Augsburg Confession – Article 25 – Confession

Article 25 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 24, click here.)

Confession has not been done away with by the preachers on our side. For we observe the custom of not giving the Sacrament to those who have not first been heard and absolved.1 Thereby the people are diligently instructed how comforting the pronouncement of absolution is and how much they ought to esteem and cherish absolution. For it is not the voice or word of the person on hand that forgives sin, but God’s word that does so.2 For it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. We teach with great diligence how comforting and how necessary this command and power of the keys is for terrified consciences. We also teach how God requires us to believe this absolution, no less than if God’s own voice were booming from the sky, and gladly to take comfort in the absolution and to know that we obtain forgiveness of sins through such faith. In the past, the preachers who did a lot of teaching about confession did not touch on a single word about these necessary points. Instead they only tortured consciences with prolonged enumeration of sins, with satisfaction, with indulgences, with pilgrimages and the like. And many of our opponents themselves confess that our side has treated and written about true Christian repentance more competently than has been done in a long time.

And this is what we teach about confession: No one should be forced to enumerate their sins one by one. For such a thing is impossible, as the psalm says, “Who can know his misdeeds?” And Jeremiah says, “The human heart is so corrupt that no one can completely understand it.” The wretched human nature is stuck so deep in sins that it cannot see or know them all, and if we were only to be absolved of those that we could list, there would be little help for us. Therefore it is not necessary to force the people to enumerate their sins one by one. That was also the position of the Fathers, as one finds in Part 2, Subject 33, Question 3 (concerning repentance), Distinction 1, where the words of Chrysostom are cited: “I am not saying that you should indict yourselves publicly or accuse yourself or admit your guilt with each other. Rather obey the prophet, who says, ‘Reveal your ways to the Lord.’ Therefore confess to God the Lord, the true Judge, along with your other prayers. Do not speak your sins with the tongue, but in your conscience.”3 Here one can clearly see that Chrysostom does not compel the enumerating of sins one by one. That is also what the gloss teaches in Question 3, Distinction 5 of the Decrees, that confession is not commanded by Scripture, but was instituted by the churches.4 Nevertheless, the preachers on our side do diligently teach that confession should be retained on account of the absolution, which is the chief and most important component of it, for the comfort of terrified consciences, and for several other reasons as well.5

(To continue to Article 26, click here.)

Notes

1 See 1 Corinthians 11:28 for Paul’s inspired instruction that would-be communicants should examine themselves before partaking of the Holy Supper. Private confession was regarded as an excellent way to aid in such self-examination. Five questions that are useful for self-examination are:

  1. Do I realize and confess that I am a sinner in need of what Jesus offers and gives in the Sacrament? (Matthew 26:26-28)
  2. Do I believe that Jesus does truly forgive my sins and assure me of his love through the Sacrament? (Matthew 26:26-28)
  3. Do I believe that Jesus miraculously gives his actual body and blood to me in this Sacrament, the same body that hung on the cross for me, the same blood that was shed on the cross for me? (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32)
  4. Do I also recognize and believe that this Supper is an expression of unity with my fellow believers, and that I should therefore approach the Supper and depart from the Supper with conduct that reflects this? (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; 11:20-34)
  5. Am I holding a grudge against anyone or deliberately and willingly persisting in any other sin? (Matthew 6:14,15; 18:21-35; Hebrews 10:26-31)

Private confession with a clergyman was/is especially helpful with the first and second questions. However, see the remainder of this article and Notes 3 & 4 below; the Lutherans did/do understand that private confession to a clergyman was a tradition, not a scriptural mandate.

2 Melanchthon’s German appears to be sloppy here. Following his grammar strictly yields something like: “For it is not the voice or word of the person on hand, but God’s word, the One who forgives sin.” But this does not flow well or read smoothly in the context.

3 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 2, Subject 33, Question 3, Distinction 1, Chapter 87 here (type 1185 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go). The original quote from Chrysostom is found in Homily 31 on Hebrews, §6 (original Greek in §3 in col. 216 here).

It is interesting to note the historical context in which Chrysostom preached these words. He was bishop of Constantinople at the time (398-404 AD), having succeeded Bishop Nectarius (381-397). Up until Nectarius’ time, there had been a so-called presbyter of penitence or penitentiary in the Eastern Christian churches, who was appointed to hear the confessions of the faithful before they were communed. The story is slightly different depending on which of the two church historians you read, Socrates Scholasticus (c. 440) or Sozomen (c. 445), but either way a lady of the nobility is involved. She was either raped by a deacon while fasting and praying in the church after confession, or after having confessed once, she returned to confess again, this time admitting that she had slept with a deacon. This ruined the reputation of the clergy as a whole, and the practice of private confession also suffered. Bishop Nectarius, after consulting with others, decided to abolish the office of penitentiary, and to leave everyone to his own conscience with regard to self-examination and preparation for Communion. This is the setting into which Chrysostom arrived when he succeeded Nectarius. One can see Chrysostom’s sensitivity to the matter both in asserting that confessing to others was not absolutely necessary and in nevertheless stressing the importance of examining oneself regularly and confessing one’s sins to God.

4 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 2, Subject 33, Question 3, Distinction 5, Chapter 1 here (type 1245 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go). Melanchthon’s citation found in gloss a, on the words “In pænitentia,” and reads:

But it is better to say that [private confession] was instituted from some tradition of the universal church rather than from the authority of the New or Old Testament. And the tradition of the church obligates just like a command does… Therefore confession is necessary among us in the case of mortal sins; among the Greeks it is not, because such a tradition did not arise among them.

However, see Note 3 above, which demonstrates that it did arise among them, but was subsequently abolished, which was able to be done because, though the practice was useful, it was not mandated by Scripture.

5 This article is an expansion of Article 11; refer back to that article for more notes and proof passages.

Augsburg Confession – Article 12 – Repentance

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 11, click here.)

Regarding repentance, we teach that those who have sinned after baptism, at whatever time they come to repentance, obtain forgiveness of sins, and absolution should not be denied them by the church. Now true and genuine repentance, properly speaking, is nothing other than having contrition and sorrow or dread over sin, and yet at the same time believing in the gospel and absolution, namely that the sin has been forgiven and that grace has been secured through Christ, and this faith comforts the heart and puts it back at ease.1 After that, changing one’s life for the better and desisting from sin should also follow, for these are supposed to be the fruits of repentance, as John says in Matthew 3, “Produce the genuine fruit of repentance.”

Here we reject those who teach that once a person becomes pious, he is unable to fall away again.2

On the other side, we also condemn the Novatians, who denied absolution to those who had sinned after baptism.3

We also reject those who teach that people obtain forgiveness of sins through their own satisfaction, instead of through faith.4

(To continue to Article 13, click here.)

Notes

1 Compare this simple, biblical definition (Mark 1:14,15; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; 2 Timothy 2:25) to the supposed 4 (or 8) “Rs of Repentance” in Mormonism and popular Evangelical theology – recognition, remorse, resolution, (recitation, reformation,) restitution(, release, and reception) – where the fruits of repentance get mixed up with repentance itself, and the essence of repentance, namely trust in forgiveness through Christ, gets lost entirely.

2 Included among those who taught that you could not fall away if you had actually already become a believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11,12) were the Anabaptists like Hans Denck. (The Latin version actually condemns the Anabaptists by name, and it also condemns those who teach that it is possible for a person to attain to such a state of perfection in this life that he or she no longer sins.) Caspar Schwenckfeld also spoke of the regenerate as “essentially righteous.”

3 The Novatians were a heretical group of rigorists in Rome in the middle of the 3rd century AD, named after Novatian (c. 200–258), who refused to take back into the church those who had denied the faith during persecution. Eventually they also refused readmission to those who committed adultery or fornication or who were guilty of murder.

4 This last condemned group really consisted of prominent Roman Catholic theologians, including Johann Eck, who was the Lutherans’ primary opponent at the Diet of Augsburg. Still today, official Roman Catholic doctrine includes satisfaction as an essential part of repentance or penance (see e.g. par. 1431, 1434ff, & 1450 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Augsburg Confession – Article 11 – Confession

Articles 9, 10, 11 & 12 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 10, click here.)

Regarding confession, this is what we teach: Private absolution should be retained in the church and not be allowed to fall out of use. However, it is not necessary to enumerate every misdeed and sin in confession, since such a thing is not possible anyway, as Psalm 191 says, “Who can know his misdeeds?”2

(To continue to Article 12, click here.)

Notes

1 Melanchthon cites Psalm 18, according to its reference in the Vulgate. In English Bibles the reference is Psalm 19:12.

2 Just as with the Lord’s Supper, Martin Luther and his followers found it better to speak in a way that invites and encourages people to make use of private confession and absolution regularly, rather than making laws where God’s word has not made them, as Roman Catholic canon law does. For instance, Canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 AD decrees:

All the faithful of both sexes shall after they have reached the age of discretion faithfully confess all their sins at least once a year to their own (parish) priest and perform to the best of their ability the penance (that is, satisfaction) imposed, receiving reverently at least at Easter the sacrament of the Eucharist [Holy Communion], unless perchance at the advice of their own priest they may for a good reason abstain for a time from its reception; otherwise they shall be cut off from the Church (excommunicated) during life and deprived of Christian burial in death.

On the other hand, here is an example of how Luther encouraged the use of private confession and absolution, from a sermon he gave on March 16, 1522:

I refuse to go to confession simply because the pope has commanded it and insists upon it. For I wish him to keep his hands off the confession and not make of it a compulsion or command, which he has not the power to do. Nevertheless I will allow no man to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what comfort and strength it has given me. No one knows what it can do for him except one who has struggled often and long with the devil. Yes, the devil would have slain me long ago, if confession had not sustained me. For there are many doubtful matters which a man cannot resolve or find the answer to by himself, and so he takes his brother aside and tells him his trouble. What harm is there if he humbles himself a little before his neighbor, puts himself to shame, looks for a word of comfort from him, accepts it, and believes it, as if he were hearing it from God himself, as we read in Matthew 18[:19], “If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them.”

Luther does much the same in “A Brief Admonition to Go to Confession” in his Large Catechism, concluding: “If you are a Christian, then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to confession and not let yourself be urged to come; you should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity.”

For proof passages, see first of all Matthew 16:15-19; 18:18-20 (see also 18:1-3 to see whom Jesus is addressing); and John 20:19-23, from which passages it is clear that Jesus has given all Christians the authority to pronounce absolution (which Luther also clearly recognized and taught; see Luther’s Works [American Edition] 40:26-28). Then see also Acts 20:28 and 1 Corinthians 4:1 (where Paul in the context is talking about himself and all other duly called public ministers of the gospel), from which passages it is clear that Jesus has entrusted absolution to duly called public ministers of the gospel in a special, public, and representative way. Finally see Psalm 32:3-5; Proverbs 28:13; and James 5:16; from which passages it is clear that the Holy Spirit encourages us to confess our sins to fellow Christians (and thus especially to our public ministers), especially those sins that are weighing on our conscience.

For more on confession, see Article 25 in the section on abuses.