gamble with his patrimony or revenues or the money received from masses, 
offices for the dead, etc. It is a mortal sin to introduce cards or dice into con 
vents of strict observance, but in the ordinary houses it is lawful to play with 
the hope of moderate gains, provided the monk or friar risks only money which 
he can lawfully control. 


prevent the perpetration of a theft and consequent damage to his 
neighbor, but accepts a bribe and remains quiet; he can retain the 
money, for, though he sinned by his silence, he earned the bribe. 1 
Father Gury is equally skilful in explaining away the necessity of 
restitution. Damage committed by an habitual drunkard while 
drunk does not require it, for there was no intention, and therefore no 
culpa theologica ; a man desiring to injure a neighbor and shooting at 
his ass, misses it and kills the cow of another ; he is not bound to 
restitution, for he did not intend to shoot the cow. 2 Yet in this 
maze of casuistry the doctors do not always follow the same path, for 
Benedict XIV. decides an almost similar case the other way : a man 
desiring to harm the house of an enemy sets fire by mistake to the 
house of a friend, and is required to make restitution. 3 

In spite of these aberrations which confuse all ideas of right and 
wrong, there can be no question that the teachings of the Church on 
the subject of restitution, however imperfectly enforced, were of ser 
vice in stimulating the sense of moral responsibility and elevating the 
standard of duty between man and man. In many ways they sup 
plemented the imperfections of the secular law and provided, in 
theory at least, protection for the weak and oppressed. Thus a man 
seducing a virgin was held to no responsibility in the civil forum, 
but in that of penitence he was required, if he had used deceit, to 
marry her or to find her a husband and furnish her dowry. 4 Yet 
when the casuists came with their discussions and distinctions the 
inevitable result was to subordinate morality to the money question. 
This was strengthened by the unfortunate attitude assumed by the 
Church, for one cannot help recognizing that alongside of a sincere 
desire to reduce Christian ethics to practice, which led the theologians 
to such excess in defining the reparation prerequisite to absolution, 
there were other motives less unselfish. Not only was the influence 
of the confessional thereby greatly extended and the control of the 

1 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscient. Dec. 1736, cas. 3. 

2 Gury Casus Conscient. I. 4, 178. 

3 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscient. Julii, 1744, cas. 2. Gobat shows 
(Alphab. Confessar. n. 560-3) how easily arguments can be found for absolving 
nobles who do not pay their debts. At the same time there was something 
gained in bringing any pressure to bear on the conscience in such matters after 
the fashion of excommunicating negligent debtors had become obsolete. 

4 Astesani Summse Lib. n. Tit. xlvi. Art. 3. 


priest over the lives and fortunes of his subjects rendered more abso 
lute, but there was a direct pecuniary profit secured to the Church. 
Partly this was irregular and undesigned, and partly regular. The 
former arose from the practice necessarily introduced of making the 
confessor the channel of restitution, in order that it might be accom 
plished secretly and avert scandal from the penitent. In the privacy 
surrounding the affair, which the penitent dared not disturb, the 
temptation of appropriation was irresistible to a confessor weak in 
principle, and there can be no doubt that to this many succumbed. 
The danger manifested itself early, for, in 1284, the council of Mmes 
found itself obliged to prohibit such malversation under pain of 
excommunication, suspension, restitution and a fine of equal amount 
to be given to the poor 1 the severity of the punishment threatened 
being an index of the difficulty of proving the offence. Geiler von 
Keysersberg warns the penitent to be careful as to the selection of 
his agent, for if the restitution does not reach its destination he is 
not relieved from the sin : still, he admits, the confessor is the natural 
channel, and if he is of good repute the penitent is probably released 
before God. 2 S. Carlo Borromeo endeavored to check such frauds 
by forbidding the confessor to act except by special request of the 
penitent, and in all cases he was to take a receipt from the payee and 
give it to the payer. 3 Even this was but a slender protection, for 
the cases would be few in which a penitent would dare complain if the 
receipt were not forthcoming. Diana re-echoes the warning of Geiler 
von Keysersberg, that the penitent must use great diligence to insure 
the money reaching its destination, for the common opinion is that if it 
does not he is not released. Personally, Diana thought the opposite 
opinion probable, but Liguori says that although he once agreed with 
him in this, his mature conviction accords with the common opinion 
that the penitent is still bound. 4 

1 Synod. Nemausens. ann. 1284 (Harduin. VII. 938). 

2 Jo. Keysersperg. Navicula Poenitentise (Aug. Vindel. 1511, fol. xlviii. col. 1). 

3 S. Carol! Borrom. Instruct. Confessar. p. 69. St. Francis Xavier (Avvisi 
ai Confessori) wisely advises the confessor to have nothing to do with handling 
the money if he would preserve his confessional from the reputation of being 
a bank of exactions and usuries. 

4 Summa Diana s. v. Restitui n. 31. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. 
in. n. 705. 

A case before the Inquisition of Toledo in 1594 is illustrative. Juan de 


The legitimate profits accruing to the Church from the enforce 
ment of restitution were on a far larger scale than these irregular 
embezzlements. In a seventh century Penitential there is an obscure 
passage of which the meaning seems to be that the penitent to redeem 
the sin of unjust acquisition can pay one-half the value, to be spent 
in alms, an equal sum to the Church, and another like amount for 
redeeming captives. 1 Such a principle as this seemed to render the 
Church in some sort an accomplice, and there were not wanting those 
who felt scruples as to receiving "alms" from such questionable 
sources. Alexander Hales assumes that money acquired by usury 
or rapine cannot be given or received in alms, for it does not belong 
to the holder ; if the sinner can make full restitution he may give 
from what is over ; it is otherwise with the gains of prostitution or 
acting or gambling, for they belong to the possessor and can legiti 
mately be given and received. Yet already there were shrewd 
casuists who argued that a robber or usurer could be released from 
restitution by almsgiving in the name of the owner ; it might be well 
to ask his permission, but his refusal was of no moment. Other 
doctors denied this reasoning, and Hales thinks their opinion the 
more probable. 2 Now for a long period it had been a matter of 
course that " alms " to the poor meant contributions to the Church, 
which constructively was always poor and represented the poor. 
About the year 1000 Regino tells us that the penitent could deter 
mine the direction which his alms should take, whether for the 
redemption of captives, or to the treasury of the Church, or to the 
servants of God, or to the poor, 3 and the ghostly counsellor could 
confidently urge that priests as beneficiaries were much more desir 
able than beggars, because their prayers for their benefactors were 
vastly more efficient with God. Thus monks and priests came to be 

Cepeda, a penniless blind man, to support himself and the boy who led him, 
pretended to be a priest and heard confessions. On trial he admitted that his 
motive was to obtain the " alms " or fees given by penitents, and also to con 
vert to his own use the restitutions which he would order. Under the papal 
laws he was liable to relaxation, but the Inquisition contented itself with giving 
him two hundred lashes. MSS. Konigl. Biblioth. Halle, Yc. 20, T. I. 

1 Collect Antiq. Canonum Poenitentialium (Martene Thesaur. IV. 56). 

2 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV, Q. xxxin. Membr. ii. Artt. 2-5 ; Q. xxxv. 
Membr. ii. 

3 Reginon. de Eccles. Discipl. Lib. n. cap. 438. 


generally recognized as the "pauperes" of the formulas and as the 
proper recipients of all sums directed to be spent in charity, espe 
cially after the rise of the Mendicant Orders. 1 Such being the case, 
the Church exercised control and used for its own purposes whatever 
moneys conscience-stricken penitents might feel impelled to disgorge, 
provided the real owners were not at hand to claim them, and the 
sums thus accumulating were not small. In 1249 the Archbishop 
of Keinis authorized St. Louis to convert to pious uses at his discre 
tion, presumably for his crusade, all restitutions within the diocese 
of Reims when the owners could not be found. 2 Somewhat bolder, 
a few years later, was Innocent IV., when, desiring to raise funds for 
his war with Ezzelin da Romano, he proclaimed that those who held 
illicit acquisitions should not be held to restitution, if, after public 
notice in the diocese or parish, claimants did not come forward, and 
they would contribute the whole or what they could, of such ill- 
gotten gains, to the prosecution of the affairs of the faith. 3 The next 
year, 1255, Walter, Bishop of Durham, expresses the same control 
somewhat less crudely ; if the owner or his heirs are dead the evil 
acquisitions are to be paid to the Ordinary for the use of the poor. 4 
It is not surprising, therefore, that priests should sometimes under 
take to order the building of churches or monasteries, or pious 
legacies in lieu of restitutions due by their penitents, for such a prac 
tice is forbidden by the council of Mainz in 1 281, 5 and when the 
Qucestuarii, or sellers of indulgences, undertook to transact such 

1 How easy it was to assume that the clergy were the poor to whom alms 
should be assigned is seen in a Mass for Almsgivers " of probably the twelfth 
century " Hanc igitur oblationem, Domine, famulorum famularumque qui de 
eleemosinis suis memoraverunt venerabilem locum istum, quam tibi offerimus 
ob justis eleemosinis suis quod in pauperes tuos operantur, placatus suscipias 
deprecamur." Goldast. et Senckenb. Eer. Alamannar. Scriptt IF. 157. 

Muratori thinks that originally the real poor were called in to share, but 
that subsequently the churches and the priests absorbed the whole. Antiq. 
Ital. Diss. LXVIII. (T. XIV. pp. 69-70). 

In a seventeenth century manual for confessors they are clearly instructed 
on this point " Quinam intelliguntur nomine pauperum ? Non solum men- 
dicantes sed etiam pauperes verecundi . . . monasteria, hospitalia, ecclesiaB, 
uno verbo, omnia loca pia." Berteau Director Confessarior. p. 362. 

2 Gousset, Actes etc. II. 394. 

3 Innoc. PP. IV. Bull. Ut nihil nobis, 1254 (Bullar. I. 103). 

4 Waltheri Dunelmens. Constitt. ann. 1255 (Harduin. VII. 492). 

5 C. Mogtmt. ann. 1281, cap. 8 (Hartzheim III. 664). 


business on their own account and released holders of ill-acquired 
property from restitution for a portion of the amount it was regarded 
as an abuse and was forbidden by the council of Vienne in 131 2. l 
This did not prevent its being universally accepted by the canonists 
that, when the owner cannot be found, restitution is to be made in 
almsgiving for the benefit of his soul, and this benefit of course was 
greatest when the alms went to the Church. 2 Thus, in 1295, Boniface 
VIII. authorized the Dominicans engaged in rebuilding the church of 
Santa Maria sopra Minerva to receive two thousand livres tournois 
from property acquired by usury, rapine or other evil ways ; the sinner 
was relieved in so far as he paid the whole or a part of his unlawful 
gains, and he was not responsible if the friars fraudulently retained 
it from the owner. 3 Another grant, in 1296, to the Dominicans of 
Viterbo, of a thousand pounds of paparini, to be collected from dis 
honest gains, specifies that those who paid were relieved from restitu 
tion to the owners. 4 Grants of this kind were frequent, 5 and finally 
became a matter of regular traffic, for in the subsequent Taxes of the 
Chancery the price of a licence to receive a thousand florins from 
this source was rated at only fifty gros tournois. 6 The local churches 

1 Cap. 2 | 1 Clement. Lib. V. Tit. ix. Summa Pisanella s. v. Qucestuarii n. 3. 

2 S. Th. Aquinat. Summae Sec. Sec. Q. LXII. Art. v. ad 3. Synod. Nemau- 
sens. ann. 1284 (Harduin. VII. 912). Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxix. Art. 
2, Q. 4; Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. P. de Aquila in IV. Sentt. Dist. XV. Q. ii. Summa 
Diana s. v. Restitui n. 18. 

Duns Scotus seems to be virtually alone (In IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. ii.) in 
rejecting the ordinary advice that the money be given to the confessor for 
charitable uses, and in counselling the penitent to distribute it himself. 

3 Ripoll Bullar. Ord. Praadic. II. 39. In 1298 we find Boniface granting to 
Margaret, dowager of Naples (the widow of Charles of Anjou), the privilege of 
spending in pious uses, under the advice of her confessor, all the moneys which 
she had unlawfully received, of which the owners could not be found. Faucon, 
Eegistres de Boniface VIII. n. 2860. 

4 Ripoll II. 51. 

5 Thus Benedict XL, in 1303, grants 1000 gold florins of restitutions to the 
Dominicans of S. Severino, and, in 1304, the same amounts to those of Pavia, 
Savigliano and Toulouse, and 100 pounds of Venetian grossi to those of Ragusa. 
Ripoll, II. 82, 86, 92, 96, 98. 

6 Taxse Cancellariae Apostolicse Tit. xxvi. (Ed. Franequerae, 1651, p. 37 ; 
Ed. Sylvae Ducis 1706, p. 21). This however was only one of a number of fees 
to be paid to sundry officials, and there was probably in addition a settlement 
to be made with the camera. 


for a while resisted the control by the Holy See of this source of 
revenue. In 1287 a quarrel arose at Liege, where the mendicant 
friars asserted that they held letters making over the restitutions to 
them ; the local prelates recalcitrated and in full synod declared that 
the moneys should be spent on the fabric of the cathedral ; the priests 
were ordered not to recognize the claims of the friars until they 
should produce the alleged letters, and meanwhile the latter were 
threatened with excommunication for their fraudulent pretensions. 1 
There was naturally moreover a strong tendency for confessors to 
retain for themselves the benefits of the sums confided to them. In 
the case of the Mendicants this was recognized by the papal Peni 
tentiary issuing letters to the superiors of convents authorizing them 
to convert to the fabric of their houses the illicit gains of persons 
confessing to them, up to a certain amount, and the scrivener s fee 
for such letters was six gros tour no is, according to the tax- tables of 
Benedict XII. in 1338. 2 As for other confessors, towards the close 
of the fifteenth century the Summa Pa,cifica intimates that if the 
priest is poor he can bestow on himself the sums placed in his hands 
for distribution, in place of giving them to others, 3 while in the be 
ginning of the seventeenth century this seems to have become recog 
nized, for Bishop Zerola tells us that if the penitent hands money 
to his confessor to make restitution, and if the owner cannot be 
found, the confessor can keep it, for he is classed among the poor, 
and restitutions to uncertain persons are properly given to the 

1 Jo. Episc. Leodiens. Statuta Synodal, ann. 1287, cap. 4 (Hartzheim 
III. 686). 

2 P. Denifle, Die alteste Taxrolle der apostol. Ponitentiarie (Archiv fiir 
Litteratur-und Kirchengeschichte, IV. 228). 

As there is no formula for such letters in the " Formulary of the Papal Peni 
tentiary in the Thirteenth Century" (Philada., 1892), compiled towards the 
end of the thirteenth century, the custom probably grew up under Clement 
V. or John XXII. 

In the papal court itself, the oath administered to the minor penitentiaries 
in 1349 contains a clause requiring them in all cases where the owners are 
unknown to refer the matter to the Cardinal Major Penitentiary, who doubt 
less compounded with the penitent, as we shall presently see. Bullarium 
Vaticanum, I. 338. 

3 Somma Pacifica cap. 1. u Et quando la persona che debbe fare tal dis- 
tribuzione fosse molto bisognoso credo che si come puo dare ad altri, cosi possa 
tenir per se." 


poor. 1 Some doctors even argued that when the owner is known 
the restitution can be made in alms for the benefit of his soul, for 
thus the spiritual advantage outweighs the temporal loss, but Liguori 
disapproves of this f still, when the restitution cannot be made with 
out entailing disgrace, the confessor can divert the money from the 
injured party to charitable purposes. 3 

Thus the business of enforcing restitutions was a profitable one, 
for in a large proportion of cases the ill-gotten gains consisted of 
the profits of usurers, fraudulent shop-keepers and such folk, whose 
acquisitions came in petty sums from a wide circle, the individuals 
of which could not be readily traced, so that it was much easier to 
hand over in a lump to the confessor what sufficed to still the con 
science and secure absolution. That the aggregate was considerable, 
and that it was regarded as an assured and tolerably regular source 
of income, is apparent from an incident in the raids of the inquisitor 
Fra^ois Borel against the Waldenses of Dauphine. His captives 
were so numerous that their incarceration and support became a 
serious financial question, which greatly puzzled Gregory XI., one 
of whose expedients was to order, in 1375, the archbishops of the 
infected regions to contribute from the ill-acquired gains and uncer 
tain legacies four thousand florins to build prisons and eight hundred 
florins a year for five years for the maintenance of the prisoners and 
support of the Inquisition. 4 

In the struggle for the control of this source of revenue the Holy 
See acquired a decided advantage by taking the matter wholly out 
of the confessional, dealing directly with the sinner, and oifering 
him attractive terms of composition, under which, by the payment 
of a trifling portion of the illicit gains, he was assured that he could 
retain the rest with a quiet conscience, provided that he had ineffect 
ually used due diligence in endeavoring to find those whom he had 
robbed or defrauded, and that he had not wrongfully acquired 
property in expectation of thus compounding for it. We have seen 
that speculation of this kind was condemned by the council of 

1 Zerola Praxis Sacr. Poenit. cap. xxv. Q. 37. " Quia ipse inter pauperes 
numeratur et restitutio facienda incertis personis solet vel debet fieri pau- 

2 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. ill. n. 705. 

3 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscient. Mart. 1738, cas. 1. 

4 Waddingi Annal. Minorum, arm. 1375 n. xxii. 


Vienne, in 131 2, when practised by the Qucestuarii for their own 
profit, but there was no objection made to it when carried on by the 
curia on a large scale. The Taxes of the Papal Chancery towards 
the close of the fifteenth century have two provisions for this one 
that a layman can compound for twenty-four gro* tournois, instead 
of for a fourth part as formerly, the other that letters of remission 
in such cases shall be granted to a poor man for twenty gros, and to 
a rich man for fifty. 1 To facilitate the collection of revenue from 
this source it was farmed out to commissioners, and the abuses of 
the system became such that when, in 1547, the papalist section of 
the council of Trent withdrew to Bologna, it framed a reformatory 
decree, which never was enforced, declaring that many evils had 
arisen from the faculties granted to commissioners to compound for 
illicit gains ; such compositions were granted for a trifle, diligence 
was not used to find the injured parties, who were thus defrauded, 
opportunities were offered for wrong-doing, and souls were ensnared, 
for sins are not remitted unless restitution is really made. For these 
reasons it was ordered that in future no such faculties should be 
granted, while existing ones should be so limited that when the 
injured were known the payment should be made to them, when 
unknown the full amount should be paid to pious uses. 2 

This nugatory protest was primarily directed against the system 
in its perfected shape as organized in the Spanish dominions in 
the Santa Cruzada, or commission for the sale of so-called crusading 
indulgences, which has been maintained from the middle ages to the 
present time. As described in an official text-book, issued in 1610, 
the Commissioner General of the Santa Cruzada issued a long list 
of the sources of unlawful gains, such as the profits of usury and 
gambling, of watered wine and short weights and measures, bribery 

1 Libellus Taxarum super quibusdam in Cancellaria apostolica impetrandis 
fol. la, (White Hist. Library, Cornell University, A. 6124). 

None of these provisions respecting illicit gains are in the fourteenth cen 
tury Taxce, printed by Tangl, Das Taxwesen der pabstlichen Kanzlei (Mittheil- 
ungen des Instituts fur osterreichische Geschichtsforschung, 1892). 

When in the Anglican schism Parliament, in 1533, transferred the Taxes of 
the Chancery to the Archbishop of Canterbury, it substantially adopted the 
Roman tariff of prices, but excepted compositions, which, as being necessarily 
arbitrary, were left to the discretion of the archbishop. XXV. Henr. VIII. 
ch. 21 12 (Statutes at Large, Ed. 1770, Vol. II. p. 196). 

2 Raynald. Annal. ann. 1547, n. 68. 


received by judges, extortionate charges by officials, things lost or 
left on deposit, presents made by men to their mistresses etc. 1 
This served as a guide for sinners, who had no reason to complain 
of the terms offered to them, for the price charged for permission to 
retain these illicit profits was temptingly moderate only two reales 
on sums under 5000 maravedises (about 150 reales or 14 ducats), and 
at this rate up to 100,000 maravedises, while larger amounts were 
subject to special bargaining with the Commissioner General, who 
had full power from the Holy See to settle all cases. In the Indies 
the terms were higher five per cent, of the amount compounded 
for while no bnla de composition was issued at a less price than 
twelve reales, and, when the sum in question exceeded 800 ducats, a 
special composition was designated by the Commissioner General. 2 
In the Bala, as published annually by that official, he set forth that 
as no one can attain heaven who has not, according to St. Augustin, 
made restitution of all ill-acquired gains, and as this frequently 
cannot be done without loss of honor, and it is often troublesome to 
ascertain the amount and the person to whom restitution is due, it 
shows the paternal love of the pope for his children that he has thus 
opened the way, so that now, when the Church is so harassed with 
the attacks of infidels and heretics, and the Catholic king is its 
special champion, all doubts can be quieted by paying in aid of his 
expeditions against these enemies of the Church two reales in com 
position for 5000 maravedises, and the faithful are invited to compare 
the smallness of the sum required with the greatness of the release, 
the object of the pope being to place it within the reach of every 
one, so that all may join in the great work and not remain in a 
state of condemnation. 3 In process of time the percentage has been 

1 Alonso Perez de Lara, Compendio de las Tres Gracias de la Santa Cruzada, 
Subsidio y Escusada, p. 1 8. This work was first issued in 1610. My edition 
is of Lyons, 1757, showing that it long remained in use as an authoritative 

2 Paolo Tiepolo, Relazioni Venete, Serie I. Tom. V. p. 23. Perez de Lara, 
p. 86. 

3 Eodriguez, Explicacion de la Bulla de la Santa Cruzada, fol. 165-7 (Sala 
manca, 1597). 

The first edition of this semi-official work was issued in 1589. It is in the 
vernacular, and therefore was intended for the people as well as the clergy. 
For the benefit of the Sicilian subjects of Spain it was translated into Italian, 
Palermo, 1621. 

II. 5 


raised, while the minimum has been reduced, so that it is brought 
within reach of the humblest sinners. At present, in modern cur 
rency, the bula costs 1 peseta and 15 centimes, equivalent to about 
23 cents of American money, which serves as composition for 14 
pesetas and 45 centimes, or about $2.85, as will be seen by the fac 
simile which I give of those issued in 1889. For larger sums 
additional bulls are bought, but no one can take more than fifty in 
any one year, aggregating a composition for 735 pesetas and 29 
centimes, and for greater amounts he must wait till the next year, or 
apply to the Commissioner General for a special composition. Thus 
the charge, which in the sixteenth century was only 1 J per cent., 
has been raised to 8 per cent., while it is understood that the special 
transactions for larger sums are 011 a basis of 10 per cent. 1 The bula 
has a blank left for the name of the sinner, but he is advised that it 
is injudicious to fill this in, as it would be proclaiming himself a 
thief; he must take the bull, otherwise he derives no benefit from 
the payment, but, for the sake of his reputation, his safest course is 
to destroy it immediately. 2 Having done this, he remains, in the 
words of the bula, free and discharged from the obligation of resti 
tution up to the amount for which he has paid. In all this there 
is no allusion to contrition or confession it is a simple matter of 
trade. As wars with infidels and heretics are no longer in fashion, 
the proceeds are now applied to the support of the Spanish churches, 
except the portion which the pope reserves for the Holy See. 3 

1 Mig. Sanchez, Prontuario de la Teologia Moral, Trat. xm. Punto 5. 

2 Mig. Sanchez, Expositio Bullse Sanctse Cruciatae, pp. 377-80 (Matriti, 

As this work bears the official approbation of the Cardinal Archbishop of 
Valladolid, Commissioner General of the Cruzada, its statements may be ac 
cepted as authentic. 

3 Sanchez, p. 424. Salces, Explicacion de la Bula de la Santa Cruzada, p. 6 
(Madrid, 1881). 

The clause respecting composition in the Cruzada bull Dum infidelium, issued 
by Pius IX. in 1877, is as follows : 

" Eidem quoque executor! potestatem facimus, ut pro foro conscientise tan- 
turn, super injuste ablatis vel acquisitis compositionem competenter decernere 
possit, in prsedectos pios fines erogandam, dummodo scilicet domini quibus 
restitutio esset facienda, post debitam diligentiam pro iisdem inveniendis ad- 
hibitam reperiri non possint, et prsestito a debitoribus juramento de hac dili- 
gentia per eos facta, et dummodo iidem debitores in confidentiam et sub spe 




residentes en los Reinos de Esparla islaj 
Santisimo Padre Pio IX , de feliz memori 
ochocientos setenta y siete, para que puej 
que scan obligados a restituir, sujetas a la 
sumas que se recauden, a los gastos-del C 
para el ano de mil 0( 

Qaeriendo el Vieario de Cristo pro veer a la quieti 
carga que las oprime, de restituir bienes j cosas 
flcio a la Religion Catoliea , invirtiendo las suma 
y^socorro de las Iglesias, se digno Su Santidad c 
por la Misericordia divina dal titulo de los Santo: 
Presbitero Carde-n-al Paya , Arzobispo de Toledo , 
pellan Mayor de S. M. , Yicarto General de los Ej 
Hero Gran Cruz de la Real Orden de Carlos III y d 
Comisario General de la Santa Cruzada en todos lo 
-a-los tales deudores de bienes y cosas ajenas y lib 

Sobre los frutos que deben restituir los Eclesiasticos, poseedores de bcneficios_siinples, 
que no tengan aneja-cura de almas, ni exijan residencia personal, por la omision^del 
rezo de las noras canonicas, de suerte que la .jfantidad de la composicidn se de por mitad 
a las Tglesias u ot-ros lugares, por cuya razofr se debieron rezar diehas horas canomcas, 
y la^otra mitad para los fines piadosos % a que se destinen por la citada Bula. 

Sobre lo liurtado d injustamente adquirido, si despues de las debidas diligencias no 
se liallaren las personas a quienes se hubiere de hacer la restitucidn, prestando jura- 
mento los dcudbres de haber practicado diehas diligencias, y eon tal que los rnismos no 
hayan hurtado 6 adquirido en confianza y bajo la esperanza de esta composicion. 

En su co.nsecuencfa, usando de la expresada facultad Apostolica v hemos tenido por 
.bion y queremos que cualquiera persona de las arriba diehas , que tomando este Suma- 
rio, die re la limosna que mas adelante se senala para los santos lines de la concesion, sea restituir lo que debiere por cualquiera de las referidas causas hasta en la cantidad 
de catorce pesetas euarenta y cinco centimos^ con declaracion de que, quien se haya de 
componer sobre lo que deba testituir por omigion de las horas canonicas, hava de dar otra 
tanta limosna abajo senalada a la Iglesia 6 lugar, por cuya razdn estuyo obligado al rezo 

Madrid: Tip. do lo3.Hn6ifono.s, Juan Bravo, 3- 

EN GAINS. (To face page 66. Vol. If,) 

Una peseta quince centimes 

> a ellos adyacentes, se dig % n6 conceder Nuestro 
a, dada en Roma a cuatro de Dicienibre de mil 
Ian lograr composici6n sobre cosas y -cantidades 
disposici6n de Su Santidad, ayudando, con ]as 
iulto Divino y socorro de las Iglesias de Espana, 
ihocientos ochenta y mi eve. 

id de las conciencias de los fieles, afligidas con la pesada 
; ajenas, y qne de esta misma disposicion resulte bene- 
3 que se recauden en el sostenimiento del Culto Divino 
onceder por la expresada Bula , a NOS DON MIGUEL, 
3 Martires Quirico y Julita de la Santa Romana Iglesia 
Primado de las Espanas , Patriarca de las India s , Ca- 
ercitos y Armada , Canciller Mayer de Castilla , Caba- 
e la Americana de Isabel la Catdlica , Senador del Reino, 
s dominios de S. M., etc., etc., que podamos componer 
srtarles de su restitucion en los casos y forma siguiente: 

de ellas. Y si mas montare lo que asi estuviere debiendo, cuantas veces tomare este Su^ 
.mario y diere la referida limosna,tantas sea compuesto a razon de catorce pesetas cua- 
renta y cinco centimes por cada uno, con tal que la composicidn no exceda de setecien- 
tas treinta y cinco pesetas -veintinueve centimes; porquede ahi arriba debera recurrir 
prccisamente a Is 1 6s, para "que proveamos sobre ella, y con calidad de que los tales deu- 
dores no hayan habido en contianza de esta concesion las cantidades 6 cosas sobre que 
se nan de componer. Y por cuanto vos 


para los expresados santos fines la limosna de una peseta quince centimes, y habeis 
recibido ot;ta Bula (de la cual habeis de nsar en manera que ningiin otro pueda inten- 
tar aprovecharse de ella, ni se cause perjuicio de otro modo a la Santa Cruzada), que- 
dais libre y absuelto de restituir lo que debierais en la forma y con las cualidades arriba 
dichas hasta la sama de catorce pesetas cuarenta y cinco cectimos, sobre los cualcs 
os concedemos esta composicion, que mandamos dar impresa, firmada de nuestro 
nombre, y seliada con nuestro sello acostumbrado en Madrid a primero de Marzo 
de mil ochocientos ochenta y ocho. 


This whole business is so curious a development of the power of 
the keys that a cursory glance at some of the details of its practical 
working as set forth by its authorized expositors may not be amiss. 
We have seen that at first, when the person robbed or defrauded could 
not be found, the whole amount was to be paid over to pious uses. 
Rodriguez admits this to be the law, but he argues that the pope is above 
all human law es sobre todo derecho humano and if he offers the 
composition it is binding and tends to the salvation of the sinner s 
soul ; but this power is confined exclusively to the pope kings have 
it not, and bishops can only exercise it as his deputies. 1 At the same 
time the distinction is drawn that, if the sinner compounds and does 
not in his soul desire to make full restitution, he remains in mortal 
sin, and it is added that of a hundred who take advantage of the com 
position there are very few who are not in this category 2 a somewhat 
damaging admission that the Church, for the pitiful percentage 
received, cheated both the debtor and the creditor. As regards the 
diligence required to discover the creditor, the sinner is not obliged 
to do all that is possible, but only as much as a good and God-fearing 
man would do. If subsequently the creditor appears and demands 
his dues, the question is disputed whether he can recover in Court, 
less the amount paid in composition and what the debtor has spent 
in good faith or given in pious works. 3 Strangers coming to Spain 

hujusmodi compositionis ilia non abstulerint seu acquisiverint." Sanchez, p. 
429; Salces, p. 392. Of. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse, n. 1029. 

It will be noted that the restriction here expressed, that the composition 
is good only in the forum of conscience, is carefully omitted in the printed 

1 Rodriguez, op. cit. Sulla de Composition, n. 5, 7. 

2 Ibid. n. 11. 

3 Rodriguez (loc. cit. n. 8, 10) says the creditor can recover. Escobar (Theol. 
Moral. Tract, in. Ex. ii. n. 20) says he cannot. Diana (Summa s. v. Build 
Compositionis n. 3) holds that the bull is equivalent to prescription, and the 
creditor cannot recover, for the pope is administrator of all temporal property 
as to spirituals. Sanchez tells us that the theologians hold that if the credi 
tor or owner appears there is no obligation to pay him, as restitution has been 
made by the bull. But in modern times the restitution is only inforo conscien- 
tice, and if he claims the debt judicially it cannot be resisted, especially as the 
debtor has destroyed his bula and has no evidence. If, however, the loser for 
bears through ignorance, the debtor or thief can remain with a quiet conscience 
because the restitution has been made before God. Prontuario de la Teologia 
Moral, Trat. xm. Punto 5. 


can compound and depart immediately, 1 thus rendering the Spanish 
dominions a place of pilgrimage for conscientious rogues. When a 
legacy is left in restitution of ill-acquired gains and the legatee fails 
to claim it within a year, the heirs, although they know him per 
fectly well, can compound with the Cruzada for one-half of it, at the 
rate of two reales for 5000 maravedises, and then they are required to 
pay only the other half to the legatee. 2 In all cases of legacies, 
where the legatee cannot be found with due diligence, and similarly 
with trust funds and deposits, they can be compounded for and kept. 3 
With regard to judges accepting bribes, the distinctions invented 
by the casuists are recognized. If the bribe has been earned by 
rendering an unjust judgment, the judge should compound with the 
Cruzada, after which he can rest with an easy conscience y quedara 
seguro en conciencia but if it is for rendering a just judgment there 
is a further distinction, for if the money has been given unwillingly 
to prevent his being bribed by the other side, he should refund it in 
full to the pleader, while if given willingly to invite him to do jus 
tice, he can compound for it and keep it. 4 It is the same with eccle 
siastical judges in temporal cases, but not in spiritual matters, for in 
the latter, we are told, bribery is against the law (contra derecho) and 
therefore is simony. 5 Gambling gains are discussed at great length, 
the conclusion being that the winner is not obligated to restitution 
unless he compelled the loser to play, or has cheated, or the loser is a 
person dependent, as a minor, a married woman, a monk, etc. Then, 
if the loser cannot be found, the winnings can be compounded for. 6 
The restitution of gains obtained by pretence of poverty or sanctity 
involves many nice distinctions as to the mental operations of the 
gi ver whether the sanctity or poverty was the causa impulsiva or 

1 Rodriguez, n. 12. 

2 Ibid. n. 19. This is still in force in the modern Cruzada, but it is good 
only in the forum of conscience and conveys no legal exemption. Sanchez, 
Expositio, pp. 386, 387. 

3 Rodriguez, n. 20. This is still in force as regards legacies, but whether it 
applies to deposits is doubtful. Sanchez, Expositio, p. 388. 

4 Rodriguez, n. 21-23. Still in force, with the addition that for an unjust 
judgment the judge should repair it if the victim can be found. Sanchez, 
Expositio, pp. 389, 391. 

5 Rodriguez, n. 26-7. 

6 Ibid. n. 30-46. Virtually the same at present. Sanchez, Expositio, pp. 


causa final of the gift. This clause includes also " alms " for masses, 
when the priest directs his intention otherwise than that paid for. 
No definite instructions can be framed for such a subject except that 
when restitution is due, composition can be made for it. 1 The same 
may be said as to questions arising from hunting, keeping pigeons, 
injuries done by cattle, privileges of forests, common lands, etc. 2 
Public prostitutes are not obliged to make restitution, and conse 
quently need not compound for keeping the wages of sin, unless they 
have received from minors sums greater than the ordinary price, but 
men who have promised them money without paying it must com 
pound. As for women not publicly immoral, it is proved dialectic- 
ally that if unmarried they must make restitution or composition for 
presents received from their lovers, while if married they need not. 
All women, however, are held to restitution or composition for money 
obtained by deceit. 3 Short weight and measure, watered wine and 

1 Rodriguez, n. 47-51. Sanchez admits the difficulty of these cases (pp. 393-5). 

2 Rodriguez, n. 52-61. 

3 Ibid. n. 62-67. In the modern Cruzada public women are not alluded to. 
It is universally conceded by theologians that they have a right to their wages 
(Alex, de Ales Sumrnse P. IV. Q. xxxm. Membr. ii. Art. 5. S. Th. Aquin. 
Summae Sec. Sec. Q. LXII. Art. 5 ad 2, Q. LXVII. Art. 2 ad 2. Savonarolse 
Confessionale fol. 60a). In discussing this subject, however, Sanchez (pp. 
400-1) gives as authoritative an opinion of the Salamanca theologians (Cursus 
Theol. Moral. Tract, xiii. n. 158), contrary to that of Rodriguez in some respects, 
which is a curious specimen of morals " Ceterum quia, ut docuimus, com- 
munior et probabilior opinio tenet non solum mulieres publice inhonestas, 
verum etiam quae occulte tales sunt, sive sint uxoratae vel viduae honest famse, 
virgines aut etiam moniales posse licite et valide pretium pro usu sui corporis 
recipere, illudque, opere sequnto, retinere, consequenterque ad illius restitu- 
tionem non obligari, asserendum in praesente est, nullam mulierem inhonestam, 
sive publicam sive occultam, compositione in hoc casu a Commissario concesso 
opus habere, sed rem sibi donatam, sive in pecuniis sive in aliis rebus pro actu 
turpi perpetrate, posse sibi reservare, absque ulla restitutionis aut compositionis 
obligatione . . . Poterunt autem mulieres occulte inhonestae circa id quod 
acceperunt compositioni operam dare pro majori suae conscientiae quiete et 
securitate." But if she has received the money and not given the quid pro 
quo she is held to restitution or composition. 

The same rules apply to men hired by unchaste women, except that if the 
woman is married and has not separate property out of which the hire was 
paid, it should be returned to the husband and is not the subject of composition. 

The question as to the right of " honest " women to retain the wages of sin 
is not one on which the authorities are wholly in accord. Gabriel Vazquez 


adulterations in general ought to be compounded for, though the great 
name of Soto is quoted for the opinion that dealers are justified in 
such practices and need not seek composition when the prices fixed 
by law for oil, grain, wine, cloths, etc., are such as to force them 
otherwise to sell at a loss. 1 In general terms, all property wrong 
fully acquired, by usury, robbery, theft, fraud, etc., is a subject for 
composition if restitution cannot be made, unless, indeed, it has been 
obtained in expectation of settlement by composition, in which case 
it should be surrendered wholly to the Cruzada. Yet even here 
the casuist draws a convenient distinction : if the assurance of being 
able to make the composition is the causa positiva of the fraud or 
robbery the sole impelling motive the Cruzada takes it all, but 
if it is only one of the motives a causa concomitante, then the holder 
can compound. 2 

In view of the moral influence of such a system on the training of 
the people, we need not feel surprised at the ingenuous confession of 
Kodriguez that a certain high personage accused him of giving licence 
to thieves by discussing all these cases in the vernacular. His de 
fence is that he had not done so of his own authority, but by com 
mand of the Commissioner . General and Council of the Cruzada, 
who doubtless desired to stimulate the demand for their wares, and 
he dilates unctuously on the sweet benefits of composition based on 
the sweet yoke of Christ our Redeemer. 8 

(Opusc. Moral. De Restitutions cap. vii. n. 11). holds that they can, but admits 
that many moralists are of the opposite opinion. The rigid Concina (Theol. 
Christ, contract. Lib. ix. cap. ii. n. 31) while admitting that restitution is not 
required, argues that the money should be given to the poor, as otherwise there 
is no real repentance. There is also a question as to whether a payment from 
a monk to a prostitute should be refunded, because the money belongs to his 
monastery. Vazquez (loc. cit. n. 13) and the Salmanticenses (ubi sup. n. 161) 
assert that restitution is necessary, even if the superior has given permission 
for this use of the money, while Concina (loc. cit. n. 32), considers that the 
payment is valid. 

1 Rodriguez, n. 68-74. The same in Sanchez (p. 402), except that Soto is 
not quoted. 

2 Eodriguez, n. 75. Sanchez (p. 377) expresses the same limitation, without 
the distinction. In fact, it is in the papal bull of the Cruzada. 

3 Eodriguez, Palermo edition, pp. 55-6. This passage is not in the earlier 
Spanish version. 

Shortly before this Domingo Soto (In IV. Sentt. Diss. xxi. Q. 2, Art. 4) had 


In the bull of the Crociata, granted by Pius VI. to Naples, in 
1777, there is no clause providing for compositions. 1 

Finally, a necessary requisite for absolution is the capacity of the 
penitent to discern between good and evil. This gives rise in prac 
tice to many difficult questions. Father Gobat relates that a distin 
guished confessor applied to him for an opinion as to his action in 
refusing absolution to a prince s fool, who confessed to him a number 
of serious sins and whom he dismissed with a benediction, not con 
sidering him capable of absolution, and Gobat, after weighing the 
probabilities on either side, approved of the decision. The question, 
as we have already seen (I. 403), is one which often arises in the 
confessions of young children, seven or eight years of age, causing 
much anxiety to conscientious confessors, who naturally feel that 
they may be granting absolution when it should be denied, or re 
fusing it when it should be given. 

Thus the labors of theologians have provided ample store of rules 
as to the disposition and intentions requisite for the acquisition of 
absolution, but their interpretation and application must, after all, 
depend upon the temper and training of the confessor, who, with the 
power to bind and to loose, does not receive the divine illumination 
requisite for its exercise. There has always been complaint that 
some confessors are too rigid and others too benignant ; the tendency 
to the latter failing has grown during the last three centuries with 
the growth of the laxity introduced by probabilism, until it has 
become predominant. During the seventeenth and eighteenth cen 
turies, the Gallican Church, as we have seen, inclined to rigorism, 
and the assembly of the French clergy, in 1655, expressed the pro- 

described the system of composition as stimulating fraud, especially in retail 
trade, and as giving rise to much popular dissatisfaction. He protests that he 
does not mean to detract from the papal authority or to interfere with the 
gains of the state, but he regards the percentage charged as entirely too low, 
for the profit it brings is inadequate to compensate for the incentive to fraud 
which it furnishes. Besides, when the sum is large, the debtor is apt to satisfy 
his conscience by taking two or three bulas and disregarding the surplus. 
Curiously enough, he treats as doubtful the question whether the composition 
is sufficient defence in case a creditor prosecutes his claim. 

1 Vella Dissertatio in Bullam Sanctse Crociatse, II. 12, Neapoli, 1789. 


foundest sorrow at the deplorable facility with which, for the most 
part, confessors bestowed absolution. 1 In the next century Habert 
reiterates these complaints, and shows how habitual was this laxity by 
his description of the remonstrances to which confessors were exposed 
who endeavored to postpone absolution to those manifestly unfit, and 
the necessity which he feels to explain that this is not a new inven 
tion, but that the relaxation of wholesome discipline is an innovation 
on the ancient teaching of the Church. 2 Peter Dens, about the same 
time, endeavored to hold an intermediate position, and describes as 
equally destructive the rigor of those who refuse absolution and the 
laxity of those who boast that they never refuse it even to the 
habitual sinner, thus sending, as St. Thomas de Vilanova says, 
confiding sinners to hell. 3 With the final triumph of probabilism 
under the influence of St. Alphonso Liguori the laxer system has 
prevailed, and all rigor is denounced as Jansenism, but the reitera 
tion by Father Miiller of the evils of both extremes 4 only proves that 
the Church has not yet succeeded in overcoming the inherent difficulty 
of substituting man for God. 

1 Habert Praxis Sacr. Pcenitent. Tract, iv. (p. 

" Falsum est quod recens subinventa est haec praxis ; earn quippe ecclesia 
servavit omnibus saeculis contra relaxationes quse hodierna die pro illius dis- 
ciplina traducuntur." Ibidem. 

At the same time his theory is that absolution is not to be refused but only 
postponed, and while his instructions as to the method of doing this contain 
much that is admirable, there is a curious mingling of artifice in the sugges 
tions as to how the penitent is to be led on from week to week by promises, for 
the non-performance of which some excuse is always to be found. 

3 P. Dens Theologize T. VI. n. 119. 

4 Father Miiller endeavors to establish a golden mean between the extremes 
" The good confessor avoids laxism and rigorism. The laxist, who never 

asks any questions, who absolves every one, whether worthy or not, who hears 
confessions by steam and puts through a large number of penitents every hour 
such a confessor only hardens the sinner and heaps sacrilege upon sacri 
lege .... The rigorist makes confession a carnificina conscientise, he turns 
the sacrament of mercy into an intolerable burden. St. Thomas of Villanova 
calls rigorist confessors impie pios. It is better that the confessor should 
sin excessu quam defectu amoris. The good confessor imitates the charity of our 
Lord .... There is no doubt that many err by being too indulgent. Such 
confessors do great harm to souls; aye, even the greatest harm, for liber 
tines go in crowds to these lax confessors and find in them their own perdi 
tion. It is also certain that confessors who are too rigid cause great evil." 
Miiller s Catholic Priesthood, III. 145-6. 



ALTHOUGH public confession and reconcilation remained in force 
for notorious and scandalous sins, for secret sins they commenced 
gradually to decline after the middle of the fifth century. We have 
seen (I. p. 183) that Leo I. decreed that private confession sufficed 
for such sins, and though the public ceremonies still for many cen 
turies continued to be sought by secret penitents, the rule in time 
established itself that public penance, with its termination in public 
reconciliation, was only essential in the case of public offenders, 
while private penance and private reconciliation sufficed for those 
whose wrong-doing was hidden and was only known through voluntary 
confession. The bishops retained control over the former, and after 
a struggle resigned the latter to the priests, subject to the episcopal 
right of reserving special sins. At first this was owing to the size 
of the dioceses in the missionary lands and the material obstacles in 
the way of access between prelate and penitent, and it developed 
under the influence of the sacramental system when priests were 
finally admitted to a share in the power of the keys. 

The change came slowly, and was not simultaneous throughout 
Latin Christendom at a time when communication was infrequent 
and precarious and each diocese was autonomous. The first step 
was the temporary disappearance of public penance, except, prob 
ably, within the immediate jurisdiction of Rome. That it, with its 
intolerable burdens, should be rejected by the Barbarians, among 
whom the personal punishment of freemen was unknown, was in 
evitable, and the Church might be well satisfied if it could induce 
its wild converts to undergo the milder processes of fasting and 
exclusion from the sacraments the latter of which, as we have 
seen (I. p. 508) was reduced to six months or a year. Already, 
towards the close of the seventh century, the Penitential of Theodore 
informs us that in England neither public penance nor reconciliation 


was enforced. 1 On the Continent, in 81 3, the council of Chalons 
complains that almost everywhere it is abandoned, and the good 
fathers supplicate Charlemagne to order its observance for public 
sins. 2 He turned a deaf ear to this suggestion, but his son and 
successor, Louis le Debonnaire, was more heedful of the wishes of 
the Church, and in 819 favored the effort to restore the custom. To 
remove the objection of the risk incurred in that stormy age by the 
deprivation of the right to bear arms, he protected penitents by a 
triple fine for their murder, in addition to the wer-gild or blood- 
money payable to the kindred of the slain, and this provision was 
carried into the Lombard Law and the collections of canons. 3 Louis 
gave a still more emphatic proof of his respect for the ancient 
observances when he astonished his warlike nobles, in 822, by 
appearing before a council of bishops at Attigny, where he con 
fessed to undue cruelty in the suppression of the rebellion of his 
nephew Bernard, King of Italy, expressed his profound contrition, 
asked for penance and reconciliation, and duly accepted the sentence 
rendered by appearing as a public penitent. This was not held to 
deprive him of the right to bear arms, but after his deposition by 
his sons in 833, when Lothair I. desired to render his resumption 
of the crown impossible, he was induced at Compiegne again to ask 
for penance, and this time the bishops imposed one which prohibited 
his wearing arms for the future. Restored to the throne by the 
counter-revolution of 834, he abstained from carrying a sword until 
he was formally reconciled at St. Denis, and the weapon was cere 
moniously belted on him by the hand of a bishop. 4 

This imperial example produced a profound impression, but at the 
time it failed to find imitators among the lawless warriors of the 
period. Towards the middle of the century Jonas of Orleans re 
peats the regret of the council of Chalons ; public penance was so 

1 Pcenit. Theodori Lib. I. cap. xiii. $ 4 (Wasserschleben, p. 197). " Recon- 
ciliatio ideo in hoc provincia publice statuta non est, quia et publica poenitentia 
non est." 

2 C. Cabillonens. II. ann. 813, cap. 25 (Harduin. IV. 1036). 

3 Ludov. Pii Capit. I. ann. 819, cap. 5. Leg. Langobard. Ludov. Pii. xiii. 
Bened. Levitse Capital. Lib. IV. cap. 18 ; Lib. V. cap. 107. Isaaci Lingonens. 
Capit. Tit. I. cap. 2. Reginon. de Eccles. Discipl. Lib. n. cap. 30, 190. 

4 Thegani de Gestis Ludewici Imp. cap. 23. Eginhard. Vit. Ludov. Pii ann. 
S22. Astronomi Vit. Ludov. Pii ann. 822, 834. Exauctoratio Hludowici 
(Migne, XCVIIL 659). 


completely disused that he is obliged to go back to St. Augustin to 
describe what it is, and he ascribes the wickedness of the age to the 
neglect of so salutary a remedy. 1 Yet the movement was now on 
foot out of which, in the ignorance and confusion of the age, the 
sacerdotal power was to attain a height hitherto undreamed of, and 
the forgers of the False Decretals did not neglect this in their com 
prehensive scheme. They recognized the impossibility of reviving 
its use for all penitents, and they formulated a distinction which con 
tinued in force for many centuries, when, in an epistle attributed to 
Oalixtus I. (A.D. 217-222), public penance is ordered only for those 
whose crimes are public and notorious. 2 The effort was one certain 
to find favor with the bishops, as it aided them in retaining the 
control over penitence, which was slipping into the hands of the 
priests, and we have seen how strenuously at this period the latter 
were forbidden to grant reconciliation without episcopal authority. 
Benedict the Levite, who was so active a promoter of the new move 
ment, promptly accepted this, and prescribed that all public sins 
shall be visited with public penance ; he describes all its details as a 
matter to be strictly followed, and the adoption of his directions in 
the collection of Isaac of Langres indicates how ready the bishops 
w r ere to avail themselves of it. Halitgar of Cambrai, indeed, goes 
further, and rather grudgingly makes the concession that private 
penance can win pardon of sin, provided the penitent changes his 
garments, amends his life and mourns perpetually. 3 

The penance thus prescribed was enforced by excommunication of 
those who did not perform it when enjoined, or who should, without 
episcopal licence, take communion during the seven years during 
which it lasted, and also of priests who should neglect to report 
offenders and eject them from the church, or who should refuse to 
receive back those who had performed it. 4 Benedict s Capitularies 
were manufactured at Mainz, which was the headquarters of the 
movement, and we can see the steps taken to reduce these prescrip 
tions to practice, in the declaration of the council of Mainz, in 847, 

1 Jonee Aurelian. de Instit. Laicali Lib. I. cap. 10.. 

2 Ps. Calixti Epist. ad Gallise Episcopos. 

3 Bened. Levitae Capital. Lib. V. cap. 116, 136. Isaaci Lingonens. Capit. 
Tit. i. cap. 17. Halitgari Poenit. Prsefat. (Canisii et Basnage II. n. 89). 

4 Bened. Levitse Capitul. Lib. V. cap. 137. Isaaci Lingonens. Capit. Tit. I. 
cap. 18. 


that, while sins privately confessed are to be treated with private 
penance, public offences must be visited with public penance ; and 
further in the action of subsequent councils in the same region, which 
lay down most rigorous rules in minute detail. 1 Under this impulsion 
the system sprang into renewed life. Seven years, to be spent in 
the various stages of penance, became the accepted standard for all 
mortal sins, with longer terms for those of special guilt, and we 
have numerous decisions of the popes of the period prescribing the 
severe observances in which these stages should be passed. 2 In 
Germany, at least, these rules were enforced, when possible, in all 
their rigor. A contemporary writer describes as a common occur 
rence the performance of seven years penance, the sinner wandering 
barefooted and living on vegetables and water, forbidden to enter a 
house or to pass two nights in the same spot. 3 

In France the impulse was also felt. About the middle of the 
ninth century, Rodolph of Bourges lays down with great clearness 
the rule that public sins are to be visited by the bishops with public 
penance at discretion, ending with the reconciliation by the bishop or 
by his authority, while hidden sins, spontaneously confessed to the 
priest, are to have private penance imposed in accordance with his 
judgment the reconciliation in either case being readmittance to 
the sacraments. 4 Hincmar of Reims, with his customary vigor, took 
hold of the matter and endeavored to organize a thorough system 
by which no public criminal should escape public penance and it is 
perhaps significant that he makes no reference to private confession, 
as though it were virtually unknown. Every priest, on hearing of 
a crime committed in his parish, is to summon the criminal to ap 
pear before him and the dean, who are to investigate the case and 
report to the bishop ; the offender Avithin fifteen days is to present 

1 C. Mogunt. ann. 847, cap. 31 (Harduin. V. 14). Burchard. Deer. Lib. xix. 
cap. 37. C. Tribur. ann. 895, cap. 54-58 (Hartzheim I. 407). 

2 Nicholai PP. I. Epist. 133, 136. -Cap. 17 Caus. xir. Q. ii. ; Cap. 3 Caus. 
xxvi. Q. vii. Cap. 15 Caus. xxxm. Q. ii. 

It was probably with a view to reconcile sinners to the unaccustomed hard 
ships of the revived penance, that a canon was manufactured and attributed 
to a council of Rome under Sylvester I., ordering that no penance should be 
imposed for less than forty years. C. Roman, sub Ps. Sylvest. cap. 12 (Migne, 
VII. 837-8). 

3 Ps. Theodori Pomitent. cap. 1 (Wasserschleben, p. 568). 

4 Rodolphi Bituricens. Capitula, cap. 44. 


himself before the bishop and accept public penance, under pain of 
segregation until he submits, and priests neglecting this duty are to 
be suspended. At the monthly meeting of priests in each deanery a 
record is to be made of how each penitent is performing his penance, 
which is to be transmitted to the bishop as a guide to determine 
when to admit him to reconciliation. No. penitent dying during 
penance is to be denied the viaticum, but if he recovers he is to com 
plete his penance and be reconciled in due time. 1 In the prostration 
of the civil power the Church thus sought to replace it by a resusci 
tation of the ancient system on an elaborate practical basis, dealing 
wholly with the forum externum and promising reconciliation to the 
Church without assuring reconciliation to God. 

Thus revived, the custom of public penance for public and scan 
dalous crimes continued to be enforced, at least in so far as was 
possible in that turbulent age, and various councils of the period 
busied themselves with devising schemes of severity which rivalled 
the ancient rigor. 2 We have seen (I. pp. 193, 195) that at the end 
of the ninth century Biculfus of Soissons, and in the middle of the 
tenth Atto of Yercelli, formulated a plan not unlike that of Hinc- 
mar, while preserving silence as to private sins, and the manual on 
the Divine Offices, which passes under the name of Alcuin, but 
belongs to this period, seems to know nothing of any process save 
that of public penance and reconciliation. 3 Ratherius of Verona 
soon afterwards admits that his priests can enjoin penance on secret 
sins, but orders all public ones to be referred to him. 4 That the rite 
of publicly reconciling penitents 011 Holy Thursday was regularly 
observed is evident from a chance phrase of Thietmar of Merseburg in 
describing the obsequies of Otho III. at Cologne, in 1002, 5 while in 
Spain it would appear from a canon of the council of Coyanga, in 
1050, that priests were allowed to have jurisdiction over public rnale- 

1 Hincmari Remens. Capitula, in. cap. 1. Cf. Abbon. Sangermanens. Sernio 
ii. (Migne CXXXIL 765). 

2 C. Wormatiens. arm. 868, cap. 26. C. Moguntiens. ann. 888, cap. 16. C. 
Nannetens. ann. incert. cap. 17. C. Triburiens. ann. 895, cap. 5, 55, 56, 
57, 58. 

3 Eiculfi Suession. Constitt. cap. 9. Attonis Vercellens. Capitulare, cap. 90. 
Ps. Alcuin. de Divinis Officiis cap. 13, 16. 

4 Ratherii Veronens. Synodica (Harduin. VI. I. 792). 
6 Dithmari Merseburg. Chron. Lib. iv. cap. 33. 


factors. 1 Thus far there was no abatement in either the length or the 
rigor of public penance. A Norman council of the eleventh century 
in enforcing the Truce of God prescribes for its violation a penance 
of thirty years, and seven years for any robbery, however insignifi 
cant, committed during the term. 2 As for its rigor, though Gregory 
VII. seems to admit that it was unendurable, when he counsels those 
unwilling to undergo it not to despair but to do what good they can 
until God strengthens their hearts to undertake it, still, when once 
undertaken, it had to be endured, for when he heard that a peni 
tent, Rainerio of Chiusi, was proposing to marry, he denounced his 
penitence as fictitious and ordered him to be sent to Rome to learn 
what was fitting for his salvation. 3 This expression shows that 
public penance now was regarded as a matter of the forum internum 
as well as externum, at least in so far as its neglect implied perdition, 
and the same is intimated in canons issued by succeeding popes, 
warning all bishops and priests that no one can be saved who per 
forms penance for a number of sins if a single one is omitted, nor if 
he continues a career in courts or trade which involve sin, nor if he 
does not forgive offences and render satisfaction for injuries. At the 
same time this persistent effort is significant of the growing obsoles 
cence of the system which it sought to reanimate, for the assertion is 
made that the greatest trouble in the Church is that caused by the 
false penance in which these rules are neglected. 4 How true this was 
is proved by the remark of Honorius of Autun, that public penance 
is made a subject of jest by penitents, who regard it rather as an 
opportunity of indulging the flesh than of mortification. 5 

With the evolution of the sacramental theory and the development 
of the confessional with priestly absolution, public penance declined 
in importance. Allusion has been made (I. p. 48) to the modifica- 

1 C. Coyacens. aim. 1050, cap. 6 (Aguirre IV. 405). 

2 Bessin Concil. Rotomagens. p. 39. 

3 C. Roman. V. ann. 1078, cap. 5 (Cap. 6 Caus. xxxur. Q. iii. Dist. 5). 
Gregor. PP. VII. Regist. Lib. n. Epist. 48. 

4 Synodi Urban! II. ad Melphiam ann. 1086, cap. 16 ; C. Claromont. ann. 
1095, cap. 5; C. Lateranens. II. ann. 1139, cap. 22 (Harduin. VI. n. 1687, 
1736, 2212). Cap. 8 Caus. xxxin. Q. iii. Dist. 5. 

5 Honorii Augustodun. Elucidarii Lib. n. cap. 18. " D. Quid dicis de pub- 
licis pcsnitentibus? M. . . . In poenitentia constituti diversa fercula quaerunt, 
variis poculis inebriari gestiunt, et omnibus deliciis plus quam alii diffluunt." 


tions which it underwent as applied to ecclesiastics. As regards the 
laity, when the schoolmen undertook to reconstruct the system of 
discipline out of the somewhat incongruous elements resulting from 
the transition of the old system into the new, they recognized three 
kinds of penance solemn, public and private. The so-called solemn 
penance was the primitive public penance, to be imposed and removed 
only by bishops, with its Ash Wednesday ejectment from church and 
Holy Thursday reconciliation. The so-called public penance could 
be administered by priests, and only differed from the private pen 
ance in that the ceremony was performed before the congregation, or 
the penance was such that it was necessarily known of all men. The 
private penance will be considered presently. 

The rite which came to be known as solemn penance, as of old, 
could be imposed but once ; it disabled the penitent for marriage, 
trade, bearing arms and holy orders, it included shaving the head 
and penitential garments, and could not be prescribed for a cleric. 
It might be limited to a single Lent or might be continued for years, 
the penitent being required to present himself on each Ash Wednes 
day and Holy Thursday for the edification of the faithful. It was 
sacramental, and was only administered in reserved cases or, as 
Astesanus tells us, for peculiarly atrocious, notorious cases, while 
public penance was for public sins, and private penance for secret 
ones 1 It had, however, become a solecism, for by this time the distinc 
tion between the forum inter num and externum was clearly recog 
nized, and though it was classed as sacramental, in reality it was not 
regarded as remedial, but as vindictive and deterrent not an inflic 
tion for the health of the sinner s soul, though it might be expiatory, 
but rather as a penalty for crime and a spectacle to strike terror into 

1 S. Raymundi Summse Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. $$ 3, 4. Alex, de Ales Summse 
P. IV. Q. xiv. Membr. vi. Art. 3. S. Th. Aquinat Summse Suppl. Q. 
xxvni. Artt. 1, 2, 3. S. Bonaventurse Confessionale Cap. iv. Partic. 2, 3 ; 
cap. v. Partic. 30. Guill. Durandi Spec. Juris Lib. I. Partic. 1, \ 5, n. 22. 
Statut. Synod. Jo. Episc. Leodiens. ann. 1287, cap. 4 (Hartzheim III. 689). C. 
Claromont. ann. 1268, cap. 7 (Harduin. VII. 596). Statut. Synod. Camerac. 
ann. 1300-1310 (Hartzheim IV. 69). Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. 
in. Tit. xxxiii. Q. 8, 9, 10; Tit. xxxiv. Q. 12. Astesani Canones Penitential. 
\ 29 ; Summse Lib. V. Tit. vi. Q. 3 ; Tit xxxiv. xxxv. 

Yet some doctors, as Duns Scotus, held that public confession could not be 
sacramental, because the sacrament could only be administered in secret. 
Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xviii. 


others. 1 It gradually grew obsolete, though in the autonomy of the 
individual churches it lingered much longer in some places than in 
others. As early as about 1170, Peter of Poitiers informs us that 
it was a local custom, observed in some places and not in others. 2 
In 1225, Honorius III. includes among the functions of the bishops 
the ceremonies of Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, and about 
the same time William, Bishop of Paris, instructs the parish priests 
to bring forward their solemn penitents on those days. 3 In 1281 the 
council of Lambeth regrets that it had fallen virtually into disuse, 
and endeavors to revive it, though about the same period William 
Durand describes the public confession and the solemn ejection from 
the church on Ash Wednesday as a ceremony still usual. 4 The ex 
isting uncertainty is seen in the remark of Aquinas that in many 
places there was no distinction between solemn and public penance, 
and they are treated as identical, in 1338, by Bartolommeo da S. 
Concordio. 5 In 1317, Astesanus speaks of it as being still in force 
in some places for parents who overlie their children, and soon after 
wards Durand de S. Pourgain describes it fully, but adds that in 
many churches it is not observed, for scarce any one can be found 
who will submit to it. 6 Yet still it lingered. In 1389, John, Bishop 
of Nantes, endeavored to revive it ; a ritual of about 1 400 used in 
Lyons and Tarantaise contains the full ceremony, and, in 1454, the 
council of Amiens speaks of it as an episcopal function, while in 
Valencia, we are told, that in the fifteenth century the penitents were 
assembled as of old on Ash Wednesday. 7 Among the systematic 

1 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xiv. Membr. vi. Art. 1. "Ratio autem 
hujus est multiplex. Una est enormitas criminis et publicatio ejusdem. Alia 
est debitum puniendi ; maxima enim irreverentia peccantis maxima confu- 
sione est punienda. Tertia est incussio timore ne committatur consimile. Con- 
gruit nam quod aliqui puniantur tali poanitentia, ne alii qui ad consimile proni 
sunt audeant simile attentare." 

2 P. Pictaviens. Sentt. Lib. in. cap. xiv. 

3 Compil. V. Lib. I. Tit. xvi. cap. 3 (Friedberg, Quinque Compilat. Antiq. p. 
157)._Guillel. Paris Addit. ad Constitt. Galonis cap. 9 (Harduin. VI. n. 1978). 

4 C. Lainbethens. ann. 1281, cap. 8 (Harduin. VII. 865). Guill. Durandi Ra 
tionale Divin. Offic. Lib. v. cap. xxviii. n. 17, 19 ; cap. Ixxiii. 

5 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse Suppl. Q. xxvin. Art. iii. Summa Pisanella s. v. 
Confessor I. $ 1. 

6 Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxv. Q. 3, 4. Durand. de S. Porciano in 
IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. iv. \\ 8, 10. 

7 Statut. Jo. Episc. Nannetens. ann. 1389, cap. xiv. (Martene Thesaur. IV. 


writers of the pre- Reformation period, Bartolomineo de Chaimis 
and Prierias still give the tripartite division of penance into solemn, 
public and private, but S. Antonino and Angiolo da Chivasso, while 
stating that solemn penance is indicated for sins grave, public and 
causing scandal, omit its description because it is no longer in use, 
and Gabriel Biel describes it, but says that it is observed in very few 
churches. 1 Subsequent writers either pass it over in silence or only 
allude to it as an obsolete custom. 2 Thus disappeared from sight 
one of the most ancient and venerable usages of the Church, on 
which it originally depended for the maintenance of its discipline, 
leaving behind it only the indelible trace in the language of the 
names of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. 

The so-called public penance which supplanted the ancient rite 
was an outgrowth of a time of confusion and transition, when old 
systems were passing away and new theories were establishing them 
selves. The symbolical expulsion from and readmission to the 
Church was the formula of the period when reconciliation to the 
Church was all that could be promised to the repentant sinner, and 
when the bishop alone wielded whatever j^ower was regarded as 
inherent in the keys. Medieval public penance grew up when 
reconciliation was developing into absolution, when both bishop and 
priest enjoyed the power of the keys, and consequently it was com 
mon to both orders, while the penalties which accompanied it were 
discretional and no longer those prescribed by the canons. The 
system of reserved cases was establishing itself, so that only the 
ordinary sins were left to the jurisdiction of the priest ; when these 
were public and notorious, he was instructed to prescribe public 

986). Martene de antiq. Eccles. Kitibus Lib. i. cap. vi. Art. 7, Ordo 19. C. 
Ambianens. arm. 1454, cap. v. 4 (Gousset, Actes etc. II. 710). Vic. de la 
Fuente, Historia Eclesiastica de Espana, CCLIV. 

1 Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 866. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Pcenitentia 
! 2, 3. S. Antonini Summae P. nr. Tit. xiv. cap. 17 6. Summa Angelica 
s. v. Pcenitentia \\ 1, 3, 5. Gab. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. iii Art 3 
Dub. 6. 

2 Bart. Fumi Aurea Armilla s. v. Pcenitentia n. 2. Yet as late as 1571 the 
council of Besangon (Hartzheirn VIII. 159) describes the three kinds of pen 
ance as though all were still in force. Solemn penance is particularly indicated 
for heretics returning to the Church. Public penance, as we shall see, has in 
fact been retained for heretics. 

IF. 6 


penance, but this differed little from private penance, save that 
it was administered in the face of the congregation, so that the 
people who were cognizant of the offence might witness its repent 
ance and punishment, and at most it usually comprised a pilgrimage 
to some shrine more or less distant. The more serious and scandalous 
crimes fell to the bishop or to the pope, who treated them at dis 
cretion. The old limitation to a single penance disappeared, as well 
as the disabilities as to war and trade and marriage. About 1325, 
Durand de S. Pourgain shows that these restrictions were obsolete 
and were only remembered by reference to the old authorities ; the 
penitent was required not to be present at lewd plays and spectacles, 
but he could witness passion and miracle plays ; if willing to 
abandon war and trade, it was laudable to do so ; but, if not, it 
sufficed if he preserved himself from the sins usually induced by 
those pursuits. 1 

Like solemn penance, public penance was an anomaly in the sacra 
mental system an attempt to fit an ancient rite into dogmas which 
had grown incompatible with it. The character of the arbitrary 
penances inflicted was punitive, intended rather to inspire terror in 
others than to lead the soul of the sinner to salvation, yet the sacra 
mental character of the observance was insisted on. No matter 
how notorious the offence might be, it had to be confided to the 
priest in confession, so that he might learn it in his capacity of a 
vicar of God. 2 Albertus Magnus tries to reconcile the incongruity 
by the argument that although a public sinner is bound only to 
make his repentance manifest to the priest, he is further bound to 
offer a good example to the community which he has scandalized 
and perverted by his offence. 3 

A few examples may be cited to show the varied nature of the 
penalties inflicted, on the highest as well as the lowest, serving often as 
a most salutary lesson that no one could escape responsibility to God 
and the Church. Before the distinction between the forum internum 
and externum had been established, when, in 963, King Edgar the Pa 
cific ravished the nun St. Wilfrida, after remorse made him seek the 

1 Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. v. $$ 5, 6. Of. Gab. 
Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xiv. Q. iii. Art. 3, Dub. 6. 

2 Rob. Aquinat. Opus Quadragesimale Serm. xxviil. cap. 3. 

3 S. Antonini Summas P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 17 6. 


ghostly aid of St. Dunstan, he accepted a seven years penance, dur 
ing which he was not to wear the crown, and accordingly he was not 
crowned until 973. l Still more impressive was the example of Otho 
III., who, by a perjured oath, in 998, had obtained the surrender of 
Crescentius and then put him to death, taking, moreover, his wife 
as a concubine. He confessed his sin to St. Romuald, who imposed 
on him the penance of walking barefooted from Rome to the Monte 
San Angelo, near Naples, where he passed Lent in a monastery, 
fasting and praying and sleeping on a mat of rushes, besides which 
he promised to abandon the imperial throne and embrace a monastic 
life. 2 The murder of Thomas Becket was more severely visited. 
The four knights who perpetrated it, Hugh de Morville, William de 
Tracy, Reginald Fitz-Clare, and Richard Briton, made submission 
after a year and were sent in penance to Palestine, where they died. 
All clerks concerned in it were debarred from entering a church for 
five or seven years, with other disabilities. Henry II. offered to 
purge himself to Alexander III., who sent two cardinals to absolve 
him. They met at Avranches, September 27, 1172, when Henry 
swore that he had had no intention of slaying Becket, but, as his 
hasty words might have led to the crime, he was ready to offer ex 
piation. He submitted to scourging on the bare shoulders, he swore 
never to desert Alexander or his successors, so long as they acknowl 
edged him as king, he promised to permit free appeals to Rome, to 
abolish the assizes of Clarendon, which had led to the quarrel, to 
assume the cross, and during the following summer to undertake a 
three years crusade, meanwhile giving to the Templars funds to 
sustain two hundred knights in Palestine. 3 This shows the enor 
mous advantage which the Church derived from its control of the 
keys, and how eagerly it availed itself of the position. In other 

1 Osbern. Vit. S. Dunstani cap. 35. Florent. Wigorn. ann. 964, 973. 

2 S. Pet. Damiani Vit. S. Bomualdi cap. 25. 

3 Guillel. de Newburgh Hist. Anglise Lib. n. ann. 1171. Alex. PP. III. 
Epist. MXIV. (Post Concil. Lateran. P. xxxv. cap. 1). Eog. de Hoveden 
Annal. ann. 1171, 1172. Benedicti Abbatis Gest. Henrici ann. 1172. 

Besides this, severe penance was ordered by Alexander on every one con 
nected however remotely with the affair, from the counsellors who inflamed 
the wrath of the king to the porters who carried the baggage of the assassins, 
and all who consorted with them while under excommunication. Post Concil. 
Lateran. P. xxxv. cap. 1. 


cases it contented itself with impressing on the people the sacreduess 
and inviolability of the clergy. In 1202 a penitent approached 
Innocent III. and asked to be received to penance for having, at 
the command of his lord, in a local war, cut out the tongue of the 
Bishop of Caithness. He was sent home with orders to be led 
around, in drawers and shirt, for fifteen days in the region of his 
crime, with his tongue drawn out and fastened with a cord, to be 
scourged at each church-door, then to serve three years in Palestine, 
never to bear arms against Christians, and to fast on Fridays for two 
years, unless some bishop should sooner release him. 1 

Sometimes in this variety of penalties we find elements of the 
ancient penance, as in that imposed by Innocent III., in 1203, on the 
slayers of the Bishop of Wiirzburg. In this the chief features are 
that for life they are never to bear arms except against the Saracens 
or in self-defence ; they are never to eat meat and never to marry if 
they become widowers ; they are to perform various fasts and prayers 
and to serve four years in Palestine ; they are never to wear colored 
garments or to be present at public spectacles ; in four feasts of the year 
they are to be scourged at the cathedral altar of Wiirzburg and also 
whenever they enter a German city. 2 Somewhat later a general for 
mula for such episcopal murders provides that the culprit shall satisfy 
competently the church thus widowed and shall forfeit whatever fiefs 
he holds of it ; clad only in his drawers and with a halter around his 
neck and rods in his hands, he is to be led around all the larger 
churches in the diocese at a time when the concourse of people is 
greatest, and shall be scourged before their doors by priests singing 
penitential psalms while he confesses his crime ; he is to serve for 
five years in Palestine, and during this time is to cut neither hair nor 
beard ; throughout life, on the anniversary of the murder, he is to 
abstain from meat ; on certain days he is to fast on bread and water; 
every day he is to recite fifty Paternosters and Ave Marias, and for 
three years, unless on the death-bed, he is not to receive the Eucha 
rist. 3 The prescription of public penance even took the form of 

1 Innoc. PP. III. Regest. v. 79. 

2 Innoc. PP. III. Eegest. vi. 51. Trithem. Chron. Hirsaug. ann. 1203. 

3 Formulary of the Papal Penitentiary, p. 21 (Philadelphia, 1892). 

This seems to be modelled on a penance imposed, in 1220, by Honorius III. 
on Bertrand de Cares for the murder of the Bishop of Audi. Eaynald Annal. 
ann. 1220 n. 30. 


general criminal legislation so completely secularized that there was 
comparatively little trace left of spiritual penalties, and the sinner s 
soul was the last thing to be considered. Thus, in 1225, Honorius 
III. issued a decretal pronouncing infamous all concerned in assailing 
or injuring cardinals; they forfeit any fiefs held of churches; they 
are declared incapable of bequeathing or inheriting property, of 
bearing witness and of prosecuting or defending suits ; for two gene 
rations in the male line their descendants are disabled from holding 
public office ; they are excommunicated ipso facto, to be reconciled 
only on presenting themselves at the principal churches of the vicin 
age on Sundays and feast days to be scourged on the bare back, after 
which they are to serve for three years in Palestine, but subsequent 
to this reconciliation they can prosecute suits and recover debts 
accruing afterwards. 1 

These inflictions became milder with the general relaxation of the 
severity of penance in the later middle ages, as is seen in one pre 
scribed in 1339 for Mastino and Alberino della Scala, who had 
murdered with their own hands Bartolommeo, Bishop of Verona. 
Summoned to trial by Bertrand, Patriarch of Aquileia, they alleged 
that their victim had been plotting their death and the surrender of 
Verona to the Venetians and Florentines. They sent a procurator 
to Benedict XII. at Avignon to express their deep contrition and to 
beg for absolution. Benedict relieved them from the forfeiture of 
fiefs which they had incurred and from the public penance prescribed 
by the canons, in lieu of which, within eight days after their absolu 
tion, they Avere to go on foot and bareheaded, with fifty men, each 
and all carrying a wax torch of six pounds in weight, offering the 
torches at the altar and humbly begging forgiveness of the canons. 
Within six months they were to present a silver statue of the Virgin 
weighing thirty marks (fifteen pounds) and ten silver lamps of three 
marks each, with revenues to keep them perpetually burning, and to 
endow six chaplaincies with twenty gold florins per annum. On 
every anniversary of the murder they were to feed and clothe 

1 Raynald. Annal. aim. 1225 n. 50-3. For other examples of the period see 
Eaynald. ann. 1239 n. 60-3; Innoc. PP. III. Eegest. v. 80; Epistt. Selectt. 
Ssec. XIII. T. I. n. 647 (Monumenta Hist. German.). An exceedingly severe 
and humiliating penance inflicted by Gregory XI. on the mayor and burgesses 
of St. Valery, in the course of a quarrel between them and the Abbey of St. 
Valery, may be found in Martene, Thesaur. I. 981. 


twenty-four paupers ; during life to fast on Fridays and the vigils 
of the feasts of the Virgin, and in the next general crusade to send 
twenty men for a year s service in Palestine. 1 It should be observed, 
however, that in these cases it is not always easy to distinguish be 
tween the elements which, strictly speaking, belong respectively to 
the forum internum and externum, between what refers to sacramental 
absolution and to absolution from excommunication. 2 

Public penance was, however, not always strictly confined to public 
sins. Bishop William of Paris advises various penances to be per 
formed publicly in church for offences against the Church, which 
might be either notorious or concealed. 3 This came to be regarded 
as undesirable, and in fact it was committing a dangerous power to 
parish priests, which might be abused either for extortion or the 
gratification of enmity. Chancellor Gerson lays it down as a positive 
regulation that no public observances shall be imposed for secret sins, 4 
and in 1408, among the rules for the visitation of the province of 
Reims, one of the points to be inquired into is whether priests enjoin 
public penance for hidden sins, showing that it was an abuse to be 
suppressed. 5 Among the complaints of the Diet of Niirnberg in 
1523 is that public penance was used as a means of extortion in the 
case of the graver sins, even when these were secretly confessed. 6 

1 Eaynald. Annal. arm. 1339 n. 67-8. Somewhat similar was the penance im 
posed by John XXII. in 1330, on Loreta, Countess of Spanheim, for capturing 
during a truce Burchard, Archbishop of Treves. Eaynald. ann. 1330 n. 51. 

When the offenders were of the commonalty the Church was not quite so 
merciful. See the penance imposed by Boniface IX. in 1391 on a hundred 
citizens of Antwerp for the slaughter of some priests in a popular tumult. 
Eaynald. ann. 1391 n. 4. 

2 See Vol. I. pp. 468, 490. 

Scourging, either actual or symbolical, formed part of the ceremony of abso 
lution from excommunication. The penitent carried a rod with which he 
might be soundly beaten or only lightly touched. When offenders who had 
died under excommunication were absolved after death, it was anciently neces 
sary to dig up their remains and inflict the scourging, but with the softening 
of modern manners this was modified, and it became necessary only to flog the 
grave. A vila de Censuris Ecclesiasticis, pp. 37-40 (Lugduni, 1607). 

3 Guillel. Paris, de Sacram. Po3nitent. cap. 19. 

4 Jo. Gersonis Eegulse Morales (Ed. 1488, XXV. G). 

5 C. Eemens. ann. 1408, Eegulse Visitat. cap. 19 (Gousset, Actes, etc. I. 662). 

6 Gravam. Centum Germ. Nationis n. 74 (Fascic. Eer. Expetend. et Fugiend. 
I. 270). 


With the growth of strictness as to the seal of confession, this was 
considered to be a violation of it, and in the seventeenth century 
Bishop Zerola declares that it is to be punished with the penalty for 
the infraction of the seal degradation and imprisonment for life, 
but Cardinal Lugo, who is much higher authority, only says that it 
is not required, nor is it expedient, to impose public penance for sins 
not public. 1 

Yet the most secret of sins in a persecuting age, that of heresy, 
was the one for which public penance was most frequently prescribed. 2 
The effort of the Inquisition was directed to obtaining, by persuasion 
or force, a confession from its prisoners. If they admitted their 
guilt and persisted in their errors, they were " relaxed " to the secular 
arm and burnt as hardened and impenitent sinners. If they recanted 
and asked for mercy they were readmitted to the Church, and the 
punishments inflicted on them, whether imprisonment, or pilgrimages 
and scourging, or the wearing of yellow crosses, was technically 
regarded as penance voluntarily assumed by them as penitents for the 
salvation of their souls. 3 Even sacramental confession and absolu 
tion were not allowed to interfere with the necessity of public abjura 
tion and penance. If a secret heretic confessed to his priest, accepted 
penance and was absolved, though he might be pardoned in the eyes 
of God, this did not satisfy the claims of the Church ; he was still 
subject to prosecution by the Inquisition and to its penance, which 
carried with it confiscation of property and disabilities extending to 
two generations of descendants. 4 Thus the Sermons, or autos de fe 
of the Inquisition were exhibitions of public penance on a most im 
pressive scale. 

In spite of the support thus afforded to the maintenance of public 
penance, like the solemn penance which it had supplanted, it gradually 
fell into comparative disuse in the relaxation of the pre-Reformation. 

1 Zerola Praxis Sacr. Poenit. cap. xxv. Q. 34. Lammer, Meletematum Roma- 
norum Mantissa, p. 393 (Ratisbonae, 1875). 

2 S. Bonaventurse in IV. Sentt. Dist, xvn. P. ii. Art. 1, Q. 3. 

3 See the author s " History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages," Book I. 
Chap. xii. 

Even in the modern Spanish Inquisition the advice given to the accused was 
to confess and ask for penance, and the penitendados appeared in the public 
autos de fe in penitential garments, with a yellow candle in the hand. 

4 Zanchini Tract, de Hseret. cap. xxxiii. 


period. It still continued to hold its place in the books, but we hear 
comparatively little of its practical administration. That it was 
virtually obsolete is manifested by the attempt of Hermann of Wied, 
Archbishop of Cologne who afterwards embraced Lutheranism to 
restore it for public crimes, as part of a much-needed reform of his 
province, which he undertook in 1536. 1 In 1563, the council of 
Trent made an effort to follow his example. It argued from the 
dictum of St. Paul, that public sinners should be publicly rebuked 
(I. Tim. v. 20), that when a crime has been notorious a proper public 
penance should be imposed, so that he whose example has misled 
others may, by the evidence of his amendment, recall them to the 
right path. This was practically rendering the punishment deter 
rent, and the force of the injunction was fatally weakened by author 
izing bishops to commute it to private penance. 2 In the counter- 
Eeformation which followed the labors of Trent, numerous councils 
were held to restore the relaxed discipline of the Church, but this 
recommendation received comparatively little respect. In 1570 the 
council of Mechlin made a show of enjoining a revival of public 
penance, but the condition of the popular temper in the Netherlands 
at the time was not likely to render men submissive to a resuscitation 
of forgotten priestly discipline, and the bishops were warned to be 
prudent in the selection of those on whom they should experiment. 3 
The council of Bourges, in 1584, was equally discreet in suggesting 
the commutation of public penance into private, according to the 
circumstances of time and place and person, and that of Bordeaux, 
in 1583, in recommending its revival took care to point out that 
bishops could commute it. 4 Evidently these were mere perfunctory 
demonstrations, and many other French councils held towards the 
close of the sixteenth century to enforce the decrees of Trent passed 
the matter over in silence. 5 In 1571 the council of Besan^on alludes 

1 C. Coloniens. ann. 1536, P. vn. cap. 38. "In publicis vero criminibus, 
quemadmodum necesse est, ita jubemus ad canones antiques publics poeniten- 
tise regredi." 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xxiv. De Reform, cap. 8. 

3 C. Mechlin, ann. 1570, De Sacramentis cap. 6 (Harduin. X. 1181). 

4 C. Bituricens. ann. 1584, Tit. xxi. cap. 2; C. Burdegalens. ann. 1583, cap. 
2 (Ibid. 1346, 1480). 

5 Juenin (De Sacramentis Dist. vi. Q. vi. cap. 8, Art. 2, $$ 1, 2) says that 
action on the subject was also taken by the assembly of the French clergy at 


to public penance as still in force, with a suggestion that it had best 
be reserved for bishops to impose, and all that the synod of Brixen, 
in 1603, ventured to do was to instruct priests that public sinners 
were to be publicly denied the sacrament unless their repentance was 
publicly known. 1 While thus throughout Latin Christendom the 
injunction of the council of Trent was virtually ignored, S. Carlo 
Borromeo appears to have been the only prelate who made a vigorous 
effort to enforce it. In his first provincial council of Milan, in 1565, 
he ordered all priests to impose public penance on public sinners, and 
warned them that only bishops could commute it into private. This 
attempt was apparently fruitless, for in 1573 he ordered the bishops 
to labor zealously to bring it into use, and he even sought to restore 
the long-forgotten ceremony of solemn penance. Undiscouraged by 
the stubbornness of a hardened generation, in his manual of instruc 
tions for confessors, he specifies that public penance is to be imposed 
on public sinners, and that no commutation of it is to be allowed 
without his express consent. 2 

It was all in vain. About the middle of the seventeenth century 
Father Morin informs us that some traces of it were still to be found 
in a few dioceses, where it was inflicted occasionally on peasants, 
especially for the overlying of children. 3 Antoine Arnauld, in his 
rigorous zeal, desired to return to the ancient practice of the Church 
which required it for all mortal sins, while his contemporary Mar- 
chant held it to be a mortal sin to confess and receive absolution pub 
licly without necessity. 4 Soon afterwards Juenin sorrowfully admits 

Mehm in 1579, and at the councils of Rouen in 1581 and of Aix in 1585. Of 
these the first is not accessible to me, and I can find nothing of the kind in the 
two latter. 

1 C. Bisuntin. ann. 1571, De Pcenitentia ; C. Brixiense ann. 1603, De Confes- 
sione cap. 8 (Hartzheim VIII. 159, 545). 

2 C. Mediolan. I. ann. 1565, P. n. cap. 5; C. Mediolan. III. ann. 1573, cap. 
8 (Harduin. X. 665, 776). S. Car. Borrom. Instruct. Confessar. pp. 69, 78, 81 
(Ed. 1676). 

3 Morin. de Pcenit. Lib. v. cap. xxv. $ 13. 

4 Ant. Arnauld, Traite de la frequente Communion, P. i. ch. xx. xxi. 
Marchant Tribunal. Animar. Tom. I. Tract, i. Tit. 1, Q. 14. Concl. 2. 

Arnauld in his preface states that public penance for mortal sins was prac 
tised with great zeal and satisfaction in a parish within twenty-five leagues of 
Paris. This was S. Maurice, in the diocese of Sens, under Du Hamel, a dis 
ciple of Saint-Cyran (Eeusch, Der Index der verbotenen Biicher, II. 454). 


that almost all priests yielded to the opposition of those who deserved 
the discipline, and his arguments for its enforcement only emphasize 
the hopelessness of the cause. The immunity of ecclesiastics from 
this public humiliation, even though their offences were graver than 
those of laymen, furnished an unanswerable argument against it, 
and there was little use in urging the edifying examples of Theo- 
dosius the Great and Henry II. So completely disused was it that 
theologians disputed whether it belonged to the forum internum or 
externum, and some even doubt whether it can be imposed in the 
confessional for public sins. 1 All this is scarce to be wondered at, 
when the Tridentine Catechism treats it in a half-hearted way ; if 
the penitent objects, he is not to be readily yielded to, but should be 
persuaded to undergo cheerfully what is so beneficial to himself and 
to others. 2 

For clericide by a layman, however, if the crime was notorious, 
public penance in the medieval form continued for some time longer, 
though in a shape which well might lead the doctors to doubt as to 
which forum it belonged. The culprit, as we are told in the middle 
of the seventeenth century, clad only in his drawers, with a halter 
around his neck and a rod in his hand, is to be led to five churches 
of the vicinage, when the popular assemblage is greatest, where he 
is to be beaten by the clergy while singing a penitential psalm. All 
clerics, from the highest to the lowest, are to join in the scourging, 
because he has offended the whole body, and must submit to stripes 
from them all 3 an idea which carefully excludes all conception of 
sacramental repentance. Even as lately as 1745, in Pomerauia, the 
overlying of children was still punished by public penance. The 
rural dean could in such cases absolve in foro conscientice, but the 

1 Juenin de Sacramentis Dist. VI. Q. vi. cap. 8, Art. 2, \\ 1, 2. Liguori 
Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 512. 

Some theologians of the period, however, held that public penance ought to 
be imposed for public sins. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 15 ; La Croix 
Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1229. 

2 Catech. Trident. De Po3nit. cap. xiii. "Quamvis earn poenitens refugiat 
ac deprecetur non erit facile audiendus : Verum persuadere eum oportebit 
ut quse turn sibi turn aliis salutaria futura sunt libenti ac alacri animo ex- 

3 Marc. Paul. Leonis Praxis ad Litt. Maj. Poanitentiarii, pp. 277, 283 
(Mediolan. 1665). But we are told (pp. 285-6) that for proper cause this may 
be commuted to private penance. 


culprit was required to stand as a penitent at the church-door 
through the whole of Lent, and was then on Holy Thursday absolved 
by the bishop or his deputy. 1 As a general practice the theoretical 
position of the Church has not changed ; the Roman Ritual states 
that public satisfaction is required of those who have caused public 
scandal, and this is nominally held to be still in force. 2 The custom 
is obsolete, however. As long ago as 1702, Chiericato expresses his 
regret that those who lead scandalous lives cannot be subjected to 
it; 3 even in Milan, where the ordinances of S. Carlo Borromeo re 
mained on the statute-book, a writer in the middle of the last cen 
tury informs us that they had fallen wholly into disuse, 4 and at 
present the only survival of public penance is in the case of those 
who have left the Church and then sought readmission, when a 
pnblic confession and abjuration of their errors is still considered 
indispensable. 5 

As the object of the Reformation was to revert back as nearly as 
possible to the early Church, public penance, as a punishment and 
not as satisfaction, was naturally retained by the Reformers. Among 
the Lutherans public sins required public absolution, and public 
penance was inflicted on notorious offenders who sought reconcilia 
tion with the Church. 6 In the middle of the last century, however, 
Bohmer describes it as nearly disused, even in cases of adultery and 
fornication, to which it had become confined, and he argues against 
it, especially in view of its occasional commutation for money. 7 
Among the French Calvinists it was employed in the case of public 
sins and of hardened offenders, who, after excommunication, had 

1 Synod. Culmens. arm. 1745, cap. 15 (Hartzheim X. 529). In this the 
public penance is evidently in the external forum. 

2 Rituale Romanum, Tit. in. cap. 1. S. Alph. de Ligorio Praxis Confessar. 
n. 13. Reuter Neoconfessarius instructus n. 18. Th. ex Charmes Theol. 
Univ. Dissert, v. cap. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2. Synod. Neogranatens. I. ann. 1868, 
Tit. iv. cap. 8 (Coll. Lacens. VI. 513). 

3 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xvm. n. 32. 

4 Mazuchelli Tract, de Casibus Reservatis in Dicec. Mediolan. Gas. XV. 
(Mediolan, 1757). 

5 Binterim, Denkwiirdigkeiten, Bd. IV. Th. n. S. 215. Synod. Sutchuens. 
ann. 1803, cap. vi. \ 5 (Coll. Lacens. VI. 607). 

6 Steitz, Die Privatbeichte u. Privatabsolution der Lutheriscken Kirche, 
pp. 54-61, 130. 

7 J. H. Bohmer Jur. Eccles. Protestant. Lib. V. Tit. xxxviii. $$ 67-8. 


repented and sought to be received back into the Church, 1 and the 
proceedings of the earlier synods show that its use was not infre 
quent. In Scotland, the tireless zeal of the Kirk-Sessions rendered 
it a veritable infliction, in the habitual use of the stool of repentance 
on which culprits, clad in the "harden-gown" or " linnens," were 
perched, facing the congregation, while the minister drew from their 
shame fruitful lessons for the edification of the people. In this shape 
it lasted until the beginning of the eighteenth century. 2 

The voluntary assumption of public penance during the Middle 
Ages is a subject worthy of more detailed treatment than its connec 
tion with our theme will permit here. Irrepressible and disorderly 
zeal at times produced epidemics of public mortification of the flesh, 
as when, in 1259, Italy and parts of Germany were filled with wan 
dering bands of Flagellants. In 1349, the ravages of the Black 
Death caused a renewal of the excitement of more durable and 
formidable character. The Flagellants then taught that their dis 
cipline, if continued for thirty-three days and a half, constituted a 
baptism of blood which washed the soul clean of all sins and ren 
dered the sacraments of the Church superfluous. This was a dan 
gerous heresy, and was condemned as such by Clement VI. in 
October,, 1349, but in spite of this the belief continued to exist 
stubbornly and manifested itself in occasional outbreaks until the 
first quarter of the fifteenth century. In 1449, pestilence and famine 
in Italy caused a fresh manifestation of penitential zeal, uncontamin- 
ated with heresy, and the streets of the cities were filled with bands 
of penitents disciplining themselves. A more organized development 
of the same tendency is seen in the guilds of " Verberati," instituted 
in Genoa in 1306, which marched through the streets scourging 
themselves, with bishops and dignitaries at their head. In 1399, 
we are told, there were seventeen of these fraternities, which could 
turn out fourteen hundred members in procession. 3 

Survivals of these customs exist even to the present day. A news 
paper correspondent describes the observances at Grosseto, in Tus 
cany, on Good Friday, when a procession takes place of some thirty 

1 Discipline, Ch. v. can. 20, 22, 25 (Quick s Synodicon in Gallia Reformata 
I. xxxiv.). 

2 Rogers, Scotland Social and Domestic, pp. 353, 364-66. 

3 Georgii Stellse Annal. Genuenses ann. 1399 (Muratori S. R. I. XVII. 


youths, their faces covered with linen masks, each armed with two 
scourges, one of fine wires, the other with knots in which sharp points 
are firmly twisted. With these, at command of a leader, they beat 
themselves on the bare shoulders till the blood flows freely, the ex 
ercise lasting for some hours and winding up at the church. Still 
more extravagant are the performances, in New Mexico and Colo 
rado, of associations known as Hermanos Penitentes or La Santa 
Herman dad, who represent the Via Orucis in every detail, even to 
the Crucifixion, their flagellations being rendered more cruel by 
effective use of the terrible prickly pear. Formerly these associa 
tions numbered their members by the thousand, but Archbishop 
Lamy discouraged them, and even endeavored to have them pro 
hibited by Pius IX. That pope died without rendering a decision, 
and Leo XIII. refused the request, but called attention to the bull 
of Clement VI., in 1349, prohibiting public processions of flagella 
tion. This caused considerable diminution of their numbers, and a 
denunciation of their practices by Archbishop Salpointe has led to 
the discontinuance of the public exhibitions on Good Friday, the 
rites being now carried on secretly in the mountains. 

The origin of the private penance imposed by the Church, 
which supplanted public penance and is now universal, is exceed 
ingly obscure. Modern apologists, who are necessarily forced to 
prove that what exists has existed from the earliest times, vainly 
endeavor to find warrant for it among the Fathers. Even St. 
Augustin has been pressed into service as a witness St. Augustin, 
whose theory of the power of the keys was that pardon is obtained 
for the sinner by the prayers of the Church, which of course could 
only be offered for one whose penitence was public. 1 This view of 

1 Thus St. Augustin, speaking of the most secret of sins, which could only be 
known through the admission of the sinner, says "Agite poenitentiam qualis 
agitur in Ecclesia ut oret pro vobis Ecclesia. Nemo sibi dicat, Occulte ago, 
apud Deum ago : novit Deus qui mihi ignoscat, quia in corde meo ago," and 
he proceeds to illustrate his advice by the public penance of Theodosius the 
Great. Serm. cccxcu. cap. 3. 

Palmieri (Tract, de Prenit. p. 395) in the dearth of other evidence of private 
penance, cites a passage from another sermon, which has nothing to do with 
the question, for St. Augustin is there (Serm. LXXXII. cap. 7, 8) discoursing 
on the text of Matthew xvm. 15, " rebuke him between thee and him alone," 
and arguing that for sins not publicly known there should not be public re- 


the efficacy of the intercession of the congregation for the public 
penitent continued after private penance had crept into use. One 
of the earliest references to the latter occurs in a sermon attributed 
to St. Csesarius of Aries, which, if correctly ascribable to him, shows 
that by the middle of the sixth century the practice of private pen 
ance had been introduced ; but, though the sinner could exercise his 
choice between it and public penance, the latter was regarded as by 
far the more efficient, inasmuch as it secured the benefit of the prayers 
of the people. Private penance thus was permitted, but was regarded 
as of inferior worth. 1 Indeed, another sermon attributed to St. 
Csesarius assumes that for mortal sins public penance is indispen 
sable, as the edification of the congregation is necessary for their 
redemption. 2 In any case, there was nothing sacramental about 
penance, for it need not be prescribed by priest or bishop ; if self- 
inflicted it was equally efficacious, for God will not judge him who 
judges himself. 3 

The use of private penance at first spread slowly and irregularly. 
In Spain, in the first quarter of the seventh century, St. Isidor of 
Seville seems to know only the penance of sack-cloth and ashes, 
which is public penance. 4 Yet the tendency was growing irresistible 
to evade the humiliation of public appearance as a penitent, and the 
Church, in its desire to encourage the practice of confession, was will 
ing to make concessions. Thus Gregory the Great tells us that there 
are powerful men in the Church who will not endure open reproof, 

bukes. The only deduction to be drawn from it is that there were zealous 
pastors who were wont to inflict reprimands in their sermons for any sins of 
which they chanced to have cognizance, a custom which prevented sinners from 
seeking advice and consolation, and which St. Augustin desired to repress. 
The evidence commonly adduced from St. Ambrose and St. Chrysostom has 
already been described (I. p. 180). 

1 S. Augustin. Serm. Append. Serm. CCLXI. n. 1 (Migne, XXXIX. 2227). " Et 
ille quidem qui pcenitentiam publice accepit poterat earn secretius agere : sed 
credo considerans multitudinem peccatorum suorum videt se contra tarn 
gravia mala solum non posse sufficere : ideo adjutorium totius populi cupit 

2 Ibid. Serm. civ. n. 7 (p. 1948). "In luctu et in tristitia multo tempore 
permanentes et pcenitentiam etiani publice agentes : quia justum est ut qui 
multorum destructione se perdiderit cum multorum sedificatione se redimat." 

3 S. Caesar. Arelatens. Homil. xvn. 

4 S. Isidori Hispalens. de Eccles. Officiis Lib. n. cap. xvii. n. 4, 5 ; Epist. i. 
n. 9, 10 (Gratian. cap. 1 Dist. xxv.). 


and their honor may properly be shielded in the case of secret sins, 
but when these are notorious they must be publicly rebuked 1 ap 
parently for the commonalty there was as yet no such consideration 
and this time-serving policy could not be limited to rebuke, but 
spread necessarily to the injunction of penance. This was especially 
the case in dealing with the untamed natures of the Barbarians, whose 
laws prescribed only pecuniary, non-personal, punishments ; with 
them the Church was obliged to adapt itself to their characteristics. 
It was evidently impossible to persuade them to endure the disgrace 
and privations of public penance, to throw aside their weapons and 
to forego marriage and war ; the subject populations might submit 
to these degradations and disabilities, but not the free Teuton, save 
in exceptional cases, and it was necessary to humor his idiosyncrasies. 
He might be induced occasionally to confess his sins privately and 
to accept a secret penance, the rigor of which, as we shall see here 
after, was softened by a system of composition and redemption, but 
this was all. The practice of private penance accordingly spread 
insensibly, without such distinct recognition on the part of the au 
thorities as enables us to trace its development further than we have 
already done in treating of auricular confession, with which it was 
inseparably connected. 

The growth of the new system is represented in the Penitentials, 
the use of which gradually spread from the seventh century onward 
until it became universal in the ninth and tenth. The bishops 
retained the right of imposing public penance and granting recon 
ciliation ; as this declined under the aversion of the Barbarians to 
submit to it, and as the Church earnestly inculcated the practice of 
private confession to the priest, the latter became in time naturally 
invested with the right of prescribing private penance, and its em 
ployment grew more and more habitual. Yet though for the sake 
of convenience we may call it private, and though it lacked the 
solemnity of ejection from the church and readmission, which was 
the symbolical feature of public penance, it was as yet by no means 
secret as in modern times, and rather resembled what the schoolmen 
termed public penance, when the old public penance became known 
as solemn. The Penitentials are full of prescriptions which could in 
no way be kept secret pilgrimages, prolonged suspension from com- 

1 Gregor. PP. I. Moral. Lib. xm. cap. 5. 


munion, composition with injured parties, entrance into monasteries, 
and, for ecclesiastics, suspension from functions and even degrada 
tion. When we come to consider the Penitentials we shall see that 
they were in some sort rude bodies of law, partly secular and partly 
spiritual, the resource of men seeking to supplement the crude Bar 
barian codes and to reduce semi-barbarous folk to a recognition of 
morality and order, and bearing but a remote relation to the modern 
system of sacramental confession and penance. 

In the Carlovingian reconstruction and decadence the Church 
found its opportunity to put forward and partly to establish its 
claims to enforce its mandates, and we begin to discern the germs 
from which the medieval system sprang. The effort to revive the 
practice of public penance, as we have seen, was a difficult one and 
met with only partial success, and the compromise was proposed that 
it should be reserved strictly for public and notorious offences, while 
for secret sins, known only through voluntary confession, private 
penance should suffice. Although authority for this was manufac 
tured in the False Decretals (p. 75), that the rule was a novelty is 
evident from its being now enunciated for the first time, and from 
the necessity which Rodolph of Bourges felt of explaining it, which 
he endeavors to do by pointing out that weak brethren would be 
scandalized by seeing the punishment of sinners whose sins were 
unknown. 1 

The Church thus accepted private penance as the equivalent of 
the public penance which it found itself unable to enforce as a gen 
eral custom ; the two were, for the most part, placed on precisely the 
same footing, though neither was as yet sacramental, and they were 
to a considerable extent interchangeable until the distinction between 
public and private sins had crystallized and become universally 
recognized. 2 It was a period of transition, however, and the old 

1 Rodolph. Bituricens. Capit. cap. xliv. Cf. Poenit. Ps. Theodori cap. xli. 
1 (Wasaerschleben, p. 610). 

2 In the effort to elude the unsacramental character of the old reconciliation, 
Binterim (Denkwurdigkeiten IV. in. 6) argues that public penance at this 
period lost its sacramental function while private penance retained it, and, 
with the curious intellectual strabismus which distinguishes these apolo 
getic efforts, he quotes from Benedict the Levite a passage which proves the 
contrary that both were regarded as precisely similar, and that reconciliation, 
not absolution, is the object to be attained by either. "Si vero occulte et 


customs did not give way to the new without considerable vacillation 
in practice. There is a formula of this period, used in the diocese 
of Constance, which shows that public penance alone was recognized 
as efficient, and that private penance was merely a temporary sub 
stitute ; if the sinner, it says, be unable through any cause to present 
himself on Ash Wednesday, or if he is stupid, or timid, or ashamed, 
or borne down by a multitude of sins, and cannot be persuaded to 
come forward, the priest, after a secret confession, can enjoin on him 
private penance, until the divine monition, and the example of the 
fathers, and the instructions of the priest, may induce him to seek 
the bosom of Mother Church by reconciliation. 1 The bishops, more 
over, did not abandon the control of private sins to the priests with 
out a struggle. A decretal was forged and attributed to Pope 
Eutychianus (275-283), which declares that the episcopal command 
is necessary before priests can reconcile sinners for secret sins, ex 
cept on the death-bed, when they can absolve them, and the pres 
ervation of this in the collections of canons up to the middle of the 
twelfth century shows how loth were the bishops to abandon their 
ancient prerogatives. 2 On the other hand, a custom sprang up 

sponte confessus fuerit, occulte facial. Et si publice et manifesto convictus 
aut confessus fuerit, publice ac manifesto fiat, et publice coram ecclesia juxta 
canonicos poenitet gradus. Post peractam vero secundum canonicam institu- 
tionem poenitentiam, occulte vel manifesto, canonice reconcilietur et manus ei 
cum orationibus quae in Sacramentario ad reconciliandum poenitentem con- 
tinentur imponatur." Capitul. Lib. V. cap. 116. 

He also cites Concil. Arelatens. ann. 813, cap. 26 (Harduin. IV. 1006), which 
has no bearing on the point in question. In fact, all the schoolmen and man 
uals of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries treat public and private and 
solemn penance as of precisely the same character. 

1 Fez, Thesaur. Anecd. II. n. 611. Another Ordo, probably of the eighth 
or ninth century, instructs the priest, if the penitent is stupid, to reconcile 
him at once : if he is intelligent, to prescribe penance, after the performance 
of which he is to return for reconciliation. Morin de Pcenit. Append, p. 19. 

2 Ut presbyteri de occultis peccatis jussione episcopi poenitentes reconcilient 
et sicut supra praemisimus infirmantes absolvant et communicent. Burchardi 
Deer xvm. 16. Ivon Deer. xv. 38. Gratian. Cap. 4 Caus. xxvi. Q. vi. 

We see here a reminiscence of the old rule, that the dying penitent could 
receive the viaticum without being reconciled in case of his recovery. The 
word "absolution" evidently here means absolution from excommunication 
and a ceremony inferior to reconciliation. Sacramental absolution had not 
yet been invented. 

II 7 



which marks the transition state of the matter and the interchange 
able character of public and private penance. - The priest was in 
structed to summon all sinners to come forward and confess on Ash 
Wednesday ; he was then to urge them to return on Holy Thursday 
for reconciliation, but if they were unwilling or pleaded absence or 
other engagements, he could impose on them lenten or annual pen 
ance and reconcile them on the spot, or in his absence a deacon could 
officiate and administer communion to them. 1 

When the option was virtually thus offered to the sinner between 
public and private penance the number who refused to undergo 
humiliation before the people naturally increased ; the priests were 
nothing loth, for it enabled them to assume episcopal functions, in 
addition to the attraction of the penitential u alms," for the rule be 
came established that solemn and public penance belonged to the 
cathedral and private penance to the parish church. 2 Under this 
double impulsion from priest and penitent the bishop was unable to 
hold his own, and the function of public penance and reconciliation 
declined. The bishop abandoned to the priest the mass of secret 
sins, save such of the more heinous as he might reserve, but he 
maintained his claim on public and scandalous ones, which he required 
to be brought to him for public penance, and thus gradually became 
recognized the distinction that notorious crimes required public pen 
ance and reconciliation, while secret ones revealed in auricular con 
fession could be treated with private penance. The development of 
this principle was slow and irregular, for there were no general rules 
as yet and no central power which could enforce them. The local 
churches still enjoyed independence ; each diocese or province was a 
law unto itself, and regulated all such matters at its will. This is 
seen in the varying legislation of the local synods, and even as late 
as the twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, in controverting the 
Petrobrusian heresy of denying the efficacy of suffrages for the dead, 
tells us that almost every church had its own customs of the most 
diverse character. 3 Thus, as we have seen in the tenth century, Atto 

1 Ps.-Alcuin. Lib. de Divinis Officiis cap. 13. Morin. de Pcenit. Append. 
p. 55. 

2 Bernard! Papiensis Sumrnse Decretalium Lib. ill. Tit. xxv. \ 2. 

3 Petri Venerab. Tract, contra Petrobrusianos (Migne, CLXXXIX. 836). 
" Sunt equidem innumerabiles et diversissimse diversamm ecclesiarum ad unam 


of Vercelli permits in his diocese nothing but public penance, which 
he keeps rigidlj under his own control, while his contemporary 
Ratherius of Verona, tells his priests that they are to invite their 
people to confession on Ash Wednesday ; for secret sins they can 
impose penance, not at their own discretion, but according to the 
Penitentials, while public sinners are to be brought to him ; there is 
nothing said about the priest reconciling either class, but Ratherius 
seems to have reserved this function to himself, in the warning which 
he gives them not to allow themselves to be bribed to bring him for 
reconciliation unworthy penitents with a certificate of their due per 
formance of penance. 1 

Thus slowly and irregularly the practice of private penance for 
secret sins established itself, and the bishops gradually abandoned it 
to the priests, though even as late as the close of the eleventh century 
some Norman canons forbid priests from imposing it save by order 
of their bishops. 2 It was self-evident, indeed, that if auricular con 
fession was to become general, the penitent must be attracted by 
secret penance that would not advertise his sins to others, and must 
not be deterred by the rigor and publicity and humiliation of the 
time-honored usage, nor did it require much casuistry to prove that 
if this secret penance became trivial, the evil would be neutralized 
by the extension of the confessional. 

How rapidly under this influence the confessor assumed discre 
tionary power, and how attractive was leniency, are seen in the 
practice related of St. Gerald, the founder of the Abbey of Grand- 
selve. By his preaching and exhortations, we are told, he drew many 
to repentance and confession. Crowds came to him with the burden 
of their sins, when the good saint would impose on them as penance 
simply a fast on Friday and abstinence from flesh on Saturday. 3 
Sometimes, indeed, this discretion led to undue rigor, as in the case 
of St. Dominicus Loricatus, who, after passing the Lent of St. Martin 
(the six weeks before Christmas) in prayer and fasting, went on 
Christmas eve to confess to a neighboring abbot : a short psalm would 

Catholicam pertinentium consuetudines, ut pene tanta sit varietas usuum quanta 
multiplicitas ecclesiarum." 

1 Attonis Vercellens. Capitulare, cap. 90, 96. Ratherii Veronens. Synodica, 
cap. 8, 9, 10, 15. 

2 Post Concil. Rotomagens. ann. 1074, cap. 8 (Harduin. VI. I. 1520). 

3 Vit. S. Geraldi Silvse-Majoris cap. 24 (Migne, CXLVII. 1040). 


have been ample penance, but the abbot being young and inexpe 
rienced prescribed thirty psalters, and the saint, without a word of 
remonstrance, shut himself up in his hermitage until he had accom 
plished the task. 1 How slight was the wisdom with which this 
arbitrary penance was administered was seen by the habits of routine 
engendered. If St. Gerald gave all his penitents a trifling fast, the 
blessed Bertold, Abbot of Garz, always inflicted scourging, to which 
every penitent who came to him was subjected. 2 

Yet, with all this, private penance had by no means as yet super 
seded the public rites even for secret sins. An Ash Wednesday 
sermon of St. Ivo of Chartres is addressed to those expelled from the 
church in sack- cloth and ashes, who yet have come forward volun 
tarily to assume public penance, and whom he exhorts to make full 
confession, for by it all sins are remitted. 3 Evidently this was still 
considered more efficacious than private penance, for although Hon- 
orius of Autun describes it being made a matter of jest, and accepts 
the distinction that it is reserved for public sins, 4 there were many 
who still adhered to the ancient teachings. The Pseudo-Augustin 
feels it necessary to prove the sufficiency of private penance for secret 
sins in a manner to indicate that it was a point still debated, and he 
agrees with St. Csesarius of Aries that it is less efficient than the 
public rite ; in the one case God is placated by confession to the 
priest; for the remission of public sins the merits of the Church 
must be called upon ; the penance must be public in order that God 
may be moved by the intercessory tears of the people ; the Church, 
which has been offended, must be led to pray for the sinner, so that 

1 S. Petri Damiani Vit. S. Dom. Loricati cap. 12. The saint earned his title 
of Loricatus by a self-inflicted penance which shows how little the received 
prescriptions of the Church satisfied the ardor of souls burning to earn salva 
tion by self-immolation. He wore a shirt of mail next the skin, but even this 
grew too slight a mortification, and he had a series of iron bands fitted to trunk 
and limbs till he could scarcely move. He kept this a secret till the stench of 
his festering flesh attracted attention, and he was relieved of it miraculously 
on the feast of Simon and Jude, when the two heaviest bands, stretching from 
the shoulders to the thighs, spontaneously broke and the rest softened and 
spread. St. Peter Damiani speaks of this as having just happened when he 

2 Martene de antiq. Ecclesiae Ritibus Lib. I. Cap. vi. Art. 4, n. 17. 

3 S. Ivonis Carnotens. Serm. xm. 

4 Honorii Augustodun. Speculum Ecclesiae : De Nativitate Domini. 


God may be induced to pardon him. 1 Evidently as yet there was 
nothing sacramental in either rite. Even in the middle of the twelfth 
century Cardinal Pullus admits that the opinion was still maintained 
by some that both for private and public sins the public penance 
administered by the bishop is necessary, though in his opinion the 
secret sinner needs only to have recourse to private penance enjoined 
by the priest. 2 

It is unnecessary to pursue the subject further here. We have 
seen how, with the spread of auricular confession and the develop 
ment of the power of the keys, the change which we have thus far 
followed continued to spread, how the practice of public confession 
gradually became obsolete, even in the religious orders, and was 
replaced with private penance. When the function of granting 
absolution was conceded to the priest he could not be denied that 
of imposing penance, and this penance was necessarily secret. The 
power which had, for so many centuries, been confined to the bishop 
slipped from his hands and was transferred to the priest. Occupied, 
for the most part, in the temporal administration of their sees, which 
had become wealthy principalities, the bishops finally abandoned the 
struggle and handed over the souls of their subjects to their subor 
dinates, only reserving the right to except such of the more heinous 
offences as they might deem fitting. 

1 Ps. Augustin. de vera et falsa Poenitentia cap. xi. 

2 R. Pulli Sentt. Lib. vi. cap. 57. 

Much stress has been laid by modern apologists (Palmieri Tract, de Pcenit- 
p. 399) on a decretal of Alexander III. to the Bishop of Exeter (Post Cone. 
Lateran. P. xxxv. cap. 2) concerning a priest whose ordination had been 
simoniacal : if the matter is not notorious he must be persuaded, if possible, by 
the offer of a benefice without cure of souls, to cease performance of his func 
tions ; he is not to be coerced, for this would not be safe, but is to have some 
fitting secret penance enjoined. The case has nothing to do with sacramental 
penance ; it is only an instance of the usual Church policy of avoiding scandal 
when dealing with the sins of clerics, and the little weight attached to the 
decision is shown by its exclusion from the decretals of Gregory IX. More 
over, on a supreme occasion, when Alexander was ordering (Ibidem cap. 1) 
the suspension of all ecclesiastics concerned, directly or indirectly, by counsel 
or otherwise, in the murder of Thomas Becket, he did not stop to draw a 
distinction between those whose sin was notorious and those in whom it was 



IN addition to the foregoing there are many details remaining to be 
considered before we can form a clear conception of the theory and 
practice of the Church. For this we shall have to return to the 
source of medieval penance in the Peniteutials. 

We have seen how, in the third and fourth centuries, a kind of 
spiritual criminal jurisdiction arose, with local codes expressed in 
the canons of councils like those of Elvira, Ancyra and Nicsea, and 
compilations such as the Apostolic Canons, the Statuta Antiqua of 
the African Church, and the canonical epistles of St. Gregory of 
Nyssa and St. Basil the Great. Succeeding councils in the West 
continued the work, as occasion required, and local customs doubt 
less arose, which either were not reduced to systematic form or have 
not reached us. Thus there was a considerable body of disciplinary 
law gradually forming itself in disconnected fragments, often dis 
cordant in its provisions and nowhere reduced to a consistent whole 
or possessed of any authority beyond the usage of the several dio 
ceses or provinces. As Christianity spread over pagan lands, the 
need was naturally experienced by the missionary priests of some 
compilations that should supply deficiencies in memory or experi 
ence, and should serve as guides in the treatment of their penitents. 
This was not felt in Gaul, where the existing ecclesiastical organiza 
tion was not overthrown by the Franks, and councils continued to be 
held and to adopt canons with more or less regularity, nor in Spain, 
which, after the conversion of the Arians, was supplied with the 
collection of the canons of the earlier councils passing under the 
name of St. Isidor, supplemented by the series of national assem 
blies held at Toledo. Ireland, converted in the fifth century, and 
Britain seem to be the home of the earliest Penitentials, strictly so 
called. These were carried to the Continent by St. Columbanus and 
his fellow-missionaries, where they gave rise to various derivatives, 
varying more or less from the originals. In England the conversion 


of the Saxons led in time to similar compilations. After the death 
of Theodore of Canterbury, in 690, his disciples collected his judg 
ments and decisions, forming the most celebrated Penitential of all, 
which long remained an almost universal authority indeed, so great 
was its reputation that in subsequent ages its authorship was popu 
larly ascribed to Pope Theodore (642-649) l while scarcely less 
prominent were the compilations attributed to the Venerable Bede 
and to Egbert of York. The convenience of these manuals was so 
apparent that they spread and multiplied everywhere, modified, re 
arranged, enlarged, abridged and adapted to the needs of a locality 
or the whims of a compiler. 

The result of this was an inextricable confusion and contradiction 
of penalties, which may be estimated from a comparison of the pro 
visions for the repression of perjury as set forth in two classes of 
these manuals. Those of Irish derivation treat it as a crime scarce 
admitting of pardon. Yinniaus prescribes seven years penance and 
the rest of life to be passed in good works, never to swear, and to 
set free a slave or to give the value of one to the poor. The code 
known by the name of Columbanus, which contains Frankish ele 
ments, is even more severe. Perjury committed through greed can 
only be pardoned by the offender giving his whole property to the 
poor and entering a monastery for the rest of his days ; if committed 
through fear of death he must do penance for seven years, of which 
three are to be spent unarmed in exile, he must set free a slave, give 
much in alms, and at the end of the seventh year he can be admitted 
to communion. 2 On the other hand, the Penitentials of the Theodore 
group are much less severe, and treat the externals of the perjured 
oath as its most important feature. A perjury committed in a church 
is penanced with eleven years, while, if coerced through necessity, 
three quarantines suffice; if it has been taken on the hand of a 
man it is nothing, if on the hand of an ecclesiastic or on an altar or 
consecrated cross, three years penance is prescribed, if on an uncon- 

1 In the twelfth century it is the only act ascribed to Pope Theodore by 
John of Voltorno (Chron. Vulturense, ap. Muratori, S. R. I. I. n. 345). In 
the fourteenth century Ptolemy of Lucca repeats the story (Ptol. Lucens. H. E. 
Lib. xn. cap. 12, ap. Muratori, XL 936). 

2 Pcenit. Vinniai 22; Penitent. Columbani cap. 20 (Wasserschleben, pp. 
112, 358. Migne, LXXX. 227). 


secrated cross, one year. 1 Other Penitentials, again, endeavored to 
combine these variations by superimposing the one on the other 
without an attempt to harmonize them, producing a result wholly 
unintelligible, and perhaps even heightening the confusion by add 
ing from other sources additional provisions, equally incompatible. 2 
As if to render the matter more embroiled, the forgers of the False 
Decretals produced one as from Pope Eutychiauus, in which he com 
plains of the slender penance assigned to perjury, orders it to be 
treated like adultery, fornication and murder, and that any one who 
is deterred by this severity from coming to confession shall be 
excommunicated and strictly cut off from human intercourse. 3 

In view of this confusion it is no wonder that when Charlemagne 
sought to systematize the administration of his vast dominions an 
effort was made to eliminate or reduce to order these unauthorized 
and contradictory codes. In 813 the council of Tours suggests that 
when the bishops are assembled in the imperial palace they shall 
select the best of the ancient Penitentials as the one to be followed. 
The council of Chalons was more emphatic in denouncing them all 
as erroneous and devoid of authority and mere snares for souls; 
priests should follow the ancient canons, the prescriptions of Scrip 
ture and the customs of the Church. 4 The imperial Capitulary, 
however, which embodied Charlemagne s decision on the recom 
mendations of these councils, took no steps to remedy the trouble, 
and in 829 the council of Paris spoke out still more boldly. It was 
through the ignorance and negligence of the priests that these man- 

1 Pomitent. Theodori I. vi. $$ 1-5 ; Canones Gregorii, 115, 188 (Wasser- 
schleben, pp. 173, 180, 190). Cf. Poenit. Ps. Gregorii III. cap. vii. (Ibid. 
p. 539). 

This distinction between oaths on crosses, consecrated and unconsecrated, 
was adopted into the canon law. Gratian, cap. 2 Caus. xxn. Q. 5. Astesani 
Summae P. I. Lib. I. Tit. xviii. 

2 See Poenit. Cummeani cap. v. \\ 1-11 (Wasserschleben, p. 447 ; Migne, 
LXXXVII. 988). See also the Can. Pcenitent. S. Gregor. II. (Migne 
LXXXIX. 321). 

3 Eutychiani Decret. in. (Migne, V. 177). Theodulf of Orleans (Capitula, 
xxvi.) gives this without assigning any authority, but Burchard (Deer. xn. 
14), Ivo (Deer. xn. 71) and Gratian (Cap. 17 Caus. xu. Q. 1) credit it to 

4 C. Turonens. III. ann. 813, cap. 22 ; C. Cabillonens. II. ann. 813, cap. 38 
(Harduin. IV. 1026, 1038). 


uals, destitute of all authority and in contradiction to the canons of 
the Church, had come into use to the misleading of souls, and it was 
resolved that every bishop in his diocese should collect and burn 
them. 1 Meanwhile Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims, had sought to 
devise a remedy by calling in Halitgar of Cambrai to frame a code 
to supplant the unauthorized and conflicting compilations, which 
misled both priest and penitent. 2 Halitgar responded with a work 
in which he did not attempt to construct a regular tariff of penance, 
but exhorted the sinner to repentance and amendment and repara 
tion of wrongs and good works, through which to win the mercy of 
God, all of which must vary with the individual and his depth of 
contrition, and be determined by the discretion of the bishop ; all 
the writer can do is to prescribe in general terms the course of life 
best fitted for the cure of the several sins. 3 To this admirable teach 
ing, however, he appended a selection from the ancient canons of 
Elvira, Africa etc., and also a Penitential to which the authoritative 
name of Rome was attached, although it was of Frankish origin. 

All this was in vain. The Penitentials continued to multiply and 
to be used in spite of occasional protests. In 866 the missionary 
bishops sent by Nicholas I. to Bulgaria carried with them ajudicium 
pcenitentice, for which the converts had asked. 4 About the year 900 
Regino of Pruhm, in his compilation, which became authoritative 
throughout the tenth century, embodies nearly the whole of the Peni 
tential which passed under the name of Bede, and in the instructions 
which he gives for the examinations to be made by bishops in their 
visitations, there is a clause requiring them to see whether every priest 
has a Penitential either the Roman, or Theodore s or Bede s and 
whether he follows it in the imposition of penance. 5 That this was 

1 C. Parisians, arm. 829, Lib. I. cap. 32 (Ibid. p. 1317). 

2 Ebonis Epist. (Canisii et Basnage Thesaur. II. n. 87). Gregor. PP. III. 
Excerptum de diversis Criminibus (Migne, LXXXIX. 587). 

3 Halitgari de Poenitentia Lib. I. (Canis. et Basnage II. ir. 92-99). 

In this Halitgar echoes the similar views expressed by Alcuin, de Virtutibus 
et Vitiis cap. 13. 

4 Nicholai PP. I. Kesponsa ad Consult. Bulgaror. cap. 75 (Migne, CIX. 1008). 

5 Reginon. de Discipl. Eccles. Lib. I. Inquisit. n. 95. Yet this was by no means 
universal. Shortly before, Kiculfus of Soissons, in the list of books which he 
orders his priests to possess, does not include a Penitential (Constitt. cap. 6, ap. 
Harduin. VI. I. 415). The council of Trosley, also, held in 909 treats at great, 
length of the prevalent crimes and sins; it quotes frequently from the False 


followed in many dioceses is seen from the instructions of Ulric of 
Augsburg and Ratherius of Verona to their priests that they must 
each of them have a Martyrology and a Penitential. 1 The larger 
and more systematic compilations of Burchard, Anselm of Lucca 
and Ivo of Chartres doubtless in some degree superseded the humbler 
Penitentials, but the latter were cheaper and more convenient, and 
still held their ground. Even Ivo gives a canon from a council of 
Mainz ordering all priests to have a collection of the kind, 2 and new 
ones continued to be made. Father Morin describes one in MS., 
compiled in the second quarter of the twelfth century, and in 1582 
Antonio Agustino, Archbishop of Tarragona, printed another of 
about the same period, which contains canons from Theodore and 
Bede and the False Decretals. 3 Even as late as the fourteenth century 
Ptolemy of Lucca speaks of the Penitential of Theodore as com 
monly to be found in parish churches, 4 although by this time, as we 
shall see, its only use was to frighten penitents. 

Crude and contradictory as were the Penitentials in many things, 
taken as a whole their influence cannot but have been salutary. They 
inculcated on the still barbarous populations lessons of charity and 
loving-kindness, of forgiveness of injuries and of helpfulness to the 
poor and the stranger as part of the discipline whereby the sinner 
could redeem his sins. Besides this, the very vagueness of the 
boundary between secular and spiritual matters enabled them to instil 
ideas of order and decency and cleanliness and hygiene among the 
rude inhabitants of central and northern Europe. They were not 
confined to the repression of violence and sexual immorality and the 
grosser offences, but treated as subjects for penance excesses in eating 
and drinking, the consumption of animals dying a natural death or 
of liquids contaminated by animals fallen into them ; the promiscuous 
bathing of men and women was prohibited, and in many ways the 

Decretals and the Capitularies, but it prescribes no terms of penance and 
makes no reference to the Penitentials (Gousset, Actes etc. I. 562-610). There 
would seem to be a well-marked divergence in this matter between Gaul and 

1 S. Udalrici Augustani Sermo Synodalis (Migne, CXXX. 1076). Eatherii 
Veronens. Synodica (Ibid. CXXXVI. 564). 

2 Ivon. Deer. xv. 111. 

3 Morin. de Pcenit. Lib. x. cap. 24. Canones Pcenitentiales cum notis 
Antonii Augustini, Tarracone, 1582. 

4 Ptol. Lucens. H. E. Lib. xn. cap. 12 (Muratori S. R. I. XI. 936). 


physical nature of man was sought to be subordinated to the moral 
and spiritual. It was no small matter that the uncultured barbarian 
should be taught that evil thoughts and desires were punishable as 
well as evil acts. Such were their tendencies, and though at the 
present day it is impossible to trace directly what civilizing influence 
they may have exercised on the peoples subjected to them, that they 
exercised influence is inferable from the stimulus which they lent to 
the development of sacerdotalism. This may possibly explain why 
the northern races, among which the Penitentials arose and were 
more largely used, were comparatively impervious to the anti-sacer 
dotal heresies which in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries flourished 
so vigorously in the south that at one time they seemed to threaten 
the very existence of Latin Christianity. 

Although the Penitentials transmitted to the middle ages and to 
modern times in an unbroken line the penalties provided by the 
ancient councils and their successors, ii is an error to assume, as is 
habitually done, that the penitence prescribed in them is of the same 
character as that subsequently administered in the confessional. 
Sacramental penance is voluntary, and its object is to procure remis 
sion from the pains of purgatory. The penance of the Penitentials 
was enforced and punitive, and its performance procured reconciliation 
with the Church and the intercessory prayers of the confessor. The 
essential distinction between them becomes clear when we consider 
the Penitentials as what they really were, codes of criminal law 
ancillary and supplementary to the crude and imperfect legislation of 
the Barbarians. 

We have seen that the penance of the early Church was likewise 
punitive and deterrent. As Pope Siricius says, the penitent chas 
tised his errors and served as an example to others. 1 Still, under 
the Empire, the Church was limited to spiritual inflictions, among 
which it included the disabilities based upon avoiding temptations 
and occasions of fresh sins ; the Church was subject to the State and 
could not transgress the limits assigned to it. In the looser organi 
zations of the Barbarians the distinction between the secular and the 
spiritual was scarce recognized ; the Church availed itself of the 

1 Siricii Epist. I. cap. 5. " Et ipsi in se sua errata castigent et aliis exern- 
plum tribuant." 


opportunity to extend its jurisdiction and to employ remedies drawn 
from the secular law. How complete was the confusion between 
Church and State, between the forum internum and externum, and 
how entirely penance was regarded as a punishment, is seen in a 
provision of the ancient Irish canons which have been attributed to 
St. Patrick. Any one stealing from the king, bishop or scribe, or 
committing any offence against them, is to pay the price of seven 
slave-girls and to undergo seven years penance. 1 Similarly in 
some old Welsh canons fines are provided rated at the price of 
male and female slaves. 2 Sometimes we find penance prescribed 
for purely secular crimes, as thirteen years for serving as a guide 
to Barbarians when there has been no slaughter, and life-long if 
blood has been shed ; sometimes corporal punishment for purely 
spiritual offences, such as eating flesh in Lent, when the pillory is 
threatened for a man who gives meat to his slave, while the slave 
forfeits six solidi or pays with his hide. 3 In the Saxon Church, the 
bot, or satisfaction for sin, was in some places a fine, which was 
equally divided between the bishop, the altar and the brotherhood, 
or between Christ and the king. 4 A canon largely copied from 
Theodore throughout the Penitentials down to the ninth century, 
shows how completely the spiritual and secular jurisdictions were 
confused, and how penance and punishment were convertible terms. 
It provides that the slayer of a monk or cleric shall be judged by the 
bishop and perform seven years penance or abandon his arms and 
serve God, but if the victim is a priest or bishop the murderer shall 

1 Canones Hibernens. (Wasserschleben, p. 141). 

2 Canones Wallici (Ibid. p. 124). Of. Owen s Ancient Laws of Wales, II- 
875, and Martene Thesaur. IV. 13. 

3 Sinod. Luci Victoria $ 4 (Wasserschleben, p. 104). Concil. Bergham- 
stedens. cap. 14, 15 (Haddan and Stubbs, III. 235-6). Ecclesiastical Institutes 
g 31 (Thorpe s Ancient Laws of England, II. 429). Ecclesiastical Compensa 
tions or Bots (Ibid. pp. 241-3). 

4 In the Law of the Northumbrian Priests (Thorpe, II. 291-99) the penance 
for all manner of offences, spiritual and secular, is simply a fine. In only one 
case is there any suggestion that God is to be placated as well as the Church, 
and this shows that the bot had nothing to do with justification. " If a priest 
refuse baptism or shrift, let him make bot for that with XII. ores, and above 
all earnestly pray for pardon to God" (Ibid. p. 293). Heathenish practices are 
paid for, one half to Christ and the other half to the king (p. 299). In one 
case excommunication is threatened, viz. for a priest forsaking a woman and 
taking another (p. 297). 


be judged by the king. 1 Even more illustrative of the punitive 
character of penance is the condemnation, by the eleventh council of 
Toledo, in 675, of the practice of some bishops of putting sinners to 
death under pretext of correction, and its command that in future 
they shall not inflict penalties exceeding imprisonment and exile. 
These latter were quite sufficiently severe if we may believe the six 
teenth council, in 693, which says that penitents thus imprisoned for 
the purgation of their sins sometimes committed suicide, and it pro 
vides that those who may survive the attempt shall be suspended from 
communion for two months. 2 It would be difficult to recognize any 
sacramental character about such penance, and yet exile long con 
tinued to be one of its resources. As late as 1089 Urban II. inter 
cedes with William, Archbishop of Rouen, in favor of some penitents, 
asking that after a year s banishment they may be allowed to finish 
their penance at home, so that they may be able to support their 
families. 3 Among the Capitularies of Benedict the Levite is one 
which provides that spiritual incest shall be visited with death or 
perpetual pilgrimage. 4 So the Rule of Chrodegang prescribes for 
grave offences, such as homicide, theft, fornication, etc., the infliction 
of corporal punishment, followed by prison or exile during the 
pleasure of the bishop, who may also impose subsequent public pen 
ance, followed by reconciliation. 5 The council of Tribur, in 895, 
might well use the words castigation and penance as convertible 
terms. 6 

It is very evident that penances of this description were not likely 
to be undertaken or performed voluntarily, and when the spiritual 
authority failed to secure obedience there was no hesitation in invok 
ing the aid of the secular power. Charlemagne, who utilized every 
resource attainable in reducing his turbulent subjects to order, re- 

1 Pcenit. Theodori Lib. I. cap. iv. 5. Canones Gregorii cap. 108. Confes- 
sionale Ps. Ecberti cap. 23. Pcenit. xxxv. Capitulorum cap. 1 2. Pcenit. 
Ps. Gregorii cap. 3. Pcenit. Vallicellian. II. cap. 7 (Wasserschleben, pp. 188, 
172, 310, 506, 538, 557). 

2 C. Toletan. XI. ann. 675, cap. 7 ; C. XVI. ann. 693, cap. 4. 

3 Lowenfeld Epistt. Pontiff. Roman, p. 64. 

4 Bened. Levitae Capital. Lib. vi. cap. 421. Cf. Lib. vn. cap. 356 ; Isaaci 
Lingonens. Capit. Tit. iv. cap. 11. 

5 Regulse S. Chrodegangi cap. 30 (Migne, LXXXIX. 1071). 

6 C. Triburiens. ann. 895, cap. 54 (Harduin. VI. i. 455). 


garded penance as one of the most useful factors in his policy, to be 
enforced as rigidly as the penalties of the secular courts. His counts 
and missi dominici were instructed to coerce to obedience all who 
refused to submit to the sentences of their bishops and perform the 
penances enjoined on them. 1 In another edict he orders that all 
guilty of the grosser crimes homicide, theft and perjury who 
have not performed or are not performing penance, shall appear 
before him; if they admit that they have accepted penance they 
shall state how they perform it and what priests have imposed it. 2 
Again, he decrees that bishops shall have authority to deal with 
those guilty of incest, whose property shall be confiscated if they 
persist in their sin. 3 Louis le Debonnaire adopted the same policy. 
The synod of Thionville, in 821, enacted a series of provisions for 
the protection of the clergy, which shows how completely secularized 
was the penance of the period. Injuries inflicted on them were pun 
ished by fines to the bishop, ranging from 300 to 1800 solidi, com 
bined with penance varying from five to twelve quarantines, or, in 
case death had ensued, from five to twelve years. Louis, in con 
firming this, speaks of it as pcenitentia canonica, and enforces it by 
threatening confiscation for disobedience, to be followed by exile 
until the offender submits. 4 

In the awful anarchy which accompanied the dissolution of the 
Carlovingian Empire, the Church and the State leaned upon each other 
in the desperate effort to maintain their authority, and the demar 
cation between secular and spiritual action became almost obliter 
ated. At the synod of Pavia, in 855, when the Emperor Louis II. 
reproved the bishops for their remissness in the duty of preaching, 
the reply was that the rich laity had oratories of their own and 
never came to the churches ; if they would do so they could be ad- 

1 Capit. Carol. Mag. ann. 802, cap. 32, 37, 38 (Baluze I. 265-66). 

2 Capit. Carol. Mag. incerti anni, cap. 11 (Hartzheim I. 425). 

3 Capit. Carol. Mag. incerti anni, cap. 5 (Martene Ampl. Collect. VII. 6). 
Marriage within the prohibited degrees, technically known as incest, was a 
difficult subject to deal with. As the secular authority broke down the effort 
was made to enforce the rules by strict segregation of the offender, who was 
urged to obtain pardon by priestly prayers, the performance of good works, 
liberal almsgiving and the imposition of hands. Bened. Levitae Capitul. Lib. 
VII. cap. 433 ; Isaaci Lingonens. Capit. Tit. iv. cap. 14 ; Gratian. cap. 3 Caus. 
xxxv. Q. viii. See also C. Mogunt. ann. 847, cap. 30 (Harduin. V. 14). 

4 C. apud Theodonis Villam ann. 821 (Harduin. IV. 1238-40). 


monished to redeem their sins by almsgiving. Moreover the bishops 
complained that they were unable to enforce public penance for pub 
lic crimes, and that even the private penance enjoined by the priests 
was not performed ; to remedy this they begged the aid of the secular 
power to enforce obedience, but the imperial rescript legalizing the 
proceedings of the synod is ominously silent on this point. 1 In Gaul 
the royal authority was so shattered that it clung desperately to the 
Church as its last resort, and penance became completely secular 
ized in the effort to strengthen by spiritual sanctions the laws which 
could not be enforced. When, in 862, Baldwin the Forester of 
Flanders carried off Judith, the daughter of Charles le Chauve, and 
married her against his will, the king s resource was to have him 
excommunicated and to order his lieges to force him to perform pen 
ance. 2 Unable to suppress or punish the rapine of the retainers of 
his lawless nobles, he calls upon the bishops to impose penance on 
the offenders and to excommunicate their masters who fail to make 
them submit to it. 3 The bishops were thus in some sort made the 
conservators of the public peace, and Charles pledged the power of 
the State to the utmost to enforce their decisions and compel all 
trangressors of the laws to perform the penance enjoined on them. 4 
The organization of public penance attempted by Hincmar of Reims 
(p. 76) was doubtless an effort to reduce this policy to a system. 
In 884 Carloman orders that all who are guilty of rapine shall pay 
a triple fine and the bannum dominicum, and in addition undergo 
such public penance as the bishop may determine, while the royal 
officials are instructed to lend them all aid and support in compelling 
obedience. 5 So completely had penance become a punishment and a 
resource of secular law that, in 873, the expression pcenitentiam fazere 
is used in instructions concerning the treatment of robbers by the 
counts, where there is no allusion to the intervention of bishops. 6 
Yet with all this the original conception of penance as a pious exer 
cise was not wholly lost, and we find the very curious notion pro- 

1 Capit. Ludov. II. Tit. nr. (Baluze, II. 352, 355-6). 

2 Capit. Caroli Calvi Tit. xxxv. cap. 5 (Ibid. 166). 

3 Ejusd. Tit. xxxiv. cap. 2, 4 (Ibid. 158, 160). 

4 Ejusd. Tit. xxxvui. cap. 10; Tit. XL. cap. 10; Tit. XLVIII. (Ibid. 207, 
214, 240). 

5 Capit. Carolomanni Tit. in. cap. 4, 7, 9 (Ibid. 287, 288). 

6 Capit. Caroli Calvi Tit. XLV. cap. 4 (Ibid, p. 230). 


mulgated that stripes thus inflicted by the bishops and unwillingly 
endured by the sinners were in some way conducive to their salva 
tion 1 perhaps like the tribulations sent by God in expiation of sins. 
Thus, without losing wholly its spiritual character, penance became 
practically a part of the administration of criminal law. In the 
episcopal visitations one of the points enumerated for habitual inves 
tigation was whether any one had interfered to prevent the bishop 
or his officials from scourging with rods serfs and slaves for their 
crimes. 2 In the councils of the period canons of punishment and of 
penance are intermingled in a way to indicate that no generic dis 
tinction was recognized between them, and indeed it is sometimes 
difficult to determine which is meant. 3 Even in the eleventh century 
we find King Cnut following the example, and intermingling secular 
and spiritual penalties. There is no line of demarcation between 
civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the monarch prescribes pen 
ance as freely as any other punishment. 4 The episcopal authority 
was to be developed as a civilizing influence, regardless of consistency 
or consequences. 

This conception of penance as punitive and coercive as well as 
spiritually beneficial long continued, with the consequent confusion 
between the forum externum and internum. In 1056 a council of 
Toulouse threatens with excommunication all perjurers, adulterers, 
and those involved in incestuous unions who will not come forward 
and perform due penance. 5 About 1065 we find Alexander II. 
commuting into exile a penance imposed for homicide committed in 
battle. 6 About the year 1100 two councils of Gran show how com 
pletely punitive were as yet the conceptions of penance. The bishops 
are ordered to build in each town two prisons for the purpose of 
coercing penitents ; any one convicted of sorcery is to be penanced 
according to the canons, while, if the accuser fails to prove the 
charge, he is to be subjected to the same penance ; abandoning a 
husband or adultery is threatened with prolonged penance for noble 

1 Capit. Carol! Calvi Tit. xxxvm. cap. 9 (Baluze II. 206)" Et vel inviti 
poenitentiam temporaliter et corporaliter agant, ne seternaliter pereant." 

2 Beginon. de Eccles. Discipl. II. v. 76. 

3 C. Triburiens. ann. 895, cap. 8 (Harduin. VI. I. 441). 

4 Cnuti Legg. Ssecular. Tit. LV. 

5 C. Tolosan. ann. 1056, cap. 12 (Harduin. VI. I. 1045). 

6 Alex. PP. II. Epist. 128 (Migne, CXLVI. 1408). 


ladies, while women of the people are to be sold into slavery, and 
the inobservance of feast days is visited with three days penance 
for freemen and with stripes for serfs. 1 In Spain, in 1129, the 
council of Palencia decreed excommunication and blinding for coin 
ing, while for assaults on monks, travellers, traders, women, pilgrims 
and such folk there was the alternative of entering a monastery for 
life or perpetual exile. 2 The council of Reims, in 1131, and that of 
Lateran, in 1139, both held under the presidency of Innocent II., 
endeavored to suppress the crime of arson by forbidding absolution 
unless the culprit made restitution, swore never to repeat the offence, 
and served for a year against the infidel in Syria or Spain. 3 

In all these cases we see how complete is the confusion between 
the forum internum and externum. Yet a distinction had already 
been unconsciously drawn by Lan franc when he said that any cleric 
or layman could hear confessions for secret sins, while public ones 
were reserved for priests 4 it was the latter, in such case, who 
reconciled the sinner to the Church, while in the former he dealt 
only with God. On the other hand, the proceedings in the daily 
chapters of the monastic orders, detailed above (I. pp. 197 sqq.), 
indicate that no thought had as yet been given to the distinction 
between the two forums. Hugh of S. Victor seems to assume that 
punishment inflicted by secular judges serves as satisfaction whereby 
God saves the sinner; 5 and though Peter Lombard shows a some 
what clearer conception of the bearing of such cases, Cardinal Pullus 
manifests the most complete ignorance of any difference between the 
forum of conscience and the judicial forum when he argues for the 
immunity of a criminal who has confessed to a priest and received 
absolution and communion he is then a temple of God, and it is 
sacrilege to punish him. 6 

With the development, however, of the power of the keys and of 

1 Synod. Strigonens. II. circa 1099; III. arm. 1109 (Batthyani Legg. Eccles. 
Hungar. II. 126, 127, 197). 

2 Hist. Compostellan. Lib. in. cap. 7 (Espana Sagrada, XX. 486). C. 
Palentin. arm. 1129, cap. 12 (Harduin. VI. n. 2054). 

3 C.Remens. arm. 1131, cap. 17; 0. Lateran. II. aim. 1139, cap. 18 (Harduin. 
VI. n. 1194, 1211). 

4 B. Lanfranci Lib. de Celanda Confessione (Migne, CL. 629-30). 

5 Hugon. de S. Victore de Sacram. Lib. n. P. xiv. cap. 7. 

6 P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. iv. Dist. xv. 2. R. Pulli Sentt Lib. vi. 
cap. 53. 

II. 8 


the conception of absolution as bestowed in the sacrament, a new 
order of ideas was introduced which necessitated the differentiation 
of the two forums. Richard of S. Victor, in his endeavor to prove 
why absolution should be followed by penance, 1 shows how novel as 
yet were these theories and how difficult it was to divest penance of 
the character it had always borne of punishment. Yet as the Peni- 
tentials gradually fell into disuse, as reconciliation to the Church 
developed into absolution, as the ceremonies grew obsolete which 
symbolized the expulsion and readmission of the sinner in solemn 
penance, the schoolmen found it requisite to define the forum of 
conscience in which the confessor sat as judge, and to distinguish 
it from the external forum, which might be either that of the secular 
criminal judge or of the bishop and his delegates determining 
questions of excommunication, irregularities and the like. Excom 
munication, or suspension from the Church, which of old had been 
the sole way of dealing with the sinner, was now relegated wholly 
to the external forum, save inasmuch as its removal was a condition 
precedent to absolution, for the ancient rule still held that the sinner 
must be reconciled to the Church before he could be reconciled to 

So great a change as this could not be effected suddenly. It re 
quired some generations of theologians to work out the theory and 
procure its general recognition and acceptance. At the end of the 
twelfth century, Adam de Perseigne shows how confused as yet were 
the conceptions on the subject when, in explaining absolution by the 
customary text of the raising of Lazarus, he describes the bonds 
from which the sinner is released to be three dishonor arising from 
public crime, fear of hell, and denial of the sacraments. 2 Richard 
Poore of Salisbury, in 1217, and St. Edmund of Canterbury, in 
1236, manifest utter ignorance of any distinction between the two 
forums when they decreed that those defamed for serious crime 
should be thrice summoned to confess and undergo penance, when if 
they persistently refused they should be required to purge themselves 
according to law with the requisite number of compurgators. 3 S. 

1 Rich, a S. Victore de Potestate Ligandi cap. 23. 

2 Adami de Persennia Epist. xx. (Martene Thesaur. I. 751). 

3 Eich. Poore Constitt. cap. 26 ; S. Edm. Cantuar. Constitt. cap. 19 (Harduin. 
VII. 96, 270). 


Ramon de Penafort was equally oblivious when, in 1235, he included 
among among the decretals of Gregory IX., a decision of Gregory 
the Great ordering that the seducer of a virgin should marry her, or 
in case of refusal, be severely punished corporally and be shut up in 
a monastery to perform penance until liberated. 1 William of Paris, 
about the same time, in discussing the authority of the penitential 
canons says that some doctors regard them as punishments rather 
than sacramental penances, while others take the opposite view, 2 thus 
showing that the distinction was beginning to attract attention and 
provoke debate. By this time the older canons, though still nominally 
in force, were virtually superseded by a much milder treatment in 
the confessional, and the distinction in practice between punitive and 
sacramental penance could not fail to demand explanation. The 
Church was involved in a dilemma, inevitable from the unacknowl 
edged change which had taken place in the development of recon 
ciliation, with its severe penalties, into absolution which inferred a 
voluntary rendering of satisfaction to God. On the one hand it 
could not throw off the tradition which proportioned the punishment 
to the sin : on the other, it could only impose what the penitent 
would accept. We shall have to consider hereafter more in detail 
this profound modification in its discipline, and for the present it 
suffices to point out that, however lax was the custom of the confes 
sional, in theory sacramental penance remained punitive. Aquinas 
declares that all works of satisfaction must be penal, and Gerson 
explains that even contemplation and the love of God are satisfaction 
for sin because they fatigue the body and interfere with comfort. 3 
Public penance was admitted to be sacramental, yet John of Frei 
burg in describing its objects, dwells on its punitive and deterrent 
character and only alludes inferentially to its effect on the penitent, 4 

1 Cap. 2 Extra Lib. v. Tit. xvi. (Gregor. PP. I. Epist. 43, ad Felicem Episc. 

2 Guillel. Parisiens. de Sacr. Poenit. cap. 20. 

3 S. Th. Aquinat. Summae Suppl. Q. xv. Art. 1. Jo. Gersonis Regain Morales 
(Ed. 1488, xxv. H). It is a striking illustration of the uncertainty pervading 
all aspects of the subject that Aquinas (Summae Suppl. Q. xv. Art. 3) especially 
pronounces contemplation not to be satisfactory "quia totaliter est delectabilis." 
In the modern confessional internal acts, such as meditation on death can be 
prescribed as penance (La Croix, Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1241). 

4 Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 3. Jo. Friburgens. Summae Con 
fessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 13. 


while, as we have seen (p. 87), the inquisitors, when inflicting the 
severest penalties on heretics converted by force, treated them as 
penance accepted by the prisoner for the salvation of his soul. This 
was a self-evident fiction, but it was a fiction necessary to maintain 
the character of the forum internum, and we see it, when Philippe le 
Bel compelled Clement V. to absolve Guillaume de Nogaret for the 
supreme offence of complicity in the death of Boniface VIII. and 
the laborious penance of pilgrimages and crusade imposed on him 
are unctuously assumed to be provisions for his salvation. 1 The 
council of Trent was thus constrained to the self-contradiction of 
defining in one breath that satisfaction must be a punishment and a 
chastisement for the sins committed, and of asserting in the next that 
the sacrament is not a forum of penalties. 2 This rendered the penality 
of satisfaction virtually defide, and it has continued to be taught in 
spite of the reduction of penance to mere formal and nominal obser 
vances. Palmieri says that works of penance are only satisfactory 
in so far as they are penal, and no matter how meritorious they may 
be they do not serve as satisfaction if they contain no penality, 3 
which would seem to be somewhat irreverent treatment of the Pater 
nosters and Ave Marias forming the ordinary penitential prescriptions. 

We have seen how various and contradictory were the provisions 
of the Penitentials in the assignment of penance, and also how rigor 
ous they were for the most part. Largely drawn from the canons of 
the early Church, there was, nominally at least, little disposition to 
mitigate the ancient severity or to modify its punitive and deterrent 
character. For the graver sins penances of seven, ten and fifteen 
years are frequent, 4 showing that as private penance crept into use 
there was, in this respect, no distinction between it and public pen 
ance. This rigor continued, not only in the manuals, but in the 
canons of councils and in the decisions actually rendered. In the 

1 Raynaldi Aimal. aim 1311, n. 50. 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Poenit cap. 8. "Sed etiam ad prseteritorum 
peccatorum vindictam et castigationem .... Nee propterea existimarunt 
sacramentum pcenitentiae esse forum irae vel poenarurn " 

3 Palmieri Tract, de Poenit., p. 4^6. " Quare fundamentum satisfactionis est 
poenalitas operis . . . Quod si actus aliquis meritorius nullam poenalitatem 
haberet non foret satisfactorius." 

4 Theodori Poenit. Lib.i. cap ii. \\ 2, 3, 4, 5, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, etc. 


latter half of the ninth century we have an opportunity of seeing 
some of the latter, in cases of public penance, for appeals to the 
Holy See for penance and reconciliation became frequent, and the 
sentences in some of these have been preserved in papal epistles. 
Thus, in 867, Nicholas I. sends to Archbishop Hincmar the decision 
which he had rendered in the case of a certain Eriath, self-confessed 
of presbytericide ; the penance imposed is twelve years, of which the 
first three are to be passed at the church-doors, weeping and begging 
mercy of God ; during the next two years the penitent is to be ad 
mitted among the auditors ; after this he can be received to com 
munion on the principal feasts, but is not allowed to make oblations. 
During the whole time, except on feast-days, he is to fast as dur 
ing Lent, taking no food till evening, and he is not to use a car 
riage, but is to perform all journeys on foot. The pope concludes 
by saying that the penance should be life-long, but is humanely 
shortened in view of the faith and devotion shown by the pilgrimage 
to Rome. 1 This statement is confirmed by a canon of the council of 
Mainz, in 888, which prescribes for presbytericide life-long abstin 
ence from flesh and wine, and fasting until evening, except on Sun 
days and feasts, with prohibition to bear arms and to travel except 
on foot; for five years the penitent is to stand at the church-door 
praying God for pardon, then for seven more lie is to stand among 
the auditors, and not until the expiration of the twelfth year is he to 
be admitted to communion. 2 For ordinary homicide, in 895, the 
council of Tribur orders a seven years penance in immense detail, 
though not quite so rigorous as the above, and not until the end is 
the penitent reconciled and restored to communion. 3 A general de 
cretal, attributed to Nicholas I., admits parricides and fratricides to 
communion after two years, if truly contrite, but through life they 

1 Nicholai PP. I. Epist. 119. For other similar cases see Epistt. 133, 136, 
140, the former of which, prescribing ten years for matricide, is carried into 
Gratian, Cap. 15 Cans, xxxni. Q. ii. See also (Pflugk-Harttung Acta Pontiff. 
Roman. ILL n. 3) a sentence of Benedict III., in 856, in a case of parricide, 
where the penance is twelve years. 

2 C. Mogunt. ann. 888, cap. 16 (Harduin. VL I. 407). A variant of this, for 
the murder of a monk, was seven years public penance and inclusion in a 
monastery for life. Bened. Levitse Capitul. Lib. VI. cap. 90 ; Isaaci Lingonens. 
Capit. Tit. ii. cap. 8; Ivon Deer. x. 19; Gratian. Cap. 28 Caus. XVII. Q. 4. 

3 C. Triburiens. ann. 895, cap. 54-58 (Harduin. VI. I. 455). 


are required to fast, always to go on foot, and never to bear arms 
except against the pagans. 1 

The mystic number seven seems to have had an irresistible attrac 
tion for the Church. It determined the number of sacraments and 
of mortal sins, and it became the standard measure of penance, as we 
have seen above in the Penitentials and the council of Tribur. 
Early in the seventh century St. Isidor of Seville speaks of seven 
years as prescribed by the Fathers for the readmission of the penitent, 
and he explains it by the seven days exclusion from the camp required 
of Miriam when stricken with leprosy for reviling Moses (Numbers, 
xu. 14). 2 The passage is quoted by both Rabanus Maurus and 
Gratian, the latter of whom adds that it has become the established 
custom, unless the position of the offender or the magnitude of the 
offence requires a longer period. 3 This not only chronicled the 
adoption of seven years as a standard, but assured its retention, 
and the rule passed into one of the commonplaces of the canonists, 
assumed by all as a matter of course throughout the middle ages, 
even after all such observances had become obsolete. 4 Yet this 
standard term did not by any means supersede the longer periods 
prescribed for special offences in the Penitentials. We have seen 
above the severity of the penances prescribed by the reforming popes 
of the second half of the ninth and of the eleventh centuries, and a 
typical instance may be adduced of a penance of fourteen years, for 
the seduction of a cousin, imposed by Alexander II. about 1065. 5 
Still severer was one of thirty years prescribed by Adelard of Soissons 
for a homicide committed during the Truce of God, and Alexander 
II., when appealed to, said that he did not approve of it because he 
did not find it in the canons, but he did not disapprove of it because 
it had been enjoined by prudent and religious men for the protection 
of the Truce. 6 

1 Nicholai PP. I. Epist. (Martene Ampl. Collect. I. 151). 

2 S. Isidori Hispalens. Epist. iv. n. 10. 

3 Rabani Mauri Poenitentium Lib. cap. 1. Gratian. Cap. 11, Caus. xxxni. 
Q. ii- 

4 S. Kaymundi Summae Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. \ 4. Hostiens. Aureae Summae 
Lib. V. de Pcen. et Eemiss. $ 60. Jo. Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. in. 
Tit. xxxiv. Q. 125. Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. S. Antonini Summae 
P. ill. Tit. xvii. cap. 20. 

5 Alex. PP. II. Epist. 127 (Migne, CXLVI. 1408). 

6 S. Ivon. Deer. x. 31. 


The character of the penance thus inflicted varied somewhat in 
different times and places, as may be gathered from occasional in 
stances cited above. Perhaps an average example may be found in 
the formula given by Halitgar from the so-called Roman Penitential, 
which is also given in a collection of the twelfth century. A peni 
tent required to fast on bread and water for a year is subjected to 
the following regimen : Bread and water on Mondays, Wednesdays 
and Fridays ; abstinence from wine, mead, ale, flesh, fat, cheese, eggs 
and fat fish on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays ; on Sundays and 
eighteen designated feasts he can live like other Christians, but must 
avoid all excess. If his sin be such as to subject him to. a second 
year s fast, he is, on Mondays and Wednesdays, to eat nothing till 
Vespers, after which he may have bread and dried or uncooked 
vegetables, with a moderate amount of ale ; on Fridays, bread and 
water. Then for three quarantines, or periods of forty days, before 
Christmas and Easter and after Pentecost, he is to fast two days in 
the week until nones (3 P.M.), with subsequent food as above, and on 
Fridays bread and water ; on the enumerated feasts and Sundays he 
does not fast. 1 Towards the end of the twelfth century , Alain de Lille 
explains for us the seven years penance prescribed in the Peniten- 
tials for serious offences. First, there is a quarantine of forty days 7 
unbroken fast on bread and water ; after this, for the first year, strict 
abstinence from all intoxicating beverage and from flesh and blood 
and fat fish, except on feasts of general observance ; but if sick, or on a 
journey, or in such company that the penitent cannot abstain, he may, 
for a denier or by feeding three paupers, redeem Wednesday, Friday 
and Saturday, so that he may drink wine or beer or mead, but on 
returning home or recovering health, he loses this privilege. At the 
expiration of the first year he is introduced into church and receives 
the kiss of peace. During the second and third years he has the 
right of redeeming at home the Wednesdays, Thursdays and Satur 
days. During the remaining four years he fasts for three quar 
antines, before Christmas and Easter and after Pentecost. Then 

1 Halitgari Lib. Pcenit. (Canisii et Basnage II. n. 128). Ant. Augustini 
Poenit. Roman. Tit. ix. cap. 23, 24. 

The Poenit. Vallicellian. n. cap. 46 (Wasserschleben, p. 564) explains that 
of old the whole term of penance was passed in rigorous fasting, but that, as 
the fervor of penitence diminished, it was gradually reduced until it became 
for only one or two days in the week. 


throughout life he is not to be free from penance, but shall fast on 
bread and water on Fridays, or redeem them weekly with a denier 
or by feeding three paupers. Yet this is a concession to mercy, for 
Alain says that the canons provide that murder committed through 
cupidity shall be punished by entering a monastery and serving there 
during life. 1 It is necessary to bear in mind the rigor of these 
observances in order to appreciate the magnitude of the change 
involved in the subsequent laxity. 

The feature of the quarantines alluded to in these formulas is 
worth a moment s attention, because it became a standard of a cer 
tain kind, serving as a measure of penance and preserved in indul 
gences long after it had become obsolete in practice. We have seen 
its appearance in the Penitential of Theodore and the proceedings 
of the council of Thiouville, in 821 (pp. 103, 110), in the latter of 
which penance is rated at five or six or ten or twelve quarantines. 
The origin of this is evidently to be found in the Lenten penance of 
those who were clothed in sack-cloth and ashes on Ash Wednesday, 
and were reconciled on Holy Thursday. This penance was some 
times of extreme severity ; in some of the Ordines it is prescribed 
that the penitents are to be imprisoned in the church during the 
whole term and to be rigorously fasted. 2 A formulary of the church 
of Siena, of about 1225, describes this imprisonment as passed in 
harsh garments, on bread and water, except on Sundays, the peni 
tent daily making a hundred genuflections and reciting a hundred 

1 Alani de Insulis Lib. Poenitent. (Migne, Oil. 294). Alain s subsequent 
remarks and guesses, however (p. 297), show that already this rigor was 
virtually obsolete, and that even he, the Universal Doctor, was unfamiliar 
with it. 

Yet, as late as 1170, letters of John, Bishop of Maguelonne, addressed to 
all parish priests, recite that he has imposed on Bernard, the bearer, for his 
enormous crimes, that for seven years he shall wander barefoot ; during life 
he is not to wear a shirt ; for forty days before Christmas he is to eat neither 
meat nor fat on Thursdays, and nothing but bread and wine on Fridays ; on 
all Fridays in Lent and on ember days he is to drink only water, and on all 
Saturdays to abstain from meat and fat, excepting on feasts and when he is 
sick. As he is utterly poor, food and clothing are asked for him, and power 
is given to those addressed to relax his penance if he is found deserving. 
Martene de antiq. Eccles. Ritibus Lib. I. cap. vi. Art. 4, n. 13. 

2 Martene de antiq. Eccles. Ritibus Lib. I. cap. vi. Art. 7, Ordo 10; Lib. IV. 
cap. xxii. Ordo 1. 


Paternosters every day and as many every night, sleeping on straw, 
never washing his hands, and speaking to no one before the third 
hour of the morning nor after complins. 1 Thus the quarantine 
varied greatly in severity, the severer form being known as Carina f 
a word frequently occurring in the canons and in indulgences, of 
which the precise significance has been the subject of some dis 
cussion. As described by the council of Tribur, in 895, during the 
oarina the penitent is to taste nothing but bread and water, to go 
unarmed and barefoot, to wear no linen except drawers, not to use a 
vehicle or approach his wife, and to be strictly segregated from all 
intercourse. 3 Still more rigorous is a formula requiring the penitent 
not to come within seven feet of the church or to enter the vestibule 
without licence, to lie on the earth, to eat like a beast off the ground 
a single daily meal of bread and water mixed with ashes, not to 
wash himself or change his garments, which must be of wool, and 
not to have, without permission, fire or anything that can give 
bodily ease. 4 In the middle of the eleventh century St. Peter 
Damiani shows us that the carina was customarily passed in prison, 
and this is confirmed by a decree of Gregory VII., about 1080, im 
posing on clerics guilty of homicide fourteen years penance, com 
mencing with imprisonment for forty days. 5 Such was the carina, and 
its rigor gives abundant evidence that the penance to which it formed 
the introduction was designed to strike terror to the hearts of sinners. 

We are not to assume from all this that the repertory of peniten 
tial observances was thus exhausted. Some of the formulas direct 
the priest to adapt the penalty to the character of the penitent and 

1 Muratori Antiq. Ital. Diss. 68 (T. XIV. p. 115). 

"Accusasti aliquem et per tuam accusation em occisus est; nisi pro pace 
hoc feceris XL. dies in pane et aqua, quod carena vocatur, cum septem seqrfen- 
tibus annis pceniteas." Burchardi Deer. xix. 5. Cap. 8 Extra Lib. v. Tit. 1. 

"Qui gravia crimina comrniserint . . . ut sunt homicidia et adulteria, 
pro quibus instituta est carina." Honor. Augustod. Speculum Ecclesise, De 
Nativ. Domini. 

Alain de Lille speaks of it as solemn penance inflicted on the laity but not 
on the clergy. Lib. Pcenit. (Migne, OCX. 295). 

3 C. Triburiens. ann. 895, cap. 55 (Harduin. VI. I. 455). 

4 Amort de Indulgentiis, I. 26. 

5 S. Pet. Damiani Opusc. XL. cap. 4. Lowenfeld Epistt. Pontiff. Roman, 
p. 59. 


of his sins, enjoining abstinence from food on one, almsgiving on 
another, genuflections on a third, standing at the cross on others, and 
so forth. 1 For clerics and monks, psalmody formed a fitting mode 
of penance. 2 Among the Anglo-Saxons even the cold bath was 
reckoned as a penitential resource. 3 Another form known as pal- 
matce has caused some debate as to its meaning, and probably varied 
in its significance at different times. In the earlier references to it, 
it evidently means blows on the hand, 4 but subsequently it was a 
spiritual exercise, apparently consisting of falling on the ground 
with the hands outstretched, while reciting psalms or prayers. 5 Dom 
Mabillon is probably in error when he considers it to be merely the 
beating of the breast, which has always been observed as one of the 
signs of contrition. 6 

The discipline, or scourging, was a favorite infliction. We have 
seen that it was used habitually on slaves, and that among the mon 
astic orders its administration was a feature of the daily chapters. 
This could scarce be otherwise when it was classed with fasting as 
the most efficient means by which devotion mastered the rebellious 
flesh. The hideous lengths to which this voluntary self-infliction 
was carried are interesting as an illustration of morbid asceticism, 
but are foreign to our immediate purpose. As a penance enjoined, 
flagellation was not entrusted to the merciful hands of the penitent 
himself, but the stripes were stoutly laid on by others. So customary 
was it that St. Peter Damiani speaks of many holy bishops who 
always had penitents flogged in their presence as a preliminary to .the 
imposition of penance, 7 and the touch of the rod before granting 

1 Ps. Bedse Lib. de Eemed. Peccat. Prolog. (Wasserschleben, p. 248). Ordo 
publicse Poenitent. (Pez Thesaur. Anecd. II. II. 613). 

2 Ps. Bedae cap. 22 (Wasserschleben, p. 270). 

3 Canons under King Edgar. Of Penitents, cap. 16 (Thorpe, II. 285). 

* " Si quis tinxerit manum in aliquo cybo liquido et non idonea manu, C. 
palmadas emend etur." Egberti Po3nit. cap. xii. 9 (Wasserschleben, p. 244). 

" Qui non idonea manu tangit limphaticum alimentum C. emendatur manual - 
ibus plagis." Poenit. Vindobonens. b. cap. xxiv. (Ibid. p. 495). And again 
"manuplagis " in Poenit. Kemens. cap. iii. \ 19 (Ibid. p. 502). 

5 Burchardi Deer. xix. 17, 25. Johann. Discip. Vit. S. Pet. Damiani cap, 
5 (Migne, CXLIV. 122). S. Pet. Damiani Lib. vi. Epist. 27. Ejusd. Opusc. 
xv. cap. 18. 

6 Binterim, Denkwiirdigkeiten, V. in. 153. 

7 S. Petri Damiani Lib. vi. Epist. 27. 


absolution from excommunication, which became customary at a later 
period, is a symbolical survival of the ancient practice. 1 To what 
an extent this feature of penance was carried may be judged from 
the precepts of the council of Narbonne, in 1244, for repentant here 
tics who came forward voluntarily, acknowledged their errors and 
denounced their comrades. Besides other heavy penances they were 
to present themselves every Sunday, stripped as far as the inclemency 
of the weather would permit, with rods in their hands, in the parish 
church to the priest while celebrating mass, and between the Epistle 
and the Gospel he was to beat them, the same ceremony being per 
formed in all public processions. Besides this, on the first Sunday 
in every month, after mass, they were to be taken, similarly stripped 
and with rods, and be beaten at every house in the town where they 
had met or seen heretics. Moreover, no interdict which might be 
cast over the town, suspending divine service, was to aiford them any 
intermission of the torture, and no limit of time is prescribed for it. 2 
Ostensibly this was for the health of their souls, and it is to be hoped 
that it counted against the pains of purgatory. 

Pilgrimages also, as we have .incidentally seen above, were a fre 
quent feature of penance. It was an early belief of the Church that 
visiting the holy places and the tombs of apostles and martyrs to 
pray was a pious work, yielding spiritual and material rewards. This 
was a natural devolution from the corresponding pagan custom; even 
as the old temples were transformed into churches, so the people 
sought from the relics of martyrs the same cures and the same miracu 
lous assistance which they had been taught to expect from the gods 
of heathendom. Even in the second century Alexander, the first 
Bishop of Cappadocia, in consequence of a vision, performed a pil 
grimage to Jerusalem, and as early as 333 the concourse of pilgrims 
thither was great enough to warrant the compilation of an itinerary 

2 Thus the minor papal penitentiaries, whose function it is to absolve for 
papal reserved cases, including the excommunications involved in them, have 
for a sign of office a wand with which the penitent is lightly touched. If the 
latter is a man he strips to the shirt and kneels before the priest, who strikes 
him softly with the wand or a scourge, while chanting the Miserere. By a con 
cession of Benedict XIV., in 1748, this ceremony gains for both parties an 
indulgence of twenty days. Manual e Facultatum Minorum Pcenitentiariorum 
Apostolicorum, Eoma, 1879, pp. 11, 27. 

3 C. Narbonnens. ann. 1244, cap. 1 (Harduin. VII. 251). See also C. Tarra- 
conens. ann. 1242 (Ibid. p. 352). 


showing every stage and change of horses from Bordeaux to Zion. 
There they found all objects of interest identified accurately the 
Pillar of Flagellation, the stone on which Judas betrayed his Master, 
the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch and even the stone 
which the builders rejected. 1 This form of devotion naturally at 
tracted the satire of the unbelieving Julian, to which Cyril of Alex 
andria replied at much length, proving the justice of venerating the 
remains of the martyrs who had perished for the faith. 2 There must 
have been some, however, who did not share the belief, for, in 362, the 
council of Gangra anathematizes those who despise pilgrimages and 
offerings at the tombs of the saints. 3 St. Jerome possibly was one 
one of these, for he argues with St. Paulinus of Nola that a man can 
serve God as efficiently at home as in Palestine and obtain an equal 
reward. 4 St. Paulinus, however, was an assiduous frequenter of holy 
places ; every year he visited Rome to worship at the tombs of the 
apostles ; he celebrated in verse the miraculous cures and concourse 
of grateful pilgrims at the shrine of St. Felix, and he shows us that 
the custom was fully established of rendering churches attractive by 
collecting in them relics of the saints, particles of the cross, etc. 5 

1 Euseb. H. E. vi. 11. Ejusd. Praepar. Evangel. Lib. xui. cap. 11. Itine- 
rarium a Burdegala usque Hierusalem (Migne, VIII. 791). 

In 1223 the Cardinal-legcite Giovanni Colonna brought to Rome the Pillar 
of Flagellation and set it up in his church of S. Prassede (Ciacconius, II. 57). 
Possibly it continued to be shown in the portico of a church on Mount Zion, 
where St. Jerome describes it as still in his time stained with blood. S. 
Hieron. Epist. cvm. cap. 9, ad Eustoch. 

2 Cyrilli Alexand. contra Julianum Lib. X. (Juliani Opp. Lipsise, 1696, pp. 

3 C. Gangrens. aim. 362, cap. 20. 

* S. Hieron. Epist. LVIII. n. 2-4, ad Paulinum. 

5 S. Paulini Epist. xx. n. 2 ; xxxi. n. 1; XLII. n. 7, 8 ; XLIII. n. 1 ; XLV. n. 1. 

Of the shrine of St. Felix he says (Natalia vm. 380-7). 

Per quern bona dona 

Et medicos exercet [Deus] opes terraque marique. 
Omni namque die testes sumus undique crebris 
Ccetibus aut sanos gratantia reddere vota 
Aut segros varias petere ac ambire medelas. 
Cernimus et multos peregrino a littore vectos 
Ante sacram sancti prostratos martyri aram. 

The shrine of St. Ammonius was held to have special virtue for the cure of 
fever. Palladii Vit. S. Jo. Chrysost. cap. 2. 


That this indeed was general throughout Christendom is evident 
from the statements of Evodius, Bishop of Uzale. 1 

Pilgrimages to these sanctified spots continued to grow in popu 
larity. When Flavianus, Bishop of Antioch, translated the bones of 
some martyrs, a sermon of Chrysostom shows how the people flocked 
for prayer at their tombs, 2 and, in 394, Theodosius the Great gave 
an emphatic illustration of the popular faith in this mode of securing 
the favor of heaven, for when about to set forth on the perilous 
campaign against Eugenius and Arbogastes he prepared for it by 
visiting in sack-cloth the tombs of the apostles and martyrs. 3 St. 
Augustin had full faith in cures and miracles, especially in the ex 
pulsion of possessing demons, wrought by such devotions, and his 
contemporary Evodius relates a sheaf of marvels occurring at the 
shrine of St. Stephen how, when a terrific dragon appeared in the 
clouds, the whole population with a common impulse rushed thither 
for prayer, and the dragon vanished innocuously ; how, when a vint 
ner found two hundred jars of wine turn sour on his hands a jugful 
sent to the relics and then portioned out among the jars restored 
them all to soundness. 4 It was in vain that the council of Carthage, 
in 419, tried to check the growth of these beliefs by ordering the 
bishops to cast down the altars, which were everywhere erected to 
the martyrs, unless there was a body or a relic there, adding that, if 
the people will not permit this, the bishops must persuade them not 
to frequent such places ; the traditions respecting them must be 
strictly investigated, and the habit of trusting to vain revelations 
and dreams must be withstood. 5 St. Arseuius showed a wise fore 
thought and becoming modesty when on his death-bed he threatened 
his disciples with the judgment-seat of Christ if they should give any 
portions of his body as relics. 6 

It was impossible to set bounds to the extension of the custom. 

1 Evodius de Mirac. S. Stephani (Migne, XLI. 833 sqq.). 

2 S. Jo. Chrysost. in Ascensione Domini Homilia (Ed. Migne, II. 442-3). 

3 Rufini H. E. ii. 33. 

4 S. Augustin. Epist. LXXVII. n. 3 ; De Civitate Dei xxn. 8; De Unitate 
Ecclesise cap. 19. Evodii de Mirac. S. Stephani Lib. n. 

5 Cod. Eccles. African, cap. 83. Charlemagne found himself obliged to 
reissue this canon and prescribe its observance. Capit. Caroli Mag. ann. 789, 
cap. 1. Cf. Ansegisi Capitular, i. 41 . 

6 Vitse Patrum, Lib. in. cap. 163 (Migne, LXXIII. 794). 


On the one hand, there was the rivalry of the existing paganism, 
from which the Christians were but partially emancipated, with its 
crowds of subordinate deities, of whom the saints and martyrs were 
the substitutes, and its belief in amulets and charms replaced by 
relics. On the other, there were the substantial material advantages 
accruing from the afflux of pilgrims to all shrines of acknowledged 
virtue. Of course there was no charge made for the intercession of 
the saint by the priests who ministered at his altar, but no pilgrim 
could anticipate a favorable interposition who did not bring some 
" alms," some voluntary oblation to aid in his cult. This was an 
established custom as early as the fourth century. St. Paulinas 
alludes to it in his description of the miracles wrought at the shrine 
of St. Felix, and we learn from him that rustics who had nothing 
else to offer brought swine and cattle. 1 Everything thus tended to 
foster the practice, and it flourished accordingly. 2 Even a straw or 
a pinch of dust brought from a shrine of approved sanctity was held 
to convey a portion of its virtues and to work similar miracles, 3 even 
as to-day there is corresponding belief in the water of Lourdes. 

The fall of the Empire under the incursions of the Barbarians 
must necessarily have diminished considerably the number of pil 
grims by the difficulties of transport and insecurity of the roads, but 
as soon as society sought to reconstruct itself under the house of 
Pepin, pilgrims were taken under the special protection of the laws, 
and every effort was made to facilitate their pious wanderings. Extra 
wer-gilds were imposed for injuries inflicted on them ; heavy fines 
were exacted from all who should attempt to collect tolls from them; 
houses of reception were ordered to be built for their accommodation ; 

1 S. Paulini Nolani Natalis XII. 

The profits to a fashionable shrine are visible in the wide variety of coins in 
one of the remittances of Bishop Gelmirez of Compostella to Calixtus II. when 
negotiating for the purchase of the archiepiscopate. It consisted of 9 marks, 
100 maravedises, 211 sous Poitevins, 60 sous of Milan and 20 sous Tolosains. 
Hist. Compostellana, Lib. II. cap. 10. 

2 Gennadii Marsiliens. de Eccles. Dogmatibus cap. 73. Gregor. PP. I. 
Homil. in Evangel, xxvii. n. 7 ; xxxii. n. 6. 

St. Isidor of Seville is more rational. He only speaks (De Eccles. Officiis 
P. I. cap. 35) of the effect on the soul of the tombs of the martyrs, stimulating 
us to charity and to the effort to emulate their virtues. 

3 S. Paulini Nolani Epist. XLIX. n. 14. S. Gregor. Turonens. de Gloria Con- 
fessorum, cap. 64; Vit. Patrum cap. viu. n. 10. 


no one, whether rich or poor, was allowed to refuse them fire and 
water and shelter, and priests were told that tithes and oblations 
were for the use of the poor and of pilgrims, and should be spent on 
them. 1 

At this period the three principal centres of devotional pilgrimage 
were Rome, Jerusalem and Tours, and to them was added, early in 
the ninth century, Compostella, to which the episcopal seat of Iria 
was transferred on the finding of the long lost and forgotten body 
of St. James the Apostle. 2 As time went on the passion for pilgrim 
ages developed to a degree that was almost uncontrollable, like the 
caravans of true believers who yearly visit the Kaaba. In the first 
half of the eleventh century, according to a contemporary, vast 
multitudes were seized with a common impulse to visit the Holy 
Places. This began with the lower orders; then the contagion 
spread to the well-to-do and reached nobles and kings ; even women 
joined the bands, and, though devotion was the general motive, many 
went merely through vain-glory. 3 In 1064 a great multitude, esti 
mated at not less than seven thousand, went from Germany, headed 
by the Archbishop of Mainz and the Bishops of Utrecht, Bamberg 
and Eegensburg not as humble pilgrims, for they carried a store 
of gold and silver vessels out of which they ate. 4 Foulques Nerra, 
Count of Anjou, one of the most turbulent nobles of his day, made 
no less than three pilgrimages to Jerusalem and brought home price 
less relics. 5 Compostella was a close rival to Jerusalem. The 
pilgrims flocking thither were so numerous that they encumbered 
the roads, and the Moorish envoys, in 1121, going there to Queen 

1 Legg. Baioarior. Tit. nr. cap. 14 (Bened. Levit. Capitular v. 364). Synod. 
Vernens. ann. 755, cap. 22, 26. Pippini Capital. Metens. aim. 757, cap. 6. 
Capital. Caroli Magni ann. 789, cap. 73 (Capital. Ansegisi I. 70 ; Bened. Levitse 
VI. 378). Legg. Langobard. Pippini cap. 12. Capital. Caroli Mag. I. ann. 802, 
cap. 27. Herardi Turonens. Capital, cap. 18. Bened. Levitee Capital, vii. 
375. C. Nannetens. ann. 895, cap. 10. 

2 Baronii Annal. ann. 816, n. 48-53. Curiously enough Baronins manifests 
some scepticism as to the miraculous bringing of the body from Jerusalem to 
Iria, The head, however, was not at Compostella till it was placed there, in 
1116, by Queen Urraca. It had been stolen in Palestine and brought to 
Spain by Martin, Bishop of Braga. Historia Compostellana I. 112. 

3 Eodulphi Glabri Histor. Lib. IV. cap. 6. 

4 Mariani Scoti Chron. Lib. in. ann. 1064. 

5 Gesta Consulum Andegavens. vm. 13-15 (D Achery Spicileg. III. 252). 


Urraca, complained that they scarce could make their way. 1 The 
Crusades, in fact, were only armed and organized bands of pilgrims, 
and they are frequently so designated by the writers of the period, 
even when they were fighting heretics or Christians in Europe at the 
call of the Holy See. 

Occasional protests against the development of the pilgrim passion 
were heard. Claudius of Turin included it among the observances 
not to be approved, for which he was roundly berated by Jonas of 
Orleans. 2 Even St. Peter Damiani considers that pilgrimages are 
not suited to every one monks and nuns had better stay in their 
convents and serve God there. 3 Hildebert of Le Mans tells Foulques 
Rechin, Count of Anjou, that his home duties are more important 
than a contemplated pilgrimage to Compostella, and he congratulates 
Adela, dowager Countess of Le Mans, on her abandoning one to 
Jerusalem, for we are commanded to carry the cross of Christ, but 
not to seek his sepulchre. 4 Honorius of Autun thinks that the 
money spent in wandering had much better be bestowed on the poor. 5 
Lambert le Begue of Li6ge took the same view, and suffered perse 
cution because he taught it in his sermons and because he added 
that no benefit was to be derived from visiting Jerusalem .by those 
who, as was frequently the case, procured the money necessary for 
the journey by fraud and rapine and even by homicide. 6 Men also 
there were clear-sighted enough to see that the character of the 
pilgrims and the results of the pilgrimage were such as not to 

1 Historia Compostellana Lib. II. cap. 50. In 1495, when King Ferdinand 
was in Catalonia expecting an invasion from France, news was brought to 
Queen Isabella that so many French pilgrims, some armed and some unarmed, 
were trooping to Compostella, as to constitute a real danger to the kingdom in 
case of war. Her counsellors advised prohibition of the pilgrimage, but she 
preferred to fall into the hands of man rather than of God, and the pilgrims 
were undisturbed. Cron. de Pulgar, Contin. (Rosell, Cronicas de los Reyes de 
Castilla, III. 521). 

The persistent begging of the pilgrims was a standing grievance, complained 
of by the Cortes in 1523, 1525, 1528, 1534, 1540 and 1555. Novisima Recopila- 
ci6n, ley 6, Tit. xxx. Lib I. 

2 Jonse Aurelianens. de Cultu Imaginum Lib. in. 

3 S. Petri Damiani Lib. vn. Epist. 17. 

* Hildeberti Cenomanens. Lib. I. Epistt. 5, 15. 

5 Honor. Augustodun. Elucidarii Lib. II. cap. 23. 

6 Paul Fredericq, Note complementaire sur les Documents de Glasgow con- 
cernant Lambert le Begue, p. 12 (Bruxelles, 1895). 


promise much spiritual gain. St. Bernard describes the crusaders 
of his day, whom he did so much to send forth, in the most unflat 
tering terms. In that countless multitude, he says, you will find 
few save the utterly wicked and impious, ravishers and sacrilegious, 
homicides, perjurers and adulterers, whose departure is a double 
gain. Europe rejoices to lose them and Palestine to gain them ; 
they are useful in both ways, in their absence from here and their 
presence there. 1 Some half a century later William of Newburgh 
tells us that not a fourth of the crusaders returned home the rest 
died of want, exposure or battle and in this he sees a striking ex 
hibition of the mercy of God, for those who came back relapsed into 
their evil ways, while those who died went to heaven, so that the 
crusades were a success in peopling the heavenly Jerusalem if they 
failed to secure the earthly one. 2 About the year 1300 the blessed 
Giordano da Bivalta, a noted Dominican preacher, is even more 
decided in his animadversions. God, he says, sets little store by 
such works ; what he wishes is heart-felt love, while pilgrimages are 
the occasion of quarrels and cheating and fornication and homicide, 
and he would advise them most rarely. 3 In the seventeenth century 
Father Gobat says that those who perform many pilgrimages are 
rarely sanctified, for to most people they are merely a matter of 
carnal gratification, 4 and, if we may judge from Binterim s defence 
of pilgrimages, objections to their demoralizing influence are urged 
against them at the present day. 5 

1 S Bernard! Lib. ad Milites Templi cap. 5. 

Cardinal Pierre d Ailly was of the same opinion as St. Bernard when, at the 
council of Constance, in 1415, he proposed, as one of the measures of reform, 
that a general crusade should be preached, not, apparently, with a view to the 
recovery of the Holy Land, but to relieve Europe of the scum of the popula 
tion "Et tune forte purgantur per hoc praecipue Italia et alia propinqua 
Christianorum regna de multis malis hominibus qui in eis sunt." P. de Alliaco 
de Necessitate Reformat, cap. 15 (Von der Hardt, I. VII. 292). 

The " pilgrims " seemed to think that the indulgence enabled them to com 
mit whatever crimes they pleased. In 1111 a party of English crusaders on the 
voyage landed in Galicia, took pay from one party to a neighborhood war, and 
raided the country, despoiling churches and ransoming the people. The inhabi 
tants of Iria attacked and captured them. Hist. Compostellana Lib. iicap. 76. 

2 Guillel. Newburg. Hist. Angl. Lib. IV. cap. 27, 30. 

3 Prediche del Fra Giordano da Rivalta, Firenze, 1831, T. I. p. 253. 

4 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 652. 

5 Binterim, Denkwiirdigkeiten IV. I. 648. In fact, Enrico Ferri, Professor 

II 9 


Yet pilgrimages responded too completely to the popular beliefs 
and were a source of too much profit to the Church not to be encour 
aged and stimulated. The process is well indicated by a passage in 
Rodolphus Glaber, who tells us that, at the commencement of the 
eleventh century, holy relics came to be discovered in many places. 
This began at Sens, when Archbishop Leofric found the remains of 
St. Stephen and many others, among which was said to be a frag 
ment of the rod of Moses : innumerable pilgrims, even from as far 
as Italy and beyond seas, flocked thither for the cure of their diseases^ 
and the concourse greatly enriched the town. 1 The tempting harvest 
of offerings thus laid upon the altars of favorite saints became the 
subject of unseemly squabbles between rival custodians. Even at 
the church of the Holy Sepulchre there was a standing quarrel be 
tween the canons and the Patriarch of Jerusalem over the oblations, 
which successive popes vainly endeavored to compose. 2 In 1217, 
Honorius III. was called in to settle a question of the kind as to the 
offerings made to St. Nicholas Cnut at Aarhus. 3 The sacred pre 
cincts of St. Peter s were not free from the acquisitiveness inseparable 
from human nature. A bull of Innocent III. directs pilgrims to 
deposit their oblations in a chest under the high altar, where they 
will be properly used, and not to listen to wicked suggestions to 
make their offerings in other spots. This had to be repeated by 
Alexander IV. in 1259, and a long series of decisions as to the 
division of the funds accruing, shows that the greed of the officiat 
ing priests led to perpetual discord on the subject. 4 Already, in 
1186, the offerings at the shrine of the recently martyred St. Thomas 
of Canterbury were large enough to require papal intervention to 

of Criminal Law in the University of Pisa, in suggesting various measures for 
the suppression of crime, says that " Pabolition de certains pelerinages em- 
pecherait un grand nombre de delits centre la pudeur, les personnes, la 
propriete, determines par les orgies qui tres souvent les accompagnent, et la 
confusion, surtout nocturne, des sexes." La Sociologie Criminelle, p. 241 
(Paris, 1893). 

1 R. Glabri Histor. Lib. in. cap. 6. 

2 Calixti PP. II. Epist. CXLVII. Ccelestin. PP. II. Epist. xxvi. Lucii PP. 
II. Epist. LXIII. Eugenii PP. III. Epist. ccc. Alex. PP. II f. Epist. iv., 

3 Langebek et Suhm Scriptt. Eer. Danicar. VI. 391. 

4 Bullarium Vaticanum I. 96, 130, 134, 140, 156, 157, 177, 216. 


regulate their apportionment, 1 and finally in the leading churches of 
Rome an official designated as altararius was appointed, whose duty 
consisted in collecting the oblations and applying them to their 
proper uses, and the importance of the function is seen in the large 
stipend of a florin per diem attached to the office by Benedict XII. 
in 1338. 2 It is easy thus to appreciate the motive of such instruc 
tions as those of Bishop Eudes of Paris, about 1198, that all parish 
priests in the diocese should, in their sermons and in the confes 
sional, require their parishioners to visit Notre Dame at least once in 
the year. 3 

While the cure of disease was the chief object prompting voluntary 
pilgrimages, the remission of sin was also a powerful impelling mo 
tive, for it was held that thereby the intercession of the saint was 
obtained, which was as efficient for the ills of the soul as for those of 
the body. When, about 1145, Peter the Venerable heard of threat 
ened reverses to the Templars at Antioch he grieved to think that 
the road might be closed through which, for the past fifty years, such 
innumerable thousands of pilgrims had escaped hell and gained 
heaven, 4 and the realty of this was clearly manifested to St. Bir- 
gitta of Sweden, to whom, on her entering the church of the Holy 
Sepulchre, Christ himself revealed that she was cleansed from all sin, 
as though newly baptized, and, moreover, that, as a reward for her 
devotion, the souls of several of her kindred had that moment been 
released from purgatory. 5 

That pilgrimage should be utilized as a form of penance was there 
fore inevitable. It was arduous enough to be punitive in no slender 
degree and was healthful to the soul ; for the penitent anxious to 
redeem his sins no pious exercise could be more appropriate. Ac 
cordingly in the Penitentials we find it frequently and unsparingly 
prescribed ; three, seven, ten, twelve or fifteen years are ordered to 
be spent in pilgrimage, while in the case of spiritual incest there is 
an alternative offered of death or perpetual pilgrimage. With the 
customary confusion of secular and spiritual penalties, moreover, 
exile and pilgrimage are apparently convertible terms, justifying the 

1 Harduin. VI. n. 1186. 2 Bullar. Vatican. I. 309, 339. 

3 Odonis Paris. Constitt. cap. 51 (Harduin. VI. II. 1946). 

* Petri Venerab. Lib. vi. Epist. 18. 

5 S. Birgittae Revelationum Lib. vn. cap. 14. 


belief that when exile is ordered it is expected to be spent in thus 
wandering from shrine to shrine in search of pardon. 1 The result 
of this was not wholly conducive to the peace and quiet of the land, 
for doubtless the infliction of pilgrimage as penance was sometimes 
motived by the desire to get rid of troublesome individuals, and 
although the Carlovingian legislation insured them protection and 
hospitality everywhere, they did not always obey the rule that they 
should be unarmed. As early as 789 Charlemagne was awakened 
to the evil of this, and he deprecated the imposition of pilgrimage as 
penance, whereby criminals and vagabonds were sent wandering 
through his dominions, invested with these special privileges ; it 
would be, he said, much better to keep them at home, laboring and 
serving and performing their penance, and the repetitions of this 
decree in the collections of the ninth century show how little it 
effected and how keenly the evil continued to be felt. 2 

In 813 the council of Chalons affords us a view of the disadvan 
tages of the system from a spiritual standpoint. It highly approves 
of pilgrimages undertaken by advice of the confessor and performed 
prayerfully, with amendment of life and liberal almsgiving, but it 
objects to the habit of priests and clerics of evil life who imagine 
that they can be purged of their sins and fitted for their functions by 
a simple visit to St. Martin of Tours or the Apostles at Rome ; also 
of laymen who think they can sin with impunity by praying at such 
places ; also of nobles who grind their subjects with exactions under, 
pretext of defraying the expenses of such pious excursions ; also of 
the beggars who make it an excuse for begging, and of the silly folk 
who believe that the mere sight of the shrine releases them from 
their sins. 3 

Remonstrances and protests were in vain. The custom continued 
to extend, and we have seen how in the eleventh century hordes of 
pilgrims were wandering over the face of Europe. What portion of 
these were volunteers, and what portion were penitents, it would be 

1 Pcenit. Ps. Egbert! Lib. IV. cap. 16; Pcenit. Columbani B. Cap. 1, 2, 13, 
20; Pcenit. Ps. Theodori Cap. 1, 3 (Wasserschleben, pp. 333, 355,357, 358, 
568-9). Bened. Levitse Capital, vr. 421. Cnuti Legg. Secular. Tit. 41. 
2 Cap it. Caroli Mag. I. ami. 789, cap. 77. Bened. Levitye Capital. Lib. iv. 
Append. I. cap. 34; Lib. vi. cap. 379. Reginon. de Eccles. Discipl. Lib. n. 
cap. 80. 

8 C. Cabillonens. II. ann. 813, cap. 45 (Harduin. IV. 1039). 


impossible now to say. We may fairly assume that Robert le Diable 
of Normandy, who had poisoned his brother Duke Richard III. in 
1028, when in 1035, to redeem his sins he undertook a pilgrimage 
barefooted to Jerusalem and died at Nicaea on his return, did so at 
the instance of his ghostly counsellors ;* and doubtless the same may 
be said of Count Thierry, who in 1066 murdered Conrad, Archbishop- 
elect of Treves, and in 1073, moved by repentance, undertook the 
journey to Jerusalem and was lost at sea. 2 St. Peter Damiani, though 
he was by no means an inconsiderate advocate of pilgrimage, had no 
hesitation in imposing it as penance. One of his epistles is addressed 
to the Marquis Rainiero, to whom he had prescribed in confession the 
voyage to Jerusalem, and whom he seeks to encourage and to scold 
for his remissness in undertaking it. When, moreover, in 1059, he 
reconciled the rebellious Milanese clergy, besides the ordinary pen 
ances of terms of years, he imposed on them all the pilgrimage to 
Rome or to Tours, while Archbishop Guide, their leader, was required 
to undergo the long and painful one to Compostella. 3 A century 
later Gratian retained in his compilation some of the penitential 
pilgrimages contained in the older canons : seduction in the confes 
sional was punishable by twelve years penance and fifteen years to 
be spent in pilgrimages, while life-long pilgrimage and degradation 
were prescribed for breaking the seal of the confession. 4 Not long 
afterwards we find Alexander III. ordering the Archbishop of Up- 
sala and his suffragans to repress the grave offences prevalent among 
the people by sending the culprits on the long pilgrimage to Rome. 5 
With the rise of the Inquisition this became a favorite among the 
lighter penalties inflicted by that body upon those who had con 
sorted with or shown favor to heretics. In its severest form, that of 
service in Palestine against the infidel, or in Constantinople to sus 
tain the tottering Latin Empire, it was frequently employed ; indeed, 
about 1230, the Cardinal -legate Romano prescribed it in Languedoc 
for all suspected of heresy. This led to the deportation of such 
multitudes that, some ten years later, the Holy See forbade its con- 

1 Chron. S. Martin. Turonens. Orderic. Vital. Eccles. Hist. Lib. in. Wil- 
lelmi Malmesburiens. Lib. u. (Dom Bouquet, X. 225, 235, 246). 

2 Bernoldi Chron. ann. 1066, 1073 (Migne, CXLVIIL, 1368, 1370). 

3 S. Petri Damiani Lib. VII. Epist. 17 ; Opusc. V. 

* Cap. 19 Caus. xxx. Q. ix. ; cap. 2 Caus. xxni. Q. iii. Dist. 6. 
5 Alex. PP. III. Epist. 975. 


tinuance for the reason that there was danger that the faith might be 
corrupted in the land of its origin. 1 When, in 1247 and 1248, Ray 
mond VII. of Toulouse was preparing to accompany the crusade of 
St. Louis, he procured from Innocent IV. a suspension of this pro 
hibition 2 and thereafter the crusade continued to be occasionally 
prescribed until the fourteenth century was well advanced. 3 The 
inquisitorial use of penitential pilgrimages is instructively exhibited 
in a record of 724 sentences pronounced by the inquisitor Pierre 
Cella during a circuit in Quercy from Advent, 1241, to Ascension, 
1242, the cases being of those who came forward spontaneously and 
confessed to having held relations with heretics, mostly of the most 
trivial kind. Nearly all of them were penanced with pilgrimages 
some to the nearer shrines of Puy, St. Gilles, etc., but four hundred 
and twenty-seven were sent to Compostella, and one hundred and 
eight to Canterbury, the latter being, in all but three or four in 
stances, superadded to Compostella. In addition to these there were 
seventy-nine ordered to serve in Constantinople for periods of from 
one to eight years. 4 

In the ordinary routine of the confessional, penitential pilgrimage 
gradually fell into desuetude with the general laxity prevailing from 
the thirteenth century onward, except, as we have just seen, in cases 
of gravity against the Church. It remained nominally, however, as 
one of the resources of the confessor. In 1247 Johannes de Deo 
warns us that it should not be imposed on slaves because it deprives 
the master of their services. 5 Cardinal Henry of Susa still recom 
mends it in his enumeration of fitting penances for opposite vices 
pilgrimage for the slothful, maceration, scourging and fasting for the 
gluttonous and carnal, persecution of heretics for those inclined to 
heresy, etc., and this is repeated by John of Freiburg. 6 Alfonso the 
Wise, in his code known as the Partidas, distinguishes three kinds of 
pilgrims those who go voluntarily, those who have to fulfil a vow, 

1 Wadding. Annal. Minoruin ann. 1238, n. 7. C. Narbonnens. ann. 1244 
cap. 2 (Harduin. VII. 252). 

2 Berger, Registres d Innocent IV. n. 3508, 3677, 3866 (pp. 527, 556, 586). 

3 Limborch, Lib. Sentt. Inquis. Tolosan. pp. 284-5. 

* MSS. Boat, XXI. 185 sqq. (See the author s Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 
II. 30-32). 

5 Jo. de Deo Poenitentiale, Lib. I. cap. 3 (Migne, XCIX. 1086). 

6 Hostiens. Aureae Summse Lib. V. De Poan. et Remiss. $ 60. Jo. Friburgens. 
Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 125. 


and those on whom it has been imposed as penance. 1 Astesanus, in 
the collection of canons compiled from the Decretum of Gratian, 
which remained as a semi-official Penitential up to the period of the 
Reformation, includes those which prescribe prolonged terms of pil 
grimage ; moreover he speaks of pilgrimage as one of the forms of 
penance and as one of the distinguishing features of public penance. 2 
An example of this is seen in the case of Ruggiero da Bonito, in 
1319, who, for the murder of the Bishop of Fricento, was required 
to sail for Palestine at the next general passage, and meanwhile to 
make three pilgrimages to Rome and one to Compostella. 3 About 
the same time Durand de S. Pourgain speaks of pilgrimage as a 
public penance, which can be imposed by any confessor, but he re 
gards it rather as an occasion of scandal than of edification and as 
virtually obsolete. 4 Yet in 1433, at the council of Bale, when the 
Hussites in conference demanded the abrogation of all pilgrimages, 
the Doctor Gilles Charlier, in arguing for their retention, enumerated 
eight reasons, of which the eighth was the satisfaction of sins when 
they were enjoined in penance. 5 While, however, pilgrimage was 
thus theoretically retained in the penitential armamentarium, it must 
before this have become virtually disused. Public penance, as we 
have seen, had substantially disappeared, and in private the increas 
ing strictness of observance of the seal forbade the use of any penance 
that would betray the penitent, but as recently as 1725, in the 
instructions of Benedict XIII., it is still enumerated, along with 
fasting, the discipline and prolonged prayers, as a heavy penance for 
grave offences. 6 

Of vastly greater moment, in its influence on the growth of the 
Church in wealth and power, was the form of penance known as 
almsgiving. I have already alluded (I. pp. 4, 78) to the expiatory 

1 Partidas. Ley 1 , P. I. Tit. xxiv. 

2 Canones Pcenitent. Astesani ^ 3, 32 (Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxxii) ; Siimmae 
Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2; Tit. xxxiv. Art. 1. Q. 1. 

An edition of these penitential canons, with some variants, was printed at 
Leipzig as late as 1516, in sixteen small quarto pages, evidently for convenient 
reference in the confessional. 

3 Eaynald. Annal. ann. 1319 n. 13. 

* Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. XV. Q. iv. 8. 

5 ^Egid. Carlerii Orat. (Canisii et Basnage IV. 621). 

6 Instruzione per gli figliuoli, etc. (Concil. Roman, ann. 1725, p. 446). 


power attributed to alms in the Old Testament and the early Church. 
There was so much to recommend it, both from a benevolent and a 
selfish point of view, that the practice was much more likely to de 
velop than to be outgrown. It is one of the seven modes of pardon 
enumerated by Origen (I. p. 81), which continued to be repeated for 
so many centuries, and Cyprian describes frequent almsgiving as 
liberating souls from death. 1 It was in vain that St. Augustin pro 
tested that those who sin repeatedly cannot purchase pardon by 
repeated almsgiving; his very protest, and a similar one by St. 
Gaudentius, only show how current was the idea that impunity 
could thus be bought. 2 Even so severe a moralist as Salvianus 
admits that sins can be redeemed with money ; if there are no sins 
to be wiped out, there is heaven to be purchased ; the sinner must 
not strive to bargain, he must give all he can or all he has, and this 
is more imperatively incumbent on the dying. 3 In a similar spirit 
a sermon, variously attributed to St. Augustin and St. Csesarius, but 
probably of somewhat later date, asserts that, except in rare cases of 
ardent contrition, death-bed repentance is vain unless the sinner 
bequeaths to the Church a substantial portion of his property. 4 St. 
Eloi of Noyon tells us that alms not only pray for the sinner but 
delete the sin. 5 We have seen (p. 59) how inevitably almsgiving 
tended to take the direction of the Church and its ministers ; they 
were always " the poor," and they were also the natural channel 
through which the liberality of the sinner might reach the poor, and 
thus whatever power to bind and to loose they asserted could easily he 
transmuted into current coin. We have also seen (I. p. 114) how the 
Manichsean Elect undertook to remit sins in exchange for bread, and 
similar abuses speedily crept into the Church as soon as the power of 
the keys was asserted. Isidor of Pelusium reproaches the priest 
Zozimus for absolving a perjurer in return for the present of a few 
fish, without requiring reparation made to the injured party, 6 and 

1 S. Cyprian, de Lapsis xxxv. 

2 S. Augustin. Enchirid. Cap. 70, 75, 77. S. Gaudentii Serm. xin. (Migne, 
XX. 938). 

3 S. Salviani Epist. ix. ; Adv. Avaritiam Lib. I. n. 10, 11, 12; Lib. II. n. 12. 

4 S. Augustin. Serm. Append. Serm. CCLVI. Cf. Serm. CCLVII. n. 4 (Migne, 
XXXIX. 2217, 2220). 

5 S. Eligii Noviom. Homil. in. (Migne, LXXXV1I. 606). 

6 S. Isidori Pelusiotse Lib. in. Epist. 260. 


such transactions, under the decent disguise of oblations, must have 
become habitual when Gregory the Great tells his bishops that they 
live on the sins of their flocks, that they eat the sins of their people, 
nor does he blame them for this, but for being silent when they ought 
to speak boldly in reprehension, and for growing rich on the iniquity 
of others. 1 Matters were managed more crudely and openly in the 
British Church of the period, for we are told of King Meurig who, 
after swearing peace with Cynetu on relics in presence of Bishop 
Oudoceus of Llandaff, caused him to be treacherously murdered, for 
which he was duly cursed and excommunicated by the bishops in a 
synod. He endured this for two years, after which he submitted and 
asked for penance, when Oudoceus assembled another synod, which 
imposed on the murderer the penance of ceding four vills to the 
church of LlandaiF, for the redemption of his soul and the repose of 
that of Cynetu. 2 The early Irish Church shows the same spirit in 
the regulations for homicide and fornication the sinner is to per 
form three years penance, after which he is to give money to the 
priest for the redemption of his soul, and a feast to the servants of 
God when they receive him to communion. 3 Among the Anglo- 
Saxons, the canons, half secular and half spiritual, of the council of 
Berghamstede, in 697, show the application of the principle in its 
crudest form ; the price of the peace of the Church is reckoned at 
fifty sols, and adultery is compounded for, according to the station of 
the offender, at fifty or a hundred. 4 

The evils arising from such a system could not fail to make them 
selves apparent. From a spiritual point of view they are pointed 
out by the council of Chalons, in 813, when it complains that men 
commit sins purposely, promising themselves impunity through alms 
giving ; it is true that alms extinguish sins (Ecclus. in. 33), but sins 
committed to be thus redeemed cannot be thus redeemed it is as 
though men were luring God to permit them to sin. 5 From a secular 
point of view Charlemagne arraigned the greed of his prelates when 

1 Gregor. PP. I. Homil. xvn. in Evangel, n. 8, 18. "Pensemus ergo cujus 
sit apud Deum criminis peccatoruni pretium manducare et nihil contra peccata 
prsedicando agere." 

2 Spelman Concil. I. 62. Of. Haddan and Stubbs, I. 125. 

3 Pcenit. Vinniai g 35 (Wasserschleben, p. 116). 

4 C. Berghamstedens. ann. 697, cap. 2, 5, 7 (Harduin. III. 1818-19). 

5 C. Cabillonens. II. ann. 813, cap. 36 (Ibid. IV. 1038). 


he asked them whether a man could be said to have renounced the 
world when he daily sought to increase his wealth by every art, 
tempting with the bliss of heaven, threatening with the pains of hell 
and, in the name of God or of some saint, despoiling the ignorant, 
both rich and poor, so that the heirs, deprived of their inheritance, 
are driven to robbery through want. 1 

These remonstrances were futile, and we have seen above (pp. 108, 
110) how fines continued to be levied as penances perhaps the most 
efficient mode of aiding the secular law in the suppression of crime, 
but sadly degrading to the spiritual claims of the Church. How 
mercilessly the system was sometimes enforced is manifested in a 
penance imposed, about 1065, by Alexander II. on a man who had 
unintentionally caused his brother s death, and had appealed to the 
Holy See from a penance imposed at home. His whole property is 
confiscated to " the poor/ though he is allowed during life the usu 
fruct of one-half, he is to spend a year in a monastery, to undergo 
seven years penance, to abstain from bearing arms and to fast on 
Fridays until death. 2 In 1080 the council of Lillebonne endeavored 
to effect a partial reform by prohibiting pecuniary exactions on volun 
tary penitents, but this was local and transitory, as may be inferred 
from the praise bestowed on St. Hugh of Grenoble, that although 
he was accustomed to impose prayer, fasting, and almsgiving on his 
penitents, the penance he enjoined, whether they were convicted or 
confessed voluntarily, was not pecuniary. 3 All prelates were not as 
conscientious as St. Hugh. Reconciliation continued to be sold in 
the twelfth century as openly as in Wales in the seventh, for when, 
in 1124, Count Pedro struck Count Alfonso before the portal of the 
church of Compostella, and, then repenting, came with his wife to 
Archbishop Gelmirez, confessed his sins and asked for penance, 
Gelmirez, we are told, imposed on him a fitting penance according to 
the canons, viz., that he should give a fief to God and Santiago, 
whereupon Count Pedro made over the monastery of Corespindo to 
the Church. 4 

There were rigorists who objected to this sale of the power of the 

1 Caroli Mag. Capit. II. ann. 811. cap. 5. 

2 Alex. PP. IF. Epist. 100 (Migne, CXLVL 1386). 

3 C. Juliobonens. ann. 1080, cap. 42 (Bessin, Concil. Rotomagensia, p. 71). 
Guigonis Vit. S. Hugonis Gratianop. cap. 5 (Migne, CLIII. 775-6). 

4 Historia Compostellana, Lib. in. cap. 69. 


keys. When Theobald, a rich usurer of Paris, was seized with 
pangs of conscience, and applied to Bishop Maurice de Sully for 
relief, the bishop, who was building Notre Dame and lost no oppor 
tunity of obtaining funds for the work, advised him to contribute to 
it his ill-gotten gains. He was not satisfied, and asked Peter Cantor 
for advice, who ordered him to make proclamation that he would 
refund to all from whom he had received usury. This was done, 
and after satisfying all claimants he still had a fortune left. "Now," 
said Peter/ 7 "you can give alms," and he further ordered that 
Theobald should have himself scourged through the streets of Paris, 
which was duly performed. 1 Men like Peter Cantor, however, were 
rare. When, in 1191, Coelestin III. ordered the bishops, when 
dealing with the Templars and their men, to impose satisfaction 
salutary to their souls and not pecuniary penalties, 2 it indicates that 
the current abuses were not small, since so powerful a body as the 
Templars had to be protected against them. A decree of Gregory IX., 
embodied in the canon law, shows how purely secular was this phase 
of penance ; blasphemers, he orders, shall do penance at the church- 
door with a halter around their necks, and in addition be fined from 
five to thirty sols according to their means the fines to be collected 
without mercy through the civil authorities. 3 

It became a recognized rule that penance consists of prayer, fast 
ing, and almsgiving ; of these fasting is suited for carnal sins and 
prayer for spiritual, but the efficacy of almsgiving is universal, and 
it is fitted for all cases. 4 Prayer is better than fasting, and alms 
giving is better than prayer ; it is a universal medicine for all sins. 5 

1 Csesar Heisterbacens. Dial. Dist. 11. cap. 33. Eleemosynary penances 
would have been much curtailed had all confessors enforced like Peter Cantor 
the rule that alms cannot be given from illicit gains 

Cum furto raptus, cum foenore Simonis actus, 
De sic possessis eleemosyna non fit ab ipsis. 

2 Lowenfeld Epistt. Pontiff. Roman, p. 244. Presumably such penances 
must have been for reserved cases, which could not be treated in the weekly 

3 Cap. 2 Extra Lib. V. Tit. xxvi. 

4 Constitt. Coventriens. ann. 1237 (Harduin. VII. 286). " Eleemosyna valet 
per omnia." 

5 Joh. Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. nr. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 123. "Eli- 


It is true that an admirable spiritual definition is given of alms 
giving. S. Ramon de Peflafort says that its first duty is giving our 
selves to God, 1 and it was extended to cover all works of beneficence 
and mercy, which were classified as eleemosynce corporales and eleemo- 
synce spirituales, 2 and in this way the Church rendered a service to 
humanity by inculcating that sin can be redeemed by services ren 
dered to fellow-creatures, but for the most part this teaching was 
rather theoretical than practical, and the more material view was 
enforced that well-directed liberality was a satisfactory atonement 
for sin. It is significant to observe how perfunctorily Astesanus 
passes over the works of charity and dilates on the giving of money. 3 
In fact, the admirable definition of almsgiving was practically in 
validated by the very thrifty distinction drawn between spontaneous 
charity and charity for the redemption of sin. To give from super 
fluous wealth to the necessitous poor is a duty ; its omission is a sin, 
and its performance is in no sense a work of satisfaction unless per 
formed at the command of the confessor, for what a man is bound 
to do is not an expiation. Thus charity to the really poor had no 
sacramental value, and it was pointed out that alms intended to re 
deem sin and its punishment could be most beneficially bestowed 
on those whose prayers would secure the speediest pardon. 4 The 
old restriction which prohibited almsgiving from illicit gains broke 
down, and though it was upheld by some authorities there were 

mosina completius habet vim satisfactionis quam oratio, oratio quam jejunia. 
. . . Et propter hoc elimosina magis indicitur ut universalis medicina pro 
peccatis quam alia." 

1 S. Rayrnundi Summse Lib. m. Tit. xxxiv. \ 4. 

2 The eleemosynce corporales are enumerated in the verse Poto, cibo, redimo, 
tego, colligo, condo," and the spirituales in " Consule, castiga, solare, remitte, 
fer, ora." Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxvi. Art. 2. Durand. de S. Porciano 
in IV. Sent. Dist. xv. Q. vii. \\ 5, 6. 

3 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxvi. Art. 6, Q. 2. 

4 Ibid, ubi sup. Vorrillong in IV. Sentt. Dist. xxn. S. Antonini Summse 
P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 20. 

Astesanus recurs to this (Tit. xxvi. Art. 8, Q. 1), " Eleemosyna habet effi- 
caciam ... ex ipso accipiente in quantum obligatur ad orandurn pro illo 
qui eleemosynam dat." 

When the Mendicant Orders arose, their writers naturally designated them 
as the most desirable recipients. Alex, de Ales Summag P. IV. Q. xxxin. 
Membr. 1, Art. 2. 


others who took the laxer view that the profits of usury and prosti 
tution could be accepted. 1 

It is true that with the relaxation of penance in the thirteenth 
century, pecuniary satisfaction must have fallen off in the annual 
confessional, but its most fruitful source continued. This was on the 
death-bed, and it became a truism among the doctors that there, when 
ordinary penances had become impossible, pecuniary ones must be 
imposed, and the lively contrition excited by the nearness of the 
judgment-seat of God rendered the sinner eager to purchase salvation 
by the distribution of the wealth that was slipping from his grasp. 
The customary instruction to confessors, down to modern times, has 
been to tell the dying penitent that if he were well he would be subject 
to so many years penance ; as he is sick it will not be imposed, but if 
he dies he must cause so much to be given as penance. 2 This became 
so customary that in some places it assumed the form of a recognized 
exaction; in 1222 Honorius III. upbraids the bishop and clergy of 
Lisbon for their greed in refusing the last sacrament unless the dying 
sinner would bequeath a portion usually a third of his property 
to the Church. 3 Usually the transaction was more decent, and it is 
well known how enormously the possessions of the Church were 
increased from this source. 4 

This mercantile spirit was the inevitable product of the system 
and explains the general consensus of opinion that of all works of 
satisfaction almsgiving is the most efficacious and the best adapted to 
all cases, 5 though the saintly S. Carlo Borromeo hesitates to subscribe 

1 Astesani Lib. v. Tit. xxvi. Art. 4, Q. 2. For the severer view see S. Bona- 
ventura in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. P. ii. Art. 2, Q. 1. Durand. de S. Porciano in 
IV. Sentt Dist. xv. Q. vii. I 7. 

2 Johann. de Deo Poenitentiale, Lib. I. cap. 2; Lib. V. cap. 24. Hostiens. 
Aurese Summse Lib. v. De Pcen. et Remiss. 45. Poenit. Civitatens. cap. 149 
(Wasserschleben, p. 705). S. Bonavent. Confessionale, cap. iv. Partic. iii. 
Synod. Nemausens. ann. 1284 (Harduin. VII. 911). Astesani Sumrnoe Lib. V. 
Tit. xv. S. Antonini Confessionale fol. 70. Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 
1066. Reginald! Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. vii. n. 41. 

3 Ripoll, Bull. Ord. Prsedic. VII. 5. 

4 See, for instance, the Historia Compostellana Lib. in. cap. 2, 3, 19, for the 
vast accessions to the property of the church of Compostella secured in this 
way by Archbishop Gelmirez. 

5 S. Antonini Summae P. in. Tit. xiv. Cap, 20 g 3. Sumrna Sylvestrina s. v. 


to this and says that almsgiving is not to be imposed upon the poor, 
nor fasting on those who live by their daily labor, but almsgiving is 
a proper corrective for sins of avarice and fasting for those of the 
flesh. 1 In the Koman Ritual the only restriction on the imposition 
of pecuniary penance is that the priest shall not retain the money 
himself, and this is presumably the established rule. 2 

An indirect form of pecuniary penance, financially attractive to 
the confessor, was the imposition of a certain number of masses, to 
be paid for by the penitent, when they might be celebrated by the 
priest who imposed them. Anciently there was no limit on the 
number of masses which a priest could perform. An old Penitential, 
it is true, specifies seven daily as the number for himself, but adds 
that on feast days, when there is a demand for them, he can officiate 
as often as he is asked, and thank God for the religious zeal of his 
people. 3 Subsequently there arose a tendency to curtail the privilege. 
An English regulation of about the year 1000 imposes a heavy 
penalty for celebrating more than thrice daily. 4 About 1065 Alex 
ander II. went further and expressed an opinion that it is wrong to 
celebrate more than once a day for profit, though an additional mass 
for the dead is allowable if needed. 5 Towards the close of the twelfth 
century Peter Cantor deplores the difficulty of enforcing the rule of 
a single daily mass and three on Christmas ; the priests, eager for the 
oblations, treated every day like Christmas, and would not submit to 

Satisfactio 8. Aurea Armilla s. v. Satisfactio n. 3. La Croix Theol. Moral. 
Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1242 ; Cf. n. 1267. 

This moral was taught in popular legends as well as in the theologies. Thus 
Lippomano relates how a lady, whose daughter had been dishonored by the 
Emperor Zeno, frequented the church of the Virgin and besieged her with 
prayers for revenge. At length the Virgin appeared to her and said that she 
had several times proposed to avenge her, but had found it impossible in conse 
quence of the liberal almsgiving of Zeno. Giulio Folco, EfFetti mirabili de la 
Limosina, p. 11 (Roma, 1586). 

1 S. Carol! Borrom. Instruct. Ed. 1676, pp. 68-9. Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. 
xv. \ 14. 

2 Eitualis Roman. Tit. in. cap. 1. Reuter, Neoconfessarius instructus, 
n. 16. 

3 Poanit. Vindobonens. a, cap. 45 (Wasserschleben, p. 420). 

4 Law of the Northumbrian Priests n. 18 (Thorpe, II. 293). 

5 Alex. PP. II. Epist. cxxxn (Migne, CXLVI. 1410). 


the limitation. 1 Even a century later Aquinas, in restricting the 
layman to one communion a day, says that the priest is a public 
character, and as such can celebrate repeatedly if necessary. 2 When 
the confessor thus could impose a number of masses as penance, cele 
brate them himself and make the penitent pay for them, the confes 
sional evidently was a source of profit liable to be industriously 
exploited. How the opportunity could be improved by a speculative 
priest is exhibited in a story told by Csesarius of Heisterbach con 
cerning Einhardt, pastor of Soest. A parishioner in his lenten 
confession admitted incontinence with his wife during that holy time, 
and was required to pay eighteen deniers for as many masses with 
which to wash out his sin. Then came another who in response to 
the interrogatory asserted that he had preserved the strictest conti 
nence ; he was told that he had committed a mortal sin in neglecting 
to beget a child, and was required to pay the same amount for masses 
wherewith to placate God. The men were obliged to sell their har 
vests in order to raise the money ; chancing to meet on the market 
place they compared notes and complained to the dean and canons of 
St. Patroclus, but to no purpose save exposing Einhardt, for Csesarius 
speaks of him as still priest of Soest. 3 

Scandals such as this were not calculated to render popular the 
confession which the Church was so earnestly inculcating on the 
faithful, and efforts \vere made to check the practice of enjoining 
masses to be celebrated by the confessor efforts of which the con 
stant repetition shows how slackly they were obeyed. The earliest 
instance I have met of this is a canon of the council of York, in 
1195, which positively prohibits priests from ordering through greed 
their lay penitents to have masses celebrated. 4 Almost contemporary 
with this was a decree of Eudes of Paris that no one should celebrate 
a mass prescribed by himself, and, in 1200, the council of London 
says that to suppress priestly cupidity it forbids the imposition of 
masses on all penitents who are not themselves priests. 5 It is un 
necessary to do more than refer to the repeated injunctions of this 

1 P. Cantor. Verb. Abbrev. cap. 27, 28. 

2 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xm. Q. ii. Art. 2 ad 1. 

3 Caesar. Heisterbac. Dial. Dist. in. cap. 40. 

1 C. Eboracens. ann. 1195, cap. 3 (Harduin. VI. n. 1931). 
5 Odonis Paris. Constitt. cap. 6 ; C. Londiniens. ann. 1200, cap. 4 (Harduin. 
VI. n. 1931, 1941). 


kind which during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries show how 
ineradicable was the abuse. 1 To evade this continued pressure, with 
out surrendering the gains, there arose a custom under which neigh 
boring priests would enter into a kind of partnership and agree to 
send their respective penitents to each other for the celebration of 
the masses which they would enjoin, and this traffic in the sacrament 
of the altar was as difficult to repress as the practice for which it was 
a substitute. 2 A still more ingenious method of eluding the prohibi 
tion was to enjoin on the penitent that he should have a certain num 
ber of Epistles read, for which of course he would have to pay, 
although they had not the propitiatory power of the mass. 3 

Finally, however, the Church seems to have yielded and tacitly 
permitted this speculation in the confessional. Even S. Carlo Bor- 
rorneo only warns the priest that if he enjoins masses as penance, 
when he celebrates them he must not apply them to himself or to his 
church or monastery, which assumes that the confessor is expected to 
sing the masses which he himself prescribes, and the only thing to 
guard against is that he shall not defraud the penitent of the benefit 
paid for. 4 Henriquez is more rigid and says that the confessor ought 
not to celebrate the masses which he orders lest he be suspected of 
greed. 5 Occasionally still there is a voice raised against the practice. 
The council of Cologne, in 1860, and that of Utrecht, in 1865, for 
bade the confessor from imposing as penance the price of masses to 

1 Constitt. R. Poore Saresberiens. ann. 1217, cap. 30 (Harduin. VIII. 97). 
C. Anglican, sine anno (Ibid. 307). Constitt. Waltheri Dunelmens. ann. 1255 
(Ibid. 492). 0. Claromont. ann. 1268, cap. 5 (Ibid. 599). Constitt. S. Edm. 
Cantuar. circa 1236, cap. 17 (Ibid. 270). C. Wigorniens. ann. 1240, cap. 17 
(Ibid. 336). Johann. de Deo Poenitentiale, Lib. V. cap. 22. Statut. Eccles. 
Cenomanens. ann. 1247 (Martene Ampl. Collect. VII. 1380). Statut. Synod. 
Remens. Loc. n. Prsecept. iv. (Gousset, Actes etc. II. 540). C. Suessionens. ann. 
1405, cap. 43 (Ibid. 631). Statut. Joan. Nannetens. ann. 1389, cap. 12 (Martene 
Thesaur. IV. 985). 

2 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss. $ 54. C. Mogunt. ann- 
1281, cap. 8 (Hartzheim III. 665). C. Coloniens. ann. 1280, cap. 8 (Harduin. 
VII. 828). Statut. Leodiens. ann 1287, cap. iv. n. 22 (Hartzheim III. 688). 
Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 127. Astesani 
Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. 

8 Weigel Claviculse Indulgentialis cap. 7. 

4 S. Carol. Borromei Instruct, p. 69. 

5 Henriquez Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. cap. xxi. n. 8. 



be celebrated or from receiving it if tendered, the reason given being 
the prevention of scandal and of the suspicion of filthy gain. 1 

The chief interest in this review of the penitential system thus 
far lies in the evidence which it affords of the influence exercised 
upon the Church by its converts, in the revolution effected by the 
Barbarian overthrow of the Roman Empire and during the painful 
efforts of society to reconstruct itself and assimilate the new ele 
ments thus introduced. We have still to investigate the further 
changes which followed on the development of the new theology in 
the twelfth century, but, before abandoning the darker period of 
the middle ages, we must pause for a moment to glance at some 
methods of mitigating the harsh severity of the ancient penance, 
which opened to the Church a still larger field for the profitable 
employment of the power of the keys than those which we have 
just examined. 

1 C. Coloniens. ann. 1860, Tit. II. cap. 14; Synod. Ultraject. aim. 1865, Tit. 
iv. cap. 8 (Coll. Lacens. V. 351, 831). 

II. 10 



THE extreme harshness of the penance provided in the Peniten- 
tials was by no means without mitigation. Allusion has been made 
above (I. p. 26) to the discretion allowed to bishops in the early 
Church to modify and temper the penalty as might seem best for 
the benefit of the penitent. A canon of St. Basil the Great says 
that the periods prescribed are not intended to be applied to every 
case, but are to be varied at the discretion of the priest, for God 
looks to the sorrow and not to the measure of time, and to abstinence 
from sin rather than to abstinence from food; and this dictum, 
attributed to St. Jerome, was carried through the collections of 
canons into Gratian. 1 St. Isidor of Seville echoes this, and Alcuin 
cordially agrees with him. 2 In this spirit many of the Penitentials 
and Ordines warn the confessor to bear in mind the age, sex, con 
dition and station of each penitent, as well as to search his heart 
deeply, and then to impose such penance as judgment may dictate. 3 
In special canons, also, discretion is frequently given to modify the 
penance prescribed. 4 Indeed, the council of Worms, in 868, espe 
cially orders that diligent investigation be made into each case and 

1 S. Basil. Epist. ad Amphiloch. cap. 2. Ps. Alcuini de Eccles. Officiis cap. 
13. C. Metens. ann. 859, cap. 10. Burchardi Deer. xix. 31. I von. Deer. xv. 
49. P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. IV. Dist. xx. $ 3. Gratian. cap. 86 Caus. xxxrn. 
Q. iii. Dist. 1. 

2 S. Isidor. Hispalens. de Eccles. Officiis Lib. n. cap. xvii. n. 2, 7. Alcuini 
de Virtutibus et Vitiis cap. 13. 

3 Poenit. Bedse cap. 1 ; Poanit. Vindobonens. a, Judicium Patrum ; Pcenit. 
Bigotian. Prolog. ; Poanit. Cummeani Prolog. ; Pcenit. XXXV. Capit. cap. 20 
(Wasserschleben, pp. 220, 418, 441, 462, 517). Garofali Ord. ad Dandam 
Pcenitentiani p. 12. Morin. de Pcenit. Append, p. 25. Pez Thesaur. Anecd. 
II. n. 613, 631. Reginon. de Eccles. Discipl. Lib. I. cap. 300. 

4 Pcenit. Beda3 cap. viii. \ 8 ; Pcenit. Ps. Ecberti Lib. I. cap. 1, 2, 8 etc. 
(Wasserschleben, 229, 323-5). Benecl. Levitse Capitul. Lib. v. cap. 132; Lib. 
VI. cap. 5; Lib. vir. cap. 6, 20, 21, 30, 36. Isaac. Lingonens. Capit. Tit. I. cap. 
26, 27, 28, 29, 30 etc. 


careful consideration be given to the degree of the sinner s repent 
ance, after which the penance is to be imposed according to the judg 
ment of the priest, while, in 895, the council of Tribur leaves to his 
discretion all cases not specially provided for. 1 

Naturally in time this discretional power, with its enormous ad 
vantages to the priest, virtually superseded the prescriptions of the 
Penitentials, although they were still held to be in force. In 1066, 
Alexander II. writes to the Bishop of Auvergne that the canons are 
to be strictly observed, but mercy is not to be denied to the repent 
ant, and the pastor is rather to observe the degree of contrition than 
the measure of time. 2 A formula of Bobbio, of probably the same 
period, is even more decisive, for, after enumerating the canonical 
penances for the several sins, it proceeds to tell the confessor that he 
can impose what penance he thinks best, because it rests wholly in 
his discretion. 3 It need not surprise us, therefore, by the middle of 

1 C. Wormatiens. arm. 868, cap. 25 ; C. Triburiens. ann. 895, cap. 34, 37 
(Harduin. V. 741 ; VI. I. 450-1). 

2 Lowenfeld Epistt. Pontiff. Roman, p. 56." Quse in canonibus determinata 
est pcenitentia est ommino observanda. Sed misericordise gratia, quge nulla 
lege concluditur, nullo temporis spacio cohercitur, non est pie poenitentibus 
deneganda. Pastoralis itaque discretionis est uniuscuj usque contrictionem 
cordis et doloris affectum magis quam temporis spatium attendere, et pro 
meritis operum fructusque poenitentiee misericordia3 oleum infundere." 

Another epistle of Alexander II. (Epist. 141 Migne, CXLVI. 1414) affords 
an illustration of the shrewdness with which the Holy See assumed to itself 
the control of all the powers of the Church. Replying to an inquiry from 
Odo, Archbishop of Treves, Alexander graciously, in view of the dignity of 
his see, which approaches that of Rome, grants him greater power of augment 
ing and diminishing penance than is possessed by any other prelate of Gaul 
or Germany thus implying that the authority inherent in his office was a 
delegated power from the Apostolic See. The groundlessness of the claim is 
seen in an epistle of Gregory VII. (Regest. I. 30) to the Archbishop of Salzburg^ 
in 1073, requesting him to use his power of mercy in favor of a penitent who 
had come to Rome for a diminution of his penance, and who is thus referred 
back to his prelate. 

It was a frequent custom for bishops, when imposing years of pilgrimage, to 
furnish the penitent with letters, in which all bishops to whom they were pre 
sented were authorized to diminish it on evidence of contrition and amend 
ment. See Lanfranci Epist. 9, and the case referred to above (p. 120). 

3 Muratori Antiq. Ital. Diss. LXVIII. (T. XIV. p. 58). "Confessio peracta 
imponat ei sacerdos jejunium secundurn quod melius fuerat, quia ipsius arbitrio 
consistit modus poenitentige." 


the twelfth century, to find Cardinal Pnllus making no reference to 
the penitential canons, but instructing the priest to consider carefully 
what penance he shall impose and prudently adapt it to the case. 1 
Yet, as has been seen by various examples cited above, thus far this 
arbitrary discretion did not greatly modify the severity of the pen 
ances imposed ; but the profound change came, as will appear here 
after, from the introduction of the sacramental theory and voluntary 

In one respect, at least, the discretion thus permitted to the priest 
worked inevitable evil. Even in the early Church the power of 
admitting to or refusing reconciliation had a speculative value, recog 
nized and exploited by unworthy prelates. The Apostolic Constitu 
tions allude to bishops of easy conscience who for filthy gain permit 
sinners to remain in the Church, and this in a manner to show that 
such scandals were by no means unknown. 2 Gregory the Great 
plainly tells some of his bishops that they sell spiritual graces and 
accumulate lucre from the sins of others. 3 This was not an abuse 
likely to diminish in the confusion of the succeeding centuries, and 
it must have been indeed notorious when, in 787, the seventh Gen 
eral Council considered it to require public denunciation. 4 The great 
council of Paris, in 829, inveighed bitterly against the greed and 
avarice of the priesthood, who seized all opportunities of getting 
money, and it applied the terrible invective of Ezekiel to those who 
for gain or favor or fear misused their power in the imposition of 
penance. 5 Even in public penance, over which they had no direct 
jurisdiction, they could obtain bribes by not reporting sinners to 
their bishops, or by the abuse of their function of recommending 
them for reconciliation, and that this was by no means unknown is 
seen by the stern prohibition uttered, in 852, by Hincmar, which 
was frequently repeated and finally embodied in the canon law. 6 
The bishops were equally liable to these animadversions, for the 

1 R. Pulli Sentt. Lib. vi. cap. 52. 2 Constitt. Apostol. Lib. n. cap. 9. 

3 Gregor. PP. I. Houiil. xvn. in Evangel, n. 13. 

4 C. Nicsen. II. ann. 787, cap. 4 (Harduin. IV. 487). 

5 C. Parisiens. ann. 829, Lib. I. cap. 13, 32 (Ibid. 1305,1317). 

6 Hincmari Capit. cap. 13. C. Turonens. ann. 1163, cap. 7 (Harduin. VI- 
II. 1601). Compilat. I. Lib. V. Tit. ii. cap. 13. Cap. 14 Extra Lib. v. Tit. iii. 
Ivo of Chartres gives it (Deer. XV. 112), attributing it to Alexander I. Cf. 
Jaffe, Regesta, p. 919. 


council of the Aquitanian prelates, held at Limoges in 1032, pro 
nounced sentence of suspension, during the pleasure of their fellow- 
bishops, on all who, for love or money, should not penance those 
deserving it, or should grant absolution improperly. 1 In 1050 the 
council of Rouen contented itself with threatening with deposition 
the priests who through avarice increased or diminished penances. 2 
It was well thus to express detestation of such crimes, but they were 
from their very nature secure from detection, and could be perpe 
trated with virtual immunity, so that it was not to be expected that 
they would diminish when the power of the keys became defined 
and established. Alain de Lille speaks of them as though their 
existence everywhere was universally recognized, 8 and Csesarius of 
Heisterbach talks of priests who would sell absolution for a chicken 
or a pint of wine. 4 Even when there was not such shameless bar 
gain and sale, it seems to have been understood that liberality in the 
matter of fees would secure easy penance, for Cardinal Henry of 
Susa describes the way in which some confessors would eye the purse 
of the penitent and the motion of his hand, and grade their mercy 
accordingly such mercy, he says, is not spiritual but bursal. 5 Even 
St. Bonaventura feels it necessary to warn his Franciscan brethren 
that they must not be takers of gifts or treat the rich and the poor 
differently. 6 With the spread of indulgences and the lowering of 
their price there would naturally be less temptation to both penitent 
and confessor, but, in 1441, Dr. Weigel speaks of such transactions 
being still frequent. 7 Even, in 1690, Alexander VIII. had to con 
demn a proposition which asserted that the parish priests could 
reasonably suspect confessors of the Mendicant Orders of imposing 
trivial penance for gain, and the Jesuit Viva, in defending his order, 
retorts that the parish priests are equally open to the suspicion of 
making such illicit profits. 8 

1 C. Lemovicens. ann. 1032 Sess. n. (Harduin. VI. I. 886). 

2 C. Rotomagens. ann. 1050, cap. 18 (Ibid. 1016). 

3 Alani de Insulis Sentt. cap. 27; Lib. Poenitential. (Migne, CCX. 246, 

4 Caesar. Heisterbac. Dial. Dist. nr. cap. 41. 

5 Hostiens. Aureae Summae Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss. 53. 

6 S. Bonaventurse Confessionale, Cap. I. Partic. 6. 

7 Weigel Claviculse Indulgentialis cap. 7. 

8 Viva in Prop. xxi. Alexandri PP. VIII. 


A further relief from the harshness of the penitential canons was 
found in the system of commutations, which early established itself. 
These were of various kinds. For laymen they usually consisted of 
pecuniary redemptions ; for clerics and monks, of religious exercises 
and the discipline, but there seems to have been no absolute rule, and 
the variations in the prescriptions given are so numerous that it 
would be idle to enumerate them all. 1 Some ancient Irish canons 
tell us that a year s penance can be redeemed by spending three days 
in the tomb of a holy dead man, without food, drink or sleep, but 
with psalmody and canonical prayer, or by twelve triduance, or by a 
hundred days on bread and water, with prayer every hour. 2 The 
Penitential of Theodore specifies twelve triduance as the redemption 
for a year, and adds that in the case of sickness, rendering the peni 
tent unable to fast, the price of a male or female slave will serve, or 
the surrender of half his possessions, and, if he has defrauded any 
one, making restitution fourfold. 3 If in these earlier regulations 
there is any scruple manifested as to redeeming penance with cash 
it was speedily overcome, for this was inevitable in the state of 
society for which the Penitentials were framed. It was already 
a recognized rule in the Church that, when bodily infirmity inter 
fered with fasting, the latter could be commuted with almsgiving, 4 
and this principle coincided with the ancestral customs of the new 
converts. Among the Barbarians personal punishments for freemen 
were unknown to the laws ; the rude codes which served their pur 
poses were merely lists of payments for all manner of crimes, to 

1 The curious student who desires to investigate these details will find ample 
materials in Wasserschleben s Bussordnungen, pp. 229-30, 244, 246, 276-8 ? 303, 
340-1, 348, 362, 420, 462, 495, 498, 547, 671-3. Also Halitgari Lib. Poenit. 
(Canisii et Basnage II. n. 129); Poenitent. Roman. Tit. ix. cap. 25, 31 (Tarra- 
cone, 1582); Muratori Antiq. Ital. Diss. Lxvur. (T. XIV. pp. 31, 41); C. Tri- 
buriens. ann. 895, cap. 54-58 (Hartzheim I. 407). 

2 Canones Hibernienses II. cap. 3, 6, 11 (Wasserschleben, pp. 139, 140). 
The biduana and triduana were two and three days fast of a rigid character, 

sometimes sharpened by the discipline, of which a dozen blows, more or less, 
were given. Pcenit. Ecberti, cap. 15 ; Po3nit. Ps. Bedae cap. 43 (Wasserschleben, 
pp. 246, 277). 

3 Poenit. Theodori Lib. I. cap. vii. \ 5 (Ibid. p. 191). Collect. Antiq. Canon. 
Poenit. (Martene Thesaur. IV. 55). 

4 Joh. Cassiani Collat. xx. cap. 8. 


satisfy the claims of the injured party. To men bred in such con 
ceptions, the fasts and disabilities imposed by the canons were simply 
punishments, and punishments of a most humiliating character, to 
which they could scarce be expected to submit at the bidding of a 
priest. That the principle of the wer-gild or blood-money should be 
applied to penance was therefore natural, nor can we be surprised 
that the Church should have acquiesced when it was, if not the sole, 
at least the customary recipient of the commutation. We have seen 
that penitential almsgiving w T as commonly construed to mean pay 
ments to the priests or to the Church, and it was natural that the 
same definition should be given to commutation. Thus where a 
year s penance is allowed to be redeemed with twenty-six sols, the 
direction is to give it to the Church or to the poor, 1 and we cannot 
doubt which alternative would be more likely followed. The system, 
therefore, spread and flourished to the mutual satisfaction of all 

A Penitential of the ninth or tenth century introduces its list of 
commutations with an apology setting forth that in these times we 
are unable to persuade penitents to undergo the long terms prescribed 
in the canons, wherefore they should be induced to wash out their 
sins by other pious works prayers and psalmody and vigils and 
almsgiving and lamentations, standing at the cross, often bending the 
knee, showing hospitality to the poor and to pilgrims and fasting. 2 
This would seem applicable less to the laity than to the clergy, for 
whom a system of commutation, which had wide currency under the 
name of St. Boniface, sets forth how seven years penance can be dis 
patched in one year. A triduana satisfies for thirty days ; or, in 
psalmody, a hundred and twenty psalters for twelve months, or fifty 
psalms and five Paternosters for a single day, or a psalter and fifteen 
Paters for three days ; or, in lieu of psalmody, a day can be commuted 
for a hundred prostrations in the oratory, with a miserere and dimitte 
delida mea. Celebrating a mass redeems twelve days, ten masses, 
four months, twenty masses, nine months, thirty masses, twelve 

1 Pcenit. Ps. Bedse cap. V. 2 (Wasserschleben, 262). Pcenit. Ecberti cap. 
vii. | 4 (Ibid. 238). Burchardi Deer. xix. 75. Of. Reginon. de Eccles. Dis- 
cipl. Lib. i. cap. 299. 

2 Poeuit. Ps. Theodori, De Poenitentiarum Diversitate (Wasserschleben, 
p. 621). 


months. 1 Evidently for a priest, with an unlimited faculty of 
celebrating mass, the penitential canons had few terrors. Laymen 
also could have the benefit of this by hiring a priest to celebrate for 
them, an arrangement which could not fail to be constantly utilized, 
in view of its advantage to both classes, 2 

From the accumulated commutations and redemptions, spiritual 
and financial, a selection was made which became generally accepted. 
As set forth by Regino of Pruhm in his authoritative compilation, 
and substantially adopted by Burchard of Worms, it states that if 
the penitent is unable to fast he can, if rich, buy off seven weeks for 
twenty sols, if less wealthy, for ten sols, if very poor, for three sols, 
the money to be used for the redemption of captives or to be given 
to the poor or to the priest. Or a month can be commuted with 1200 
psalms recited on the knees, or 1680 otherwise, and a week for 300 
psalms. He who does not know the psalms and cannot fast can for 
twenty-six sols redeem a year to be spent on bread and water, but he 
must fast on Wednesdays till noon and on Fridays till vespers, and 
every three weeks weigh what he eats and give half as much in alms. 
The price of a day is one denier, or the whole psalter in summer ; 
during the rest of the year fifty psalms, though some substitute twelve 
stripes. For a three years 7 penance the redemption for the first year 
is twenty-six sols given in charity, for the second twenty, for the 
third eighteen, or sixty-four in all. Then folloAv the clerical com 
mutations, nearly the same as those of St. Boniface. 3 

1 Poenit. Ecberti cap. 16 (Ibid. p. 246). Bonifacius de Pcenit. (Migne, 
LXXXIX. 887). 

Another scheme of commutation is as follows : 

Twelve triduance with three whole psalters and three hundred psalms com 
mute a year s penance. 

Twenty-four biduance with three psalters commute a year s penance. 

Seventy -six psalms, with a venia (100 genuflections) at night, and 300 palmatce 
commute a biduana. 

One hundred psalms and a venia, with 300 palmatce, commute a triduana. 

One hundred and twenty special masses, with three psalters and 300 palmatce 
commute 100 gold sols in alms. Poenit. Bedae cap. 10 (Wasserschleben, p. 229). 

2 MS. Bobbiens. (Muratori Antiq. Ital. Diss. LXVIII.; T. XIV. p. 42). 
Burchard, however (Deer. xix. 21), only grants a single day s remission for a 
mass, and requires the penitent to be present to offer the bread and wine to the 
priest and to join in the prayers. 

3 Eeginon. de Eccles. Discipl. Lib. n. cap. 438-46. Of. Poenit. Ecberti cap. 


It is evident from these formulas that, while the poorer clergy 
reduced their penances by spiritual exercises or macerations, the 
laity and the richer prelates who could afford it escaped by the pay 
ment of money. This is well exhibited by St. Peter Damiani, who 
tells us that in the monasteries a year s penance was redeemable with 
a thousand stripes, while in the severer order of Camaldoli three 
thousand, with psalmody, were required; 1 but when, in 1259, he 
reconciled the rebellious Ambrosian Church to Rome, besides the 
pilgrimages alluded to above, Archbishop Guido assumed a hundred 
years of penance, redeemable at a certain sum of money per year, 
and to the lower ranks of the clergy were assigned penances of five 
or seven years, to be settled with definite portions of almsgiving and 
psalmody. 2 A converse process to this was adopted by the synod of 
Lillebonne, in 1080, which illustrates the assimilation of secular and 

xiii. Burchard. Deer. xix. 11-25, where it is credited to the Pcenitentiale 

An older formula, which has less of the odor of lucre about it, gives the fol 
lowing redemption for a seven years penance. For the first year on bread 
and water, twelve biduance ; for the second, twelve times fifty psalms sung on 
the knees ; for the third year, after a biduana, let him, on a high festival, sing 
the psalter standing motionless ; for the fourth year, three hundred blows with 
rods on the bare skin ; for the fifth, let him weigh what he eats and give as 
much in alms ; for the sixth, let him redeem himself at his wer-gild and give 
it to the injured party or his heirs; for the seventh, let him abandon evil and 
do good. He who cannot or will not do this, let him perform what the Poeni- 
tential directs. Prenit. Bedse, cap. 10 (Wasserschleben, 229-30). 

This seems to mix lay and clerical penance together, but its application to 
the laity is rendered clear by a final remark that he who cannot recite the 
psalms can hire a holy man to do it for him, so that the psalmody is reduced 
to terms of current coin. So also in Pcenit. Cummeani (Ibid. p. 463). 

1 S. Petri Damiani Lib. vi. Epist. 27 ; Ejusd. Vit. SS. Eodulphi et Dominici 
cap. 8. He proceeds to show that, as a thousand blows occupy the time required 
for singing ten psalms, and as the psalter contains a hundred and fifty psalms, 
it is equivalent to five years penance. S. Dominicus Loricatus would often 
prescribe for himself a hundred years of penance and redeem it in this man 
ner. Elsewhere he tells us (Opusc. 50, cap. 14) that he knew of a widow 
who had redeemed a hundred years of penance with twenty psalters, while 
undergoing the discipline. 

2 S. Petri Damiani Opusc. V. (Migne, CXLV. 97-8). If the Archbishop s 
penance was redeemed upon the basis stated by Ivo of Chartres (Deer. xv. 
205), of a hundred sols per annum, it amounted to the enormous sum of 10,000 
sols or 500 pounds. 


spiritual affairs. A long list of crimes is given, including infractions 
of most of the Decalogue, for which the criminal is required to com 
pound by payments to the bishop, but it is added that if he will 
come forward and confess, fitting penance will be imposed and no 
money be exacted. 1 

The demoralization inseparable from this system of purchasing 
salvation elicited at least one protest. In 747 the council of Clovesho 
denounced the whole principle of commutations as a new invention 
of the worst import, as they were generally and popularly considered 
to be a licence to sin with impunity. Almsgiving and psalmody 
and genuflections, it says, are valuable adjuvants to penance but not 
substitutes. It is allowable for sinners to ask holy priests to pray 
for them, but if anything is given or promised for this it only 
adds sin to sin. No matter what works of the kind are assumed, 
the penance enjoined by the canons must be performed, for with 
out it there is no remission of sin. The people must be made 
to understand this, for the spread of the pernicious doctrine was 
recently shown in the case of a wealthy man seeking early recon 
ciliation for a great crime, who affirmed in his letters that it had 
been so far expiated, by almsgiving and the fasting and psalmody of 
others, that if he should live for three hundred years he had satis 
fied for the whole of them in advance, though personally he had 
fasted little if any. If this can be, the council pertinently asks, 
why did Christ say that it is difficult for the rich man to enter the 
kingdom of heaven ? 2 This protest was unheeded ; the custom de 
veloped, as was inevitable, when it was so satisfactory to both parties 
to the transaction, and the mercantile spirit which engendered it and 
was engendered by it is visible in the warning to bishops not be too 
eager for money at ordination or at consecration, or at penance, or in 
any wise to gain wealth unjustly, 3 while Bishop Ahyto of Bale con 
tents himself with cautioning his priests that the money which they 
gain in this manner should not make them proud, but rather fearful 
of offending. 4 

In individual cases it is not always easy to distinguish between 

1 Synod. Juliobonens. ann. 1080, cap. 13 (Harduin. VI. I. 1600). 

2 C. Cloveshoviens. ann. 747, cap. 26, 27 (Harduin. III. 1958-60). 

3 Institutes of Policy, x. (Thorpe, II. 317). 

* Ahytonis Capitulare cap. 20 (D Achery, I. 585). 


pecuniary penance imposed and pecuniary redemption of penance, as 
the difference between them was sometimes rather formal than actual, 
and the result was the same, though they sprang from different prin 
ciples. Thus in the last chapter we have seen how Oudaceus, Bishop 
of Llandaff, secured from King Meurig four vills in the guise of 
penance. Soon afterwards the thrifty bishop obtained other conces 
sions as a redemption, when King Morgan swore peace with his 
uncle Fioc, under the condition that if one should slay the other he 
should not compound for the murder but should spend his life in 
pilgrimage. Morgan killed Fioc and applied to Oudaceus for par 
don ; a synod was assembled which imposed some penance and 
allowed Morgan to redeem the pilgrimage by ceding certain rights 
to the see of Llandaff. Then King Gwaednecth killed his brother 
Merchion, for which Oudaceus excommunicated him. After enduring 
it for a year he applied for reconciliation, and was sent in penance on 
a year s pilgrimage to Britanny. He returned before the year was out 
and redeemed the nnexpired time with four vills granted to the see. 1 
We see from this that there were redemptions outside of the regu 
lar tariffs formulated in the Penitentials, for the Church by no means 
confined itself to fixed limits. The wide range which redemptions 
might take is illustrated by the canons framed under the influence of 
St. Dunstan towards the end of the tenth century. Penances, we are 
told, are devised in various ways and a man may redeem much with 
alms. Rich men can raise a church to the glory of God and endow 
it with lands so that holy men can there minister to God and pray 
for them ; or they can build bridges, help the poor, manumit slaves, 
and seek intercession with masses, while poorer men can visit often 
the churches with alms, and all should mortify the flesh and chastise 
the spirit. 2 This method of redemption had the high sanction of 
papal authority, for in 1065 we hear of Alexander II. authorizing 
the consecration of a monastery built by Robert Guiscard, at com 
mand of Nicholas II., for the remission of his numerous crimes, and 
in 1137, at the bidding of Innocent II., the Cistercian abbey of Cer- 

1 Spelman Concil. I. 63. 

2 Canons under King Edgar: Of Penitents, chap. 14, 16 (Thorpe, II. 283-5). 
At the same time these canons give a tariff of redemptions one penny or 

220 psalms for a day s fast ; a year s fast with thirty shillings ; a seven years 
fast can be dispatched in a year by daily singing the psalter twice, with fifty 
psalms at evening (Ibid. Chap. 18, 19, pp. 285, 287). 


camps was founded by Count Hugues de Camp-d Avene in partial 
commutation of the penance incurred for the burning of the town of 
St. Biquier. 1 

So thoroughly had this system of redemptions been established by 
the eleventh century that St. Peter Damiani complains that no lay 
man would endure to fast three days in the week, and that either 
redemptions must be abolished or the penitential canons be cast aside 
as obsolete. 2 Yet Damiani himself shows how the two were made 
to harmonize, when he speaks of the lands of the Church acquired 
through release from penance proportioned to their value. 3 The 
learned and pious Muratori describes how this was done. When the 
noble, perhaps stretched on a sick bed, would seek to discharge his 
conscience of the accumulated crimes of years, after his confession 
was finished the priest would produce the canons and his ink-horn 
and proceed to foot up the years of penance incurred. The aggre 
gate would be appalling, and the redemption at the current rate would 
represent an amount far beyond the means of the penitent to com 
mand on the spot, for ready money was scarce in those times. A 
transaction would be suggested by which an equivalent in lands 
would be accepted by the church or abbey, perhaps leaving to the 
owner the usufruct during life, and both parties would be satisfied 
with the bargain. 4 Perhaps even, if the land ceded were especially 

1 Lowenfeld, Epistt. Pontiff. Roman, p. 51. Gousset, Actes etc., II. 221. 

2 S. Petri Damiani Lib. I. Epist. 15. 

3 Ibid. Lib. iv. Epist. 12. Cf. Lib. v. Epist. 8. 

* Muratori Antiq. Ital. Diss. LXVIII. (T. XIV. pp. 65-7). A significant pre 
amble to a charter granted in 1032 to the Monastery of Casa Aurea recites 
" Quia cum quadam die cogitare cceperimus qualiter impii et peccatores qui 
peccata sua redimere negligunt in ilia posna perpetua cum Diabolo damna- 
buntur; et qualiter justi et electi Dei in ilia seterna beatitudine cum Domino 
gloriabuntur, subiter respexit nosdivina pietas et compunctum est cor nostrum 
et cum timore et aestuatione cordis ccepimus anxie quserere consilium a sacer- 
dotibus et religiosis viris qualiter peccata nostra redimere et iram aeterni judicis 
evadere possemus. Et consilio accepto quod nihil sit melius aliud inter elee- 
mosynarum virtutes quam si de propriis rebus et substantiis nostris in monas- 
terio dederimus et crepimus quserere intra nosmetipsos quern aptum locum 
invenire possemus ; et subito Deo concedente invenimus aptum locum intra 
territorium Teatinum in locum qui norninatur Olegato," etc. Chron. Casau- 
riens. ann. 1032 (Muratori S. R. I. T. II. P. II. p. 994). 

It is easy to comprehend from this the jealousy between the secular and 
monastic confessors. 


desirable, the sins of the grantor s parents or children or kindred 
would be thrown in. 1 Thus we can understand the formula "pro 
remissione peccatorum meorum," which occurs in so many grants of 
lands to the Church. 2 Sometimes the grantor was more cautious, 
and retained not only the usufruct of the property during life, but 
also the power of revoking the gift at any time before death. 3 The 

1 A specimen of this, in 1065, is given in the Chron. Casauriens. ann. 1065 
( Ibid. p. 1001). A still more comprehensive inclusion of souls to be benefited 
is found in a charter of the Knight Adelelm, about 975, granting to the Abbey 
of Fleury a manor and church in the diocese of Sens " pro remedio animse 
mese et senioris mei inclyti Francorum ducis Hugonis, quin et progenitore 
meo Koberto et genetrice mea nomine Berta, et pro Burchardo et aliis parent! - 
bus meis." Migne, CXXXVI. 1303. 

Even more general in its efficacy was the rebuilding and endowing of the 
church of St. Eulalia in 975 by Pedro L, Bishop of Compostella "tarn pro 
remissione peccatorum genitorum meorum, fratrum cum sacerdotibus vel om 
nium consanguineorum meorum qui in ipso loco sepulti quiescunt, pro me et 
ipsis hoc cupio facere." Espana Sagrada, XX. 385. 

2 As early as the seventh century the occurrence of these formulas in Mar- 
culfus (Lib. II. n. 4, 6, etc.) show them to be already an established custom. 
The implicit belief taught in the efficacy of this mode of redemption is well 
expressed in a charter of Alfonso IX. of Castile, in 1206, to the monastery of 
St. Mary of Aguilar " Libente animo et spontanea voluntate, credens immo 
penitus sciens ex pio opero veniam consequi delictorum, facio cartam conces- 
sionis, confirmationis et prosectionis Deo et sancte Marie Monasterio de Agui 
lar." Boletin de la Real Academia de la Historia, Mayo, 1891, p. 443. 

Even in abandoning to the church of San Giorgio di Braida his control over 
its temporalities, Bernardo, Bishop of Verona, in 1023, makes use of a similar 
formula, Spicilegio Vaticano, I. 11. 

In course of time the principle became of universal application. In 1215 
King John grants Magna Charta " et pro salute animae nostrae et antecessorum 
omnium et hseredum meorum." Matt. Paris Hist. Angl. ann. 1215. Appar 
ently the scribe who drew the charter did not pause to ask how the salvation 
of John s ancestors could be effected by his acts. Even yet the distinction 
between culpa and pcena was imperfectly apprehended. 

3 "Recognovimus nos in elemosinam perpetuam contulisse pro remedio 
animae nostrae et antecessorum nostrorum Abbacie Joevalis Premonstratensis 
ordinis domos nostras tot-as cum toto proprisio in vico S. Germani Antissiod. 
Parisiensis, ita tamen quod nos quamdiu vixerirnus domos easdein cum toto 
proprisio tenebimus et possidebimus, post mortem vero nostram ad dictam ab- 
batiam devolventur, nisi de domibus memoratis in sanitate nostra vel in ultima 
voluntate aliud ordinaverimus. Poterimus etiam donationem istam revocare 
usque ad supremum vitse exitum si voluerimus." Cartularium Ecclesise Pari 
siensis T. III. p. 85. 


Church apparently was willing to promise remission of sins on any 
terms, and if the penitent had nothing else wherewith to purchase re 
demption, it would even take himself and his family as serfs 1 an act 
singularly at variance with its beneficent teachings that the liberation 
of slaves was a work of charity which served to gain pardon for sin. 2 

The mercantile character of these transactions, by which the 
Church sold claims on heaven in exchange for worldly wealth is 
unblushingly expressed by Boniface VIII. when he lauds the happy 
commerce by which earthly things are traded for heavenly, and 
transitory for eternal. 3 This commerce, so industriously pursued 
for centuries, resulted in the transfer to the Church of a large por 
tion of the lands of Europe. No better authority on the subject 
can be cited than Muratori, who asserts that this was the principal 
source of the innumerable acquisitions of the Church, and that no 
one could form an adequate conception of its extent who had not 
delved in the cartularies of churches and monasteries. Writing in 
the last century, before the revolutionary upheaval had stripped it 
of so large a portion of its temporalities, he says that its wealth at 
that time could serve as no criterion of the extent of its possessions 
in the medieval period. 4 Its eschatology was skilfully framed, and 
it exploited remorselessly the fears of the sinner. 

Even penance voluntarily assumed could be similarly redeemed. 
In 1129, the treasurer of the church of Compostella proposed to 
make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but Archbishop Gelmirez persuaded 
him to send thither the oblation which he intended to make, and 
then devote the expenses of the journey to bestowing some gift on 
Santiago. Opportunely the king sent to Compostella for sale a 
splendid gold chalice from the church of Toledo, and this Gelmirez 
persuaded the treasurer to buy and lay on the altar in redemption of 
his pilgrimage. 5 

1 "Quidam. homo Lambertus nomine, cum esset ingenuus et maneret apud 
Setas, cum uxore sua nomine Eremburgi ac liberis Famuero et Dominico 
ejusdem conditionis, gratis se tradidit Sancto Petro ad serviendum in loco qui 
dicatur Fons Besua ac monachis ibi degentibus famulantibus Deo, quatenus 
libertas provenerit anirnabus eorum. Chron. Besuense (Migne, CLXII. 899). 

2 Marculfi Formularum Lib. II. n. 32, 33. 

3 Digard, Registres de Boniface VIII. n. 2405 (T. II. p. 12). "Terrena in 
coelestia et transitoria in aeterna felici commercio commutando." 

4 Muratori Antiq. Ital. Diss. LXVIII. (T. XIV. pp. 14, 118). 
6 Historia Compostellana Lib. in. cap. 8. 


In the early twelfth century we still find the old commutations 
elaborately rehearsed by St. Ivo of Chartres as still in force. 1 As 
the schoolmen commenced to reduce into system the current practices 
and to construct theories to suit, some protests were naturally made 
against them. The pseudo-Augustin warns the sinner that money 
without repentance is insufficient ; he who would redeem his sins 
by offering temporal things must first offer his spirit. 2 Hugh of 
St. Victor argues that if sin could be redeemed by money rather 
than by charity, the rich would be more favored than the poor, and 
could sin securely whenever they pleased ; they would have within 
easy reach the redemption of their sins and could obtain justification 
at any time by giving money. 3 Abelard indignantly reproves the 
numerous priests who know better, and who yet through greed for 
money release their penitents from the penance assigned to their 
sins. 4 These remonstrances went for naught, though as the sacra 
mental theory became established it was necessarily recognized that 
redemption no longer covered the culpa but only the pcena. Peter 
of Poitiers shows us that the system was in full vigor towards the 
end of the century; 5 a privilege of Ccelestin III., in 1195, to the 
church of SS. Mary and Theobald of Metz provides that the ex 
penses of a pilgrimage to Rome, if paid to it in cash, shall stand 
in lieu of such pilgrimage, 6 and the canons of various councils 
through the thirteenth century allude to it as an established custom. 7 
William of Paris says that it is madness for a penitent to undertake 
long pilgrimages and macerations when he can accomplish as much 
by giving to the Church three eggs and three farthings. 8 John of 
Freiburg quotes the Gloss on the Decretum for the rule that the 
confessor should always allow the penitent to redeem at will the 

Ivon. Carnotens. Deer. P. xv. cap. 192-205. 
Ps. Augustin. de vera et falsa Poenit. cap. 15. 
Hug. de S. Victore de Sacramentis Lib. n. P. xiv. cap. 6. 
P. Abaelardi Ethica cap. 25. 

Pet. Pictaviens Pcenitentiale (Amort de Indulgentiis II. 33. Morin. de 
Poenit Lib. vn. cap. 22). 

6 Ccelest PP. III. Epist. ccxxn. (Migne, CCVI. 1106). 

7 Statut. Eccles. Cenoman. ann. 1247 (Martene Ampl. Coll. VII. 1380). 
Statut. Eccles. Nannetens. cap. 88 (Martene Thesaur. IV. 949). C. Claromont. 
ann. 1248 cap. 7 (Harduin. VI T. 599). Synod. Nemausens. ann. 1284 (Ibid. 

8 Guillel. Paris, de Sacramento Ordinis cap. xiii. 


penance enjoined, and that this was currently accepted is seen in 
its repetition by Astesanus, with the addition that a fast can be re 
deemed with a penny. 1 Towards the close of the fifteenth century 
Angiolo da Chivasso tells us the same, while in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries the current books of practice bear testimony 
that the custom remained unaltered. 2 Liguori simply tells us that 
the confessor can commute a penance imposed by him, while the 
penitent has no power to do so. 3 In fact, long before the redemp 
tions disappeared from the text-books, they had become a matter 
of no practical importance, for they had been supplanted by the 
growth of the system of indulgences. The latter brought in im 
mediate returns to the more conspicuous churches, and especially to 
the Holy See, which grasped the lion s share, and they naturally 
were stimulated at the expense of the older custom, which was the 
device of a period ignorant of the treasure of the Church and of 
the uses to which it could be put. In modern times, since in 
dulgences, save the Cruzada, have been made mostly gratuitous and 
are so easily obtained, while penance has become little more than 
nominal, there can no longer be any occasion for redeeming it with 

When the system of redemptions, under the sacramental theory, 
became restricted to the pcena, there naturally arose a demand for 
some equally facile method of eluding the culpa, nor, to generations 
trained in Pope Boniface s happy commerce and accustomed to see 
the power of the keys exploited in every way for gain, could there 
be anything abhorrent in the sale of pardons and absolutions. If 
the priest could derive, as we have seen, a revenue from the con 
fessional, and the abbey could add manor to manor by relieving 
the sinner from the weight of his guilt, the prelate who had re 
served the more heinous offences for his own tribunal, and the pope, 

1 Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 135. Astesani 
Suminse Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2 ; Canon. Pcenitent. 55. 

2 Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio VI. $ 1. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor 
in. $ 15. Azpilcuetae Man. Confessarior. cap. xxvi. n. 20. Pcenitent. S. 
Caroli Borromei (Wasserschleben, p. 727). Val. Reginald! Praxis Fori Poenit. 
Lib. vn. n. 40. 

Morin and Binterim are therefore in error in asserting that the redemption 
of penance disappeared with the disuse of the Penitentials. 

3 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 528-9. 


who, as the universal bishop, had jurisdiction in first and last resort 
over all the faithful, would have been curiously indifferent to the 
opportunities afforded by the customs and spirit of the age, had 
they not utilized their power in the same fashion. So long as con 
fession was irregular and voluntary, there could be no organized and 
systematized arrangement for such a traffic, but when confession was 
made obligatory by the Lateran canon of 1216, and sinners were 
required to obtain absolution annually as a condition precedent to 
the prescribed Easter communion, it became necessary for the bishops 
and the pope to make arrangements for the business which com 
menced to flow into them as enforced confession gradually became 
general. Thus arose the office of penitentiaries to whom the prelates 
delegated the powers which their other duties and occupations pre 
vented them from exercising personally. The earliest allusions to 
such functionaries that I have met with occurs in the synod of York, 
in 1195, where perjurers are directed to be sent to the general con 
fessor of the diocese, in the absence of the bishop or archbishop. 1 
The Lateran council, recognizing the necessity of such officials, ordered 
the bishops to appoint them not only in their cathedrals but in all 
conventual churches, and we have seen (I. p. 230) that this was grad 
ually though not universally obeyed. That these functions were a 
source of revenue in populous and wealthy dioceses would appear 
from the fact that, in 1263, we find the office of penitentiary in the 
church of Paris held on feudal tenure of the bishop, to whom homage 
is paid on investiture. 2 It was probably to protect this means of 
income that, in 1294, the council of Saumur forbade the archdeacons, 
deans and archpriests of the diocese of Tours from granting absolu 
tion for money in episcopal reserved cases. 3 

The Papal Penitentiary was a natural outgrowth of the system. 
Penitents, as we have seen, were in the habit of appealing to the 
Holy See, either to obtain mitigation of penances imposed at home, 
or sent thither by bishops unable to decide especially difficult cases, 
or applying for penance in hopes that the devotion manifested by the 
pilgrimage might procure for them easier terms than they were likely 
to obtain from their own prelates, and that this was the case is ren- 

1 C. Eboracens. ann. 1195, cap. 11 (Harduin. VI. n. 1932). 

2 Chartularium Eccles. Parisiens. I. 200. 

3 C. Saumuriens. ann. 1294, cap. 3 (Harduin. VII. 1117). 

H. 11 


dered evident by the constantly increasing business of the kind, in 
spite of the remonstrances and efforts of the local authorities and coun 
cils to suppress it, from the time of St. Boniface in the eighth century 
to the council of Limoges in the eleventh. 1 There seems however to 
have been no special organization in the curia for the treatment of 
these cases until the introduction of enforced annual confession. One 
of the results of this must have been to increase greatly the number 
of penitents and to force on the local confessors and bishops the 
consideration of a vast number of cases which they were ill-prepared 
to decide, so that the afflux of pilgrims to the Holy See, whether for 
original judgment or for appeal, naturally grew. In addition to this 
was the constantly increasing list of papal reserved cases, so that a 
permanent tribunal in perpetual session became a necessity. In the 
existing confusion as to the limits of the forum intemum and externum 
this tribunal grasped a vast mass of business wholly disconnected 
with sacramental penance and absolution, but in the latter sphere it 
was supreme, and to it flocked from every corner of the lands of the 
Roman obedience criminals and sinners of every kind eager to obtain 
pardon. In time this pardon came to be recognized as good not only 
in the forum of conscience, but in the secular courts, and when some 
ill-advised jurists sought to limit its competence to the spiritual forum, 
Sixtus IV., in 1484, exploded in indignation at the sacrilegious 
audacity, and pronounced its decisions binding on all courts ecclesi 
astical and secular a declaration which had to be repeated by Paul 
III., in 1549, and by Julius III., in 1550. 2 

1 S. Bonifacii Epist. 49. Hincmari Eemens. Epist. xxxii. cap. 20. C. Tri- 
buriens. ann. 895, cap. 20 (Harduin. VI. I. 448). C. Salegunstadiens. ann. 
1022, cap. 18 (Ibid. p. 830). C. Lemovicens. ann. 1032, Sess. n. (Ibid. p. 890). 

2 Sixti PP. VI. Const. Quoniam nonnulli; Julii PP. III. Const. Rationi 
congruit. (Bullar. I. 428, 785). 

That the Penitentiary held its absolutions to be a free pardon in both forums 
for the most serious crimes is clear from the language of Pius IV. when, in 
1562, he undertook a partial reform and restricted it in this respect " Prse- 
terea ne Ordinarii in corrigendis subditorum excessibus impediantur et delicta 
impunita remaneant, non concedat absolutiones vel mandata de absolvendo ab 
homicidiis vel aliis gravibus delictis, etiam occultis, pro quibus de jure civili 
pcena capitalis imposita sit, prseterquam in foro conscientise dumtaxat." Pii 
PP. IV. Const. In sublime, 4 Maii, 1562 (Bullar. IF. 75). 

The pardons which Tetzel sold in 1515 were not simple indulgences in foro 
conscientice, but protected the purchaser from criminal prosecution. Gro ne, 


The Reformation emboldened the civil power to protest against 
these invasions of its jurisdiction, and when the final convocation of 
the council of Trent occurred in 1562, among the complaints pre 
sented Avas one from Sebastian, King of Portugal, asking that the 
Penitentiary be restrained from thus interfering with justice. 1 The 
curia was setting its house in order, to meet the exigencies of the 
times, and Pius IV. in May of that year issued a bull abolishing in 
the Penitentiary many of the abuses which he said had crept in 
through the licence and negligence of former times, and ordering it 
in future to concern itself exclusively with the forum of conscience 
and the salvation of souls. In 1569 the stern reformer St. Pius V. 
went further ; he remodelled the whole organization, he cut down 
remorselessly the number of its officials, he abolished the sale and 
purchase of the offices, he ordered that all letters should be granted 
gratuitously, and he forbade, under the severest penalties, the receipt 
of either bribes or fees. 2 Since then, with some occasional modifica 
tions, it has run in the grooves he traced for it. 

Prior to the counter-Reformation it was a matter of course that 
the absolutions granted by the Penitentiary were issued directly or 
indirectly for money. There was nothing in this to shock the ordi 
nary public conscience, for the training of centuries had familiarized 
men s minds with the idea that pardon for sin was purchasable ; the 
curia was always in need of funds, for no matter what portion of the 
wealth of Europe was poured into its lap, there were always eager 
hands to clutch it, and the ambitious designs of the Holy See always 
grew with the means of their gratification. That it should exploit 
every available source of revenue was expected, and the clergy, as a 
rule, would scarce criticise any source of gains that might postpone 
the ever-impending demand for a tenth or a twentieth of their in 
comes to aid it in some holy war which it was contemplating or had 
undertaken. Yet there were occasional indications that the business 
of the Penitentiary might be carried on too openly. When John 
XXII. desired to punish from Avignon his penitentiaries in Rome 
for absolving Louis of Bavaria and his adherents from excommuni- 

Tetzel und Luther, oder Lebensgeschichte und Rechtfertigung des Ablass- 
predigers und Inquisitors Dr. Johann Tetzel, pp. 187-9 (Soest, 1860). 

1 Le Plat, Monument. Concil. Trident. V. 86. 

2 Pii PP. IV. Const. In sublime; S. Pii. PP. V. Const. In omnibus Rebus 
(Bullar. II. 75, 300). 


cation, he took the opportunity to accuse them of selling pardons a 
culpa et a pcena for the grossest offences and of delegating their facul 
ties to others for the purpose of increasing their gains, and Clement 
"VI. felt himself obliged to dismiss, for similar reasons, some of the 
special penitentiaries appointed for the Jubilee of 1350, whose fault 
possibly was the retention of the moneys that should have accrued to 
the camera. 1 In time the reforming elements in the Church grew 
restless. At the council of Constance the German Nation had no 
hesitation in describing the sale of pardons in the penitential forum 
by the curia as more horrible than simony, and the manner of 
the allusion to it shows that it was notorious and universally recog 
nized. 2 JEneas Sylvius, before he became Pius II., declared that the 
curia gave nothing without payment ; imposition of hands and the 
Holy Ghost were sold, and the pardon of sins was only to be obtained 
by those who had money. 3 In 1536 a commission appointed by 
Paul III. to consider these and similar matters reported that though 
the Taxes of the Chancery appeared scandalous to some pious minds, 
yet the money was not demanded for the absolution but in satisfaction 
of the sin, and was properly devoted to the pious uses of the Holy See. 4 

1 Bullarium Vaticanum, I. 273, 343. The position of minor penitentiary, 
though at this time not as yet purchasable, was not acquired gratuitously. In 
the Tax-tables of the Avignonese period as recently printed by Tangl (Mit- 
theilungen des Instituts fur osterreichische Geschichtsforschung, XIII. 89), the 
price of the commission of a penitentiary for the jubilee year of 1350 is 16 gros 
tournois. This was only about a fourth of the official fees, so that the appoint 
ment cost the recipient some six or seven florins, and he, of course, would 
expect in some way to make a profit on the investment, although by the bull 
In agro Dominico of Benedict XII. in 1338 he was prohibited from asking or 
accepting anything for himself from penitents. Denifle, Die alteste Tax-rolle 
der Apostol. Ponitentiarie (Archiv fur Litteratur- und Kirchengeschichte, IV. 

2 Protestatio Nationis Germanicse (Von der Hardt, IV. 1422). "In foroque 
poenitentiali, quod horrendius est quam simoniacse pravitatis vitium, ubi non 
in remedium animarum sed sub colore appretiandarum chartarum, crimina 
delinquentium aut gratise dispensationum, praecise secundum qualitatem suam, 
ut res profanae taxantur, abusiones manifeste nefandas committendo." 

3 JEneee Sylvii Epistt. Lib. I. Epist. 66. " Nihil est quod absque argento 
Eomana curia dedat. Nam et ipsse manus impositiones et Spiritussancti dona 
venduntur. Nee peccatorum venia nisi nummatis impenditur." 

4 Dollinger, Beitrage zur politischen, kirchlichen und Cultur-Geschichte, 
III. 210. 


This reasoning did not satisfy the more rigid commission of cardinals 
appointed two years later by Pius to frame the project of reformation 
famous as the Consilium de emendanda EccleMa. They declared the 
Penitentiary and Datary to be an asylum where the wicked find im 
punity in return for money, and they adjured the pope to remove this 
scandal which would bring to ruin any kingdom or republic permitting 
its existence. 1 

The old controversy as to the existence and genuineness of the 
notorious Taxes of the Penitentiary has been set at rest by the pub 
lication by Father Denifle of the original Tax-table, framed by 
Benedict XII. in 1338. 2 It is a list of the various forms of letters 
issued by the Penitentiary, with the maximum fees allowed to be 
charged for them. As the business of the Penitentiary was mostly 
concerned with matters of the forum externum dispensations, 
absolutions from excommunication and the like the references in 
the tax-list to absolutions from sin in foro conscientice form a com 
paratively small portion of its contents, and the several sins are 
sometimes grouped together in a manner to show that the price 
charged for the letters of absolution bore no relation to the quality 

1 Le Plat, Monument. Concil. Trident. II. 601. 

2 Archiv fiir Litteratur- imd Kirchengeschichte, IV. 201. 

Of the Taxce, repeatedly issued by Protestants as material for controversy, 
there are two recensions. One of these was first printed by Wolfgang Mus- 
culus, and was republished, with a French translation, by Antoine Du Pinet, 
Lyons, 1564 This was reprinted, in 1701, with the date of London, then, in 
1821, with a large amount of extraneous matter, by Collin de Plancy under 
the pseudonym of Julien de Saint- Acheul, and finally, in 1872, by J. M. Cayla. 
The original source of this has, I believe, never been identified. 

Another recension of undoubted authenticity appeared in Paris, in 1520, 
from the press of Toussaint Denis. It has been repeatedly reprinted, the 
principal editions being those of Banck, Franeker, 1651 ; Du Mont, Bois-le- 
Duc, 1664 and 1706; Friedrich, Hannover, 1827 ; Gibbings, Dublin, 1872; 
Woker, Nordlingen, 1878, and Saint- Andre, Paris, 1879. 

Another recension, without date, but printed about 1500, is in the White 
Historical Library, Cornell University, A. 6124. 

The origin of the Taxes of the Penitentiary may perhaps be traceable in a 
commission given, in 1240, by Gregory IX. to the Dominican Provincial of 
France to raise funds for the tottering Latin Empire of Constantinople. Among 
other expedients he is authorized to absolve from the censures incurred for 
violence to clerics on the offender satisfying the injured party and paying over 
what a journey to and from Rome for absolution would cost him. Ripoll. 
Bullar. Ord. Prgedic. I. 109. 


or degree of the crime pardoned. They evidently were simply 
scrivener s fees. 1 In the early operations of the Penitentiary these 
were doubtless the whole charges for letters, but, with the increasing 
growth of the organization and multiplication of its officials, the 
fees were reduplicated, for drafting the supplication, rough draft of 
letters, fair copying, sealing and registration, till they amounted to 
four or five-fold the price in the Tax tables, and often much more. 2 

This does not, however, serve to explain the assertions quoted 
above that the Holy See sold absolutions for sin, nor the complaints 
of its demoralizing influence. There evidently must have been some 
other payments exacted, corresponding both to the gravity of the 
offence and the ability of the offender. The existence and nature 
of these payments are indicated in the bull of Benedict XII., in 
1338, regulating the Penitentiary. That office consisted at this time 

1 For instance (Denifle, pp. 222-3) 

Item pro littera simplicis clericidii, pro praesente, non ultra nil. Turon. 
" " " laicalis homicidii, tarn pro praesente quam 

pro absente, non ultra . . . . ur. " 

" uxoricidii, non ultra ill. " 

" " " patricidii vel matricidii aut fratricidii, non 

ultra mi. " 

" " " laicalis homicidii, periurii, incendii, inces- 

tus, spolii, rapine et sacrilegii, non ultra. v. " 

" " " universal! a peccatis, non ultra . . . in. " 

In the penitential canons collected from Gratian by Astesanus, which were, 
nominally at least, in force at this period, the penance prescribed for incest 
was not less than seven years, for voluntary homicide seven years, for acci 
dental homicide five years, for matricide ten years, for uxoricide something 
more, for perjury from seven to ten years, for sacrilege seven years, for arson 
three years. Canones Poenit. || 6, 8, 15, 16, 18, 21, 29, 43, 48. 

2 Tangl, Das Taxwesen der pabstlichen Kanzlei (Mittheilungen des Instituts 
fur osterreichische Geschichtsforschung, XIII. 63 sqq.). 

In this remarkable paper Herr Tangl has printed the Tax tables of the 
Avignonese popes, illustrated with ample references to contemporary docu 

A single instance quoted by him will suffice to show how little relation the 
price in the tables bore to the real cost. In 1424, the Abbey of St. Albans 
procured a dispensation to eat meat in Lent, the tax for which in the tables is 
ten gros tournois, and also a privilege to use portable altars, taxed at the same 
rate, while the accounts of the abbey show that for the former the fees paid to 
the curia amounted to 462 gros, and for the latter to 418. Amundesham Annal- 
Monast. S. Albani, Ed. Riley, II. 271 (M. K. Series). 


of a cardinal known as the Major Poenitentiarius and his assistants ; 
in addition to these there were two minor penitentiaries, with special 
faculties, stationed at Rome in St. Peter s, and others in the prin 
cipal church of the town where the curia might happen to be. 1 It 
was to these minor penitentiaries that the penitent seeking absolu 
tion was referred to make confession, accept penance, and obtain 
letters of absolution. They were prohibited from asking or accept 
ing anything from penitents, but they were expected to impose 
pecuniary penances for the benefit of the papal camera. In the bull 
of 1338 there is a clause forbidding them to enjoin such penances 
for the benefit of themselves, or of their own Order or any other 
Order, and the oath administered to them on receiving their com 
missions contained a promise to the same effect. 2 Evidently there 
was only one recipient of pecuniary penance permitted, and, although 
this recipient is not specified, we cannot well be in error in assuming 
it to be the papal camera. Penances by this time were arbitrary, but 
the canons were still legally in force as well as the redemptions ; it 
was easy to show the penitent what was the money value of the abso 
lution he sought, and modify it according to his ability to pay. It 
is a reasonable presumption, therefore, that the routine of absolution 
by the penitentiaries produced a revenue over and above the com 
paratively trivial fees of the tax lists, which explains the absence of 
relevancy between those fees and the nature of the crimes, and which 
justifies the contemporary assertions of the sale by the curia of par 
dons for sin. 3 

It would, of course, be unjust to conclude that in its use of the 
authority to bind and to loose the Church looked solely to its own 
aggrandizement in wealth and power, but the evidence is unfortu- 

1 In 1342, Clement VI. added a third penitentiary, stationed in St. John 
Lateran. Bullar. Vaticanum, I. 343. 

2 Bened. PP. XII. Bull. In Agro Dominico (Denifle, loc. cit. p. 212). Bullar. 
Vatican. I. 338. " Et quod non injungam poenitentias pecuniarias expresse 
mihi vel personse certae vel [ordino meo vel] alter! applicandas." 

3 Apparently even at the present day transactions of the same nature are not 
wholly unknown. Father Miiller tells us that " a certain confessor refused 
absolution to a poor servant because, though he went to Mass, he did not hear 
the sermon on Sundays ; yet the same confessor absolved a rich man who gave 
scandal by keeping a mistress, because this man had presented the church with 
a costly carpet." Catholic Priesthood, III. 145. 


nately too strong and decisive that it habitually exploited its assumed 
control over salvation for self-seeking purposes in every way that its 
ingenuity could suggest. The larger its possessions and revenues 
became, the more numerous grew those who sought a career in its 
service, so that, however great was the income, it was always inade 
quate to the desires of those among whom it was apportioned, and 
the more eagerly were means sought for its increase. The resultant 
influence on the moral development of Christendom could not fail 
to be deplorable. 



ACCORDING to the Tridentine definition the three parts of the 
matter of the sacrament of penitence are contrition, confession and 
satisfaction, and they are commonly called the three parts of penance. 1 
Satisfaction is penance considered as the means whereby the sinner 
satisfies God, after he has been released from the culpa of his sins by 
contrition, confession and absolution. These latter leave him still 
amenable to the pains of purgatory, from which he is released by 
satisfaction through the virtue of the sacrament. Nominally at 
least, therefore, satisfaction is only a scholastic synonym for penance, 
but the change in designation serves as an index of the altered con 
ception introduced by the scholastic theology as to the relations 
between the sinner, the priest and God. 2 The development of the 
power of the keys, the acceptance of the sacramental theory, and 

1 C. Trident Sess. xiv. De Pcenitentia Can. 4. " Si quis negaverit ad inte- 
gram et perfectam peccatorum remissionem requiri tres actus in poenitente, 
quasi materiam sacramenti pcenitentise, videlicet contritionem, confessionem et 
satisfactionem, quse tres pcenitentiae partes dicuntur . . . anathema sit." 

Yet so uncertain was the theory of the sacrament of penitence that before 
this anathema was launched it was a disputed point among the doctors whether 
satisfaction was a part of it. Cardinal Caietano says (Opusc. Tract, vi. Q. ii.) 
" In satis factione vere sacramentali opus est praecipue pcenitentis et tarn parum 
habet sacramenti ut multi doctores negant ipsam esse partem sacramenti." 

2 The word " satisfaction " was probably adopted by the schoolmen in order 
to avoid the confusion arising from the duplicate meaning of pcenitentia as 
penitence and penance. It was not of scholastic coinage. Tertullian uses it 
(De Pcenit. cap. 9) " quatenus satisfactio confessione disponitur." St. Ambrose 
says (De Lapsu Virginia n. 37) "grande scelus grandem habet necessariam 
satisfactionem." St. Augustin (Serm. CCCLI. cap. 5) speaks of satisfying God 
by repentance. Gennadius of Marseilles (De Eccles. Dogmat. cap. 54) defines 
it in a manner to exclude penance " Satisfactio poenitentise est causas pecca 
torum excidere nee earum suggestionibus aditum indulgere." It was occasion 
ally used as a synonym for penance prior to the rise of the scholastic theology, 
as by the council of Toulouse in 1056 (Harduin. VI. 1. 1045) and by St. Anselm 
(Cur Deus Homo Lib. I. cap. 15). 


finally the discovery in the thirteenth century of the treasure of the 
merits of Christ and of the saints confided for dispensation to the 
sacerdotal class, could not but work a profound alteration in the ad 
ministration of penance. The old Penitentials with their laborious 
enumeration of sins and their penalties grew obsolete, the confessor 
was clothed with the attributes of a judge possessed of unlimited 
discretion, penance became voluntary in place of prescriptive, and its 
long terms shrank until it grew to be scarce more than nominal. So 
vast a change as this could only effect itself by degrees. The strug 
gle between tradition and innovation was prolonged and confused, 
and I can only here allude briefly to some of the more prominent 
indications which enable us to trace its existence and direction. 

We have seen in the last chapter that even in the Penitentials a 
certain amount of discretion was allowed to the priest to modify the 
terms of penance prescribed, and there was an evident necessity for 
this in dealing with freemen and bondmen, poor and rich, clerics and 
laymen, children, invalids, women and strong men, whose capacity of 
endurance and ability of redemption varied so infinitely. Yet this 
discretion evidently had its limits, for examples cited above of pen 
ance inflicted in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries show the 
rigor with which the canons were still administered, and the utterances 
of Alexander II., Gregory VII. and Urban II. manifest the unyield 
ing intention of maintaining the severity of the ancient system. In 
fact the possessions of the Church could otherwise scarce have grown 
with such rapidity under the influence of redemptions. Gratian re 
peats, from the older compilations, the dictum that he is scarce to be 
called a priest who is not familiar with the penitential canons ; this 
continued to be reiterated as a matter of course until the seventeenth 
century, 1 and we have seen (p. 118) how long the rule was asserted 
that every mortal sin requires seven years penance for its remission. 
Azpilcueta, indeed, in the second half of the sixteenth century, would 
seem to be the first to boldly assert that there is no such law ; it has 
been received, he says, and practised by the Church without authority, 
and it would be futile to impose seven years for each mortal sin to 
one who confesses a thousand. 2 

The priestly prerogative of modifying this severity naturally grew 

1 Cap. 5 Dist. xxxviii. Eeginaldi Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. vn. n. 53. 

2 Azpilcuetse Comment, de Pcenit. Dist. v. cap. Falsas n. 14-16. 


with time and use, and when, through the development of the power 
of the keys, he became gifted with the faculty of conferring sacra 
mental absolution, it could no longer be subject to limitation. Peter 
of Poitiers would appear to be the earliest to assert it absolutely and 
unqualifiedly, and he is followed by Adam de Perseigne. 1 In fact 
the antiquated and rude legislation of the Penitentials was manifestly 
inadequate to the needs of a time when the schoolmen were exploring 
every corner in the field of morals and were weighing and measuring 
every deviation from a standard more or less arbitrary. An ethical 
code was slowly growing up of the minutest character, and scholastic 
ingenuity revelled in the definition of every variety of sin, mortal 
and venial, and in drawing the most refined distinctions. Thus 
everything tended to a new order of things in which the priest was 
formally installed in the place of God, with full power and responsi 
bility, and immediately the innumerable questions arose which have 
puzzled the doctors ever since in endeavoring to prescribe for him 
rules by which his finite wisdom may be enabled to perform the 
functions of Omniscience. Thus Alain de Lille, who throws aside 
the Penitentials as obsolete, and places everything in the hands of 
the priest, proceeds to instruct him how he is to inquire into the cir 
cumstances of each sin so as to weigh precisely its degree of guilt, 
and what deductions he is to draw from the looks of the penitent 2 
vain and misleading formulas for searching the inscrutable heart of 
man, which have been endlessly repeated and remoulded from that 
day to this with unvarying impotence. 

Yet the penitential canons were too deeply rooted in the traditions 
and practice of the Church to be thus easily discarded, and there 
arose a curious and confused struggle between the old order and the 
new which lasted yet for more than a century. Nominally the an 
cient canons remained in force, though they were more and more 
superseded by the arbitrary discretion of the confessor. In losing 
their absolute sanction they lost their coercive character ; they could 
not be imposed on the unwilling penitent ; and, moreover, as recon 
ciliation developed into absolution and penance became sacramental, 
satisfaction assumed the character of a voluntary offering to God by 

1 Morin. de Pcenit. Lib. vn. cap. 22. Adami Persenise Abbat. Epist. xxvi. 
(Migne, CCXL 682). 

2 Alani de Insulis Lib. Poenitent. (Migne, OCX. 286-92, 297). 


the penitent to extinguish the poena or term of suffering still due in 
purgatory. He had to be consulted about this, and we shall see 
how greatly this served to aid the other influences which were soft 
ening the time-honored rigor of the Penitentials. The perplexities 
of this transition period are well illustrated by a tract on penitence, 
written towards the close of the twelfth century, at the request of a 
dean of Salisbury, by Robert de Flammesburg, who had served as 
penitentiary in Paris. In one passage he treats the canons as still in 
force, and alludes to his having prescribed fourteen years to a peni 
tent who had seduced a cousin ; he expresses his vehement desire 
always to follow them, and warns the confessor that he must not use 
arbitrary discretion ; if the penitent is willing to accept the canonical 
penance and the priest imposes less, the penitent will escape purga 
tory, but the priest will suffer. Yet the priest has full discretion to 
augment or to moderate. Robert describes himself as always pre 
scribing the canons, but if the penitent objected he would at once 
offer to reduce the penance, and to those who would promise to 
reform he would mitigate it to any desired degree. There were few, 
he says, who would either impose or accept the full measure, and the 
penitent must never be allowed to depart in despair of pardon. 1 

As the priest ceased to be merely an intercessor for mercy and 
became a dispenser of absolution, his control over the definition of 
satisfaction was authoritatively recognized. Innocent III. pro 
claimed that it rested solely with him, with the guiding rule of 
prescribing what might appear most expedient for the salvation of 
the sinner, and this decretal being embodied in the compilation of 
Gregory IX. became the law of the Church. 2 Yet S. Ramon de 
Penafort, though he included it in making the compilation, was not 
wholly in accord with it. He collects a number of typical canons 
of the ancient severity and says that diligent study of them will 
serve as a guide for the selection of appropriate penance in other 
cases, nor should the priest vary from them without due cause ; it is 
true, he adds, that some hold all penance to be arbitrary, and that 
such is the common custom, but the other rule is safer, though more 
difficult. 3 On the other hand, his contemporary, William of Paris, in 

1 Morin. de Pcenit. Lib. viz. cap. 22 ; Lib. x. cap. 25. 

2 Cap. 8 Extra Lib. v. Tit. xxxviii. 

3 S. Baymundi Summse Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. $ 4. 


arguing for priestly discretion, shows the inherent incompatibility of 
the old penitential system with the new doctrine of sacramental ab 
solution. If the canons must be enforced the priest is a mere execu 
tioner who has no power to modify a sentence, the Church is powerless 
and the keys are useless ; if the priest should vary from the strict 
letter his acts would be invalid ; it is impossible to affix a definite 
penance for every sin, when the grades of guilt may be infinite, and 
God, moreover, has never revealed the amounts which he requires of 
penitential satisfaction ; if the priest is doubtful he should consult 
experts ; it is true that in spite of care and consultation two priests 
may assign different penances for the same degree of sin, but it is 
pious to believe that God accepts both, however unequal. 1 Bishop 
William, however, eludes the fatal perplexities of the problem, and 
does not stop to ask what becomes of the penitent if the confessor 
does not act with due discretion and counsel, while in the Peniten- 
tials there was at least the common consensus of the Church con 
densed from the experience of centuries. Alexander Hales tries to 
steer a middle course. Some hold, he says, that all penances are 
purely arbitrary, and that the power of the keys enables the priest to 
assign them at will ; others assert that the canons are still in force 
and that the priest can only increase or diminish them to suit the 
circumstances of the case ; his own opinion is between these extremes, 
and he solves the problem with the fruitful suggestion that if the 
penance is too light the penitent must make up for it in purgatory. 2 
Albertus Magnus takes virtually the same position, 3 while Johannes 
de Deo, in 1247, insists that the freeman who sins voluntarily must 
be subjected to the full rigor of the canons, and the only relaxation 
allowable is for the slave compelled to sin by his master. 4 Cardinal 
Henry of Susa shows the conflict between principle and practice by 
formulating a similar rule and immediately proceeding to inculcate 
moderation, thus recognizing the discretion of the confessor. 5 The 
Gloss on the Decretum, which had nearly the authority of the text 
itself, admits fully the arbitrary power of the priest, who, when there 

1 Guillel. Paris, de Sacram. Poenitent. cap. 20. 

2 Alex, de Ales Summae P. IV. Q. xxi. Membr. iii. Art. 1. 

3 Alb. Magni in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Art. xiv. (Morin. de Poenit. Lib. X. 
cap. 15). 

* Job. de Deo Poenitentiale, Lib. I. cap. 3. 

5 Hostiens. Aurece Summae Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss. 60. 


is contrition, can remit part or the whole of the satisfaction. 1 Aquinas, 
on the other hand, denies that the confessor can exercise his func 
tions arbitrarily, but by relegating him to divine inspiration the same 
result is virtually reached, especially as he says that the canons are not 
suited to all cases. 2 St. Bonaventura treats satisfaction as wholly dis 
cretional, yet endeavors to maintain the authority of the ancient canons. 3 
John of Freiburg can only repeat the assertions of his predecessors 
the canons are still in force, but penance is arbitrary. 4 Astesanus 
recurs to the position of Ramon de Pefiafort ; there are two opinions, 
one asserting the complete discretion of the priest, the other the 
binding force of the canons, and of these the latter is the safer and 
the more difficult. 5 St. Antonino shows that by the middle of the 
fifteenth century the laxer opinion had completely triumphed ; the 
canons, he says, are obsolete and satisfaction is wholly arbitrary ; it 
would be useless to endeavor to overcome the unwillingness of peni 
tents to submit to the old severity, and iudeed a lifetime would fre 
quently be insufficient ; all the confessor can do is to persuade the 
penitent to undertake as much as he will accept, and be satisfied that 
he is transferred from hell to purgatory. 6 Bartolommeo de Chaimis 

1 Gloss, sup. Cap. Si is (cap. 28) Caus. xxiu. Q. iv. This canon is from 
Gregory I., prescribing rigid enforcement of penance. 

The Gloss was written by Johannes Teutonicus, and was enlarged, about 
1257, by Bartolomseus Brixiensis. Mart. Fuldens. Chron. (Eccard. Corp. Hist. 
Med. JEvi I. 1712). 

2 S. Th. Aquin Summae Suppl. Q. xxvin. Art. iv. 

3 S. Bonavent. Confessionale Cap. in. Partic. 1-58 ; Cap. IV. Partic. 1. 
* Jo. Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 125. 

5 Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2 ; Tit. xxxii. 

6 S. Antonini Summae P. in. Tit. xvii. cap. 20. 

A contemporary English rhyming confessional frankly accepts the current 

Hyt were fulle harde that penaunce to do 
That the lawes ordeyneth to. 
Therfore by gode dyscrecyone 
Thou must in confessyone 
Joyne penaunce both harde and lyghte 
As thou hereaftere lerne myghte. 
On dedly synne as lawes techeth 
To seven yeres ende recheth 
But now be fewe that wole do so 
Therfore a lyghter way thou moste go. 
John Myrc s Instructions to Parish Priests, vv. 799-804, 1737-44. 


gives a series of canons, not that they are observed, he says, for they 
are obsolete, but for the instruction of the confessor in the compara 
tive gravity of sins ; penances are now purely arbitrary, and the priest 
can only impose what the penitent will readily accept. 1 Prierias 
still declares that seven years are due for every mortal sin, but that 
the matter is wholly in the hands of the confessor. 2 It is no wonder 
that Savonarola gives as a reason for compiling his little Confessionale 
that the diversity of opinions and multitudes of books and canons 
and questions have produced such confusion that the younger and 
ruder confessors regard the subject as an impassable ocean on which 
they do not dare to embark. 3 

It was a happy thought which led the schoolmen, in this irrecon 
cilable contradiction between the old system and the new, to devise 
the explanation that the penitential canons were still in force, but 
only for public penance in public offences, while the arbitrary pen 
ance was applicable to private penance for secret sins. Of course, 
there was no authority for this, but it offered a solution to the other 
wise insoluble difficulty, and it was eagerly embraced without too 
inconvenient scrutiny into its truth. Cardinal Henry of Susa seems 
to have been the first to spread a knowledge of this way out of the 
difficulty, which he says was taught him by his master, and he was 
followed without scruple by the subsequent doctors, until it became 
a received axiom. 4 Thus the tradition of the penitential canons was 
saved, while the power of the keys in the hands of the confessor 
was left unimpaired. It was safe, moreover, for public penance by 
this time was becoming so obsolete that the obsolescent canons could 
be assigned to it without much risk of causing trouble, and an out 
ward show of rigid and unyielding virtue was rendered compatible 
with steadily increasing laxity, though the very men who put for 
ward this explanation indirectly admitted its futility, as we shall 
presently see. 

How baseless, indeed, was any pretence of severity may be guessed 

1 Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 105. 

8 Sumina Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor iv. $ I, 3. 

3 Savonarolse Confessionale fol. 36 (Taurini, 1578). 

4 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss, g 60. S. Bonavent. 
Confessionale, cap. in. Partic. 1. Jo. Friburgens. Sumrnse Confessor. Lib. m. 
Tit. xxxiv. Q. 125. Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q/> Weigel Cla- 
viculae Indulgent, cap. 6. 


from a single example. Even into the fourteenth century the canon 
ists continued to give in full detail, as from some ancient Irish 
council, the penance to be imposed on a priest guilty of fornication, 
as follows. It is to last for ten years. For three months he is to 
be shut up, clad in sackcloth and lying on the bare ground, continu 
ally imploring the mercy of God, and is to be fed on bread and water, 
except on Sundays and the principal feasts, when he may have a 
little wine, fish and vegetables. After this he may be released but 
must not appear in public, lest the people be scandalized. Then for 
eighteen months his food is to be bread and water, save on Sundays 
and feast-days. He may then be admitted to communion and peace, 
and to the choir, but not to his functions, and to the end of the 
seventh year he is to fast three days in the week on bread and water, 
and on Mondays he must recite a psalter or redeem it with a penny. 
At the expiration of the seventh year the bishop may allow him to 
resume his ministrations, but for three years more he must fast 
rigorously on Fridays 011 bread and water. 1 No one familiar with 
the shameless concubinage of the medieval clergy can doubt that the 
application of this canon would have kept half or more of the 
parishes of Europe vacant ; it would have rendered wholly unneces 
sary the eiforts perpetually made by the local synods to enforce the 
rule of chastity by measures far less severe. Yet none of these local 
synods ever thought of having recourse to it, nor would the most 
resolute prelate have had the hardihood to make the attempt, 2 It is 

1 Cap. 5 Dist. LXXXII. Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. v. De Poen. et Re 
miss. 60. Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 125. 
Astesani Canon. Pcenit. g 2 ; Summse Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. 

Azpilcueta (Comment, de Poenit. Dist. v. Cap. Falsas n. 3) alludes to this 
penance as a thing unheard of, in evidence that the old canons were wholly 
obsolete, and Valere Renaud (Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. vn. n. 53) remarks re 
specting it that a thousand years would not suffice for a priest who had lived a 
year in concubinage. 

2 The practical view taken of concubinary priests, as expressed by Angiolo 
da Chivasso (Summa Angelica, s. v. Concubinatus $$ 2-4), is that they are sus 
pended in the eyes of God and commit mortal sin in celebrating mass, but if 
the sin is secret they are not irregular. If it is so manifest that it cannot be 
concealed or denied, then they are suspended, but many doctors hold that this 
is not ipso facto and that a monition is needed. If the concubine is accom 
panied by her mother and can be reckoned as the latter s servant, then it is 
not notorious and a monition is certainly needed. 

The little chance there was of even these proceedings can be estimated by 


fair, therefore, to conclude that the other penitential canons enumer 
ated by the canonists as still in force were equally a dead letter. 

The canonists, in fact, continued to amuse themselves by compiling 
lists of penances of old-time severity. Though the Penitentials had 
virtually dropped out of sight, many of the prescriptions contained 
in them had been embodied in the compilations of Gratian and of 
Gregory IX., and had thus retained the sanction of law under the 
new system. These at least could not be overlooked, and collections 
of them were made by one canonist after another in successive works 
prepared as practical guides through the mazes of the new scholastic 
theology. S. Ramon de Pefiafort, Cardinal Henry of Susa, St. 
Bonaventura, John of Freiburg, Astesanus de Asti, St. Antonino of 
Florence, Bartolommeo de Chaimis, and doubtless many others, thus 
drew up lists of canons varying in number from forty to fifty, which 
confessors were assured were essential to their equipment, for no 
priest could be called a priest who was not familiar with them. 1 Of 
these the collection of Astesanus had the most enduring authority. 
It came to be added to the Decretum of Gratian as though it formed 
part of the canon law, and, as I have already mentioned, continued 
to be printed in the early sixteenth century as a convenient manual 
for confessors. 

This perpetual reproduction of the old canons was not purely a 
matter of blind reverence for tradition, but had a purpose which 
shows how baseless was the assumption that they were in force only 
for public penance and not for private. The priest was not required 
to commit them to memory purely as a mnemonic exercise, but was 
customarily instructed to frighten his penitent with them by telling 
him how prolonged was the penance due to his sins, lasting probably 
longer than his life, thus rendering him ready to welcome shorter 
terms and magnifying the mercy of the Church and the power of 

Chancellor Gerson s remark, in speaking of sins that must be tolerated for 
the avoidance of graver evils, " Et ita de concubinariis sacerdotibus pro 
loco et tempore staret forte esse faciendum." Regulee Morales, Ed. 1488, 
xxiv. E. 

1 S. Raymundi Summae Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. $ 4. Hostiens. Aurese Summse 
Lib. v. De Pren. et Eemis. g 60. S. Bonavent. Confessionale, cap. in. Jo. 
Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 125. Astesani Summse 
Lib. v. Tit. xxxii. S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. xvii. cap. 31, 5. Bart, 
de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 104. 



the keys which procured him absolution on terms so much easier. 1 
They were also of great utility in creating a demand for indulgences, 
and were largely employed to this end by the qucestuarii or pardoners. 
In the forms of sermons furnished by Tetzel to the priests whom he 
employed,, a terrible picture is drawn of the severity of the seven 
years penance due for every mortal sin committed since infancy, and 
the aggregate is used effectively as an argument for the purchase of 
the indulgence which would stand in lieu of this insufferable in 
fliction. 2 This was not merely a saleman s puffing of his wares. 
Berthold, Bishop of Chiemsee, in his refutation of Luther s errors 
respecting indulgences, explains how the penitential canons were 
prescribed by the Fathers under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, 
how seven years are due for every mortal sin, and how the modern 
mitigation of this severity is due to the use of indulgences, for the 
penitent must either pay in purgatory or avail himself of the papal 
liberality in offering this mode of escape to the faithful. 3 The fiction 
of the imprescriptible authority of the ancient canons has been kept 
up, although the council of Trent apparently gave them a death 
blow in declaring that the confessor is to impose penance according 
to the dictates of the Spirit and his own conscience. 4 The Tridentine 
Catechism instructs the confessor to explain to the penitent the pen 
alty provided by the penitential canons for his several sins, and as 
this is retained in the modern editions of that work it is presumably 

1 Hostiens. Aurese Summse loc. cit. Astesani Summse Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. 
Weigel Claviculse Indulgent, cap. vi. S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. xvii. 
cap. 20. Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio 6. 

2 Amort, de Indulgentiis, II. 15. 

3 Berthold. Chiemens. Theologise Germanicse cap. LXXXIX. n. 4-6 (Aug. 
Vind. 1531). 

The Onus Ecclesice, issued in 1529 under the name of John of Chiemsee, puts 
this more rudely " Et quamvis canones pcenitentiales sint modo abrogati et 
mortui, tamen absque operibus condignis tanquam vivaces redimuntur per 
fictam indulgentiarum concessionem, vel magis per pecuniarum exactionem e 
sanguine et sudore pauperum ovium extortarum." Amort, de Indulgentiis 
II. 26. 

As there was no John of Chiemsee, the authorship of the Onus Ecclesice has 
been a disputed matter. Reusch (Der Index der verbotenen Bttcher, I. 124) 
attributes it to Berthold, and regards the Theologia Germanica as a castrated 
revision. It was put on the Louvian Index of 1550 among the anonymous books. 

4 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Poenit. cap. 8. 


still the custom in the confessional. 1 S. Carlo Borromeo was at the 
pains of compiling a Penitential, classified according to the Deca 
logue, and containing hundreds of canons gathered from the collec 
tions of Theodore, Bede, Burchard, Ivo, etc., in all their ancient 
severity, with which he required his priests to be familiar ; they were 
ordered to conform themselves to these as far as was expedient, and 
were at least to show them to the penitent to reconcile him to the 
lesser inflictions prescribed and to impress him with the benignity of 
the Church in mitigating them. 2 Azpilcueta instructs the confessor 
to explain that God alone knows the penance due, but the Church 
from of old has required seven years for every grave mortal sin; 
the penitent is io be asked whether he will accept ; if he assents so 
much the better, and he may be moved to do so by the prospect of 
obtaining an indulgence to cancel it. 3 Valere Renaud humanely 
advises omission of the reference to the seven years penance, if it is 
likely to cause dejection in the sinner, but, as a rule, allusion to the 
old canons is advisable as a means of making the penitent accept 
more cheerfully what is imposed, and avoid such sins hereafter. 4 
Instructions more or less to the same effect are found in recent works, 
nor are the canons likely to be consigned to oblivion in view of the 
hold which they give the confessor over his penitent. 5 Father de 
Charmes repeats the old rule that all confessors must be familiar with 
them, and he reprints the Borromean Penitential in extcnso, saying 
that many priests have requested him to render it accessible to them. 6 
Even as recently as 1857 Bishop Zenner, in his manual for confessors, 
gives a condensed selection with all the old terms of prolonged pen 
ance, 7 but that the only object of this is to terrify the penitent is 
admitted in the remark of Benedict XIV. that any bishop who 

1 Catech. Trident. De Pcenit. cap. 13. 

2 Acta Eccles. Mediolan. I. 580, 585 sqq. 886 (Mediolan. 1843). 

3 Azpilcuetse Man. Confessarior. cap. xxvi. n. 19. 

4 Reginald! Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. vii. n. 38, 53. 

5 Mart. Fornarii Instit. Confessarior. Tract, i. cap. 3. Zerola Praxis Sacr. 
Pcenit. cap. xxv. Q. 13, 33. S. Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, Discorso Mistico 
e Morale, n. xxvii. Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Pcenit. Sacram. n. 49. 
Bened. PP. XIV. Bull. Apostolica Constitute % 23, 26 Junii, 1749. S. Alph. de 
Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 530. 

6 Th. ex Charines Theol. Univers. Dissert, v. cap. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2. 

7 Zenner Instruct. Practica Confessarii & 149. 


should undertake their enforcement would attempt a manifest impos 
sibility. 1 

The penitential canons having thus been reduced to the simple 
function of a bugbear, the confessor was left to the exercise of un 
bounded discretion, with the advantage of being able to threaten 
the recalcitrant with the full measure of the ancient severity, or to 
condone the offences of the wealthy and liberal, or to exercise a petty 
and exasperating tyranny on the weak and defenceless. Our means 
are scanty of penetrating into the secrets of the confessional, but we 
know how rare are the natures that can be trusted with irresponsible 
power, and we also know that the process of selection through which 
benefices were filled, or vicars installed, during the middle ages was 
not such as to entrust such natures often with the cure of souls. To 
the sensual, the brutal, the avaricious or the malicious, the confes 
sional thus offered ample opportunities for the gratification of their 
propensities, and we cannot doubt that frequent advantage was taken of 
such opportunities, though the sufferers, for the most part, necessarily 
endured their wrongs in silence. Accidentally a brief of Benedict 
XII. has been preserved which illustrates the manner in which the 
confessional might be and was abused. It is addressed to a bishop, 
and recites that the bearer had appealed to him from the Official of the 
see, who, for a carnal sin of old date recently confessed to him, had 
imposed on her the penance of walking for forty days in the market 
place of the episcopal city, naked from the navel up, and wearing 
on her head a paper inscribed with her sin ; wherefore the pope hu 
manely orders the penance to be moderated, taking into consideration 
the labor and expense of her pilgrimage to Rome. 2 Of course it was 
irregular at that time to impose a public penance for a private sin, 
but when so indecent an outrage could be perpetrated by so high a 
prelate as an episcopal Official, we can imagine what a hell on earth 
might be a parish confided to a priest or vicar of evil disposition. 
Such hardships fell inevitably 011 the timid and conscientious those 
who dared not recalcitrate or were overawed by the spiritual au 
thority of their pastors. To the reckless sinner, who was content if 
he could be promised escape from perdition, and to the rich whose 
liberality could purchase exemption, the system offered salvation on 

1 Bened. PP. XIV. De Synodo Dicecesan. Lib. xi. cap. xi. n. 4. 

2 Baluz. Capit. Regtim Francor. II. 1031 (Ed. Venet. 1773). 


the easiest terms, and the confessional had few terrors save the 
humiliation of secretly admitting the commission of sin. The ten 
dency, moreover, was wholly in the direction of laxity, save when the 
evil passions of the confessor might lead him to abuse his power, for 
the new theories as to the virtue of the sacrament rendered penance 
a vastly less important factor of pardon than under the old system of 
winning reconciliation by prolonged repentance and maceration. 

An early indication of the profound change impending in the 
administration of penance is afforded, about the middle of the 
twelfth century, by Cardinal Pullus, who informs the penitent that 
if the confessor imposes on him a penance beyond his strength he 
should refuse to accept it. 1 How the laxity thus encouraged in 
creased rapidly is seen soon afterwards in Peter of Poitiers, who pre 
scribes for fornication a simple fast in which eggs and cheese are 
allowed, and who recommends humanely that special consideration 
should be shown to those who labor for their daily bread. More 
over, extreme care must be exercised to guard against any suspicion 
that may be caused by the performance of the penance, especially in 
the case of married folk. 2 This, which became an axiom in the con 
fessional as the seal grew to be rigidly enforced, necessarily limited 
greatly both the amount and the character of the penance enjoined, 
for there were scarce any but moderate prayer and almsgiving that 
might not betray the penitent pilgrimages, the discipline, hair- 
shirts, and even fasting were all noticeable and liable to cause remark. 
Innocent III. endeavored to check this tendency by counselling only 
moderation the penance should fit the gravity of the sin and the 
degree of repentance, being not so severe as to cause despair nor so 
light as to encourage sin. 3 

Generalities such as this could have little practical influence, and 
Innocent s introduction of enforced confession, in the Lateran canon 
of 1216, gave a natural stimulus to the growing laxity, for, on the 
one hand, it brought crowds of unwilling penitents to the confes 
sional, and, on the other, there was an inevitable desire, on the part 
of even the strictest churchmen, to disarm the opposition excited by 

1 K. Pulli Sent. Lib. vi. cap. 51. 

2 Morin. de Poenit. Lib. vn. cap. 22 ; Lib. X. cap. 25. 

3 Innoc. PP. III. Serm. I. De Consecratione Pontif. 


the new rule and to render its enforcement as easy as possible. 
Csesarius of Heisterbach, though by no means a high authority in 
theology, is an excellent guide as to the tendencies of the period, and 
we can trace them in his exhortations to confessors to deal indul 
gently with penitents and to impose on them only such penance as 
they will readily accept. 1 The same disposition is shown in the 
instructions to parish priests by various councils of the thirteenth 
and fourteenth centuries. 2 The result of the current teachings is 
expressed by Duns Scotus, who tells us that if the penitent is a poor 
man, dependent on his daily labor, he cannot be required to give 
alms or to fast, but his customary work may be enjoined on him as 
penance, and he may be told to perform it in remission of his sins. 
If he is rich, involved in carnal sins and so delicate that he cannot 
be persuaded to fast or to mortify the flesh, he should be induced to 
pray or give alms or undertake such penance as he may be ex 
pected to perform, and not fall into fresh mortal sin by its omission. 
Moreover, if he will not accept any penance from the priest, 
and yet expresses some regret for his sin, and a firm resolve to 
sin no more, he is to be absolved, telling him of the penance due 
and that what he does not perform here he must make up in pur 
gatory. 3 

Under this system it became a general aphorism that, if the peni 
tent would accept nothing more, a single Paternoster or Ave Maria 
should be imposed, and on his agreeing to it, absolution should be 
granted, leaving him to take the chances of purgatory, 4 for it was 

1 Csesar. Hiesterbac. Dial. Dist. m. cap. 50, 52. 

2 Statut. Eccles. Cenomanens. ann. 1247 (Martene Ampl. Coll. VII. 1379). 
Statut. Synod. Remens. Sec. Locus Prsecept. iv. (Gousset, Actes etc. II. 
540). C. Suessionens. ann. 1403 (Ibid. 631). Statut. Jo. Episc. Nannetens. 
ann. 1389, cap. xii. (Martene Thesaur. IV. 985). 

The council of Clermont, in 1268 (cap. 7), while urging moderation in the 
imposition of penance, deprecates the custom of some priests who prescribe 
satisfaction so minimized that it is almost null (Harduin. VII. 595, 599). 

3 Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 1. Gab. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. 
Q. ii. Art. 3, Dub. 1. 

4 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. V. De Poen. et Remiss. 58. Jo. Friburgens. 
Summse Confessor. Lib. m. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 135. Synod. Lingonens. ann. 1404 
(Bochelli Deer. Eccles. Gallic. Lib. II. Tit. vii. cap. 109, 110). S. Antonini 
Summse P. in. Tit. xvii. cap. 20. Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 105a. 


assumed that the sacrament released him from hell, however dubious 
might be the repentance that refused to render greater satisfaction to 
an oifended God. So completely had the sacramental theory super 
seded all the older teachings of Christianity that the sacrament was 
expected to do for the sinner what he would not do for himself. The 
sacrament became the main thing in the eyes of both priest and 
penitent ; the former was taught that the chief object of the con 
fessional is to avoid driving the sinner to despair, and that any 
terms must be made with him rather than allow him to depart hope 
less of pardon and doomed to hell. 1 The whole matter is exclusively 
in the hands of the Church to regulate as it may see fit, for it stands 
in place of God upon earth, though no evidence of this could be pro 
duced except the fact of its practice. 2 When such were the rules of 
the confessional it would seem superfluous to recommend that a sin 
ful monk should be allowed to escape with a lighter penance than a 
layman, on the account of his profession ; 3 but, on the other hand, 

Savonarolse Confessionale, fol. 64a. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor iv. g 3. 
Caietani Opusc. Tract, v. De Confessione Q 3. 

As John Myrc says, in his " Instructions to Parish Priests," 

Gef thou ley on him more 

Thenne he wole assente fore 

Alle he wole caste hym fro 

And schende hym-selfe, I telle the so. (vv. 1643-6). 

Better hyt ys wyth penaunce lutte 

In-to purgatory a nion to putte, 

Then wyth penaunce over myche 

Sende hym to helle pitche. (vv. 1659-62). 

Bartolommeo de Chaimis even adds (ubi sup) that if he refuses to accept any 
penance he is to be absolved, provided he says that he feels displeasure at 
having sinned and intends not to relapse. 

1 R. de Flammesburg (Morin. de Poenit. Lib. x. cap. 25). Jo. Scoti in IV. 
Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 1; Dist. XIX. Q. 1. Astesani Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q- 
2. Synod. Lingonens. ann. 1404 (Bochelli loc. cit.). Sunima Sylvestrina s. v. 
Confessor iv. $ 3. Aurea Armilla s. v. Confessio Sacram. n. 29. 

2 Ambros. Caterini adv. Lutheri Dogmata Lib. in. (fol. 74a) " Ecclesia 
posnas ipsas atque satisfactiones, cum sit loco Dei in terris, quasi componens 
cum delinquente, suo ponit arbitrio, vel in oratione, vel in jejunio vel elee- 
mosyna. Hsec probatur ipso facto." 

3 Postillator Kaymundi in Summa Lib. ill. Tit. xxxiv. I 5. 

Favoritism of this sort is manifested while yet the severer penances were 
enjoined. An abbot struck a slave, who died in six months from the effects of 


Cardinal Henry of Susa suggests that clerics should be penanced 
more heavily than the laity, because of their evil example, and 
moreover because it is rare to find a cleric who is truly repentant. 1 

The council of Trent recognized fully the illusory character of the 
laxity which had become universal. Its mission was to reform the 
Church, so that it could be defended from heretic assaults, and on 
this subject it spoke in no uncertain terms. It instructed confessors 
to impose satisfaction proportionate to the sins confessed ; to remem 
ber that it is not only a medicine for the future but a punishment 
for the past, and that when they prescribe the most trifling observ 
ances for the gravest offences they become sharers in the sins of their 
penitents. 2 In this, as in so much else, the council spoke to deaf 
ears. Even in the Catechism issued at its command, the priest is 
instructed that of all kinds of penance the one specially to be pre 
scribed is to devote certain days to prayer and to pray for all, espe 
cially for the dead. 3 It need not surprise us therefore to find that 
the injunctions of the council were disregarded and that there has 
been no change in practice. It is true that some moralists propound 
the rule that the penance must be proportioned to the character of 

the blow. Rumold, Bishop of Constance, imposed a penance on him and sent 
him to Alexander II., who ordered his restoration to his office and that after a 
year s penance he might resume his functions. Alex. PP. II. Epist. 64. 

1 Hostiens. Aurese Sunimse Lib. v. De Poen. et Eemiss. \ 60. 

2 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 8. 

3 Catech. Trident. De Pcenit. cap. 13. 

It is not without interest to observe that prayer, which should be the willing 
and earnest outpouring of the soul to its Creator, is universally treated as a 
punishment, vindictive in character. Just before this prescription of prayer 
as the chief penance, the Catechism had enunciated the rule that all peniten 
tial works should be punitive and vexatious "Ut ejusmodi opera suscipiantur 
quse natura sua dolorem et molestiam afferant. Cum enim prteteritorum 
scelerum compensationes sint atque redemptrices peccatorum omnino necesse 
est ut aliquid acerbitatis habeant." The mechanical formalism of the observ 
ance, moreover, is seen in the remark of Alexander Hales (Summae P. IV. Q. 
xxvi. Mernbr. iii. Art. 2, $ 5) that it is unnecessary to understand the prayer 
" Quando ergo quseritur utrum tenemur intelligere quod oramus ? Dicendum 
quod de actu speciali est verum ; de eo autem quod petitur non oportet, nisi in 
magnis literatis et provectis. Nee isti etiam tenentur habere intellectum 

San Filippo Neri, however, in his Consigli, wisely points out the uselessness 
of reduplicated rosaries and other prayers, if they are not performed in a spirit 
of earnest seeking after God and desire to obey his commandments. 


the penitent, but they explain this away by pointing out that if he is 
conscientious heavy penance is superfluous, while if reckless he will 
not perform it. 1 Gobat quotes approvingly from Coninck the dic 
tum that the confessor must never impose a penance which he thinks 
the penitent, through any weakness, may fail to perform. 2 These 
writers represent the laxer section of theologians, which has become 
predominant, and which continues to teach that if the penitent will 
accept no more a single Lord s Prayer or Hail Mary will suffice, 
and that he must never on this account be turned away in despair. 
Liguori is particularly successful in arguing away the Tridentine 
prescriptions, nor does he recognize his practical admission of the 
failure of the sacramental system when he urges that most penitents, 
if they do not perform the penance enjoined, regard the confession as 
valueless, wherefore they resume their sinful life, are deterred from 
returning to the confessional, and are thus hardened in sin. A 
simple sign of the cross, he says, conjoined with the sacrament, 
suffices as satisfaction. 3 

Thus the penitential observances which, for the earlier half of the 
existence of Christianity, formed so vast a portion of discipline have 
been practically eliminated and replaced by the sacrament. So un 
important have they become that Gobat feels no shame in admitting 
that he sometimes forgot to impose any satisfaction and had to be 
reminded of it by the penitent after absolution had been conferred, 
nor was this uncommon, for Graffio feels obliged to reprove the 
ignorant who were in the habit of granting absolution as soon as the 
confession was finished, without a word of exhortation or imposition 
of penance. 4 Under these circumstances the question became merely 

1 Henriquez Summee Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. cap. xxi. n. 2. Dom. Soto in IV. 
Sentt. Dist. xx. Q. ii. Art. 3, Concl. 2. Reginald. Praxis Fori Poenit. Lib. 
vi. n. 35. 

The eight reasons for imposing light penance, drawn up by Gobat, are 
equally comprehensive and include all classes of penitents. Clericati de 
Poenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 17-19. 

2 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 745. In explaining away the Tridentine 
canon, Gobat does not appear to realize how destructive of the system is his 
common-sense remark that we do not know how many fasts will satisfy God 
for ten lies or twenty blasphemies. 

3 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 507, 509-10,514; Praxis 
Confessarii, n. 8, 11, 12. 

4 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 273. Jac. a Graffiis Praxis Casuum Reserva- 
tor. Lib. II. cap. xxvi. n. 5. 


a speculative one whether absolution can be granted without satis 
faction ; this was finally admitted, and the moralists contented 
themselves by invoking purgatory to compensate for the mutilation 
of the sacrament by the omission of one of its integral parts. This 
objection is removed by defining satisfaction to be an integral but not 
an essential part of the sacrament, and even purgatory can be escaped 
without penance, for the penitent can himself effect this by prayer, 
since prayer can effect the release of the souls of the dead, and there 
is no reason why the living cannot do this for themselves. 1 

What, under such a system, is considered adequate satisfaction for 
the most heinous offences is seen in the penances suggested by Bene 
dict XIV. for a man who debauches his wife s sister. If he is a 
peasant, young and healthy but poor, he may for three months daily 
recite fifteen Paters and Aves with arms outstretched ; if rich, he can 
fast once a week and give alms in proportion to his means ; if old 
and poor, a rosary a week for three months suffices. 2 It would not 
be easy to set a lower value on God s pardon. If a confessor, how 
ever, has scruples about such merciful use of the power of the keys 

1 Palmier! Tract, de Poenit. p. 428. 

2 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscientise, Julii, 1736 See also the list of trivial 
observances which Liguori (Praxis Confessar. n. 14) prescribes as suitable. 

Still the thirst for ascetic maceration has not entirely died out. Leone 
(Praxis ad Litt. Maior. Poenitentiar. p. 355), about the middle of the seventeenth 
century, alludes, as a fitting penance for a lay patron who bestows a benefice 
simoniacally, the use of the hair shirt, the discipline frequently applied, psal 
mody, fasting, visiting distant churches, frequenting divine service, etc. The 
cilix, or hair shirt, is exceedingly severe " cilicia juvenem mortificantet senem 
octuagenarium vel debilis vel infirmse valetudinis lacerant et fere ad nihilem 
redigunt" (Ibid. p. 322). He also speaks (p. 69) of iron chains worn around 
the waist or thighs or arms as medicinal penance to repress carnal desires. 
Chiericato, writing at the end of the century, says (De Pcenit. Decis. V. n. 1, 2, 
8) that for two hundred years the hair shirt has been abandoned for another 
form consisting of a girdle of iron or brass wire, quite as painful but less dam 
aging to health. Cardinals Ximenes, Borromeo, Baronius and Bellarmine are 
said to have worn it either regularly or as a matter of penance. Even in the 
present century Frassinetti (New Parish Priest s Practical Manual, pp. 391-2) 
speaks of hair shirts, chains and the discipline as matters which cannot be 
censured without censuring the saints of old, though they never should be 
practised with those of weak constitutions or without believing that God has 
called the penitent to a life of extraordinary mortification. Eeuter (Neocon- 
fessarius instructus n. 16) includes them among the penances indicated for 
carnal sins. 


he is offered the refuge of satisfying his conscience in such cases of 
atrocious crime by imposing a heavy penance, conditioning only a 
venial sin for its non-performance, for he has the power of enjoining 
satisfaction sub prceoepto levi or sub prcecepto gravi ; he occupies the 
place of Christ and has unlimited discretion. 1 

Under this discretion there is scarce anything that may not figure 
as satisfactory penance. That attendance 011 mass should be some 
times enjoined as such would appear not be particularly respectful to 
the Eucharist, and if two are enjoined on a feast-day it is a disputed 
point whether the injunction is fulfilled by listening to two simulta 
neously celebrated on different altars. If a rosary is imposed as well 
as hearing mass, the time may be utilized by reciting it during the 
celebration. Taking communion may be enjoined, or even absti 
nence from it or from other good works, which in view of the grace 
imparted by the sacrament would seem to be an indifferent mode of 
contributing to the sinner s improvement, though we are told that it 
was a favorite injunction of San Filippo Neri. 2 There is a curious 
question whether a penance can be imposed on a priest of performing 
the offices for the dead for the benefit of the souls in purgatory, thus 
exacting from the rites a double duty for the soul of the penitent 
and for the departed. In the system which prevails of rigidly 
weighing and counting every molecule of merit, some doctors hold 
this not to be permissible, while it is approved by others of equal 
authority. 3 When a confessor has to reprove a penitent he may 
impose as penance a patient listening to the admonition. 4 Whether 
marriage can be imposed as a penance for those addicted to carnal 
sins is a disputed question. 5 

A point which has been the subject of prolonged debate is whether 
the performance of works of precept the observances required by 

1 Mart. Fornarii Institt. Confessar. Tract, i. cap. 3. Busenbaum Medullas 
Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. Dub. 4, Art. 1, n. 8. La Croix Theol. Moral. 
Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1249. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. v. n. 515. 
Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscientise, Dec. 1742, cas. ii. 

2 Ibid. Julii, 1743, cas. ii. Summa Diana s. vv. Pcenitentiam imponere n. 4; 
Pcenitentiam commutare n. 18, 20. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 13. 
St. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 514. Voit Theol. Moral. I. 203-4. 

3 Summa Diana s. v. Pcenitentiam imponere n. 2. 
* Renter Neoconfessarius instructus n. 17. 

5 Gobat Alphab. Confessarior. n. 752. 


the Church of all the faithful, such as attendance at mass on Sundays 
and feast-days can be prescribed and accepted as satisfaction in the 
sacrament, Aquinas argued that they could, Pierre de la Palu that 
they could not, and St. Antonino holds with Aquinas. 1 Cardinal 
Caietano regards the question as open, though he says that most 
doctors were in the negative and that confessors never prescribed 
them. 2 After the council of Trent, increasing laxity inclined the 
balance to the affirmative side. It is true that Henriquez says the 
authorities are at variance, and he ventures no opinion of his own, 
while Bishop Zerola pronounces in the negative, 3 but Azpilcueta 
asserts decidedly that although the penitent is not at liberty to offer 
works of precept in discharge of penance enjoined, yet the confessor 
can prescribe them as penance, and Gobat argues that it is often 
prudent to enjoin such works as penance on negligent penitents. 4 
In modern times it has thus become the prevailing opinion that 
works of precept may be imposed as penance, and this may be re 
garded as the accepted practice. 5 As Ferraris remarks, it affords a 
convenient method of dealing with great sinners whose fragility or 
occupations prevent the imposition of proper penance. 6 Benedict 
XIV. even eliminates the necessity of any penance in those who 
observe the precepts of the Church. He puts the case of a dying 
man who has never performed voluntary penance, and who thinks 
that he has satisfied for the temporal punishment due to his sins by 
offering in satisfaction his attendance at church on feast-days, his 
fasts and other observances of precept; it is probable that he is 
right, for works of supererogation are not necessarily required for 
remitting the temporal punishment of sins remitted quoad culpam. 7 

1 S. Antonini Summse P. III. Tit. xiv. cap. 20. 

2 Caietani Opusc. Tract, vi. Q. 1. 

3 Henriquez Sumrnoe Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. cap. xxi. n. 3. Zerola Praxis 
Sacr. Pceenit. cap. xxvi. Q. 16. 

4 Azpilcuetae Man. Confessar. cap. xxvi. n. 24; De Poenitentia Dist. vi. cap. 
1, In Prindpio n. 40-42. Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 748. 

5 Reginald. Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. vii. n. 28-30. Escobar Theol. Moral. 
Tract, vii. Exam. iv. cap. 7, n. 40. Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 10. 
La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vii. P. ii. n. 1229, 1243. St. Alph. de Ligorio 
Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 513. 

Retiter (Neoconfessarius instructus n. 16) adds that some work not of pre 
cept should be adjoined to render the penance more vindictive. 

6 Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Pcenit. Sacr am. Art. in. n. 37. 

7 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscient. April, 1745, cas. ii. 


It is not to be supposed that so complete a revolution in the doc 
trines and practice of the Church could be accomplished wholly 
without protest or opposition. Hardly had it commenced, in the 
twelfth century,, when Peter Cantor sought to revive the ancient 
rigor. Either God or man, he says, must punish : if God, it is in 
.purgatorial fire, of which the lightest touch is worse than all the 
torments of the martyrs ; if man, the penance must equal as nearly 
as possible the pains of purgatory, otherwise the penitent does not 
truly repent, and therefore there are but few true penitents ; all 
pleasures of the flesh are to be abandoned, sleep is to be shortened 
by vigils, gluttony to be cured by fasting, drunkenness by unslaked 
thirst ; in penance God delights in human suffering. 1 In the next 
century William of Paris is very severe on the confessors who im 
pose insufficient penance; they should follow the old canons as 
nearly as the fragility of the age will permit. Penance should be 
such as wholly to extinguish all sinful pleasures and remove all 
occasions of sin ; the penitent must abstain not only from what is 
unlawful but also from much that is lawful, especially from trade 
which scarce can be followed without sin. His diet must be spare, 
his couch hard, his sleep short, his garments vile, his prayers 
incessant, his speech grave, his walk humble ; he must bear his 
cross and deny himself. 2 Even in the fourteenth century Piero 
d Aquila shows a glimpse of recognition of the infinite meanness 
of the methods and details of so-called satisfaction in comparison 
with the majesty of God and the heinousness of the revolt against 
him implied by sin. 3 By this time, however, the practice was 
virtually settled and laxity was accepted as a matter of course. 
Even Chancellor Gerson, perhaps the most rigid moralist of the 
fifteenth century, can only say that it is foolish for a penitent to 
refuse all penance, but yet he must be absolved if he does so through 
delicacy of body and not through heretically denying the existence 
of purgatory. 4 Dr. Weigel assents, with the addition that the peni 
tent is to be warned that he will have to make it up in purgatory. 5 
At the end of the century the reformer Savonarola tells us that if 

P. Cantor. Verb. Abbreviat. cap. 146. 

Guillel. Paris, de Pcenit. cap. 25 ; de Sacram. Poenit. cap. 19, 20. 

P. de Aquila in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 1. 

Jo. Gersonis Regulse Morales (Ed. 1488, xxv. G.). 

Weigel Claviculae Indulgent, cap. 6. 


the penitent shows little contrition the penance should be light, 
especially if it is doubtful whether he will perform it ; if he shows 
great contrition it should be light, because the contrition is in itself 
satisfaction ; if he is moderately contrite, it should be moderate. 1 

The discussions attendant upon the Reformation were not without 
influence, as the utterances of the council of Trent attest, and al 
though these were speedily argued away, as we have seen, by the 
predominant school of moralists, there yet were some who took them 
seriously. S. Carlo Borromeo was one of these, and he ordered 
confessors to observe the portentous Penitential which he compiled 
(p. 179) as closely as they could without risking the refusal of the 
penitent or his non-observance of what might be prescribed. 2 About 
the same period commenced the long strife which was to render the 
name of Jansenist so odious to papal ears. In 1567 Pius V. con 
demned the seventy-nine propostions of the Louvain Doctor Michael 
Bay a condemnation which had to be repeated by Gregory XIII. 
and Urban VIII. There was nothing in them that bore directly upon 
the abusive laxity of absolution with insufficient penance, but one or 
two of them assumed that no penance could suffice as worthy satis 
faction to God for sin and that remission of temporal punishment 
could only be gained through the satisfaction of Christ. 3 So in the 
five propositions of Cornelis Jansen, Bishop of Ipres, condemned by 
Innocent X. in 1653, by Alexander VII. in 1664, and by Clement 
XI. in 1705, there is no allusion to the subject. 4 Yet the sectaries 
whose obstinacy thus called forth these repeated denunciations were 

1 Savonarolse Confessionale, fol. 63-4. The old rule was that deficient con 
trition must be compensated for by heavier penance. Adami Persenise Abbatis 
Epist. xxvi. (Migne, CCXL). 

Erasmus represents a dissolute youth touched with contrition and making a 
full confession to a papal penitentiary, who imposes on him the penance of 
reciting a Miserere on his knees before an altar and giving a carlino to a 
beggar, and on his exclaiming at its insufficiency tells him that if he amends 
his life it is sufficient ; if he does not, his sin will inflict sufficient punishment 
(Colloq. Adolescentis et Scorti). This doubtless conveys the ideal of Erasmus, 
but it has the drawback of suggesting that the whole penitential system is 

2 S. Caroli Borromei Instruct, pp. 68, 78, 81. 

3 Prop. 59, 77. Pii PP. V. Bull. Ex omnibus, 1567 ; Urbani PP. VIII. Bull. 
In eminenti^ 1644. 

4 Clement. PP. XI. Bull. Vineam Domini, 1705. 


religionists of a more rigorous type than those who followed the 
fashionable easy-going Probabilism of the day and were not disposed 
to widen and level the steep and narrow path to heaven. Condem 
nation at Kome naturally drove them to a vigorous assertion of the 
liberties of the Gallican Church, though only a portion of them be 
came absolute schismatics in separating the see of Utrecht from 
Catholic unity, and even these professed still to regard the pope as 
the head of the Church. The rest formed a mutinous and highly- 
objectionable body, to whom were affiliated, to a greater or less degree, 
all who looked with disfavor on the prevailing and progressive laxity. 
Allusion has already been made (p. 17) to the strife over attrition 
and the persecutions occasioned by the bull Unigenitus, and those who 
thus insisted on charity as an element in sufficing attrition were not 
likely to be satisfied with practical nullification of penance. It was 
natural that their opponents should accuse them of closing by their 
rigidity the avenues to God and of abandoning the mass of mankind 
to despair by their revival of the Augustinian doctrines of grace and 
predestination. 1 There was, however, no definite line between them 
and their opponents : the name of Jansenist was never accepted by 
them, but was used by the Jesuits as an opprobrious term to desig 
nate all who advocated greater strictness in the ministration of the 
sacraments. The movement was simply a protest against the relaxed 
doctrine and practice of the day, an effort within the Church to 
revive its ancient discipline ; it denounced the casuists and moralists 
as Laxists, and its members in turn were stigmatized as Rigorists. 
Though France was their headquarters, they were to be found every- 

1 The good Redemptorist, Father Miiller, exulting in the triumph of Liguori 
over the Jansenists, can hardly find words strong enough to express his detes 
tation of their teachings" Morose and austere as they are, the Jansenists 
point out the way of salvation, but they strew it with difficulties almost insur 
mountable angular stones, sharp blades, and burning coals all these must be 
encountered. ... I am no longer amazed at the excesses of the National 
Assembly since I see so many Jansenists on its benches. Still less am I sur 
prised at the excesses of the Revolution since among its terrible actors figure 
so many ancient Jansenists. These men had hearts of steel ; their actions 
were eloquent of the fatalism and despair of their doctrines." The Catholic 
Priesthood, II. 178, 181. 

Father Miiller is not the first to identify the Revolution and Jansenism. As 
early as 1794 the ex-Jesuit Bolgeni issued his Problema se i Oiansenisti siano 


where, and for a century and a half they waged an unremitting war 
of books and pamphlets against the self-indulgence of human nature 
with a pertinacity that must win respect for their courage and con 
victions however little testimony it may bear to their worldly wisdom. 
The Rigorists thus held that the council of Trent meant what it 
said on the subject of satisfaction. Among their earlier spokesmen 
was Willem van Est, who quotes the Tridentine utterance as binding 
and insists on the imposition of penance proportionate and suitable 
to the sins submitted for remission. 1 More definitely Jansenist and 
aggressive were the Abbe" de S. Cyran and Antoine Arnauld, who 
required long and rigorous preparation for the reception of the sacra- 
men t s some of the nuns of Port Royal, it is said, were allowed to 
die without the viaticum because they were insufficiently prepared. 2 
The learned Father Morin was a Rigorist, and his exhaustive his 
tory of the sacrament of penitence pitilessly exposed the variations 
which had occurred in its evolution. Juenin belonged to the same 
school ; he devotes a long argument to prove that under the Tri 
dentine rule the penance should be proportioned to the sin, and he 
protests against the confessors who for grave offences impose merely 
a rosary, or fasting for a day or two, or the recital of the penitential 
psalms. To those who asserted that the old discipline was obsolete 
and that custom makes law, he replies that no custom can rescind a 
divine law. 3 Christian Wolff complains of the excessive laxity of 
the day in the imposition of penance, and calls for its correction. 4 
Cardinal Aguirre repels indignantly the imputation of Jansenism, 
but he denounces forcibly the impious pseudo-penitents who abuse 
confessors as butchers of souls for imposing heavy penances, when 
those prescribed by the most rigid do not equal in duration or harsh 
ness one-hundredth part of what was formerly in universal use. 5 
Noel Alexandre labors strenuously to prove by the ancient doctors 

1 Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. 14. 

2 Addis & Arnold s Catholic Dictionary, s. v. Jansenism. Arnauld s work, 
De lafrequente Communion, in which he denned these principles, was approved 
by twenty French bishops, and, when the Jesuits denounced it at Rome, the 
Inquisition, in 1645, unanimously refused to condemn it. Dollinger und 
Eeusch, Moralstreitigkeiten in der romisch-katholischen Kirche, I. 65. 

3 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. VI. Q. vi. cap. 7. 

4 Chr. Lupi Dissert, de Indulgentiis cap. vii. 

5 Aguirre Diss. de Concil. Toletan. III. n. 159 (Concil. Hispan. III. 256). 



and the Tridentine decrees that penance should bear some proportion 
to the sin. 1 Van Espen was the most learned canonist of his day, 
with strong Jansenist leanings, for he lost his position at Louvain 
in consequence of defending the election, in 1723, of Stenhoven, 
the schismatic Archbishop of Utrecht. He argues that the Tri 
dentine decree restored the ancient rules to full vigor, and he warns 
all confessors to observe the same care in the imposition of penance 
as did Jhe Fathers, to whom they are in no wise comparable either 
in learning or holiness. 2 Habert, the author of the " Pratique de 
Verdun," the so-called " Pratique impraticable," was no Jansenist, 
but a Rigorist. He is eloquent in insisting on the evils of the cus 
tomary laxity. The priest who is fearful of driving his penitents to 
seek another confessor is merely making a pact with the enemy. 
The penitent so treated never improves; after six hundred con 
fessions he is still given to the same sins, increasing day by day. 
The unworthy indulgence shown by so many confessors injures not 
only individuals but the whole Church, for it is the cause why 
sinners are not reformed, the sacraments are polluted and the divine 
and ecclesiastical laws are neglected. Yet the penances recommended 
by Habert show how far was this rigoristic school from seeking to 
restore the ancient severity, and how merely nominal were those of 
the Laxists when these were regarded as rigorous. The prescrip 
tions comprise short prayers at rising, directed against the prevailing 
sins, frequent examination of conscience and confession, with assid 
uous attendance at church ; if necessary, the prayers can be rendered 
more onerous by special postures during their recital. Fasting is 
for grave sins, but it is trivial abstaining from a meal or from wine 
and flesh, but to be so managed that the family or comrades may 
not suspect it ; bread and water are reserved for the most heinous 
offences, and perhaps some short pilgrimage may be desirable on a 

1 Sumrnse Alexandrine P. I. n. 602-13. 

2 Van Espen Jur. Eccles. Univers. P. n. Tit. vi. cap. 4. n. 6, 17. 

It was evidently with the object of checking confessorial laxity that the 
Jesuit Casalicchio made his collection of terrible examples. Thus a confessor, 
who had by trivial penances encouraged a penitent to continue a life of sin, is 
condemned to bear him on his shoulders throughout eternity, both enveloped 
m flames. In another similar case the dead penitent rises from the tomb, re 
proaches his confessor in the church, flays him alive, and both are carried off 
by demons. Avvenimenti prodigiosi contro quelli che malamente si confessano 
pp. 18, 19 (Venetia, 1697). 



Sunday or feast-day which will not interfere with labor. Besides 
these, various works of charity and mercy may be enjoined, or prac 
tices of self-mortification, or exercises to strengthen the moral char 
acter or overcome besetting vices ; thus idle women may be required 
to sew or knit or take care of their families, and so on with an end 
less number of special devices that may be varied infinitely. 1 The 
slight relation which all this bears to the discipline of the eleventh 
century shows the magnitude and completeness of the resolution 
which had occurred, but is evident that such a system in the hands 
of a wise pastor, with a personal knowledge of his subjects, might be 
made the source of no little moral improvement. Father Concina 
was another Rigorist, though no Jansenist, who carried on an un 
sparing warfare with the casuists and probabilists. He bitterly 
deplored the prevailing and increasing laxity, and appealed to the 
Tridentine decrees and Catechism to prove that satisfaction should 
be in some sort proportioned to sin. A short prayer, he argues, can 
scarce be called a punishment, and when it is imposed for the gravest 
sins it ought to be at least supplemented with interior fervor, but 
unfortunately, he adds, the spirit of repentance is well-nigh extinct 
among Christians. 2 Dr. Challoner was a teacher of the same school, 
who quoted the council of Trent to prove that the Church disap 
proves of light penance for grievous sins. 3 

Thus far the Holy See had taken no part in the controversy 
between the Rigorists and the Laxists over the sufficiency of satis 
faction. It had condemned the doctrinal views of Bay and Jan sen 
and Quesnel, and some of the practices of the latter, but had avoided 
any definition as to the important question of the construction to be 
put on the Tridentine decree ; but, when the time should come for 
such a decision, there could be no doubt as to what would be its 
nature, for the opposition to Jansenism was all-powerful at Rome, 
and the very name was so ominous of ill that it sufficed to condemn 
anything to which it could be applied. The opportunity came with 
the reforms of Leopold I. of Tuscany. Leopold himself disclaimed 
all addiction to Jansenism, 4 but when he included the Reflexions 

1 Habert Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. Tract. I. cap. ii. n. 3, 5 ; Tract, v. Keg. 1, 2. 

2 Concina Theol. Christ, contracta, Lib. xi. Diss. ii. cap. 8. 

3 Challoner s Catholic Christian Instructed, chap. ix. 

4 Francesco Scaduto, Stato e Chiesa sotto Leopoldo I. p. 79 (Firenze, 1885). 


Morales of Quesnel among the books to be printed and distributed 
to all parish priests it was difficult for Rome to acquit him of the 
charge, especially as he proposed to reduce the power of the Holy 
See to its ancient limits, to remove from the churches all images and 
pictures and all altars save one, to have the sacraments administered 
in the vernacular, with other changes equally subversive of existing 
conditions. 1 Scipione de Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato, the 
chief instrument in these proposed reforms, was unquestionably a 
Jansenist, and moreover a strenuous asserter of the superior authority 
of the State. 2 Leopold acted on these principles, and there was 
nothing lacking to render the revolt odious and menacing to Rome, 
coupled as it was with the somewhat revolutionary proceedings of 
his brother, the Emperor Joseph II. 

The reformers could scarce omit from their program the notori 
ous nullity of penance as customarily enjoined. In 1786, Guiseppe 
Pannilini, Bishop of Chiusi and Pienza, in a Pastoral Instruction, 
warns his priests not to convert the sacrament of penitence into a 
mere sacrament of confession. The ancient canons have never been 
abolished, and the complaints of penitents who think the discip 
line too rigid are to be disregarded. 3 The synod of Pistoia, under 
Ricci, was equally outspoken. To impose a few prayers and a slight 
fast after conferring absolution seems to be only a desire to preserve 
the mere name of penance in the sacrament, rather than a method 
of increasing the fervor of charity, which should precede absolution. 4 
It was a well-meant effort to revive the ancient discipline of the 
Church, but, like all efforts that fail, it only served to confirm the 
system against which it was a protest. It would be vain to speculate 
what would have been the result of Leopold s aggressive reforms 
had he been able to render them permanent ; as it was, the Fates 

1 Lettre Circulaire de S. A. E. Pierre Leopold Joseph, Grand-Due de Tos- 
cane aux EvSques de ses Etats, 26 Janv. 1786. 

2 Eicci allowed to be printed at Pistoia, in 1786, Goudvert s " Gesu Cristo 
sotto 1 Anatema," in which all the propositions condemned in the bull Uni- 
genitus are proved to be in accordance with Scripture and the Fathers. In a 
Pastoral Instruction, in 1784, he argued that the sovereignty of the State is 
absolute ; the authority of the Church is merely persuasive ; it has no external 
jurisdiction and no coercive power. Istruzione Pastorale di Mgr. Scipione de 
Eicci, 6 Febb. 1784 (Napoli, 1788, p. 21). 

3 Istruzione di Mgr. Vescovo di Chiusi e Pienza, \ xxxv. (Firenze, 1786). 

4 Atti e Decreti del Consiglio di Pistoja, p. 148. 


willed otherwise. Called to the head of the Holy Roman Empire 
by the death of Joseph II., he left Tuscany under the rule of a reac 
tionary regency and Ricci was abandoned. 1 The outbreak of the 
French Revolution warned sovereigns to seek, in close alliance with 
the Church, every means to buttress their tottering thrones, and 
the rebellion against its authority which in Germany, Tuscany and 
Naples had foreshadowed results so important, came to an inglorious 
end. Ricci was forced to resign his bishopric, and, after many per 
secutions, to sign a retraction of some kind, his adversaries, the 
curialists, congratulating him mockingly on the modern tenderness 
of the Church, which spared him the rigor of the ancient discipline. 2 
The last restraint was removed by the death of Leopold, February 
29, 1792. Ricci s successor in the see of Pistoia, Francesco Falchi, 
a creature of the curia, made haste to sweep away every trace of the 
reform, ordering all his priests to conform themselves to Rome, to 
use the discipline prescribed in the old synods and to employ the old 
catechisms. 3 The curia proceeded to secure the fruits of victory, and, 
in August, 1794, Pius VI. issued the well-known bull Auctorem 
fidei, in which the definitions of the synod of Pistoia were one by 
one condemned. Its utterance cited above on the subject of trivial 
penances was declared to be false and rash, and insulting to the 
common practice of the Church in so far as it implied that penance 
was imposed to supplement defects in reconciliation rather than as 
truly sacramental and satisfactory for the sins confessed. 4 The con 
demnation was a trifle vague, but it answered its purpose. There 
was no word upholding the Tridentine rule that peaance must be 
proportioned to sin ; the system of the Laxists was tacitly approved, 
and they had the field of the future. 

1 Scaduto, op. cit. p. 184. 

2 Dizionario Ricciano, p. 197 (By the Marchese del Guasto, Sora, 1793). 

3 Lettera Pastorale di Mgr. Francesco Falchi, Vescovo di Pistoia e Prato, 
Firenze, 1792. 

4 Pii PP. VI. Bull. Auctorem fidei, Prop. xxxv. 

This papal manifesto called forth much debate, and was not accepted with 
out considerable opposition, arising chiefly from its assertion of the superiority 
of the Church over the state. In Spain, even Carlos IV., bigoted as he was, 
did not grant it the placito regio and order its publication until 1800, and then 
only because his favorite Godoy had been won over. Pius VI. was so rejoiced 
that he commended Godoy as a pillar of the faith. Muriel, Historia de Carlos 
IV. T. VI. p. 119. 


It was not long after this that Salvatori wrote his instructions for 
young confessors. For thirty years he had been an earnest laborer 
in the confessional, seeking the salvation of souls in the hospitals 
and prisons among the most hardened of sinners, who perhaps had 
never confessed before and were now atoning for the misdeeds of a 
life-time. Yet he advises the lightest of penance. To give an un 
cultured penitent Rosaries to repeat or the Via Cruets, or the Soala 
Santa, is as much as to say " I give it to you to be not performed." 
Only what is cheerfully accepted is to be imposed three Hail Marys 
for the purity of the Virgin, a Pater and a Hail Mary for the 
guardian angel, the same for the name-saint and five for the five 
wounds of Christ, with certain meditations. In very grave cases 
these may be continued for some weeks or even months. 1 

When the administration of penance is thus reduced to a simple 
formality, it is difficult to appreciate the perplexities to which con 
scientious confessors assume to be exposed. Father Mach tells us 
that excessive laxity and excessive rigor are the rocks on which an 
infinite number of priests and penitents are lost. Those who are 
too indulgent think that they salvant damnandum, while in reality 
they damnant salvandum ; they attract around them a crowd of 
usurers, loose livers, and reprobates, and acquire the reputation of 
wise and good confessors. On the other hand, excessive rigor casts 
into hell those who are on the brink of the abyss. It is part of the 
same trouble which we have seen as to the alternatives of laxity and 
rigor in the requirements for absolution, but in this case Father 
Mach s excessive rigor consists in requiring a bashful boy to ask 
pardon of his parents, in prescribing monthly confession, in imposing 
on a laborer part of a Rosary daily for several months, in allowing 
only four ounces of food on a fast day, in enforcing the canons pro 
hibiting conjugal intercourse at certain times etc. In this dilemma 
he proposes a modification of the suggestion of Benedict XIV. 
(p. 187), by the imposition of two penances, one light but obligatory, 
the other heavier, as a voluntary work of devotion, the omission of 

1 Salvatori, Istruzione per i novelli Confessori, P. n. 3. The Via Crucis, 
as we shall see hereafter, is simply a visit to a church where there are represen 
tations of the various stages of the Passion. At each station the penitent 
pauses to meditate and breathe a prayer. The Scala Santa is the ascent on the 
knees of the Holy Stairs in St. Peter s, with a prayer at each step. For these 
pious works indulgences are given. 


which will not be a fresh sin. Thus a penitent burdened with adul 
teries, thefts, sacrilege and other grave offences may be required, to 
recite three parts of the Rosary or to perform the Via Crucis several 
times, while longer and more salutary acts of devotion may be 
suggested by way of counsel. 1 In the same spirit recent writers, 
after gravely asserting that the confessor sits as a judge to apportion 
the satisfaction to the sins as prescribed by the council of Trent, 
assure us that to hear a mass or recite a third of a Rosary, or to 
meditate for twenty minutes is a heavy penance, and that it may be 
lightened during the time of a Jubilee indulgence. 2 

A still more authoritative classification of modern penance is 
given by the papal Penitentiaries whose office it is to deal with the 
grave offences reserved to the Holy See. According to this, pceni- 
tentice graves are fasting, the discipline, pilgrimage to some church, 
recitation kneeling of the penitential psalms or parts of the Rosary, 
or monthly confession. Poenitentia longa is when it is to be per 
formed once a week for a year. Poenitentia grains et diuturna is 
prolonged for three years. Poenitentia gravissima is a fast once or 
thrice a week on bread and water or wine, or any of the poenitentice 
graves ordered more than once a week. Poenitentia perpetua is to be 
continued through life. Pcenitentia quotidiana is generally prescribed 
in commutation of a vow of chastity or religion ; it should be easy 
a brief prayer, spiritual reading, examination of the conscience or 
some simple work of mercy. This last provision for so serious a 
matter as the annullation of a vow of religion or chastity, shows 
how slender is the satisfaction currently imposed, especially as we 
are told that several light penances can be substituted for a heavier 
one, and that it suffices to indicate to the penitent what the penance 
ought to be and allow him to supply deficiencies of his own free 
will. 3 It need not, therefore, surprise us to learn that in ordinary 

1 Jose Mach, Tesoro del Sacerdote, pp. 247, 250-1, 259 (Torino, 1876). 

2 Bonal Instit. Theol. T. IV. n. 277 (Ed. XIV. Tolosae, 1882). Marc Institt. 
Moral. Alphonsiame n. 1716 (Ed. VII. Romae, 1893). 

3 Manuale Facultatum Minorum Poenitentiariorum Apostol. pp. 13-14 
(Romse, 1879). 

In 1688, before laxity had reached its present height, we are told that when 
the Penitentiary orders for a murderer a heavy and prolonged penance, it 
suffices to prescribe fasting two days in the week, weekly recitals of the peni 
tential psalms on the knees, and other similar observances to be continued at 


practice penance is the merest nominal formality. Father Joseph 
Faa di Bruno tells us " The priest will give you some advice, enjoin 
a penance, usually some prayers to be said by you, and if he finds 
you properly disposed give you in God s name absolution of your 
sins, while you make an act of sincere contrition. . . . You 
will now leave the confessional and kneeling in some other part of 
the church ... if time allows, you will then perform the 
penance enjoined on you by the priest." ] The penance thus quickly 
dispatched consists, as I am informed, usually of three or four Hall 
Marys ; external acts are dropped altogether and the recitation of 
the seven penitential psalms would imply some grievous offence 
requiring unusual satisfaction. It is a cardinal rule that no penance 
likely to give rise to suspicion is to be imposed. 2 

Such being the current practice of the Church, we may readily 
believe Frassinetti when he says that any parish priest who inclines to 
the more rigorous theories will speedily find his confessional deserted, 
and that in fact such theories are only held by students and recluses 
who have no experience. 3 Yet in the face of all this the theologians 
continue gravely to emphasize the indispensable importance of satis 
faction and the necessity of detailing all the circumstances of sin in 
order that the confessor may accurately apportion the punishment to 
the offence. 4 Possibly this may be self-deceptive, and yet, serious as 
the subject is, one can scarce resist a sense of the grotesque suggested 
by these solemn and labored disquisitions leading to an outcome so 
trivial, especially in view of the fact that when penitents are numer 
ous the confessor, however well intentioned, must needs fall into a 
perfunctory routine. It is true that on the one hand indulgences, in 
modern times, are relied upon to make good all deficiencies, and on 

least for a year. Navar Manuductio ad Praxim Executionis Litterar. S. 
Pcenitentiar. p. 129 (Romse, 1688). 

1 Jos. Faa di Bruno, Catholic Belief, pp. 310-11 (New York, 1884). 

2 Manuale Facultatum, etc., p. 14. 

3 Frassinetti, The New Parish Priest s Practical Manual, p. 355. Few priests 
there are, he adds (p. 356), who do not habitually select as their text-book 
Liguori s Moral Theology or the works of his commentators, Scavini, Gury, 
Gousset, etc. 

4 Azpilcuetse Manual. Confessar. cap. xxvi. n. 16-17. Reginald! Praxis Fori 
Poenit. Lib. vn. no. 45-8. Salvatori, Istruzione per i novelli Confessori, P. n. 
$ iv. Grone, der Ablass seine Geschichte und Bedeutung, pp. 36-40, 45-8 
(Regensburg, 1863). Palmieri Tractatus de Poenit. pp. 426, 428, 436-8. 


the other that conscientious confessors place their hope of improving 
their penitents rather on the moral instruction which the confessional 
enables them to give impressively, than on the penance, whether 
vindictive or medicinal, which they can impose. Doubtless in this 
manner a zealous and kindly priest, who is not hurried by a crowd 
of penitents, can accomplish much good, yet even this can scarce out 
weigh the unfortunate impression that sin can be redeemed by the 
sacrament and a few brief prayers. 

In this virtual abandonment of satisfaction modern theologians 
apparently do not realize that it involves the virtual abandonment 
of the divine origin of confession which is solely based upon the 
necessity of a judge knowing all the details of a case before he can 
render judgment, or that it reduces the sacrament of penitence at 
the most into a device for producing an impression upon the sinner s 
emotional nature, giving him good counsel and exhorting him to 
repentance and amendment. The practical elimination of satisfaction 
resolves all the rest of the sacrament into an artificial environment 
to produce a factitious effect and is an admission that the penitential 
system, after some thirteen hundred years of trial must be practi 
cally abandoned. When penitents have to be enticed to the confes 
sional by a minimum of penance, even the pretence of contrition 
vanishes, for contrition postulates an earnest desire to placate God at 
any necessary sacrifice. 1 

So revolutionary a change of discipline in the exercise of the most 
important function of the Church could not occur without eliciting 
some apology and attempt at explanation. During the middle ages 
and even into modern times a common excuse for it has been the 
assertion that the increasing fragility of man and the refrigescence of 
charity have rendered it impossible to impose on the repentant sinner 
the burdens which were cheerfully endured by the robuster virtue of 
earlier times/ and those who argued thus were apparently blind to 

1 Sed qui hie non vult satisfacere pro mortal! non videtur esse in statu salutis. 
S. Antonini Summse P. m. Tit. xvii. cap. 18. 

2 Alani de Insulis Lib. Poenit. (Migne, OCX. 293, 294). P. Pictaviens. 
(Morin. de Pcenit. Lib. x. cap. 25). Guillel. Paris, de Sacr. Poenit. cap. 21. 
Concil. Claromont. ann. 1268, cap. 7 (Harduin. VII. 596). Weigel Claviculse 
Indulgent, cap. 19. Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio vi. Mich. Medina Dis- 
putat. de Indulgentiis cap. xlii. Marchant. Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. IV. 


the implied admission that under the constantly developing theocracy 
of the Church her children were constantly deteriorating. Father 
La Croix indignantly repudiates this reasoning as an invention of 
the Rigorists and proceeds to enumerate what he regards as the 
causes. The heretics he considers partly to blame, because to avert 
their attacks the Church fears to render confession odious by heavy 
penances ; then the rise of the Mendicant Orders and Jesuits created 
a class of confessors who learned to cure sin by more benignant 
methods, arid these came to be recognized as more useful, because 
thereby the faithful were allured to the sacraments ; moreover the 
Holy War against the infidel brought in the use of indulgences, 
which are a more certain mode of satisfying God, and besides, the 
increase of the religious Orders afforded a most efficient refuge for 
penitents. 1 Dr. Amort knew a little more of history than the ordi 
nary theologian and went further back in his search for causes. 
The early Christians, he says, lived in a Gentile community, and 
though it bore hardly on the sinner it was good policy for them to 
win the respect of the heathen by the severity visited upon all of 
fences. Then, as the Barbarians were converted who were prone to 
vice, similar rigor was required ; besides, there were many crimes 
not punished by the secular laws, and the Church had to repress 
them. Now, however, these offences are justiciable in the courts, the 
people at large are more virtuous and are surrounded with aids to 
virtue in the shape of priests, monks, friars, confraternities, religious 
observances, feasts, pilgrimages, etc., and consequently much less 
severity is needed. 2 Father Renter explains that it was to prevent 
the heretics from traducing the confessional as a butchery of souls, 
to attract the faithful to confession and thus secure the preservative 
influence of the sacrament, and finally in consequence of the increased 
use of indulgences. 3 The learned Binterim contents himself with 
stating facts ; in the obsolescence of the Penitentials penance became 

Q. iv. Concl. 3. Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 8. Bened. PP. XIV. De 
Synodo Dioecesan. Lib. xi. Cap. xi. n. 4. 

Cardinal Gousset virtually says the same " The weaker the faith has become 
among us, the more necessary it is to deal mildly with sinners who return to 
God." Hutch s Translation of Frassinetti s Manual, p. 356. 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1255. 

2 Amort de Indulgentiis I. 12. 

3 Reuter Neoconfessarius instructus n. 18. 


arbitrary and diminished in rigor ; the doctors argued that the 
ancient severity was unendurable by modern tepidity ; theologians 
proved that discretional penances sufficed, that only public sins re 
quired public penance, and in time this too fell into desuetude ; the 
gate was opened to laxity, every man followed his own practice with 
out regard to the precepts of the Fathers or the rules of the Church, 
and this lasted until the council of Trent established wholesome 
regulations about the non-observance of which he preserves discreet 
silence. 1 A more recent authority is satisfied with attributing it to 
the influence of the Holy Ghost and the use of indulgences. 2 

One current excuse offered for trivial penance is the sacramental 
value conferred, by the final clause of the absolution formula, on the 
tribulations endured and good works performed by the penitent 
(I. p. 491). We have seen (I. p. 4) the early belief in the expia 
tory character of suffering. This was not lost sight of by the school 
men in framing their system ; misfortunes are punishments inflicted 
by God, and may satisfy for sin if borne with patience and charity 
a doctrine which the council of Trent has rendered de fide. 3 As soon 

1 Binterim, Denkwiirdigkeiten, V. in. 271-2. 

2 Guillois, History of Confession, pp. 133-4 (New York, 1889) "The dis 
cipline of the Church concerning penance is nowadays very different from 
what it was in the early ages. Does sin offer God a less outrage, or does divine 
justice relax its claims to take revenge? Undoubtedly not, but the Church, 
guided by the Holy Ghost, has thought it advisable to use less severity towards 
her children, fearing lest she might induce them to lose courage ; moreover, in 
opening to them the treasure of indulgences she offers to them a supplement 
to the shortness of their penance and means to satisfy the justice of Almighty 

3 Astesani Summse Lib. V. Tit. xxiv. Q. 2. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Satis- 
factio I 9. C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 9. Miiller s Catholic Priest 
hood, IV. 212. But to enjoy this expiatory advantage penitents must at least 
have the virtual intention of offering their tribulations in satisfaction (Gab. 
Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. ii. Art. 3, Dub. 7. Clericati De Poenit. Decis. 
vn. n. 4, vii r. n. 1), and confessors are advised to enjoin on those suffering 
under poverty, disease or disgrace that two or three times a day for a week or 
two they offer these evils as a satisfaction to God, protesting that they will 
endure them patiently in retribution for their sins (Gobat Alphab. Confessar. 
n. 750). 

In modern times faith in this doctrine seems to be somewhat shaken. Pal- 
mieri explains (Tract, de Poenit. pp. 418-19) that the evils of life are not always 
sent in punishment of sin. Some of them are natural and ordinary, some ex 
traordinary, like the Deluge, the burning of Sodom etc., which are punish- 


a the absolution formula took its modern shape the theologians dis 
covered that it had a special value in converting the evils of life 
into sacramental penance. 1 To this fortunate discovery some authori 
ties attribute the diminution of penitential inflictions, as the words 
of the priest thus render the penitent s whole life a satisfaction and 
supply all defects. 2 When they are used the confessor is therefore 
justified in imposing a penance that would be otherwise inadequate, 
though in this the doctors are not unanimous. 3 

The development of the use of indulgences has also been com 
monly adduced in explanation of the diminution of penance, to which, 
indeed, it has in some degree perhaps contributed by reconciling both 
confessor and penitent to the inadequacy of the customary satisfac 
tion, for it is assumed in practice, as a matter of course, that the peni 
tent will not rely on the sufficiency of what is enjoined on him in 
the sacrament, but will supplement it by some of the indulgences 
which are now so liberally granted for observances easily performed. 4 
Yet in fact this is an inadequate explanation. The original form of 
the indulgence, as we shall see hereafter, was merely a commutation 
of a part or the whole of the enjoined penance, which was presumed to 
be imposed according to the canons, and therefore to be adequate satis 
faction. As penance decreased and became manifestly insufficient the 

ments. Of such are war, famine, pestilence, social disturbances, and in these 
the righteous are involved with the wicked, and God will often not be mollified 
with their prayers. On this are based processions, feasts etc. in times of 
calamity, and sometimes God accepts this satisfaction, and sometimes not. 

1 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. V. De Poenit. et Remiss, n. 51. Astesani 
Summae Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. Summa Tabiena s. v. Absolutio I. n. 4. Bart. 
a Medina Instruct. Confessarior. Lib. 11. cap. 11, Reg. ult. 

As in almost everything else, there are dissenters who hold that this clause 
is merely deprecatory. See La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1229, 1250. 
S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 507. 

2 Azpilcuetse De Poenit. Dist. v. cap. Falsaa n. 15 ; Dist. vi. cap. 1 In Princip. 
n 37. Reginald! Praxis Fori Poenit. Lib. vu. n. 26. 

3 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 755-6. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vr. P. ii. 
n. 1259. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 507. Varceno Comp. 
Theol. Moral. Tract, xvni. cap. 5. art. 2. 

Renter (Neoconfessarius instructus n. 22) considers the negative opinion 
more probable. 

4 Ma per togliere ogni scrupulo si a penitenti come a confessori circa il dare 
o ricevere penitenze piu 6 meno leggiere basta 1 uso delle indulgenze. S. 
Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, Discorso Mistico e Morale \ xxix. 


indulgence grew to be reckoned as covering not only the enjoined pen 
ance but all that should have been imposed. In either case the in 
creasing facility with which indulgences were obtainable would rather 
favor the retention of the canonical penances, because they could 
thus be so easily discharged, except among the rigorist school, which 
taught that indulgences do not release from the performance of pen 
ance. It is therefore rather as an apology than as a logical process 
of reasoning that we must regard the frequent remark of the moral 
ists that light penances are justified by the penitent obtaining an 
indulgence, especially at the time of a Jubilee, while sometimes it 
is recommended or even enjoined to be gained in order to compen 
sate for the inadequacy of the penance prescribed. 1 Bartolome de 
Medina had a more correct conception when he says that the confessor 
should require the penitent to gain a Cruzada or Jubilee indulgence 
in order to provide against defects or forgetfulness in the performance 
of his penance. 2 

When we turn from the theological apologies to inquire into the 
real causes of this complete change in the discipline of the Church, 
it is not difficult to explain by the concurrent and cumulative action 
of various factors. When the Lateran canon of 1216 rendered annual 
confession obligatory on all Christians, it became indispensable that 
the enforced penitents should be treated very differently from the 
voluntary ones who of old appealed for relief from the burden of 
their sins, or the public offenders who were condemned to expiate 
their crimes. An attempt to enforce the penitential canons would 
have led to a rebellion ; the Lateran rule was difficult enough to 
carry into effect, and the people had to be allured to its recognition 
by a mitigation of the ancient rigor. The confessor, moreover, by 
this time was clothed with arbitrary power to modify at his discre 
tion the prescriptions of the penitentials, and in administering the 
new order of things he consulted his own ease and cultivated the 
liberality of his parishioners by laxity. 

1 Henriquez Suminse Theol. Moral. Lib, v. cap. xxii. n. 5. Tamburini 
Method. Confessionis Lib. vi. cap. 1, n. 12. Gobat. Alphab. Confessar. n. 
762-3. Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. in. n. 11-15. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. 
VI. P. ii. n. 1225-1229. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 519. 
Reuter Neoconfessarius instructus n. 17. Grone, Der Ablass, p. 48. 

2 Bart, a Medina Instruct. Confessar. Lib. n. cap. xi. Reg. 7. 


Moreover, as the distinction between the forum externum and in- 
ternum became more clearly recognized it was evident that the essence 
of penance as satisfaction lay in its being voluntary and cheerfully 
accepted. This had already been occasionally admitted, 1 but now it 
grew to be an axiom among the schoolmen that it could never be 
imposed on the unwilling, and even that no promises of its perform 
ance could be exacted 2 a rule which is still taught, with some ex 
ceptions that will be considered hereafter. 3 In fact, the theologians 
find in the voluntary character of penance the explanation why such 
trifling observances release from the unutterable pains of purgatory. 4 
It is true that this free-will on the part of the penitent is rendered 
somewhat illusory by the power of the priest to refuse absolution, 
which leads to a good many intricate questions involving some dif 
ferences of opinion among the doctors. As the priest, however, was 
taught (pp. 183, 185) never to allow a penitent to leave the confes 
sional in despair, the natural result was to lead to a consultation 
between the two as to what should be imposed and accepted, inevi 
tably resulting in a constantly progressive diminution of the amount. 
In its zeal to introduce confession as a custom and then to facilitate 
obedience to the Lateran canon, the Church accepted the necessity of 
this consultation, subversive as it was of the dignity of the sacra 
ment and of the judicial position claimed for the priest. With a 
few exceptions among later authorities, this consultation is prescribed 
and the confessor is directed to impose no penance save such as the 
penitent signifies his willingness to accept. 5 

1 Cnuti Legg. Eccles. Tit. xxiii. Post Concil. Lateran. P. xxxv. cap. 2; 
P. L. cap. 10. Alani de Insulis Lib. Pomit. (Migne, OCX. pp. 289-90). 

2 S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. P. ii. Art. 2, Q. 4. J. Scoti in IV. 
Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 1. Jo. Friburgens. Surnmse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. 
Q. 135, 136. Astesaui Summse Lib. V. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. Summa Angelica s. v. 
Confessio VI. g 1. Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 105a. Godschalci Rosemondi 
Confessionale fol. 113-14. 

3 Clericati de Poenit. Decis. iv. n. 1. Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Pcenit. 
Sacram. m. n. 11. Palmieri Tract, de Poenit. p. 427. 

4 Martini de Frias de Arte et Modo audiendi Confess, fol. xiia. 

5 Alani de Insulis Lib. Poenit. (Migne, CCX. 294-5. Rob. de Flammesburg 
Lib. Pcenitent. (Morin. de Poenit. Lib. x. cap. 25). S. Raymundi Summge Lib. 
in. Tit. xxxiv. 4. Synod. Nemausens. ann. 1284 (Harduin. VII. 910-11). 
Astesani Summee Lib. v. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. S. Antonini Summa Confessionum 
fol. 106, 696. John Myrc s Instructions to Parish Priests, v. 1633-6. Sumrna 


This discretion allowed to the penitent led to a further source of 
reduction of penance. When the sacramental theory was fairly 
established that contrition or attrition with the sacrament remits 
the culpa, leaving only the pcena, or temporal pains of purgatory, 
to be removed by the satisfaction imposed, the penitent claimed that 
he might make his election between enduring the penance and tak 
ing his chances in purgatory. This claim was generally admitted 
by the schoolmen and is even accepted by some post-Tridentine 
moralists of high authority. 1 Alexander Hales seems to be the 
only medieval theologian to deny it, for the somewhat irrelevant 
reason that no man can be a judge in his own cause. 2 Among the 
moderns, however, it finds little favor, and it may be considered for 
the present at least as obsolete ; 3 in fact, with the trivial penances in 

Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor iv. 2. C. Senonens. aim. 1524 (Bochelli Deer. 
Eccles. Gallic. Lib. u. Tit. vii. cap. 112). S. Francesco di Sales, Avvisi ai 
Confessori, n. viii. Amort de Indulgentiis II. 233. Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. 
s. v. Pcenit. Sacram. Art. ill. n. 11-15. S. Alph. de Ligorio Praxis Confessor, 
n. 8, 11, 12. 

On the other hand, Gobat says (Alphab. Confessor, n. 764) that the opinion 
is improbable and is unknown in Germany that the penitent can accept or 
reject the penance. The severe virtue of Juenin naturally construes the Tri- 
dentine decree to mean that the penitent must accept whatever penance is 
enjoined under pain of loss of absolution, and that the contrary opinion is a 
novel innovation (De Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. vi. cap. 6, Art. 2). 

1 Eob. de Flammesburg (ubi sup.). Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xix. Q. 1. 
Guillel. Vorrillong in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Summa Angelica s. v. Con- 
fessio \ 36. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio. Sacram. I. \ 29. Aurea Ar- 
milla s. v. Confessio n. 29. Azpilcuetse Man. Confessar. cap. xxvi. n. 20, 23. 
Eeginaldi Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. VII. n. 15. Polacci Comment, in Bull. 
Urbani PP. VIII., pp. 406-7 (Komse, 1625). 

Azpilcueta, however, elsewhere (Comment, de Poenit. Dist. v. cap. Consid. 
| Ponat se n. 6) says that in such case the priest can refuse absolution, when 
the penitent can seek a more tractable confessor. 

2 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xvm.. Membr. ii. Art. 1. 

3 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. vi. cap. 6, Art. 2. Clericati de Poenit. 
Decis. ir. n. 9 ; Decis. xxx. n. 1-6. Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Pcenit. 
Sacram. Art. in. n. 11-15. Bened. PP. XIV. Encyc. Inter prceteritas $ 65, 
3 Dec. 1749. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 515-16. Palmieri 
Tract, de Pcenit. p. 438. 

There seems to have been an effort to deter penitents from electing purgatory 
by various stories to illustrate the sharpness of the purgatorial suffering. St. 
Antonino (Summge P. iv. Tit. xiv. cap. 10, g 4) relates, from the Liber de 
Septem Donis, that a man, worn out by long and painful illness, prayed for 


vogue, it may be regarded as a question of purely speculative in 
terest. Connected closely with this is the question whether the 
penitent who refuses to accept any penance is to be absolved. We 
have seen above (pp. 182, 189) that this was answered affirmatively 
by the schoolmen, and even in the latter half of the sixteenth cen 
tury Azpilcueta states that it is the universal custom in Rome and 
throughout the world never to refuse absolution because the penitent 
declines to accept penance. 1 Practically this is accepted by modern 
theologians who say that to preserve the integrity of the sacrament 
the priest must impose something, however trivial, even if only 
beating of the breast or calling upon Jesus, and it is not to be sup 
posed that the penitent will absolutely refuse to do anything, but on 
the speculative question as to absolution in such case opinions are 
divided, with the weight of authority inclining in the negative. 2 It 
is easy thus to understand how Liguori on his death-bed was able to 
boast that " I do not remember that I ever sent away a sinner with 
out absolution/ 7 and how Salvatori can assert that a priest who 
drives away a penitent as unfit for absolution is an assassin of 
souls. 3 

death, when an angel appeared to him and offered that he should die and pass 
three days in purgatory or endure his disease for two years more and then 
ascend direct to heaven. He chose the former, died, and his soul went to 
purgatory, where the angel came and reminded him of the bargain. He com 
plained- bitterly of deceit, saying that he had been promised only three days, 
while already he had been subjected to years of fearful agony. The angel 
told him that only an hour had passed, when he begged to be restored to life. 
The request was granted, and he patiently endured the two years of sickness. 
Gregory the Great was wiser, for when he prayed for the soul of Trajan, an 
angel reproved him for praying for one of the damned and offered him the 
alternative of two days in purgatory or to pass the rest of his life in painful 
disease. He chose the latter and patiently endured the torments of fevers, 
gout and colics which pursued him till death. Rob. Episc. Aquinat. Opus 
Quadrigesimale Serm. XLVIII. cap. 2. 

1 Azpilcuetse Manuale Confessar. cap. xxvi. n. 20. 

2 Reginald! Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. vn. n. 12, 20. Escobar Theol. Moral. 
Tract, vn. Exam. iv. n. 34, 40. Gobat. Alphab. Confessar. n. 742. Clericati 
de Poenit. Decis. xxxiv. n. 7. Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. VI. Q. vi. Art. 2, 
n. 1. Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. IV. cap. ii. \ 1, n. 7. La Croix Theol. 
Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1238. Varceno Comp. Theol. Moral. Tract, xvni. 
cap. 5, Art. 3. 

3 Miiller s Catholic Priesthood, III. 176. Salvatori, Istruzione per i novelli 
Confessori, P. u. 1. 


Another source of diminished penance is to be found in the com 
petition between the secular priests and the Mendicant Orders and 
Jesuits, with the inevitable result of the effort on both sides to attract 
penitents to their respective confessionals. There was not only the 
personal influence at stake, but the fees or "alms" and the oppor 
tunity of securing compositions and legacies from the dying ren 
dered the hearing of confessions a profitable duty well worth con 
tending for, and each side accused the other of undue laxity of 
what in worldly phrase might be termed an underselling of redemp 
tion. 1 Competition of this kind could not fail to stimulate the 
tendency to diminish the penance customarily imposed. 

The constantly increasing strictness with which the obligation of 
the seal of confession was construed served as another contributory 
cause or excuse for laxity. It is evident that the long years of 
penance prescribed in the Penitentials, the pilgrimages and other 
public observances, the donation of broad lands in remission of sins 
which openly proclaimed the lapses and repentance of the sinner, 
were out of place when the old spontaneous seeking of pardon was 
converted into enforced confession required of every one. To render 
the new rule acceptable and induce its observance the penitent had 
to be guaranteed inviolable secrecy and protection from suspicion. 
We have seen that it became established that public penance should 
not be prescribed for secret sins, and this naturally developed into 
the rule that no satisfaction should be imposed that would in any 
way subject the penitent to suspicion or scandal. 2 As voluntary 
mortification gradually declined, the penitential resources at the 
command of the confessor thus became more and more restricted, 
especially as the secrecy of the confessional extended to the penitent, 
and he was required not to allow the penance imposed on him to be 
known. 3 Post-Tridentine doctors therefore tell us that the discipline 
is excluded ; prolonged devotional exercises might betray ; as fast 
ing on bread and water is no longer voluntarily assumed, the in 
junction of such a penance on a wife would lead to detection by her 
husband. Azpilcueta admits that penitents can be required, imme 
diately after confession, to salute the Virgin or to recite a psalm on 

1 Alex. PP. VIII. Deer. 7 Dec. 1690, Prop. 21, 22; cf. Viva Theol. Trutina 
in foe. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1263. 

2 Jo. Gersonis Eeg. Morales (Ed. 1488, xxv. G.). 

3 Rob. Episc. Aquinat. Opus Quadragesimale Serm. xxix. cap. 2. 


bended knees in the church, because such observances do not excite 
suspicion ; he denounces as unlawful, though he has witnessed it, 
the penance of standing bareheaded and barefooted with a candle 
during mass. He adds that it is a foolish and miserable error to 
impose, as penance for working on a feast-day, the asking of public 
pardon on another feast ; still more foolish, when the offence has 
been secret, and most foolish of all to enjoin fasting, after Easter, on 
men and even on women, for lapses of the flesh. 1 Lochon declares 
that it is better to leave the sinner to the mercy of God in this world 
and the next than to expose a girl to the suspicion of her mother or 
a wife to that of her husband 2 a humane and charitable conclusion, 
but one which effectually disposes of the whole theory of satisfaction. 
That this scrupulous protection of the sinner from suspicion is 
authoritative is manifested by a decree of the Inquisition, May 6, 
1761, directing the superiors of the Capuchins, when a penitent is 
sent to them with a reserved case, to be careful that the penance 
be such as not to betray the confession, even by inference and con 
jecture. 3 

More than all this, however, was the change effected by the per 
fected theory of the sacraments, especially when the discovery, about 
the middle of the thirteenth century, of the treasure of salvation 
lodged with the Church for distribution, enabled it to give to every 
sinner the quid pro quo wherewith to satisfy for his sins. In the old 
penance the theory was that the sinner must undergo an infliction in 
some sort equivalent to his offences. In the new penance the whole 
conception is changed. Even as servile attrition suffices in the sacra 
ment, ex opere operato, to replace the contrition formerly required, so, 
through the sacramental power of the keys, the Passion of Christ is 
offered by the sinner and the trivial works performed by him become 
an equivalent to satisfy God for the infinite evil of his mortal sins 
and disobedience. 3 As Guido de Monteroquer says, a single Pater- 

1 Azpilcuetse Comment, de Poenit. Dist. v. cap. Sacerdos, n. 103-7. Hen- 
riquez Surninae Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. cap. xxi. n. 6. Reginald! Praxis Fori 
Pcenit. Lib. viz. n. 32. 

2 Lochon, Traite du Secret de la Confession, p. 84 (Brusselle, 1708). 

3 Bernardi a Bononia Man. Confessar. Ord. Capuccin. cap. vr. $ 1. 

4 Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 1. Astesani Sumina3 Lib. v. Tit. xix. 
Q. 2. Saulius in Savonarolse Confessionale fol. S3a. Busenbauin Medulla 
Theol. Moral Lib. vi. Tract, iv. Cap. 1, Dub. 4, Art. 1. Viva Oursus Theol. 

II. 14 


noster imposed by the priest is more efficacious than a hundred 
thousand recited spontaneously, for the one has its merit from the 
Passion, the other only from the merit of the individual. 1 Thus 
the slenderest observances acquire a sacramental value rendering 
them satisfactorily efficient, and, in the mercantile language so much 
affected by the moralists, the faithful can discharge with a dollar in 
this world the debt of a hundred due in the next. 2 

In spite of all this the question of the sufficiency of the satisfac 
tion imposed in the confessional has been the subject of endless dis 
cussion, and as it is one of which, in the nature of things, none of 
the debaters know anything, their debates are necessarily somewhat 
vague and unfruitful. Before the sacramental theory was perfected, 
Peter Lombard infers a distinction between the satisfaction due to 
the Church and that due to God. The contrition of the sinner may 
in itself satisfy for both culpa and pcena; if it does not, and the 
priest imposes an insufficient penance, God adds what punishment is 
requisite ; but, as no one can know the interior of another, the Church 
has wisely provided certain terms of penance through which the 
sinner satisfies the Church, inside of which alone can sins be remitted. 3 
Thus a double duty was imposed on the penitent ; the Church could 
only prescribe its terms for reconciliation, and left him to settle his 
accounts with God. When the sacramental theory had been fairly 
worked out, Aquinas argues that the priest in bestowing absolution 
must remit part of the purgatorial pains, for otherwise he would be 
doing nothing, and that the inspiration of God must direct him as to 
the imposition of satisfaction sufficient to discharge the rest, but 
insufficiency does not affect the validity of absolution as any defi 
ciency will be made up in purgatory. 4 With that intimate knowledge 

Moral. P. vi. Q. 1, Art. 1, n. 6. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1237. 
Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univ. Diss. V. cap. iv. Q. 2, Concl. 1. Palmier! Tract, 
de Pcenit. pp. 422, 439. 

1 Manip. Curatorum P. 11. Tract, iii. Cap. 10. " Unde credo quod unum 
Paternoster imposition in poenitentia a sacerdote efficacius est ad satisfaciendum 
pro peccatis quam si aliquis dicerit centum millia per semetipsum, quia illud 
habet meritum a passione Christi, ilia vero merito dicentis." 

2 Salvatori, Istruzione per i novelli Confessed, P. I. xxvii. 

3 P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. IV. Dist. xx. n. 3. 

4 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. XX. Q. ii. ad 2 ; Summse Suppl. Q. XVIII. 
Artt. 3, 4. 


of the ways of God possessed by the schoolmen, Duns Scotus declares 
that if the priest happens to hit anywhere near the mark, God accepts 
it, but if he falls much too low God regards it as unreasonable and 
only remits a proportionate part of the pcena. 1 John of Freiburg 
admits that the amount of penance imposed by the priest has no 
necessary relation to that due by the sinner ; if all that is due were 
imposed it would be discouraging, so it is better to prescribe too little 
and trust to its being supplemented in purgatory. 2 In fact it was 
generally admitted that it is impossible for the priest to know what 
penance should be imposed, and the unanimous resource of the doctors 
was the inevitable one that if it was too small God could be trusted 
to make it up in purgatory, nor does it seem to have occurred to them 
how fatal to the claims of divine origin for the system was this admis 
sion of its inevitable imperfection and inadequacy. 3 As Thomas of 
Walden naively remarks, as the amount is known only to God, man 
cannot estimate it, and if there were no hope in the keys so long as 
penance is not certain, the keys would be only a source of despair, 
while Dr. Weigel phrases the dilemma differently when he asks 
what is the function of the priest when God pardons the eulpa for 
contrition and does not ratify the decision of the confessor as to the 
posna* Baptista Tornamala is troubled by no such doubts, and asserts 
that if the priest intends to give full penance and gives too little, 
still it suffices, provided the penitent believes him to be sufficiently 
learned, but in a sinner who intentionally seeks an ignorant confessor 
such satisfaction is incomplete. 5 Caietano and Prierias recur to 
Aquinas s doctrine of inspiration. 6 

1 Weigel Clavic. Indulgent. Cap. 6. Gab. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm Q 
1, Art. 1, Concl. 2. 

2 Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 129. 

3 P. Pictaviens. Sentt. Lib. in. Cap. 16. S. Eaymundi Summge Lib. in. Tit. 
xxxiv. 4. Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xxi. Membr. iii. Art. 1. S. 
Bonavent. Confessionale, Cap. iv. Partic. 3. Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv! 
Q. 1. Astesani Summae Lib. v. Tit. vi. Q. 1 ; Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. Durand de S. 
Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Q. 1, | 5. Pcenit. Civitatens. cap. 150 (Was- 
serschleben, p. 705). P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Q. ii. ad 3. Jo. 
Gersonis Regulse Morales (Ed. 1488, xxv. G). S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. 
xvii. Cap. 20. Rob. Episc. Aquinat. Opus Quadragesimale Serm. XLVIII. 

4 Th. Waldens. de Sacramentis Cap. CL. n. 1 ; Cap. CLVII. n. 3. Weigel 
Claviculae Indulgent. Cap. 6. 

5 Summa Rosella s. v. Indulgentia 29. 

6 Caietani Opusc. Tract, xvm. De Confessione, Q. 5. -Summa Sylvestrina 
s. v. Claves, n. 6. 


The post-Tridentine doctors pay less attention to the subject, as it 
is divested of much of its importance by the modern theories as to 
indulgences, the facilities of obtaining them and their universal use. 
As a rule they adhere to the old belief in the deficiency being made 
up in purgatory, 1 and Renaud argues that those who deny it are mis 
led by authorities which relate to restitution, avoiding occasions of 
sin, etc., Avhile he further points out an inevitable source of uncer 
tainty in the fact that the priest cannot tell what portion of the 
merits of Christ are applied to the pardon of the sin. 2 Henriquez, 
like Duns Scotus, considers it probable that, if the confessor guesses 
with tolerable accuracy, God is satisfied and asks nothing more. 3 La 
Croix admits that the result is uncertain, for the judgment of the 
priest does not control that of God, and in this satisfaction differs 
from indulgences, because in them the pope offers an undoubted 
equivalent from the treasure of the Church. 4 Habert claims that 
God grants a special grace to those whom he calls to the cure of 
souls, but he weakens this by adding that the requisite experience is 
gained by practice. 5 Ferraris quotes authorities on either side of the 
question of sufficiency, but concludes that the more probable opinion 
is that satisfaction does not relieve entirely from the pains of purga 
tory, for otherwise indulgences and other good works would be neg 
lected. 6 It is therefore recommended by Willem van Est that when 
the penitent recognizes the insufficiency of the penance imposed he 
should supplement it of his own accord, for every man is bound to 
judge for himself. 7 Of course such self-imposed austerities would be 
destitute of sacramental value, and it is not to be supposed that the 
advice is frequently followed, except as to obtaining indulgences, 

1 Azpilcuetse Comment, de Poenit. Dist. v. Cap. Consid. $ Ponat se n. 5. 
Eeginaldi Praxis Fori Poenit. Lib. I. n. 15. Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. VI. 
Q. vi. Art. 1, n. 1. S. Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 509. Reuter 
Neoconfessarius instructus n. 17. Varceno Comp. Theol. Moral. Tract, xvni. 
cap. 5, Art. 1. 

2 Reginald! Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. I. n. 17 ; Lib. vii. n. 49. 

3 Henriquez Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. cap. xxii. n. 10. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1237. 

5 Habert Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. Tract v. Reg. 3. 

6 Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Poenit. Sac-ram. Art. in. n. 3, 4. 

7 Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xxv. \ 21. Father Miiller (Catholic Priesthood, 
IV. 208-9), in admitting the complete insufficiency of modern penance, gives 
excellent advice as to supplementing it with works of charity and self-restraint. 


which the confessor is sometimes recommended to urge and even to 
impose. 1 This, I believe, is the ordinary custom with penitents, 
especially with those belonging to some one of the countless confra 
ternities which the Church so zealously favors. 

There are many other questions connected with the subject of 
satisfaction, of which a few deserve consideration here. The degree 
of obligation resting on the penitent to perform the imposed penance 
- has been the source of endless debates ever since the system has been 
established. We have seen that the penitent is to be consulted as 
to what he will accept, and that it is even yet disputed whether he 
cannot elect to satisfy in purgatory, but this leaves open a wide field 
of discussion as to the duty of obedience and consequences of diso 
bedience after a penance had been explicitly or impliedly accepted. 
In spite of the claim that what the Church binds on earth is bound 
in heaven, the earlier schoolmen recognized that the judgment of the 
priest might not be the judgment of God, and that a man might be 
bound on earth and yet loosed in heaven. If the penitent should 
die before completing the penance assigned to him, Peter Lombard 
has the unfailing resource of making him complete it in purgatory, 
but he adds that if the sinner s contrition has been sufficient to satisfy 
for his sins he will fly at once to heaven in spite of his unfinished 
penance. 2 His disciple, Peter of Poitiers, develops this to its inevi 
table consequence. A man on whom penance is unduly imposed is 
bound to perform it as regards the Church, but not as regards God, 
and if he dies forthwith he escapes purgatory; if, however, he lives 
he must endure it, for he is bound, and although it will not diminish 
any pains it will augment his glory. 3 All this implies that, so far 
as this life is concerned, there was no escape for the penitent, short 
of the customary redemptions or the procurement of an indulgence, 
which at that period was by no means so facile as it subsequently 

1 Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. vi. Q. vi. Art. 1, n. 1. 

Palmieri s treatment (Tract, de Poenit. p. 440) of the rather ticklish subject 
of the sufficiency of satisfaction is a model of cautious non-committalisni, leav 
ing the penitent in the dark as to whether the judgment of the confessor is 
worthless or not, but leading him to infer that it must be good through the 
mysterious power of the keys. 

2 P. Lombard. Lib. iv. Dist. xx. \ 2. 

3 P. Pictaviens. Summse Lib. nr. cap. 15. 


became. At the same time we must bear in mind that already the 
penitent had to be consulted as to what he would accept. 

When the Lateran canon rendered confession obligatory, it intro 
duced a new factor, and it evidently hesitated to render the novel 
rule too onerous by asserting unqualifiedly the obligation of penance 
it did not say that the penitent must perform it, but that he should 
endeavor to perform it with all his strength, 1 a convenient vagueness 
which left a sufficient margin of doubt. That penitents were in the 
habit of construing that doubt in their favor and of caring little 
about the performance of penance after securing absolution, is evident 
from the current advice given to confessors that to avoid disobedi 
ence they should give little or no penance as a precept, and should 
allow all fasts and prayers and almsgiving to be redeemed. 2 Astesanus 
discusses the matter with a fulness which shows its importance and 
uncertainty, and quotes from Richard Middleton, the Doctor funda- 
tissimus, that, if the confessor abuses his power by imposing unrea 
sonable and indiscreet penance, it is not binding, but if reasonable and 
discreet the penitent must accept and perform it under pain of mortal 
sin ; if he dies before its completion he must satisfy in purgatory, and 
this applies to death-bed absolution. 3 The matter was thus virtually 
left open, except as to the sin of neglect in performance of accepted 
penance, and this became for awhile the customary teaching. St. 
Antonino so states it, but at the same time he indicates how common 
was this neglect by instructing the confessor, when absolving a peni 
tent, always to include any former penances unperformed and to 
commute them if the penitent can recollect them. 4 Still the ques 
tion as to the guilt of non-performance was unsettled. Prierias 
practically adopts the opinion of Richard Middleton, while Caietano 
denies that it is a mortal sin to omit the performance of penance. 5 
The council of Trent discreetly abstained from any decisive utter- 

1 Et injunctam sibi pcenitentiam studeat pro viribus adimplere. C. Later- 
anens. IV. cap. 21. 

2 Jo. Friburgens. Stimmae Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 135. Astesani 
Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. 

3 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. vii. Q. 3; Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. Eob. Episc. 
Aquinat. Opus Quadragesimal e, Serin, xxix. cap. 1. 

4 S. Antonini Surnmje P. m. Tit. xiv. cap. 19, gl9; Tit. xvii. cap. 20, 1. 

5 Suinnia Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio Sacram. i. n. 30. Caietani Opusc. Tract. 
vi. Q. 2. Yet see also Tract, xx. 


ance on the subject, leaving it open for those of contrary opinions to 
cite it in support of their views. The doctors consequently con 
tinued to differ. Azpilcueta and Zerola say that the penitent is not 
bound to accept the penance, but if he does so, he must perform it 
under mortal sin. 1 Bartolome" de Medina holds it to be a mortal sin 
to omit the performance if it can conveniently be done, and shows its 
frequency by instructing the confessor always to commence his in 
terrogations by inquiring about it and ordering its performance if 
omitted. 2 Suarez is more severe, and asserts that as penance is very 
often wickedly neglected the confessor can refuse absolution at the 
next confession until the satisfaction previously imposed is per 
formed. 3 The lax Juan de Medina says that the performance is 
discretional and depends upon the desire of the penitent to escape 
the pains of purgatory. 4 Every variety of opinion is to be found, 
and there is ample opportunity for the expression of all the shades of 
rigorism and laxism, which it would be superfluous to enumerate 
further here. 5 One solution of the vexed question, as we have seen 
above (p. 187), is that the confessor may impose a part or the whole 
of the penance either sub Icevi or sub gram. 

With the steady decrease in the measure of satisfaction required 
the tendency has been to establish more firmly the obligation, and in 
this both laxists and rigorists have concurred but yet with a differ 
ence. While Liguori, as the representative of the former, asserts the 

1 Azpilcuetse Manuale Confessar. cap. xxi. n. 43. Zerola Praxis Sacr. Poenit. 
cap. xxv. Q. 9. 

2 Bart, a Medina Instruct. Confessar. Lib. II. cap. 6. 

3 Francolini de Discipl. Poenit. Lib. in. cap. vii. 8, n. 13. 

4 Jo. Medina de Pcenit. Tract, in. de Satisfactione Q. 6 (Aniort de Indul- 
gentiis II. 153). 

5 The curious in such matters can find all that they are likely to desire in Estii 
in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. $ 20. Fornarii Instit. Confessar. I. cap. 3. Eeginaldi 
Praxis Fori Pcenit. Lib. VII. n. 13, 33. Summa Diana s. vv. Pcenitentiam accep- 
tare; Pcenitentiam implere n. 15, 22. Escobar Theol. Moral. Tract. VII. Exam- 
iv. n. 34, 40. Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. IV. cap. ii. $ 1. Juenin de 
Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. vi. cap. 6, Art. 2. Busenbaum Medullse Theol. Moral. 
Lib. vi. Tract, iv. Dub. 4, Art. 1, n. 8. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxx. n. 6. 
8, 9. Viva Theol. Trutina in Prop. xv. Alex. PP. VII. Antoine Theol. Moral. 
Tract, de Pcenit. Art. in. Q. 7. Bened. PP. XIII. Istruzioni per gli Figliuoli 
(Concil. Eoman. ann. 1725, p. 446). La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 
1277-81. Habert Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. Tract, v. Bened. PP. XIV. Encyc. 
Inter prceteritas 65, 3 Dec. 1749. 


obligation, he qualifies it with the condition that the penance enjoined 
shall be just ; if unjust, or, if the penitent is unable to perform it, 
it does not bind. Concina, on the other hand, maintains uncondi 
tionally the obligation to accept and perform ; he asks whether peni 
tents are to be judges in their own cases; he admits that the laxer 
opinion is current, but declares that it is false and opposed to the 
universal tradition of the Church. 1 Whether this question has been 
finally settled would appear doubtful. Miguel Sanchez follows 
Liguori in conditioning that the penance must be just. Marc only 
offers the penitent the alternative, in case too hard a penance is im 
posed, of departing without absolution and seeking a more tractable 
confessor. 2 Palmieri declares that no power on earth can release the 
penitent from the satisfaction imposed by the confessor, whose deci 
sion is absolutely beyond appeal, except by the indirect method of 
obtaining an indulgence. 3 While thus there are yet differences of 
opinion in detail, the modern tendency is evidently towards estab 
lishing the obligation, but the theologians omit to reconcile this with 
the recognized voluntary character of penance. 

While theoretically the obligation to accept and perform has been 
construed more strictly, the subordinate importance ascribed to pen 
ance in modern times is visible in the tenderness shown to those who 
omit performance through forgetfulness. It would seem as though 
the disrespect thus manifested to the sacrament should be treated as 
a most serious offence, especially as it would appear to be common if 
we may judge from the manner in which it is frequently alluded to. 
Up to the first half of the sixteenth century the rule was that if the 
penitent forgot or neglected to perform the penance the absolution 
was void and the confession had to be repeated with a fresh injunc 
tion of satisfaction. 4 Post-Trident ine theologians are more lenient, 
although this involves a notable change of doctrine respecting the 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 515-16. Concina Theol. 
Christ, contracts Diss. n. cap. 10, n. 1. 

2 Mig. Sanchez, Prontuario de la Teologia Moral, Trat. vi. Punto vi. Marc 
Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 1721. 

3 Palmieri Tract, de Poanit. p. 458. 

4 Manip. Curator. P. n. Tract, iii. cap. 7. Passavanti, Lo Specchio clella 
vera Penitenza, Dist. v. cap. 5. Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio IV. 13. God. 
Eosemondi Confessionale fol. 114a. Martini de Frias de Arte audiendi Con- 
fessionis fol. vii6. 


sacrament. They agree that a repetition of the confession is unneces 
sary and that the penitent cannot substitute anything, for that would 
be unsacramental. Some suggest that the forgetfulness be included 
in the next confession ; others that if the confessor retains a confused 
recollection of the case he maybe asked for a commutation, or a 
general confession of sin may be made to another confessor, asking 
him for sufficient penance to cover that which was forgotten. 1 Others 
are still more liberal. Tamburini says that to forget the penance 
discharges all obligation to perform it or to confess again, only if the 
forgetfulness is culpable it ought to be confessed ; Chiericato asserts 
that a penitent who forgets a penance and thinks he has performed 
it is excused from it. 2 The laxist view has prevailed. As expressed 
by Liguori, it is that to forget a penance is no sin ; if the penitent 
can easily learn from his confessor what it w r as, he ought to perform 
it ; otherwise it is well for him in his next confession to ask for some 
thing similar, but probably the confession need not be repeated. 3 
Manzo says that if the forgetfulness is culpable there is sin, other 
wise not, and that in neither case need the confession be repeated. 4 
Bonal declares positively that the confession need not be repeated ; 
the performance of a forgotten penance is impossible, and no one is 
held to an impossibility. 5 Evidently the satisfaction, on the adjust 
ment of which is based the whole theory of confession, has shrunk 
to the merest formality. 

A similar deduction may be drawn from the current opinions as to 
the time in which the penance should be performed, though as usual 
the views of the rigorists and laxists are at variance. The former 
hold that it should be done as soon as possible, or at least within the 
time specified by the confessor; unnecessary delay is a mortal sin. 6 

1 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. xv. n. 11. Escobar Theol. 
Moral. Tract, vii. Exam. iv. n. 40. Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 769. Busen- 
baum Medullae Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. Dub. 4, Art. 1, n. 8. La Croix 
Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1275. 

2 Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. iv. cap. ii. | 4. Clericati de Poenit. 
Decis. xxxiv. n. 23. 

3 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 515-16 ; Praxis Confessarii 
n. 13. Mig. Sanchez, Prontuario de la Teologia Moral, Trat. vi. Punto vi. 
Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. II. 530. 

* Manzo Epit. Theol. Moral. P. I. De Pcenit. n. 57 (Ed. II. Neapoli, 1836). 

5 Bonal. Instit. Theol. T. IV. n. 291. 

6 Antoine Theol. Moral. De Pcenit. Art. in. Q. 8. Th. ex Charmes Theol. 


The latter consider that time makes little difference ; if the confessor 
prescribes it, postponement is only a venial sin; if the confessor 
affixes no time, it suffices to perform it within a year unless the peni 
tent confesses again sooner. 1 The modern view seems to be not quite 
so lax as this ; in the case of heavy penance for grave sins, a delay of 
two or three months is thought to be probably a mortal sin. 2 

Allusions have been made above to unjust and unreasonable pen 
ance, and though, at the present time of minimized satisfaction, the 
question cannot be of much practical importance, of old, when the 
penitential canons were not wholly obsolete, it had no little interest, 
for, although consultation with the penitent was recognized, all rules 
were as yet too vague to be binding when the confessor was arbitrary 
and the penitent ignorant or timid. In theory the priest in the 
confessional, as the living representative of God, had authority only 
limited by the canons and by the jurisdiction accorded to him in 
his diocese, but human frailty can scarce avoid abusing irresponsible 
power, and though no provision is made in the canon law for appeal 
from his decisions, outside of the law custom gradually established 
a means of relief. At the close of the twelfth century, when the 
jurisdiction of the parish priest had only just been established, it 
was admitted that any other priest could mitigate a penance imposed 
by him. 3 The Lateran canon seemed to take away this privilege, 
but it soon reasserted itself. In 1317, Astesanus discusses the ques 
tion at some length, in a manner to show how confused and uncertain 
as yet was the practice. He admits that if the confessor abuses the 
power of the keys by imposing indiscreet and unreasonable penance, 
the penitent is not obliged to assume and perform it, but the remedy 

Univ. Dist. v. cap. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2. Concilia Theol. Christ, contract. Lib. xi. 
Diss. ii. cap. 10, n. 3. 

1 Reginald! Praxis Fori Poanit. Lib. vii. n. 43. Escobar Theol. Moral. Tract. 
Vir. Exam. iv. n. 40. Summa Diana s. v. Pc&nitentiam commutare n. 19, 21. 
Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. IV. cap. ii. 2, n. 9. Busenbaum Medullae 
Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. Tract, iv. Dub. 4, Art. 1. Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. 
xxxiv. n. 20. 

2 Gury Compend. Theol. Moral. II. n. 530. Bonal. Instit. Theol. T. IV. n. 
291. Varceno Conipend. Theol. Moral. Tract, xiv. cap. 5, Art. 2. 

3 Bernardi Papiens. Summse Decretalium Lib. V. Tit. xxxiii. 6. " Con- 
suetudo tamen ecclesise admisit ut ab aliis sacerdotibus poenitentia relaxetur 
vel minuetur." 


was not so easily defined. In such cases Richard Middleton suggests 
that he should apply to the confessor or to another for some mitiga 
tion. The one who imposes can always commute or relax, and so 
can a superior, but whether an equal can do so was a disputed ques 
tion, affirmed by some and denied by others. Astesanus thinks that 
he can, but a penance of service in the Holy Land can only be com 
muted by the pope or his immediate deputy. 1 By the middle of the 
fourteenth century the principle of appeal seems to have established 
itself, for Passavanti and St. Antonino say that if a penitent finds 
his penance too onerous he can go to another priest and have it com 
muted, and subsequent authorities assert that any priest can mitigate 
or relax the penance imposed by another. 2 In the existing rivalry 
between the secular and regular confessors it is easy to see how 
great an influence this must have exercised on the progressive dimi 
nution of satisfaction. 

The principle once admitted developed itself among the post- 
Tridentine theologians until it was asserted that even an inferior 
could mitigate a penance imposed by a superior. 3 It even became 
an open question with some whether the penitent could do so for 
himself. 4 In appealing to another confessor, however, it was assumed 
that confession must be made to the latter, which would seem natural, 
as the act is sacramental, and otherwise he would not have the 
requisite knowlege of the facts, but even this was denied by. some 
authorities, who held it to be unnecessary. 5 The rigid Pere Juenin 
endeavored to restrain this laxity ; he argued that there could be no 
appeal from a penance imposed clave non errante, though there could 
be one, clave errante, but he offers no test by which the indefinable 
distinction can be defined ; he says that the authorities are evenly 

1 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. 

2 Passavanti, Lo Specchio della vera Penitenza, Dist. v. cap. 5. S. Antonini 
Summse P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 19, $ 19. Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio vi. $ 4. 
Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio /Sacram. I. \\ 30, 31. 

3 Zerola Praxis Sacr. Poenit. cap. xxv. Q. 10 ; cap. xxvi. Q. 36. Henriquez 
Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. v. cap. xxii. n. 1, 2. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. 
VI. P. ii. n. 1294. Liguori, however, says (Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. Art. 529) 
that the common opinion is adverse to this. 

4 Henriquez Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. V. cap. xxii. n. 3. Gobat Alphab. 
Confessar. n. 775-6. 

5 Summa Diana s. v. Poenitentiam commutare n. 11, 12. Gobat Alphab. Con 
fessar. n. 775-6. 


divided as to the power of one confessor to set aside the judgment 
of another, and advises that in so doubtful a matter the safer course 
be followed. 1 His protest was in vain. Both the rigorists and the 
laxists admit the right of a penitent on whom an unjust or an un 
reasonable penance is imposed to have recourse to another confessor, 
though the rigorists argued that commutation should be allowed 
only for weighty reasons. Liguori says that if the penitent thinks 
the penance too heavy, his proper course is to depart without abso 
lution and seek another priest, and this appears to be the ordinary 
practice at present, though he can also appeal to another after a 
completed sacrament. 2 Whether he is then at liberty to elect the 
performance of the first penance is a disputed point. 3 

There is a question which has excited endless debate and has led 
to very varying practice whether the works of satisfaction must be 
performed in a state of grace, or whether they suffice if the penitent 
commits a mortal sin subsequent to absolution and prior to accom 
plishing the penance. We have seen in the ancient Church that 
reconciliation was postponed until the prescribed penance had been 
completed, and that it was an innovation of the Penitentials when 
the penitent was admitted to communion midway in the term, all of 
which presupposes the efficiency of the works performed while yet 
in a state of sin. The schoolmen, however, developed the theory 
that all works without grace are " dead," are wholly insufficient to 
restore the sinner, and when the Jansenists sought to revive the 
ancient practice of deferring absolution to the end of penance, they 
were triumphantly told that penance before absolution is useless, for 
absolution is essential to render the works acceptable to God. Apart 
from these theological abstractions it would appear self-evident that 
a man so abandoned to sin as not to be able to abstain from it, while 

1 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. vi. cap. 5, Art. 1. 

2 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xxx. n. 9. Summse Alexandrinae P. I. n. 623. 
La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1293-4. Antoine Theol. Moral. 
Tract, de Pcenit. Art. in. Q. 7. Concilia Theol. Christ, contract. Lib. XI. 
Diss. ii. cap. 10, n. 5. Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univ. Diss. v. cap. 5, Q. 2, 
Concl. 2. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 515, 529 ; Praxis Con- 
fessar. cap. I. n. 13. Renter Neoconfessar. instructus n. 19. Gury Cornp. Theol. 
Moral. II. 533. Bonal Instit. Theol. T. II. n. 289. 

3 Manzo Epit. Theol. Moral. P. I. De Poenit. n. 65. 


yet performing the slender tasks imposed on him as the price of his 
pardon, could scarce be considered as deserving of absolution, and 
a text from the False Decretals, embodied in the compilation of 
Gratian, emphatically declares that fasting and prayer are useless to 
him who has not forsaken iniquity. 1 The schoolmen naturally took 
up the subject with their customary determination to settle every 
detail and their customary lack of harmony. Bishop William of 
Paris says uncompromisingly that works not performed in charity 
do not placate God and are not satisfactory. 2 To reduce this to 
practice, however, was impossible, for the churchmen could not tell 
whether the penitent was in charity or not, and Alexander Hales 
suggested that penance performed in sin satisfies the Church, though 
it does not satisfy God ; it ought to be repeated in charity, but if 
not it at all events earns for the penitent some temporal prosperity, 
in all of which Cardinal Henry of Susa agrees with him. 3 Aquinas 
requires absolutely the repetition of works performed without charity, 
but thinks that they may serve to mitigate the pains of hell ; he 
also suggests another point of importance whether such dead works 
revive when the sinner returns to grace, for in this case a subsequent 
confession with due attrition would serve to revalidate them, but 
this he rejects. 4 Bonaventura agrees that works without charity 
alleviate the tortures of hell, and tells us that some authorities hold 
that they exempt from the torment of the worm, but not from that 
of fire ; as for their revival, there are opinions on both sides, but 
the negative is safer. 5 John of Freiburg sums up the conclusion that 
such works do not reconcile to Gocl, but they reduce the punishment 
of the Day of Judgment, bring worldly prosperity, open the heart 
to repentance and loosen the hold of the devil on the sinner; if 
physical, they need not be repeated, if mental they must be. 6 Duns 

1 Cap. 21 Caus. xxxin. Q. iii. Dist. 3. "Nihil prodest homini jejunare et 
orare et religionis bona agere, nisi mens ab iniquitate revocetur " attributed 
to St. Pius I. 

2 Guillel. Paris, de Sacr. Pcenit. cap. 20. 

3 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xxiv. Membr. iv. Artt, 1, 2, 3 | 1. 
Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. v. De Poen. et Remiss. \ 58. So also Pet. 
Hieremise Quadrigesimale Serm. xiv. 

4 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse Suppl. Q. xiv. Artt. 2, 3, 5. Cf. Durand. de 
S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. ii. \ 9. 

5 S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. P. 1, Art. 1, Q. 4, 6. 

6 Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 130-2, 138, 140-2. 


Scotus, by a process of subtile dialectics, proves that works without 
charity satisfy the Church and suffice for God, though they do not 
placate him, and therefore they need not be repeated. 1 Astesanus 
denies that works of satisfaction can be performed in sin, though 
they may mitigate the punishment, and if commenced in charity can 
be completed in sin ; moreover, they are not revived by subsequent 
charity. 2 In this variety of opinion every one could suit himself, 
and there were many who embraced the compromise suggested by 
Alexander Hales, that penance in sin satisfies the Church but not 
God, whence they reached the conclusion that short penances are 
advisable in order to expose the penitent to as little risk of relapse 
as possible during their performance apparently not realizing that 
this is a mere juggle with God. 3 

The question continued unsettled. Prierias, faithful to his master 
Aquinas, says positively that penance performed in mortal sin is 
worthless, though it need not be repeated, but some substitute must 
be undergone either here or in purgatory. 4 Caietano states that it 
is sub judice; he argues it at great length and with much subtilty ; 
he admits that penance without charity satisfies the Church Militant, 
and thinks that perhaps the soul can make up the deficiency in the 
Church Triumphant. 5 The council of Trent might have settled the 
debate, and probably it imagined that it had done so when it launched 
an anathema against those who should teach that works without grace 
can justify before God. 6 In accordauce with this the Tridentine 
Catechism declares that to satisfy God the penitent must be justified, 
and that works performed without faith and charity cannot be in 

1 Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. Q. 1. 

2 Astesani Suinmse Lib. v. Tit. xxii. Q. 4, 5, 6, 

3 Jo. Gersonis Kegulse Morales ; Compend. Theol. ; De Sollicitudine Eccle- 
siasticorum Partic. lx. S. Antonini Summse P. ill. Tit. xiv. cap. 20, $ I, 2. 
Summa Angelica s. vv. Confessio I. 19 ; Interrogationes ; Pcenit. % 14. 

A cloud of subsidiary questions and distinctions inevitably suggested them 
selves. Thus Gerson divides satisfaction into reconcilians, which must be per 
formed in grace, and satisfaciens or exsolvens, which need not be repeated if 
performed without grace, but he does not explain the distinction. St. Antonino 
states that the doctors distinguish between penances which pass away, like 
prayers, and must be repeated, and those which leave effects behind them, like 
fasting and almsgiving, and need not be. 

4 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Satisfactio n. 6, 7. 

5 Caietani Opusc. Tract, vi. Q. 2. 

6 C. Trident. Sess. vi. De Justificatione can. 1. 


any way pleasing to God. 1 After this to admit that penance in sin 
can satisfy the Church would seem to dissociate completely the 
Church from God, but no dialectics could remove the insuperable 
difficulty that, while God knows the heart of man, the Church can 
not, and must be content to accept externals, however humiliating 
this may be to its infallibility. Accordingly the debate has con 
tinued to the present day with every variety of opinion on the part 
of authoritative doctors, some holding that penance in sin satisfies 
the Church but not God, others that it does not, but that this cannot 
be helped; some that such penance should be repeated, others that it 
need not be ; some that it revives when the penitent acquires grace, 
others that it does not. Benedict XIII., in 1725, authorized the 
declaration that it is the common opinion that such penance satisfies 
the obligation imposed by the Church, and need not be repeated, and 
the tendency of recent authorities is in this direction the obligation 
is satisfied, though it is probable that the pcena is not escaped The 
question, however, is still an open one. 2 A subsidiary point is 
whether it is a sin to perform penance in sin, but La Croix settles 
this with the remark that as no penitent hesitates to do so, it would 
seem merely common-sense to affirm that it is no sin. 3 

Somewhat akin to this is a question which illustrates the per- 

1 Catech. Trident. De Pcenitentia cap. xiii. 

2 The conflicting views of post-Tridentine theologians can be found in Bart, 
a Medina Instruct. Confessar. Lib. n. cap. vi. Zerola Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. 
cap. xxv. Q. 18, 28. Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xv. $$ 16, 17. Henriquez 
Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. v. cap. 20. Reginaldi Praxis Fori Poenit. Lib. 
VII. n. 9. Summa Diana s. v. Pcenit. Commutaren. 23. Escobar Theol. Moral. 
Tract, vii. Exam. iv. n. 34, 40. Alabardi Tyrocin. Confessionum p. 79 (Venet. 
1628). Berteau Director Confessar. p. 486. Busenbaum Medullse Theol. 
Moral. Lib. VI. Tract, iv. Dub. 4, Art. 1, n. 8. Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 
770. Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. iv. cap. ii. $ 2, n. 10. Juenin de 
Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. vi. cap. 6, Art. 3. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. vni. n. 
4, 7; Decis. xxxiv. n. 21. Istruzione per gli figliuoli (Concil. Roman. 1725, 
p. 446). Antoine Theol. Moral. De Pcenit. cap. i. Art. iii. Q. 9. Wigandt 
Trib. Confessar. Tract, xni. Exam. iii. n. 129. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. 
Moral. Lib. vi. n. 522-3. Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Pcenit. Sacram. 
Art. in. n. 6, 7. Concina Theol. Christ, contr. Lib. XI. Diss. ii. cap. 8, n. 4. 
Th. ex Charmes Theol. Univers. Diss. v. cap. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2. Menzo Epit. 
Theol. Moral. P. I. De Prenit. n. 60. Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. IL n. 529. 
Bonal Instit. Theol. T. IV. n. 291.-Palmieri Tract, de Pcenit. p. 425. Var- 
ceno Comp. Theol. Moral. Tract, xviu. cap. 5, Art. 2. 

3 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1245-6. 


plexities inseparable from so artificial a system as that of sacramental 
confession. It is whether works of satisfaction can be performed for 
sins not yet remitted. Practically it would appear impossible to remit 
the pcena of sins of which the culpa still exists, but strong arguments 
can be adduced on either side, and the advocates of the affirmative 
allege in their support what would appear to be unanswerable 
an indulgence of fifteen years granted, in 1658, by Alexander VII. 
to all present at the mass celebrated on the occasion of the presen 
tation of the Golden Rose to the chapter of Siena, provided they had 
confessed their sins or intended to confess them according to precept. 1 

One noteworthy peculiarity of satisfaction is the ability to have it 
performed vicariously, by putting forward a substitute who will 
endure the penance imposed on the sinner. The origin of this cus 
tom may be traced to several influences, though it is nominally based 
on the text James, V. 16. 2 The preponderating influence in the de 
velopment of the practice, however, was the interpolated article in the 
Creed on the communion of saints and the interpretation given to it 
that all can participate in the merit of good works by others when 
properly applied. Thus the idea that one man can satisfy for another, 
even as the vicarious sacrifice of Christ atones for the sins of man 
kind, gradually took shape and grew into a settled custom. Gregory 
the Great deprecates the manner in which sinners expect to be justi 
fied through faith and through penance performed by others, while 
they do not even experience sorrow. 3 That this should find special 
favor with the Barbarians was natural, for among them it was cus 
tomary to present a champion or substitute in the judicial combat or 
ordeal, when the judgment of God was sought, and to the untutored 
mind of the period it might seem that the penitent before the judg 
ment-seat of God could avail himself of the same resource. Another 
stimulant of the custom may be found in the system of redemptions 
alluded to above (pp. 152-4), where, it will be remembered, these 
sometimes took the shape of the penitent hiring holy men to pray or 
recite the psalms in his place, or to celebrate masses for him. A sin- 

1 Clericati de Poenit. Decis. vm. n. 8, 9. 

2 In the Douay version this reads " Pray one for another that you may be 
saved" in the Vulgate "ut salvemini." The passage evidently refers to 
prayers for the sick. In the original it is bTrug iadijTe, and would seem cor 
rectly rendered " healed " in the A. V. 

3 Gregor. PP. I. Exposit. in I. Regum Lib. vi. cap. ii. 27. 


gularly crude expression of this vicarious penance among the Anglo- 
Saxons of the latter half of the tenth century shows the practice to be 
fully established. It explains how a powerful man can lighten a seven 
years penance by wearing sackcloth and going barefoot for three days 
and getting 852 men to fast for three days, which makes as many days 
as there are in seven years. 1 We have seen an illustration of it (I. p. 
192) in the frequent instructions of the Or dines that the priest should 
for two or three weeks share the fast of his penitent. As early as the 
seventh century a monastic regulation provided that when one of the 
brethren was afflicted with evil thoughts the whole community was 
placed on a fast which increased in severity until the general macer 
ation effected a cure, and among the canons regular of the twelfth 
century, when a member died, the rest performed vicarious satisfac 
tion for him from the seventh to the thirtieth day. 2 

It is easy to understand why the custom of substitutes for penitents 
should be encouraged, for ecclesiastics found in it a source of profit. 
The penitent in search of such a substitute would naturally look for 
a cleric on whom the fasting and prayer and disabilities would be 
less onerous, whose performance of the works could be more surely 
depended on, and whose holiness would render them more efficacious. 
This service would necessarily be paid for, and thus vicarious penance 
was only another form of redemption. How it worked is seen in a 
charter of 1154, by which Count Hildebrand abandoned to the Abbey 
of St. Saviour certain disputed lands in consideration of spiritual 
services, among which was relieving him from the burden of three 
years of penance imposed on him for his sins by the Bishop of Arezzo. 3 
So much a matter of course did it become that regular tariffs were 
established for the performance of pilgrimages by such substitutes. 4 

1 Canons under King Edgar : Of Powerful Men, cap. 2 (Thorpe, II. 287). 

2 Regulae Magistri cap. xv. (Migne LXXXVIII. 981). P. de Honestis 
Regulae Clericorum Lib. n cap. 22. 

3 Muratori, Antiq. Ital. Diss. LXVIII. (T. XIV. p. 101). 

4 From ancient wills on record in London it appears that the price for a 
barefooted pilgrimage to St. Thomas of Canterbury or St. Mary of Walsingham 
was twenty shillings ; to Compostella it was seven pounds; to Eome, includ 
ing a Lent of prayer there, it was ten marks. For the Holy Land, including 
Mt. Sinai, twenty pounds are offered, but some doubt seems to be felt 
whether a pilgrim can be had for the money. London Athaaneum, Sept. 5, 
1891, p. 318. 

Even as late as 1666 Gobat tells us (Alphab. Confessar. n. 768) that a con- 

II. 15 


An illustration of the method, where filial piety took the place of 
payment, is afforded by a formula of the papal penitentiary. A man 
makes the pilgrimage to Rome in discharge of penance imposed on 
his father to spend Lent there in religious duties, but he finds the 
expenses too heavy and applies to the pope for relief, when a letter 
is written to his bishop to commute into pious works the money thus 
saved with something added. 1 Thus good works could be bought and 
sold and transferred from one to another like any other merchandise. 2 
The schoolmen were not wholly at one with regard to the use of 
this process. Some, like Alexander Hales, held that only impotence 
on the part of the penitent to perform the penance justified the em 
ployment of a substitute, and the assent of the confessor was requisite. 3 
Aquinas and Bonaventura do not limit it to cases of impotence, but 
say that medicinal penance cannot be thus transferred, as this mode 
of satisfaction has no medicinal effect. 4 Astesanus accepts it as a 
matter of course, and argues that it benefits both principal and sub 
stitute. 5 Durand de S. Pourgain treats it wholly as a business transac 
tion, showing how materialistic were the conceptions of the relations 
between man and God. Even as one man can pay the debt of 
another, so one man can satisfy God for another ; to be sure, the 
reward is greater if a man performs penance for himself, and if he 

fessor can impose a pilgrimage to be performed by a substitute paid by the 

1 Formulary of the Papal Penitentiary, p. 161 (Philadelphia, 1892). 

2 The theory as perfected by the schoolmen is thus expressed. " Opus i0ius 
potest alter! valere, non solum per viam orationis, sed etiam per viam meriti. 
Quod quidem dupliciter contigit. Uno modo propter communicationem in 
radice operis meritorii quse est charitas. Et sic omnes qui invicem charitate 
connectuntur aliquod emolunientum ex mutuis operibus reportant, secundum 
mensuram status uniuscujusque ; quia unusquisque in propria gaudebit de bonis 
alterius. Et inde est quod articulus fidei ponitur, communio sanctorum. Alio 
modo ex intentione facientis : ut cum quis aliqua opera specialiter ad hoc facit 
ut talibus prosint. Unde ista opera quodammodo efficiuntur eorum pro quibus 
fiunt, quasi eis a faciente collata. Unde possunt eis valere vel ad impletionem 
satisfactionis vel ad aliquod hujusmodi quod statum eorum non mutat." Aste- 
sani Summse Lib. in. Tit. xxxvii. Art. 1. Of. S. Th. Aquin. Quodl. vm. Art. 
ix.; Gabr. Biel in IV. Sentt. Dist. XLV. Q. ii. Art. 1. 

3 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xxiv. Membr. iv. Art. 4. 

4 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. XX. Q. ii. ad 2 ; Summse Suppl. Q. xill. 
Art. 2. S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. P. ii. Art. 1, Q. 1. Of. Jo. Fri- 
burgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 129. 

5 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxii. Q. 4, 5. 


dies before the substitute has completed the work enjoined, he must 
settle for the balance in purgatory, and if the substitute continues 
after the principal is released, the remainder inures to his own bene 
fit ; if the priest consents to the arrangement, there is no doubt of its 
efficacy ; if he does not, it is doubtful. 1 Pierre de la Palu is more 
rigid; if a substitute is employed through mere weakness of the 
flesh, the penance does not satisfy ; if the penitent is employed in 
more useful work, such as fighting the infidel, or preaching, or per 
forming pilgrimages, it is accepted. 2 Guido de Monteroquer imposes 
even stricter conditions ; there must be manifest impossibility on the 
part of the principal, the substitute must be of near kin, both must 
be in charity, and the amount of penance must be increased ; besides, 
it is probable that the assent of the priest is requisite. 3 Thomas of 
Strassburg again is lax ; it is sufficient if the penitent cannot conve 
niently perform the works enjoined, 4 and Gerson seems to think that 
nothing is requisite save an understanding between the parties. 5 St. 
Antonino says that if the confessor imposes it on the penitent per 
sonally he must perform it unless impeded ; the substitute can even 
transfer it to a third party ; if the substitute is in a higher state of 
grace than the principal, the performance is more efficacious, and 
therefore in selecting one it is well to choose the holiest which is a 
thrifty argument in favor of ecclesiastics but if he should secretly 
happen not to be in a state of grace, it is hoped that God will appor 
tion the pains of purgatory to the penitent according to his deserts. 
He further recommends that the friends of a dying penitent should 
be requested to perform some penance for him. 6 Henry of Hesse 
even says that if a dying man accepts penance and a friend promises 
to perform it for him the soul flies at once to heaven and enjoys the 
Beatific Vision without waiting for the performance, 7 which would 
seem reasonable enough, as he ought not both to provide penance and 
endure purgatory; but Prierias denies this and holds that the soul 

1 Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Q. ii. 5-8. 

2 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Q. iii. 

3 Manip. Curator. P. n. Tract, iv. cap. 6. 

4 Th. de Argentina in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Art. ii. (Amort de Indulg. II. 87). 

5 Jo. Gersonis Regulae Morales (Ed. 1488, xxv. G). 

6 S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 20, 1 ; Tit. xvii. cap. 21, 4. 
Ejusd. Confessionale fol. 70. 

1 Weigel Claviculse Indulgent, cap. Ixxvii. 


must remain in purgatory until the penance is completed, which 
ugain is only a reasonable precaution to insure performance. Prierias 
fnrther assumes that if the confessor enjoins personal performance 
the penance can only be transferred in case of absolute disability ; 
the substitute can employ a third party, but all must be in 
charity, and the question whether the performer can at the same 
time satisfy for himself is a disputed one. 1 Caietano states unreser 
vedly that one man can satisfy for another, provided both are in 
charity. 2 

The Tridentine Catechism accepts fully the principle of vicarious 
satisfaction. The penitent must have due contrition, but the peni 
tential works can be performed by others, though personal perform 
ance is more fruitful. 3 While thus the principle was settled, there 
continued to be disputes as to the distinction between penal and 
medicinal penance, as to whether there must be disability on the 
part of the penitent, and whether the substitute can at the same time 
satisfy for himself. 4 It became generally asserted or tacitly assumed 
that the assent of the confessor was necessary, but in the prevailing 
laxity there were those who taught that the matter is at the discretion 
of the penitent. This proposition was condemned, in 1665, by 
Alexander VII., 5 and in so doing there was an implication that 
vicarious satisfaction with consent of the confessor is allowable. 
There had never been any authoritative definition of this, however, 
unless the assent of the Tridentine Catechism be so regarded, and 
some of the more rigorous school denied that satisfaction can be 
rendered by a substitute, while others held that while it might 
satisfy the Church if assented to by the confessor, God is under no 
obligation to accept it, and its value as exempting from purgatory is 
at least doubtful. 6 The great body of modern theologians, however, 

1 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Poenitentia $$ 3-5. 

2 Caietani Opusc. Tract, xv. cap. 2 ; Tract. XVI. De Indulgentiis Q. I. 

3 Catech. Trident. De Pcenit. cap. 13. 

4 Fornarii Instit. Confessar. Tract. I. cap. iii. Henriquez Summse Theol. 
Moral. Lib vi. cap. xxi. n. 4. Escobar Theol. Moral. Tract, vil. Exam. iv. 
n. 34, 40. Summa Diana s. v. Poenitentiam imponere n. 6. Estii in IV. Sentt. 
Dist. xxv. $ xxii. Zerola Praxis Sacr. Poenit. cap. xxv. Q. 20, 22. Busen- 
bauin Medulla? Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. Dub. 4, Art. 1. 

6 Alex. PP. VII. Deer. 7 Sept. 1665, Prop, xv. " Prenitens, propria auctor- 
itate, substituere sibi alium potest qui loco ipsius pcenitentiam adimpleat." 
6 Antoine Theol. Moral. De Poenit. Art, m. Q. xi. Amort de Indul- 


both rigorists and laxists, accept the validity of vicarious penance 
when assented to by the confessor. 1 Palmieri argues the matter in 
the curious mercantile spirit which has grown up since the theory of 
the treasure of salvation has been adopted, carrying with it the 
assumption that a debtor and creditor account is kept between each 
sinner and his Creator. Satisfaction for the temporal punishment 
due for remitted sin is the payment of a debt. Now one man can 
pay another s debt, and the wounded honor of God is satisfied, no 
matter from whom the payment comes, provided both principal and 
substitute are in a state of grace. It is true that God is not bound 
to accept such vicarious payment, but if he so wills there is nothing 
to prevent one man from satisfying for another. It is granted that 
there is a difference between this and the intercessory prayers relied 
upon in the early Church and still regarded as so efficient, but it is 
argued that if God accepts the latter he cannot reject the former. 
Still, it is a disputed question whether the application of such vica 
rious satisfaction is infallible, and Palmieri inclines to the negative, 
while leaving the matter open. 2 

Frequent allusion has been made above to the distinction between 
what is called vindictive and medicinal satisfaction, and the subject 
is of interest as marking a very significant change in the theories of 
the Church. We have seen how exclusively punitive, in the earlier 
ages, were the penances prescribed ; how, as the sacramental theory 
developed, they were regarded as replacing the torments of pur 
gatory, and how the very name of satisfaction indicates that they 
satisfy God for the wrong committed against him by the sinner. 
According to Aquinas, no work is satisfactory unless it is penal, but 
he recognizes that, in addition to this which pays the debt otherwise 
to be exacted in purgatory, there is a medicinal penance of which 

gentiis II. 211, 252. Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Pcenit. Sacram. Art. in. 
n. 23. 

Thomas de Charmes (Theol. Univ. Diss. v. cap. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2) accepts it 
to a limited extent. 

1 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. vi. cap. 6, Art. 1. La Croix Theiol 
Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 1284. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. 
n. 526. Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. n. Q. vi. Art. 2. n. 7. Concilia Theol 
Christ, contr. Lib. xi. Diss. ii. cap. 8, n. 5. Varceno Comp. Theol. Moral. 
Tract, xvni. cap. 5, Art. 2. 

2 Palmieri Tract, de Poenit. pp. 340-5. 

It is perhaps worthy of remark that the Lateran canon as embodied in the 


the object is not satisfaction but the amendment of the sinner. 1 The 
distinction was not very clearly understood at first, and the two were 
sometimes curiously confused. Thus we are told that unchastity is a 
greater sin in an old man than in a youth, but the youth should 
have the severer penance because he requires greater repression to 
prevent relapse. 2 In fact, medicinal penance was a somewhat incon 
gruous addition to the function of the keys, for, strictly speaking, it 
had nothing to do with the power to bind and to loose, and its only 
excuse could be sought in the additional efficiency, ex opere operato 
attributed to works enjoined in the sacrament; it could have no 
value in entitling the sinner to absolution, since the sins which he 
might commit in the future were wholly conjectural and could not 
be material for the sacrament. Durand de Saint-Pour^ain recog 
nized this when he said that medicinal penance is purely for this 
world, and its non-performance exercises no influence on the here 
after of the penitent, for in purgatory is only exacted the punishment 
required to pay the debt and not to preserve against relapse. 3 Yet 
with time the conception grew of the duty of the Church to provide 
for the moral improvement of its children, and Angiolo da Chivasso, 
while admitting that the penitent can refuse vindictive penance and 
elect to suffer in purgatory, says that he has no right to reject the 
medicinal penance imposed to prevent relapse. 4 This increased im 
portance of the medicinal aspect of penance may in part be attributed 
to the disuse of the severer penalties, which thus were no longer 
deterrent to the penitent or examples to others, and to the absurd 
contrast between the triviality of the infliction and the punishment 
due to the sins for which it was offered in satisfaction. This leads 
Caietano to describe all penances as medicinal ; the penitential judg 
ment is not an absolute judgment but a medicinal judgment. 5 

It would seem that the council of Trent, while recognizing medi 
cinal penance, feared that in its development the punitive character 

canon law (Cap. 12 Extra Lib. V. Tit. xxxviii.), in the clause enjoining the 
performance of penance, has the words propriis viribus instead of pro viribus. 
If this be the true reading, it would forbid vicarious satisfaction, but it evi 
dently has not been so regarded. 

1 S. Th. Aquinat. Sumnise Suppl. Q viri Art. 7; Q. xv. Art. 1. 

2 Jo. Friburgens. Summse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 104. 

3 Durand. de S. Porciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xx. Q. 1, $ 5. 
* Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio I. 36. 

5 Caietani Opusc. Tract, v. De Confessione Q. 3. 


of satisfaction might disappear, for it warned all confessors that what 
they prescribed should be not only to cure the infirmity, but should 
also be a retribution and punishment for past sins. 1 The Trideutine 
Catechism followed in the same lines. It dwells at much length on 
the value of penance to satisfy God for actual sins and to replace the 
pains of purgatory, for which reasons it should be sharp ; if properly 
adjusted to the failings of the penitent it will also prove deterrent ; 
the only allusion to medicinal penance being the remark that it is 
not fruitful if performed vicariously. 2 The efforts of the council, 
however, as we have seen, failed utterly to restore any portion of the 
ancient rigor, and the medicinal feature of penance continued to 
attain more prominence as its punitive character vanished. In fact, 
with the merely nominal penitence habitually imposed, there was left 
no other excuse for the so-called integral part of the sacrament. In 
this the laxists and the rigorists concurred. The laxists found in it 
a reason for yielding to the fragility of penitents ; they discovered 
that the sacrament is merely a medicine, and that the penance should 
be curative, not punitive. 3 The rigorists, on the other hand, seemed 
to recognize that not much amendment of life was to be expected 
from the sacrament ex opere operato ; that severe penances had be 
come impossible, and that more was to be hoped for from medita 
tion, examination of the conscience, spiritual reading, and the like. 4 
Habert evidently attaches little importance to punitive satisfaction, 
and directs almost his whole attention to that which is adapted to 
improve the penitent. Medicinal penance, he says, looks to the 
causes of sin, punitive to its effects ; medicinal penance is a remedy 
to cure the penitent and an antidote against his relapse. His allu 
sions to vindictive satisfaction are perfunctory, to keep within the 

1 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 8." Habeant autem prse oculis ut 
satisfactio quam imponunt non sit tantuin ad novae vitae custodiam et infir- 
mitatis medicamentum sed etiam ad praeteritorum peccatorum vindictam et 

2 Catch. Trident. De Pcenit. cap, 12, 13. 

3 Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. II. Q. vi. Art. 1. "Cum autem sacramentum 
poenitentiae debeat esse medicina, attendenda est fragilitas pcenitentis et illae 
pcenitentiae injungi debeant quae deserviant ad curationem ; cseteroque facile 
accidet ut, imposita gravi pcenitentia, poenitens vel illam non irnpleat vel 
confessionem deinceps fugiat, vel confessarios quaerat ineptos qui eum curare 

4 Antoine Theol. Moral. Tract, de Pcenit. Art. in. Q. 1. 


doctrine of the Church, and he evidently feels that the function of 
penance is much more to ameliorate the moral condition of the peni 
tent than to save him from purgatory l In fact, in the modern 
practice of the Church, purgatory is taken care of by indulgences, 
and it is significant that all schools, except the most relaxed, teach 
that a plenary indulgence does not release from the performance of 
medicinal penance. It is, therefore, not surprising that the recent 
manuals for the guidance of confessors lay much more stress on 
their functions in leading their penitents to a Christian life than on 
the minute balancing of penance with sin in applying the power of 
the keys, regardless of the fact that they are thus oblivious of the 
very meaning of the word satisfaction. There is in all this an 
unacknowledged admission of the failure of the sacramental system 
so laboriously constructed by the schoolmen, except in so far as it 
lends to the counsels of the confessor an awful authority that no 
mere human ordinance could confer. Wisely used in this direction 
there can be no doubt that this authority in the confessional can be 
productive of benefit to the class of minds receptive of its influence. 
This however only starts the question as to how the men are to be 
found who are capable of using it wisely. 

1 Habert Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. Tract, v. Reg. 3. 

Renter (Neoconfessarius instructus n. 16) gives some examples of medicinal 
penance which proved effective. A vain girl who had been proof against 
various expedients was brought to amendment by being made to say every 
morning while washing her hands "Some day this flesh will be food for 
worms." A young man abandoned to carnal indulgence was corrected on 
being required each night on going to bed to say " Would you be willing for 
the whole world to lie on this bed motionless for thirty years, even if it were 
strewn with roses ? " Another was told to lie without moving for a night ; the 
next day he reported to the confessor that he had found it impossible, and 
was asked " How then will you lie for eternity in hell ? " In all this it is 
worthy of remark how completely the good fathers content themselves with 
arousing the simplest servile attrition, and how the ancient requisite of love 
of God is lost to sight. 

For other similar medicinal penances see La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. 
P. ii. n. 1267. 



IT can readily be comprehended from the foregoing chapters what 
a task, in theory at least, is set before the conscientious priest in the 
confessional. Questions of every kind come before him, on the right 
ful decision of which, he is told, depends the salvation of immortal 
souls. Every act in human life must be right or wrong, but its being 
the one or the other may depend on a multitude of intervening im 
pulses or circumstances, modifying, extenuating or aggravating in a 
manner to be estimated only by the Great Searcher of Hearts. Yet 
the system which the Church built upon the exercise of its power of 
the keys required every priest who was intrusted with the function 
of absolution to decide upon all these questions, to weigh and meas 
ure the infinite varieties of motive and intention, knowledge and 
ignorance, act and purpose, and to define the exact degree of culpa 
bility thence arising. That this is a duty beyond human capacity to 
perform aright is self-evident, but it is a duty not to be evaded in a 
body claiming to be a divine institution, gifted with infallibility in 
the fulfilment of the object for which it was created the rightful 
guidance of the souls of men. In grasping at power it has incurred 
responsibility, and that responsibility it must discharge, however 
imperfect may be the result. 

We have seen the attempt made to evade the difficulty of the 
situation by vague declamations as to the key of knowledge bestowed 
on the priest in ordination and the inspiration guiding him in the 
discharge of his duties. In practice all this was admitted to be 
naught and that ignorant priests were merely the blind leading the 
blind. It is true that Albertus Magnus asserts that the confessor 
need only have a general knowledge of the distinction between mortal 
and venial sins, but he adds that those unable to do this commit a 
mortal sin in hearing confessions, while those who appoint them are 
even more guilty, and remain so as long as they permit them to per 
form their functions. Others placed the qualifications of the confes- 


sor still lower, and questioned whether it was necessary for him to 
be able to distinguish between mortals and venials, as there are many 
of these on which the most learned are in doubt. The better opinion 
however, rated the requirements of the confessor much higher. In 
the extended jurisdiction acquired by the confessional he must be 
ready to answer the most unexpected questions whether a war is 
just or unjust, whether a tax is legal or illegal, whether a contract is 
licit or illicit, whether restitution or compensation arises out of a 
complicated transaction for on his decision will depend absolution 
and admission to the sacraments. 1 The dense cloud of uncertainty 
which hangs around all this is manifest in the advice of Angiolo da 
Chivasso, who says that the first requisite of a confessor is to be able 
to distinguish between mortals and venials, but he must be very care 
ful not to assert positively that of which he is not certain, especially 
when the doctors diifer. To the confessor doubt is the best of all 
things, next to life ; unless he is certain that he has read a decision 
bearing on the case, he ought always to doubt and to consult experts 
or to study the matter anew and put off the penitent, or, if he cannot 
do this, let him absolve the penitent as far as he can and tell him to 
consult experienced men. 2 The science of the confessional embraces 
the ethics of all human action, and the dull and untrained brain of 
the ordinary priest was more likely to be confused than enlightened 
by the refined dialectics and endless refinements of those whose who 
sought to give him guidance. St. Antonino admits that it is almost 
impossible to determine the depth of ignorance which renders a priest 
unfit to confer absolution, 3 but while it was easy to tell him to con 
sult experts, yet when perhaps five-sixths of the population lived in 
rural parishes where access to experts was difficult, we can judge how 
impossible was the task which the Church imposed upon its priests 
and the dangers into which it betrayed the faithful. Moreover, the 
experts themselves were at fault in a large portion of the intricate 
cases created by the interaction of the moral and the canon law. 

1 S. Antonini Sumrnse P. in. Tit. xvii. cap. 16, \\ I, 2. Bart, de Chaimis 
Interrogat. fol. 8-9. 

2 Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio IV. $< 3, 4. Caietani Summula s. v. Con 
fessor i necessaria. 

Angiolo, however (s. v. Clericus $ 4), makes an exception in favor of the 
Eegulars " sufficit monaco si bonus licet illiteratus." 

3 S. Antonini de Audiend. Confess, fol. lla. 


Some general principles evidently were indispensable some effort 
to reduce into system the vast aggregate of human aberrations, to 
classify them in some fashion that would simplify the problem and 
afford a cine, however uncertain, to the mazes of the labyrinth. 
Even in the simpler discipline of the early Church this necessity had 
been recognized, and we have seen (I. p. 16) how three sins were 
selected as requiring penance, and how St. Gregory of Nyssa endeav 
ored to enlarge the list. The Montanist rigor of Tertullian, on the 
strength of the text, I. John, v. 16, divided sins into remissible and 
irremissible. 1 Cyprian speaks of gravissima delida, committed against 
God, and of lesser sins, presumably against man, yet grave enough, 
for the Church so far did not trouble itself with trivial offences, and 
these required penance and reconciliation. 2 Origen divides sins into 
those ad mortem and ad damnum. 3 St. Augustin seems to be the first 
to take note of venial sins, and among his various classifications is 
one which describes the grave offences of homicide, idolatry and tin- 
chastity, entailing excommunication, those of medium degree requiring 
reproof, and the lighter daily ones inseparable from human infirmity 
and removable by the daily recital of the Lord s Prayer. 4 When we 
reach Gregory the Great we find an enumeration of the seven principal 
vices, very much the same as that which the Church has preserved to 
the present day, though he does not designate them as mortal sins 
vain-glory, envy, wrath, sadness, avarice, gluttony and lust. 5 There 
was nothing as yet positive about this, for at nearly the same time 
St. Eutropius makes the number eight, adding pride and sloth, 
and omitting envy. 6 The number of eight continued long in use, 
though the list varied. An Ordo of the ninth century, for instance, 
drops vain-glory and adds drunkenness. 7 Thus eight capital vices 
will be found specified by many authorities, until late in the four 
teenth century, 8 while even in the fifteenth Dr. Weigel counts only 

Tertull. de Pudicit. cap. ii. 2 Cypriani Epist, xvu. (Ed. Oxon.). 

Origenis in Exod. Homil. x. n. 3. 

S. Augustin. de Fide et Operibus. cap. 19, 26. 

S. Gregor. PP. I. Moral. Lib. xxxi. cap. 45. 

S. Eutropius de Octo Vitiis (Migne, LXXX. 10). 

Martene de Antiq. Eccles. Eitibus Lib. I. cap. vi. Art. 7, Ordo 10. 
8 Alcuini de Virtutibus et Vitiis, cap. xxvu. sqq. Ecberti Pcenit. cap. 1. 
(Wasserschleben, p. 233). Ordo ad dandam (Garofali, p. 23). Ps. Alcuini de 
Divinis Officiis, cap. xin. Ordo ad dandam (Fez. Thesaur. Anecd. II. n. 


six. 1 The mystic number of seven, however, corresponding with the 
seven sacraments, the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, etc., prevailed and 
was finally adopted. For the benefit of ignorant confessors it was 
memorized by the word Saligia, composed of the initials of superbia, 
avaritia, luxuria, ira, gula, invidia and acedia, and that its meaning 
might not be forgotten it was embalmed in the verse Ut tibi sit vita 
semper saligia vita. 2 

Yet originally these were regarded as vices or imperfections rather 
than as mortal sins. Wrath might lead to homicide or it might be 
a harmless ebullition of no special significance ; gluttony and sloth 
are defects, but to come properly within the theological definition of 
mortal sins they require an excess of an unusual character. The 
theologians however ingeniously expanded each of the seven until 
together they were made to cover all the wickedness that man can 
commit. In the earlier period the conception of a mortal sin was 
very different. St. Augustin reserves penance for adultery and 
similar grievous offences ; the lighter ones, he tells us, can be removed 
by daily prayer. 3 A sermon, attributed variously to St. Augustin 
and to St. Csesarius of Aries, dwells upon the necessity of repent 
ance for the minuta peccata, of which the accumulation during a 
life-time may outweigh the mortal ones, and the preacher proceeds 
to enumerate these minuta peccata as oaths, perjury, curses, detrac 
tion, idle talk, hatred, wrath, envy, concupiscence, gluttony, sloth, 
filthy thoughts, lust of the eye, sensual pleasures of the ear, exaspera 
tion of the poor, etc., and these so-called little sins are to be redeemed 
by forgiveness of injuries and frequent almsgiving. 4 The same con- 

615-20). Burchardi Deer. Lib. xix. cap. 97. Quadripartitus, Ed Lieber- 
mann, p. 78. Pcenit. Roman. Tit. ix. cap. 16 (Ant. Augustini Canones, p. 81). 
Passavanti, Lo Specchio della vera Penitenza Dist. v. cap. iv. The latter sub 
sequently says (cap. vii.) that some authorities counted only seven. 

1 Weigel Claviculge Indulgent, cap. iv. 

2 Manip. Curator. P. n. Tract, ii. cap. 9. S. Antonini Summse P. ill. Tit. 
xvii. cap. 17, $ 3. 

3 S. Augustin. Serm. ad Catechum. de Symbolo, cap. 7. In another passage, 
however (Serin. CCCLI. n. 5), he is much more comprehensive in his enumera 
tion of grave sins, while the lighter ones are to be remitted by daily repent 
ance. The subject evidently was one on which conceptions as yet were 
exceedingly vague. 

4 S. Augustin. Serm. Append. Serm. CCLVI. n. 4; CCLVII. n. 2 (Migne, 
XXXIX. 2219-20). 


ception is to be found in Bede, when he says that the only sins to be 
confessed to priests are heresy, infidelity and Judaism, for God him 
self corrects and cures our other vices within us. 1 

When the schoolmen undertook in the twelfth century the sys- 
temization of theology and its application to sacerdotalism it was 
inevitable that these crude conceptions should be remoulded and 
that human sins should be subjected to the searching analysis em 
ployed in all other quarters. In constructing a new theory of the 
relations between God and man it became necessary to define with 
some approach to accuracy the tremendous difference now established 
between the sins which of themselves plunged the soul into the 
eternal torments of hell, and those which only delayed more or less 
its admission into the company of the saints. The distinction was 
fundamental which could produce so infinite a divergence of destiny, 
and it behoved all men to know by which standard their thoughts, 
words and deeds were to be judged. Gregory the Great, in his crude 
speculations as to the possibility of purgatorial fires, at a time when 
as yet the Day of Judgment was regarded as the period determining 
the fate of the soul, had suggested as credible that there might be 
sins so trifling, such as idle talk, immoderate laughter, the sins in 
separable from family cares and the like, which could be cleansed by 
fiery purgation prior to that awful day. 2 Since then the belief in 
purgatory had grown to be part of Catholic dogma ; it was not a 
place for the unrepentant sinner, but, as we have seen, it served to 
furnish the poena for the mortal sins of which the culpa was remitted 
in the sacrament a poena which could be averted by penance. It 
also, on the authority of this passage of Gregory, supplied the means 
of purifying the soul from unremitted venial sins or, in the later 
conception, of inflicting a penalty proportional to their demerit. The 
petty character of the offences suggested by Gregory served as a 
measure by which to differentiate mortal and venial sins. Thus 
when Gratian came to divide sins into those which, unrepented and 
unatoned, condemn the soul to hell, he followed a sermon attributed 
to St. Augustin which shows how much more sternly the sinner was 
judged than in the earlier centuries. Sacrilege, homicide, adultery, 
unchastity, false witness, theft, rapine, pride, envy, avarice, pro- 

1 Bedae Lib. v. in Lucam xvn. 14. 

2 Gregor. PP. I. Dial. iv. 39 (Gratian. Cap. 4 Dist. xxv.). 


longed anger, continued drunkenness entail eternal fire unless re 
deemed by amendment, long penance and liberal almsgiving. The 
temporary fires of purgatory suffice for the minuta peccata, and of 
these, though known to all men, he mentions some eating or 
drinking more than necessary, undue silence or talk, exasperating 
beggars who are importunate, eating when others fast, rising too 
late for church service, connubial intercourse except to procure off 
spring, tardiness in visiting the sick or prisoners, neglecting to make 
peace between enemies, irritating unduly a wife or neighbor or child 
or servant, perjury in not fulfilling an incautious oath, speaking ill, 
etc. 1 Peter Lombard, about the same time, essayed a more philo 
sophic classification of sins into those of infirmity, of ignorance and 
of malice, and this was probably current in the Paris schools, as it is 
adopted by Richard of St. Victor. 2 

The more practical division of sins into mortal and venial became 
a necessity with the disappearance of the Penitentials, and the con 
ferring of discretion on the priest, who, armed with the power of 
the keys, administered a sacrament essential to salvation. As merely 
a philosophical amusement such speculations have their interest, but 
to the Church and the faithful this was not mere philosophical di- 
lettanteism, but a serious work of the highest import, to be framed 
with exactness for the guidance of ignorant and untrained priests. 
That it was a failure goes without saying, for the task was impossible. 
It may be argued that this is only what is attempted in every crim 
inal code, but the criminal law is admitted to be a mere device, 
necessary for the protection of society, yet at best a most imperfect 
instrument. It makes no attempt to fathom the recesses of the 
offender s soul and determine the impalpable line over which a venial 
sin passes to become mortal. It seeks to attain only the practical, 

1 Gratian. post cap. 3 Dist. xxv. (Ps. August. Serm. XLI. de Sanctis ; Ed. 
Benedict. Append. Serm. civ.). 

2 P. Lombard Sententt. Lib. u. Dist. xliii. \ 4. Rich, a S. Victore de Statu 
interioris Hominis, Cap. 3. 

Peter Lombard as yet had apparently not accepted the Gregorian suggestion 
of purgatory. He seems to know nothing beyond the theories of St. Augustin 
that between death and the Day of Judgment souls are stowed away in recep 
tacles, where they have rest or pain according to their final destiny. He 
thinks it possible, however, that those moderately good may pass through fire 
and be saved through the intercession of the heavenly Church. Sententt. Lib. 
IV. Dist. xlv. \\ I, 5. 


and yet the experienced legist will admit that after the ablest minds 
have been laboring at it for thousands of years, and after innumer 
able modifications, it is still only a makeshift on which no two 
nations can be found to agree, and which never can rise above the 
limitations and imperfections of human nature. The Church under 
took a far more difficult task, for in its sphere of the forum internum 
external acts are only the indications of moods and feelings, of im 
pulses and intentions, and it was required to decide not what was 
the judgment of man concerning them, but what was the judgment 
of God. It is infallible, moreover, wielding supernatural power by 
divine delegation, and it cannot admit the existence of imperfection 
in the rules which it promulgates or tolerates for the guidance of its 
ministers when acting as the representatives of God. If it is a 
divine institution those rules must be perfect, immutable, clearly 
intelligible and capable of easy application. 

Of these rules the most elementary is that which differentiates 
venial from mortal sin, yet until the twelfth century was far ad 
vanced the Church had made no definite and comprehensive attempt 
to effect such a differentiation. The so-called seven or eight mortal 
sins were a mere enumeration of more or less evil tendencies, the 
manifestations of which in action might be venial or not, according 
to their degree or their results. 1 The Penitentials drew no line of 
demarcation, but, like other criminal codes, merely marked the sense 
of the comparative guilt of actual offences, by penances ranging 
from two or three days to fifteen or twenty years. Even after the 
schoolmen had established the distinction, it still remained for a 
while only a question of the extent of penalty to be inflicted. 
Alain de Lille tells us that both mortals and venials are to be con 
fessed, when the priest is to consider to which class a sin belongs 
and proportion the penance accordingly. 2 There were still theo 
logians who held that if a man died with venials unrepented and 
with the disposition to commit them, they changed to mortals after 
death and condemned the soul to hell. 3 When the attempt was 

1 Thus Father Habert states (Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. Tract, vi. cap. 1, n. 2) 
that all the seven mortal sins can be venial save lust, which is always mortal. 

2 Alani de Insulis Lib. Pcenit. (Migne, OCX. 288). " Considerandum est 
quoque utrum peccatum sit de genere venialium vel mortalium, quia secundum 
hoc major vel minor satisfactio injungenda est." 

3 P. Pictaviens. Sentt. Lib. in. cap. 10. Even in the seventeenth century 


seriously made to estimate the degrees of sin in a manner to enable 
the confessor to perform the duty of judging between leprosy and 
leprosy, the impracticability of the task became apparent in the 
intricate reasoning employed and the balancing of arguments. Origen 
had recognized this as early as the third century/ and in the twelfth 
Peter of Poitiers, after exhausting the discussion of a doubtful point, 
despairingly exclaims that only God can determine which is the 
graver sin. 2 The matter, moreover, was immeasurably complicated 
by the factor of the belief of the actor, for as early as the time of 
St. Bernard it was held that whatever a man thought to be a sin, 
even if it were good, was as great a sin as he thought it to be. 3 
How impossible this rendered all practical application of classifica 
tion is seen in William of Paris, who, after telling us that all venials 
taken together are infinitely less than a mortal, adds that if a man 
believes almsgiving to be a sin, he sins in giving alms ; if he believes 
that lifting a straw from the ground will be a sin as great as that of 
Lucifer or Adam or Judas or of the crucifiers of Christ, he will, 
in lifting the straw, sin as much as Lucifer or Adam or Judas. 4 
The impossibility thus of applying general rules is recognized in 
the advice to confessors of S. Barnon de Penafort, repeated by sub 
sequent authorities, not to be too prompt in pronouncing a sin to be 
mortal unless there is a written decision concerning it, but to tell 
the penitent that it is a sin and induce him to perform penance for 
it. 5 Passavanti spends pages in the vain attempt to differentiate 
mortals from venials, and winds up with the admission that the 
matter is difficult, not only for the unlearned layman but for the 
learned ecclesiastic. 6 Thomas of Walden vainly endeavors to answer 

Martin van der Beek considered it necessary to refute this opinion as too 
rigorous. M. Becani de Sacramentis Tract, n. P. iii. cap. 32, Q. 9, 10. 

1 Origenis in Exod. Homil. x. n. 3. " Quse autem sint species peccatorum 
ad mortem, quse vero non ad mortem sed ad damnum non puto facile a quo- 
quam hominum posse discerni. Scriptum namque est, Delicta quis intelligit?" 

2 P. Pictaviens. Sentt. Lib. in. cap. 12. "Solus ergo Deus qui est equilib- 
rator ponderum culparum et pcenaruin scit uter talium peccet majus." 

3 S. Bernardi Lib. de Prsecept. et Dispensat. cap. xiv. 

4 Guillel. Paris. Opera de Fide. fol. 206, col. 4, fol. 215 col. 1, 3 (Nurnbergse 

5 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. xxxi. Q. 2. Epist. Synod. Guillel. Episc. 
Cadurcens. circa 1325, cap. 9 (Martene Thesaur. IV. 690). 

6 Passavanti, Lo Specchio della vera Poenitenza, Dist. V. cap. 7. 


Wickliffe s challenge to the confessors to distinguish mortals from 
venials ; nothing, he says, is clearer than the difference between 
them, nothing more obscure than the line of demarcation. 1 St. 
Antonino makes the same admission, for though he holds, of course, 
that the difference between mortals and venials is infinite, yet he tells 
the confessor that it is not necessary for him to determine what is 
one or the other, for some are certain and some are doubtful. 2 
Geiler von Keysersberg reiterates the admission ; rules for the dif 
ferentiation can be laid down, but they are often at fault and no one 
can be expected to decide all cases correctly. 3 Prierias is equally 
candid ; the confessor is only required to know what everybody 
knows to be mortal sins ; there is scarce in the world a single con 
fessor able to distinguish in all cases ; it suffices for him to impose 
penance to prevent relapse and to absolve as far as his power ex 
tends. 4 The difficulty did not diminish with the further labors of 
the theologians. In the seventeenth century we are told that the 
confession is not rendered invalid by the confessor mistaking venials 
for mortals and mortals for venials ; the distinction is too difficult, 
and he is not obliged to undertake it in the confessional. 5 

While the practical writers thus had no hesitation in admitting 
the impossibility of applying the distinction in the confessional, for 
which alone it was framed, the schoolmen had no difficulty in de 
fining it to their satisfaction a fair illustration of the ease with 
which they constructed, from their innate conceptions, a system of 
the universe of which they knew nothing, very beautiful and sym 
metrical according to the aspirations of the age, but which broke 
down completely as a basis for human action. Alexander Hales 
tried his hand at it, reaching the prescribed conclusion that the 
difference between mortals and venials is infinite, for venials do not 
avert man from God ; the distinction consists in the comparative 
love of God ; if you love the creature more than the Creator it is 
mortal, if less it is venial ; and after prolonged argument he proves 

1 Thomse Waldens. de Sacramentis cap. CL.VI. n. 7. 

2 S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 19, \\ 8, 14. 

3 Jo. Keysersperg. Naviculae Penitentiae fol. viii. col. 1 (Aug. Vindel. 

4 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessor in. ^ 2, 11, 13. 

5 Berteau Director Confessar. P. i. Tract, ii. cap. 1. Cf. Gobat Alphab. 
Confessar. n. 325. 

II. 16 


that no number of venials taken together will constitute a mortal. 1 
Yet when he undertakes to decide whether garrulity (multiloquium) 
is mortal or venial, he has to differentiate it from verbosity (yer- 
bositas and loquacity (linguositas), and finally decides that it is venial, 
though it may sometimes be mortal a fair example of the labyrinth 
in which the schoolmen involved themselves when they sought to 
apply their theology to practical ethics. 2 It is true that St. Bona- 
ventura proved that venials may become mortals, in spite of the 
infinite difference between them, 3 but Aquinas denied this, though 
he admitted that an act venial in itself might undergo a change ren 
dering it mortal. Like St. Bernard and William of Paris, he ascribed 
more influence to the intention of the actor than to the act itself, 
and, like Alexander Hales, his distinction is that mortal sin is a 
turning from God ; anything less than this is venial ; the two are 
the same in species though differing infinitely in their consequences, 
and all the venials in the world are not equal to a single mortal. 4 
From this Domingo Soto deduces that venials may become mortals 
through evil intention, while the best intention cannot convert a 
mortal into a venial, 5 though, as we shall see hereafter, recent the 
ology has discovered that it can. Moreover, the older theologians 
held that venials, when habitually committed, become mortal, and 
this, again, is denied by the moderns. 6 Thomas Bradwardine cut 

1 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. x. Membr. viii. Art. 1, \ I ; Q. xv. Membr. 
iii. Art. 1, 1; Art. 3, 1. 

2 Ibid. P. II. Q. cxxiv. See also the elaborate discussions in which John 
of Freiburg endeavors to point out when gulosity, verbosity, fear, deceit, 
hypocrisy, boasting, adulation, vain-glory, etc., are mortal or venial. Summse 
Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 199, 253, 254, 256, 258-62, 268-9, etc. ; also 
the similar effort by Bart, de Chaimis, Interrogat. fol. 41-9, 61-3. 

3 S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. P. ii. Art. 3, Q. 1. 

4 S. Th. Aquinat. Suminse I. n. Q. xx. Art. 2; Q. Ixxii. Art. 5; Q. Ixxx. 
Artt. 2, 4; Summse contra Gentiles Lib. in. cap. cxliv. Of. Estii in IV. Sentt. 
Dist. xvi. \ 3. 

William Durand (Ration. Divin. Offic. Lib. IV. cap. xii. n. 3) tries a different 
classification into nine varieties " Est enim peccatum originale, veniale et 
mortale. Item peccatum cogitationis, locutionis et perpetrationis. Item pec 
catum fragilitatis, simplicitatis et malignitatis." 

5 Dom. Soto de Justitia et Jure Lib. v. Q. ix. Art. 2 ad 3. 

6 S. Augustin. Serm. CCCLI. n. 5. Gratian. cap. 81 \ 3 Caus. xxxin. Q. iii. 
Dist. 1. S. Antonini Sumrnse P. n. Tit. ix. cap. 3 \ 3. Summa Angelica s. v. 
Inobedientia. Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. 5, n. 2. 


the knot in a simpler fashion, when, in the impossible attempt to 
reconcile predestination with morals, he denned venials to be the sins 
of the elect and mortals the sins of the reprobate. 1 

Thus it went on, one doctor after another imagining that he was 
defining and differentiating when he was only talking in a circle 
about causes and consequences, and this has continued to the present 
time. 2 When it comes to drawing any practical deductions for the 
conduct of the sinner or of the confessor the matter becomes so in 
finitely tangled with questions of intention and belief and degree 
that the moralist can only throw up his hands in despair and, like 
Duns Scotus, say that every man is bound to avoid mortal sin, but 
is not required to know explicitly in what cases pride and gluttony 
are mortal, for many experts do not know : or, like John Gerson, 
exclaim that God alone can decide ; man can only judge of externals 
unless he has a revelation from God. 3 It was easy to say that what 
ever is contrary to the mandates of the Decalogue is mortal, but then 
the Decalogue is expounded so as to cover every imaginable aberra 
tion, great or small, and the state of mind of the sinner may at any 
time convert a venial to a mortal, or vice versa, 4 which is peculiarly 
confusing, since we may well believe Gerson s assertion that the 
penitent very often cannot tell whether he has done certain things, 
or how he did them, or with what intention, and Juan Sanchez tells 
us that penitents often accuse themselves of sins which are in reality 
virtues. 5 

How perfectly nebulous is the boundary which thus has such 
awful significance can be estimated by an instance or two. Herzig 
tells us that it is a mortal sin to read the Bible in the vernacular 
without a license, except in places where intercourse with heretics has 
established a different custom. 6 A man labors on a feast-day, know- 

1 D Argentre Collect, judic. de novis Erroribus I. I. 341. 

2 Caietani Summula s. v. Peccatum. Concil. Eoman. ann. 1725, p. 434. S. 
Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 51. 

3 Jo. Scoti in III. Sentt. Dist. xxv. Q. 1. Jo. Gersonis Begulse Morales, 
xxv. C. "Solus quippe Deus potest de talibus judicare ; alii autem nonnisi de 
ejus mandato et revelatione, sed tantum de exterioribus." 

4 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. 1, Art. 3. Summa Pisanella s. v. 
Peccatum n. ; in. \ 1. Jo. Gersonis loc. cit. G. Savonarolse Confessionale 
fol. 20-1. 

5 Jo. Gersonis loc. cit. Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. II. 

6 Herzig Manuale Confessarii, P. n. n. 115 (August. Vindel. 1757). In 1713, 


ing it to be a sin, but without reflecting whether it is venial or mor 
tal ; it is a disputed point among the doctors whether he sins mortally 
or venially, and the determination may rest upon whether he is one 
who habitually abstains from grave offences ; but if he had resolved 
to labor whether it is mortal or not, he sins mortally, and also if he 
had intentionally abstained from ascertaining in order that he might 
not be prevented from laboring. 1 A shopkeeper whose wares are 
neglected for those of a competitor may grieve without sin over his 
loss of trade, but if envy of his rival s success enters into his feelings 
he sins mortally. 2 

A natural result of these impalpable distinctions is that terror of 
the confessional, the scrupulous penitent, whose conscience is never 
at rest and is torn by vain exaggerations of his peccadilloes. It is 
easy to define that a scruple is an opinion based on an insufficient 
foundation; but such a test is impracticable for the sufferer, and the 
books are full of instructions as to how he is to be disabused or 
forced to disregard his fears. One recommendation is that he be told 
never to regard a sin as mortal unless he is prepared to take an oath 
that it is so, which would seem 1 , to be a method of increasing rather than 
diminishing his anxieties, and the confessor is instructed not to allow 
him to confesss any sins save those that he knows to be such. 3 

Though venials and mortals are so essentially different in their 
nature and effects, they pass into each other by degrees so impercep 
tible that it became necessary to evolve the doctrine of parvitas 
materice the trifling character of an offence which renders it venial 
when it would otherwise be mortal. Such a distinction, in fact, is 
necessary, even though logically it upsets the whole system, for it 
runs counter to the theory of intention and belief, but it only intro 
duces a new source of trouble, that of defining the exact degree of 
parvitas which makes the difference. Thus theft is mortal, but the 

Clement XI., in the bull Unigenitus (Prop. 79-86), condemned the use of the 
Bible by the laity as a Jansenist error. In 1757, however, the Congregation 
of the Index permitted the use of vernacular versions if approved by the Holy 
See and accompanied with proper commentaries (Index Bened. PP. XIV., 
p. vi.). 

1 Voit Theol. Moral. I. 13-14. 2 Gury Casus Conscient. I. 169. 

3 Th. Sanchez in Pnecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. x. n. 82-4 Voit Theol. 
Moral, i. 130-1. 


object stolen may be so trivial as to render it venial/ and the line of 
demarcation has been the subject of endless debate, fruitless because 
no one can put forward more than a personal opinion, and no one 
can know the will of God. Azpilcueta and Cordoba, for instance, 
think that one real suffices to render theft mortal, but Tomas Sanchez 
says that some doctors hold the theft of a hundred ducats from a 
very rich man to be venial. Caramuel tells us that a son can steal 
from his father twice as much as a stranger can without incurring 
mortal sin, while servants and friends are equidistant between these 
extremes. Concilia states that it is commonly agreed that the amount 
depends on the condition of the loser, and that four classes, from 
kings to beggars, are commonly reckoned with their several valua 
tions, but he thinks the best standard to be the amount that the 
person robbed spends habitually for a day s food. Then there is a 
subsidiary question whether it is the same with the theft of eatables, 
for the owner is apt to think the purloining of coin more serious 
than that of provisions ; moreover, if you steal one real of food and 
consume it, intending to steal no more, but change your mind and 
steal another real s worth, do you commit two venials or one mortal? 2 
This latter point led to the celebrated question whether a series of 
petty thefts might be committed, amounting in the aggregate to a 
considerable sum, without incurring mortal sin and the duty of resti 
tution : the affirmative was largely taught, and in 1679 Innocent XI. 
found himself obliged to condemn the proposition. 3 Such are the 
insoluble puzzles which the confessor is bound to unravel and which 
become only the more hopelessly confused the more the moralists 
elucidate them. 

In addition to this the theory of parvitas became still further compli 
cated by the discovery that some sins are so heinous that no minuteness 

1 This is modern doctrine. Aquinas says (Summae Sec. Sec. Q. LXVI. Art. 
vi. ad 3) that though there may be excuse for stealing a thing of minimum 
value, if there is animus furandi it is mortal. So Astesanus (Summse Lib. I. 
Tit. xxxiii. Art. 3, Q. 2) and the Summa Pisanella (s. v. Fiirfum 3) say that 
the intention of the thief, and not the object stolen, is to be considered. 

2 Gobat Alphab. Confessar. n. 675-76. Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi 
Lib. i. cap. iv. n. 7, 18. Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 1767. Clericati de 
Poenit. Decis. XLIV. n. 10. Concina Theol. Christ, contr. Lib. vi. Diss. 1, cap. 
3, gg 3-5. 

3 Innoc. PP. XI. Deer. 2 Mart. 1679, Prop. 38. 


of the offence renders them venial. Unfortunately the doctors are not 
wholly in accord as to what these are, though for the most part they 
agree that simony, heresy, usury, and blasphemy belong to this cate 
gory, save that in modern times usury is omitted from the list. 1 On 
the subject of unchastity, however, there has been a difference of 
opinion. Aquinas held that lust, in however slight a degree, is 
mortal, while the Summa Pisanella tells us that a mere sensual feel 
ing, without consent of the reason, is venial. 2 Caietano is more 
rigid ; every impulse of the kind, except between the married, is 
mortal, though admiration of a pretty woman, if without lust, is not 
so. 3 Alphonso de Leone, on the other hand, holds that there may be 
delectation in these matters without mortal sin, and Cabrino does not 
include lust among the exceptions to parvitas materice* Yet, when 
some of the Jesuits taught this doctrine, Aquaviva issued a decree, 
April 24, 1612, in which he forbade it, under the heaviest penalties, 
on account of its danger and the impossibility of drawing distinctions 
in so perilous a matter. 5 Some theologians assert that to feel pleasure 
at the touch of a woman s hand because it is soft and warm is no sin, 
though they admit that if there is the slightest admixture of sexual 
feeling it is mortal, while others assume that this distinction is impos 
sible and that the pleasure is always sinful. 6 Necessarily this ques 
tion of parvitas became exceedingly complicated under the exhaustive 
treatment of the moralists, and Tomas Sanchez, who discusses it at 

1 Alph. de Leone de Offic. et Potest. Confessar. Recoil. VII n. 32-45. 
Cabrini Elucidar. Casimm Reservat. P. I. Resol. vi. Wigandt Tribunal. Con 
fessar. Tract. IV. Exam. ii. n. 74. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract, iii. 
cap. 5. Voit Theol. Moral. I. 305. Martinet Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Art. xv. g 5. 

2 S. Th. Aquin. Summse Sec. Sec. Q. CLIV. Art. iv. Summa Pisanella s. v. 
Peccatum n. 

3 Caietani Summula s. v. Impudicitia. 

4 Alph. de Leone op. cit. Recoil, xin. n. 10-34. Cab ri mis ubi sup. 

5 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 1740. He adds, however (n. 1762-66), that 
the Jesuits soon eluded this decree by drawing distinctions between luxuria 
and res venerea, which the theologians had always treated as synonymous. 

6 Rosell Praxis Deponendi Conscientiam cap. xxvn. (Bruxellae, 1661) 
Herzig Manuale Confessarii, P. I. n. 74. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. 
Lib. in. n. 416. Cf. Alex. PP. VI F. Deer. 1666, Prop. 40 cum Comment. Dom. 

For the endless and complicated discussion of this point by the theologians 
see Caramuel s Theol. Fundam. n. 1708-66, and the Vindicice Alphonsiance, pp. 
283 sqq. 


great length in the endeavor to establish rules for its application, is 
constrained to admit that no rules are possible and that it must be 
left to the judgment of a prudent man. 1 

Yet the distinction between mortals and venials does not depend 
wholly upon the acts or even upon the internal operation of the 
sinner. Extrinsic circumstances, over which he has no control, 
may remove a sin from one class to the other. Thus Pierre de la 
Palu says that the sale of such objects as dice or garlands is mortal 
or venial according to the uses to which they may be put. St. Anto- 
nino tells us that, if a man through mere loquacity reveals the hidden 
fault of another, it is venial unless evil results from the hearers 
spreading it, when it becomes mortal. Chiericato asserts that subsan- 
natio, or making a derisive sign at another, becomes mortal if it causes 
much annoyance to the person at whom it is directed. It is a com 
mon remark of the moralists that, although stealing a needle from a 
tailor is venial on account of parvitas, still if the needle happens to 
be necessary to enable the owner to perform his work, the sin becomes 
mortal. 2 Benedict XIV. defines that if, in consequence of a quarrel, 
a woman refuses to return the salutation of a neighbor, the sin is 
venial or mortal according to the scandal to which it gives rise ; in 
fact the principle is generally admitted and Father de Charmes speaks 
of venial sins which may become mortal through some adventitious 
circumstance, such as scandal, 3 but the theologians do not instruct 
us how to weigh and measure the degree of scandal or annoyance 
which thus makes the difference between perdition and salvation, nor 
how all this is to be reconciled with the accepted doctrine that a 
venial cannot become a mortal. On the other hand, although servile 
labor on a feast-day is a mortal sin, a barber who knows that he will 
lose his custom if he refuses to shave on such a day, can work with 
a clear conscience, because ecclesiastical laws are not obligatory when 
they inflict a certain amount of hardship. 4 In fact, the difference 

1 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. iv. n. 2. 

2 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. XVI. Q. ii. Art. 4. S. Antonini Confes- 
sionale fol. 306. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxvii. n. 27. Piselli Theol. Moral 
Summse P. I. Tract, xix. cap. 2. 

3 Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscient. Junii 1746, cas. 1. Th. ex Charmes 
Theol. Univ. Diss. v. cap. vi. Q. 4. Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 153. 

4 Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientia n. Q. 3. 


between mortals and venials is so slight that the word of a priest or 
prelate can convert one into the other. We have seen (p. 187) that 
a confessor can impose a penance to be performed under the obliga 
tion of venial or mortal sin at his pleasure, and when St. Toribio of 
Lima, in 1583, desired to prevent priests from smoking or taking 
snuff before mass, he prohibited it under pain of eternal death sub 
reatu mortis ceternce. 1 

Ignorance is another important factor which modifies the distinc 
tion between mortals and venials, and is closely allied to the questions 
of belief and intention. Manifestly a man who sins in ignorance of 
the character of his act is not to be judged as harshly as he who sins 
in knowledge. Christ himself tells us (Luke, xn. 47-8) that ignor 
ance may be pleaded in mitigation of punishment, but that it does 
not wholly excuse, and the moral sense is rarely so undeveloped or 
so unable to distinguish between right and wrong as to relieve a 
man from responsibility for his acts. In the early Church no such 
excuse was admitted. St. Augustin refuses to listen to the plea of 
either wilful or unconscious ignorance with a rigidity which renders 
doubly remarkable the enormous use made of it in the modern sys 
tems of reflex probabilism. 2 His view was evidently that of current 

1 C. Liman. Provin. I. ann. 1583, Act. in. cap. 84. As the proceedings of 
the council were approved and confirmed by the Congregation of the Council 
of Trent in 1588, the Holy See saw nothing objectionable in this. Heroldus 
remarks on this passage (Lima Limata, p. 29) "Sed gravitas comminationis 
reatus mortis seternse in hoc decreto intentatse proculdubio presbyteris peccati 
mortalis vinculum imponit." 

Yet this was not the older belief. Gerson (De Vita spirit. Animae Lect. IV. 
Coroll. 4) describes as an abuse "praesertim ecclesiastici illi qui quicquid ordi- 
nant, quicquid monent, quicquid praecipiunt, volunt pro divinis legibus haberi, 
par sequale quoque robur habere, per interminationem damnationis seternae." 
And Voit, in the last century, tells us (Theol. Moral. I. 186) that a superior 
cannot impose on his subjects anything of minor importance sub mortali. 

2 " Ac per hoc inexcusabilis est omnis peccator vel reatu originis vel addita- 
mento etiam propriae voluntatis; sive qui novit sive qui ignorat, sive qui 
judicat sive qui non judicat, quia et ipsa ignorantia in eis qui intelligere nolu- 
erunt sine dubitatione peccatum est; in eis autem qui non potuerunt pcena 
peccati. Ergo in utrisque non est justa excusatio sed justa damnatio." S. 
Augustin. Epist. cxciv. n. 27. Cf. Retract. Lib. I. cap. xiii. n. 5. 

To maintain the scholastic position as to ignorance and the modern doctrines 
of probabilism it became desirable to forge an opinion for St. Augustin, and 


brthodox belief, as shown in 415 by the council of Diospolis in con 
demning the opposite opinion of Coelestius. 1 The earlier schoolmen 
followed as a matter of course. Gratian classes ignorance with lust 
as a source of sin, and the results of both are equally punishable. 2 
When a schoolman of the period argued that there is no sin in ignor 
ance St. Bernard considered his opinion as scarce worth refutation 
and easily demonstrated its falsity. 3 Peter Lombard adheres to St. 
Augustin ; wilful ignorance is sin, unconscious ignorance is the 
punishment of sin, and both merit perdition. 4 Richard of S. Victor 
says that he who sins through infirmity sins against the Father, who 
through ignorance sins against the son, \vho through malice sins 
against the Holy Ghost ; the two former can be redeemed through 
penance, the latter is unpardonable. 5 

The ecclesiastical system, however, was rapidly growing so com 
plicated and artificial that the moral sense became an insufficient 
guide, and it soon was felt that much allowance must be made for 
honest ignorance, especially as enforced confession was bringing 
before the priest crowds of uninstructed peasants. Thus Alexander 
Hales says that general contrition suffices for sins committed in 
ignorance ; necessarily they must be passed over in confession, but 
when he adds that they must be confessed if the ignorance is mean 
while removed he makes a fatal breach in his argument, for this 

this was done without scruple. Liguori, in his defence of probabilism (De 
Usu Moderate Opinionis probabilis n. 39. Theol. Moral. Lib. v. n. 4) quotes 
through Aquinas from St. Augustin (De Libero Arbitrio Lib. in. cap. 19) a 
garbled passage to the effect that ignorance is not sin, but neglect to learn is. 
The fraud is the less excusable in that St. Augustin is there arguing the direct 
contrary of what Aquinas and Liguori cite him to prove, and he proceeds 
"Nam illud quod ignorans non recte facit et quod recte volens facere non potest 
ideo dicuntur peccata, quia de peccato illo liberse voluntatis originem ducunt : 
illud enim praecedens meruit ista sequentia." Marc (Instit. Moral. Alphon- 
sianae n. 21) lends himself to the same deceit by quoting only a portion of the 

1 C. Diospolitan. ann. 415, cap. 18 (Harduin. I. 1212). 

2 Gratian Caus. xv. Q. 1, $ 2. " Infirmitas animi est ignorantia. Carnis 
infirmitas est concupiscentia. Ex utraque autem infirmitate quse procedunt 
imputantur ad poenarn. Of. post Cap. 12 Caus. I. Q. 4, and S. Augustin Contra 
Julianum Pelagianum Lib. vi. cap. 16. 

3 S. Bernardi Tract, de Baptismo, etc. Cap. iv. 

4 P. Lombard. Collect, in Epist. ad Romanes v. 10-13. 

5 R. a S. Victore de Statu interioris Hominis Tract, n. cap. 3. 


infers that sin is none the less sin because committed in ignorance. 1 
St. Bonaventura virtually agrees with Hales. 2 Aquinas draws a 
distinction ; if ignorance is such as wholly to exclude the desire to 
do evil there is no sin, and the excuse is complete, but sometimes it 
does not wholly exclude the will to evil, and then it excuses only so 
much, wherefore a man should have contrition for sins committed in 
ignorance. 3 Moreover, the definition of the ignorance which justifies 
was much more rigid than that of modern casuists, for the schoolmen 
held that ignorance of natural or divine law excuses no one who has 
the use of reason, though there are cases in which ignorance of canon 
or civil law is a valid excuse. 4 In fact, the schoolmen soon found 
how sinners took advantage of their speculations. Peter of Palermo 
denounces those who refused to attend preaching in order that they 
might have the benefit of ignorance, and he tells of a bishop who 
said to him that God had given him a great grace in that he had 
never studied, and thus was saved from a scrupulous conscience. 5 

The question grew in importance as the refinements of the schools 
constantly increased the difficulty of distinguishing between mortals 
and venials, for when the doctors themselves were so often at odds 
the uninstructed layman could not be expected to know the grade of 
many of his offences. The only resource Avas, in the increasing laxity 
of the time, to class sins committed in ignorance with forgotten sins, 
which, as we shall presently see, were remitted in various ways. 
There also became apparent the necessity of classifying ignorance 
itself, and, as already suggested by St. Augustin, it was divided into 
invincible or inculpable, and vincible or inexcusable, the one being 

1 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xvii. Mernbr. iii. Art. 8; Q. xvm. 
Membr. iv. Art. 2, % 7. 

2 S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. P. ii. Art. 2, Q. 1. 

3 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. ii. Art. 2 ad 3; Summse Prim. 
Sec. Q. LXXVI. Artt. ii. iii. ; Suppl. Q. II. Art. ii. 

4 S. Th. Aquin. Quodlibet. in. Artt. x., xxvii. Alex, de Ales Summae P. II. 
Q. cxii. Membr. 8. Durand. de S. Porciano in III. Sentt. Dist. xxv. Q,. 1, n. 
10. Jo. Gersonis de VitaSpir. Animse Lect. IV. Coroll. 3. S. Antonini Summae 
P. I. Tit. iii. cap. 10. Summa Angelica s. v. Opinio n. 2. 

Invincible ignorance excused, but crass ignorance did not, the confessor 
who committed the mortal sin of making a mistake in the difficult task of 
estimating the sins of a penitent. S. Antonini Summae P. ii. Tit. 1, cap. 11, 

5 Pet. Hieremise Quadragesimale Serm. xxu. 


that which the sinner had had no opportunity of recognizing, the 
other that which he could and ought to have removed. 1 Unlike St. 
Aiigustin s teaching, however, the one serves as an excuse to hold 
the sinner harmless, the other only aggravates his guilt, for in itself 
it is a mortal sin. 2 It was the misfortune of the system that every 
attempt to perfect it only added fresh complications, and this threw 
an added burden on the confessor to determine the exact nature of 
the penitent s ignorance, in which he had to consider the social 
position and opportunities of the sinner. 3 To aid him the moral 
ists proceeded, with their customary exhaustiveness, to distinguish 
and classify the various grades and varities of ignorance. First, 
there is the ignorantia simplex of the older schoolmen which came to 
be known as invincibilis, inculpabilis, justa and involuntaria, when 
there is no knowledge of the existence of a law or precept, so that 
there can be no conception of the necessity of acquiring knowledge ; 
if the attempt has been made and wrong information obtained, the 
result is ignorantia probabilis ; but the attempt need not be exhaust 
ive, for ordinary diligence suffices. This invincible ignorance elimi 
nated a vast portion of the sins of the faithful, for Viva assures us 
that those of the uneducated and of children are very rarely mortal. 4 
Then there is ignorantia vincibilis, in which due diligence has not 
been used, and in this there may be negligentia gravis or levis, the 
former conducing to mortal, the latter to venial sin. Then there is 
the ignorantia affectata, when one consciously prefers ignorance in 
order to be able to sin with impunity, and the crassa or supina, in 
which there has been great negligence in seeking enlightenment 
when doubt has arisen. Besides there are enumerated antecedens, 
the invincible ignorance without which the sin would not have been 
committed, concomitans, when knowledge would not have prevented 
its commission, and consequent, which arises from deliberate evil 
purpose. 5 We may readily believe that the ordinary confessor is not 

1 Summa Angelica s. vv. Confessio I. 18 ; Pcenitentia $ 8. 

2 Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 14. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio 
Sacram. I. \ 6. 

3 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. ii. Art. 4. 

4 Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. II. Q. 1, Art. 2, n. 6. 

5 Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. xvi. Rossell Praxis de- 
ponendi Conscientiam cap. vi. Roncaglia Univ. Theol. Moral. Tract. II. Q. 1, 
cap. 1, Q. 2. 


expected to weigh his penitent s sins by these delicate standards, for 
they run into each other by gradations so fine, and they become so 
intermingled with questions of belief and intention that the resultant 
confusion is well-nigh inextricable, though they serve the purpose 
of the trained casuist, who can use them to argue away almost every 
infraction of the Decalogue that is not too flagrantly intentional. 1 
A very important extension, moreover, was given to the operation 
of invincible ignorance by admitting to its benefits ignorance of the 
natural law. We have seen that in the older time this was denied 
by the schoolmen, and their teaching was still maintained by the 
rigorists in the seventeenth century until, in 1690, it was condemned 
by Alexander VIII., thus admitting to the privilege ignorance of 
the primal principles of right and wrong. 2 

In practice invincible ignorance reduces a mortal sin to a venial ; 
this includes ignorance as to whether the sin is mortal or venial, 
and confessors are instructed that many sins among the lower classes 
rank as venial which among the educated are regarded as mortal. 3 
The long exhortation which Father Habert addresses to the young 
confessor not to believe too readily the ignorance professed by his 
penitents to be invincible shows how liable the principle is to abuse 
and inferentially how much it is abused. 4 Yet, in fact, we need no 

1 Alphons. de Leone de Off. et Potest. Confessar. Recoil, vn. n. 288-330. 

2 "Tametsi detur ignorantia invincibilis juris naturae, hsec in statu naturae 
lapsae operantem ex ipsa non excusat a peccato formali." Alex. PP. VIII. 
Deer. 7 Dec. 1690, Prop. n. Of. Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi Lib. i. 
cap. xvi. n. 33. For the gradual change from rigor to laxity see Sayre, Clavis 
Regia Sacerd. Lib. II. cap. ix. n. 16 sqq. 

It is easy to understand why the Synod of Pistoia, in 1786 (Sess. in. 7), 
revived the assertion that ignorance of the natural law does not excuse sin, 
but it is not so easy to understand why Pius VI. did not include this among 
the errors of the synod condemned in the bull Auctorem fidei. The question 
as to the possibility of invincible ignorance of the precepts of the natural law 
led to differences of opinion never as yet authoritatively settled. See Gerdil, 
Saggio sul Discernimento delle Opinioni \ 4. 

3 Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. i. Tract, ii. cap. 4, n. 7. Gobat Alphab. Con 
fessar. n. 458. Bened. PP. XIV. Casus Conscient. Sept. 1742, cas. 1. 

4 Habert Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. cap. VI. n. 2. 

The unfashionable rigorists opposed to the doctrine of invincible ignorance 
the doctrine of interpretative knowledge that a man is held to know that 
which he ought to know, and that he should be as diligent in acquiring the 
knowledge necessary to salvation as the knowledge requisite to enable him to 


farther evidence of this than the application which Father Gary 
makes of the rale nihil est volitum qidn faerit prcecognitum, to prove 
that if a man seeks to slay an enemy and by mistake kills a friend, 
he is not guilty of homicide, and is not bound to restitution to the 
heirs of the slain, for invincible ignorance is always a justification. 1 

Nearly allied to the question of ignorance is that of consent, which 
plays a large part in the speculations of the moralists, especially in 
connection with mental sins. An impulse of the senses, which the 
reason at once seeks to repress, cannot be regarded as a mortal sin, 
but the gradations in human acts and processes are so infinite that 
accurate weighing and measuring are impossible in practice. Yet 
this is what the system compels the confessor to attempt, and to aid 
him the doctors have classified consent as negative and positive, 
while the latter is again divided into perfect, imperfect and absolute, 
direct and indirect, efficacious and inefficacious, true and interpreta 
tive 2 a series of distinctions more apt, one may fear, to confuse 

follow his vocation or to gratify his worldly desires. Concina Theol. Christ. 
contract. Lib. vni. Diss. iii. Cap. 2, n. 13-17. 

It is not surprising that the rigid school objected to the general principle 
that invincible ignorance renders mortal sins venial. There was, for instance, 
a wide-spread popular belief that simple fornication is no sin, owing to its 
toleration by both Church and State, and at least one theologian, Martin le 
Maistre, confessor of Louis XL, who died in 1482, asserted its sinlessness 
(Marchant Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. V. Tit. 5, Q. 5, Concl. I). The Inqui 
sition of Toledo alone, between 1575 and 1610, tried no less than 264 persons 
who had publicly defended this proposition (Konigl. Universitats Biblioth. 
Halle a. d. Saale, Yc. 20, T. I.). As they were, for the most part, ignorant 
peasants, according to the casuists all these, while so believing, could commit 
fornication without formal sin. 

The application of invincible ignorance to heretics and infidels gave rise to 
considerable debate, which will be referred to in the next chapter. 

1 Gury Casus Conscientiae I. 12. Voit (Theol. Moral. Tract, de Actibus 
Humanis n. 37 cas. 7) reaches the same result by a somewhat different process. 
The man sought to be killed is not injured, neither is the man who was killed, 
because this was involuntary ; therefore the slayer incurs no responsibility, pro 
vided he had used moral diligence to avoid the mistake. 

Bonal (Instit. Theol. T. V. n. 20) warns the student that he must not con 
clude that the ignorant man is better off than the learned, for then a being 
deprived of reason would be more fortunate than an intelligent man, but 
he adduces no argument to disprove this inevitable conclusion from the 

2 Alasia Theol. Moral. De Peccatis Diss. i. cap. vii. Art. 1. 


than to assist the ghostly father, and one which affords frequent 
opportunity to the skilful casuist to soothe or to exacerbate the 
conscience of the sinner. 

Another closely related distinction, which gives large scope to the 
subtilties of the moralists, is that between what are known as ma 
terial and formal sins. Formal sin is the deliberate violation of the 
law ; material sin is when the trangression is involuntary or excus 
able through error or ignorance or adequate motive, as when the act 
is done to avoid a greater evil. 1 Material sin thus loses its sinful 
quality, and we shall see, when we come to consider probabilism, 
how supreme a part it plays in the doctrines of the laxer morality. 

Akin to these speculations is a question which has excited no little 
controversy as to the degree of advertence requisite to create mortal 
sin. In the early Church the tendency was to hold the sinner to 
strict accountability for his acts, and to make small allowance for 
inadvertence, whether arising from negligence or from the gust of 
passion. 2 Aquinas shows a disposition to make concessions ; passion 
may induce temporary ignorance through lack of advertence, but to 
deprive an act of sin the passion must be such as to subvert the will 
and render the act wholly involuntary ; an act suddenly performed 
without reflection may be venial, when if there is deliberation it would 
be mortal. 3 Toward the middle of the fourteenth century Robert 
Holkot developed this into the proposition that no matter what sin 
a man existing in charity may commit, if it is done through passion 
which excludes the use of reason it will not be imputed to him as 
mortal sin. 4 This somewhat dangerous doctrine was not accepted by 
his contemporaries. Peter of Palermo admits that passion may give 
a claim for pardon, but unless there is repentance the sin will be 
imputed as mortal, 5 yet Thomas of Walden, in answering WicklinVs 

1 Henriquez Summse Theol. Moral. Procem. Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacra- 
mentis Disp. XLIV. n. 66. Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientia cap. n. Q. 5. 
Voit Theol. Moral. I. 71. Gury Cornp. Theol. Moral. I. 143. 

2 S. Augustin. de vera Religione cap. xiv. ; Contra Academicos Lib. in. cap. 
xvi. ; Retractat. Lib. I. cap. xiii. n. 5. Concil. Diospolitan. ann. 415, cap. 
xviii. (Harduin. I. 1212). Gregor. PP. I. Eegest. Lib. xi. Epist. Ixiv. In- 
terrog. 11. 

3 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse IT. I. Q. vi. Art. 7; Q. Ixxiii. Art. 6; Q. Ixxvii, 
Artt. 2, 6, 7. 

4 D Argentre Collect. Judic. de novis Error. I. I. 340-1. 
6 Pet. Hieremise Quadragesimale Serm. xxn. 


gibes, classifies as venial those sins which are committed through 
preoccupation or without premeditation. 1 Gerson also admits that 
there is no precept so imperative but that it may be venially trans 
gressed through impulse or lack of formal consent. 2 St. Antonino 
is more rigid ; he only admits that passion diminishes sin, but then 
inconsiderateness is in itself a sin. 3 Caietano draws a distinction ; 
full advertence and deliberation are requisite to mortal sin, but this 
on condition that the sinner would have refrained had he paused to 
consider, and in this he is followed by Bartolommeo Fumo. 4 Car 
dinal Toletus shows the progress of laxity ; there may even be brief 
delay, implying negligence, yet a sin committed under the impulse 
of passion is venial. 5 

With the development of probabilism the extenuating functions of 
inadvertence were enlarged. Manuel Sa tells us that it is not a mortal 
sin to trangress a law without full deliberation, and as this escaped 
the minute censorship of the Index of Brisighelli it received the 
implied approbation of the Holy See. 6 Tomas Sanchez holds that 
perfect deliberation is requisite to render sin mortal ; a man may 
think of everything else concerning a proposed act, but if he happens 
not to advert to its wickedness it is venial. There must be full free 
dom of will and perfection of consent, and inadvertence is divisible 
into the same gradations as ignorance. 7 These became the accepted 
teachings of the dominant school of moralists. Inadvertence may 
arise from ignorance, forgetfulness, lack of foresight, distraction, dis 
turbance of the mind, haste, preoccupation, violence or fraud ; even 
the devil may cause it, for God frequently permits him to control 
the imagination, when the sinner becomes irresponsible. To consti- 

1 Th. Waldens. de Sacramentis. cap. LVI. n. 3, 7. 

2 Jo. Gersonis de Cognit. Peccatorum venial, et mortal. Considerat. n. 

3 S. Antonini Summse P. I. Tit. ii. cap. 1, $ 3 ; P. n. Tit. 5, cap. 11. 

4 Caietani Summula s. vv. Delectatio, Inconsideratio. Aurea Armilla s. v. 
Inconsideratio n. 1. 

5 Toleti Instruct. Sacerd. Lib. in. cap. ii. n. 2. 

6 Em. Sa Aphorismi Confessar. s. v. Lex n. 4. Somewhat allied to this is a 
curious doctrine which illustrates the laxity of the period. Sayre says (Clavis 
Reg. Sacerd. Lib. ii. cap. vi. n. 16) that if a man gives cause for sin and repents 
before the effect, he is not guilty. Thus if he administers poison and repents 
before the ensuing death, it will not be imputed to him. 

7 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. 1, n. 6, 7, 8, 13; Lib. II. 
cap. xvi. n. 8. 


tute mortal sin advertence must be actual, not merely virtual or 
interpretative virtual being that which the actor had, but which is 
lacking at the moment of action, and interpretative being that which 
he has not but could or ought to have had. Thus a man who sins 
Avithout thinking of it does not sin, and sins committed in intoxica 
tion are not imputable to the perpetrator. 1 Tamburini even asserts 
that habitual sins are not sins and need not be confessed. 2 

Sin thus came to be divided into two kinds, known as theological 
and philosophical, in accordance with a dictum of Aquinas that theo 
logians consider it principally as an offence against God, while moral 
philosophers treat it as antagonistic to right reason. 3 The Peccatum 
Philosophicum thus was recognized as a sin against reason, but as the 
sinner does not advert to its traugression of the law of God, it is not 
an offence against God, and therefore not theologically a sin. The 
doctrine that inadvertence excuses sin became everywhere current 
in the schools and in the confessional, save among the Gallican 
rigorists, and provoked no remonstrance from the Holy See. There 
is no allusion to it among the propositions condemned by Alexander 
Yir. and Innocent XI., in 1665, 1666 and 1679, but its laxity 
offered a fair mark for attack by the so-called Jansenists, of which 
Pascal availed himself fully, 4 and it thus became one of the issues 
between the rigorists and the laxists. The former obtained an ad 
vantage over their opponents when, in 1686, at the Jesuit College 
of Dijon, a thesis was defended which put the theory in a slightly 
more definite shape by asserting that the Peccatum Philosophicum, 
however grave, in a man who is ignorant of God, or who in the act 
does not think of God, is a grave sin, but is not an offence against 
God, nor a mortal sin in sundering friendship with God, nor worthy 
of eternal punishment. 5 Antoine Arnauld seized the occasion to 

1 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. xvin. n. 1. Reginald! Praxis 
Fori Pcenit. Lib. xv. n. 75. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract, iii. cap. 5, n. 
13. Marchant. Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract, in. Tit. ii. Q. 1, 2, 3. Busen- 
baum Medull. Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract, iii. cap. 5, n. 13. 

2 Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. II. cap. iii. n. 23-5. 

3 S. Th. Aquin. Summse II. i. Q. Ixxi. Art. 6, ad 5. 

4 Provinciales, Lettre iv. 

5 "Peccatum Philosophicum seu morale est actus humanus disconveniens 
naturae rationali et rectse rationi. Theologicum vero et mortale est trangressio 
libera divinse legis. Philosophicum quantumve grave, in ilium qui Deum 
ignorat, vel de Deo in actu non cogitet, est grave peccatum sed non est offensa 


issue a violent attack upon this as a new heresy, and the Jansenists 
sought to involve the whole Company of Jesus by proving that this 
was a natural consequence of the Jesuit doctrines of non-imputable 
material sin, arising from ignorance or erroneous belief as to the 
character of an act. The Jesuits made haste to disavow the thesis, 
and on its transmission to Rome it was condemned by Alexander 
VIII. in 1790. 1 The Jansenist victory was a barren one. The 
Jesuits and their probabilist allies did not deem it necessary to alter 
their teachings by a jot. Arsdekin, in the latest revision of his 
theology, refers, indeed, to the decree of Alexander, but asserts that 
when a man inculpably does not think of the wickedness of his act, 
he does not commit sin, though he may act with full deliberation and 
the action may cover a period of long duration ; no matter how grave 
the sin, full advertence and complete assent of the will are requisite, 
and imperfect advertence excuses it ; if the malice of the act is two 
fold and only one aspect of it is considered, that is the only sin com 
mitted, so that if a thief steals the sacred vessels, and only thinks of 
theft, he is not guilty of sacrilege. 2 

The doctrine thus continued to be taught by the laxer school that 
full advertence is requisite to constitute mortal sin ; that when wrath 
or concupiscence is sufficiently strong to divert the intellect from 
considering the nature of the act, the requisite degree of free-will is 
lacking to render it mortal. 3 Even the more rigorist theologians 
accepted the principle to a greater or less degree, though Cardinal 
Gerdil asserts that indirect volition suffices for sin, and that a man 
voluntarily intoxicating himself is accountable for his acts during 
intoxication. 4 The difficulty of absolute definition in such a subject 

Dei neque peccatum mortale dissolvens amicitiam Dei neque seterna pcena 
dignum." D Argentre, III. n. 355. 

1 D Argentre", loc. tit. Le Tellier, Recueil des Bulles etc. pp. 455-9, Mons 
(Bouen) 1697. Quatrieme Denonciation de 1 Heresie du Peche Philosophique, 
s. 1. 1690. Alex. PP. VIII. Deer. 24 Aug. 1690. 

2 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 1, Princip. 15. 

3 Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. Tom. I. P. ii. Q. 1, Art. 2, n. 5, 6. La Croix 
Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 549. Herzig Man. Confessar. P. I. n. 65, 67-8. Reiffens- 
tuel Theol. Moral. Tract, in. Dist. ii. n. 5-8, 15. Sporer Theol. Moral. Tract. 
i. cap. ii. n. 64. Roncaglia Theol. Moral. Tract, i. Q. ii. cap. 3, Q. 3 ; Tract, 
n. Q. 1, cap. 1, Q. 2. 

4 Antoine Theol. Moral. Tract. De Peccatis cap. iv. Q. 7. Wigandt Trib. 
Confessar. Tract, iv. n. 59. Habert Comp. Theol. De Vitiis et Peccatis cap. 

II. 17 


is seen in Liguori s confused and contradictory utterances, varying 
from what is a virtual approval of the condemned doctrine of the 
Peccatum Philosophicum to the assertion that inadvertence may be 
voluntary through negligence or passion, that he who acts through 
passion is responsible, and that in habitual sin there is confused 
cognition sufficient to render the sin imputable. 1 The Ligorian 
school, which so completely dominates modern moral theology, has 
therefore considerable latitude for conflicting opinions, and its spokes 
men are not wholly in unison. Some require actual advertence to 
constitute mortal sin ; others more rigidly incline to virtual, but the 
definitions of the different grades are not always identical, which in 
troduces a fresh source of confusion. As a whole, however, it may 
be assumed that the leading doctrine of to-day is that the commission 
of mortal sin requires advertence actual or so nearly actual that the 
distinction is not easily grasped. 2 From this the deduction is plain 
that sins committed during intoxication are not formal sins unless 
there has been a predetermination to commit them. 3 

In view of the uncertainties, natural and artificial, of the distinc 
tion between mortal and venial sins, it is no wonder that, although 
the infinite distance between them has been sedulously upheld, and 
the enormity of the former has been rather exaggerated than dimin 
ished with time, 4 the books are full of cases in which the doctors 
dispute as to the class to which an individual sin is to be referred, 

IV. Q. ii. Piselli Theol. Moral. Summse P. I. Tract, ii. cap. 5, g 3 ; Tract, xix. 
cap. 1, 2. Alasia Theol. Moral. De Peccatis Diss. I. cap. vii. Art. 1. Gerdil, 
Saggio sul Discernimento delle Opinion!, g 4. 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. v. n. 4, 11. Istruzione Pratica cap. 
i. n. 4; cap. in. n. 24, 25, 32; cap. viu. n. 8. Dichiarazione del Sistema che 
tiene PAutore, n. 11. 

2 Gousset Theol. Moral. I. 221-3. Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 150. 
Bonal Instit. Theol. Tract, de Peccatis cap. 1, n. 12, 13. Varceno Comp. Theol. 
Moral. Tract, vi. cap. ii. Art. 2. Martinet Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Art. xv. 2, 
5. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 291, 317-18. 

3 Kenrick Theol. Moral, vii. 81. Gury Casus Conscientiae I. 1, 2. 

4 Father Leuterbreuver, in a little work entitled La Confession coupee (Paris, 
1751), designed to facilitate the preliminary self-examination of the penitent, 
explains (p. 38) that sin offends God " et quand tu a offense ton Dieu tu a fait 
plus de mal que si tu avois renverse toute la nature ; que si tu avois meme 
detruit et aneanti les anges, les saints, les cieux, etc." 


and that doubtful sins, which may be adjudged to either, form a large 
and important division. The council of Trent threw no light on the 
subject beyond repeating the current doctrine that venial sins do not 
deprive of justification a man who is in a state of grace, while mortal 
sins, even in thought, render men children of wrath and enemies of 
God. 1 The Tridentine catechism, designed especially for the guid 
ance and assistance of parish priests, evades any definition and 
merely says that venial sins require some kind of repentance. 2 From 
all this there was no help to be gathered, and post-Tridentine moralists 
are as much at sea as their predecessors. Father Marchant repeats 
the assertion of the medieval doctors that the confessor is not ex 
pected to decide whether a given sin is mortal or venial, for this is 
impossible, even for the most accomplished theologian. 3 Yet this is 
precisely the task imposed by the Church on the priest in the confes 
sional, and Father Gury endeavors to aid him with three rules to 
refer to Scripture, to consult the definitions of the popes and general 
councils, and to examine the doctors and theologians, for what they 
unanimously declare to be mortal is to be held as such. This must 
sound like mockery to any one who has glanced, ever so cursorily, at 
the vast mass of contradictory literature on the subject, and in mercy 
he adds three tests of mortal sin 

1. All sins directly against God or any of his perfections, and all 
which tend to the grave prejudice of the human race, such as the 
various species of lust. 

2. All committed against an important precept, such as omission 
of fasts, mass, annual, confession, paschal communion, etc. 

3. All which injure others seriously in life, fortune or reputation. 
But he concludes with the remark that in very many cases it is 

impossible to distinguish between mortals and venials, as is shown by 
the innumerable controversies of the doctors on the subject. 4 And 
this apparently is all that the accumulated wisdom of centuries has 
been able to contribute to the solution of the fundamental problem 
of the confessional. 

1 C. Trident. Sess. vi. De Justificat. cap. 11 ; Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 5. 

2 Catech. Trident. De Pcenit. cap. 4. 

3 Marchant Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract, ii. Tit. 5, Q. 2, Dub. 7. " Quia tale 
determinatum judicium quoad gradum peccati et malitise omnino impossibile 
est apud emeritissimum theologum." 

4 Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 151-2. 


It may be gathered incidentally from the foregoing that the list of 
mortal sins has increased enormously since the time of St. Augustin 
and even since Gratian framed his short and simple enumeration. 
The definition of venial sin, in fact, gave no hold on the conscience 
as Caietano remarks, when a man knows a sin to be venial he has 
no scruple in committing it. 1 The tendency therefore to expand the 
definition of mortals has been irresistible. John of Freiburg classes 
scurrility and foolish talk as mortal ; Angiolo says that it is mortal 
to adjure any one over whom we have no control, as it is taking the 
name of God in vain. 2 St. Antonino tells us that to eat for the 
pleasure of eating, or to use too much care in the preparation of deli 
cate food is mortal, as well as to desire any dignity or office on 
account of temporary advantage or honor ; a merchant can trade 
without sin to support his family, but if the object is accumulation 
of money it is mortal, and so is it with an armorer who sells weapons 
that he has reason to think will be used in an unjust war; but this 
delicate sensitiveness reveals a curious moral perspective when we 
find that it is venial for a son to refuse to support his parents or for 
him to treat them with contumely and contempt, so long as he does 
not actually commit violence on them. 3 The moral hypersesthesia 
manifested by St. Antonino would seem to have increased rather than 
diminished since the fifteenth century. He tells us that drinking 
intentionally to intoxication is probably a mortal sin ; whatever doubt 
existed on that point has disappeared, for Salvatori says not only that 
getting drunk is mortal, but even entering a tavern, because it is an 
exposure to a proximate occasion of committing a sin, 4 and we learn 
from Gury that while it is admitted that surgeons can without sin 
administer ether before an operation, Liguori and other authorities 

1 Caietani Summula s. v. Scrupulosorum medicina. 

2 Jo. Friburgens. Suminse Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 271. Summa 
Angelica s. v. Adjurare $ 1. 

3 S. Antonini Confessionale fol. 24a, 39a, 406, 41a, 52a, 53a. Bart, de Chaimis 
Interrogat. fol. 72-76. 

4 S. Antonini Confessionale fol. 39a. Salvatori, Tstruzione per i Confessori 
novelli P. I. \ xii. A century before St. Antonino the Summa Pisanella had 
defined (s. v. Gula 1) intentional intoxication as a mortal sin. 

Salvatori (ubi sup.} furnishes an illustration of the artificial standard of 
morals when he tells us that it has happened to him hundreds of times that 
men who confessed to spending all Sundays and feast-days in taverns, when 
asked if they ever worked on a holiday would reply with horror " God forbid !" 


hold that it is mortal to give alcohol for the same purpose. 1 It is 
scarce worth while to give further examples. The manuals for self- 
examination before confession and for the guidance of confessors in 
interrogating penitents show, in their almost interminable details, 
that the same liberal definition of mortal sin is carried into every 
detail of daily life and human action, nor do the moralists pause to 
realize what is their conception of a Creator who can condemn to 
everlasting torment his creature for eating a dinner with too much 
relish, or for drowning his sense of present miseries in intoxication, 
or for endeavoring to make too much profit in the difference between 
a buying and a selling price, or whose blood chances to be stirred at 
the touch of a woman s hand. Michael Bay only exaggerated the 
orthodox tendency when, among other errors, he asserted that there 
are no venial sins that all are worthy of eternal death. 2 

If there is difficulty in laying down rules for the distinction be 
tween mortal and venial actions, it can readily be imagined that the 
questions connected with the sinfulness of evil thoughts involve in 
tricacies equally puzzling. As Alexander Hales says, it is most 
difficult in this matter to draw the line between mortals and venials. 3 
Theoretically, the subject has been treated in a very reasonable way 
by making the degree of sin depend upon the consent accorded to 
the sinful suggestion. Evil emotions may arise in any mind, but 
if they are sternly quelled at the moment they leave no stain of sin 
behind them, provided the proximate cause is avoided. Thus a man 

1 Gury Casus Conscientiae I. 181. This is one of the numerous cases in 
which the authorities are at odds. Intoxication by advice of a physician is no 
sin according to Caietano (Summula s. v. Ebrietas], Toletus (Instruc. Sacerd. 
Lib. vin. cap. Ixi. n. 1), Laymann (Theol. Moral. Lib. in. Sect. iv. n. 5) and 
Busenbaum (Medull. Theol. Mor. Lib. v. Cap. iii. Dub. 5, Art. 2, n. 2). Liguori, 
too, at first was of the same opinion, but subsequently altered it. See Q. 55 of 
the list of changes prefixed to his later editions. 

According to some moralists (Vittorelli in Tolet. loc. cit.) it is a mortal sin to 
sell wine or liquor to those who will probably get drunk on it, but this view 
would seem to be obsolete if we may judge from the recent rescript of Bishop 
Watterson, of Columbus, on liquor-dealing, and the reception which it has 

2 Pii P. V. Bull. Ex omnibus, 1567, Prop. 20 Virtually the same error was 
ascribed to Wickliffe. Litt. de Error. J. Wiclef Art. 210-11 (Wilkins Concil. 
III. 347). 

3 Alex, de Ales Suminae P. II. Q. cxx. Membr. ii. 


looking upon a woman may have a carnal thought ; if he keeps his 
eyes fixed on her he is held to consent tacitly to the thought, even 
though he may elicit an act of dissent ; he has committed a mortal 
sin, which must be included in his confession. Any mental consent 
to the evil suggestion, after it has been recognized by the intellect, 
is known as delectatio morosa, and this, even if only virtual or in 
terpretative, is a mortal sin when the subject of the thought is mortal, 
though a distinction is drawn as to whether the source of pleasure 
is the sin or some attending accident. Thus a man contemplates a 
proposed theft, and finds gratification in the adroitness with which 
he expects to perpetrate it, in which case the delectatio morosa is 
venial, but if the gratification arises from thinking of the injury 
which he will inflict, it is mortal. 1 Thi s is an illustration of the 
endless refinements in which the moralists disport themselves in 
framing distinctions between mortals and venials in mental sins, 
fully bearing out the assertion of Alexander Hales as to the extreme 
difficulty of differentiation in so nebulous a subject. In one aspect, 
moreover, it is peculiar, for there appears to be in it substantial 
agreement between the rigorous and the laxer schools. 

There was doubtless a service rendered to moral progress in this 
close investigation into the duties which man owes to his fellows, 
and perhaps even in the exaggeration which affixed penalties so tre 
mendous to aberrations so trivial, although this could scarce avoid 
blunting the conscience by blindly ascribing the same extreme pun 
ishment to offences varying so vastly in turpitude. Intemperate 
severity is as unwise as undue laxity ; when perdition is thus so 
lavishly distributed it cannot but lose some of its terrors, and the 
foulest carnality is relieved of some of the detestation due to it when 
it is put on the same plane as honorable ambition. Moreover, in 
the endeavor to reduce the system to practice, the inevitable result 
is the introduction of an arbitrary standard in which the simple 
distinctions of morality are obscured. The dread of rendering con 
fession odious contributed unfortunately to laxity in matters where 
rigidity would cause grave inconvenience. A man who ignorantly 
rents a house to a prostitute can allow her to remain until the end 

1 S. Th. Aquin. Suminse Prim. Sec. Q. LXXIV. Art. viii. S. Antonini Sumrnse 
P. ii. Tit. 5, cap. 1, l\ 4, 5. Sayri Clavis Reg. Sacerd. Lib. viu. cap. vii. 
n. 3, 4 Piselli Theol, Moral. Siimmse P. I. Tract, xi. cap. 1, 2. S. Alph. de 
Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. V. n. 14 sqq. 


of the term, and whether he is then bound to turn her out depends 
on various considerations, including his ability to find another tenant. 
Servants ordered by their employers to assist in sin are not required 
to throw up their situations, for though they cannot co-operate 
formaliter, they can materialiter. 1 How completely the question of 
sin becomes a plaything in the hands of these casuistic experts is 
seen in the case of a woman confessing that through negligence she 
had thrice omitted the prayers of the Confraternity of the Rosary ; 
now this is no sin, for there is no precept requiring them, but we 
are told that a priest would err who did not make her believe that 
it is a sin. 2 Still more unfortunate in its anesthetic influence on the 
moral character is the decision that it is no sin to yield to temptation 
in the confidence of being able to secure pardon from God by con 
fession. This is as old as Aquinas, with the limitation that the 
intention to continue sinning with the expectation of pardon is a sin, 
but Gury adds that there is no sin in repeating the offence, and argues 
that it is as easy to confess repeated sins as single ones. 3 

There is one very intricate question on which the authorities are 
at issue the cumulation or coalescence of sins. The intention to 
commit a sin is a sin ; a man may contemplate a sin many times 
before he has opportunity to commit it ; is every time he thinks of 
it or plans for it a separate sin ? Since the thirteenth century the 

1 Gury Casus Conscientise I. 225, 228, 241. 

The earlier moralists found no difficulty in proving that it is no sin to rent 
a house to a prostitute in which to ply her trade (Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta 
Decalogi Lib. I. cap. vii. n. 20, 31), but they drew curious distinctions as to 
what was allowable in servants. To carry an ordinary love-letter was reckoned 
indifferent, but if it was too warmly phrased the bearer committed sin ; servants 
could accompany a concubine to their master, but could not carry her in a 
chair or drive her in a coach (Escobar Theol. Moral. Tract, vii. Exam. iv. 
n. 43. Alph. de Leone de Off. et Potest. Confessoris Recoil, xm. n. 60-63). 
For conflicting opinions on these matters see S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. 
Lib. II n. 67, with Ballerini s note to Gury s Theol. Moral. I. 251, Q. 5, and 
the remarks of the Eedemptorists in the Vindicice Alphonsiance, pp. 175 sqq. 
Innoc. XI. (Deer. 2 Mart. 1679, Prop. 51) condemned the proposition that 
servants could without mortal sin aid the bonnes fortunes of their employers, 
but modern casuists manage to evade the condemnation. 

2 Gury Casus Conscientise I. 38. 

3 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse Sec. Sec. Q. xxi. Art. ii. ad 3. Gury Casus Con- 
scientiae I. 204. 


question has been debated and has never been settled. Some doctors 
hold that each thought is a sin, others that the whole series is one 
sin, others again that it depends on the outcome. Thus a man seeks 
to seduce a woman ; if he succeeds, he commits but a single sin ; if 
he fails, each effort made words, looks, love-letters etc. is a sep 
arate sin and must be so confessed. The correct application of such 
a doctrine to all the infinite varieties of human wickedness will be 
seen to offer many puzzles. If a man confesses that for a year he 
has hated his brother, this is insufficient, for the internal sin has 
been repeated many times. If he utters words of detraction against 
a family, some doctors think it to be a single sin, others that it is 
multiplied by the number of members of the family ; if he steals 
money belonging to several people, some hold it to be one sin, others 
that it is as many as there are losers. It is generally agreed, how 
ever, that if he neglects to fast for half of Lent, each fast-day 
omitted is a separate sin to be confessed and atoned for. There has 
been an effort made to simplify the problem by drawing a distinction 
between internal and external acts, but it is not universally applica 
ble, and the subject affords an almost limitless field for the exercise 
of casuistic subtilty. 1 It is further complicated by its connection 
with the theory of parvitas whether a sin which is venial on ac 
count of its trivial character can become mortal by repetition, the 
whole series being considered as one. The principal interest in this 
lay in its application to petty thefts, which, it was argued, could be 
continued indefinitely without ceasing to be venial, 2 in which shape, 
as we have seen above (p. 245), it was condemned in 1679 by Inno 
cent XI. 

However much the area of venial sins may have been limited by 
\he constantly encroaching definition of mortals, they form too large 
a portion of the aberrations of human infirmity not to have been the 
subject of earnest and endless discussion. We have seen that in 
modern theology they are not regarded as interfering with the state 
of grace and justification, and the older Fathers were likewise dis- 

1 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. v. De Remiss. $ 8. P. de Palude in IV. 
Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. iii. Art. 3. Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 732-45. 
Busenbaum Medull. Theol. Moral. Lib. v. cap. 1, Dub. 3, Art. 2. Clericati de 
Pcenit. Decis. xxrv. n. 12-18. Gury Casus Conscient. I. 150-6. 

2 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. iv. n. 9. 


posed to look upon them with great leniency. Origen dismisses 
them with the remark that they are redeemed without intermission 
by repentance, and Ambrose says virtually the same. 1 St. Augustin 
is satisfied with the mere repetition of the Lord s Prayer, and Julian 
Pomerius follows him. 2 Then Gregory the Great made his sugges 
tion as to purgatorial fires which should purge the soul of its venial 
sins, but this seems to have awakened no response from his contem 
poraries and successors until it was exhumed in the twelfth century. 
St. Eloi of Noyon, in the middle of the seventh century, is more 
rigid than his predecessors, for he prescribes forgiveness of enemies 
and almsgiving as necessary for the redemption of venials, 3 but the 
authority of St. Augustin was preponderating, and his view was 
generally followed. 4 

In the twelfth century reconstruction of theology, Gratian included 
in his compilation the dicta of both Gregory and Augustin. 5 They 
might well appear irreconcilable, for while the one promised release 
through a simple formality, the other required the unutterable pangs 
of purgatory for expiation and purification. Yet neither authority 
could be rejected, and in time it became generally accepted that what 
the recital of the Lord s Prayer would remit in life, if this was 
neglected, would entail purgatorial fires for a term of unknown 
duration ; still this theory was long in winning its way universally, 
for, in 1317, Astesanus merely speaks of the expiation of venial sins 
in purgatory as the common, safer and truer opinion. 6 Peter Lom- 

1 Origenis Homil. in Leviticum xv. 2. S. Ambros. de Poenit. Lib. II. 
cap. 95. 

2 S. Augustin. Enchirid. cap. Ixxi. ; Serm. CCCXCITI. Juliani Pomerii de 
Vita Contemplativa Lib. n. cap. vii. 

3 S. Eligii Noviom. Homil. vi. 

4 C. Toletan. IV. ann. 633, cap. 10. Halitgari Lib. de Poenit. Prsefat. (Canisii 
et Basnage Thesaur. II. n. 89). Ivon. Deer. P. xvn. cap. 122. Cf.Ps. August. 
de vera et falsa Poenit. cap. iv. n. 10. 

5 Cap. 4, Dist. xxv. ; Cap. 20 Caus. xxxm. Q. iii. Dist. 3. 

6 Astesani Summae Lib. v. Tit. iv. Art. 2, Q. 7. 

How venial sins are remitted in purgatory when a man must die in grace to 
get there is so difficult a problem that the theologians enumerate eight different 
opinions concerning it. Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxxin. n. 18. 

Henriquez explains (Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. V. cap. 20) that when the 
soul reaches purgatory it summons all its vigor for a fervent act of charity, 
which releases it from the culpa of all its venials, but the pcena still remains to 
be endured. Duns Scotus (In IV. Sentt. Dist. xxi. Q. 1) raises the question 


bard was scarce prepared to admit so facile a means of pardon for 
venials during life, for he prescribes, in addition to the Lord s 
Prayer, contrition, fasting and almsgiving, together with confession 
if there is opportunity, but he is not wholly consistent as to this, 
for in another passage he seems to admit that the general confession 
in the service of the mass suffices for their redemption. 1 Alain de 
Lille copies the first of these opinions, 2 but when we reach the fuller 
development of the sacramental theory in the time of S. Ramon de 
Pefiafort, we find sacramental confession reserved for mortal sins, 
and an enlargement and simplification of the means of pardon for 
venials. Choice is offered between six methods the Eucharist, 
holy water, almsgiving, prayer, especially the Paternoster, the daily 
general confession in the service, and the sacerdotal benediction ; it 
would also appear that good actions neutralize venial sins. 3 Alex- 

whether venials can be remitted in hell, which would seem somewhat super 
fluous, but it was still discussed in the seventeenth century (M. Becani de 
Sacramentis Tract, n. P. iii. cap. 32, Q. 9, 10). 

1 P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. IV. Dist. xvi. 4 ; Dist. xxi. | 5. 

2 Alani de Insulis Lib. Pcenitent. (Migne OCX. 301-2). 

3 S. Eaymundi Summae Lib. ill. Tit. xxxiv. 4. 

This is the earliest allusion I have met with to the pardon of venial sins by 
aspersion with holy water. It would seem to be based on a False Decretal, 
attributed to Alexander I., whose date is 108-116 (Ps. Alex. Deer. I. Migne, 
CXXX. 92), carried into Gratian (Cap. 20 P. in. Dist. iii.) through Burchard 
(Deer. n. 53) and Ivo (Deer. n. 68). It describes the virtues of holy water, 
among which is enumerated that " et coinquinatos sanctificat atque mundat et 
purgat et cetera bona multiplicat " the application of which to the redemp 
tion of sin would apparently embrace mortals as well as venials. The exor 
cisms and benedictions used in making holy water, as given in a sacramentary 
of the seventh or eighth century, assume for it no efficacy in the matter of sin ; 
as yet its only function was to drive away demons (Sacram. Gregor. ap. Mura- 
tori Opp. T. XII I. P. n. pp. 852-55). 

Olimpio Ricci (De Giubilei Universal!, p. 25, Roma, 1675) states that holy 
water is a pagan custom Christianized by the Church, having been introduced 
by Alexander I., to take the place of the lustral water with which the Romans 
were aspersed before entering a temple. Oddly enough, there is a precedent 
for its use in the removal of sin in the water of a fountain of Mercury, which, 
when sprinkled on the worshipper with a laurel bough, washed away certain 
sins, such as lying, cheating etc. (Ovid. Faster. Lib. v. 673-88). 

The authority of S. Ramon was sufficient to establish its position among 
the means of removing venial sins, and it has continued ever since to be in 
cluded among them. Prierias explains that there are two kinds of holy 
water, one blessed by bishops with wine and ashes, used in consecrating and 


ander Hales devotes an amount of discussion to the remission of 
venials, which shows that the matter was as yet by no means settled. 
Contrition, he says, wipes out mortals but not veuials, though con 
trition, or at least attrition, is a condition precedent, and neither 
mortals nor venials can be remitted so long as the inclination to them 
remains. The confession of venials is unnecessary, for, under the 
foregoing conditions, they can be removed by the Eucharist, the 
Paternoster, beating the breast, holy water, and in many other 
modes. The question whether in purgatory they are remitted quoad 
culpam as well as quoad posnam was a disputed one, in which Hales 
supports the negative. 1 Cardinal Henry of Susa copies S. Ramon s 
list of means of remission, except that he adds beating the breast 
and substitutes the episcopal for the priestly benediction. 2 Aquinas 
enlarges the list of remedial agencies with blessed bread, prayer in a 
dedicated church, compassion for others, and any light penance, but 
he insists on repentance, and says that the remission of punishment 
is proportional to the degree of fervor towards God felt by the sin- 

reconciling churches, the other by priests with salt, which drives away demons 
and washes away venial sins, not sacramentally, but by way of merit, as it ele 
vates the mind to devotion, which is virtual contrition. He adds that if com 
mon water be added to holy water the whole becomes holy, and this can be 
continued indefinitely, though the quantity each time added must be less than 
what it is added to, as otherwise the ocean would all be holy water, as it has 
so often been sprinkled (Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Aqua benedicta $$ 1-3. Cf. 
Summa Tabiena s. v. Aqua benedicta). Manuel Sa, however (Aphor. Confessar. 
s. v. Benedictio n. 1), denies that the addition must be less in quantity, leading 
to the conclusion that the ocean must all be holy. Melchor Cano argues 
(Eelectio de Sacramentis in genere, Ed. 1550, pp. 8-9) that holy water wipes 
out venials a culpa et a pwna, and this without the collation of grace or 
sanctity. Ferraris (Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Aqua benedicta n. 5) explains that 
it is not a sacrament, for it does not infuse grace or remit sins ex opere operato, 
but he still cites the pseudo-Alexandrian decree, and gives the same view as 
Prierias of its efficacy in remitting venials. Cf. Tournely de Sacr. Poenit. Q. 
XI. Art. ii. 

Its virtues however are not confined to the living. Sprinkled over graves it 
refreshes and refrigerates the souls in purgatory. They even are comforted 
every time that one of the faithful dips his fingers into it. Pere Huguet, 
Vertu miraculeuse de 1 eau benite, Lyon, 1870, p. 9. 

1 Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. x. Membr. viii. Art. 1, 1 ; Q. XV. 
Membr. iii. Art. 3, \\ 2, 5; Art. 5; Q. xvii. Membr. iv. Art. 2; Q. XVIII. 
Membr. iv. Art. 1. 

2 Hostiens. Aurese Summse Lib. v. De Pcen. et Remis. 2 8. 


ner. 1 Bonaventura argues that neither repentance nor penance are 
necessary for venials, because they can be remitted after death as well 
as in life, but for those who desire their remission it suffices to re 
member the Passion or use holy water, or to receive the episcopal 
benediction. 2 John of Freiburg gives the usual list and adds that 
all good works suffice, but that there must be some repentance, 
something between actual and habitual contrition. 3 Pierre de la 
Palu is stricter, for though he does not forbid the use of the sacra- 
mentals, he recommends as much more efficient the full sacrament of 
confession and penance. 4 Astesanus is likewise not inclined to laxity, 
while his long and intricate discussion shows how difficult the doctors 
found it to agree upon a working theory ; repentance is unnecessary 
for salvation, as venial sins can be expiated in purgatory, but for 
their remission in life thorough detestation of each one separately is 
requisite, for reparation is due to God for every inordinate act ; some 
slight movement of grace and charity suffices, and human weakness 
renders impossible an intention not to relapse. Curiously enough he 
nowhere speaks of holy water, the Paternoster etc. as remedial agents. 5 
Yet the simpler methods of relief continued to be regarded as sufficient 
and were condensed into the distich 

Confiteor, tundo, conspergor, conteror, oro, 
Signer, edo, dono, per haec venialia pono, 6 

which shows that the sign of the cross had come to be included. 

The council of Trent gave a tacit consent to this in saying that 
venial sins can be expiated in many ways besides confession, while 
the Tridentine Catechism only remarks that they require some kind 

1 S. Th. Aquinat. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. ii. Art. 2; Summaj Suppl. Q. 
Ixxxvii. Art. 3. 

2 S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. P. ii. Art. 3, Q. 2 ; Dist. xxi. P. 1, 
Art. 1, Q. 2. 

3 Jo. Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 155, 156, 158. 

4 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvir. Q. ii. Art. 1. 

5 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. iii. Q. 8, 9 ; Tit. iv. Art. 2, Q. 3. 

6 Manip. Curator. P. ii. Tract, iii. cap. 5. Summa Pisanella s. v. Peccatum 
in. \ 7. Epist. Synod. Guillel. Episc. Cadurcens. ami. 1325, cap. 13 (Mar- 
tene Thesaur. IV. 692). Passavanti, Lo Specchio, Dist. v. cap. vii. Weigel 
Clavic. Indulgentialis cap. xvii. Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvui. Q. iv. 
Art. 1. 


of repentance. 1 Of this a very slight degree suffices; there are 
some authorities who hold that habitual displeasure only is needed, 
while others argue that virtual displeasure is requisite, but this 
latter only means that if the sinner happened to think of the 
sin he would regret having committed it. 2 The rigorist Juenin, 
however, requires contrition and argues that unless there is con 
trition for venials there can be no absolution for mortals. 3 This 
suggests the converse whether a man in mortal sin can obtain 
remission of venials a question of no practical moment, but which 
has excited endless debate, of course without possibility of settle 
ment. " Famosa est, insignis et perdifficilis qusestio," in which the 
negative opinion is common, though the affirmative is held by high 
authorities. 4 As for the extra-sacramental remission of venials, 
Chiericato tells us that it is effected by the six sacramentals the 
Lord s Prayer, holy water, the Paschal Lamb and other blessed food, 
the general confession in the mass, almsgiving and the episcopal 
benediction, as recited in the verse " Orans, tinctus, edens, confessus, 
dans, benedicens." Acts of Christian virtue, of faith, charity, mercy, 
temperance, prayer, also suffice, and so does attrition, although there 
are some who deny it. 5 Tournely specifies the sacramentals and 
servile attrition ; Liguori explains that the sacramentals effect the 
result by exciting sorrow and pious emotions which lead God to 
pardon sin, and this I presume may be regarded as the prevailing 
opinion at present. 6 

1 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Poenit. cap. 5. Catech. Trident. De Pcenit. 
cap. 4. 

2 Caietani Tract, iv. De Contritione etc. Q. 2. Zerola Tract, de Jubilseo 
cap. xv. Dub. 10. Estii in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. 3. Th. ex Charmes Theol. 
Univ. Diss. v. cap. iii. Q. 1. 

3 Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. iv. cap. 2, art. 5, $ 2. 

4 M. Becani de Sacramentis Tract, n. P. iii. cap. 32, Q. 7. Clericati de 
Poenit. Decis. xxxin. n. 16-17. 

5 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xxxm. n. 14-15. 

6 Tournely de Sacr. Pcenit. Q. xi. Art. 2. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. 
Lib. vi. n. 2, 92. Mig. Sanchez Prontuario de la Teol. Moral, Trat. xiv. Punto 
ii. \ 1. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 1441. 

The Catechism of the council of Baltimore (pp. 51-2) defines a sacramental 
as " anything set apart as blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and 
increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial 
sin." The chief sacramental is the sign of the cross, next to it comes holy 
water, and then " blessed candles, ashes, palms, crucifixes, images of the 
Blessed Virgin and of the saints, rosaries and scapulars." 


The confession of venial sins has given rise to several questions, 
involving long debate and varying practice. As they could be so 
readily pardoned and did not require reconciliation or absolution, it 
would seem that their confession must be wholly superfluous, though 
it might be a wholesome moral exercise. Before the sacramental 
theory had been developed, Hugh of St. Victor says that we should 
confess our lighter sins to each other, when they are remitted by our 
mutual prayers. 1 Peter Lombard holds that they should be con 
fessed like the rest, and in this he is followed by Alain de Lille. 2 
The Lateran canon was not absolute on the subject, and S. Ramon 
de Pefiafort says that it is not decided whether venials should be 
confessed to the priest, but the safest rule is to do so. 3 Alexander 
Hales discusses the subject with a fulness which shows that it was 
not a little intricate. He admits that venials are not included in 
the Lateran precept, because they can be remitted by repentance and 
in many other ways ; by this time the sacramental theory had been 
fully developed, and it was not easy to see how the sacrament could 
be applied to venials already remitted by the contrition or attrition 
required for the validity of the sacrament itself, but Hales argues 
that in some undefined way the power of the keys reduces the pun 
ishment, though there could be no punishment for the venials after 
their remission. He is less unreasonable in adding that it serves to 
guard against lapse in mortals and purifies the soul. 4 Cardinal 
Henry of Susa holds that their confession to the priest is unneces 
sary, though some think it to be so ; Aquinas agrees with him, 
adding that confession to laymen suffices, and Bonaventura says 
sacramental confession is not of precept, though advisable and 
beneficial. 5 

In all this several questions were involved, the settlement of which 
required considerable debate. One of these was, if venials are to be 
confessed, to whom should the confession be made ? Aquinas, as we 

1 Hugon. de S. Victore de Sacramentis Lib. n. P. xiv. cap. 1. 

2 P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. iv. Dist. xvi. | 4. Alani de Insulis Lib. Pcenit. 
(Migne, OCX. 288, 302). 

3 S. Raymundi Summae Lib. in. Tit xxxiv | 4. 

4 Alex, de Ales Summee P. IV. Q. xvni. Membr. iv. Art. 2 5. 

5 Hostiens. Aureae Summse Lib. v. De Poen. et Eemiss. $ 8. S. Th. Aquinat. 
Summae Suppl. Q. vm. Art. 3. S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. P. ii. 
Art. 2, Q. 1. 


have just seen, suggests a layman, but with the gradual disappearance 
of sacramental confession to laymen this naturally became obsolete. 
It was suggested that confession could be made to a priest not 
licensed to hear confessions, and Caietano argued that as no one is 
obliged to confess venials there is no jurisdiction over them, and a 
penitent desiring to do so can confess them to a simple priest, whose 
ordination then enables him to absolve for them. 1 This would seem 
unanswerable, but there must have been dread of abuses thence 
arising, for Innocent XI., in 1679, issued a decree pronouncing that 
simple priests cannot absolve for venials. 2 This appears conclusive 
but Liguori assures us that although it renders such sacraments 
unlawful, the universal opinion is that they are valid. 3 

More important and more difficult to settle was the question 
whether the Lateran canon included a precept to confess venials. It 
required all sins to be confessed annually, without specifying mortal 
sins only, but it was manifestly impossible for the penitent to remem 
ber and confess all the trivial offences which he might have com 
mitted during a twelvemonth, especially as their remission was so 
readily obtained during the year by simpler means. Moreover, if 
they were not covered by the precept, was a man, conscious of no 
mortal sin, required to make any annual confession ? These were 
enigmas which provoked endless contrariety of opinion. We have 
seen (I. p 238) the opinions of Alexander Hales and Aquinas on 
these subjects, and that the latter held that confession of venials is 
not required by the sacrament, but it is by the precept, and this can 
be fulfilled by the penitent presenting himself annually to his priest 
and showing that he has no mortals, when this will stand in lieu of 
confession. 4 This happy device was largely recommended by subse 
quent authorities, but was not universally adopted. In 1287 the 
synod of Liege holds that venials must be confessed, but it suffices if 
this is done in the lump. 5 John of Freiburg says that, in the absence 
of mortals, they are included in the precept, though some doctors 
hold that it suffices to present oneself to the priest. 6 Astesanus con- 

1 Caietani Opusc. Tract, viii. 

2 Ferraris Prompta Biblioth. s. v. Absolutio I. n. 62. 

3 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 543. 
1 S. Th. Aquin. Summrc Suppl. Q. vi. Art. 3. 

5 Statut. Synod. Leodiens. ann. 1287, cap. 4 (Hartzheim III. 

6 Jo. Friburgens. Sumrase Confessor. Lib. ill. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 150. 


siders that the precept does not include them, though some say that 
they must be confessed in the absence of mortals, and others that 
appearance before the priest suffices. 1 Richard Middleton insists on 
their confession if necessary to fulfil the precept, for which his fellow 
Franciscan, William of Ware, relying on the authority of Duns 
Scotus, vituperates him roundly. 2 Pierre de la Palu says that it 
suffices for the parishioner to tell the priest that he has no mortal 
sins and that he desires to confess venials. 3 Guido de Monteroquer 
rather hesitatingly insists on their confession in the absence of mor 
tals ; Passavanti says that venials are not material for confession, but 
to confess them is laudable and has its effect, while John Myrc gives 
a complete series of interrogatories for venials and even prescribes 
penance for them 

For lasse synnes venyal 

Lasse penaunce geve thow schal. 4 

In the latter half of the fifteenth century Robert of Aquino says 
that the precept requires the confession of venials in the absence of 
mortals, Angiolo de Chivassa denies it, but suggests a general confes 
sion of all sins committed and forgotten, and St. Antonino leaves the 
question open. 5 Caietano mentions both opinions and characterizes 
the former as the safer and the latter as the truer one. 6 Domingo 
Soto alludes to the dispute and inclines to the negative side. 7 The 
council of Trent threw no light on the subject other than the general 
remark that venials need not be confessed, though it is profitable 
to do so and heretical to deny that they may be confessed. 8 The 
debate therefore went on. Martin van der Beek holds it to be a 
precept of natural law for a man to present himself to his priest and 
announce the absence of mortals, for he thus avoids scandal and 

1 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. iii. Q. 8; Tit. x. Art. 2, Q. 4; Tit. xii. Q. 3. 

2 Vorrillong in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. 

3 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. iv. Art. 3. 

4 Manip. Curator. P. n. Tract, iii. cap. 2. Passavanti, Lo Specchio, Lib. V. 
cap. vii. John Myrc s Instructions for Parish Priests, 1415-1510, 1756-7. 

5 Eob. Episc. Aquinat. Opus Quadrages. Serm. xxvii. cap. 3. Summa An 
gelica s. vv. Confessio I. % 28 ; Interrogationes. S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. 
xiv. cap. 19, 14. 

6 Caietani Opusc. Tract, v. De Confessions Q. 1. 

7 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. 1, Art. 3. 

8 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 5 ; can. vii. 


prevents trouble for himself when the lists are made up for the 
bishop. 1 Diana and Laymann tell us that the precept does not require 
the confession of venials in the absence of mortals, while Juenin 
affirms the settled practice of the Gallican Church to be that it does. 2 
In this, as in so much else, the laxer view has prevailed and the 
more recent authorities seem unanimous in regarding the precept as 
not requiring in any case the confession of venials, though it is recom 
mended as a salutary practice, and even the necessity of the parish 
ioner presenting himself to his priest at Easter is denied. 3 

Subsidiary to this is a question, rather scholastic than practical, 
whether either the Church or the pope has power to require the con 
fession of venials. This seems to have been started by Pierre de la 
Palu, who argued that Christ decreed that venials are not material 
for the sacrament, since they can be remitted in so many other ways, 
and the Church cannot modify the decrees of Christ. On the other 
hand was alleged the canon of the council of Vienne in 1312 
requiring monthly confession of the Benedictines, and it is not to be 
supposed that holy men will commit mortal sins every month. I do 
not know that the abstract question involved has ever been deter 
mined, but there would seem no doubt that the several religious 
orders can prescribe frequent confession which must naturally for the 
most part consist solely of venials, 4 and when the synod of Pistoia 
reprobated the custom of frequent confession of venials as tending 
to bring the sacrament into contempt, Pius VI. condemned the 
utterance as rash, pernicious and contrary to the practice of the 
Church and the council of Trent. 5 

1 M. Becani de Sacramentis Tract, n. P. iii. cap. 36, Q. 6, n. 4. 

2 Summa Diana s. v. Con/essionis necessitas n. 1-4. Layman Theol. Moral. 
Lib. vi. Tract, vi. cap. 5, n. 12. Juenin de Sacramentis Diss. vi. Q. 5, cap. 3, 
Art. 2. 

3 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xxxin. n. 2. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. 
Lib. vi. n. 667. Varce no Comp. Theol. Moral. Tract, xvm. cap. iv. Art. 2. 
Bruno, Catholic Belief, pp. 300-1. 

The rigorist school, however, long maintained the necessity of the parishioner 
showing himself to his priest. Piselli Summse Theol. Moral. P. I. Tract, xiv. 
cap. 6. 

4 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvii. Q. ii. Art. 4. Cap. 1 \ 2 Clement. 
Lib. in. Tit. x. S. Antonini Summae P. III. Tit. xiv. cap. 19, 14. Summa 
Angelica s. v. Confessio i. 28. Clericati de Po3nit. Decis. xxxn. n. 3, 4; 
Decis. XLIX. n. 7. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, vi. cap. 5, n. 12. 

5 Pii PP. VI. Bull. Auctorem fidei, Prop, xxxix. S. Carlo Borromeo never 

II. 18 


When Pierre de la Palu asserted that mortals and not venials are 
material for the sacrament he suggested a question to which the 
answer is not easy what is effected for venials by confession and 
absolution, and how is it effected ? The sacrament is for the purpose 
of restoring the grace of God to souls that have lost it, but venials 
do not affect the state of grace and do not require reconciliation. 
The council of Trent offers no explanation, and although it says 
that the confession of venials is beneficial, by inference it denies 
their absolution by the priest, whose ministration is described as 
devoted to mortals. 1 The most recent treatise on the sacrament tells 
us that venials are not sins that can be retained by either God or 
the priest, so that the text quorum retinueritis does not apply to 
them ; he who has only venials is in grace and has a right to heaven 
of which he cannot be deprived. 2 How venials thus can be material 
for absolution, when the penitent has both them and mortals, and 
the attrition which validates the absolution removes entirely the 
venials, is a question on which the theologians find agreement diffi 
cult, and which they rather evade than solve by a cloud of subtile 
distinctions. 3 Still, as sinners are urged to confess their venials, it 
becomes necessary to show that this is not in vain. Astesanus de 
clares rather vaguely that the punishment is thus diminished by the 
power of the keys, while the general confession in the mass remits 
them, not by the keys, but through the contrition of the penitent, 
the humility of the confession and the prayer of the priest. 4 This 
scarce sufficed, and it was finally agreed that venials are material for 
the sacrament, the trouble being evaded by calling them materia mere 
sufficiens or materia liber a and not materia necessaria, and that they 
are remitted by it. 5 

celebrated mass without first confessing his sins, even to the most venial, and 
Cardinal Pierre de Berulle imitated his example. Yet Juenin (De Sacram. 
Diss. vi. Q. iv. cap. 2, Art. 5, 2) warns those who confess their venials three 
or four times a week that they gain nothing thereby if it is done as a matter of 
pride or of leading an easier life by not correcting their faults. 

1 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Pcenit. cap. 5. 

2 Palrnieri Tract, de Pcenit. pp. 104-5. 

8 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xxxm. n. 5-10. 

4 Astesani Summae Lib. v. Tit. xii. Q. 3 ; Tit. xix. Q. 5. 

5 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. 1, Art. 3. Juenin de Sacramentis 
Diss. VI. Q. 5, cap. 3, art. 1. Benzi Praxis Trib. Conscient. Disp. I. Q. ii. 
Par. 2, n. 15, 16. Tournely de Sacr. Pcenit. Q. xi. Art. ii. Mig. Sanchez, 


Below the class of venial sins come what are called imperfections, 
though it is not easy for the non -theological mind to differentiate 
them. To be angry with children or servants negligent of their 
duties, to eat and drink unnecessarily, to be over-anxious about the 
affairs of others, to lie habitually etc. are ranked as imperfections, 
and Gobat tells us that some high authorities hold a confessor 
reprehensible who permits such things to be recited in confession, 
for the matter of the sacrament is sin, and these are not sins, and 
therefore should be excluded. He thinks, however, that there is 
no objection to the confessor listening to such things if he is 
willing. 1 

In view of the insurmountable difficulty of differentiating mortals 
and venials, it is no wonder that the subject of doubtful sins has 
called for earnest attention, with the natural result of arousing end 
less discussion and no little difference of opinion. The practical 
question involved is whether doubtful sins are included in the pre 
cept of confession and require to be confessed. As this is a matter 
of daily occurrence, one might suppose that it would have been 
settled as soon as enforced confession became habitual, and that an 
unvarying custom would have been handed down by tradition, but 
such has not been the case. 

Doubtful sins are divided into three classes those in which the 
doubt is as to their being mortal or venial, those which the penitent 
is not sure that he has committed, and those which he knows to have 
been committed, but doubts whether he has confessed. 

As regards the first class there was originally no question. Alex 
ander Hales says that all doubtful sins are to be interpreted as mortal, 
are to be confessed as such, and penance for them is to be accepted. 2 
Aquinas argues that if a man doubts whether a sin is mortal or 
venial, he sins mortally in exposing himself to the risk, and it is 
mortal to neglect to confess what is doubtful ; he may confess it as 

Prontuario de la Teol. Moral. Trat. vi. Punto iv. Varceno Comp. Tkeol. 
Moral. Tract, xvill. cap. iv. art. 2. 

A formula of absolution current in the fifteenth century includes venials 
"Absolvo te ab omnibus peccatis tuis confessis et oblitis, mortalibus et 
venialibus, et circumstantiis eorum." Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 108. 

1 Gobat Alphab. Confessarior. n. 504-13. 

2 Alex, de Ales Summse P. II. Q. cxvm. Membr. 1, Art. 4. 


doubtful and await the judgment of the confessor. 1 This long con 
tinued to be the universal rule. It is true that Prierias, early in the 
sixteenth century, says that when there is a reasonable doubt whether 
a sin is mortal a man is not bound to confess it, and if he thinks the 
doubt reasonable he is not called upon to discuss it, 2 but this seems 
to have attracted little attention, and the opinion of Aquinas is 
accepted not only by the medieval doctors, but even by the earlier 
probabilists in the commencement of the seventeenth century ; in 
fact, Tomas . Sanchez says that it is the universal opinion of all 
doctors, ancient and modern, but he adds that when it is not doubt 
but opinion, the penitent can follow the less probable opinion and 
refuse to confess. 3 It was not until about 1625 that this traditional 
doctrine was fully questioned. Apparently Koninck was the first 
theologian of eminence to argue that doubtful sins need not be con 
fessed, for Laymann soon afterwards, in discussing the matter, cites 
only him as supporting it ; for himself he hesitates at abandoning 
the view hitherto accepted by all the faithful, and the most he will 
say is that the new opinion is probable, and he leaves it for the 
decision of others. 4 Probabilism now was mixing itself up with 
almost all questions connected with the confessional and was modify 
ing the ancient standards. There were convenient vaguenesses; 
doubt and opinion might mean the same or might be distinct, and 
the suggestion of Tomas Sanchez pointed out the line of least re 
sistance for the new doctrine. About this time Alphonso de Leone 
tells us that a penitent with a probable opinion that a sin is venial 
need not confess it, though the more probable opinion is that it is 

1 S. Th. Aquinat. in IV. Sentt. Dist. XXI. Q. ii. Art. 3 ad 3 ; Summae Suppl. 
Q. vi. Art. 3 ad 3. 

2 Sumina Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio Sacram. n. g 3. 

3 Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit xi. Q. 3. Jo. Nider Prseceptorium, Praecept. 
III. cap. ix. S. Antonini Summse P. ill. Tit. xvii. cap. 18 ; Tit. xiv. cap. 19, 
\ 7. Pet. Hieremise Sermones, De Poenit. Serm. xviii. ; Quadragesirnale, Serm. 
xxii. Somma Pacifica, cap. 4. Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio I. 28. 
Somma Rosella s. v. Confess. Sacram. I. \ 12. Caietani Sumniula s. v. Confessio. 
Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confess. Sacram. I. \ 14. Summa Tabiena s. v. Con 
fessio 11. $ 11. Martini de Frias de Arte audiendi Confessiones, fol. xliii.a. 
Armilla Aurea s. v. Confessio \ 22. Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. ii. 
Art. 4. Henriquez Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. v. cap. iv. n. 5. Sayri Clavis 
Eegia Sacerd. cap. xiii. n. 4. Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. i. cap. x. 
n. 67, 75-6. 

4 Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1, cap. 4, 37. 


mortal. 1 Soon after this Marchant endeavors to reconcile the old 
and new theories ; if the doubt as to the grade of the sin is ante 
cedent, to commit it is mortal, but if subsequent there is no sin, 
under the rules as to ignorance and advertence, and it need not be 
confessed though he subsequently contradicts himself and says that 
it must be confessed. 2 The new doctrine evidently was not warmly 
received; even Busenbaum says that the authorities are against 
Koninck in the matter, and that doubtful sins should be confessed 
as doubtful. 3 Then Caramuel, one of the most redoubtable theo 
logians of the age, entered the lists. He argued the question with 
a prolixity showing that it was a novelty attracting much attention, 
and his references to contemporaries indicate that the new view was 
winning its way in spite of opposition. After exhausting all subtile 
distinctions as to kinds of doubt, and confusing the subject as much 
as possible, he reaches the conclusion that absolution requires material 
that is certain ; if a man is uncertain whether a theft is mortal or 
not, he is not a subject for absolution. 4 Soon afterwards Tamburini 
says that while he had thought it true that there is no obligation to 
confess doubtful sins, the practice had always been otherwise, but 
the recent opinions of Koninck, Marchant, Caratnuel and others 
have wrought a change ; the opinion that such sins need not be con 
fessed has been adopted by the Society of Jesus and can now be 
taught by the schools. 5 

The matter was one which refused to be settled. Of course the 
rigorist school denied that doubtful sins could be withheld from con 
fession, and it held fast to the ancient rules. 6 Moderate writers said 
that the point was in dispute, but that the safer course lay in confes 
sion. 7 Even among the Jesuit probabilists there was not unanimity. 
Arsdekin holds that there is no obligation, but that it is not as yet 

1 Alph. de Leone de Off. et Potest. Confessarii Recoil, n. n. 212, 215. 

2 Marchant Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. IV. Tit. vi. Q. 5 ; Tract. V. Q. 4, 
Concl. 2 ; Q. 5, Concl. 3, 6. 

3 Busenbaum Medullas Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. Tract, iv. Cap. 1, Dub. 3, Art. 
1, n. 7. 

4 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 1896. 

5 Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. n. cap. 1, n. 16, 17. 

6 Summse Alexandrinse T. I. n. 464. Alasia Theol. Moral. De Sacr. Pcenit. 
cap. v. \ I, Q. 6. Manzo Epit. Theol. Moral. P. I. De Poenit. n. 12. 

7 Clericati de Poenit. Dist. XXIV. n. 19. Cabrini Elucidar. Casuum Reservat. 
P. I. Recoil. 12. 


sufficiently settled to be positively taught, while Viva teaches it 
positively. 1 La Croix tells us that authority is on the side of the 
obligation, but that intrinsic reasons render the opposite more prob 
able. 2 Herzig says the common opinion is that when there is posi 
tive doubt sins need not be confessed ; when the doubt is negative, 
opinions are divided and either is probable, while Benzi agrees with 
him as to the former, but as to the latter holds that they should be 
confessed. 3 Sporer and Reiffensteuel assert that doubtful sins are 
to be confessed as doubtful. 4 In this uncertainty Liguori, as is his 
wont, leans to the laxer side and makes the somewhat remarkable 
assertion that, except among the rigorists, the opinion is almost uni 
versal that doubtful sins need not be confessed. 5 Liguori s supreme 
authority has rendered this the doctrine of the reigning schools of prob- 
abilists and equi-probabilists, and it may be regarded as the received 
teaching of the Church of to-day, though it is admitted to be wiser 
and more pious to confess such sins. 6 Among the writers whom I 
have consulted Gousset is the only one who expresses doubt on the 
subject, and Miguel Sanchez the only one who says that such sins 
must be confessed. 7 Yet the slender confidence felt in the laxer 
teaching, even by those who profess it, is seen in the general con 
sensus of opinion that on the death-bed doubtful sins should always 
be reckoned as mortal, in view of the risk of that awful moment. 8 

1 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, Cap. 1, Princip. 6 ; Cap. 3, Q. 
18. Viva Cursus Theol. Moral. P. vi. Q. ii. Art. 2, n. 8. 

2 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 607-9. 

3 Herzig Man. Confessar. P. I. n. 54. Benzi Praxis Trib. Conscient. Disp. 
I. Q. ii. Par. 2, n. 3. 

The distinction between positive and negative doubt is not denned with 
absolute uniformity, but in general it is assumed that doubt is positive when 
there are probable reasons on either side, and negative when there are none 
on either. 

4 Sporer Theol. Moral. P. in. n. 392-5. Reiflfensteuel Theol. Moral. Tract, 
xiv. Diss. vii. n. 54. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 473. 

6 Stapf Epit. Theol. Moral. 428, n. 5. Scavini Theol. Moral. Tract. X. 
Disp. 1, Cap. 2, Art. 2 3, N. 1, Q. 5. Zenner Instruct. Pract. Confessar. 72. 
Bonal Institt. Theol. T. IV. n. 235. Pruner Moral theologie, p. 50 (Frei 
burg i. B. 1883). Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 1695. 

7 Gousset, Theologie Morale II. n. 426. Mig. Sanchez, Prontuario de la 
Teol. Moral, Trat. vi. Punto 5, n. 4. 

8 Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. x. n. 64. Caramuel Theol. 


When the existing doubt is as to the commission of a sin, there 
has been similar dissidence of opinion. Domingo Soto, Tomas 
Sanchez, Sporer and Reiffensteuel say that confession must be made. 1 
The leading school of probabilists, on the other hand, deny the 
necessity. 2 

When the doubt is as to the previous confession of a sin the more 
general opinion has been that the safer course must be followed and 
that it must be confessed. 3 The distinction between doubt and opin 
ion was however invoked here also in favor of laxity, and the proba 
bilists held that when there was a probable opinion as to the previous 
confession, the sin need not be confessed, while Reiifensteuel agrees 
with them if the sinner has grave reason to believe that he has 
already confessed. 4 The uncertainty which pervades all specula 
tions and rules in this matter is illustrated by Liguori, for at one 
time he held with Caramuel and Tamburini, but subsequently 
changed his views and argued that as the obligation to confess is 
certain, there must be certainty of the confession. 5 Recent authori 
ties seem generally to agree with this view, though Bonal tells us 
that the probabilists deny the necessity, and Gury draws a distinc 
tion between positive and negative doubt in the latter case the 
obligation exists, in the former common opinion denies it. 6 It is, 
however, regarded as better and safer to confess. 

Fundam. n. 1886, 1901. Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. n. cap. 1, n. 11. 
S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 473. Stapf Epit. Theol. Moral. 
428, n. 5. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 1695. 

1 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. ii. Art. 4, Concl. 3. Th. Sanchez 
in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. ix. n. 68. Sporer Theol. Moral. P. in. n. 
395. Keiifensteuel Theol. Moral. Tract, xiv. Diss. vii. n. 55. 

2 Marchant Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. IV. Tit. vi. Q. 5. -Bonal Institt. 
Theol. Tom. IV. n. 233. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 1695. 

3 Azpilcuetse Comment, cap. Si guis n. 77. Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Deca 
logi Lib. I. cap. x. n. 71, 72. Marchant Trib. Animat. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. 
iv. Q. 2. Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, Cap. 1, Princip. 6. Sporer 
Theol. Moral. P. in. n. 386-7. Voit Theol. Moral, i. 52. 

4 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decal. Lib. i. cap. x. n. 75-6. Caramuelis Theol. 
Fundam. n. 1885. Tamburini Method. Confess. Lib. i. cap. 1, n. 9. Reiifen 
steuel Theol. Moral. Tract, xiv. Dist. vii. n. 55. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Q. xvi. (Ed. 1767, p. viii.). Cf. Lib. 
VI. n. 477. 

6 Stapf Epit. Theol. Moral. 428, n. 5. Scavini Theol. Moral. Tract. X. 
Disp. i. cap. 2, Art. 2, 3, N. 1, Q. 5. Zenner Instruct. Pract. Confessar. 72. 


There is still another class of sins that has to be provided for 
those which escape the memory of the penitent after the due and 
diligent examination which he is required to make as a preliminary 
to confession. As the precept requires only annual confession, and 
as the category of mortal sins has been so vastly extended, these for 
gotten sins must necessarily be numerous, when confession is not 
frequent. An experienced confessor tells us that those most likely to 
be thus forgotten are the sins of the tongue, of the heart, and of omis 
sion, the first comprising all ill-natured words, detraction and scandal ; 
the second all evil desires and wishes ; the third all duties negligently 
performed or omitted, whether of prelates, priests, judges, lawyers, 
doctors, parents, etc. 1 The Church promises absolution from all 
sins for an honest, heartfelt confession, and unless these forgotten 
sins are included in the absolution it is worthless, for it cannot be 
partial. It is true that to include them nullifies the theory of con 
fession, which is that the confessor must know all the sins of the 
penitent before he can sit in judgment on them and remit them by 
the power of the keys, but there is no alternative. The theory has 
to yield to the necessities of the case, as otherwise there would be 
few souls rescued from hell. 

The earliest attempt to solve the difficulty was by assuming that 
forgotten sins, like venials, are remitted by the general confession 
and deprecatory absolution in the mass. 2 Peter Lombard admitted 
this and was followed by S. Ramon de Pefiafort, Alexander Hales 
and Cardinal Henry of Susa, showing that this was the explanation 
generally accepted, although Hales protests that forgetfulness only 
deepens the guilt of sin. 3 Aquinas did not dissent from this, but 
insisted more strongly than his predecessors on the necessity of con 
trition for forgotten as well as for remembered sins, which cast con- 

Mig. Sanchez, Prontuario Teol. Moral, Trat vi. Punto 5, g 4. Marc Institt. 
Moral. Alphons. n. 1695. Bonal Institt. Theol. T. IV. n. 237. Gury Comp. 
Theol. Moral. II. n. 479. 

1 Clericati de Poenit. Decis. xxi. n. 12-14. 

2 Honor. Augustodun. Speculum Ecclesiae; De Nativitate Domini (Migne, 
CLXXIL 842, 847). 

3 P. Lombard. Sentt. Lib. IV. Dist xxi. 5. S. Raymundi Summse Lib. in. 
Tit. xxxiv. 4. Alex, de Ales Summse P. IV. Q. xvn. Membr. ii. Art. 8; Q. 
xvni. Membr. 4, Art. 1, | 6. Hostiens. Aurese Summae Lib. v. De Poen. et 
Remiss. \ 8. Lombard also says that the psalm Miserere has the power to remit 
forgotten sins. 


siderable doubt over the remission by the general confession. 1 John of 
Freiburg indicates a tendency to depart from the theory which had 
reigned for a century and a half, for he says that general repentance 
suffices for forgotten sins, 2 while the treatment of the subject by Aste- 
sanus shows that it was beginning to attract more attention, and that 
difficulties were recognized in it, rendering it more complex than the 
earlier doctors had supposed. He holds that if the forgetfulness has 
arisen through negligence it impedes justification, and he transfers the 
remission of forgotten sins to the priest, to whom a general confes 
sion of them must be made, when they will be included in the abso 
lution. 3 This innovation was long in obtaining general recognition. 
Pierre de la Palu rejected it and Durand de S. Pourgain only makes 
the concession that if forgotten sins, remitted by the ritualistic con 
fession in the mass and at prime and complins, are subsequently 
remembered they must be confessed to the priest. 4 This latter sug 
gestion seems reasonable at first sight, but it produced the anomaly 
of sins that were pardoned and yet not pardoned, and some doctors 
endeavored to meet it by the more logical but impracticably rigorous 
assumption that if a forgotten sin is remembered the whole confession 
must be repeated, because it was invalid through imperfection. 5 The 
main question remained long in suspense. In 1353 Passavanti ad 
heres to the old practice and classes forgotten sins with venials, as 
remitted in the general non-sacramental confession of the ritual, 6 
but the final triumph of the sacramental theory is shown in the 

1 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse Suppl. Q II. Art. 3 ; Q. x. Art. 5. 

2 Jo. Friburgens. Summae Confessor. Lib. in. Tit. xxxiv. Q. 147. 
a Astesani Summse Lib. v. Tit. iii. Q. 6; Tit. xix. Q. 3. 

4 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. ii. Art. 1. Durand. de S. Por- 
ciano in IV. Sentt. Dist. xxi. Q. iii. % 4, 6, 7. 

5 Manip. Curator. P. 11. Tract, iii. cap. 7. 

6 Lo Specchio della vera Penitenza Dist. v. cap. 7. The increased stress laid 
on forgotten sins is shown in the elaborate discussion by John Nider (Praecep- 
torium, Praecept. in. cap. 8) on the contrition due for them and for the negli 
gence shown in forgetting them. 

The uncertainty existing with regard to them is illustrated by a tablet in the 
church of S. Maria in Stellis, in Verona, reciting that when Urban III. in 1187, 
dedicated the church he granted for the anniversary an indulgence a pcena et a 
culpa for all forgotten sins (Amort de Indulgentiis I. 128). The indulgence is 
a self-evident forgery, but it reflects the conceptions of its date, which is pro 
bably the fifteenth century. 


Summa Pisanella. Written in 1338 it adheres to the old practice, 
quoting S. Eamon de Penafort and Pierre de la Palu, but its com 
mentator, Niccolo da Osimo, in 1443, explains that the general con 
fession alluded to means general confession to the priest, who alone 
can absolve for mortal sins. 1 

After this the matter may be considered as settled and as no longer 
a subject for discussion. Indeed, as we have seen (I. p. 487) the abso 
lution formulas of this period specially include forgotten sins, 2 and 
St. Antonino advises the penitent to add to his confession " I say 
mea culpa for all other venials and mortals, confessed and not con 
fessed," when the absolution will cover them all. He preserves the 
anomaly, moreover, of requiring them to be confessed subsequently, 
if remembered, though the whole confession need not be repeated. 3 
Finally, if any doubt remained as to the question, it was removed by 
the declaration of the council of Trent that a confession is held to 
include all sins which diligent self-examination may fail to recall. 4 
Whether such sins must be confessed if subsequently remembered 
remained a subject of debate until 1665, when Alexander VII. 
formally condemned the proposition that it is unnecessary to do so, 
and as late as 1700 the assembly of the Gallican clergy was obliged 
to repeat the condemnation. 5 This has remained the rule of the 
Church, and it is explained that while such sins are truly remitted, 
on the ground of the good faith of the penitent, and while they no 
longer rest upon the soul, yet there is the obligation of submitting 
them to the keys if subsequently remembered, even though the abso- 

1 Summa Pisanella s. v. Peccatum I. 11. 

2 This clause would seem to have maintained its place stubbornly, for about 
1600 Bishop Zerola (Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. cap. xxiv. Q. 6) instructs the priest not 
to use it, because forgotten sins are not absolved formally and actually, but 
virtually and consecutively, or as Benzi phrases it, indirectly (Praxis Trib. 
Conscient. Disp. I. Q. ii. Art. 1, Par. 1, n. 14). 

3 S. Antonini Summse P. in. Tit. xiv. cap. 19, $ 5; Tit. xvii. cap. 21, g 1. 
The Summa Angelica (s. v. Interrogationes) gives a more elaborate formula of 
confession " I say mea culpa for all my mortal sins which I do not know or 
have forgotten and have not legitimately confessed through ignorance or negli 

4 C. Trident. Sess. xiv. De Poenit. cap. 5. 

5 Alex. PP. VII. Deer. 7 Sept. 1665, Prop. XL Tournely de Sacr. Poenit. Q. 
VI. Art. iv. 


lution has been given under the authority of the plenary indulgence 
of the Cruzada and the Jubilee. 1 

Of course this rests on the proper scrutiny of the conscience prior 
to confession, and in modern times this is duly insisted upon. In 
the laxity which preceded the Keformation, Prierias treats the sub 
ject rather contemptuously. To forget a mortal sin in confession is 
not a mortal sin, nor is a man bound to take pains to remember; he 
would be obliged to carry writing materials with him and keep a 
record, which is absurd. 2 Even after the Tridentine decree requiring 
diligent self-investigation, Diana, in the seventeenth century, is 
nearly as lax ; no man can be expected to remember all his sins for 
a year, and he is therefore only held to confess such as he can re 
call after proper examination. 3 What this proper self- interrogation 
should be is, of course, incapable of definition ; it necessarily gives 
rise to considerable latitude of discussion, as well as the degree of 
culpability involved in negligence and its effect in rendering con 
fessions invalid through imperfection. 4 The cure for the trouble is 
frequent confession, and this is consistently urged by the Church, 
but the obligation of confessing ofteiier than once a year, in order 
to escape the moral certainty of forgetfulness, is a matter earnestly 
disputed between the rigorists and the laxists. 5 For a penitent to 
make a memorandum of his sins, so as not to forget them, is not 
forbidden, but is not to be encouraged, because nearly all penitents 
would do so, and this would lead to written confessions. 6 

In considering as a whole this elaborate system, built up with 
such infinite labor by successive generations of keen and specially 
trained intellects, one is led to ask what is the real weight attaching 

1 Varceno Comp. Theol. Moral. Tract, xvm. cap. iv. Art. 2. Sanchez Ex- 
positio Bullse Sanctse Cruciatse, p. 168. Viva de Jubilseo, pp. 142-7 (Ed. 1750). 
For some of the doubtful questions arising under the rule see Gury, Casus 
Conscientiw II. 471-77. 

2 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confess, sacram. I. 3. 

3 Summa Diana s. v. Confessionis necessitous n. 6. 

4 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xix. n. 15. Tournely de Sacr. Po3nit. Q. VI. 
Art. ii. Benzi Praxis Trib. Conscient. Dist. I. Q. ii. Art. 1, Par. 1, n. 10. 
Mig. Sanchez, Prontuario de la Teol. Moral, Trat. vi. Punto 5, n. 8. Gury 
Casus Conscient. I. 493-7. 

5 Concina Theol. Christiana contracta, Lib. xi. Dist. ii. Cap. 1. 

6 Clericati de Pcenit. Decis. xix. n. 20-1. 


to it what is the importance attributed by those who administer it 
to these niceties of discrimination over which the theologians have 
struggled and debated for seven hundred years, which fill unnum 
bered folios, and which are so carefully set forth for the guidance of 
confessors and penitents. To this the only answer would seem to 
be that, for the most part, it is practically labor wasted. Bene 
dict XIV. puts the case of an ignorant rustic, confessing to a priest 
so ignorant that he does not know the difference between a mortal 
and a venial, or an ordinary and a reserved sin. He asks if the 
absolution is valid, and he answers in the affirmative. No other 
answer, in fact, is possible, for, as he says, the sacrament consists of 
matter, form and intention, and all these are present. 1 To deny its 
validity would be to overthrow the whole sacramental system. 
Moreover, Gury tells us that though the confessor is not infallible 
and may make mistakes, this is of no consequence to the penitent, 
whose only duty is blind obedience ; so long as he obeys he is in 
fallible and is free from all responsibility. 2 This reduces the whole 
matter to the lowest denomination. The ignorant and the learned 
confessor are on a level, the penitent has only to do what he is bid, 
and need not trouble himself about the errors of his ghostly father, 
for the sacrament works ex opere operato. This is the full fruitage 
of the completely developed sacramental theory. It would be boot 
less to ask why the schoolmen dwelt at such length on the qualities 
and the training requisite in the confessor and on the necessity of his 
probing to its inmost depths the heart of the penitent in order to 
render a just judgment, for it has become a matter of indifference 
how the sacrament is administered, seeing that it is equally efficient 
in the hands of the wise and of the foolish, of the pious and of the 

1 Benedict! PP. XIV. Casus Conscientiae Sept. 1739, cas. 1. All authorities 
do not agree to this. . Eisengrein, for instance, says positively (Confessionale, 
Cap. iv. Q. 12) that a confession made to a priest too ignorant to distinguish 
between mortals and venials is invalid and must be repeated ; but if the igno 
rance only extends to those which are commonly misunderstood the con 
fession is valid, for there is no one who can discriminate as to all sins. 

2 Gury Casus Conscientiae I. 54. " Confessarius revera non est infallibilis 
materialiter in sua dirigendi ratione ; tu vera vero gaudebis infallibilitate ei 
obsequendo, cum Christus dixit apostolis seu sacerdotibus : Qui vos audit me 
audit. Igitur si forte materialiter dux tuus erraverit error ille tibi minime 
imputari potest." 



WE have seen incidentally how often the doctors differ on im 
portant points in the administration of the sacrament of penitence. 
In the confessional the priest holds the place of God, and is obliged 
to utter a decision on all matters submitted to him ; his jurisdiction 
extends over every act of life, and decides not only the destiny of 
the soul but the legality of whatever the penitent may do or leave 
undone ; no transaction is too complex, no social relation too deli 
cate, to be withdrawn from his judgment, and on it may depend the 
future of the faithful both in this world and the next, for the Church 
assumes the direction of the lives as well as of the souls of its subjects. 
In these responsible and all-embracing duties, papal and conciliar 
decrees cover but a fraction of the cases on which the confessor must 
act, and even in these the application of general rules to special cases 
is mostly a task of extreme nicety, so that for the most part he must 
trust to the opinions of the experts who have exhaustively investi 
gated law and morals and endeavored to reason out every possible 
contingency in the boundless intricacy of human thoughts and pas 
sions and actions. That the experts should not always have reached 
the same conclusions is inevitable, even in matters of mere specula 
tion, but their functions are not merely speculative ; they are required 
to apply their dialectic to the highly artificial and intricate rules of 
the Church and deduce practical instructions for guidance, thus mul 
tiplying infinitely the occasions of discord. There has therefore been 
ample opportunity for the exercise of ingenuity, more or less per 
verse ; keen and subtle intellects have for centuries been at work 
with the ambition of overthrowing received opinions and establishing 
new ones, with small respect for the ethical considerations involved, 
until the so-called science of Moral Theology has become a mass of 
conflicting views, in which there is little that is not disputed. The 
system of sacramental confession and absolution infers that certainty 
shall be reached in every case, but certainty in these matters is the 


attribute solely of the Omniscient ; the priest may assume the place 
of God, but must rely on imperfect human intelligence, which is ever 
grasping blindly after certainty and never reaching it. When Lac- 
tantius was comparing the precision of Christian precepts with the 
vain and contradictory speculations of the philosophers, he little 
imagined how accurately his description of the latter would fit the 
modern development of casuistry, based on conjecture and opinion. 1 
To the simple faith of the fourth century everything seemed clear, 
but when scholastic theology arose, its insane desire to investigate and 
demonstrate everything in accordance with the ecclesiastical system 
cast everything into doubt. Aquinas admits that in most things we 
cannot know the will of God, whence he draws the comforting assur 
ance that in these things we are not required to conform our will to the 
divine will. 2 This acknowledgment of the hopelessness of the task 
prescribed by the Church instead of dampening the energies of the 
schoolmen only gave them wider licence of speculation, and as the cen 
turies passed on the points in dispute multiplied without limit. The 
revolutionary movement of the sixteenth century lent an added stimu 
lus to theologic disputation. The conflict with heresy gave to theology 
an interest and importance which it had never before possessed and 
drew into its service minds of singular ability which diversified their 
assaults on Protestantism with internal debates on every phase of 
morals, till certainty could scarce be said to exist anywhere. By the 
middle of the century Melchor Cano tells us that he must cease to 
write if he is to avoid stating what will be disputed by many ; that 
where the doctors differ we should follow weight rather than num 
bers, and that when the most learned disagree the only refuge is to 
withhold assent to uncertainty. 3 Thus it was no longer a question 
as to the divine will, which was replaced by human opinion of 
greater or less authority, carrying with it more or less probability. 
His contemporary Azpilcueta deplores the disputatious mania of the 
schools, leading teachers and preachers and scholars to uphold what 
is false for the mere purpose of exhibiting their dexterity, not only 

1 Nihil apud eos certi est, nihil quod a scientia veniat. Sed cum omnia 
conjecturis agantur, multa etiam diversa et varia proferantur. Lactant. Divin. 
Institt. in. 27. 

2 S. Th. Aquinat. Summse II. I. Q. xix. Art. 10 ad 1. 

3 M. Cani de Auctor. Doctor. Scholast. Lib. vin. c. iii. ; c. iv. Concl. 1. 


misleading their auditors, but often blinding themselves to the truth 
and causing them to embrace what is false. 1 

Thus the process of complicating the science of morals and mul 
tiplying its uncertainties went on with constantly accelerating mo 
mentum. In 1600 one of the earliest probabilists, Carbone, in his 
cautious instructions as to the selection of opinions, complains of the 
many false ones that were current. 2 Early in the seventeenth cen 
tury Tomas Sanchez boasts that every day arguments are found to 
disprove positions that were once regarded as impregnable, but he 
warns the less expert of the dangers of following opinions which 
perhaps they do not rightly understand or are unable properly to 
apply. 3 Not long afterwards Juan Sanchez shows us how these 
novelties were constantly springing up in the disputations of the 
schools, were taking shape and acquiring supporters, till they came 
to be recognized as entitled to respect f while Yalere Renaud de 
clares that everything is in so unsettled a state that everyone must 
exercise his own judgment after weighing the circumstances of each 
case, 5 and Alphonso de Leone says that a probable opinion may at 
any time cease to be probable because of some new reason excogi 
tated. 6 There was an attempt made to distinguish between specula 
tive and practical opinions, but, as the speculative could always be 
reduced to practice in the confessional, the distinction was without 
a difference, and, in 1643, Marchant tells us that there were nearly as 
many conflicting opinions as there were canonists and legists, arising 
from different acceptations of words and interpretations of the laws. 7 
In 1666 Gobat declares that daily experience showed that out of a 
hundred doubtful cases there was scarce one in which as many au 
thorities could not be cited in the affirmative as in the negative. 8 
Viva asserts that moderns as well as ancients are frequently hallu- 

1 Azpilcuetse Comment. Cap. Si quis autem, n. 44-47. 

2 Lud. Carbonis Summ. Summar. Casuum Conscient. Tom. I. P. I. Lib. 5, 
cap. 14. 

3 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. c. ix. n. 6, 10. 

4 J. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIV. n. 61. 

5 Keginald. Praxis Fori Poenitent. ad Ledorem. 

6 Alph. de Leone de Off. et Potest. Confessar. Recoil. II. n. 102. 

7 Marchant Tribunal. Animarum T. I. Tract. V. Tit. 5, Q. 2, Concl. 2 ; Q. 5, 
Concl. 1. 

8 Gobat. Alphab. Confessar. n. 269. 


cinated, for in morals men easily deceive themselves, since falsities 
seem often truer than the truth, whence it has passed into a proverb 
that there is no folly without its advocates, no foulness without its 
lovers ; the censorship is not to be relied upon, for the censors often, 
through hesitation or connivance or negligence, do not do their 
duty. 1 Even the rigorist Wigandt argues that a man is not always 
required to choose the opinion which is safest, if it is not in accord 
ance with reason or truth, for this would put a stop to the greater 
part of human business, for there is scarce any act or contract con 
cerning which there is not a condemnatory opinion. 2 In fact, the 
council of Avignon, in 1725, remarks that usury alone gives rise to 
an infinite number of doubts beyond human capacity to remember 
and decide. 3 La Croix argues that moral certainty does not require 
unanimity of opinion, for otherwise there would be scarce anything 
certain, since there is almost always authority for the opposite, 4 and 
Voit asserts that in morals the certainty of truth is so difficult of 
attainment that we must be content with verisimilitude. 5 Liguori 
tells us that if a penitent were obliged to accept the opinions of his 
confessor there is hardly a theologian who could ever obtain absolu 
tion, for it could rarely happen that he could find a confessor holding 
the same opinions as his, 6 and Gury says that in morals there is scarce 
a single point on which the authorities are agreed. 7 There is, more 
over, not only this chaos of argumentative opinion, but the Church 
has enchained the human conscience with such an infinity of laws 
and regulations, unrepealed and yet not certainly obsolete, that, as 
Bonal says, if their obligation depends on their existence or cessa 
tion the human will would be overwhelmed. Then, granting the 
existence or cessation of a law, so numerous are the cases of con 
science in which the operation of the law is doubtful that the human 
will would be overwhelmed if it were necessary to perform all acts 

1 Viva Comment, in Prop. XXVI. Alex. VII. n. 3, 4. 

2 Wigandt Tribunal. Confessar. Tract. II. Exam. iii. n. 9. 

3 C. Provin. Avenionens. ann. 1725, Tit. XLIV. c. 4 (Collect. Lacens. I. 577). 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 180. 

5 Voit Theol. Moral. I. 77. For the numerous editions of this work between 
1754 and 1860 see De Backer IV. 737. 

6 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 604. 

7 Gury Compend. Theol. Moral. Praefat. "In hisce disciplinis vix ullum 
reperias punctum in quo et ipsi inter se Doctores consentientes sint." 


doubtfully enjoined by it. Finally, human society would suffer 
greatly if all acts were omitted because their lawfulness is doubtful. 1 
Thus the Church in its efforts to subject the human conscience to the 
domination of the confessional has covered the region of morals with 
a fog through which the explorer in search of truth and certainty 
blindly gropes his way and finds nothing but doubt. 

Yet the duty of the confessional must be performed. Penitent 
and priest must decide every case that arises in the complicated 
affairs of human life, and somehow or other absolution must be 
reached if the soul of the sinner, confided to the Church s care, is 
to be saved. Some rule must be established whereby doubt can be 
solved, some clue whereby the blind can lead the blind in the true 
path. In the earlier ages of Christianity St. Augustin had laughed 
at the pagan philosophy which taught that a man who followed what 
seemed to him probable could not sin or err ; he had no mercy for 
opinions, and he insisted that nothing is probable unless it can be 
proved. 2 Leo I. was satisfied with the simple rule that in doubt 
and obscurity that course is to be followed Avhich is not contrary to 
the precepts of the gospel and of the Fathers. 3 It is true that St. 
Bernard asserts that a man can safely hold an opinion which is not 
refuted by certain reason or respectable authority, but, as he is merely 
defending the speculation that the angels were ignorant in advance 
of the details of the Incarnation, the citation of the passage by Liguori 
only illustrates the desperate straits of modern theologians to find 
warrant in antiquity for their theories, for elsewhere he asserts that 
whether you do evil thinking it to be good, or good thinking it 
to be evil, it is a sin. 4 Richard of St. Victor says unhesitatingly 
that when we accord faith to a false opinion we are led into sin. 5 
When practical conduct was at stake, after scholastic theology had 

1 Bonal Institt. Theol. T. V. De actibus humanis n. 120. 

2 S. August, contra Academicos Lib. ill. c. xvi. ; Ejusd. de Utilitate credendi 
cap. 11. La Croix (Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 321) endeavors to argue this away 
by referring to St. Augustin s Retractationes Lib. I. c. 1, but there is nothing 
there to break the force of the argument. 

3 Leon. PP. I. Epist. CLXVII. ad Rusticum Narbon. Gratian. Deer. c. ii. 
Dist. xiv. 

4 S. Bernardi Tract, de Baptismo etc. c. 5 ; Lib. de Prsecept. et Dispensat. 
cap. xiv. S. Alph. de Ligorio Apologise $ 1, n. 6. 

5 Rich, a S. Victore de Statu Interioris Hominis Tract. II. cap. ii. 

II. 19 


begun to raise a cloud of questions concerning mortal and venial 
sins, and enforced confession required every act to be submitted 
to the judgment of the priest, there was at first no hesitation in 
adhering to the rule that in doubtful cases the safest course was to 
be pursued in dubiis via est eligenda tutior that is, the course which, 
in modern parlance, favors law against liberty, which assumes that 
a precept is to be obeyed and exposes one to the least danger of sin. 
This rule is embodied in repeated papal decrees, several of which passed 
into the canon law, and it established on an apparently incontestable 
basis the system known as Tutiorism that a man when in doubt as 
to the legality of an act must do that which is safest for his soul. 1 
We have seen above in casual references to disputed points how 
constantly the older authorities recommend the truer or the safer 
opinion as that which should be adopted. Thus Alexander Hales 
says unhesitatingly that if a man feels doubt whether a transaction 
be tainted with simony or not he must abstain from it, for better is 
temporal loss than spiritual. * Yet the ingenuity of the schoolmen 
was constantly at work devising reasons to justify evasions of the 
laws. Usury, simony, the holding of pluralities and a host of other 
questions offered rich rewards for those who could evade the rigor 
of their condemnation, and the subtilty of the theologians was stimu 
lated to the utmost to devise arguments which should satisfy the 
conscience and procure absolution without abandonment of profitable 
sin. Thus commenced the process described above by which con 
flicting opinions were formulated on one subject after another ; the 
honest sinner found his ideas of right and wrong inextricably con 
fused, and the dishonest one could protect himself in the enjoyment 
of ill-gotten gains and illicit pleasures. In this strife of dialectics 
there speedily arose the question as to the comparative probability 
of opposing opinions ; there was no absolute touchstone as to their 

1 C. 3 Extra Lib. iv. Tit. i. C. 12, 24 Extra Lib. v. Tit. xii. C. 5 Extra 
Lib. V. Tit. xxvii. C. 1 Clement. Lib. v. Tit. xi. Irmoc. PP. III. de Sacro 
Altaris Mysterio Lib, V. c. xxiv. 

Liguori (De Usu Moderate n. 55, 56, 57) vainly endeavors to argue away 
these decisions. An expression of Honorius III. (c. 11 Extra I. xxxvi.) recom 
mending humanity to judges in cases where there was no express law has been 
quoted in support of "benignant" opinions, but it has no bearing on the 

2 Alex, de Ales Summse P. u. Q. cxii. Membr. 8. 


veracity, and we begin to hear the ominous talk as to the more prob 
able and the less probable. Thus alongside of Tutiorism arose the 
kindred rule, known in modern times as Probabiliorism, that between 
two opposite opinions the more probable one is to be followed. The 
two principles apparently were regarded as in no way antagonistic, 
and men were counselled according to the exigencies of the case to 
adopt either the safer or the more probable course. 

The growing tendency to find justification for laxity awoke the 
most earnest opposition of the leading minds of the Church. It 
would be difficult to pronounce more emphatic condemnation of the 
modern fashionable moral theology, including the so-called reflex 
principles and the insidious distinction between material and formal 
sin, than that which is uttered by St. Bonaventura. Responsibility 
for sin, he says, is not evaded by doubt as to the interpretation of 
precepts ; such probable opinions are worse than open transgressions, 
for not only is the sin committed, but the sinner is lured into false 
security which insures damnation. Casuistic ingenuity is merely 
a foolish disputation with God as though to convince him that he 
ought not to judge as a sin what we wish not to be a sin. 1 Evi 
dently thus far what men might think in palliation of sin had no 
influence over the divine judgment. 

Aquinas was a reasoner who indulged in more refinements than 
Bonaventura, and in his voluminous writings there are passages 
which have been quoted as supporting the modern school. In a 

1 Dubia interpretatio prsecepti est periculosa. . . . Ut si Deus approbet 
illam opinionem evadat sine lucro meriti ; si autem reprobet earn damnetur, 
maxime cum tales opiniones quandoque periculosiores sunt quam apertae trans- 
gressiones, quia ubi scit homo se delinquere inde facile corrigitur : ubi autem 
nescit se peccare, et insuper credit sibi licere, inde nee in morte pure con- 
vertitur propter falsam spem. . . . Cum autem Deo disputare stultum est, 
et quasi velle convincere eum ut non debeat judicare hoc esse peccatum mor- 
tale quod nostra opinio non vult pro mortali habere. S. Bonavent. de Processu 
Keligionis Process. V. c. 3, 28. 

In spite of all this Liguori (De Usu moderato n. 12), in his reckless at 
tempts to find old authorities for modern theories, does not hesitate to claim 
St. Bonaventura as a probabilist, because, when discussing the controverted 
question of the papal power to grant dispensations for vows of chastity, he 
states three opinions, which he says can all be sustained and declines to decide 
between them, though he indicates cautiously his preference for the safest one 
which denies the capacity of the pope. In IV. Sentt. Dist. xxxvui. Art. ii. 


crucial text, however, be is as emphatic as Bonaventura in warning 
sinners that no opinions can justify sin or condone the guilt of him 
who follows them. When there are two contrary opinions, one must 
be true and the other false ; whoso follows the false one sins even 
though he acts conscientiously ; he who follows the true one, be 
lieving it to be true, is free from sin, but if he doubts or disbelieves 
its truth he sins. 1 In another passage he expressly says that in 
matters of faith and morals no one is excused who follows the 
erroneous opinion of any master. 2 Yet there were too many doubt 
ful questions and too many contradictory opinions floating around 
in the schools for decision between them to be easy, and Aquinas 

1 S. Th. Aquinat. Quodl. vin. art. 13. In discussing the lawfulness of plu 
ralities he says " Dicendum est ergo quod quando duae sunt opiniones con- 
trariae de eodem oportet esse alteram veram et alteram falsam. Aut ergo ille 
qui facit contra opinionem magistrorum, utpote habendo plures praebendas, facit 
contra veram opinionem ; et sic, cum facit contra legein Dei, non excusatur a 
peccato, quamvis non faciat contra conscientiam ; sic enim contra legem Dei 
facit. Aut ilia opinio non est vera, sed magis contraria quam iste sequitur, 
ita quod vere licet habere plures praebendas ; et tune distinguendum est : quia 
aut talis habet conscientiam de contrario, et sic iterum peccat contra con 
scientiam faciens, quamvis non contra legem, aut non habet conscientiam de 
contrario seu certitudinem, sed tamen in quamdam dubitationem inducitur et 
contrarietate opinionum ; et sic si manente tali dubitatione plures praebendas 
habet, periculo se committit et sic proculdubio peccat utpote magis amans 
beneficium temporale quam propriam salutem ; aut ex contrariis opinionibus in 
nullam dubitationem adducitur, et sic non committit se discrimini nee peccat." 
It will be seen how completely destructive this is to the theory of material sin 
and to the whole structure of modern moral theology. On a question under 
lying the conduct of life and the nature of sin it is suggestive to see the two 
great doctors of Latin Christianity, Aquinas and Liguori, completely at odds, 
and that an infallible Church should thus condemn in the thirteenth century 
what it teaches and practices in the nineteenth. La Croix s misquotation of 
detached sentences from the passage is a typical illustration of the unscrupu- 
lousness of his school (Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 321). Liguori also attempts to 
use it (De Usu moderate n. 14). Shguanin, on the other hand (Anatomia 
Probabilismi Q. in. vi. Probat. 5, n. 29, 30), triumphantly quotes it as irre- 
fragible evidence of the falsity of the probabilist position. 

2 " In his vero quae pertinent ad fidem et bonos mores nullus excusatur si 
sequatur erroneam opinionem alicujus magistri : in talibus enim ignorantia 
non excusat." Quodlibet. III. art. x. 

The probabilists are in the habit of altering this to " potest quisquam 
amplecti opinionem quam a magistro audivit in his quae ad mores pertinent" 
(Wigandt Tribun. Confessar. Tract, n. Exam. iii. n. 4; Shguanin Anatomia 
Probabilismi Q. n. \ 1, n. 4). 


himself is sometimes reduced to pronouncing one probable or more 
probable. Thus when discussing the views of Hales and Bona- 
ventura that a mortal sin should be confessed as soon as possible 
after commission, he says that the opinion is probable of those who 
hold that this is not necessary, though it is dangerous to defer con 
fession ; it is similar to physical disease, when a physician is not 
immediately summoned. 1 Again, in the discussion as to the neces 
sity of confessing aggravating circumstances, he says that the nega 
tive opinion is the more probable. 2 At the same time he gave a 
definition of the word opinion, which has maintained its place in 
theology ever since, that it is an act of the intellect leaning to one 
side of a contradiction with a dread of the other. 3 

Duns Scotus assumes, as a matter of course, that in doubtful cases 
it is a sin not to follow the more probable opinion, 4 and in 1312 the 
general council of "Vienne orders the adoption of the doctrine that 
baptism confers informing grace to be adopted as the more probable 
opinion and the one most concordant with the views of ancient and 
modern theologians. 5 There might seem to be a slight concession in 
the remark of Pierre de la Palu that no one is held to that of which 
he believes with probability the opposite, for probable ignorance 
excuses from mortal sin, but this is a mere extension of the use of 
the word probable, for he is engaged in showing that a subject can 
confess validly to his priest who has secretly incurred irregularity 
and suspension. 6 That it had no special significance is seen in the 
general adoption by subsequent authors, as a matter of course, of 

1 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. iii. Art. 1. Alex, de Ales 
Summae P. IV. Q. xvm. Membr. iv. Art. 4. S. Bonavent. in IV. Sentt. Dist. 
xvn. P. ii. Art. 2, Q. 2. 

2 S. Th. Aquin in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvi. Q. iii. Art. 2 ad 5. Of. Sec. Sec. Q. 
I. Art. iv. in corp. 

3 S. Th. Aquin. Summse I. Q. Ixxix. Art. 9 ad 4. " Actum intellectus quse 
fertur in unam partem contradictionis cum formidine alterius." 

St. Bernard s definition is " Opinio sola veri similitudine se tuetur . . . 
certi nihil habens, verurn per verisimilia quasrit potius quam apprehendit." 
De Consideratione Lib. v. c. 3. 

A later definition is " Opinio est quasi pro vero habere aliquid quod falsum 
esse nescias." Joannis de Janua Summa quse vocatur Catholicon s. v. Opinio. 

4 Jo. Scoti in IV. Sentt. Dist. xi. Q. vi. Liguori (De Usu moderato n. 15) 
quotes this passage, modifying and interpolating it to suit his purpose. 

5 0. 1 \ 3 Clement. Lib. i. Tit. 1. 

6 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. Q. vi. Art. 2. 


tutiorism and probabiliorism. In the middle of the fifteenth cen 
tury St. Antonino devotes considerable space to the discussion of all 
the points involved, showing that they were attracting increased 
attention in the schools. He argues that in these matters there can 
be no absolute mathematical or moral proof, and moral certainty 
must depend on probable conjectures leaning more to one side than 
the other, but he defines probability to be that which appears true 
to the greater and wiser portion of the doctors what, in fact, in 
modern times has come to be reckoned as the more probable. He 
repeatedly asserts that in doubtful cases the safer course must be 
taken, but he admits that tutiorism is not an invariable rule, for if it 
were all mankind would be obliged to embrace a religious life, as 
that is unquestionably the safest. When two opinions are equally 
probable the safer must be chosen, and, in the intricacy and variety 
of human affairs, we must be content with a certainty which does 
not always eliminate all scruples, but enables us to reject them. 
In short, St. Antonino was a tutiorist wherever possible and a 
probabiliorist in the exceptional cases. At the same time we see the 
commencement of the theory that sin is dependent on the belief of 
the actor when he asserts that, in the conflict of opinion, one can act 
according to that which he believes to be the more probable, espe 
cially when he diligently seeks to ascertain whether it is licit, and 
finds nothing to lead him to regard it as illicit, 1 or, in other words, 
when he has the benefit of invincible ignorance. 

Towards the end of the fifteenth century Angiolo da Chivasso shows 
the growing perplexity arising from the multiplication of conflicting 
opinions and the difficulty of furnishing a clue through the labyrinth. 
In doubt, where there is peril for the soul, the safer course is to be 
followed, but in the diversity of opinions it is difficult to select. In 
matters of scripture and divine law theologians are to be preferred, 
in canonical questions, canonists, in positive law, legists. In con 
flicts between papal and conciliar decrees, when the faith is concerned, 
the councils are preferable, for the world is greater than the city, but 
in other things the pope is to be followed. All this shows how 

1 S. Antonini Summ^e P. I. Tit. iii. cap. 10, 10; Tit. xx. P. ir. Tit. i. cap. 
11, 28. P. in. Tit. v. cap. 2, \ 9. 

Yet Liguori, with his customary unscrupulousness (De Usu moderate n. 13, 
50) garbles sentences from some of these passages to prove that St. Antonino 
was opposed to tutiorism. 


rapidly, in the increasing complexity of scholastic theology, morals 
were becoming a mere matter of opinion, and this is further proved 
by the remark that he is to be excused who follows the opinion of a 
doctor believing it to be true and would not follow it if he did not 
consider it to be so : he can thus acquire moral certainty and can 
dismiss all doubt and contrary opinion. 1 Baptista Tornamala was 
less inclined to yield to the tendencies of the period and was an 
uncompromising tutiorist, 2 while Bartolommeo de Chaimis and Geiler 
von Keysersberg record themselves on the same side. 3 In Prierias 
tutiorism is qualified with probabiliorism, and the tendency shows 
itself to give more weight to the belief or convictions of the actor ; 
in doubtful matters the safer part is to be followed, but not in cases 
where the safer opinion is considerably less probable than the oppo 
site, for there the doubt ceases ; even where the difference is slighter it 
is not necessarily to be followed, because conscience does not obligate 
us to anything that it does not believe or know ; when probabilities 
are equal the safer must perforce be chosen whenever there is risk of 
mortal sin. 4 Cardinal Caietano shows the same transitional process : 
the safer part is always to be followed ; it is not safe to trust to 
opinion which is always ambiguous, for it is unlawful to incur the 
risk of sin ; yet he feels the necessity of some rule of guidance in the 
maze of conflicting opinions and admits that per accidens those unable 
to distinguish between opinion and moral reasons may err excusably 
when, without dread of the opposite, they believe learned and wise 
men who tell them that a certain thing is lawful. 5 Giovanni da 
Taggia asserts unqualifiedly that in doubt the safer course must be 
chosen, though elsewhere he speaks of it as the more equitable one, 

1 Summa Angelica s. vv. Confessio iv. $ 3 ; Dubium 1 ; Opinio $$ 1, 2. 

2 Summa Rosella s. v. Dubium. " In foro pcenitentise semper pars tutior est 
eligenda licet videtur durior, quia in ilia parte nullum subest periculum." 

3 Bart, de Chaimis Interrog. fol. 38a. Jo. Keysersperg. Navicula Poenitentise 
(Aug. Vindel. 1511 fol. xlviii. col. 1) "Tu studeas tutiorem opinionem in- 
quireri et eandem insectari." 

4 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Dubium \\ 5, 7. Liguori carefully avoids citing 
these passages but seeks to prove that Prierias was a probabilist from another 
(s. v. Scrupulm $ 5) in which Prierias is treating of that terror of the confes 
sional the scrupulous penitent, whose doubts had to be satisfied in any way 
whatever. See Jo. Gersonis de Prseparatione ad Missam, Considerat. in. 

5 Caietani Summula s. v. Opinionis Usus. On the strength of this La Croix 
claims Caietano as a probabilist (Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 323). 


and he recognizes that some opinions may be more probable than 
others. 1 Soon after this occurred a case, in which the probabilists 
take much comfort, which shows the increasing tendency to attach 
weight to opinion. Caietano was " singular " in the assertion that 
the pope has power to dissolve marriage by dispensation ; a woman 
applied to Adrian VI. and showed him the opinion, whereat the 
learned pontiff marvelled much and granted the dispensation, saying 
that he gave what he could, but did not believe that he had the 

Towards the middle of the sixteenth century Bartolommeo Fumo 
asserts absolutely that in conflicting opinions the safer must be chosen, 
but he shows the development of the theory that sin depends on be 
lief by restricting this to cases where there is a dread of the opposite 
(which is inferred in the very definition of opinion) and adds that if 
one has firm credence in the opinion of a doctor he can follow it 
without mortal sin, though he believes another opinion to be better, 
for he does not follow what he thinks to be false though he thinks it 
to be less good. This is an important approach to probabilism and 
manifests the rapid development of the theories which were to lead 
to it. 3 Domingo Soto sought to check them when he said that in the 
schools the less probable opinions might be defended as an exercise 
of ingenuity, but that it is wicked for a judge or physician to put 
them in practice, and much more for a theologian ; when opinions are 
equally balanced it is not openly wrong to adopt one and then the 
other, but it can scarce be done without scandal. 4 Azpilcueta was a 
tutiorist ; he expresses without reserve the doctrine that in doubt the 
safer way must be chosen in all things affecting salvation, but he 
recognizes fully the impossibility of adhering to the rule in the con 
fused condition of moral teaching and in the countless intricacies 

1 Summa Tabiena s. vv. Dubitatio | 1 ; Opinio $$ 1, 3 ; Medicina $ 12. Like 
Prierias, he makes an exception to tutiorism in the case of scruples " ex levibus 
conjecturis et multum debilibus" (s. v. Scrupulus $ 1). Liguori, as is his wont, 
cites this (De Usu moderate n. 52) to prove that Giovanni was a probabilist, 
while omitting to refer to the other passages. 

2 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xxvii. Q. i. Art. 4. 

3 Armilla Aurea s. v. Opinio n. 2. Yet this does not justify Liguori (De Usu 
moderate n. 14) in quoting from this passage a sentence which is not there to 
prove that a man can act safely if he has a conviction from direct or reflex 
motives that the act is lawful. 

4 Dom. Soto de Justitia et Jure Lib. in. Q. vi. Art. 5 ad 4. 


created by the ecclesiastical system and organization. The safer 
way need not be followed by him who in good faith embraces one of 
two opinions, because for him doubt does not exist ; besides, if tutior- 
ism is to be enforced a thousand opinions necessary to salvation and 
accepted by the Church must be discarded, and he instances the ques 
tion of immediate confession after the commission of sin, the confes 
sion of all the circumstances of a sin and the avoidance of intercourse 
with excommunicates, in which the safer course is not commonly 
followed. 1 If to these we add the infinite difficulties arising from 
simony, pluralities, usurious contracts, marriages innocently con 
tracted within the prohibited degrees, etc., we can see that the dispu 
tatious subtilty of the schools had brought moral theology into a 
condition in which some relief was essential both to penitent and 
confessor if absolution was to remain more than a meaningless for 
mula. That the people by this time cared only for the opinion of 
some one on whom they could thrust responsibility and satisfied their 
consciences by accepting it is seen in his complaint of the custom, 
especially among magnates, of casually asking questions for their 
guidance while conversing and being satisfied to act on the impromptu 
answer. 2 How complete in this was the change from the time of the 
earlier schoolmen is shown by the manner in which Alexander Hales 
treats opinion as something in which there is always imperfection and 
uncertainty, 3 while William of Paris considers the idea that sin can 
be diminished by opinion and belief as so irrational that he uses it as 
an orgumentum ad absurdum* 

The entering wedge to effect this change was found in the relations 
between the penitent and the confessor. We have seen above the 
rivalry between the parish priests and the mendicants over the con 
fessional and the eagerness of both sides to secure penitents, as well 
as the ignorance of a large portion of those intrusted with the cure 

1 Azpilcuetse Comment, de Pcenit. cap. Si quis autem n. 6, 8, 42, 48, 50, 58, 64. 
Ejusd. Man. Confess, cap. xxvu. n. 281, 284. 

2 Azpilcuetse Comment, loc. cit. n. 53. 

3 Alex, de Ales Summse P. II. Q. CLXI. Membr. .1. " Dicitur nam opinio 
esse cum vitio semper, quia est cum formidine alterius partis ; formido autem 
pcenam quandam dicit et quoad hoc est ibi vitium." 

4 Guill. Paris, de Legibus c. 21. " Secundum hoc nullus errabit vel credendo 
vel operando, cum credendum sit unicuique quod credit et operandum quod 
operatur secundum credulitatis erroris sui." 


of souls. The profitable vices of usury, simony, pluralities, etc., 
created a class of penitents amply able to pay trained theologians to 
give them opinions dextrously framed to enable them to justify their 
gains. When therefore a parish priest might refuse absolution for 
such offences he could be met with an opinion carefully prepared and 
greatly beyond his ability to refute, coupled with a threat that if he 
persisted some more accommodating mendicant in the neighboring 
convent could be found who would accept it and grant the sacra 
ment. In the competition for penitents such arguments were not 
likely to prove ineffectual, and it is probably to this that we may 
attribute the development, at an early period, of a rule that the con 
fessor must abandon his own convictions and accept a probable 
opinion held by his penitent, even though he does not himself be 
lieve its truth, and that he must grant absolution, even though he 
believes the penitent to be in mortal sin. A powerful adjuvant to 
the reception of this rule was doubtless also found in the pride of 
opinion of theologians who were themselves obliged to confess and 
who objected to being compelled to abandon their views at the in 
stance of a priest whom perchance they regarded as greatly their 
inferior in learning. This is so complete an abnegation of the judicial 
character ascribed to the confessor that the introduction and growth 
of such a practice deserves examination. 

The earliest allusion to this which I have met with occurs in 
Geoffroi de Fontaines, who died in 1238. He presents it in the 
rudimentary form that amid the conflicting opinions tolerated by 
the Church, the confessor, especially if he is not the parish priest, 
should tell the penitent to make strenuous efforts to inform himself 
from prudent men, after which the confessor can grant absolution, 
even though he holds the contrary opinion himself. Soon after 
wards Richard de Clermont says the same, without making the dis 
tinction between the ordinary confessor and the mendicant volunteer. 1 
Pierre de la Palu is more reserved. If the confessor is in doubt and 
the penitent assures him that he had acted by the advice of experts 
whose virtue and learning give assurance of good counsel, the con 
fessor can acquiesce, but not if he is certain of the contrary. 2 By the 
middle of the fifteenth century the rule was generally admitted ; the 

1 S. Antonin. Sutnmae P. I. Tit. iii. cap. 10, $ 10. 

2 P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvn. P. ii. Art. 1. 


confessor granted the absolution and left the penitent to settle it with 
his own conscience. 1 Prierias and Giovanni de Taggia take the same 
view. 2 The distinction drawn from the first between the parish 
priest and the volunteer confessor was not lost sight of. Barto- 
lommeo Fumo says that if the authorities are divided as to a sin 
being mortal or venial, the confessor, if he is the parish priest of the 
sinner, must accept the penitent s opinion, but if he is not and be 
lieves the sin to be mortal he should refuse absolution. 3 Domingo 
Soto rejects this distinction, though he admits that it is generally 
accepted, and his argument on the subject shows how rapidly the 
belief was advancing that probability excuses from sin. He says 
the only point to be considered is whether the penitent s opinion is 
received as probable among authors of approved authority ; if it 
lacks this degree of probability neither priest nor friar should absolve 
him ; if it has this probability both are bound to absolve, nor do 
they act against their conscience, for though they may think the 
opinion false the penitent is excused from sin on account of the 
probability. A prudent priest, he adds, who knows that a penitent 
is involved in pluralities or in illicit contracts will often refuse to 
listen to his confession, but if by chance he hears it will grant abso 
lution. 4 Azpilcueta and Rodriguez limit the rule much more rig 
idly. They make no distinction between priest and friar, but say 
that if the confessor regards his own opinion as sound, and that of 
the penitent as doubtful he must refuse absolution, but if he feels 
doubt, or if the two opinions are about equally probable he can ab 
solve. Moreover, if the question is as to a sin being mortal or not 
the safer course is to be selected, and in directing the action of the 
penitent he must follow the more worthy opinion. 5 

1 S. Antonin. Summae P. i. Tit. iii. cap. 10 10 ; P. ill. Tit. xvii. c. 20 | 2. 
Summa Angelica s. v. Confessio iv. \ 3. 

2 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio n. $ 3. Summa Tabiena s. v. Con/ess. 
Sacram. n. 30. 

3 Armilla Aurea s. v. Confessio i. n. 18. 

4 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. xvm. Q. ii. Art. 5 ad 5. 

5 Azpilcueta Manualis Confessar. cap. XXVJ. n. 4, 5. Cf. Comment, de Poenit. 
cap. Si quis autem n. 54, 66. Rodriguez Summse Gas. Consc. P. i. cap. 62, n. 11. 

This passage of Azpilcueta is worth citing as an illustration of the habitual 
bad faith of Liguori. It reads " Si sint contrariae doctorum opiniones quarum 
alteram confessarius et alteram poenitens sequitur, et confessarius credit evi- 
denti se textu vel ratione niti, pcenitentem autem dubia, non debet eum ab- 


It was soon after this that the flood of probabilism broke in, and 
the fashionable moralists who promulgated it assumed as a matter of 
course the laxer view that the confessor must accept the probable 
opinion of the penitent, even if it is less probable than his own. It 
was argued that the penitent had a right to absolution and the con 
fessor had no power to refuse it, even if he thought the penitent s 
opinion false, while the distinction between priest and friar was 
quietly dropped, for as the writers were almost exclusively regulars 
they were not likely to maintain a regulation which gave to the parish 
priests an advantage in the confessional. As this opinion passed the 
Roman censorship in the Aphorwmi Confessariorum of Manuel Sa> 
in 1607, it had at least the tacit approval of the Holy See. 1 How 
this worked in the confessional is seen in a case reported, in 1666, by 
the Jesuit La Quintinye to his General Oliva, where a theological 
teacher had told him that he had recently absolved a noble who con 
fessed that he was about to commit perjury to save a friend from 
paying a heavy fine and who could not be persuaded that it was sinful. 
This was merely an application of the rule laid down by the moral- 

solvere. At si confessarius non adeo forti ratione nititur vel poenitens utitur pari 
vel fere pari et habet aliquem pro se doctorem clarum poterit eum absol- 
vere. , . . Quibus adde quod sicut cum dubitatur an aliquid sit morlale necne, 
securiorem partem confessarius et pcenitens eligere debent ; ita quum dubitatur an 
poenitens hoc facere, dare aut pati debeat, digniorem opinionem confessarius 
eligere debet." 

In quoting this, Liguori (De Usu moderato n. 69) omits the two clauses 
which I have italicized and changes digniorem into benigniorem, thus making 
Azpilcueta give testimony against himself. 

1 Angles Flores Theol. Qusest. (Venet. 1584, P. I. fol. 1406). Toleti In 
struct. Sacerd. Lib. in. c. xx. n. 2. Em. Sa Aphorismi Confessar. s. v. 
Absolutio n. 15. Zerola Praxis Sacr. Pcenit. c. xxii. Q. 3. Carbonis Summa 
Summarum Casuum Conscientiae Tom. I. P. I. Lib. 5, cap. 14. Sayri Clavis 
Eegia Sacerd. Lib. I. c. ix. n. 9-13. Henriquez Summse Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. 
cap. xxvii. n. 6. Summa Diana s. v. Opinio Probabilis n. 7. Busenbaum Medullas 
Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1, cap. 2, Dub. 2. Escobar Theol. Moral. Tract, vn. 
Exam. iv. cap. 5, n. 23. Marchant Tribunal. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. V. Tit. 5 r 
Q. 8. Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacrainentis Disp. xxxni. n. 54; XLII. n. 42. 
Val. Reginald. Praxis Fori Poenitent. Lib. xiii. n. 97. 

There were a few authorities who dissented more or less from this teaching. 
Tomas Sanchez (In Prsecept. Decalogi Lib. I. cap. ix. n. 29-31) limits it to 
learned and instructed penitents, and Laymann (Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1. 
cap. 5 | 2, n. 10), Gobat (Alphab. Confessar. n. 178-81), and Lohner (Instructio 
Practica de Confessionibus P. I. cap. iii. 2) agree with him. 


ists that although the opinion of the penitent is not safe the confessor 
can in this instance consider it safe because the penitent firmly believes 
it to be so. 1 

There were of course rigor ists who refused to accept these teachings. 
Thyrsus Gonzalez, the Jesuit General whose efforts to counteract the 
prevailing laxisrn of the Order will be referred to hereafter, prescribes 
the rule that if the confessor is satisfied that the opinion of his peni 
tent is less probable than his own he must refuse absolution and 
instruct the sinner. 2 Pontas characterizes it as a pernicious maxim 
which certain unenlighted authors have had the boldness to endeavor 
to maintain during the past century, but he adds that if the confessor 
regards the penitent s opinion as more probable he may absolve him, 
and he even makes the concession that if the penitent be a learned 
man who in good faith regards his opinion as the more probable, or 
if he honestly believes that one may follow a less probable opinion, 
he can be absolved. 3 Wigandt will only admit that it is permissible 
when the penitent is a much more learned man than the confessor 
and has impartially reached the conclusion that his opinion is the 
more probable. 4 An anonymous but authoritative work, in 1727, 
protests against the rule, showing it to be incompatible with the posi 
tion of judge and representative of Christ and that it leads to deplor 
able results in such matters as sensual impulses, performing divine 
service without attention, and adulterating merchandise while charging 
full price the latter based on the probable opinion that there is no 
sin in mixing articles of different grades. 5 Concina quietly remarks 

1 Dollinger und Reusch, Moralstreitigkeiten, II. 7. Alph. de Leone de Off , 
et Potest. Confessar. Recoil. 11. n. 117, 119. 

2 Gonzales Fundamentum Theol. Moral. Diss. xiv. n. 129. This was one of 
the points objected to by the five revisers of the Order when they condemned 
the work of Gonzalez (Dollinger u. Reusch, I. 123). 

3 Pontas, Diet, de Gas de Conscience, s. v. Confesseur I. ii. This passage 
affords another illustration of the dishonesty of the probabilist theologians. 
Pontas says "Si le confesseur etait veritablement persuad6 que 1 opinion de 
son penitent fut soutenable, c est-a dire qu elle fut plus probable il pourroit 
en ce cas lui accorder absolution." Dr. Amort in his translation of Pontas 
quietly alters the words italicized into " sequeprobabilem." Liguori goes still 
further (De Usu moderate n. 69), and with a flourish over the rigorism of 
Pontas, quotes the passage, changing the " plus probable " into " probabilem," 
using it to prove that even the probabiliorists accept the rule. 

* Wigandt Tribunal. Confessar. Tract. 11. Exam. iii. n. 30. 

5 Istruzione per li novelli Confessed, I. 57 (Roma, 1727). This work is dedi- 


that no Catholic goes to confession without having an opinion through 
which he expects absolution ; if he had not he would not go. 1 Ger- 
dil takes the position that if the confessor holds the penitent s position 
to be erroneous, or if the penitent admits it to be the less probable, 
absolution is to be refused ; if the confessor doubts he must instruct 
the penitent to make inquiry, after which he may be absolved as 
holding it to be the more probable. 2 Alasia declares that a penitent 
who adheres to an opinion which he admits to be less probable and 
less safe is not to be absolved, but if he be a learned man and believes 
the opinion to be the more probable he may be absolved, provided 
he acts in good faith and the opinion be not one commonly reputed 
to be false. 3 

These protests by the adherents of a losing cause were unavailing. 
Probabilism triumphed and the rule has become firmly established. 
Liguori s arguments to justify it show in what an inextricably uncer 
tain and vague condition the labors of the moralists had reduced the 
whole subject of morals. He pictures two confessors alternately 
confessing to each other and each requiring the other to abandon the 
opinions which he prefers. Or a confessor in confessing another 
confessor would be obliged to inquire into his opinions upon thou 
sands of questions in which he regulates the consciences of his peni 
tents and force him to abandon them for others. Still Liguori is not 
quite so relaxed as some of his predecessors and admits that if a 
penitent s opinion is evidently false and he refuses to abandon it, 
absolution should be withheld. 4 LiguorPs authority in the modern 
Church is practically so unquestioned that the text-books of the 
present day are virtually unanimous on the subject. The confessor 
is told that he is not a judge of opinions and controversies like the 
pope, but only of the state of the penitent s conscience. 5 

cated to Cardinal Paolucci, Dean of the Sacred College, and bears the warm 
approbation of the official examiners. 

1 Concina Theol. Christian, contracta Lib. II. Dist. ii. cap. 5, n. 5. 

2 Gerdil Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Q. iii. cap. 8 ad 7. 

3 Alasia Theol. Moral. De Act. Human. Diss. n. cap. vii. Q. 12. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 443, 450. Beiffenstuel Theol. Moral. 
Tract, i. Dist. iii. n. 55. Roncaglia Univ. Mor. Theol. Tract. I. Q. 1, cap. ii. 
Q. 4. Liguori Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 604; Ejusd. Praxis Confessar. n. 115. 

5 Gury Compend. Theol. Moral. I. 78. Gousset, Theologie Morale, I. 102. 
Scavini Theol. Moral. Univ. Tract. X. Disp. 1, cap. 3, Art. 2, Q. 2. Bonal 
Institt. Theol. T.^V. De Act. Human, n. 143. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 


It is evident from all this that by the end of the sixteenth cen 
tury there was impending a total change in the doctrines and prac 
tice of the Church with regard to sin and the means of its avoidance 
and cure. Scholastic theology had multiplied so infinitely the 
opinions respecting every question involving the duty of man to 
his fellows and his God, and it was becoming so impossible for 
either penitent or confessor to grope his way in search of the safer 
or more probable course, that the old theories of tutiorism and prob- 
abiliorism were becoming impracticable. Opinions, moreover, evolved 
by casuistic subtilty from the precepts of the law and the gospel, 
were replacing those precepts in the estimation of teachers and 
taught, and the conception of sin itself was profoundly modified by 
the theories which regarded the act itself as virtually unimportant 
in comparison with the condition of the intellect and conscience of 
the actor. Change was in the air and only required for its impulsion 
a word fitly spoken. The word came, in 1577, when Bartolome de 
Medina, a learned Spanish Dominican, published his Commentaries 
on the Prima Secimdce of Aquinas, in which, with some qualifications 
and limitations, he propounded the doctrine that when there are two 
probable and contradictory opinions on any question a man can 
select the less probable and the less safe and act upon it. 1 It was 
only a few years before, in 1571, that Antonio de Corduba, a Fran 
ciscan of the highest reputation, had said that all theologians are 
agreed that when two opposite opinions are equally probable the 
safer must be followed, and all the more so when it is more probable 
than its opposite. 2 Medina s doctrine might be novel and startling, 
but that it was the logical outcome of the rule that the confessor 
must accept the less probable opinion of his penitent is seen in the 
argument adduced by Bishop Angles, in 1584, to prove the latter, 
when he says that absolution is only to be denied for mortal sin, and 

1 Gonzales Fund. Theol. Moral. Diss. xiv. n. 26, 27). " An teneamur sequi 
opinionem probabiliorem relicta probabili ; an satis est sequi opinionem proba- 
bilem ? . . . Sed mihi videtur quod, si opinio est probabilis, licitum est 
earn sequi, etsi opposita sit probabilior." La Croix formulates the matured 
theory of probabilism thus " Quamvis probabilius sit quod Deus id nolit, 
tamen quia etiam est probabile quod velit vel saltern permittat, et quia Deus 
me nullibi obligat ad sequendum hoc quod est probabilius, hinc volo hoc facere, 
non facturus si scirem Deum id nolle." Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 338. 

2 Gonzales op. cit. Introd. n. 2. Sayri Clavis Eegiae Sacerd. Lib. I. cap. 5, 
n. 13. 


the penitent does not sin in holding the less probable opinion 1 
" holding" in such case implying also acting upon it. 

The opinion of Medina was adopted with a rapidity which shows 
that it was only the expression of the prevailing tendencies, and 
that it was eagerly hailed as a relief in the inextricable perplexities 
of the confessional. The next Dominican to promulgate it was Luis 
Lopez in 1584, but between 1590 and 1600, Michael Sasonius, 
Gregorio de Valencia, Pedro Navarro and Gabriel Vazquez speak 
of it as commonly accepted by the weightiest theologians. 2 Yet it 
did not lack opposition of the most formidable character. In 1598 
the General Chapter of the Theatins ordered the members of the 
Order to observe probabiliorism. 3 The Jesuits had ranged them 
selves even earlier against it, and it is carious to observe that they, 
who afterwards became its most strenuous supporters, so that they 
were held by its opponents as practically responsible for it, at first 
were its opponents. The Constitutions of the Society order the 
teaching of the safer and most approved doctrines in all matters. 4 
In 1595 the Fifth General Congregation strictly forbade the teaching 
of novel ideas or anything contrary to the common opinions of the 
schools and the axioms of the theologians, and all teachers were 
ordered to follow the doctrines of Aquinas. 5 The General Aquiviva 
followed this up, in 1598, by ordering confessors to labor in extir- 

1 Angles Flores Theol. Qusestt. P. i. fol. 1406. (Venet. 1584) "Quando 
poenitentis opinio est probabilis, etsi sacerdotis opinio probabilior sit, sacerdos 
absolutionem illi neque debet negare nee potest, nunquam nam absolutio 
neganda est nisi propter mortale peccatum, et poenitens illam tenendo non 
peccat." Yet Bishop Angles was a tutiorist, and in another passage says, " In 
rebus enim dubiis tutius est eligendum" (P. n. fol. 956). 

2 Gonzales op. cit. Introd. n. 3-5. Concina, Storia del Probabilismo Introd. 
\ I n. 6. 

3 Concina loc. cit. n. 7. 

* " Sequantur in quavis facultate securiorem et magis approbatam doctrinani 
et eos auctores qui earn docent." Constitt. Soc. Jesu P. IV. cap. 5, n. 4 (Ant- 
verpia3, 1635, p. 157). 

5 Quintas Congr. General, Deer. 41 (Decreta Congr. General. Antverpias, 
1635, p. 300). Possibly this may have arisen from the bitter antagonism be 
tween the Dominicans and the Jesuits, which found fresh material in the 
publication by Luis Molina, in 1588, of his Concordia Liberi Arbitrii cum gratia. 
In 1597 Clement VIII. appointed the congregation De Auxiliis to settle the 
quarrel, but it failed of its purpose, and Paul V., in 1607, could only forbid 
the combatants from abusing each other. 


pating pestiferous and too lax opinions which pronounced sins not 
to be mortal. 1 It was in that same year that Gabriel Vasquez was 
the first Jesuit to write in defence of probabilism. He was followed 
by others, of whom Tomas Sanchez, the foremost theologian of his 
time, was the most eminent. In 1617 the General Vitelleschi made 
another effort in a circular letter complaining that some of the 
brethren taught opinions too liberal, especially in morals. In future 
they are never to use the rule " It is probable, for it has an author 
to support it," but are to promulgate only those opinions which are 
safer and have the support of the weightiest doctors, which conduce 
to good morals and serve to benefit, not to destroy. Those who 
refuse to do so are to be removed from professorships and never to be 
reappointed. 2 Rome, however, in 1607, had given a quasi recogni 
tion to the new theories in the censorship of Manuel Sa s Aphorismi 
Confessariorum. He had affirmed that a man is not bound by a 
vow or a precept when he feels equally in doubt for and against its 
validity ; this the censor ordered changed to read that he is not 
bound when there is a probable opinion of the doctors that he is not 
bound. 3 Thus the more extreme position that equality of doubt in 
the individual s mind releases from the observance of precepts was 
condemned, while yet the preponderating weight of a probable opinion 
of the doctors was admitted in favor of liberty against the law. 
Urban VIII. moreover instructed the missionaries to the Indies that 
they could treat their converts in accordance with the probable 
opinions most favorable to them. 4 

1 CL Aquavivse Instructio pro Superioribus, 31 Julii, 1598, cap. v. n. 3. 
" Dent operam ut pestiferas quasdam et nimis laxas opiniones penitus evellent, 
hoc illudve non esse raortale, magni moment! non esse, necessarium non esse 
ut distincte confessando explicetur." 

2 " Quarto nonnullorum ex Societate sententise, in rebus prsesertim ad mores 
spectantibus plus nimio liberse, non modo periculum est ne ipsam evertant, sed 
ne Ecclesise etiam Dei universae insignia afferant detrimenta. Omni itaque 
studio perficiant ut qui decent scribuntve minime hac regula et norma in 
delectu sententiarum utantur: Tueri quis potest ; Probabile est; Auctore non 
caret: verum ad eas sententias accedant quae tutiores, quae graviorum major- 
isque nominis Doctorum suffragiis sunt frequentatse, quse bonis moribus con- 
ducunt magis, quse denique pietatem alere et prodesse queunt, non vastare, non 
perdere." Mutii Vitelleschi Epist. I. n. 13 (4 Jan. 1617). 

3 Index Brasichellensis I. 353 (Bergomi, 1608). Em. Sa Aphor. Confessar. 
s. v. Dubium n. 2. 

* Zacckarise Annot. in La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 268. 

II. 20 


In spite of conservative opposition the new standard of conduct 
spread rapidly throughout Europe. It was in vain that the more 
rigorous moralists denounced it and the shocking laxity of the con 
clusions to which it led in the hand of skilful casuists who were able 
to prove almost any required thesis by showing that it was at least 
probable or that some author could be cited whose opinion rendered 
it so. Each one strove to be more audacious than his fellows, and 
every point gained served as a stepping-stone to a new advance. The 
most earnest resistance was experienced in France, where the Sor- 
bonne was inclined to stand in the ancient ways, where the antagonism 
to Jesuitism was most determined, and where the conservatism which 
came to be known as Jansenism had its home. As early as 1619 the 
Sorbonne condemned many lax propositions, as to murder, simony, 
etc., similar to those of the Jesuits, contained in the Grande Guide 
des Curez of the Benedictine Pierre Milliard, after he had refused to 
revoke them. 1 In 1641 it condemned the Somme des Pechez of the 
Jesuit Bauny and complained to the Parlement about the proposi 
tions taught by Pere Hereau, professor of cases of conscience in the 
Jesuit College de Clermont; the Jesuits appealed to the Conseil 
d Etat which in 1644 condemned the propositions. In 1649 the 
University of Lou vain condemned several others taught by the 
Jesuit Amigo. In 1653 the Archbishop of Mechlin submitted to the 
University of Louvain seventeen more drawn from Jesuit books, 
and with its approbation he required all applicants for licences of 
confession to swear not to practice them. Seven graduates of the 
Jesuit college of Louvain refused to take the oath and defended the 
propositions. They appealed to the Roman Inquisition which mani 
fested a disposition to help them, but the congregation of the council 
of Trent sustained the archbishop. 2 Finally, in 1656, came the war 
to the knife declared by Pascal in the Provinciates, directed against 
the Jesuits and finding in their support of probabilism and its 
attendant casuistry the most assailable point in their armor. The 
poisoned shafts of his deadly satire, like the arrows of Philoctetes, 
inflicted an incurable wound which has never ceased to rankle, and 
although, some forty years later, Pere Daniel in his lumbering Entre- 
tiens d JEudoxe et de Cleandre was able to point out a few errors and 

1 D Argentre" Collect. Judic. de novis Erroribus II. u. 116. 

2 Ant. Arnauld, La Theologie Morale des Jesuites, pp. 182, 196, 210, 215-26. 


incorrect citations, his defence of the Order was scarce more than a 
confession. The Jesuit Pirot had already, in 1658, endeavored to 
reply, in his unfortunate Apologie pour les Casuistes contre les Calom- 
nies des Jansenistes, a book which enjoyed perhaps more than any 
other on record universal execration and repeated condemnations, 
including one by Alexander VII. 1 The immediate result of Pascal s 
attack was the action of the assembly of the Gallican clergy in 1657, 
which ordered a translation of the Instructions of S. Carlo Borromeo 
for the use of French priests and prefaced it with an introduction in 
which the new science of morals is declared to be worse than the 
densest ignorance, for it teaches that all things may be treated prob 
lematically and seeks not to eradicate evil habits but to justify them, 
and to accommodate the precepts of Christ to the interests, pleasures 
and passions of men. 2 Then, in 1696, Colbert Archbishop of Rouen 
ordered that in his province the theology of Gennet and of ]S~oel 
Alexandre should be taught to the exclusion of all probabilist authors. 
This led to a lively controversy between the Jesuit Daniel and Alex 
andre, which was only stopped by royal command, and in the course 
of which the Jesuit Bouffier was roughly handled by the archbishop, 
being compelled by his provincial to retract after his endurance had 
been tested by imprisonment. 3 The struggle continued with unabated 
vigor on both sides, until the great assembly of the Gallican clergy 
in 1700, under the leadership of Bossuet, adopted a formula which 
commanded as a precept that in doubt, where the probabilities are 
equal, the safer course must be chosen, and that it is permissible to 
no one to follow an opinion which he does not consider to be the 

1 De Backer, VII. 321. Index Alexandri VII. Roma?, 1664, p. 381. Ar- 
nauld, op. cit. 375. Pere Daniel s work was also prohibited in 1703 (Index 
Clement. XL Romse, 1711, pp. 147, 371). 

2 Une profonde ignorance seroit beaucoup plus souhaitable qu une telle science 
qui apprend a tenir toutes choses problematiquement, et a chercher des moyens 
non pas pour exterminer les mauvaises habitudes, mais pour les justifier et 
pour les donner 1 invention de les satisfaire en conscience : car, au lieu que 
Jesus Christ nous donne ses preceptes et nous laisse ses exemples afin que ceux 
qui croyent en lui lui obeissent, le dessin de ces auteurs paroit etre d accommo- 
der les preceptes et les regies de Jesus Christ aux interests, aux plaisirs et aux 
passions des hommes. Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientia cap. IV. Q. 1. 
Arnauld, op. cit. p. 362. 

3 Concina, Storia del Probabilismo, Diss. I. cap. iv. 27. 


most conformable to the truth. 1 The first third of the eighteenth 
century witnessed the quarrel over attrition, wherein the violent means 
resorted to for the enforcement of the Constitution Unigenitus ren 
dered the Jesuits virtually masters of the situation, but probabiliorism 
and rigorism continued to be the distinguishing attributes of the 
Gallican Church. 

In Rome also the ruling tendency towards the middle of the seven 
teenth century was distinctively antagonistic to probabilism. There 
were few more celebrated theologians of the period than the Cistercian 
Caramuel, whose Theologia Fundamentalis, printed at Frankfort in 
1651, excited by the laxity of its opinions the animadversion of the 
Holy See, and, though out of consideration for his distinguished posi 
tion, it was not placed 011 the Index he was obliged to issue a casti 
gated edition in Rome in 1656 bearing on its title-page that the 
unwarrantably lax opinions were omitted, and in his prologue he 
apologizes for the severity of the results thus reached. 2 In 1655, at 
the general chapter of the Dominicans held in Rome, a command 
was received from Alexander VII. to prepare a work, founded on 
Aquinas, which should restrain the new and lax doctrines that were 
exposing souls to such grave peril. 3 The Dominicans were to some 
extent responsible for probabilism, as its discoverer, Bartolom6 de 
Medina, was a member of their order, and under this impulsion they 
hastened to refute it. In Italy Giulio Mercoro s book against prob 
abilism was already written and immediate orders were given for its 

1 Absit vero ut probemus eorum errorem qui negant licere opinionem vel 
inter probabiles probabilissimam ; sed ad rectum usum probabilium opinionum 
has regulas a jure prsescriptas agnoscimus. Primum quod in dubiis de salutis 
negotio ubi sequalia utrimque animo sese offerunt rationum momenta, sequamur 
id quod tutius, sive quod est eo in casu unice tuturn, neque id consilii sed prse- 
cepti loco habeamus, dicente Scriptura, qui amat periculum in eo peribit . . . . 
Denique ut nemini liceat eligere earn sententiam quam non veritati magis con- 
sentaneam duxerit. Habert loc. cit. 

2 My edition is of 1656, and therefore such views as I may cite from the 
work are to be considered as having passed the Roman censorship. 

3 Tsedere Sanctitatem suam novarum opinionum hujus sseculi in materia 
morali quibus disciplina evangelica resolvitur ac conscientiis cum gravi ani- 
marum periculo illuditur : maxime velle a theologis nostris in ecclesise hoc 
morbo laborantis remedium opus parare ex severiore et tuta doctrina D. Thorn* 
quae hsec morum licentia, quse in dies grassatur, quasi cauterio cohiberetur. 
Wigandt Tribunal. Confessar. Tract. II. Exam. iii. n. 13. 


publication. In Spain Juan Martinez de Prado, and in France Vin 
cent Baron, Louis Baucelle, Vincent Contenson and Baptiste Gonet 
issued works of the same nature. A century later the Dominican 
Concina boasts that since then every Dominican writer had been a 
probabiliorist. 1 Their example was followed by the Franciscans, 
Augustinians, Carmelites, Trinitarians and many Benedictines, 2 stim 
ulated, we may conjecture, by the irrepressible rivalry of the older 
orders against the upstart Society of Jesus. 

Against this virtual unanimity of the Church the Jesuits held 
good in fact, it was only a further argument for them to persevere, 
since in the competition for the confessional the rigor thus enjoined 
on the other orders gave the former a fairer field and rendered them 
more desirable than ever as spiritual directors, especially among the 
wealthier and more influential classes. Nominally, however, they 
bowed to the storm. In 1655 the Jesuit General Goswin Nickel, 
doubtless under pressure from Alexander VII., issued an encyclical 
referring to those of his predecessors and deprecating the dissemina 
tion of opinions based on insufficient probability and dangerous to 
the conscience. 3 The eleventh General Congregation, held in 1661, 
alludes to the ill-repute which the Society was acquiring through the 
laxity of its teachings ; it refers to the decree of the fifth congrega 
tion in 1595, and commands more caution in the propagation of 
opinions which seekers for novelty may regard as probable. 4 This 
was followed, in 1662 and 1667, by letters of similar import issued 
by the General Oliva. 5 There was in these utterances no condemna 
tion of the system, but only of its more flagrant abuses, and their 
influence on the teaching, writing and practice of Jesuit theologians 

1 Concina, Storia del Probabilismo Diss. I. Introd. cap. IV. n. 3. Cf. Aguirre 
Concil. Hisp. Prs-ef. n. 27. 

2 Aguirre loc. cit. n. 28, 30. Concina ubi sup. n. 23 ; Theol. Christ, contr. 
Lib. II. Diss. ii. cap. 9, n. 16. La Croix, writing about 1715, says of this virtual 
unanimity of the religious orders against probabilisni, that it only shows that 
at the time the more rigid opinion prevailed, while now it is the opposite 
(Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 324). 

3 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 1. Neither this epistle nor 
those of Oliva, alluded to below, are included in the "Epistolce Prcepositorum 
Generalium" Pragse, 1711. 

4 Congr. General, xi. Deer. 22 (Bullae, Decreta, Canones etc. Antverpiae, 
1665, p. 181). 

5 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib I. n. 469. 


and confessors was imperceptible. The letter of La Quintanye to 
Oliva gives ample details of the most scandalous and almost in 
credible laxity on the part of Jesuit teachers and confessors, to 
which Oliva replied briefly and contemptuously. Peace must be 
maintained in the Society ; La Quintanye is not to oppose his judg 
ment to those who are wiser and more learned ; all members must 
think and teach alike, and it is against the Rule to appeal from a 
superior. 1 

In 1665 Alexander VII. took a more decisive step in condemning 
a series of twenty-eight propositions, many of them being the more 
scandalous of those enunciated by the probabilist casuists ; he did 
not in terms condemn probabilism by a formal sentence, but in the 
exordium of his decree he expressed his abhorrence of the methods 
of argument leading to such results, which, if generally adopted in 
practice, would corrupt all Christian life. 2 In 1666, moreover, he 
followed this up with another decree condemning seventeen propo 
sitions. Innocent XL was equally opposed to the laxity of prob 
abilism. In 1679 the University of Lou vain sent to him a series of 
propositions drawn from the writings of the laxer schools, resulting 
in a decree issued the same year condemning sixty-five propositions. 
Of these the third was claimed by the rigorists as intended to sup 
press probabilism itself, for it prohibited action on slender (tennis) 
probability, and they argued, with a fair show of reason, that any 
probability which was less than its opposite must be slender ; but 
their antagonists replied that the condemnation of slender proba 
bility implied the acceptance of all other probabilities, and that they 
never acted on what was slender. 3 It is quite likely that Innocent 
intended his condemnation to have the meaning assigned to it by 
the rigorists, for, on June 26, 1680, he caused a decree of the Con 
gregation of the Inquisition to be issued commanding the General 

1 Dollinger u. Reusch, Moralstreitigkeiten, II. 12. 

2 Et summam illam luxuriantium ingeniorum licentiam indies raagis ex- 
crescere, per quam in rebus ad conscientiam pertinentibus modus opinandi 
irrepsit, alienus omnino ab Evangelica simplicitate, sanctomrnque Patrum 
doctrina, et quern si pro recta regula fideles in praxi sequerentur ingens 
eruptura esset Christianas vitae corruptela. Alex. PP. VII. Deer. 7 Sept. 1665. 

3 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 2 f 4. Liguori (Apologia 
della Teologia Morale ii. n. 44) eludes the effect of the condemnations of 
Alexander VII. and Innocent XI. by assuming that the propositions were con 
demned because they asserted as probable what is not probable. 


Oliva to prohibit all members of the Society from writing in defence 
of the less probable opinion or to attack the doctrine which denied 
that the less probable opinion could be followed when a more prob 
able one was known ; also, that all Jesuits should be at liberty to 
controvert probabilism, and that they should be commanded to 
submit to the papal mandate. This decree was served on Oliva, 
July 8, 1680, when he promised obedience and said it had never 
been forbidden in the Society to write in favor of the more probable 
opinion. 1 Moreover, he dutifully prepared a circular letter in con 
formity with the papal command and submitted it to the Holy 
Office, but apparently it never was issued and he merely sent out 
one, like his previous utterances, warning the members in general 
terms against extreme laxity or rigor. 2 

What was the real position of the Jesuits, and what was the 
liberty which Oliva asserted that they enjoyed to defend either side 
of the controversy, is seen in the case of Father Elizalde, who, in 
1669, submitted to him a work against probabilism and was threat 
ened with the severest punishment if he should dare to print it. 3 
Still more instructive is the exceedingly curious history of the publi 
cation of the Fundamentum Theologice Morafis of Thyrsus Gonzalez. 
Gonzalez was a learned Jesuit, whose reputation in the Order is 
shown by his appointment, in 1676, to the position of leading pro 
fessor of theology in the Jesuit college of Salamanca. In 1670-2, 
while engaged in mission-work, he wrote a book with the object, as 
he says, of defending the Society from the aspersion that it was 
committed to the defence of the laxer opinions; 4 in 1673 he sent 

1 Concina, Storia del Probabilismo Diss. n. cap. vi. g ult. "De ordine 
Sanctitatis suse ne ullo modo permittat patribus Societatis scribere pro opinione 
minus probabili et impugnare sententiam asserentium licitum non esse sequi 
opinionem minus probabilem in concursu magis probabilis sic cognitse et 

Innocent was so convinced of the evil effects of the Jesuit teaching that he 
had at one time in view the suppression of the Society, commencing by pro 
hibiting the reception of novices, closing their colleges, and depriving them 
of the faculties of confession and preaching. Theiner, Hist, du Pontificat de 
Clement XIV. T. II. p. 234. 

2 Dollinger und Reusch, Moralstreitigkeiten, I. 129. 

3 Ibidem, I. 55. The book was subsequently printed secretly, without per 
mission, and under an assumed name. De Backer I. 283. 

4 Gonzales Fund. Theol. Moral. Introd. n. 38. 


this to Oliva in order to obtain licence for its printing, when it was 
submitted to five revisers, representing the provinces of Flanders, 
Italy, Portugal, France and Spain, who unanimously reported ad 
versely, because, among other reasons, it argued that not probability 
but morality or strong conviction should be the guide of human 
action, and they pointed out what a triumph it would be to the 
enemies of the Society if a distinguished member should appear 
openly in opposition to its prevailing tenets. 1 When, in 1679, the 
Nuncio Mellini at Madrid received the decree of Innocent XI., he 
notified the pope that a Jesuit professor at Salamanca had written a 
book in opposition to probabilism ; Innocent ordered it to be sent to 
him and gave it for examination to two theologians, who reported on 
it in terms of high praise. He ordered Gonzalez to print it, but the 
latter wisely refused to do so without the approbation of his superiors 
and begged the pope to get Oliva s permission. This Innocent de 
clined to do, but in place of it issued the general order of June 26, 
1680, alluded to above. 2 Oliva died in 1681, and was succeeded by 
Charles de Noyelles, to whom Gonzalez vainly applied for permission 
to print his book. In 1687 there was another vacancy, when, in 
the thirteenth congregation held to fill it, pressure from Innocent 
caused the election of Gonzalez ; at his first audience the pope told 
him he had been chosen in order to save the Society from the abyss 
in which it appeared to wish to cast itself of adopting probabilism 
as its recognized doctrine ; 3 together they sought to obtain from the 
congregation a condemnation of probabilism, but the most that they 
could accomplish was a grudging declaration of toleration for its 
opponents. 4 This was a mere verbal concession and was not in 
tended to have any practical result. Innocent ordered Gonzalez to 

1 Concina, op. cit. Diss. i. c. iv. \ 21; Diss. n. c. vi. $ 19. Dollinger u. 
Eeusch, I. 123-4. 

2 Concina, Diss. I. c. iv. \ 26. 

3 Dollinger u Eeusch, I. 132, 162, 164. 

4 Cum relatum fuisset ad congregationem aliquos in ea esse persuasione quod 
Societas communibus quasi studiis tuendam sibi sumpsisset eorum doctorum 
sententiam qui censent in agendo licitum esse sequi opinionem minus proba- 
bilem favente libertati, relicta probabiliore stante pro prsecepto, declarandum 
censuit Congregatio Societatem nee prohibuisse nee prohibere quominus con- 
trariam sententiam tueri possent quibus eo magis probaretur. Tnstit. T. I. 
p. 667 (Les Constitutions des Jesuites, Paris, 1845, p. 512). Gonzales, Fund. 
Theol. Moral. Introd. n. 39. 


have anti-probabilism taught in the Jesuit schools, and the general 
brought from Spain Padre Josef Alfaro to teach it in Rome, but the 
opposition was so strong that although Alfaro framed in that sense 
the theses to be defended, he dared not publish them. When, more 
over, Gonzalez desired to have a second edition of Elizalde s book 
issued authoritatively, the revisers to whom it was submitted re 
ported adversely, on the ground of its opposition to all other Jesuit 
writers, and that the Rule forbade difference of teaching in the 
Society. The pope and the general were fairly beaten, nor was 
anything gained when Innocent summoned Gonzalez to a congrega 
tion of cardinals and had a decree passed permitting every one to 
defend either side at pleasure. 1 

Alexander VIIL, who succeeded Innocent XI., in 1689, was an 
anti-probabilist, and the policy of the Holy See appeared to be unal 
terable. Possibly it was the encouragement afforded by this that 
induced Gonzalez to hope that his long-suppressed book might at 
length see the light. As an experiment in this direction, in 1691, 
he caused quietly printed at Dillingen, in Suabia, a brief Trac- 
tatus or epitome of the work, under his own name, but without sub 
mitting it to the Master of the Sacred Palace or the censors of the 
Society. Rumors of its approaching appearance caused great agita 
tion ; the "Assistants " of the general begged him to suppress it and 
threatened an appeal to the members at large ; as a last resort they 
went to Alexander, who ordered the whole edition to be forwarded to 
Rome and to be deposited with the Master. Instructions to this effect 
were sent to the Provincial of Germany, accompanied with secret 
orders to delay it. The book disappeared, and in 1695 not a copy of 
it could be found. 2 

Innocent XII., who succeeded after Alexander s short pontificate, 
was of the same mind, though he wavered sometimes under the influ 
ence of his favorite, the Jesuit Paolo Segneri, who was an ardent 
probabilist. How completely that doctrine had monopolized Jesuit 
teaching is seen by Segneri s extraordinary claim, in a letter of ex 
postulation addressed to Gonzalez, that it was the ancient rule of the 
Church, and that probabiliorism is a modern innovation. 3 A reason 

1 Concina, Diss. I. c. iv. $ 26. Dollinger u. Reusch, I. 142-41. 

2 Dollinger u. Reusch, I. 145-56. 

3 Ibid. II. 100. "Sententia adeo sestimata per tot saecula qualis est ilia quod 


for this is suggested in a letter of Henry Noris (soon afterwards 
promoted to the cardinalate) to the grand-duke Cosmo III., that the 
Jesuits were confessors to so many crowned heads, prince-bishops of 
Germany, and courtiers of high rank that they could not adopt the 
rigorist views of Gonzalez without forfeiting their positions in all the 
courts, and he added that the Assistants proposed, in case Gonzalez 
would not retract or suppress his opinions, to call a General Congre 
gation for the purpose of deposing him. 1 

This threat was not an empty one. Gonzalez was bent on publishing 
his book ; he oifered to rewrite it and submit it to the Assistants, 
altering anything which they thought objectionable in manner. They 
replied, in January, 1693, that his business was to govern the Society 
and not to write books, and they would not consent to his issuing 
one opposed to the opinions of the vast majority of its members. 2 
The preliminary trial of strength would take place in the Congre 
gation of Procurators, held in November, 1693, which had the power 
to call a General Congregation. To each side it was all important 
to obtain a majority in this body, and, when the election took place 
in April in the Roman Province to choose a procurator, Paolo 
Segneri was elected by a majority of 34 to 8 and a declaration in 
favor of calling a General Congregation by 33 to 8. There could 
be no doubt what was the sense of the great body of the Society, and 
every effort was made to counteract it, even calling in the influence 
of the King of Spain and the Emperor. 3 

Meanwhile Gonzalez was busy in endeavoring to obtain papal 
authorization for his book. In June, 1693, the cardinals of the 

licet sequi aliquando opiniones minus probabiles, ob contrariam tarn novam ut 
mine primum oriatur." 

The Galilean assembly of 1700, on the other hand, denounced probabilism 
as " hoc novum, hoc inauditum, hoc certis ac notis auctoribus postremo demum 
sseculo proditum" (Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientiaz cap. iv. Q. 1), and 
when it added that the probabilists boasted that " tota theologia moralis nova 
est," it only echoed the words of Caramuel (Theol. Fundam. n. 1785) "Tota 
moralis theologia nova est : quis enirn negare audebit hodie in Diana centenas 
opiniones probabiles quse Augustino et antiquis patribus Ecclesise ignotae." 
Even Liguori, in spite of his remorseless garbling of authorities to prove its 
antiquity, admits (De Usu moderate n. 60) that it had spread among the doc 
tors only eighty or ninety years before. 

1 Dollinger u. Eeusch, I. 176-77. 2 Ibid. pp. 174-5. 

3 Ibid. pp. 183, 188, 189. 


Inquisition unanimously asked Innocent to grant it. He yielded, 
with the condition that it should pass through the hands of three 
censors, to be selected by him from among twenty to be named 
equally by Gonzalez and the Assistants. A few weeks later there 
was found by accident the decree of the Inquisition in 1680, for 
bidding Jesuits to defend probabilism, with the command to Gonzalez 
to publish his book, which had been forgotten, and when it was 
shown to Innocent he expressed his joy that by the inspiration of the 
Holy Ghost he had been led to grant the permission before he was 
aware of the previous action. In vain the Assistants made repeated pro 
test ; the censors and the Master of the Sacred Palace did their work ; 
all expressions that could give offence were modified, and in October, 
1693, the book at last was put to press, after its twenty years incu 
bation. 1 That it should have awakened such desperate antagonism 
shows how dearly the Society prized the laxity which rendered its mem 
bers so acceptable as spiritual directors to the great ones of the earth. 
He states his motive to be because he has concluded that the use of the 
less safe and the less probable opinion has a double sense, in one of 
which, under certain limitations, it is true, and in the other false, and 
he has therefore resolved to write the book to show that this second 
sense, though adopted by some Jesuits, has not been accepted by all. 
For most of those who defend the use of the less safe and less probable 
opinion mean not that which to the actor seems false, or that it may 
be false, but which to him seems true and more probable, though it 
may be commonly esteemed less probable because it has fewer de 
fenders among authors who are held to render an opinion probable. 
He is sure that there are very few Jesuit theologians who would dare 
to answer in the affirmative if asked whether it is licit to follow in 
practice a less safe opinion which the actor deems false or that it may 
prudently be condemned as false. He issues the work as a private 
theologian and not as General, and leaves to every one full liberty of 
thought and action. 2 

His own position is denned in the ten propositions which he sets 
at the commencement of the volume as those to be proved against 
the "too benignant" authors. These assert that an opinion favor 
ing liberty against law is not to be adopted unless after investigation 

1 Dollinger u. Reusch, I. 197-8, 204, 207, 209-10. 

2 Gonzales Fundam. Theol. Moral. Introd. n. 40-1. 


it is found to have a greater foundation to be considered true than 
false, taking into consideration both reason and authority. If the 
reasons on each side are equal it must be rejected, for in doubt the 
safer course is to be followed, and it must also be rejected if the pre 
ponderance against liberty is slight. In directing consciences and 
resolving cases mere probabilities are not to be followed irrespective 
of their truth ; to adopt the one favoring liberty it must be to the 
confessor true and in accordance with the law of God ; the safer one, 
if to be rejected, must be false and imposing a burden which God 
has not imposed. In such matters the judgment must be formed 
without passion or precipitation and uninfluenced by the will. This 
group of propositions is followed by five others, in which he con 
demns unnecessary rigorism. He admits the force of invincible 
ignorance, which some rigorists denied, and asserts that the less safe 
probable opinion may be followed by any one, even though it be less 
probable than the safer one, provided always that it is certainly 
probable and that the actor, uninfluenced by passion, believes it to be 
the more probable, for then to him it is so. 1 It will be seen that 
Gonzalez was a very moderate probabiliorist. 

The papal authorization removed the book from the jurisdiction 
of the approaching congregation of procurators, and the struggle 
henceforth was to be a personal one against the General. All five 
Assistants prepared a memorial to it, accusing him of tyranny and 
of violating the constitution of the Society, of unfitness and inex 
perience and obstinacy, of devoting himself wholly to writing books 
defamatory of the Society and of sacrificing everything to get them 
published. The ruin of the Society is threatened, and the only hope 
of safety lies in a General Congregation, which shall decide between 
him and the Assistants. 2 The expectation was that at such an extra 
ordinary congregation a majority could be had to practically super 
sede him by the appointment of a vicar. The talk of deposing him 

1 Gonzales Fundam. Theol. Moral , Propositiones capitales. Pere la Chaise 
wrote to Gonzalez, September 1, 1694, that he had been much deceived in what 
he had heard of the book, for he found that it taught laxer opinions than they 
ventured to follow in France. Dollinger u. Reusch, II. 169. 

De Backer (II. 247) describes nine editions of the work issued in 1694 and 
1695, and none later. Apparently, as soon as curiosity was satisfied, it dropped 
out of sight. 

2 Dollinger u. Reusch, II. 131-7. 


was fruitless, for that would require a two-thirds vote, and besides 
the reasons for such a. course, prescribed in the constitution of the 
Society, were not applicable to the case. The procurators met No 
vember 15, 1693, and on the 18th the question was taken as to the 
calling of a Congregation. Twelve procurators voted for it and 
fourteen against it ; to this were to be added the votes of the five 
Assistants in favor of the proposition and the two votes to which the 
General was entitled against it, making seventeen yeas to sixteen 
nays. Gonzalez pronounced it carried, and said he would consider 
the date at which to summon the Congregation. He had, under the 
constitution, eighteen months in which to do so, and he was in no 
haste. Nine months passed away, and on August 15, 1694, he issued 
a circular to the provincials stating that doubts had arisen whether 
a majority of one sufficed. He had summoned learned theologians 
to advise him in the matter, when it was taken out of his hands by 
the pope, who had appointed five cardinals to consider it ; they had 
reported, on August 3, that the action of the procurators was invalid 
and the pope had confirmed their decision. The pope in fact had 
yielded to pressure from the Spanish and imperial courts, and had 
accepted a characteristically casuistic argument. The Jesuit statutes 
required " more than half the votes ; " now half of thirty-three is 
sixteen and a half, and seventeen is only half a vote more not a full 
vote over the half. The defeated probabilists might well comfort 
themselves by saying that in this case at least the less probable 
opinion had prevailed over the more probable. 1 

Under a precept of Innocent X. in 1646, a regular General Con 
gregation was required to be held every nine years. That which 
elected Gonzalez had occurred in 1687, so that another was necessary 
in November, 1696, at which new Assistants were to be chosen. 
Secure in papal favor Gonzalez prepared for it by depressing his 
antagonists and promoting his supporters. When it met he had a 
decided majority ; the new Assistants chosen were his friends, and .his 
triumph was complete. In 1702 he addressed to Clement XI. a 
memorial in which he said that he was Hearing his end and felt that 
after his death the strife would again break out in the Society, though 
at present no one in Rome dared to defend probabilism, wherefore he 
begged the pope to complete the work of Alexander VII., Innocent 

1 Dollinger u. Eeusch I. 215-6, 222-26, 231. 


XL and Alexander VIII. by condemning its leading doctrines. Yet 
he did not die until October 27, 1705, after he had become incapaci 
tated for some years, with Michele Agosto Tamburini as his vicar, 
who succeeded him in the generalate. He is said to have latterly 
been insane, and the Jesuit Bonucci alludes to him as having been 
driven mad by his subjects. 1 He might pardonably imagine that the 
cause to which he had devoted his life had permanently triumphed. 
In 1699 a writer on the papal Penitentiary informs us that its rule 
in all matters of conscience, where there is doubt, is to choose the 
safer and more probable opinion ; this has always been the practice 
of the Major Penitentiary, and the minor Penitentiaries are required 
to observe it, not as a counsel but as a precept. 2 

At this crisis in the career of probabilism, when apparently it had 
spent its force and was rapidly becoming extinguished, under the 
opposition of the Holy See and the Gallican Church, we may pause 
to consider its doctrines and practice, and will thus be better enabled 
to understand certain modifications which it experienced in its revival 
and final triumph as the dominating principle in modern moral 

We have seen how impossible the schoolmen found it to furnish in 
practice any rule delimiting mortal from venial sin, and how, with 
advancing civilization and refinement of speculation, the intricacy of 
conflicting opinion became impenetrable to the acutest intellects. We 
have also seen how, as a necessary consequence, opinion came to ob 
tain a controlling influence in the absence of all certainty. At the 
same time it was recognized as an absolute principle that no one must 
act with a doubtful conscience. St. Bernard had counselled suspense 
in all doubtful matters until certainty could be attained. 3 Aquinas laid 
it down as a positive rule that if a man doubts whether a sin is mortal 
or venial he sins mortally in committing it, for he exposes himself 
to the risk of sin. 4 This dictum was universally accepted as a fun- 

1 Ibid. pp. 250-4, 262-5. 

2 Syri Placentini Dilucidatio Facultatum Minorura Pcenitentiarum Prooem. 
Q. viii. (Romae, 1699). " Pcenitentiarius Apostolicus in casibus dubiis tenetur 
semper sequi sententias probabiliores, relictis probabilibus tantum . . 
Ergo absolute tenetur Poenitentiarius sequi opinioneni tutiorem et certiorem." 

3 S. Bernardi Serm. de Diversis, Sermo xxvi. n. 2, 3. 

4 S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. xxr. Q. ii. Art. 3 ad 3. 


damental truth of morals, and has remained so to the present day. 1 
This naturally led to much searching investigation into the various 
phases of doubt and certainty and many acute distinctions were drawn 
as to the imperceptible gradations from one extreme to the other. In 
these the doctors did not agree on all points, for in such impalpable 
matters definitions are often things, and the definition which suited 
one theory of morals was not always adapted to another. To the older 
schoolmen doubt meant a mental condition produced by contrary rea 
sons of equal weight between which the intellect could not decide, and 
in such case, as we have seen, the rule was to select the safer course; 2 
and these reasons must be probable, which, following Aristotle, means 
that they seem true to all men, or to the majority, or to all the learned 
or to the greater or more authoritative portion. 3 We shall see how 
different became the subsequent definition of probability, and how what 
once was doubt came to be dignified as equiprobabilism. In fact, it 
became necessary to revise the old definitions. Father Sayre tells us 
that some authors erroneously confound the conscientia dubia with the 
conscientia probabilis ; doubt means assent to neither side, probability, 
assent to one side with dread of the other 4 which shows that by this 
time opinion and probability were considered as virtually identical. 
Juan Sanchez deplores the common inability to distinguish between 
doubt and opinion leading to many incorrect decisions, and he endeav 
ors to show that doubt exists only with regard to facts, while opinion 
is concerned with laws. 5 Caramuel is equally concerned about the gen- 

1 S. Antonini Summse P. i. Tit. iii. C. 10 g 10. Pet. Hieremise Serm. Quad- 
rages. Serm. xxii. Summa Rosella s. v. Confess. Sacram. I. n. 12. Summa 
Sylvestrina s. v. Dubium $ 5. Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. 
x. n. 2. Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis, Disp. xvn. n. 10. Marchant 
Tribunal. Animar. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. iv. Q. 2. Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. 
ill. Tract. 1, cap. 1, Princip. 3. Roncaglia Theol. Moral. Tract, i. Q. 1, cap. 1. 
Q. 30-1. S. Alph. de Ligorio, Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 22.-Alasia Theol. Moral. 
De Actibus humanis Diss. n. cap. 5, Q. 3. Gousset Theol. Moral. I. 75. Marc 
Institt. Moral. Alphonsian. n. 36. 

2 Summa Angelica s. v. Dubium. " Dubium est motus indifferens in utramque 
partem contradictionis, vel die quod dubium est a3qualitas rationum contrario- 
mm. ; Of. Summa Rosella s. v. Confess. /Sacram. i. 12. Summa Sylvestrina, 
s. v. Dubium $$ 1, 5. Summa Tabiena s. v. Dubium, in corp. 

3 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Confessio II. 3. 

4 Sayri Clavis Regia Sacerd. Lib. I. cap. 5, n. 1. 

5 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIII. n. 48-50. 

In the simpler days of the elder schoolmen, before the subtilties of the 


eral incapacity to distinguish properly between doubt and probability, 
and the space he devotes to the discussion of the subject shows that he 
recognized in it the key to the new moral theology, for he says that 
there is no subject which has given rise to more logomachy and equivo 
cation. To remedy this he designates the doubt of the older authors 
as probability, and defines negative doubt to be where there is no 
reason, positive doubt where there is a slight reason, probability 
where there is a strong reason, and certainty where there is an irre 
fragable reason. 1 The intermediate state thus arbitrarily introduced 
between doubt and certainty afforded an admirable field for casuistic 
gymnastics. Arsdekin recurs to the identification of doubt and equi- 
probabilism, for he tells us that it exists where there are insufficient 
reasons on either side or when they are equally balanced, while a 
probable opinion is one grounded on reasons sufficient to induce pru 
dent action. 2 Modern theologians generally accept the definition of 
positive doubt as that in which the reasons on either side are equal 
or nearly so, while negative is that in which no solid reasons can be 
alleged in support of either, 3 while Liguori, who adopts this defini 
tion, recurs to the old identification of positive doubt with probable 
opinion. 4 Pruner, however, says that doubt is negative when there 
is no ground for either of two opposites, and positive when for both 
or for one there is ground which is not decisive, thus distinguishing 
the latter from equiprobability, 5 while the latest authority contradicts 
this with still further refinement. Negative doubt is when there are 
only trivial and not probable reasons on either side ; positive doubt 
may be of two kinds ; when then is a weighty motive, sufficient to 

casuists had involved everything in a fog, these questions were readily solved 
by the axiom that there might be perplexity as to facts, but there could be none 
as to the law " Quantum ad jus nullus debet esse perplexus : nullus nam est 
in tali statu quin possit ab eo amoveri dubietas juris." Alex, de Ales Summae 
P. n. cap. cxx. Membr. 4, Art. 1. 

1 Cararnuelis Theol. Fundament, n. 2, 1888, 1892. 

2 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. ill. Tract. 1, cap. 1, Princip. 16. 

3 Stapf Epit. Theol. Moral. | 61 n. 2. Scavini Theol. Moral. Tract. I. Disp. 
ii. cap. 3, Art. 2, Q. 2. Alasia Theol. Moral. De Action. Humanis Diss. II. cap. 
5, Q. 2. Gousset, ThSol. Morale, I. 74. Bonal. Institt. Theol. T. V. n. 123. 
Beiffenstuel Theol. Moral. Tract, i. Dist. iii. n. 29. 

4 Liguori, Istruzione pratica, cap. I n. 12 "sicche il dubbio positive e lo 
stesso che 1 opinione probabile." 

5 Pruner, Moraltheologie, Freiburg, 1883, p. 49. 


make a probable conscience, though with dread of the opposite, on 
one side, there is dubium una parte positivum ; when there is such a 
motive on both sides (which is equiprobability) there is dubium utrinque 
positivum. Moreover, when opposite probabilities are equal they de 
stroy each other and give rise to dubium strictum ; when the proba 
bility on one side is certainly more probable than that on the other it 
only causes dubium latum, which can be disregarded. 1 There is also 
the distinction between practical and speculative or abstract doubt : if 
I doubt whether it is lawful to put out money at interest in a ground- 
rent I sin in doing so, for I expose myself to the danger of sin, but 
in speculative doubt it becomes lawful to take the ground-rent, because 
it is lawful to follow a less safe probable opinion. 2 It is not lawful, 
says Liguori, to act under practical doubt, but this can be removed 
by the application of a reflex principle, and then if the act is sinful 
the actor escapes sin because he has the benefit of invincible ignor 
ance. 3 It would seem that in the endeavor to frame artificial rules 
for the conduct of souls the theologians have only covered an obscure 
subject with denser obscurity, which facilitates doing whatever one 

As, according to the theologians, human action to be free from sin 
must be free from doubt, moralists of all schools agree that a man s 
conscience must be certain before he acts. A certain conscience however 
is not easily acquired, especially in the clash of conflicting opinions on 
every subject, and the main effort of probabilism is to facilitate this 
process. First, there must be a definition of the kind of certainty 
which is requisite to exclude the sin of acting in doubt. Absolute 
certainty, technically known as physical or metaphysical, is admitted 

1 Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsian. n. 32, 74, 75. 

The use made of doubt by the moralists is illustrated by Gury (Comp. Theol. 
Moral. I. 80) in discussing the question whether one is obliged to satisfy an 
obligation which he doubts whether he has satisfied. The probabiliorists 
answer in the affirmative because a certain obligation is not discharged by an 
uncertain fulfilment. But the probabilists prove that no further satisfaction 
than the doubt is required and that to demand more leads to the condemned 
tutiorism. Yet the older probabilists argued differently ; the obligation they 
held, is in possession and therefore must be satisfied. Busenbaum Medullse 
Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1, cap. 2, Dub. 3. 

2 Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1, cap. 5, 2, n. 8. Liguori Istru- 
zione pratica, cap. 1, n. 13. 

8 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. I. 21, 24, 26. 

II. 21 


to be an impossibility ; God does not demand impossibilities, and 
therefore moral certainty suffices. Some of the laxer authorities are 
content with probable or more probable certainty, and others distin 
guish moral certainty into perfecta and imperfecta, but these varieties 
are of no practical importance. 1 Moral certainty is an elastic term, 
and we shall see how readily it was adapted to meet the exigencies of 
the successive schools. 

Before the discovery of probabilism by Bartolome" de Medina the 
difficulty of acquiring certainty amid clashing opinions was met by 
the argument that, in matters in which there is no scriptural testi 
mony and no decision by the Church, a man who chooses in good 
faith as true one of two opinions does not sin through doubt, because 
to him there is no doubt. 2 The theory of Medina had a far wider 
scope, for it allowed a man to choose the less probable and less safe 
of two opinions, knowing it to be so. To do this it was necessary to 
assume that practical certainty was acquired by probability, and even 
by the lesser probability, and thus the certainty was shifted from 
belief in the innocence of the act to belief that if a man acted on a 
lesser probability he was shielded from the responsibility of the 
more or less probable sin of his action a principle which threw 
wide open the flood-gates of laxism. In 1606 a probabilist author 
expresses this with some reserve. 3 Shortly afterward the great theo 
logian Tomas Sanchez asserts the doctrine in the most emphatic 
manner. He asks whether one can act according to a less safe opin 
ion of others which he deems probable against his own safer opinion, 
which he considers more probable. Some authors, he says, deny it, 
and he quotes several, from St. Antonino to Azpilcueta, who argue 
that this is to act against one s conscience and to expose oneself to 
the peril of mortal sin. But he answers that it is much more prob 
able that this is licit. A probable opinion is one which can be fol 
lowed without danger, and no one is bound to embrace the better and 
more perfect. When certainty is not to be obtained God does not 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 47, 49. Voit Theol. Moral. I. 75. Stapf 
Epit. Theol. Moral. 61, n. 1. 

2 Azpilcuetse Comment. Cap. Si quis aulem n. 48, 50. 

3 Dico satis esse certitudinem moralem quse tune adest cum quis opinionem 
probabilem et aliquem doctorum non spernendum et rationem firmam sequitur ; 
et non exponit se periculo peccandi : atque ita tutus est in foro conscientise. 
Carbonis Summa Summarum Casuum Conscientise T. I. P. I. Lib. 5, cap. 14. 


obligate us to it, but only to act with moral certainty, such as is 
to be found in a probable opinion. He does not act against his con 
science who follows the less probable opinion, but only he who acts 
with a doubtful conscience or one which pronounces the act certainly 
a sin. Nor does he expose himself to the danger of formal but only 
of material sin, and in support of this he cites Medina, Mercado, 
Vazquez, Valencia, Gutierez, Suarez, Henriquez, Azor, Banez, Na- 
varro [Pedro], Aragon, Salon, Luis Lopez, Ledesma, Salas, Sayre 
and Leonardo in fact, nearly all his prominent contemporaries. 
Moreover, he adds, that this is true even if the actor retains his 
own more probable opinion : also, if he thinks it more probable that 
the less probable cannot be followed, he yet can follow it if he thinks 
the lawfulness of such action to be probable. To reach these results 
Sanchez is obliged to reduce to a nullity the time-honored require 
ment of certainty. Some argue, he says, that a judgment practically 
certain is required, excluding all fear of the opposite, for whoever 
judges an act to be only practically probably licit judges it also to 
be probably illicit, and in doing it sins by exposing himself to the 
danger of sin. But it is much truer that a practically certain judg 
ment is not requisite, but a probable judgment with a fear of the 
opposite suffices ; otherwise scarce any one could act, for practical 
things are most difficult of knowing and are subjected to various 
opinions. Nor in this does he expose himself to the danger of sin 
ning, which is incurred only by him who believes a thing to be 
illicit, and has not a probable assent asserting it to be licit. 1 Cer 
tainty thus dwindled away into probability, and though the theo 
logians had to resort to the most illogical processes in order to reach 
this result they none the less resolutely accomplished it. 2 La Croix 
tells us that sin is excluded by acting on a probable opinion, and 

1 Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi Lib. i. cap. ix. n. 13, 14, 17, 18. 

2 See Marchant Tribunal Animarum, where, after stating that opinion has 
always dread of the opposite, he states that it is not lawful to follow a probable 
opinion with an intrinsic and practical fear of the opposite, and divides fear 
intoformido intrinsicath&t which causes anxiety of the intellect and formido 
extrinsica that which arises from authority. It is only lawful to act with in 
trinsic certainty, but then practical and moral certainty does not exclude fear 
of the opposite, and he concludes that to act with a probable opinion, even with 
fear of the opposite, gives moral certainty of the lawfulness of the act, and 
nothing more is required. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. 5, Q. 3, Concl. 1 ; Q. 7, 8. 


thus the action is based on moral certainty. 1 The whole system was 
coodensed into the favorite axiom of the probabilists, qui probabiliter 
agit prudenter agit he who acts on a probability acts prudently. So 
enthusiastic did the moralists grow that a probable reason was de 
clared to overcome law and precept, for reason itself is a sort of law 
and the origin of laws. 2 Juan Sanchez piously regards it as an act 
of Providence that there are such a multitude of conflicting opinions, 
for this lightens the yoke of Christ and preserves men from rebellion, 
for now they can choose the opinion and act on it without sin, as 
God does not care which opinion they select. 3 La Croix goes so far 
as to say that a man is bound to follow the less probable opinion and 
reject the more probable, whenever he can thus secure any temporal 
or spiritual advantage for himself or for another. 4 

It is no wonder that confessors who guided the consciences of 
their penitents on such principles speedily became favorites in courts. 
So easy a method of reconciling sin with salvation was sure to be 
popular, and when a probable opinion justified a sin, there were not 
lacking manufacturers of opinions to suit all demands. We have 
seen how eagerly the Jesuits embraced the new dispensation, which 
superseded the moral law, and how obstinately they adhered to it, 
but they were not the only propagators of it. Theologians of all 
classes constructed elaborate treatises on moral theology based upon 
it, and as the century wore on the number of its defenders increased 
enormously. Terrill cites two hundred authors in its favor, and says 
there are forty of these to one on the other side, and Gobat adds 
twenty-five more to the list. 5 This virtual unanimity of the writers 
afforded another proof of its truth, for it was piously pointed out 
that in a matter of such prime importance to morals God would not 
allow such numbers of the wisest and best of men to err. 6 It was 
assumed to be the ancient and recognized doctrine of the Church, 
and that opposition was merely a modern novelty of the Jansenists, 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 66. At the same time he admits (n. 201) 
that opinions become probable or improbable, according as the reasons for 
or against them are called to mind or discovered. There is thus no permanent 
or definite standard of conduct. 

2 Alph. de Leone de Off. et Potest. Confessar. Recoil, n. n. 67. 

3 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacram. Disp. XLIV. n. 70. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 459. 

5 Voit Theol. Moral. I. 76. 6 La Croix, Lib. I. n. 270. 


although none of the older authorities could be cited, and it was 
argued that rulers, subjects, physicians, lawyers and merchants act 
on probabilities, that certainty can rarely be attained in life, and 
that universal experience justifies the application of the rule to 
morals. 1 The arguments adduced in support of this sound like a 
parody on dialectics and would be amusing if they did not lead to 
consequences so deplorable, especially as they admit the bias which 
the inclination gives to the judgment in regarding an opinion as 
probable. Thus Arsdekin, as an example, selects the innocent ques 
tion whether it is lawful to paint on Sunday, and proceeds to state 
that it is more probable that it is unlawful, less probable that it is 
lawful. But in this case the will, having regard to its object, or the 
good proper to it, determines the intellect to the probable assent 
that painting on Sunday is lawful. For thus on the one side it 
greatly promotes its own good and its liberty to paint if it chooses, 
and on the other hand suffers no detriment, for it still retains its 
liberty not to paint, as a matter of counsel, not obligatory under 
pain of sin. It is evident that it thus greatly promotes its own 
good, for it removes the obligation of always abstaining from this 
work, and it thus averts the danger of sin to which it would other 
wise be subjected, and to which it would willingly expose itself if it 
determined the intellect to the opposite assent, all of which is an act 
of prudence. 2 Thus the conception that right and wrong have any 
thing to do with human acts is completely suppressed, and the system 
may be described as a science of morals with morality eliminated. 
Besides, as La Croix points out, when we say that an opinion is prob 
able or more probable, the correct inference is that its opposite is 
likewise probable, 3 which affords to human free-will the widest lati 
tude of action. 

Of course, in such a system, everything depends upon the received 
definition of probability. We have seen how vague and confused 
are the distinctions between doubt and probability between the 
external verisimilitude and its action on the intellect, or its consider 
ation objectively and subjectively the probability itself and what is 

1 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. I, cap. 1, Princip. 17 ; cap. 2 1. 

2 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 2 g 2. 

3 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 174-6. On the other hand (Ib. n. 178) 
when you say a thing is morally certain it does not follow that its opposite is 
destitute of probability, for there are various grades of moral certainty. 


called the probable conscience. In the definition, moreover, of 
probability considered objectively, the probabilist theologians have 
been at variance, as in almost everything else/ and the various dis 
tinctions drawn afford ample opportunity for those so disposed to 
fritter away all safeguards. There is first the distinction between 
speculative and practical probability, of which some authorities make 
much, while others admit that it is a distinction without a difference, 
for, as Juan Sanchez says, practical probability arises from specula 
tive as effect from cause, and speculative may at any moment be 
reduced to practice ; it may therefore safely be dismissed from con 
sideration. 2 More important is the distinction between intrinsic 
and extrinsic probability the probability which arises from reason 
ing about an action and its probable sin or innocence, and that 
which is derived from the opinions of experts and of theological 
authorities. Of course, to an ordinary mind, intrinsic probability is 
the mainly or solely important question, for it concerns the naked 
fact whether an act is virtuous or vicious, but the theologians have 
so befogged the whole question of morals, and the gradations between 
greater or less probability are so refined, that it is generally admitted 
that only the most learned and sagacious are competent to express 
an opinion as to intrinsic probability. As Arsdekin expresses it, 
it is very rare that one is so singularly learned that he can decide 
the greater or less intrinsic probability of an opinion ; we see by 
constant experience among the doctors that what seems more prob 
able to one seems less so to another, and therefore it is evident that 
even to a learned man it would be an insupportable burden to de 
termine which is the more probable opinion before he acts. 3 By 
virtually common consent, therefore, intrinsic probability is aban 
doned to the researches of the professed theologians to dispute over, 

1 For the various more or less conflicting definitions of probability, see La 
Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i, n. 108, 112. 

2 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 348. Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi 
Lib. I. cap. ix. n. 3. Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis, Disp. XLIV. n. 63. 
Viva Comment, in Prop. xxvi. Alex. VII. n. 9. La Croix Theol. Moral. 
Lib. I. n. 115-18. Liguori, Istruzione Pratica Cap. I. n. 43; Ejusd. De Usu 
moderate n. 6. 

Gury, however (Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 77), points out that an act specula- 
tively probable may be illicit in special cases through danger of scandal, 
irreverence, injustice etc. 

3 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. III. Tract. 1, c. 2 $ 4. 


and the mass of confessors and penitents are told to be satisfied with 
extrinsic. 1 

Extrinsic probability, or that which is founded on the dictum of 
experts, is therefore virtually the sole guide for the conduct of the 
mass of mankind and the rule for practice in the confessional, with 
the result, it must be admitted, of obliterating the distinction be 
tween innocence and sin, for, as Caramuel points out, what is prob 
able to-day may be improbable to-morrow, and what yesterday was 
probable to-day may be certainly true or certainly false. 2 Still this 
simplifies the question greatly, for it eliminates reason and substi 
tutes authority, but in view of the vast crowd of theologians of all 
degrees of eminence it raises at once new problems as to the nature 
and amount of authority requisite to render an opinion probable. 
For the ordinary penitent it is universally admitted that the opinion 
of his confessor suffices and that he can safely follow it, and this, 
indeed, could scarce be otherwise in the system of the Church ; 3 or, 

1 Viva Comment, in Prop. xxvi. Alex. VII. n. 7. La Croix Theol. Moral. 
Lib. i. n. 150-2. Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 54. Reiffenstuel Theol. Moral. 
Tract, i. Dist. iii. n. 42. Sporer (Theol. Moral. Tract, i. n. 36-40) holds that 
extrinsic probability does not suffice, but he neutralizes this by saying that a 
common opinion must not be departed from. Voit (Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 
103) says that the actor must know the reasons of the probability, but also 
that he can assume their existence. Liguori, in a fit of rigorism (De Usu 
moderato n. 67), says that the confessor before adopting an opinion must weigh 
its intrinsic reasons, and if he finds a convincing one for the safer side he 
cannot adopt the less safe one, though it may be supported by many doctors. 
But this is admitted to be impossible, and his disciples unanimously agree that 
intrinsic probability can only be weighed by the most learned and experienced, 
and that all others must be content with extrinsic. Scavini Theol. Moral. 
Univ. Tract, i. Disp. ii. Cap. 3, Art. 2, 3 A. Q. 4. Bonal Institt. Theol. 
Tom. V. De Act. Human, n. 124. Marc. Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 62. 

Gousset (Theol. Morale, I. 100) quotes approvingly from the Jesuit Fed. 
Mar. Pallavicini, that a confessor should not impose on a penitent anything 
which is disputed by one or two respectable authors. The Church knows these 
differences and tolerates them ; the confessor should not set himself up to 

2 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 447. 

3 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 450. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 
156-7. Wigandt Tribunal. Confessar. Tract. II. Exam. iii. n. 3, 23. Arsdekin 
Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 1, Princip. 22. Gousset Theol. Morale, I. 
103. Concina Theol. Christ, contracta Lib. I. Diss. 1, c. 5, n. 4. 

Yet how are we to reconcile this with the assertion of Cardinal Rezzonico, 


if he chooses to consult a learned man, he can accept the response 
Avithout further inquiry, for that renders it sufficiently probable. 1 
When, however, it comes to giving an opinion currency as probable, 
so that it can be quoted and use d generally, there has been a vast 
amount of discussion. Pedro of Aragon says that it does not suffice 
that apparent reasons can be alleged in favor of an opinion, or that 
it has defenders, for then all errors would be probable ; a probable 
opinion is one which can be followed without blame. 2 Some writers 
hold that a single author is sufficient, others that it requires four, or 
five, or six, or more : some are not particular as to the character and 
standing of the supporters of an opinion, others weigh and scrutinize 
them with commendable care. Liguori, whose familiarity with 
modern theologians was perhaps greater than that of any other 
writer, only places four doctors in the first rank, and none of them 
are moderns Aquinas, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus and Antonino ; 
next to them he classes men of very various ability, such as Suarez, 
Soto, Cano, Caietano, Bafiez, Pierre de la Palu, Cardinal Toletus, 
Prierias, Tomas Sanchez, Angiolo da Chivasso, Vazquez, Bartolom- 
meo Fumo, Roncaglia, the Salamanca theologians, Manuel Sa, Lay- 
inann etc., while he regards as too much inclined to laxity Caramuel, 
Zanardi, Juan Sanchez, Leander, Diana, Tamburini and some 
others. 3 All this debate is, however, of slender use, for the main 
point is whether the actor himself thinks the opinion probable, and 
this he may do on a single opinion if he believes it common. 4 In 
the first enthusiasm of probabilism the eager casuists grasped at the 

Bishop of Padua, who, in 1746, deploring the ignorance of the priesthood, in 
formed them that they plunge themselves and those whom they guide into 
hell ? Lett. Pastorale, 19 Feb. 1746. 

1 Mart. Fornarii Institt. Confessar. Tract, n. cap. xviii. Roncaglia Univ. 
Mor. Theol. Tract. I. Q. 1, cap. 2, Q. 4. 

2 Petri de Aragon de Justitia et Jure Q. LXIII. Art. iv. 

3 Vindiciae Alphonsianse, p. liii. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsianae, n. 63. 
Summists, as a rule, are not regarded as of high authority, though some of 

them, as Caietano, Azpilcueta, Cardinal Toletus, Manuel Sa, Busenbaum etc. 
are omni exceptione majores. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 160-2. Juan 
Sanchez, who says that a single doctor of good standing renders an opinion 
probable, elsewhere asserts that three or four summists do the same if among 
them are Angiolo and Prierias. Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIII. n. 37 ; 
XLIV. n. 61. 

4 Alph. de Leone de Off. et Potest. Confessar. Recoil, n. n. 74-80. 


opinions of any one whom they found in print, and pronounced that 
this rendered them probable, for they argued that what escaped the 
censure must be justifiable (a probability which came to be known 
as probabilitas impunibttis or immunitatis), but Alexander VII. 
condemned this indiscriminate attribution of authority to unknown 
men. 1 Arsdekin nominally accepts this papal utterance, and then, 
as is customary with theologians, proceeds to argue it away ; num 
bers do not count ; a dozen authors may be mistaken and a single 
one may upset the common opinion. 2 In accordance with this it is 
generally admitted that a single writer of unexceptionable character, 
who has examined a subject carefully, suffices to render his opinion 
probable, even if it is novel and opposed to all others, 3 and the 
decision of the papal Penitentiary, in 1831, that Liguori s opinions 
may safely be followed without investigation, confirms this. 

All opinions, however, are not equally probable ; of two opposites 
both may be equal, or one may be more probable than the other. 
The test for determining such comparison is not easy. As regards 
intrinsic comparative probability, the judgment must depend upon 
the intellectual working of the expert who compares them, and it is 
a common-place among the theologians that what to one doctor 
appears the more probable appears to another the less. No rules for 
such mental processes can be formulated, and in practice the de 
cision must depend on extrinsic authority. The systematic writers, 
therefore, collect with incredible industry the opinions of their pre 
decessors and enumerate them on either side of each disputed ques 
tion ; Liguori s followers boast that in his great Moral Theology he 
decides 4000 questions, giving 34,000 citations from about 800 

1 Alexandri VII. Prop. 27 "Si liber sit alicujus junioris et moderni debet 
opinio censeri probabilis, dum non constet rejectam esse a Sede Apostolica 
tanquam irnprobabilem." 

2 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract, i. cap. 2, 5. 

3 Sa Aph. Confessar. s. v. Dubinin n. 3. Th. Sanchez in Prsecept. Decal. 
Lib. i. cap. ix. n. 7. Alph. de Leone de Offic. Confessar. Kecoll. n. n. 72. 
Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 438, 448-9. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. i. 
Tract. 1, cap. 5, \ 2, n. 6. Viva Comment, in Prop. xxvi. Alex. VII. n. 1, 2^ 
6, 7; Comment, in Prop. in. Alex. VIII. n. 13. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib 
I. n. 155. Sporer Theol. Moral. Tract. I. n. 48. Herzig Man. Confessar. P. I. 
n. 170. Scavini Theol. Moral. Univ. Tract. I. Disp. vi. Cap. 3, Art. 2, 3, A.Q. 
6. Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 54. Bonal Institt. Theol. Moral. Tom. V. De 
Act. Human, n. 123. Marc Institt. Moral. Alphonsian. n. 63. 


authors. 1 Since his time there has been less of this promiscuous 
heaping up of contradictory opinions, for his overshadowing authority 
renders it less necessary, but his predecessors strove in vain to 
establish some rule by which the comparative extrinsic probability 
of an opinion could be estimated. Juan Sanchez tells us that many 
men gauge this comparative probability by the number of authors 
maintaining it, but this he says is a mistake, for on a point treated 
by only three authors the support of two renders an opinion more 
probable than the support of sixteen would on a point discussed by 
thirty. 2 Arsdekin admits that the greater or less probabilities are 
very difficult to weigh, and that it often happens that what one 
thinks more probable on subsequent reflection appears to be less so. 3 
Herzig tells us that authority does not make one opinion more prob 
able than another, but reason; the opinion of one man may be more 
probable than that of many. 4 La Croix gives a list of erroneous 
opinions supported by from five to forty authors to show that num 
ber alone does not suffice. 5 These questions, however, were really 
of mere speculative importance. The probabiliorists troubled them 
selves little about them, for they abhorred casuistry, and in doubtful 
matters they inclined always to the more rigorous or safer side. To 
the probabilist they Avere unimportant, for he could choose either 

1 Vindicise Alphonsianse, p. Ivi. 

2 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIV. n. 67. How carelessly 
this collection of opinions was often done is indicated by Sanchez s warning 
that it is a mistake to rely upon the index of a book in judging of the opinion 
of an author, for indexes are often misleading and are only guides for con 
sulting the text (Ib. n. 69). Thyrsus Gonzalez makes a fairly good point when 
he represents the sinner before the judgment-seat of God pleading that he had 
followed the less probable opinion favoring himself because it had the support 
of twelve weighty authors, and God responding that the other side had the 
support of twenty still more weighty authors, and besides was recognized by 
him, Avherefore he had followed the flesh and not the will and law of God 
(Fundam. Theol. Moral. Diss. ill. cap. ii. $ 2). 

3 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. ii. 2. 

4 Herzig Man. Confessar. P. i. n. 172. 

5 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 130-49. La Croix (Ib. n. 165) adds a 
significant caution that it does not do to trust the citations of authorities quoted 
in support of an opinion, for you cannot know whether the compiler has him 
self examined or understood them. Arsdekin (Theol. Tripart. P. III. Tract. 1, 
cap. 1, Princip. 22) utters the same caution, for such citations are frequently 
false, which we have had occasion to see repeatedly is the case in those of 


side at will ; the correctness of his choice made no difference, for if 
he followed a false opinion the sin was only material and not formal. 
As Voit says, " If I consider an opinion to be false, and others, 
perhaps wiser than I, from a weighty motive unknown to me, affirm 
it to be certainly probable and safe in practice, I can lawfully and 
safely adopt their judgment and abandon my own." 1 So little 
difference does it make that a confessor when applied to can advise 
according to one opinion at one time and according to its opposite at 
another, or an individual can vary his actions in the same manner, 
subject only to the limitation that he cannot apply both opinions in 
succession to the same case. 2 When such liberty exists the com- 

1 Arsdekin loc. cit. Keiffenstuel Theol. Moral. Tract, i. Dist. iii. n. 52-3. 
Voit Theol. Moral, i. n. 102. 

2 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. i. cap. ix. n. 19. Sayri Clavis 
Eegia Sacerd. Lib. i. cap. vi. n. 11. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. i. Tract. 1, 
cap. 5, 2, n. 9. Busenbaum Medull. Theol. Moral. Lib. i. Tract. 1, cap. 2, 
Dub. 2. Caramuel Theol. Fundam. n. 486-95. Alph. de Leone de Off. Con- 
fessar. Eecoll. n. n. 109-10. Herzig Man. Confessar. P. i. n. 175. Voit 
Theol. Moral. I. 104. 

The exact limits to the extent in which a man can thus successively take 
advantage of both conflicting opinions raise some difficult questions on which 
the theologians are not altogether in accord. Tamburini (Explic. Decalogi 
Lib. I. cap. iii. 5) says that the distinctions laid down by the doctors are very 
perplexing to confessors in their application, and he proceeds to prescribe two 
rules based on the probable opinion being dependent on or independent of the 
will. Sporer says (Theol. Moral. Tract, i. cap. 1, n. 35) that if the lawfulness 
of a tax is doubtful, you can use the probable opinion of its unlawfulness to 
defraud it, and can then farm it and exact it of others. Some say that if you 
are a merchant and also a tax-collector you can evade it yourself and exact it, 
though if you should subsequently become convinced of its legality you must 
make restitution (La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 371). But you cannot 
commute a vow into almsgiving, and then, in view of doubt as to power to 
commute, withhold the alms (Sporer, loc. cit.). If a will is of doubtful validity, 
the heir cannot take the estate and then refuse to pay legacies on the ground 
of invalidity, nor can fasting or the hours of prayer be evaded when two clocks 
are unlike and you follow one and then the other (La Croix, loc. cit.). 

These examples are not antiquated casuistry. Gury (Casus Conscientise I. 
76) tells us that an heir may accept a will drawn in his favor and lacking 
certain legal formalities, and then subsequently may upset another will simi 
larly lacking, because it is in favor of other parties, while he is next of kin. 
He simply exercises his right in electing first one and then the other of two 

These moralists are careful not to cite two of the established rules collected 


parison of probabilities is a mere speculative exercise of dialectics 
of no moment in the conduct of life or in the discharge of the duties 
of the confessional. Still there has been a vast amount of ingenuity 
expended in defining the various grades of probability, but the 
vagueness which pervades the subject is illustrated by a remark of 
Marchant, that no one can use a probable opinion in opposition to 
a certain or infallible one, if the latter can be used 1 as though there 
could be any probability as opposed to certainty. 

More important however is the definition of what renders an 
opinion truly or safely probable. In view of the adoption of proba 
bility as a rule of guidance it is essential that this should be clearly 
understood, but, like everything else, in this misty region it was im 
possible of accurate determination, and the views entertained neces 
sarily varied with the tendency to laxity or rigor of the individual. 
Tomas Sanchez tells us that there are two cases in which a man may 
follow an opinion which is not entirely destitute of probability or 
which is even improbable, provided it is not evidently false; one is 
where there is grave necessity of avoiding imminent peril, and the 
other where there is haste and no opportunity of decision. 2 Marchant, 
as a Gallican, though not a Jansenist, was disposed to take a rigorist 
attitude. He condemns the current maxim that three or two or even 
one doctor makes an opinion probable, for types and printing confer 
no authority, and the fact that a book has passed the censorship does 
not show that all its propositions are approved. To render an opin 
ion truly probable it must not be repugnant to the precepts of God 
or the innate laws of the Synderesis, or to the written law and Deca 
logue or the traditional law, or scripture or to the human actions of 
Christ and the saints, the interpretations of the doctors and the sense 
of the Church and its councils and the teachings of theologians of 
acknowledged authority, from among whom he excludes the scrib 
blers whose sole effort is to proclaim some new subtilty ; moreover, no 
matter what is the authority of the doctor, if his opinion is at vari- 

by Boniface VIII. in 1298 "Quod semel placuit amplius displicere non 
potest" (Reg. xxi.), and "Mutare consilium quis non potest in alterius detri- 
mentum" (Reg. xxxiii.). Regulse Juris in Sexto ad calcem. 

1 Marchant Tribunal. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. V. Tit. 5, Q. 3, Concl. 5. For 
the definitions of the various grades of probability see Liguori Theol. Moral. I. 
40, or Gousset, Theol. Morale, I. 89. 

2 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decal. Lib. I. cap. ix. n. 25. 


ance with the primary law it is not probable. 1 La Croix, who repre 
sents the developed probabilism of the eighteenth century, taught by 
the Jesuits, tells us that if a man considers an opinion to be abso 
lutely false he cannot use it in practice, but if it only seems to be 
false, while the authors supporting it render it extrinsically probable, 
he can use it with a safe conscience. This is confirmed by the fact 
that many moralists of the highest repute, while holding one side to 
be absolutely true and the opposite consequently to be false, yet often 
add that the opposite is probable and can be used in practice. It is 
therefore unnecessary to inquire whether an opinion is true, but only 
whether it is probable, for probability and lawfulness are the same. 2 

In obedience to this we are told that if a man feels doubt as to the 
legality of doing or omitting anything, he ought to use due diligence 
to determine the question, but if he cannot do this he should choose 
which appears to be the best, and if this is impracticable he can do 
as he likes, feeling certain that he does not sin, for it is the same as 
if both sides were probable. 3 Thus the individual was taught how 
to satisfy both conscience and desire. Caramuel throws the whole 
burden of proof on rigor as against laxity, for all human acts are 
licit which do not evidently infringe on any obligatory law, and to 
show that it is illicit requires three things first, that its malice be 
proved by reasons to which no probable answer can be given ; sec 
ond, to disprove its lawfulness by similar reasons, and, third, to show 
that the opinion in its favor is not supported by a sufficient number 
of authors a proving of a negative well-nigh impossible in the 
multitude of theologians. 4 

Not content with securing the recognition of probability as a 
standard of action the moralists extended their conquests by claim 
ing the same privilege for the doubtfully probable and the probably 
probable. There were some who drew a distinction between these 

1 Marchant Tribunal. Animar. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. 5, Q. 4, 5. 
Synderesis is sometimes used as synonymous with conscience, but strictly 

speaking, it is the habit of assenting to the primal principles which teach us 
to shun evil and to follow good, while conscience is the instrument through 
which it works. Dom. Soto de Justitia et Jure Lib. I. Q. iv. Art. 1, Concl. 2. 
Marchant loc. cit. Tit. 1, Q. 1, Concl. 1. 

2 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 375-77, 387. 

3 Augustini Brevis Notitia eorum quse vel necessaria vel utilia sunt Confes- 
sariis, Conscientia, n. 11 (Bononise, 1647). 

4 Caramuelis Theol. Fund. n. 451, 453. 


adjectives, but the lines of demarkation were very hazy ; the doubt 
fully probable should be rejected, because certainty cannot be de 
duced from doubt, but the probably probable can be safely adopted 
as a rule of action. 1 In the efforts of the Holy See to check the 
laxity of the prevailing morality, Innocent XI., in 1679, condemned 
the proposition that slender (tenais) probability could be safely fol 
lowed. 2 The practical application of adjectives such as this is subject 
to no little latitude, and the exact meaning of the word tennis gave 
rise to considerable perplexity ; 3 besides, as his formula commenced 
with the word generatim, the casuists argued that he merely pro 
posed to forbid the general use of slender probability and not its 
application to special and individual cases. The probably probable, 
moreover, was left untouched, and its use continued to be advocated. 4 
Viva concedes to Innocent s condemnation the rejection of the slightly 
probable and the probably probable, but he adds that many weighty 
doctors think otherwise, and their opinion is not without probability, 
for there are cases in which the probability of the probability is suf 
ficient to justify the use of the opinion in practice, and there is a 
dispute among the doctors whether in cases of necessity it is licit to 
follow opinions of slender probability. 5 It is all a juggle of words 
however, which the theologians used without any definite sense of 
their meaning, for La Croix, after saying that an opinion upheld by 
five or six authors of repute must be considered to have a weighty 
reason (which is the requisite of probability), even though it is com- 

1 Tamburini (Explic. Decalogi Lib. I. cap. iii. 3, n. 8) quotes Salas, Vaz 
quez, Sanchez and Merolla in favor of the use of the probably probable, and 
emphatically approves it. 

2 Innoc. PP. XI. Prop. 3. "Generatim dum probabilitate, sive intrinsica sive 
extrinsica quantum vis tenui, modo a probabilitatis finibus non exeat, confisi 
aliquid agimus, semper prudenter agimus." 

3 Eeiffenstuel (Theol. Moral. Tract. I. Dist. iii. n. 45-6), in discussing the 
meaning of tenuis, tells us that there has been dispute about it. Lumbier and 
Filguera say that it is what is probably probable what is held by a few doc 
tors against the majority. Cardenas says that an opinion probably probable is 
probable and that the tenuiter probabilis means doubtfully probable. 

4 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. Tert. Sec. Tract. I. cap. ii. 5. Matthseucci 
Cautela Confessar. Lib. ir. cap. iii. n. 3. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 
365-8. In 1677 the Jesuits ordered that the use of the probably probable should 
not be taught in their schools, so as not to give a handle to their adversaries 
(Dollinger u. Reusch. I. 5), but they did not forbid the practice. 

5 Viva Comment, in Prop. 3 Innoc. XL n. 11-13, 15. 


monly rejected, follows this with the assertion that an opinion 
asserted by some and denied by others is not certainly but only 
probably probable, 1 while Marc tells us that there is little difference 
between slenderly, doubtfully and probably probable. 2 The more 
rigorous authors, such as Mendo and Gonzalez, rejected the use of the 
probably probable ; 3 but Liguori argues away the condemnation of 
Innocent XL by denning the slenderly probable as not probable, but 
only possessing a false appearance or apprehension of probability. 4 
This leaves the ground free for the use of all grades of probability, 
and Herzig tells us that it is licit to use any probable opinion, if it 
is truly probable, though the probability may be of the barest kind 
and the opposite be most probable. 5 Liguori s modern followers 
however repudiate the use of slenderly probable opinions ; the defi 
nition of probability now current is that it must be based on a weighty 
reason, and an opinion is deemed to be probable which is commonly 
held by theologians, or is taught by Aquinas and his school, or is 
asserted as probable by the majority of theologians, or is held as true 
by five or six theologians of eminence, unless a valid reason appears 
against it. 6 Within this however there are still, as of old, all grades 
of greater or less probability and opposing probable opinions on 
almost all questions. 

Confident as are the theologians as to the safety of using the less 
probable opinion in opposition to the more probable, in matters which 
concern only the salvation of the soul by the avoidance of sin, human 
prudence required certain exceptions to be made which to the mind 
of anyone not trained in the dialectics of casuistry would have suf 
ficed to show the falsity of the whole system. The early probabilists, 
in the enthusiasm aroused by the boundless control which the new 
theories gave them over the moral world had no hesitation in extend 
ing it over the spiritual and physical. In 1595 Pedro of Aragon 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 122-5. Gonzalez gives this same defini 
tion (Fundam. Theol. Moral. Introd. n. 28). 

2 Marc Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 61. 

3 Mendo Epit. Opin. Moral., Discursus prselegendus n. 8. Gonzalez loc. cit. 

4 S. Alph. de Ligorio Apologia della Teologia Morale \ n. n. 36. 

5 Herzig Man. Confessar. P. i. n. 175. 

6 Scavini Tract, i. Disp. ii. cap. 3, Art. 1, 3 A. Q. 1. Gury Comp. Theol. 
Moral I. 54. 


shows that a probable opinion, in opposition to a more probable one, 
can be followed in matters of faith, law and medicine. 1 It is true that 
about 1600 Henriquez calls attention to the special care requisite to 
use only the safer opinions in matters connected with faith and the 
sacraments what are known as the media necessaria ad salutem or 
the necessaria necessitate medii ad salutem. 2 Soon after this Carbone tells 
us that there are some who doubt whether probable opinions can be 
followed as to the forms and administration of the sacraments, but 
he does not agree with them but with Medina, for if probabilities can 
be followed in other weighty matters why not in these ? 3 Sayre 
admits that Medina had followers in this, but he shrinks from apply 
ing probabilities to the sacraments, and he also objects to the assertion 
that the physician and the judge can follow the less probable opinion 
in opposition to the more probable. 4 Vazquez says expressly that a 
judge must follow the more probable opinion. 5 Tomas Sanchez dis 
cusses the question at much length. Under certain restrictions he 
thinks it more probable that the less probable opinion can be followed 
in medicine and the sacraments but not in judicial decisions, though 
where opposite opinions are equal a judge can follow one at one time 
and the other at another if he avoids scandal. His remark about 
the sacraments moreover shows that as yet the distinction was not 
drawn, as to the sacrament of penitence, between the form of minis 
tration and the question of its validity or invalidity arising from the 
use of less probable opinions by priest or penitent. 6 As probabilism 
spread, the laxer moralists, like Juan Sanchez, were not disposed to 
admit the exceptions of medicine, law, and the media necessaria; with 
regard to the latter, indeed, he boldly argued that as all connected 
with them is matter of conjecture, one opinion is virtually as good 
as another. 7 The more conservative probabilists, however, generally 
admitted these exceptions, for which Henriquez supplied the reason 
able argument that, while a physician through ignorance may kill his 

1 Pet. de Aragon. de Justitia et Jure Q. LXIII. Art. iv. 

2 Henriquez Summee Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. cap. xxvii. n. 6. 

3 Carbonis Summse Summar. Gas. Conscient. T. I. P. 1, Lib. 5, cap. 14. 

4 Sayri Clavis Eeg. Sacerd. Lib. I. cap. vii. n. 3, 4, 6 ; cap. x. n. 11, 12 ; cap. 
xi. n. 3-13. 

5 Vazquez Opusc. Moral. De Eeslitutione cap. vi. $ 3, n. 76, 86. 

6 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. ix. n. 32-48. 

7 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIV. n. 1, 50 sqq. 


patient, a man who folloAvs a probable opinion incurs no risk, for 
God mercifully accepts it and cures all mistakes. 1 Still, with the 
progressive tendency to laxism, there were many who rejected the 
exceptions, at least as regards judges. 2 Concina tells us that Camargo 
collected the names of seventy moralists who supported the proposi 
tion that a judge can decide according to the less probable opinion 
and that it would have triumphed but for the action of Innocent XI. 3 
who, in 1679, included in the condemnation of lax propositions those 
which extended the use of probable and less safe opinions to the con 
ferring of sacraments and allowed judges to follow the lesser proba 
bility. 4 The probabiliorists did not fail to take advantage of this, and 
argued that as physicians and judges must follow the more probable 
opinion, the confessor as physician and judge of the soul should be 
bound by the same rule, and that the limitation forbidding a probable 
opinion to be followed to the injury of others rated the offence against 
a neighbor higher than the offence against God. 5 The probabilists 
retorted that natural laws always operate, but in morals the controll 
ing element is the opinion and belief of the actor, so that no parallel 
can be drawn between them. If a man chooses a road infested by 
robbers instead of a safe one, his belief as to his immunity exercises 
no influence on the result. 6 There is also applied to it the rule that 

1 Henriquez Sumrnae Theol. Moral. Procem. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. i. 
Tract. 1, cap. 5, \ 3, n. 15-16. Val. Reginald. Praxis Fori Poenit. Lib. xm. n. 
105. Busenbaum Medullse Theol. Moral. Lib. i. Tract. 1, cap. 2, Dub. 1. 
Marchant Tribunal. Anim. T. I. Tract. 5, Tit. 5, Q. 3, Conclus. 3, 4. Augustini 
Brevis Notitia eorum quse necessaria vel utilia sunt Confessariis, Conscientia, n. 9. 

2 Alph. de Leone de Off. et Potest Confessar. Recoil, n. n. 100-1 177 179 

3 Concina Theol. Christ, contracta Lib. n. Diss. ii. cap. 5, n. 4. 

4 Innoc. PP. XI. Deer. Sanctissimus, 1678. " Prop. i. Non est illicitum in 
sacramentis conferendis sequi opinionem probabilem de valore sacramenti 
relicta tutiore, nisi id vetet lex, conventio aut periculum gravis damni incur- 
rendi. Hinc sententia probabili tantum utendum non est in collatione bap- 
tismi, ordinis sacerdotalis aut episcopalis. 

"Prop. ii. Probabiliter existimo judicem posse judicare juxta opinionem 
etiam minus probabilem." This latter is drawn from Juan Sanchez, ubi sup. 

5 Wigandt Tribunal. Confessar. Tract, n. Exam. iii. n. 29. Habert Theol. 
Moral. De Conscientia cap. iv. Q. 1. 

6 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 491. Reiffenstuel Theol. Moral. Tract, i. 
Dist. iii. n. 48-9, 56. Roncaglia Univ. Mor. Theol. Tract, i. Q. 1, cap. 1, Q. 4. 
S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 41-8. 

II. 22 


when injury to a third party is involved it is unlawful to follow even 
a safe in place of a safer opinion, as in shooting through a thicket at 
what is thought to be a beast, but which proves to be a man. 1 These 
are perfectly satisfactory arguments according to the probabilistic 
theory, and it is universally admitted that medicine, law and the 
sacraments are excepted from the use of probable opinions. 2 It is 
true that the exception of the ministration of sacraments would seem 
to destroy all probabilism^ of which the main use is to facilitate the 
bestowal and reception of the sacrament of penitence, but this is 
overcome by ingenious argumentation and the comfortable presump 
tion that the Church supplies all defects. 3 

The exclusion of probabilism from matters of faith, from the neces- 
saria de necessitate medii, was a necessity if the faith was to be pre 
served from the heretic and the infidel, and opens for us a subject 
which can be treated here only with a brevity incommensurate with 
its interest. The relations between those outside the pale of the 
Church and those within had not escaped the searching investigations 
of the schoolmen. If invincible ignorance excuses from sin, the 
heathen who has never heard of Christ and the Atonement is guilt 
less and is not to be consigned to eternal torment. This is a result 
not to be accepted, and before the doctrine of invincible ignor 
ance took its final extension it was held not to apply to religious 
truths. Hugues de S. Victor says the ignorant are ignored and not 
saved. Alexander Hales asserts that God will illumine those who 
seek him, so that the ignorance of those who have no access to 
Christian truth is not inculpable. William of Paris easily proves 
that to admit invincible ignorance in matters of faith is to deprive 
dogma of all importance. Gerson takes the same view, and indeed 
the axiom of the schoolmen that there can be no inculpable ignorance 
of divine law infers the mortal sin of the heathen and the heretic. 4 

1 Voit Theol. Moral. I. n. 85, 91. 

2 La Croix Theol. Lib. I. n. 476, 489. Manzo Epit. Theol. Moral. P. I. De 
Consdentia n. 22. Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 57. Kenrick Theol. Moral. 
Tract. II. n. 21. Bonal Institt. Theol. T. V. De Act. Human, n. 132-5. Marc 
Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 79-84. 

8 Voit Theol. Moral. I. n. 120-3. Lexicon Theol. Moral, ex Opp. S. Alph. 
de Ligorio s. v. Opinio. 
4 Hugon. de S. Victore de Sacram. Lib. n. P. vi. cap. 5. Alex, de Ales 


Aquinas devised a shrewder explanation, which saved the efficacy of 
ignorance without saving the heathen. Their infidelity is not a sin, 
but they are damned nevertheless for their other sins, which cannot 
be remitted without faith. 1 This has come to be the accepted modern 
doctrine ; the ignorance of the heathen and of the heretic who is 
trained in the faith of his fathers is inculpable, but he lacks the saving 
means provided for the pardon of his sins. 2 Yet, at the same time, it 
was a doctrine handed down from the schoolmen that heresy requires 
pertinacity ; he is not a heretic who errs merely through ignorance 
and is ready to abandon his errors on their being pointed out. 3 The 
early probabilists were inclined to be even more liberal. Sayre tells 
us that heresy is not a sin of ignorance but of infidelity ; to be 
a heretic a man must knowingly believe what the Church rejects. 
Even if the ignorance be not inculpable but be ignorantia affectata 
purposely held through negligence, he is not a heretic, for if he is 
ignorant through dislike of learning, and thus errs in the faith, he 
does not knowingly believe anything contrary to the decisions of the 
Church. Tomas Sanchez holds that the heathen and the heretic are 
not bound to abandon their errors simply on their being pointed out ; 
to be responsible they must pertinaciously deny the truth after it has 
been sufficiently explained to them. 4 That enfant terrible of the 
probabilists, the uncompromising Caramuel, not only admits insu 
perable ignorance as an excuse for heresy, but also the intellectual 
deficiency Avhich prevents many minds from grasping the articles of 

Summae P. n. Q. cxii. Membr. 8. Guillel. Paris, de Legibus cap. xx. Gersonis 
de Vita Spirit Animae Lect. ii. in corp. 

1 S. Th. Aquin. Summse Sec. Sec. Q. x. Art. I in corp. 

2 Dom. Soto in IV. Sentt. Dist. V. Q. unic. Art. 2, Arg. 6. Sayri Clavis Keg. 
Sacerd. Lib. n. cap. ix. n. 13, 14. Marchant Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Tract. V. 
Tit. 2, Q. 1. Bonal Institt. Theol. Tract, de Oral, et Gloria, n. 294. 

3 Alex, de Ales Sumrnee P. n. Q. clxi. Membr. 1. Durandi de S. Port, in 
IV. Sentt. Dist. xm. Q. v. n. 6. P. de Palude in IV. Sentt. Dist. xm. Q. 3, 
Art. 1, Concl. 1. Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Hceresis i. n. 1. Armilla Aurea 
s. v. Hceresis n. 1, 2. Mel. Cani de Locis Theol. Lib. xn. cap. 9. Dom. Soto 
in IV. Sentt. Dist. xxn. Q. ii. Art. 3, Concl. 5, Casus 1. Azpilcuetee Man. 
Confessar. cap. xi. n. 22. 

Caietano however draws a distinction ; there are certain cardinal points of 
faith in which the mere fact of entertaining disbelief renders a man a heretic. 
Caietani Suinmula s. v. Hceresis. 

4 Sayri Clavis Reg. Sacerd. Lib. n. cap. ix. n. 34. Th. Sanchez in Praecepta 
Decalogi Lib. I. cap. xvi. n. 32; Lib. n. cap. i. n. 4, 7. 


faith ; in fact, express belief in the mystery of the Trinity is impos 
sible to untrained minds ; no woman understands it, and no man 
unless he is a philosopher; confused belief is all that can be ex 
pected from the mass of mankind, and if more than this is requisite 
none can be saved except a few theologians. It must suffice to have 
faith in what the Church believes. 1 All this is somewhat dangerous 
doctrine, and the later probabilists modify it by adding that the per 
tinacity need not be formal : it suffices that a heretic knows that the 
Church thinks differently. 2 Even invincible ignorance and good 
faith are no palliative in matters that are de necessitate medii ad 
saMem. 3 

If ignorance has thus excited so much discussion on this point it can 
be imagined that probabilism has likewise been brought to bear upon 
it. In spite of the caution of Henriquez that the new theories must 
not be applied to the media necessaria, this did not fail to be done in 
the exultation of discovering and using so powerful an instrument for 
diminishing the sum of human sin and widening the path of salva 
tion. Juan Sanchez says that Laymann and others err in denying 
that probabilism is applicable to matters of faith, and he holds that 
an infidel can adhere to his belief, even if he recognizes it to be less 
probable than the true faith. 4 This was too dangerous a doctrine to 

1 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 1348-51. He adds that the evil lives of 
priests are no excuse for heresy, though, if he were a peasant, with a priest 
adulterous, drunken and blasphemous, he would scarce believe him as to 
changing his religion. Yet all this passed the Roman censorship. 

2 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. I. cap. ii. Art. 4. S. Alpk. de Ligorio Theol. 
Moral. Lib. n. n. 19. 

3 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 362, 476. Recent policies have induced 
a somewhat milder doctrine than this. Marc (Institt. Moral. Alphonsianse n. 
197-8), while asserting that all baptized heretics are subject to the law of the 
Church, adds that many heretics are not aware of this, and they are easily ex 
cusable on account of ignorance. There are also often circumstances render 
ing it presumable that the Church does not wish to subject heretics to its laws 
because their observance would occasion too much inconvenience. 

In a little popular tract I find a further admission that good faith excuses 
h eres y " La bonne foi reelle excuse un protestant du pe"che d heresie et lui 
donne la possibilite de se sauver;" but salvation is much more difficult, for he 
acks the grace and aid to final perseverance drawn from confession and com 
munion. Entretiens familiers sur le Protestantisme (Toulouse, s. d ). The 
series to which this belongs was blessed by Pius IX., May 31, 1862. 

4 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. xix. n. 7. Tomas Sanchez also 


be allowed currency, but it was not condemned until 1679, when 
Innocent XI. included it in the list of reproved propositions. 1 Such 
a decision was of course a necessity, but it was not easily reconciled 
with the doctrines of probability and material sin. It became 
requisite to beg the question, as Matteucci does when he proves 
that by this decree a Lutheran who doubts as to the truth of his 
faith is bound to leave it, because an examination will inevitably 
convince him of the greater probability of Catholic doctrine, 2 and 
Voit tells us that a Jew who recognizes that Catholicism is probable 
is required to investigate and convince himself of its truth : if he 
has not opportunity of instruction he should appeal to God, who 
will not fail to illuminate him. On the other hand, a Catholic who 
feels doubts as to the faith is not to make inquiry, but must stifle and 
reject them. 3 

Medicine, law and faith were not the only matters in which the 
hollowness of the probabilistic theory was shown. We have seen 
(p. 278) that there is a general consensus that on the death-bed 
doubtful sins should be confessed in view of the contingencies of 
that awful moment. Some probabilists applied this rule to the 
treatment of all sins at death, and that then the safer part should 
be followed. This is so absolute an abandonment of the whole theory 
of probabilism that the greater number of probabilists naturally 
reject it, arguing that it would be rather more perilous than safer 
to force the dying man to a more rigid standard as to restitution, 
contrition, etc., than he had been taught was necessary. Still it is 
good counsel, they admit, to follow the safer course at death, for it 
pleases God to see that his creature does not wish to disobey him 
even materially. 4 

We have seen how at the close of the seventeenth century the efforts 
of the Holy See, resulting in the election of Thyrsus Gonzalez to the 

leaned somewhat towards this opinion, but says that on the death-bed every 
one must follow the safer and more probable opinion. Viva Comment, in 
Prop, 4 Innoc. XL n. 3. Of. Concina Storia del Probabilismo Diss. I. cap. 
ii n. 9. 

1 Innocent XI. Prop. 4. "Ab infidelitate excusabitur infidelis non credens 
ductus opinione minus probabile." 

2 Matthaeucci Cautela Confessar. Lib. n. c. iv. 

3 Voit Theol. Moral, i. n. 106-7. 

4 Sporer Theol. Moral. Tract. I. n. 50. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 58. 


Jesuit Generalate, seemed to give the death-blow to probabilism by 
depriving it of its main recognized supporter, the Society of Jesus. 
About the same time the so-called tutiorism was assumed to be con 
demned. An Irish doctor of Louvain, named John Baptist Sinnick, 
had expressed the doctrine of the extreme rigorists in the phrase 
that no probability, even the greatest, sufficed to render an opinion 
safe, and among the propositions condemned by Alexander VIII., 
in 1690, was this. 1 The probabilists, who had undergone so many 
censures, were delighted at one inflicted on the extremists of the 
other side, and proclaimed that this was a prohibition of tutiorism in 
general. The tutiorism which they thus declared to be forbidden 
was rather a creature of their own imaginations than a tenet held 
by any recognized body of the faithful. The decree of Alexander 
was not regarded as interfering with the view that the safer side 
should be chosen, for the Gallican assembly of 1700, while profess 
ing obedience to it, prescribed as a precept that in all doubtful cases 
the safer opinion should be followed. 2 The probabilists however 
found comfort in demonstrating that tutiorism is impossible, because 
it would require contrition in the sacrament of penitence while the 
Church accepts attrition, 3 and La Croix unconsciously reveals how 
far the moralists had strayed from the commands of Christ, when, in 
descanting on the insupportable burdens imposed by tutiorism, he 
points out that it would actually oblige us to refer all our actions to 
God and to embrace all the counsels of the gospels or, in other 
words, that it would conduce to a revival of true Christianity. 4 The 
anti-probabilists refused to accept the extravagance of Sinnick as 
their doctrine. Habert says that to follow an opinion morally cer 
tain is safe, even though there may be a safer, 5 and Concilia argues 
that the safer opinion may be the less probable ; the safer and the 
more probable are distinct and are deduced from different principles ; 
the safer is that which least exposes to the danger of sin, the more 
probable is that which approaches nearest to truth. 6 Yet still there 

1 Alexandri VIII. Prop. in. "Non licet sequi opinionem vel inter proba- 
biles probabilissimam." 

2 Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientia cap. iv. Q. 1. 

3 Viva Comment, in Prop. 3 Alex. VIII. n. 10. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 487. 

5 Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientia cap. V. Q. 1. 

6 Concina Theol. Christian, contracta Lib. n. Dist. ii. cap. 2, n. 6. 


is an echo of the rigorism of the medieval Church in their adherence 
to the old rule that in doubtful matters the safer part is to be adhered 
to. If a man doubts that a law exists he must hold it as existing, if 
he doubts whether a case is reserved he must abstain from absolv 
ing for it, if he doubts whether he has confessed a sin or whether 
it is mortal he must confess it, if he doubts as to a vow or its 
obligation he must observe it. But then, like all other attempts to 
formulate a system, it became necessary, in order to make this work 
in practice, to define that scruples are not doubts ; scruples may arise 
from mental weakness, or ignorance, or temptation of the devil, or 
as a punishment from God, and when it is asked how they are to be 
distinguished, the only answer is by prayer, by study, and by the 
advice of prudent men. 1 

Probabilism had been scotched, not killed, by the efforts of the Holy 
See in the latter half of the seventeenth century. "With the opening 
of the eighteenth, the eagerness with which the papacy embarked, 
under the lead of the Jesuits, in the controversy over Attrition and 
the condemnation of Quesnellism showed that its policy had changed 
and that laxism had little to fear from it. In the very year of the 
death of Gonzalez, 1705, appeared the Jesuit Francolini s " Clericus 
Romamia contra nimium rigorem munitus," with the approbation of 
the General Tamburini, and this was followed by the works of other 
Jesuits Viva, La Croix, Casnedi, Vogler, Yoit, Renter, etc. Nor 
was the defence of probabilism confined to the Society, as the works 
of Sporer, Reiffenstuel and Roncaglia show, to which may be added 
the mitigated probabilism of Amort. That the other side was not 
inactive is seen in the theologies of Antoine, Habert and others, but 
the most active controversialists were the Dominicans, whose ancient 
hatred of the Society of Jesus had lost little of its intensity. Through 
out the first half of the century there had been had a perpetual war 
fare of tracts and pamphlets, and towards the middle the Dominicans 
Daniele Concina and Gianvincenzo Patuzzi stood forth as the leading 
champions of their Order. The Holy See, as a rule, held aloof and 
impartially put on the Index the writings of either side when they 
became too sharply aggressive. Benedict XIV. praised Liguori and 

1 Wigandt Trib. Animar. Tract. II. Exam. 1, n. 15 ; Exam. 2, n. 2-3. Alasia 
Theol. Moral. De Act. Humanis Diss. ii. cap. 5, Q. 5. 


accepted from Concina the dedication of his Theologia Christiana. 
In his instructions to confessors for the Jubilee of 1750, he quotes 
the denunciation of lax methods of opining with which Alexander 
VII. prefaced his decree of 1665, but a curious difference between 
the Latin and Italian versions of the bull indicates a desire to con 
ciliate both parties, and elsewhere he points out that the Holy See is 
not accustomed to decide against opinions accepted by the doctors 
without grave cause. 1 In 1761 occurred a circumstance which af 
forded much comfort to the probabiliorists. The parish priest of 
Avisio, in 1760, issued a leaflet containing eleven propositions which 
he offered for public disputation. They contained scarce more than 
the common-places of probabilism that it is lawful to follow the less 
probable opinion favoring liberty and that probabiliorism is dangerous 
and leads to rigorism but his diocesan, the Bishop of Trent, con 
demned them and sent them to the Holy Office to procure a confirma 
tion of his decision. The matter was debated in full congregation 
before Clement XIII. , and the condemnation was approved. The 
triumph of the probabiliorists was short, however, for Liguori wrote 
to the Master of the Sacred Palace, to the Secretary of the Index, 
and to the Major Penitentiary, Cardinal Galli, who assured him that 
it was not intended to condemn any propositions disputed in the 
schools and catholically defended. They abstained carefully, how 
ever, from specifying which of the propositions had evoked the 
censure, and the leaflet has remained on the Index. 2 When, in 1786, 
the Synod of Pistoia declared that truth should be the sole rule of 
human actions, and that ignorance, inadvertence and probability 
furnish no excuse for sin, 3 eager as was the curia to discover and 

1 Bened. PP. XIV. Bull. Apostolica Constitutio | 21, 26 Junii 1749 (Bullar. 
III. 70). In the vernacular he instructs the confessor in doubtful cases to con 
sult many books " e poi prenda quel partito che vedra piu assistito dal ragione 
e dalP autorita." This is pure probabiliorism, but in the Latin version the piu 
is omitted. Liguori, of course (Istruzione practica cap. 1, n. 42) insists that as 
the Latin is intended for all Christendom it is the more authoritative. 

In the De Synodo Dicecesana (Lib. xn. cap. 5, n. 15) he says " Quin etiam 
ipsa Apostolica Sedes cavere solet ne quid novi contra jus commune receptasque 
doctorum opiniones sine gravi causa decernat." 

2 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Ed. 1767, pp. 21-22 ; Ejusd. Diffesa della 
Dissertazione sull usu moderato dell opinione probabile 4. Index Clem. 
XIV. 1770, p. 304; Index Leon. XIII. 1887, p. 260. 

3 Synod. Pistoriens. Sess. nr. 13. 


condemn errors in its utterances, this proposition escaped the censure 
of the bull Auctorem fidei. Gerdil, one of the most learned and 
respected members of the Sacred College, who was elevated to the 
cardinaltojte, in 1777, by Pius VI., had distinguished himself as an 
eloquent and acute opponent of probabilism. 1 Had he been chosen 
as the successor of Pius, in the conclave of Venice in 1800, as was 
probable but for the opposition of the Emperor Francis II., the 
development of modern moral theology might possibly have been 

Concilia, in 1742, proclaimed the battle against probabilism to be 
already won, and he seemed to have fair reason for his exultation 
when he could point to the decrees of Alexander VIII. and Innocent 
XL, the action of the assemblies of the Gallican Church, the con 
demnations by universities and by nearly all the religious Orders 
and the pastorals of many bishops, while in its favor there was not 
the authorized expression of a single pope, bishop, synod, university 
or religious Order only the writings of a few theologians. 2 Had he 

O / O c3 

been able to foresee the approaching downfall of the Society of Jesus 
he would have felt doubly assured, for the Jesuit theory of morals 
was one of the powerful levers worked for its destruction. In the 
first suppression, that in Portugal, this does not figure much, though 
the royal manifesto of 1759, justifying the expulsion, dwells largely 
on the errors taught by the Jesuits, especially as to murder, tyranni 
cide and perjury. 3 The fatal blow, however, was that administered, 
in 1762, by their suppression in France. The Parlement of Paris 
had suffered too much in its prolonged resistance to the constitution 
Unigenitus not to have treasured up a wealth of bitter memories ; it 
was strongly Jansenistic, and it recognized in the lax probabilistic 
teachings of the Order the surest means of attracting popular sup 
port. By an arret of August 6, 1761, it ordered the burning by the 
executioner of the books of twenty-four Jesuit authors including 
Toletus, Sa, van Beek, Bellarmine, Tanner, Gregory of Valencia, 
Gabriel Vazquez, Busenbaum, La Croix, Escobar, Lessius, Azor, 
Molina the chief motive alleged for which was their teaching on 

1 Gerdil Theol. Moral. Lib. n. Q. ii. iii. Saggio sul Discernimento delle 
opinioni, \ ii. 

2 Concina, Storia del Probabilismo, Diss. I. cap. 5, n. 35. 

3 Manifeste du Eoi de Portugal, Amsterdam, 1759. 


regicide, but morals were included. 1 Clement XIII. interceded ener 
getically for the Society ; Louis XV. was opposed to its suppression, 
and ordered the arret suspended. The Parlement then laid before 
him, September 4, a collection of extracts from Jesuit works con 
cerning murder, tyrannicide and the papal supremacy ; this he 
referred to fifty-one bishops assembled in Paris, forty-six of whom 
united in an argument in favor of the Society, while Pere Balbani 
had no difficulty in showing that the doctrines complained of had 
been taught by the greatest doctors of the Church before the time of 
Loyola. 2 Meanwhile the Parlement had ordered a more comprehen 
sive collection of lax doctrines extracted from Jesuit works. It was 
systematically arranged, was printed in Latin and the vernacular and 
appeared in four volumes in 1762. 3 This compilation, from its offi 
cial character, had an immense effect on public opinion, and was the 
final blow which enabled the Parlement to accomplish its object. In 
an official letter to the Procureur Ge"n6ral of the Parlement of Tou 
louse, the Bishop of Castres declares " It is this fatal work which 
has caused their ruin in several parlements of the kingdom and 
threatens to consummate it in all the others." 4 The Jesuits vainly 
endeavored to parry the attack in two ways which were mutually 
contradictory. One was by printing a collection of opinions by non- 
Jesuits, to show that lax casuistic morality was not confined to the 
Society. The other was a laborious criticism in three quarto volumes 
of the Extraits et Assertions to prove that it was garbled and unfair, 
in which they made out a list of 758 errors and falsifications. The 
compilers of the Extraits had done their work hurriedly and had not 
been more solicitous of accuracy than is customary in political con 
troversy, and there was no difficulty in pointing out a good many 
mistakes and exaggerations. Yet, after all allowance was made for 
recklessness, haste and malignity, the writings of the Jesuit casuists 

1 Isambert, Anciennes Loix Franchises, XXIII. 312. 

2 Picot, Memoires pour servir a I Histoire Ecclesiastique du dix-huitieme 
Siecle, 2e Ed. T. II. pp. 405-7. Balbani, Appel a la Raison des Ecrits et 
Libelles publics par la passion centre les Jesuites de France. Bruxelles, 1762. 

3 Extraits des Assertions dangereuses et pernicieuses en tout genre que les 
soi-disant Jesuites ont de tous les temps et perseverament sontenues, enseignees 
et publiees dans leurs livres avec 1 approbation de leurs Superieurs et Generaux, 
verifiees et collationnees par les Commissaires du Parlement, etc. Paris, chez 
P. G. Simon, Imprimeur du Parlement, 1762. 

4 Actes du Clerg6 de France en faveur des Jesuites, P. 11. 


afforded a solid substratum of lax teaching sufficient to shock the 
moral sense of a community in which the theological training for 
two generations had been of a more rigid kind. Of course the 
Jesuits were not solely responsible for this, but the Society had been 
so conspicuous as the defender of probabilism when it was generally 
decried, that all efforts to disclaim responsibility were vain ; it still 
had many friends in the court and the episcopate, but all resistance 
was overborne, and the cry of Jansenism which had so often served 
its purpose was useless for once. In the final arret of suppression, 
August 6, 1762, the detail of its immoral teaching occupies a notable 
space and contributes largely to the conclusion that its existence is 
inadmissible in any well-ordered state. 1 

It was in vain that, in 1764, Clement XIII. confirmed all the 
approbations of the Society uttered by his predecessors, denouncing 
the depraved efforts of wicked men to prove it irreligious, and de 
claring it to be redolent of piety and sanctity. 2 When, in 1767, 
Carlos III. of Spain followed the example of France by the sudden 
and secret deportation of the Jesuits, the justifications which the 
bishops issued to their flocks to quiet the public mind dwelt forcibly 
on the evils to morality arising from the probabilism and casuistry 
of the Society. 3 After the suppression, one of the early measures of 
the king was a royal order of January 23, 1768, to all the universi 
ties of the kingdom, to abandon the use of the Medulla of Busen- 
baum, which was generally employed as a text-book, and later 
cednlas suppressed the teaching of the Jesuit school (eseuela llamada 
Jesuitiea) in all institutions of learning. 4 When Carlos subsequently 
was urging vigorously on Clement XIV. the total suppression of 

1 Isambert, XXIII. 335-46. 

2 Clement PP. XIII. Constit. Apostolicum, 7 Jan. 1764. This bull called 
forth three letters, printed in Naples in 1765, which the Inquisition denounced 
September 4, 1765, as execrable and detestable, and ordered burnt as full of 
propositions erroneous, false, ill-sounding, favoring schism, audacious, calum 
nious, seditious and inordinately insulting to the authority of the Apostolic 
See. They remain on the Index (Index Leonis PP. XIII. 1887, p. 185). 

3 Eecueil des Pieces concernant les Jesuites d Espagne, Paris, 1768, IX em 
Serie, p. 43; XI eme Serie, pp. 26, 43. Carta de Edicto de Don Manuel de 
Palmero y Eallo, Obispo de Gerona, p. xxiii. (8 Feb. 1768). Pastorales de 
Don Francisco Armana, Obispo de Lugo, pp. 324-30. 

4 Kecueil des Pieces, IX eme Serie, p. 77. Novisiina Eecopilacion, ley 4, Tit. 
4, Lib. viii. ; ley 4, Tit. 5, Lib. vm. 


the Society, one of the reasons which he alleged was the corrupt 
morals and doctrine that its members had taught in his states, and 
in this he was supported by letters from forty Spanish bishops. 1 In 
the brief of suppression, however, the subject of their laxity of teach 
ing is only alluded to cursorily. 2 

There was a Nemesis in this, for the Jesuits in their long struggle 
for probabilism had found a most effective weapon in stigmatizing 
their opponents as Jansenists. This began early. When Prosper 
Fagnani, the leading canonist of his day and one of the most honored 
officials of the curia, wrote a defence of probabiliorism, Caramuel 

1 Theiner, Hist, du Pontifical de Clement XIV. T. II. p. 108. 

While Clement was hesitating over the suppression he seems at one time to 
have contemplated a reform of the Society, of which one feature was to be the 
subjection to the bishops of the Jesuit theology and morals (Ibid. p. 203). 

2 Clement. PP. XIV. Const, Dominm ac Redemptor $22 (21 Julii, 1773). 

In his defence of the Jesuits, Father Borgo enumerates among the means 
used to bring about their fall, " falsi errori attribuiti : azioni ed opinioni giusti 

almeno niente ree, in reo aspetto e senso travolte : falsification} orrende d, 
scritture, di dati teste ;" and he speaks of Concini as " Quel fanatico di Fr. 
Concini da Roma stessa e sotto gli occhi della Curia Eomana aifastellava de 
tomi e de tomi di calunniose falsificazioni ed impudentissime imposture contro 

1 piu celebri autori della Compagna." Memoria Cattolica, Cosmopoli (Roma), 
1780, pp. 25, 82. 

For the history of this audacious attempt to prove the nullity of the brief 
of suppression see De Backer, II. 76, vii. 127. It is no wonder that it was 
burnt by decree of Pius VI., June 13, 1781, and that Luigi Perego the printer 
was imprisoned, for it characterizes the papal decree as "un perpetuo tessuto 
d imposture, di falsita, di calunnie, d insulti" (p. 55), and speaks of "per 
chiuder la sozza bocca dello Stenditore malizioso" (p. 86). In spite of the 
condemnation, in 1787 Borgo issued " Anecdoti interessanti di Storia e di 
Critica sulla Memoria Cattolica," in which the Memoria was reprinted bodily, 
and this was never placed on the Index. 

As if to show how completely casuistry had destroyed the moral sense of 
the Society, the General Ricci admits (Memoria, p. 148) that when, in 1772, 
the suppression was anticipated he applied to the heretic Frederic the Great 
to assume the protection of the Order. When the dissolution was decreed, 
Frederic and the schismatic Catherine II. withheld permission for its publica 
tion in their dominions, and the Jesuits domiciled there refused obedience to 
it and maintained their organization, acting apparently on the reflex principle 
that a law insufficiently promulgated is not binding. In 1801, Pius VII. re 
warded their disobedience by recognizing them (Const. Catholicce fidei, 7 Mart, 
1801), and they served as the foundation for the reconstruction of the Society 
in 1814 (Const. Solllcitudo omnium, 7 Aug., 1814). 


in attacking him denounced him as a Jansenist in his Apologema 
pro antiquissima et universaiissima (toctrina de Probabilitate, wliich 
on that account was placed in the Index by decree of January 15, 
1564. 1 Cardinal Aguirre states that all who assert the old rule of 
following the safer way are stigmatized by the Jesuits as Baianists 
and Jansenists ; he is thus accused, and even Innocent XI. is simi 
larly abused, 2 while there were Jesuists who did not hesitate to accuse 
their general. Thyrsus Gonzalez, of the same heresy. 3 Terrill de 
clared that Jansenism was the mother of probabiliorism, and La 
Croix in quoting this adds that they could devise no more effectual 
means of rendering the divine precepts impossible and the sacra 
ments odious. 4 Francolini, as approvingly cited by Liguori, says 
that the speculative theology of the Jansenists is Jansenism, their 
moral theology rigorism ; their three principles are to exalt the 
authority of the Fathers, to depress that of the popes, and to allow 
none to modern theologians. 5 Concina complains that the anti- 
probabilists could not preach or write the truth without being told 
that they drew their inspiration from Arnauld and Pascal and even 
from Luther and Melanchthon. 6 A worthy part of this warfare was 
the revival of the fable of the conference of Bourg-Fontaine, where 
it was said that in 1621 Cornelis Janssen, Duverger de Haurenne, 
Antoine Arnauld, Philippe Cospe"an, Pierre Camus, Simon Vigor, 
and a seventh whose name was concealed, had conspired to over 
throw Christianity and replace it with Deism, under pretext of re 
viving the doctrines of St. Augustin. In 1654, Jean Filleau, under 
Jesuit inspiration, gave this portentous story to the world, but it 
soon fell into oblivion, to be revived, in 1756, with comments to 
prove that the rigorists or so-called Jansenists were secretly engaged 
in undermining the Christian faith. In this form it was translated 

1 Dollinger u. Reusch, I. 123. Index Alex. VII. Romse, 1664, p. 398. 

2 Aguirre Concil. Hispan. Ad Lector em n. 37. Dollinger u. Reusch, I. 186. 
If there was truth in the report that Innocent XI. contemplated bestowing a 
cardinal s hat on Antoine Arnauld, it is no wonder that he was stigmatized as 
a Jansenist. Gregoire Hist, des Confesseurs des Empereurs etc., p. 158. Reusch 
der Index der verbot. Biicher, II. 480. 

3 Concina, Storia del Probabilismo, Diss. u. cap. vi. \ 7. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 293. 

5 Francolini Clericus Romanus contra nimium rigorem munitus, Procem. 
S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Diss. Prolegom. P. I. cap. vi. n. 6. 

6 Concina, Storia del Probabilismo, Introd. $ 1, n. 1, 2. 


into various tongues and widely circulated with the due approbation 
of the ecclesiastical authorities. 1 This fruitful device of identifying 
rigorism with Jansenism continues to the present time. We have 
seen above (p. 35) the use made of it by Father Miiller. Scavini 
does not hesitate to say that opposition to probabilism was never 
heard of before the time of Cornelis Janssen and his sectaries ; he 
holds them up as vigorously as ever to the abhorrence of the faith 
ful and deplores that their doctrines continue to be taught under a 
different name. 2 The fact is that the Gallican Church disappeared 
in the Revolution, and when it was reconstructed by Napoleon in 
the Concordat it had not the organization and the traditions with 
which to maintain the struggle for its liberties. The last barrier to 
the encroachments of Rome was broken down ; to the papal mind 
Gallieanism, Jansenism and rigorism were connected as the embodi 
ment of the forces inimical to the autocracy of the Holy See. With 
the disappearance of its opponent it celebrated its adherence to lax- 
ism in the beatification of St. Alphonso Liguori in 1816, and his 
canonization in 1839, and as recently as 1864 a French theologian 
congratulates France on its emancipation from the last vestige of 
Jansenism through the influence of Liguori, whose doctrines had 
been canonized rather than his person. 3 

Concilia was evidently premature in his psean of triumph, and even 
the downfall of the Jesuits was powerless to avert the final triumph 

1 P. Gabbriello Silvani, Delia Falsita del Progetto di Borgo-Fontana, Firenze, 

1 have three editions of this amplification of Filleau s story 

Veritas Concilii Burgofonte initi ex hujus executione demonstrata, seu verum 
Systema Jansenismi et evolutio mysterii iniquitatis. Opus Gallico primum 
sermone conscriptum, 2 torn. 8vo. Augustse Vindel. 1764. 

La Kealta del Progetto di Borgo-Fontana dimostrata della sua esecuzione. 
Opera che niette in vista la cabala artifiziosa de Novatori di Francia e di 
Olanda per esterminare la Chiesa e 1 efficacia delle promesse di Giesti Cristo 
in preservarla con eterna confusione de suoi Nemici. Edizione terza Italiana, 
2 torn. 8vo. Assisi, 1787. 

Beweis von der Wirklichkeit der Zusammenkunft in Bourgfontaine etc. 2 
torn. 8vo. s. 1. 1793. 

2 Scavini Theol. Moral. Tract, I. Disp. ii. Cap. 3, Art, 2, 3, A. Q. 4; Ibid. 
Tract, i. Not. G. J. M. 

3 Vindicise Alphonsianae, p. xxix. 


of the cause which they had upheld with such superb audacity. 
Probabilism and the new theology, in fact, were a necessity to the 
Church, if only to hide the impossibility of the confessional being 
the judgment-seat which it had always been assumed to be. To this 
the anti-probabilists shut their eyes ; they could not see that they 
were clamoring for the impracticable ; they had the best of the argu 
ment, and they seemed to have won the victory. Yet a new defender 
of the apparently vanquished cause had arisen, in the person of Al- 
phonso Liguori, who, by making a few concessions of form, rather 
than of principle, revived the declining cause and opened the way to 
its eventual domination. Before examining his labors, however, we 
must pause to consider a very radical change which had taken place 
in the processes of probabilism, which, without modifying its results, 
had essentially altered the methods of reaching them. This was the 
development of what is known as reflex probabilism. 

In the original direct probabilism of the seventeenth century, as 
we have seen, whenever there were two more or less probable opin 
ions as to an act, the actor could select which he pleased without 
regard to their degree of probability or safety. No man could act 
with a doubtful conscience, , but probability gave him a sufficient 
degree of moral certainty ; he could safely act with a probable con 
science, irrespective of the ultimate truth or falsity of the probable 
opinion on which he acted, and the phrase qui probabiliter agit pru- 
denter agit was accepted as an axiom. 1 As La Croix puts it, a man 
who acts with a doubtful conscience sins ; in constructing the syl 
logism which leads to his determination he must not say that its 
lawfulness is certain, but that it is probable ; to this a prudent man 
can assent, for it certainly is so, and this leads to a certain conclu 
sion. 2 Or, as Laymaim says, the certainty which justifies action on 
a probable opinion is the fact that in the opinion of the doctors it is 
probable. 3 

1 Nam cum quselibet opinio tutam reddat conscientiam in operando, non minus 
tutus erit operans juxta unam quam juxta aliam opinionem. Jo. Sanchez Se- 
lecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIV. n. 66. 

Et dum opinio hanc certitudinem de probabilitate habet est tuta ; ea enim 
tuta est quse peccatum excludit, et in hoc quod est peccatum excludere nulla 
opinio est tutior quam alia. Mendo Epit. Opin. Moral., Discursus 
gendus n. 7. 

2 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 303-6. 

3 Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1, cap. 5 \ 2, n. 8. 


Alongside of this there had gradually grown up the use of what 
are known as reflex principles, not for the determining of general 
speculative questions as to the probable lawfulness of acts, but as 
valuable aids in resolving special cases. The earliest of these, which 
has been alluded to in the preceding chapter, is the rule that invinci 
ble ignorance excuses from sin. Already in the time of St. Bernard 
it had been thus employed, and the saint condemns it, though as yet 
it was far from enjoying the extension which it received at the hands 
of the casuists. 1 Gratian quotes from the pseudo-Augustin that they 
alone can plead ignorance who have had no opportunity of instruction, 2 
and he further asserts that in adults ignorance of natural law is 
damnable. 3 John Nider regards sins of ignorance as the most danger 
ous of all ; the sinner does not know that he has committed sin, and 
therefore cannot repent and confess, yet he is not excused. 4 St. An- 
tonino re-echoes this, adding the received maxim included among 
the rules of law collected by Boniface VIII., that ignorance of fact 
excuses, but not that of law. 5 This distinction was abandoned, and 
invincible ignorance became a fruitful source of releasing sinners 
from responsibility for their actions ; we have seen how it even led 
to a sort of speculative toleration for heresy and paganism. More 
over, the degree of culpability of the ignorance regulates the cul 
pability of the sinner ; if ignorance is venially culpable it reduces 
a mortal to a venial sin. 6 Christ evidently was in error when he 
prayed God to forgive his crucifiers, for they knew not what they 
did ; the probabilist knows better, and asserts that if they were in 
vincibly ignorant they committed no sin. 7 The degree of diligence 
requisite to excuse from error in cases of doubt varies with the 
temper of the theologian. Valere Renaucl lays down requirements 
which are almost impracticable. 8 Modern authorities are less harsh. 
A conscience is invincibly erroneous when ordinary diligence fails to 
indicate the error. To follow such an erroneous conscience leads to 

1 S. Bernard! Serai, de Diversis xxvi. n. 2. 

2 Ps. August. Qusestiones ex Novo Test. Q. 67. Can. 16 Dist. XVIL 

3 C. 12Caus. 1, Q. 4. 

4 Jo. Nider Prseceptorium Divinae Legis, Praecept, in. cap. viii. 

5 S. Antonini Summaa P. I. Tit. xx. (Ed. Venet. 1582, T. I, fol. 291, col. 4). 

6 Sayri Clavis Reg Sacerd. Lib. n. cap. ix. n. 33. 

7 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. i. n. 361. 

8 Reginald! Praxis Fori Po3nit. P. i. Tit. xi. n. 28. 


no sin, for it is a conscientia recta, whether it be true or false, and 
to disobey its commands is sin, though the action may be innocent. 1 
How exceedingly lax the definition of invincible ignorance has be 
come is seen in Gury s argument to prove that the more probable 
opinion may be abandoned for the less probable : Xo man is bound 
who is invincibly ignorant of the obligation ; but ex hypothesi I am 
invincibly ignorant of the obligation when it is uncertain or not cer 
tainly known ; therefore I cannot judge myself to be bound; there 
fore I cannot know myself to be bound ; therefore I am not bound. 2 
Thus invincible ignorance may exist whenever there are two opposite 
probable opinions. 

The two reflex principles however which exercised the greatest 
influence on the later probabilism were the maxims that the condi 
tion of the possessor is the better melior est conditio possidentis 
and that a doubtful law is not obligatory lex dubia non obligat. A 
number of subsidiary ones are enumerated by some of the moralists, 
but our purpose will be answered by a brief consideration of these. 
The recognition of their applicability to morals was simultaneous, or 
nearly so, but while the capabilities of the former in the hands of 
skilful dialectitians was speedily recognized, the full development of 
the latter was of slower growth. 

As a legal rule the advantage of possession was embodied in the 
canon law by Boniface VIII. in 1298. 3 St. Antonino treats it 
wholly as a matter of the forum contentiosum, and confined to the 
sphere of litigation, 4 but the moralists soon extended its applica 
tion. Prierias, for instance, tells us that in case of frauds on the 
revenue, when there is doubt the confessor is not to compel restitu 
tion, because the possessor is entitled to the advantage of his posi 
tion f and in the second half of the sixteenth century Azpilcueta 
shows the tendency to extend its application to the forum internum. 6 
About 1600 Carbone shows that its use in morals was becoming 

1 Bonal Institt. Theol. T. V. De Act. Human, n. 102, 107, 109. Marc Institt. 
Alphons. n. 16, 21, 22. Stapf Epit. Theol. Moral, g 54, n. 2, 3. 

2 Gury Comp. Theol. Moral. I. 60. 

3 In part delicto vel causa melior est conditio possidentis. Reg. Juris Ixv. in 
Sexto, ad calcem. 

4 S. Antonini Summse P. i. Tit. xx. (Tom. I. fol. 294, col. 1). 

5 Summa Sylvestrina s. v. Gabella in. n. 29. 

6 Azpilcuetee Comment, cap. Si quis autem n. 4. 

II. 23 


recognized when, in debating the question of obedience to the evil 
command of a superior, he argues, " If you argue that the superior 
is in possession of your obedience, I answer that the subject is in 
possession of his life and reputation, the loss of which is threatened." 1 
Soon afterwards Tomas Sanchez debates the matter at much length, 
in a manner to indicate that it as yet was a novelty in the schools. 
He admits that it is generally regarded as appertaining only to law, 
but thinks it more probable that it can be used in solving doubts of 
conscience. In these, as between law and liberty, possession stands 
against the side on which rests the burden of proof, as in the courts. 
If I know that I have incurred a debt and doubt whether I have paid 
it, I must pay it ; if I have made a vow and doubt whether I have 
performed it, I must perform it ; possession stands for the obligation, 
and the burden of proof is on me. 2 This is a key to the attitude 
which the moralists were taking. They regarded a doubt of con 
science as a litigation between the law on one side and liberty, or the 
desire of the individual, on the other, in which the conscience acted as 
judge, and either side was entitled to the benefit of any legal subtilties 
that it could suggest. This curious attitude is concisely expressed by 
Father Terrill when, in defending the doctrine of possession, he says 
that it equally favors God against us and us against God. 3 The 
result of this was of course unfortunate, for it opened the door to 
all the refinements of casuistry and subordinated the simple ideas of 
right and wrong till they sometimes disappeared. 

The doctrine of possession was of essential service to probabilisrn, 
for it enabled the moralists to explain away the old rule that in doubt 
the safer part must be chosen. The two axioms were declared to be 
in no way antagonistic, as had commonly been thought, but to be 
mutually supporting and explanatory, for it is always safer to side 
with the part in possession. 4 The ingenuity of the casuists rapidly 
developed it and applied it to all kinds of questions, and it was found 

1 Carbonis Sumrnse Summar. Gas. Conscient. T. I. P. I. Lib. 5, cap. 14. 

2 Th. Sanchez in Prsecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. x. n. 9-13. 

3 Concina Theol. Christ, contr. Lib. II. Diss. ii. cap. 7 ; n. 2. As Marc puts 
it (Institt. Mor. Alphons. n. 40), law and liberty litigate together, and the actor 
is the judge to decide according to the reasons on either side. 

4 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLII. n. 13. Marchant Tribunal. 
Animar. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. iv. Q. 4. Busenbaum Medull. Theol. Moral. 
Lib. i. Tract. 1, cap. 2, Dub. 3. 


so efficacious that Caramuel enthusiastically describes it as a light 
house to guide the bewildered moralist through the darkness of 
doubts. 1 Its ordinary application can be understood by an example 
which has been transmitted for two centuries and a half from one 
generation of writers to the next. On the eve of a fast day a man 
eats meat, doubtful whether midnight has struck or not ; he commits 
no sin, for liberty is in possession ; he eats meat on the night of a 
fast, under the same doubt ; he sins, for law is in possession. 2 This 
ingenious method of solving doubts which are otherwise impenetrable 
has much to recommend it as a portion of the general effort to limit 
the obligations of the Christian and enable him to win salvation at the 
least possible cost, and as such it well merits the eulogium of Cara 
muel. In many cases, however, it only removes the difficulty a 
single step ; the question as to which side is entitled to the benefit of 
possession is often intricate and obscure ; the rule laid down by Tomas 
Sanchez, that it is against the one on which rests the burden of proof 
is still relied upon, 3 but theologians admit that this is not always easy 
to define and various subsidiary principles are introduced to elucidate 
it and extend its operation. Liguori tells us that when it is probable 
that the obligation of the law has not commenced or has ceased the 
presumption in favor of the law disappears and possession stands for 
liberty, while his commentator, Marc, assures us that the cases in 
which the law is in possession are much fewer than those in which 
liberty is. 4 This is virtually the same as the dictum of La Croix 

1 Caranmelis Theol. Fundam. n. 2. " In dubiorum tenebris et caligine est 
pharos ilia regula, Beatus qui possidet." 

2 Jo. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLII. n. 15 ; XLIII. n. 5. S. Alph. de 
Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 32. Gury, however ( Casus Conscientice. I. 65, 66) 
argues against Liguori that even in the second case eating meat is allowable. 
He relies not on the question of possession but on the reflex principle that a 
doubtful obligation is not binding. It is a good illustration of the facility with 
which the reflex principles can be applied to produce any required conclusion. 

3 Scavini Theol. Moral. Tract. I. Disp. ii. cap. 3, Art. 2 | 2 Q. 8. S. Alph. 
de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 26 ; Istruzione practica, c. 1, n. 14. Marc 
Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 47. 

4 S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. Hi. n. 112, Q. 3. Marc Institt. 
Moral. Alphons. n. 98. 

This apparently is one of the subjects in which the Ligorian disciples find 
it troublesome to establish the shadowy distinction between their master s real 
probabilism and affected equiprobabilism. 


that when there is a probable reason possession prevails against a 
greater probability ; l or, as Arsdekin puts it, a man is always in 
possession of his liberty and cannot be deprived of it by a doubtful 
precept. 2 

The limitless opportunity thus afforded for the exercise of casuistic 
ingenuity and the ease with which the doctrine of possession could 
be made to reach any desired conclusion is seen in its use by con 
tending moralists to prove either side of a question. Thus in the 
prolonged debate as to the repetition of a confession of which the 
validity is doubtful, the probabilists proved the negative because pos 
session stands for a confession of which the invalidity is uncertain, 
while the rigorists proved the affirmative because the obligation of the 
precept is in possession. 3 Another celebrated controversy, whether, 
when a sin has been certainly committed and the sinner is doubtful 
whether he has confessed it, he is obliged to confess it, was similarly 
solved in either sense ; the probabiliorists insisted that the law of 
confession is in possession, the probabilists that possession stands 
with liberty. 4 A still more controverted phase of the same general 
question relates to the confession of doubtful sins. A lax probabilist 
like La Croix asserts that in such case a man is in possession of his 
innocence and liberty ; a moderate probabilist like Reiffenstuel asserts 
that possession stands for the obligation of confession, and that up to 
the middle of the seventeenth century this was almost the universal 
opinion and practice. 5 It is true that in 1699 we have the repetition 
by the papal Penitentiary of the old rule that possession is applicable 
only in litigation, and not in the forum of conscience, 6 and this con 
tinued to be the doctrine of the rigorists, 7 but it was too important 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 364. 

2 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 1, Princip. 4. 

3 Liguori Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 505. Antoine Theol. Moral. De Prenit. 
Art. ii. Q. 12. 

* La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 273. 

5 La Croix Lib. vi. P. ii. n. 607-8. Reiffenstuel Theol. Moral. Tract, xiv. 
Dist. vii. n. 56. 

6 Nam regula dicta procedit in materia justitiae et in foro judicial! dumtaxat, 
non in materia aliarum virtutum et in foro conscientise, secundum veriorem 
sententiam. Syrus Placentinus dilucidatio Facultatum Minorum Pcenitent. 
Prooem. Q. viii. (Romas, 1699.) 

7 Habert Theol. Moral. De Gonscientia cap. iv. Q. 1. Piselli Theol. Moral. 
Sumrnse P. I. Tract. 1, cap. 2. 


an element in reflex probabilism to be abandoned, and its application 
to morals is accepted as a matter of course and practised by the 
Ligorian school which is now dominant everywhere. 1 

Even more important than this, however, in the reigning theology, 
is the reflex principle that a doubtful or insufficiently promulgated 
law does not obligate. This is closely allied with the theories of incul- 
pable ignorance, and we have already seen (pp. 248, 352) the variations 
in the teaching of the Church as to ignorance of natural and divine 
law. The canon law gives no support to such a principle, for it 
embodies a decretal of Innocent III., in the case of the Bishop of 
Hildesheim, who had celebrated mass after papal excommunication, 
and pleaded in extenuation that he had only heard of the sentence by 
public report, he had received no letters and doubted the jurisdiction 
of the Archbishop of Magdeburg, whom the pope had deputed for 
the purpose. Innocent sternly brushed aside all these excuses ; as in 
doubtful matters, the safe course is to be followed, he should have 
abstained from the sacraments even if he doubted the sentence. 2 We 
have also seen that in the rules collected by Boniface VIII. and 
included in the canon law is one which, while it admits the excusa 
tory power of ignorance of fact, asserts that ignorance of law is no 
excuse. 3 Aquinas is the main reliance of the probabilists who base 

1 A practical example of the use that can be made of the doctrine of posses 
sion is its elucidation of the long-debated case of an adulterer whose child is 
brought up with the legitimate offspring of the husband and shares their patri 
mony. If the father has no doubts as to his paternity he is bound to restitution. 
If he has doubts, he is bound to nothing, for the marriage is in possession, and 
moreover he is in possession of not satisfying the injury. Liguori, Istruzione 
pratica, cap. x. n. 102. 

So if a man who borrows or hires a thing loses it and doubts whether his 
negligence was at fault, he is not bound to restitution, for a fault is not to be 
presumed and he is in possession of his innocence. Jo. Sanchez Selecta de 
Sacram. Disp. XLIII. n. 11. Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 1, 
Princip. 9. 

At the same time there is one case in which probabilism is more potent that 
possession. Marchant tells us (Trib. Animar. Tom. I. Trac . V. Tit. iv. Q. 4, 
Concl. 1) that if a man doubts his right to a property, and the adverse reasons 
are the stronger, possession does not help him, and he must have recourse to 

2 C. 5 Extra V. xxvii. For Liguori s attempt to explain this away see his 
De Usu moderate, n. 53. 

3 Ignorantia facti non juris excusat. Reg. Juris xiii. in Sexto ad calcem. 


their arguments on his dictum that a law to be binding must be 
promulgated and brought to the notice of those subject to it, but he 
adds that the law of nature is promulgated by God impressing it on 
the human mind to be naturally known, 1 while elsewhere he says that 
ignorance of law is no excuse, unless it be the invincible ignorance 
of insanity or idiocy, for that ignorance itself is a sin ; a man who 
does not confess a sin because through ignorauce of divine law he does 
not know it to be a sin makes a fictitious confession, 2 and, moreover, 
he expressly asserts that where there is doubt a man must act accord 
ing to the letter of the law or consult a superior. 3 The lax morality 
of the nineteenth century evidently finds small warrant for its soph 
isms in the simplicity of the thirteenth. 

The early probabilists taught a different doctrine from this, though 
apparently they regarded the matter rather as a subsidiary means of 
determining doubtful questions of possession, and even as to this they 
were not wholly agreed. Tomas Sanchez asserts that when, after due 
diligence, the existence of a law or precept is uncertain, Vazquez 
holds that it is binding, and so does Salas, providing it does not cause 
too great inconvenience or danger, but it is much truer that in such 
case the law does not obligate, whether it is natural or positive, divine 
or human, for then liberty is in possession. Besides, no one is bound 
by a law which is not sufficiently promulgated to him, and so teach 
Suarez, Henriquez and Sa. But if the law is certain and there is 
doubt as to its application or abrogation it is in possession and must 
be obeyed, though if there are two opinions on the subject the less 
probable can be followed against the more probable. 4 The matter 
seems to have attracted little attention and to have been regarded as 

1 S. Th. Aquin. Summae I. n. Q. xc. Art. 4. There is another dictum of 
Aquinas which affords great comfort to the probabilists. "Nulius ligatur per 
praeceptum aliquod nisi mediante scientia illius praecepti "but they always 
omit what follows "nee aliquis ignorans praeceptum Dei ligatur ad praeceptum 
faciendum nisi quatenus tenetur scire praeceptum." De Veritate Q. xvii. 
Art. iii. 

2 Quod ignorantia juris non excusat, quia ipsa peccatum est. Unde aliquis 
de hoc quod non confitetur peccata quse nescit esse peccata propter ignorantiam 
juris divini non excusatur a fictione. S. Th. Aquin. in IV. Sentt. Dist. XXI. 
Q. ii. Art. 2 ad 4. Cf. Quodl. in. Art. x., xxvii. 

3 Si enim dubium sit debet vel secundum verba legis agere vel superiorem 
consulere. Ejusd. Summae I. n. Q. xcvi. Art. 6 ad 2. 

4 Th. Sanchez in Praecepta Decalogi Lib. I. cap. x. n. 32-35. 


practically unimportant. Juan Sanchez, one of the most lax of 
moralists, makes no direct allusion to it, and virtually denies it when 
he says that if there is doubt whether a law is annulled by a subse 
quent one, or whether necessity or other circumstance exempts from 
it, it is in possession and must be obeyed. When there is doubt as 
to the application of a law to a special case even epikeia cannot be 
invoked to deprive it of possession. 1 In 1643, however, Marchant 
shows the development of the doctrine, though he still treats it as 
springing from the theory of possession. When the doubt is as to 
the existence of a law, liberty is in possession ; a law does not obli 
gate unless it is known, or is duly promulgated, and, with respect to 
one who really doubts, it is held to be insufficiently promulgated, and 
the doubter is in possession of his liberty. Here is broached the 
theory destined to have almost illimitable consequences, that the 
doubt is in itself a proof of the insufficient promulgation of the law, 
but Marchant hastens to limit it, as though frightened by his own 
statement. The doubt may be threefold as to whether the law 
exists, and in this case you can act if the act is not in itself evil ; it 
may be as to the interpretation of the law and in this case you can 

1 J. Sanchez Selecta de Sacramentis Disp. XLIII. n. 8. Henriquez, however 
(Theol. Moral. Lib. xiv. cap. iii. n. 3, Comment, x.), denies this, because in 
doubt the condition of the possessor is the better. 

Epikeia (eirieiKeta, clemency) is another of the devices for eluding obedience 
to law. As defined by Aquinas (Summse Sec. Sec. Q. cxx. Art. 2) it is a 
moderation of the letter of the law, or equity superior to law. St. Antonino 
(Summa P. I. Tit. iii. cap. 10 \ 10) defines it as a benignant interpretation of 
the law, by the judge in the forum externum, by the individual in the forum 
internum. The probabilists turned it fully to account. If there is a probability, 
according to Viva (Cursus Theol. Moral. P. I. Q. vi. Art. 6, n. 4), that the legis 
lator did not or could not intend the law to apply to the case in hand it need 
not be obeyed, though it is more probable that he did. Liguori (Theol. Moral. 
Lib. i. n. 201) following the Salamanca doctors (Cursus Theol. Moral. Tract. 
XI. cap. 4, n. 45) applies it to cases where the law would be injurious or too 
onerous ; thus a man is not obliged to keep a feast-day if it would cause him 
to lose a considerable profit. See also Rieffenstuel Theol. Moral. Tract. I. Dist. 
iii. n. 53. Roncaglia Univ. Theol. Moral. Tract, i. Q. ii. cap. 1, Q. 1. Gury 
Comp. Theol. Moral, i. 113. Gousset Theol. Moral. I. 177. Varceno Comp. 
Theol. Moral. Tract, in. cap. 3; cap. vii. Art. 1. Marc Institt. Theol. Alphon- 
sian. n. 173-4. 

Marc also invokes epikeia to prove that a doubtful law imposes no obligation. 
Ibid. n. 95. 


act according to the view most favorable to yourself; but it may 
also be as to the application of the law to the special case, and in 
this you must abstain unless you can dismiss the doubt by a probable 
reason. 1 As late as 1656 Caramuel alludes to the belief that a law 
invincibly ignored is not binding, as held by some, among whom he 
specifies the Jesuit Sforza Pallavicino, thus indicating that as yet it 
was rather a novelty. 2 

Toward the close of the seventeenth century Arsdekin s definition 
proves that the scruples of Marchant had been argued away. He 
who doubts the existence of a law is not bound by it ; if certain as to 
the law and doubtful as to its application to the case he can resolve 
that he is not obligated ; if the doubt is as to the reception of the 
law it is probable that it is not binding, but if as to its abrogation it 
is in possession ; if the object for which the law was promulgated 
ceases the law ceases, and some hold that this applies when the object 
of the law ceases as to a particular case, but the opposite is more 
common. 3 Thus the reflex principle had established itself that a 
doubt as to the existence or applicability of a law proves its insuffi 
cient promulgation and consequently invalidates it. La Croix is able 
to assert this as a fundamental truth, and consequently that there is 
invincible ignorance and that liberty is in possession. He proves that 
a man cannot sin when he acts on a probable opinion by the enthy- 
meme : He who acts against the law through invincible ignorance of 
the law does not sin ; he who acts on a probable opinion, if he errs, 
acts against the law through invincible ignorance of the law : there 
fore he does not sin. 4 When he subsequently remarks that doubts 
as to the existence or applicability of laws are the commonest of 
things, we see to what a limitless extent the moralists were able to 
soothe the pangs of the sinner s conscience. 5 The probabilists also 
found in it an additional proof of the truth of probabilism, for they 
pointed out that if there is a law prohibiting the use of the less prob- 

1 Marchant Tribunal Animar. Tom. I. Tract, v. Tit. 4, Q. 3, Reg. 2-4. 

2 Caramuelis Theol. Fundam. n. 558. 

3 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. nr. Tract. 1, cap. 1, Princip. 5-8. La Croix 
Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 280. 

4 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. vi. n. 282. 

5 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 312, 486. " Certum enim est dubia circa 
leges esse frequentissima, sive leges ejusmodi dentur sive non." 


able opinion it is insufficiently promulgated, and therefore not binding. 1 
In fact, modern probabilism is based on the principle that the obliga 
tion of law depends on its promulgation, and the degree of this is 
determined by the comparative probabilities of the opposing opinions 
in a given case. 2 

The supreme importance attached to this reflex principle may be 
attributed to Liguori. Its capacity to furnish a convenient solution, 
in the laxer sense, to all doubts had gradually been recognized, and 
the moralists had brought it constantly into greater prominence. 
Dr. Amort had, shortly before, piously shifted the responsibility for 
human casuistry on God by arguing that when the opinion in favor 
of the law does not appear evidently and notably more probable it is 
morally certain that there is no obligation, for when God desires that 
his law should be binding he is obliged to render it evidently and 
notably more probable 3 though, as we have just seen from La Croix, 
there were few cases in which the ingenuity of the casuists could 
not raise doubts as to the application of the law. Liguori evidently 
regards it as the one principle by which all probabilism can be de 
fended, and devotes his whole energies to its demonstration. It is 
applicable not only to human precepts, but to the divine and eternal 
laws. An uncertain law cannot induce a certain obligation, for 
human liberty is in possession before the obligation of the law, and 
when the rigorists denied this because the divine law is eternal, he 
answers that although all future things were present to God at the 
beginning, the idea of man must have been conceived by him before 
the idea of law to govern man, and therefore man must be considered 
as antecedent to law and originally free from law. It is true that 
the so-called equiprobabilism which he at one time advocated led 
him to the definition that when the opinions on both sides are equally 
balanced there cannot be certainty that the law applies to the case, 
therefore the law is doubtful and is not binding ; still he does not 
limit the principle to this equal probability, but broadly declares 
that every action is permissible when we are not convinced or mor- 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. n. 274. Roncaglia Univ. Mor. Theol. 
Tract, i. Q. 1, cap. 2, Q. 3. 

2 Bonal Institt. Moral. Tom. V. De Act. Human, n. 139-40. 

8 Quoted approvingly by Liguori, De Usu moderate n. 11. The Jesuit Terrill 
had already furnished the germ of this pious argument (Concina Theol. Christ, 
contracta Lib. n. Diss. ii. cap. 5, n. 11). 


ally certain that it is against the faith or morals. 1 Even though the 
law may comprehend the case in question it does not obligate at the 
time, because while the doubt exists it is not a law that obligates ; 
nor do we thus act against the Divine Will because, not knowing 
what is the Divine Will, we are not bound to conform ourselves -to 
it. 2 Thus the burden of proof is thrown always on the law, and a 
man has only to be uncertain as to the morality of the act in order 
to be justified in committing it. It is admitted that only the ablest 
theologians are able to pronounce on intrinsic probability ; with the 
multitude extrinsic probability must suffice, and as there is scarce a 
question on which opinions are not divided, it follows that there is 
scarce a law which is sufficiently promulgated to be binding in such 
questions. The result is a system in which the virtuous may pre 
serve their virtue through their innate conscientiousness, while 
the vicious are provided with the means to render the conscience 
" certain " about almost anything which they desire to do. 

This principle of the insufficient promulgation of the law is one 
to which Liguori returns with perpetual insistauce and wearisome 
iteration ; it is his sheet-anchor, the foundation on which his whole 
structure of practical morals is built. One of his latest works, an 
exposition and defence of his system, is almost wholly devoted to it, 
and he rightfully claims it as his own, for he carried it to a further 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio De Usu moderato n. 8-40. " Quselibet igitur actio 
nobis permissa est, modo convict! aut moraliter certi non simus illam contra 
fidem aut bonos mores esse " (Ib. n. 12). In cases of doubt a man can use a 
probable opinion " formans sibi conscientiam moraliter certam de honestate 
suae actionis, quia tune cum dubia sit lex et non satis manifesto proposita hujus- 
modi lex vel non est lex vel saltern non est lex quse obligat." Theol. Moral. 
I. 53. 

There is no equiprobabilism in the passage " Onde quando se dubita se la 
legge comprenda o no quel caso, allora per quel caso ben resta dubbia la legge, 
e per tanto non obbliga. . . . E quindi concludes! che in tutti i casi dove la 
legge e incerta e non pu6 indurre obbligo certo, ivi resta certamente salva a noi 
la liberta ; e per tanto allora siam certi dell onesta delle nostre azioni." Istru- 
zione pratica cap. 1, n. 38. Thus uncertainty becomes the basis and source of 

2 Istruzione loc. cit. As Gury puts it (Comp. Theol. Moral, i. 78), proba- 
bilism can be employed not only in matters of positive law, but in those of 
natural and divine law, because if there is a true and solid probability against 
it non constat the existence of the law, and thence arises invincible ignorance 
concerning the law. 


and more dangerous development than any of his predecessors had 
dared to do. He declares that for thirty years he had read innumer 
able authors on both sides, and had sought for light from God to 
indicate the system which he should hold to avoid teaching error ; 
finally, he had determined on this, which he claims to be based on 
Aquinas ; if he errs he .errs with that holy doctor. 1 I shall have 
to consider presently the so-called equiprobabilism with which Liguori 
deceived himself, and need here only add that his immense and con 
trolling authority has caused the universal adoption of his views in 
modern teaching. 2 The practical result is seen in the dictum of 
Archbishop Kenrick that there is no need for a man to determine 
the honesty of an act; it suffices if it does not clearly appear to be 
prohibited, and in the remark of Bonal that the decision reached 
through a reflex principle has nothing to do with its objective 
morality. 3 

This is the reflex probabilism which, since the time of Liguori, 
has supplanted the old direct probabilism. It wrought a funda 
mental change in both theory and practice, and while speculatively 
more rigid it widened greatly the possibility of laxism. It demanded 
that a man should act only on certainty, and rejected, what was 
formerly deemed sufficient, the " probable conscience," or at most 
only retained the time-honored name to explain that it meant a 
conscience formed on certain reflex principles which proved the law 
fulness of an act. 4 The old rule qui probabiliter agit prudenter agit 
was declared to be false as a direct principle unless it is conceived as 
based on reflex principles, and was even pronounced to have been 
condemned by Innocent XT. in his third proposition. 5 But the 

1 Dichiarazione del Sistema che tiene il Autore, n. 49 See n. 26 sqq. for 
his efforts to prove that a passage of Aquinas means the opposite of what it says 
" Promulgatio legis naturae est ex hoc ipso quod Deus earn mentibus homi- 
num inseruit naturaliter cognoscendam " (Summse I. II. Q. xc. Art. 4 ad 1). 

a Gousset Theol. Moral. I. 84, 89, 98. Kenrick Theol. Moral. Tract, n. n. 
16. Scavini Theol. Moral. Tract. I. Disp. ii. cap. 3, Art. 2, 3 A. Q. 2. 
Varceno Comp. Theol. Moral. Tract, n. cap. iv. Art. 3. 

3 Kenrick Theol. Moral. Tract, n. n. 32. Bonal Institt. Theol. T. V. De 
Act. Human, n. 122. 

4 Roncaglia Univ. Moral. Theol. Tract, i. Q. 1, cap. 2, Q. 2. Voit Theol. 
Moral, i. 92-3. S. Alph. de Ligorio Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 40. Bonal Institt. 
Theol. Moral. T. V. De Act. Human, n. 118, 119. 

5 S. Alph. de Ligorio De Usu moderate n. 61 ; Ejusd. Apologia della Teologia 


certain conscience thus required was not, as of old, founded on the 
certainty of an opinion being probable ; it was even more easily 
attained. Towards the close of the seventeenth century Arsdekin 
had already shown us that the process was recognized that a man, 
acting on a true probability or in doubt after due examination, could, 
by the employment of a reflex principle, acquire the practical cer 
tainty that he did not commit sin ; he need not be certain that the 
act was lawful, but could feel secure that for him it was so. 1 In the 
eyes of the moralists it is not sin that is to be avoided, but only 
the responsibility for it. Moreover, in the controversy with the 
probabiliorists the development of the reflex principles gave the proba- 
bilists a decided technical advantage, for it enabled them to argue 
that when there are two opinions the more probable one does not 
afford certainty, while by the application of the reflex principles 
certainty is acquired, irrespective of the guilt or innocence of the 
act ; from direct principles a man may judge that an act is illicit, 
but by reflex principles he acquires certainty of its lawfulness; it is 
true that the actor exposes himself to the danger of material sin, 
but escapes the responsibility of mortal sin. 2 Nor does it require a 
formal application of the reflex principle ; a virtual application 
suffices. 3 

It was Liguori, thus, who made the reflex principles the basis 
of the system of morals, and his authority has maintained them in 
that position to the present time. His standing in the Church is so 
pre-eminent, and he has exercised so decisive an influence on its 
ethical teachings in modern times, that it is necessary to give a rapid 
glance at his career as a teacher. He was a man of deep and austere 
piety ; his maceration of the flesh was so severe that at times those 
around him found it difficult to endure the neighborhood of his 
person. As bishop of S. Agata de Got! he performed his episcopal 
duties with vigor and success ; as spiritual director he was eagerly 

Morale n. 13. Varceno ubi sup. Scavini ubi sup. Gury Corap. Theol. Moral. 

1 Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, Cap. 1, Princip. 4, 19. Voit 
Theol. Moral. I. 34-5. Scavini Theol. Moral. Univ. Tract. I. Disp. 1, Cap. 3, 
Art. 2, 2, Q. 5. 

2 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 344-53. Scavini Theol. Moral. Univ. 
Tract, i. Disp. ii. Cap. 3, Art. 2, 2, Q. 2, 8. 

3 Voit Theol. Moral, i. 85. 


sought, and he founded the Order of Redemptorists, of which he 
remained the head. His industry was untiring, and amid his multi 
farious duties he found time for the composition of numerous books 
which attest the wide range of his investigations and the energy of 
his authorship. He tells us that his first theological studies were 
under a probabiliorist teacher, to whose views he naturally adhered, 
until the consideration of the reflex principle as to doubtful law 
induced him to change them. He then became a probabilist for a 
time. It may have been merely a coincidence, but in 1762, about 
the time of the popular outcry at the laxity of Jesuit morals and 
the expulsion of the Society from France, he declared himself no 
longer a probabilist and developed a system proposed not long before 
by Dr. Amort, which he called eqaiprobabilism that when opposing 
opinions are equally balanced either may be followed ; when one is 
notably more probable than the other, it must be chosen. With the 
progressive decadence of the Jesuits and the opposition aroused in 
Naples against his books and his Redemptorist Order, he asserted, 
in 1773, that he repudiated the Jesuit doctrines and declared himself 
to be a probabiliorist, though he still adhered to the view that when 
opposing opinions are equally balanced the law is too uncertain to 
create a certain obligation. 1 To prove the reality of this change of 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio de Usu moderato n. 66. Animadversiones Promotoris 
fidei n. 23-5 (Concessionis Tituli Doctoris S. Alph. M. de Ligorio, Romae, 1870). 
Liguori, Apologia della Teologia Morale 1, n. 5. 

In his Dichiarazione del Slstema che tiene I Autore, n. 1, issued in 1773, he 
apologizes for incorporating Busenbaum s Medulla in his Moral Theology ; if 
he did so it was not to indorse Busenbaum s opinions, but only to take advan 
tage of his excellent arrangement " Non 1 ho premesso per seguitar la sua 
dottrina o sia quella de gesuiti " and he expressly condemns probabilism. 
He even repudiates equiprobabilism " Sicche io non sono ne probabilista ne 
equiprobabilista in modo ch io dica essere per se licito il seguire 1 opinione 
equiprobabile " (Ib. n. 3, 4). He evidently succeeded in deceiving himself by 
falling behind the reflex principle of doubtful law. 

Marc is manifestly in error (Fnstitt. Mor. Alphons. n. 90) in asserting that 
after the development of equiprobabilism in the edition of 1762, Liguori threw 
away all hesitation and firmly adhered to it. Practically he did so, for his 
solutions of cases are virtually the same as those of the more moderate proba- 
bilists, and he did not change them, but nominally he abandoned his theory. 
For the dates of his successive works and the various positions assumed in 
them by him, see Vittozzi, S. Alfonso de Liguori e il Probabilismo Comune, 
Napoli, 1874, pp. 83 sqq. 


views he points out that in the earlier editions of his Moral Theology 
he admitted as probable many opinions of Busenbaum and others 
not sufficiently sound, lists of which will be found in the later 
revisions, so that many consider him an advocate of rigor rather 
than of benignity. 1 An examination of these lists, however, of 
which one containing 99 changes is prefixed to the edition of 1762, 
and another of 23 to that of 1767, will show that they rather prove 
his vacillation of judgment than his increasing rigor; only a por 
tion have any reference to morals, and these are mostly of a trivial 
character involving no priuciples, and though most of them are in 
the direction of rigor some are in that of laxity. 2 Liguori s apologies 
and declarations towards the end of his career are all futile. He 
was a probabilist, as we shall see, under the disguise of equiproba- 
bilism ; he never was a probabiliorist, for the probabiliorists con 
sistently repudiated the ingenious device of the efficacy of the reflex 
principles. 3 

The enormous influence which Liguori has exercised and the 
authority attributed to his works, unequalled since the days of 
Aquinas, are not easily explicable, if we consider the man himself 
and the intrinsic character of his labors. Probably it may be 
ascribed to the interaction of various causes. The saintliness of his 
life, at a time when the ultramontane Church was steeped in world- 
liness, undoubtedly had something to do with it. His vigorous de 
fence of papal infallibility and of the extreme claims of the Holy 
See, at a period when the influence of the papacy had sunk to the 

1 Apologia della Teologia Morale \ II. n. 49. 

2 A striking illustration of Liguori s instability of opinion is seen in his 
treatment of the question whether an incumbent who spends in profane uses 
the superfluous revenue of his benefice is bound to make restitution. At first 
he decided this in the negative ; then in revising the book he altered this to 
the affirmative, and again in another revision he pronounces the negative 
equally probable and safely to be followed in practice (Theol. Moral. Ed. 1767, 
Q. 24, p. v. ; Q. xvi. p. viii.). 

3 Dollinger u. Reusch, II. 91. Habert Theol. Moral. De Conscientia cap. iv. 
Q. 1. Gerdil Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Q. ii. cap. 4, 5; Q. iii. c. 6. Manzo, 
Epit. Theol. Moral. P. I. De Conscientia n. 31. Alasia Theol. Moral. De 
Actionibus Humanis Diss. II. cap. vi. Q. 1-7. 

Martinet (Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Art. xii.) admits the reflex principles as a 
means of confirming moral certainty, but argues that it can be obtained with 
out them from a more probable opinion. His definition of doubtful law, how 
ever, is vastly more rigid than that of Liguori. 


lowest ebb and the spirit of revolt was rife almost everywhere, con 
tributed largely to it, as also did his ardent devotion to the Virgin 
and his support of the Immaculate Conception. He appeared in an 
age, moreover, which was barren of great theologians, and his stature 
loomed large in the absence of giants with which to compare it. 
More than all, however, was it owing to the plausible excuse which 
his so-called equiprobabilism afforded for the maintenance and justi 
fication of the system of probabilism which had become so discredited 
in the downfall of the Society of Jesus, and which yet was a neces 
sity to the Church, if the system of the confessional, which gave it 
control over the human conscience, was to be preserved and to re 
tain the veneration of the faithful. When almost every question 
was disputed and great names were ranged on either side, when the 
intricacies of casuistic dialectics had thrown doubt upon almost every 
detail of morals, it was an evident impossibility that the confessor 
could examine the countless cases daily submitted to him and could 
pronounce off-hand what was the more probable or the truer solution. 
Some easier formula, of readier application, was a necessity to satisfy 
the conscience of the sinner and avoid rendering confession " odious." 
The Church had undertaken a task beyond human capacity to dis 
charge, and it needed some method by which appearances could be 
saved, and the confessor would not be obliged to hold his penitents 
in suspense with deferred absolution while he consulted his books or 
sought instruction from experts. From the beginning of the de 
velopment of probabilism this had been urged as one of the strong 
est practical reasons in its favor the impossibility of the confessor 
discharging his duties on any other principle, and although this was 
a practical admission that the confessional was a failure and a delu 
sion, it has been re-echoed to the present day. As early as 1600, 
Carbone and, in 1607, Father Say re plead for the new doctrines on 
the score of the difficulty of any other course, in a manner to show how 
men, wearied with the impossible duty of finding their way through 
the labyrinth of discordant opinions hailed this as a refuge from 
thought and anxiety and responsibility. Tomas Sanchez followed 
in the same strain, and it has been reiterated ever since, the argu 
ment growing stronger as the moralists succeeded in enveloping 
their subject with ever-thickening darkness. Gury includes in his 
defence of probabilism an eloquent passage describing the sins to 
which probabiliorism must lead in the confessional, and concluding 


with the assertion that under it no one could undertake to administer 
the sacrament unless so versed in moral theology as to be able to 
distinguish between the more or less probable opinions, while there are 
exceedingly few (paacissimi) able to do this. Even confessors who 
profess probabiliorism complain that they cannot apply it rigorously 
in administering the sacrament of penitence, and thus they hold one 
thing speculatively and another practically. The faithful would also 
be exposed to too much difficulty, for the obligation would be im 
posed on them in doubtful matters to determine which opinion is the 
more probable, and there is mostly a moral impossibility of distin 
guishing between the more or less probable. This is very difficult, 
even to the learned. 1 Yoit even draws from the impossibility of any 
other course the conclusion that God intends no other course to be 
followed, 2 and Habert, in arguing against the system, virtually 
admits its necessity, for the only remedy he can devise is to choose 
a wise confessor and follow blindly his counsels without troubling 
oneself further, while he deplores the diabolical fury that leads the 
people to avoid learned and holy men and seek those who permit 
them to do as they please. 3 Thus the net result of the labors of the 
moralists of the last three centuries would seem to be the impossibility 
of distinguishing between right and wrong, and we can readily be 
lieve that the experience is not singular of Koncaglia, who tells us 
that he was trained as a probabiliorist and continued to be one till 
practice as a confessor showed him that it was an insupportable labor 
to be constantly weighing the probabilities of opinions, and he found 
that it satisfied his conscience to follow any opinion which he thought 
had a reasonable basis. 4 Roncaglia was a learned theologian ; for 

1 Lud. Carbonis Summ. Summar. Casuum Conscient. T. I. P. i. Lib. 5, c. 
14._Sayri Clavis Regia Sacerd. Lib. I. cap. vi. n. 4. Th. Sanchez Lib. I. cap. 
ix. n. 14, 18. Layman Theol. Moral. Lib. I. Tract. 1, cap. 5, 2, n. 7. 
Dollingeru. Reusch, II. 154. Arsdekin Theol. Tripart. P. in. Tract. 1, cap. 
2 4. La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. I. n. 283, 293. Herzig Man. Confessar. P. 
I. n. 173. Gury Compend. Theol. Moral. I. 67-8. 

Yet Marc assures us (Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 106) that equiprobabilism 
renders this an easy matter. You have only to determine whether law or 
liberty is in possession, and decide in favor of the possessor unless the other 
side is evidently more probable. 

2 Voit Theol. Moral. 1. 78. 

3 Habert Praxis Sacr. Prenit. Tract. I. cap. iii. n. 2 ; cap. vii. n. 1. 
* Roncaglia Univ. Mor. Theol. Tract. I. cap. Q. 1, cap. 2, Q. 4. 


the ordinary confessor the worldly wisdom of La Croix must suffice, 
who argues that no high degree of learning is requisite for his duties ; 
it is enough for him to have read with diligence a summa of cases ; 
much learning may per accidens be rather harmful than helpful, for 
an endeavor to apply it often involves confessor and penitent in 
difficulties and scruples ; it is better to conform to the usage of the 
Church. 1 

Thus it would seem that to the great body of confessors proba- 
bilism is a practical necessity, and Liguori had the supreme merit of 
championing it under the less offensive name of equiprobabilism at 
a time when it was too generally discredited to find direct defenders. 
He bore the ark through the desert, and he had his reward. His 
saintly merits, as manifested in the austerity of his life, produced 
the requisite number of miracles, and when, in the beatification pro 
ceedings, the accusation brought against him of relaxed teaching was 
considered, a special inquisition on the subject, founded on a detailed 
examination of his works, led the declaration, in a brief of Pius 
VII., May 7, 1807, that a double investigation of the most minute 
character had removed every doubt and difficulty, which renders it 
unnecessary for us to do more than refer to the warm commendation 
bestowed on him in the bull of canonization in 1839 and the papal 
decree of January 10, 1840. 2 A more practical indorsement, such as 
has never been granted to any other modern theologian, was that given 
by the papal Penitentiary, in 1831, in answer to the question of the 
Archbishop of Besan^on, who asked whether all the opinions in 
Liguori s Moral Theology could be safely followed, and whether 
confessors were justified in simply consulting the work and acting 
on his decisions without paying attention to the reasoning on which 
they are based, to which the reply was in the affirmative. 3 Still more 
emphatic was the reply of the Penitentiary to a person appointed to 
a professorship in which he proposed to teach the doctrines of 
Liguori, although he had been trained in a university where proba- 
biliorism was taught, and had sworn in his graduation-oath always to 
defend it ; he now asks whether he can accept the position, and whether 
dispensation from his oath is requisite, to the first of which questions 
the answer was affirmative, and to the second negative from which 

1 La Croix Theol. Moral. Lib. VI. P. ii. n. 1787-88. 

2 Vindiciae Alphonsianae pp. xxi. xxvii. 

3 Eesponsio ad Animadversiones n. 12 (Concessionis Tituli Doctoris). 

II. 24 


Liguori s disciples argue that all his opinions are more probable and 
safe. 1 When, in 1847, Scavini dedicated to Pius IX. the third edi 
tion of his theology based on Liguori, the pope replied in a letter 
warmly congratulating him that his chief object was to propagate 
as widely as possible the doctrines of Liguori and imbue with them 
the minds of students. 2 Pius further showed his estimate of Liguori 
in elevating him to the rare honor of a Doctor of the Church in 
1871. In the course of this ceremony the highest dignitaries in all 
lands exhausted the vocabulary of praise in testifying to his exalted 
authority, and in the decrees announcing the result Pius especially 
praises him for having exterminated the pest of Jansenism which 
had been evoked from hell for the destruction of the harvest of the 
Lord, and his works are decreed to be used in all seminaries and 
schools, disputations and sermons. 3 Leo XIII. is no less ardent in 
his admiration than his predecessor. When, in 1879, the Redemp- 
torist Fathers Dujardin and Jacques issued a French translation of 
Liguori s works, he gave them his blessing in an effusive epistle, in 
which he alluded to the Moral Theology as most celebrated through 
out the world, and as affording a safe rule which all confessors 
should follow. 4 When, moreover, it is the custom of the papal 

1 Ibid. n. 13. Vindicise Alphonsianse, p. xix. 

2 Tibi vehementer gratulor quod in hiscis theologicis institutionibus con- 
ficiendis . . . nihil antiquius habueris quam salutares sanctissimi ac doc- 
tissimi viri Alphonsi M. de Ligorio doctrinas magis magisque propagare, iisque 
ecclesiasticse praesertim juventuti animos imbuere. Scavini Theol. Moral. 
Univ. Prooem. 

3 Pii PP. IX. Deer. Inter eos, 23 Mart. 1871 ; Litt. Apostol. Qui Ecclesice, 
7 Julii 1871 (Pii IX. Acta, T. V. pp. 296, 336). 

Possibly some of this effusiveness may be explained by the sentence recount 
ing his merits " Quid quod ea quse turn de Immaculata Sanctae Dei Genetricis 
Conceptione turn de Romani Pontificis ex cathedra docentis Infallibilitate 
. . . a Nobis sancita sunt, in Alphonsi operibus reperiuntur et nitidissime 
exposita et validissimis argumentis demonstrata." And the Oivilta Cattolica 
says, " Non vi ha niuno il quale . . . celebri con tante lodi le glorie della 
Madre di Dio e quella sopratutto della sua Immacolata origine, o difenda con 
pari costanza il primato dei Romani Pontifici e la infallibilita delli loro 
definizioni." Vindicise Alphonsianse, p. xxxiv. 

4 " Et ne quid dicamus de Morali Theologia ubique terrarum celebratissima, 
tutamque plane prsebente normam quam conscientiae moderatores sequantur." 
Marc Institt. Moral. Alphons. p. xi. See also Epist. Quod proxime, 21 Junii 
1893 (Leonis PP. XIII. Acta, T. XIII. p. 184). 


Penitentiary to answer inquirers by referring them to the works of 
Liguori, his disciples are perhaps not without justification in assert 
ing that anyone would be guilty of rashness and of gross irreverence 
to the Holy See who should pronounce any of Liguori s opinions to 
be false or improbable, and this position gives rise to a new reflex 
principle, for if you doubt any of his opinions you can render your 
conscience certain by applying the reflex principle that so great a 
Doctor is a much safer guide than your own intellect. 1 It is a 
natural result from this strong papal impulsion that Liguori s views 
predominate throughout the Church ; modern text-books are based 
upon his works, priests are trained in his doctrines, and in them are 
to be sought the principles and practice prevailing throughout the 
Roman obedience. His disciples claim for him that he was the first 
to lay a solid foundation for morals, 2 unconscious of the slur thus 
cast on an infallible Church acting under the direct inspiration of 
the Holy Ghost, that it had waited seventeen centuries for him to 
perform this imperative duty. 3 

It therefore becomes necessary to see what difference if any exists 
between the so-called equiprobabilism of Liguori and the probabilism 
of his predecessors. Liguori taught that when opposing probabilities 
are unequal the more probable should be followed, when equal or 

1 Vindiciae Alphonsianae, pp. xxxix., xli., xliv. Cardinal Newman may be 
charitably assumed to have written in ignorance when, in his controversy with 
the Rev. Charles Kingsley, he found it expedient to discredit the authority of 
St. Alphonso (Apologia pro Vita sua, Ed. 1890, p. 352). 

Yet, great as is the assistance which such an authority as Liguori affords to 
the puzzled confessor, it requires special training to weigh correctly the rather 
loose way in which he expresses his results. See the eight rules for interpret 
ing him given by Marc, Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 108. 

2 Marc Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 105. In the proceedings for the Doctorate 
he is asserted to have originated equiprobabilism, which is a mean between 
probabilism and probabiliorism. Responsio ad animadversiones n. 228 (Con- 
cessionis Tituli Doctoris). 

3 The question of the relations of infallibility to the changes in doctrine 
and morals is imported into the discussion by a defender of probabilism, who 
points out that if it is false the Church s claim to infallibility is destroyed, 
seeing that it had been taught everywhere and used in the guidance of souls 
without condemnation for a century La Scimia del Montalto, da Francesco 
de Bonis, p. 73 (Gratz, 1698). What then are we to say to the infallibility 
which permitted the contrary doctrine to be universally taught and acted on 
prior to 1577? 


nearly equal either may be chosen, though there must be a moral 
certainty of the honesty of the act, 1 a certainty presumably acquired 
by the application of a reflex principle. This relieved the system 
of much of the odium that had attached to it, but the difference is 
more nominal than real. What to one moralist is more probable, to 
another is less probable, and the infinite questions which are disputed 
show how generally this is the case ; the distinctions are too tenuous 
to be grasped, and it is generally admitted that it is morally impos 
sible for the common mind to weigh comparative probabilities. 
Even Liguori himself, when arguing against his adversaries, tri 
umphantly asks who has a balance so delicate that he can weigh the 
exact amount of probability lacking to an opinion in favor of the 
law opposed to a very probable one in favor of liberty that reduces 
it from a probable opinion to one that can be disregarded, and he 
does not seem to recognize how the argument can be retorted on him 
when he defines that when the probability in favor of law is slight 
or doubtful the opinion favoring liberty can be followed, but not 
when the former is clear and certain, for then it must be held to be 
much more probable. 2 The mind loses itself in grasping these im 
palpable distinctions, impossible of application in practice. Besides, 
the prominence accorded to the reflex principles as the basis of the 
system rendered the question of comparative probabilities much less 
important. It was easy to say that the principle of doubtful law 
should only be applied when the opposing probabilities are equal, but 
even Liguori, as we have seen (p. 362), neglects to enforce this limi 
tation when a man is in doubt, he is to make his conscience certain 
by the application of a reflex principle, and the mere fact that there 
are two probable opinions shows that the law is insufficiently pro 
mulgated. 3 Even Marc, who strenuously labors to present Liguori s 
views in their most rigorous aspect, admits that in essentials equi- 
probabilism is in accordance with moderate probabilism, but with 
the advantage that it requires the actor to examine both sides. 4 The 

1 S. Alph. de Ligorio de Usu moderate \ 3. This essay, in which he de 
veloped his theory of equiprobabilism, first appeared in 1762. 

2 De Usu moderate n. 64. Apologia della Teologia Morale $ II. n. 48. 

3 Apologia I ir. n. 34. 

4 Institt. Moral. Alphons. n. 86, 105. For an instructive example of juggling 
with definitions see Marc s argument to establish a distinction between equi- 


distinction which Liguori claimed, that he required certainty while 
probabilism is content with probability, is illusory, for if in the 
former certainty is obtained by reflex principles, in the latter it was 
held to be gained by the certainty that the opinion is probable and 
one such factitious certainty is well worth the other. 1 

Disputes over differences such as these are so futile that one feels 
somewhat ashamed of discussing them. Such refinements of the 
closet are impracticable in the confessional, where, as Gury states 
(supra p. 367) it is exceedingly difficult to decide even which side is 
the more probable. In either system the practical result depends on 
the spirit in which it is interpreted and administered, and Liguori s 
sympathies were wholly on the side of probabilism and benignity, 
though towards the end he posed as an enemy of laxity and boasted 
that his rigorism was a subject of complaint. 2 Though he nominally 
changed his speculative opinions he did not change the solutions of 
questions, except to the trifling extent noted above. In the 1767 
edition of his Theology he classes a moderate probabiliorist like 
Thyrsus Gonzalez with Pascal and Concina as an enemy of the 
casuists, whom he defends : Moses was the first casuist, and the 
Apostles were casuists : the fact that the Popes have condemned 
some of the propositions of the casuists is no proof against them, for 
the saints themselves have erred sometimes. This is followed by a 
long and ardent defence of probabilism with the most vigorous vitu 
peration of its opponents and a labored defence of Viva. 3 It would 
be easy to present a list of his lax opinions, but a single instance will 
suffice to indicate to what his doctrines lead. Restricting the number 
of children in marriage has always been held a mortal sin. Even 

probabilism and probabilism and his misleading citations from Viva, Ron- 
caglia and Laymann (Ib. n. 100-3). 

1 The rigorists argued, reasonably enough, that when two opposite opinions 
are equally probable certainty is unattainable, and the actor who follows the 
bent of his inclination in making a selection must act with a doubtful con 
science, which all agree is inadmissible. Shguanin Anatomia Probabilismi Q. 
IV 1, n. 1, 2. 

2 Apologia della Teologia Morale | u. n. 46, 49. Dichiarazione del Sistema, 
n. 1. 

3 Theol. Moral. Dissert. Prolegom. P. in. cap. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10. See also the 
manner in which his disciple Scavini (Theol. Moral. Univ. Tract, i. Adnot. J) 
boasts of the spread of Medina s doctrine and his suppression of its repeated 
condemnations by the religious Orders. 


the laxity of Diana admits this, but when, in 1842, the Bishop of Le 
Mans reported to the papal Penitentiary that the practice was almost 
universal and asked whether confessors were to be approved who dis 
creetly avoided all reference to it in the confessional, the Penitentiary 
found in Liguori warrant for tacit approbation, and his good Redemp- 
torist disciples parade this as a matter of boasting. 1 

It is small cause for wonder, under such circumstances, that the 
question is warmly disputed whether there is really any difference 
between Liguori s eqniprobabilism and the old probabilism. The 
Jesuits, delighted to find that the laxity, which contributed to their 
downfall in the eighteenth century, is recognized and adopted by the 
Church in the nineteenth, assert that Liguori was a probabilist. The 
Redemptorists, jealous of the fame of their founder as the discoverer 
of the new and triumphant system of morals, assert that his equipro- 
babilism is distinct and is an infallible guide in the tangled paths of 
moral science; but, as we have seen, his latest expounder, the Re- 
demptorist Father Marc, admits that there is virtually no distinction 
between it and moderate probabilism. 2 

Before leaving this branch of the subject I may mention a some 
what modified system proposed by Stapf in a theology written by 
order of an Austrian imperial commission and ordered to be used as 
a text-book by a decree of 1830. The author was evidently a very 
cautious and conservative probabilist who rarely quotes Liguori. He 
tells us that after proper investigation we should embrace the side 
that is supported by the strongest reasons. This he says avoids the 
errors of both the laxists and rigorists, while it is not strictly proba- 
biliorism, for in many cases