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The Confessional--II

Brownson's Quarterly Review, October, 1850

ART. II. — 1. Sermons on the Obedience of Faith. By the Right Rev. SILLIMAN IVES, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina.
2. Pastoral Letter on the Priestly Office.    By the same.
3. Pastoral Letter on the Salisbury Convention.    By the same.
4. A Voice from Connecticut.    By SAMUEL FARMER JARVIS, D. D., Historiographer of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
5. Auricular Confession in the Protestant Episcopal Church.
By a Protestant Episcopalian.
6. The History of the Confessional.    By JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont.

OUR readers must not imagine that we have undertaken to furnish them with a bookseller's catalogue ; we have only placed on our list a few out of many publications which have been recently issued on the great controversy concerning Confession. This has been chiefly an internal dispute in the Protestant Episcopal Church, occasioned, we imagine, by the efforts made on the other side of the Atlantic to restore the practice in the Established Church of England, of which a distinguished advocate (Mr. Maskell) has recently passed to our communion. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, a few years since, became an ardent supporter of the same views, which he urged on the consideration of his hearers throughout his diocese. The publication of his sermons gave form and consistency to the reports which were spread abroad of his Roman tendencies, and notwithstanding the caution with which he expressed himself, and the protection which he sought under the bulwarks of the English Establishment, he was denounced at home and abroad, by presbyter and layman, as a dangerous innovator. A North Carolina Senator of the United States rebuked his assumption ; a presbyter of the diocese and a New York presbyter, a native of North Carolina, undertook to refute him ; the aged historiographer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States sent forth his warning voice, with oracular solemnity, from Connecticut; the late editor of The Churchman resumed his pen to trace the precise limits of the midway course to be pursued between orthodoxy and Protestantism ; and last, not least, the chivalrous Bishop of Vermont appeared on the battle-ground, encased in the ponderous armour of antiquity, to make a diversion by attacking the Roman camp, instead of leading back his too adventurous fellow-knight, who was incautiously advancing in that direction.

We regret that decision and firmness have been wanting, on the part of Bishop Ives, throughout this whole controversy. Although he exposed himself to considerable censure by recommending confession as a salutary practice, in some instances necessary, he shrank from the odium of inculcating its absolute necessity, in virtue of the Divine ordinance, and sheltered himself beneath the English rubrics, and the authority of Anglican divines. Now and then he ventured to refer to the power of forgiveness granted by Christ, and condemned " that presumption which leads neglecters and violators to trust for pardon to a vague and general repentance, a repentance not accepted by the representatives of Christ, who alone have charge of the discipline of his Church, or the power to remit or retain sins." *(footnote: * Pastoral Letter on the Priestly Office, p. 24.) He asked with earnestness, " How can the merits of Christ be applied now except through that priestly judgment, intercession, and absolution, authorized and made binding by his express commission, 'Whosesoever sins ye remit,' &c. ?"(footnote: Sermon on Self-examination, p. 113.) He insisted that confession is " a remedy for sin, which the experience of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church has ever sanctioned." (footnote: Sermon,   Obedience the Way to Knowledge, p. 151) He ventured to affirm that it was, in some cases at least, indispensable.(footnote: Sermon,  The Case of the Baptized loilhout Self-discipline.) But he had not courage clearly and unequivocally to avow that it was Divinely commanded.    On the contrary, not content with the qualifying terms which were interwoven with his strongest phrases, he openly declared that u private confession is not regarded by his branch of the one Catholic Church as generally necessary to salvation."*(footnote: *Pastoral Letter an the Salisbury Convention.) This weakness and hesitancy can scarcely merit sympathy. The imperfection of his mental vision is the only excuse which charity can suggest for a course of conduct utterly inconsistent with the general character of the effort to reestablish the practice. If he were convinced that confession is a necessary condition for the exercise of the power of forgiveness, he should have stated it broadly and openly ; if he judged it to be a mere disciplinary observance,—a medicinal appliance to diseased souls, — he might have recommended it; but he should scarcely have disturbed the tranquillity of his diocesans by insisting on its adoption.

It is an undeniable fact that the English Book of Common Prayer contains an exhortation to the communicants to confess any weighty matter which may disturb the tranquillity of their conscience, with a view to obtain absolution as well as comfort. Dr. Hopkins is of opinion that this rubric was inserted " to favor the feelings and habits of a large proportion of the nation, in whose judgment the principles of the Reformation had not yet become fully established"; or rather, "to agree as far as possible with the system of the German Reformers, Luther and Melanchon, who called absolution a sacrament, and required auricular confession and priestly absolution of every one, as a regular preparative for the Eucharist." Whichever motive influenced the compilers of the Booh of Common Prayer, their work is, in this respect, true to its general character, — equivocal and vague, — so that it may be employed by the advocates of confession, which it insinuates and recommends, and by its opponents, since by implication it denies its necessity. Dr. Hopkins bitterly laments that the rubric was inserted, and rejoices in the expurgated American ritual, which Dr. Jarvis shows to have been the result of compromise. To every unbiased mind it must be manifest that no argument can be derived from the English rubric in support of the practice, save as a relief for weak minds, and as the last vestige of a rite which the spirit of innovation sought to abolish. It may serve to recall those who glory in the recollections of the Anglo-Saxon Church to earlier and better times, when the clergy and faithful people sought relief for their distressed souls in the tribunal of penance, and with contrite hearts confessed their sins before they approached the Holy Table. The absolution, in a deprecatory form, which is still pronounced after the people have acknowledged that " they have done what they ought not to have done, and have left undone what they ought to have done," corresponds with the prayer which the Catholic priest pronounces before he administers communion ; but it is not an exercise of the absolving power, so that with Protestant Episcopalians there remains not even the shadow of that power, which Bishop Pearson regarded as distinguishing the Church of Christ from the followers of the Novatian heresy. It is not easy to understand how it is that the revised prayer-book varies, notwithstanding, in no essential matter from the formularies of the mother Church of England.
Although Dr. Hopkins professes to have undertaken his work, because "no author in the English language had hitherto treated the subject as extensively as its importance deserves," we notice some omissions of authorities, even of some quoted by his predecessors in the controversy. St. Irenacus, whose testimony is recited by the anonymous writer, speaks of women who for a time had followed the heretic Marcus : —" These, often converted to the Church of God, confessed that, having their bodies exterminated, as it were, by him, and influenced by lust, they loved him to excess." Of another he says : — "■ Penetrated with grief, she spent her whole time in confessing and bewailing her sins, (MI exomologesi,) and lamenting the crime which she had been led by this magician to commit." The answer given to these testimonies is far from being satisfactory. Exomologesis, it is said, on the authority of Tertul-lian, is a public act, and the confession was a general one, imposed by ancient discipline ; but Dr. Hopkins informs us that the system of canonical penance, of which public confession formed a part, was not regulated by any formal code until the fourth century. True, he maintains that it existed in substance in the days of Tertullian ; but if this be admitted, it necessarily follows that, before any special legislation on this head, penance, as it was afterwards formally prescribed, was practised in virtue of the great principles of Christian doctrine. The prominent place which confession occupied is manifest from its being chosen as characteristic of the whole process. It can scarcely be contended-—-and certainly it cannot be proved — that public confession was generally required, at that early period, if indeed at any time, in regard to secret sins ; so that, as confession of some kind was necessary, the inference is in favor of private or auricular confession. This may have often been followed by public demonstrations of sorrow on the part of those who, like the deluded followers of Marcus, had given scandal by their adherence to an heretical teacher. They may have been induced to make a public avowal, in order to unmask the teacher of error, when urged to it as a duty by a confidential adviser, such as a confessor ; but if private confession was not practised, it is difficult to suppose that any would have followed their own sense of duty so far as to make so humiliating an acknowledgment. Origen, in effect, warns the sinner to use great care in selecting his spiritual physician, that, in case he should judge proper that his disorder should be stated and healed in the presence of the assembled church, it might be done with profit and edification. The observation of Dr. Hopkins, that any prudent Christian, having experience, may be meant by this physician, is refuted by another passage, in which Origen describes the penitent as " not blushing to confess his sin to the priest of the Lord." From a comparison of these various testimonies, it is evident that private confession regarded all sins without distinction, and that public confession was confined to such as might be declared before all without scandal, or danger to one's self or others. When, in the fifth century, some endeavoured to enforce the open confession of secret sins, St. Leo rebuked the rash attempt, and declared that it was sufficient to confess them to the priests of the Lord in private.*(footnote: * Ep. ad Universos Espiscopos, Tom, I. p. 356.)

We are willing, however, to meet Dr. Hopkins on his own ground, and we leave him to choose whether public or private confession be meant by the early fathers ; it is enough for us that confession — the acknowledgment of special sins—was demanded. We ask him how he can dispense with public and private confession, when, long before any ecclesiastical enactment was passed to this effect, confession of some kind was urged under the most awful penalty. Exomologesis, according to Tertullian, implied " the falling down before the priests, the kneeling to the beloved of God," " a manifestation of one's seir, which many through a false shame delayed from day to day, consulting more for their feelings than for their salvation, like those who conceal from the physician their secret maladies."    Its necessity was such, that the stern moralist addresses the reluctant sinner, — " If you hesitate to confess, think on hell, whose flames are quenched by confession."   This evidently implies its absolute necessity, which, as none assert it concerning public confession, — at that time not prescribed by any canon, — must be understood of that which is auricular.    It is impossible to restrict what Tertullian and the other fathers have written on this subject to confession made to God in secret.    He, indeed, calls it " confession to the Lord," because it is made in the Divine presence, and with a view to obtain pardon from God.    " This act," he says, " is exomologesis, whereby we confess our sin to the Lord, not indeed as if he knew it not, but inasmuch as satisfaction is prepared for by confessions.    Penance proceeds from confession, and God is appeased by penance." *(footnote: * De Pamit., Sect. IX.)    This implies self-manifestation, " pub-licationem stei," which — since, as we have shown, it does not extend to a public confession — must mean the disclosure of our sins to our spiritual physician.    This passage may throw light on many others which we meet with from time to time in various fathers, who speak of confession of sin to God, plainly meaning that which is made to Ins ministers, in compliance with his command.    It is of this St. Cyprian speaks, when he explains the practice of confession in regard to ordinary sins, and insists strongly on the criminality of admitting to communion those who had abjured the faith, and had not atoned by penance. " Since sinners guilty of lesser sins do penance during a suitable time, and come to confession according to the order of discipline, and receive the right to communicate by the imposition of hands of the bishop and clergy ;  now in a time of peril, whilst the persecution still continues, peace not being yet restored to the Church, these men are admitted to communion, and their name is recited ; and before they have done penance, before they have made a confession, before the hand of the bishop and clergy has been laid on them, the Eucharist is given them, although   it  be written,   ' Whosoever shall eat of the bread or drink of the chalice of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.'"(footnote: Ep. ad Clerum.)    This abuse called for strong condemnation from Cyprian, who exhorted the faithful to  confess  their sins whilst confession  made   to  the priests of the Lord is acceptable.

The term exomologesis, used by all these ancient writers, is borrowed from the Acts, in which the verb from which it is formed is used in regard to the believers who, on witnessing the visitation of God on the sons of Sceva, came forward to the Apostles, "confessing their deeds," *(footnote: * Act3 xix. 18) and evincing the sincerity of their compunction by consigning to the flames a vast amount of superstitious books which they had in their possession. Bloomfield and other Protestants admit that they made a special acknowledgment, not only of the sin of magic, but of other sins, and the perfect participle, which is employed, denotes that they were persons who had long since come to the faith ; yet Dr. Hopkins, with this fact under his eye, boldly asserts that " there is no example in the Acts of persons confessing their sins, after baptism, either to the Apostles or to any one else." St. Basil thought otherwise, since he alleges this example in support of the principle, that " we must confess our sins to those who are intrusted with the dispensation of the mysteries of God."(footnote: Inter. 288.) But Dr. Hopkins does not hesitate to say, "he was plainly mistaken" ; and yet he has ventured to designate the illustrious doctor as his tenth witness !

In the selection of his witnesses he has not been fortunate ; but the confidence with which he calls them his own may deceive some readers. His first witness is Tertullian, who insists on confession under threats of hell-fire. The second is Cyprian, who states that persons guilty of sins far less heinous than apostasy must confess them, and extols those who reveal their sinful thoughts. The third is Lactantius, who makes our hope of pardon depend on our satisfying God by confessing our sins, and gives confession and penance as the characteristics distinguishing the true Church from pseudo-Catholic conventicles.
If a father of the Church speak of the forgiveness of sin by God, Dr. Hopkins hastily concludes against the delegated power of the priesthood, and wrests most unscrupulously to an unnatural meaning other passages which clearly affirm it. Thus has he distorted its emphatic vindication by St. Ambrose, and referred to the public reconciliation of penitents what is said, without restriction, of sacerdotal absolution. He might have learned the necessity of confession from this admirable passage : — "If thou wilt be justified, confess thy sin : for the modest confession of sins looses the bonds of crime."  Of this saint his contemporary biographer relates that he wept in receiving confessions, so as to move the penitent to tears, and that he communicated only with God on the sins declared to him.  Most truly he avowed that in loosing the sinner he was guilty of no usurpation, but on the contrary obeyed a Divine command.*(footnote: * This is the meaning of " servimus imperio," which Dr. Hopkins has rendered, not lelifjilously, " serve his government." /., Lib. III. c. IV. n. 7.)

St. Jerome has employed the well-known similitude of the physician, used by Origen and Tertullian, to enforce the acknowledgment of sin to our brother and master, since medicine cannot be applied to an unknown disease ; and has ascribed to the priesthood the right of prejudging the cases of sinners, that they may escape the final judgment. Dr. Hopkins twists and turns his expressions, and still calls him his witness, as if he hoped by the boldness of his assertions to obscure the splendor of his testimony in favor of confession. With St. Augustine he deals less reservedly. Although he also is claimed, his principles in regard to penitential inflictions cannot pass without positive reprobation. " Now here Augustine advances a principle, which, I am bound to say, is equally unscriptural and dangerous. From this false principle thus advocated by Augustine sprang all the corruptions of satisfaction to God as a part of penitence Here is the root of a dangerous delusion."

Yet the very principle here referred to is expressly laid down by Tertullian, in a passage which Dr. Hopkins has recited ; and both, nevertheless, are witnesses in his behalf! Let our readers imagine to themselves a lawyer offering to prove his case by evidence. " Gentlemen of the jury," he cries, " I shall prove you my client's case by a number of most respectable witnesses." Yet on hearing their testimony he qualifies his commendation by observing that one is plainly mistaken, another utters a gross absurdity, a third is a fool or knave.
The Divine obligation of confession is not a mere inference from the power of binding or loosing, forgiving or retaining sins ; it is directly proved from the perpetual practice of the Church. The usage was prior to the writing of the Gospels, being the exercise of the ministry of reconciliation which Christ intrusted to his Apostles. The fact is fairly deducible from the avowal of Calvin that " the usage is most ancient," f and the manifest impossibility of establishing it without a Divine sanction. If the Apostles had not required it, could their successors have made it a condition of forgiveness ? The difficulty of inducing men to disclose their prevarications shows that the general recognition of the obligation must have been the result of the immemorial teaching of the prelates of the Church uninterruptedly from the Apostles, individuals may choose to reveal their griefs to a confidential friend ; some may venture to make known their worst disorders ; but these rare occurrences cannot account for a usage so general as that of confession, connected with the universal persuasion of its necessity. The commission given to the Apostles is the only satisfactory explanation of its origin ; and the argument thence derived serves to support the usage, which is by no means the result of constructive interpretation. Confession is of Divine obligation, because it has always been recognized as a necessary condition for the exercise of the discretionary power of forgiveness granted to the Apostles. It is in vain for Dr. Hopkins to cavil at the analogies employed by St. Thomas Aquinas in illustration of this duty, which to others may not appear quite so absurd. " Boetius," he remarks, " in his book on Consolation, says, if you desire the aid of the physician, you must manifest to him your disease : now it is necessary for salvation that man receive the remedy of his sins ; therefore it is necessary for salvation to disclose his disease in confession. Moreover, in civil tribunals the judge is different from the culprit : now the spiritual tribunal is the prelate ; therefore the sinner, who is the culprit, should not be his own judge, but should be judged by another ; and so should confess to him." *(footnote: II. Par. SuppL, Qu. VI. Art. 1.) It is easier to sneer at these analogies than to point out their unfitness. But in what language shall we express our disgust at the boldness of the critic who ventures unblushingly to assert that the Angelic Doctor, in his endeavours to support the doctrine of the Church by analogies, " exhibits an example of the most flagitious private judgment, not to be surpassed in the whole history of heresy " !

It must always puzzle those who deny that confession was practised in the Apostolic age to account for its introduction at any subsequent period, and for its general prevalence prior to any legislation on this subject. The first general enactment enforcing it was that of the Fourth Council of Lateran, in 1215. No one can seriously pretend that it was then first established or introduced, since even Bishop Hopkins has gathered together decisive passages from the fathers, in which its necessity is positively affirmed. Nearly eight centuries before, St. Leo wrote that it is sufficient to confess secretly to the priests alone, which, in far plainer terms, Basil had previously declared to be necessary.

The argument which Dr. Hopkins derives from the statements of Fleury concerning the period at which confession was enjoined is a weapon which turns back on him with destructive power. The enactments do not bear the character of mere positive laws ; they enforce a recognized duty, — they add canonical penalties as sanctions of existing obligations. Since it is proved that confession was inculcated and practised ages before, it must have its foundation in the doctrine of Christ himself, — in the power of forgiveness which he delegated to his Apostles.

When the nature of sacramental confession is considered, we should not expect to find the same striking evidences of the practice as are furnished of solemn acts of public worship. It is a private and confidential communication of the penitent with the priest. The necessity and frequency of the usage depend on the special condition of the conscience of each individual; and the fact of having confessed becomes known only as far as the penitent chooses to manifest it. In ages of persecution it was not advisable to erect public confessionals, the chair of instruction being easily adapted to the purpose. In the Roman catacombs, however, stone chairs are found in a position which favors the belief that they served as confessionals ; whence arose a foul calumny of the heathens, from the humble posture in which penitents were sometimes discovered kneeling before the sacred ministers.*(footnote: * Minucius Felix.) The works of casuists, and books for the use of penitents, did not then exist, because all was conducted with the utmost simplicity, with reference to the Gospel maxims, which each priest applied according to his best judgment. Since ecclesiastical laws have been multiplied, and theologians have discussed moral principles in great detail, the study of moral theology in connection with the confessional has become extensive and somewhat intricate. These aids and appendages — the results of progressive study and legislation — could not be expected at a time when scarcely any thing was committed to writing but apologies addressed to the persecutors, or instructions regarding the first principles of ecclesiastical organization, or other matters rendered necessary by circumstances. The sacred ministers learned their duties chiefly by oral instruction from more experienced priests, and the faithful confessed their sins according as their conscience reproached them with delinquency against the Divine law, or the injunctions of their lawful superiors. Nevertheless, their delicate sense of the obligation, even in the early ages, appears from the testimony of St. Cyprian, who extols the piety of those who confessed having entertained the thought of adopting some unlawful stratagem to escape persecution. " How superior in faith, and better in fear, are those who, although defiled by no act of sacrifice, or certificate of conformity, since however they thought of it, confess this very thing with sorrow and simplicity to the priests of God." *(footnote: * Lib. dc Lapsis.)

The popular argument against confession, namely, its corrupt tendency, is presented by Dr. Hopkins in a manner wholly inconsistent with his fair professions of basing his arguments on the evidence acknowledged by ourselves. Despite of this declaration, he adopts the Jansenist Pascal's caricatures of Jesuit teaching, and gives them as correct pictures of the general principles of confessors, in order to lead his readers to believe that the practical influence of the confessional is to sanction licentiousness, perjury, and bloodshed. We can pity the blind prejudice of the man who sincerely believes that such is the fact; but we should feel contempt for his hypocrisy, did we suppose that he affected soft tones and honeyed accents only more effectually to mislead the unsuspecting by the aid of satirists and slanderers. The Jesuits whom Pascal traduced were eminent for learning, piety, and zeal, and their lives were a splendid refutation of the relaxed system of morality which they were supposed to patronize. Voltaire himself could not deny that the Society had produced men of extraordinary merit, and that even in his day it numbered many such among its members. Their general reputation was that of exemplary men, whose conduct defied reproach. If any of them erred in theological speculations, it was owing to their solicitude not to multiply the obstacles to salvation, by condemning what admitted of probable justification. The mild system which most of them defended was subsequently advocated by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, whose purity of life and zeal for the salvation of souls are celebrated throughout the whole Church. It would have been more becoming in Dr. Hopkins to have used his works to show the practical operation of the confessional, although even these are misunderstood by the carnal-minded, who confound moderation of sentiment with relaxation and indulgence.

We ask the calm attention of our readers to the fact, that St. Alphonsus de Liguori—although, from the innocence of his life, unacquainted with vice — studied the science of morals in all its most disgusting details, and discussed every most delicate question in a body of moral theology, composed for the use of the missionaries of the congregation which he founded, and of priests generally. All those points which the Jesuit Vasquez treated pf in his work on marriage, to the great annoyance of persons of refined sensibilities, are brought under review by the saint, and closely examined. It is beyond a doubt that he himself had the most delicate sense of purity, and shunned with extreme caution whatever might sully his virginal innocence. As a religious superior he was jealous, in the highest degree, of the purity of the members of his institute ; as a bishop, he watched over the morals of his clergy with unceasing solicitude. Can we suppose that he put into their hands a book calculated to tarnish their conscience, and to enable them to tamper with those who might seek their guidance ? Since he has examined with so much minuteness every possible deviation from virtue,— since he has taken the pains to qualify each sinful act, — since his eye has pierced the nuptial veil, and his hand has traced what is lawful and what is forbidden in the matrimonial relations, — we must be convinced that his long experience in the confessional —• reaching beyond half a century — taught him that the accurate knowledge of all these details is highly important for the direction of souls, and that it can be acquired and used without detriment to the virtue of the spiritual physician. It may be perilous to the weak and to the self-confident, but the danger is remote for those who, in the fear of God, study the greatness of human disorders with a view to apply suitable remedies. How many weak youths were won to holy purity by the secret exhortations of St. Philip Neri, whose purity of life appeared in the words of admonition which he uttered ! How many lost ones were drawn to the confessional by the preaching of St. Alphonsus, there to experience the power of Divine grace, stopping the issue which no medicine could heal, and imparting strength unattainable by mere human effort !

The questions put by the confessor are referred to by the two writers whom we have before us as an immediate occasion of revolting abuses. Do they suppose that it is the practice of confessors to question penitents generally on all possible deviations from the code of morals ? They should know that confession is a duty of the penitent, to aid whom interrogatories are occasionally used, only as far as they may be deemed necessary, according to the age, sex, and circumstances of eacl) individual. If a child presents himself, the innocence of his heart is not endangered by any inopportune question ; whilst the hoary sinner, whose iniquities are multiplied above the hairs of his head, often desires the aid of his spiritual father to recount over the transgressions of his misspent years. The chaste virgin is not assailed with interrogatories, such as may sometimes be necessary to probe the deep wounds of the child of misfortune. In the Ritual, discretion, reserve, and caution are strongly inculcated to confessors, whilst brevity and modesty are prescribed to penitents. We can safely appeal to the general experience of all who practise confession, who will testify that it is conducted with the utmost delicacy, and that its tendency is to produce a loathing of sin, and a love for virtue.
The horror which some affect for the mention of sins alluded to in tables for self-examination, and more fully discussed in theological works, is truly Pharisaical. They read with eagerness the most morbid descriptions in popular novels ; they enter into all the revolting details of unnatural crimes which the newspapers furnish ; they witness without remorse the most exciting exhibitions ; and yet they shudder at the idea of the possibility of certain sins in the present advanced state of civilization and morals ! Alas for poor human nature ! What crime is there on record that cannot find its counterpart in our age and country ? It is much if the moral sentiment be maintained, and public decorum respected ; but it is vain to deny that individual frailty is extreme. We have no wish to depreciate the morals of the community ; we will consent to regard the sins referred to in our prayer-books as mere possibilities ; but we deny the prudence of keeping them wholly out of view, lest some who may have transgressed blind themselves to the malice of their acts, and go forward in the career of perdition. From what sources, we ask, have these details been derived ? Is it not from those very Scriptures which are put into the hands of children, of either sex, from an early age ? Do our books designed for popular use represent those excesses as vividly as St. Paul ? Do not our theologians themselves follow closely on the track marked out by the Apostle, as well as by Moses ? Can any thing be found in the discrimination of what is lawful and what is forbidden, as given in theological works, so exciting as the plain narrative of unnatural crimes presented by the Sacred Historians ?

St. Chrysostom justly remarks that St. Paul, writing to the Romans, found it necessary to speak of unnatural crimes with sufficient distinctness to be understood, and yet so as not to shock modesty by its plainness, — two qualities which it is extremely difficult to combine ; "for if you speak with delicacy, you can scarcely make your hearer feel his guilt, so that, if you aim at making him deeply sensible of it, you must clearly and distinctly attack vice. This prudent and holy soul succeeded in uniting both qualities, rebuking the sinner in the name of outraged nature, yet using a kind of veil that modesty should appear in the manner of his speech."*(footnote: * In Ep. ad Rom., iv.) The prudence and delicacy of the Apostle are closely imitated by confessors. They do not ordinarily put questions concerning the heathenish vices against which he inveighs ; but they listen to the sad narrative which the sinner makes of his own offences, and they warn him of the punishments which await him who, with the knowledge and grace of the Christian dispensation, degrades himself by excess. The confessional thus presents an opportunity for reproving vice without exposing it to the public gaze, and of inspiring a loathing for sin without naming it, the accusation of the sinner affording the ground for the paternal admonition of the confessor.

Some points of morality are by general consent banished from the pulpit, which, nevertheless, the Holy Ghost has marked in the plainest terms in the Scripture, adding most awful facts to impress them.(footnote: Gen. xxxviii.)  For the thousands who cannot read, and others who haye not adverted to these special passages, these facts and principles are utterly unavailing, except through the confessional. Conscience, indeed, if free from improper influence, might discover the wickedness of certain practices ; but unhappily she is easily blinded, and her still, small voice is unheeded by many who present an exterior marked by the strictest regard for morality. Others struggle with their convictions, half stifle remorse, and for want of counsel live on in partial blindness and interior conflict. Although it is not the duty or practice of confessors to interrogate unnecessarily on matters of this kind, the penitent here finds an opportunity for relieving mental anxiety, and learns that the natural law and the Divine are above all considerations of human respect, personal inconvenience, sickness, and poverty. From the reserve of confessors, it still happens that some who frequent the tribunal live on in a state which God has marked in the Scriptures as very wicked ; but how much more frequent must this culpable delusion be in those who have no one whom they dare consult on matters of such extreme delicacy ! The holiness of the tribunal and of the place, the sacredness of the office, inspire a confidence which in no other circumstances can be entertained.

We regard it as a counsel of Divine Providence that the confessional has become the chief matter of controversy in this age and country. The foul vituperation of its assailants serves to direct attention to the strictness of our moral code, which regulates the most delicate relations of human life, and with nice discrimination determines right and wrong in thought, word, and action. The turpitude of sin is inherent : it is not the result of theological inquisition, or of the scrutiny of the confessional.

The formularies of confession which Bishop Hopkins has collected from the Middle Ages show that sins of all kinds were considered to be matter of accusation, whenever the conscience of the penitent reproached him with their commission. It cannot, indeed, be supposed that the bishops, to whom several of these formularies are ascribed, were guilty of the enormities which they detail; but it is likely that they were composed by them, or by their authority, for the direction of penitents, who might appropriate to themselves such portions of them as they found applicable to their own case. It is quite improbable that each one recited the entire formulary, accusing himself in general terms of every kind of sin ; for this would imply falsehood, and would amount to nothing, the formulary being common to all. They served, we imagine, the same purpose as modern tables of sins, and were used with such modifications as the individual found necessary to represent the real state of his conscience. Questions directed to this end are prescribed in the penitential work of John the Faster, who sat in the patriarchal chair of Constantinople at the time when the monk Augustine laid the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy. This proves that private confession continued to be practised in the Church of Constantinople, notwithstanding the abolition of the ofiice of public penitentiary by Nectarius, who, in leaving each one at liberty to approach communion conformably to his conscience, did not free him from the Divine law of having recourse to the priest for absolution.
The advantages of the confessional  must be  obvious on the slightest reflection. It is a means of securing the practice of the maxims and laws of Christ, since the penitent is charged to compare his conduct with the Gospel standard, and state with candor wherein he has transgressed. Considering human frailty, we cannot hope that Christians will be altogether without sin. It is much to entice them to reformation by the hope of pardon on condition of repentance. Men easily content themselves with a moral exterior regulated by public opinion. Confession obliges them to search into their own hearts, to discover their secret offences, to weigh the motives of their conduct, and to labor to remove every stain from their conscience. The scrutiny is left chiefly to themselves, ■— the accusation must be spontaneous, and the pardon depends on their fidelity in preparing for its reception by compunction and virtuous resolution. The judge appointed to receive their confession, and pronounce forgiveness, is bound by his office to study the Divine law, and to see that it be understood by the penitent, and applied to his conduct. He is to judge without fear or favor, having God only in view, in whose name he acts, and the salvation of the sinner. At the peril of his own soul he is charged to exercise his ministry in accordance with the unchangeable principles of the Gospel.
The two writers, among those on our list, who have dilated most on the horrors of the confessional,—Dr. Hopkins with affected delicacy, and Dr. Hawks under a visor, — particularly advert to its secrecy, and describe the dangers to female innocence in a private apartment, at the mercy of a confessor whose acts or speeches are concealed even from her own mother under an impenetrable veil of secrecy. This has one, at least, of the characteristics of poetry, — it is pure fiction. The confessional, according to the prescription of the Roman Ritual and the general usage of Catholic countries, is a box with two distinct apartments, the penitent being entirely separated from the priest, with whom she communicates only through a lattice or grate. It is placed in an open and public situation in the church, and is generally surrounded at the time when confessions are heard by a number of persons, so that priest and penitent are alike under observation. Secrecy is incumbent on the penitent only so far as it may be dishonorable and unjust to expose the confessor to censure or injury for any advice conscientiously given ; but in case of any abuse of the ministry, even in the slightest degree, by an improper insinuation, so far from secrecy being enjoined, the denunciation of the prevaricator to his ecclesiastical superior is absolutely commanded. This must be known to both these writers, since they dwell with satisfaction on the Papal decrees regarding the abuse of the confessional. But how shall we reconcile this knowledge with the effort to persuade their readers that a patent is given for the most unbridled licentiousness by the inviolable secrecy enjoined on the penitent ? The privileges of the tribunal are in her favor, and for her protection.

In regard to the alleged frequency of such abuse, the testimony of Llorente — a traitor to his religion as well as his country — is utterly worthless. The extension said to have been granted by the Spanish Inquisitors of the time for denunciations, is likely to have arisen rather from their scarceness than from their number. The allegations of apostates, on which Dr. Hopkins relies, are self-refuted, since they ought long before to have abandoned a ministry which they represent as essentially corrupt. Above all statements and conjectures is the well-known fact, that the use of the confessional is regarded as a means of sanctification by all Catholics of every age, sex, and condition of life, — especially by those who frequent it. If it were, as it is represented, a sink of corruption, it would be shunned by the virtuous ; its very name would excite horror, and its approach would be forbidden under the severest penalties by every parent, every husband, every guardian of unprotected innocence.
The triumphant vindication of the confessional is found in the confidence which is universally entertained in its purity, which far outweighs the foul suspicions of carnal-minded men, and the fouler charges of licentious lecturers or unprincipled pamphleteers. The homage rendered to it, on both sides of the Atlantic, by men of high moral character not of our communion, more than compensates for these slanderous assaults. The conversion of several of the most eminent among them, Mas-kell, Forbes, Huntington, Preston, MacLeod, is an earnest of the great number who by this means will be led back to the ancient paths. Bishop Ives does not hesitate to say,— " On this doctrine of priestly absolution the great battle of Christ's authority in the Church is to be fought." We must, however, again express our regret that he does not exhibit the high qualities which should distinguish a leader who combats for the truth. The weakness with which he yielded last year to the Salisbury Convention was not fully redeemed by his prompt disclaimer of the interpretation which they gave to his words ; for although he assumed the tone and swelled to the dignity of a real bishop, he neither acknowledged his error unequivocally, nor avowed the truth in its fulness. For a moment he appeared in a grand attitude, and spoke as one having authority, rebuking with becoming severity the presbyters who had sat in judgment on their prelate : —" I am a bishop. Who are you who usurp the judgment seat ? I have retracted nothing : I shall never retract any thing." But the grandeur of that scene soon passed away, the high tone of authority subsided ; and now with faltering accents he qualifies and modifies his assertions, in order to silence the murmurs of his clerical subordinates. Men look in vain for the spirit of an Ambrose and a Basil in the shadowy representatives of the episcopate.

The history of the confessional cannot be written by the pen of man :  it is the narrative of the secrets of Divine mercy. The angels who rejoice at the conversion of a sinner constantly hover around this tribunal, blotting out the sins as they are uttered, wiping away the tears that trickle down the cheek of the penitent, knocking off the chains which hold the sinner a bondman of Satan,  and  whispering  peace.    Who   that  has opened his mouth in humble confession, with a contrite and afflicted spirit, has not felt, at '      moment when the priest pronounced   absolution, an   inv       and  mysterious  change, the token, if not evidence, of  pardon ?    The consolation which confession imparts, the hope which it inspires, the strength which it communicates, show it to be a heaven-born institution, a boon of Divine goodness.    Let those calumniate it who are strangers to its healing virtue ;  but the wretched whom it has comforted, the lost whom it has reclaimed, the  dead  whom it has restored to life, will bear witness that it is a work of Divine power unto salvation.    We shall close with the simple statement of a fact.    An aged Lutheran minister, whose convictions and   affections tended   strongly to   Catholicity, once avowed to us his deep sense of the necessity of such an institution.    " I know," said he, "that I have sinned ;  and I dread going forth to meet my Judge, without any previous assurance that my repentance has been such as he demands.    I would fain hear from the lips of his ministers, ' The Lord hath taken away thy sin.' "    As he was dying, the priest was called in, barely in time to bid him go in peace.