Does Auricular Confession bring Peace to the
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"'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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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!