Paenitemini- Pope Paul VI - The Papal Library


Paenitemini Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VIon Penance February 17, 1966 Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Be converted and believe in the Gospel.(1) It seems to us that we must repeat these words of the Lord today at a moment when—with the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council—the Church continues along its path with more vigorous steps. Among the grave and urgent problems which in fact summon our pastoral concern, it seems to us that not the least is to remind our sons—and all religious men of our times—of the significance and importance of the divine precept of penitence. We are prompted to this by the fuller and more profound vision of the Church and its relationship with the world given us recently by the supreme ecumenical assembly. During the council, in fact, the Church, in an effort to arrive at a more profound mediation on the mystery of itself, examined its own nature in all its dimensions and scrutinized its human and divine, visible and invisible, temporal and eternal elements. By first of all examining more thoroughly the link which binds it to Christ and His salvific action, it has underlined more clearly how all its members are called upon to participate in the work of Christ and therefore to participate also in His expiation.(2) In addition, it has gained a clearer awareness that, while it is by divine vocation holy and without blemish,(3) it is defective in its members and in continuous need of conversion and renewal,(4) a renewal which must be implemented not only interiorly and individually but also externally and socially.(5) Lastly, the Church has considered more attentively its role in the earthly city,(6) that is to say, its mission of showing man the right way to use earthly goods and to collaborate in the consecration of the world. But at the same time it has considered more attentively its task of prompting its sons to that salutary abstinence which will forearm them against the danger of allowing themselves to be delayed by the things of this world in their pilgrimage toward their home in heaven.(7) For these reasons we should like today to repeat to our sons the words spoken by Peter in his first speech after Pentecost: Repent . . . then for the forgiveness of your sins.(8) And at the same time we want to repeat once more to all the nations of the earth the invitation of Paul to the Gentiles of Lystra: Turn. . . to the living God. (9) Chapter I The Church—which during the council examined with greater attention its relations not only with the separated brethren but also with non-Christian religions—has noted with joy that almost everywhere and at all times penitence has held a place of great importance, since it is closely linked with the intimate sense of religion which pervades the life of most ancient peoples as well as with the more advanced expressions of the great religions connected with the progress of culture.(10) In the Old Testament the religious sense of penitence is revealed with even greater richness. Even though man generally has recourse to it in the aftermath of sin to placate the wrath of God,(11) or on the occasion of grave calamities,(12) or when special dangers are imminent,(13) or in any case to obtain benefits from the Lord,(14) we can nevertheless establish that external penitential practices are accompanied by an inner attitude of conversion, that is to say of condemnation of and detachment from sin and of striving toward God.(15) One goes without food or gives away his property (fasting is generally accompanied not only by prayer but also by alms(16)) even after sins have been forgiven and independently of a request for graces. One fasts or applies physical discipline to chastize one's own soul,(17) to humble oneself in the sight of his own God,(18) to turn one's face toward Jehovah,(19) to dispose oneself to prayer,(20) to understand more intimately the things which are divine (21) or to prepare oneself for the encounter with God.(22) Penance therefore—already in the Old Testament—is a religious, personal act which has as its aim love and surrender to God: fasting for the sake of God, not for one's own self.(23) Such it must remain also in the various penitential rites sanctioned by law. When this is not verified, the Lord is displeased with His people: Today you have not fasted in a way which will make your office heard on high.... Rend your heart and not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.(24) The social aspect of penitence is not lacking in the Old Testament. In fact, the penitential liturgies of the Old Covenant are not only a collective awareness of sin but constitute in reality a condition for belonging to the people of God.(25) We can further establish that penitence was represented even before Christ as a means and a sign of perfection and sanctity. Judith,(26) Daniel,(27) the prophetess Anna and many other elect souls served God day and night with fasting and prayers,(28) and with joy and cheerfulness.(29) Finally, we find among the just ones of the Old Testament those who offered themselves to satisfy with their own personal penitence for the sins of the community. This is what Moses did I the 40 days when he fasted to placate the Lord for the guilt of his unfaithful people.(30) This above all is how the character of the Servant Jehovah is presented, who took on our infirmities and in whom the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.(31) All this, however, was but a foreshadowing of things to come.(32) Penitence—required by the inner life, confirmed by the religious experience of mankind and the object of a particular precept of divine revelation—assumes in Christ and the Church new dimensions infinitely broader and more profound. Christ, who always practiced in His life what He preached, before beginning His ministry spent 40 days and 40 nights in prayer and fasting, and began His public mission with the joyful message: The kingdom of God is at hand. To this He added the command: Repent and believe in the Gospel.(33) These words constitute, in a way, a compendium of the whole Christian life. The kingdom of God announced by Christ can be entered only by a change of heart (metanoia), that is to say through that intimate and total change and renewal of the entire man—of all his opinions, judgments and decisions—which takes place in him in the light of the sanctity and charity of God, the sanctity and charity which was manifested to us in the Son and communicated fully.(34) The invitation of the Son to metanoia becomes all the more inescapable inasmuch as He not only preaches it but Himself offers an example. Christ, in fact, is the supreme model for those doing penance. He willed to suffer punishment for sins which were not His but those of others.(35) In the presence of Christ man is illumined with a new light and consequently recognizes the holiness of God and the gravity of sin.(36) Through the word of Christ a message is transmitted to him which invites him to conversion and grants forgiveness of sins. These gifts he fully attains in baptism. This sacrament, in fact, configures him to the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord,(37) and places the whole future of the life of the baptized under the seal of this mystery. Therefore, following the Master, every Christian must renounce himself, take up his own cross and participate in the sufferings of Christ. Thus transformed into the image of Christ's death, he is made capable of meditating on the glory of the resurrection.(38) Furthermore, following the Master, he can no longer live for himself,(39) but must live for Him who loves him and gave Himself for him.(40) He will also have to live for his brethren, completing in his flesh that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ . . . for the benefit of his body, which is the church.(41) In addition, since the Church is closely linked to Christ, the penitence of the individual Christian also has an intimate relationship of its own with the whole ecclesial community. In fact, not only does he receive in the bosom of the Church through baptism the fundamental gift of metanoia, but this gift is restored and reinvigorated, through the sacrament of penance, in those members of the Body of Christ who have fallen into sin. Those who approach the sacrament of penance receive from the mercy of God forgiveness for offenses committed against Him and at the same time become reconciled with the Church on which they have inflicted a wound by sinning, and the Church cooperates in their conversion with charity, example and prayer.(42) And in the Church, finally, the little acts of penitence imposed each time in the sacrament become a form of participation in a special way in the infinite expiation of Christ to join to the sacramental satisfaction itself every other action he performs, his every suffering and sorrow.(43) Thus the task of bearing in his body and soul the death of the Lord affects the whole life of the baptized person at every instant and in every aspect.(44) Chapter II The preeminently interior and religious character of penitence and the new wondrous aspects which it assumes in Christ and in the Church neither excludes nor lessens in any way the external practice of this virtue, but on the contrary reaffirms its necessity with particular urgency (45) and prompts the Church—always attentive to the signs of the times—to seek, beyond fast and abstinence, new expressions more suitable for the realization, according to the character of various epochs, of the precise goal of penitence. True penitence, however, cannot ever prescind from physical ascetism as well. Our whole being, in fact, body and soul, (indeed the whole of nature, even animals without reason, as Holy Scripture often points out) (46) must participate actively in this religious act whereby the creature recognizes divine holiness and majesty. The necessity of the mortification of the flesh also stands clearly revealed if we consider the fragility of our nature, in which, since Adam's sin, flesh and spirit have contrasting desires.(47) This exercise of bodily mortification—far removed from any form of stoicism—does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume.(48) On the contrary mortification aims at the liberation(49) of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained(50) by his own senses. Through corporal fasting(51) man regains strength and the wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.(52) Nevertheless, in the New Testament and in the history of the Church—although the duty of doing penance is motivated above all by participation in the sufferings of Christ—the necessity of an asceticism which chastises the body and brings it into subjection is affirmed with special insistence by the example of Christ Himself.(53)

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