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the peace of the Church, and admitting of them to the Lord's Table again which therefore they usually express by the terms of bringing them to the Communion; reconciling them to, or with the Communion; restoring the Communion to them; admitting them to fellowship; granting them peace, &c. Neither do I find that they did ever use any such formal absolution as this, I absolve thee from all thy sins: wherein our Popish priests notwithstanding, do place the very form of their late-devised sacrament of penance, nay hold it to be so absolute a form, that (according to Thomas Aquinas his new divinity) it would not be sufficient to say, Almighty God have mercy upon thee, or God grant unto thee absolution and forgiveness: because, forsooth, the priest by these words doth not signifie that the absolution is done, but entreateth that it may be done. Which how it will accord with the Roman Pontificial, where the form of absolution is laid down prayer-wise, the Jesuits who follow Thomas may do well to consider."
Now how near the Doctor approaches to this opinion of the Papists when he urges these words, "I absolve thee from all thy sins," as an argument of the priests power to forgive sins authoritative, and as if this form had something more in it, or could work further towards the remission of the sins of the penitent than any of the rest, I shall leave it to the reader. Whereas whosoever will consider the office of the priest, will find that it is not like that of a Judg, or a Vice-roy (as the Doctor would have it) under a Soverain prince; who has power not only to declare the person absolved from his crimes, but also may reprieve, or pardon him when guilty, or condenın him tho innocent, neither of which perhaps the prince himself, by whose commission he acts, would do: whereas the priest, whatever power he has delegated from God, (which I do not deny) yet it is still only declarative, and conditional, according to the sincerity of the repentance in the person absolved. For as his absolution signifies nothing, if the repentance of the penitent, or dying person, be not real or sincere; so neither can he hinder God from pardoning him, if it be so indeed, tho he should be so wicked, or uncharitable, as to deny him the benefit of this absolution, if he desire it: so that the office of the priest in this matter, rather resembleth that of an herald, who has a commission from his Prince to proclaim. and declare pardon to a company of rebels who have already submitted themselves, and promised obedience to their Prince; which pardon as it signifies nothing, if they still continue in their re
bellion; so tho the herald alone has the power of declaring this pardon, yet it is only in the name, and by the authority of his Prince, who had passed this pardon in his own breast before ever the herald published it to the offenders: so that it is in this sence only that the priest can say thus,-" By his authority (viz. of our Lord Jesus Christ) committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins," since he does this not as Christ's Vicar, or Judg under him, but as his herald or ambassador, or, as St. Paul words it, " In the person of Christ forgives our offences;" yet still conditionally, that we are really penitent, and consequently is not effective, but only declarative of that forgiveness.
I shall now in the last place shew you, that the Church of England understands it in no other sence but this alone and that if it did, it would make it all one with that of the Papists. First, that the form of absolution which follows the general Confession, is only declarative the Doctor himself grants; so likewise that before the Communion is only optative, in the way of prayer and intercession, and consequently no other than declarative or conditional; and therefore that the absolution to particular penitents both in order to receive the Communion, as also in the Visitation of the Sick, are no other likewise than declarative, appears from the great tenderness of the Church of England in this matter, not enjoining, but only advising the penitent in either case to make any special confession of his sins to the priest, (in which case alone this absolution is supposed to be necessary) unless he cannot quiet his conscience without it, or if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter, after which confession the priest shall absolve him. But our Church does not declare that either the penitent is obliged to make any such special confession to the priest either before the Sacrament, or at the point of death, or that any person cannot obtain remission of their sins without absolution, as the Church of Rome asserts; so that it seems our Church's absolution in all these cases is no other than declarative, and for the quieting of the conscience of the penitent, if he find himself so troubled in mind, that he thinks he cannot obtain pardon from God without it tho the priest (as the herald above-mentioned, whose office it is to proclaim the King's pardon) still absolves authoritative, and could not do it unless he were authorized by Jesus Christ for that purpose. And if the Doctor, or any other, will maintain any higher absolution than this, it must be that of the Church of Rome, where a small attrition, or sorrow for sin, by virtue of the keys (that is, the absolution of the priest) is made
contrition, and the penitent is immediately absolved from all his sins; tho perhaps he commit the same again as soon as ever he has done the penance enjoyned. And that the pious and judicious Mr. Hooker (who certainly understood the doctrine of the Church of England as well as Dr. H.) agrees fully with the Lord Primate in this matter, appears from his sixth book of Ecclesiastical Policy, where after his declaring (with the Lord Primate) "that for any thing he could ever observe, those formalities the Church of Rome do so much esteem of, were not of such estimation, nor thought to be of absolute necessity with the ancient Fathers, and that the form with them was with invocation, or praying for the penitent, that God would be reconciled unto him;" for which he produces St. Ambrose, St. Hierom, and Leo, &c. p. 96. he thus declares his judgment, viz. "As for the ministerial sentence of privat absolution, it can be no more than a declaration what God hath done; it hath but the force of the Prophet Nathan's absolution, [God hath taken away thy sins;] than which construction, especially of words judicial, there is nothing more vulgar. For example, the Publicans are said in the Gospel to have justified God; the Jews in Malachy to have blessed the proud man, which sin, and prosper; not that the one did make God righteous, or the other the wicked happy; but to bless, to justifie, and to absolve, are as commonly used for words of judgment, or declaration, as of true and real efficacy; yea even by the opinion of the Master of the sentences, &c. priests are authorized to loose and bind, that is to say, declare who are bound, and who are loosed."
The last point in which the Doctor taxes the Lord Primate as differing from the Church of England, is in the Article of Christ's descent into hell; "The Church of England (says he) maintains a local descent; that is to say, that the soul of Christ, at such time as his body lay in the grave, did locally descend into the nethermost parts, in which the Devil and his angels are reserved in everlasting chains of darkness, unto the judgment of the great and terrible day. This is proved at large by Bishop Bilson in his learned and laborious work, entitled, The Survey of Christ's Sufferings. And that this was the meaning of the first Reformers, when this Article amongst others was first agreed upon in the first Convocation of the year 1552, appears by that passage of St. Peter, which is cited by them touching Christ's preaching to
the spirits which were in prison. And tho that passage be left out of the present Article, according as it passed in the Convocation of the year 1562, yet cannot it be used as an argument to prove that the Church hath altered her judgment in that point; as some men would have it; that passage being left out for these reasons following: for, first, that passage was conceived to make the Article too inclinable to the doctrine of the Church of Rome, which makes the chief end of Christ's descent into hell, to be the fetching thence the souls of the Fathers, who died before and under the law. And secondly, because it was conceived by some learned men, that the text was capable of some other construction than to be used for an argument of this descent. The judgment of the Church continues still the same as before it was, and is as plain and positive for a local descent as ever; she had not else left this Article in the same place in which she found it, or given it the same distinct title as before it had ; viz. De Descensu Christi ad Inferos, in the Latin copies of King Edward the 6th, that is to say, Of the going down of Christ into Hell, as in the English copies of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Nor indeed was there any reason why this Article should have any distinct place or title at all, unless the maintenance of a local descent were intended by it. For having spoken in the former Article of Christ's suffering, crucifying, death and burial, it had been a very great impertinency (not to call it worse) to make a distinct Article of his descending into hell, if to descend into hell did signifie the same with this being buried, as some men then fancied; or that there were not in it some further meaning, which might deserve a place distinct from his death and burial. The Article speaking thus, [viz. as Christ died for us, and was buried; so is it to be believed that he went down into hell] is either to be understood of a local descent, or else we are tied to believe nothing by it, but what was explicitly or implicitly comprehended in the former Article. And lastly; that Mr. Alex. Noel, before mentioned, who being Prolocutor of the Convocation in the year 1562, when this Article was disputed, approved and ratified, cannot in reason be supposed to be ignorant of the true sence and meaning of this Church in that particular. And he in his Catechism (above mentioned) declares, that Christ descended in his body into the bowels of the earth, and in his soul, separated from that body, he descended also into hell; by means whereof the power and efficacy of his death was not made known only to the dead, but the Devils themselves; insomuch that both the souls of the un
unbelievers did sensibly perceive that condemnation which was most justly due to them for their incredulity; and Satan himself the Prince of Devils, did as plainly see that his tyranny, and all the powers of darkness, were opprest, ruined, and destroyed. But on the contrary the L. Primate allows not any such local descent, as is maintained by the Church, and defended by the most learned members of it, who have left us any thing in writing about this Article. And yet he neither followeth the opinion of Calvin himself, nor of the generality of those of the Calvinian party, who herein differ from their master; but goes a new way of a later discovery, in which although he had few leaders, he hath found many followers. By Christ's descending into hell, he would have nothing else to be understood but his continuing in the state of separation between the body and the soul, his remaining under the power of death during the time he lay buried in the grave: which is no more in effect, tho it differ somewhat in the terms, than to say, that he died, and was buried, and rose not till the third day, as the Creed instructs us."
In vindication of the Lord Primate's judgment in the sence of this Article, I shall lay down some previous considerations to excuse him, if perhaps he differed from the sence of the Church of England in this Article, if it should appear that it ought to be understood in a strict and literal sence. For, first, you must understand that this Article of Christ's descent into hell, is not inserted amongst the Articles of the Church of Ireland, which were the Confession of Faith of that Church when the Lord Primate writ this answer to the Jesuit; the Articles of the Church of England (amongst which this of Christ's descent into hell is one) not being received by the Church of Ireland till the year 1634, ten years after the publishing of this book; so that he could not be accused for differing from those Articles, which he was not then obliged to receive, or subscribe to. 2dly. Had this Article been then inserted, and expressed in the very same words, as it is in those of the Church of England, could he be accused of being heterodox for not understanding it, as the Doctor does, of a local descent of Christ's soul into hell, or the places of torment, since the Church of England is so modest as only to assert, that it is to be believed that he went down into hell, without specifying in what sence she understands it? For, as the Lord Primate very learnedly proves in this treatise, "the word hell
s Works, vol. iii. pag. 317.