Grace Episcopal Church
The History Of Confession
Some of us, after hearing the word “Confession” we can experience a myriad of reactions. Some of them may be positive; others, not so much. In this season of Lent, I invite you to explore this spiritual discipline and how it can help us grow closer with God. So, if you are feeling stuck in your walk with God, this can be a spiritual practice that can propel you into a mature growth in Christ. In part 1 of this series, we will explore a brief history of this practice in the Church.
The first thing to know is that the early Church didn’t have any kind of ritual that we would recognize as confession. Baptism washed away all sins and it brought you into communion with the Church. In the case of serious offenders, however, they would be kicked out by the Bishop! This is what we call “ex-communication.” It was as simple as this: if you cannot keep your commitment to Christ, you cannot take part in the Eucharistic fellowship. Excommunication happened especially after believers denied Christ during heavy persecution in the early Church. So, what happens once the ex-communicated individual repents? What happened once Christianity became the official religion in Rome, and folks who denied their faith for fear of persecution and death wanted to return to the good graces of the Church? The answer may seem obvious to us, but it was a real crisis in the early Church!
The Church came up with the idea of “the second baptism.” The second baptism was penitence for serious offenses, like denying your faith in Christ. Individuals were not “re-baptized” but they were given a second chance. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and there were no third chances for repeating offenders. As you can imagine, this worked for a little while.
In the 7thCentury, the monks of Ireland came up with the practice of private confession. Rather than make penitence a once-in-a-lifetime process, they began having young monks and laypeople they met engaging in a private, repeatable process of confessing one’s sins to a monk. The monk would then give an appropriate penance, according to the sins confessed. And they called it Penance 2.0! Or as we prefer to call it now, Reconciliation of a Penitent, as it is found on page 447 of our Book of Common Prayer.