Confessors, Spiritual Directors, and Women

  • Patricia Ranft

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Dust Europe Mold Assure Boiling 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    For Luther’s view of confession, see N. N. Rathke, “Die lutherische Auffassung von der Privatbeichte und ihre Bedeutung für das kirchliche Leben der Gegenwart,” Monatschrif für Pastoraltheologie (1917), 29 ff; and Michael G. Baylor, Action and Person: Conscience in Late Scholasticism and the Young Luther (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1977). For a concise history of the sacrament, see Martos, Doors to Sacred. 2. Google Scholar
  2. Francis de Sales to Madame Brûlart, letter 217, in Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Direction, tr. Péronne M. Thibert (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 103.Google Scholar
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    Teresa of Jesus, Life, 40 in The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, tr. and ed. E. Allison Peers, 3 vols. (London: Sheed and Ward, 1957), 1:293. She supports her statement thus: “I have heard the saintly Fray Peter of Alcántra say that, and I have also observed it myself. He … gave excellent reasons for this, which there is no point in my repeating here, all in favour of women.” Ibid.Google Scholar
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© Patricia Ranft 2000

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  • Patricia Ranft

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