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SECTION X.-Of the Seal of Confession.


1. I FIRST instance in their seal of confession; and the question is not, whether a priest is to take care of his penitent's fame, or whether he be not, in all prudent and pious ways, to be careful, lest he make that intercourse odious; for certainly he is but whether the seal of confession be so sacred and impregnable, that it is not to be opened in the imminent danger of a king, or kingdom; or for the doing the greatest good, or avoiding the greatest evil, in the world: that is now the question, and such a broad seal as this, is no part of the Christian religion,—was never spoken of by the prophets or apostles, in the Old or the New Testament,-never was so much as mentioned in the books of the ancient fathers and doctors, not so much as named in the ancient councils of the church; and was not heard of, until after the time of Pope Gregory the Seventh. Now how this is determined and practised in the church of Rome, we may quickly see. The first direct rule in the western church we find in this affair, is the canon of the Lateran council; "cap. Omnis Utriusque ";" in which to confess at Easter was made an ecclesiastical law; and as an appendix to it, this caution; "Caveat autem omninò, ne verbo, aut signo, aut alio quovis modo, aliquatenus prodat peccatorem: sed, si prudentiore consilio indiguerit, illud, absque ullâ expressione personæ, requirat." This law

■ Decretal. de Pœnitentiis et Remissionibus.


concerning them that do confess their secret sins to a priest, in order to counsel, comfort, and pardon from God by his ministry, is very prudent and pious; and it relates only to the person, not to the crimes: these may, upon the account of any doubt, or the advantage of better counsel and instruction, be revealed; the person, upon such accounts, may not, "nisi veritas aut obedientia aliud exigat," as St. Bonaventure' said well; "unless truth or obedience require the contrary:" for indeed the person is not often so material as to the inquiry of future counsel or present judgment, as the greatness, and other circumstances of the sin. But this was an ancient ecclesiastical rule, as we find it related by Sozomen: "Presbyterum aliquem vitæ integritate quam maximè spectabilem, secretorum etiam tenacem, ac sapientem, huic officio præfecerunt;" "A penitentiary priest was appointed for the penitents, a man that was of good life, wise, and secret." So far was well, and agreeable to common prudence, and natural reason, and the words of Solomon": "Qui ambulat fraudulenter, revelat arcanum; qui autem fidelis est, celat amici commissum." There is, in this case, some more reason than in ordinary secrets; but still the obligation is the same, and to be governed by prudence, and is subject to contradiction, by greater causes. The same also is the law in the Greek church, mentioned by St. Basil: "Our fathers permitted not, that women, that had committed adultery, and were penitent, should be delated in public." This is the whole ground and foundation, on which the seal of confession does, or can rely; save only, that, in several churches, there were several laws in after-ages to the same purpose, and particularly, in the eleventh canon of the church of England; adding also the penalty of irregularity, to every priest, that shall reveal any thing committed to him in private confession, but with this proviso; that it be not binding, in such cases where the concealment is made capital, by the laws of the kingdom: which because it is very strict, and yet very prudent, I shall make it appear, that the church of England walks wisely in it, and according to the precedents of the ancient catholic church, in command

b In 3. dist. 21.

d Prov. xi. 13.

1 τὰς μοιχευθείσας γυναῖκας καὶ οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν. A. D. 1603.

Lib. 7. cap. 16. Hist. Eccles. e Epist. ad Amphilochium.

ἐξαγορευσάσας δι ̓ εὐλάβειαν δημοσιεύειν οὐκ ἐκέλευσαν

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