The Scale of Perfection, Book 2, Part 1 – Chapter 5

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That through the Sacrament of Penance (that consisteth in Contrition, Confession and Satisfaction) this Image is reformed from Actual Sin

This is chapter 7 and chapter 8 of The Scale of Perfection – Book 2 in Middle English:
That thorugh the sacrament of penaunce that stondeth in contricion and in confessioun and in satisfaccioun this image is reformed fro actuel synne.
Hou in the sacrament of baptym and of penaunce thorugh a privei unperceivable wirkynge of the Hooli Goost this image is reformed though it be not seen ne feelid.

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Chapter 5 comments

Hello everyone,

This chapter opens telling us that if we have lost the likeness of God by committing a deadly sin, and yet we are touched by God’s grace and we truly forsake sin and turn to the good life. If we receive the sacrament of Penance, though the soul is misshaped into the likeness of a devil it will be restored in the image of God.

Hilton continues: This is a great courtesy of our Lord, and an endless mercy, who so lightly forgiveth all manner of sin, and so suddenly giveth plenty of grace to a sinful soul that asketh mercy of Him. God only asks a small Penance. All He requires is that we loathe sin and forsaking sin we turn to him with love, forsaking in the will for love of Him, and a turning of the heart to Him. He forgives the sin so that we shall not be damned,]. In the turning to God, the pain due to the sin is not yet fully forgiven, unless that the contrition and love be the greater. He should confess to his spiritual Father and receive penance, so that he can pay for his sin before he dies.

There are 3 reasons that confession is necessary. The first is that it is through confession that the holy church is of great benefit to a man’s soul. He should show to his priest a plenary confession. That is he should make a complete confession. Just as if a man had forfeited his life against a king on earth, it were not enough for him ... to have only forgiveness of the king. Committing sin amounts to forfeiting his life against the King of Heaven. It is not enough to have the forgiveness of God, but he must have the Sacrament of Penance from the Holy church. Since he has offended and forfeited both against God and His Church, it is skilful that he have forgiveness from that one, and a warrant from that other.

The second reason that confession is necessary is that the reforming is in Faith only and not in feeling. A material person cannot easily believe his sins have been forgiven. That is why he should receive forgivingness from a priest. A third reason for confession is, though the ground of forgiveness is not in confession but a change of heart and forsaking of sin, Hilton believes that many souls would not arrive at contrition had they not first confessed, because it falleth out oftentimes, that in the time of Confession, grace of compunction cometh to a soul that before never felt grace, but ever was cold and dry, and farther off from feeling of grace. In short, confession is so profitable, that Hilton recommends that once a year all sins should be confessed to our spiritual fathers, even though you may feel that you have turned from all sin. The church would not have ordained the said token of Confession as an obligation if all men were perfect and could simply turn from sin. But because men are not perfect the holy Church ordained Confession by way of general obligation, to all Christians that will acknowledge holy Church as their Mother, and will be obedient to her laws.

A man that does not confess commits a great error. We can only be reformed to the likeness of God by the Sacrament of Penance which is principally in contrition and sorrow of heart, and secondarily in confession of mouth following after it if it may be had.

The soul of man is reformed in Faith alone. It is important to understand that Faith’s property is to believe that which thou seest not, so also is it to believe that which thou feelest not. This means that the man that follows the path of Faith does not feel any changes in himself either in his physical body or in his soul. He feels the same stirring of sins as before. Yet he ought to believe that through grace he is reformed to the image of God, though he neither feel it nor see it. He can easily feel he has turned from sin to clean living. But he cannot see how his soul has been reformed from a fiend unto the fairness of an Angel, through a secret gracious working of the Holy Ghost. How is this possible? Hilton explains that through the Sacrament of Baptism the soul is reformed into the image of God by the secret unperceivable working of the Holy Ghost, notwithstanding all the fleshly stirrings of his body of sin, which he feeleth, after his Baptism as well as before. The same is true for the Sacrament of Penance. Though he has been accustomed throughout his life to sin, and in his nature he turns to sin, he finds a turning of his will to God through a secret power, and a gracious working of the Holy Ghost, which suddenly worketh, and in a moment or the twinkling of an eye, setteth right a froward soul, and turneth it from a spiritual foulness to an invisible fairness.

The Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Penance will not hinder and destroy utterly all the stirrings of fleshly lusts and of inordinate passions. If this was so the soul would be instantly reformed to its state at creation. However the soul will have the grace to withstand the stirrings of sin, or of the passions of the flesh, so that be they never so grievous, they shall not hurt her, nor separate her from God, as long as she doth not willingly consent thereto. This is the meaning of Saint Paul in Romans 8:1 when he says There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. In other words those souls that are reformed to the image of God by Faith, through the Sacrament of Baptism or of Penance, shall not be damned for the feeling of this image of sin, if so be that they go not after the motions of sensuality by deed doing.

This chapter describes two very important ideas: the action of Faith and the action of the Holy Spirit through Grace. Faith has a special action that cannot be described. It allows our souls to be reformed in the image of God, an image that is beyond description. Likewise, if we have Faith, God gives us a great gift too, the gift of Grace that allows the Holy Spirit to act secretly inside us, to reform the soul in the image of God. Faith has a special meaning for Hilton. It is the requirement for the reforming of our souls to the image of God, which by definition, cannot be expressed in words or comprehended with the mind. It is the way to God. The reforming in Faith will be the subject of the next chapter.

Peter Smith
Co-Group Leader

Peter Smith
Co-Group Leader