Contritionism is a theological doctrine demanding more than attrition as a last disposition to receive fruitfully the Sacrament of penance. Historically, it has had two different meanings.
In high scholasticism: St. Thomas Aquinas (contritionist) wants the penitent to be either contrite or to believe in good faith that he is contrite. contrition, either existing before or brought about by the sacramental ab solution (which then "makes the attrite penitent contrite"), is the one disposition for justification. For Duns Scotus (attritionist), attrition suffices as last disposition for the forgiveness of sin through absolution.
After Trent (17th and 18th centuries): the problem is whether sufficient attrition should or should not contain some love of God (cf. Trent's "they begin to love God"—H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer [32d ed. Freiburg 1963] 1526). For the contritionists, either incipient charity or love of benevolence is needed; for the attritionists, no act of love or at most love of desire (explicit or implicit). Neither position deserves theological censure (Denzinger 2070).
In practice, penitents should endeavor to have contrition and not rest content with the minimum.
See Also: attrition and attritionism.
Bibliography: v. heynck, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:1019–21; ibid. 6:510–511. b. poschmann, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, tr. and rev. f. courtney (New York 1964). p. f. palmer, ed., Sacraments and Forgiveness, v.2 of Sources of Christian Theology (Westminster, Md. 1959).
[g. a. gilleman]