Confession in Religion
A confession is a statement – made by a person or by a group of persons – acknowledging some personal fact that the person (or the group) would ostensibly prefer to keep hidden. The term presumes that the speaker is providing information that he believes the other party is not already aware of, and is frequently associated with an admission of a moral or legal wrong:
In one sense it is the acknowledgment of having done something wrong, whether on purpose or not. Thus confessional texts usually provide information of a private nature previously unavailable. What a sinner tells a priest in the confessional, the documents criminals sign acknowledging what they have done, an autobiography in which the author acknowledges mistakes, and so on, are all examples of confessional texts.
Not all confessions reveal wrongdoing, however. For example, a confession of love is often considered positive both by the confessor and by the recipient of the confession and is a common theme in literature. With respect to confessions of wrongdoing, there are several specific kinds of confessions that have significance beyond the social. A legal confession involves an admission of some wrongdoing that has a legal consequence, while the concept of confession in religion varies widely across various belief systems, and is usually more akin to a ritual by which the person acknowledges thoughts or actions considered sinful or morally wrong within the confines of the confessor’s religion. In some religions, confession takes the form of an oral communication to another person. Socially, however, the term may refer to admissions that are neither legally nor religiously significant. See also: Forgiveness of Sins
Buddhism has been from its inception primarily a tradition of renunciation and monasticism. Within the monastic framework (called the Vinaya) of the sangha regular confession of wrongdoing to other monks is mandatory. In the suttas of the Pali Canon Bhikkhus sometimes even confessed their wrongdoing to the Buddha himself. That part of the Pali Canon called the Vinaya requires that monks confess their individual sins before the bi-weekly convening for the recitation of the Patimokkha.
Main article: Confession (Catholic Church)
For the Catholic Church, the intent of this sacrament is to provide healing for the soul as well as to regain the grace of God, lost by sin. A perfect act of contrition, wherein the penitent expresses sorrow for having offended God and not out of fear of eternal punishment, even outside of confession removes the eternal punishment associated with mortal sin but a Catholic is obliged to confess his or her mortal sins at the earliest opportunity. In theological terms, the priest acts in persona Christi and receives from the Church the power of jurisdiction over the penitent. The Council of Trent (Session Fourteen, Chapter I) quoted John 20:22-23 as the primary Scriptural proof for the doctrine concerning this sacrament, but Catholics also consider Matthew 9:2-8, 1 Corinthians 11:27, and Matthew 16:17-20 to be among the Scriptural bases for the sacrament.
The Catholic Church teaches that sacramental confession requires three “acts” on the part of the penitent: contrition (sorrow of the soul for the sins committed), disclosure of the sins (the ‘confession’), and satisfaction (the ‘penance’, i.e. doing something to make amends for the sins). The basic form of confession has not changed for centuries, although at one time confessions were made publicly.
Typically, the penitent begins sacramental confession by saying, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been [time period] since my last confession.” The penitent must then confess what he/she believes to be grave and mortal sins, in both kind and number, in order to be reconciled with God and the Church. The sinner may also confess venial sins; this is especially recommended if the penitent has no mortal sins to confess. According to the Catechism, “without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s Mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as He is merciful”. “When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon.” As a result, if the confession was good, “the sacrament was valid” even the penitent inadvertently forgot some mortal sins, which are forgiven as well. As a safeguard not to become something like “subconsciously inadvertent” to avoid saying some sins, these must be confessed in the next confession (if the penitent then remembers them; or generally in the first confession in which they are remembered). Even then it is allowed, however allowed, and even, except for certain devotional purposes, generally sensible to concentrate in one’s examination of conscience on the time since the last Confession.
Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
Confession does not take place in a confessional, but normally in the main part of the church itself, usually before an analogion (lectern) set up near the iconostasion. On the analogion is placed a Gospel Book and a blessing cross. The confession often takes place before an icon of Jesus Christ. Orthodox understand that the confession is not made to the priest, but to Christ, and the priest stands only as witness and guide. Before confessing, the penitent venerates the Gospel Book and cross, and places the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand on the feet of Christ as he is depicted on the cross. The confessor will often read an admonition warning the penitent to make a full confession, holding nothing back.
As with administration of other sacraments, in cases of emergency confession may be heard anywhere. For this reason, especially in the Russian Orthodox Church, the pectoral cross that the priest wears at all times will often have the Icon of Christ “Not Made by Hands” inscribed on it so that such an icon will be available to penitents who are experiencing imminent death or life-threatening danger in the presence of a priest but away from a church.
In general practice, after one confesses to one’s spiritual guide, the parish priest (who may or may not have heard the confession) covers the head of the person with his Epitrachelion (Stole) and reads the Prayer of Absolution, asking God to forgive the transgression of the individual (the specific prayer differs between Greek and Slavic use). It is not uncommon for a person to confess his sins to his spiritual guide on a regular basis but only seek out the priest to read the prayer before receiving Holy Communion.
There are many different practices regarding how often Orthodox Christians should go to confession. Some Patriarchates advise confession before each reception of Holy Communion, others advise confessing during each of the four fasting periods (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles’ Fast and Dormition Fast), and there are many additional variants. Many pastors encourage frequent confession and communion. In some of the monasteries on Mount Athos, the monks will confess their sins daily.
Eastern Christians will also practice a form of general confession, (or manifest contrition), referred to as the rite of “Mutual Forgiveness”. The rite involves an exchange between the priest and the congregation (or, in monasteries, between the superior and the brotherhood). The priest will make a prostration before all and ask their forgiveness for sins committed in act, word, deed, and thought. Those present ask that God may forgive him, and then they in turn all prostrate themselves and ask the priest’s forgiveness. The priest then pronounces a blessing. The rite of Mutual Forgiveness does not replace the Mystery of Confession and Absolution, but is for the purpose of maintaining Christian charity and a humble and contrite spirit. This general confession is practiced in monasteries at the first service on arising (the Midnight Office) and the last service before retiring to sleep (Compline). Old Believers will perform the rite regularly before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The best-known asking of mutual forgiveness occurs at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is with this act that Great Lent begins.
In the Anglican tradition, confession and absolution is usually a component part of corporate worship, particularly at services of the Holy Eucharist. The form involves an exhortation to repentance by the priest, a period of silent prayer during which believers may inwardly confess their sins, a form of general confession said together by all present and the pronouncement of general absolution by the priest, often accompanied by the sign of the cross.
Private or auricular confession is also practiced by Anglicans and is especially common among Anglo-Catholics. The venue for confessions is either in the traditional confessional, which is the common practice among Anglo-Catholics, or in a private meeting with the priest. Often a priest will sit in the sanctuary, just inside the communion rail, facing toward the altar and away from the penitent. Other times he will use a portable screen to divide himself and the penitent. Following the confession of sins and the assignment of penance, the priest makes the pronouncement of absolution. The seal of the confessional, as with Roman Catholicism, is absolute and any confessor who divulges information revealed in confession is subject to deposition and removal from office.
Historically, the practice of auricular confession was highly controversial within Anglicanism. When priests began to hear confessions, they responded to criticisms by pointing to the fact that such is explicitly sanctioned in “The Order for the Visitation of the Sick” in the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the following direction:
Here shall the sick person be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter. After which Confession, the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it).
Auricular confession within mainstream Anglicanism became accepted in the second half of the 20th century; the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church in the USA provides two forms for it in the section “The Reconciliation of a Penitent”. Private confession is also envisaged by the canon law of the Church of England, which contains the following, intended to safeguard the Seal of the Confessional:
if any man confess his secret and hidden sins to the minister, for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and ease of mind from him; we…do straitly charge and admonish him [i.e., the minister], that he does not at any time reveal and make known to any person whatsoever any crime or offence so committed to his trust and secrecy
There is no requirement for private confession, but a common understanding that it may be desirable depending on individual circumstances. An Anglican aphorism regarding the practice is “All may; none must; some should”.
Most Protestant churches believe that no intermediary except Christ is necessary between the Christian and God in order to be absolved from sins. Many mainline Protestant Churches include corporate confession in regular worship. For instance the Presbyterian Church USA’s Directory of Worship, in directing the components or worship, states, “A prayer of confession of the reality of sin in personal and common life follows. In a declaration of pardon, the gospel is proclaimed and forgiveness is declared in the name of Jesus Christ. God’s redemption and God’s claim upon human life are remembered.”
Some Protestants confess their sins in private prayer before God, believing this suffices to gain God’s pardon. However confession to another is often encouraged and in some sects or denominations required when a wrong has been done to a person as well as to God. Confession is then made to the person wronged and also to God, and is part of the reconciliation process. In cases where sin has resulted in the exclusion of a person from church membership due to unrepentance, public confession is often a prerequisite to readmission. The sinner confesses to the church his or her repentance and is received back into fellowship. In both cases there is a required manner to the confessions: for sins between God and Man and for sins between Man and Man.
Main article: Confession (Lutheran Church)
The second form of confession and absolution is known as “Holy Absolution”, which is done privately to the pastor (commonly only upon request). Here the person confessing (known as the “penitent”) confesses individually their sins and makes an act of contrition as the pastor, acting in persona Christi, announces this following formula of absolution (or similar): “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In the Lutheran Church, the pastor is bound by the Seal of the Confessional (similar to the Roman Catholic tradition). Luther’s Small Catechism says “the pastor is pledged not to tell anyone else of sins to him in private confession, for those sins have been removed.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the second form of confession and absolution fell into disuse; at the present time, it is, for example, expected before partaking of the Eucharist for the first time.
In the Methodist Church, as with the Anglican Communion, penance is defined by the Articles of Religion as one those “Commonly called Sacraments but not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel”, also known as the “five lesser sacraments”. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, held “the validity of Anglican practice in his day as reflected in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer“, stating that “We grant confession to men to be in many cases of use: public, in case of public scandal; private, to a spiritual guide for disburdening of the conscience, and as a help to repentance.” The Book of Worship of The United Methodist Church contains the rite for private confession and absolution in A Service of Healing II, in which the minister pronounces the words “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”;[a] some Methodist churches have regularly scheduled auricular confession and absolution, while others make it available upon request. Since Methodism holds the office of the keys to “belong to all baptized persons”, private confession does not necessarily need to be made to a pastor, and therefore lay confession is permitted, although this is not the norm. Near the time of death, many Methodists confess their sins and receive absolution from an ordained minister, in addition to being anointed. In Methodism, the minister is bound by the Seal of the Confessional, with The Book of Discipline stating “All clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences”; any confessor who divulges information revealed in confession is subject to being defrocked in accordance with canon law. As with Lutheranism, in the Methodist tradition, corporate confession is the most common practice, with the Methodist liturgy including “prayers of confession, assurance and pardon”. The traditional confession of The Sunday Service, the first liturgical text used by Methodists, comes from the service of Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Offices and Services of the Order of Saint Luke, a Methodist religious order, similarly contains a corporate Service of Prayer for Reconciliation in addition to a Rite of Reconciliation for Individual Persons. The confession of one’s sin is particularly important before receiving Holy Communion; the official United Methodist publication about the Eucharist titled This Holy Mystery states that:
We respond to the invitation to the Table by immediately confessing our personal and corporate sin, trusting that, “If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our expression of repentance is answered by the absolution in which forgiveness is proclaimed: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”
Many Methodists, like other Protestants, regularly practice confession of their sin to God Himself, holding that “When we do confess, our fellowship with the Father is restored. He extends His parental forgiveness. He cleanses us of all unrighteousness, thus removing the consequences of the previously unconfessed sin. We are back on track to realise the best plan that He has for our lives.”
Within confession, the sinner must confess both to God and to those persons wronged by the sin. Confession may also be required to an authorized priesthood leader, such as a bishop, branch president, stake president, or mission president. Although there is no definitive list of sins that require confession to a priesthood leader, “adultery, fornication, other sexual transgressions and deviancies, and sins of a comparable seriousness” are included, as is intentional and repeated use of pornography. Depending on the seriousness of the sin, the priesthood leader may counsel the sinner to submit to the authority of a disciplinary council, but does not have the authority to forgive sin, which can come only from God. The confession to the priesthood leader must be held in strict confidence unless the confessor grants permission to disclose it to the disciplinary council. The LDS Church rejects the belief that confession is all that is required to secure repentance from God.
The act of seeking forgiveness from God for sins called Istighfar. Confession of sins is made directly to God and not through man; the only exception is when confessing to a person is a required step in recompensing for the damage done. It is taught that sins are to be kept to oneself to seek individual forgiveness from God. God forgives those who seek his forgiveness and commit to themselves not to repeat the sin.
In Judaism, confession is an important part of attaining forgiveness for both sins against God and another man. Confessions to God are done communally in the plural. Jews confess that “We have sinned.” In matters involving offenses against a fellow man, private confession to the victim is a requirement to obtaining forgiveness from the victim, which is generally a requirement to obtaining forgiveness from God. If the victim refuses to forgive, the offender confesses publicly, before larger and larger audience. Confession (viduy) is also performed on one’s deathbed, if at all possible.
Main article: Twelve-step program
In the AA Twelve-Step Program, confession is made in Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
“If we decline to follow through with this step, our un-confessed sins will haunt us, resulting in the demise of our body and spirit. We will have to continue paying the penalty of our wrongdoings.”
“By completing the Fifth Step, we gain God’s forgiveness, supervision, and strength. We obtain complete forgiveness…”
- A Service of Healing II, after the “Confession and Pardon”, states “A Confession and Pardon from 474–94 or A Service of Word and Table V or UMH 890–93, or an appropriate psalm may be used.” The words noted here are thus taken from page 52 of the Book of Worship, which details the Service of Word and Table V, specifically the conclusion of the part of the rite titled “Confession and Pardon”.
- A Confession by Leo Tolstoy in which he describes his conversion to Christianity
- Augsburg Confession, the central document describing the religious convictions of the Lutheran reformation
- Confession inscriptions of Lydia and Phrygia Roman-era Greek confession steles
- Lay confession
- Manifestation of Conscience
- Nemo tenetur se ipsum accusare
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia