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The Sacrament Of Confession… More Testimony From The Early Christians

September 23, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 5

A few more quotations from the Early Fathers of the Church will conclude our list of testimonies. If our Wanderer readers feel I have quoted too many of them, I am glad, because it proves ad nauseam that the Early Christians believed and practiced the Sacrament of Confession since the very beginning of the Church in the world. They were Catholics.
St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to His Clergy (AD 250): Speaking of giving Communion to sinners who, in times of persecution, did not go to Confession and did not receive absolution: “They are being admitted to Communion, and the offering is made in their name. And, not yet having made a confession of sin, not yet having had hands imposed upon them by the bishop and clergy, the Eucharist is given to them, in spite of what is written, ‘Whoever shall eat the Bread or dink the Cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord’.”
Origen (d. 254): “The layman who falls into sin cannot by himself wash away his fault. He must have recourse to the priest.”
Origen (c. 244): “Sin is not to lie hidden within us. . . . If those who have sinned conceal their sin and keep it within them, they will suffer an internal urging, and may come close to being suffocated by the phlegm or humor of sin. If, however, a man in such a circumstance becomes his own accuser, as soon as he accuses himself and confesses, he vomits out his fault and puts in order what was the whole cause of his illness.”
Didache (140): “Confess your offenses in Church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of Life. . . . On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107): “Now God forgives all who repent, so long as their repentance turns to union with God and to communion with the bishop.”
St. Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians (80): “For whatever our transgressions, and whatever we have done through the attacks of the adversary, let us pray that we may be forgiven….For it is good for a man to confess his failings rather than to harden his heart.”
Letter of Barnabas (c. 75): “You shall not make a schism; but you shall pacify and bring together those who are quarreling. You shall confess your sins. You shall not go up to pray in the consciousness of having done evil. This is the way of light.”
Now, if all educated Christians for nearly 1,500 years were wrong about Confession, then the Devil took over the Church and the gates of Hell prevailed. The promise made by Jesus that He would be with His Church till the end of times, that the gates of Hell would not prevail, that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with the apostles and within them did not come true. Then He failed in His promise. Christianity as a whole would be a fraud.
But of course it is not. The Old Testament speaks of confessing one’s sins, the New Testament proves the priests’ God-given power to absolve, and the faith of the Early Christians confirms it abundantly.
The Great Eastern Schism was finalized in the year 1054, when the Greek Catholics, followed by all the Eastern churches except the Maronites, broke away from Rome and created their own independent churches, which have subsequently divided themselves and subdivided into many different institutions.
Prior to that time, all of them kept the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, including Confession, and since the schism to this day all of them keep the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, including Confession. In this area, they did not deny the apostolic Tradition and the biblical teaching, and remained with the Roman Church.
Now it takes a lot of optimism or naiveté to suppose that all churches that came to the 21st century from the apostolic times, the Catholic Church and the schismatic ones, have been wrong in keeping the seven sacraments, including Confession, but only some Protestant sects in the more recent centuries have “discovered the truth” and denied Confession.
Anyone with a minimal amount of reason will immediately affirm that the understanding of the Bible and of the apostolic Tradition that has come to us from the dawn of Christianity carries immensely more weight than the personal opinion of recent Protestant pastors. Period.
But there is more, immensely more. Jesus did not establish the Bible as the sole source of Revelation, not even the apostolic fathers. He instituted His Church, upon Peter the Rock, and gave to it the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to teach His commands and doctrines with authority. Therefore, even if there were no Bible at all, even if there were no apostolic fathers, the Magisterium of the Church, instituted by Christ, would preach His doctrines and His commands, for the salvation of the world.
Even if we had none of these scriptural and historical sources, it would be sufficient for us to trust in the Church’s infallible authority. It is she who is the Bride of Christ, the pillar and mainstay of the truth, as St. Paul said (1 Tim. 3:15). Her founder sent the Holy Spirit to be with her till the end of time. So, when she declares that the Sacrament of Penance was instituted by Christ to be a doctrine given to her by God Himself, this proof suffices for all faithful Catholics.
Let us remember that Jesus did not give us the New Testament: He gave us the Church, and the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gave us the New Testament. Some of her first bishops wrote those books, and consequently she is the only authentic interpreter of their contents.

A Sacred Duty

Now let us take a look at the Sacrament of Confession from the point of view of pure reason. It is evident that for someone to confess to another person his private sins, is something very distasteful to human nature. We simply do not like it at all. But Christians over 1,500 years, prior to the heresiarch Luther and his followers, accepted an obligation as disagreeable as Confession, which could never have been imposed on the Church by a Pope or council without creating a vast upheaval.
Yes, if Confession had been imposed upon the people by the Church in the Middle Ages, there would have been schisms and revolts everywhere, as people would not submit without objection. The date of the innovation would be as well-known as that of the French Revolution or the Reformation or the Bolshevik Revolution or any other great events of secular history.
But there is not a single trace of anything of the kind in history. The absence of all protest during the centuries that elapsed from the foundation of the Church to the Protestant Revolution 15 centuries later, is a conclusive proof that the practice of Confession was always regarded as a sacred duty imposed by none other than Christ Himself.
Next article: Devotional Confession and the sins against the Holy Spirit.

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(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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