Confession: The Healing of the Soul

by Peter Tyler, 224PP, Bloomsbury, £14.99

Peter Tyler is both professor of pastoral theology and spirituality at St Mary’s University and a psychotherapist. So it is safe to assume that his reflections on the sacrament of Confession will come from an unconventional perspective. He does not disappoint. Writing primarily as a Catholic psychotherapist who has counselled many people, he suggests that often his subjects “lock up the forces of the unconscious and are terrified of opening up their contents”.

But what does the unconscious have to do with Confession? A great deal, says the author, for it is our unconscious scars and wounds, of which we are ignorant, that lead us to sin and thus to the need to confess. It is also the reason why, in the modern age, self-revelation and disclosure are very common – a “secular panacea”, removed from its religious sacramental necessity.

How did it come about that Christ’s healing power, spiritual as well as physical, and designed to lead to profound inner transformation, is so little understood, even by Christians? Tragically, it is unknown to millions of people suffering deep wounds of the psyche which secular therapy is powerless to heal. This is the question that Tyler explores.

Reflecting not only on the writings of the early Desert Fathers, but also on the mythological significance of the Arthurian legends – especially the story of Tristan – as well as the mystical experiences of men as various as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Breton priest Henri Le Saux and the Spanish Carmelite saint, John of the Cross, Tyler argues persuasively that they are all interlinked.

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