Confessions of a Mask

CONTRITION
(Latin contritio–a breaking of something hardened).

Nature of contrition

The interior repentance has been called by theologians “contrition”. It is defined explicitly by the Council of Trent : “a sorrow of soul and a hatred of sin committed, with a firm purpose of not sinning in the future“. Etymologically it implies a breaking of something that has become hardened. St. Thomas Aquinas in his Commentary on the Master of the Sentences thus explains its peculiar use: “Since it is requisite for the remission of sin that a man cast away entirely the liking for sin which implies a sort of continuity and solidity in his mind, the act which obtains forgiveness is termed by a figure of speech ‘contrition'”. This sorrow of soul is not merely speculative sorrow for wrong done, remorse of conscience, or a resolve to amend; it is a real pain and bitterness of soul together with a hatred and horror for sin committed; and this hatred for sin leads to the resolve to sin no more.

Necessity of contrition
Until the time of the Reformation no theologian ever thought of denying the necessity of contrition for the forgiveness of sin. But with the coming of Luther and his doctrine of justification by faith alone the absolute necessity of contrition was excluded as by a natural consequence. Leo X in the famous Bull “Exsurge” condemned the Lutheran position. Luther could not deny that in every true conversion there was grief of soul, but he asserted that this was the result of the grace of God poured into the soul at the time of justification, etc. Catholic writers have always taught the necessity of contrition for the forgiveness of sin, and they have insisted that such necessity arises from the very nature of repentance as well as from the positive command of God.

Contrition Qualities

In accord with Catholic tradition contrition, whether it be perfect or imperfect, must be at once (a) interior, (b) supernatural, (c) universal, and (d) sovereign.

Interior
Contrition must be real and sincere sorrow of heart, and not merely an external manifestation of repentance.

Supernatural
In accordance with Catholic teaching contrition ought to be prompted by God’s grace and aroused by motives which spring from faith, as opposed to merely natural motives, such as loss of honour, fortune, and the like

Universal
The Council of Trent defined that real contrition includes “a firm purpose of not sinning in the future”; consequently he who repents must resolve to avoid all sin. This doctrine is intimately bound up with the Catholic teaching concerning grace and repentance. There is no forgiveness without sorrow of soul, and forgiveness is always accompanied by God’s grace; grace cannot coexist with sin; and, as a consequence, one sin cannot be forgiven while another remains for which their is no repentance.

Sovereign
The Council of Trent insists that true contrition includes the firm will never to sin again, so that no mater what evil may come, such evil must be preferred to sin. This doctrine is surely Christ’s: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”

Catholic Encyclopedia : Contrition

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