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of the holy man, and the solemnity of his ministration; to pronounce absolution in this case, is to warrant him so far as his case is warrantable : that is, to speak comfort to him that is in need: to give sentence in a case which is laid before him ; in which the party interested either hath no skill, or no confidence, or no comfort. Now in this case, to dispute whether the priest's power be judicial, or optative, or declarative, is so wholly to no purpose ; that this sentence is no part of any power at all; but it is his office to do it, and is an effect of wisdom, not of power; it is like the answering of a question, which indeed ought to be asked of him; as every man prudently is to inquire in every matter of concernment, from him who is skilled, and experienced, and professed, in the faculty. But the priest's proper power of absolving, that is, of pardoning (which is, in no case, communicable to any man, who is not consecrated to the ministry), is a giving the penitent the means of eternal pardon, the admitting him to the sacraments of the church, and the peace and communion of the faithful; because that is the only way really to obtain pardon of God; there being, in ordinary, no way to heaven but by serving God in the way, which he hath commanded us by his Son, that is, in the way of the church, which is his body, whereof he is prince and head. The priest is the minister of holy things; he does that by his ministry, which God effects by real dispensation; and as he gives the Spirit, not by authority and proper efflux, but by assisting and dispensing those rites, and promoting those graces, which are certain dispositions to the receiving of him: just so he gives pardon; not as a king does it; nor yet as a messenger ; that is, not by way of authority and real donation ; nor yet only by declaration : but as a physician gives health ; that is, he gives the remedy which God appoints; and if he does so, and if God blesses the medicines, the person recovers, and God gives the health.
52. For it is certain that the holy man, who ministers in repentance, hath no other proper power of giving pardon, than what is now described. Because he cannot pardon them, who are not truly penitent; and if the sinner be, God will pardon him, whether the priest does or no; and what can be the effect of these things, but this; that the priest does only minister to the pardon, as he ministers to repentance ? He
tells us upon what conditions God does pardon, and judges best when the conditions are performed, and sets forward those conditions by his proper ministry; and ministers to us the instruments of grace; but first takes accounts of our souls; and helps us, who are otherwise too partial, to judge severe and righteous judgment concerning our eternal interest, and he judges for us, and does exhort or reprove, admonish br correct, comfort or humble, loose or bind. So the minister of God is the minister of reconciliation : that is, he is the minister of the Gospel; for that is the word of reconciliation,' which St. Paul affirms to be intrusted to him : in every office by which the holy man ministers to the Gospel, in every of them he is the minister of pardon.
53. But concerning that which we call absolution, that is, a pronouncing the person to be absolved; it is certain that the forms of the present use, were not used for many ages of the church: in the Greek church, they were never used;
and for the Latin church, in Thomas Aquinas's time, they were so new, that he put it into one of his quæstiones disputatæ, whether form were more fit, the optative or the judicial ; whether it were better to say, 'God of his mercy pardon thee,' or 'By his authority committed to me, I absolve thee;' and in Peter Lombard's days, when it was esteemed an innocent doctrine to say, that the priest's power was only declarative, it is likely the form of absolution would be according to the power believed; which not being then universally believed to be judicial, the judicial form could not be of universal use; and in the Pontifical there is no judicial form at all; but only optative, or by way of prayer. But in this affair, besides what is already mentioned; I have two great things to say, which are a sufficient determination of this whole article.
54. The first is, that, in the primitive church, there was no such thing, as a judicial absolution of sins, used in any liturgy, or church, so far as can appear; but all the absolution of penitents which is recorded, was the mere admitting them to the mysteries and society of the faithful in religious offices, the sum and perfection of which were the holy sacrament of the Lord's supper. So the fourth council of Carthagem makes provision for a penitent that is near death;
m Can. 76.
* Reconcilietur per manus impositionem, et infundatur ori ejus eucharistia :' *Let him be reconciled by the imposition of hands, and let the eucharist be poured into his mouth :' that was all the solemnity: even when there was the greatest need of the church's ministry; that is, before their penances and satisfactions were completed, the priest or bishop laid his hands upon him, and prayed, and gave him the communion. For that this was the whole purpose of imposition of hands, we are taught expressly by St. Austin, who being to prove that imposition of hands, viz. in repentance, might be repeated, though baptism might not, uses this for an argument; 'Quid enim est aliud nisi oratio super hominem ?'. It is nothing else but a prayer said over the main " —And indeed this is evident and notorious in matter of fact; for in the beginning and in the progression, in the several periods of public repentance, and in the consummation of it, the bishop or the priest did very often impose hands, that is, pray over the penitent; as appears in Is. Ling. from the authority of the Gallican councils :.Omni tempore, jejuniis manus pænitentibus à sacerdotibus imponanturo:' and again, 'Criminalia peccata multisjejuniis, et crebris manus sacerdotum impositionibus, eorumque supplicationibus, juxta canonum statuta, placuit purgari :' Criminal (that is, great) sins must, according to the canons, be purged with much fasting, and frequent impositions of the priests' hands, and their supplications. In every time or period of their fast, let the priests' hands be laid upon the penitents :' that is, let the priests frequently pray with him, and for him, or over him. The same with that which he also observes out of the Nicene council P;' • Vultu et capite humiliato, humilitèr et ex corde veniam postulent, et pro se orare exposcant:' that is the intent of imposition of hands; · Let the penitent humbly ask pardon,' that is, desire that the holy man and all the church would pray for him : this, in every stage or period of repentance, was a degree of reconciliation: for as God pardons a sinner when he gives him time to repent; he pardons him in one degree, that is, he hath taken off that anger, which might justly and instantly crush him all in pieces; and God pardons him yet more when he exhorts him to repentance, and
• Lib. 3. de Baptism. cap. 16. • Tertio tomo Con. Gall, c. 8. 11.
p Cap. 16. 17.
yet more when he inclines him; and as he proceeds, so does God; but the pardon is not full and final till the repentance is so too; so does the minister of repentance and
ardon: those only are in the unpardoned state, who are cut off from all intercourse in holy things, with holy persons, in holy offices; when they are admitted to do repentance, they are admitted to the state of pardon: and every time the bishop, or minister, prays for him, he still sets him forwarder towards the final pardon; but then the penitent is fully reconciled on earth, when having done his repentance towards men, that is, by the commands of the church, he is admitted to the holy communion : and if that be sincerely done on the penitent’s part, and this be maturely and prudently done on the priest's part; as the repentance towards men was a repentance also towards God, so the absolution before men, is a certain indication of absolution before God. But as to the main question ; then the church only did reconcile penitents, when she admitted them to the communion; and therefore, in the second council of Carthage?, ' absolution' is called,' reconciliari Divinis altaribus,'' a being reconciled to the altar of God:' and in the council of Eliberis, communione reconciliari,'' a being reconciled by receiving the communion,' opposite to which in the same canon'is, communionem non accipiat,'' he may not receive the communion,' that is, he shall not be absolved. The same is to be seen in the eighth canon of the council of Ancyra, in the second canon of the council of Laodicea, in the eighty-fifth epistle of P. Leo ; and the first epistle of P. Vigilius, and in the third council of Toledos, we find the whole process of binding and loosing described in these words :“ Because we find, that, in certain churches of Spain, men do not according to the canons, but unworthily repent them of their sins, that so often as they please to sin, so often they desire of the priest to be reconciled: therefore, for the restraining so execrable a presumption, it is commanded by the holy council, that repentance should be given according to the form of the ancient canons; that is, that he who repents him of his doings, being first suspended from the communion, he should amongst the other penitents often run to the imposition of hands, that is, to the prayers of the bishop and the church): but when the time of his sa
s Can. 11,
9 Can. 4.
r Cap. 72.
tisfaction is completed, according as the priest's prudence shall approve, let him restore him
to the communion.”_-That is the absolution, as the rejecting him from it was the binding him, it was an excommunication; from which, when he was restored to the communion, he was loosed : and this was so known, so universal a practice, and process of ecclesiastical repentance, that without any alteration (as to the main inquiry) it continued so in the church to very many ages succeeding; and it was for a long while together the custom of penitent people in the beginning of Lent, to come voluntarily to receive injunctions of discipline and penitential offices from the priest, and to abstain from the holy communion till they had done their penances, and then by ceremonies and prayers to be restored to the communion at Easter; without any other form of judicial absolution, as is to be seen in Albinus and in the Roman Pontifical. To which this consideration may be added ; that the reconciling of penitents, in the primitive church, was not done by the bishop or priest only; but sometimes by deacons, as appears in St. Cypriano; and sometimes by the people, as it was allowed by St. Paul in the case of the incestuous Corinthians * and was frequently permitted to the confessors in the times of persecution; and may be done by an unbaptized catechumen, as St. Austin affirms. The result of which is, that this absolution of penitents in the court Christian, was not an act of priestly power incommunicably ; it was not a dispensation of the proper power of the keys, but to give, or not to give, the communion; that was an effect of the power of the keys; that was really, properly, and in effect, the ecclesiastical absolution; for that which the deacons or confessors, the laicks or catechumens did, was all that, and only that, which was of rite or ceremony before the giving the communion: therefore, that which was besides this giving the communion, was no proper absolution ; it was not a priestly act indispensably; it might be done by them that were no priests : but the giving of the communion, that was a sacerdotal act, I mean the consecration of it; though the tradition of it was sometimes by deacons, sometimes by themselves at home : this therefore was the dispensation of the keys; this was the effect of
1 De Divers. Offio, c. 13. 16.
u Lib. 3. ep. 17.