The Freedom of Confession in the Church of England, reflecting on how "the most devout and learned teachers whom a traditionary reverence has enshrined in the grateful memories of English Churchmen" regarded sacramental confession and absolution.
George Herbert advises a degree of pressure which would be
open to popular condemnation now. When describing the ideal priest,
he says, "In his visiting the sick, or otherwise afflicted,
he followeth the Church's counsel, namely, in persuading them
to particular confession, labouring to make them understand the
great good use of this ancient and pious ordinance, and how necessary
it is in some cases." [The Country Pastor, cxv.]
Herbert evidently had no idea that the Church, by recommending
confession in sickness, meant to limit it to that time of need.
Hooker also contemplated confession as advisable for persons
leading watchful lives, and in cases of need which must have
occurred not infrequently. " Because the knowledge how to
handle our own sores is no vulgar or common art, but we either
carry towards ourselves for the most part an over-soft and gentle
hand, fearful of touching too near the quick; or else, endeavouring
not to be partial, we fall into timorous scrupulosities and sometimes
into those extreme discomforts of mind from which we hardly do
ever lift up our heads again; men thought it the safest way to
disclose their secret faults, and to crave imposition of penance
from them whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath left in His Church
to be spiritual and ghostly physicians, the guides and pastors
of redeemed souls, whose office doth not only consist in general
persuasions to amendment of life, but also in the private particular
cure of diseased minds." [Eccles. Pol, bk. vi. c. iv.]
Bishop Jeremy Taylor clearly showed that confession might
be a habit. He says, in his Holy Living, "Because
we may very much be helped, if we take in the assistance of a
spiritual guide, therefore the Church of God in all ages hath
commended, and in most ages enjoined, that we confess our sins,
and discover the state and condition of our souls to such a person
whom we or our superiors judge fit to help us in such a need."
And then, in his Holy Dying, he urges, "Whether they
be many or few that are sent to the sick person, let the curate
of his parish or his own confessor, be among them ... he that
is the ordinary judge cannot safely be passed by in his extraordinary
necessity, which in so great portions depends upon his whole
life past."2 " His own confessor," "the ordinary
judge," who knows "his whole life past," unmistakably
imply a habit of confession.
The Whole Duty of Man, the most popular manual of past
days, urges confession as "an advice not to be neglected,
neither at the time of coming to the Sacrament, nor any other
when we are under any fear or reasons of doubt concerning the
state of our souls." This is clearly contrary to the idea
that the Church's advice about confession before Communion is
to be viewed as implying a limitation to that particular occasion.
And the needs specified are such as might frequently be felt.
Neither had Archbishop Wake any such limited view: "We exhort
men, if they have any the least doubt or scruple, nay, sometimes
though they have none, but especially before they receive the
Holy Sacrament, to confess their sins." [GIBSON'S Preservative
from Popery, vol. iii. p. 31.]
Wheatley, commenting on the service for the "Visitation
of the Sick," clearly views confession as a means of grace
to be used in health, though more especially needed in sickness.
"We may still, I presume, wish very consistently with the
determination of our Church, that our people would apply themselves
oftener than they do to their spiritual physicians, even in the
time of their health, since it is much to be feared they are
wounded oftener than they complain, and yet through aversion
to disclosing their sore, suffer it to gangrene for want of their
help who should work the cure. But present ease is not the only
benefit the penitent may expect from his confessor's aid; he
will be better prepared to guide and conduct it through all difficulties
that may oppose." Confession, with a view to be guided to
a higher life, is here contemplated.
The expressions, "ordinary judge," "spiritual
guide," "physician," "confessor," "private
guide and judge," and "ghostly father," which
commonly occur in such writers, evidently point to the same conclusion,
describing a relation between the priest and those to whom he
thus ministers, which implies confession, either more or less
habitual, or of free and not infrequent use.