Obrázky na stránke

Communion of Saints applies the works of Satisfaction—prayer, fasting, and alms-deeds done by one man, to the reconciling another man to the justice of God. True, we are bound by that communion to the feelings and actions of religious sympathy—to weep with those that weep, to rejoice with those that rejoice, to pray for one another, to supply each other's wants, and to bear each other's burdens. And the sick man is enjoined to send for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, with the promise that the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. But all this is far short of the "paying through others what is due to the divine justice," for which we can look to none but Christ alone. No Christian can have more faith, more penitence, more charity, more zeal, or more good works than he needs for the account of his own stewardship. When he has done all that he can, he is bound to confess himself an unprofitable servant. Where, then, is the superfluity which can be placed to the account of his brother? And where is the authority to any man for relying on such superfluity being applied to his account, even if it were possible that it could exist? The whole proposition, therefore, is a dangerous delusion; the tendency of which is to withdraw the heart from a single trust in Christ, and put a vain confidence in the supposed merits of the Saints : notwithstanding the Scripture saith, - None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him” (Ps. xlix., 7). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil., ii., 12). “For every one shall bear his own burden” (Gal., vi., 5).

It is not my object to pursue this prolific fountain of error into its connection with the Roman doctrine of purgatory and indulgences. But leaving at this point the attempt of their writers to justify their system of auricular confession, absolution, and satisfaction by the Scriptures, as being sufficiently exposed, I shall commence the testimony of the fathers in the following chapter. I do not forget, indeed, that a portion of their argument is grounded on expediency, and on the beneficial results which, as they say, have followed the practical operation of their system on the best interests of mankind. All this, however, I shall postpone for the present. The rise, progress, and final consummation of their Confessional, presenting what I have called its history, now claims our attention; and their reasons of expediency, founded on experience, will be examined afterward.



In proceeding to the evidence of the fathers, it may be necessary to premise, that Penitence is treated by them under a two-fold aspect : first, as an inward contrition of the heart on account of sin; and, secondly, as an external discipline, enjoined on those who, by gross offenses against the precepts of the Gospel, had incurred the sentence of excommunication. In the first sense, Penitence was a constant spiritual exercise of every Christian, and was included in that petition of the Lord's Prayer in which he was taught daily to say, “ Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." But in the other sense of open discipline, during which the offender was separated from the communion and society of his brethren, it became a settled maxim in the primitive Church that it could only be allowed once, with the hope of restoration. In the case of the incestuous Corinthian, whom St. Paul directed the Church at Corinth to excommunicate (1 Cor., v.), and afterward, when the repentance and reformation of the offender appeared to be satisfactory, recommended them to receive again (2 Cor., ii., 6-11), we have a plain proof of apostolic authority for this act of discipline. And the oldest of the fathers who speaks upon the subject clearly shows that, so early as the close of the second century, the rule was general, that the excommunicated man, after his brethren and the ministry were convinced of his genuine contrition and amendment, might be readmitted to the communion of the faithful, but that if he fell under the same sentence again, he was cut off without return. Of the modern Roman Confessional, however, with its private and secret penance and absolution, the fathers appear to have had no conception.

Thus, commencing with the testimony of Tertullian, who may be set down about A.D. 200, we find him stating as follows :

« The Penitence which the grace of God accords to Christians, and which recalls them to the Lord, is allowed but once, and ought not to be permitted after a repetition of the sin.”(App., Note 2.)

“ The laver of baptism is the seal of faith, which faith begins from penitence. We are not washed in order that we may cease from sipning, but because we have ceased, since we are already cleansed in heart. A second penitence is opened to us in the porch of the church, but only once, because it is the second ; for oftener than once, it would be vain.—(App., Note 3.)

The note of the Roman editor upon these passages states correctly (App., Note 4) that the author alludes to the custom and rite of his day, which was, that penitents were obliged to remain in the porch or vestibule of the church for a certain time, and that only one act of penitence was allowed after baptism.

Tertullian next proceeds to state the discipline of penitence in these terms:

6. The evidence of this second and only penitence is the more laborious, as it is not to be manifested in the conscience only, but in act; and this act is what the Greeks called Exomologesis” (i. e., confession), - by which we confess our sin to the Lord, not because He is ignorant of it, but because satisfaction is prepared for by confession, penitence commences in confession, and by penitence God is appeased."-(Appá, Note 5.)

Therefore, this Exomologesis (or penitential confession) is a discipline of prostration and humiliation, enjoining a behavior suitable to the obtaining of mercy, commanding the penitent concerning his garments and his food, that he shall lie on sackcloth and ashes, defile his body with dirt, deject his mind with grief, change with sorrowful treatment his incentives to sin, live on bread and water, not for the sake of his body, but of his soul, nourish his prayers with frequent fasting, groan, weep, moan day and night to the Lord his God, fall down before the presbyters, and embrace the knees of those who are the beloved of God, beseeching all his brethren to intercede for him.• The less you spare yourself, the more, be assured, God will spare you. The major part, however, shun this publication of their sin and this work of penitence, or defer it from day to day, being more mindful, I presume, of their shame than of their safety; like those who, being diseased in the secret parts of their body, avoid the knowledge of their physicians, and so perish through their foolish modesty."-(App., Note 6.)

Here we have a graphic description of penitence in the primitive Church, as it was practiced in the days of Tertullian; nor is there, in his whole treatise on the subject, the slightest allusion to any other disci. pline on account of sin. But it is to be especially noticed that he directs the penitent to beseech his

brethren to intercede for him, which shows that the ministers were not expected to decide on the propriety of restoring him by their own judgment alone, but by the common consent of the Church : just as St. Paul, in the case of the incestuous Corinthian, saith, " To whom ye forgive, I forgive also." And this was evi. dently the only rule which could restore the offender to the confidence and love of his brethren, without which, in that primitive age, the communion of the saints would have been thought to have lost half its value.

My next witness is Cyprian, the famous bishop of Carthage, who recognizes, fifty years later, the same rule. Thus, speaking in reference to Ninus, Clementian, and Florus, who had been overcome by the force of torments to deny the faith in time of persecution, he saith :

They had not ceased to perform the act of penitence, during three years together, for this heavy lapse; though they fell not by their will, but by necessity.”

And then, addressing his clergy, he adds :

Concerning whom you have thought it good to inquire, whether it is yet lawful to admit them to the communion."-(App., Note 7.)

Again, he complains of others who had been readmitted too soon, without the full period of their penitence having been accomplished, in these words:

6. For notwithstanding sinners, who have offended in lesser transgressions, are obliged to perform their penitence for the proper time, and then come to their confession according to the order of discipline, and receive the rite of communion by the imposition of the hands of the bishop and the clergy; yet now, after an insufficient time, while the persecution still continues, and the peace of the Church herself has not yet been restored, these men are admitted, and their name is offered; although their penitenee has not been performed nor their confession made, por the hands of the bishop and the clergy laid upon them, the

[ocr errors]
« PredošláPokračovať »