Summa - Supplement 203
Objection 1: It would seem that confession does not open Paradise. For different sacraments have different effects. But it is the effect of Baptism to open Paradise. Therefore it is not the effect of confession.
Objection 2: Further, it is impossible to enter by a closed door before it be opened. But a dying man can enter heaven before making his confession. Therefore confession does not open Paradise.
On the contrary, Confession makes a man submit to the keys of the Church. But Paradise is opened by those keys. Therefore it is opened by confession.
I answer that, Guilt and the debt of punishment prevent a man from entering into Paradise: and since confession removes these obstacles, as shown above (Articles ,2), it is said to open Paradise.
Reply to Objection 1: Although Baptism and Penance are different sacraments, they act in virtue of Christ's one Passion, whereby a way was opened unto Paradise.
Reply to Objection 2: If the dying man was in mortal sin Paradise was closed to him before he conceived the desire to confess his sin, although afterwards it was opened by contrition implying a desire for confession, even before he actually confessed. Nevertheless the obstacle of the debt of punishment was not entirely removed before confession and satisfaction.
Objection 1: It would seem that hope of salvation should not be reckoned an effect of confession. For hope arises from all meritorious acts. Therefore, seemingly, it is not the proper effect of confession.
Objection 2: Further, we arrive at hope through tribulation, as appears from Rm 5,3-4. Now man suffers tribulation chiefly in satisfaction. Therefore, satisfaction rather than confession gives hope of salvation.
On the contrary," Confession makes a man more humble and more wary," as the Master states in the text (Sent. iv, D, 17). But the result of this is that man conceives a hope of salvation. Therefore it is the effect of confession to give hope of salvation.
I answer that, We can have no hope for the forgiveness of our sins except through Christ: and since by confession a man submits to the keys of the Church which derive their power from Christ's Passion, therefore do we say that confession gives hope of salvation.
Reply to Objection 1: It is not our actions, but the grace of our Redeemer, that is the principal cause of the hope of salvation: and since confession relies upon the grace of our Redeemer, it gives hope of salvation, not only as a meritorious act, but also as part of a sacrament.
Reply to Objection 2: Tribulation gives hope of salvation, by making us exercise our own virtue, and by paying off the debt of punishment: while confession does so also in the way mentioned above.
Objection 1: It would seem that a general confession does not suffice to blot out forgotten mortal sins. For there is no necessity to confess again a sin which has been blotted out by confession. If, therefore, forgotten sins were forgiven by a general confession, there would be no need to confess them when they are called to mind.
Objection 2: Further, whoever is not conscious of sin, either is not guilty of sin, or has forgotten his sin. If, therefore, mortal sins are forgiven by a general confession, whoever is not conscious of a mortal sin, can be certain that he is free from mortal sin, whenever he makes a general confession: which is contrary to what the Apostle says (1Co 4,4), "I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified."
Objection 3: Further, no man profits by neglect. Now a man cannot forget a mortal sin without neglect, before it is forgiven him. Therefore he does not profit by his forgetfulness so that the sin is forgiven him without special mention thereof in confession.
Objection 4: Further, that which the penitent knows nothing about is further from his knowledge than that which he has forgotten. Now a general confession does not blot out sins committed through ignorance, else heretics, who are not aware that certain things they have done are sinful, and certain simple people, would be absolved by a general confession, which is false. Therefore a general confession does not take away forgotten sins.
On the contrary, It is written (Ps 33,6): "Come ye to Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded." Now he who confesses all the sins of which he is conscious, approaches to God as much as he can: nor can more be required for him. Therefore he will not be confounded by being repelled, but will be forgiven.
Further, he that confesses is pardoned unless he be insincere. But he who confesses all the sins that he calls to mind, is not insincere through forgetting some, because he suffers from ignorance of fact, which excuses from sin. Therefore he receives forgiveness, and then the sins which he has forgotten, are loosened, since it is wicked to hope for half a pardon.
I answer that, Confession produces its effect, on the presupposition that there is contrition which blots out guilt: so that confession is directly ordained to the remission of punishment, which it causes in virtue of the shame which it includes, and by the power of the keys to which a man submits by confessing. Now it happens sometimes that by previous contrition a sin has been blotted out as to the guilt, either in a general way (if it was not remembered at the time) or in particular (and yet is forgotten before confession): and then general sacramental confession works for the remission of the punishment in virtue of the keys, to which man submits by confessing, provided he offers no obstacle so far as he is concerned: but so far as the shame of confessing a sin diminishes its punishment, the punishment for the sin for which a man does not express his shame, through failing to confess it to the priest, is not diminished.
Reply to Objection 1: In sacramental confession, not only is absolution required, but also the judgment of the priest who imposes satisfaction is awaited. Wherefore although the latter has given absolution, nevertheless the penitent is bound to confess in order to supply what was wanting to the sacramental confession.
Reply to Objection 2: As stated above, confession does not produce its effect, unless contrition be presupposed; concerning which no man can know whether it be true contrition, even as neither can one know for certain if he has grace. Consequently a man cannot know for certain whether a forgotten sin has been forgiven him in a general confession, although he may think so on account of certain conjectural signs.
Reply to Objection 3: He does not profit by his neglect, since he does not receive such full pardon, as he would otherwise have received, nor is his merit so great. Moreover he is bound to confess the sin when he calls it to mind.
Reply to Objection 4: Ignorance of the law does not excuse, because it is a sin by itself: but ignorance of fact does excuse. Therefore if a man omits to confess a sin, because he does not know it to be a sin, through ignorance of the Divine law, he is not excused from insincerity. on the other hand, he would be excused, if he did not know it to be a sin, through being unaware of some particular circumstance, for instance, if he had knowledge of another's wife, thinking her his own. Now forgetfulness of an act of sin comes under the head of ignorance of fact, wherefore it excuses from the sin of insincerity in confession, which is an obstacle to the fruit of absolution and confession.
We must now inquire about the seal of confession, about which there are five points of inquiry:
(1) Whether in every case a man is bound to hide what he knows under the seal of confession?
(2) Whether the seal of confession extends to other matters than those which have reference to confession?
(3) Whether the priest alone is bound by the seal of confession?
(4) Whether, by permission of the penitent, the priest can make known to another, a sin of his which he knew under the seal of confession?
(5) Whether he is bound to hide even what he knows through other sources besides?
Objection 1: It would seem that the priest is not bound in every case to hide the sins which he knows under the seal of confession. For, as Bernard says (De Proecep. et Dispens. ii), "that which is instituted for the sake of charity does not militate against charity." Now the secret of confession would militate against charity in certain cases: for instance, if a man knew through confession that a certain man was a heretic, whom he cannot persuade to desist from misleading the people; or, in like manner, if a man knew, through confession, that certain people who wish to marry are related to one another. Therefore such ought to reveal what they know through confession.
Objection 2: Further, that which is obligatory solely on account of a precept of the Church need not be observed, if the commandment be changed to the contrary. Now the secret of confession was introduced solely by a precept of the Church. If therefore the Church were to prescribe that anyone who knows anything about such and such a sin must make it known, a man that had such knowledge through confession would be bound to speak.
Objection 3: Further, a man is bound to safeguard his conscience rather than the good name of another, because there is order in charity. Now it happens sometimes that a man by hiding a sin injures his own conscience---for instance, if he be called upon to give witness of a sin of which he has knowledge through confession, and is forced to swear to tell the truth---or when an abbot knows through confession the sin of a prior who is subject to him, which sin would be an occasion of ruin to the latter, if he suffers him to retain his priorship, wherefore he is bound to deprive him of the dignity of his pastoral charge, and yet in depriving him he seem to divulge the secret of confession. Therefore it seems that in certain cases it is lawful to reveal a confession.
Objection 4: Further, it is possible for a priest through hearing a man's confession to be conscious that the latter is unworthy of ecclesiastical preferment. Now everyone is bound to prevent the promotion of the unworthy, if it is his business. Since then by raising an objection he seems to raise a suspicion of sin, and so to reveal the confession somewhat, it seems that it is necessary sometimes to divulge a confession.
On the contrary, The Decretal says (De Poenit. et Remiss., Cap. Omnis utriusque): "Let the priest beware lest he betray the sinner, by word, or sign, or in any other way whatever."
Further, the priest should conform himself to God, Whose minister he is. But God does not reveal the sins which are made known to Him in confession, but hides them. Neither, therefore, should the priest reveal them.
I answer that, Those things which are done outwardly in the sacraments are the signs of what takes place inwardly: wherefore confession, whereby a man subjects himself to a priest, is a sign of the inward submission, whereby one submits to God. Now God hides the sins of those who submit to Him by Penance; wherefore this also should be signified in the sacrament of Penance, and consequently the sacrament demands that the confession should remain hidden, and he who divulges a confession sins by violating the sacrament. Besides this there are other advantages in this secrecy, because thereby men are more attracted to confession, and confess their sins with greater simplicity.
Reply to Objection 1: Some say that the priest is not bound by the seal of confession to hide other sins than those in respect of which the penitent promises amendment; otherwise he may reveal them to one who can be a help and not a hindrance. But this opinion seems erroneous, since it is contrary to the truth of the sacrament; for just as, though the person baptized be insincere, yet his Baptism is a sacrament, and there is no change in the essentials of the sacrament on that account, so confession does not cease to be sacramental although he that confesses, does not purpose amendment. Therefore, this notwithstanding, it must be held secret; nor does the seal of confession militate against charity on that account, because charity does not require a man to find a remedy for a sin which he knows not: and that which is known in confession, is, as it were, unknown, since a man knows it, not as man, but as God knows it. Nevertheless in the cases quoted one should apply some kind of remedy, so far as this can be done without divulging the confession, e.g. by admonishing the penitent, and by watching over the others lest they be corrupted by heresy. He can also tell the prelate to watch over his flock with great care, yet so as by neither word nor sign to betray the penitent.
Reply to Objection 2: The precept concerning the secret of confession follows from the sacrament itself. Wherefore just as the obligation of making a sacramental confession is of Divine law, so that no human dispensation or command can absolve one therefrom, even so, no man can be forced or permitted by another man to divulge the secret of confession. Consequently if he be commanded under pain of excommunication to be incurred "ipso facto," to say whether he knows anything about such and such a sin, he ought not to say it, because he should assume that the intention of the person in commanding him thus, was that he should say what he knew as man. And even if he were expressly interrogated about a confession, he ought to say nothing, nor would he incur the excommunication, for he is not subject to his superior, save as a man, and he knows this not as a man, but as God knows it.
Reply to Objection 3: A man is not called upon to witness except as a man, wherefore without wronging his conscience he can swear that he knows not, what he knows only as God knows it. In like manner a superior can, without wronging his conscience, leave a sin unpunished which he knows only as God knows it, or he may forbear to apply a remedy, since he is not bound to apply a remedy, except according as it comes to his knowledge. Wherefore with regard to matters which come to his knowledge in the tribunal of Penance, he should apply the remedy, as far as he can, in the same court: thus as to the case in point, the abbot should advise the prior to resign his office, and if the latter refuse, he can absolve him from the priorship on some other occasion, yet so as to avoid all suspicion of divulging the confession.
Reply to Objection 4: A man is rendered unworthy of ecclesiastical preferment, by many other causes besides sin, for instance, by lack of knowledge, age, or the like: so that by raising an objection one does not raise a suspicion of crime or divulge the secret of confession.
Objection 1: It would seem that the seal of confession extends to other matters besides those which have reference to confession. For sins alone have reference to confession. Now sometimes besides sins other matters are told which have no reference to confession. Therefore, since such things are told to the priest, as to God, it seems that the seal of confession extends to them also.
Objection 2: Further, sometimes one person tells another a secret, which the latter receives under the seal of confession. Therefore the seal of confession extends to matters having no relation to confession.
On the contrary, The seal of confession is connected with sacramental confession. But those things which are connected with a sacrament, do not extend outside the bounds of the sacrament. Therefore the seal of confession does not extend to matters other than those which have reference to sacramental confession.
I answer that, The seal of confession does not extend directly to other matters than those which have reference to sacramental confession, yet indirectly matters also which are not connected with sacramental confession are affected by the seal of confession, those, for instance, which might lead to the discovery of a sinner or of his sin. Nevertheless these matters also must be most carefully hidden, both on account of scandal, and to avoid leading others into sin through their becoming familiar with it.
This suffices for the Reply to the First Objection.
Reply to Objection 2: A confidence ought not easily to be accepted in this way: but if it be done the secret must be kept in the way promised, as though one had the secret through confession, though not through the seal of confession.
Objection 1: It would seem that not only the priest is bound by the seal of confession. For sometimes a priest hears a confession through an interpreter, if there be an urgent reason for so doing. But it seems that the interpreter is bound to keep the confession secret. Therefore one who is not a priest knows something under the seal of confession.
Objection 2: Further, it is possible sometimes in cases of urgency for a layman to hear a confession. But he is bound to secrecy with regard to those sins, since they are told to him as to God. Therefore not only the priest is bound by the seal of confession.
Objection 3: Further, it may happen that a man pretends to be a priest, so that by this deceit he may know what is on another's conscience: and it would seem that he also sins if he divulges the confession. Therefore not only the priest is bound by the seal of confession.
On the contrary, A priest alone is the minister of this sacrament. But the seal of confession is connected with this sacrament. Therefore the priest alone is bound by the seal of confession.
Further, the reason why a man is bound to keep secret what he hears in confession, is because he knows them, not as man but as God knows them. But the priest alone is God's minister. Therefore he alone is bound to secrecy.
I answer that, The seal of confession affects the priest as minister of this sacrament: which seal is nothing else than the obligation of keeping the confession secret, even as the key is the power of absolving. Yet, as one who is not a priest, in a particular case has a kind of share in the act of the keys, when he hears a confession in a case of urgency, so also does he have a certain share in the act of the seal of confession, and is bound to secrecy, though, properly speaking, he is not bound by the seal of confession.
This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.
Objection 1: It would seem that a priest may not, by the penitent's permission, reveal to another a sin which he knows under the seal of confession. For an inferior may not do what his superior may not. Now the Pope cannot give permission for anyone to divulge a sin which he knows through confession. Neither therefore can the penitent give him such a permission.
Objection 2: Further, that which is instituted for the common good of the Church cannot be changed at the will of an individual. Now the secrecy of confession was instituted for the good of the whole Church, in order that men might have greater confidence in approaching the confessional. Therefore the penitent cannot allow the priest to divulge his confession.
Objection 3: Further, if the priest could grant such a permission, this would seem to palliate the wickedness of bad priests, for they might pretend to have received the permission and so they might sin with impunity, which would be unbecoming. Therefore it seems that the penitent cannot grant this permission.
Objection 4: Further, the one to whom this sin is divulged does not know that sin under the seal of confession, so that he may publish a sin which is already blotted out, which is unbecoming. Therefore this permission cannot be granted.
On the contrary, If the sinner consent, a superior may refer him by letter to an inferior priest. Therefore with the consent of the penitent, the priest may reveal a sin of his to another.
Further, whosoever can do a thing of his own authority, can do it through another. But the penitent can by his own authority reveal his sin to another. Therefore he can do it through the priest.
I answer that There are two reasons for which the priest is bound to keep a sin secret: first and chiefly, because this very secrecy is essential to the sacrament, in so far as the priest knows that sin, as it is known to God, Whose place he holds in confession: secondly, in order to avoid scandal. Now the penitent can make the priest know, as a man, what he knew before only as God knows it, and he does this when he allows him to divulge it: so that if the priest does reveal it, he does not break the seal of confession. Nevertheless he should beware of giving scandal by revealing the sin, lest he be deemed to have broken the seal.
Reply to Objection 1: The Pope cannot permit a priest to divulge a sin, because he cannot make him to know it as a man, whereas he that has confessed it, can.
Reply to Objection 2: When that is told which was known through another source, that which is instituted for the common good is not done away with, because the seal of confession is not broken.
Reply to Objection 3: This does not bestow impunity on wicked priests, because they are in danger of having to prove that they had the penitent's permission to reveal the sin, if they should be accused of the contrary.
Reply to Objection 4: He that is informed of a sin through the priest with the penitent's consent, shares in an act of the priest's, so that the same applies to him as to an interpreter, unless perchance the penitent wish him to know it unconditionally and freely.
Objection 1: It would seem that a man may not reveal what he knows through confession and through some other source besides. For the seal of confession is not broken unless one reveals a sin known through confession. If therefore a man divulges a sin which he knows through confession, no matter how he knows it otherwise, he seems to break the seal.
Objection 2: Further, whoever hears someone's confession, is under obligation to him not to divulge his sins. Now if one were to promise someone to keep something secret, he would be bound to do so, even if he knew it through some other source. Therefore a man is bound to keep secret what he knows through the confession, no matter how he knows it otherwise.
Objection 3: Further, the stronger of two things draws the other to itself. Now the knowledge whereby a man knows a sin as God knows it, is stronger and more excellent than the knowledge whereby he knows a sin as man. Therefore it draws the latter to itself: and consequently a man cannot reveal that sin, because this is demanded by his knowing it as God knows it.
Objection 4: Further, the secrecy of confession was instituted in order to avoid scandal, and to prevent men being shy of going to confession. But if a man might say what he had heard in confession, though he knew it otherwise, scandal would result all the same. Therefore he can nowise say what he has heard.
On the contrary, No one can put another under a new obligation, unless he be his superior, who can bind him by a precept. Now he who knew of a sin by witnessing it was not bound to keep it secret. Therefore he that confesses to him, not being his superior, cannot put him under an obligation of secrecy by confessing to him.
Further, the justice of the Church would be hindered if a man, in order to escape a sentence of excommunication, incurred on account of some sin, of which he has been convicted, were to confess to the person who has to sentence him. Now the execution of justice falls under a precept. Therefore a man is not bound to keep a sin secret, which he has heard in confession, but knows from some other source.
I answer that, There are three opinions about this question. For some say that a man can by no means tell another what he has heard in confession, even if he knew it from some other source either before or after the confession: while others assert that the confession debars him from speaking of what he knew already, but not from saying what he knew afterwards and in another way. Now both these opinions, by exaggerating the seal of confession, are prejudicial to the truth and to the safeguarding of justice. For a man might be more inclined to sin, if he had no fear of being accused by his confessor supposing that he repeated the sin in his presence: and furthermore it would be most prejudicial to justice if a man could not bear witness to a deed which he has seen committed again after being confessed to him. Nor does it matter that, as some say, he ought to declare that he cannot keep it secret, for he cannot make such a declaration until the sin has already been confessed to him, and then every priest could, if he wished, divulge a sin, by making such a declaration, if this made him free to divulge it. Consequently there is a third and truer opinion, viz. that what a man knows through another source either before or after confession, he is not bound to keep secret, in so far as he knows it as a man, for he can say: "I know so end so since I saw it." But he is bound to keep it secret in so far as he knows it as God knows it, for he cannot say: "I heard so and so in confession." Nevertheless, on account of the scandal he should refrain from speaking of it unless there is an urgent reason.
Reply to Objection 1: If a man says that he has seen what he has heard in the confessional, he does not reveal what he heard in confession, save indirectly: even as one who knows something through hearing and seeing it, does not, properly speaking, divulge what he saw, if he says he heard it, but only indirectly, because he says he has heard what he incidentally saw. Wherefore he does not break the seal of confession.
Reply to Objection 2: The confessor is not forbidden to reveal a sin simply, but to reveal it as heard in confession: for in no case is he allowed to say that he has heard it in the confessional.
Reply to Objection 3: This is true of things that are in opposition to one another: whereas to know a sin as God knows it, and to know it as man knows it, are not in opposition; so that the argument proves nothing.
Reply to Objection 4: It would not be right to avoid scandal so as to desert justice: for the truth should not be gainsayed for fear of scandal. Wherefore when justice and truth are in the balance, a man should not be deterred by the fear of giving scandal, from divulging what he has heard in confession, provided he knows it from some other source: although he ought to avoid giving scandal, as far as he is able.
We must now consider satisfaction; about which four things have to be considered: (1) Its nature; (2) Its possibility; (3) Its quality; (4) The means whereby man offers satisfaction to God.
Under the first head there are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether satisfaction is a virtue or an act of virtue?
(2) Whether it is an act of justice?
(3) Whether the definition of satisfaction contained in the text is suitable?
Objection 1: It would seem that satisfaction is neither a virtue nor an act of virtue. For every act of virtue is meritorious; whereas, seemingly, satisfaction is not, since merit is gratuitous, while satisfaction answers to a debt. Therefore satisfaction is not an act of virtue.
Objection 2: Further, every act of virtue is voluntary. But sometimes a man has to make satisfaction for something against his will, as when anyone is punished by the judge for an offense against another. Therefore satisfaction is not an act of virtue.
Objection 3: Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 13): "Choice holds the chief place in moral virtue." But satisfaction is not an act of choice but regards chiefly external works. Therefore it is not an act of virtue.
On the contrary, Satisfaction belongs to penance. Now penance is a virtue. Therefore satisfaction is also an act of virtue.
Further, none but an act of virtue has the effect of blotting out sin, for one contrary is destroyed by the other. Now satisfaction destroys sin altogether. Therefore it is an act of virtue.
I answer that, An act is said to be the act of a virtue in two ways. First, materially; and thus any act which implies no malice, or defect of a due circumstance, may be called an act of virtue, because virtue can make use of any such act for its end, e.g. to walk, to speak, and so forth. Secondly, an act is said to belong to a virtue formally, because its very name implies the form and nature of virtue; thus to suffer courageously is an act of courage. Now the formal element in every moral virtue is the observance of a mean. wherefore every act that implies the observance of a mean is formally an act of virtue. And since equality is the mean implied in the name of satisfaction (for a thing is said to be satisfied by reason of an equal proportion to something), it is evident that satisfaction also is formally an act of virtue.
Reply to Objection 1: Although to make satisfaction is due in itself, yet, in so far as the deed is done voluntarily by the one who offers satisfaction, it becomes something gratuitous on the part of the agent, so that he makes a virtue of necessity. For debt diminishes merit through being necessary and consequently against the will, so that if the will consent to the necessity, the element of merit is not forfeited.
Reply to Objection 2: An act of virtue demands voluntariness not in the patient but in the agent, for it is his act. Consequently since he on whom the judge wreaks vengeance is the patient and not the agent as regards satisfaction, it follows that satisfaction should be voluntary not in him but in the judge as agent.
Reply to Objection 3: The chief element of virtue can be understood in two ways. First, as being the chief element of virtue as virtue, and thus the chief element of virtue denotes whatever belongs to the nature of virtue or is most akin thereto; thus choice and other internal acts hold the chief place in virtue. Secondly, the chief element of virtue may be taken as denoting that which holds the first place in such and such a virtue; and then the first place belongs to that which gives its determination. Now the interior act, in certain virtues, is determined by some external act, since choice, which is common to all virtues, becomes proper to such and such a virtue through being directed to such and such an act. Thus it is that external acts hold the chief place in certain virtues; and this is the case with satisfaction.
Summa - Supplement 203