In New Revelation, the Lord makes very clear statements concerning the forgiveness of sins. This has also given us definite knowledge that Jesus never told his apostles that people were confess their sins to the apostles and their successors in secret. The Catholic Church still maintains that confession originated with Jesus, and that grievous sins can only be forgiven following confession to a priest. It is therefore absolutely necessary, to go into the question of the origin of auricular Confession. This question is a touchstone of fundamental significence for the truthfuIness of Catholic dogma.
Almost all Catholics have a notion that even the apostles were sitting in confessionals in the congregations they founded, heard the confessions of the faithful and gave them absolution. Yet the apostles and apostolic fathers could not have had such an idea, since Jesus had not spoken to them of any such thing.
During the early centuries, no one knew anything about auricular confession. This has been properly substantiated, and the Catholic Church does not deny it. There are reasons why the the Catholic Church has thrown a dense veil over the evolution of confession as an institution and over conditions in the early church. It is simply stated that Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance and hence also confession.
Yet there can have been no question of an auricular confession in the present sense, as is clearly evident, among other things, from the German edition of the (Catholic) Dutch Catechism, where it says: "Only three sins were subject to sacramental absolution: apostasy, murder and adultery; and even these only when they had been committed in public, i.e., had caused serious offence." "Anyone who had publicly committed one of the serious sins reffered to, had to confess them to the bishop (before all the people) and was then publicly declared a penitent, i.e., not admitted to the eucharist." 57
The sin therefore was not forgiven. In some congregations these sinners were cast out of the community, in others admitted agaon on their deathbed. Thus there was no uniform treatment. There was no forgiveness of sins at least during the first century, as is irrefutably evident from the words of the Apostle Paul: "When we sin deliberately once we have understeod the full truth, there can be no more sacrifice for sin; a fearful judgement will be the prospect, however. . ." (Hebr 10, 26 and 27)
In his book Zur Geschichte der Beichte (On the History on Confession), which has oflicial approval, the Catholic apologist P.A. Kirsch confirms this: "From Paul's day, the church excommunicated those who had committed capital sins." "Capital sin led to permanent excommunication." 58 Kirsch is sufficiently objective to admit: "The words of the Church Fahthers, who were in terms of canonical, public penance, cannot simply be applied to private confessions (auricular confession, author). 59
St. Cyprian, Bishop of Antioch (d. 304) was at the end of the third century still emphatically and exclusively relating the passage in John's Gospel "If you forgive anyone their sins, they shal bie forgiven. . ." (20, 23) to baptism, which in his eyes is the only sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. (Ep. 37, 31)
On the basis of what may be learned from New Revelation, anything other than what has been described by the above church leaders was not even thinkable. The apostles had been given very detailed and clear information relating to the forgiving of sins. They were extremely careful in putting their questions to the Lord in this respect, as may be seen from the following. Peter, for instance, said among other things: "What you are saying, O Lord, holds true for all eternity, and we want to know all this very exactly and understand what comes from your lips." (Gr V 259, 5)
Peter then went somewhat further, saying: "There is an old custom among the Jews, according to which they have to show themselves to a priest in confession, so that he may know their sins as well as their good works, weigh these against one another and compare them, and on the basis of this determine the works of penance and purification sacrifices needed to expiate the sins. A person, therefore, who has shown himself to a priest and then also done and accomplished what the priest laid upon him, considers himself perfectly purified and justified before God: yet if you consider him more closely, he is and remains the same unreformed person after such purification and from then until the next confession not only commits the old sins again, but often adds new ones. And this makes it quite clear that the old purification rite not only does not make him a better man, but often merely makes him worse than he was before. Yet if you try and stand up and preach against this old nonsense you will have to take to your heels unless you want to be stoned! - What do you say to this, O Lord and Master?" (Gr VIII 42, 12-13)
Peter received the following answer:
"Where the confession of sins to a priest that you touched on is concerned, it is bad and should be condemned in its present form, for it does not reform men but merely makes them persist in their sins to the end of their lives. Yet again I also am not saying anything against a person who is weak and sick of soul faithfully confessing his weaknesses and faults, so that a man who is sound and strong in the light can then, out of pure love for a fellow man, easily provide him with the true means that will help the weak man's soul to grow strong and healthy. In this way, one man can become another's true saviour of soul. Yet I also do not make this a law, but merely give you good advice; and whatever I do, you shall do as well, and teach the truth to
everyone." (Gr VIII 43, 4) "Yet aIlow everyone their free will and never coerce them, for you know now that any kind of moral compulsion is totally against My eternal ordinance. What I do not duo, you also shall not do." (Gr VIII 43, 7)
I did also on one occasion tell you, and especially My old disciples, that you can forgive those who have sinned against you their sins, and those whose sins you forgive on this earth also shall have them forgiven in heaven; if, however, they are clearly incorrigible so that you have good reason not to release them from the sins they have committed against you, forgiveness shall also be withheld in heaven. We did, however, already establish on that previous occasion that you are to have the right to do this only when you have already forgiven them seven times seventy-seven times. Since you, as my closest disciples, have the right, as has been said, to withhold or grant forgiveness of sins only for those who have sinned against you, it is clear that no priest could ever have the God-given right to grant or withhold forgiveness of sins not committed against him." (Gr VIII 43,12-14)
At the beginning of the 3rd century, these words of the Lord to the apostles were still known, finding reflection in the contemporary literature. Tertullian (c. A.D. 220) for example declared: "The power to bind and to loose was only given to Peter in person." (De pudicitia 21, 101)
New revelation makes special reference to Mt 18, 18 (... whatever you bind on earth. . .") and John 20, 23 ("whose sins you forgive...") and explains that the gospel passages "in no way refer to a priest's power to forgive sins, but to the mutual duty of man to man and brother to brother to forgive one another their transgressions."
"If men forgive one another everything, then they shall also be forgiven everything by Me. If, however, they withhold forgivenes of each other's faults, I, too, shall withhold this. That is the proper meaning of this passage that for a long time has been seriously misunderstood and just as seriously misused." (Hi II p. 182)
It is also pointed out that in the Lord's prayer it says: "Forgive uas our debts, as we also forgive our debtors", and not "forgive us our debt, as the priests forgive it for us". (Hi II 182, 3)
When James advises mutual confession of sins (James 5, 16, author), this certainly does not mean formal confession, but merely sharing one's failings and weaknesses with another in private, so that the friend and brother who is stronger can provide a really strengthening remedy, in the spirit and in truth." "Nothing is said therefore of confession." (EM ch. 71)
"The best way of achieving remission of sins is no longer to commit the sins, and truly to repent of those committed in the past, to give alms to the poor for this, and forgive all one's enemies from the heart and pray for them in the spirit and in truth. For when a man repents of his sins, I, too, repent of having to punish him for them. Alms will in any way cover the greatest multitude of sins. And who forgives shall also be forgiven, and if his sins were as the sand of the sea and the grass on the ground. Those then are the only ways in which any sinner can achieve forgiveness of sins without any need for confession, and there are no others." (Hi II p. 321 f.)
In the monastic orders of the East, the tradition arose around A.D. 350, at the suggestion of St. Basil, patriarch of Eastern monks, that the monks (they were laymen) confessed the sins they had committed in the course of the day to each other at night. As soon as this became known outside the monastery walls, women also took up the exercise. The church, recognizing that a need existed here, appointed a penitential priest for every city, to whom sins could be confessed. There was no thought at that time of sins being forgiven in this way. The priest simply gave spiritual counsel.
The writings of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, show that this soon changed. Jerome (d. 419) wrote: ". . . the priests took on some of the arrogance of the Pharisees, meaning either to condemn the innocent or to absolve the guilty. Yet before God what matters is not the opinion of the priest but the life of the sinner." (Jerome in Matth. 16, 19 T VII. 1. p. 124 ed. Valarsi)
Little use was made of voluntary confession, according to St. Chrystosomus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 407): "Many, I see, receive the Body of Christ without any ado, and as it happens to suit, more from habit and in order to satisfy church rules than after due thought and reflection ... and even if encumbered with a thousand sins, they nevertheless partake of the sacraments." (Chrys. Hom. 3 in Eph. 1, 21-23 et. Migne j c. 62, 24 ss) He also wrote: "I do not say: Place yourself in the pillory, accuse yourself in front of others, but rather advise you to obey the prophet's words: 'reveal your way to the Lord.' Before God as your judge confess your sin in prayer, if not with your lips then at least in memory." (31st Homily on the Letter to the Hebrews C 3)
These statements are so unequivocal that Catholic authors also have to admit: "Does St. Chrystosomus give any clear indication for private confession? We can without hesitation answer in the negative." 60
Fimilian, Bishop of Caesarea, also confirms, in Eph. 75 Cypr., that there is no confession and no forgiving of sins. The Catholic theologian van der Meer also gives valuable information on the situation in this respect in Africa at the time of Augustine. In his book Augustinus der Seelsorger (Augustine the pastor - Impr. 1946) he stated: "Anyone who did not cause public offence would all his life 'confess' ** to none but God, in prayer." 61
There can be no doubt as to how preconcilial assertions like the one that follows should be regarded. "Confession was in fact also practised in public penance." (Lexikon des kath. Lebens, ed. Erzbischof Rauch, Freiburg i. Br. 1952)
It is the general view that the first records of auricular confeseion appear only around the turn of the 4th to 5th century. Some authors believe that Irish monks introduced it on the Continent from the 6th century onwards, meeting very little resistance because no coercion was used. This state of affairs continued for centuries. Then came a sudden change, when the arrogant and imperious Pope Innocent III was elected at a time when the church had reached its greatest power. The movement initiated by the Cathar sect - which had already reached between 50 and 80 percent of the faithful - threatened to destroy the church. Yet all the princes were on the side of the church - unlike at the time of the Reformation - and the Cathar strongholds were conquered in a war lasting 20 years, with some areas, for instance in the South of France, reduced to burnt earth. To permit any such movement to be nipped in the bud in future, Innocent III issued the command, at the IVth Lateran Council in 1215, that henceforth everyone should go to confession once a year. He was of course concerned with something quite different from the usual forgiveness of sins, and developed the institution of confession into an instrument of control. He ordered confessors to ask penitents to state their religious views; and decided that everyone had to confess to his local priest, so that in case of doubt the right conclusions might be drawn. This has only been gradually relaxed during the last century. From IVth Lateran onwards, the formula for absolution was: "By the authority of my office and the power to bind and loose conferred upon me by God, I absolve this servant of God of all his sins." 62
During the Middle Ages, great care was taken to see that the obligation to go to confession was fulfilled. Henne by Rhyn reported that failure to go to confession was punished by flogging. 63
Jesus said very clearly what he thought of such coercion of souls in connection with the forgiveness of sins, and the following words were dictated to Lorber:
"Enforced laws have an evil effect on the soul desiring freedom, as I have more than often shown you, and so have their inevitable consequences. Let there be only free actions out of true and pure love among you, never compulsion and coercion. That will be the only way in which My true disciples will be recognized: that among themselves they practise only the free law of love, and love one another as I now love you." (Gr VIII 40. 24)
No objections are on the other hand raised against voluntary confession if there is a need. The principle, however, still applies: "Do not stand proxy for God in forgiving sins, but be just brothers and friends helping your fellow men who are suffering in body and soul." (Gr VIII 194, 7)
As time went on, confession became an instrument of power of the first degree. No details will be given of the way confession was misused for political purposes, of the penitential exercises for women that came up in conjunction with the discipline of the confessional during the 17th and 18th centuries and the notorious scandals that came before the courts in connection with this. Many would find it difficult to believe that conditions really were like that in the past.
The institution and development of the confessional also called for very serious consideration of moral casuistry. As already stated, the number of sins the church was interested in during the early centuries was very small; only publicly known major sins such as murder, apostasy and adultery were punished. In due course of time, catalogues of sins were compiled, and the number of sins kept growing, until finally, in the 18th century, the list comprised 17,348 sins. 64
In the present day, church gazettes are on the other hand again bringing episcopal declarations of the following kind: "The concept of deadly sin has to be reconsidered in the light of new knowledge gained in theology and the humanities." 65
The Scholastics, particularly the great theologian Thomas Aquinas whose views the church normally accepted as fundamental, all left no doubt but that the institution of the confessional does not go back to Jesus. Thomas Aquinas clearly states in Summa theol. III. 9. 6. a 3, Peter the Lombard in Sentarium Lib. IV. Dist. 17, and Lawrence in Dist. V, that confession has no basis of divine authority, but is merely tradition. None of the earlier Councils makes mention of confession, and they always did refer to what was established custom and tradition.
With hundreds of millions of Catholics having attained to the state of blessedness without ever having been to confession prior to the 1215 Council, the Catholic Church nevertheless maintains to this day, against the teaching of the Doctors of the Church of old and of mediaeval theologians, that "the confession of serious sins in the confessional is necessary for salvation, as ordained by God." (Denz 574 a, 670, 699). 66
Since the Council, theologians do, however, dare call things by their name: "The reasons given for confession being obligatory were not well substantiated for a long time (e.g., on the basis of the Old Testament or James 5) and certainly far from always the ex institutione sacrament of the Council of Trent. For some canonists, e.g., the Glossa ordinaria of Gratian and for Nicholas de Tudeschis, obligatory confession had its sole foundation in the ordinances of the churches." (Herders theol. Taschenlexikon 1972, p. 367)
There is good reason why genuinely existential questions of faith and those that might be subject to criticism were not allowed discussion in the bishops' synod enquiry and at the Wuerzburg synod. Jesus's words relating to the forgiveness of sins have been twisted, as confirmed by Walter Niggs: "The church has squeezed the gospel into a system it finds acceptable and has not at all followed its teaching " 67
There is an evident causal relationship between the introduction of obligatory confession to achieve forgiveness of sins, followed by the dogma of indulgences - with sinners let off punishment in hellfire in return for cash payments - and the institution, persisting to this day, of paid masses for the dead. Jesus's directions, very much to the contrary, and well known in the early centuries, as has been shown, were made to serve the aims of a materialistic church in the Middle Ages. This sin against the Holy Spirit will not be without its consequences, as shown in New Revelation. There, Jesus says the following: "Sadly, times will come when the confession of sins before false prophets becomes even more of a common thing than it ever was under the Pharisees and arch-Jews, and this will lead to the fall and condemnation of the false prophets in My name. For these are going to tell to men and also heathens that they alone have the right, given to them by God, to remit or also retain the sins of all sinners; when this happens, the time shall soon come when the great judgement comes upon the new paganism." (Gr VIII 43, 10-11) "The past of untruthfulness holds no future for the present, but it does remain the past belonging to it." 68 These words from Hans Kueng have deep significance.
* confessionals were introduced in the 17th century.
** Van der Meer's quotes.