The Confessional

John McManners

in Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France Volume 2: The Religion of the People and the Politics of Religion

Published in print July 1999 | ISBN: 9780198270041
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600692 | DOI:

Series: Oxford History of the Christian Church

 The Confessional

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Confession was a universal obligation for the Catholic people, but only a tiny minority from the upper classes would have a personal directeur de conscience providing moral and spiritual direction, with varying degrees of sincerity ranging from a genuine pious intensity to mere outward show. Absolution opened the door to receiving communion, and the secret of the confessional was inviolable. Confessional handbooks for priests laid down rigid rules, with the Jansenists being particularly harsh about penances, but were usually impractical if followed to the letter. The hope of the Counter‐Reformation that the confessional would generate discipline among the people and bridge the gap between belief and conduct was revealed in the eighteenth century as an illusion. Priests habitually condemned the vices of their parishioners, especially drunkenness and violent behaviour. Anti‐clericals attacked the harsh routine of the confessional, but genuine scandals were rare.

Keywords: anti‐clericalism; confession; Jansenists; Jesuits

Chapter.  9672 words. 

Subjects: History of Christianity

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