Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Clarification on Contrition

In Catholic dogmatics, I just wanted to clarify, as the Catechism says: "imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins".


You can read on Catholic encyclopedia, that perfect contrition is sorrow for sins because of a pure motive / love for God without reference to one's own damnation or existential position. It is the idea that you love God even if he damns you, or as Rowan Williams notes 'the Catholic doctrine of pure love' so detestable to Protestants.

When perfect contrition is united to a desire to go to confession as soon as possible (again this part is another issue, what does the word 'possible' mean), then sin can be remitted if someone dies. But, to go back to the example, I'll use myself.

Currently I have 24 mortal sins and counting on my soul (last confession was about 3 weeks ago). Right now, I am sorry for my sins and I would guess that it is mostly because I'm going to Hell, if I could just be accepted by God without having to confess, then I wouldn't worry about confessing it, meaning that I guess I'm not really sorry or 'sorry enough'. So if I was on my way to confession on saturday and got hit by a bus or died somehow, God would not accept me into Heaven. Christ's death, my baptism, my faith, my desire to repent, none of it would have any effect on my soul. It would remained stained, I would be damned.

But again as I've previously noted, the Catholic position is not based on Existentialism. What happens to me does not matter, what matters is what is objectively true. The objective fact of Catholicism is that God has established the Church and the Sacraments as the means of Grace. No matter how much I might find that fact inconvenient or frustrating, doesn't matter, because the truth of the matter is that I find myself in the situation, I do not make my own situation. So I get it, I'm not saying the Catholic Church is wrong because I can't be saved in it 6 days out of the week, that's just bad philosophy. Likewise if one goes the Existential/Protestant route, one has equally troubling issues like "have I picked the right church?" or "how can I be sure Justification is by faith alone?".

As they say, there is no rest for the weary.


  1. What happens to me does not matter, what matters is what is objectively true. There's some bullshit here: you're imposing an unfortunate rationalism onto Catholic teaching (cartitatis in veritate). Christ died to free you from your sins, mortal and otherwise. It's his work that's definitive not yours. When asked if she was in a state of grace, Joan of Arc replied, "If I am not, God put me there, and if I am, God keep me there!" If Christ could die and rise to save you, can he not keep you from getting hit by the untimely bus? Who frees you from sin, and does it happen automatically, at a snap of your fingers? You will be saved, but not on your schedule and not without the impotence of sinfulness. I think this article may be of use to you...

    by the way, the quote is "no rest for the wicked" but I'm reminded instead of Augustine's restlessness.

  2. I would add something a priest said years ago in the briefest homily I've ever heard: "our perfection consists in begging Christ to perfect us."

  3. The thing that you keep missing is that the Catholic church provides a definition of what will be called perfection. Neither "perfect contrition" nor "pure love" mean absolutely free from any imaginable flaws. Both are defined in terms of a set of clearly stated requirements.

    Incidentally, I don't mean to pry but why is it so hard to get to confession? If you are concerned that you are in mortal sin, you should go. I don't know what part of Ontario you are in, but if you are near Ottawa, we have a church that offers confession five times everyday. Alternatively, you seem on friendly terms with your Chaplain, why not just call him and ask to hear your confession right now?

  4. It's fine to ask, I live in Niagara, and there's only two churches that offer daily confession that I know of in the diocese:

    1 is the Traditionalist/Latin Mass Oratory ... which isn't the funnest place to confess, and requires me to get up at 5:50am to make it there for it.

    2 is a church in the falls where I once asked the priest for confession, to which he let out a long annoyed sigh and said "are you sure you need it", and then finally agreed to hear it. During the confession he just called me fat and lazy and to stop whining. While all of those things are probably true, as you might be able to imagine, I just don't feel that drawn to go back to endure all that again. (much like RCIA, when I told other Catholics in our area about it they were horrified, but of course, no one can ever do anything about it).

    My Chaplains are great, but neither are in Holy Orders, otherwise I would happily confess to them.

  5. No other churches that I know of in the diocese have confession before mass, and all of them just have 1 hour of confession on saturday afternoons. I work almost every saturday afternoon and thus sometimes can't go to confession for weeks at a time, though I go to confession every saturday I am not bound by work, and my chaplain when he is in the country, takes me to a church in the states with daily confession, every once in a while.

  6. I share your grief about some priests.

    That said, the vocation matters more than the performance of the person with that vocation. And although I have no authority to tell anybody what to do I do have to say that if I were convinced I had mortal sin on my conscience, I would suck it up and get out of bed in time for 5:50 AM confession whether I thought old order traditionalists were fun or not.