The Dogma of Auricular Confession -- a Sacriligious Imposture
BOTH Roman Catholics and Protestants have fallen into very strange errors in reference to the words of Christ: "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." (St. John xx. 23.)
The first have seen in this text the inalienable attributes of God of forgiving and retaining sins transferred to sinful men; the second have most unwisely granted their position, even while attempting to refute their errors.
A little more attention to the translation of the 3d and 6th verses of chapter xiii. of Leviticus by the Septuagint would have prevented the former from falling into their sacrilegious errors, and would have saved the latter from wasting so much time in refuting errors which refute themselves.
Many believe that the Septuagint Bible was the Bible that was generally read and used by Jesus Christ and the Hebrew people in our Saviour's days. Its language was possibly the one spoken at times by Christ and understood by his hearers. When addressing his apostles and disciples on their duties towards the spiritual lepers to whom they were to preach the ways of salvation, Christ constantly followed the very expression of the Septuagint. It was the foundation of his doctrine and the testimonial of his divine mission to which he constantly appealed: the book which was the greatest treasure of the nation.
From the beginning to the end of the Old and the New Testaments, the bodily leprosy, with which the Jewish priest had to deal, is presented as the figure of the spiritual leprosy, sin, the penalty of which our Saviour had taken upon himself, that we might be saved by his death. That spiritual leprosy was the very thing for the cleansing of which he had come to this world -- for which he lived, suffered, and died. Yes, the bodily leprosy with which the priests of the Jews had to deal, was the figure of the sins which Christ was to take away by shedding his blood, and with which his disciples were to deal till the end of the world.
When speaking of the duties of the Hebrew priests towards the leper, our modern translations say: (Lev. xiii. v. 6,) "They will pronounce him clean." or (v. 3) "They will pronounce him unclean."
But this action of the priests was expressed in a very different way by the Septuagint Bible, used by Christ and the people of his time. Instead of saying, "The priest shall pronounce the leper clean," as we read in our Bible, the Septuagint version says, "The priest shall clean (katharei), or shall unclean (mianei) the leper."
No one had ever been so foolish, among the Jews, as to believe that because their Bible said clean (katharei), their priests had the miraculous and supernatural power of taking away and curing the leprosy: and we nowhere see that the Jewish priests ever had the audacity to try to persuade the people that they had ever received any supernatural and divine power to "cleanse" the leprosy, because their God, through the Bible, had said of them: "They will cleanse the leper." Both priest and people were sufficiently intelligent and honest to understand and acknowledge that, by that expression, it was only meant that the priest had the legal right to see if the leprosy was gone or not, they had only to look at certain marks indicated by God himself, through Moses, to know whether or not God had cured the leper before he presented himself to his priest. The leper, cured by the mercy and power of God alone, before presenting himself to the priest, was only declared to be clean by that priest. Thus the priest was said, by the Bible, to "clean" the leper, or the leprosy; -- and in the opposite case to "unclean." (Septuagint, Leviticus xiii. v. 3, 6.)
Now, let us put what God has said, through Moses, to the priests of the old law, in reference to the bodily leprosy, face to face with what God has said, through his Son Jesus, to his apostles and his whole church, in reference to the spiritual leprosy from which Christ has delivered us on the cross.
Septuagint Bible, Levit. xiii.
"And the Priest shall look on the plague, in the skin of the flesh, and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy; and the priest shall look on him and UNCLEAN HIM (mianei)
"And the Priest shall look on him again the seventh day, and if the plague is somewhat dark and does not spread on the skin, the Priest shall CLEAN HIM (katharei): and he shall wash his clothes and BE CLEAN" (katharos).
New Testament, John xx. 23.
"Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto. them; and whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained."
The analogy of the diseases with which the Hebrew priests and the disciples of Christ had to deal, is striking: so the analogy of the expressions prescribing their respective duties is also striking.
When God said to the priests of the Old Law, "You shall clean the leper," and he shall be "cleaned," or "you shall unclean the leper," and he shall be "uncleaned," he only gave the legal power to see if there were any signs or indications by which they could say that God had cured the leper before he presented himself to the priest. So, when Christ said to his apostles and his whole church, "Whosesover sins ye shall forgive, shall be forgiven unto them," he only gave them the authority to say when the spiritual lepers, the sinners, had reconciled themselves to God, and received their pardon from him and him alone, previous to the coming to the apostles.
It is true that the priests of the Old Law had regulations from God, through Moses, which they had to follow, by which they could see and say whether or not the leprosy was gone.
If the plague spread not on the skin. . . . . the priest shall clean him. . . . . but if the priest see that the scab spread on the skin, it is leprosy: he shall "unclean" him. (Septuagint, Levit. xiii. 3, 6.)
Should any be convinced that Christ spoke the Hebrew of that day and not the Greek, and used the Old Testament in Hebrew, we have only to say that the Hebrew is precisely the same as the Greek -- the priest is said to clean or unclean as the case may be, precisely as in the Septuagint.
So Christ had given to his apostles and his whole church equally, infallible rules and marks to determine whether or not the spiritual leprosy was gone, that they might clean the leper and tell him,
I clean thee, I forgive thy sins,
I unclean thee I retain thy sins.
I would have, indeed, many passages of the Old and New Testaments to copy, were it my intention to reproduce all the marks given by God himself, through his prophets, or by Christ and apostles, that his ambassadors might know when they should say to the sinner that he was delivered from his iniquities. I will give only a few.
First: "And he said unto them, go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature:
"He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark xvi. 15, 16.)
What a strange want of memory in the Saviour of the World! He has entirely forgotten that "auricular confession," besides faith and baptism are necessary to be saved! To those who believe and are baptised, the apostles and the church are authorized by Christ to say:
"You are saved! your sins are forgiven: I clean you!"
Second: "And when ye come into a house, salute it.
"And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
"And whosoever shall not receive you nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
"Verily, verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of Judgment, than for that city." (Matt. X. 12-15.)
Here, again, the Great Physician tells his disciples when the leprosy will be gone, the sins forgiven, the sinner purified. It is when the lepers, the sinners, will have welcomed his messengers, heard and received their message. Not a word about auricular confession: this great panacea of the Pope was evidently ignored by Christ.
Third: "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you, -- but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. "(Matt. vi. 14,15.)
Was it possible to give a more striking and simple rule to the apostles and the disciples that they might know when they could say to a sinner: "Thy sins are forgiven!" or, "thy sins are retained?" Here the double keys of heaven are most solemnly and publicly given to every child of Adam! As sure as there is a God in heaven and that Jesus died to save sinners, so it is sure that if one forgives the trespasses of his neighbor for the dear Saviour's sake, believing in him, his own sins have been forgiven! To the end of the world, then, let the disciples of Christ say to the sinner, "Thy sins are forgiven," not because you have confessed your sins to me, but for Christ's sake; the evidence of which is that you have forgiven those who had offended you.
Fourth: "And behold, a certain one stood up and tempted him, saying: Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
"He said unto him: What is written in the law? how readest thou?
"And he, answering, said: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
"And he said unto him: Thou hast answered right; this do and thou shalt live." (Luke x. 25-28.)
What a fine opportunity for the Saviour to speak of "auricular confession" as a means given by him to be saved! But here again Christ forgets that marvellous medicine of the Popes. Jesus, speaking absolutely like the Protestants, bids his messengers to proclaim pardon, forgiveness of sins, not to those who confess their sins to a man, but to those who love God and their neighbor. And so will his true disciples and messengers do to the end of the world!
Fifth: "And when he (the prodigal son) came to himself, he said: I will arise and go to my father, and I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee: and I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
"And be arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and he fell on his neck and kissed him.
"And the son said, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight, and am not worthy to be called thy son.
"But the father said to his servants: Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him: put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and bring hither the fatted calf. For this my son was dead, and he is alive again, he was lost and he is found." (Luke xv. 17-24.)
Apostles and disciples of Christ, wherever you will hear, on this land of sin and misery, the cry of the Prodigal Son: "I will arise and go to my Father," every time you see him, not at your feet, but at the feet of his true Father, crying, "Father, I have sinned against thee," unite your hymns of joy to the joyful songs of the angels of God; repeat into the ears of that redeemed sinner the sentence just fallen from the lips of the Lamb, whose blood cleanses us from all our sins; say to him, "Thy sins are forgiven."
Sixth: "Come unto me all ye who labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. xi. 28-30.)
Though these words were pronounced more than 1800 years ago, they were pronounced this very morning: they come at every hour of day and night from the lips and the heart of Christ to everyone of us sinners. It is just now that Jesus says to every sinner, " Come to me and I will give ye rest." Christ has never said and he will never say to any sinner, "Go to my priests and they will give you rest." But he has said, "Come to me, and I will give you rest."
Let the apostles and disciples of the Saviour, then, proclaim peace, pardon, and rest, not to the sinners who come to confess to them all their sins, but to those who go to Christ, and him alone, for peace, pardon and rest. For "Come to me," from Jesus' lips, has never meant -- it will never mean -- "Go and confess to the priests."
Christ would never have said: "My yoke is easy and my burden light " if he had instituted auricular confession. For the world has never seen a yoke so heavy, humiliating, and degrading, as auricular confession.
Seventh: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John iii. 14.)
Did Almighty God require any auricular confession in the wilderness, from the sinners, when he ordered Moses to lift up the serpent? No! Neither did Christ speak of auricular confession as a condition of salvation to those who look to Him when He dies on the Cross to pay their debts. A free pardon was offered to the Israelites who looked to the uplifted serpent. A free pardon is offered by Christ crucified to all those who look to Him with faith, repentance, and love. To such sinners the ministers of Christ, to the end of the world, are authorized to say: "Your sins are forgiven "we clean your leprosy."
Eighth: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
"For God sent not his Son to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved.
"He that believeth in him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
"But he that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God." (John iii. 16-21.)
In the religion of Rome, it is only through auricular confession that the sinner can be reconciled to God; it is only after he has beard a most detailed confession of all the thoughts, desires, and actions of the guilty one that he can tell him: "Thy sins are forgiven." But in the religion of the Gospel, the reconciliation of the sinner with his God is absolutely and entirely the work of Christ. That marvellous forgiveness is a free gift offered not for any outward act of the sinner: nothing is required from him but faith, repentance, and love. These are marks by which the leprosy is known to be cured and the sins forgiven. To all those who have these marks, the ambassadors of Christ are authorized to say, Your sins are forgiven," we clean" you.
Ninth: The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying: " God! be merciful to me a sinner!
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified." (Lake xviii. 13-14.) Yes! justified! and without auricular confession!
Ministers and disciples of Christ, when you see the repenting sinner smiting his breast and crying: "Oh, God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!" shut your ears to the deceptive words of Rome, or its ugly tail the Ritualists, who tell you to force that redeemed sinner to make to you a special confession of all his sins to get his pardon. But go to him and deliver the message of love, peace, and mercy, which you received from Christ: "Thy sins are forgiven! I 'clean' thee!"
Tenth: "And one of the malefactors which were hanged, railed on him, saying: If thou be Christ save thyself and us.
"But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying: Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
"And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
"And he said unto Jesus: Remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom. And Jesus said unto him: Verily I say unto thee, to-day, shalt thou be with me in Paradise. (Luke xxiii. 39-43.)
Yes, in the Paradise or Kingdom of Christ, without auricular confession! From Calvary, when his hands are nailed to the cross, and his blood is poured out, Christ protests against the great imposture of auricular confession. Jesus will be, to the end of the world, what he was, there, on the cross: the sinner's friend; always ready to hear and pardon those who invoke his name and trust in him.
Disciples of the gospel, wherever you hear the cry of the repenting sinner to the crucified Saviour:
"Remember me when thou comest to thy Kingdom," go and give the assurance to that penitent and redeemed child of Adam, that "his sins are forgiven:" -- "clean the leper."
Eleventh: "Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isa. lv. 7, 8.)
"Wash you and make you clean, put away the evils of your doings from before mine eyes: cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow.
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson; they shall be as wool." (Isa. i, 16-18.)
Here are the landmarks of the mercy of God, put by his own Almighty hands! Who will dare to remove them in order to put others in their place? Has ever Christ touched these landmarks? Has he ever intimated that anything but faith, repentance, and love, with their blessed fruits, were required from the sinned to secure his pardon? No-never.
Have the prophets of the Old Testament or the apostles of the New, ever said a word about "auricular confession," as a condition for pardon? No -- never.
What does David say? "I confess my sins unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgression unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm xxxii. 5.)
What does the apostle John say? "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from sin;
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John i. 6-9.)
This is the language of the prophets and apostles. This is the language of the Old and the New Testament. It is to God and him alone that the sinner is requested to confess his sins. It is from God and him alone that he can expect his pardon.
The apostle Paul writes fifteen epistles, in which he speaks of all the duties imposed upon human conscience by the laws of God and the prescriptions of the Gospel of Christ. A thousand times he speaks to sinners, and tells them how they may be reconciled to God. But does he say a word about auricular confession? No -- not one!
The apostles Peter, John, Jude, address six letters to the different churches, in which they state, with the greatest detail, what the different classes of sinners have to do to be saved. But again, not a single word comes from them about auricular confession.
St. James says: "Confess your faults one to another." But this is so evidently the repetition of what the Saviour had said about the way of reconciliation between those who had offended one another, and it is so far from the dogma of a secret confession to the priest that the most zealous supporters of auricular confession have not dared to mention that text in favor of their modern invention.
But if we look in vain in the Old and New Testaments for a word in favor of auricular confession as a dogma, will it be possible to find that dogma in the records of the first thousand years of Christianity? No! for the more one studies the records of the Christian Church during those first ten centuries, the more he will be convinced that auricular confession is a miserable imposture of the darkest days of the world and the church this century, by one of the early fathers of the church. But not a word is said in it of his confessing his sins to anyone, though a thousand things are said of him which are of a far less interesting character.*
* [This version lacks some words. -- Ed. Another version adds the following: And so is it with the lives of several of the early fathers of the church. Not a word is said of their confessing their sins to anyone, though a thousand things are said of him which are of a far less interesting character. -- Ed.]
So it is with the life of St. Mary, the Egyptian. The minute history of her life, her public scandals, her conversion, long prayers and fastings in solitude, the detailed history of her last days and of her death, all these we have; but not a single word is said of her confessing to anyone. It is evident that she lived and died without ever having thought of going to confess.
The deacon Pontius wrote also the life of St. Cyprian, who lived in the third century; but he does not say a word of his ever having gone to confession, or having heard the confession of anyone. More than that, we learn from this reliable historian that Cyprian was excommunicated by the Pope of Rome, called Stephen, and that he died without having ever asked from anyone absolution from that excommunication; a thing which has not seemingly prevented him from going to Heaven, since the infallible Popes of Rome, who succeeded Stephen, have assured us that be is a saint.
Gregory of Nyssa has given us the life of St. Gregory, of Neo-Caesarea, of the third century, and of St. Basil, of the fourth century. But neither speak of their having gone to confess, or having heard the secret and auricular confession of anyone. It is thus evident that those two great and good men, with all the Christians of their times, lived and died without ever knowing anything about the dogma of auricular confession.
We have the interesting life of St. Ambrose, of the fourth century, by Paulinus; and from that book it is evident, as two and two make four, that St. Ambrose never went to confess.
The history of St. Martin, of Tours, of the fourth century, by Severus Sulpicius, of the fifth century, is another monument left by antiquity to prove that there was no dogma of auricular confession in those days; for St. Martin has evidently lived and died without ever going to confess.
Pallas and Theoderet have left us the history of the life, sufferings, and death of St. Cbrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, who died at the beginning of the fifth century, and both are absolutely mute about that dogma. No fact is more evident, by what they say, than that holy and eloquent bishop lived and died also without ever thinking of going to confess.
No man has ever more perfectly entered into the details of a Christian life, when writing on that subject, than the learned and eloquent St. Jerome, of the fifth century. Many of his admirable letters are written to the priests of his day, and to several Christian ladies and virgins, who had requested him to give them some good advice about the best way to lead a Christian life. His letters, which form five volumes, are most interesting monuments of the manners, habits, views, morality, practical and dogmatical faith of the first centuries of the church; they are a most unanswerable evidence that auricular confession, as a dogma, had then no existence, and is quite a modern invention. Would it be possible that Jerome had forgotten to give some advices or rules about auricular confession, to the priests of his time who asked his council about the best way to fulfil their ministerial duties, if it had been one of their duties to hear the confessions of the people? But we challenge the most devoted modern priest of Rome to find a single line in all the letters of St. Jerome in favor of auricular confession. In his admirable letter to the Priest Nepotianus, on the life of priests, vol. II., p. 203, when speaking of the relations, of priests with women, he says: "Solus cum sola, secreto et absque arbitrio, vel teste, non sedeas. Si familiarius est aliquid loquendum, habet nutricem. majorem domus, virginem, viduam, vel mari tatam; non est tam inhumana ut nullum praeter te habeat cui se audeat credere."
"Never sit in secret, alone, in a retired place, with a female who is alone with you. If she has any particular thing to tell you, let her take the female attendant of the house, a young girl, a widow, or a married woman. She cannot be so ignorant of the rules of human life as to expect to have you as the only one to whom she can trust those things."
It would be easy to cite a great number of other remarkable passages where Jerome showed himself the most determined and implacable opponent of those secret tete-a-tete between a priest and a female, which, under the plausible pretext of mutual advice and spiritual consolation, are generally nothing but bottomless pits of infamy and perdition for both. But this is enough.
We have also the admirable life of St. Paulina, written by St. Jerome. And, though in it, he gives us every imaginable detail of her life when young, married, and widow; though he tells us even how her bed was composed of the simplest and rudest materials; he has not a word about her ever having gone to confess. Jerome speaks of the acquaintances of St. Paulina, and gives their names; he enters into the minutest details of her long voyages, her charities, her foundations of monasteries for men and women, her temptations, human frailties, heroic virtues, her macerations, and her holy death; but he has not a word to say about the frequent or oracular confessions of St. Paulina; not a word about her wisdom in the choice of a prudent and holy (?) confessor.
He tells us that after her death, her body was carried to her grave on the shoulders of bishops and priests, as a token of their profound respect for the saint. But he never says that any of those priests sat there, in a dark corner with her, and forced her to reveal to their ears the secret history of all the thoughts, desires, and human frailties of her long and eventful life. Jerome is an unimpeachable witness that his saintly and noble friend, St. Paulina, lived and died without having ever thought of going to confess.
Possidius has left us the interesting life of St. Augustine, of the fifth century; and, again, it is in vain that we look for the place and time when that celebrated Bishop of Hippo went to confess, or heard the secret confessions of his people.
More than that, St. Augustine has written a most admirable book called: "Confessions," in which he gives us the history of his life. With that marvellous book in hand we follow him step by step, wherever be goes; we attend with him those celebrated schools, where his faith and morality were so sadly wrecked; he takes us with him into the garden where, wavering between heaven and hell, bathed in tears, he goes under the fig-tree and cries "Oh Lord! how long will I remain in my iniquities!" Our soul thrills with emotions, with his soul, when we hear with him, the sweet and mysterious voice: "Tolle! lege!" take and read. We run with him to the place where he has left his gospel book; with a trembling hand, we open it and we read: "Let us walk honestly as in the day... put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. xiii. 13, 14.)
That incomparable book of St. Augustine makes us weep and shout with joy with him; it initiates us into all his most secret actions, to all his sorrows, anxieties, and joys; it reveals and unveils his whole life. It tells us where he goes, with whom he sins, and with whom he praises God; it makes us pray, sing, and bless the Lord with him. Is it possible that Augustine could have been to confess without telling us when, where, and to whom he made that auricular confession? Could he have received the absolution and pardon of his sins from his confessor, without making us partakers of his joys, and requesting us to bless that confessor with him?
But it is in vain that you look in that book for a single word about auricular confession. That book is an unimpeachable witness that both Augustine and his saintly mother, Monica, whom it mentions so often, lived and died without ever having been to confess. That book may be called the most crushing evidence to prove that "the dogma of auricular confession" is a modern imposture.
From the beginning to the end of that book, we see that Augustine believed and said that God alone could forgive the sins of men, and that it was to him alone that men had to confess in order to be pardoned. If he writes his confession, it is only that the world might know how God had been merciful to him, and that they might help him to praise and bless his merciful heavenly father. In the tenth book of his Confessions, Chapter III., Augustine protests against the idea that men could do anything to cure the spiritual leper, or forgive the sins of their fellow-men; here is his eloquent protest: "Quid mihi ergo est cum hominibus ut audiant confessiones, meas, quasi ipsi sanaturi Sint languores meas? Curiosum genus ad cognescendam vitam alienam; desidiosum ad corrigendam."
"What have I to do with men that they should hear my confessions, as if they were able to heal my infirmities? The human race is very curious to know another person's life, but very lazy to correct it."
Before Augustine had built up that sublime and imperishable monument against auricular confession, St. John Chrysostom had raised his eloquent voice against it in his homily on the 50th Psalm, where, speaking in the name of the church, he said: "We do not request you to go to confess your sins to any of your fellow-men, but only to God!
Nestorius, of the fourth century, the predecessor of John Chrysostom, had, by a public defence, which the best Roman Catholic historians have had to acknowledge, solemnly forbidden the practice of auricular confession. For, just as there has always been thieves, drunkards, and malefactors in the world, so there has always been men and women who, under the pretext of opening their minds to each other for mutual comfort and edification, were giving themselves to every kind of iniquity and lust. The celebrated Chrysostom was only giving the sanction of his authority to what his predecessor had done, when, thundering against the newly-born monster, he said to the Christians of his time, "We do not ask you to go and confess your iniquities to a sinful man for pardon -- but only to God." (Homily on 50th Psalm.)
Auricular confession originated with the early heretics, especially with Marcion. Bellarmin speaks of it as something to be practiced. But let us hear what the contemporary writers have to say on the question.
"Certain women were in the habit of going to the heretic Marcion to confess their sins to him. But, as he was smitten with their beauty, and they loved him also, they abandoned themselves to sin with him."
Listen now to what St. Basil in his commentary on Ps. xxxvii, says of confession:
"I have not come before the world to make a confession with my lips. But I close my eyes, and confess my sins in the secret of my heart. Before thee, O God, I pour out my sighs, and thou alone art the witness. My groans are within my soul. There is no need of many words to confess: sorrow and regret are the best confession. Yes, the lamentations of the soul, which thou art pleased to hear, are the best confession."
Chrysostom, in his homily, De Paenitentia, vol. IV., col. 901, has the following: "You need no witnesses of your confession. Secretly acknowledge your sins, and let God alone bear you."
In his homily V., De incomprehensibili Dei natura, vol. I., he says: "Therefore, I beseech you, always confess your sins to God! I, in no way, ask you to confess them to me. To God alone should you expose the wounds of your soul, and from him alone expect the cure. Go to him, then, and you shall not be cast off, but healed. For, before you utter a single word, God knows your prayer."
In his commentary on Heb. XII., hom. XXXI., vol. XII., p. 289, he further says: "Let us not be content with calling ourselves sinners. But let us examine and number our sins. And then I do not tell you to go and confess them, according to the caprice of some; but I will say to you, with the prophet: 'Confess your sins before God, acknowledge your iniquities at the feet of your Judge; pray in your heart and your mind, if not with your tongue, and you shall be pardoned.'"
In his homily on. Ps. I., vol. V., p. 589, the same Chrysostom says: "Confess your sins every day in prayer. Why should you hesitate to do so? I do not tell you to go and confess to a man, sinner as you are, and who might despise you if he knew your faults. But confess them to God, who can forgive them to you."
In his admirable homily IV., De Lazaro, vol. I., p. 757, he exclaims: "Why, tell me, should you be ashamed to confess your sins? Do we compel you to reveal them to a man, who might, one day, throw them into your face? Are you commanded to confess them to one of your equals, who could publish them and ruin you? What we ask of you is simply to show the sores of your soul to your Lord and Master, who is also your friend, your guardian, and physician."
In a small work of Chrysostom's, entitled, "Catechesis ad illuminandos," vol. II., p. 210, we read these remarkable words: "What we should most admire is not that God forgives our sins, but that he does not disclose them to anyone, nor wishes us to do so. What he demands of us is to confess our transgressions to him alone to obtain pardon."
St. Augustine, in his beautiful homily on the 31st Ps., says: "I shall confess my sins to God, and He will pardon all my iniquities. And such confession is not made with the lips, but with the heart only. I had hardly opened my mouth to confess my sins when they were pardoned, for God had already heard the voice of my heart."
In the edition of the Fathers by Migne, vol. 67, pp. 614, 615, we read: "About the year 390, the office of penitentiary was abolished in the church in consequence of a great scandal given by a woman who publicly accused herself of having committed a crime against chastity with a deacon."
I know that the advocates of auricular confession present to their silly dupes several passages of the Holy Fathers, where it is said that sinners were going to that priest or that bishop to confess their sins: but this is a most dishonest way of presenting that fact -- for it is evident to all those who are a little acquainted with the church history of those times, that these referred only to the public confessions for public transgressions through the office of the penitentiary.
The office of the penitentiary was this: -- In every large city, a priest or minister was specially appointed to preside over the church meetings where the members who had committed public sins were obliged to confess them publicly before the assembly, in order to be reinstated in the privileges of their membership: and that minister had the charge of reading or pronouncing the sentence of pardon granted by the church to the guilty ones before they could be admitted again to communion. This was perfectly in accordance with what St. Paul had done with regard to the incestuous one of Corinth; that scandalous sinner who had cast obloquy on the Christian name, but who, after confessing and weeping over his sins before the church, obtained his pardon -- not from a priest in whose ears he had whispered all the details of his incestuous intercourse, but from the whole church assembled. St. Paul gladly approves the Church of Corinth in thus absolving, and receiving again in their midst, a wandering but repenting brother.
When the Holy Fathers of the first centuries speak of "confession" they invariably understand "public confessions" and not auricular confession.
There is as much difference between such public confessions and auricular confessions, as there is between heaven and hell, between God and his great enemy, Satan.
Public confession, then, dates from the time of the apostles, and is still practiced in Protestant churches of our day. But auricular confession was unknown by the first disciples of Christ; as it is rejected to-day, with horror, by all the true followers of the Son of God.
Erasmus, one of the most learned Roman Catholics who opposed the Reformation in the sixteenth century, so admirably begun by Luther and Calvin, fearlessly and honestly makes the following declaration in his treatise, De Paenitentia, Dis. 5: "This institution of penance [auricular confession] began rather of some tradition of the Old or New Testament But our divines, not advisedly considering what the old doctors do say, are deceived, that which they say of general and open confession, they wrest, by and by, to this secret and privy kind of confession."
It is a public fact, which no learned Roman Catholic has ever denied, that auricular confession became a dogma and obligatory practice of the church only at the Council of Lateran in the year 1215, under the Pope Innocent III. Not a single trace of auricular confession, as a dogma, can be found before that year.
Thus, it has taken more than twelve hundred years of efforts for Satan to bring out this masterpiece of his inventions to conquer the world and destroy the souls of men.
Little by little, that imposture had crept into the world, just as the shadows of a stormy night creep without anyone being able to note the moment when the first rays of light gave way before the dark clouds. We know very well when the sun was shining, we know when it was very dark all over the world; but no one can tell positively when the first rays of light faded away. So saith the Lord:
"The kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.
"But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.
"But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, there appeared the tares also.
"So the servants of the householder came and said unto him: Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares?
"He said unto them: An enemy hath done this." (Matt. xiii. 24-28.)
Yes, the Good Master tells us that the enemy sowed those tares in his field during the night when men were sleeping.
But he does not tell us precisely the hour of the night when the enemy cast the tares among the wheat.
However, if anyone likes to know how fearfully dark was the night which covered the "Kingdom," and how cruel, implacable, and savage was the enemy who sowed the tares, let him read the testimony of the most devoted and learned cardinals whom Rome has ever had, Baronius, Annals, Anno 900:
"It is evident that one can scarcely believe what unworthy, base, execrable, and abominable things the holy Apostolic See, which is the pivot upon which the whole Catholic Church revolves, was forced to endure, when princes of the age, though Christians, arrogated to themselves the election of the Roman Pontiffs. Alas, the shame! alas, the grief! What monsters, horrible to behold, were then intruded on the Holy See! What evils ensued! What tragedies they perpetrated! With what pollutions was this See, though itself without spot, then stained! With what corruptions infected! With what filthiness defiled! And by these things blackened with perpetual infamy (Baronius, Annals, Anno, 900.)
"Est plane, ut vix aliquis credat, imino, nee vix quidem sit crediturus, nisi suis inspiciat ipse oculis, manibusque contractat, quam indigna, quainque turpia atque deformia, execranda insuper et abominanda sit coacta pati sacrosancta apostolica sedes, in cujus cardine universa Ecclesia catholica vertitur, cum principes saeculi hujus, quantumlibet christiani, hac tamen ex parte dicendi tyrrani saevissini, arrogaverunt sibi, tirannice, electionem Romanorum pontificum. Quot tune ab eis, proh pudor! pro dolor! in eamdem sedem, angelis reverandam, visu horrenda intrusa sunt monstra? Quot ex eis oborta sunt mala, consummatae tragediae! Quibus tunc ipsam sine macula et sine ruga contigit aspergi sordibus, purtoribus infici, in quinati spurcitiis, ex hisque perpetua infamia denigrari!''