Can modern sound media really transmit the human voice across long distances? The answer to this question is less straightforward than you might think, and I’ve rarely seen it addressed more earnestly and thoroughly than in a sequence of twelve essays from the 1880s debating the question of whether Catholic priests could use the telephone for the sacrament of penance—a valuable media-historical source which I hope herewith to help rescue from obscurity. You’ll find links to all twelve articles at the end of this post, together with full bibliographic references.
The topic of absolution by telephone was first brought up for discussion through an inquiry in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record for October 1882 (A). This was signed only with the initial “C.,” but the author later identified himself as “Thomas Livius, C.SS.R.” (D). “C.SS.R.” stands for “Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris,” the official name of the Redemptorists, a Roman Catholic missionary congregation. Thomas Stiverd Livius (1828/9-1903) was affiliated specifically with Our Lady of the Annunciation at Bishop Eton, Wavertree, near Liverpool, and went on to write several well-respected scholarly books: St. Peter, Bishop of Rome (1888), Mary in the Epistles (1891), and The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries (1893).
But those publications all lay in the future when Livius posed a novel question about a technology that was then only a few years old. “What according to the principles of theology,” he asked, “is to be thought of the validity of sacramental absolution given through the Telephone, and of its lawfulness at least, sub conditione, in a case of necessity?” (A 615). In case that wasn’t specific enough, he spelled out some hypothetical scenarios in which his question could arise:
Case 1. Gregory, the only priest in the Falkland Islands, distant more than 1,000 miles from the nearest confessor, has been seized with a mortal sickness, and is expecting his death within a week or fortnight. He communicates with Peter, a priest in London, and makes to him viva voce [literally, “with living voice”] through the Telephone a general confession, and receives from him by the same means absolution.
Q. Is such absolution valid? or probably valid, so that it may be licitly given, at least sub conditione, under the circumstances?
Case 2. Paris is once more in the hands of the Communists. Priests and good Catholics are imprisoned and in danger of massacre. Francis, a priest in his prison cell, has access to a Telephone, which communicates with a distant part of the jail, or with some other building in the city, where is confined another priest named Dominic: they confess one to another and receive absolution.
Q. Are these valid sacraments? (A 620-621)
Livius knew that Pope Clement VIII had condemned the practice of absolution by letter or messenger back in 1602 under pain of excommunication. But he didn’t think the reasons put forward for that prohibition necessarily applied to the telephone, and he proceeded to review them. First, it was understood that penitents had to be present for absolution because a priest needed to be able to assess their moral states and judge that they were contrite, the usual setting for this being the confessional booth. However, Livius concluded from his reading of church authorities that this “moral presence” really depended on the priest’s ability to perceive people with one or another of his senses, and not on physical proximity alone. Ideally he could hear them speak and confess their sins by word of mouth, but in an emergency—say, if people were trapped inside a burning building—it was enough for him to be able to see them, or even to believe that Catholic penitents were somewhere amidst a visible crowd, for conditional absolution to be legal. (Conditional sacraments are those carried out when some uncertainty exists about their validity, as in the case of baptisms performed on people when it’s unclear whether or not they have already been validly baptized.) In the past, such sensory observation had required that penitents be within direct earshot or eyeshot, and it had been firmly established that it couldn’t be achieved via letter or messenger. And yet, wrote Livius:
This objection cannot hold with regard to the Telephone. No difficulty has place here on this score. So far as concerns the manifestation of sins with expression of sorrow up to the time for absolution, the priest and penitent are as morally present to one another, and can hold as close mutual communication, as though they were physically present together in the same room. (A 621-22)
Second, for absolution to be valid, it had to take the form of the words absolvo te (“I absolve you”), or some equivalent, spoken orally by the priest “under such circumstances, that according to human judgment they would be considered addressed to the penitent, who consequently must be present” (A 618). Livius didn’t see a problem here either:
Now, can one doubt that anyone’s words to another spoken through the Telephone do according to common human estimation really fall upon and come home to the person to whom they are addressed? Suppose, for example, that a superior should give an order viva voce through the Telephone to his subject; the superior’s words would certainly be held to fall upon the subject, to affect him as individually and directly, and as much to determine his conduct, as though the order were spoken close at hand. No one would deny that we can in a real and true sense speak to another viva voce in the second person through the Telephone immediately and directly, and that thus he would understand us as speaking to him, and answer us accordingly. And what is all this but a description of that moral presence required by theologians as essential and sufficient for valid absolution, and for the full efficiency of the sacrament? (A 622)
Livius admitted that the voice might pass through the telephone in an “artificial and mechanical way” rather than a natural one, but he pointed to other artificial and mechanical aids to perception which he assumed everyone would accept as answering the “moral presence” needed for absolution.
As regards the priest, we have seen that he can absolve a penitent whom he perceives by some one sense. But this certainly does not mean that he must necessarily be able to perceive the penitent simply by his own unaided natural powers. Were, for example, a deaf priest in one room, and the penitent in another adjoining, and by means of a long speaking tube, the priest were enabled to hear the penitent’s voice, no one would doubt that the priest could validly absolve…. To further illustrate this point, take another sense, viz. that of sight…. Suppose, for instance, a very short-sighted priest is told there is a Catholic man seen off the coast drowning in the sea. The priest cannot see so far at all with his naked eye, but putting on his spectacles, he distinctly sees the drowning man, and absolves him. (A 623)
In Livius’s view, the telephone could accomplish much the same thing as the speaking tube and spectacles. It gave a priest the ability to hear penitents at a far distance and to have his spoken words fall upon them in turn, creating a vivid sensory linkage that other media hadn’t offered in the past, regardless of how much immediacy of communication they might otherwise have provided. “There is in telegraphic communication,” he wrote, “no sort of mutual moral presence through the perception of any one of the senses” (A 624), and he ruled out absolution via telegraph for that reason. But absolution via telephone, he argued, was another matter: “For my own part, I cannot detect any flaw, or discover any theological principle that would stand in the way” (A 623). In a footnote, Livius stressed that this was still all only a “speculative inquiry” on his part, writing: “A practical decision on a modern question so important as this, would require the sanction of competent authority” (A 624, n.).
Livius’s question came up for review in the first issue of The Pastor—a journal edited by Rev. W. J. Wiseman of St. Michael’s Church in Cranford, New Jersey—dated November 1882 (B). The editorial wasn’t signed, which suggests it was authored by Wiseman himself. It treated Livius’s inquiry less as a matter of real importance than as an interesting case on which to practice:
As all will perceive, it is not a very practical question. However, as gamboling in the water perfects the young swimmer, so questions of this nature often serve to bring forward and emphasize with sharper outline on our minds, some fundamental principles of theology…. The question now resolves itself into what constitutes absence or presence in regard to the imparting or receiving of absolution; and might a penitent in Philadelphia, by the intervention of the telephone, be ever so present to a confessor in New York, that the latter’s absolution pronounced on him would be valid? (B 7)
The writer saw more similarity between confession by telephone and confession by letter than Livius had and wasn’t willing to concede that the one established any more “moral certainty” about the penitent’s disposition than the other, although the possibility was grudgingly entertained:
An argument that the telephone yields more than we allow it, namely, the moral certainty that the penitent is at the other end of the wire expecting absolution, may be found perhaps in the physical manner of the transmission of the sound. It may be claimed for the telephone, so far as we know anything to the contrary, that the sound given forth is not a repetition, or the last of many repetitions, of the vox alloquens [“speaking voice”], but the ipsissima vox [“exact voice”] itself, and that, consequently, the penitent and confessor are actually perceptible to each other through one of the senses, viz: hearing. (B 10)
But even if that were the case, the writer didn’t believe the telephone could play any part in mediating the words of the absolution in turn. It was ordinarily irrelevant whether the penitent could hear them or not, and in fact the priest often spoke them in such a low voice that they couldn’t be heard. And if the penitent’s ability to hear the absolution wasn’t at issue in the first place, then making it audible at a distance shouldn’t technically change anything:
We think the phrase “absolution by telephone” quite misleading. Why, by telephone? It is no business of the penitent’s to hear the words of absolution. Not in one case in ten thousand do they, or indeed attend to the matter at all. Consequently, in the case supposed of telephonic confession, there need be no telephonic absolution…. [I]t appears to us that the circumstance of the confessor’s being in telephonic communication with his penitent does not, so far as the absolution is concerned, make the latter any nigher to the confessor than if no such communication existed…. We can only say that, in any theory as to the nature of the sound transmitted by the telephone, or the manner of its transmission, we should still hesitate to accept as valid the absolution pronounced on one whom by telephone we had just ascertained to be one hundred miles away. We must bear in mind that the absolution, if good at all, is good without being telephoned. (B 9-10)
Livius himself had tried to address the same point, acknowledging that the transmission of sound wasn’t ordinarily an essential requirement for absolution, but arguing that it was still necessary in the specific case of the telephone in order to satisfy the form of the sacrament:
For though, on the one hand, it is true that the penitent need not hear the words, nor the priest utter them in an audible voice, yet since, on the other hand, the Telephone is the only means whereby the moral presence is communicated and maintained; by the interruption of that medium, the moral presence would cease, and the words of the form would fail to be verified, and not falling actually on the penitent, the absolution would thus be invalid. (A 624)
Another critic responded to Livius’s inquiry with a follow-up piece in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record itself, which appeared in the December 1882 issue (C). He signed his contribution “Sac. Dub.,” short for “Sacerdos Dublinensis,” which means simply “Dubliner priest”; other than that basic detail, which I suppose we can safely take at face value, I have no idea who he was. “The question is for the moment a purely speculative one,” he wrote; “but, as it may some day or other become very practical, it is as well that it should be fully investigated in the pages of the RECORD” (C 738). His argument centered on establishing that “mere communication through one or more of the senses is not sufficient to constitute the required moral presence, irrespective of distance, and this is all that can be obtained by means of the telephone” (C 739). His review of various authorities asserted, first, that there was in fact some limit on the physical distance at which absolution was understood to be licit, which might be smaller than that required for, say, having the words a Mass fall upon congregants; and second, that arguments involving a priest’s ability to perceive penitents with his senses hadn’t established this in itself as the basis for moral presence, but had instead aimed to assess the probable validity of borderline cases where there was some room for doubt. For instance, Sac. Dub. approached Livius’s scenario about the short-sighted priest who needed spectacles to see someone drowning out at sea as follows:
It can scarcely be pretended, I think, that the putting on of his spectacles on the part of the short-sighted priest is the cause of the probable validity of the absolution. Would not the absolution be probably valid in the same case if the priest happened not to have his spectacles about him? I should certainly think so, and attribute the probability of the validity of the absolution rather to the probability of the moral presence existing between them than to the magic effect of putting on the spectacles. (C 743)
This was a matter of giving penitents the benefit of the doubt in cases of uncertainty, where they might find themselves on the threshold between being physically close enough for absolution and being too far away for it to be licit. By contrast, Sac. Dub. implied, the telephone would be entering into situations in which there was otherwise no probability at all of moral presence, and it would have no special “magic effect” on them. Moreover, unlike Livius, he saw no relevant difference between the electrical mediation of the voice and the electrical mediation of the dots and dashes of Morse code:
In my humble opinion the case of the telegraph is, as far as the Sacrament of Penance is concerned, identical with that of the telephone. By means of the new American improvement known as the sounder, a skilful operator standing beside the indicator of the telegraph can, by a series of short and long sounds produced by the armature striking against the electro-magnet of the apparatus, understand what these sounds mean. If the sounds were transmitted to the distant armature by the touch of the penitent, and the priest heard and understood these sounds, would not the case be very like that of the telephone, since it is not essential to the sacrament that the penitent should orally confess his sins, or hear the words of absolution spoken by the confessor. (C 744)
Livius now identified himself as the author of the initial inquiry and followed up with a “rejoinder” to the criticism it had so far received (D). He opened by stressing that he was only trying to figure out whether it was acceptable to attempt conditional absolution via telephone in an emergency, or whether this was absolutely and unquestionably forbidden under all circumstances. And on this point he believed there was still plenty of room for uncertainty.
Now to myself it seems evident that whilst theologians insist on some limit of distance being necessary for the moral presence, as more probable and indeed practically certain; yet they do not hold this opinion to be speculatively and absolutely certain, in such sense, that beyond that limit, perception by one of the senses would, without any doubt whatever, be insufficient for valid absolution.
It is clear to me, in other words, that the opinion which holds sensible perception by the priest of the penitent to be of itself sufficient for the requisite moral presence, and for hindering them from being simpliciter absentes [“simply absent”], is, according to sound theology, saltem tenuiter aut dubie probabilis [“at least slightly or uncertainly probable”]. (D 90)
He went on to rally evidence from several authorities who endorsed conditional absolution for penitents who were perceptible to a priest by any one of his senses. He also wondered whether past theologians might have emphasized physical presence
not as though this were independently essential of itself, but as a means—a definite means necessary indeed under the conditions of physical phenomena in former times—to an end, viz., that of securing the normal integrity and full efficiency of the Sacrament, by the vocal confession of the penitent to the priest, and the sentence orally pronounced by the priest on the penitent, in which consists its proximate matter and form: and whether, it is not at least probable, that if, under completely changed conditions, this twofold end could be otherwise secured than by the limit of distance, theologians would not have to some extent modified their requirements as to the means, and accommodated them to these changed conditions. (D 99)
In any case, Livius argued that the various sources Sac. Dub. had cited about the importance of physical presence weren’t really as categorical or decisive as had been implied. “All that is laid down as certain,” he wrote, “is, that no absolution whatever can be given where there is no sensible perception of the penitent at all” (D 93). With that in mind, he repeated that the telegraph “can never be brought to effect more than intercommunication mediately through material signals inter simpliciter absentes [‘among those simply absent’]; and consequently can never have any relation with the Sacrament of Penance” (D 98). But the telephone was still different, he supposed, insofar as it really enabled sensory perception at a distance. Or at least he thought it did, and in closing he expressed his wish that someone else might explore that aspect of the question more fully:
With regard to what belongs to purely Natural Science, I hope that some one fully competent to discuss this vital part of the Inquiry may be induced to write in the pages of the RECORD. If Science should give as its verdict, that through the Telephone, as is claimed for it, there is immediate sensible perception of another personally, i.e., if it may be truly said that the human voice is heard through that medium, I still incline to believe the last word has not yet been spoken on the Telephone in relation to the Sacrament of Penance. (D 99-100)
Sac. Dub. quickly submitted a counter-rejoinder to Livius’s rejoinder, asserting that physical proximity really was essential for absolution, and that there was no reason to think absolution via telephone could be even of doubtful validity (G). His arguments had little bearing on the nature of telephony itself, so I won’t go into them here.
But it was also at this point that the debate attracted its most famous participant: Edward Thomas O’Dwyer (1842-1917), a curate in Limerick who went on to be appointed Bishop there in 1886. Remembered today as one of the most turbulent leaders in the history of the Irish church, O’Dwyer wasn’t inclined to back away from a fight, and his role in the debate over telephonic absolution was to be no exception. He began by taking up Livius’s question about whether the telephone effected “immediate sensible perception of another personally” and examining it with an impressive degree of technical sophistication.
Whatever may be said as to what is necessary in general to constitute “immediate sensible perception of another personally,” and considering all the questions that might be raised about echoes, reflected images, &c., a good deal might be said, we have pretty clearly defined what Fr. Livius means by the phrase in the subject under discussion. He understands by it that the “human voice is heard through the medium” of the telephone. By this I presume he means that the sound which the voice of the speaker makes at one end of a telephone is identical with that which is heard at the other end, and that this sound has passed as through a medium by the telephone; and that as truly as between two persons speaking to one another at a short distance, the sounds of their voices pass through the medium of the air, so the sound in the telephone is conveyed from end to end, the instrument helping the transmission over a long distance. A somewhat analogous case would be the sight through a telescope of a person so distant as to be invisible to the naked eye.
Now, I venture to think that in the telephone no such thing occurs; that the sound passed into the instrument at one end is not the same sound that is heard at the other, that it is not the same sound reproduced, and that in no sense can the telephone, except in loose popular language, be said to be a medium for the conveyance of sound. (E 168-169)
O’Dwyer presented a standard physical definition of sound as a vibration propagated through an elastic medium, whether gaseous, liquid, or solid. He also reviewed the mechanism of the telephone: sound vibrations produced in the air by a voice are picked up by a plate and transduced into an electrical signal, which is then transmitted over a wire to a receiver where it causes another plate to vibrate in turn and so to impart audibly similar sounds to the air.
The question then is, Are these sounds not only similar but identical with those of the voice which first set the instrument in motion? I think not. I venture to say that the human voice ceased with the vibration of the first plate. Its sound, as sound, no longer existed when the air-waves which it caused to fall on that plate in order to set it in motion, came to rest. Nor do I think that in any true or reasonable sense can it be said that the system of magnets, electric coils, and other agencies, which conveyed the sound to the other end, can be reasonably called a medium for the transmission of the human voice. We know of no such medium in connection with sound. Vibration of an elastic substance is the one medium we know. These others are foreign to sound as such.
Nor can it be said that the first sound has been reproduced. That could only be in case the vibrations of the first sound by some agency were again set in motion. But we know that they are not. It cannot be denied that the sound which falls on the ear of the listener at the end of the telephone is caused by the vibrations of a metal plate, whereas the sound made by the speaker’s voice was caused by the vibrations of his vocal organs. It is equally undeniable that these latter vibrations have not passed as vibrations from end to end of the telephone. They ceased to exist as vibrations when they fell on the first metal plate; and after that whatever agency they excited has nothing in common with anything we know of the nature of sound or its mode of transmission. They are as different from one another as magnetism and sound are different: and it would be quite as justifiable to call the current passing along the wire a sound-wave, as to call the sounds which it causes a metal plate to make, the human voice. (E 171)
Thus, O’Dwyer argued that the sounds that came out of telephones weren’t identical with the sounds that went into them, but were only similar to them. “You may have a similar sound, one containing exactly the same number of vibrations, but you cannot have the same sound,” he wrote (E 170). And if a priest couldn’t actually hear the voice of a penitent through the telephone, but only a faithful replica of it, that undermined Livius’s entire argument about the telephone’s ability to establish the moral presence needed for absolution. O’Dwyer went on:
So far I have directed my argument exclusively against Fr. Livius’ assumption that the human voice is truly heard through the telephone, as he seems to me to rest his whole case on that. But should he admit that the human voice does not truly pass through it, a further question might yet arise as to whether the connection between the sound which is heard, and the human voice, which is undoubtedly the true, although mediate cause of it, may not be sufficiently intimate to warrant us in holding that the speaker is perceived immediately. For myself, I cannot well understand how this can be. If the voice is not heard, I do not see how else the speaker is perceived sensibly, at least in the sense in which the theologians require perception for the administration of the Sacrament of Penance. But this question I do not mean now to discuss. (E 171-172)
Here O’Dwyer acknowledged that the voice was the “mediate cause” of the sounds that came out of telephones, but he still denied that telephones could allow “immediate” perception of anything, which he held up as the yardstick for whether a penitent could be “perceived sensibly” by a confessor.
Livius had already made a few superficial tweaks to his argument which appeared in print immediately following O’Dwyer’s article, in the same issue of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, for April 1883 (F). But he then let the matter rest until roughly two years later, when he saw his position being cited approvingly in a new edition of a textbook on moral theology. The textbook asserted that a penitent and priest “can be said to be conversing vero sensu [‘with true sensory perception’]” through the telephone (quoted in Latin in H 359), and Livius recognized that his own argument had hinged on the understanding that a telephone truly enabled the human voice to be perceived sensibly across large distances. With that complication in mind, Livius now wrote to acknowledge O’Dwyer’s demonstration
that according to the system and principles of Acoustics, and laws of Sound, as generally laid down in scientific treatises and text-books, and hitherto commonly received, it could not be truly affirmed that the human voice is itself heard through the telephone. I will not here make any further remarks on Fr. O’Dwyer’s article, except to say, that if it were in anywise controvertible scientifically, I was myself incompetent from unacquaintance with physics, to attempt a reply based on principles of science. Moreover, two scientific men, whom I consulted, pronounced on the question in substantially the same terms as that article. (H 360)
Even so, Livius wasn’t ready to concede the broader argument.
After having appealed to Science, by whose decision I had professed to be willing to abide,—when she had given her verdict, from her approved text-books, which I, at any rate, could not gainsay—rebellious thoughts arose within me against her laws and principles in this matter of acoustics, as being altogether too technical, cramped, and narrow, to cover the reality of recognised facts. Can it be, I said, that when all the world talks of our speaking to others, of our words and voices being heard, and of ourselves hearing in turn the words and voices of others, through the telephone—can it be that we do not really hear them, and we are ourselves not really heard at all—because, forsooth, the circumstances and conditions of the telephone do not square with a limited system of acoustics which was elaborated before the telephone was discovered, and because the principles of that limited system fail of verification with the use of this newly-discovered marvellous instrument for the transmission of sound? (H 360)
He suggested that there was in fact more to speech than sound alone, considered as an objective physical phenomenon.
Human speech, we may say, is a compound of matter and form; sound is the matter, whilst thought is the form or soul. Through the telephone the speech of another comes to me in its identity both of matter and form, as it was uttered, and informed by the intelligence of the speaker. Neither variation of route by which it travels, nor difference in the mode of conveyance, nor change of carriage on the way, could, one would think, affect its identity. (H 361)
Livius thus supposed that form, and not material manifestation as sound, was the essence of human speech. If the telephone was faithfully transmitting that form, then the speech that came out at the other end could reasonably be considered “identical” to the speech that had gone into it. Moreover, he suggested that not only the form, but also the energy of the original utterance was preserved in a chain of unbroken causality.
Is it not, after all, essentially a question of transmission of energy or power? And is it not identically the same energy, resulting from the voice of the speaker at one end, that is transmitted to the tympanum of the listener at the other end of the telephone? Does it matter much about the mode or medium of such transmission, whether by air-waves, elastic medium, tube, string-telephone, or electricity? Does any modification of the mechanism, or means of transmission, necessarily destroy the identity of the energy transmitted? (H 362)
Despite the seemingly technical references to “energy or power,” the main argument Livius now put forward was that the question of whether people’s voices could or couldn’t be heard via telephone was properly the domain of philosophy rather than science, and that everyday practice implied a consensus that they could.
I have asked practical men of the world, in business, &c., who have, at the same time, a thorough knowledge of the commonly received science of Acoustics, whether they would say (humano modo loquendi [“in a human manner of speaking”]) that they really directly heard the voice of a speaker through the telephone, and they have answered me decidedly in the affirmative. The argument of common sense, and ordinary human estimation, appears to me to have no little weight in the question. (H 363)
As we’ve already seen, Livius had consulted “two scientific men” who had confirmed O’Dwyer’s conclusions, but he’d continued asking around until he finally found someone with scientific credentials who agreed with him instead. This was John Ryan, who according to a biographical sketch (online here) was then a recent university graduate in his mid-twenties just setting out on a successful career in higher education:
In 1883, Prof. John Ryan was appointed Superintendent of the Technical Schools then being started at the University College, Nottingham, and in 1884 he was appointed Professor of Mechanics and Engineering in the University College, Nottingham. In 1885, on two vacancies occurring at the University College, Bristol, he was elected to succeed Prof. Silvanus Thompson in the Chair of Physics and Prof. Hele Shaw in the Chair of Engineering.
Livius had written an account of the absolution-via-telephone debate to Ryan, who had replied in a letter dated August 9, 1884:
Speaking as a physicist, I agree with your view completely. I have no hesitation in endorsing it. The difference between hearing speech in the ordinary way and by telephone is a subject for investigation, and a matter of interest to a student of physical science, but can have no meaning for a theologian or a moral philosopher. Regarded philosophically, there is no essential difference; it is merely a question of the mechanism…. I wish you success in your controversy. You are certainly right. But you must proceed by philosophy. If you go by merely technical science, the exponents will tell you from the text-books that there is a physical difference between a sound-wave and an electrical current,—they will speak very positively, and there will be an end to the matter. (H 364, 366)
Like Livius, Ryan held that the question of what it meant to hear someone speaking was properly philosophical rather than scientific in nature.
The very expression, ‘to hear the human voice,’ whilst most certainly it has its own true objective meaning, yet regarded scientifically, is a loose popular expression, and is, I think, hardly capable of scientific explanation. What we have to rely on for its verification in its true sense,—and here we go by philosophy, rather than scientific terminology,—is, that through means of another’s speech our sense of hearing should be affected by the sounds of that speech, in the same or a similar way as ordinarily happens; whilst, at the same time, these sounds, or spoken human words, should convey their own inherent thoughts, of which they are the natural vehicle, to our conscious brain and its intelligence. Herein consists, essentially, human speech, and is found the requisite moral presence. And this indisputably is obtained through the telephone. (H 366)
The important thing, from this point of view, was for speech transmitted by telephone to affect the sense of hearing in the same way speech ordinarily did, by generating sound waves that had the same form as the ones picked up by its receiver, regardless of the technical mechanism used to accomplish this.
I cannot speak on the theological question; but I take it that sound is the ordinary vehicle in the sacrament, and, surely, this is provided in the telephone. I suppose, too, that inflections and tone of voice are sometimes of importance. Well, these things depend on the harmonic waves and subordinate waves superimposed on the main waves of sound, and all these are reproduced by the telephone. You can recognise the voice of the person you are conversing with, and also hear conversation that is taking place near the transmitter. I may say that the sense of hearing can be perfectly satisfied by the use of the telephone. (H 365)
At Ryan’s suggestion, Livius sought yet another expert opinion from John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (1842-1919), a formidable authority on acoustics who had written a leading textbook on the subject entitled The Theory of Sound. Lord Rayleigh answered on February 5, 1885:
I agree with the view you express. I consider that there is no essential difference between conversation by telephone and through an ordinary speaking-tube. In the one case the intermediate mechanism is mechanical (so called), and in the other electrical; but this difference appears to me to be not fundamental. (H 368)
The main strategy of this article, which appeared in June 1885, was to deny that the science of acoustics, as ordinarily understood, could offer a definitive resolution for the question at hand after all, and that it needed instead to be worked through philosophically. However, Livius continued to invoke the expertise of scientists in it, as we’ve seen, and he wrote back to Ryan to see if there might not yet be a scientific argument to be made in favor of his position, imagining that “to whatever extent an opinion was philosophically true, it must also be true scientifically” (I 446). Ryan supplied a rough draft of such an argument, which Livius proceeded to submit verbatim for publication in the next issue of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, for July 1885, beginning as follows:
I do not think that the question whether the human voice is heard through the medium of the telephone or not can be considered as settled by the lucid article of Fr. O’Dwyer.
When we say that we hear the human voice under any circumstances, we use an expression which, thought popular and quite admissible, is yet unscientific. Usually its meaning is obvious, but it is not easy to give an exact scientific definition of it which may decide doubtful cases. This being so, every controversialist can place his own limits to its meaning, and prove his case accordingly. Thus Fr. O’Dwyer practically defines the expression in a way that puts the telephone out of court and then goes to the trouble of proving that on his assumption one cannot hear the human voice through the medium of that instrument.
Now, as the expression is distinctly a popular one, and certainly unscientific, the question should be decided in accordance with popular ideas.
It is, in fact a point for a jury to settle though there cannot be any doubt that the popular verdict would be in favor of Fr. Livius’s conclusion. Indeed, the expressions commonly used in describing telephonic intercourse sufficiently establish this. It is a case where common sense is more to be relied on than elaborate philosophical disquisition. The listener knows that the sounds he hears at the receiver of the telephone are caused by some one speaking in front of the transmitter: he recognizes the peculiarities of his accent and identifies the voice of a friend, and therefore he has no hesitation in saying that he has heard his voice. This is the verdict of common sense, and therefore before examining the scientific grounds on which the contrary opinion has been based, I would point out that these should be very strong and satisfactory to compel us to assent against the evidence of sense. (I 447)
The position Ryan set out to support was this:
[M]y contention is that in all cases of communication by speech, the hearer is merely cognisant of certain intelligible mechanical disturbances due to energy transmitted to him from the speaker. This is popularly known as hearing the speaker’s voice, and the expression is as scientifically accurate in the case of the telephone as in the ordinary case, neither less nor more…. It is just possible that 100 years ago, land travelling might have been defined as progression by walking, riding or driving, and that on the introduction of railways the term might have been denied to this last mode of locomotion; but words must have their meaning extended to keep up with the progress of invention.” (I 453-4)
To justify such an extension in meaning in the case of “hearing the speaker’s voice,” Ryan mustered various arguments for dismissing technical differences between the mechanical transmission of sound through the air and the electrical transmission of sound through the telephone. For example, he suggested that “the conduction of sound in air might depend in some…way on molecular electrical forces or currents” (I 452), perhaps groping in some vague way towards the attractions and repulsions of later atomic theory, his point being that the mechanical transmission of sound through a physical medium might itself be fundamentally electrical in character, and hence no different from what happened in the telephone. The telephone might also be carrying out something technically indistinguishable from the natural physiology of human hearing:
[O]ur own auditory apparatus, consisting of the drum of the ear, fibres, bones, and auditory nerves, forms an instrument much more elaborate than any telephone, though closely resembling such an instrument. The drum of the ear corresponds to the membrane of the receiver which Fr. O’Dwyer regards as the origin of the sound actually heard, and the nerve corresponds to the wire of the telephone. We cannot at present say what connection there is between a nervous current and an electrical one; but that there is a similarity and some connection is more than mere supposition. Indeed, the telephone may be regarded as a very simple artificial ear, or a mechanical extension of the auditory nerve of the listener to the neighbourhood of the speaker. (I 452-453)
Ryan tried to counter O’Dwyer’s claim that speech coming from a telephone originated at the receiver, rather than at the speaker’s vocal organs, by suggesting that sound waves passing through the air could be said similarly to “originate” at any point along the path of their propagation:
I will…take the liberty of adopting [Fr. O’Dwyer’s] language to the case of an ordinary conversation in the open air, thus: ‘It cannot be denied that the sound which falls on the ears of the listener is caused by the vibrations of the intervening particles of air, whereas the sound made by the speaker’s voice was caused by the vibrations of his vocal organs.’
So then we never hear the human voice at all. We merely hear the particles of air, which were in the first instance agitated by the speaker’s vocal organs, as really and truly as the membrane of the telephone receiver was primarily set in motion by the same means.
Let us suppose a man to be shut up in an air-tight, thin wooden box. His voice might be heard for a short time before he would be suffocated, or rather I should say, in accordance with Fr. O’Dwyer’s view, the sides of the box might be heard for a short time, but not the man’s voice. Would Fr. O’Dwyer hear his confession? I think he would, as he considers sound transmitted through wood as the original orthodox disturbance, and yet the sides of the box would be as truly the originators of the sound-waves that would affect his ears as the membrane of the receiver of the telephone. (I 448)
Finally, Ryan attacked the distinction O’Dwyer had drawn between “identical” sounds propagated through vibration and the merely “similar” sounds created by telephones, proposing that “identity” between two sounds would properly need to be defined in some other way:
Nothing but exact mathematical similarity (sc. in the method of motion, the amplitude of vibration, and the periods of alternation) can constitute identity between the vibrations at different times of the same or equal particles: cause and effect have nothing to do with it. If vibrations, or the motions that propagate sound, can be said to be identical at all, it must be because they are mechanically similar, and not because they are historically related to each other as cause and effect…. [O]n Fr. O’Dwyer’s principle, one would call the motions of two billiard balls “identical,” if one has derived its motion from that of the other, without regard to rate; while the motions of two equal balls, moving at exactly the same speed, but having derived their impulses from separate sources, would be merely “similar.” (I 449-450)
O’Dwyer was quick to respond. In his rejoinder, which was spread out over two more issues of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, he summarized the “point at issue” as follows:
The Telephone consists of three parts. 1° A transmitting instrument through which a person speaks. 2° A receiving instrument which by vibrating emits an articulate sound very like the voice of the speaker, and 3° an ordinary electric wire connecting both, along which passes an electric current. And as far as I understand the controversy the sole point in dispute is whether the force or energy or whatever else it is that is called the human voice ceases to be a sound by passing into the inaudible electrical stage in the wire, and whether the sound heard in the receiving instrument can be said to be the sound spoken into the instrument. Father Livius holds that it is the same voice all through. I hold that it is not. I hold that the transition into an electrical current is fatal to its existence—its continued existence as sound, and consequently that in the receiving instrument is heard not the voice of the speaker, but a well made mechanical imitation of it. (J 705)
After chiding Livius for the inconsistency between his contributions of June and July 1885 as to whether the resolution of the controversy ought to lie in philosophy or science (J 702-4), O’Dwyer proceeded to address both sets of arguments. He rejected the notion that there were any grounds for broadening the science of acoustics to encompass some new reality of the telephone:
In the first place there is no need, inasmuch as we can sufficiently explain the phenomena of the Telephone without confusing sciences so distinct as sound and electricity; and secondly, there is no right, because the electrical phenomena of the Telephone have nothing in common with the well-established sound-phenomena, and cannot, therefore, be put in the same category with them. (K 780)
He insisted that there was nothing unclear about the expression “hearing the human voice,” which he understood as referring straightforwardly to a “real objective phenomenon”:
When I say then that I hear the human voice, I mean that a person’s vocal organs have moved and given a vibratory motion, which is recognised as sound, to the air particles in immediate contact with them. These being elastic, yield to the pulse which they have received, and recoil, and thus send on the pulse to the next layer or shell of air, until at last a series of vibrations, constituting a sound-wave reaches the membrane of the drum of my ear, which takes up the same vibratory motion, and in some mysterious way passes the sound on to the brain. (J 706-7)
But O’Dwyer noted that there was no such unbroken chain of vibratory motion in the case of the telephone, which to him meant that whatever passed over its wire couldn’t possibly be considered “sound”:
There is no instance that I know of a sound in transit ceasing to be sonorous. Why, it seems a contradiction in terms. You might as well talk of an incorporeal body, or an invisible colour, as an inaudible sound. However it passes, whatever the medium, it is always recognisable as sonorous. Intercept it at any stage of its course, and it is audible. Bring your ear to any point along a string telephone, and you get the true sonorous vibration; so, also, with a beam of tinder. Cut it and you hear the sound as it travels along; and the same holds good, as far as I know, for every instance of an ascertained phenomenon of sound. A speaking tube merely directs the sound waves. A partition between two rooms receives the sound wave as sonorous, preserves and transmits it as such; but, compare with all these instances in which Professor Ryan thinks he finds analogies for the telephone that instrument itself. Tap the wire of the telephone and you will get an electrical current, which, according to its quantity and intensity, will produce the same effect as any ordinary electrical current. In the whole science of sound and acoustics there is nothing bearing the faintest resemblance to such a phenomenon, and if the question is to be discussed fruitfully it must be with a recognition of this fact. There is no sound that can be detected between the extremes of the telephone; and this fact of itself is sufficient, in my opinion, to destroy the whole reasoning in Professor Ryan’s essay. (J 710)
Ryan had previously distinguished the telephone, which he believed was a transmitter of sound, from the phonograph, which he believed wasn’t:
It [the telephone] certainly conveys sound-waves to the listener not to be distinguished from those received in the ordinary way, and there is no break in the transmission of energy.
This cannot be said of the phonograph. One may speak into the phonograph, and the record may be carried to the Antipodes, and the speech be reproduced by turning the handle. This could not be called transmission of sound in any sense. The energy in the sound produced is derived not from the speaker but from the muscles of the man who turns the handle. Whereas in the telephone the energy is continually active all the while, passing without any break from the speaker to the listener. (I 453)
In 1885, the standard phonograph available as a point of reference would still have been the tinfoil exhibition machine with a cylinder that had to be turned by hand during both recording and playback; hence the reference to muscle power. O’Dwyer pounced on this argument in his reply:
A further point on which Father Livius and Professor Ryan set great store, although it looks somewhat scientific for a popular jury, is the supposed fact that the energy of the human voice is the sole force in play in the Telephone.
The Phonograph is an inconvenient discovery for them. It would not do to have a man put his confession in a box and send it to his father confessor in Australia, and get absolution returned to him by next mail. Accordingly the phonograph has to be put out of court because, indeed, a handle must be turned to make it speak. […]
What justification is there for flying in the face of an obvious fact, and asserting that the sound heard at the Antipodes which I recognise as the voice of my friend who lives in Ireland, and which I knew was spoken into the phonograph there, is not his voice but that of the muscles of the man who turns the handle? Why he might be turning the handle until it or his own arm came off, and never get a sound out of the phonograph if the speaker did not put it there.
It would be as reasonable to assert that any other commodity was not transmitted, because a certain mechanical effort was necessary to take it out of the box in which it was packed.
There is a distinction between a sine qua non and a cause. The speaker’s voice in the phonograph is as much the cause of the sound heard as in the Telephone, but in the former, “the turning of a handle” is a sine qua non to reproducing the sound.
Besides I wish to traverse as inaccurate the proposition that there is no energy in play but that of the human voice. Indeed there is. There are magnetism, electrical currents, primary and induced, that are latent in the machine until they are called into activity by the human voice, which is in reality no more than the first motor in a long series of activities; and a person who knew the complex and mysterious character of the machine ought to recognise in it something very unlike the ordinary phenomenon of speech, and be on his guard against conclusions drawn from a mere superficial observation of its results. (K 783-4)
Of course, even if there had been a strict continuity in “energy,” with vibratory energy being converted into some other kind of energy and back again, that wouldn’t have satisfied O’Dwyer. To the contrary, he argued that “[t]he energy which is in play is not energy in general, but the special form of it known as sound” (J 707); that “sound is not light, no more than seeing is hearing, and, consequently, when I affirm that I hear a man’s voice, I mean that energy, under the special form of sound—articulate sound—has passed from his vocal organs to my ear” (J 709). On that basis, he had no doubt as to what was required for one sound to qualify as the “same” as another.
To my mind the distinction between identity and similarity is neither “arbitrary” nor “unreal,” but most obvious. If I strike a tuning fork, its particles give a pulse, a sound-pulse—to the air particles in contact with it—and as long as that sound-pulse passes in unbroken succession from layer to layer of air particles, there is a sound—one sound—identical all through. It is identical with the vibrations of the air particles, that is with the sonorous wave passing in the form of vibrations through these particles of air.
If I strike the same tuning fork in perfectly similar circumstances, and in the same way to-morrow, I will get what I call an exactly similar sound, in amplitude and period of vibrations, &c., but not the same physical thing that constituted the sound of the day before. The two sounds are identical in value, but not in being—just as two sovereigns of the same weight and material are the same in value, but not in physical existence. I think this is plain, and I really do not know why the point has been raised. (J 708)
The observation that people could recognize the characteristics of their friends’ voices by telephone had no bearing on the question of whether they were hearing the real thing, O’Dwyer asserted. “Our sense of hearing has no power such as Father Livius and Professor Ryan seem to ascribe to it of distinguishing in the case of the human voice or any other sound between an original, if I may use the metaphor, and an imitation,” he wrote. “It can go no further than the sense impression which is the same in both” (K 782). And one sound could perfectly resemble another, as far as the ear was concerned, without sharing its identity, he argued, citing some hypothetical examples to illustrate the point:
On Professor Ryan’s theory a good mimic, a well trained parrot, or any other contrivance that could produce a sound perfectly similar to that of the sound imitated, would be as much and as little entitled to be called identical with it, as a man’s own voice heard by different people at the same time or in succession at different distances. (J 708)
Are they prepared to prove that if I had a fineness of touch sufficient for the purpose, that I could not, by merely tapping the diaphragm of the transmitting instrument with my finger, transmit a sound which might be taken for a human voice at the receiver? (K 785)
Moreover, speech reproduced by telephone wasn’t even an acoustically perfect imitation of its original but had a distinctive quality of its own, even if most observers were inclined to ignore it: “if a person were to contrive a position in which the sound of his voice, as naturally heard, and the sound through a Telephone could be heard in quick succession, they would be found to be quite distinct in tone, &c., and different from one another” (K 783). How could it then be considered the “same”?
O’Dwyer concluded by citing an interesting court case of December 1880 which had confirmed that the British government monopoly over the transmission of telegraph messages applied to the telephone as well. Opponents of this outcome had argued that the telephone transmitted sound and was therefore wholly unlike the telegraph, while proponents had argued that it didn’t—indeed, it looks as though the hearings must have anticipated some of the same arguments and counterarguments we’ve been examining here. The point O’Dwyer aimed to make, though, was the court had decided not to express an opinion on the controversy one way or the other, since it had no real bearing on the case, but instead had only acknowledged that it was legitimately controversial and that experts disagreed (K 787-790; see also “The Telephone Case,” The Electrician, Dec. 4, 1880, pp. 31-33; and “The Telephone Judgment,” The Electrician, Dec. 25, 1880, pp. 66-67).
Ryan, whose words Livius had previously quoted, now entered the fray more directly, writing to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record on his own behalf. There has been scarcely any past secondary literature about the absolution-by-telephone debate I’ve been reviewing here, but the one exception of which I’m aware takes the position that Ryan’s response blew O’Dwyer’s arguments out of the water. In Bishop Edward Thomas O’Dwyer of Limerick, 1842-1917 (Dublin and Portland, Oregon: Four Courts Press, 2003), biographer Thomas J. Morrissey writes as follows (on page 43, with emphasis added):
O’Dwyer…was still writing on the subject in December 1885: referring with seeming authority to scientific developments in electricity, the transmission of sound, acoustics and vibratory theory, and making reference to various works, including those of a ‘Professor J. Ryan’, all of which justified his position against that of Levius [sic]. In the issue of January 1886, however, he was pulled up sharply by Professor Ryan. The latter…accused O’Dwyer of being unscientific in his approach, of accepting ‘the figurative expositions of popular lectures with childlike confidence’ and ‘undiscriminating credulity’. He disavowed, he declared, the views attributed to him by O’Dwyer in the November 1885 issue. He had been misquoted and misrepresented. O’Dwyer was not guilty of ‘premeditated unfairness’, Ryan continued mercilessly, he just had a tendency to misrepresent. He had ‘with considerable imagination and tact created an unreal opponent’ whose views he then exposed ‘to his play of humour and resource of argument’. That seems to have ended O’Dwyer’s public interest in the subject! It was the year in which he was to be proposed for bishop and then made bishop. It would have been foolhardy to endeavour to continue a controversy likely to lower the dignity of the episcopal office, a dignity of which he was to show himself very conscious.
Morrissey doesn’t engage with the substance of the debate at all or even state which side O’Dwyer had taken. However, he conveys the impression that O’Dwyer had been out of his depth in arguing about scientific issues, had been called out by an opponent for his naïveté, and had prudently dropped the matter. In fact, I find O’Dwyer’s arguments to be quite sophisticated and insightful. Ryan legitimately points out some garbled quotations, misattributions, and inconsistent use of terminology on O’Dwyer’s part, but these do not—at least in my own reading—have much bearing on the substance of the dispute and appear to be more concerned with scoring easy points, alongside such witty put-downs as: “like cuttle-fish, the more ink he dispenses, the less distinct does he make the view” (L 62).
Ryan did raise one new objection of substance, however. O’Dwyer had argued that for the identity of a given sound to be preserved, it had to maintain its “sonorous” character continuously and uninterruptedly, which meant that it could be “intercepted” and perceived by ear at any point. “Bring your ear to any point along a string telephone,” he had asserted, “and you get the true sonorous vibration” (J 710). This last observation, Ryan remarked, was incorrect: the acoustic vibrations passing longitudinally along the string of a mechanical or “tin can” telephone aren’t audible during that phase in their transmission. Ryan went on to refute the broader claim that any break in the audibility of a sound meant a break in its identity:
His [O’Dwyer’s] crucial test…is utterly discredited by the fact that sound-waves can be transmitted across a room, so as to excite an auditory nerve, and yet not be audible at intermediate points. This can be done by concentrating the energy at the focus of a lens. Or it can be done by the use of two parabolic reflectors. Place a watch in the focus of one; then, if the reflectors are arranged directly opposite each other, the ticking of the watch can be heard at the focus of the other, but not elsewhere, except close to the watch itself. This can be done at distances much greater than those at which conversation can be heard. The whispering gallery of St. Paul’s affords another instance. (L 61)
This is a fair point, but Ryan’s counterargument doesn’t affect the underlying distinction between acoustic vibrations and electric currents, and the “test” of continuous audibility hadn’t been as central to O’Dwyer’s argument as Ryan made it out to be.
I note in passing that Ryan also poked fun at a remark by O’Dwyer about an electric current traveling at the speed of light:
He [Fr. O’Dwyer] tells us that “the electrical current in its passage substitutes for the rate at which sound passes through such a wire, the velocity of light.” Is it so stated in Tyndall? or is Fr. O’Dwyer mixing up the fact that the ratio of the electromagnetic unit of quantity to the electrostatic unit is considered to be equal to the velocity of light? If he is satisfied with the correctness of his idea he should communicate it without delay to the Royal Society. It may serve to relieve the monotony of their proceedings. (L 59)
The actual velocity of electric current had yet to be resolved back in 1886, but today it’s understood to be nearly equal to the speed of light in a vacuum, so O’Dwyer wasn’t far off the mark.
Ultimately, though, none of the scientific details made any difference as far as Ryan’s final judgment was concerned. His central argument once again rested on the premise that the question wasn’t properly a scientific one in the first place.
A more cautious writer [than O’Dwyer] would have paused to ascertain what the nature of voice really is, before announcing the verdict of science with regard to the possibility of its being perceived by means of the Telephone. (L 59)
The expressions, “I hear a voice,” “I see a face,” are distinctly unscientific. They date from the pre-scientific times, when light was supposed to emanate from our eyes. The verbs are active. The expressions imply activity; whereas the agent is distinctly passive. We hear and see because external influences act upon our senses. Again, “voice” is not properly a scientific term, and requires to be defined. (L 63-64)
As far as the question about hearing the “human voice,” by means of the Telephone, is concerned, I pointed out before that the answer depends entirely on the definition of the non-scientific term, “hearing the human voice.” If you define it, as Fr. O’Dwyer appears to do, as hearing by means of the collisions of material particles, and expressly exclude everything else in your definition, then you do not “hear the human voice” by means of the Telephone; for it is excluded from the definition, unless indeed an electrical current is of the nature specified therein. (L 64)
We might like to think that our understanding of media technologies has grown progressively more sophisticated over time. But I believe the debate I’ve just epitomized illustrates that critics of the 1880s were already willing and able to interrogate the nature of electrical sound “reproduction” with an acuity that it’s somewhat rare to find even among twenty-first-century writers. When is a sound identical with another sound, or a voice identical with another voice? How should we understand the relationship between sound and “audio” as an electrical signal? If we say a telephone “transmits a sound” or lets us “hear a voice,” is the basis for that statement more cultural or scientific? Maybe being surrounded by audio media as much as we are is actually a liability when it comes to framing questions such as these.
As for the debate over absolution by telephone itself, that’s apparently still ongoing all these many years later, but O’Dwyer’s position seems to have the upper hand—another sign that Ryan hadn’t exactly demolished his argument back in 1886. Witness this pair of statements made by two people at rather different levels in the Catholic hierarchy during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic:
- “Am I less present by telephone? Virtual presence is real. Who could say that the celebrative dimension of the sacrament in these very particular, narrowly defined situations is lacking?” Father Giorgio Giovanelli, pastor and professor of canon law, quoted in Cindy Wooden, “Confession by phone: priest says it could be right in some situations,” Catholic News Service, March 18, 2020.
- “In fact, the real presence of the penitent is lacking, and there is no real conveyance of the words of absolution; there are only electric vibrations that reproduce the human word.” Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, quoted in Carol Glatz, “Cardinal upholds ‘probable invalidity’ of confession by phone,” National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2020.
With that, I’d like to step aside and give the last word here to O’Dwyer. In the following passage—quoted from his last published contribution to the debate—he seems ready to tackle the notion that media function as extensions of the human body, only to let the matter drop (for Marshall McLuhan to pick up again many years later):
There are a number of other points of minor importance in Professor Ryan’s paper which I should wish to discuss, as, for instance, his view that the telephone, besides being an elongation of the power of speech on one hand is, at the same time, an extension of the faculty of hearing on the other—an elongated tongue and an extended ear, but they do not affect the substance of the controversy. (J 712)
Key to Sources
A: C., “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance—An Inquiry,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 3 (October 1882): 615-624, online here.
B: “Theological,” The Pastor 1 (November 1882): 7-10, online here.
C: Sac. Dub., “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 3 (December 1882): 738-744, online here.
D: Thomas Livius, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance—A Rejoinder,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 4 (February 1883): 88-100, online here.
E: Edward T. O’Dwyer, “The Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 4 (March 1883): 168-172, online here.
F: T. Livius, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 4 (March 1883): 172, online here.
G: Sac. Dub., “The Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 4 (April 1883): 243-253, online here.
H: Thomas Livius, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance ,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 6 (June 1885): 358-368, online here.
I: Thomas Livius, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance—II,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 6 (July 1885): 445-455, online here.
J: Edward T. O’Dwyer, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance—A Reply,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 6 (November 1885): 702-712, online here.
K: Edward T. O’Dwyer, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 6 (December 1885): 778-790, online here.
L: J. Ryan, “On the Telephone in Relation to the Sacrament of Penance,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 3 ser. 7 (January 1886): 54-65, online here.