Does Auricular Confession bring Peace to the Soul?
THE connecting of Peace with Auricular Confession is surely the most cruel sarcasm ever uttered in human language.
It would be less ridiculous and false to admire the calmness of the sea, and the stillness of the atmosphere, when a furious storm raises the foaming waves to the sky, than to speak of the Peace of the soul either during or after the confession.
I know it; the confessors and their dupes chorus every tune by crying "Peace, peace!" But the God of truth and holiness answers, "There is no peace for the wicked!"
The fact is, that no human words can adequately express the anxieties of the soul before confession, its unspeakable confusion in the act of confessing, or its deadly terrors after confession.
Let those who have never drunk of the bitter waters which flow from the confessional box, read the following plain and correct recital of my own first experiences in auricular confession. They are nothing else than the history of what nine-tenths of the penitents* of Rome, old and young, are subject to; and they will know what to think of that marvellous Peace about which the Romanists, and their silly copyists, the Ritualists, have written so many eloquent lies.
In the year 1819, my parents had sent me from Murray Bay (La Mal Baie), where they lived, to an excellent school at St. Thomas. I was then about nine years old. I boarded with an uncle, who, though a nominal Roman Catholic, did not believe a word of what his priest preached. But my aunt had the reputation of being a very devoted woman. Our schoolmaster, Mr. John Jones, was a well-educated Englishman, and a staunch PROTESTANT. This last circumstance had excited the wrath of the Roman Catholic priest against the teacher and his numerous pupils to such an extent, that they were often denounced from the pulpit with very hard words. But if he did not like us, I must admit that we were paying him with his own coin.
But let us come to my first lesson in Auricular
* By the word penitents, Rome means not those who repent, but those who confess to the priest. Confession. No! No words can express to those who have never had any experience in the matter, the consternation, anxiety and shame of a poor Romish child, when he hears his priest saying from the pulpit, in a grave and solemn tone: "This week you will send your children to confession. Make them understand that this action is one of the most important of their lives, that for every one of them it will decide their eternal happiness or ruin. Fathers, mothers and guardians of those children, if, through your fault or theirs, your children are guilty of a false confession: if they do not confess everything to the priest who holds the place of God Himself, this sin is often irreparable: the devil will take possession of their hearts, they will lie to their father confessor, or rather to Jesus Christ, of whom he is the representative: their lives will be a series of sacrileges, their death and eternity those of reprobates. Teach them, therefore, to examine thoroughly all their actions, words, thoughts and desires, in order to confess everything just as it occurred, without any disguise."
I was in the Church of St. Thomas, when these words fell upon me like a thunderbolt. I had often heard my mother say, when at home, and my aunt, since I had come to St. Thomas, that upon the first confession depended my eternal happiness or misery. That week was, therefore, to decide the vital question of my eternity!
Pale and dismayed, I left the Church after the service, and returned to the house of my relations. I took, my place at the table, but could not eat, so much was I troubled. I went to my room for the purpose of commencing my examination of conscience, and to try to recall every one of my sinful actions, thoughts and words!
Although scarcely over nine years of age, this task was really overwhelming to me. I knelt down to pray to the Virgin Mary for help, but I was so much taken up with the fear of forgetting something or making a bad confession, that I muttered my prayers without the least attention to what I said. It became still worse, when I commenced counting my sins; my memory, though very good, became confused; my head grew dizzy; my heart beat with a rapidity which exhausted me, my brow was covered with perspiration. After a considerable length of time spent in these painful efforts, I felt bordering on despair from the fear that it was impossible for me to remember exactly everything, and to confess each sin as it occurred. The night following was almost a sleepless one; and when sleep did come, it could hardly be called sleep, but a suffocating delirium. In a frightful dream, I felt as if I had been cast into hell, for not having confessed all my sins to the priest. In the morning I awoke fatigued and prostrate by the phantoms and emotions of that terrible night. In similar troubles of mind were passed the three days which preceded my first confession.
I had constantly before me the countenance of that stern priest who had never smiled on me. He was present to my thoughts during the days, and in my dreams during the nights, as the minister of an angry God, justly irritated against me on account of my sins. Forgiveness had indeed been promised to me, on condition of a good confession; but my place had also been shown to me in hell, if my confession was not as near perfection as possible.
Now, my troubled conscience told me that there were ninety chances against one that my confession would be bad, either if by my own fault, I forgot some sins, or if I was without that contrition of which I had heard so much, but the nature and effects of which were a perfect chaos in my mind.
At length came the day of my confession, or rather of judgment and condemnation. I presented myself to the priest, the Rev. Mr. Beaubien.
He had, then, the defects of lisping or stammering, which we often turned into ridicule. And, as nature had unfortunately endowed me with admirable powers as a mimic, the infirmities of this poor priest afforded only too good an opportunity for the exercise of my talent. Not only was it one of my favorite amusements to imitate him before the pupils amidst roars of laughter, but also, I preached portions of his sermons before his parishioners with similar results. Indeed, many of them came from considerable distances to enjoy the opportunity of listening to me, and they, more than once, rewarded me with cakes of maple sugar, for my performances.
These acts of mimicry were, of course, among my sins; and it became necessary for me to examine myself upon the number of times I had mocked the priests. This circumstance was not calculated to make my confession easier or more agreeable.
At last, the dread moment arrived, I knelt for the first time at the side of my confessor, but my whole frame trembled: I repeated the prayer preparatory to confession, scarcely knowing what I said, so much was I troubled by fears.
By the instructions which had been given us before confession, we had been made to believe that the priest was the true representative, yea, almost the personification of Jesus Christ. The consequence was that I believed my greatest sin was that of mocking the priest, and I, as I had been told that it was proper first to confess the greatest sins, I commenced thus: "Father, I accuse myself of having mocked a priest!"
Hardly had I uttered these words, "mocked a priest," when this pretended representative of the humble Jesus, turning towards me, and looking in my face, in order to know me better, asked abrubtly: "What priest did you mock, my boy?"
I would have rather chosen to cut out my tongue than to tell him, to his face, who it was. I, therefore, kept silent for a while; but my silence made him very nervous, and almost angry. With a haughty tone of voice, he said: "What priest did you take the liberty of thus mocking, my boy?" I saw that I had to answer. Happily, his haughtiness had made me bolder and firmer; I said: "Sir, you are the priest whom I mocked!"
"But how many times did you take upon yourself to mock me, my boy? " asked he, angrily.
I tried to find out the number of times, but I never could.
"You must tell me how many times; for to mock one's own priest, is a great sin."
"It is impossible for me to give you the number of times," I answered.
"Well, my child, I will help your memory by asking you questions. Tell me the truth. Do you think you mocked me ten times?"
A great many times more," I answered.
Have you mocked me fifty times?
Oh! many more still
"A hundred times?"
"Say five hundred, and perhaps more," I answered.
"Well, my boy, do you spend all your time, in mocking me?"
"Not all my time; but, unfortunately, I have done it very often."
"Yes, you may well say 'unfortunately!' for to mock your priest, who holds the place of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a great sin and a great misfortune for you. But tell me, my little boy, what reason have you for mocking me thus?"
In my examination of conscience, I had not foreseen that I should be obliged to give the reasons for mocking the priest, and I was thunderstruck by his questions. I dared not answer, and I remained for a long time dumb, from the shame that overpowered me. But, with a harrassing perseverance, the priest insisted upon my telling why I had mocked him; assuring me that I would be damned if I did not speak the whole truth. So I decided to speak, and said: "I mocked you for several things."
"What made you first mock me?" asked the priest.
I laughed at you because you lisp: among the pupils of the school, and other people, it often happens that we imitate your preaching to laugh at you," I answered.
"For what other reason did you laugh at me, my little boy? "
For a long time I was silent. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, my courage failed me. But the priest continued to urge me; I said at last: "It is rumored in town that you love the girls: that you visit the Misses Richards almost every night; and this made us laugh often."
The poor priest was evidently overwhelmed by my answer, and ceased questioning me on that subject. Changing the conversation, he said: What are your other sins? "
I began to confess them according to the order in which they came to my memory. But the feeling of shame which overpowered me, in repeating all my sins to that man, was a thousand times greater than that of having offended God. In reality, this feeling of human shame, which absorbed my thoughts, nay, my whole being, left no room for any religious feeling at all, and I am certain that this is the case with more than the greater part of those who confess their sins to the priest.
When I had confessed all the sins I could remember, the priest began to put to me the strangest questions about matters upon which my pen must be silent. . . . . I replied, "Father, I do not understand what you ask me."
"I question you," he answered, on the sins of the sixth commandment of God (seventh in the Bible). Do confess all, my little boy, for you will go to hell, if, through your fault, you omit anything."
And thereupon he dragged my thoughts into regions of iniquity which, thanks be to God, had hitherto been quite unknown to me.
I answered him again, "I do not understand you," or "I have never done those wicked things."
Then, skilfully shifting to some secondary matters, he would soon slyly and cunningly come back to his favorite subject, namely, sins of licentiousness.
His questions were so unclean that I blushed and felt nauseated with disgust and shame. More than once, I had been, to my great regret, in the company of bad boys, but not one of them had offended my moral nature so much as this priest had done. Not one of them had ever approached the shadow of the things from which that man tore the veil, and which he placed before the eyes of my soul. In vain I told him that I was not guilty of those things; that I did not even understand what he asked me; but he would not let me off.
Like a vulture bent upon tearing the poor defenceless bird that falls into its claws, that cruel priest seemed determined to ruin and defile my heart.
At last he asked me a question in a form of expression so bad, that I was really pained and put beside myself. I felt as if I had received the shock from an electric battery: a feeling of horror made me shudder. I was filled with such indignation that, speaking loud enough to be heard by many, I told him: "Sir, I am very wicked, but I was never guilty of what you mention to me: please don't ask me any more of those questions, which will teach me more wickedness than I ever knew."
The remainder of my confession was short. The stern rebuke I had given him had evidently made that priest blush, if it had not frightened him. He stopped short, and gave me some very good advice, which might have done me good, if the deep wounds which his questions had inflicted upon my soul, had not so absorbed my thoughts as to prevent me giving attention to what he said. He gave me a short penance and dismissed me.
I left the confessional irritated and confused. From the shame of what I had just heard, I dared not raise my eyes from the ground. I went into a corner of the church to do my penance, that is to recite the prayers which he had indicated to me. I remained for a long time in the church. I had need of a calm, after the terrible trial through which I had just passed. But vainly I sought for rest. The shameful questions which had just been asked me; the new world of iniquity into which I had been introduced; the impure phantoms by which my childish head had been defiled, confused and troubled my mind so much, that I began to weep bitterly.
I left the church only when forced to do so by the shades of night, and came back to my uncle's house with a feeling of shame and uneasiness, as if I had done a bad action and feared lest I should be detected. My trouble was much increased when my uncle jestingly said: "Now that you have been to confess, you will be a good boy. But if you are not a better boy, you will be a more learned one, if your confessor has taught you what mine did when I confessed for the first time."
I blushed and remained silent. My aunt said: "You must feel happy, now that you have made your confession: do you not?"
I gave an evasive answer, but could not entirely conceal the confusion which overwhelmed me. I went to bed early; but I could hardly sleep.
I thought I was the only boy whom the priest had asked these polluting questions; but great was my confusion, when, on going to school the next day, I learned that my companions had not been happier than I had been. The only difference was that, instead of being grieved as I was, they laughed at it.
"Did the priest ask you this and that," they would demand, laughing boisterously; I refused to reply, and said: "Are you not ashamed to speak of these things?"
"Ah! ah! how scrupulous you are," continued they, "if it is not a sin for the priest to us on these matters, how can it be a sin for us to laugh at it." I felt confounded, not knowing what to answer. But my confusion increased not a little when, soon after, I perceived that the young girls of the school had not been less polluted or scandalized than the boys. Although keeping at a sufficient distance from us to prevent us from understanding everything they had to say on their confessional experience, those girls were sufficiently near to let us hear many things which it would have been better for us not to know. Some of them seemed thoughtful, sad, and shameful; but some of them laughed heartily at what they had learned in the confessional-box.
I was very indignant against the priest; and thought in myself that he was a very wicked man for having put to us such repelling questions. But I was wrong. That priest was honest; he was only doing his duty, as I have known since, when studying the theologians of Rome. The Rev. Mr. Beaubien was a real gentleman; and if he had been free to follow the dictates of his honest conscience, it is my strong conviction, he would never have sullied our young hearts with such impure ideas. But what has the honest conscience of a priest to do in the confessional, except to be silent and dumb; the priest of Rome is an automaton, tied to the feet of the Pope by an iron chain. He can move, go right or left, up or down; he can think and act, but only at the bidding of the infallible god of Rome. The priest knows the will of his modern divinity only through his approved emissaries, ambassadors, and theologians. With shame on my brow, and bitter tears of regret flowing just now, on my cheeks, I confess that I have had myself to learn by heart those damning questions, and put them to the young and the old, who like me, were fed with the diabolical doctrines of the Church of Rome, in reference to auricular confession.
Some time after, some people waylaid and whipped that very same priest, when, during a very dark night he was coming back from visiting his fair young penitents, the Misses Richards. And the next day, the conspirators having met at the house of Dr. Stephen Tache, to give a report of what they had done to the half secret society to which they belonged, I was invited by my young friend Louis Casault* to conceal myself with him, in an adjoining room, where we could hear everything without being seen. I find in the old manuscripts of "my young years' recollections" the following address of Mr. Dubord, one of the principal merchants of St. Thomas.
"Mr. President, -- I was not among those who gave to the priest the expression of the public feelings with the eloquent voice of the whip; but I wish I had been; I would heartily have co-operated to give that so well-deserved lesson to the father confessors of Canada; and let me give you my reasons for that.
"My child, who is hardly twelve years old, went to confess, as did the other girls of the village,
* He died many years after when at the head of the Laval University some time ago. It was against my will. I know by my own experience, that of all actions, confession is the most degrading of a person's life. I can imagine nothing so well calculated to destroy forever one's self-respect, as the modern invention of the confessional. Now, what is a person without self-respect? Especially a woman? Is not all forever lost without this?
"In the confessional, everything is corruption of the lowest grade. There, the girls' thoughts, lips, hearts and souls are forever polluted. Do I need to prove you this! No! for though you have long since given up auricular confession, as below the dignity of man, you have not forgotten the lessons of corruption which you have received from it. Those lessons have remained on your souls as the scars left by the red-hot iron upon the brow of the slave, to be a perpetual witness of his slave, to be a perpetual witness of his shame and servitude.
"The confessional-box is the place where our wives and daughters learn things which would make the most degraded woman of our cities blush!
"Why are all Roman Catholic nations inferior to nations belonging to Protestantism? Only in the confessional can the solution of that problem be found. And why are Roman Catholic nations degraded in proportion to their submission to their priests? It is because the more often the individuals composing those nations go to confess, the more rapidly they sink in the sphere of intelligence and morality. A terrible example of the auricular confession depravity has just occurred in my own family.
"As I have said a moment ago, I was against my own daughter going to confession, but her poor mother, who is under the control of the priest, earnestly wanted her to go. Not to have a disagreeable scene in my house, I had to yield to the tears of my wife.
"On the following day of the confession, they believed I was absent, but I was in my office, with the door sufficiently opened to hear everything which could be said by my wife and the child. And the following conversation took place:
"'What makes you so thoughtful and sad, my dear Lucy, since you went to confess? It seems to me you should feel happier since you had the privilege of confessing your sins.'
"My child answered not a word; she remained absolutely silent.
"After two or three minutes of silence, I heard the mother saying: "Why do you weep, my dear Lucy? are you sick?'
But no answer yet from the child!"
You may well suppose that I was all attention: I had my secret suspicions about the dreadful mystery which had taken place. My heart throbbed with uneasiness and anger.
"After a short silence, my wife spoke again to her child, but with sufficient firmness to decide her to answer at last. In a trembling voice, she said:
"Oh! dear mamma, if you knew what the priest has asked me, and what he said to me when I confessed, you would perhaps be as sad as I am.'
"'But what can he have said to you? He is a holy man, you must have misunderstood him, if you think that he has said anything wrong.'
"My child threw herself in her mother's arms, and answered with a voice, half suffocated with her sobs: ' Do not ask me to tell you what the priest has said -- it is so shameful that I cannot repeat it -- his words have stuck to my heart as the leech put to the arm of my little friend, the other day.'
"'What does the priest think of me, for having put me such questions?'
"My wife answered: 'I will go to the priest and will teach him a lesson. I have noticed myself that he goes too far when questioning old people, but I had the hope he was more prudent with children. I ask of you, however, never to speak of this to anybody, especially let not your poor father know anything about it, for he has little enough of religion already, and this would leave him without any at all.'
"I could not refrain myself any longer: I abruptly entered the parlor. My daughter threw herself into my arms; my wife screamed with terror, and almost fell into a swoon. I said to my child: 'If you love me, put your hand on my heart, and promise never to go again to confess. Fear God, my child, love Him, and walk in His presence. For His eyes see you everywhere. Remember that He is always ready to forgive and bless you every time you turn your heart to Him. Never place yourself again at the feet of a priest, to be defiled and degraded.'
This my daughter promised to me.
When my wife had recovered from her surprise, I said to her:
"Madame, it is long since the priest became everything, and your husband nothing to you! There is a hidden and terrible power which governs you; it is the power of the priest; this you have often denied, but it can not be denied any longer; the Providence of God has decided to-day that this power should be destroyed forever in my house; I want to be the only ruler of my family; from this moment, the power of the priest over you is forever abolished. Whenever you go and take your heart and your secrets to the feet of the priest, be so kind as not to come back any more into my house as my wife.'"
This is one of the thousands of specimens of the peace of conscience brought to the soul through auricular confession. If it were my intention to publish a treatise on this subject, I could give many similar instances, but as I only desire to write a short chapter, I will adduce but one other fact to show the awful deception practised by the Church of Rome, when she invites persons to come to confession, under the pretext that peace to the soul will be the reward of their obedience. Let us hear the testimony of another living and unimpeachable witness, about this peace of the soul, before, during, and after auricular confession. In her remarkable book, "Personal Experience of Roman Catholicism," Miss Eliza Richardson writes (pages 34 and 35): -- -- *
"Thus I silenced my foolish quibbling, and went on to test of a convert's fervor and sincerity in
* This Miss Richardson is a well-known Protestant lady, in England, who turned Romanists became a nun, and returned to her Protestant church, after five years' personal, experience of Popery. She is still living as an unimpeachable witness of the depravity of auricular confession. And, here, was assuredly a fresh source of pain and disquiet, and one not so easily vanquished. The theory had appeared, as a whole, fair and rational; but the reality, in some of its details, was terrible!
"Divested, for the public gaze, of its darkest ingredients, and dressed up, in their theological works, in false and meretricious pretensions to truth and purity, it exhibited a dogma only calculated to exact a beneficial influence on mankind, and to prove a source of morality and usefulness. But oh, as with all ideals, how unlike was the actual?
"Here, however, I may remark, in passing, the effect produced upon my mind by the first sight of the older editions of 'the Garden of the Soul.' I remember the stumbling-block it was to me; my sense of womanly delicacy was shocked. It was a dark page in my experience when I first knelt at the feet of a mortal man to confess what should have been poured into the ear of God alone. I cannot dwell upon this . . . . . Though I believe my confessor was, on the whole, as guarded as his manners were kind, at some things I was strangely startled, utterly confounded.
"The purity of mind and delicacy in which I had been nurtured, had not prepared me for such an ordeal; and my own sincerity, and dread of committing a sacrilege, tended to augment the painfulness of the occasion. One circumstance, especially, I will recall, which my fettered conscience persuaded me I was obliged to name. My distress and terror, doubtless, made me less explicit than I otherwise might have been. The questioning, however, it elicited, and the ideas supplied by it, outraged my feelings to such an extent, that, forgetting all respect for my confessor, and careless, even, at the moment, whether I received absolution or not, I hastily exclaimed, 'I cannot say a word more,' while the thought rushed into my mind, 'all is true that their enemies say of them.' Here, however, prudence dictated to my questioner to put the matter no further; and the kind and almost respectful tone he immediately assumed, went far towards effacing an impression so injurious. On rising from my knees, when I should have gladly fled to any distance rather than have encountered his gaze, he addressed me in the most familiar manner on different subjects, and detained me some time in talking. What share I took in the conversation I never knew, and all that I remember, was by burning cheeks, and inability to raise my eyes from the ground.
"Here I would not be supposed to be intentionally casting a stigma upon an individual. Nor am I throwing unqualified blame upon the priesthood. It is the system which is at fault, a system which teaches that things, even at the remembrance of which degraded humanity must blush in the presence of heaven and its angels, should be laid open, dwelt upon, and exposed in detail, to the sullied ears of a corrupt and fallen fellow-mortal, who, of like passions with the penitent at his feet, is thereby exposed to temptations the most dark and dangerous. But what shall we say of woman? Draw a veil! Oh purity, modesty! and every womanly feeling! a veil as oblivion, over the fearfully dangerous experience thou art called to pass through!" (Pages 37 and 38.)
"Ah! there are things which cannot be recorded! facts too startling, and at the same time too delicately intricate, to admit a public portrayal, to meet the public gaze; but the cheek can blush in secret at the true images which memory evokes, and the oppressed mind shrinks back in horror from the dark shadows which have saddened and overwhelmed it. I appeal to converts, to converts of the gentler sex, and ask them, fearlessly ask them, what was the first impression made on your minds and feelings by the confessional? I do not ask how subsequent familiarization has weakened the effects; but when acquaintance was first made with it, how were you affected by it? I was not the impure, the already defiled, for to such it is sadly susceptible of being made a darker source of guilt and shame I appeal to the pure minded and delicate, the pure in heart and sentiment. Was not your first impression one of inexpressible dread and bewilderment, followed by a sense of humiliation and degradation not easily to be defined or supported?" (Page 39.) "The memory of that time [first auricular confession] will ever be painful and abhorrent to me; though subsequent experience has thrown even that far into the background. It was my initiatory lesson upon subjects which ought never to enter the imagination of girlhood: my introduction into a region which ought never to be approached by the guileless and the pure." (Page 61.) "One or two individuals (Roman Catholics) soon formed a close intimacy with me, and discoursed with a freedom and plainness I had never before encountered. My acquaintances, however, had been brought up in convents, or familiar with them for years, and I could not gainsay their statement.
I was reluctant to believe more than I had experienced. The proof, however, was destined to come in no dubious shape at no distant day...... A dark and sullied page of experience was fast opening upon me; but so unaccustomed was the eye which scanned it, that I could scarcely at all, at once, believe in its truth! And it was of hypocrisy so hateful, of sacrilege so terrible, and abuse so gross of all things pure and holy, and in the person of one bound by his vows, his position, and, every law of his Church, as well as of God, to set a high example, that, for a time, all confidence in the very existence of sincerity and goodness was in danger of being shaken; sacraments, deemed the most sacred, were profaned; vows disregarded, vaunted secrecy of the confessional covertly infringed, and its sanctity abused to an unhallowed purpose; while even private visitation was converted into a channel for temptation, and made the occasion of unholy freedom of words and manner. So ran the account of evil, and a dire account it was. By it all serious thoughts of religion were well-nigh extinguished. The influence was fearful and polluting, the whirl of excitement inexpressible; I cannot enter into minute particulars here, every sense of feminine delicacy and womanly feeling shrink from such a task. This much, however, I can say, that I, in conjunction with two other young friends, took a journey to a confessor, an inmate of a religious house, who lived at some distance, to lay the affair before him, thinking that he would take some remedial measures adequate to the urgency of the case. He heard our united statements, expressed great indignation, and at once commended us each to write and detail the circumstances of the case to the Bishop of the district. This we did, but of course never heard the result. The reminiscences of these dreary and wretched months seem now like some hideous and guilty dream. It was actual familiarization with unholiest things!" (Page 63.)
"The Romish religion teaches that if you omit to name anything in confession, however repugnant or revolting to purity, which you even doubt having committed, your subsequent confessions are thus rendered null and sacrilegious; Whilst it also inculcates that sins of thought should be confessed in order that the confessor may judge of their mortal or venial character. What sort of a chain this links around the strictly conscientious, I would attempt to portray if I could. But it must have been worn to understand its torturing character! Suffice it to say that, for months past, according to this standard, I had not made a good confession at all! And now, filled with remorse for my past sacrilegious sinfulness, I resolved on making a new general confession to the religieux alluded to. But this confessor's scrupulosity exceeded everything I had hitherto encountered. He told me some things were mortal sins which I had never before imagined could be such, and thus threw so many fetters around my conscience, that a host of anxieties for my first general confession was awakened within me. I had no resource, then, but to re-make that, and thus I afresh entered on the bitter path I had deemed I should never have occasion again to tread. But if my first confession had lacerated my feelings, what was it to this one? Words have no power, language has no expression to characterise, the emotion that marked it!
"The difficulty I felt in making a full and explicit avowal of all that distressed me, furnished my confessor with a plea for his assistance in the questioning department, and fain would I conceal much of what passed then as a foul blot on my memory. I soon found that he made mortal sins of what my first confessor had professed to treat but lightly, and he did not scruple to say that I had never yet made a good confession at all. My ideas, therefore, became more complicated and confused as I proceeded, until, at length, I began to feel doubtful of ever accomplishing my task in any degree satisfactorily; and my mind and memory were positively racked to recall every iota of every kind, real or imaginary, that might if omitted, hereafter be occasion of uneasiness. Things, heretofore held comparatively trifling, were recounted, and pronounced damnable sins; and as, day after day, I knelt at the feet of that man, answering questions and listening to admonitions calculated to bow my very soul to the dust, I felt as though I should hardly be able to raise my head again!
This is the peace which flows from auricular confession! I solemnly declare that, except in a few cases, in which the confidence of the penitents is bordering on idiocy, or in which they have been transformed into immoral brutes, nine tenths of the multitudes who go to confess are obliged to recount some such desolate narrative as that of Miss Richardson, when they are sufficiently honest to say the truth.
The most fanatical apostles of auricular confession cannot deny that the examination of conscience, which must precede confession, is a most difficult task, a task which, instead of filling the mind with peace, fills it with anxiety and serious fears. Is it then only after confession that they promise such peace? But they know very well that this promise is also a cruel deception. . . . . for to make a good confession the penitent has to relate not only all his bad actions, but all his bad thoughts and desires, their number and various aggravating circumstances. But have they found a single one of their penitents who was certain to have remembered all the thoughts, the desires, all the criminal aspirations of the poor sinful heart? They are well aware that to count the thoughts of the mind for days and weeks gone by, and to narrate those thoughts accurately at a subsequent period, are just as easy as to weigh and count the clouds which have passed over the sun in a three days' storm, a month after that storm is over. It is simply impossible -- absurd! This has never been, this will never be done. But there is no possible peace so long as the penitent is not sure that he has remembered, counted, and confessed every past sinful thought, word and deed. It is, then, impossible, yes! it is morally and physically impossible for a soul to find peace through auricular confession. If the law which says to every sinner: "You are bound, under pain of eternal damnation, to remember all your bad thoughts and confess them to the best of your memory," were not so evidently a satanic invention, it ought to be put among the most infamous ideas which have ever come out of the brain of fallen man. For who can remember and count the thoughts of a week, of a day, nay, of an hour of this sinful life?
Where is the traveler who has crossed the swampy forests of America, in the three months of warm weather, who could tell the number of mosquitoes which have bitten him and drawn the blood from the veins? What should that traveler think of the man who, seriously, would tell him "You must prepare yourself to die, if you do not tell me, to the best of your memory, how many times you have been bitten by the mosquitoes the last three summer months, when you crossed the swampy lands along the shores of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers?" Would he not suspect that his merciless inquirer had escaped from a lunatic asylum?
But it would be much more easy for that traveler to say how many times he has suffered from the bitings of the mosquitoes, than for the poor sinner to count the bad thoughts which have passed through his sinful heart, through any period of his life.
Though the penitent is told that he must confess his thoughts only according to his best recollection, he will never, never know if he has done his best efforts to remember everything: he will constantly fear lest he has not done his best to count and confess them correctly.
Every honest priest, if he speak the truth, will at once, admit that his most intelligent and pious penitents, particularly among women, are constantly tortured by the fear of having omitted to confess some sinful deeds or thoughts. Many of them, after having already made several general confessions, are constantly urged by the pricking of their conscience, to begin afresh, in the fear that their first confessions had some serious defects. Those past confessions, instead of being a source of spiritual joy and peace, are, on the contrary, like so many Damocle's swords, day and night suspended over their heads, filling their souls with the terrors of an eternal death. Sometimes, the terror-stricken consciences of those honest and pious women tell them that they were not sufficiently contrite; at another time, they reproach them for not having spoken sufficiently plain, on some things fitter to make them blush.
On many occasions, too, it has happened that sins which one confessor had declared to be venial, and which had long ceased to be confessed, another more scrupulous than the first, would declare to be damnable. Every confessor, thus knows well that he proffers what is flagrantly false, every time he dismisses his penitents after confession, with the salutation: "Go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee."
But it is a mistake to say that the soul does not find peace in auricular confession; in many cases, peace is found. And if the reader desires to learn something of that peace, let him go to the graveyard, open the tombs, and peep into the sepulchres. What awful silence! What profound quiet! What terrible and frightful peace! You hear not even the motion of the worms that creep in, and the worms that creep out, as they feast upon the dead carcass. Such is the peace of the confessional! The soul, the intelligence, the honor, the self-respect, the conscience, are, there, sacrificed. There, they must die! Yes, the confessional is the very tomb of human conscience, a sepulchre of human honesty, dignity, and liberty; the graveyard of the human soul! By its means, man, whom God hath made in his own image, is converted into the likeness of the beast that perishes; women, created by God to be the glory and helpmate of man, is transformed into the vile and trembling slave of the priest. In the confessional, man and woman attain to the highest degree of Popish perfection; they become as dry sticks, as dead branches, as silent corpses in the hands of their confessors. Their spirits are destroyed, their consciences are stiff, their souls are ruined.
This is the supreme and perfect result achieved, in its highest victories, by the Church of Rome.
There is, verily, peace to be found in auricular confession -- yes, but it is the peace of the grave!