Saint Thomas Aquinas

Friday, June 18, 2010

Private Confession is Apostolic

Also, after the Resurrection the Lord said : “‘As the Father sent me, I also send you.’ And when He said this He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any they are retained’” (John 20:21-23).



Some people today love to use modern liberal historians to try and shake people's faiths as to the apostolic origins of the Sacraments. One Sacrament that frequently comes under attack is the Sacrament of Confession. Many historians falsely claim that it was an invention of the middle ages and that private confession only developed and was never practiced in the early days of the Church. In fact, some historians claim that it was Pope Innocent III who invented and insisted on private confession. If that is the case, then why do we have writings from Popes like Leo the Great from 500 years before Pope Innocent III addressing private confession? An ex-Catholic by the name of John Bugay over at "Beggars All" has sadly bought into this fraudulent history, and is now trying to convince Catholics and others that the Sacrament of Confession and the act of doing penance is a later medieval invention. The fact is, private confession dates back to the apostolic times. If we examine more than just a few liberal historians, we will see that the Church, while not using the Sacrament as frequently as we do today, none the less had private confession in its earliest days. 


An excerpt from Fr. John Hardon's article "Confession of Sins: A Divine Institution" explains.


In the early Church, Christians were expected to live very holy lives. And they did. To become Christian meant to expect to become a martyr. Every pope for the first three hundred years of the Church’s history was murdered for the faith. Countless thousands shed their blood in witness to their love for Christ.
Understandably, therefore, the sacrament of Confession was not so frequently received by persons whose lives were a living martyrdom. Yet, even in the early Church, sinners were reconciled after they had confessed their sins, received absolution and performed what to us must seem like extraordinary penance for the wrong they had done.
The emphasis in those early days was on confessing mortal sins. And there were bishops who had to be reproved by the pope for excessive severity, either in demanding public confession of grave crimes or even refusing to give absolution for such sins as apostasy, adultery, fornication or willful murder.
One document issued by Pope St. Leo the Great in the middle of the fifth century, deserves to be quoted in full. He is writing to the bishops of Campania in Italy, reproving them for demanding a public confession of sins before receiving absolution in the sacrament of Penance.
I have recently heard that some have unlawfully presumed to act contrary to a rule of Apostolic origin. And I hereby decree that the unlawful practice be completely stopped.
“It is with regard to the reception of penance. An abuse has crept in which requires that the faithful write out their individual sins in a little book which is then to be read out loud to the public.
All that is necessary, however, is for the sinner to manifest his conscience in a secret confession to the priests alone…It is sufficient, therefore, to have first offered one’s confession to God, and then also to the priest, who acts as an intercessor for the transgressions of the penitents” (Magna indignatione, March 6, 459).
It is a matter of history, therefore, that private, individual confession of one’s sins to a priest goes back to apostolic times. Christ Himself prescribed confession in the sacrament of Penance, and His directives were followed since the first century of the Christian era.

Among the doctrines of revealed faith which the Church had to defend, was the precept of sacramental confession...
The Protestant leaders in the sixteenth century rejected the sacrament of Confession as divine institution. And they especially reacted against the Catholic Church’s teaching about the need for telling one’s sins to a priest. As a result, the Council of Trent issued no less than fifteen solemn definitions on the sacrament of Penance. Two of these deal specifically with the obligations to confess one’s sins to a priest. They are critically important in our ecumenical age. The following positions are declared as contrary to the Catholic faith:
“If anyone says that sacramental confession was not instituted by divine law or that it is not necessary for salvation according to the same law; or if anyone says that the method which the Catholic Church has always observed from the very beginning, and still observes, of confessing secretly to the priest alone is foreign to the institution and command of Christ, and that it is a human origin: let him be anathema.
“If anyone says that, to obtain remission of sins in the sacrament of Confession, it is not necessary according to divine law to confess each and every mortal sin that is remembered after proper and diligent examination, even secret sins, and sins against the last two commandments, and those circumstances which change the character of a sin…or finally that it is not permissible to confess venial sins: let him be anathema.”
No apology is needed for these long quotations from the Church’s irreversible teaching on the sacramental confession of sins. Nor need we apologize for one more quotation, this time from Pope Paul II. He insists that personal, private confession of sins to a priest in the sacrament of Penance, is the right of every single believer, as it is also the right of Christ, the Divine Redeemer.
It is worth noting some writings of the early Church Fathers who also spoke of this Sacrament. Don't let these unbelievers dupe you into believing that there was no Sacrament of Confession in the early Church, it is a lie. 


St. Athanasius said, “As the Baptized is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, by means of the priest, the repentant is granted forgiveness of his sins by the grace of Christ, also through the priest.”

St. Augustine said, “The Lord Jesus Christ rose Lazarus from the death and those around him (the apostles) loosed him from the grave clothes that bound him.” Was the Giver of life unable to loosen the grave clothes? By loosening them, the apostles denoted their authority of absolving and forgiving sins, which the Lord granted to them and their successors."

St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “Regard the church priest as a spiritual father for you, reveal to him your secrets openly, just as a patient reveals his hidden wounds to the physician, and so is healed.”



“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

3 comments:

Andrew W said...

Excellent post, Matthew.

What is it with the desire to rewrite history - on both the protestant and Catholic sides?

At least I can attribute a clear "win them over to our side" agenda to the protestants spreading lies and deceptions. But we have our share of Catholic scholars, who are really anything but scholars, repeating the same drivel. Why would they (Catholics) repeat these lies and not investigate it themselves to uncover the truth (as you have done)?

bill bannon said...

The mid fourth century document is proof that the practice was ancient but put yourself in the place of an intelligent unbeliever for a minute. He can reasonably see that it therefore preceded the fourth century but still the connection to apostolic times is left questionable.
Better to go to apostolic times in James 5 where both your view and the Protestant one could be argued.

" Is anyone among you sick?* He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord,j
15
and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.*
16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful."


The passage could argue for priestly involvement or in verse 16 could argue for confessing your sins to a righteous brother ( since you may have an unrighteous priest like the one recently arrested in Boston with a prostitute). Always ask your self, Am I convincing already Catholic people only with this specific argument.
I believe that sacramental confession is true but that it may not be exclusive given James 5:16 which we cannot void from the Catholic Bible.

bill bannon said...

correction....mid 5 th century not 4 th.