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The Confessional

Brownson's Quarterly Review, January, 1846

Art. II.- 1. Manuel des Confesseurs.
2. Praxis Confessarii, Auctore S. Alphonso De Ligorio.
3. The Catholic Question in America.   New York.   1813.
4. Le Pretre, et la Femme de Famille, par Michelet.
5. Entire Absolution of the Penitent.    A Sermon preached by Dr. Pusey, in Christ Church Cathedral.   Oxford.   February, 1846.

It may be allowed us, like the scribe of the Gospel, to bring forth from our treasures old things and new, in treating of a usage coeval with Christianity, but which has recently been assailed with no ordinary violence, whilst it has received the homage of a numerous and distinguished class of the Anglican clergy. A veil of mystery hangs over the confessional. The whisperings of the penitent reach the ear of the confessor, there to die away without impress or echo. The counsels, reproofs, exhortations, and injunctions of the spiritual father share in the privilege of secrecy. As might be expected, persons practically unacquainted with this tribunal view it with vague apprehension ; and where prejudice has clouded the mind, distrust, suspicion, and evil surmises are indulged of proceedings dark and foul, defying proof and eluding investigation. For some ages, the training for this function of the ministry partook of its secret character, it being deemed unsafe to commit to writing the sacramental forms, or the rules by which the priest was to be guided in the difficult science of directing conscience,  ars artium regimen animarum,  but that period of reserve has long since passed away. The disciplina arcani is scarcely conceivable, now that the press has divulged and spread abroad, not only the mouldering volumes of the monastic libraries, but even the loose sheets to which confidential communications were sometimes committed ; and the Gospel adage, that no secret shall remain unrevealed, is now literally fulfilled in the many treatises which prepare the priest for the exercise of the absolving power.    Of these we have noted two at the head of our list;  the first, a French manual for confessors, which the Anglican Bishop of St. David's, Dr. Thirlwall, on occasion of the Maynooth discussion last year, mentioned with commendation ;  the second, a treatise of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, embodying the principles of his famous work on Moral Theology, and applying them to practice. A glance at this work will satisfy the reader that the holy author was a stranger to the Oxford principle of reserve in communicating knowledge, since he contemplates every imaginable abuse of the ministry, in order to mark its penalties and remedies.

The sermon of Dr. Pusey, recently delivered on his resuming the function of preaching in Christ Church cathedral, at Oxford, after three years' suspension on suspicion of orthodoxy, presents him still laboring for the restoration of ancient doctrine and discipline, which he fancies may be recovered from the ruins of the English Church. He boldly advocates the power of forgiveness, and highly commends the practice of confession, deeply deploring its neglect; but, as if it were not allowed him to see the whole truth, or to proclaim it, from his present position, he spoils his manly advocacy of the forgiving power, by presenting confession as a disciplinary rite, which, although of great advantage, is not of absolute necessity. This is the more surprising, since it appears, from a letter which, a few months ago, he addressed to an inquiring friend, that he recommends the most detailed examination of conscience on the ten commandments, the seven deadly sins, and other particulars, as a preparation for confession ; which could not be reasonably hoped to be made so minutely, if no divine precept rendered it necessary. We may, however, congratulate ourselves on the near approach of this distinguished man to correct sentiments, and his high esteem of a practice which generally forms the most serious obstacle to conversion ; and we may hope that light will soon be granted him to view it as it truly is,  a divine ordinance, in which the mercy and wisdom of our Saviour-God are wonderfully displayed.

In truth, the reasoning of the learned professor on the power communicated to the Apostles should have led him to acknowledge the divine institution of confession ; for the power is manifestly discretionary and judicial, to be exercised wisely and justly; consequently, With full cognizance of the cause on which judgment is to be passed. Christ cannot be thought to have sent his Apostles to forgive or retain sins, at their good pleasure, but rather so as to give to the penitent full assurance of pardon, and leave  the impenitent burdened with their sins.      If the power, as Dr. Pusey contends, was real and effectual, and not a mere proclamation, in general terms, to whoever might prove fit to enjoy its benefit, it belonged to the Apostles and their successors to inquire, examine, and judge, to ascertain the guilt of the applicant, and his repentance,to determine his obligations, to prescribe the conditions which he must fulfil,  and, finally, to pronounce sentence.   The authority of acquitting or condemning necessarily implies the right to sit in judgment.      

The fact related in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles may be fairly considered an instance of special confession of sins committed after baptism.    When  the sons of bceva had adjured some possessed  persons  in  the name of Jesus, whom Paul preached, a man possessed by an evil spirit rushed on them, and compelled them to seek safety in flight. This filled with terror the  inhabitants of Ephesus, of whom many who had already made profession of Christianity were awakened to a sense of their sins, and many also resolved to abandon altogether whatever might lead them to relapse into superstitious practices ; " many of them who  believed came confessing   and   declaring  their  deeds."*(footnote: Acts xix. 18)    From   the  Greek verb, which is in the perfect participle, it is clear that they had been already believers, consequently members of the Church by baptism.    Their confession regarded special acts, as the Greek term indicates.    It embraced, as Kuinoel and Bloomfield acknowledge,   "sins  of every kind," since distinct mention  is made by the sacred writer of the two classes of penitents, of whom the latter offered their magical books to be consumed I he burning of bad books is an evidence of conversion, such as penitents have, at all times, been called on to give, when suing for pardon.    There is, then, every reason to believe that a detailed confession of sins was made on this occasion.   Bloom-field maintains that the confession consisted in the open avowal of their sinful practices, not in a confidential, communication made in secret to a minister of religion ; but of this there is no proof in the sacred historian.     The publicity of the act which followed, namely, the burning of the books, does not prove that the confession was public.    It is clear, at least, that it was a special confession, which could not lose its sacramental character, if made to the priest of God, in the presence of the faithful. In the early ages of the Church, confession was regarded as so essential and prominent a part of penance, that the whole penitential discipline was frequently called by the Greek term i^oX6yr)uic!, which strictly denotes confession, and which is borrowed from the passage of the Acts just quoted. This was urged as the only means by which the sinner could quench the flames which his iniquity had enkindled. " If still you draw back," said Tertullian, " let your mind turn to that eternal fire which confession will extinguish ; and that you may not hesitate to adopt the remedy, weigh the greatness of future punishment."*(footnote: * De Poenit., c. xii.)   This stern African sees no alternative but confession or hell-fire. St. Cyprian, in milder language, expresses the same sentiment :  "I entreat you, brethren, let all confess their faults, while he that has offended enjoys life ; while his confession can be received, and while the satisfaction and pardon imparted by the priests are acceptable before God", (footnote: De Lapsis.) St. Basil affirms the same necessity :  " Necessarily," he says, u our sins must be confessed to tnose to whom has been committed the dispensation of the mysteries of God." (footnote: Reg. brev. q. cclxxxviii)

If Dr. Pusey will consult Lactantius, he will feel bound to put a term to his hesitancy, and pass from a society from which confession has been long since discarded, practically, if not in theory, to the true Church, whose title to the Catholic name is confirmed by her tenacity in retaining this divine institution. " Now," he writes, " as all heretical sects deem themselves particularly Christians, and think theirs is the Catholic Church, it should be known, that, where is confession and penance, by which the sins to which weak men are subject are cancelled, there is the true Church."(footnote: Inst., Lib. IV.,

We long to see the amiable Doctor relieved from the awkwardness of his position, and enjoying the consolations for which his heart evidently yearns. He now proclaims the Eucharistic sacrifice in churches without altars ; he affirms the power of forgiveness in the midst of his brethren, who disavow the sublime authority; .whilst others, once associated with him in the work of restoration, are gathered around altars on which the perpetual sacrifice is offered, and humbly kneel at the confessional to receive the assurance of divine forgiveness.

For a considerable time past, the Puseyite school have acknowledged that confession was practised in the early ages, but they maintain that it was public, originally springing from the desire of self-humiliation, and afterwards enjoined by the Church as an important portion of the penitential discipline which she found it necessary to establish, in order to check vice and repair scandal. The fathers, however, as we have shown, speak of it as absolutely necessary, and trace it to the divine law. If it be allowed that public confession is not divinely enjoined, they must surely be understood of that which is private and sacramental. In fact, the discipline established by the penitential canons was grounded on the conditions, divinely prescribed, on which pardon was proffered from the commencement. By the divine ordinance, sin was to be humbly acknowledged and atoned for, that the sinner might hope for reconciliation. The Church required, that, in certain cases, the acknowledgment should be public, and the satisfaction protracted during a long period. In this view, the penitential canons were reasonable and just; otherwise they must appear arbitrary and intolerable.
If confession was not originally a part of penance,  if it was not a condition for forgiveness,  it cannot be understood how public confession could at all be required. We may conceive, that, where the feelings of the faithful had been shocked by some enormity, the culprit might be called upon to express penitence for his crime; but it is not easy to comprehend how he could be required to disclose other sins, if no divine precept demanded this humiliation, even to one man. The law that would extend the obligation beyond the necessity of repairing scandal would be excessively severe. From the establishment of public penance enforcing the conditions of forgiveness, it is strange to argue that neither confession nor penitential satisfaction is enjoined by the divine law.

It is clear, from the testimony of Origen, that private confession to a priest was to precede and regulate public confession. He advises the penitent to use diligence and caution in the selection of his spiritual physician, since his judgment is to determine whether the disease is to be made known in the assembly of the faithful.*(footnote: Hom. II. in S. xxxvii.) The Penitentiary, established at Constantinople, received in private the confessions of penitents, and instructed them what sins they should publicly acknowledge for self-humiliation. Although Nectarius, in consequence of a grievous scandal, abolished the office, and left all at liberty to approach communion, according to their conscientious convictions of their own fitness, private confession continued to be practised there, as well as elsewhere, throughout the Church. Pope Leo found it necessary to forbid the avowal of sins which subjected the offenders to legal penalties; and sustained the prohibition by showing the sufficiency of private confession. " It is enough," said he, " that the guilt of conscience be made known to the priests alone by private confession." *(footnote: *  Ep. CXXXVI. alias LXXX. ad Episc. Camp).

The zeal of Dr. Pusey and his friends to restore the practice of private confession has been successful to a certain extent; but it cannot be attended with a general return to the ancient practice, as long as the divine obligation is denied.   Individuals distressed in mind may seek comfort in private conferences, and may occasionally disclose in confidence something that burdens conscience.    To open all the secret wounds of the soul requires something more than a desire of counsel or of sympathy ; it must proceed from a high sense of strictest duty, and be supported by entire confidence in the ministry.    Those who know that the validity of Anglican orders is strongly contested, and that secrecy is no part of the observance among Anglicans, will be slow to intrust a minister with the knowledge of their frailties. In many cases, these so-called confessions may easily degenerate into what Hannah More styles " the coquetry of religion." " Though far from thinking auricular confession the worst part of another church," this zealous moralist did not approve of its revival in the form of consultations of young ladies with young ministers.    " Under the humble guise of soliciting instruction and obtaining comfort, they propose to them doubts which they do not entertain, disclose difficulties which do not really distress them, ask advice which they probably do not intend to follow, and avow sensibilities with which they are not at all troubled."*(footnote: On Domestic Errors)  We have heard of young ministers on this side of the Atlantic who are closely pressing, in this respect, on the footsteps of their Oxford brethren ; but these imitations are little calculated to give any idea of the humiliation of the penitent, who, by the entire disclosure of his sins, seeks the remedy which Christ has provided.    Empirics are calculated to bring the medical profession into disgrace.    How different from tete-a-tete conferences is the process in the divine tribunal !   "The confessional is a depository of secrets, where the Christian can be unreserved  without display,  and make revelation of self
without egotism ; where he may find authority without harshness, and compassion without over-indulgence."*(footnote:  British Critic)

The eloquent writer of the article in the British Critic (Mr. Ward, if we are not misinformed) gives a just view of this institution, although he had not at that time a practical acquaintance with it. Mr. Faber, after some experiments in hearing confessions, as an Anglican minister, deemed it proper to renounce the occupation, not being quite confident in his own power to absolve. Both these estimable gentlemen, with Mr. Newman and many others, have since presented themselves as penitents to Catholic priesfls, and are now in the enjoyment of that peace of heart which surpasses all understanding. How is it that Dr. Pusey, with his high esteem of confession, still remains without ?

From the sermon of the Oxford divine, whose deficiencies in faith we would fain supply, we turn to the less grateful task of correcting the foul misrepresentations of the Parisian professor, against whose ^impure romance Dr. Pusey seasonably cautioned his hearers. The piety of woman is evidently a source of pain and mortification to Michelet, who would deprive her of mental independence, and of the virtues and graces with which religion invests her. To the confessional he traces her dissent from the impious propositions of an infidel husband, her attachment to religious observances, and her veneration for the priesthood; and, strangely enough, he argues that it must be corrupt and debauching ! He invests it with gloom, placing it in a dark recess of the Church, and presents the penitent as approaching when the shades of evening are falling, as if the hour and place were chosen for most unhallowed purposes. But who does not know that in France, and in all Catholic countries, the confessional is placed in an open and conspicuous place, according to the prescription of the Ritual,  " patenti conspicuo et apto eccle-siae loco " ? Who is ignorant that confessions, for the most part, are heard in the early part of morning, and that it is forbidden to hear the confessions of females after sunset ? With us, the press of penitents, and the dependent situation of domestics, prolong this duty to a late hour ; but the surrounding crowd are a guaranty against evil suspicion. Wherever, as in the early missions of this country, confessionals were not erected in the churches, the sacristy, in which the priest sat, was encompassed by a crowd, likely to perceive the slightest motion, and
even in some danger of overhearing the whisper of the penitent. When the missionary erected a temporary altar in the farmhouse, far from any church, the same protection was found in the number of the faithful that pressed forward to avail themselves of his ministry. It may well suit romance to imagine the penitent and confessor in some lonely cell, or darksome cave, where innocence is powerless ; but the plain matter of fact is, that confessions are publicly heard, in circumstances that afFord complete protection.

Some rail at confession itself as improper and indelicate. They consider it grossly unbecoming that hideous and foul sins should be specified, especially by females, whose modesty naturally recoils from such details. The shamefulness of sin is in its commission, not in its avowal, when made with humility and compunction ; and " there is not a worse symptom in our nature than that we blush to own what we have not been afraid to do."*(footnote: * Hannah More, Coalebs, c. xlviii.) The innocent and pure have nothing to acknowledge. The delicate and refined, whose fastidiousness shrinks from the mention of disgusting improprieties, should have recoiled with horror from their commission. The acknowledgment of them is a painful but necessary atonement to offended virtue, and, far from being immoral, is the first step to a return to rectitude. The disgust experienced in reviewing the frailties which once afforded delight is a bitter medicine, which serves to insure permanent recovery,  the pain with which their exposure jjs attended is part of the penalty which divine justice inflicts on the sinner. The confession of unnatural and enormous excesses gives glory to God in proportion to the humiliation of the penitent. As he sinks down abashed and overwhelmed with shame, the angels bear on high his sighs, tears, and prayers, which are more fragrant than incense, and sweeter than hymns of praise. God, from his high throne, regards the trembling sinner with compassion, casts all his iniquities into the bottom of the sea, remembers no longer all the prevarications by which he has prevaricated, but accepts him as a child who was dead and has come to life, and gives him assurances of mercy and love.

Many cannot conceive how foul sins may be confessed in decent language; they fancy that the very mention of them is like the breath of pestilence. In the confessional, however, as an eloquent writer observes, " the Christian may steadily, because sternly and shamefully, 'look sin in the face,' and name what out of that solemn connection the saints may not name with clean lips, and into a chaste ear."*(footnote: British Critic, for April, 1843. ) The accusation of the penitent is far different from the narrative of the adventurer, or the description of the novelist.

" 'T is not a tale; 't is not a jest,
Admired with laughter at a feast."

In few words, plain but modest, the sinner declares the nature and number of his offences. He states facts stripped of all exciting circumstances ; he enters into no unnecessary details, but simply exposes the grievous wounds of his conscience. When David said, " I have sinned," he acknowledged himself guilty of adultery and bloodshed, and humbled himself before God and the prophet. The penitent states, indeed, more minutely his evil habits and the frequency of his offences; but he is taught to avoid exciting descriptions. The shame which he feels is at once a preservative from freedom of speech, and a remedy for past excess. It is thus that divine wisdom has provided for our frailty by punishing our pride, forcing us to come forth from our lurking-place and abide the sentence of our judge. " The necessity which private confession to a priest imposes of some approach, at least, towards a definite enumeration, and so (indirectly) towards a vivid impression, of some of the more grievous and unmentionable sins, is a most powerful security for the amount of shame requisite towards all
true penance......By adding to the cup of penitence this one
powerful ingredient of shame, she [the Church] has transformed it, by her divine alchemy, from a mere soothing and perhaps not harmless potion, into a medicine of bitter taste, indeed, but most sovereign efficacy." (Ibid.)
It is almost impossible to give to the uninitiated a correct idea of the severe simplicity and strict modesty which characterize the communications of penitent and confessor. Some, who have read over the table of sins in prayer-books, fancy that the confessor puts to each penitent the questions there proposed; whereas they are only designed to aid in self-examination. Others, mistaking the object of our moral treatises, which enter at large into the most delicate matters, assert that our theological students are thus trained to qualify them for the cross-examination of penitents, all of whom, even the purest and most refined, they consider to be subjected to these disgusting interrogatories.    This is a most egregious mistake.
The variety of human maladies is treated of, that the physician may be qualified for every emergency.    If he is consulted by one suffering from a cold, or a headache, it will not be necessary for him to inquire after symptoms which mark Asiatic cholera, or dropsy; much less need he enter into all the mysteries of obstetrics.     The confessor is furnished with general knowledge, that he may understand the nature of each case which may possibly be presented for his judgment, and so may avoid  all   unnecessary questions.     His duty is to   hear and to judge; interrogatories are made only to supply the deficiency of the penitent, whose previous disclosures regulate them.    If the strictest reserve be enjoined on the penitent in detailing his offences, the tongue of the priest, consecrated to the Gospel, is guarded, that no incautious word, no superfluous question, may escape him.    "Let the priest take care," cries the Roman ritual, " not to detain any one, especially the young, of either sex, or others, with curious or useless interrogations, imprudently questioning them as to what they may be ignorant of, lest they suffer scandal and learn thence to sin."    To the authoritative warning of the ritual nothing need be added ;   yet, for the satisfaction of those who have heard the changes rung on Peter Dens, we refer to this much calumniated theologian. He reminds the confessor that questions regarding impurity are to be put "sparingly, chastely, and cautiously" ; and explaining the meaning of each term, he says,  u Sparingly, so as to make no curious and superfluous interrogations ;   chastely, so as to propose them in modest terms ; cautiously, to discover the true state of the conscience, without imparting any dangerous knowledge." *(footnote: * Vol. I., p. 379.)    The extract from the Manual, recited in parliament by Dr. Thirl wall, is to the same effect : - " It would be impossible to use too much reserve in interrogations relating to the subject of purity, or subjects connected with the breach of the sixth commandment; especially when there is danger of losing a greater benefit than the material completeness of confession. Not  to excite passions where they are dormant  is a much greater good than the material completeness of the confession." St. Alphonsus directs the confessor to inquire only, in modest and general terms, as to obedience, which

" Is woman's highest honor, and her praise " ;

and to be silent as to other points, unless brought under his notice by the questions of the penitent: " De caeteris taceat, nisi interrogatus." (footnote: * Praxis Confessarii, c. ii. circa vi. praec )
Whilst our moralists, as well as the Church authorities, anxiously guard against indiscretion, which might impart dangerous knowledge prematurely, some modern votaries of science have absolutely thrown aside all regard to decorum. It was a singular coincidence, that at the very time when some vulgar itinerants were declaiming against the indelicacy of the confessional, lectures on the origin of life were publicly delivered to large audiences of females, who were invited to the close inspection of anatomical models. The curtain which hides the secrets of the marriage-bed was drawn aside, and the use of the power of reproduction pointed out, with the professed view of guarding against its abuses. The authority of the law was in vain invoked against this outrage on morals in the name of science. A well-known contributor to the periodical press published a long article over his proper signature, in which he maintained the propriety of the lectures, and the necessity of early and ample instruction being given to every individual on all that appertains to sexual intercourse. Not so our moralists, who, whilst pointing out with minute accuracy the laws of our being, have used a language intelligible only to the learned. The confessor, furnished with this necessary knowledge for the exercise of his ministry, sits as a faithful sentinel near the fount of human life, to guard the purity of its waters, and prevent their waste. In silence he watches as long as he perceives no wanton outrage; but to the heedless or the daring he proclaims, in tones not to be mistaken, that they must not violate the law of the Eternal, or attempt to frustrate his counsels. He enters not into every minute detail, nor does he deal in mere generalities; but according to the state of mind of the penitent,  his doubts or his remorses,  he instructs him, simply and sparingly, by declaring what is forbidden. Non licet. Is there not something divine in the very idea of a self-denying ministry, that guards with such jealousy the law given by our Creator to the parents of our race, and the blessing which accompanies its observance ?
The character of a tribunal which has lasted eighteen centuries may be fairly estimated by the general persuasion of those in the midst of whom it has subsisted.    Without referring our readers to distant or past evidence, we at once appeal to the instinctive feeling of the Catholic community around us. The confessional is open to all, of every class and condition,  the corrupt and the virtuous, the illiterate and the learned, the vulgar and the refined, the lowly and the noble. Let any one consult the most depraved who have at any time resorted to confession, and he will find that it is regarded by them as an effectual remedy for sin, so that they flee from it when they are disposed to live licentiously, and have recourse to it when they propose to correct their evil ways. The pure and devoted, whose character is above suspicion, will bear testimony to its sanctifying influence, since they labor by confession to purify their souls from the slightest stains. Can it be imagined that all concur to testify in favor of an institution generally or frequently abused to perverse purposes ? The virtuous mother is most solicitous to send her daughter to confession at an early age, to preserve her in innocence ; and she grieves when she perceives that her son has ceased to approach it, since she fears that vice has found entrance into his heart. Whenever the zeal of the pious is excited for the reclaiming of the unfortunate, it is by inducing them to present themselves at the confessional that they hope to see it accomplished. Can it be, nevertheless, that its influence is adverse to virtue ? We may be allowed to say, with Mr. Sampson, a Protestant lawyer,  " If it led to licentiousness or danger, that licentiousness or that danger would have come to light, and there would be tongues enough to tell it." *(footnote: * Catholic Question, p. 89.)

It must not be forgotten that Protestants have frequent opportunities of knowing the influence of the confessional, and that those amongst them whose relations to Catholics are the most intimate show unbounded confidence in its purity. The Catholic wife approaches it with the full knowledge of her Protestant husband, and sends her daughters and sons to confession with his approbation. Would this be possible, if a shadow of suspicion rested on the mind of the natural protector of the innocence of his children,  the jealous guardian of the virtue of his consort ?

It is needless to reply at greater length to the charges advanced against an institution which is essentially directed to wash away the defilements of sin, and which is in the Church like a majestic river whose waters absorb the impurities which they meet with in their course. Confession, as Dr. Pusey remarks, was acknowledged to be a good thing by Latimer himself, who regretted that it had not been retained in England. In the reign of the fourteenth Louis, some Chinese, visiting the capital of France, and being informed of the use of the confessionals, which they saw in the churches, expressed a wish that such tribunals existed in their own country, in which self-accusation might anticipate the rigor of the law, and moral reform take the place of punishment. Rousseau, Voltaire, and a host of others, have acknowledged the powerful restraint which confession places on the passions of youth, and the fruits of restitution and good works which it produces.
The advantages to society arising from the confessional as a means of enforcing the reparation of wrongs can scarcely be estimated. It is properly the judgment-seat, where the culprit, acknowledging his guilt, escapes the penalties of the law, on conditions which combine mercy and justice. The promises of pardon held forth in the divine writings may easily be mistaken by our self-love for unreserved indulgence ; but the example of Zaccheus should convince us that reparation of frauds is necessary. In vain do we profess sorrow for injustice, if we be unwilling to repair it. Few, nevertheless, offer at once, like the publican, to restore fourfold ; whilst many are most unwilling to part with any portion of their unjust acquisitions. It was consonant with divine wisdom to refer us to the judgment of a disinterested person, instructed in the law of God, and uninfluenced by the false maxims which prevail among worldlings. The confessor is charged with the guardianship of the rights of all, and is bound to enjoin satisfaction for all wrongs which the penitent may have committed. His office empowers him to bind, as well as loose ; and he must fearlessly declare to the penitent the necessity of restoring property and character, if either has suffered from his misdeeds. This surely is a most important portion of the sacerdotal duty, and well calculated to commend it to the admiration of all. Without any possible interest, the confessor acts as if he were the hired agent of the injured individual, who is generally unknown to him, and who may be an enemy of himself or his religion. Penitents left to their own judgment generally neglect the discharge of obligations of this kind. We see men notorious for injustice, who profess religion, without caring to atone for the many frauds by which they have amassed wealth; whilst very rarely is an instance presented of restitution made by any one who has not approached the confessional.

The case reported in the Catholic Question regarded stolen property restored through the agency of Rev. Anthony Kohlmann, S. J., who was called on to declare the individual. Mr. Sampson, one of his counsel, eloquently portrayed on this occasion the advantages of confession, many of which are necessarily unknown. "Its utility," he said, "can never be proved by instances, because it cannot be shown how many have been saved by it; how many of the young of both sexes have been, in the most critical juncture of their lives, admonished from the commission of some fatal crime, that would have brought the parents' hoary hairs with sorrow to the grave. These are secrets that cannot be revealed. Since, however, the paths that lead to vice are many and alluring, is it not well that some one should be open to the repenting sinner, where the fear of punishment and of the world's scorn may not deter the yet wavering convert ? If the road to destruction is easy and smooth, facilis descensus averni,  may it not consist with wisdom and policy, that there be one silent, secret path, where the doubting penitent may be invited to turn aside, and escape the throng that hurries him along,  some retreat, where, as in the bosom of a holy hermit, within the shade of innocence and peace, the pilgrim of this checkered life may draw new inspirations of virtue and repose ? If the thousand ways of error are tricked with flowers, is it so wrong that somewhere there should be a sure and gentle friend, who has no interest to betray, no care but that of ministering to the incipient cure ? The siren songs and blandishments of pleasure may lead the young and tender heart astray, and the repulsive frown of stern authority forbid return. One step then gained or lost is victory or death. Let me, then, ask you that are parents," (the advocate addresses the jurors,) u which would you prefer, that the child of your hopes should pursue the course of ruin, and continue with the companions of debauch and crime, or turn to the confessional, where, if compunction could once bring him, one gentle word, one well-timed admonitiori, one friendly turn by the hand, might save your child from ruin, and your heart from unavailing sorrow ? And if the hardened sinner, the murderer, the robber, or conspirator, can once be brought to bow his stubborn spirit, and kneel before his frail fellow-man, invite him to pronounce a penance suited  to his crimes, and  seek salvation through a full repentance, there is more gained than by the bloodiest spectacle of terror; than though his mangled limbs were broken on the wheel, his body gibbeted, or given to the fowls of the air." *(footnote: * Catholic Question, p. 89.)
As might have been anticipated from this eloquent appeal, but still more from the freedom of our institutions, the court held the priest exempt from answering the questions proposed to him. It was gratifying to Catholic feeling, that a guaranty was thus solemnly given to so sacred a trust. Had the decision been different, the venerable Jesuit father, rather than betray his ministry, would have doubtless gone to prison, like the Augustinian Gahan, who refused to manifest the nature of the communication which he had with Lord Dunboyne at his death, nay, he would have sacrificed life itself, like St. John of Nepomuck, who was assassinated by order of Wenceslas, king of Bohemia, because he would not reveal the confession of the queen.
A word in regard to the nature of the secrecy of the confessional may be allowed us, before closing this article. It implies no more than the inviolability of the confidence reposed by the penitent in the confessor, who, under no circumstances, can reveal, to any one whatever, any sin disclosed to him in confession, or any circumstance manifested in connection with it, or make any use of the knowledge so obtained to the pain or prejudice of the penitent. There is no obligation on the penitent to declare his name, or the name of his accomplice, or to make any specifications, beyond the acknowledgment of his sins, so that he may preserve a perfect incognito; but if he be known to the confessor, he is nevertheless sure that his confidence will never be betrayed.

It has puzzled us sometimes to understand a charge of immorality advanced by some against confessors on the score of this inviolable secrecy. They appear horrified at the principle laid down by St. Thomas, that a confessor, if summoned as a witness, may deny on oath all knowledge of facts known to him only on the confession of the penitent. Yet who does not know that evidence is sought for in courts of justice only as procured by ordinary means ? The priest can testify fully, to the extent of any other witness, as to what he has seen, or what he has heard, in any way in which information can be had by others.    It must be presumed that he is called on only as an individual deriving information through channels open to all; and were the design of the court manifestly directed to discover sacramental secrets, it is so unjust that a refusal to comply would be a vindication of natural right to be true to confidence reposed in the witness, and a denial of all knowledge of the fact would be necessarily understood in a qualified sense, of knowledge such as a witness could possess. The iniquity of the attempt would put the hearers on their guard against the danger of mistaking the reply as extending to sacramental knowledge. The culprit, pleading " Not guilty," is not thought to utter a falsehood, since his denial receives a modified interpretation from the circumstances ; the lawyer, denying all knowledge of transactions which his client communicated in confidence, is understood of ordinary information, such as he might communicate without detriment to official relations ; and the ambassador, who professes not to know the secrets of his royal master, is not branded as a liar by those who are acquainted with the language of diplomacy.

But it is time to relieve our readers from the consideration of a subject which, though of high importance, may not, as presented by us, have the attractions of many other topics of the day.