Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia


(from Lat. absolvo, “loosen, release”). In gen., a setting free from guilt, sin, or penalty; forgiveness. In particular, the formal act of a clergyman in which, by virtue of his office and in the name and stead of Christ, he pronounces forgiveness of sins upon those who have confessed their sins, affirm their faith in Christ, and promise to amend their lives. The Biblical basis is Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:19–23. In the primitive ch. (3d c. on) scandalous sinners who had been under pub. discipline received absolution at the time of their reconciliation to the ch. From the 5th c. on, notably in monastic communities, absolution was imparted privately. From the 10th c. on in the W a pub. confession spoken by or in the name of the worshiping cong. was sometimes followed by absolution. While recognizing that private confession was a human (although highly praiseworthy and useful) institution, the Luth. Ch. retained individual absolution (normally after private confession) as “the very voice of the Gospel” and declared that it would be impious to abolish it. (AC XI; Ap XI 2; SA-III VIII; SC V). Ap XIII 4 calls it a genuine sacrament along with Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. FC SD XI 38 teaches that the individual can infer God's saving will toward him from private absolution. In a grace emergency, when a clergyman cannot be had, a layman can act for the whole ch. in absolving a penitent (Tractatus 67). In some parts of the Luth. Ch. the confessor imparts individual absolution to the penitents by laying hands on each one after the group of penitents has spoken a gen. confession of sins together. While the gen. practice in the Luth. Ch. is still to administer absolution to all the penitents present at a pub. service, the old Luth. practice of private confession and individual absolution, which had disappeared almost wholly by the end of the 19th c., is slowly gaining ground again. The formula of absolution implied by Scripture (e.g., Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 19:23) and the Luth. Symbols and in common use in the Luth. Ch. is indicative (“In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins …”). Until the 15th c. the precative form (“May God forgive you all your sins …”) was almost universal; this form, still in exclusive use in E Christianity, is used in the Luth. Ch. (as will as in the RC and Angl. communions) as a less formal kind of absolution. Absolution is usually, although not necessarily, a part of the preparation for receiving the Sacrament of the Altar.

The RC Ch. uses the name “absolutions” for a ceremony that follows a requiem mass either in the presence of the body of the departed is not present, also on the 3d, 7th, and 30th days after the death, and on the anniversary. It includes prayers for the dead. During the Lord's Prayer the body, or the coffin or catafalque, is sprinkled with holy water and incensed. The ceremony originated in the Middle Ages. ACP

See also Keys, Office of the.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

Stay Connected! Join the LCMS Network:

Contact Us Online
(Staff Switchboard)
(Church Info Center)
1333 S Kirkwood Rd
Saint Louis, MO 63122-7226 | Directions


Featured Publication

The Lutheran Witness

LCMS Communications

Interpreting the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.
Visit TLW Online