1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Penance

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PENANCE (Old Fr. penance, fr. Lat. poenitentia, penitence), strictly, repentance of sins. Thus in the Douai version of the New Testament the Greek word μετάνοια. is rendered “penance,” where the Authorized Version has “repentance.” The two words, similar in their derivation and original sense, have however come to be symbolical of conflicting views of the essence of repentance, arising out of the controversy as to the respective merits of “faith” and “good works.” The Reformers, upholding the doctrine of justification by faith, held that repentance consisted in a change of the whole moral attitude of the mind and soul (ἐπιστρέφεσθαι, Matt xiii. 15, Luke xxii. 32), and that the Divine forgiveness followed true repentance and confession to God without any reparation of “works”. This is the view generally held by Protestants. In the Roman Catholic Church the sacrament of penance consists of three parts: contritio, confessio, satisfactio. Contritio is in fact repentance as Protestant theologians understand it, i.e. sorrow for sin arising from love of God and long before the Reformation the school men debated the question whether complete “contrition” was or was not in itself sufficient to obtain the Divine pardon. The Council of Trent, however, decided that “reconciliation” could not follow such contention without the other parts of the sacrament, which form part of it (sine sacramenti voto, quod in illa includatur) Contrition is also distinguished from “attrition” (attritio), i.e. repentance due to fear of punishment. It was questioned whether a state of mind thus produced would suffice for obtaining the benefits of the sacrament; this point was also set at rest by the Council of Trent, which decided that attrition, though not in itself capable of obtaining the justification of the sinner, is also inspired by God and thus disposes the soul to benefit by the grace of the sacrament.

The word “penance,” applied to the whole sacrament, is also used of the works of satisfaction imposed by the priest on the penitent, i.e. the temporal punishment (poena). This varies with the character and heinousness of the offences committed. In the middle ages “doing penance” was often a process as terrible and humiliating to the penitent as it was possibly edifying to the Church. Public penances have, however long been abolished in all branches of the Christian Church (See Confession).