Confessors, Spiritual Directors, and Women

  • Patricia Ranft


During the sixteenth century Reformation leaders called into question almost every aspect of Christian practice, demanding its reform, its reformulation, its justification, or even its demise. Sacramental confession was a primary target, and the frontal attack reformers made on it in effect encouraged the union of the roles of the confessor and the spiritual director that had begun during the late medieval period. Throughout the ages Christians have used different rituals to forgive sinners their sins, but common to them all are two basic goals, the preservation of external social order and the rectification of interior moral order. Reformers objected to an overemphasis on the former to the detriment of the latter.1 The appearance of the confessor-director at this moment in history was indeed fortuitous, for the new composite figure was able to establish a more satisfactory balance between the two goals. The success of this readjustment can be seen in the popularity of the confessor-director in the Counter Reformation church. Confession became more frequent since the Fourth Lateran Council had mandated annual confession and less onerous because it included much-desired spiritual direction. Francis de Sales, a proponent of a new affective confessional method, advised laity to “communicate more often” than once a month, “but as to confession, I advise you to go even more frequently.”2 The laity responded with enthusiasm for a variety of reasons.


Spiritual Experience Irish Woman Spiritual Life Superior General Spiritual Guidance 
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© Patricia Ranft 2000

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  • Patricia Ranft

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