(Of the Society of St. John the Evangelist,)
A. WILLIAMS & CO., CHURCH BOOKSTORE,
283 WASHINGTON STREET.
SPECIAL attention has been called of late to the Conference of Bishops at Lambeth, in July, 1878, and to the resolution which was then adopted on the subject of Private Confession.
That resolution has been quoted, both in England and in this country, as a deliberate and unanimous declaration on the subject. By many, who are unacquainted with the facts, and who read the words superficially, the resolution may perhaps be regarded as a general condemnation of the whole practice.
It may be well, therefore, to state the circumstances, and to consider the words of the resolution referred to. [* The following is the resolution adopted by the Conference: "Having in view certain novel practices and teachings on the subject of Confession, your committee desire to affirm that in the matter of Confession the Churches of the Anglican communion hold fast those principles which are set forth in Holy Scripture, which were professed by the Primitive Church, and which were reaffirmed at the English Reformation: and it is their deliberate opinion that no minister of the Church is authorized to require, from those who may resort to him to open their grief, a particular or detailed enumeration of all their sins; or to require private confession previous to receiving the Holy Communion; or to enjoin or even encourage the practice of habitual confession to a priest; or to teach that such practice of habitual confession, or the being subject to what has been termed the direction of [3/4] a priest, is a condition of attaining to the highest spiritual life. At the same time your committee are not to be understood as desiring to limit in any way the Provision made in the Book of Common Prayer for the relief of troubled consciences."--The Church Eclectic for September, 1878, p. 454.]
I. It must first of all be borne in mind that the Lambeth Conference was not a Synod. The Bishops distinctly disclaimed any such responsible or authoritative character for their meeting, which was a voluntary gathering, for mutual consultation, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, of Bishops from various national and local Churches in communion with the Church of England. They were neither summoned, nor organized, nor did they deliberate after the manner of a regular Synod of the Church.
The conclusions of such an assembly of Bishops from so many parts of the world (it may be noted, however, that New England was altogether unrepresented) must naturally have an interest for Churchmen, and will claim their careful consideration. But if a duly organized Council depends in some measure for the authority of its decrees upon their after reception by the Church, much more must the utterances of such an informal gathering as this Conference be open to respectful examination. The weight attached to such utterances will in part be estimated by the deliberation with which they were prepared, and will be seriously diminished if they are believed to have been put forth without careful scrutiny.
As one has said, who has made the Councils of the Church a special study, "The informality of the meeting [at Lambeth], and the brief period for which it was assembled, deprived it of those guarantees for [4/5] the careful consideration of serious subjects, which are secured by the traditional rules of provincial Synods." [* "Habitual Confession not Discouraged by the Resolution Accepted by the Lambeth Conference," a Letter to his Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, by the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D., p. 40.] Dr. Pusey says further, "I am thankful that the resolution [concerning Confession] was not the act of a Synod; for no canon of a Synod upon any important subject was, I think, ever brought forward so abruptly and concluded so hurriedly, or contained a clause so vague, and capable of different interpretations, as this. Nor was any canon, I suppose, ever remodelled, upon grave objections, within a few hours in the morning." [* Ibid. p. 39.]
II. What was the history of this particular resolution?
It was irregularly introduced on the very last day of the Bishops' deliberations, without any previous notice (though they had been in consultation for a month), and against the protest of many Bishops, as one, of our own Church, has publicly stated. [* Convention Address of the Bishop of Albany, January, 1879. See "Church Eclectic'' for March, 1879, p. 929.]
Having been, along with another controversial question, thus "brought by a side-wind before the Conference," "outside of its announced subjects, from which many of the Bishops, if not most, had understood that these matters were to be excluded" (the words are those of two members of the Conference), the resolution was hurriedly carried through, it being impossible for those who entertained objections (as one such pleads in a letter of remonstrance) to occupy the time of the Conference, which was just closing its session, with any lengthened observations.
 After a short discussion, therefore, the resolution was taken back to the committee who had prepared it, and materially altered, in fact "so much modified," a Bishop states, "that it now means little or nothing." We may suppose that it was at this point that the saving clause was added, that the Bishops "are not to be understood as desiring to limit in any way the provision made in the Book of Common Prayer for the relief of troubled consciences." The practical effect of this proviso was to neutralize any prohibitory force which the preceding clauses might have had; and its addition enabled Bishops to acquiesce in the resolution, whose teaching and practice is identical with that of Clergymen whom the declaration is now by some used to condemn.
It will be observed, that there is not in the whole resolution, a single word impugning the power of the Priest to forgive sins (ministerially, of course), or the lawfulness of Confession to a Priest. The only questions directly dealt with are the obligations and frequency of such Confession. As Bishop Doane has said, "The use of private Confession is an inherent right of sinners, and the power of Absolution is involved in the office of every Priest." [* Convention Address, 1879.]
A member of the Conference informed Dr. Pusey that what the majority of the Bishops intended to deprecate was "a formal, habitual routine of Confession, with little or no real penitence." [* Dr. Pusey's Letter, p. 16.] Another member of the Conference gathered, from the explanations which he received, that other Bishops meant to disown habitual Confession being "a condition of attaining the highest spiritual life." [* Ibid.]
 A resolution, dealing with an important spiritual subject, so introduced, altered, and accepted (all in one morning), and so differently interpreted by those who voted for it, can hardly be regarded as a declaration of the assembled Bishops, "with one mind and one mouth," [* Convention Address of the Bishop of Massachusetts, May 1879.] to which the implicit submission of the faithful is due.
III. And in this amended form what is the force of the resolution?
Read in the light of the concluding proviso already referred to, the statements of "deliberate opinion" really amount to little more than the enunciation of certain truisms, some of them however expressed in language so ambiguous as at first sight to be misleading.
As truisms the Bishops declare that "it is their deliberate opinion that no minister of the Church is authorized" to do certain things, which, so far as is known, no minister of the Church, either in England or elsewhere, has claimed or wished to do: viz., "to require, from those who may resort to him to open their grief, a particular or detailed enumeration of all their sins; or to require private Confession previous to receiving the Holy Communion; or to enjoin . . . the practice of habitual Confession to a Priest; or to teach that such practice of habitual Confession, or the being subject to what has been termed the direction of a Priest, is a condition of attaining to the highest spiritual life."
It is possible that there may be here and there eccentricities and exaggerations in teaching or practice on the part of individuals, on this as on any matter; [7/8] but certainly the statement of the Bishops is not a condemnation or censure of any body of clergy with whom it could have been worth while for the Conference to deal. Those who have been foremost in promoting the practical revival of this means of grace in the Anglican Communion have again and again pointed to the difference between the Roman compulsory system of Confession and the voluntary use of Confession among ourselves. They have further been at pains to state their preference for the latter arrangement, and have frequently urged the advantages of its voluntary practice over any compulsory system, even though the compulsion should be merely matter of discipline. Neither would such teachers require or recommend Confession as an ordinary preparation for Holy Communion. Confession, as has been often remarked, is to be regarded as medicine, not as food, and therefore is not ordinarily to be resorted to with the same or like regularity with which one would wish to approach the Holy Communion. It is possible, of course, in spiritual as in bodily ailments to overdose the patient, or for him to rely too much upon physic; but, on the other hand, for many of us medical treatment is desirable, if not necessary, from time to time, and it need not be considered, with regard to the soul any more than with regard to the body, a mark of the highest prudence to wait until the case has become desperate before a physician is applied to.
As a repudiation of the charge, not infrequently made, of attempting to enforce Confession, by moral if not ecclesiastical obligation, the following extracts may be given from "A Declaration on the Subject of [8/9] Confession," put forth a few years ago in England, with a view to correct prevalent misapprehensions. To this declaration were appended the names of a number of representative Priests (some of them holding high office in the Church), from among those who have themselves been prominent in this particular ministry, and who would be likely to mould the opinions of others.
"We believe and profess that Almighty God has promised forgiveness of sins, through the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, to all who turn to Him, with true sorrow for sin, out of unfeigned and sincere love to Him, with lively faith in Jesus Christ, and with full purpose of amendment of life.
"We also believe and profess that our Lord Jesus Christ has instituted in His Church a special means for the remission of sin after Baptism, and for the relief of consciences, which special means the Church of England retains and administers as part of her Catholic heritage.
"We affirm that, to use the language of the Homily, [* Homily "Of Common Prayer and Sacraments." For the acceptance in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Homilies as "an explication of Christian doctrine and instructive in piety and morals," see Article xxxv. with the appended note.] 'Absolution hath the promise of forgiveness of sin;' although, the Homily adds, 'by the express word of the New Testament it hath not this promise annexed and tied to the visible sign, which is imposition of hands,' and 'therefore,' it says, 'Absolution is no such Sacrament as Baptism and the Communion are.' We hold it to be clearly impossible that the Church of England, in Article XXV., can have meant to disparage the ministry of Absolution, any more than she can have meant to disparage the Rites of Confirmation and Ordination, which she solemnly administers. We believe that God through Absolution confers an inward spiritual grace, and the authoritative assurance of His forgiveness, on those who receive it with faith and repentance, as in Confirmation and Ordination He confers grace on those who rightly receive the same."
 "While we hold that the formularies of the Church of England do not authorize any Priest to teach that private Confession is a condition indispensable to the forgiveness of sin after Baptism, and that the Church of England does not justify any Parish Priest in requiring private Confession as a condition of receiving Holy Communion, we also hold that all who claim the privilege of private Confession are entitled to it, and that the Clergy are directed under certain circumstances to 'move' persons to such confession."
"We believe that the Church left it to the consciences of individuals, according to their sense of their needs, to decide whether they would confess or not, as expressed in that charitable exhortation of the First English Prayer-Book, 'requiring such as shall be satisfied with a general Confession not to be offended with them that do use, to their further satisfying, the auricular and secret Confession to the Priest; nor those also, which think needful or convenient, for the quietness of their own consciences, particularly to open their sins to the Priest, to be offended with them that are satisfied with their humble Confession to God, and the general Confession to the Church, but in all things to follow and keep the rule of charity; and every man to be satisfied with his own conscience, not judging other men's minds or consciences, whereas he hath no warrant of God's Word to the same.' "
"That no minister is authorized to require, from those who resort to him to open their grief, a particular and detailed enumeration of all their sins," is certainly a truism. It would probably be found that, as a rule, those Clergy who are most frequently called upon to receive regular Confessions, are those who have shown themselves most ready to receive any person who should come to them for spiritual counsel and assistance of any kind without Confession. Certainly they would not wish to limit the individual dealings of a Pastor with his people to this one special ministration. Confession they would regard as [10/11] one, and an important, but by no means the only, method of shepherding the flock committed to them, and fulfilling their delegated ministry, to reconcile the penitent, and bind up the broken-hearted, and set at liberty them that are captive and bruised.
It is to be noted that in the whole resolution nothing is said about Absolution. The Bishops may, therefore, be perhaps regarded as having in mind only applications for counsel and guidance, as distinct from a seeking of ministerial application and sealing of reconciliation and pardon. Here, clearly, the necessity or advantage (or the reverse) of a full acknowledgment of the person's sins would vary with the circumstances. No general rule could be laid down. In many cases it would be altogether needless, in some harmful: in others again a fuller knowledge of the person's spiritual condition would enable the Priest, to give more appropriate counsel, concerning the particular grief the pressure of which had led the person to seek his help.
As Dr. Pusey has said on this point, "A physician of the body would indeed think it strange, if a patient were to consult him about a disease of the heart which he supposed himself to have, and yet were to tell him nothing as to any other bodily symptom, and were to resent his asking about any of them. Probably the physician would say, that, unless he knew more, he could be of no service to his patient, and would advise him to go to some one in whom he had confidence enough to explain himself to him more fully. I have no reason to think that those who are aware that they are spiritually sick, and consult us at all, who, under the Great Physician, are [11/12] physicians of souls, about any diseases of their souls, treat us with less confidence than others do the physicians of the body. However, if any one were to open one grief only, one should help him as one could." [* Dr. Pusey's Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, p. 33.]
Of course the "grief" which a person desires to "open" is, in very many cases, occasioned by a sense of his sins, brought home to the conscience more clearly than ever before, by the reproof of the Holy Ghost. A person seeks to deepen his repentance for the sinfulness of his past life, to make what loving reparation he can to the God whom he has offended, and to obtain all the assistance which God has mercifully provided for his restoration.
If an individual Absolution is sought, there must of course be a confession sufficiently full to enable the Priest to judge of the reality of the person's penitence, and for the penitent to take to himself the shame of the sins for which he professes his sorrow.
This may well be secured without that exact "numbering" or minute investigation of sins, which seems to have been a chief objection on the part of several of the Reformers to the old Romish system, and the unreasonable dread of which not uncommonly deters persons in our own time from seeking the relief they need and for which they long.
The clause which has just been considered, along with another sentence of the resolution, seem to suggest that the idea which was uppermost in the minds of the Bishops (against which they might well wish to protest) was that of a system of arbitrary "direction," amounting to a transfer of responsibility from the individual seeking help to the spiritual guide.
 That this would be a great evil none can doubt. That it is necessarily involved in the practice of Confession, proof is altogether wanting. None can have spoken more strongly against any such Direction than one who was an earnest advocate of Confession, the late learned Dr. John Mason Neale. [* Church Difficulties, by J. M. Neale, D.D., p. 238. Quoted by Canon Cooke, Power of the Priesthood in Absolution, p. 106.] Another highly venerated Priest, of wide experience, draws the distinction between true and false Direction, that which is helpful and that which is harmful, in words which shall be quoted at length. "Direction," Mr. Carter says, "if viewed simply in its first principles, is implied in 'ghostly counsel and advice.' The extent or duration of such 'counsel and advice' is of necessity dependent on the circumstances of each individual case; but direction, rightly understood, is only 'ghostly counsel and advice' become habitual. The evils popularly associated with the idea of direction, and ordinarily intended to be condemned under the term, viz., the substitution of the priest's judgment for the true action of the conscience of the person under his influence, and the consequent loss of all sense or obligation of personal responsibility, are but the abuse of a most sacred trust. The true object of direction is not to preserve a hold on the mind of the penitent, and habituate it to lean on authority overruling its own powers of action by minute details of rule, but rather to develop true principles, and awaken dormant energies within the soul, so as to enable it to judge and act more healthfully for itself. Direction in its true sense means such help as may strengthen and assist the soul in the [13/14] use of its renewed powers, not destroy them; quicken its sense of responsibility, not paralyze it." [* Doctrine of Confession in the Church of England, by Rev. T. T. Carter, pp. 210, 211.]
Slavery to an "arbitrary direction which supplants the conscience," one would hardly have thought an imminent danger in our American life. Yet the fear of it seems to have been a chief inspiring motive of the Pastoral Letter put forth by the House of Bishops, on the subject of Confession, in 1871. That declaration does not mention Absolution, but guards against such an "enforced" confession as would "rob Christ's provision of its mercy, and change it into an engine of oppression."
To assert that the being subject to the direction of a Priest, however wise and holy, is an indispensable condition for attaining to the highest spiritual life, would indeed be a presumptuous dictum. To imply that the judicious counsel of a Spiritual Guide, honestly sought and prudently followed, would not be found a help of great value to many a soul, would seem to be scarcely less contrary to the facts of human experience.
There remain for consideration the ambiguities (natural, perhaps, in a document which bears on the face of it the mark of a compromise) contained in the Lambeth declaration that "no minister is authorized even to encourage the practice of habitual confession to a priest."
With regard to the whole sentence, it may be permitted once more to quote the words of Dr. Pusey, and respectfully express the thought "that the different [14/15] parts of the resolution would have been more in harmony, had the words 'or even encourage,' been omitted. For the other members of the resolution relate to cases, in which it is denied that the priest may, directly or indirectly, lay any restraint upon the conscience: this relates to his enheartening persons to do what of their own free-will they desire to do. And yet the saving clause at the end declares that the Committee is not to be understood as desiring to limit in any way the provision made in the Prayer-Book for the relief of troubled consciences, but the officiating minister, in the notice of every Communion, is directed to 'encourage' Communicants to 'open their grief' if they have any." [* Dr. Pusey's Letter, p. 30.]
The Church of England has not one word, nor has the American Church, authorizing any discouragement of the practice. The most that can be said is that her Priests have no direct and express authority from the Church for it. [* The ambiguity of the word "authorized," as used in the Lambeth resolution, is further shown by Bishop Doane's dissent from the Latin and Greek words which were employed as its equivalents by another Bishop in a translation.--Convention Address, as before.] And this they do not claim. It is a detail upon which the Church has given no directions, leaving it to people's own judgment to seek external and ministerial help, whenever--be it often or seldom--they cannot by their unaided efforts "quiet their own conscience," and so come to the Holy Communion "with a full trust in God's mercy." Whether this, with the general laxity of life around us, ought to be a very infrequent case may be doubted.
 With regard to the term "habitual confession," it is difficult to see exactly what is the practice so disclaimed. What should be objected to would of course be a mere routine confession, made on stated occasions without any real sense of sin or desire for cleansing--such an abuse of confession as one Bishop, at any rate (as has been already said), understood it was intended to condemn. That Confession should be regarded in any way as a substitute for Repentance would indeed be disastrous. But it can hardly be seriously believed that this is a practical or common danger. As a matter of fact the spread of Confession has followed on the more earnest and outspoken preaching of the necessity of real Repentance, and the proclamation of a high standard of Christian life,--the standard of the New Testament, for which too commonly had been substituted a new edition of Christianity, revised and adapted to the ways of the nineteenth century. A practice of making a confession every year (as in Lent or Advent) would, equally with a more frequent confession, if persevered in, become 'habitual'; or to confess whenever there should be special need, if unhappily that need should from time to time recur. But this, at least, could hardly be censured, or repudiated as unauthorized (in any bad sense).
What is really wanted for a right judgment on this matter is a calm and unprejudiced consideration of the actual condition and the crying needs of souls, remembering the woe pronounced on those who "speak peace when there is no peace," and who "heal slightly the hurt of the daughter of My people." There are many signs that Church people are waking up to a sense of the unsatisfactoriness of some [16/17] traditional ways of working. Among the most noteworthy of such tokens may be mentioned Bishop Littlejohn's recent earnest pleading with his Clergy in Conference at Brooklyn for more frequent and individual spiritual intercourse between Pastor and People, and the remarkable agreement of the Clergy that, in one form or another, Confession or something corresponding thereto was needed, and when tried had proved of great value. [*See The Churchman, of March 8, April 5, 19, 26, May 3, 1879.] The question is continually asked, in Church Congresses and elsewhere, How is the Church to reach the masses? The answer is being slowly learned, that we must cease to deal with men as masses, and, after the example of our Lord, meet them individually, and, in that individual dealing, treat of the actual needs, duties, temptations, and aspirations of each one.
The sorrowful testimony of the saintly author of "The Christian Year" as to the practical failure of our ordinary system, either to rescue sinners or to form saints, will come home to many a Parish Priest, and find an echo too in the heart of many an earnest lay person.
"It is sad to think," Mr. Keble writes, speaking of his own experience in an English village where he could regularly visit every family, "after all how very little one knows of one's people. We go on working in the dark, and in the dark it will be, until the rule of systematic Confession is revived in our Church. . . . We are in our parishes like people whose lantern has blown out, and who are feeling their way, and continually stepping in puddles and splotches of mud, which they think are dry stones. [17/18] Then the tradition which goes by the name of Justification by Faith, and which in reality means that one who has sinned, and is sorry for it, is as if he had not sinned, blights and benumbs one in every limb, in trying to make people aware of their real state. . . . And this is the reason why I so deprecate the word and the idea of Protestantism, because it seems inseparable to me from 'Every man his own absolver,' that is, in other words, the same as Peace where there is no Peace, and mere shadows of Repentance." [* Letter (written in 1844), quoted in Sir J. T. Coleridge's Memoir of Rev. John Keble p. 333.]
In such a light must many a Priest regard the subject. Somewhat similar is the verdict of a Bishop, of age and position in the English Colonial Church, who in a Letter (printed but not published) offers some remarks on the acts of the Lambeth Conference. "We all know," the Bishop says, treating of the need on the side of the People, "with what soothing self-deception the transgressor can commonly put away troublesome thoughts, and stifle his convictions. But in Confession the sinner has, as it were, to face the realities of his condition; and, with the aid of a judicious guide, he is enabled to detect secret motives and springs of action which would have escaped his own unaided investigation. The advantage of having recourse to the ministers of religion for aid of this kind, and for spiritual advice, is recognized by all who have any knowledge of human nature; and such confidential intercourse with the individual members of his congregation is sought by every minister, whether Churchman or Dissenter, [18/19] who has any regard for their welfare and any earnest desire for the salvation of souls." "Is it then better," the Bishop asks (and the question may be pressed home to those who would allow any kind of intercourse save only Confession, the safest, one might think, of all),--"is it better that this intercourse should be solemnly conducted, with certain regulations as to method and time and place, or that its character should depend upon accidental circumstances?"
The value of Confession, in deepening their penitence, and the benefit of Absolution, not merely in giving comfort with regard to the past but in aiding to begin a new life, are thankfully acknowledged by thousands who have sought this help. Many have been eased of a burden under which they long had groaned, and have regained the liberty of God's children, either by a single general Confession, or by a practice of Confession from time to time, or at recurring seasons of need. Neither the prejudiced declamations nor the sneers of those who merely theorize on the subject without any practical experience, will persuade such persons that what they have proved to be a restorative medicine is a noxious poison, or that while they are set free from their sins they are subjected to a cruel bondage.
IV. Turning to the positive side of the resolution, it is important to note what the Bishops at Lambeth did affirm. And first for the cautionary clause, that they are "not to be understood as desiring to limit in any way the provision made in the Book of Common Prayer for the relief of troubled consciences." The [19/20] wording of this sentence is noticeable, in that the Bishops (the seventeen American Bishops among them), inasmuch as they refer to "the Book," not to our several Books, "of Common Prayer," assume that at least the permitted teaching and practice of the two Books and the two Churches is identical.
This is, if possible, still more clearly expressed by the previous declaration, that, "in the matter of Confession, the Churches of the Anglican Communion hold fast those principles which are set forth in the Holy Scriptures, which were professed by the Primitive Church, and which were re-affirmed at the English Reformation." No account, it will be seen, is taken of any supposed difference, either as to doctrine or allowed practice, from the Mother Church on the part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country, in consequence of any changes, by omission or otherwise, in the American Prayer-Book. [* In the Preface to the Prayer-Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church, it is expressly said that "this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship, or further than local [that is, political] circumstances require." To the same effect is the declaration of the Convention of 1786, sent to the English Prelates, who hesitated to consecrate Bishops for this Church, on account of the changes made in the Prayer-Book.]
Such changes, which undoubtedly have tended to obscure the doctrine, and, along with other causes, to hinder the practice, amongst ourselves, while they will not be wondered at when we consider the practical state of the Church, both in England and in this country, at the time of the revision, may, it is hoped, without incurring the charge of disloyalty, be considered as unhappy. In this judgment we shall concur with not a few American Bishops. With one, [20/21] deservedly honored, we may believe that they would not, under present circumstances, have been made, and may even look forward to the possible restoration of the older forms at some future time. [* The revision," Bishop Potter says, "to which the Book of Common Prayer was subjected, when the Church was fully organized in this country, should serve us quite as much for warning as for encouragement." (Pastoral Letter of the Bishop of New York, December, 1869, p. 17.) Speaking of the probable action of the General Convention, if it were now to be called upon to enter on a fresh work of revision, Bishop Potter says, ''It is likely that it would begin by reclaiming what it has lost, not by diluting and debasing what it has, through the mercy of God, retained." And, among other alterations, "it would strike out the alternate form in the Ordination of Priests. It would restore the lost parts of the Office for the Visitation of the Sick." (Pastoral Letter, p. 23.)] Meanwhile it is well to know, on the authority of the Bishops assembled at Lambeth, that, in this case at any rate, Omission does not amount to Prohibition; that the provision for the relief of troubled consciences in the English Prayer-Book is not restricted in ours; that it is lawful for an American lay person who cannot quiet his own conscience to seek from a Priest, not only "counsel and advice," but also "the benefit of Absolution;" [* See Exhortation, when the Minister giveth warning for the celebration of the Holy Communion, in the Prayer-Book of the Church of England.] and that an American Priest, even though he is not expressly ordered by rubric to do so, may, in visiting a sick person (and not only in the case of a condemned criminal), "move" him "to make a special confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter," and may, after such a confession, if he humbly and heartily desire it, absolve him. [* See Rubric, in "the Order for the Visitation of the Sick," in the [21/22] same. The form of Absolution there prescribed is as follows: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences; and, by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." "The omission made in the Order for the Visitation of the Sick" (in the American book), Bishop Potter says, "is much to be regretted." (Pastoral Letter, p. 17.)]
V. The Bishops declare, that, "in the matter of Confession, the Churches of the Anglican Communion hold fast those principles which are set forth in the holy Scriptures, which were professed by the Primitive Church, and which were re-affirmed at the English Reformation." It will be needless here to examine the principles of the Holy Scriptures, and of the Primitive Church, on this subject. [* For a careful consideration of this branch of the subject, see "The Power of the Priesthood in Absolution," by William Cooke, Hon. Canon of Chester, &c. (Parkers, Oxford.) See also "The Doctrine of Confession in the Church of England,' by Rev. T. T. Carter. (Masters, London.)] We may be content with considering how they were "reaffirmed" at the English Reformation,--not, be it observed, at the German Reformation (though on this subject, perhaps, the difference would not be great), nor at the American Revision.
For this purpose it will be well to give a few extracts (out of the many which might be cited) from standard authorities among Anglican Bishops and Divines. The testimony of those shall be particularly chosen who engaged in controversy against the Roman Church, and who may, on that account, be the more free from suspicion of disloyalty to the principles of the Reformation. The careful attention of the reader is requested to these quotations. Concerning the importance and value both of Confession and Absolution, [22/23] and their lawful place in the Reformed Church, the words of these recognized Divines cover all that has been taught and is held by the Clergy whose loyalty is now impugned, and whom it is sought to condemn.
Concerning the "principles re-affirmed at the English Reformation," this general statement may first be quoted from a book which in several dioceses is recommended for study to candidates for Holy Orders. [* Palmer on the Church, part ii. chap. 7. (Vol. i p. 477 of American edition by Bishop Whittingham).] That the Church did not mean to abolish confession and absolution (which she even regards as a sort of sacrament), [* Homily on Common Prayer and Sacraments.] in general appears from the Office of the Eucharist, and for the Visitation of the Sick, then drawn up, and from the powers conferred on Priests in the Ordination Services. The Homilies, drawn up in 1562, only declared this confession and absolution not essential generally to the pardon of sin; [* Homily of Repentance, part ii.] but this does not militate against its desirableness and benefit, which the Church never denied. We only disused the canon, 'Omnis utruisque sexus,' made by the Synod of Lateran, in 1215, and for good reasons restored the practice of confession to the state it was in previously, when it was not enjoined at a particular time every year. The alteration was merely in a matter of changeable discipline."
Among the Reformers themselves, and he stood not alone on this matter, ARCHBISHOP CRANMER says, "Confession of sins, which is called auricular, and is made privately to the ministers of the Church, is very useful and most advantageous." [* Cranmer's Works, vol. iv. pp. 282-285.]
 And again, in a Catechism put forth by Cranmer's authority: "Now God doth not speak to us with a Voice sounding out of Heaven; but He hath given the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the authority to forgive sin, to the ministers of the Church. Wherefore, let him that is a sinner go to one of them. Let him knowledge and confess his sin, and pray him, that, according to God's commandment, he will give him absolution, and comfort him with the word of grace and forgiveness of his sins. And when the minister doth so, then I ought steadfastly to believe that my sins are truly forgiven." [* Cranmer's Catechism, p. 202.]
The Canons of 1603 incidentally bear witness to the use of Confession, and that as a recognized practice, in the Reformed Church. For Canon CXIII. forbids any violation of the "Seal of Confession," in these words: "If any man confess his secret and hidden sins to the Minister, for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and ease of mind from him, we do . . . straitly charge and admonish him that he do not at any time reveal, and make known to any person whatsoever, any crime or offence so committed to his trust and secrecy." This Canon was frequently made the basis of "Visitation Articles," no less than ten Bishops in that century (the first after the Reformation) being cited as officially enquiring "(1) as to the persons excommunicated, and of their obtaining their Absolution; (2) whether the Minister exhorteth those troubled or disquieted to open their grief, that they may by the Minister receive the benefit of Absolution; (3) whether the Minister have revealed any crimes or [24/25] offences so committed to his trust and secrecy, contrary to the 113th Canon." [* See Dr. Pusey's Preface to the Manual for Confessors, pp. xxxix.-xliii.]
The "learned and judicious" HOOKER (1600) says, [* Ecclesiastical Polity, bk. vi. chap. iv. 7.] "Because the knowledge how to handle our own sores is no vulgar and common art, but we either carry towards ourselves for the most part an over-soft and gentle hand, fearful of touching too near the quick, or else, endeavoring not to be partial, we fall into timorous scrupulosities, and sometimes into those extreme discomforts of mind, from which we hardly do ever lift up our heads again, men thought it the safest way [in the Early Church] to disclose their secret faults, and to crave imposition of penance from them whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath left in His Church to be spiritual and ghostly physicians, the guides and pastors of redeemed souls, whose office doth not only consist in general persuasions unto amendment of life, but also in the private, particular cure of diseased minds."
Hooker himself, we are told, used Confession, and was absolved on his death-bed by Dr. Saravia, "they being supposed to be confessors to each other." [* Life of Hooker, by Izaak Walton.]
The great BISHOP ANDREWES (1626), the author of the "Response to Bellarmine," in a sermon on Absolution. [* Andrewes' Sermons, vol. v. Sermon iv. Anglo-Catholic Library.] treating of our Lord's words, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them" (St. John xx. 23) says, "There doth God associate his Ministers, and maketh them 'workers together with Him.' There have they their parts in this work, and cannot [25/26] be excluded, no more in this than in the other acts and parts of their function. And to exclude them is, after a sort, to wring the keys out of their hands to whom Christ hath given them; is to cancel and make void this clause 'ye remit,' as if it were no part of the sentence; to account of all this sending and inspiring, as if it were an idle and fruitless ceremony. . . . Neither are we, the ordinance of God thus standing, to rend off one part of the sentence. There are here expressed three persons: 1, the person of the sinner; 2, of God; 3, of the priest. Three are expressed; and, where three are expressed, three are required; and, where three are required, two are not enough. It is St. Augustine that thus speaketh of this ecclesiastical act in his time: 'Let nobody say within himself, I repent in private, I repent before God. God who pardons me, knows I repent from my heart. Then to no purpose was it said, "Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven;" then to no purpose were the keys given to the Church of God: we make void the Gospel; we make void the words of Christ.'"
BISHOP JEREMY TAYLOR (1667), familiar to all as an approved devotional writer, and as the author of a "Dissuasive from Popery," speaking of the "Acts and Parts of Repentance," says:--
"In all which circumstances, because we may very much be helped if we take in the assistance of a Spiritual Guide, therefore the Church of God in all ages hath commended, and in most ages enjoined, that we confess our sins and discover the state and condition of our souls to such a person whom we, or our superiors, judge fit to help us in such needs." [* Holy Living, ch. iv. Sect. ix.]
 He evidently recognized some kind of habitual confession, for in his "Rules for the Visitation of Sick Persons," he says (referring to St. James v. 14), "Whether they be many or few that are sent to the sick person, let the Curate of his Parish, or his own confessor, be amongst them. . . . He that is the ordinary judge cannot safely be passed by in his extraordinary necessity, which in so great portions depends upon his whole life past." Further on, among "Arguments and Exhortations to move the sick man to Confession of Sins," the Bishop gives these: "15, that it is by all Churches esteemed a duty necessary to be done in cases of a troubled conscience; 16, that what is necessary to be done in one case, and convenient in all cases, is fit to be done by all persons." [* Holy Dying, ch. v. Sect. iii.]
The saintly BISHOP KEN (author of the familiar morning and evening hymns, and famous as one of the seven Bishops who chose rather to be imprisoned than to yield to King James the Second's Romanizing measures) recommended the practice to boys, in his "Manual for Winchester Scholars": "In case you do find this examination too difficult for you, or are afraid you shall not rightly perform it, or meet with any scruples, or troubles of conscience, in the practice of it, I then advise you, as the Church does, to go to one of your superiors in this place, to be your Spiritual Guide, and be not ashamed to unburthen your soul freely to him, that, besides his ghostly counsel, you may receive the benefit of Absolution. For though confession of our sins to God is only matter of duty, and absolutely necessary, yet confession to our [27/28] Spiritual Guide is, by many devout souls, found to be very advantageous to true repentance." [*Ken's Manual, pp. 54, 55. Some editors have taken the liberty to alter this passage.]
BISHOP PATRICK (1707), the author of several sermons and treatises against Rome, gives this advice for the full confession of a penitent: "If he still find he is not safe, he must after all advise with some discreet Minister of God's Word, as with a Spiritual Physician. . . . And, when he comes for this ghostly counsel and advice, let him not be ashamed plainly to confess his sins, and to open the whole state of his soul before him whom he consults, relating how and by what means he comes to be entangled in the snare of the devil, that he cannot get out of it. Be sure you conquer the loathness you will find in yourselves to make this discovery, for fear it should disgrace you in his opinion, and convince yourself that you ought the rather to confess your sins ingenuously, that you may take shame to yourself, and lay yourself low in the presence of God and His Minister." [*Book for Beginners.]
BISHOP BERKELEY (the Philosopher and Divine, whose visit to New England is one of the cherished instances of personal intercourse with the Mother Church), in a letter addressed to a gentleman inclined to join the Roman Communion, says: "I had forgotten to say a word of Confession, which you mention as an advantage in the Church of Rome, which is not to be had in ours. But it may be had in our Communion by any who please to have it, and, I admit, is and may be very usefully practised." [*Letter to Sir John James, 1753, in Berkeley's Works, iv. p. 278.]
 A Canon, passed by the Convocation of the Irish Church in 1634, may here be quoted as having been drawn up by BISHOP BRAMHALL and approved by ARCHBISHOP USSHER, two of the greatest opponents Rome ever encountered. After ordering that warning of the Holy Communion be given, the Canon continues: "And the Minister of every Parish, and in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches some principal Minister of the Church, shall, the afternoon before the said administration, give warning, by the tolling of a bell or otherwise, to the intent that if any have any scruple of conscience, or desire the special ministry of reconciliation, he may afford it to those that need it. And to this end the people are often to be exhorted to enter into a special examination of the state of their souls, and that, finding themselves either extremely dull or much troubled in mind, they do resort unto God's Ministers, to receive from them as well advice and counsel for the quickening of their dead hearts, and the subduing of those corruptions whereunto they have been subject, as the benefit of absolution likewise for the quieting of their consciences, by the power of the keys which Christ hath committed to His Ministers for that purpose."
That the recommendation and use of Confession--even in some cases of what might be called frequent or habitual Confession--has been at least the allowed teaching and practice from the Reformation downwards of our Mother Church, from which, at least as regards permission, it has been already shown that the American Church has not departed, may be considered established by these extracts.
That it is not teaching merely of the past, may be [29/30] shown by quotations from two successive Bishops of Salisbury in our own time.
The late BISHOP HAMILTON, in his last charge, [* Charge of the Lord Bishop of Salisbury (W. K. Hamilton), 1867, p. 85.] delivered in 1867, vindicates at some length the power of the Priesthood, as retained in the Reformed Church, ministerially to absolve the penitent, and, after citing some authorities, quotes as his own "the words of the famous Dean of St. Paul's, Dr. John Donne," who says: "For confession, we require public confession in the congregation; and in time of sickness, upon the death-bed, we enjoin private and particular confession, if the conscience be oppressed; and if any man do think that that, which is necessary for him upon his death-bed, is necessary every time he comes to Communion, and so come to such a confession, if any thing lie upon him, as often as he comes to Communion, we blame not, we dissuade not, we discounsel not, that tenderness of conscience, and that safe proceeding in the soul." [*Dr. J. Donne's Sermons, 1631, vol. v., p. 431.]
DR. MOBERLY, the present Bishop of Salisbury, in his very valuable "Discourses on the Sayings of our Lord during the Great Forty Days" (to which is prefixed an examination and refutation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Development), in treating of "the power to remit and retain sins," having spoken of the loss of discipline says, "We have still the joint prayers and general absolutions of our public services. We have still the offer (oh, that we would think of it more readily, and use it oftener!) of the [30/31] benefit of private absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of conscience." [*Moberly's Discourses on the Sayings of the Great Forty Days, p. 134.]
And in his Bampton Lectures, preached before the University of Oxford in 1868, Bishop MOBERLY thus speaks: "Oh, let no shrinking from the honest and faithful use of the divinely descended powers that come to the Church and to her Priest from the holy words and breath of Christ, let no base fears of worldly objection or scorn, lead a Priest of God to grudge to his dying brother the clear, outspoken, ringing words of holy absolution which the Church has put into his mouth, which the sad sinner humbly and heartily craves, which his faithful, full confession has earned. Do not mock the dying patient by reminding him that he too is a physician. Do not cheat the broken-hearted penitent by telling him that he is a priest himself. God has provided an express comfort for him in his extremity of distress. God has given to you, and to none but you, the very anodyne for his poor soul's pain. You are cruel, you are faithless, you are untrue to your holy calling and duty, if, out of fear of man, you shrink from using it." [*Moberly's Bampton Lectures, 1868, pp. 216, 217.]
In our own branch of the Church the lawfulness of the practice was ably maintained, and its advantages, when judiciously used, urged, by the late Rev. Dr. Milo Mahan, Rector of St. Paul's, Baltimore, and Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the General Theological Seminary, New York.
Shortly before his decease Dr. Mahan wrote out a [31/32] statement, the same in substance that he had made before the Trustees of the Seminary when his teaching on the subject was called in question, and on the strength of which his election was confirmed, fifteen out of the sixteen Bishops present voting for him. That statement was published in the form of a preface to an English tract, which Dr. Mahan wished to have re-printed in this country, and which he "commended" to all who would give a fair hearing before they judge, "as a clear and honest statement of Anglican standards on the subject involved, and as showing that good men of all professions and schools have substantially borne the same witness."
"My doctrine with regard to this matter is," Dr. Mahan says in his own statement, "that a communicant may, and, under certain circumstances, ought to, come to some suitable Minister, that he may 'open his grief,' which I take to be virtually 'confession'; and that, having thus confessed so as to satisfy his Minister of the sincerity of his repentance, he may receive, and the Minister ought to grant, 'the benefit of absolution.'" [*Rev. Milo Mahan, D.D., On Confession, An introduction to the Rev. C. N. Gray's Statement on Confession. Pott and Young, 1872, p. 17. See also Mahan's Works, Memoir, p. xlviii.]
It is respectfully submitted to the candid reader, whether, with these authorities to be quoted in its support, the teaching of those who claim to use and invite--not oblige--others to use this rite--not according to any fixed or arbitrary law, but according to their own felt needs--should be stigmatized as "a reading of a new Theology into the old Prayer-Book," [32/33] or whether it might not more accurately be described as the reading of a new Prayer-Book in the light of the old Theology, a Theology too old to be "novel," and too fresh to be "mediaeval."
For many additional authorities the reader may consult the Rev. C. N. Gray's "Statement on Confession " (already mentioned as having been reprinted in this country by Dr. Mahan); or Canon Cooke's "Power of the Priesthood in Absolution," with a catena of Anglican Divines; or, lastly, Dr. Pusey's very full "Preface, embodying English Authorities on Confession," to his "Advice for those who Exercise the Ministry of Reconciliation through Confession and Absolution" (Parkers, 1878). [*The references given in this pamphlet have, in all but the following instances, been verified. The quotations from CRANMER are given on the authority of Dr. Pusey (Preface, pp. xxxii, xxxvi) and of Canon Cooke (pp. 121, 122). The quotation from Bishop PATRICK is taken from Carter (p. 196.)] At the end of his catena of authorities Dr. Pusey says: "It may startle some that what they have been ignorantly declaiming against, as undermining the system of the Church of England, has been maintained by the most zealous of her defenders; that what they have condemned, as Roman, has been claimed by controversialists of ours against Rome; that what they have spoken against, as injurious to the soul, and interfering between it and its Redeemer, has been valued by some who lived in closest union with Him. Some may be healthfully ashamed that they have declaimed against the practice as unprotestant, when it is advocated in all the Lutheran formulae; some, that they declaimed against it as undermining the Reformation, seeing [33/34] that it was advocated by Reformers such as Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer; some of intellect may perhaps pause, as if they may have been mistaken,--anyhow they cannot pooh-pooh it,--when they see such names as Berkeley, Hooker, Sanderson, Barrow, Pearson against them; some of unction may hesitate, when they see such as Bishops Hall, Andrewes, Ken, Jeremy Taylor, Wilson, George Herbert, on the other side; some, who conscientiously say, 'The Bible and the Bible only,' even while their tradition overrides the plain teaching of the Bible, may be startled to see 'the immortal Chillingworth' (as some used to call him) even vehemently inviting to what they themselves vehemently condemn."
In conclusion the writer would express the hope that the subject may be candidly considered, in no partisan spirit, and with the remembrance that "spiritual things are spiritually discerned."
Franklin Press: Rand, Avery, & Co., Boston.