"The sacrament of penance was instituted by God, that the benefit of the death of Christ might be applied to those who have sinned after baptism; because it is necessary to all men who have polluted themselves with any mortal sin, in order that they may recover grace and righteousness. . . Our Lord Jesus Christ, before He ascended into heaven, left His vicars, the priests, as presidents and judges, to whom all the mortal sins into which Christians might fall were to be carried; that, by the power of the keys, they might pronounce sentence of remission or of retention. . . From which circumstances it ensues that the penitent is bound to confess all mortal sins. - Roman Catholic Church, Council of Trent, 1545.
by Jerry Gentry
With these bold words of assurance, the sacrament of penance is asserted as a doctrine of Jesus Christ. But just what is penance? Where in the Bible is it found? How did penance become a sacrament of the church? Did the disciples of Jesus "do penance?" Did the apostles teach penance as a holy sacrament of the church?
Read a Roman Catholic discourse on penance, and you will immediately make some startling discoveries. In his landmark Faith of our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, devotes his entire 26th chapter to "The Sacrament of Penance." (John Murphy Company, 1876, reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, IL, 1980, pp. 277-306). He states of Jesus that the "principal object of His mission was to release the soul from the bonds of sin" (Ibid., p. 277). In other words, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1Tim. 1:15). So far, so good.
Elsewhere, Jesus affirmed, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). Here Jesus clearly calls "sinners to repentance," which is the closest Bible word you will find anywhere to the word "penance." Is Biblical "repentance" the same as "the sacrament of penance?" How are these terms related, since the word "sacrament" or "penance" is found nowhere in scripture, if you are reading the King James Version. ("Do penance" is commonly substituted for "repent," in the Catholic Rhemes-Douay Bible).
Is Jesus call of "sinners to repentance" the root doctrine underlying what was later called the sacrament of penance? Before we can answer this question we must lay aside preconceived notions and logical extrapolations about this doctrine, and stick with the facts of the sacrament of penance as historically taught. Cardinal Gibbons, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, ties the sacrament of penance inextricably with auricular confession, which we will define shortly. He makes the two equal, for all practical purposes. If we redefine the "sacrament of penance" to suit our present ideas, and include ideas other than the historic context of auricular confession, as taught and practiced by the pre- and post-reformation Roman and Greek churches, then we cannot claim such a redefined "sacrament of penance" as being a historic doctrine of the church.
If we espouse the "sacrament of penance," we must claim, practice and teach it in its highest historic context. Otherwise, our appeal is to the name only, and not the historic doctrine. In other words, there exists no other sacrament of penance other than the one taught for centuries by Latin and Greek churches, which is transmitted to us today through the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches and their unreformed offshoots. Redefine the sacrament of penance, and you create a new doctrine which cannot be called historic.
If the "sacrament of penance" is equated with the doctrine of auricular confession, then what exactly is that doctrine? Simply stated, this doctrine of auricular confession is the very heart of the sacrament of penance. This doctrine requires every Christian, who sins after water baptism, to confess in detail his particular sins to the priest, who pronounces absolution, or forgiveness, upon the one who confesses. By the means of auricular confession to the priest, the sacrament of penance is performed (ie., you "do penance"), and forgiveness is conferred by the priest, who speaks on behalf of Jesus Christ, by saying, "I forgive you your sins," or "Jesus Christ absolves your sins."
The essence of the sacrament of penance, as explained by Cardinal Gibbons, quoted above, is that sins after baptism are absolved by Christ's representatives, the priests. And to find absolution, one must make lengthy and detailed confession to the priest. "We [the priests] are His [Christ's] ambassadors, reconciling sinners in His name," Gibbons states" (Ibid., p. 279).
Gibbons quotes: "And I will give unto thee [Peter, and his successors, the priests, Gibbon explains] the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mat 18:19), and "Whose soever sins ye [Jesus disciples, not priests, in this case!] remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23). By careful interpretation and manipulation of these two verses, the sacrament of penance is founded.
"The soul is enchained by sin. I give you power, says our Lord, to release the penitent soul from its galling fetters, and to restore it to the liberty of a child of God," Cardinal Gibbons continues (Ibid.). The sacrament of penance bypasses some important scriptures, such as: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31); "Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole" (Luke 17:19); "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3:26). Concerning the ministry to gentile Israel, Paul was miraculously called by Christ "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). "The same Lord who instituted [water] Baptism for the remission of original sin [ie., baptismal regeneration], established Penance for the forgiveness of sins after Baptism," says Gibbons (Ibid., pp. 293-294). The twin false doctrines of "baptismal regeneration" and "doing penance" (auricular confession and priestly absolution) go hand in hand. These twin doctrines have travelled together in the church.
Faith alone is the Biblical doctrine which imparts forgiveness and clothes the repentant sinner with the purest justification. Sinless Christ alone is our justification. The sacrament of penance is a shrewdly designed and cleverly crafted counterfeit, which attempts to redefine genuine repentance and faith of the sinner. The sacrament of penance holds the one who confesses in bondage to personal works [ie., penance is always taught as something the sinner must do] and to the priest! For without the presence of a priest, the sacrament of penance never occurs! And where there is no sacrament of penance, there is no forgiveness! "Sinner go home, weep your heart out, and ultimately burn in hell! You are unforgiven, unless you confess to the priest and he absolves you!" is another correct way to express the historic sacrament of penance. The Biblical doctrine of eternal security by faith defies the sacrament of penance, countermands it as salvation by works, and sends such a sacrament back to hell from whence it came! The Bible clearly teaches that every individual must find "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). The sacrament of penance is not found in the Bible.
There is something subtle and inherently wrong in the sacrament of penance, which, if true, would bestow incredible power upon priests, who possess "the keys," for they could at will open or shut the kingdom to individual sinners! On the contrary, Christ alone is the door, and the single key to the kingdom is personal faith. As taught by the Roman and Greek churches, and their unreformed offshoots, faith on the part of the sinner is quite secondary, sometimes even absent, from the sacrament itself, from whence forgiveness is derived. The sacrament of penance stands in juxtaposition with the Biblical truth of repentance, forgiveness and justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Attempts to tie justification by faith to the sacrament of penance is like mixing oil with water. The two do mutually repel each other.
Claim is made by Cardinal Gibbons that auricular confession was practiced by various Christian writers and bishops of the third and fourth centuries. He appeals that Martin Luther also confessed daily and recommended it. The Fourth Council of Lateran (1215) commanded all "the faithful to confess their sins at least once a year. . . Sacramental confession is not the invention of man, but the institution of Jesus Christ" (Ibid., pp.. 286, 289). Yet, search the scriptures as you will, and you will not find even once where a Christian after baptism ever "confessed" as taught by Cardinal Gibbons. Scriptural support is misapplied. Auricular confession is a doctrine of demons, designed to hold the "churched" populace in fear and doubt ("quiet the conscience," no less, are Gibbon's words!) outside of genuine salvation! What else would you expect in a popular doctrine so central to the Papal antiChrisian system, and borrowed from pagan religions!
L. Desanctis, a native Italian and Roman, defected from the Roman church, after "I discharged in it [Rome] for fifteen years the ministry of hearing confessions. . . [and] eight years the duties of a parish priest" (Confession: Doctrinal and Historical Essay, L. Desanctis, S. W. Partridge and Co, London, 1878, p. 108). Desanctis claims from first hand experience that "Rome is the city which surpasses all the other cities of Italy in immorality" (Ibid.) "'Sin confessed, sin forgiven;' 'confessing a hundred sins is as good as confessing a hundred and ten,' are popular proverbs in Italy," Desanctis relates (Ibid.), where auricular confession is practiced widely.
"For secret sins the [New Testament] Church did not claim for itself the right of judging, but left the judgment of them to God; for open offenses, the Church exercised discipline, which consisted principally in excluding the sinner from communion, till he had shown unequivocal signs of repentance, and had repaired the scandal. . . (ICor. v.) (Ibid., p. 83). The Bible never equates such early church discipline with the sacrament of penance, which is a doctrine of much later origin.
John Chrystostom (347-395) preached to confess sins "to him [God] alone, telling it to no one else" (Ibid., p. 70). His contemporary and lifelong friend Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia, developed and taught the sacrament of penance and auricular confession precisely as does Cardinal Gibbons of our age. Basil also taught a similar doctrine. It was "towards the year 450," according to Desanctis, that "Pope Leo I. began to introduce into the Roman Church the custom of confession to the penitentiary, instead of public confession with a view to canonical penance: and in 459, the same Pope reproved the bishops of the Campagna for not having consented to adopt this practice. So while the Bishop of Constantinople was abolishing confession to a priest, the Bishop of Rome was introducing it" (Ibid., p. 85).
"Alcuin, a theologian of Charlemagne [ninth century] gives us the rite of secret confession in those times. . . Others attribute the introduction of auricular confession to the monks. The rule of St. Benedict imposed on all the monks the duty of confessing their sins to the abbot" (Ibid., pp. 87-88). "But in the fourteenth century John Wycliffe attacked the Roman Church on many errors, and especially on confession; and as theologians began to call confession a sacrament, so he denied it. The Pope condemned Wycliffe; and with the condemnation was indirectly asserted the contrary proposition&emdash;that confession was a sacrament. The Florentine Council, or in it Eugenius IV., in his decree for the Armenians, published in that Council, put penance in the number of the sacraments. Finally the Council of Trent (1545-1563) completed the doctrine of the Roman Church on confession. After such historical changes through which the doctrine has passed, to assert that it is of Divine institution, and has always been practiced in the Church, is to lie shamelessly" (Ibid., p. 95). These words come from a seasoned ex-Roman Catholic priest and confessor who later repented of practicing the sacrament of penance!
Cardinal Gibbons makes further appeal that the Roman sacrament of absolution [penance] is performed regularly in the Church of England, an unreformed offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church. A catechism, by Anglican clergyman C. S. Grueber states:
"Question. What do you mean by absolution?
"Answer. The pardon or forgiveness of sin.
"Q. By what special ordinance of Christ are sins committed after Baptism to be pardoned?
"A. By the sacrament of absolution.
"Q. Who is the minister of absolution?
"A. A Priest.
"Q. Do you mean that a Priest can really absolve?
"Q. In what place of the Holy Scripture is it recorded that Christ gave this power to the priesthood?
"A. In John xx. 23; see also Matt. xviii. 18.
"Q. What does the prayer-book (or Book of Common Prayer) say?
"A. In the office for the ordaining of Priests the Bishop is directed to say, 'Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven. . .'
"Q. For what purpose hath Christ given this power to Priests to pronounce absolution in His name?
"A. For the consolation of the penitent; the quieting of his conscience.
"Q. What must precede the absolution of the penitent?
"A. Confession. . . . Before absolution privately given, confession must be made to a Priest privately.
"Q. In what case does the Church of England order her ministers to move people to private, or, as it is called, to auricular confession?
"A. When they feel their conscience troubled with any weighty matter.
"Q. What is weighty matter?
"A. Mortal sin certainly is weighty; sins of omission or commission of any kind that press upon the mind are so, too. Anything may be weighty that causes scruple or doubtfulness.
"Q. At what times in particular does the Church so order?
"A. In the time of sickness, and before coming to the Holy Communion.
"Q. Is there any other class of persons to whom confession is profitable?
"A. Yes; to those who desire to lead a saintly life. These, indeed, are the persons who most frequently resort to it [sic.].
"Q. Is there any other object in confession, besides the seeking absolution for past sin and the quieting of the penitent's conscience?
"A. Yes; the practice of confessing each single sin is a great check upon the commission of sin and a preservative of purity of life" (Faith of Our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, John Murphy Company, 1876, reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, IL, 1980, pp. 289-290).
Further Gibbons declares, "When a Catholic Bishop ordains Priests he uses the precise words which I have quoted, because the Book of Common Prayer [Church of England] borrows them from our Pontifical." (Ibid.).
In other words, this Roman Catholic Archbishop appeals that the Church of England practices the identical sacrament of penance as does the Roman church! Historically, the Roman doctrine was thoroughly installed into the Church of England before the Protestant Reformation, and has never been reformed. On this doctrine, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Greek "schismatics" and most Episcopal churches are officially in unity with the Pope of Rome!
Such is the sacrament of penance, or absolution, in the Church of England, and her offshoots, as taught in the Book of Common Prayer.
The Bible condemns this practice of the sacrament of penance, or absolution, as a counterfeit of true Biblical repentance. The sacrament of penance is designed to enslave the guilt-ridden conscience of "churched" but unsaved "Christians." True repentance is a change of heart whereby faith alone saves. Auricular confession and absolution by the priest bypass the real repentance of the Bible. Justification of the sinner is not found in auricular confession&emdash;the sacrament of penance&emdash;and absolution pronounced. Justification of the sinner is found only by personal faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is enough for Christians who sin privately to confess to God alone and be forgiven by faith. Public sins require public confession and restitution, after which God's forgiveness is certain. For all believers, the Bible teaches, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
Absolution enslaves! Faith frees! It is impossible to harmonize these opposing theological systems. The one (sacrament of penance through auricular confession and pronounced absolution) puts forth works of confessor and priest as the basis for forgiveness and future salvation. This doctrine denies justification by faith and eternal security, thus it needs the catchnet of purgatory for further insurance. The other (justification by faith) affirms the Biblical teaching and eternal security of the saved in Christ. False ministers have from the the time of Simon Magus tried to buy the gifts of the Spirit, and auricular confession (the sacrament of penance) is just such an attempt of ungodly workers of iniquity to find another door (confession and absolution) into the kingdom through works of the flesh.
Some say, "No! the sacrament of penance is not a work of the flesh. It is an act of faith. And faith without works is dead!"
Stop for a moment and think. If you are forgiven, justified in the eyes of God, through the sacrament of penance, then you believe that works saves, for auricular confession to the priest is definitely a work. To call auricular confession an act of faith is to mislabel what is clearly a work of men, however noble that work may be. Even if auricular confession be an act of faith, it must first be "of faith" to be valid. "For whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). For a doctrine to be "of faith" it must harmonize with and not violate other doctrines. The sacrament of penance, as practiced historically in the Latin and Greek churches, the Church of England and her Episcopal branches, does violence to the most fundamental doctrine of all true Christianity&emdash;justification by faith in Jesus Christ. The sacrament of penance is sin, according to the Bible, because it sets out a false hope that sinner can find forgiveness by means of auricular confession and priestly absolution.
Such sacrament of penance is equal to forgiveness through performance of ritual&emdash;"For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Hebr. 10:4). There is no difference conceptually between the Old Testament doctrine of sacrificial payments against sin and auricular confession (the sacrament of penance) for absolution. Both carry forth the same idea of "carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation" (Hebr. 9:10). To such confessors, the gospel is made null and void, "not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Hebr. 4:2). Remember, faith is not something defined by men. Faith is the total body of living knowledge found in the Bible. Have we entered "the time of reformation?" Or do we still practice "carnal ordinances" which, in this case, were designed by irreverent men whose corrupted "Bibles" teach you to "do penance" rather than to "repent." How can a doctrine be of God, when the men who contrived it do not read the Word of God, which is transmitted to us only through the Masoretic and Received Texts culminating in the King James Version in English? The very Bibles of those who teach the sacrament of penance are fraudulent! If you believe the King James Bible is the Word of God, then you cannot believe in the sacrament of penance! This doctrine is certainly historic; but it is not Biblical, unless you read a corrupted Bible, whatever the language.
"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Auricular confession (the sacrament of penance) is not of faith. It is a direct, however clever and subtle, violation of the Word of God. Auricular confession is rejected by the reformed branches of Protestantism. Auricular confession which is the sacrament of penance, is sin, if you believe the King James Bible. You "do penance" if you read the Catholic Douay Bible. You "repent" if you read the King James Bible. Friend, there is a world of difference.
One is designed by the devil for the unconverted worldly "churched" masses, all who are in league with the apostate church of the antiChrist. The other is designed for the "little flock" of God. The one writes your nonstop flight via the sacrament of penance direct to the flames of hell. The other gives you eternal security in the arms of a forgiving God. The one puts you in good stead with the basest of all "Christian" religions. The other puts you on the wings of eagles, bound for the home of the saved! The one tricks you into thinking you can, with the collusion of the priest, absolve yourself, by "doing penance." The other admonishes you not to "neglect so great salvation" (Hebr. 2:3), but "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1Pet. 1:13).
The sacrament of penance (auricular confession) is a doctrine of hell. Don't go near it, unless you plan to get burned!