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§ 1. Of the most bitter kind of scrupulosity touching Confession.

§§ 2, 3. Indiscreet rigour of confessors in this point very harmful to tender souls.

§ 4. Several instructions and advices concerning this matter.

§§ 5, 6, 7. Absolute and exact obedience to spiritual directors (with prayer) is the only remedy.

§§ 8, 9, 10, 11. The strange obstinacy and subtle perversity in some good souls in finding and justifying escapes from obedience.

§§ 12, 13. The great harm proceeding from scrupulous examinations and confessions.

§§ 14, 15. A form of examination of conscience proper for many scrupulous souls.

§§ 16, 17. The conscience of tender scrupulous persons is not properly a doubting conscience, but only fearful.

§§ 18, 19, 20. Constancy in prayer most efficacious against scrupulosity.

§§ 21, 22. Confession of venial sins is profitable, but yet not universally to all souls.

§§ 23, 24, 25. The chief trial of obedience is at the times of communicating. Advices thereabout.

§§ 26, 27, 28. Security in following such instructions as these.

§§ 29, 30, 31. The root of scrupulosity is tepidity; and often also a corporal distemper.

1. Whatsoever the matters or occasions are that cause scrupulosity in tender souls, the bitterness thereof is felt especially in confessing of them, or preparing themselves to such confession. For then it is that all former unsatisfactions recur to their 293memory, and new examinations are made, and not only all the supposed faults, but also the former examinations and confessions are again examined and confessed; for to such souls, partly out of ignorance in the nature, degrees, and circumstances of sins, and partly having their minds darkened by fear, all sins appear to them to be mortal, or for ought they know they may be mortal, and that suspicion, or even possibility, is sufficient to pierce them through with grief and fear.

2: The misery of such self-afflicting souls is much increased and rendered almost irremediable by indiscreet counsellors, unwary writers of spiritual matters, and such as are inexperienced in internal ways, who in the practice of Penance and Confession use the same rules and measure towards all souls indifferently, giving advices in general terms, which yet are proper only for the common sort of souls living in the world; who commend the repetition of general confessions, prescribing nice rules for examination; who enjoin all their penitents in a case of uncertainty and doubt, whether a sin be mortal or no, to choose that which appears to their prepossessed judgments the safer side, and therefore to be sure not to omit it in Confession; who recommend daily and almost hourly examinations of conscience; who extol the virtue and efficacy of sacraments without sufficient regard to the dispositions, and therefore indifferently encourage souls to frequent confessions, yea, even when they can find no present matter; in such a case advising them to repeat the mentioning of any one or more sins formerly confessed, merely to continue a custom of confessing, and to gain a new access of grace by virtue of the keys, &c. Now such advices and instructions as these may possibly be good for some negligent souls living extroverted lives (if that a proportionable care were also taken that penitents should bring due dispositions to the sacraments, without which the effects wrought by them will be far from their expectations); but that which is a cure for ordinary souls may, and frequently doth, prove poison to such tender scrupulous persons as we now treat of.

3. Therefore, surely a confessor or director that has any taste of internal ways, and any spiritual prudence and clarity, when 294he is to treat with souls that he sees have truly a fear of God and a sensible horror of offending Him, even in a proportion beyond what charity and due confidence do require, and that were it not that they are dejected by too great an apprehension of their guilt, would make great progress in the Divine love; perceiving likewise (after some experience and insight into their lives, exercises, and manners of their confessions) that such souls accuse and judge themselves and their actions, not by any light of reason or knowledge in the true nature and degrees of sins, but only by their own passion of fear, which corrupts their judgment, &c.; such confessors, I say, in these and the like circumstances, will not surely think it fit to deal with these as with the ordinary sort of tepid or negligent souls in the world that have need to be terrified, to have their consciences narrowly searched into, to be frequently brought before the spiritual tribunal. The like prudence is to be exercised also to such tender souls leading internal lives, who, though they are not actually scrupulous, either have been formerly or easily may be cast into it by rough or indiscreet usage.

4. Therefore, surely these timorous and tender souls are to be told: first, that the end of their coming into religion, or of consecrating themselves to God in a life of contemplation, was not to enjoy the sacraments, which they might have had free use of in the world, but in the quietness of silence and solitude to seek God, and daily to tend to Him by internal exercises of love, resignation, &c., as also by a calming of all manner of passions; and that all external duties are only so far to be made use of as they contribute to the increase of this love, quietness of mind, and confidence in God. 2. That the Sacrament of Penance and Confession is a holy ordinance indeed, instituted by our Lord, not for the torment but ease of consciences, and to the end to bring souls to have a confidence in Him, and not a horror of approaching to Him. 3. That the administration of this sacrament is left to our Lord’s priests, who alone are to be judges what sins are to be confessed, and in what manner. 4. That since it is evident that confession is their chiefest torment, causing effects in them so contrary to what our Lord intended, 295that therefore they should either abstain wholly from so frequent a custom of confessing, or to make their confessions only in the form that should be prescribed them. 5. That such examinations of sins will abundantly serve their turn, as they would think fit to be used in any ordinary matter of importance, and as may be made in a very short space. 6. That oft it is far more profitable for them to exercise rather virtual acts of contrition and sorrow for sin, by converting themselves directly to God with acts of love, than by reflecting with passion upon their sins. 7. That those common maxims, viz. that it is the sign of a good conscience there to fear a fault where none is, and that nothing is to be done against conscience; likewise, that in doubtful cases the securest side is to be chosen, &c.: these maxims, I say, though in gross true, yet if they should be strictly applied to scrupulous persons, would utterly ruin the peace of their minds; for they are altogether incapable of judging what is against conscience, or what may be said to be doubtful, accounting everything that they fear (without being able to give any tolerable reason of their fear) to be against conscience, and to be doubtful. It is therefore the spiritual director or experienced confessor only that is to be judge of these things, who has no interest at all in the business but the good of his penitent’s soul, who can judge without passion, who is appointed by God to be judge, and whose unfaithful dealing the penitent hath no reason to suspect.

5. There is no possible way to be rid from scruples (besides the having immediate recourse to God by humble resigned prayer) but an entire indispensable obedience to prudent confessors, proceeding according to these or the like grounds and instructions, according to which if such tender souls take the courage to practise, notwithstanding any fears in sensitive nature, they will find their fears to decrease. Whereas, if they neglect or obstinately refuse to put them in practice, their fears will not only grow far more dangerous, but they will become inexcusable before Almighty God, and contract the heinous sin of disobedience, ingratitude, and wilful obstinacy and resistance against the light which God has given them.


6. But withal they must know that they will never have sufficient strength and grace to obey against passion except they seriously practise internal prayer, which alone will make their obedience to become by custom far more easy, and also freed from that horror which at the first they will feel in sensitive nature.

7. Neither ought they to suspect that their confessors, set over them by God for their good, do not understand their case aright. True it is they do not feel the pains they suffer, no more than corporal physicians do their patients’, but yet they know the causes of it better than they do themselves, proceeding by a supernatural light not clouded by passion. And why should they pretend to know the causes, being ignorant of them? What interest is likely to corrupt their judgment? Would they for no reward or gain incur the displeasure of God?

8. Notwithstanding, so subtle such souls are to their own prejudice, that though they should yield that their confessor knew their past state, yet they see some new circumstance which was either forgotten, or they doubt so, which may perhaps alter the whole case. As likewise every new sin or defect has something in it, to their seeming, different from the former, by which they make a shift to escape from obedience, yet they must know that not all these shifts will excuse them before God.

9. Yea, they ought to consider that though indeed it were true that the confessor should happen to be mistaken, notwithstanding, the penitents practising bonâ fide according to his orders in a point of this nature about his confession (which is not a moral precept), should commit no sin, nor incur the least danger by it; yea, being an act of obedience for God’s sake and in opposition to natural passion it should be an occasion of merit to them; so that though the sins suspected by them were indeed mortal, yet, he judging otherwise, they would not be obliged to confess them.

10. But it is wonderful to see in souls very distrustful of themselves in all other matters, such an obstinate self-judgment in this, that they will neither be persuaded that they are scrupulous, 297though their wits be almost perished by scrupulosity; for if this were once admitted, plain reason would convince them that they ought not to be their own judges. As likewise in souls otherwise very innocent, humble, and most pliable to obedience, the pertinacious disobedience in this point of abstaining from confessing or renewing confessions of things forbidden them to be confessed is very strange; so that against the command of their present confessor and the advice of all the most learned doctors they will persist in their reluctance; and if their confessor will not admit them, they will forbear no means to find out others, though wholly unacquainted with their state, to hear their scrupulosities. And what other ground can there be of such disorder but only self-love deeply rooted in corrupt nature, and ofttimes the suggestion of the devil, to which such souls by reason of their disordered imaginations and passions are miserably exposed? They had rather confess their virtues for faults (as their having resisted their fears in compliance with obedience), than their really greatest fault, which is self-judgment and disobedience.

11. A scrupulous fearful soul having been commanded to forbear examination and confession of such particulars as do cause unquietness in her, when she comes to put this in practice a double fear will present itself to her, the one of disobeying her confessor and the other of going against her natural judgment, which is contrary to her confessor’s. But she ought to consider that the former fear has nothing of nature in it, yea, that it contradicts nature in its most sensible part, and therefore is far more worthy to take place. As for the fear of going against her own judgment, it proceeds wholly and only from nature, self-love, and a desire to be rid of her present pain that the memory of her faults causes in her, or the suggestions of the devil urging her to disobedience. Therefore, if she cannot expel this fear out of sensitive nature, she must accept it as a pain, but withal contradict it as a temptation.

12. She ought to assure herself that more harm comes to her, and incomparably greater impediments in her exercise of prayer, &c., by indiscreet confessions, or examinations made 298merely to satisfy scrupulosity, than by all the defects that she would confess, which, being generally incurred out of frailty, do far less estrange her from God than such confessions do, by which she is habituated in self-will, self-judgment, and servile fear; all which are the more perilous, inasmuch as they have a pretence of duty to God and to the orders of His Church, as also of humility, and a desire to receive benefit by the sacrament, &c.

13. Common reason will dictate that it is most unfit that, any one should be judge of his own state just at a time when a temptation or violent fear is actually predominant, the which do put the soul in a strange confusion and darkness. What a folly, therefore, and presumption would it be for a woman, ignorant, passionate, and fearful, to challenge the office of a judge in this case, and to think to regulate the judge that sits in God’s seat!

14. Let, therefore, fearful souls that are forbidden the usual ways of curious examinations of conscience and nice confessions, whensoever any scruple or suspicion concerning a mortal sin comes into their minds that would urge them to run for ease to confession, or that would affright them from communicating,—let them, I say, content themselves with asking their own consciences in one glance of their minds: Do I certainly know the matter of this fear to have been a mortal sin, and that it was really committed, and never confessed in any sort, defectively or exactly? And if their consciences do not answer that they are most certain of this, they may not only securely judge that they are not guilty, but they are obliged under sin to abstain from confession, in case they have been so commanded, and to proceed to communicating. For it is morally impossible that such tender souls should commit a mortal sin, but without any examination it will appear evidently to be mortal.

15. This way of self-examination I (being warranted by learned authors) do seriously recommend to those souls that find that a punctual examination doth destroy the quiet of their minds, so that if after one short self-questioning they do not resolutely and positively determine that they have deliberately consented to a temptation, and committed a sin unquestionably 299mortal, let them resolve never after to trouble their thoughts with it; but if they should press them for a reëxamination, let them neglect them and consider them as pure temptations.

16. Such souls are not to esteem that a fear or suspicion that anything is a sin or mortal can be sufficient to make the case to be doubtful; for a doubt is when two opinions are represented to the mind, and the contrary reasons for each are so even and equal, that the judgment cannot determine itself to assent to either. Now a firm assent may be where there is a violent fear of the contrary at the same time. And a scrupulous person cannot ofttimes give any other reason or account of her fear, but that, for ought she knows, the matter is according to her fear.

17. Amongst other subjects of scruple, one is a doubt in such souls whether they have true contrition for their faults or no. Whereas, if there be anything that hinders their sorrow from being true contrition, it is the excess of servile fear mixed with it, which they wilfully nourish with their scrupulosities; but, however, considering they are supposed to practise internal prayer in such manner as they are able, there is hardly any doubt to be made but that they have the true love of God, which makes sorrow for sin to be true contrition. The which may be performed either directly, by framing an efficacious act of sorrow and detestation of their sins, as offensive to God, and for His love; or only virtually (yet efficaciously), by producing an act of pure love to God, for thereby they do really avert themselves from whatever doth offend Him, or is contrary to such love (as sin is).

18. And from hence may appear the great security that a soul has which pursues internal prayer, because every act of love or resignation performed purely for God doth restore a soul to the state of Grace, in case that by any precedent sins she hath fallen from that state. And if she hath not, it doth advance and establish her the more in Grace.

19. There is not, therefore, a more assured general remedy against scrupulosity and all such inordinate fears than constancy in prayer. This alone will produce a courage to despise such 300fears, whensoever they would hinder a soul from performing obedience to the orders of her spiritual director.

20. The security and necessity of which obedience, as likewise the culpableness and danger of proceeding according to the suggestions of fear, a devout soul may evidently collect from hence, viz. by observing that she never disobeys in virtue of light obtained by prayer, the which always dictates obedience and renouncing her own judgment, and contradicting her fears to her; and on the contrary, that she is tempted to transgress the orders of her confessor only at the time when fear is so violent upon her, and makes so deep an impression of her supposed faults in her mind, that she cannot then pray with resignation, and believes that then to obey her confessor would be to go against her own knowledge. Her security, therefore, must come from prayer, to which her humble obedience will dispose her; and on the contrary, scrupulous fears will render her utterly unfit. Therefore, souls which wilfully nourish their fears and scruples by frequent unpermitted confessions have very much to answer for before Almighty God for their wilful plunging themselves into a state which makes a perfect union with God impossible, thereby defeating the whole design of a religious internal life, as also for forsaking the ways of obedience, which almost in all possible cases are most full of security.

21. It is far from my purpose to deter souls from frequent confessions, even of venial sins, when they find such confessions profitable to them and helps to their amendment; but otherwise, if by the means of such confessions they endanger themselves to run into mortal sins of the highest nature, as desperation or a wilful renouncing of all ways of piety, through the horror arising from their ignorance and incapacity to distinguish between mortal and venial sins,—then surely it were better for them to make use of other ways appointed by God for the expiating and purging of venial sins (such as are saying our Lord’s Prayer, acts of humiliation and contrition, giving of alms, devout taking of holy water, &c.). And if they are desirous in some good measure to observe the ordinary times of confession, they may content themselves with expressing some such faults as 301they can with assurance and without disquietness declare, and all other faults may be involved in some general phrase or expression.

22. If it be objected that by practising according to these instructions such souls will find nothing new to confess, and so will be deprived of the blessing and comfort of absolution, hereto I answer that it were happy if souls could find nothing expedient to be confessed. And surely the most effectual means to bring them to such happiness is according to these advices to free them from their dejecting scrupulosities, for as long as they remain, little effect of blessings can proceed from the best exercises or use of sacraments. We know that in ancient times innumerable saints attained to perfection with little or no use of confession (considering their remoteness from places where priests inhabited), by serious practice of prayer, abstraction of life, mortification, &c.; which means will doubtless have the same effect now, and without them confessions and communions, though daily practised, will have but small effect thereto. Now there is not in the world a mortification more effectual, more purifying, and more proper for such souls, than to obey God in their confessor, contrary to their own violent fears, scrupulosity, and seeming judgment.

23. The proper season of the trial of obedience and submission of scrupulous souls is the time of communicating, because they know that there is necessary thereto not only the condition of being free from mortal sin, but likewise that a greater preparation is requisite; for in all states they may pray, say their Office, exercise mortification, &c., without a precedent confession (though it is with great dejection, heartlessness, and most grievous distractions that such souls apply themselves to internal prayer, &c.); but above all, communicating during their suspicions is most grievous and full of horror to them.

24. In this case, therefore, a well-minded soul coming to communicate according to order prescribed by her confessor, and finding a fear to seize upon her, let her take courage, lifting up her heart to God in this or the like manner: ‘My God, it is not by mine own choice, but in obedience to Thee speaking to me 302by my confessor, that I presume to approach to Thy altar. In Thy name, therefore, and hoping for Thy blessing, I will communicate, notwithstanding the horror and frights which I feel in my soul. These I accept as a pain, and I do resign myself to the continuance of them, as long as it shall be Thy pleasure for my humiliation. I hope and am assured that Thou wilt not condemn me for obedience, and for resisting the violent impulsions of my corrupt passions. It is only for the comfort of my soul that I desire to receive the precious Body of my Lord. If I did not think it to be Thy will that I should communicate now, I would abstain, though this were Christmas or Easter-day, and whatsoever confusion or shame I were to suffer for abstaining.’ Having said or thought to this effect, let her freely communicate, and be assured she shall not incur the least danger, but, on the contrary, merit in a high degree. And in the same manner she may lift up her heart to God, whensoever in confession she abstains from mentioning such faults as do cause unquietness to her.

25. Such souls may also do well to practise very often in private spiritual communicating, preparing themselves thereto by the forementioned brief and quiet examinations. Frequent practising after this manner will beget a confidence to it really upon occasions.

26. Those souls to whom these instructions have been, or shall be, esteemed proper in the judgment of their spiritual directors must not be discouraged from following them by anything that shall be said by others, or by anything that they shall find in books; for there is nothing written here which may not be confirmed by the testimony and authority of learned and unquestioned doctors. They must therefore abstain from making consultations with others, or demanding their judgments or opinions, for otherwise there will be no end of troubles and distractions. Neither willingly or purposely ought they to read books made for the common sort of souls, and that give different advices, for that would be to put themselves wilfully into a temptation. But let them content themselves with these or the like instructions, reading them oft, and seriously resolving 303in and with prayer to practise accordingly, and they may, through God’s blessing, expect a good success.

27. Now they must not from hence expect advices to fit all cases, which are almost infinite. But according to their particular necessities they must apply these general instructions: observing the divine inspirations (especially in the time of prayer), their own experience, and sometimes likewise serving themselves of their natural judgment. For of this let them assure themselves, that if they will not resolve to obey till satisfaction be given them to all their scrupulous objections and fears, their case is desperate. If nothing will serve them but a riddance from the pain of the temptation, an angel from heaven will never be able to quiet and satisfy them. They must either obey, though with their eyes shut, or they will live and die in the same self-love and servile fear, which is a very dangerous state to die in.

28. Yet those who must of necessity at the first be helped with relying upon the warrant of their confessors and directors must not finally rest there, but make use of such peace as by their means they can obtain, to dispose them to have recourse to our Lord, to learn confidence in Him, which will arise from frequent conversing with Him by prayer.

29. To conclude this matter of scrupulosity: a general good way to cure it is by opposing it in its root and cause, which is either spiritual or corporal. The spiritual cause of scrupulosity is tepidity; for though it seems to be a humour full of solicitude, haste, and eagerness, yet the true ground ofttimes of it is an unwillingness and lothness to give God more than we must needs. Now the measure and rule of what is absolutely necessary being uncertain, from the ignorance thereof grows a general fear (just enough, the heart being so corrupted by self-love) of falling short of what is necessary almost in everything, either for want of right intention, or some other important circumstance, which fear being servile is perplexing, confounding, and darkening. The proper remedy, therefore, is (as hath been said) an humble recourse to God by prayer to correct in us what is amiss, and to supply what is defective; as also a submission 304and resignation of ourselves sincerely and entirely to do to our uttermost what He requires; and when all this is done, not to judge of our soul’s estate, its hope or danger, so much by a view of our own perfections, or a conceit of the diminishing of our imperfections, but only by our relying and affectionate dependence on God. For the greatest and most perfect servants of God, the more they grow in perfection, the more light have they to discern innumerable imperfections in themselves, which causes great humility, but yet does not abate their independence and confidence on God, grounded in His only goodness. Whereas, imperfect tepid souls hoping to gain security by diminishing their imperfections (which arises from pride), when they see their defects rather to increase, they become dejected, fearful, and scrupulous.

30. And such scrupulosity arising from tepidity doth much increase it, through a kind of despair of expelling our own imperfections by our own abilities, and neglect of the true means of dispelling them, which is serious prayer to God. If such souls, therefore, would take this for a ground, that it is impossible in this life that they should ever see themselves otherwise than full of innumerable defects, of which they are not able so much as to give any account; and yet, notwithstanding, they ought even, for that very impossibility’s sake, to have recourse unto God and to rely upon His pardon, as also His help and concurrence to remove our defects, as far as His good pleasure shall be: again, if they would not expect a certainty or security touching their state, but be content to stand to God’s good pleasure and mercy, by which not only perfection but salvation is to be obtained, they would shortly be freed from their painful wearisome fears and scrupulosities.

31. Again, ofttimes this humour of a timorous scrupulosity is very much to be attributed to the present indisposition in the body (especially in women), when by reason of some special infirmities, through the ascending of ill vapours to the head, there are raised melancholic and afflicting images in the fancy, which, without the help of the corporal physician, can hardly by counsel be expelled.

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