Page images
PDF
EPUB

net, where there are fishes good and bad; they stand amongst the wheat and the tares; they are part of the lump, but whether leavened or unleavened, God only knows;T. and, therefore, they are such to whom the church denies not the bread of children; but whether it does them good or hurt, the day only will declare. For to such persons as these, the church hath made Jaws for the set time of their communion: Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, were appointed for all Christians that were not scandalous and openly criminal, by P. Fabianus; and this constitution is imitated by the best constituted church in the world, our, dear mother the church of England : and they who do not, at, these times, or so frequently, communicate, are censured by the council of Agathon, as unfit to be reckoned among Christians, or members of the Catholic church. Now by these laws of the church, it is intended, indeed, that all men should be called upon to discuss and shake off the yoke of their sins, and enter into the salutary state of repentance; and next to the perpetual sermons of the church, she had no better means to engage them unto returns of piety; hoping, that by the grace of God, and the blessings of the sacrament, the repentance, which at these times solemnly begins, may, at one time or other, fix and abide; these little institutions and disciplines being like the sudden heats in the body, which sometimes fix into a burning, though, most commonly, they go away without any further change. But the church in this case does the best she can, but does not presume that things are well; and indeed as yet they are not: and, therefore, such persons must pass further; or else their hopes may become illusions, and make the men ashamed.

5. I find, that amongst the holy primitives, they who contended for the best things, and loved God greatly, were curious even of little things; and if they were surprised with any sudden indecency, or a storm of passion, they did not dare that day to communicate.

" When I am angry, or when I think any evil thought, or am abused with any illusion or foul fancy of the night, ` intrare non audeo,' 'I dare not enter' (said St. Jerome*), I am so full of horror

i An. Christi 286. ut Sabellicus et Volaterranus referunt.
4. Can. 18.

· Adver. Vigilant.

and dread, both in my body and my mind." This was also the case of St. Chrysostom; who, when Eusebius had unreasonably troubled him with an unseasonable demand of justice against Antonine, just as he was going to consecrate the blessed sacrament, departed out of the church, and desired one of the bishops, who by chance was present, to do the office for him for he would not offer the sacrifice at that time, having some trouble in his spirity.”

2. To this are to be reduced all such great actions, which, in their whole constitution, are great and lawful; but because so many things are involved in their transaction, whereof şome unavoidably will be amiss, or may reasonably be supposed so, may have something in the whole, and at the last to be deplored : in such cases as these, some great examples have been of advices to abstain from the communion, till, by a general, but a profound repentance, for what hath been: amiss, God is deprecated, and the cause of Christian hope and confidence do return. In the ecclesiastical history we read, that when Theodosius had fought prosperously against; Eugenius, the usurper of the empire, when his cause was just and approved by God, not only giving testimony by the prediction and warranty of a religious hermit, but also by prodigious events, by winds and tempests fighting for him, and by which he restored peace to the church, and tranquillity to the empire: yet he, by the advice of St. Ambrose, abstained a while from the holy sacrament, and would not carry blood upon his hands z, though justly shed, unto the altars; not only following the precedent of David, who, because he was a man of blood, might not build a temple, but for fear lest some unfit appendage should stick to the management of a just employment.

3. Of the same consideration it is, if a person whose life, should be very exemplar, is guilty of such a single folly, which, it may be, would not dishonour' a' meaner man, but is a great vanity and reproach to him ; a little 'abstention, and a penitential separation (when it is quit from scandal), was

ỹ Palladius in vita S. Chrysost.
2 Tu, genitor, cape sacra manu patrios que penates :

Me, bello è tanto digressum et cæde recenti,
Attrectare nefas : donec me flumine viyo
Abluero

Eneid, ii,

sometimes practised in the ancient church, and is advisable also now in fitting circumstances. Thus when Gerontius, the deacon, had vainly talked, that the devil appeared to him one night, and that he had bound him with a chain, St. Ambrose commanded him to abide in his house, and not to come to the church, till, by penances and sorrow, he had expiated such an indiscretion, which to a man, had in reputation for wisdom, is as 'a fly in a box of ointment,' not only useless, but mischievous. And St. Bernard commends St. Malachi, because he reproved a deacon for attending -et tlie altar the day after he had suffered -an illusion in the night; it had been better he had abstained from the altar one day, and, by that intermediate expiation and humility, have the next day returned to a more worthy ministry.

4. One degree of curious caution I find beyond all this, in an instance of St. Gregory the Great; in whose life we find, that he abstained some days from the holy communion, because there was found in a village near Rome a poor man dead, no man could tell how; but because the good bishop feared he might have been starved, and that he died for want of provision,-he, supposing it might reflect upon him, as a defect in his government, or of his personal charity, thought it fit to deplore the accident, and to abstain from the communion, till he might hope for pardon, in case he had done amiss.

If these things proceed from the sincerity of a welldisposed spirit, that can suffer any trouble, rather than that of sin, the product is well enough; and, in all likelihood, would always be well, if the case were conducted by a prudent spiritual guide ; for then it would not change into scruples and superstition. But these are but the fears, and cautions, and securities of a tender spirit, but are not an answer to the question, Whether it be lawful for such persons to communicate ? For certainly they may, if all things else be right; and they may be right in the midst of such little accidents. But these belong to the questions of perfection and excellencies of grace; these are the extra

* In vita St. Malachæi, cui injungens pænitentiam, 'non debueras,' inquit, " hodie ministrasse, sed verecunde te subtrahere sacris, et deferre tantis tamque divinis mysteriis, ut, hac humilitate purgatus, dignius exinde mipistrares.'

ordinàries of them, who never think they do well enough: and, therefore, they extended no further than to a single abstention, or some little proportionable retirement; and may be useful, when they are in the hands of prudent and

excellent persons.

SECTION V. What Significations of Repentance are to be accepted by the

Church in Admission of Penitents to the Communion. Tuis inquiry will quickly be answered, when we consider, that the end, why the church enjoins public or private amends respectively to any convict or confessed criminal; she only does it as a mother and physician to souls, and a minister of the divine pardon, and the conductress of penitential processes: she does it, that the man may be recovered from the snare of the enemy, that she may destroy the work of the devil, that the sinner may become a good Christian, And, therefore, the church, when she conducts any man's repentance, is bound to enjoin so many external ministries, that, if they be really joined with the internal contrition and reformation, will do the work of reconcilement in the court of heaven. The church can exact none, but what she can see, or, some way, take external notice of; but, by these externals, intends to minister to the internal repentance; which when it is sufficiently signified by any ways that she may prudently rely upon, as testimonies and ministries of a sufficient internal contrition and real amends, she can require no more, and she ought not to be content with less.

It is, therefore, infinitely unsafe and imprudent to receive the confessions of criminals, and, after the injunction of certain cursory penances, to admit them to the blessed sacrament, without any further emendation, without any trial of the sincerity of their conversion, before it is probable that God hath pardoned them, before their affections to sin are dead, before the spirit of mortification is entered, before any vice is exterminated, or any virtue acquired. Such a looseness of discipline is but the image of repentance (whether we look upon it as it is described in Scripture, or as it was

practised by the primitive church); which at least is a whole change of life, a conversion of the whole man to God. And it is as bad, when a notorious criminal is put to shame one day, for such a sin which could not have obtained the peace of the church, under the severity and strictness of fifteen years, amongst the holy primitives. Such public ecclesiastical penances may suffice to remove the scandal from the church, when the church will be content upon so easy terms; for she only can tell what will please herself. But then such discipline must not be esteemed a sufficient ministry of repentance, nor a just disposition to pardon. For the church ought not to give pardon, or to promise the peace of God upon easier terms than God himself requires : and, therefore, when repentance comes to be conducted by her, she must require so much as will extinguish the sin, and reform the man, and make him and represent him good.

All the liberty that the church hath in this, is wbat is given her by the latitude of the judgment of charity; and yet oftentimes a too easy judgment is the greatest uncharitableness in the world, and makes men confident, and careless, and deceived. And, therefore, although gentle sentences are useful, when there is danger of despair or contumacy, yet that is rather a palliation of a disease than a cure; and, therefore, the method '

must be changed as soon as it can, and the severe and true sermons of the Gospel must be either proclaimed aloud, or insinuated prudently and secretly, and men be taught to rely upon them and their consequents, and upon nothing else; for they will not deceive us. But the corrupt manners of men, and the corrupt doctrines of some schools, have made it almost impossible to govern souls as they need to be governed.

The church may indeed choose, whether she will impose on criminals any exterior significations of repentance, but accept them to the communion upon their own accounts of

• Si cito rediret homo ad pristinam beatitudinem, ludus illi esset cadere in mortem. - S. Aug. Serm. 34. de Diversis.

In ipsa ecclesia, ubi maxime misereri decet, quam maxime decet forma justitiæ, ne quis, a communionis consortio abstentas, brevi lachrymula atque, ad tempus parata, vel etiam uberioribus fletibus, communionem, quam pluria mis debet postulare temporibus, facilitate sacerdotis extorqueat.- S. Ambros. in Psal, 118., in hæc verba, Miserere mei, secundum eloquium tuum."

« PreviousContinue »