Christian Cyclopedia

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1. Profession or open acknowledgment of one's faith in anyone or anything, esp. in Christ and His Gospel (Mt 10:32; Lk 12:8; 1 Jn 2:23; 4:15). The meaning that became prevalent in the early ch., i. e., the act of a confessor* or martyr,* is found already in the NT (1 Ti 6:13).

2. That which is confessed: creed, confession, symbol (see Creeds and Confessions).

3. Acknowledgment, admission, or disclosure of one's own sins. In the OT confession of sin is both formal (Lv 5:5; Nm 5:6–8) and personal, private, or spontaneous (Ps 32; 51). In the NT, confession of sins is prominent in the ministry of John the Baptist (Mt 3:6) as well as in the early ch. (Acts 19:18; Ja 5:16; 1 Jn 1:9). The Didache (4, 14; 14, 1) stresses the importance of confession in the ch., that worship may be pure. The mode of confession or the person to receive it is not indicated in the NT or sub-apostolic writings. Tertullian and Cyprian already assoc. acts of reparation with the act of confessing mortal sins, notably murder, idolatry or apostasy, and gross sexual offenses. Subsequently in the W, Celtic influence on the Continent was decisive in bringing about the substitution of private confession of sins before a priest for pub. discipline of gross offenders.

4. In modern RCm, confession may refer to any self-examination and contrition; usually it refers to the formal act (confessio) which, with absolution, is cen. in the sacrament of repentance (penance*). The power of the priest to forgive sins in the sacrament of penance is deduced from Jn 20:22–23; Mt 16:19; 18:15–18. The material of penance is contrition,* confession, and satisfaction. Confession is necessary when a believer has fallen from baptismal grace (thereby losing sanctifying grace) by committing mortal sin (see also Sins, Venial and Mortal). Forgiveness of mortal sins may be secured without confession and priestly absolution by an act of perfect contrition (which includes the desire for formal confession). Venial sins need not be confessed. The form of penance is absolution,* a judicial act. The sacrament is properly administered by a priest who has both the authority of his priestly order and the authority of jurisdiction in the given case. Since 1215 at least an annual confession has been required of each communicant. See also General Confession.

5. The Luth. symbols rejected the necessity and possibility of enumerating all sins in confession (AC XI, Ap XI, SA III iii), but insisted on the retention of private confession, though they granted that it was a human institution. The absolution that followed confession they regarded as the “living voice of the Gospel.” (Ap XI; SC V)

6. Early in the Luth. Reformation, individual confession before Communion became predominantly an exploration to determine if the individual had adequate knowledge for worthy reception of Holy Communion. In the era of Pietism, individual confession fell into disuse and was replaced by general* confession.

7. Ref. and Angl. chs. rejected private confession and absolution as a sacrament in the 16th c.

8. In Am., the Definite Platform (1855) held that no one should be admitted into the General Syn. who believes in private confession and absolution. But C. F. W. Walther, like many supporters of the Confessional Revival in Eur., felt that both should be retained. In the 20th c. periodic attempts have been made to restore individual confession in the Luth. Ch. in the spirit of the symbols. But the most common form of confession remains the gen. pub. confession and absolution in the course of the Eucharistic service or immediately before it.

9. In E Orthodoxy, individual confession plays a more restricted role than it does in the W


Sources of Christian Theology, ed. P. F. Palmer, II: Sacraments and Forgiveness (Westminster, Maryland, 1959); K. Aland, “Die Privatbeichte im Luthertum von ihren Anfängen bis zu ihrer Auflösung,” Kirchengeschichtliche Entwürfe (Gütersloh, 1960), pp. 452 to 519; L. Klein, Evangelisch-lutherische Beichte: Lehre und Praxis (Paderborn, 1961); P. H. D. Lang, “Private Confession in the Lutheran Church,” Una Sancta, XXII, 1 (Resurrection, 1965), 18–40; F. L. Precht, Changing Theologies of Private and Public Confession and Absolution (unpub. ThD dissertation, Conc. Sem., St. Louis, 1965).

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

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