Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Did I or Did I Not Consent? - a piece of advice from Fr. Tanquerey

"Woman at the Window", Winslow Homer, 1872
Part of my regular confusion during the examination of conscience was whether or not I had consented to a particular sin. As the Catechism states, "deliberate consent" is one of the three conditions of a mortal sin. Now although this confusion never really influenced my decision for confession (i.e. I confessed it all anyways), still it bothered me at the level of wanting to understand just how far I fell. I figured that if only I knew the limits of "deliberate consent", I would be more aware of the early signs of temptation, and thus avoid them more effectively.

I remember describing my experience to Boyfriend like this: it is as if I'm a kid being prohibited from playing with fire; I often find myself happily holding a lit match, only to realise suddenly what I'm doing, and—terrified—I quickly put the fire out. Would that be full consent or not? Sure, giving a fight usually means not consenting, but sometimes I felt that my struggle wasn't hard enough, or a little "late".

Boyfriend said that he had been thinking the same too. Have you been thinking about it as well? If you have (or if you haven't), then read on.

Yesterday, Boyfriend found an excellent exposition here. It is an article taken from The Spiritual Life, by Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey. While I was excited about it, I also felt somewhat disappointed that post-conciliar documents or published works rarely touch upon this important subject. I sometimes get the impression that people—priests included—tend to generalise all kinds and all degrees of temptations. This makes it hard to explain to them the exact nature of our personal temptations and consequently it is also hard to get an effective piece of advice.

What I love about Fr. Tanquerey's work is that he takes into account the temperament, character, and education of the individual (#905), as well as God's providential designs. This makes sense because sometimes, someone experiences violent temptations from a singular theme. Others experience only mild temptations from many different themes. Some are easily "upset by temptations", others are able to "keep their peace". These factors, I think, must not be overlooked by priests and spiritual directors.

Secondly, and this is the answer to my confusion, is that there are degrees of consent. While there are "lack of consent" and "perfect consent", there is apparently also "imperfect consent". Fr. Tanquerey describes imperfect consent as follows:

908. One may consider consent to be imperfect:

1) When one does not repulse the temptation as soon as its dangerous character is perceived. There is then a fault against prudence, which without being grave puts us in the danger of consenting to the temptation.

2) When one momentarily hesitates. One would fain relish somewhat the forbidden pleasure, but one is loath to offend God, that is after a moment’s hesitation, one repels the temptation. Here again there is a venial fault of imprudence.

3) If temptation is resisted in a half-hearted way. One does resist, but in a feeble, indolent manner, a half-resistance which implies a half-consent, hence a venial fault.
Additionally, thorough knowledge of the self also helps:
910. In the different cases we have explained, doubts arise at times regarding the consent or half-consent given. Then we must make a distinction between the delicate and the lax conscience; when it is question of the former, one may rule out consent, for the person is not in the habit of yielding consent, and if he had consented in this particular case he would know it. When it is question of the latter, the presumption is that the person has given full consent, for if he had not, his soul would not be troubled.
Let me try explaining it a bit. In deciding whether consent or half-consent is given, we need also to consider the conscience of that person. Is it a delicate, "sensitive to sin" conscience; or a lax, "insensitive to sin" conscience? If the person's conscience is pretty "sensitive", he is unlikely to have given full consent, because he would know it already, and he wouldn't be confused. So it is safe to assume that half-consent has been given.

When the person is questioning his consent and his conscience is found to be "insensitive to sin", then it is safer to assume that full consent has been given. An insensitive conscience, naturally, would only be disturbed by a grave sin. To borrow pharmacological terms, this latter conscience has developed a "tolerance": it needs a bigger dose of sin to disturb its peace.

These words are very comforting for me. I can't really bet on this, but I think I can say that I now have a better idea of my approximate position in the journey towards holiness. Of course, this doesn't make me able to relax my defense; on the contrary, now that I know, I must be on my guard more energetically and perseveringly (#915-916).

What do you think? Does Fr. Tanquerey's article help you?