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gressors labouring under this distressing conviction eagerly courted the penances to which others were doomed by the voice of ecclesiastical authority. They made a full disclosure of their sin, anxiously desiring that the prayers of the congregation should be offered for their moral recovery as for that of the notorious delinquents, and that like them they should be bound to exhibit publicly their sense of the total discrepancy between an unrighteous life and the Christian religion. As it was not desirable to expose the hidden transgressions which thus augmented the melancholy group of penitents; in many churches a minister of discretion was appointed, under the name of a penitentiary, to hear such confessions as men chose to make, and to impose upon the transgressors such a measure of public penance as their case might seem to require. When this officer was appointed, it became usual to urge upon members of the congregation oppressed by the burthen of iniquity, the propriety and advantage of acquainting him with their moral diseases; in order that they might receive at his hands such advice and discipline as their particular cases should seem to demand. But in this recommendation there was certainly no reference to the notions of sacramental confession and absolution which prevail among the modern Romanists. So far indeed was it from being deemed an essential part of a Christian's duty to make in any man's ear a particular statement of his sins, that towards the close of the fourth century, the office of penitentiary was abolished in the principal church at Constantinople. A lady confessed to that officer an amour in which she had been engaged with a deacon, of course with a view to do public penance for it. The disclosure of such a tale was evidently calculated to inflict a serious injury upon the Church now that her disciples comprised all the elements of human society, and therefore, in order to prevent the recurrence of unnecessary scandals, it was deemed advisable to discontinue the confessional as unsuited to the existing posture of Christian affairs. Most of the provincial bishops imitated this example set in the metropolis, and thus at the conclusion of the fourth age the Church was so far from inculcating sacramental confession that she withdrew, in the majority of instances, those facilities for a particular declaration of iniquities which she had been used during a considerable period to supply. Moreover at this time some of her most illustrious divines, in pieces yet extant, maintained the sufficiency of confession made to God only. Basil says that he made not confession with his lips, for that the groans of his heart were enough, and that he sent up these to the throne of grace. Hilary tells us that we may learn from the Psalmist David to see the necessity of confessing our sins to God alone. Ambrose declares that tears poured out before God are sufficient to obtain the pardon of iniquity without any confession made to man.
Chrysostom, exhorting men to repentance, says, “ I bid thee not to bring thyself upon the stage, nor to accuse thyself unto others. But I counsel thee to observe the prophet's direction, and reveal thy ways unto the Lord. Confess thy sins before God. It is not necessary that thou shouldest reveal thine iniquities before witnesses ; let an enquiry into them be made in thine own thoughts ; let judgment be passed upon them when thou art in solitude; let God alone see thee at confession. I desire not to bring thee before thy fellow-servants. Unfold thy conscience before God : shew Him thy wounds, and ask of him their cure. Why shouldest thou blush to display thy transgressions ? It is only needful to do so in the sight of thy God; who already knows them, and who only waits until thou hast earnestly deplored them, to heal thy wounds and alleviate thy grief'.” These testimonies are alone sufficient to shew, that the primitive Church was unacquainted with the Romish sacrament of penance. There are, however, besides them many similar passages ; hence it is manifested in this, as in other instances, that Romanists, in believing themselves followers of the ancient system, are rashly taking for granted an important matter of which there is no solid proof.
f Ibid. II. 216.
8 Perhaps it may be worth while to cite one of these passages, and to introduce it in the words of Du Pin. “ Venons enfin a Saint Augustin, ce pere si respecté dans l'Eglise d'Occident." (II. 391.) “ Augustinus lib. 10. Confess. cap. S. Quid, inquit, mihi ergo est cum hominibus, ut audiant confessiones meas, quasi sanaturi sunt omnes languores meos ? Curiosum genus ad cognoscendam vitam alienam ; desidiosum ad corrigendam suam." Hospinian, 366.
But although sacramental confession was unknown among Christians during the first thousand years of their history, they were constantly taught the necessity of confessing their sins to God, and the propriety of confessing them in all difficult or aggravated cases, to men of holiness and discretion. Such were the principles which prevailed among the Anglo-Saxons. Individuals labouring under the burthen of iniquity, were invited to lay their case before any minister of religion in whom they felt a confidence, in order to receive at his hands such advice as might appear necessary for their future governance, and such penitential directions as were thought likely to eradicate the lurking depravity of their nature. It was not, however, pretended that clergymen acted with penitents otherwise than merely as physicians of the soul; nor was it maintained that confession to God was imperfect unless it had previously passed through the ears of a priest. On the contrary, repentance and amendment of life were alone insisted upon as indispensable for the spiritual renovation of sinners". When, however, Dunstan attained the
Whelock, in his notes upon Bede (p. 216.) has furnished some curious corrections bestowed upon an MS. copy of the Saxon homilies in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, by some reader who preferred the modern Romish notions of penance, to the sound scriptural doctrine of his Saxon ancestors.
zenith of his power, he appears to have determined upon overawing the spirit of licentiousness by prescribing rigorous penances for glaring offences, according to the practice of the primitive Church: The next individual of high note who filled the see of Canterbury, was the celebrated Lanfranc, and he too was anxious to perfect the penitential discipline of the Church. Still his object was chiefly, if not entirely to ameliorate the national morals and religion. The notion of sacramental confession appears never to have entered his head k. It was reserved for
The homilist says,
“Let no grievous sinner dare to taste the Eucharist until after he shall have amended.” Until he shall have confessed to his proper penitentiary: writes somebody in the margin. Again the homilist says, “ He who shall have refused to bewail bis sins in life, (to his penitentiary, adds the marginal critic,) shall obtain no remission hereafter.” In another place the homilist
says, “If a man be sick, let him be willing to turn to God, and to confess his sins with real groaning; to his penitentiary,” is again read in the margin.
Collier, I. 187. It is worthy of remark, that in the form of confession prescribed to the penitent by Dunstan's authority at this time, men are directed to confess their sins to God and their confessor. Of saints there is no mention, unless in a petition to God that the repentant offender may be admitted into their society hercafter. The antichristian stupidity which now distinguishes that member of the Roman mass, known as the Confiteor, appears therefore not to have then found its way into England. Nor although the penitent in some cases is enjoined to repeat the Pater Noster sixty times in one day, is any mention made of the Ave Maria ; " which is an argument, that the modern applications to the blessed Virgin were unpractised by the Church in that age.” Ibid. 188.
“Sin nec in ordinibus ecclesiasticis cui confitearis invenis,