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Quote Archive: The Sacrament of Confession

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

This Quote Archive on the Sacrament of Confession is part of the Becoming Catholic series. Each archive of quotes is intended to serve as a reference source on the various topics addressed in the articles. They are periodically updated as more research is completed.

Apostolic Era Documents

The Didache (§§4, 14) (c. 50)

(§4) In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life…

(§14) But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving [eucharista] after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” [Mal. 1:11]

Barnabas (possibly)

Letter of Barnabas (Ch. 19) (c. 75)

(Ch. 19) …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.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (died c. 107) (EAST)

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians (§§3, 8) (c. 107)

(§3) …And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ]…

(§8) I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. 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

St. Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-c. 202) (EAST/WEST)

St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies (Book 1, Ch. 13, §7) (c. 180)

(§7) Such are the words and deeds by which, in our own district of the Rhone, they [the Gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women, who have their consciences seared as with a hot iron. [2 Tim. 3:6] Some of them, indeed, make a public confession of their sins; but others of them are ashamed to do this, and in a tacit kind of way, despairing of [attaining to] the life of God, have, some of them, apostatized altogether…

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 220) (WEST)

Tertullian, Repentance (§10) (c. 203)

(§10) Yet most men either shun this work [confession], as being a public exposure of themselves, or else defer it from day to day. I presume (as being) more mindful of modesty than of salvation; just like men who, having contracted some malady in the more private parts of the body, avoid the privity of physicians, and so perish with their own bashfulness. It is intolerable, forsooth, to modesty to make satisfaction to the offended Lord! To be restored to its forfeited salvation! Truly you are honorable in your modesty; bearing an open forehead for sinning, but an abashed one for deprecating! I give no place to bashfulness when I am a gainer by its loss; when it exhorts the man, “Respect not me; it is better that I perish through you than you through me.”…Is it better to be damned in secret than absolved in public? But you say, “It is a miserable thing thus to come to exomologesis [penitential rite]”; yes, for evil does bring to misery; but where repentance is to be made, the misery ceases, because it is turned into something salutary. Miserable it is to be cut, and cauterized, and racked with the pungency of some (medicinal) powder: still, the things which heal by unpleasant means do, by the benefit of the cure, excuse their own offensiveness, and make present injury bearable for the sake of the advantage to supervene.

St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235) (WEST)

St. Hippolytus of Rome, Apostolic Tradition (§§2-3) (c. 215)1

(§2) …After this, at the request of all, one of the bishops who is present, laying a hand on him who is being ordained bishop, shall pray thus:

(§3) God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies and God of all consolation…you established rulers and priests, and have not left your sanctuary without ministers, from the foundation of the world you were well pleased to be glorified in those you have chosen. Even now pour out from yourself the power of the Spirit of governance, which you gave to your beloved child Jesus Christ, which he gave to the holy apostles, who set up the church in every place as your sanctuary…grant that your servant, whom you have chosen for oversight, should shepherd the flock and should serve before you as high priest without blame, serving by night and day, ceaselessly propitiating your countenance and offering the gifts of your holy church. And let him have the power of high priesthood, to forgive sins according to your command, to assign duties according to your command, to loose every tie according to the power which you gave to the apostles, to please you in gentleness and with a pure heart, offering you the scent of sweetness…

Origen (c. 184-c. 253) (EAST)

Origen of Alexandria, Homilies on Leviticus, 2:4 (c. 249)2

In addition to these there is also a seventh [remission of sins], but it is hard and laborious: the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner washes his pillow in tears [Ps. 6:7], when his tears are his nourishment day and night [Ps. 41:4], and when he does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine.

St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 210-258) (WEST)

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 9 (§2) (250)

(§2) …For although in smaller sins sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion: now with their time still unfulfilled, while persecution is still raging, while the peace of the Church itself is not yet restored, they are admitted to communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands Of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the eucharist is given to them; although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” [1 Cor. 11:27]

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 3: On the Lapsed (§§15-16, 28, 29)

(§15) …Also, the apostle testifies, and says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils.” [1 Cor. 10:21] He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and unworthy, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. [1 Cor. 11:27]

(§16) All these warnings being scorned and contemned—before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord…

(§28) Moreover, how much are they both greater in faith and better in their fear, who, although bound by no crime of sacrifice to idols or of certificate, yet, since they have even thought of such things, with grief and simplicity confess this very thing to God’s priests, and make the conscientious avowal, put off from them the load of their minds, and seek out the salutary medicine even for slight and moderate wounds, knowing that it is written, “God is not mocked.” [Gal. 6:7]…

(§29) I entreat you, beloved brethren, that each one should confess his own sin, while he who has sinned is still in this world, while his confession may be received, while the satisfaction and remission made by the priests are pleasing to the Lord. Let us turn to the Lord with our whole heart, and, expressing our repentance for our sin with true grief, let us entreat God’s mercy. Let our soul lie low before Him. Let our mourning atone to Him. Let all our hope lean upon Him…

St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 51 (§§20, 22) (252)

(§20) And do not think, dearest brother, that either the courage of the brethren will be lessened, or that martyrdoms will fail for this cause, that repentance is relaxed to the lapsed, and that the hope of peace is offered to the penitent…For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given

(§22) But I wonder that some are so obstinate as to think that repentance is not to be granted to the lapsed, or to suppose that pardon is to be denied to the penitent, when it is written, “Remember whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works,” [Rev. 2:5] which certainly is said to him who evidently has fallen, and whom the Lord exhorts to rise up again by his works, because it is written, “Alms do deliver from death,” [Tob. 4:10] and not, assuredly, from that death which once the blood of Christ extinguished, and from which the saving grace of baptism and of our Redeemer has delivered us, but from that which subsequently creeps in through sins

St. Aphrahat the Persian (c. 280-c. 345) (EAST)

St. Aphrahat the Persian, Demonstrations (Ch. 7, §4) (c. 340)

(§4) Nor should you, doctors [priests], who are disciples of our Glorious Doctor, hold back from the person who needs to be healed; to the person who shows you his abscess, provide him with the medicine of repentance, while to the person who is ashamed to show his illness, you should counsel, so that he does not hide it from you. And once he has disclosed it to you, do not make it known, lest, because of it even the victors are thought to be worsted by those who [are] hostile and by the enemies… 

St. Basil the Great (330-379) (EAST)

St. Basil the Great, Rules Briefly Treated (§288) (c. 375)3

It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries [sacraments] has been 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; but in Acts they confessed to the apostles, by whom also all were baptized.

St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397) (WEST)

St. Ambrose of Milan, Penance (Book 1, Ch. 2, §7) (c. 388)

(§7) The Church holds fast its obedience on either side, by both retaining and remitting sin; heresy is on the one side cruel, and on the other disobedient; wishes to bind what it will not loosen, and will not loosen what it has bound, whereby it condemns itself by its own sentence. For the Lord willed that the power of binding and of loosing should be alike, and sanctioned each by a similar condition. So he who has not the power to loose has not the power to bind. For as, according to the Lord’s word, he who has the power to bind has also the power to loose, their teaching destroys itself, inasmuch as they who deny that they have the power of loosing ought also to deny that of binding. For how can the one be allowed and the other disallowed? It is plain and evident that either each is allowed or each is disallowed in the case of those to whom each has been given. Each is allowed to the Church, neither to heresy, for this power has been entrusted to priests alone. Rightly, therefore, does the Church claim it, which has true priests; heresy, which has not the priests of God, cannot claim it. And by not claiming this power heresy pronounces its own sentence, that not possessing priests it cannot claim priestly power. And so in their shameless obstinacy a shamefaced acknowledgment meets our view.

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) (EAST)

St. John Chrysostom, The Priesthood (Book 3, §5) (c. 388)

(§5) …For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” [Matt. 18:18] They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, “Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?” [John 20:23] What authority could be greater than this? “The Father has committed all judgment to the Son.” [John 5:22] But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable…

St. Augustine (354-430) (WEST)

St. Augustine, Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed (§§15-16) (c. 395)

(§15) …When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What was the Prayer? “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” [Matt. 6:12] Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.

(§16) In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance; yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized. The very sins which He remits first, He remits not but to the baptized. When? When they are baptized. The sins which are after remitted upon prayer, upon penance, to whom He remits, it is to the baptized that He remits. For how can they say, “Our Father,” who are not yet born sons? The Catechumens, so long as they be such, have upon them all their sins. If Catechumens, how much more Pagans? How much more heretics? But to heretics we do not change their baptism. Why? Because they have baptism in the same way as a deserter has the soldier’s mark: just so these also have Baptism; they have it, but to be condemned thereby, not crowned. And yet if the deserter himself, being amended, begin to do duty as a soldier, does any man dare to change his mark?

St. Augustine, The Christian Combat (Ch. 31, §33) (396)4

(§33) Let us not heed those who deny that the Church of God can remit all sins. Failing to recognize in Peter the ‘rock,’ these unhappy souls have accordingly lost possession of the keys; they are unwilling to believe that the keys of the kingdom of heaven have been given to the Church.

St. Pope Leo the Great (c. 400-461) (WEST)

St. Pope Leo the Great, Letter 108: To Theodorus, Bishop of Forum Julii (§2)

(§2) The manifold mercy of God so assists men when they fall, that not only by the grace of baptism but also by the remedy of penitence is the hope of eternal life revived, in order that they who have violated the gifts of the second birth, condemning themselves by their own judgment, may attain to remission of their crimes, the provisions of the Divine Goodness having so ordained that God’s indulgence cannot be obtained without the supplications of priests. For the Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, has transmitted this power to those that are set over the Church that they should both grant a course of penitence to those who confess, and, when they are cleansed by wholesome correction admit them through the door of reconciliation to communion in the sacraments. In which work assuredly the Savior Himself unceasingly takes part and is never absent from those things, the carrying out of which He has committed to His ministers, saying: “Lo, I am with you all the days even to the completion of the age,” [Matt. 28:20] so that whatever is accomplished through our service in due order and with satisfactory results we doubt not to have been vouchsafed through the Holy Spirit.

Footnotes

  1. St. Hippolytus of Rome, Alistair C. Stewart, trans., On the Apostolic Tradition, 2nd ed. (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2015), 69, 73-74. ↩︎
  2. Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best (San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2010), 307-308. ↩︎
  3. Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best (San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2010), 309. ↩︎
  4. St. Augustine, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 2: St. Augustine: Christian Instruction; Admonition and Grace; The Christian Combat; Faith, Hope, and Charity (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 350. ↩︎
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