THE HISTORIC SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION

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The sacrament of reconciliation, penance, or confession is rooted in the mission God the Father gave to Jesus Christ in His capacity as the Son of Man on earth to go and forgive sins (cf. Matthew 9:6). Thus, the crowds who witnessed this new power “glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8; note the plural “men”). After His resurrection, the Lord Himself passed on His mission to forgive sins to His ministers, telling them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . 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). 

Below are the testimonies of the early Christians proving that the sacrament of confession has always been a practice in the Church even in the first centuries of Christianity. In fact, 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. Still, confession was not just something done in silence to God alone, but something done in the church.

Barnabas, apostle

“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” (Epistle of Barnabas, ch. 19 [AD 10-70]).

The Twelve Apostles

“On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure” (Didache, ch. 14 [AD 70-100])

Ignatius, bishop 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” (Epistle to the Philadelphians, ch. 3 [AD 50-117])

“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” (Epistle to the Philadelphians, ch. 8 [AD 50-117])

Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul

“[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 the life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between the two courses” (Adversus Haereses, book I, ch. 13.7 [AD 120-180])

Tertullian, theologian

“[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” (On Repentance, ch. 10 [AD160-240])

“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’: 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.” (ibid.)

(NOTE: Exomologesis is public confession.)

Hippolytus, presbyter of Rome

“[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 [AD 215])

Origen, theologian

“But request to saints alone, should some Paul or Peter appear, to benefit us by making us worthy to obtain the authority which has been given to them to forgive sins.” (On Prayer, ch. 10 [AD 185-254])

“In the Gospel according to John the language referring to the forgiveness exercised by the apostles runs thus: Receive the Holy Spirit: whosoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them: whosoever’s you hold, they are held. Anyone taking these words without discrimination might blame the apostles for not forgiving all men in order that all might be forgiven but holding the sins of some so that they are held with God also on their account . . . It is helpful to take an example from the Law with a view to understand God’s forgiveness of sins through men. Legal priests are prohibited from offering sacrifice for certain sins in order that the persons for whom the sacrifices are made may have their misdeeds forgiven; and though the priest has authority to make offerings for certain involuntary or willful misdeeds, he of course does not presume to offer a sacrifice for sin in cases of adultery or willful murder or any other more serious offence . . . So, too, the apostles, and those who have become like apostles, being priests according to the Great High Priest and having received knowledge of the service of God, know under the Spirit’s teaching for which sins, and when, and how they ought to offer sacrifices, and recognize for which they ought not to do so.” (On Prayer, ch. 18 [AD 185-254])

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage

“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 confessionmay be received, while the satisfaction and remission made by the priests are pleasing to the Lord?” (Treatise III par. 29 [AD 200-270])

“For, as in smaller sins which are not committed against God, penitence may be fulfilled in a set time, and confession may be made with investigation of the life of him who fulfils the penitence, and no one can come to communion unless the hands of the bishop and clergy be first imposed upon him; how much more ought all such matters as these to be observed with caution and moderation, according to the discipline of the Lord, in these gravest and extremest sins!” (Epistle XI par. 2 [AD 200-270])

“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 vet 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, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (Epistle XI par. 2 [AD 200-270])

“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 penance is relaxed to the lapsed, and that the hope of peace [i.e., absolution] is offered to the penitent . . . For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given.” (Epistle LI par. 20 [AD 200-270])

“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 thou art 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 deeds [of penance], because it is written, ‘Alms deliver from death’ [Tobit 12:9].” (Epistle LI par. 22 [AD 200-270])

“The apostle [Paul] likewise bears witness and says: ‘ . . . Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ [1 Cor. 11:27]. But [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.” (Treatise III par. 15-16 [AD 200-270])

“But if anybody, refusing to repent and to make satisfaction to God, shall yield to the party of Felicissimus and his satellites, and shall join himself to the heretical faction, let him know that he cannot afterwards return to the Church and communicate with the bishops and the people of Christ.” (Epistle XXXIX par. 7 [AD 200-270])

“But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, ‘Whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ And again, in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the apostles alone, saying, ‘remitted unto them, and whose soever sins ye retain they are retained.’ Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination. But the enemies of the one Catholic Church in which we are, and the adversaries of us who have succeeded the apostles, asserting for themselves, in opposition to us, unlawful priesthoods, and setting up profane altars, what else are they than Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, profane with a like wickedness, and about to suffer the same punishments which they did, as well as those who agree with them, just as their partners and abettors perished with a like death to theirs?” (Epistle LXXIV par. 16 [AD 200-270])

“But it is manifest where and by whom remission of sins can be given; to wit, that which is given in baptism. For first of all the Lord gave that power to Peter, upon whom He built the Church, and whence He appointed and showed the source of unity–the power, namely, that whatsoever he loosed on earth should be loosed in heaven. And after the resurrection, also, He speaks to the apostles, saying, ‘As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith, unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.’ Whence we perceive that only they who are set over the Church and established in the Gospel law, and in the ordinance of the Lord, are allowed to baptize and to give remission of sins; but that without, nothing can either be bound or loosed, where there is none who can either bind or loose anything.” (Epistle LXXII par. 7 [AD 200-270])

“Although you sent letters to me in which you ask that your wishes should be examined, and that peace should be granted to certain of the lapsed as soon as with the end of the persecution we should have begun to meet with our clergy, and to be gathered together once more; those presbyters, contrary to the Gospel law, contrary also to your respectful petition, before penitence was fulfilled, before confession even of the gravest and most heinous sin was made, before hands were placed upon the repentant by the bishops and clergy, dare to offer on their behalf, and to give them the eucharist, that is, to profane the sacred body of the Lord, 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.'” (Epistle X par. 1 [AD 200-270])

“But if any one of them be found to be corrupted, let her abundantly repent, because she who has been guilty of this crime is an adulteress, not (indeed) against a husband, but against Christ; and therefore, a due time being appointed, let her afterwards, when confession has been made, return to the Church.” (Epistle LXI par. 4 [AD 200-270])

“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 confessionmay be received, while the satisfaction and remission made by the priests are pleasing to the Lord?” (Treatise III par. 29 [AD 200-270])

Aphrahat the Persian Sage, author

“Then Moses wished by his priestly power to absolve Reuben from his transgression and sin, in that he had lain with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; that when his brethren should rise, he might not be cut off from their number.” (Demonstrations VIII Of the Resurrection of the Dead par. 8 [AD 280-367])

Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor

“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” (Rules Briefly Treated 288 [AD 374]). 

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius, author and advisor to Emperor Constantine I

“But, however, because all the separate assemblies of heretics call themselves Christians in preference to others, and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, it must be known that the true Catholic Church is that in which there is confession and repentance, which treats in a wholesome manner the sins and wounds to which the weakness of the flesh is liable.” (Divine Institutes, book IV [AD 290-350])

Gregory, bishop of Nyssa

“They that pilfer, and then confess their sin to the priest, are only obliged to amendment, and to be liberal to the poor; and if they have nothing, to labour and give their earnings.” (Canons of the 13 Holy Fathers, canon VI [AD 325-386])

“For if the confession of the revered and precious Names of the Holy Trinity is useless, and the customs of the Church unprofitable, and if among these customs is the sign of the cross, prayer, baptism, confession of sins, a ready zeal to keep the commandment, right ordering of character.” (Against Eunomius, book XI [AD 325-386]) 

Gregory Nazianzen, archbishop of Constantinople

“An important medicine for evil is confession, and care to avoid stumbling.” (Oration XVI par. 17 [AD 325-389])

Ambrose, archbishop of Milan

“Let us now see whether the Spirit forgives sins. But on this point there can be no doubt, since the Lord Himself said: ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Whosesoever sins ye forgive they shall be forgiven.’ See that sins are forgiven through the Holy Spirit. But men make use of their ministry for the forgiveness of sins, they do not exercise the right of any power of their own. For they forgive sins not in their own name but in that of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They ask, the Godhead gives, the service is of man, the gift is of the Power on high.” (On the Holy Spirit, book III par. 137 [AD 340-397])

“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.” (On Repentance, book I, ch. 2.7 [AD 340-397]

“And this confession is indeed rightly made by them, for they have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.’ And the vessel of divine election himself said: ‘If ye have forgiven anything to any one, I forgive also, for what I have forgiven I have done it for your sakes in the person of Christ.’ Why, then, do they read Paul’s writings, if they think that he has erred so wickedly as to claim for himself the right of his Lord? But he claimed what he had received, he did not usurp that which was not due to him.” (On Repentance, book I, ch. 7.33 [AD 340-397]

“They affirm that they are showing great reverence for God, to Whom alone they reserve the power of forgiving sins. But in truth none do Him greater injury than they who choose to prune His commandments and reject the office entrusted to them. For inasmuch as the Lord Jesus Himself said in the Gospel: ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit whosesoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained,’ Who is it that honours Him most, he who obeys His bidding or he who rejects it? . . . 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.” (On Repentance, book I, par. 6-7 [AD 340-397]

John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople

“For sin is not hidden by the addition of sin, but by repentance and confession.” (Homily XLVIII on Matthew’s Gospel, ch. 6 [AD 347-407])

“And thou too, therefore, when thou goest to the priest, and he shall say to thee, “The Lord will have mercy on thee, my son,” do not confide in the word only, but add also works. Do acts worthy of mercy, God will bless thee, my son, if indeed thou doest things worthy of blessing. He will bless thee, if thou showest mercy to thy neighbor.” (Homily III on Philemon [AD 347-407])

“Wherefore He said not, ‘Ye have received the Holy Ghost,’ but, that they then also received some spiritual power and grace; not so as to raise the dead, or to work miracles, but so as to remit sins. For the gifts of the Spirit are of different kinds; wherefore He added, ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them,’ showing what kind of power He was giving. But in the other case, after forty days, they received the power of working miracles.” (Homily LXXXVI on John’s Gospel [AD 347-407])

“And God grant that we all, having purified ourselves here by confession from all the filth of our sins, may there obtain the blessings promised in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Homily I on Philemon [AD 347-407])

“Whence we learn that we must determine the penance, not only by the nature of the sins, but by the disposition and habit of them that sin. As the Apostle did in that instance.” (Homily IV on Second Corinthians [AD 347-407])

“Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, 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 [Matthew 10:40; John 20:21–23]. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven” (The Priesthood 3:5 [AD 347-407])

Council of Antioch in Encaeniis

“All who enter the church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the Eucharist, are to be cast out of the Church, until, after they shall have made confession, and having brought forth the fruits of penance, and made earnest entreaty, they shall have obtained forgiveness.” (Canon II [AD 341])

John Cassian, monk and theologian

“For whoever after baptism and the knowledge of God falls into that death, must know that he will either have to be cleansed, not by the daily grace of Christ, i.e., an easy forgiveness, which our Lord when at any moment He is prayed to, is wont to grant to our errors, but by a lifelong affliction of penitence and penal sorrow, or else will be hereafter consigned to the punishment of eternal fire for them, as the same Apostle thus declares: effeminate, nor defilers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous persons, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God.” (Conference XXIII ch. 15 [AD 360-435])

Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria

“As the man whom the priest baptizes is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost,so does he who in penance confesses his sins, receive through the priest forgiveness in virtue of the grace of Christ” (Fragment contra Novatian [AD 373])

Jerome, presbyter of Rome

“If the serpent, the devil, bites someone secretly, he infects that person with the venom of sin. And if the one who has been bitten keeps silence and does not do penance, and does not want to confess his wound . . . then his brother and his master, who have the word [of absolution] that will cure him, cannot very well assist him” (Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:11 [AD 388]).

Mar Theodore the Interpreter, archbishop of Mopsuestia

“This is the medicine for sins, established by God and delivered to the priests of the Church, who make diligent use of it in healing the afflictions of men. You are aware of these things, as also of the fact that God, because He greatly cares for us, gave us penitence and showed us the medicine of repentance; and He established some men, those who are priests, as physicians of sins. If in this world we receive through them healing and forgiveness of sins, we shall be delivered from the judgment that is to come. It behooves us, therefore, to draw near to the priests in great confidence and to reveal to them our sins; and those priests, with all diligence, solicitude, and love, and in accord with the regulations mentioned above, will grant healing to sinners. [The priests] will not disclose the things that ought not be disclosed; rather, they will be silent about the things that have happened, as befits true and loving fathers [cf. 1 Thess 2:11; 1 Cor 4:15] who are bound to guard the shame of their children while striving to heal their bodies.” (Catechetical Homilies XVI [AD 428])

Augustine, bishop of Hippo

“When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance.” (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed par. 15 [AD 354-430])

“Now the man who, not believing that sins are remitted in the Church, despises this great gift of God’s mercy, anti persists to the last day of his life in his obstinacy of heart, is guilty of the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost.” (Enchiridion, ch. 83 [354-430])

“and outside the Church sins are not remitted. For the Church alone has received the pledge of the Holy Spirit, without which there is no remission of sins — such, at least, as brings the pardoned to eternal life.” (Enchiridion, ch. 65 [354-430])

“But if this unbridled course ends in plunging the man into such a depth of evil habits that he supposes that there will be no punishment of his sinful passions, and so refuses the wholesome discipline of confession and repentance by which he might be rescued; or, from a still worse insensibility, justifies his own indulgences in profane opposition to the eternal law of Providence; and if he dies in this state, that unerring law sentences him now not to correction, but to damnation.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichean, book XXII par. 29 [AD 354-430])

“When is he loosed, and by whom is he loosed? ‘Whatsoever thou shall
loose on earth,’ He saith, ‘shall be loosed in Heaven.’ Forgiveness of sins may justly be granted by the Church.” (Exposition on Psalm 102 par. 20 [AD 354-430])

“In the words then, Who is the proud? He who doth not by confession of his sins do penance, that he may be healed through his humility.” (Exposition on Psalm 94 par. 11 [AD 354-430])

“If men do not forgive sins, then that is false which Christ saith, ‘Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven also.'” But thou dost not know why this is said, and in what sense this is said. The Lord was about to give to men the Holy Spirit, and He wished it to be understood that sins are forgiven to His faithful by His Holy Spirit, and not by men’s deserts. For what art thou, O man, but an invalid who hast need of healing. Wouldest thou make thyself my physician? Together with me, seek the Physician. For that the Lord might show this more plainly, that sins are forgiven by the Holy Spirit, which He hath given to His faithful ones, and not by men’s deserts, after He had risen from the dead, He saith in a certain place, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost;’ and when He had said, sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them;” that is, the Spirit remits them, not ye. Now the Spirit is God. God therefore remits, not ye. But what are ye in regard to the Spirit? ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ And again, ‘Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?’ So then God dwelleth in His holy temple, that is in His holy faithful ones, in His Church; by them doth He remit sins; because they are living temples.” (Sermon XLIX par. 9 [AD 354-430])

Sozomen, historian

“As in supplicating for pardon; it is requisite to confess the sin, it seems probable that the priests, from the beginning, considered it irksome to make this confession in public, before the whole assembly of the people. They therefore appointed a presbyter, of the utmost sanctity, and the most undoubted prudence, to act on these occasions; the penitents went to him, and confessed their transgressions; and it was his office to indicate the kind of penance adapted to each sin, and then when satisfaction had been made, to pronounce absolution.” (Ecclesial History, book VII, ch 16 [AD 375-477])

“From that period, therefore, the performance of penance fell into disuse; and it seems to me, that extreme laxity of principle was thus substituted for the severity and rigor of antiquity. Under the ancient system, I think, offences were of rarer occurrence; for people were deterred from their commission, by the dread of confessing them, and of exposing them to the scrutiny of a severe judge.” (ibid.)

“The bishop conducts the ceremony, sheds tears, and prostrates himself in like manner; and all the people burst into tears, and groan aloud. Afterwards, the bishop rises first from the ground, and raises up the others; he offers up prayer on behalf of the penitents, and then dismisses them. Each of the penitents subjects himself in private to voluntary suffering, either by fastings, by abstaining from the bath or from divers kinds of meats, or by other prescribed means, until a certain period appointed by the bishop. When the time arrives, he is made free from the consequences of his sin, and assembles at the church with the people. The Roman priests have carefully observed this custom from the beginning to the present time.” (ibid.)

“Theodosius publicly confessed his sin in the church, and during the time set apart for penance, refrained from wearing his imperial ornaments, according to the usage of mourners.” (Ecclesial History, book VII, ch. 25 [AD 375-477])

Socrates of Constantinople, historian

“At this time it was deemed requisite to abolish the office of those presbyters in the churches who had charge of the penitences: this was done on the following account. When the Novatians separated themselves from the Church because they would not communicate with those who had lapsed during the persecution under Decius, the bishops added to the ecclesiastical canon a presbyter of penitence in order that those who had sinned after baptism might confess their sins in the presence of the presbyter thus appointed.” (Ecclesial History, book V ch. 9 [AD 379-450])

Council of Laodicea

“They who have sinned in divers particulars, if they have persevered in the prayer of confession and penance, and are wholly converted from their faults, shall be received again to communion, through the mercy and goodness of God, after a time of penance appointed to them, in proportion to the nature of their offence.” (Canon II [AD 390])

Leo the Great, bishop of Rome

“He sees, too, those that have lapsed, and have been deceived by his treacherous snares, washed in the tears of penitence and, by the Apostle’s key unlocking the gates of mercy, admitted to the benefit of reconciliation.” (Sermon XLIX par. 3 [AD 395-461])

“to choose the narrow limits of that time when space is scarcely found even for the penitent’s confession or the priest’s absolution.” (Letters CVIII [AD 395-461])

WHAT else is needed to prove the apostolicity of the sacrament of confession? Why is it difficult for the anti-Catholics to accept the fact that it has been done since the beginning of Christianity? Is it really difficult to believe that the Holy Catholic Church is the same Church founded by Christ?

It is not yet late. Confess your sins to the Church and be forgiven.

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