Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Furiae Conscientiae: Confessio

FOLLOWING THE FURY OF REMORSE is the second fury of confession. The fury of remorse, when faced, demands confession. Authentic confession, of course, requires a prior acknowledgement of guilt, a repentance from one's act, a resolve not to repeat the offense. But if remorse is not heeded, and confession of fault not done, the fury of conscience forces, as it were, ersatz confessions, pseudo-confessions from the recalcitrant subject. If one will not confess fault to God and to the the victim of our sins (which is sometimes impossible: how does someone beg forgiveness from a murder victim? an aborted child?), it is as if one must confess fault irrepressibly, and if not to God (who is the only one who can forgive), then confession must be displaced or diverted willy nilly and it becomes a pseudo-confession to some idol or substitute.

So we have such things Freudian slip: an unconscious pseudo-confession of the fault, guilt, or shame we hide, but which seeps out into our conscious speech. Less subtly, we have what Budziszewski calls the "blurt," a pseudo-confession where we "share guilty details of our lives with anyone who will listen," even anonymous audiences who may be watching the salacious details as we confess to the world in the Jerry Springer Show.

Blurting is often misunderstood as shamelessness. It would better be considered evidence of shame. People unburdened by bad conscience do not tell all; normal human beings are more modest about their personal affairs, especially before strangers. . . . He tells his story to appease his conscience; because he is unrepentant, he tells it crookedly; because conscience is not in fact appeased, he must tell it again and again.

Budziszewski (2003), 145, 146.

But the "blurter," the "tell-all" never does tell all. Such pseudo-confessions by the "blurter" or "tell-all" are disguised efforts at self-justification or self-cover. "We may admit every detail of what we have done, except that it was wrong." Budziszewski (2003), 145. Unless we admit that the act was wrong, however, the confession is not confession, but pseudo-confession. There is as much difference between authentic confession and pseudo-confession as there is between St. Augustine's Confessions and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions.

"Confession" from the Door of Sacraments, St. Peter's Basilica
(by Venanzo Crocetti, 1965)

If confession does not acknowledge fault, and if it is not directed to the God of Mercy, the God whose law we have breached, it is a pseudo-confession. And when it is not at the service of repentance, then it is in thralldom to sin. This thralldom to sin is best seen when pseudo-confessions turn into advocacy.
But the crucial point about confession is that when it is not in the service of repentance, it remains in the services of sin, and to see this more clearly we must consider another kind of displaced confessions: Confession as advocacy. . . . The astonishing thing is that [pseudo-]confession can be used to advance an immoral cause. "I know they say so-and-so is wrong, but it must be right, because I suffered so much from not doing it." . . . . Such stories may be given either of two different endings: the happy ending, "Now I follow my heart, and the sun has come up again," or the pathetic ending, "I followed my heart, but they were cruel to me, lend me yours." Both endings exploit our pity, but in different ways. . . . . No one should underestimate the gravitational attraction of confessional advocacy of evil.
Budziszewski (2003), 146.

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