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Movement of heart prior to conversion, namely, “that the heart perceive sin, [and] dread God's wrath” (FC SD II 70). Before the time of Luther, teachings pertaining to contrition and repentance were admittedly confused (Ap XII 4–7). In rabbinic Judaism, repentance (Heb. teshubah, “return”) was often man's self-redemption from the thralldom of sin. The RC Ch. teaches that “perfect contrition justifies the sinner even without the Sacrament of Penance” (E. J. Hanna, “Attrition,” The Catholic Cyclopedia, II [New York, 1907], 66; see also Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, sess. XIV, Sacrament of Penance, ch. 4). By “perfect contrition” RCs mean detestation of sin that arises from love of God. That which arises from any other motive (e.g., fear of losing salvation) is considered attrition.* In rationalism contrition is the first step toward self-improvement, which it regards the essence of salvation. In many Prot. circles the view prevails either that contrition procures forgiveness of sins or, in milder form, that contrition has an influence on God, moving Him to forgive.

Two truths are taught in Scripture regarding contrition: 1. The nonexistence of conversion where contrition has not preceded (FC SD II 70). Contrition is the indispensable preparation for conversion. Fear of God's wrath and damnation always precedes faith (Jl 2:12; Mk 1:15; Lk 15:18; 18:13; 24:47; Acts 2:37; 16:29; FC SD II 54, 70). One who does not experience such anguish of conscience (terrores conscientiae, result of awareness of God's law), despises God's grace (Lk 5:31–39; Ap XII 51; XIII 21; AC XII). Luther emphasized that true contrition is not active (activa contritio), i. e., fabricated remorse, but passive (passiva contritio), i. e., true sorrow of the heart, suffering, and pain of death (SA III iii 2). But from this it is not to be concluded that contrition is a cause of forgiveness (Ro 3:28). 2. Contrition in no way brings about, implements, or occasions justification through faith (WA 6, 545; 52, 271; 48, 335; FC SD III 30–31). Good works do not justify (Eph 2:8); the contrition of the unconverted person is not even a good work, since it is joined with hatred toward God (God justifies the ungodly, Ro 4:5). As soon as one longs for divine grace, faith exists in the heart (Is 42:3; Mk 9:24; cf. FC SD II 14). Faith is engendered by the Holy Spirit through the Word (see Conversion, II 2–3). EL

T. Engelder, “Zur Lehre von der Reue,” CTM, V (1934), 218–227, 369–382, 445–455, 497–509, 584 to 596, 657–668; W. Elert, “Angst,” Morphologie des Luthertums, I (Munich, 1931; improved print., 1952), 39–44, tr. W. Hansen, “Fear,” The Structure of Lutheranism, I (St. Louis, 1962), 43–49.

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

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