Friday, June 18, 2010

How Confession became a Divinely Instituted Sacrament

More Paul Johnson today. I’m headed into the Inquisition from Augustine, but as I look through Johnson to pick up a place to make the connection, I’m coming across all sorts of, uh, interesting facts. I’ve been looking at forgeries about Peter in the early church, and this one ties in nicely – forgeries about Peter lead to overblown theories about “the Power of the Keys” which “develop” directly into the sacrament of Penance (Confession), which is then used in a cynical way to control “the masses” – through a misuse of this mutant “sacrament”; the use of indulgences then first fueled the crusades, which, in time, were then co-opted to fight (and in Augustinian style, destroy) heresy. This proved too vulgar for the “conscience” of the Church, and these practices were later channeled into the Inquisition.

I’ve broken up long paragraphs and added some bolding to facilitate reading, but from here on, (except for my comments in [square brackets]), you’re reading Johnson:

Above all, however, what the peasant wanted from the Church was some hope of salvation. This was the overwhelming reason why Christianity replaced paganism: it had a very clear-cut theory of what happened after death, and of how eternal happiness could be gained. The appeal was to all classes: it was the one thing which enabled the Church to hold society together.

Yet this aspect of Christianity, too, was subtly changed over the centuries, and balanced in favour of the possessing classes: indeed, it became the central feature of mechanical religion. As we have seen, baptism was originally regarded as the prelude to an imminent parousia. Only gradually, as the parousia receded, did the Church have to grapple with the problem of sin after baptism, and the second (or third and subsequent) repentance.

Moreover, it is fair to say that the problem was never satisfactorily resolved. It was agreed that a post-baptismal sin had to be confessed in some form. Ambrose thought it might be done publicly, to a priest, or privately to oneself. If confession took place to a priest, he would try to intercede with God; but the confessors [priests to whom confessions might be said] (here Ambrose quoted Origen) had no power to do anything except pray and advise. The Church’s actual formularies were framed only for public confession, and penance. But an exception was introduced in the case of adulteresses, who might risk their lives if they confessed publicly; and these exceptions, or concessions, multiplied.

In 459, Leo 1 forbade reading confessions in public; he said it sufficed to confess to God, and then to a priest or bishop, who would pray for the sinner. By the time of Gregory the Great it was accepted that confession was necessary for the forgiveness of sin, and that it was in sacerdotal hands; but it was apparently accompanied by a public ceremony. Auricular confession, in its mature form, was probably a byproduct of the conversion of the Germanic tribes; it was established much more slowly in southern Europe.

Of course most people preferred it to public humiliation; the chief brake on its expansion was the shortage of priests. The Council of Chalons, 813, laid down that confessions in private to God or to a priest were equally effective; and delayed, or death-bed confessions were popular – as [deathbed] baptism had once been. Auricular confession as a standard, and as a sacrament, developed pari passu with papal and clericalist theory in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, and it was clearly connected with them. The first formulation of the sacramental basis was by the Paris schoolmen, especially by Peter Lombard, who relied on a forged Augustinian tract (Augustine did not in fact deal with the problem). Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries played a major role in the evolution of the related “Power of the Keys” theory. The salient forgery was in the Capitularies of Benedict the Levite, a supposed document of Clement 1, reciting his ordination as Bishop of Rome, in which Peter formally transmitted to him the power of the keys; Peter was made to say that bishops were the keys of the Church since they have the power to open and close the gates of Heaven.

Hence, in the twelfth century, confession to a priest in private was the only form still used in the West, except in certain monasteries where the earlier tradition of public confession lingered on for a time. The Council of Paris, 1198, published the first synodical code of instructions for confessors; and at the Lateran Council in 1216 Innocent III made auricular confession compulsory for all adult Christians. There remained an unresolved argument through the Middle Ages whether confession was a human or divine institution; then, in the sixteenth century, the denial of the Reformers that it was a sacrament at all hardened opinion among the papalists, and the council of Trent declared it divine.

Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, © 1976 Athenium, pgs. 229-230.


John Bugay said...

It's extremely interesting that "The first formulation of the sacramental basis [for sacramental confession] was by the Paris schoolmen, especially by Peter Lombard, who relied on a forged Augustinian tract," because virtually all of the later Medieval writers relied on Lombard.

I have not looked into this any further, but it would be interesting to do a study on just how much of Roman Catholic theology is built on such forgeries. I know that through medieval times, there were a bunch of forged documents going down purporting to be letters of Ignatius; Aquinas relied heavily on a 5th century neoplatonist named "Pseudo-Dionysius"; Aquinas genuinely thought he was "Dionysius the Areopagite" from Acts 17; the Pseudo-writings I believe affected Aquinas's doctrine of God. There are many more such things.

John Bugay said...

Over at Green Baggins:

A passage is being cited, purportedly from "St. Cyril’s cathetical lecture on Sacred Liturgy and Communion," as "one proof (among others) of ancient practice of prayers for and to the 'dead.'"

But Pastor D.T. King has noted: (Comment #139):

Just a note on the above reference to Cyril of Jerusalem. It’s not really Lecture 23 in the Lenten Lectures as the link suggests, but rather is the 5th of five Mystagogical Lectures appended to the works of Cyril of Jerusalem, the authorship of which is questioned. The number of Lenten Lectures by Cyril were 18, not 23 as the link suggests.
The editor in the
Fathers of the Church series volume writes: “Again, the Mystagogiae, both as a theological and a literary work, seem unworthy of Cyril. Compared with the praises of baptism in the Lenten Lectures, set in a rich context of biblical theology, the Mystagogiae seem somewhat jejune and lame, as well as obscure. Awe and exclamations of wonder have taken the place of understanding. Cyril, on the other hand, commanded considerable biblical and theological resources, to which corresponded a notable mastery of language, a quite rich vocabulary and some imagination. The diction of the Mystagogiae is, by comparison, poverty-stricken; I have deliberately, in my translation, left some of its infelicities unimproved. See FC, Vol. 64, The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1949), pp. 146-147.

* * *

Tom Riello, of Called to Communion fame, in a subsequent post, referred to this exact same letter, as if he had not read Pastor King's post.

Turretinfan then mentioned this to him in a long and thorough response.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Saint Paul said that the Lord's Supper cannot be taken without serious introspection, and from tradition (history) we know that this was done publically in church, after which the bishop and presbyters said prayers asking God for the forgiveness of the sins to those who confesses and repented. Because of condescension to human shame and weakness (not judging others, not harming them, hating them, etc) the Church accepted confession only to a reduced audience, in this case the priest.

John Bugay said...

There is a difference in what confession means in Roman Catholic doctrine and what it means in Orthodox doctrine. I'm sure you are aware of those differences.

Rhology said...

The "judging the body rightly" in 1 Cor 11 is not "severe introspection"; it's a response to the context. The context was the abuse of the Supper by rich ppl who'd get drunk and stuff their faces and ignore the needs of the poor Christians who came later. So Paul is saying, "Don't take the Supper if you're going to abuse it".

See Svendsen's discussion of that.

Alexander Greco said...

I have not looked into this any further

So true true.

John Bugay said...

Alexander -- I just want to get straight who you think you're calling "Stalin".

Paul said...

Another interesting post, John.

According to Professor Kenneth Latourette of Yale, the practice of confessing to an individual priest first came about in the East after the Decian persecutions. In the West, penitents were apparently grouped in one public place where they “stood and mourned until the completion of the service”. (Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity: Volume I: to A.D. 1500. San Francisco. HarperSanFrancisco. 1975. p. 217)

Latourette also chronicles how, after the fall of the Roman Empire, that the practice which had heretofore been under the influence of the local bishops came to be propogated by wandering monks from Ireland – the peregrini. These monks operated independently of the local bishop which raises all sorts of questions for the RC who believes in the faith, “as it has always been understood by the catholic church”, to use the words of Vatican I. Is the sacrament invalid because it grew outside the “magisterium” or is the magisterium invalid because an accepted sacrament spread without it? Very interesting.

The more important issue, in my estimation, is the RC’s complete ignorance (meant descriptively and not pejoratively) of the Bible and the OT in particular. (I believe I have mentioned the work of Fr. Felix Just, Ph.D. earlier on this.) Fr. Just studied the Missals used in the Catholic Mass from 1570 until today and found that up until 1970, those Missals censored 99.2% of all OT teachings (except the Psalms which were read responsorially between readings at the mass.)

What that has to do with confession is this. God the Father, through the prophet Jeremiah, promised in His creation of the New Covenant, that He would “Forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:34; please read vss. 31-34 for the full meaning.) Children of the New Covenant have God’s Word that He has forgiven their sins in advance.

Therefore, any act of penance that claims efficacy in forgiving sins acts in bad faith and has the following ironic consequences: for the Roman Catholic who is part of the New Covenant the claims for forgiveness are without effect because God has forgiven the sins in advance (Jeremiah 31:31-34, and Hebrews 8 & 10). But for the Roman Catholic who is not part of the New Covenant, i.e. not elect, the sacrament raises false hopes that can never be realized.

Which may mean that this “sacrament” was never “divinely instituted” at all.

Thanks, John, for another stimulating topic.


John Bugay said...

Thanks Constantine. I was initially headed toward the crusades and the inquistion, but I found Johnson's account of this so compelling, I thought it was worth a little detour to show just how circuitous the route was to "sacramental confession."

You had mentioned the information about Fr. Just (though I don't recall if you had mentioned his name). And yes, I do recall, at some point, there were three readings instead of two, and the first one was always an OT reading. Growing up, of course, I had no idea what was being censored.

Let me know if you'd like to put some of that up here some time. I'd be very interested in seeing more of it.

Alexander Greco said...

It shouldn't take an Einstein to figure it out Mr. Cleese.

Maybe you should look beyond the narrowminded sources you frequent.

(Thanks to Mr. Bellisario for the link.)

John Bugay said...

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." -- Thanks to the writer of Hebrews for that one.

The historian I'm citing here, Paul Johnson, is an English Roman Catholic journalist, historian, speechwriter and author. He was Jesuit trained and an Oxford graduate, from back in the 1950's, when that really meant something special. If you think that lends itself to being "a narrowminded source," well, then I just think you're a hoot.

And I'd suggest to you that if you think John 20:19-23 means that you have to go and ask forgiveness from a Priest, then you have been taken in by a far more Stalinesque power than I am pointing to here.

Alexander Greco said...

Fr. John Hardon S.J., Ph.D priest, writer, and theologian. Not only was he trained by Jesuits, but he was a Jesuit himself. He received his doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (a Jesuit school).

Do you really want really want to compare resumes? I didn't think so Saddam.

Have you read Origin?

And yes, I do recall, at some point, there were three readings instead of two, and the first one was always an OT reading. Growing up, of course, I had no idea what was being censored.

It is stupid comments like this one which prove to me that you have no idea what you are talking about.

John Bugay said...

Alexander: This is from the Hardon link you posted:

In the early Church, Christians were expected to live very holy lives. And they did.

What happened in the interim? Would you expect, say, the popes at least, to live very holy lives? Well, some them, more than a few, were among the most rotten human beings alive. How could they have been counted even as Christians, much less "successors of Peter"?

I'll tell you. In the interim, the bar was set so low that the qualifications for being a bishop, much less a bishop of Rome, were almost precisely the opposite of what Paul wrote about in 1 Tim 3, for example. Why did the rules get changed in mid-stream like that? I'll tell you. It was because (a) they thought they were setting the rules, and (b) they knew they couldn't live up to the original rules. So you've essentially got an "unbroken succession" where the weakest links in the chain are represented by nothing less than some of the worst human scum imaginable. Made possible by those who testified in their own behalf, so to speak. This is your institutional, "visible Church".

Yet, even in the early Church, sinners were reconciled after they had confessed their sins, received absolution and performed what to us must seem like extraordinary penance for the wrong they had done.

This tells me that they failed to understand the truly graceful and magnanimous gift of grace and forgiveness that Christ offered in his death. T.F. Torrance did a study of "Grace in the Apostolic Fathers." This suggested at a very early date, the early church began to misunderstand the grace that Peter and Paul talked about, and began adopting a pre-Pelagian, legalistic mindset.

James Bellisario said...

What it tells us is that the Sacrament of Confession and doing penance existed from apostolic times.

John Bugay said...

No, it tells you that certain things, into which you can read later doctrines of "Sacrament of Confession and doing penance," started happening in the third century. It tells you that by the second and third century, they were already misunderstanding what the New Testament writers were saying.

James Bellisario said...

Wrong. Scholars tell me that the Sacrament existed from the beginning. I'll go with them, not you.

John Bugay said...

Good bye.

Turretinfan said...

"Wrong. Scholars tell me that the Sacrament existed from the beginning. I'll go with them, not you."

I would love to see what "scholars" think that. I hope Mr. Bellisario will post something on The Catholic Champion to help make those scholarly resources available to the general public.

Paul said...

The source I cited is a Jesuit priest who has a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona. He was ordained a priest in 1991. His Jesuit training included attending the Jesuit Novitiate in Santa Barbara, CA, studying at the Hochschule für Philosophie in Munich, Germany (Bakk.Phil. 1984), teaching mathematics and German at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, CA, and studying theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA (M.Div. 1990, S.T.L. 1994).
Fr. Just did his doctoral studies of the New Testament in the Dept. of Religious Studies at Yale University, New Haven, CT.
He is currently the Director of Biblical Education at the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, CA, through which he offers and directs a variety of adult biblical education programs. Prior to moving to Orange County, he taught theology and religious studies at Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles), the University of San Francisco, and Santa Clara University. He was also the Director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality at LMU, and has worked extensively with the Campus Ministry and Ecclesia programs of Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles. He is an active member of the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature, and tries to keep up his working knowledge of several ancient and modern languages.

Good enough, Alex?

Paul said...

Scholars tell me that the Sacrament existed from the beginning. I'll go with them, not you.

His Emminence, the Saint of Sledgehammer Scholasticism, nicely proves my point.

By being unable to interact with the clear Biblical admonition of God the Father (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:8-12), as affirmed by God the Son (Matthew 5:17-21) and executed by God the Holy Spirit, His Holiness Belissario shows that he follows the traditions of men and not of God. What else does “scholars tell me” mean over against what the Scriptures say?

“So that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:5)

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:3)


Alexander Greco said...

It tells you that by the second and third century, they were already misunderstanding what the New Testament writers were saying.

And we're all supposed to believe that you aren't misunderstanding the NT now, right Borat?

Once you people can come to an agreement on divorce and remarriage, then maybe I'll take you seriously.

Mentioning a "bar" and "rules" suggests that you can provide documentation to your claims of the "institutional Church" setting these rules, etc. I am waiting for you to step out of your inner Gallagher, end the comedy, and provide some substance to your accusations.

Were some in the hierarchy evil? Yes. How does this discredit the Church? It doesn't.

Alexander Greco said...

Constantine, you should be directing your post to your friend David Hodo here and not me.

M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M said...

What's with the vicious name-calling, Alexander? Is that how the sheep of the One True Church are supposed to act?

The 27th Comrade said...

I like that John 20:19-23 is being cited in this case, when an appeal to infallible authority and Tradition could just fix things. It is sola scriptura when it is convenient.

I guess Roman Catholicism has arrived at having to survive by being logically-trivial (in the sense of the ECQ). The only other place I’ve seen P and not-P both being proof of one thing is in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. The links aren’t mine to draw, though.

If one has managed to ignore Romans and the only point that epistle sets out to make, while also believing in apostolic succession and the primacy of the Roman pontiff, for such a one no excuse remains.

Anonymous said...

"It tells you that by the second and third century, they were already misunderstanding what the New Testament writers were saying".

Then I have a few questions:

Do you think that this misunderstanding occurred because the Church of the apostles vanished and a false church appeared?

Or, was it the "Apostolic Church" that "were already misunderstanding what the New Testament writers were saying"?

Would you consider the Church of this period (“the second and third century”) the Church of the "Fathers" and therefore Catholic or simply "Roman Catholic"?

Does the Church you describe above have any connection to the Church of pope Leo I (459) mentioned in your blog and therefore connected to the Church of pope Benedict XVI?

Would you even say that the Church of pope Benedict XVI has a direct link to the Church of pope Leo I?

If there is no connection, why do you disturb Catholics of this age with the “errors” of unrelated organization(s), especially, of prior periods?

If they are related, do you think we should not challenge not only your assessment of the teachings of the second and third century Church and, more importantly, your qualification (a whole lot more than academics) to have anything meaningful to say about “Church”?

I ask the questions because it is the stated position of bloggers here that the Catholic Church of pope Benedict XVI (which they disdainfully call Roman Catholic) has no direct relationship (apostolic succession) with the early Church and I am interested in getting a Protestant to pin down for me where and when the “Roman Catholic Church” got off the trail.

M said...


You called him, among other things, the names of brutal, murderous dictators. Since you count that the same as simply calling someone "Bobblehead," what would qualify as "vicious" in your mind?

In keeping with your double standards and intellectual dishonesty you don’t ask him the question “Is that how the sheep, a member of the Elect are supposed to act?”

1. You assume I read Constantine's comment. I didn't. I don't have the time to read all the comments on these threads. Now, what kind of intellectual dishonesty would presumed mind-reading fall under?

2. Even if I had read it, so what? Do I have to object to every instance of something I find morally objectionable?

Besides, I wasn't objecting to name-calling by itself. I was raising another point about the kind of apologetic character produced by those claiming to have access to superior means of grace than what is offered at the congregations of separated brethren. As such:

3. You did not address the question. How should we expect devoted members of the One, True, Holy Apostolic Church to act given all the grace they receive from the sacraments dispensed from it? You can deflect the question to the behavior of Protestants and compare as much as you'd like, but once you do that, you're in danger of admitting that there's going to be no difference in online character between these "intellectually dishonest" Protestants and the faithful sheep of the Catholic Church.

4. Constantine's name-calling does not rise to the level of yours. Unless you think this issue is an all-or-nothing proposition, your objection would have to be based on me refusing to comment on similar, dictator-labeling rhetoric.

Maybe we can go through this blog, or Rhology’s, or maybe even Triablogue and see if they meet your moral criteria. Then we can see if you are ready to question them as well.

I've objected to some (but not all) of the tone and tenor of Triablogue before, but not in public. One reason is that, in general, Christians are to make those kinds of objections in private first before escalation. But thanks for the false assumption of a double-standard.

Alexander Greco said...

Matthew, if this is your idea of a good response, then you are way too intellectually dishonest for me to give you any more of my time.

Thanks for providing all of us another great example of a double standard.

By the way, since you appear to be a bit slow, what do all the names I've mentioned have in common with John Bugay? Or are Einstein, Cleese, Stossel, Geraldo, Borat, Bolton, Gallagher, Hodo, and Selleck murderous dictators too? Or is it just the names Stalin and Saddam offensive? And you claim to be educated?!?

Alexander Greco said...

Oh yea, I've forgot to mention the C.H.I.P.S extra. I don't recall there being any dictators on that show.

Alexander Greco said...


Paul said...

Alexander is too funny. He throws out at least 7 barbs in this post alone, and then complains when one is mentioned in return. Poor boy.

Here’s #1….

Vicious? I think you are being overly sensitive here. However, your complaint has given us another clear example of the intellectual dishonesty and double standards you folks are well known for.


So true true. (12:29 PM, June 18, 2010 )


Maybe you should look beyond the narrowminded sources you frequent. (2:18 PM, June 18, 2010)


Do you really want really want to compare resumes? I didn't think so Saddam.

#5, with a characteristic misspelling to add flavor…

Have you read Origin? (2:56 PM, June 18, 2010 ) (BTW – the ECF you refer to is “Origen” not “Origin”, Einstein.)


And we're all supposed to believe that you aren't misunderstanding the NT now, right Borat? (10:39 PM, June 18, 2010 )

#7 By the way, since you appear to be a bit slow,

But let one little remark be made against Alex’s hero, who regularly insults James Swan on Swan’s own website and little Alex get his feelings hurt. Awww. Poor Alex.

Come on, Alex. You guys from the Inquisition gotta be tougher than that!

You are just hilarious.