Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Protestant Dictionary: Contrition

CONTRITION. Deep sorrow for having displeased God by wrong conduct.

Contrition in man is the one condition of forgiveness by God. It is not necessary to quote passages from the Bible in proof. It is the lesson of Holy Scripture from one end of it to the other, that where there is contrition there is forgiveness; and that lesson is inculcated so clearly that none dare deny it. But this creates a difficulty in the theory of the Confessional. (See ABSOLUTION.) For if contrition at once brings Divine pardon, what is the use of a subsequent absolution? On the Protestant view of absolution it is of value, because it conveys an assurance, to one who cannot assure himself, of that forgiveness which is granted on true contrition; but on the late mediaeval and modern Roman theory of absolution being the actual conveyance of pardon by a priest to the contrite penitent, we have to ask why the forgiveness which has been already given on contrition should be given a second time on absolution? This cuts at the root of the Confessional, that is, of the habitual practice of confession as a part of the normal life of a Christian for the purpose of procuring pardon. There are moments doubtless in the lives of one and another when the soul may be so overwhelmed with the horror of realised sin as to be unable to convince itself of God s forgiveness, and then a solemn assurance by God s minister of the infinite mercy of God may hold up and comfort the troubled spirit. But these are exceptional cases; the rule is, that whenever there is contrition, then the sinner may be certain of forgiveness whether or no an absolution follows. This being so, the advocates of obligatory confession and absolution are embarrassed to find a valid reason for insisting on their use. This they think they do by discovering another way to forgiveness beside that of contrition. Contrition brings with it pardon: it cannot be denied. But suppose that a man, instead of having grief at having displeased God, has only dread of punishment in this world or the next, will that be sufficient for securing his pardon? By itself, it is argued, it will not; but add to it sacramental confession and absolution, and then it will. This grief arising from dread is called attrition. A way is thus found for forgiveness without the love of God, or grief at having offended Him. "If attrition were not sufficient to effect remission," says Alfonso de Liguori, "but contrition was required, all penitents would come to the sacrament (of penance) already justified, for contrition justifies a man without the sacrament " (Theol. Mor., vi. 440). The reason why attrition is sufficient, is that "the sacrament has the virtue of doing away with sins" (ibid. 442). Attrition and "the virtue of the Keys" are equivalent to contrition (ibid.). We see therefore that, in stead of being a way of drawing souls nearer to God, the Confessional is a device whereby a sinner can obtain pardon for his sins without having love of God, provided he "elicits in himself an act of sorrow," arising from the lower motive, within a day or so of his confession, and shows that his sorrow still exists by asking or waiting for absolution (ibid. 445) God says, I will pardon all contrite sinners and none that are not contrite. But I, says the Church of Rome, will grant pardon to those who are not contrite: be attrite, confess, be absolved and do the appointed penance, and you secure pardon as well as if you were contrite.

Ritualist manuals do not yet seem to have accepted the theory of attrition. The Catholic Religion says bluntly, "without contrition confession is of no avail." The Practical Religion goes further: " Repentance from any such lower motives as fear of punishment, vexation at present loss, or a suffering resulting from sin, or wounded pride, is imperfect, if not sinful: it is to be regretted and even needs to be repented of" (p. 80). That is satisfactory; but those who demand the presence of contrition in confession must give up belief in absolution as a conveyance of pardon, and with Protestant Churchmen must regard it only as an assurance of pardon already given. See ABSOLUTION and ATTRITION. [F. M.]

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