Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Manifestation of Conscience

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 9
Manifestation of Conscience

by William Henry Windsor Fanning


A practice in many religious orders and congregations, by which subjects manifest the state of their conscience to the superior, in order that the latter may know them intimately, and thus further their spiritual progress. This practice has been employed by those devoted to the ascetical life from the early centuries of the Church, and Cassian's "Conferences" make frequent mention of it as in common use among the Fathers of the Desert. It is part of the domestic and paternal government of religious institutes and of itself requires no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the superiors, and hence such a function may be annexed to the office of a lay, or even female, superior. The knowledge of the state of soul acquired by manifestation of conscience enables the superior to determine the expediency of the frequency of communion, what spiritual reading is to be selected, what penances to be practised, what counsel to be given concerning doubts, difficulties, and temptations. Primarily, the object of this manifestation is the good of the individual subject, though, secondarily, it also affects the good of the whole religious institute. The superior cannot indeed make use of this knowledge for government in such a way as to inflict any loss or grievous inconvenience on the subject, and thus reveal the secret knowledge he has obtained, but he can dispose even external matters for the interior good of the subject, who is presumed to tacitly consent to such arrangement. The secret must, however, be kept inviolably, and hence a subject may object to any external use whatever of the revelations he has made to the superior. He can, likewise, if he wishes, amplify the right of the superior to use it. It is to be noted that this manifestation of conscience differs from sacramental confession both in end and in object, as also from judicial and paternal investigation.

Although, by the nature of things, the power of receiving manifestation of conscience is not incompatible with the state of lay, even female, superiors, yet by the decree "Quemadmodum", of 17 Dec., 1890, Pope Leo XIII considerably limited the powers of the latter. The decree says: "His Holiness annuls, abrogates, and declares of no force whatever hereafter, all regulations whatsoever in the Constitutions of pious societies and institutes of women who make either simple or solemn vows, as well as in those of men of the purely lay order (even though the said constitutions should have received from the Holy See approbation in whatsoever form, even that which is termed most special), in this one point, in which those constitutions regard the secret manifestation of conscience in whatsoever manner or under whatsoever name. He therefore seriously enjoins on all superiors, male and female, of such institutes, congregations, and societies absolutely to cancel and expunge altogether from their respective Constitutions, Directories, and Manuals all the aforesaid regulations." The pope, having thus abolished compulsory manifestation of conscience, goes on to forbid superiors, either directly or indirectly, to induce their subjects to such manifestation, and commands that such superiors be denounced to higher superiors if they violate this decree, or in case of the superior-general to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars (now the Congregation of the Religious Orders). The decree states, however, that any voluntary manifestation on the part of subjects, for the purpose of obtaining help in doubts and difficulties, and to further their spiritual progress, is not prohibited. Neither does this decree forbid the ordinary domestic or paternal interrogation which is part of all religious government, nor the solicitude of a superior in inquiring into the manifest troubles or affliction of a subject. The pope commands that the decree "Quemadmodum" be translated into the vernacular and inserted into the Constitutions of those religious institutes which it affects, and that it be read publicly once a year.

VERMEERSCH, De Religiosis Institutis, I (Bruges, 1902); TAUNTON, The Law of the Church (St. Louis, 1906), s. v.