Perfect Contrition

What exactly is perfect contrition? I have heard so many different things about it that I am confused.

From what I understand, our sins are forgiven if we are truly sorry for them? If so, why do we need to go to Confession? (not debating that we need to go to Confession, I just don’t understand how the two can both be true)

It sounds to me like something a Protestant would say?

Any clarification would be greatly appreciated :slight_smile:

We go to Confession because when we confess our sins (especially mortal sins), we know **without doubt ** that the LORD has forgiven us. Yes, we could ask for God’s forgiveness without going to Confession, but a person would not really know whether or not that sin was forgiven. Confession removes all doubt.

I’m not really sure what Perfect Contrition is, so forgive me, but if memory serves me correct, imperfect contrition is when you ask for God to forgive your sins because you are afraid of God’s wrath, or you are disgusted by the heinousness of the sin. Perfect Contrition is when you ask for God’s forgiveness purely out of love. Generally, it is quite difficult to make an act of Perfect Contrition (and hence the purpose of the Sacrament of Reconciliation). Don’t quote me on this, but this is what I think, and hopefully someone more knowledgeable here will correct me if I’m incorrect anywhere. Confession absolves sins even with an imperfect contrition (assuming my definition above is true).

Thank you,
Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk

My understanding of perfect contrition is being sorry for your sins because they offend Our Lord, rather than just being sorry because we fear punishment or because we’ve been disobedient.

The purpose of the sacrament of Reconciliation is because in order to overcome our sins (venial as well as mortal), we need the graces of a sacrament to do so. Jesus knows we cannot battle temptation and sin alone, so He has given us His graces through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Also, our sins are against the entire Church. Even the most privately committed sins are still against the entire Church and all its members. Therefore, we must go to the Church for the forgiveness of those sins.

Lastly, what Bohm said is also true - because hearing the words of absolution from the Priest is an aboslute guarantee of our forgiveness from Christ. As with any sacrament, Christ gives us an outward sign in order to physically associate with the sacrament. In confession the outward sign is the words of absolution.

What we speak about as “perfect contrition” these days is a misnomer. It is my contention that the term comes from the legalism imposed on moral theology by the casuists, i.e, Manualists. It might be better to think of the two basic types of contrition in the terms that Aquinas used.

  1. Attrition (roughly imperfect contrition): is sorrow for our sins out of servile or filial fear.
  2. Contrition (roughly perfect contrition): is sorrow for our sins because of the love of God.

This is expressed in the act of contrition:

For the fear of the loss of heaven (filial fear), and the pains of hell (servile fear) = attrition
but most especially because Thou art Good, and diserving of all my love and affection (Charity) = contrition.

So, to make things simple, contrition is sorrow from ones sins out of an intense love (caritas) of God and neighbor; attrition is sorrow for ones sins for less exhausted reasons: even quasi-selfish reasons. For Aquinas, both attrition and contrition effect the remission of sins (in the Sacrament of Penance and apart from the Sacrament of Penance). The difference is that contrition remits sins perfectly while attrition remits sins imperfectly.

But, if attrition and contrition are effective apart from Sacramental Confession and Absolution then why do we need to go to Sacrament of Penance? (your second question)

Well, it all depends on what you understand the Sacraments in general to be and what this Sacrament is in particular. Our general understanding of the Sacraments ought to be that they are gifts of God’s love made manifest in a concrete physical way to help us live this earthly life well so that we can live with Him in heaven forever. The Sacraments are essential the Christian life, not accessory. When we ask the question “why do we need to X” we are already approaching the Sacraments in the wrong way. Such a question is similar to the one posed by the unnamed Young Man in the Gospels who asked Jesus what he must do to attain eternal life. He was looking for a rubric to follow – a duty to fulfill (a box to check). However, Christ calls us from such a disposition to one of intimacy and communion with Him in His divine life. We should not feel a need to go to Confession, rather we should want to go to Confession.

Now, this is where the “function” of the Sacrament of Penance comes in. Sin is such a radical rupture with the loving relationship with God simply being “free from sin” is not sufficient to restore that relationship. We can have all the Contrition possible and it would still not repair the relationship. For, Aquinas, this is where Sacramental Absolution fits in and hence why we “need” to go to confession. When the priest pronounces the words of Absolution we are filled, once again, with Sanctifying Grace (St. Thomas prefers to use the term: ‘the grace that makes you pleasing to God’ instead of the term ‘Sanctifying Grace’). So, as we progress through the process of the Sacrament our sins have been remitted through contrition/attrition, while absolution perfects attrition and consummates the Sacrament by imparting Sanctifying Grace. This is the ordinary means that God has provided for repairing this essential relationship when we commit post-baptismal sin.

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