Definition: A declaration or an acknowledgment, either publicly or in private, (1) of what a person believes or (2) of his sins.
Is the rite of reconciliation, including auricular confession (personal confession into the ear of a priest), as taught by the Catholic Church Scriptural?
The manner in which the priest is addressed
The traditional formula, still often used, is: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [length of time] since my last Confession.”—U.S. Catholic magazine, October 1982, p. 6.
Sins that can be forgiven
“The Church has always taught that every sin, no matter how serious, can be forgiven.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia (bearing the nihil obstat and the imprimatur), R. C. Broderick (Nashville, Tenn.; 1976), p. 554.
Heb. 10:26, JB: “If, after we have been given knowledge of the truth, we should deliberately commit any sins, then there is no longer any sacrifice for them.”
Mark 3:29, JB: “Let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
How penance is to be shown
Frequently the confessor directs that the penitent say a specified number of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys.”
Matt. 6:7, JB: “In your prayers do not babble [that is, utter in a meaninglessly repetitious manner] as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.”
Matt. 6:9-12, JB: “You should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, . . . forgive us our debts.’” (Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to pray to or through Mary. See Philippians 4:6, also pages 258, 259, under “Mary.”)
Rom. 12:9, JB: “Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil.”
Did not Jesus authorize his apostles to forgive sins?
John 20:21-23, JB: “‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’”
How did the apostles understand and apply this? There is no record in the Bible of a single instance in which an apostle listened to a private confession and then pronounced absolution. However, the requirements for being forgiven by God are set out in the Bible. The apostles, under the direction of holy spirit, could discern whether individuals were meeting such requirements and could on this basis declare that God had either forgiven them or not forgiven them. For examples, see Acts 5:1-11, also 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 2:6-8.
See also the main heading “Apostolic Succession.”
Viewpoints of scholars as to the origin of auricular confession differ
The Catholic Encyclopedia, by R. C. Broderick, states: “Since the fourth century auricular confession has been the accepted method.”—P. 58.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “Many contemporary historians, both Catholic and Protestant, trace the origins of private penance as a normal discipline to the churches of Ireland, Wales, and Britain, where the Sacraments, including Penance, were administered usually by the abbot of a monastery and his priest-monks. With the monastic practice of confession and public and private spiritual direction as the model, repeated confession and confession of devotion seem to have been introduced for the laity. . . . However, it was not until the 11th century that secret sins were absolved at the time of confession and before the fulfillment of penance.”—(1967), Vol. XI, p. 75.
Historian A. H. Sayce reports: “The ritual texts show that both public and private confession was practised in Babylonia. Indeed, private confession seems to have been the older and more usual method.”—The Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia (Edinburgh, 1902), p. 497.
What are the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses as to confession?
Confessing one’s faith by public declaration
Rom. 10:9, 10: “If you publicly declare that ‘word in your own mouth,’ that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.”
Matt. 10:32, 33: “Everyone, then, that confesses union with me [Jesus Christ] before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens; but whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens.”
When a person sins against God
Matt. 6:6-12: “When you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret . . . ‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified . . . and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’”
Ps. 32:5: “My sin I finally confessed to you [God], and my error I did not cover. I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’ And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.”
1 John 2:1: “If anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one.”
When an individual wrongs his fellowman or when he has been wronged
Matt. 5:23, 24: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”
Matt. 18:15: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone.”
Luke 17:3: “If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him.”
Eph. 4:32: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”
When someone becomes involved in serious wrongdoing and wants spiritual help
Jas. 5:14-16: “Is there anyone [spiritually] sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him [by God]. Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.”
Prov. 28:13: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.”
What if persons who commit sins do not seek help?
Gal. 6:1: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.”
1 Tim. 5:20: “Reprove before all onlookers [that is, those who personally know about the matter] persons who practice sin, that the rest also may have fear.”
1 Cor. 5:11-13: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. . . . ‘Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.’”