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ed from his works, called Flores D. Bernardi, or
The Flowers of the divine Bernard," the subject is treated without the slightest allusion to auricular confession or priestly absolution. The whole is addressed to the Redeemer alone, and there is no address to saint, angel, the Virgin mother, or the sacerdotal judge. And thus the matter appears to have stood, saving only in the discipline of canonical penances, until the sweeping revolution of the Council of Lateran in the next century, backed by the angelic doctor, Thomas Aquinas, and the other schoolmen, overturned the primitive rule and established in its stead a new system of error and delusion.
Closing at this point the evidence of the fathers, I shall now go back to A.D. 250 and examine the Councils, in order to trace, by this most authoritative kind of testimony, the various steps of the doctrine and discipline of the Church on the subject under consideration.
The oldest Council which has come down to us is that of Carthage, held under the celebrated Cyprian, A.D. 252, and the synodical epistle is the only record of its acts. It speaks of penitence, as required of those who had lapsed in time of persecution, in the following terms:
- That those who had been overthrown by the adversary, or had lapsed in the troublous times of persecution, and had stained themselves by unlawful sacrifices, should perform full penitence for a long while ; but if the danger of sickness should require, they might receive peace under the stroke of death” (that is, they might be reconciled and receive the communion on their death-bed). - For it was not right, nor was it permitted by the paternal clemency and divine compassion, that the Church should be closed against those who were knocking; that the support of saving hope should be denied to those who were grieving and beseeching; that those who were departing out of the world should be dismissed without the communion and peace of the Lord, when He who gave the law had granted that whatsoever things were bound on earth should be bound also in heaven; and that there, also, those things might be loosed which had first been loosed in the Church.”—(App., Note 132.)
It does not appear that any precise times of public penitence were yet appropriated to particular sins, but it was left to the discretion of the Church, under the counsel of the bishop and the clergy, to determine each case as it occurred, according to the best judgment which they could form of the intensity of the penitent's sorrow for his guilt, and the signs which he ex. hibited of a true conversion. Hence we have seen the exhortations of Tertullian and the other fathers, that the penitent should not spare himself, nor omit to supplicate his brethren with tears, and even prostration at their feet, that they might take pity on his misery, and shorten the period of his separation.
The first effort to reduce the administration of penitential discipline to a system seems to have been that of the Council of Elvira, in Spain, A.D. 313, to which I have already alluded.* At this Council, nineteen bishops and twenty-six presbyters, in the presence of the deacons and the people, adopted a kind of canonical code, specimens of which have been given as above, and need not be here repeated. Thus, if any Christian partook of idolatry, he should be excommunicated for life; and the same punishment was allotted to many other sins. If a mistress beat her slave so cruelly that death ensued, she should perform penance for five or seven years, according to the circumstances. If a man became a heretic, and then desired to return to the Church, he should be a penitent for ten years, before he could be admitted again to the communion, &c.
* See page 98-99.
The great Council of Arles, called together by the Emperor Constantine, A.D. 314, and said by some of the fathers to have consisted of 600 bishops, passed several canons defining the causes for which offenders should be excommunicated, but without specifying any number of years, and therefore leaving the length of their penitence to the particular Church with which they were connected.
The system commenced by the Council of Elvira, however, once begun, soon extended itself throughout the Church, as may be seen by reference to the following:
The Council of Ancyra, consisting of 18 bishops, A.D. 314.
A.D. 314. The General Council of Nice,
A.D. 325. The Council of Gangra,
time uncertain. The Council of Antioch, reckoned by some to have consisted of 30, and by others of 97 bishops,
A.D. 341. The Council of Sardis, variously reckoned at from 29 to 300 bishops, while the Synodical letter, differing from both, exhibits 60 names. This important Council was holden
A.D. 347. The Council of Laodicea, consisting of 22 bishops, A.D. 372. The Council of Valentia,
A.D. 374. The Council of Cæsar Augusta,
A.D. 380. The Council of Hippo,
A.D. 393. With many others, portions of which will be cited at "large, as our work advances.
The General Council of Nice, A.D. 325, holds a superior rank among the early Councils, and the twelfth canon has been already cited. * To this I will now add
COUNCIL OF NICE.
the eleventh canon, which will clearly exhibit the character of public penitence at that day, specially in reference to the case of those who had “lapsed" by offering a heathen sacrifice during the period of persecution.
“Concerning those," saith this canon, “who have transgressed without necessity, or without the loss of their property, or without danger, or any thing of this kind, which was done un. der the tyranny of Licinius, it pleased the Council, although they may be thought unworthy of indulgence, to show, notwithstanding, some benevolence in their behalf. Whoever, therefore, shall manifest their penitence truly, let them remain for three years among the believing hearers, and prostrate themselves with all contrition for six years, and then for two years they may communicate in prayer with the people without an oblation."--(App., Note 133.)
It is observable, that the whole code of these penitential canons contemplates the publicity of the discipline to which the culprit was obliged to submit On the part of the Church, indeed, he was only put out of communion, according to St. Paul, who directed the same course with respect to the incestuous Corinthian. On his part, however, it was incumbent on him, if he was actually penitent, to seek for readmission, by deep contrition and reformation, to the favor of God; and to endeavor, by convincing his brethren of his sincerity, to obtain his restoration to the com. munion of the Church, and to the means of grace provided for the faithful. But, in the very nature of the case, this
process could not be secret; for he could not be placed in the condition of a penitent until he was first put out of the communion. The whole congregation, therefore, were necessarily apprised of the fact. And although his pride might revolt at the acknowledgment of his offense, and much more at the continued manifestation of his abasement, yet it was infinitely better that he should submit to it all for a
portion of his present life, than risk the condemnation of the Lord at His coming to judge the world.
The Church of Rome can not deny this system of public penitence, and does not attempt it, for the proofs are too numerous and strong. But she would fain persuade her deluded followers that the system of her secret auricular confession and absolution existed along with it, and was used in all cases where the sin was secret : public penance being required for public crimes, and private penance, at the secret dictation of the priest, being exacted for all others. And the hypothesis is certainly ingenious, although it is not only at variance with the Word of God, but quite irreconcilable with the testimony of antiquity. This I have already proved from the fathers, and I shall now proceed to prove it from the Councils by necessary implication.
Thus the third Council of Carthage, held by fortysix bishops, A.D. 397, furnishes the following evidence against auricular confession, in its twenty-fifth canon.
“ That the clergy or the continent” (that is, those who were under the vows of celibacy, which had become customary from the commencement of the fourth century, and, in some quarters, at a still earlier period)—" that the clergy or the continent may not approach widows or virgins unless by the command or permission of the bishops and presbyters. And then they may not do it alone, but in company with their fellow-clergymen, or with such as the bishop or presbyter may have directed; nor may even the bishops or presbyters themselves have access alone to females of this sort, but either where the clergy shall be present or some serious Christians."—(App., Note 134.)
Now here we see a positive prohibition, even to bishops and presbyters, against being alone with a virgin or a widow. And the Council makes no exception for any case whatever. But the Church of Rome requires her priests to be alone with every widow and virgin, for the purpose of auricular confession, before