Seal of the Confessional and the Lutheran Church

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For the similar doctrine in other denominations of Christianity see Seal of the Confessional (disambiguation).

The Seal of the Confessional is a Christian doctrine which affirms the special protection and privilege of the words spoken during confession between a penitent (church member) and his or her pastor. A form of this principle exists in the doctrine and practice of many modern Lutheran churches.


The Roman Catholic priest and Protestant Reformer Martin Luther initially proclaimed in his teaching that three sacraments should be preserved in the reformed church, namely baptism, the eucharist and confession; Lutheran Christians today, do not all agree on the number of sacraments, but many include confession as a sacramental act.[1]

Some of the Nordic churches at the time of the Reformation maintained virtually all aspects of their catholic faith and order, whilst breaking their links with the Pope. Later, these churches formally constituted themselves as Lutheran, the Church of Sweden doing so, for example, at The Convocation of Uppsala in 1593. There was a continuing de facto respect for principles such as the Seal of the Confessional, not least because it took the Nordic people a long time to promulgate any ecclesiastical law of their own. The first post-reformation ecclesiastical laws in the Kingdom of Sweden were not promulgated until 1686.[2]

Contemporary practice[edit]

In a manner very similar to the Anglican Communion, the practice of private confession in the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches is an important part of their faith for some church members, and totally ignored by others. There is a huge range of attitudes towards the practice. However, where it is practiced, there is an understanding among the clergy that there is an inviolable confidence between the individual priest and the penitent. In continental Lutheran practice private confession is less common, but still present.

The explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, a primary source of Lutheran doctrine, says the following in regards to the Seal of the Confessional:

The pastor is pledged not to tell anyone else of sins to him in private confession, for those sins have been removed.[3]


  1. ^ The Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII, 3, 4 reads: "If we define the sacraments as rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to determine what the sacraments are, properly speaking. For humanly instituted rites are not sacraments, properly speaking, because human beings do not have the authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without the command of God are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps serve to teach or admonish the common folk. Therefore, the sacraments are actually baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution (the sacrament of repentance).[1]
  2. ^ See here for details.
  3. ^ An explanation of The Small Catechism. Retrieved 14 November 2009.

See also[edit]