ON THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE AND CONTRITION AND ABOUT RECEIVING FORGIVENESS WITHOUT AN ABSOLUTION
Question: The problem is all the priests are heretics. So if they cannot give an absolution, is everyone damned? Suppose the following scenario: I did not have perfect contrition without an absolution, I only had attrition, I felt bad and stuff but not perfect contrition, so would you say I was forgiven?
Answer: One of the most common reasons for that so many people choose to deny the overwhelming evidence against communicating with heretics is because they don’t believe that God will forgive them their sins without an absolution, or when it is not available. Many people obviously have many misconceptions about the Sacrament of Confession, Penance, Absolution and Contrition and what actually is necessary for obtaining salvation. The fact of the matter however, is that The Council of Trent’s decree on Justification and the Sacrament of Penance never say that perfect contrition is “so hard” or “impossible” to receive from God (for those who desire it) as many other false and fallible statements make it out to be. It also never actually said anything about that one can be saved with only imperfect contrition with an absolution. Rather, all it said is that this attrition (imperfect contrition) helps to dispose a man to receive forgiveness (perfect contrition) in the Sacrament of Confession.
The Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 4, on Contrition, ex cathedra: “And as to that imperfect contrition, which is called attrition, because that it is commonly conceived either from the consideration of the turpitude of sin, or from the fear of hell and of punishment [but not for God], It declares that if, with the hope of pardon, it exclude the wish to sin, it not only does not make a man a hypocrite, and a greater sinner, but that it is even a gift of God, and an impulse of the Holy Ghost, --who does not indeed as yet dwell in the penitent, but only moves him, --whereby the penitent being assisted PREPARES a way for himself unto justice. And although this (attrition) [imperfect contrition] cannot of itself, without the sacrament of penance, CONDUCT [OR LEAD] the sinner to justification, yet does it DISPOSE HIM TO OBTAIN THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE.”
As we can see, the Council of Trent infallibly defined that attrition or imperfect contrition disposes the penitent to obtain the grace of God (perfect contrition or the forgiveness of his sins) in the Sacrament of Penance “whereby the penitent being assisted prepares a way for himself unto justice.” It never actually said that it forgives a person without perfect contrition in the Sacrament of Penance, as is clear from the above words.
To further illustrate the point that attrition only disposes the penitent to receive something, suppose we changed this sentence and added the word “satisfaction” instead of the word “attrition”. Now the sentence would go like this:
“And although this (satisfaction) cannot of itself, without the sacrament of penance, conduct the sinner to justification, yet does it dispose him to obtain the grace of God in the sacrament of Penance.”
Would this sentence now mean that all one need to do in order to receive forgiveness of one’s sins in the sacrament of Penance is to perform an act of “satisfaction”? Of course not. All the quotation is saying is that it disposes the penitent to receive forgiveness in the sacrament, not what actually is needed to receive forgiveness.
According to the Council of Trent, the sacrament of Penance consists of three parts – “contrition, confession and satisfaction” – and all who want to receive forgiveness of their sins must fulfill all three of these requirements – at least in desire – in order to attain justification. Even those who misinterpret this passage to say that all one need to receive the sacrament is attrition, admits that one must perform an act of confession and satisfaction as well as that one must receive an absolution from the priest – in addition to being properly disposed – in order to attain justification, which shows us how they themselves prove that their false understanding of this sentence means that one needs more than just attrition to receive the sacrament of Penance.
The Council of Trent teaches that Penance, that is, “contrition, confession, and satisfaction” are inseparable parts of the Sacrament and that they are even “REQUIRED” “FOR THE FULL AND PERFECT REMISSION OF SIN”! This means that for the imperfect who are not yet justified, they may become justified by performing penance, good works and prayers in order to achieve this end – such as by making satisfaction for their sins. This is explained by The Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 3, in the following way:
“The (quasi) matter of this sacrament [of Penance] consists of the acts of the penitent himself, namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction. THESE, INASMUCH AS THEY ARE BY GOD’S INSTITUTION REQUIRED IN THE PENITENT FOR THE INTEGRITY OF THE SACRAMENT AND FOR THE FULL AND PERFECT REMISSION OF SIN, ARE FOR THIS REASON CALLED PARTS OF PENANCE.” (Pope Julius III, Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 3, On the Parts and Fruits of This Sacrament)
So by doing penance for one’s sins, by confessing to the priest in shame, by feeling sorrow and shame before God (whom the priest represents) and for having offended God, and by praying the act of contrition, etc., — all of these things will make an unjustified man justified – provided he is of good will – and give him perfect remission of his sins from God, — the remission of his sins, which is a grace of God (obtained by obeying Him and His commandments).
But we also know that one must be rightly disposed and of good will in order to be forgiven one’s sins in the sacrament since not all absolutions, even if the priests pronounces it upon the penitent, is valid or has an effect, and deliberate unconfessed mortal sins is even a sacrilege in the Sacrament of Penance; and the priest can also refuse an absolution if he perceives that the penitent is insincere or unrepentant.
“He breathed upon His disciples, saying Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained [John 20:23].” (Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter 1)
Hence that this absolutely proves that forgiveness is not always obtained in the Sacrament – or when one receives an absolution (if the penitent was not rightly disposed) – since a proper disposition is absolutely required in order to be forgiven and saved, and if this be lacking, one cannot be truly reconciled with God, whom one has grievously offended.
So to answer your question: No, you are not forgiven without perfect contrition, which is a sorrow that arises because it offends God who is all-loving and all-good and who do not deserve to be offended against, rather than only feeling contrition for your own sake or for the fear of punishments – as infallibly defined by Council of Trent (as we will see below).
In fact, Pope Leo X and Pope Innocent XI even directly condemned the heretical idea that says that one can be forgiven and saved with only attrition or imperfect contrition, and the interesting thing about these condemnations is that they do not say it referred only to those people who have not yet received an absolution, as if those who had received an absolution could be saved with only attrition (this false and heretical theory that many have fallen into namely says that one can be saved with only attrition with an absolution but not without an absolution).
Pope Innocent XI, Various Errors on Moral Matters (# 57), March 4, 1679: “It is probable that natural but honest imperfect sorrow for sins suffices.” – Condemned statement by Pope Innocent XI.
Notice that the above proposition which asserted that “imperfect sorrow for sins suffices” was condemned.
Likewise, in the year 1520, Pope Leo X condemned the following proposition which asserted that “imperfect charity” is enough in order for a person to attain salvation by first going though purgatory.
Pope Leo X, Exsurge Domine (# 4), Condemning the Errors of Martin Luther, June 15, 1520: “To one on the point of death imperfect charity necessarily brings with it great fear, which in itself alone is enough to produce the punishment of purgatory, and impedes entrance into the kingdom.” – Condemned statement by Pope Leo X.
The same Pope also condemned another statement of Luther commonly made by so many people today, which is the heresy that says that being contrite or sorry for one’s sins is an impossibility. In fact, certain people we have talked to concerning forgiveness without receiving an absolution have even explicitly told us that if heretics cannot give an absolution in confession: this means that every one is damned in that case. But why do they say this? Because they don’t believe they can be truly sorry for their sins, just as if God would be unable or unwilling to grant them this grace – if they would just ask for it in faith or strive for it with their whole heart.
Pope Leo X, Exsurge Domine (# 12), Condemning the Errors of Martin Luther, June 15, 1520: “If through an impossibility he who confessed was not contrite... if nevertheless he believes that he has been absolved, he is most truly absolved.” – Condemned statement by Pope Leo X.
So this statement directly condemns the idea that contrition is an impossibility. Indeed, only a faithless heretic would say that it’s “hard” or even “impossible” to feel sorry for God’s sake rather than for punishment’s sake or that one is damned without receiving an absolution, just as if loving God was an impossibility to achieve for a willing soul! Have not all the Saints as well as all the other saved people loved God and felt sorrow for having offended the all good God rather than only fearing Hell or punishments? Of course they have. Thus, it is not impossible, and it is a heresy to say it is.
God has complete and perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future, and He knew before the creation of the world that there would be times and places where Sacramental Confession would not be available. Since God is infinitely just He would not say that you must perform an act of Sacramental Confession to get to Heaven, while at the same time knowing that there will be times and places when Sacramental Confession would not be available.
Whenever you can’t go to confession for whatever the reason may be, you are to make an Act of Contrition, which must include an act of perfect contrition, and have a desire to receive the sacrament as soon as a fully Catholic priest becomes available in order to be saved, because even in times when Sacramental Confession is not available, the desire to receive the Sacrament of Penance is still required for salvation, because the Dogma that allows one to return to a state of grace without actually going to Confession with a priest requires that one must still have the desire for Sacramental Confession for his sins to be remitted.
The sacrament of Penance includes three parts – 1) contrition 2) confession and 3) satisfaction – and all who want to receive forgiveness for their sins must fulfill all three of these requirements. When a penitent makes an Act of Contrition, saying the prayer and act of contrition to the priest, this prayer must include an act of perfect contrition. If one says this prayer, but does not mean it, one is speaking falsely.
The commonly used traditional Act of Contrition prayer that one can make either to a priest or directly to God in the case a priest is not available contains both an act of imperfect and perfect contrition:
“O MY GOD, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell [imperfect contrition or attrition]; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love [perfect contrition]. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
So long as one is truly sorry for God’s sake when one makes this Act of Contrition, then the act is termed perfect. To also fear God or punishment does not take away the fact that one can be sorry for God’s sake. And that is why all saints have also feared God.
So contrary to what some may believe, imperfect contrition is also beneficial for the soul, even though it is not possible to be saved without perfect contrition, and that is why attrition is a part of contrition, as well as a part of the Act of Contrition prayer. The Council of Trent teaches that attrition is effected “either from the consideration of the turpitude of sin, or from the fear of hell and of punishment”, and this in turn shows us that attrition is wholly beneficial for the soul, and that it does not negate or take away anything from the soul:
The Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 4, on Contrition, ex cathedra: “And as to that imperfect contrition, which is called attrition, because that it is commonly conceived either from the consideration of the turpitude of sin, or from the fear of hell and of punishment, It declares that if, with the hope of pardon, it exclude the wish to sin, it not only does not make a man a hypocrite, and a greater sinner, but that it is even a gift of God, and an impulse of the Holy Ghost, --who does not indeed as yet dwell in the penitent, but only moves him, --whereby the penitent being assisted prepares a way for himself unto justice.”
God Himself taught three times at the Council of Trent, once in the Fourteenth Session and twice in the Sixth Session, of what we are to do when confession is not available:
Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter 4, on Contrition, A.D. 1551, ex cathedra: “It sometimes happens that this contrition is perfect through charity, and reconciles man with God before this sacrament be actually received, the said reconciliation, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to that contrition, independently of the desire of the sacrament which is included therein.”
Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 14, on Justification, A.D. 1547, ex cathedra: “Sacerdotal absolution, as well as satisfaction by fasting, almsgiving, prayers, and other devout exercises of the spiritual life, not indeed for the eternal punishment, which is remitted together with the guilt either by the sacrament or the desire of the sacrament, but for the temporal punishment, which, as the sacred writings teach, is not always wholly remitted.”
Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 14, on Justification, A.D. 1547, ex cathedra: “Hence it must be taught that the repentance of a Christian after his fall is very different from that at his baptism, and that it includes not only a cessation from sins... but also the sacramental confession of the same, at least in desire and to be made in its season...”
Trent thus directly teaches that one can receive forgiveness by performing an act of perfect contrition even when the Sacrament of Confession is not available; but contrary to many misconceptions and fallible statements, the council never said this act is “hard” or “impossible” to perform. So returning your soul to a state of grace when Sacramental Confession is not available requires that one makes an act of contrition, which must include an act of perfect contrition. And perfect contrition is when you are sorry for your sins because they offend God while imperfect contrition is when you are sorry for your sins because of the loss of Heaven, and the pains of Hell.
Considering this definition of what perfect and imperfect contrition is, if one truly feels sorrow for having offended God and have a true sorrow for God’s sake rather than only feeling sorry because of the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell and punishments, etc., THEN THAT IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF PERFECT CONTRITION ACCORDING TO THE COUNCIL OF TRENT!
So is this grace really so “hard” to receive from God if one actually cares about God? that is, to feel sorry for your sins because they offend God rather than only feeling sorry for your sins because of the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell? No, not at all, but in reality, most people don’t care about God enough nor about avoiding sin (even the smallest sin); hence that almost all people are damned and do not receive this grace from God (since they do not love Him). That almost all people are damned (Catholic or not) is a biblical fact and is confirmed by all the saints who have spoken on this topic. Hence, the issue is not about absolution, rather, the issue is about people living bad lives and that they don’t love God enough – that makes it impossible for them to be saved.
That of course means that one must do all in one’s power to avoid not only mortal sin, but also venial sin. It also means to in fact never even have a will to commit even the slightest sin that one knows to be a sin culpably or with full consent against the all good God — and now we may deduce already why most people in fact are damned. The great St. Ambrose said concerning this: “True repentance [and thus love of God] is to cease to sin [all sin, however small].”
That one must avoid the proximate occasion of sin in order to be Saved and receive Forgiveness of one’s sins from God is a certain fact of the Natural and Divine law that has always been taught by the Church and Her Saints. For instance, Blessed Pope Innocent XI during his papacy, condemned three propositions that denied this truth:
Pope Innocent XI, Various Errors on Moral Matters #61, March 4, 1679: “He can sometimes be absolved, who remains in a proximate occasion of sinning, which he can and does not wish to omit, but rather directly and professedly seeks or enters into.” – Condemned statement by Pope Innocent XI.
Pope Innocent XI, Various Errors on Moral Matters #62, March 4, 1679: “The proximate occasion for sinning is not to be shunned when some useful and honorable cause for not shunning it occurs.” – Condemned statement by Pope Innocent XI.
Pope Innocent XI, Various Errors on Moral Matters #63, March 4, 1679: “It is permitted to seek directly the proximate occasion for sinning for a spiritual or temporal good of our own or of a neighbor.” – Condemned statement by Pope Innocent XI.
For instance, in order to help people avoid occasions of falling into sin, we often tell them about the absolute need to surf the internet without images on and with an adblock (which means that they can’t see images at all when surfing various websites or any internet ads) so as to avoid innumerable occasions of falling into sin, not only venial sins, but also mortal sins of impurity.
Now, many people claiming to be Catholic and worshiping God and desiring forgiveness of their sins and enter Heaven strangely don’t care anything about this advice, and even chose to ignore it because of their perverse and evil will and attachment to images. Now if they really wanted forgiveness for their sins and cared anything about God, and to please Him, and not to offend Him, they obviously would not surf the internet with images on and thus expose themselves to innumerable bad images of sensual women or men tempting them everyday to fall into occasions of sin against the all good God.
It should go without saying, but when images is necessary or needed for what one is doing, then it is lawful to surf with them on for as long time as it is necessary — provided it is not a danger to one’s soul and the site is not bad. But how often do we need to see images at all times? Never. Only at a particular time or occasion, such as for a work, or when reading some article, but other than that we have no reason or necessity to have them on, and therefore, they must be off.
And yes, it is a sin to refuse to follow this advice since it is virtually impossible to escape bad and immodest images and commercials of men or women tempting you every day when surfing the internet (and the same of course applies to watching most media too, which is why we recommend people never to watch movable images and that they only listen to the audio). Only a condemned person not fearing God or sin at all would refuse to follow this good advice that helps him avoid falling into sexual temptations and sins everyday.
“Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori, The True Spouse of Jesus Christ, Mortification of the Eyes, p. 221)
(Please see this section for some more quotes on the issue and on the help and steps on how to block images in your web-browser and surf the internet with an adblock: http://www.allmonks.com/the-natural-law/#How-to-control-your-eyes)
Those people who choose to ignore this advice despite being told not to do so, infallibly prove the point (i.e., the above explanation of why most people are damned).
Most people just don’t care about God enough nor fear Him enough to avoid all sin and the occasions of falling into obvious sin, nor do they love Him more than they love their own perverse will or self-love – which is the direct reason for their indifferent lifestyle; neither do they care enough about God so as to avoid even what they obviously know will lead them into possible sin.
Hence that most people are damned and always have been. So the only reason it would be hard for someone to be forgiven his sins and be saved is if he don’t love God enough, fear God enough, nor trust God enough with his whole heart—trust and love, such as believing in Him and that He will forgive you if you do what you must—and that He hears all your prayers and grants all your prayers that are good for you, such as all prayers for the grace of attaining forgiveness and salvation. Therefore, it is only hard to be saved for the bad — and not for the good souls.
This article will be updated in the future.