Summa - Supplement 166

Whether a penitent, at the point of death, can be absolved by any priest?


Objection 1: It would seem that a penitent, at the point of death, cannot be absolved by any priest. For absolution requires jurisdiction, as stated above (Article [5]). Now a priest does not acquire jurisdiction over a man who repents at the point of death. Therefore he cannot absolve him.

Objection 2: Further, he that receives the sacrament of Baptism, when in danger of death, from another than his own priest, does not need to be baptized again by the latter. If, therefore, any priest can absolve, from any sin, a man who is in danger of death, the penitent, if he survive the danger, need not go to his own priest; which is false, since otherwise the priest would not "know the countenance of his cattle."

Objection 3: Further, when there is danger of death, Baptism can be conferred not only by a strange priest, but also by one who is not a priest. But one who is not a priest can never absolve in the tribunal of Penance. Therefore neither can a priest absolve a man who is not his subject, when he is in danger of death.

On the contrary, Spiritual necessity is greater than bodily necessity. But it is lawful in a case of extreme necessity, for a man to make use of another's property, even against the owner's will, in order to supply a bodily need. Therefore in danger of death, a man may be absolved by another than his own priest, in order to supply his spiritual need.

Further, the authorities quoted in the text prove the same (Sent. iv, D, 20, Cap. Non Habet).

I answer that, If we consider the power of the keys, every priest has power over all men equally and over all sins: and it is due to the fact that by the ordination of the Church, he has a limited jurisdiction or none at all, that he cannot absolve all men from all sins. But since "necessity knows no law" [*Cap. Consilium, De observ. jejun.; De reg. jur. (v, Decretal)] in cases of necessity the ordination of the Church does not hinder him from being able to absolve, since he has the keys sacramentally: and the penitent will receive as much benefit from the absolution of this other priest as if he had been absolved by his own. Moreover a man can then be absolved by any priest not only from his sins, but also from excommunication, by whomsoever pronounced, because such absolution is also a matter of that jurisdiction which by the ordination of the Church is con. fined within certain limits.

Reply to Objection 1: One person may act on the jurisdiction of another according to the latter's will, since matters of jurisdiction can be deputed. Since, therefore, the Church recognizes absolution granted by any priest at the hour of death, from this very fact a priest has the use of jurisdiction though he lack the power of jurisdiction.

Reply to Objection 2: He needs to go to his own priest, not that he may be absolved again from the sins, from which he was absolved when in danger of death, but that his own priest may know that he is absolved. In like manner, he who has been absolved from excommunication needs to go to the judge, who in other circumstances could have absolved him, not in order to seek absolution, but in order to offer satisfaction.

Reply to Objection 3: Baptism derives its efficacy from the sanctification of the matter itself, so that a man receives the sacrament whosoever baptizes him: whereas the sacramental power of Penance consists in a sanctification pronounced by the minister, so that if a man confess to a layman, although he fulfills his own part of the sacramental confession, he does not receive sacramental absolution. Wherefore his confession avails him somewhat, as to the lessening of his punishment, owing to the merit derived from his confession and to his repentance. but he does not receive that diminution of his punishment which results from the power of the keys; and consequently he must confess again to a priest; and one who has confessed thus, is more punished hereafter than if he had confessed to a priest.

Whether the temporal punishment is imposed according to the degree of the fault?


Objection 1: It would seem that the temporal punishment, the debt of which remains after Penance, is not imposed according to the degree of fault. For it is imposed according to the degree of pleasure derived from the sin, as appears from Apoc. 18:7: "As much as she hath glorified herself and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye her." Yet sometimes where there is greater pleasure, there is less fault, since "carnal sins, which afford more pleasure than spiritual sins, are less guilty," according to Gregory (Moral. xxxiii, 2). Therefore the punishment is not imposed according to the degree of fault.

Objection 2: Further, in the New Law one is bound to punishment for mortal sins, in the same way as in the Old Law. Now in the Old Law the punishment for sin was due to last seven days, in other words, they had to remain unclean seven days for one mortal sin. Since therefore, in the New Testament, a punishment of seven years is imposed for one mortal sin, it seems that the quantity of the punishment does not answer to the degree of fault.

Objection 3: Further, the sin of murder in a layman is more grievous than that of fornication in a priest, because the circumstance which is taken from the species of a sin, is more aggravating than that which is taken from the person of the sinner. Now a punishment of seven years' duration is appointed for a layman guilty of murder, while for fornication a priest is punished for ten years, according to Can. Presbyter, Dist. lxxxii. Therefore punishment is not imposed according to the degree of fault.

Objection 4: Further, a sin committed against the very body of Christ is most grievous, because the greater the person sinned against, the more grievous the sin. Now for spilling the blood of Christ in the sacrament of the altar a punishment of forty days or a little more is enjoined, while a punishment of seven years is prescribed for fornication, according to the Canons (Can. Presbyter, Dist. lxxxii). Therefore the quantity of the punishment does not answer to the degree of fault.

On the contrary, It is written (
Is 27,8): "In measure against measure, when it shall be cast off, thou shalt judge it." Therefore the quantity of punishment adjudicated for sin answers the degree of fault.

Further, man is reduced to the equality of justice by the punishment inflicted on him. But this would not be so if the quantity of the fault and of the punishment did not mutually correspond. Therefore one answers to the other.

I answer that, After the forgiveness of sin, a punishment is required for two reasons, viz. to pay the debt, and to afford a remedy. Hence the punishment may be imposed in consideration of two things. First, in consideration of the debt, and in this way the quantity of the punishment corresponds radically to the quantity of the fault, before anything of the latter is forgiven: yet the more there is remitted by the first of those things which are of a nature to remit punishment, the less there remains to be remitted or paid by the other, because the more contrition remits of the punishment, the less there remains to be remitted by confession. Secondly, in consideration of the remedy, either as regards the one who sinned, or as regards others: and thus sometimes a greater punishment is enjoined for a lesser sin; either because one man's sin is more difficult to resist than another's (thus a heavier punishment is imposed on a young man for fornication, than on an old man, though the former's sin be less grievous), or because one man's sin; for instance, a priest's, is more dangerous to others, than another's sin, or because the people are more prone to that particular sin, so that it is necessary by the punishment of the one man to deter others. Consequently, in the tribunal of Penance, the punishment has to be imposed with due regard to both these things: and so a greater punishment is not always imposed for a greater sin. on the other hand, the punishment of Purgatory is only for the payment of the debt, because there is no longer any possibility of sinning, so that this punishment is meted only according to the measure of sin, with due consideration however for the degree of contrition, and for confession and absolution, since all these lessen the punishment somewhat: wherefore the priest in enjoining satisfaction should bear them in mind.

Reply to Objection 1: In the words quoted two things are mentioned with regard to the sin, viz. "glorification" and "delicacies" or "delectation"; the first of which regards the uplifting of the sinner, whereby he resists God; while the second regards the pleasure of sin: and though sometimes there is less pleasure in a greater sin, yet there is greater uplifting; wherefore the argument does not prove.

Reply to Objection 2: This punishment of seven days did not expiate the punishment due for the sin, so that even if the sinner died after that time, he would be punished in Purgatory: but it was in expiation of the irregularity incurred, from which all the legal sacrifices expiated. Nevertheless, other things being equal, a man sins more grievously under the New Law than under the Old, on account of the more plentiful sanctification received in Baptism, and on account of the more powerful blessings bestowed by God on the human race. This is evident from He 29: "How much more, do you think, he deserveth worse punishments," etc. And yet it is not universally true that a seven years' penance is exacted for every mortal sin: but it is a kind of general rule applicable to the majority of cases, which must, nevertheless, be disregarded, with due consideration for the various circumstances of sins and penitents.

Reply to Objection 3: A bishop or priest sins with greater danger to others or to himself; wherefore the canons are more anxious to withdraw him from sin, by inflicting a greater punishment, in as much as it is intended as a remedy; although sometimes so great a punishment is not strictly due. Hence he is punished less in Purgatory.

Reply to Objection 4: This punishment refers to the case when this happens against the priest's will: for if he spilled it willingly he would deserve a much heavier punishment.



We must now consider the quality of confession: under which head there are four points of inquiry:

(1) Whether confession can be lacking in form?

(2) Whether confession ought to be entire?

(3) Whether one can confess through another, or by writing?

(4) Whether the sixteen conditions, which are assigned by the masters, are necessary for confession?

Whether confession can be lacking in form?


Objection 1: It would seem that confession cannot be lacking in form. For it is written (
Si 17,26): "Praise [confession] perisheth from the dead as nothing." But a man without charity is dead, because charity is the life of the soul. Therefore there can be no confession without charity.

Objection 2: Further, confession is condivided with contrition and satisfaction. But contrition and satisfaction are impossible without charity. Therefore confession is also impossible without charity.

Objection 3: Further, it is necessary in confession that the word should agree with the thought for the very name of confession requires this. Now if a man confess while remaining attached to sin, his word is not in accord with his thought, since in his heart he holds to sin, while he condemns it with his lips. Therefore such a man does not confess.

On the contrary, Every man is bound to confess his mortal sins. Now if a man in mortal sin has confessed once, he is not bound to confess the same sins again, because, as no man knows himself to have charity, no man would know of him that he had confessed. Therefore it is not necessary that confession should be quickened by charity.

I answer that, Confession is an act of virtue, and is part of a sacrament. In so far as it is an act of virtue, it has the property of being meritorious, and thus is of no avail without charity, which is the principle of merit. But in so far as it is part of a sacrament, it subordinates the penitent to the priest who has the keys of the Church, and who by means of the confession knows the conscience of the person confessing. In this way it is possible for confession to be in one who is not contrite, for he can make his sins known to the priest, and subject himself to the keys of the Church: and though he does not receive the fruit of absolution then, yet he will begin to receive it, when he is sincerely contrite, as happens in the other sacraments: wherefore he is not bound to repeat his confession, but to confess his lack of sincerity.

Reply to Objection 1: These words must be understood as referring to the receiving of the fruit of confession, which none can receive who is not in the state of charity.

Reply to Objection 2: Contrition and satisfaction are offered to God: but confession is made to man: hence it is essential to contrition and satisfaction, but not to confession, that man should be united to God by charity.

Reply to Objection 3: He who declares the sins which he has, speaks the truth; and thus his thought agrees with his lips or words, as to the substance of confession, though it is discordant with the purpose of confession.

Whether confession should be entire?


Objection 1: It would seem that it is not necessary for confession to be entire, namely, for a man to confess all his sins to one priest. For shame conduces to the diminution of punishment. Now the greater the number of priests to whom a man confesses, the greater his shame. Therefore confession is more fruitful if it be divided among several priests.

Objection 2: Further, confession is necessary in Penance in order that punishment may be enjoined for sin according to the judgment of the priest. Now a sufficient punishment for different sins can be imposed by different priests. Therefore it is not necessary to confess all one's sins to one priest.

Objection 3: Further, it may happen that a man after going to confession and performing his penance, remembers a mortal sin, which escaped his memory while confessing, and that his own priest to whom he confessed first is no longer available, so that he can only confess that sin to another priest, and thus he will confess different sins to different priests.

Objection 4: Further, the sole reason for confessing one's sins to a priest is in order to receive absolution. Now sometimes, the priest who hears a confession can absolve from some of the sins, but not from all. Therefore in such a case at all events the confession need not be entire.

On the contrary, Hypocrisy is an obstacle to Penance. But it savors of hypocrisy to divide one's confession, as Augustine says [*De vera et falsa Poenitentia, work of an unknown author]. Therefore confession should be entire. Further, confession is a part of Penance. But Penance should be entire. Therefore confession also should be entire.

I answer that, In prescribing medicine for the body, the physician should know not only the disease for which he is prescribing, but also the general constitution of the sick person, since one disease is aggravated by the addition of another, and a medicine which would be adapted to one disease, would be harmful to another. The same is to be said in regard to sins, for one is aggravated when another is added to it; and a remedy which would be suitable for one sin, might prove an incentive to another, since sometimes a man is guilty of contrary sins, as Gregory says (Pastoral. iii, 3). Hence it is necessary for confession that man confess all the sins that he calls to mind, and if he fails to do this, it is not a confession, but a pretense of confession.

Reply to Objection 1: Although a man's shame is multiplied when he makes a divided confession to different confessors, yet all his different shames together are not so great as that with which he confesses all his sins together: because one sin considered by itself does not prove the evil disposition of the sinner, as when it is considered in conjunction with several others, for a man may fall into one sin through ignorance or weakness, but a number of sins proves the malice of the sinner, or his great corruption.

Reply to Objection 2: The punishment imposed by different priests would not be sufficient, because each would only consider one sin by itself, and not the gravity which it derives from being in conjunction with another. Moreover sometimes the punishment which would be given for one sin would foster another. Again the priest in hearing a confession takes the place of God, so that confession should be made to him just as contrition is made to God: wherefore as there would be no contrition unless one were contrite for all the sins which one calls to mind, so is there no confession unless one confess all the sins that one remembers committing.

Reply to Objection 3: Some say that when a man remembers a sin which he had previously forgotten, he ought to confess again the sins which he had confessed before, especially if he cannot go to the same priest to whom his previous confession was made, in order that the total quantity of his sins may be made known to one priest. But this does not seem necessary, because sin takes its quantity both from itself and from the conjunction of another; and as to the sins which he confessed he had already manifested their quantity which they have of themselves, while as to the sin which he had forgotten, in order that the priest may know the quantity which it has under both the above heads, it is enough that the penitent declare it explicitly, and confess the others in general, saying that he had confessed many sins in his previous confession, but had forgotten this particular one.

Reply to Objection 4: Although the priest may be unable to absolve the penitent from all his sins, yet the latter is bound to confess all to him, that he may know the total quantity of his guilt, and refer him to the superior with regard to the sins from which he cannot absolve him.

Whether one may confess through another, or by writing?


Objection 1: It would seem that one may confess through another, or by writing. For confession is necessary in order that the penitent's conscience may be made known to the priest. But a man can make his conscience known to the priest, through another or by writing. Therefore it is enough to confess through another or by writing.

Objection 2: Further, some are not understood by their own priests on account of a difference of language, and consequently cannot confess save through others. Therefore it is not essential to the sacrament that one should confess by oneself, so that if anyone confesses through another in any way whatever, it suffices for his salvation.

Objection 3: Further, it is essential to the sacrament that a man should confess to his own priest, as appears from what has been said (Question [8], Article [5]). Now sometimes a man's own priest is absent, so that the penitent cannot speak to him with his own voice. But he could make his conscience known to him by writing. Therefore it seems that he ought to manifest his conscience to him by writing to him.

On the contrary, Man is bound to confess his sins even as he is bound to confess his faith. But confession of faith should be made "with the mouth," as appears from
Rm 10,10: therefore confession of sins should also.

Further, who sinned by himself should, by himself, do penance. But confession is part of penance. Therefore the penitent should confess his own sins.

I answer that, Confession is not only an act of virtue, but also part of a sacrament. Now, though, in so far as it is an act of virtue it matters not how it is done, even if it be easier to do it in one way than in another, yet, in so far as it is part of a sacrament, it has a determinate act, just as the other sacraments have a determinate matter. And as in Baptism, in order to signify the inward washing, we employ that element which is chiefly used in washing, so in the sacramental act which is intended for manifestation we generally make use of that act which is most commonly employed for the purpose of manifestation, viz. our own words; for other ways have been introduced as supplementary to this.

Reply to Objection 1: Just as in Baptism it is not enough to wash with anything, but it is necessary to wash with a determinate element, so neither does it suffice, in Penance, to manifest one's sins anyhow, but they must be declared by a determinate act.

Reply to Objection 2: It is enough for one who is ignorant of a language, to confess by writing, or by signs, or by an interpreter, because a man is not bound to do more than he can: although a man is not able or obliged to receive Baptism, except with water, which is from an entirely external source and is applied to us by another: whereas the act of confession is from within and is performed by ourselves, so that when we cannot confess in one way, we must confess as we can.

Reply to Objection 3: In the absence of one's own priest, confession may be made even to a layman, so that there is no necessity to confess in writing, because the act of confession is more essential than the person to whom confession is made.

Whether the sixteen conditions usually assigned are necessary for confession?


Objection 1: It would seem that the conditions assigned by masters, and contained in the following lines, are not requisite for confession:

Simple, humble, pure, faithful,

Frequent, undisguised, discreet, voluntary,


Entire, secret, tearful, not delayed,

Courageously accusing, ready to obey. For fidelity, simplicity, and courage are virtues by themselves, and therefore should not be reckoned as conditions of confession.

Objection 2: Further, a thing is "pure" when it is not mixed with anything else: and "simplicity," in like manner, removes composition and admixture. Therefore one or the other is superfluous.

Objection 3: Further, no one is bound to confess more than once a sin which he has committed but once. Therefore if a man does not commit a sin again, his penance need not be "frequent."

Objection 4: Further, confession is directed to satisfaction. But satisfaction is sometimes public. Therefore confession should not always be "secret."

Objection 5: Further, that which is not in our power is not required of us. But it is not in our power to shed "tears." Therefore it is not required of those who confess.

On the contrary, We have the authority of the masters who assigned the above.

I answer that, Some of the above conditions are essential to confession, and some are requisite for its well-being. Now those things which are essential to confession belong to it either as to an act of virtue, or as to part of a sacrament. If in the first way, it is either by reason of virtue in general, or by reason of the special virtue of which it is the act, or by reason of the act itself. Now there are four conditions of virtue in general, as stated in Ethic. ii, 4. The first is knowledge, in respect of which confession is said to be "discreet," inasmuch as prudence is required in every act of virtue: and this discretion consists in giving greater weight to greater sins. The second condition is choice, because acts of virtue should be voluntary, and in this respect confession is said to be "voluntary." The third condition is that the act be done for a particular purpose, viz. the due end, and in this respect confession is said to be "pure," i.e. with a right intention. The fourth condition is that one should act immovably, and in this respect it is said that confession should be "courageous," viz. that the truth should not be forsaken through shame.

Now confession is an act of the virtue of penance. First of all it takes its origin in the horror which one conceives for the shamefulness of sin, and in this respect confession should be "full of shame," so as not to be a boastful account of one's sins, by reason of some worldly vanity accompanying it. Then it goes on to deplore the sin committed, and in this respect it is said to be "tearful." Thirdly, it culminates in self-abjection, and in this respect it should be "humble," so that one confesses one's misery and weakness.

By reason of its very nature, viz. confession, this act is one of manifestation: which manifestation can be hindered by four things: first, by falsehood, and in this respect confession is said to be "faithful," i.e. true. Secondly, by the use of vague words, and against this confession is said to be "open," so as not to be wrapped up in vague words; thirdly, by "multiplicity" of words, in which respect it is said to be "simple" indicating that the penitent should relate only such matters as affect the gravity of the sin; fourthly none of those things should be suppressed which should be made known, and in this respect confession should be "entire."

In so far as confession is part of a sacrament it is subject to the judgment of the priest who is the minister of the sacrament. Wherefore it should be an "accusation" on the part of the penitent, should manifest his "readiness to obey" the priest, should be "secret" as regards the nature of the court wherein the hidden affairs of conscience are tried.

The well-being of confession requires that it should be "frequent"; and "not delayed," i.e. that the sinner should confess at once.

Reply to Objection 1: There is nothing unreasonable in one virtue being a condition of the act of another virtue, through this act being commanded by that virtue; or through the mean which belongs to one virtue principally, belonging to other virtues by participation.

Reply to Objection 2: The condition "pure" excludes perversity of intention, from which man is cleansed: but the condition "simple" excludes the introduction of unnecessary matter.

Reply to Objection 3: This is not necessary for confession, but is a condition of its well-being.

Reply to Objection 4: Confession should be made not publicly but privately, lest others be scandalized, and led to do evil through hearing the sins confessed. On the other hand, the penance enjoined in satisfaction does not give rise to scandal, since like works of satisfaction are done sometimes for slight sins, and sometimes for none at all.

Reply to Objection 5: We must understand this to refer to tears of the heart.



We must now consider the effect of confession: under which head there are five points of inquiry:

(1) Whether confession delivers one from the death of sin?

(2) Whether confession delivers one in any way from punishment?

(3) Whether confession opens Paradise to us?

(4) Whether confession gives hope of salvation?

(5) Whether a general confession blots out mortal sins that one has forgotten?

Whether confession delivers one from the death of sin?


Objection 1: It would seem that confession does not deliver one from the death of sin. For confession follows contrition. But contrition sufficiently blots out guilt. Therefore confession does not deliver one from the death of sin.

Objection 2: Further, just as mortal sin is a fault, so is venial. Now confession renders venial that which was mortal before, as stated in the text (Sent. iv, D, 17). Therefore confession does not blot out guilt, but one guilt is changed into another.

On the contrary, Confession is part of the sacrament of Penance. But Penance deliver from guilt. Therefore confession does also.

I answer that, Penance, as a sacrament, is perfected chiefly in confession, because by the latter a man submits to the ministers of the Church, who are the dispensers of the sacraments: for contrition has the desire of confession united thereto, and satisfaction is enjoined according to the judgment of the priest who hears the confession. And since in the sacrament of Penance, as in Baptism, that grace is infused whereby sins are forgiven, therefore confession in virtue of the absolution granted remits guilt, even as Baptism does. Now Baptism delivers one from the death of sin, not only by being received actually, but also by being received in desire, as is evident with regard to those who approach the sacrament of Baptism after being already sanctified. And unless a man offers an obstacle, he receives, through the very fact of being baptized, grace whereby his sins are remitted, if they are not already remitted. The same is to be said of confession, to which absolution is added because it delivered the penitent from guilt through being previously in his desire. Afterwards at the time of actual confession and absolution he receives an increase of grace, and forgiveness of sins would also be granted to him, if his previous sorrow for sin was not sufficient for contrition, and if at the time he offered no obstacle to grace. Consequently just as it is said of Baptism that it delivers from death, so can it be said of confession.

Reply to Objection 1: Contrition has the desire of confession attached to it, and therefore it delivers penitents from death in the same way as the desire of Baptism delivers those who are going to be baptized.

Reply to Objection 2: In the text venial does not designate guilt, but punishment that is easily expiated. and so it does not follow that one guilt is changed into another but that it is wholly done away. For "venial" is taken in three senses [*Cf.
I-II 88,2]: first, for what is venial generically, e.g. an idle word: secondly, for what is venial in its cause, i.e. having within itself a motive of pardon, e.g. sins due to weakness: thirdly, for what is venial in the result, in which sense it is understood here, because the result of confession is that man's past guilt is pardoned.

Whether confession delivers from punishment in some way?


Objection 1: It would seem that confession nowise delivers from punishment. For sin deserves no punishment but what is either eternal or temporal. Now eternal punishment is remitted by contrition, and temporal punishment by satisfaction. Therefore nothing of the punishment is remitted by confession.

Objection 2: Further, "the will is taken for the deed" [*Cf. Can. Magna Pietas, De Poenit., Dist. i], as stated in the text (Sent. iv, D, 17). Now he that is contrite has the intention to confess. wherefore his intention avails him as though he had already confessed, and so the confession which he makes afterwards remits no part of the punishment.

On the contrary, Confession is a penal work. But all penal works expiate the punishment due to sin. Therefore confession does also.

I answer that, Confession together with absolution has the power to deliver from punishment, for two reasons. First, from the power of absolution itself: and thus the very desire of absolution delivers a man from eternal punishment, as also from the guilt. Now this punishment is one of condemnation and total banishment: and when a man is delivered therefrom he still remains bound to a temporal punishment, in so far as punishment is a cleansing and perfecting remedy; and so this punishment remains to be suffered in Purgatory by those who also have been delivered from the punishment of hell. Which temporal punishment is beyond the powers of the penitent dwelling in this world, but is so far diminished by the power of the keys, that it is within the ability of the penitent, and he is able, by making satisfaction, to cleanse himself in this life. Secondly, confession diminishes the punishment in virtue of the very nature of the act of the one who confesses, for this act has the punishment of shame attached to it, so that the oftener one confesses the same sins, the more is the punishment diminished.

This suffices for the Reply to the First Objection.

Reply to Objection 2: The will is not taken for the deed, if this is done by another, as in the case of Baptism: for the will to receive Baptism is not worth as much as the reception of Baptism. But a man's will is taken for the deed, when the latter is something done by him, entirely. Again, this is true of the essential reward, but not of the removal of punishment and the like, which come under the head of accidental and secondary reward. Consequently one who has confessed and received absolution will be less punished in Purgatory than one who has gone no further than contrition.

Summa - Supplement 166