SPLIT: Why do Catholics believe they must go to a priest for confession?

I am still confused on why Catholics believe they ‘have’ to go to confession.

I understand that Jesus told his apostles whoever sins they forgave would be forgiven, and whosoever sins they retained would be retained…however our Lord never said anything about people ‘must’ confess their sins to the apostles.

In fact the only time in the entire Scriptures where we are told anything about confessing our sins to human beings, was in James, “confess your sins to one another”…this would have been a perfect opportunity for St. James to tell us to confess our sins to a priest, but instead he chose to say, confess to one another.

I can find nowhere in the Scriptures or the early church where people were lining up to kneel behind a screen and confess their sins to god in the presence of a priest.

Even in the sinners prayers Jesus taught us to say “Forgive us our sins”…

Just the point I am trying to make here is this, Jesus never told us we MUST confess our sins to a priest for forgiveness. Indeed it does appear he gave us the option, by telling the apostles they could forgive sins, but he didn’t say they and they alone…because who can forgive sins but god alone…

Well for starters, it’s NOT just the Catholics. The Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Church of the East all believe in Confession to a Priest too. And the Church of the East and Oriental Orthodox both broke from the Catholic Church around the 400 AD

Jesus and the Apostles set up confession to a priest for at least 3 reasons:

  1. Reconciliation to our fellow human beings and with the Church. When we confess to the Church, we are given a penance to preform which allows us to reconcile with God and the Church. Not just seek forgiveness, but also allows us to do something (penance) to make up for our wrong doings. This teaches us how we should behave in our interactions with others. When we wrong our parents or siblings, we should only seek forgiveness, but we should also seek reconciliation with them. Because if we don’t reconcile the relationship it continues to be wounded.

  2. God already knows our sins. He’s God. But Jesus specifically said TO THE APOSTLES (who were Bishops) that there were are to confess their sins to one another. He also said to the Apostles that whatever sins they forgive are forgiven and whatever sins they retain will be retained. He wasn’t addressing all of us, He was addressing his priests under the Order of Melchizedek. How can the Church decide which sins can we forgiven and which sins should be retained if we don’t confess to a priest or bishop?

  3. And most importantly, because Confession is one of the two Sacraments of Healing. Hearing the words “I absolve you” is a HUGE help for people who are truly trying to amend their lives. Confession is where Mercy is given to us. I remember when I returned to the Church and we to Confession for the first time in 20+ years, and my first time as an adult. I cried as I confessed my sins and then felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders when I heard I was absolved. I never realized how much my sins were weighing me down and how much I truly needed to hear another human being actually tell me that I am forgiven. We need to hear it to heal. Sometimes we can’t reconcile with the person or group we hurt with our sins because they died or are not longer in our lives. But to talk about our sins with another human and receive forgiveness is huge for us. It’s kind of like therapy, but not just for our mental and emotional health, but also for our spiritual health.

Jesus knew that we need Confession for our mental and emotional healing, in addition to our spiritual healing.

While it’s ALWAYS good to confess our sins directly to God we need to hear feed back and we need to hear the words of absolution to truly heal. Unless you have a great gift of the Holy Spirit, we don’t hear God speak to us that way. And while it’s always good to confess the people you wrong, not everyone understands morality, mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus gave us Confession because He knows us better than we know ourselves.

God Bless

I knew that it wasn’t just Roman Catholics that confessed their sins, I only saw Roman Catholics posting on this message thread is why I stated “catholics”.

Jesus and the Apostles set up confession to a priest for at least 3 reasons:

  1. Reconciliation to our fellow human beings and with the Church. When we confess to the Church, we are given a penance to preform which allows us to reconcile with God and the Church. Not just seek forgiveness, but also allows us to do something (penance) to make up for our wrong doings. This teaches us how we should behave in our interactions with others. When we wrong our parents or siblings, we should only seek forgiveness, but we should also seek reconciliation with them. Because if we don’t reconcile the relationship it continues to be wounded.

I do believe this idea was foreign to the apostles. I believe that they relied on forgiveness of sins through Christ death on the cross.
When Jesus told a few people “Go your sins are forgiven.” He never required any penance or work or anything of that nature. Simply, there sins were forgiven.

  1. God already knows our sins. He’s God. But Jesus specifically said TO THE APOSTLES (who were Bishops) that there were are to confess their sins to one another. He also said to the Apostles that whatever sins they forgive are forgiven and whatever sins they retain will be retained. He wasn’t addressing all of us, He was addressing his priests under the Order of Melchizedek. How can the Church decide which sins can we forgiven and which sins should be retained if we don’t confess to a priest or bishop?

I understand your thought behind this, of course, how would the church decide which sins to forgive unless they knew which ones. I agree Jesus did tell the apostles this, its clearly stated in the book of John.

However, what Jesus did not do was to say this was the way to get mortal sins forgiven. You know something like “Guys, unless all people confess their mortal sins to you, they won’t be forgiven under normal conditions”…not anywhere close to this came about. Simply making a statement to his apostles that they had the ability to forgive sins is one thing, but turning it into a dogma that its something you have to do at least once a year and something you have to do before you can receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Wait, hold up, we took a statement and turned it into something much more different here.

  1. And most importantly, because Confession is one of the two Sacraments of Healing. Hearing the words “I absolve you” is a HUGE help for people who are truly trying to amend their lives. Confession is where Mercy is given to us. I remember when I returned to the Church and we to Confession for the first time in 20+ years, and my first time as an adult. I cried as I confessed my sins and then felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders when I heard I was absolved. I never realized how much my sins were weighing me down and how much I truly needed to hear another human being actually tell me that I am forgiven. We need to hear it to heal. Sometimes we can’t reconcile with the person or group we hurt with our sins because they died or are not longer in our lives. But to talk about our sins with another human and receive forgiveness is huge for us. It’s kind of like therapy, but not just for our mental and emotional health, but also for our spiritual health.

And I most certainly agree that some people need to hear the words they are forgiven. But most of us are comfortable with the idea that God will forgive our sins if we confess to him and repent and turn from our wicked ways. The same way the people in the Old Testament did long before us, there were never anybody confessing their individual sins in some confessionals and God loved them just the same and even used them to carry out his works and start his religion. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Jesus gave us Confession because He knows us better than we know ourselves.

God Bless

And I stand with the quote regarding confession, “All may, some should, none must.” That statement pretty much clears it up completely.

While Jesus did say his apostles could forgive sins, he never told us we had to go to them. Ever. Nor did anyone else to quite some time later. He gave us the confessional because he knew we needed it, not because we morally HAD TO HAVE IT. God will forgive us without priests, they are not necessary in the process of forgiveness. God does not need another human being to forgive us of any sin, he only needs us to be sorry, repent, confess to him alone.

Catholics don’t believe that, at least as a condition of salvation.

Attending Sacramental Confession at least ONCE A YEAR is one of the precepts of the Church, and it is incumbent on every faithful Catholic to adhere to this rule (which is a RULE, not a doctrine).

But the Church teaches that anyone who has received the Grace of Christian Baptism and has not committed any (unrepented) mortal sin is positively assured salvation.

If a Catholic exceeds the one-year rule without otherwise committing a mortal sin, then only the sin of exceeding the rule could be commuted to him. But, exceeding the time stipulated by the rule could only be mortally sinful if the Catholic had full knowledge and complete consent of the mortally sinful nature of his disobedience.

It has been argued that a Catholic who is not self-aware of any mortal infraction is not held otherwise accountable by a “pro-forma” infraction of a Church RULE, as the intent of this rule does not really apply to someone not guilty of mortal sin.

In other words, the RULES (precepts) of the Church are intended to make us LESS culpable of serious sin, and are not intended to entrap us into being MORE culpable.

I was speaking in reference to a catholic who is conscious that they had committed a mortal sin. Church teaching is clear, one must go to confession as soon as you can to receive sacramental absolution.

Of course you could make an act of perfect contrition but that includes going to confession as soon as you can get there.

If we aren’t meant to confess our sins, then why would the Apostles be specifically given the power to bind and loose sins?

The Church Fathers make record of public confessions, maybe even private ones. But the underlying concept was ensuring that our souls were clean, so that we could make a pure sacrifice and receive the Eucharist in a state of grace (to do otherwise is a serious transgression).

Giving the apostles the ability to forgive sins, was hardly saying that every Christian follower would now have to seek these 11 people out to confess their sins too.

Like I said, they did in fact have the ability to forgive sins, because Christ gave them that authority, but no one says that people had to confess to them, just that if they did the apostles could forgive in his name.

It seemed appropriate to me. I was giving confession advice. Confess your sins to God, and don’t worry about confessing to certain men.

aaa

As I understand it, God forgives mortal sin apart from sacramental confession the moment a person manifests perfect contrition, contrition motivated by love of God. However, we are not the best judge of the quality of our own contrition and we might mistake imperfect contrition for perfect contrition and then presume our moral sins have been forgiven when in fact they have not yet been forgiven. Since sacramental confession is effective even when a person manifests imperfect contrition, the prudent thing to do is always go to sacramental confession when one has committed mortal sin. Thus, the Catholic Church has directed Catholics who have committed mortal sin to go to sacramental confession at least once a year.

Allright, I will make it easy for all those “I do not want to go confess my sins to a priest, not today, not ever” around here:

Confessing sins to priests and bishops is not a Catholic custom, it is the Christian thing to do. It was always here, such is the Holy Tradition, so say our Holy Canons. This was so long before the Great Schism, it is a pre-Schism tradition. Thus, it is the original Christianity.

He who refuses to accept this refuses Christianity as a whole. That is a simple fact. Refusing Christianity leads to darkness.

In contrast, he who accepts this, better yet, embraces the great gift of Forgiveness of Sin paid for by the precious blood of our beloved Lord, in humility and gratitude decides in his free will to take what is offered, shall live a love of hope, joy, kindness and mercy. With each Holy Confession, one´s soul is closer to Heaven. With each Holy Confession, your own soul is more refined, more filled with mercy to your neighbours. For if you feel (and believe me when I say you will develop a sense of feeling the falling away of your sins in Holy Confession if you go often enough) God forgiving you your sins, how can you not forgive your family, your friends, your acquaintances… are you better than them?

With each Holy Confession, the Holy Spirit, who is a wonderful and patient teacher, teaches you humility. Not by force, by power or by circumstanes, but by appreciation, by making your soul thankful. In short, every Holy Confession truly makes you a better person, more in the image of our Father in Heaven. If I never preach anything else to my flock but “come to Holy Confession, please come, I beg of you!”, then I have served Him well.

Oh, and of course, the last argument: Jesus wanted it that way.

Vladyka Gavrilo

This link has the original sources.

qmbarque.com/2013/10/30/the-origins-of-mandatory-private-confession-in-the-catholic-church/

Here is a good one:
With regard to penance, what is demanded of the faithful is clearly not that an acknowledgement of the nature of individual sins written in a little book be read publicly, since it suffices that the states of consciences be made known to the priests alone in secret confession. - Pope St. Leo I the Great - Magna indignatione 459

I also claim that the experience of confessing sins to another human being is a completely different thing than confessing to God in the privacy of your own mind. The effect psychologically and spiritually is completely different. Therefore, Catholics do not go to confession because they HAVE to (as you say) but have an appreciation for the experience being far more beneficial when done the way that Jesus offered for us.

Please also consider the parable of the paralyzed man - how Jesus shows his authority because he is able to forgive sins. Only God could do this since sin is a personal attack on God, something that can only be forgiven by God himself. But then Jesus specifically authorizes his apostles to also be able to forgive sins. So if you want to personally ask God to forgive your sins, and you want it to be an experience of talking to a real person, then whom do you propose to go to?

catholic.com/video/confessing-sins-to-a-priest-a-biblical-defense

Just a note of clarification, David, lest the reader be misled about the “rule.”
This article, with its references to both the CCC and Canon Law regarding this annual obligation, applies only to annual confession of mortal sins.

Thus, Canon 989 indicates that the maximum time for fulfilling the obligation of 988.1 is a year. For this reason, several expert commentators on canon law hold that, effectively, Canon 989’s strict obligation of confessing once a year regards serious sins. On the supposition that a person has not committed any serious sins, this canon would not apply to them.

This is difficult to understand for those who have not been taught the fullness of Catholic teaching. Maybe we can help you through the fog.

In the Old Testament, **God **Himself established the priesthood and set up the requirement for man to go to the priest to have his sins forgiven. Lev. 4:31 and 35. “Thus the priest shall make atonement for the man’s sin, and it will be forgiven.”
The sinner could not just confess his sins to his neighbor, but had to go to the priest. This was prefigured in the O.T. as what Jesus would fulfill in the N.T. through the sacrifice of His own blood.

The ritual of the bloody sacrifice is of special importance for the deeper knowledge of Jewish sacrifice. Five actions were common to sacrificing: the bringing forward of the victim, the imposition of hands, the slaying, the sprinkling of the blood, and the burning. The first was the leading of the victim to the altar of burnt sacrifices in the outer court of the tabernacle (or of the Temple) “before the Lord” (Exodus 29:42; Leviticus 1:5; 3:1; 4:6). Then followed on the north side of the altar the imposition of hands on the head of the victim, by which this gesture transferred to the victim the sinner’s personal intention of adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and especially of atonement. The imposition of hands was usually preceded by a confession of sins (Leviticus 16:21; 5:5 sq.; Numbers 5:6 sq.), which, according to Rabbinic tradition, was verbal.

Nothing has changed in the New Testament, but rather than sacrifice an animal, Jesus is now the perfect sacrifice, but he also set up the requirement to go to the priest, within the John 20:23 scripture. How can one’s sins be forgiven, unless the priest “hears” what they are, and in the name of God, absolves him?

No, you will not find a specific detailed scripture, as you mentioned, but the early Church understood this requirement and passed on through oral tradition. It makes perfect sense, for many of the prefigurements God Himself established in the Old Testament were to help the Chosen People grasp the reality and connect the dots when they finally took place in the New.

All ministrations were to take place through the priest, therefore, including confession of sins.

No, that’s not quite accurate. I think what you mean to say is that “it’s not recorded in Scripture that Jesus said anything to the apostles that people ‘must’ confess their sins to them”… right? There’s a big difference between those two statements, don’t you think? After all, Scripture tells us that not everything that Jesus said and did is recorded in Scripture. And, we know that the apostles spread Jesus’ message to all the nations. (Notice that it’s not said that they spread “the words that would later become the New Testament”, but rather, that they spread Christ’s message – this would necessarily imply that they were teaching what Christ taught… even if these teachings didn’t later appear in the pages of Scripture). So, first off: you can’t really claim that Jesus never taught it; and, if the Church taught it, then are you claiming that the Church was corrupt from the very beginning?

In fact the only time in the entire Scriptures where we are told anything about confessing our sins to human beings, was in James, “confess your sins to one another”…this would have been a perfect opportunity for St. James to tell us to confess our sins to a priest, but instead he chose to say, confess to one another.

Two thoughts: first, James also mentions that the anointing and prayers of the presbyters (i.e., ‘priests’) will save people and their sins will be forgiven. :wink:

Second, when James says “pray for one another”, it’s in the context of being healed, not having sin forgiven.

I can find nowhere in the Scriptures or the early church where people were lining up to kneel behind a screen and confess their sins to god in the presence of a priest.

You’re confusing ‘concept’ with ‘method’. Back in the day, it was necessary to walk around to the front of a car and give it a few good cranks in order to start the engine; today, we simply press a button and a car starts up. However, these are simply various methods of implementing the concept “start your engine if you want to go for a drive.”

Same thing here: the methods of implementing sacramental confession have developed over time, but the concept of sacramental confession has existed since Jesus authorized the apostles to absolve sins. The development of the implementation is, quite naturally, within the competency of the authority of the Church; however, the authority to actually absolve comes from Christ.

Even in the sinners prayers Jesus taught us to say “Forgive us our sins”…

You’re not helping your argument. :wink:

At that point in time, Jesus hadn’t yet named Peter as his ‘vicar on earth’, let alone instituted sacramental confession! What would you have wanted Him to say in Matthew 6 – “Our Father… forgive us our sins – unless we get to a ‘Christian priest’ (that doesn’t yet exist), at a ‘Christian Church’ (which doesn’t yet exist), and get ‘sacramental absolution’ (which itself, hasn’t yet been offered as a possibility)”…? :wink:

Jesus didn’t make His apostles mind readers.

So given this power from Jesus to forgive sins, how is an apostle to exercise this power unless the person confesses their sin(s) to them?

Then there is the matter of mortal sin vs non mortal sin. John says it’s okay to pray about non mortal sin and God forgives that sin. But he also says, he doesn’t recommend that for mortal sin.

**1 Jn 5: 16 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God(“https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20jn%205&version=RSVCE#fen-RSVCE-34798b”)] will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. ** 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

So how does one rid themselves of mortal sin if prayer is not recommended? One goes to confession to one with the power and authority to forgive … ALL sins. That’s the priests of the Catholic Church.

James did say confess to a priest.:slight_smile:
jas 5:13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders **πρεσβυτέρους **] of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.c] 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects".

They called in the πρεσβυτέρους , presbuteros, the priests. To THEM one confessed their sins

Where in the New Testament are “priests” mentioned?

Obviously in James they went face to face.

And as scripture says that’s fine for non mortal sin

Yes He most certainly did.

Where do you think James got his teaching about calling in the priests of the Church? It was from Jesus

That’s the pharisees argument against Jesus. And we know what Jesus said about THEM.

I hope this post answered your questions

Your link is not working, Steve, and you are correct … the Greek word means “presbyters” … i.e., priests. Let’s try again. biblehub.com/text/james/5-14.htm

I think the missing link for you in this thread may be the authority of the church. You admit that Jesus gave the apostles this authority. He did not micromanage them, and the Holy Spirit would “guide them in all truth” so the discipline of forgiveness and repentance within the Church is frankly up to the Church.

In the end you take matters like this “to the church” (Matt 18) and the church declares what is to be done. In the case of mortal sin, the Church finds it a requirement of showing true repentance to be able to humbly come to the church, kneel before God and his agent on earth the priest, and really truly ask for forgiveness. he then blesses us with being able to really truly hear the words of forgiveness.

As a protestant, I never truly felt forgiven…at least nothing like was felt after Catholic Confession. I also find going to Confession regularly helps one to examine their conscience and grow in virtue/holineess/sanctification, whatever you want to call it.

Also, in James 5, I think you missed the point that the “confess your sins one to another” is in reference to having just called the Elders to you. So this seems to indicate that you confess your sins to the elders along with the anointing that they give.

As to the point of the other poster that EVERY ancient Apostolic Church practices this, should lend some major weight to the idea that it is true and necessary.

The only Christian Churches that don’t practice this were invented by men in the 1600’s or later.

Id also encourage you to review the early church fathers on this practice:

The Didache

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . , On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure (Didache 4:14,14:1 [A.D.70]).

The Letter of Barnabas

You shall judge righteously. You shall not make a schism, but you shall pacify those that contend by bringing them together. You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light (Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]).

Ignatius of Antioch

For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ (Letter to the Philadelphians 3 [A.D. 110]).

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop (ibid. 8).

Irenaeus

[The Gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women. . . Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between two courses (Against Heresies 1:22 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian

[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, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).

The Church has the power of forgiving sins. This I acknowledge and adjudge (ibid. 21).

Hippolytus

[The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your Royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles. . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church, and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command (Apostolic Tradition 3 [A.D. 215]).

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.