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For the evangelical Protestant movement, see Confessing Movement. For statements of faith, also called Confessions of Faith, see creed. For other uses, see Confess (disambiguation) and Confession (disambiguation).
Confession, in many religions, is the acknowledgment of one's sins (sinfulness) or wrongs.
Buddhism has been from its inception primarily a tradition of renunciation and monasticism. Within the monastic framework (called the Vinaya) of the sangha regular confession of wrongdoing to superiors (elders; Pali: Thera) is mandatory. In the sutras of the Pali Canon Bhikkhus confessed their wrongdoing to the Buddha himself. That part of the Pali Canon called the Vinaya requires that monks confess their individual sins before the bi-weekly convening for the recitation of the Patimokkha.
In Catholic teaching, the Sacrament of Penance is the method of the Church by which individual men and women may confess sins committed after baptism and have them absolved by a priest. Although it is not mandatory, the Catholic rite is usually conducted within a confessional box, booth or reconciliation room. This sacrament is known by many names, including penance, reconciliation and confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 1423-1442). While official Church publications always refer to the sacrament as "Penance", "Reconciliation" or "Penance and Reconciliation", many laypeople continue to use the term "Confession" in reference to the Sacrament.
For the Catholic Church, the intent of this sacrament is to provide healing for the soul as well as to regain the grace of God, lost by sin. A perfect act of contrition even outside of confession removes the eternal punishment associated with mortal sin but a Catholic is obliged to confess his or her mortal sins at the earliest opportunity. In theological terms, the priest acts in persona Christi and receives from the Church the power of jurisdiction over the penitent. The Council of Trent (Session Fourteen, Chapter I) quoted John 20:22-23 as the primary Scriptural proof for the doctrine concerning this sacrament, but Catholics also consider Matthew 9:2-8, 1 Corinthians 11:27, and Matthew 16:17-20 to be among the Scriptural bases for the sacrament.
The Catholic Church teaches that sacramental confession requires three "acts" on the part of the penitent: contrition (sorrow of the soul for the sins committed), disclosure of the sins (the 'confession'), and satisfaction (the 'penance', i.e. doing something to make amends for the sins). The basic form of confession has not changed for centuries, although at one time confessions were made publicly.
Typically, the penitent begins sacramental confession by saying, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been [time period] since my last confession." The penitent must then confess what he/she believes to be grave and mortal sins, in both kind and number, in order to be reconciled with God and the Church. The sinner may also confess venial sins; this is especially recommended if the penitent has no mortal sins to confess. According to the Catechism, "without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's Mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as He is merciful". "When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon."  As a result, even mortal sins which the penitent inadvertently forgot are forgiven if the confession was good.
Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
In general, Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians choose an individual to trust as his or her spiritual guide. In most cases this is the parish priest, but may be a starets (Elder, a monastic who is well known for his or her advancement in the spiritual life) or any individual, male or female, who has received permission from a bishop to hear confession. This person is often referred to as one's "spiritual father" or "spiritual mother". Once chosen, the individual turns to his spiritual guide for advice on his or her spiritual development, confessing sins, and asking advice. Orthodox Christians tend to confess only to this individual and the closeness created by this bond makes the spiritual guide the most qualified in dealing with the person, so much so that no one can override what a spiritual guide tells his or her charges. What is confessed to one's spiritual guide is protected by the same seal as would be any priest hearing a confession. While one does not have to be a priest to hear confession, only an ordained priest may pronounce the absolution.
Confession does not take place in a confessional, but normally in the main part of the church itself, usually before an analogion (lectern) set up near the iconostasion. On the analogion is placed a Gospel Book and a blessing cross. The confession often takes place before an icon of Jesus Christ. Orthodox understand that the confession is not made to the priest, but to Christ, and the priest stands only as witness and guide. Before confessing, the penitent venerates the Gospel Book and cross, and places the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand on the feet of Christ as he is depicted on the cross. The confessor will often read an admonition warning the penitent to make a full confession, holding nothing back.
In cases of emergency, of course, confession may be heard anywhere. For this reason, especially in the Russian Orthodox Church, the pectoral cross that the priest wears at all times will often have the Icon of Christ "Not Made by Hands" inscribed on it.
In general practice, after one confesses to one's spiritual guide, the parish priest (who may or may not have heard the confession) covers the head of the person with his Epitrachelion (Stole) and reads the Prayer of Absolution, asking God to forgive the transgression of the individual (the specific prayer differs between Greek and Slavic use). It is not uncommon for a person to confesses his sins to his spiritual guide on a regular basis but only seek out the priest to read the prayer before receiving Holy Communion.
In the Eastern Churches, clergy often make their confession in the sanctuary. A bishop, priest, or deacon will confess at the Holy Table (Altar) where the Gospel Book and blessing cross are normally kept. He confesses in the same manner as a layman, except that when a priest hears a bishop's confession, the priest kneels.
Orthodox Christians should go to confession at least four times a year; often during one of the four fasting periods (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast). Many pastors encourage frequent confession and communion. In some of the monasteries on Mount Athos, the monks will confess their sins daily.
Eastern Christians will also practice a form of general confession, (or manifest contrition), referred to as the rite of "Mutual Forgiveness". The rite involves an exchange between the priest and the congregation (or, in monasteries, between the superior and the brotherhood). The priest will make a prostration before all and ask their forgiveness for sins committed in act, word, deed, and thought. Those present ask that God may forgive him, and then they in turn all prostrate themselves and ask the priest's forgiveness. The priest then pronounces a blessing. The rite of Mutual Forgiveness does not replace the Mystery of Confession and Absolution, but is for the purpose of maintaining Christian charity and a humble and contrite spirit. This general confession is practiced in monasteries at the first service on arising (the Midnight Office) and the last service before retiring to sleep (Compline). Old Believers will perform the rite regularly before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The best-known asking of mutual forgiveness occurs at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is with this act that Great Lent begins.
In the Anglican tradition, confession and absolution is usually a component part of corporate worship, particularly at services of the Holy Eucharist. The form involves an exhortation to repentance by the priest, a period of silent prayer during which believers may inwardly confess their sins, a form of general confession said together by all present and the pronouncement of general absolution by the priest, often accompanied by the sign of the cross.
Private or auricular confession is also practiced by Anglicans and is especially common among Anglo-Catholics. The venue for confessions is either in the traditional confessional, which is the common practice among Anglo-Catholics, or in a private meeting with the priest. Often a priest will sit in the sanctuary, just inside the communion rail, facing toward the altar and away from the penitent. Other times he will use a portable screen to divide himself and the penitent. Following the confession of sins and the assignment of penance, the priest makes the pronouncement of absolution. The seal of the confessional, as with Roman Catholicism, is absolute and any confessor who divulges information revealed in confession is subject to deposition and removal from office.
Historically, the practice of auricular confession was highly controversial within Anglicanism. When priests began to hear confessions, they responded to criticisms by pointing to the fact that such is explicitly sanctioned in The Order for the Visitation of the Sick in the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the following direction:
Here shall the sick person be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter. After which Confession, the Priest shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it).
Auricular confession within mainstream Anglicanism became accepted in the second half of the 20th century; the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church in the USA provides two forms for it in the section "The Reconciliation of a Penitent." Private confession is also envisaged by the canon law of the Church of England, which contains the following, intended to safeguard the Seal of the Confessional:
if any man confess his secret and hidden sins to the minister, for the unburdening of his conscience, and to receive spiritual consolation and ease of mind from him; we...do straitly charge and admonish him, that he does not at any time reveal and make known to any person whatsoever any crime or offence so committed to his trust and secrecy
There is no requirement for private confession, but a common understanding that it may be desirable depending on individual circumstances. An Anglican aphorism regarding the practice is "All may; none must; some should".
Most Protestant churches believe that no intermediary except Christ is necessary between the Christian and God in order to be absolved from sins. Many mainline Protestant Churches include corporate confession in regular worship. For instance the Presbyterian Church USA's Directory of Worship, in directing the components or worship, states, "A prayer of confession of the reality of sin in personal and common life follows. In a declaration of pardon, the gospel is proclaimed and forgiveness is declared in the name of Jesus Christ. God’s redemption and God’s claim upon human life are remembered."
Some Protestants confess their sins in private prayer before God, believing this suffices to gain God's pardon. However confession to another is often encouraged and in some sects or denominations required when a wrong has been done to a person as well as to God. Confession is then made to the person wronged and also to God, and is part of the reconciliation process. In cases where sin has resulted in the exclusion of a person from church membership due to unrepentance, public confession is often a pre-requisite to readmission. The sinner confesses to the church his or her repentance and is received back into fellowship. In both cases there is a required manner to the confessions: for sins between God and Man and for sins between Man and Man.
Lutherans differ from other Protestants as they practice "confession and absolution" (in two forms). They, like Roman Catholics and many Anglicans, see James 5:16 and John 20:22-23 as biblical evidence for confession. The first form of confession and absolution is done at the Divine Service with the assembled congregation (similar to the Anglican tradition). Here, the entire congregation pauses for a moment of silent confession, recites the confiteor, and receives God's forgiveness through the pastor as he says the following (or similar): "Upon this your confession and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
The second form of confession and absolution is known as "Holy Absolution", which is done privately to the pastor (commonly only upon request). Here the person confessing (known as the "penitent") confesses individual their sins and makes an act of contrition as the pastor, acting in persona Christi, announces this following formula of absolution (or similar): "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In the Lutheran Church, the pastor is bound by the Seal of the Confessional (similar to the Roman Catholic tradition). Luther's Small Catechism says "the pastor is pledged not to tell anyone else of sins to him in private confession, for those sins have been removed.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the second form of confession and absolution fell into disuse; at the present time, it is, for example, expected before partaking of the Eucharist for the first time.
In the Methodist Church, as with the Anglican Communion, penance is defined by the Articles of Religion as one those "Commonly called Sacraments but not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel", also known as the "five lesser sacraments". John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, held "the validity of Anglican practice in his day as reflected in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer", stating that "We grant confession to men to be in many cases of use: public, in case of public scandal; private, to a spiritual guide for disburdening of the conscience, and as a help to repentance." The Book of Worship of The United Methodist Church contains the rite for private confession and absolution in A Service of Healing II, in which the minister pronounces the words "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!";[note 1] some Methodist churches have regularly scheduled auricular confession and absolution, while others make it available upon request. Since Methodism holds the office of the keys to "belong to all baptized persons", private confession does not necessarily need to be made to a pastor, and therefore lay confession is permitted, although this is not the norm. Near the time of death, many Methodists confess their sins and receive absolution from an ordained minister, in addition to being anointed. In Methodism, the minister is bound by the Seal of the Confessional, with The Book of Discipline stating "All clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences"; any confessor who divulges information revealed in confession is subject to being defrocked in accordance with canon law. As with Lutheranism, in the Methodist tradition, corporate confession is the most common practice, with the Methodist liturgy including "prayers of confession, assurance and pardon". The traditional confession of The Sunday Service, the first liturgical text used by Methodists, comes from the service of Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer. The confession of one's sin is particularly important before receiving Holy Communion; the official United Methodist publication about the Eucharist titled This Holy Mystery states that:
We respond to the invitation to the Table by immediately confessing our personal and corporate sin, trusting that, “If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our expression of repentance is answered by the absolution in which forgiveness is proclaimed: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”
Many Methodists, like other Protestants, regularly practice confession of their sin to God Himself, holding that "When we do confess, our fellowship with the Father is restored. He extends His parental forgiveness. He cleanses us of all unrighteousness, thus removing the consequences of the previously unconfessed sin. We are back on track to realise the best plan that He has for our lives."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that "Confession is a necessary requirement for complete forgiveness." The sinner must confess both to those persons wronged by his sin and to God. Confession may also be required to an authorized Priesthood leader: "Those transgressions requiring confession to a bishop are adultery, fornication, other sexual transgressions and deviancies, and sins of a comparable seriousness." The priesthood leader may counsel the sinner to submit to the authority of a disciplinary council, but does not have the authority to forgive sin. However, the confession must be held in strict confidence unless the sinner grants permission to disclose it to the disciplinary council.
The act of seeking forgiveness from God for sins called Istighfar. This act, generally done by repeating the Arabic words astaghfirullah, meaning "I seek forgiveness from Allah," is considered one of the essential parts of worship in Islam.
As in Judaism, confession of sins is made directly to God and not through man (except in asking for forgiveness from the victim of the sin). It is taught that sins are to be kept to oneself to seek individual forgiveness from God. God forgives those who seek his forgiveness and commit to themselves not to repeat the sin, although some sins in which another person is victimized are not forgiven unless that person forgives you, so they should also be asked for forgiveness.
In Judaism, confession is an important part of attaining forgiveness for both sins against God and another man. Confessions to God are done communally in the plural. Jews confess that "We have sinned." In matters involving offenses against a fellow man, private confession to the victim is a requirement to obtaining forgiveness from the victim, which is generally a requirement to obtaining forgiveness from God. If the victim refuses to forgive, the offender confesses publicly, before larger and larger audience. Confession (viduy) is also performed on one's deathbed, if at all possible.
"If we decline to follow through with this step, our un-confessed sins will haunt us, resulting in the demise of our body and spirit. We will have to continue paying the penalty of our wrongdoings."
"By completing the Fifth Step, we gain God’s forgiveness, supervision, and strength. We obtain complete forgiveness..." [Quotes are from http://aa-history.com/12stephistory2.html]
- A Confession by Leo Tolstoy in which he describes his conversion to Christianity
- Augsburg Confession, the central document describing the religious convictions of the Lutheran reformation
- Confession inscriptions of Lydia and Phrygia Roman-era Greek confession steles
- Confessions for a list of books and albums of that title, most notably Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo
- Lay confession
- Manifestation of Conscience
- Nemo tenetur se ipsum accusare
- The Sacrament of Forgiveness, by Gilbert Prower Symons, in series, The Advent Papers, Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, [196-]. N.B.: Expresses an "Anglo-Catholic" viewpoint of Anglicanism.
- A Service of Healing II, after the "Confession and Pardon", states "A Confession and Pardon from 474–94 or A Service of Word and Table V or UMH 890–93, or an appropriate psalm may be used." The words noted here are thus taken from page 52 of the Book of Worship, which details the Service of Word and Table V, specifically the conclusion of the part of the rite titled "Confession and Pardon".
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1450-1460.
- Hanna, E. (1911). The Sacrament of Penance. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 14, 2008 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm
- 1983 Code of Canon Law, Can. 988 §1: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3H.HTM
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1458.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1456.
- (Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603, retained in the Supplement to the present Code)
- Becker, Michael Confession: None must, All may, Some should
- Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation
- (Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service I)
- (Lutheran Service Book, Individual Confession and Absolution)
- small cat.
- Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article 24, paragraph 1. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- Blunt, John Henry (1891). Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology. Longmans, Green & Co. p. 670.
- Pruitt, Kenneth (22 November 2013). "Where The Line Is Drawn: Ordination and Sexual Orientation in the UMC". Rethink Bishop. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
Sacraments for the UMC include both Baptism and Eucharist. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions count five more, which many Protestants, including the UMC, acknowledge as sacramental: Confession/Absolution, Holy Matrimony, Confirmation/Chrismation, Holy Orders/Ordination, and Anointing/Unction.
- Underwood, Ralph L. (1 October 1992). Pastoral Care and the Means of Grace. Fortress Press. p. 76. ISBN 9781451416466.
The reason is simply that Wesley assumed the validity of Anglican practice in his day as reflected in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. His later comments on the priestly office substantiate this. Just as preaching in the Methodist movement was not a substitute for Holy Communion, so for Wesley class meetings did not take the place of personal confession and absolution.
- Morris, F.O. (1882). The Ghost of Wesley [extracts from his writings]. p. 10. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
- Langford, Andy (1 October 1992). The United Methodist Book of Worship. Abingdon Press. ISBN 0687035724.
- F. Belton Joyner, Jr. (1 September 2010). The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook. Abingdon Press. p. 102. ISBN 9781426724961.
Confession is an "office of the keys" (see Matthew 16:19) belong to all baptized persons, that is, anyone may confess and any believer may pronounce the word of forgiveness. A declaration of forgiveness is permanent and binding because it comes from Jesus Christ himself.
- Schwass, Margot (2005). Last Words: Approaches to Death in New Zealand's Cultures and Faiths. Bridget Williams Books. p. 130. ISBN 9781877242342.
Occasionally, they may ask the minister to anoint them, hear their confession or absolve them of sin. (In fact, confession and absolution do not have to be done by an ordained minister: one of the cornerstones of Methodism is 'every member is a minister'.) Wherever necessary, the minister encourages the dying person to seek reconciliation with and forgiveness from family members or friends.
- "1996 Discipline ¶ 332". General Conference 2000. The United Methodist Church.
5. All clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences.
- Hickman, Hoyt (2014). "Prayers of Confession". Interpreter Mazine. The United Methodist Church. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
- This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. The United Methodist Church. 1 April 2005. p. 9. ISBN 088177457X.
- Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup (6 September 2013). "Must I confess my sins?". The Methodist Church in Singapore. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
- "In early A.A., sharing and confession was an integral part of recovery for alcoholics. Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob truly believed that the Fifth Step was absolutely necessary if an alcoholic was to be cured. Even Anne Smith, commonly referred to as the 'Mother of A.A.,' believed that confession, or sharing of wrongs, was vital." Retrieved from http://aa-history.com/12stephistory2.html
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