The Sacrament of Reconciliation, also called confession, is one of the most important sacraments of the church. This sacrament, one of the two sacraments of healing (the other being Anointing of the Sick), has a biblical basis and has been around since the beginning of the Catholic Church in 33 A.D. This post will discuss the basis of the sacrament biblically, the importance of the sacrament, and the history throughout the 2000 year history of the Church.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation has a very clear biblical basis. As taken from the Gospel of John:
Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, ‘Peace be to you!’ And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord. He therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ -John 20:19-23
We can quite clearly see that here Christ gives the authority to forgive sins to the Apostles. As we know, the Apostles chose successors. The power to forgive sins was then passed from the original apostles to their successors, the Bishops. The Bishops then delegated this power to Priests. This power has been passed down through the succession to the present day. The biblical basis of the sacrament is clearly laid out in scripture and as I will show in the next section, Tradition.
As shown above, the Sacrament of Confession has been given from Christ and has been passed down from the original apostles to the Bishops and Priests of this day. There are many quotes from the Early Church Fathers that support the Sacrament of Reconciliation
“Father who knowest the hearts of all grant upon this Thy servant whom Thou hast chosen for the episcopate to feed Thy holy flock and serve as Thine high priest, that he may minister blamelessly by night and day, that he may unceasingly behold and appropriate Thy countenance and offer to Thee the gifts of Thy holy Church. And that by the high priestly Spirit he may have authority to forgive sins…” Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 3 (A.D. 215)
“The Pontifex Maximus–that is, the bishop of bishops–issues an edict: ‘I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.'” Tertullian, Modesty, 1 (A.D. 220).
“In addition to these there is also a seventh, albeit hard and laborious: the remission of sins through penance…when he does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord.” Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, 2:4 (A.D. 248).
“It is necessary to confess our sins to those whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted.” Basil, Rule Briefly Treated, 288 (A.D. 374).
“All mortal sins are to be submitted to the keys of the Church and all can be forgiven; but recourse to these keys is the only, the necessary, and the certain way to forgiveness. Unless those who are guilty of grievous sin have recourse to the power of the keys, they cannot hope for eternal salvation. Open your lips, them, and confess your sins to the priest. Confession alone is the true gate to Heaven.” Augustine, Christian Combat (A.D. 397).
It is evident from the Church Fathers that they viewed the sacrament in the same manner as we do. An interesting fact about the sacrament of reconciliation is that before the sixth century, the sacrament was only offered once in the penitents life. Reconciliation was like a second baptism. After this time period, Celtic monks introduced the practice of frequent reconciliation into the church. From its early form, confession grew into what it is today
The Sacrament of Reconciliation does wonders to us. First of all, it restores us to the state of grace. By sinning mortally, we fall from the state of grace. The Church teaches that if we die with a mortal sin on our soul we will go to hell. All sins are forgiven in the sacrament. By forgiving our sins, we are saved from the fires of hell through reconciliation by Jesus. Many Catholics don’t go to confession. Some are scared to tell their worst sins, some do not think they need confession, and others say that they can confess directly to God. Confession is what Jesus set up on earth for the forgiveness of sins.
-Confession to a priest is Scriptural (John 20:19-23)
-Confession is backed up by the Early Church Fathers
-Confession forgives us of sin