History of Confession


#1

Is there any information on the Early Church of how confession got started? I mean, how did the first Christians first start using this sacrament? Do we know anything about the history of confession? Was it like it is today? Did the apostles hear confession? What about in the 2nd and 3rd centuries? When did confession become what it is today? Are there any books on this?


#2

[quote="Issa87, post:1, topic:323292"]
Is there any information on the Early Church of how confession got started? I mean, how did the first Christians first start using this sacrament? Do we know anything about the history of confession? Was it like it is today? Did the apostles hear confession? What about in the 2nd and 3rd centuries? When did confession become what it is today? Are there any books on this?

[/quote]

Lord Have Mercy by Scott Hahn is the book I would recommenfd.


#3

My priest told me that in the early church, people only confessed three things: murder, adultery, and apostasy.


#4

That would be not quite correct.

But it is the case that –

For those particularly grave sins (also idolatry) there was a very rigorous discipline which included public penance.


#5

So my priest is misinformed on church history? How many years have you spent in the seminary?:smiley:


#6

Yes. Catholic.com has many articles on these topics, some of which I directly quote below.

Note that the power Christ gave the apostles was twofold: to forgive sins or to hold them bound, which means to retain them unforgiven. Several things follow from this. First, the apostles could not know what sins to forgive and what not to forgive unless they were first told the sins by the sinner. This implies confession. Second, their authority was not merely to proclaim that God had already forgiven sins or that he would forgive sins if there were proper repentance.

For sins committed after baptism, a different sacrament is needed. It has been called penance, confession, and reconciliation, each word emphasizing one of its.aspects. During his life, Christ forgave sins, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11) and the woman who anointed his feet (Luke 7:48). He exercised this power in his human capacity as the Messiah or Son of man, telling us, “the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6), which is why the Gospel writer himself explains that God “had given such authority to men” (Matt. 9:8).

Since he would not always be with the Church visibly, Christ gave this power to other men so the Church, which is the continuation of his presence throughout time (Matt. 28:20), would be able to offer forgiveness to future generations. He gave his power to the apostles, and it was a power that could be passed on to their successors and agents, since the apostles wouldn’t always be on earth either, but people would still be sinning.

God had sent Jesus to forgive sins, but after his resurrection Jesus told the apostles, “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21–23).

Just as the apostles were to carry Christ’s message to the whole world, so they were to carry his forgiveness: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

This power was understood as coming from God: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).

A verbal confession is listed as part of the Church’s requirement by the time of Irenaeus (A.D. 180). Later writers, such as Origen (241), Cyprian (251), and Aphraates (337), are clear in saying confession is to be made to a priest. Cyprian writes that the forgiveness of sins can take place only “through the priests.” Ambrose says “this right is given to priests only.” Pope Leo I says absolution can be obtained only through the prayers of the priests. These utterances are not taken as novel, but as reminders of accepted belief. We have no record of anyone objecting, of anyone claiming these men were pushing an “invention.”

Over time, the forms in which the sacrament has been administered have changed. In the early Church, publicly known sins (such as apostasy) were often confessed openly in church, though private confession to a priest was always an option for privately committed sins.

Penances also tended to be performed before rather than after absolution, and they were much more strict than those of today.

Didache (70 AD): “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. …] On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure

Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]: “You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

Tertullian [203 AD]: "[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation"

Cyprian of Carthage [251 AD]: “[the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest . . . they do violence to [the Lord’s] body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him. Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord.

Basil the Great [374 AD]: “It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles

John Chrysostom [387 AD]: “Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. …] Priests … can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? ‘Whose sins you shall forgive,’ he says, ‘they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men


#7

Yes at least in some parts.

The statement: “people only confessed three things: murder, adultery, and apostasy” was not quite correct.

Years in Seminary? None.

Nor do I need to in order to know that such is not quite correct. :wink:

But as I noted yes he is right in noting those particular ones (and adding the forth one) those had very particular rigorous discipline associated with them. They were singled out for very particular attention during those early times.


#8

[quote="boomerang, post:5, topic:323292"]
So my priest is misinformed on church history?

[/quote]

Any man is liable to forget some details of twenty centuries of Church history...or perhaps you misunderstood him :D


#9

Certainly the way the Sacrament of Penance has been lived and practiced has changed over the centuries.

For example the practice of private and frequent confession as we know it now developed later -and was spread through monasticism in the 600’s AD.


#10

The biggest change since apostolic times is that the early confession was public. Private confession developed later.


#11

Shucks, and I thought I was gonna hear a historical confession…Guess I’ll just have to read Dr. Hahn’s book…:pshaw:


#12

[quote="PaulfromIowa, post:10, topic:323292"]
The biggest change since apostolic times is that the early confession was public. Private confession developed later.

[/quote]

The practice of frequent private confession yes developed later but that does not mean that there was never any private confession of sins...


#13

Got to go get some rest…here are a couple of sources (have not read em all but here ya go)

catholic.com/tracts/confession

catholicreference.net/index.cfm?id=35796


#14

:slight_smile:

I believe idolatry would come under the category of apostasy (“to abandon one’s faith”). The links you posted made no reference to which sins were to be confessed in the early church. But St. Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona (365-391 AD) made it very clear in his “Exhortation Unto Penance”: the only sins confessed were murder (“blood”), adultery/fornication, and apostasy/idolatry. These are mortal sins punishable by death. All other sins mentioned in his homily can be forgiven by good behavior. He also said that one can pray for the forgiveness of other’s sins, as long as the sins are not mortal. I have to conclude that my parish priest probably knows what he’s saying! :slight_smile:

**St Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona (365-391 AD) Exhortation Unto Penance (The Paraenesis)

  1. After the Passion of the Lord, the Apostles having considered and treated of all things, delivered an Epistle to be sent to such of the Gentiles as had believed; of which letter the import was as follows: The Apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words; so below, |367 It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. This is the whole conclusion of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit, despised in those many ordinances, hath left these injunctions to us on condition of hazard of our lives. Other sins are cured by the compensation of better works: but these three crimes we must dread, as the breath of some basilisk, as a cup of poison, as a deadly arrow: for they know how, not to corrupt only, but to cut off the soul. Wherefore niggardliness shall be redeemed by liberality, slander be compensated by satisfaction, moroseness by pleasantness, harshness by gentleness, levity by gravity, perverse ways by honesty; and so in all cases which are well amended by their contraries. But what shall the despiser of God do? What the blood-stained? What remedy shall there be for the fornicator? Shall either he be able to appease the Lord who hath abandoned Him? Or he to preserve his own blood, who hath shed another’s? Or he to restore the temple of God, who hath violated it by fornication? These, my brethren, are capital, these are mortal, crimes.

  2. Now hear John and be confident, if ye can. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, let him ask, and the Lord shall give him life, if he have sinned a sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. But if you like, hear separately also of each. God thus addresses Moses when praying for the people who had blasphemed, Whosoever hath (He saith) sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book. Concerning the murderer, the Lord thus judgeth, He that smiteth with the sword, (He saith,) shall die by the sword. And of the fornicator the Apostle says, Defile not the temple of God, which temple ye are; if any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.**


#15

Maybe these will help.

ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/GUIDEPEN.HTM

vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm

holyspiritinteractive.net/columns/williamsaunders/straightanswers/93.asp

catholicsforisrael.com/FlashLessons/B18/index.html

vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_02121984_reconciliatio-et-paenitentia_en.html


#16

[quote="boomerang, post:14, topic:323292"]
:)

I believe idolatry would come under the category of apostasy ("to abandon one's faith"). The links you posted made no reference to which sins were to be confessed in the early church. But St. Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona (365-391 AD) made it very clear in his "Exhortation Unto Penance": the only sins confessed were murder ("blood"), adultery/fornication, and apostasy/idolatry. These are mortal sins punishable by death. All other sins mentioned in his homily can be forgiven by good behavior. He also said that one can pray for the forgiveness of other's sins, as long as the sins are not mortal. I have to conclude that my parish priest probably knows what he's saying! :)

[/quote]

Yes I can see idolatry taken under apostasy.

One will find at times differing lists -- some include idolatry and others might not as you say. But idolatry was one of the particularly grave sins for which there was a very rigorous discipline which included public penance. And there could be others that where noted. But it is not like those were the only mortal sins. Those were particularly bad mortal sins for which a very rigorous penance had to be undertaken before they were reconciled with the Church. Indeed in some places the discipline was so serious regarding them (murder, adultery, idolatry, and apostasy) that one could be reconciled only once in ones life. I would not say that those where the only ones for which the Sacrament was received --but they were the particularly grave sins among other grave sins for which very serious penance was undertaken.


#17

“All mortal sins are to be submitted to the keys of the Church and all can be forgiven… Open your lips, them, and confess your sins to the priest. Confession alone is the true gate to Heaven.” Augustine, Christian Combat (A.D. 397).


#18

I always assumed that while only those most serious sins outlined earlier in this thread (murder, adultery, etc) were verbally confessed, the sacrament of penance, in the sense of priestly absolution, was granted for more mundane sins to the entire congregation as part of the liturgy...similar to the current situation in the Armenian (Oriental Orthodox) Apostolic Church. That is, what we today would call a general absolution was given at the beginning of the liturgy...while the most serious sins required public penance.


#19

In the early Church (as we do today) – “daily sins” (venial sins) could be forgiven by prayers during the liturgy and are forgiven by the Eucharist. Though other ways too where practiced – penance, alms, prayer etc…

The early Church admitted to Holy Communion those who had fallen into sins that lead to death after they had done the penance and been reconciled to the Church.


#20

In the ancient Church you were excommunicated for the three biggies. Eventually they gave you one chance to reconcile. Then it developed into forgiveness available for all sins multiple times.


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