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The Sacrament Of Confession… Confession Among The Early Christians

September 16, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 4

Here are some more testimonies from the Early Christians about the Sacrament of Confession, how they understood the sacrament and how it was administered by the priests to the people when they sinned. Those writers are known in history as the Fathers of the Early Church, the theologians and Bible scholars of the first centuries, before the Bible was formed as we know it today in the Council of Carthage in 397.
There is no doubt that their interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures carries immensely more weight and authority than those of contemporary Protestant pastors and individuals who have little knowledge of the history of Christianity.
Theodore of Mopsuestia (+ AD 428) catechetical homilies: “If we commit a great sin against the Commandments, . . . we must first induce our conscience with all our power to make haste and repent our sins as is proper, and not permit ourselves any other medicine. . . . This is the medicine for sins, established by God and delivered to the priests of the Church, who make diligent use of them in healing the afflictions of men. . . . [God] established some men, those who are priests, as physicians of sins. . . .
“It behooves us, therefore, to draw near to the priests in great confidence and to reveal to them our sins; and those priests, with all diligence, solicitude, and love, and in accord with the regulations, will grant healing to sinners. [The priests] will not disclose the things that ought not to be disclosed: rather, they will be silent about the things that have happened, as befits true and loving fathers who are bound to guard the shame of their children.”
St. Pacian of Barcelona (c. AD 385) Letters to the Novationist Sympronian: “Certainly God . . . pardons the penitent. You will say that it is God alone who can do this. True enough. But it is likewise true that He does it through His priests, who exercise His power. What else can it mean when He says to His Apostles, ‘Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’?. . . If He were permitting this to the Apostles alone, He would likewise be permitting them alone to baptize, them alone to confer the Holy Spirit, them alone to cleanse the pagans of their sins. For all these things were commissioned not to others but to the Apostles.”
St. John Chrysostom (AD 386) Treatise on the Priesthood: “Men are entrusted with the dispensations of the things of heaven! Priests have received a power which God has given neither to Angels nor to Archangels. It was said to them, ‘Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ What greater power I there than this? The Father has given all the judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men.”
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 390) Treatise on Penance: “Things that are impossible with men are possible with God. . . . Christ granted even this to His Apostles [forgiveness of sins], and by His Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priests.”
St. Ambrose (AD 381) Treatise on the Holy Spirit: “It is through the Holy Spirit that sins are forgiven. Men make use of their ministry for the forgiveness of sins. But they are not exercising any power that is theirs by right. It is not in their own name, but in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit that they forgive sins. They ask and the divinity forgives. The ministration is of man, but the gift bestowed is from the power on high.”
St. Ambrose Letter to Constantius, Bishop (undated): “[The sinner] not only confesses his sins, but he even enumerates them and admits his guilt. . . . The illness of sins . . . disappears when it shows itself in confessions.”
St. Basil the Great (AD 370) Rules Briefly Treated: “It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. . . . It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist (Matt. 3:6). But in the Acts, they confessed to the Apostles (19:18).”
Aphraates the Persian Sage, Syrian, c. 340: Referring to the priests as physicians of souls: “Disciples of (Jesus) our illustrious Physician: If anyone uncovers his wound before you, give him the remedy of repentance. And he that is ashamed to make known his weakness, encourage him so that he will not hide it from you. And when he has revealed it to you, do not make it public.”
Lactantius (c. 320): “It must be known that the true Catholic Church is that in which there is confession and repentance, which treats in a wholesome manner the sins and wounds to which the weakness of the flesh is liable.”
St. Cyril (+ 258): “How much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. Thus, they remove the weight from their souls and seek the saving remedy for their wounds however small and light they be.
“I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while satisfaction and remission made through the priests are pleasing before the Lord.”
St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258): “I entreat you, brethren, that each one should confess his own sin while he who has sinned is still in this world, while his confession may be received, while his satisfaction and the absolution given by the priest are still pleasing to the Lord.”
St. Cyprian Letter to Antonianus, a bishop in Numidia (AD 252): Referring to sinners who are truly repentant and groan for their sins, he says: “Since among the dead there is no confession, nor in that place can a confession of sin be made, those who have repented from the bottom of their heart and have besought it, must after a time be receive into the Church, to be preserve therein for the Lord.”
Treatise on The Lapsed, AD 251: Speaking of receiving Holy Communion in a state of sin, Cyprian taught:
“The Apostle bears witness and says, ‘Whoever eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11:27). But they spurn and despise this warning; and before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest, before the offense against an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, they do violence to his Body and Blood; and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied Him.”

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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