Why is imperfect contrition sufficient for Confession, but not outside of Confession?


I don’t know if anyone mentioned this yet, but here is the Cathechism:

1452 …[Perfect] contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacrament

1453 …contrition called “imperfect”… can initiate a… process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament…

It is clear that for the Catholic, both forms of contrition depend upon the telos of the sacraments for their efficacy. When stripped down to very simple sentences, it seems to me, that perfect contrition needs the sacrament of penance (at least as one of its goals), and that imperfect contrition “CAN” start a process toward something - conditional on God’s grace - that can be brought to completion (or “perfection”) in the sacrament.

It is not apparent to me, that all that is required of the penitent (ultimately), is imperfect contrition; rather, it seems that imperfect contrition is sufficient grounds for entering the confessional, but that one hopes that the graces of God will move one toward supernatural contrition.


On another note, the lines between: fear of Hell; loss of Heaven; not being who you want to be; forsaking your destiny; betraying your identity; horror at what you have squandered in the crucifixion; fear of the Lord; affective sympathy for the human life of Christ; love of others affected by your sins; and love of the Lord, are very blurry. Not simply saying that all should be going on at once in the penitent, I am claiming that all are interrelated, and where one begins and the other ends is tough to pinpoint.

Even the highest love of which man is capable, as Pieper calls it “a selfless self-love,” (for as CS Lewis says, it would be ridiculous for us to come to the great white throne and say, “I am a disinterested benefactor and sympathizer of yours.”), is characterized by both the beauty of eros and agape.

“Perfect” contrition in this sense, means “fulfilled” contrition. That is important.


If a person is in a state of mortal sin and they die suddenly without having made an act of perfect contrition they go immediately to Hell. Our destination is determined by the state of our soul at death. there is no chance to repent after we die.
This is the infallible teaching of the Church.

Being in a state of mortal sin is a deliberate act. It can’t be done by accident. Anyone in such a state knows it and I’m sure they could spare 20 seconds to make such an act. Jesus told us to always be ready because we don’t know the time and day we will die.

Everyone has until their dying breath to repent. Its irrelevant if someone looks dead. Either they are dead or they are not dead.


Imperfect contrition is also sufficient for the Anointing of the Sick or General Absolution, provided you are not able to make a Confession at that time (e.g. unconscious).


Thinking of each of your sins as a wound in Christ crucified certainly helps.


I think my post on the catechism may be of interest to you. I argue that imperfect contrition is not truly ultimately sufficient in any case.


Council of Trent:

And as to that imperfect contrition which is called attrition, because it is commonly conceived either from the consideration of the turpitude of sin, or from the fear of hell and of punishment, the council declares that if with the hope of pardon, it excludes the wish to sin, it not only does not make man a hypocrite and a greater sinner, but that it is even a gift of God, and an impulse of the Holy Spirit, who does not indeed as yet dwell in the penitent, but who only moves him whereby the penitent, being assisted, prepares a way for himself unto justice, and although this attrition cannot of itself, without the Sacrament of Penance, conduct the sinner to justification yet does it dispose him to receive the grace of God in the Sacrament of Penance. For smitten profitably with fear, the Ninivites at the preaching of Jonas did fearful penance and obtained mercy from Lord.

Hanna, E. (1907). Attrition. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02065a.htm

Jonah 3 (NABRE)

3 So Jonah set out for Nineveh, in accord with the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an awesomely great city; it took three days to walk through it. 4 Jonah began his journey through the city, and when he had gone only a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” 5 the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh: “By decree of the king and his nobles, no man or beast, no cattle or sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. 8 Man and beast alike must be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; they all must turn from their evil way and from the violence of their hands. 9 Who knows? God may again repent and turn from his blazing wrath, so that we will not perish.”10 When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.


How is one supposed to conclude that because the body appears to be dead then the soul must certainly have been separated from the body? If you read this quote by St Faustina on the divine mercy " *God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. *Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. It suggests that God gives one the grace, one could say of perfect contrition at the moment before he separates the soul from the body. May we all have that hope that as long as we hope to go to heaven and make our efforts to avoid sinning then God will not abandon us.


You seem to be ignoring what I have said. I said a person is either dead or not dead. If they are dead then their destination is sealed. If they not dead then they still have the opportunity to repent, even if unconscious in a way we do not understand. That would be between them and God.
The point is once we are dead we cannot repent. There is no repentance after death. That is an infallible teaching of the Church (fully backed by the authority given to the Church by God).


Thank you for the clear answer, i can not argue with that!


I think because Jesus desires that all people become members of the Church, members of one visible community or body of believers who are united in one faith, one baptism, and one Lord for the Church is the sacrament of salvation for the whole world. Jesus also desires that we confess our sins to a lawfully ordained priest and not just to anyone or simply to God which is why he instituted the sacraments of both holy orders and penance. The Catholic Church which Jesus founded is the fulfillment of the eternal kingdom to be established by the promised Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. The Israelite people and nation themselves were formed and chosen by God to be a light to the world concerning the worship of the one true God and they were a figure of the Church. What your suggesting would have the effect of what we see such as among the many thousands of protestant denominations who are not united in one faith and one truth but each believing essentially whatever they want to believe.


The sacraments actually do things, even if we can approach the same results (or God can offer them) outside the sacraments.

It is God’s grace, working ordinarily through the sacrament of Reconciliation, that restores the penitent to His friendship. Contrition is a necessary precondition, but not the thing that actually does the work.

God can still supply His grace outside the sacrament, though usually in extraordinary circumstances. For example, one ordinarily receives sanctifying grace for the first time (“is saved”) through the act of Baptism, but since the days of the martyrs the Church has believed that God supplies the grace without the explicit sacrament in cases of martyrdom (“baptism of blood”) or death by other means (“baptism of desire”) while one is a catechumen awaiting sacramental Baptism. Likewise, in emergency situations, a penitent’s perfect contrition — and remember, that’s the perfect type of contrition, out of love for God, not some kind of perfect amount of contrition — can suffice to let God’s grace work even n the absence of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Note that if the penitent doesn’t literally die before making it to Reconciliation, he is still obliged to receive the sacrament as soon as he can, even though his contrition may have “taken care of it” already. Few people are going to be certain that their contrition was of the perfect sort, after all.

It’s basically another case of “We are bound to the sacraments where they are available, but God is not and won’t let someone be damned because they can’t do the physically impossible.”


The Church teaches that imperfect contrition is sufficient to receive the grace of the sacrament of penance, i.e, the forgiveness of sins and if one is in the state of mortal sin sanctifying grace, charity, and other infused gifts and virtues. The perfection that completes imperfect contrition in the sacrament is simply the forgiveness of sins accompanied by the infusion of supernatural sanctifying grace and charity. There are degrees of the perfection of charity but any soul who has charity even the least degree of it has some degree of perfect contrition. Charity is the bond of perfection but charity or love can increase, i.e., we can grow in our love for God and neighbor. Perfect contrition before the sacrament of penance essentially means that a soul in the state of mortal sin, for example, recovers sanctifying grace and charity which is why perfect contrition is said to be motivated by charity even the least degree of charity which is the same as saying the least degree of perfect contrition. There are degrees of perfect contrition just as there are degrees of charity which charity perfect contrition is founded on. Accordingly, a person who enters the confessional with only imperfect contrition and leaves with the least degree of perfect contrition or charity could have the same degree of perfect contrition or charity of a person who had the least degree of perfect contrition or charity before they entered the confessional.

Simply put, the perfection of contrition, whether imperfect or perfect, essentially depends on the supernatural gift of charity which is bestowed with sanctifying grace and whether a soul has this gift or not in whatever degree. The forgiveness of sins accompanied by sanctifying grace and charity are bestowed on the penitent who has only imperfect contrition in coming to the sacrament and thus they leave the sacrament with perfect contrition and charity in various degrees. ‘Perfect charity’ casts out all fear but not necessarily a lesser degree of charity. A lesser degree of charity or love of God can still be mixed with fear of
God’s punishments and possibly predominantly so. The more one grows in charity the more do they love God for his own sake and less through fear of his punishments. Love is said to be the cause of fear and of all the other passions or emotions whether they be of a spiritual nature such as pertaining to the spiritual will or sensory and bodily to which this latter they are most properly called passions or emotions.


If one intends to immediately go to reconciliation, but dies before they can go, or dies on the way to reconciliation, I would think Jesus sees what they intended to do and through no fault of their own, circumstances didn’t allow it to happen, AND He gives them mercy. :slightly_smiling_face:


Actually in that scenario an act of perfect contrition would be required first for the person to be saved.
Intending to go to Confession is not an act of perfect contrition. A person can make an act of imperfect contrition or none at all and still intend to go to Confession. In these cases if they died suddenly before getting to Confession they would not be saved.

See CCC 1452 and 1453 which an earlier poster quoted.


Is it heresy to believe it is sufficient? (Imperfect contrition)? I do not see God refusing to admit to grace a soul that recognized evil as such and turned from it, and in addition, prayed to God for forgiveness, however imperfect its motivations.

I believe any soul with a general disposition towards goodness in the heart will not be turned away by God. This to me is in line with “God is Love”, and “God is merciful”, and “God wants everyone to be saved”. Also, we know Grace extends beyond the visible signs of the church.

I believe the very grace of confession is granted any soul who turns to God for forgiveness of sins with sincerity, wherever it may be.

In the parable/story of the Publican and Pharisee, Jesus said the Publican/tax collector went away justified. It is not obvious at all that he had perfect contrition. All that is obvious in that story, and the virtue Jesus was teaching there, is his humility and his recognition that he was a sinner: I.E. “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am a sinner”. Our Lord said this was sufficient to justify that publican.

It seems to me humility and not just perfect charity, obtains forgiveness. “A humble and contrite heart, you will not spurn, O Lord”, says the Psalmist. Moreover, the church teaches that the only unforgivable sin is unrepentance; which is a lack of humility (though we could say it is a lack of charity too).

The prostitute, on the other hand, had perfect charity, and perfect contrition in addition to humility when she washed Our Lord’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with her expensive perfume.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

It seems to me both Love and humility obtain God’s forgiveness. Perhaps to him they are the same thing. :woman_shrugging:


Whether it is heresy or not would depend on if the teaching is infallible or non-infallible.

The Church teaching on imperfect contrition is clear and all Catholics are bound by it.

CCC 1453 The contrition called “imperfect” (or “attrition”) is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.


I refuse to believe God would simply refuse to forgive a repentant soul for lack of perfection. Perhaps all that that teaching means is that God always supplies what is lacking in our act of repentance. By the grace of confession or some other means, perhaps. Indeed, it would otherwise seem to make rubbish of the parable of the prodigal son whose father rushes to meet him even before he arrives. It is again obvious that the prodigal son was motivated not by perfect love for his father or God but by the consequences of his sin and his humility in returning home and not demanding the treatment of a son. i.e. his recognition that he had sinned. I.E. "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants."


ALL Church teachings are backed by the full authority of God. Remember, the Church cannot be in error in matters of faith and morals.
To reject Church teachings is to reject God.


Jesus said the Publican was justified and the Psalmist says that God does not spurn a humble and contrite spirit. I really do not believe my stance contradicts his or a deeper understanding of Church teaching. The Church itself teaches God can save beyond the visible bounds of the church, which means beyond confession too. Perhaps God always supplies what’s needed to justify as long as there’s humility and contrition.

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