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Summa Contra Gentiles IV (Selections)

Selections from the work of Thomas Aquinas

26. That there are only Three Persons in the Godhead, Father and Son and Holy Ghost

FROM all that has been said we gather that in the divine nature there subsist three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and that these three are one God, being distinct from one another by relations alone. The Father is distinguished by the relation of paternity and by being born of none: the Son is distinguished from the Father by the relationship of filiation: the Father and Son from the Holy Ghost by spiration; and the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son by the procession of love whereby He proceeds from both. Besides these three Persons it is impossible to assign in the divine nature any fourth Person.

1. The three divine Persons, agreeing in essence, can be distinguished only by the relation of origin. These relations of origin cannot obtain in respect of any process tending to things without, as whatever proceeded without would not be co-essential with its origin; but the process must all stay within. Now such a process, abiding within its origin, is found only in the act of understanding and will.* Hence the divine persons cannot be multiplied except in accordance with the requirements of the process of understanding and will in God. But in God there can be but one process of understanding, seeing that His act of understanding is one, simple, and perfect, whereby, understanding Himself, He understands all other things; and so there can be in God only one procession of the Word. In like manner the process of love must be one and simple, because the divine will also is one and simple, whereby in loving Himself God loves all other things. There can therefore be in God but two Persons proceeding: one by way of understanding, as the Word, or Son; the other by way of love, as the Holy Ghost: there is also one Person not proceeding, namely, the Father. There can only therefore be three Persons in the Trinity.

2. The divine Persons must be distinguished according to their mode of procession. Now the mode of personal procession can be but threefold. There may be a mode of not proceeding at all, which is proper to the Father; or of proceeding from one who does not proceed, which is proper to the Son; or of proceeding from one who does proceed, which is proper to the Holy Ghost. It is impossible therefore to assign more than three Persons.

3. If any objicient says that, the Son being perfect God, there is in Him perfect intellectual power, whereby He can produce a Word; and in like manner the Holy Ghost, being infinite goodness, which is a principle of communication,* must be able to communicate the divine nature to another divine person, he should take note that the Son is God as begotten, not as begetting; hence the power of understanding is in Him as in one proceeding as a Word, not as in one producing a Word. In like manner the Holy Ghost being God as proceeding, there is in Him infinite goodness as in a person receiving, not as in one communicating infinite goodness to another. The whole fulness of Godhead then is in the Son, numerically the same as in the Father, but with a relation of birth, as it is in the Father with a relation of active generation. If the relation of the Father were attributed to the Son, all distinction would be taken away: for the divine Persons are distinguished one from another solely by their mutual relations. And the like argument holds of the Holy Ghost.

A likeness of the divine Trinity is observable in the human mind. That mind, by actually understanding itself, conceives its 'word' in itself, which 'word' is nothing else than what is called the 'intellectual expression (intentio intellecta, cf. B. I, Chap. LIII) existing in the mind; which mind, going on to love itself, produces itself in the will as an object loved. Further it does not proceed, but is confined and complete in a circle, returning by love to its own substance, whence the process originally began by formation of the 'intellectual expression' of that substance. There is however a process going out to exterior effects, as the mind for love of itself proceeds to some action beyond itself. Thus we remark in the mind three things: the mind itself, whence the process starts within its own nature; the mind conceived in the understanding; and the mind loved in the will. And so we have seen that there is in the divine nature a God unbegotten, the Father, the origin of the entire procession of Deity; and a God begotten after the manner of a 'word' conceived in the understanding, namely, the Son; and a God proceeding by mode of love, who is the Holy Ghost: beyond Him there is no further procession within the divine nature, but only a proceeding to exterior effects. But the representation of the divine Trinity in us falls short, in regard of Father, Son and Holy Ghost being one nature, and each of them a perfect Person. Hence there is said to be in the mind of man the 'image' of God: Let us make man to our image and likeness (Gen. i, 26). But as for the irrational creation, on account of the remoteness and obscurity of the representation as found in them, there is said to be the 'foot-print' of the Trinity, but not the 'image' (vestigium, non imago).

39. The Doctrine of Catholic Faith concerning the Incarnation

ACCORDING to the tradition of Catholic faith we must say that in Christ there is one perfect divine nature, and a perfect human nature, made up of a rational soul and human flesh; and that these two natures are united in Christ, not by mere indwelling of the one in the other, or in any accidental way, as a man is united with his garment, but in unity of one person. For since Holy Scripture without any distinction assigns the things of God to the Man Christ, and the things of the Man Christ to God, He must be one and the same person, of whom both varieties of attributes are predicable. But because opposite attributes are not predicable of one and the same subject in the same respect, and there is an opposition between the divine and human attributes that are predicated of Christ, -- as that He is passible and impassible, dead and immortal, and the like, -- these divine and human attributes must be predicated of Christ in different respects. If we consider that of which these opposite attributes are predicated, we shall find no distinction to draw, but unity appears there. But considering that according to which these several predications are made, there we shall see the need of drawing a distinction.* Since that according to which divine attributes are predicated of Christ is different from that according to which human attributes are predicated of Him, we must say that there are in Him two natures, unamalgamated and unalloyed. And since that of which these human and divine attributes are predicated is one and indivisible, we must say that Christ is one person, and one suppositum, supporting a divine and a human nature. Thus alone will divine attributes duly and properly be predicated of the Man Christ, and human attributes of the Word of God.

Thus also it appears how, though the Son is incarnate, it does not follow that the Father or the Holy Ghost is incarnate: for the incarnation does not have place in respect of that unity of nature wherein in the three Persons agree, but in respect of person and suppositum, wherein the three Persons are distinct. Thus as in the Trinity there is a plurality of persons subsisting in one nature, so in the mystery of the Incarnation there is one person subsisting in a plurality of natures.

41. Some further Elucidation of the Incarnation

EUTYCHES made the union of God and man a union of nature: Nestorius, a union neither of nature nor of person: the Catholic faith makes it a union of person, not of nature. To forestall objections, we need to form clear notions of what it is to be united 'in nature,' and what it is to be united 'in person.' Those things then are united 'in nature,' which combine to constitute the integrity of some specific type, as soul and body are united to constitute the specific type of 'animal.' Once a specific type is set up in its integrity, no foreign element can be united with it in unity of nature without the breaking up of that specific type.* But what is not of the integrity of the specific type is readily found in some individual contained under the species, as whiteness and clothedness in Socrates or Plato.* All such non-specific attributes are said to be united 'in unity of suppositum,' or in the case of rational beings, 'in unity of person,' with the individual.

Now some have reckoned the union of God and man in Christ to be after the manner of things united 'in unity of nature.' Thus Arius and Apollinaris and Eutyches. But that is quite an impossibility. For the nature of the Word is a sovereignly perfect whole from all eternity, incapable of alteration or change: nothing foreign to the divine nature, -- no human nature, nor any element of human nature, -- can possibly come to thrust itself into that unity.* Others saw the impossibility of this position, and turned aside in the contrary direction. Whatever is added to any nature without belonging to the integrity of the same, may be reckoned to be either an accident, as whiteness and music, or to stand in an accidental relation to the subject, as a ring, a dress, a house. Considering then that human nature is added to the Word of God without belonging to the integrity of His nature, these [Nestorians] thought that the union of this supperadded human nature with the Word was merely accidental. Manifestly, it could not be in the Word as an accident, for God is not susceptible of accidents; and besides human nature itself stands in the category of substance, and cannot be an accident of anything. The alternative which they embraced was to conclude that the human nature stood in an accidental relation with the Word. Nestorius then laid it down that the human nature stood to the word in the relation of a temple to the Deity whose temple it was; and that union with human nature meant a mere indwelling of the Word in that nature. And because a temple has its individuality apart from him that dwells in it, and the individuality proper to human nature is personality, it followed that the personality of the human nature was one, and the personality of the Word another; and thus the Word and the Man were two persons: all which conclusion has been set aside by our previous arguments.

We must therefore lay it down that the union of the Word with the Man was such, that neither was one nature compounded out of two; nor was the union of the Word with human nature like the union of a substance with something exterior to it and standing in an accidental relation to it, like the relation of a man to his garment and his house: but the Word must be considered to subsist in human nature as in a nature made properly its own, so that that Body is truly the Body of the Word of God, and that Soul the Soul of the Word of God, and the Word of God truly is man. And though such union cannot be perfectly explained by mortal man, still we will endeavour, according to our capacity and ability, to say something towards the building up of faith and the defence of this mystery of faith against unbelievers.

In all creation there is nothing so like this union as the union of soul and body. So the Athanasian Creed has it: "As the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ."* But whereas the rational soul is united with the body, (a) as form with matter, (b) as chief agent with instrument (B. II, Chapp. LVI, LVII ); this comparison cannot hold in respect of the former mode of union, for so we should be brought round to the [Eutychian] conclusion, that of God and man there was made one nature. We must take the point of the comparison then to be the union of soul with body as of agent with instrument. And with this the sayings of some ancient Doctors agree, who have laid it down that the human nature in Christ is an instrument of His divinity, as the body is an instrument of the soul. The body and its parts, as instruments of the soul, come in a different category from exterior instruments. This axe is not my own proper instrument as is this hand. With this axe many men may work: but this hand is set aside for the proper activity of this soul. Therefore the hand is a tool conjoined with and proper to him that works with it: but the axe is an instrument extrinsic to the workman and common to many hands. Thus then we may take it to be with the union of God and man. All men stand to God as instruments wherewith He works: For he it is that worketh in us to will and accomplish on behalf of the good will (Phil. ii, 13). But other men stand to God as extrinsic and separate instruments. God moves them, not merely to activities proper to Himself, but to activities common to all rational nature, such as understanding truth, loving goodness, and working justice. But human nature has been taken up in Christ to work as an instrument proper to God alone, such works as cleansing of sins, illumination of the mind by grace, and introduction to everlasting life. The human nature therefore of Christ stands to God as an instrument proper and conjoined, as the hand to the soul.

The aforesaid examples however are not alleged as though a perfect likeness were to be looked for in them. We must understand how easy it was for the Word of God to unite Himself with human nature in a union far more sublime and intimate than that of the soul with any 'proper instrument.' /

55. Points of Reply to Difficulties touching the Economy of the Incarnation

WE must bear in mind that, so immovable is the divine goodness in its perfection, that nothing is lost to God, however near any creature is raised to Him: the gain is to the creature. 3. Man being a compound of a spiritual and a corporeal nature, and thereby, we may say, occupying the borderland of two natures, all creation seems to be interested in whatever is done for man's salvation. Lower corporeal creatures make for his use, and are in some sort of subjection to him: while the higher spiritual creation, the angelic, has in common with man its attainment of the last end. This argues a certain appropriateness in the universal Cause of all creatures taking to Himself in unity of person that creature whereby He is more readily in touch with all the rest of creation.

4. Sin in man admits of expiation, because man's choice is not immovably fixed on its object, but may be perverted from good to evil, and from evil brought back to good; and the like is the case of man's reason, which, gathering the truth from sensible appearances and signs, can find its way to either side of a conclusion. But an angel has a fixed discernment of things through simple intuition; and as he is fixed in his apprehension, so is he fixed also in his choice. Hence he either does not take to evil at all; or if he does take to evil, he takes to it irrevocably, and his sin admits of no expiation. Since then the expiation of sin was the chief cause of the Incarnation, it was more fitting for human nature than for angelic nature to be assumed by God.

7. Though all created good is a small thing, compared with the divine goodness, still there can be nothing greater in creation than the salvation of the rational creature, which consists in the enjoyment of that divine goodness. And since the salvation of man has followed from the Incarnation of God, it cannot be said that that Incarnation has brought only slight profit to the world. Nor need all men be saved by the Incarnation, but they only who by faith and the sacraments of faith adhere to the Incarnation.

8. The Incarnation was manifested to man by sufficient evidences. There is no more fitting way of manifesting Godhead than by the performance of acts proper to God. Now it is proper to God to be able to change the course of nature (naturae leges), by doing something above that nature of which Himself is the author. Works overriding the ordinary course of nature (opera quae supra leges naturae fiunt) are the aptest evidences of divine being. Such works Christ did; and by these works He argued His Divinity. When asked, Art thou he that is to come? He replied, The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again (Luke vii, 22).* And if it be said that the same miracles have been wrought by others, we must observe that Christ worked them in a very different and more divine way. Others are said to have wrought miracles by prayer, but Christ wrought them by command, as of His own power. And He not only wrought them Himself, but He gave to others the power of working the same and even greater miracles; and they worked them at the mere invocation of the name of Christ. And not only corporal miracles, but spiritual miracles, were wrought through Christ and at the invocation of His name: the Holy Ghost was given, hearts were set on fire with divine love, minds were suddenly instructed in the knowledge of divine things, and the tongues of the simple were rendered eloquent to propose the divine truth to men (Heb. ii, 3, 4).

9. Human nature is so conditioned as not to be apt to be led to perfection at once; but it must be led by the hand through stages of imperfection, so to arrive at perfection at last, as we see in the training of children. If great and unheard-of truths were proposed to a multitude, they would not grasp them immediately: their only chance is to become accustomed to such truths by mastering lesser truths first. Thus it was fitting for the human race to receive their first instruction in the things of salvation by light and rudimentary lessons (levia et minora documenta), delivered by the patriarchs, the law and the prophets; and that finally in the consummation of ages the perfect doctrine of Christ should be set forth on earth. When the fulness of time was come, God sent his Son (Gal. iv, 4). The law was our paedagogue unto Christ, but now we are no longer under a paedagogue (Gal. iii, 24, 25).*

12. It was not expedient for the Incarnate God in this world to live in wealth and high honour: first, because the object of His coming was to withdraw the minds of men from their attachment to earthly things, and to raise them to things heavenly, for which purpose He found it necessary to draw men by His example to a contempt of riches: secondly, because if He had abounded in riches, and had been set in some high position, His divine doings would have been ascribed rather to secular power than to the virtue of the Divinity. This indeed forms the most efficacious argument of His Divinity, that without aid of secular power He has changed the whole world for the better.*

13. God's commandment to men is of works of virtue; and the more perfectly any one performs an act of virtue, the more he obeys God. Now of all virtues charity is the chief: all others are referred to it. Christ's obedience to God consisted most of all in His perfect fulfilment of the act of charity: for greater charity than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John xv, 13).

15. Though God has no wish for the death of men, yet He has a wish for virtue; and by virtue man meets death bravely, and exposes himself to danger of death for charity. Thus God had a wish for the death of Christ, inasmuch as Christ took upon Himself that death out of charity, and bravely endured it. 17. It is well said that Christ wished to suffer the death of the cross in order to give an example of humility. The virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior. Thus humility cannot befit God, who has no superior, but is above all. Whenever any one subjects himself out of humility to an equal or any inferior, that is because he takes that equal or inferior to be his superior in some respect. Though then the virtue of humility cannot attach to Christ in His divine nature, yet it may attach to Him in his human nature. And His divinity renders His humility all the more praiseworthy: for the dignity of the person adds to the merit of humility; and there can be no greater dignity to a man than his being God. Hence the highest praise attaches to the humility of the Man God, who, to wean men's hearts from worldly glory to the love of divine glory, chose to endure a death of no ordinary sort, but a death of the deepest ignominy.

19. It was necessary for Christ to suffer (Luke xxiv, 46), not only to afford an example of braving death for the love of truth, but also for the expiation of the sins of other men; which expiation He made by His own sinless Self choosing to suffer the death due to sin, and so satisfying for others by taking on Himself the penalty due to others. And though the sole grace of God is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, nevertheless in the process of that forgiveness something is required on his part to whom the sin is forgiven, namely, to offer satisfaction to him whom he has offended.* And because men could not do this for themselves, Christ did it for all, suffering a voluntary death for charity.

20. Although when it is a question of punishing sins, he must be punished who has sinned, nevertheless, when it is a question of making satisfaction, one may bear another's penalty. When punishment is inflicted for sin, his iniquity is put into the scale who has sinned: but when satisfaction is made by the offender's voluntary taking upon himself a penalty to appease him whom he has offended, account is taken in that case of the affection and good will of him who makes the satisfaction. And this appears best in the case of one taking upon himself a penalty instead of another, and God accepting the satisfaction of one for another (B. III, Chap. CLIX ad fin.)*

25. Though the death of Christ is sufficient satisfaction for original sin, there is nothing incongruous in the miseries consequent* upon original sin remaining in all men, even in those who are made partakers of the redemption of Christ. It was a fit and advantageous arrangement for the punishment* to remain after the guilt was taken away: -- first, for the conformity of the faithful with Christ, as of members with their head, that as Christ endured many sufferings, so His faithful should be subject to sufferings, and so arrive at immortality, as the Apostle says: If we suffer with him, so that we be glorified with him (Rom. viii, 17): -- secondly, because if men coming to Christ gained immediate exemption from death and suffering, many men would come rather for these corporal benefits than for spiritual goods, contrary to the intention of Christ, who came into the world to draw men from the love of corporal things to spiritual things: -- thirdly, because this sudden impassibility and immortality would in a manner compel men to receive the faith of Christ, and so the merit of faith would be lost.

26. Each individual must seek the remedies that make for his own salvation. The death of Christ is a universal cause of salvation, as the sin of the first man was a universal cause of damnation.* But there is need of a special application to each individual for the individual to share in the effect of a universal cause. The effect of the sin of our first parent reaches each individual through his carnal origin. The effect of the death of Christ reaches each individual by his spiritual regeneration, whereby he is conjoined and in a manner incorporated with Christ.

63. Of the Conversion of Bread into the Body of Christ

IT is impossible for the true Body of Christ to begin to be in this Sacrament by local motion, because then it would cease to be in heaven, upon every consecration of this Sacrament; as also because this Sacrament could not then be consecrated except in one place, since one local motion can only have one terminus; also because local motion cannot be instantaneous, but takes time. Therefore its presence must be due to the conversion of the substance of bread into the substance of His Body, and of the substance of wine into the substance of His Blood. This shows the falseness of the opinion of those who say that the substance of bread co-exists with the substance of the Body of Christ in this Sacrament;* also of those who say that the substance of bread is annihilated. If the substance of bread co-exists with the Body of Christ, Christ should rather have said, Here is my Body, than, This is my Body. The word here points to the substance which is seen, and that is the substance of bread, if the bread remain in the Sacrament along with the Body of Christ. On the other hand it does not seem possible for the substance of bread to be absolutely annihilated, for then much of the corporeal matter of the original creation would have been annihilated by this time by the frequent use of this mystery: nor is it becoming for anything to be annihilated in the Sacrament of salvation.

We must observe that the conversion of bread into the Body of Christ falls under a different category from all natural conversions. In every natural conversion the subject remains, and in that subject different forms succeed one another: hence these are called 'formal conversions.' But in this conversion subject passes into subject, while the accidents remain: hence this conversion is termed 'substantial.' Now we have to consider how subject is changed into subject, a change which nature cannot effect. Every operation of nature presupposes matter, whereby subjects are individuated; hence nature cannot make this subject become that, as for instance, this finger that finger. But matter lies wholly under the power of God, since by that power it is brought into being: hence it may be brought about by divine power that one individual substance shall be converted into another pre-existing substance. By the power of a natural agent, the operation of which extends only to the producing of a change of form and presupposes the existence of the subject of change, this whole is converted into that whole with variation of species and form.* So by the divine power, which does not presuppose matter, but produces it, this matter is converted into that matter, and consequently this individual into that: for matter is the principle of individuation, as form is the principle of species.* Hence it is plain that in the change of the bread into the Body of Christ there is no common subject abiding after the change, since the change takes place in the primary subject [i.e., in the matter], which is the principle of individuation. Yet something must remain to verify the words, This is my body, which are the words significant and effective of this conversion. But the substance does not remain: we must say therefore that what remains is something beside the substance, that is, the accident of bread. The accidents of bread then remain even after the conversion.

This then is one reason for the accident of bread remaining, that something may be found permanent under the conversion. Another reason is this. If the substance of bread was converted into the Body of Christ, and the accidents of bread also passed away, there would not ensue upon such conversion the being of the Body of Christ in substance where the bread was before: for nothing would be left to refer the Body of Christ to that place. But since the dimensions of bread (quantitas dimensiva panis), whereby the bread held this particular place, remain after conversion, while the substance of bread is changed into the Body of Christ, the Body of Christ comes to be under the dimensions of bread, and in a manner to occupy the place of the bread by means of the said dimensions.

67. Answer to the Difficulty raised in respect of the Breaking of the Host

IT has been said above (Chap. LXIV) that the substance of the Body of Christ is in this Sacrament by virtue of the Sacrament [Sacramental words]: but the dimensions of the Body of Christ are there by the natural concomitance which they have with the substance. This is quite the opposite way to that in which a body naturally is in place.* A body is in place by means of its dimensions, by which it is made commensurate with its place.

But substantial being and quantitative being do not stand in the same way related to that in which they are. Quantitative being is in a whole, but is not whole in each part: it is part in part, and whole in the whole. But substantial being is whole in the whole, and whole in every part of the same, as the whole nature and species of water is in every drop of water, and the whole soul in every part of the body. Since then the Body of Christ is in the Sacrament by reason of its substance, into which the substance of bread is changed, while the dimensions of bread remain, -- it follows that as the whole species of bread was under every part of its (visible) dimensions, so the whole Body of Christ is under every part of the same. The breaking then (of the Host) does not reach to the Body of Christ, as though the Body of Christ were subjected to that breaking: its subject is the dimensions of bread, which remain.

72. Of the need of the Sacrament of Penance, and of the Parts thereof

THE Sacrament of Penance is a spiritual cure. As sick men are healed, not by being born again, but by some reaction (alteratio) set up in their system; so, of sins committed after baptism, men are healed by the spiritual reaction of Penance, not by repetition of the spiritual regeneration of Baptism. Now a bodily cure is sometimes worked entirely from within by the mere effort of nature; sometimes from within and from without at the same time, when nature is aided by the benefit of medicine. But the cure is never wrought entirely from without: there still remain in the patient certain elements of life, which go to cause health in him.* A spiritual cure cannot possibly be altogether from within, for man cannot be set free from guilt but by the aid of grace (B. III, Chap. CLVII). Nor can such a cure be altogether from without, for the restoration of mental health involves the setting up of orderly motions in the will. Therefore the spiritual restoration, effected in the Sacrament of Penance, must be wrought both from within and from without. And that happens in this way.

The first loss that man sustains by sin is a wrong bent given to his mind, whereby it is turned away from the unchangeable good, which is God, and turned to sin.* The second is the incurred liability to punishment (B. III, Chapp. CXLI-CXLVI). The third is a weakening of natural goodness, rendering the soul more prone to sin and more reluctant to do good. The first requisite then of the Sacrament of Penance is a right ordering, or orientation of mind, turning it to God and away from sin, making it grieve for sin committed, and purposing not to commit it in future. All these things are of the essence of Contrition. This re-ordering of the mind cannot take place without charity, and charity cannot be had without grace (B. III, Chap. CLI). Thus then Contrition takes away the offence of God, and delivers from the liability of eternal punishment, as that liability cannot stand with grace and charity: for eternal punishment is in separation from God, with whom man is united by grace and charity.*

This re-ordering of the mind, which consists in Contrition, comes from within, from free will aided by divine grace. But because the merit of Christ, suffering for mankind, is the operative principle in the expiation of all sins (Chap. LV), a man who would be delivered from sin must not only adhere in mind to God, but also to the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (i Tim. ii, 5), in whom is given remission of all sins. For spiritual health consists in the turning of the mind and heart to God; which health we cannot gain otherwise than through the physician of our souls Jesus Christ, who saves his people from their sins (Matt. i, 21); whose merit is sufficient for the entire taking away of all sins, since He it is that taketh away the sins of the world (John i, 29). Not all penitents however perfectly gain the effect of remission; but each one gains it in so much as he is united with Christ suffering for sins. Our union with Christ in baptism comes not of any activity of our own, as from within, because nothing begets itself into being; it is all of Christ, who hath regenerated us unto living hope (i Peter i, 3): consequently the remission of sins in baptism is by the power of Christ, uniting us to Himself perfectly and entirely; the result being that not only is the impurity of sin taken away, but also all liability to sin is entirely cancelled, -- always excepting the accidental case of those who gain not the effect of the Sacrament, because they are not sincere in approaching it.* But in this spiritual cure (the Sacrament of Penance), it is our own act, informed with divine grace, that unites us with Christ. Hence the effect of remission is not always gained totally by this union, nor do all gain it equally. The turning of mind and heart to God and to detestation of sin may be so vehement as to gain for the penitent a perfect remission of sin, including at once purification from guilt and a discharge of the entire debt of punishment. But this does not always occur. Sometimes, though the guilt is taken away and the debt of eternal punishment cancelled, there still remains some obligation of temporal punishment, to save the justice of God, which redresses fault by punishment.

But since the infliction of punishment for fault requires a trial, the penitent who has committed himself to Christ for his cure must await the judgement of Christ in the assessment of his punishment. This judgement Christ exercises through His ministers, as in the other Sacraments. No one can give judgement upon faults that he is ignorant of. Therefore a second part of this Sacrament is the practice of Confession, the object of which is to make the penitent's fault known to Christ's minister. The minister then, to whom Confession is made, must have judicial power as viceregent of Christ, who is appointed judge of the living and of the dead (Acts x, 42). There are two requisites of judicial power, authority to investigate the offence, and power to acquit (potestas absolvendi) or condemn. This science of discerning and this power of binding or loosing are the two keys of the Church, which the Lord committed to Peter (Matt. xvi, 19). He is not to be understood to have committed them to Peter for Peter to hold them alone, but that through him they might be transmitted to others; or else the salvation of the faithful would not be sufficiently provided for. These keys have their efficacy from the Passion of Christ, whereby Christ has opened to us the gate of the heavenly kingdom. As then without Baptism, in which the Passion of Christ works, there can be no salvation for men, -- whether the Baptism be actually received, or purposed in desire, when necessity, not contempt, sets the Sacrament aside; so for sinners after Baptism there can be no salvation unless they submit themselves to the keys of the Church either by actual Confession and undergoing of the judgement of the ministers of the Church, or at least by purposing so to do with a purpose to be fulfilled in seasonable time: because there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we are to be saved (Acts iv, 12).*

Hereby is excluded the error of certain persons, who said that a man could obtain pardon of his sins without confession and purpose of confession; or that the prelates of the Church could dispense a sinner from the obligation of confession. The prelates of the Church have no power to frustrate the keys of the Church, in which their whole power is contained; nor to enable a man to obtain forgiveness of his sins without the Sacrament which has its efficacy from the Passion of Christ: only Christ, the institutor and author of the Sacraments, can do that. The prelates of the Church can no more dispense a man from confession and absolution in order to remission of sin than they can dispense him from baptism in order to salvation.

But this is a point to observe. Baptism may be efficacious to the remission of sin before it is actually received, while one purposes to receive it: though afterwards it takes fuller effect in the gaining of grace and the remission of guilt, when it actually is received. And sometimes* the very instant of baptism is the instant of the bestowal of grace and the remission of guilt where it was not remitted before. So the keys of the Church work their effect in some cases before the penitent actually places himself under them, provided he have the purpose of placing himself under them. But he gains a fuller grace and a fuller remission, when he actually submits himself to the keys by confessing and receiving absolution. And the case is quite possible (nihil prohibet) of a person at confession receiving grace and the forgiveness of the guilt of sin by the power of the keys in the very instant of absolution [i.e., not before then].* Since then in the very act of confession and absolution a fuller effect of grace and forgiveness is conferred on him who by his good purpose had obtained grace and remission already, we clearly see that by the power of the keys the minister of the Church in absolving remits something of the temporal punishment which the penitent still continued to owe after his act of contrition. He binds the penitent by his injunction to pay the rest.* The fulfilment of this injunction is called Satisfaction, which is the third part of Penance, whereby a man is totally discharged from the debt of punishment, provided he pays the full penalty dne. Further than this, his weakness in spiritual good is cured by his abstaining from evil things and accustoming himself to good deeds, subduing the flesh by fasting, and improving his relations with his neighbour by the bestowal of alms upon those neighbours from whom he had been culpably estranged.

Thus it is clear that the minister of the Church in the use of the keys exercises judicial functions. But to none is judgement committed except over persons subject to his court. Hence it is not any and every priest that can absolve any and every subject from sin:* priest can absolve that subject only over whom he is given authority.

(last modified 2005-03-28)       [Login]
This page is referenced by the following pages:
Theology 302 class (American Baptist College - Nashville, TN)