The Catholic Church Doesn’t Look Like the Early Church? Good.

Wozniak and Jobs

A frequent critique of the Roman Catholic Church is that it doesn’t look very much like the early Church. The popular image of the ragtag gang of early Christians doesn’t sit well with the popular image of a stuffy and hierarchical Church. So what can be said to this objection?

Part of the answer is that it is a twofold exaggeration. The early Church was much more hierarchical and institutional than modern Christians give it credit for; simultaneously, the modern Church is far less hierarchical and institutional than is often imagined. As a result, you can easily end up contrasting a mostly-imaginary early Church from a mostly-imaginary modern Church. Perhaps the best remedy is to simply read the writings of the earliest Christians directly. You can find a wealth of resources at New Advent, CCEL, and elsewhere. It should quickly dispel the notion that the early Church was a sort of early commune, or that its theology, ecclesiology or worship were closer to modern Protestantism than to modern Catholicism. Meanwhile, exploring the modern Catholic Church with an open heart should do volumes for the idea that it’s hyper-hierarchical and authoritarian.

Nevertheless, there’s a kernel of truth. The modern Church really does look different from the Church of the first few centuries. You’ll search in vain to find a first-century “Cardinal,” much less a “music director” or “web development team.” So should we turn back the clock, and jettison the changes and developments of the intervening two millennia? Hardly.

Instead, here are five Scriptural bases for why we should thank God that the Church of today looks differently than she did yesterday:

(1) The Parable of the Mustard Seed

In Matthew 13, Jesus provides a series of parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. One of the most famous is the parable of the mustard seed (Mt. 13:31-32):

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

That’s a pretty clear message. Jesus is “planting” His Church with a small group of disciples, so small that they initially go largely unnoticed by the outside world. And yet, He’s letting them know that it won’t always be that way: that because it’s His Kingdom, they’ll go from the smallest to the largest. And that’s exactly what has happened. There are roughly a 1.25 billion Catholics right now, along with about 900 million Protestants and 225-300 million Orthodox. We’re the largest shrub on earth, and we’re still not done growing.

But ask yourself this: how much does a fully-grown mustard tree look like it did when it was a seed? How much should it look like it’s still a seed?

(2) The Parable of the Leaven

Immediately after the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus offers a more domestic parable to make the same point (Matthew 13:33): “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.” Again, we see that the Kingdom is initially so small that it’s “hidden” in the surrounding world. And yet it leavens the whole world. The yeast, at first, is imperceptible. But quickly, that’s no longer the case. It makes its presence felt, growing and transforming, just as it transforms its environment. That’s the story of Christianity: from a small, persecuted sect within the Roman Empire to the religion of the Empire to the largest religion on Earth.

(3) The Universal Commission

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives His Apostles some crucial instructions (Mt. 28:18-20):

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

At the time He’s giving this commission, the Church is made up entirely of Jews from a tiny corner of the Roman Empire. In order to be faithful to Christ, the Apostles can’t try to freeze the Church at that moment in history. Indeed, Scripture doesn’t look favorably upon the Judaizers who resisted letting Gentiles into the Church – even though they, like modern critics of the Church, could legitimately say that it would make the Church look different than it did the day before.

This universal commission revolutionizes the way the Church looks from day 1 (literally). On Pentecost, St. Peter preaches to a group of “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11). That day, 3000 of these listeners get baptized (Acts 2:41) into a Church that only had 120 members that morning (Acts 1:15).

(4) “All Things to All People”

One of the challenges of the universal commission, of course, is how to present the Gospel in radically different cultural contexts. St. Paul discussed this in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23,

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

The presentation of the Gospel is going to look different to one group than to another. And Paul doesn’t tell the Jews and Gentiles to totally abandon their cultures for the sake of some homogenous Christian culture. Rather, he adapts to them, as much as he is able. This is the Church’s standard practice: and indeed, in places where missionaries have attempted to impose European culture alongside of Christianity, the results have often been disastrous. But as you might imagine, Indian Christianity might not look like Congolese Christianity, which might not look like Swedish Christianity, and all of them are going to look different (in at least some externals) from what the Apostles experienced.

Once again, this isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. Christianity is a universal message of salvation for all peoples. All nations are called to be Christian, after all.

(5) The Parable of the Talents

As a final Scriptural basis to examine, consider the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The Master gives 5 talents to one servant, 3 talents to a second, and one talent to the third. The first two faithfully invest their talents and produce enormous returns: in both cases, their investments are doubled. The Master responds to each of these men, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21, 23). But the third buries his talent.  He makes sure that the talent doesn’t grow or change in any way, and gives it back to the Master unchanged, saying, “Here you have what is yours” (Mt. 25:25). The Master responds, “you wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (Mt. 25:26-28).

Ultimately, this is a question for the Church. Are we going to bury our talents, to try to ensure that the Church looks the same a century from now as she did a century ago? Or are we going to be faithful to the Commission we’ve been by Jesus Christ?

Conclusion

I’m reminded of Apple Computers. Depending on who you believe, Apple was started in either Steve Wozniak’s bedroom or Steve Jobs’ garage. But either way, it started tiny. But they didn’t start that small for the sake of staying in the garage forever. They started that small for the sake of revolutionizing the industry and changing the world. Faithfulness to that mission meant that their company would dramatically grow and change: how could it not? Nobody would seriously suggest that Apple ought to still be run entirely out of a bedroom or a garage.

So it is with the Church: Jesus founded an extremely-tiny Church, but He sends that Church to go out and transform the world, promising that the Church will dramatically expand (like a rapidly-growing plant or leaven in bread) into the largest religion on Earth. The Apostles weren’t told to stand in one place and stare at the sky until Christ’s return (Acts 1:10-11). They were told to get busy. And they did. That’s why the Church looks different today than she did yesterday.

No Church or denomination on earth today looks like the Apostolic Church looked in the first century. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s great. If we looked the same today as we did then, it would mean that Christianity had completely flatlined and the Gospel had failed to leaven the world.

Instead, we’re promised something better. We’re not promised a Church that looks like the first-century Church. We’re promised a Church that is the first-century Church, all grown up. If you don’t mind, you’re my last example. Twenty or thirty years from now, you might not look very much like you do today. You might even have a son or daughter who ends up looking more like 2016 you than 2036 you does.  But that doesn’t change anything. Your son or daughter isn’t you. You are. You’re just all grown up.

So it is here: certain Evangelical and nondenominational groups strive to imitate the early Church, to make themselves look like the first-century Church. We Catholics don’t bother, both because those weren’t the instructions, and because we already are that Church.

57 Comments

  1. “The early Church was much more hierarchical and institutional than modern Christians give it credit for;…”

    From Bishop Clement of Rome:

    “Chapter 37. Christ is Our Leader, and We His Soldiers.

    Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage. Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under ONE COMMON RULE for the preservation of the whole body.” (First Epistle to the Corinthians).

    This epistle was written near the end of 100 AD, some 30 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Here is a bishop of Rome telling the saints in Corinth where some members led a sedition against the ruling elders. Yet in spite of the clear language of the text speaking of soldiers of different ranks who must obey ONE COMMON RULE, there is never a shortage of Protestants who still dream about the Church being non-hierarchical in the first century.

    They deny the monarchical episcopate of the early Church when in fact St. Clement is speaking as a monarch to the Corinthians in the entire epistle. By denying the monarchical episcopate, they seek to deny the importance of Unity in the early Church. They want to portray it to be as chaotic as the current state of conflicted Protestantism. Frankly, I don’t see any other motive for doing so.

  2. This Protestant thinks it is anachronistic to attempt to be like the early church. There are plenty of people who want to try this, like the Acts 2 Network, Acts 2 Church, and various other churches that slap on the name of Acts with a number behind it. I see these fellow Protestants like I see Civil War reenacts. They are enjoying the experience of something that they can never truly experience as a form of escapism. You are right that we are not living in the third century, and that is a very good thing! That time has gone, that ship has sailed. So now we need to figure out how to live faithfully according to the gospel in the world today.

    1. I would piggyback on what you say by adding that all these groups that want to go back to the early Church, have an idealized view that somehow the early Church was perfect. I am sure we would find it just as messy as the Church of today.

      I would also add that early-church-wannabes, always somehow view their new church as finally getting it right, in being like the early Church. Just like the one down the street views themselves as having gotten it right in being like the early church. As will the one that will start-up tomorrow. And yet they will all be different in what they actually believe.

  3. I find it interesting that the biggest gains in Catholic conversions today are in Asia and Africa. In the 19th century these were the two regions where missionary efforts had foundered. Alexander the Great’s conquests spread Greek culture to the East, and prepared the way for the spread of Christianity. The Roman Empire, in the time of Christ, with the philosophic system of the Greeks and a declining Paganism, proved fertile for the early Church. It is interesting to note that Christianity did not spread to Persia at that time, which, some authors have noted, possessed a vibrant religion and devoid of a philosophic system. I am somewhat skeptical of the optimism some have for the missionary efforts to Africa and Asia, because of the ideological movements that predominate there. It seems to me that Socialism degrades and demoralizes a people. Islam is converting many countries that were formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. Its true that Church has always adapted to change the world, but, it seems to me the modern Church seeks world approval. By prioritizing left leaning social issues, and avoiding more sensitive issues, I am reminded of a Cheserton quote ” we don’t need a religion that right where we are right, we need a religion that is right where we are wrong.” The Church may not be able to change the prevailing opinions regarding birth control or marriage, but it has a duty to uphold those teachings. History will vindicate Her just as it always has. I believe the promise of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church.

  4. Great article as usual. Very well thought out. Keep up the great apologetics, as few Christians have the analytical and exegetical skills needed to sort out and understand the many differences between the Protestant and Catholic ecclesiologies. Your many articles are very helpful.

  5. I honestly view change in a negative light. One cannot criticize Protestantism for being different than the 4th century church on an issue such as prayers for the dead without placing some priority on earlier practice. So, if confession and penance used to be public and the church now has changed things so that confession is private, and that it is needed to absolve sins, clearly the ecclesiological change has brought with it doctrinal change. And, if the ecclesiological change is bad, then it merely obscures true doctrines.

    So, I observe that the RCC view of history is one of convenience. If things change, this “proves” that the Spirit is with the RCC leading them to more profound understandings and do things better. If dissenters do things markedly different than the early church (monarchical episcopate in the 2nd century and on, for example), then this is “proof” that they are innovators totally disconnected from historical continuity.

    It’s the ultimate having your cake and eating it too.

    God bless,
    Craig

    1. So, if confession and penance used to be public and the church now has changed things so that confession is private, and that it is needed to absolve sins, clearly the ecclesiological change has brought with it doctrinal change. And, if the ecclesiological change is bad, then it merely obscures true doctrines.” (my emphasis).

      Can you clarify what doctrinal change you are describing?
      As I am sure you know, penance is a sacrament instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins is granted through the priest’s absolution. This doctrine has not changed, though the form and method may have evolved.

      One of Tertullian’s objections ( from De pudicitia, approx 217 AD) which moved him away from the Church to Montanism was his disagreement with the dogma that the presbyters of the Church, through Peter, had the authority to forgive all sins. Tertullian believed that though the power to forgive had indeed been given to Peter, that power was limited, such that for more grave sins,forgiveness could only come from God directly, and not through a delegated priestly authority. In rejecting the teaching of confessions and absolution, Tertullian recognizes that such was in fact the teaching. Recognition through rejection.rejicere est agnoscere

      1. Obviously they are blessed whose iniquities are forgiven without labor or work of any kind and whose sins are covered without any work of penitence being required of them, as long as they believe. How can these words apply to a penitent, when we know that penitents obtain the forgiveness of sin with much struggle and groaning?…[T]heir sins are forgiven, covered and not reckoned to them, and this without labor or work of any kind (quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture, New Testament VI, p. 113).

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3D_Te0VUz4E

        I get in a little more detail here^^^

        I’ll say my view simply, though I am still researching. The early Church did not teach penance literally forgave sins. Rather, those who were truly repentant would perform penance.

        I would love to know the english title of tertullian’s book, and the chapter 🙂

        1. “The early Church did not teach penance literally forgave sins. Rather, those who were truly repentant would perform penance.”

          Does the contemporary Church teach that? What do you think penance is, and what do you think is its purpose? Of course if one is a hypocrite penance is worthless. So I guess you’re running after ghosts of your own making, once more.

        2. Craig- I’ll say my view simply, though I am still researching. The early Church did not teach penance literally forgave sins. Rather, those who were truly repentant would perform penance.

          Tertullian

          “[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness” (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).

          Hippolytus

          “[The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles . . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church, and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command” (Apostolic Tradition 3 [A.D. 215]).

          Origen

          “[A final method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, “To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity”’” (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]).

          Me – there’s more, but I’m sure you’ll set an arbitrary century where it must be mentioned in order to prove its not corrupted teaching.

        3. Craig,
          It seems we sometimes move too fast from one blog topic to the next, and some conversations are left hanging. It’s particularly frustrating when the subject of the discussion is central to a core belief that seems to divide Christians.

          I have two thoughts to share regarding the issue of penance and the beliefs and practices of the early church. The first is in regard to what appears to be an important circumstantial reason for public penance, and the second is in regard to the issue of priestly authority to absolve sins.

          As to the first-
          Many of the early writings quoted as to public penance were made not as a theological exegesis, but addressed instead a very common and serious situation. On one hand were those Christians whose public affirmation of faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God and whose refusal publicly to partake in the sacrifice to idols resulted in torture, mutilation, maiming, and abuse, many of whom still remained in prison, cut off ftom partaking in the sharing of the body and blood of Christ.

          In contrast to these who were auffering for their public affirmation of faith were those believers who chose instead to make a public denial of their faith and partook of the idol sacrifice, but then came back to the church seeking forgiveness, absolution, penance and restoration to the communion of the Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

          The demand for their public confession on so grave a matter, and for a lengthy and public penance before they would be restored to the Eucharist was understandable. The letters of St. Cyprian and the responses from the various bishops and priests at Rome and elsewhere tell the story of the dangers of ‘giving peace’ or absolution and restoring to communion those who had denied their faith:
          Besides, where shall it be said that they who confess Christ are shut up in the keeping of a squalid prison, if they who have denied Him are in no peril of their faith? Where, that they are bound in the cincture of chains in God’s name, if they who have not kept the confession of God are not deprived of communion? Where, that the imprisoned martyrs lay down their glorious lives, if those who have forsaken the faith do not feel the magnitude of their dangers and their sins? ” (Cyprian, Epistle XXV, paragraph 7, reply from Moyses , Maximus et al, AD 50)

          The series of letters and replies between St. Cyprian and the rest of the Bishops and priests sheds a great light on both the topics in this reply,

          As to the second topic, the letters of St. Cyprian also describe the authority of the Bishos and priests through apostolic succession to absolve sins through the grant of power by Christ, even to the point of explaining that the martyrs who had attempted to grant such forgiveness before their deaths to certain of their friends and family had no such authority, notwithstanding their piety and attainment of immortality through their sufferings and deaths. These letters are the source of the phrase “ it is not martyrs that make the Gospel, but that martyrs are made by the Gospel;“.

          I highly recommend that the letters of St. Cyprian and the replies thereto be read, in particular beginning with letter XXI.

          May God bless us in our search.
          Mike

      2. Many Catholics no longer go to confession because find it irksome and humiliating, not because they’ve had some theological epiphany. Confessing your sins to another human being, be they a priest or a lay person, is a cleansing experience, and a tremendous opportunity for spiritual grown. However, we Catholics, who place so much emphasis on the Mass and the Eucharist, are in need of an outward sign that we may receive the Eucharist in a worthy state as Saint Paul states.

          1. Have you ever seen The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn? They say it’s an accurate representation of the life led by Dominican Tertiaries. They did public confessions. Also it is a great movie.

          2. “to whomever I can” — whom “you can” confess to depends on your own pragmatic and self-interested judgment of what is beneficial or not. An atheist confesses to whomever he can, too. If you’re so out of your mind that you’d like to see a comeback of public penance, start it yourself, and see the results unfold before your very eyes. I just hope you don’t get lynched by a mob.

    2. Craig,

      Whatever your personal preferences or aversions about change, you can’t treat all change as negative, because the Gospel doesn’t give you that latitude.

      Rather, we need to make two levels of distinction: first, between those things which can change, and those which can’t. Second, amongst those things which can change, between those which should and those which shouldn’t.

      The truth cannot change. So when you talk about how the early Christians believed in the efficaciousness and meritoriousness of praying for the dead, and modern Protestants reject these things (and think of them as contrary to the teachings of Christianity), that’s a change in the truth. Either the early Christians are wrong, or modern Protestants are.

      But when it comes to people confessing their sins, there’s no tension between the early Christians and modern Catholics. Both believe you need to be contrite, to confess your sins and to do penance. There are differences in how we confess our sins today (privately vs. publicly) and the severity of the penances imposed, but those are superficial differences in method. Those changes might be for the better or for the worse (I think most would agree, for the better), but it’s not a contradiction. We don’t think that the early Christians were wrong to do things their way, even if we have found a way we find better suited for the modern Church.

      The same can be said for regional differences: confession looks different in the East than in the West, but we mutually recognize the legitimacy of the other’s approach. That’s very different from trying to harmonize either approach with Protestantism’s wholesale rejection of sacramental Confession.

      So in other words, truth can’t change, but many of the external appearances and methods of the Church can (and sometimes, should). That’s not hypocrisy – it’s fidelity to the dual teachings of the Gospel: namely, that (a) the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth forever, that “faith delivered once for all to the Apostles” (Jude 1:3); and (b) that the Church will grow and change in appearance throughout history.

      I.X.,

      Joe

    3. clearly the ecclesiological [sic] change has brought with it doctrinal change.
      Non sequitur. The doctrine is the confession, not the “how”. If you find some Church Father claiming that personal, individual confession is invalid, please enlighten us, as you always do.

      As Mike O said: This doctrine has not changed, though the form and method may have evolved. .

      And back to the monarchical episcopate thing, there was a long debate in this blog about that. You think things just pop up from nothing, as if the monarchical episcopate was something so against previous doctrine that it is unbelievable and amazing that it was not opposed by the disciples of the Apostles themselves, and that it is unbelievable that no one thought about Presbyterianism until… well, until Presbyterians found everyone wrong for 1500+ years. But that didn’t happen.

      And if you’re so against private confession, why don’t you consider public confession? Imagine the situation of a man confessing to having betrayed his wife with some woman who is in the congregation, or killed someone whose relatives are there, too. OK, you get the point. It is just better for everyone that confession is private. By the way, does your Church practice public confession like you claim the “early” church (pre-whatever-date-you-come-up-with) did? Certainly your community doesn’t look like the early Church either, so stop claiming (or assuming) all your doctrines and practices are pristine uncorrupted incarnations of Christianity.

      Anyway, your history is also one of convenience. If you adopt “innovations”, they’re not “innovations”, they’re a revival of true practice and doctrine: “because the “early church” was like that”; if Catholics refine doctrines and develop or change practices, it’s because they’re sinful innovations.

      Let’s do an exercise in logic, and see if it makes sense:

      “I observe that the Baptist/Presbyterian view of history is one of convenience. If things change, this “proves” that the Spirit is with the Baptists/Presbyterians leading them to more profound understandings and to doing things better. If they do things markedly different from the early church (the five solas, private interpretation, doctrinal innovation and on and on and on…), then this is “proof” that they are innovators totally disconnected from historical continuity, although they claim that they have a better understanding of, and the true gift of spiritual insight into, what the early church was”.

      Anyway, you’re arguing that it is bad to have had developments; for all it’s worth, all developments you point to, no matter if they all popped up in an (according to you) evil Catholic mind, are all quite good. I would place my conscience on the monarchical episcopate and the private confession anytime, instead of Presbyterianism and lack of sacramental confession.

    4. Craig, can you really not see the difference between changing how a sacrament is done to completely doing away with a sacrament?

      We probably do the anointing of the sick a little different from the early church but that’s very different than doing away with the sacrament all together. Same thing with marriage, holy orders, communion, etc…

      You really have to use pretzel logic to not see the difference.

      1. CK,

        As far as I can see, for Craig, eliminating a sacrament, or all of them (Calvinists only believe in two sacraments; I don’t even know how many his Church has, since Baptists don’t believe in sacraments at all, just *two* “ordinances”) is not an innovation, but doing it differently from 1800 years ago is considered an innovation!
        Anyway, look what I just found, by Craig himself:

        “Now, when it comes to theology, I think it is kind of scary if you come up with some sort of new insight that for 2,000 years has gone unnoticed in the Christian Church. First, it is mind boggling that the Spirit took 2,000 years to lead the Church into all truth until you came around (John 16:13).”

        I totally agree with that. If you just change the date to 1,500 or 1,600 years, there you have it. For logic’s sake, if you think it’s scary to come up with new doctrines after 2000 years, you should think it’s also scary to come up with new doctrines after 1500 years. But they’ll retort, “No, that’s not new because that’s how it was practiced by the first Christians! The Catholic Church innovated in year X (put your guess here…), although the Catholic Church claims it’s all Biblical and in the Tradition, we interpret Bible differently in our tradition and reject their tradition as false per se because… well, because it’s a Tradition, and our Tradition teaches that traditions shouldn’t be trusted!” [never mind the self-refuting logic of a tradition that says that traditions shouldn’t be trusted]

        Well, that’s just one interpretation about what was really practiced, and just one interpretation about what the “things” were (sacraments, ordinances, rites) and what was their purpose.

  6. English title is”On Modesty” and the initial complaint is in Chapter 1. God Just as Well as Merciful; Accordingly, Mercy Must Not Be Indiscriminate.

    The main premise of Tertullian’s argument is that adultery and fornication were of such damaging nature to the Christian that no priest or pope had the authority to “pardon” those sins, both withstanding that such absolution was being granted under proper circumstances.

    Penance, when the definition is limited only to the act of the sinner after absolution is given does not alone forgive sin, but as you state, one who is truly repentant would express his repentance undone outward way. I dint see anywhere that the teaching of the Church has changed in this regard.

    1. I think the change is in the idea that the priest, in effect binds and looses sins. We go to confession to get them loosed. However, this is not how public penance worked. Jerome writes:

      Bishops and priests…take to themselves something of Pharisaic pride, so as to condemn the innocent or think that they loose the guilty, whereas with God not the sentence of the Priest, but the life of the criminals, is the object of inquiry. In Leviticus we read of the leprous that they are commanded to show themselves to the priests, and if they have leprosy then the priests reckon them unclean, not that the priests make them leprous and unclean, but that they have knowledge of what is leprous and what is not, and discern who is clean, who unclean…[W]hen he [the priest] has heard the various natures of the sins, he knows who is to be bound [i.e. told to perform penance in order to be in Communion] and who is to be loosed (Jerome, Comments on Matt 16, quoted in Tertullian 1842, p. 388).

      1. Craig, I think you misunderstand how the sacrament of penance works. The priest has the authority to forgive or retain sins. He was given this at his ordination and may fulfill the duty given by Jesus to His priests in John 20:23. The priest has no authority to bind a sin to me that I didn’t commit or to absolve a sin that I have not repented of or have no contrition for. The absolution forgives the eternal guilt of sins and the penance is for the termporal punishment of sins only.

        In the past, confessions were done before the bishop in the presence of the congregation for public sins and the bishop has the authority to absolve. Interestingly, I believe it is still through the bishop that the sacrament of penance is administered today and no mere priest can administer that sacrament without the Bishop’s approval (in general, not for each individual case). All of it is still done through Jesus Christ our High Priest. His priests/bishops in His Church are merely His instruments through which He admisters healing and absolution. You have no idea of the immense gift this is to the church. We get to hear our sins being absolved out loud as if Jesus himself were there forgiving them. I don’t have to rely on a subjective feeling of forgiveness. I have the objective reality of the sacrament for my assurance that the sins I confess are forgiven.

        May God be with you.

        Matthew

        1. Matt, I understand that distinction. However, Jerome clearly taught that the Bishop and Priest do not literally do the loosing but rather, they recognize that a sins has been loosed by God by evaluating the contrite heart of the penitent.

          God bless,
          Craig

          1. Craig, your quote from St. Jerome is far from definitive. He no where states that Bishops and priests do not have the authority to forgive sins. What he says is that they do not have the ability to “condemn the innocent or loose the guilty.” It also seems like that quote isn’t even related to the sacrament of penance but is more a critique of bishops and priests deciding criminal law. The clue is when he refers to “the life of the criminals is the object of inquiry.” Like I said, no priest can bind to me a sin I didn’t commit nor can they lose sins that I do not repent of and have express contrition for. For a fuller understanding of St. Jerome, let us read this:

            “If the serpent, the devil, bites someone secretly, he infects that person with the venom of sin. And if the one who has been bitten keeps silence and does not do penance, and does not want to confess his wound . . . then his brother and his master, who have the word [of absolution] that will cure him, cannot very well assist him” (Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:11 [A.D. 388]).

            And let us also include St. John Chrysostom:

            “Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? ‘Whose sins you shall forgive,’ he says, ‘they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [Matt. 10:40; John 20:21–23]. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven” (The Priesthood 3:5 [A.D. 387]).

            Or St. Basil:

            “It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles” (Rules Briefly Treated 288 [A.D. 374]).

            I could go on but I think that’s enough for now lol.

            May God be with you.

            Matthew

          2. Matt, Jerome is saying that the priest recognizes what is bound and loosed, just as the levitical priest recognized leprosy. The meaning of what he said is pretty clear.

            As for Chrysostom, he has written elsewhere:

            “Not this alone is wondrous that He remits us our sins but that He does not reveal nor make them manifest or open nor compels us to come forward and speak out our transgressions but bids us plead before Him Alone and confess to Him.”

            “But thou art ashamed and blushest to utter thy sins nay but even were it necessary to utter these things before men and display them not even thus shouldest thou be ashamed for sin not to confess sin is shame but now it is not even necessary to confess before witnesses Be the examination of transgressions in the thoughts of conscience Be the judgment seat unwitnessed Let God Alone see thee confessing God Who upbraideth not sins but remitteth sins on confession.”

            “Thou hast sinned, enter the Church say unto God I have sinned, I ask of thee nothing else but only this for Holy Scripture says tell thou first thine iniquities that thou mayest be justified tell thy sin that thou mayest be free from thy sin.”

            In all of the above (quoted in pages 399-400 here: https://books.google.com/books?id=JS8MAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA377&lpg=PA377&dq=exomologesis+cyprian&source=bl&ots=V6Tt_5WGyM&sig=RBMbLdbYPpRNABby_wBo6cAMeGg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnu-q-najMAhUIWj4KHWpMCXMQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=exomologesis%20cyprian&f=false) Chrysostom makes clear that literally confession to a priest is not necessary.

            So, I think you misunderstand what both men write. They are speaking of binding and loosing in terms of recognition that God has forgiven a penitent sinner, not that the priest and bishop literally exercise the power of doing so an apart from that priest the believer cannot be forgiven.

            God bless,
            Craig

            P.S. I quote the above source, because New Advent does not have Chrysostom’s homilies on penitence. It is possible they were written by another man, John the Faster, former patriarch of Constantinople. The point is, it shows that the way the RCC understands binding and loosing now is with the presupposition that the modern way of understanding the term is the same way the ancients did.

          3. For what it is worth, it is credible that what has been traditionally ascribed to Chrysostom in the quoted can be found in other homilies. On Hebrews, Homily 20, Heb 12:17, he writes:

            “Let us persuade ourselves that we have sinned. Let us say it not with the tongue only, but also with the mind. Let us not call ourselves sinners, but also count over our sins, going over them each specifically. I do not say to you, Make a parade of yourself, nor accuse yourself before others: but be persuaded by the prophet when he says, Reveal your way unto the Lord. Psalm 37:5 Confess these things before God. Confess before the Judge your sins with prayer; if not with tongue, yet in memory, and be worthy of mercy.”

            Just something to think about.

  7. Craig, you clearly haven’t seen enough. Try out St. Cyprian:

    “The apostle [Paul] likewise bears witness and says: ‘ . . . Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ [1 Cor. 11:27]. But [the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest . . . they do violence to [the Lord’s] body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him” (The Lapsed 15:1–3 (A.D. 251]).

    “Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord” (ibid., 28).

    “[S]inners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of Communion. [But now some] with their time [of penance] still unfulfilled . . . they are admitted to Communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the Eucharist is given to them; although it is written, ‘Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ [1 Cor. 11:27]” (Letters 9:2 [A.D. 253]).

    “And do not think, dearest brother, that either the courage of the brethren will be lessened, or that martyrdoms will fail for this cause, that penance is relaxed to the lapsed, and that the hope of peace [i.e., absolution] is offered to the penitent. . . . For to adulterers even a time of repentance is granted by us, and peace is given” (ibid., 51[55]:20).

    “But I wonder that some are so obstinate as to think that repentance is not to be granted to the lapsed, or to suppose that pardon is to be denied to the penitent, when it is written, ‘Remember whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works’ [Rev. 2:5], which certainly is said to him who evidently has fallen, and whom the Lord exhorts to rise up again by his deeds [of penance], because it is written, ‘Alms deliver from death’ [Tob. 12:9]” (ibid., 51[55]:22).

    Or St. Ambrose:

    “For those to whom [the right of binding and loosing] has been given, it is plain that either both are allowed, or it is clear that neither is allowed. Both are allowed to the Church, neither is allowed to heresy. For this right has been granted to priests only” (Penance 1:1 [A.D. 388]).

    You can’t be serious that you think that all these priests (and they were most definitely calling themselves “priests”) who say things like “It is necessary to confess our sins to THOSE whom the DISPENSATION of God’s mysteries is entrusted” are just referring to them analyzing the state of their soul and have nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins. That just stretches the boundaries of reason. As for St. John Chrysostom, the source you gave for those quotes is not clear to me but nothing he says in those quotes you mention contradicts what he says in “The Priesthood.” Or do you think he does? It also seems that he, like St. Augustine, is referring to venial sins that can be blotted out by daily prayer. I will fully admit that the way the sacrament was administered has gone through major changes over the centuries but the doctrine of the sacrament has not as Joe explained in his article. It’s time you just embrace the facts on this and say that you think all of these Church Fathers are heretics or accept that they know more about this than you or I do.

    May God be with you.

    Matthew

    1. Matthew, it seems that you haven’t engaged Craig in dialogue before. He will take a controversial point out of Joe’s post, usually not dealing with the overall subject of the whole post. He will deny, to the very end, the avalanche of evidence, focusing on the meager evidence that seemingly supports his views and turning his discourse on an exegetical philological interpretive preaching unable to concede that maybe he’s wrong; when he is overrun by the facts, he will take a different turn, all the while avoiding to expound his true beliefs: in fact, he will deny any profession of faith. He will never concede that most probably he doesn’t believe in sacraments at all, if he’s a Baptist (maybe just two, if he’s still a Calvinist), and certainly he doesn’t believe at all in confession, so that all this back and forth of quotations of Church Fathers is just a distraction. He doesn’t believe either in public or in private confession, but he accuses those who practice private confession of being “not like the early Church”. That’s Joe’s point: it doesn’t matter that it’s not like the early church, but no, for Craig it matters in the Catholic/Orthodox/Coptic case; it just doesn’t matter that his Baptist church isn’t like the early Church.

      Yes, he thinks they are all heretics because, according to him, after some arbitrary century, they’re not to be trusted. He won’t embrace the facts because he doesn’t like them; he won’t accept that they know more because they aren’t authorities to him (authorities are just loose quotations he nitpicks to support his views). Last time I remember he just said all the translations from Maccabees I provided were biased, and didn’t come up with a credible translator/authority in NT Greek to back up his view. It never ends.

      1. While this is my first time commenting on this site, I have been lurking for a while and I have read a lot of what Craig has written, including a little bit of his own blog. I prefer to let him speak for himself though. I look forward to your response Craig! 🙂

        Matthew

        1. Matthewp,

          Well, I told you so… Has he answered to your questions above about what he thinks? No. Just quote after quote after quote, usually picked up from anti-catholic apologetics sites, as you could see, or when useful from New Advent. As if he couldn’t think for himself and answer about what he believes.

    2. “Craig, you clearly haven’t seen enough. Try out St. Cyprian:”

      I wasn’t aware this was a contest, we’re not trying to answer a disputed question through popular vote of the ECFs.

      “The apostle [Paul] likewise bears witness and says: ‘ . . . Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ [1 Cor. 11:27]. But [the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest . . . they do violence to [the Lord’s] body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him” (The Lapsed 15:1–3 (A.D. 251]).

      It appears that, if taken literally, the Lord’s Supper “purges” sin, not confession–so, you are not proving your contention. It also does not say who is doing the purging, or exactly how it is done. As Jerome taught, the purging done by the priest in essence is a recognition of something God has already done in the heart of the penitent.

      ““Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord” (ibid., 28).

      What words in Latin was used? Exomologesis? How was that same term used elsewhere in Cyprian’s writings?

      He appears to take Jerome’s view:

      “For when in lesser offences than total denial of the faith which are not committed directly against God penitence is performed for a due period and the exomologesis takes place after examination of the life of him who performs penitence nor can any such come to the communion before hands be laid upon him by the Bishop and Clergy” (Jcc add Ep 20 Fell 15 Pam ad Cler Ep 4 Fell 62 Pam ad Pompon).

      “[S]inners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of Communion. [But now some] with their time [of penance] still unfulfilled . . . they are admitted to Communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the Eucharist is given to them; although it is written, ‘Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ [1 Cor. 11:27]” (Letters 9:2 [A.D. 253]).

      Doesn’t prove your point, no one disputes that penance existed. The same is true of your remaining Cyprian quotes.

      Onto Ambrose:

      “For those to whom [the right of binding and loosing] has been given, it is plain that either both are allowed, or it is clear that neither is allowed. Both are allowed to the Church, neither is allowed to heresy. For this right has been granted to priests only” (Penance 1:1 [A.D. 388]).

      What’s he mean by binding and loosing? How you define it, or how his contemporary Jerome did?

      “You can’t be serious that you think that all these priests…who say things like “It is necessary to confess our sins to THOSE whom the DISPENSATION of God’s mysteries is entrusted” are just referring to them analyzing the state of their soul and have nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins.”

      Why can’t I be? None of the people you quote specifically refute that idea, while Jerome specifically refutes your idea. If you remove RCC presuppositions, the ECFs are not saying what you think they are.

      “As for St. John Chrysostom, the source you gave for those quotes is not clear to me…”

      It’s his letters On Penitence. They agree with what he wrote on his hmilies on hebrews and Genesis, which are not disputed. Further, as we just covered above, his letter on the priesthood does not contradict what he wrote either if we read him appropriately (i.e. through the lens Jerome gives us.)

      This is a topic I am greatly interested in. Thanks for your time.

      God bless,

      Craig

      1. Thank you for the response Craig, I think you are eisegetically reading into the fathers the protestant interpretation of John 20:23 in St. Jerome as well in other fathers. Your original quote of St. Jerome seems again to be dealing with criminal law, as if priests/bishops had the right to declare people innocent/guilty of crimes they are accused of because of their power to bind and loose.

        You said: “It appears that, if taken literally, the Lord’s Supper “purges” sin, not confession–so, you are not proving your contention. It also does not say who is doing the purging, or exactly how it is done. As Jerome taught, the purging done by the priest in essence is a recognition of something God has already done in the heart of the penitent.”

        The quotes I have mentioned clearly show that the early church fathers believed they were given the power by Jesus to forgive or retain sins and they use it. Of course, I and they will admit that it is truly God who is forgiving sins through them. Again, the priest/bishop is the instrument through which God forgives our sins. I’m finding really hard to shoehorn in the idea that all a priest does is passively recognize that God forgave their post-baptismal mortal sins without the involvement of the priests at all. Especially in light of St. Cyprian praising those who “confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience.”

        The ceremony that St. Cyprian refers to in “The Lapsed” that purges the conscience is the sacrament of penance, not communion. He uses St. Paul’s saying in 1st Corinthians to warn those who have lapsed not to take communion until their conscience is “purged in the ceremony at the hand of the priest.” What else would he have to say? I contend that it is you who are bringing highly anachronistic interpretations of the early church fathers and quoting St. Jerome out of context. You didn’t answer my quotation of him where he says that “his brother and master have the word of absolution that will cure him” in his commentary on Ecclesiastes. If your interpretation of St. Jerome is correct that it would be false to say that a priest has any kind of binding or loosing authority at all. Recognizing that something has been bound or loosed by God is not the same thing as binding and loosing. If you want to say as Catholics do, that it is through the priests/bishops that God does the binding and loosing, then there is no problem. But unless you admit that priests actually DO have an authority to forgive sins by being God’s instruments of mercy, you are at odds with the early church fathers.

        Honestly, the presence of any penance at all done for the forgiveness of sins seems completely incompatible with a reformed protestant view but you can correct me on that if I’m wrong.

        May God be with you.

        Matthew

      2. Also, I’m looking for a copy of St. Jerome’s commentary on Matthew. Did you buy one or is it online? Thanks!

        Matthew

        1. Matt,

          So, we’re in agreement about one thing though we both cannot be right about it–the other party misunderstands the ECFs in question because of their presuppositions when they go into reading what they say.

          I think, in what I quoted, I have shown that the terms bind and loose and what not were not understood in the sense you think they are.

          As for Jerome’s commentary on Matthew, sadly, that’s a requote from a footnote on a book of Tertullian’s treatises. I do not have access to that particular book. I wish I had the whole commentary. But I do disagree, he is plainly talking about penance and the role of priests, not this who legal thing you have said a couple of times.

          God bless,
          Craig

      3. Also, I’m having major issues with finding your quotes from St. John Chrysostom in context from the original work. I cannot find a “on Penitence” anywhere other than from various anti-catholic webistes. The book you gave as a source is merely another author quoting “On Penitence” which I cannot find elsewhere. I’m not even sure some of them exist and they’re disputed at the very least. I tend to shy away from using disputed texts in apologetic arguments. However, what he says in “On the Priesthood” is not in dispute. It is clearly Catholic and clearly incompatible with the protestant view.

        Matthew

        1. On Penitence was quoted in a book in which I verified that other quotations were true. I also quoted Chrysostom’s homilies on Hebrews, where he repeats the same idea, to show that even if you think John the Faster, and not Chrysostom, wrote on Penitence, that does not mean CHrysostom never wrote about the same idea, which he did in the 20th homily on Hebrews.

          1. The quotations from Chrysostom were from On Penitence 2 and 3, 20th Homily of Genesis (which was quoted from Bellarmine, an Catholic apologist) and 31st Homily on Hebrews (easily available on New Advent, i cited it wrong before.) One Catholic writer, Dionysus Petavius, realizing how what Chrysostom wrote contradicted 16th century RCC doctrine commented that they were “being uttered in a declamatory way to the ignorant multitude for the sake of impressiveness” and “devoid of sound meaning if fitted to the rule of the exact truth.” So, I don’t think the content of the quotations is in question.

          2. I still cannot find any of the original works except the Homily on Hebrews. But there is nothing there a Catholic is supposed to disagree with. He does not contradict what he says in “On the Priesthood” at all. At most, you could say that he doesn’t like the discipline of public confession. I would also like to find your source of your quote from Dionysus Petavius. I’ve never heard of him.

          3. Matthewp, see source at:
            https://books.google.com.br/books?id=rYBaAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA401&lpg=PA401&dq=%E2%80%9Cbeing+uttered+in+a+declamatory+way+to+the+ignorant+multitude+for+the+sake+of+impressiveness%22&source=bl&ots=ijrGckS6PK&sig=PlhPndZl94qzftIlXu5Iv1A1u5A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2tcXnzMXMAhXEwiYKHWvTAVkQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9Cbeing%20uttered%20in%20a%20declamatory%20way%20to%20the%20ignorant%20multitude%20for%20the%20sake%20of%20impressiveness%22&f=false

            Accordingly, an Anglican apologetic-cum-interpretation of Tertullian, whence the quote from Dionysus Petavius / Denis Pétau is also extracted.

            See also:
            ===
            Whose Sins You Forgive: Confession and Penance in the Church Fathers
            based on posts from FidoNet (1995-96)

            The Church Fathers on Confession and Penance
            Chrysostom on “Confession to God Alone”
            Development of the Practice
            Objection: Everyone Can Forgive Sins
            Objection: Only God Can Forgive Sins

            Date: 07-02-95 / From: P / To: DAVID GOFORTH / Subj: Great Confession Debate / Conf: Open_Bible

            DG> ….the question on confession was the following: “When did mandatory auricular confession come in Phil? –wasn’t it in the 1200’s?”

            No, you are totally wrong on confession. Your implication was that confession of sins to a PRIEST was INVENTED in the 1200’s. You originally asked me the question — “How can you say this [confession to priest] is not spurious?” You are confusing the idea of “invention” of doctrines with the Church officially defining a dogma. The same could be said about the early Christological heresies and the Councils concerning the Person of Christ. While the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon officially defined (for the whole church) the dogmas concerning the Person of Christ, we don’t say the Church invented them at this point — that they are therefore “spurious” as you said.

            from CATHOLICISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians” by Karl Keating (Ignatius Press, 1988)

            ….the Fourth Lateran Council did not introduce confession, although it did discuss it. To combat the lax morals of the time (morals are always more lax than they should be, at any time in history; that is one consequence of original sin), the Council more specifically defined the already-existing duty to confess one’s sins by saying Catholics should confess at least once a year. To issue an official decree about a sacrament is hardly the same as “inventing” that sacrament…. (p. 184)

            Origen, writing around 244, referred to the sinner who “does not shrink from declaring his sin to a PRIEST of the Lord” [In Lev hom 2,4]. Cyprian of Carthage, writing seven years later, said, “Finally, of how much greater faith and more salutary fear are they who…confess to the PRIESTS of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience” [De lapsis 28]. In the fourth century Aphraates gave this advice to PRIESTS: “If anyone uncovers his wound before you, give him the remedy of repentance. And he that is ashamed to make known his weakness, encourage him so that he will not hide it from you. And when he has revealed it to you, do not make it public” [Demonstr 7,3]. These men, writing as much as a thousand years before the Lateran Council of 1215, were referring to a practice that was already old and well established, a practice stemming from apostolic times. Christ commissioned the apostles this way: “When you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound” (Jn 20:23). Clearly, no priest can forgive sins on Christ’s behalf unless first told the sins by the penitent. Auricular confession is implied in the very institution of the sacrament. The Lateran Council did not “invent” the practice; it merely reaffirmed it while emphasizing the importance of penance. (p. 43-44)

            Confession to a priest goes back to our understanding of Jesus’ words to the apostles in John 20:21-23 also the teaching of Paul that Christ has given MEN the ministry and word of reconciliation in 2 Cor 5:18-20. Confession of sins by itself is clearly taught in James 5:14-16 and 1 John 1:7-9. As with all doctrines of the Christian faith, it became more explicit over time.

            The Church Fathers on Confession and Penance

            Is Confession a late invention of Catholicism, or was it used from the earliest times? Let’s see what the earliest writers say.

            DIDACHE (as early as 70 AD) — Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life….On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. (4:14; 14:1)

            ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS (180 AD) — [The gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women…Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron [cf. 1 Tim 4:1ff]. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of the life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between the two courses. (Against Heresies 1:22)

            TERTULLIAN OF CARTHAGE (200 AD) — [Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness. Why do you flee from the partners of your misfortunes as you would from those who deride? The body is not able to take pleasure in the trouble of one of its members. It must necessarily grieve as a whole and join in laboring for a remedy….With one and two individuals, there is the Church [cf. Matt 18:17ff]; and the Church indeed is Christ. Therefore, when you cast yourself at the knees of the brethren, you are dealing with Christ, you are entreating Christ. (On Repentance 10:1,6)

            ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA (c. 244 AD) — In addition to these [kinds of forgiveness of sins], albeit hard and laborious: the remission of sins through penance…when he [the sinner] does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine….In this way there is fulfilled that too, which the Apostle James says: “If, then, there is anyone sick, let him call the presbyters [where we get priests] of the Church, and let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him [James 5:14-15].” (Homily on Leviticus 2:4)

            ST. CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (250 AD) — The Apostle likewise bears witness and says: ….”Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” [1 Cor 11:27]. But [the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest…they do violence to his body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him. (The Lapsed 15:1-3)

            ….Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who…confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. God cannot be mocked or outwitted, nor can he be deceived by any clever cunning….Indeed, he but sins the more if, thinking that God is like man, he believes that he can escape the punishment of his crime by not openly admitting his crime….I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord. (The Lapsed 28)

            ST. ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA (295 – 373 AD) — Just as a man is enlightened by the Holy Spirit when he is baptized by a priest, so he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest. (On the Gospel of Luke 19)

            ST. BASIL THE GREAT (330 – 379 AD) — It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries [i.e. the Sacraments] is entrusted [i.e. priests]. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt 3:6]; but in Acts they confessed to the Apostles, by whom also all were baptized [Acts 19:18]. (Rules Briefly Treated 288)

            ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (c. 354 – 430 AD) — Let this be in the heart of the penitent: when you hear a man confessing his sins, he has already come to life again; when you hear a man lay bare his conscience in confessing, he has already come forth from the sepulchre; but he is not yet unbound. When is he unbound? By whom is he unbound? “Whatever you loose on earth,” He says, “shall be loosed also in heaven” [Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:23]. Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church… (Psalms 101:2:3)

            Yet those who do penance in accord with the kind of sin they have committed are not to despair of receiving God’s mercy in the Holy Church, for the remission of their crimes, however serious. (Echiridian 17:65)

            Iniquity, however, sometimes makes such progress in men that even after they have done penance and after their reconciliation to the altar they commit the same or more grievous sins….and although that place of penance in the Church is not granted them, God will not be unmindful of His patience in their regard….(Letters 153:3:7)

            There have been those who would say that no penance is available for certain sins; and they have been excluded from the Church and have been made heretics. Holy Mother Church is not rendered powerless by any kind of sin. (Sermons 352:9)

            ST. AMBROSE (c. 333 – 397 AD) — But what was impossible was made possible by God, who gave us so great a grace. It seemed likewise impossible for sins to be forgiven through penance; yet Christ granted even this to His Apostles, and by His Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priest. (Penance 2:2:12)

            ST. JEROME (c. 347 – 420 AD) — Just as in the Old Testament [ibi] the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament [hic] the bishop and presbyter [i.e. priest] binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed. (Commentary on Matthew 3:16:19)

            THEODORE OF MOPSUESTIA (c. 428 AD) — This is the medicine for sins, established by God and delivered to the priests of the Church, who make diligent use of it in healing the afflictions of men. You are aware of these things, as also of the fact that God, because He greatly cares for us, gave us penitence and showed us the medicine of repentance; and He established some men, those who are priests, as physicians of sins. If in this world we receive through them healing and forgiveness of sins, we shall be delivered from the judgment that is to come. It behooves us, therefore, to draw near to the priests in great confidence and to reveal to them our sins; and those priests, with all diligence, solicitude, and love, and in accord with the regulations mentioned above, will grant healing to sinners. [The priests] will not disclose the things that ought not be disclosed; rather, they will be silent about the things that have happened, as befits true and loving fathers [cf. 1 Thess 2:11; 1 Cor 4:15] who are bound to guard the shame of their children while striving to heal their bodies. (Catechetical Homilies 16)

            ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (c. 344 – 407 AD) — Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: “Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed” [Matt 18:18]. Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can bind only the body. Priests, however, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself, and transcends the very heavens…Whatever priests do here on earth, God will confirm in heaven, just as the master ratifies the decision of his servants. Did He not give them all the powers of heaven?

            “Whose sins you shall forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them: whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” [John 20:23].

            What greater power is there than this? …The Father has given all the judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven, elevated above human nature, and freed of its limitations….The priests of Judaism had power to cleanse the body from leprosy — or rather, not to cleanse it at all, but to declare a person as having been cleansed. And you know how much contention there was even in those times to obtain the priestly office. Our priests have received the power not of treating with the leprosy of the body, but with spiritual uncleanness; not of declaring cleansed, but of actually cleansing…What mean-souled wretch is there who would despise so great a good? None, I dare say, unless he be urged on by a devilish impulse….God has given to priests powers greater than those given to our parents; and the differences between the powers of these two is as great as the difference between the future life and the present….Our parents begot us to temporal existence; priests beget us to the eternal. The former are not able to ward off from their children the sting of death, nor prevent the attack of disease; yet the latter often save the sick and perishing soul — sometimes by imposing a lighter penance, sometimes by preventing the fall. Priests accomplish this not only by teaching and admonishing, but also by the help of prayer. Not only at the time of our regeneration [at Baptism], but even aftward they have the authority to forgive sins….

            “Is there anyone among you sick? Let him call in the priests of the church, and let us pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he have committed sins, he shall be forgiven” [James 5:14-15]. (The Priesthood 3:5:182-4; 3:6:190-6)

            …Great is the dignity of priests. “Whose sins you forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them” [John 20:23]…The things that are placed in the hands of the priest, it belongs to God alone to give…. Neither angel nor archangel is able to do anything in respect to what is given by God; rather, Father and Son and Holy Spirit manage it all; but the priest lends his own tongue and presents his own hand. Nor would it be just, if those who draw near in faith to the symbols of our salvation were to be harmed by the wickedness of another. (Homilies on John 86:4)

            POPE LEO THE GREAT (c. 459 AD) — I decree also that that presumption contrary to the apostolic regulation, which I recently learned is being committed by some in an illegal usurpation, is by all means to cease. With regard to penance, certainly what is required of the faithful is not that the nature of individual sins be written in a document and recited in a public profession, since it is sufficient that the guilt of consciences be indicated to priests alone in a secret confession. For although that fullness of faith may seem to be praiseworthy which, for fear of God, is not afraid to blush before men, nevertheless, because the sins of all are not of such kind that those who seek Penance do not fear to make them public, such an unapproved custom is to cease. (Letter of Pope Leo I to the Bishops of Campania, Samnium and Picenum dated March 6, 459 AD)

            from FUNDAMENTALS OF CATHOLIC DOGMA by Ludwig Ott, proof from prescription —

            If confession had been instituted by the Church it would be possible to demonstrate the DATE of its institution. No such demonstration can be made. All the historical testimonies imply that it is an institution which goes back to Divine ordinance. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) did not introduce confession, but merely defined the already existing duty of confession more closely by prescribing yearly confession. The Greek-Orthodox Church teaches the necessity of individual acknowledgement of sins in its official writings on confession (cf. the Confessio Orthodoxa of Petrus Mogilas, Pars I q 113 : Confessio Dosithei, Decr 15). The Penitential Canons of the Fathers and the Councils, and the Penitential Books of the early Middle Ages presuppose an individual confession of sins.

            St. John Chrysostom and “Confession to God alone”

            Date: 09-08-95 / From: P / To: ED WITEK / Conf: Open_Bible

            EW> Something else from Chrysostom you might want to add to your collection. “You need no witnesses of your confession. Secretly acknowledge your sins, and let God alone hear you.” De Paenitentia

            First, your reference is wrong. Your quote is found in -De Lazaro homiliae- as follows —

            “Unless you tell the magnitude of your debt, you do not experience the abundance of grace. ‘I do not oblige you,’ He says, ‘to come into the middle of a theater and to be surrounded by many witnesses. Tell your sin to Me alone in private, so that I may heal your wound and release you from your pain.’ ” (Homilies on Lazarus 4:4)

            Similar statements of confession to “God alone” are found in Chrysostom’s writings on Penance -De paenitentia homiliae-

            “Have you sinned? Go into Church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared. Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent!” …. “For here there is a physician’s [i.e. priest’s — see below] office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted, but where the forgiveness of sin is granted. Tell your sin to God alone: ‘Before You alone have I sinned, and I have done what is evil in Your sight’ [Psalm 50(51):4]; and your sin will be forgiven.” (Homilies on Penance 3:4)

            Confession is made in CHURCH, where the Christian GOES IN to be heard by the Priest who, acting on God’s behalf, grants forgiveness of sin (John 20:21-23). Chrysostom clearly believed in sacramental confession of sins just as the Catholic (and Orthodox) Church teaches today. The statement “to God ALONE” should be understood in light of other statements made by St. John Chrysostom on priests and the ministerial priesthood —

            “Great is the dignity of priests. ‘Whose sins you forgive,’ He says, ‘they are forgiven them’ [John 20:23]…The things that are placed in the hands of the priest, it belongs to God alone to give….” (Homilies on John 86:4)

            “Whatever priests do here on earth, God will confirm in heaven, just as the master ratifies the decision of his servants. Did He not give them all the powers of heaven? “Whose sins you shall forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them: whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” [John 20:23]. What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all the judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. [cf. Matthew 9:8] They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven, elevated above human nature, and freed of its limitations.” (The Priesthood 3:5:183-184)

            “Our priests have received the power not of treating with the leprosy of the body, but with spiritual uncleanness; not of declaring cleansed, but of actually cleansing….God has given to priests powers greater than those given to our parents; and the differences between the powers of these two is as great as the difference between the future life and the present….Our parents begot us to temporal existence; priests beget us to the eternal. The former are not able to ward off from their children the sting of death, nor prevent the attack of disease; yet the latter often save the sick and perishing soul — sometimes by imposing a lighter penance, sometimes by preventing the fall. Priests accomplish this not only by teaching and admonishing, but also by the help of prayer. Not only at the time of our regeneration [at Baptism], but even afterward they have the authority to forgive sins [cf. John 20:21-23; James 5:14-16].” (The Priesthood 3:6:190-6)
            ===

      4. And sorry to spam you Craig, but I just went on New Advent to look at St. John Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood” and I should have also quoted the next section from what I gave you earlier because it mentions the Christian priesthood in contradistinction to the Jewish priesthood and if this doesn’t tell you his viewpoint, I will truly be at a loss. Here is St. John Chrysostom in “On the Priesthood”, Book 3, Chapter 6:

        “These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these begot us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness— not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. For the latter, although they laid claim to the dignity which did not belong to them, nevertheless had an excellent opinion concerning it, and this they evinced by the great eagerness with which they pursued it; but these men, when the office has been better regulated, and has received so great a development, have displayed an audacity which exceeds that of the others, although manifested in a contrary way. For there is not an equal amount of contempt involved in aiming at an honor which does not pertain to one, and in despising such great advantages, but the latter exceeds the former as much as scorn differs from admiration. What soul then is so sordid as to despise such great advantages? None whatever, I should say, unless it were one subject to some demoniacal impulse. For I return once more to the point from which I started: not in the way of chastising only, but also in the way of benefiting, God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents. The two indeed differ as much as the present and the future life. For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, procuring for some a milder chastisement, and preventing others from falling altogether, not only by instruction and admonition, but also by the assistance wrought through prayers. For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins. Is any sick among you? it is said, let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him. James 5:14-15 Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.

        Well! After this will any one venture to condemn me for arrogance? For my part, after what has been said, I imagine such religious fear will possess the souls of the hearers that they will no longer condemn those who avoid the office for arrogance and temerity, but rather those who voluntarily come forward and are eager to obtain this dignity for themselves. For if they who have been entrusted with the command of cities, should they chance to be wanting in discretion and vigilance, have sometimes destroyed the cities and ruined themselves in addition, how much power think you both in himself and from above must he need, to avoid sinning, whose business it is to beautify the Bride of Christ?”

        May God be with you.

      5. Craig – Not to get too off topic, but why don’t you put emphasis on St Jerome’s belief on prayers to the saints in heaven but you put such great emphasis on him when it comes to confession?

  8. Craig said – P.S. I quote the above source, because New Advent does not have Chrysostom’s homilies on penitence. It is possible they were written by another man, John the Faster, former patriarch of Constantinople. The point is, it shows that the way the RCC understands binding and loosing now is with the presupposition that the modern way of understanding the term is the same way the ancients did.

    Me – it’s just not RCC understanding but it’s the understanding of other ancient Christian churches. Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, etc… In your world view they all somehow got it wrong but the Reformers 1500 years removed somehow figured it out. Like KO said, you assumed all these heretical practices just popped up without any major pushback from anyone.

    I specifically give quotes from fathers who specifically talked about priests forgiving sins.

  9. Cut Craig some slack, at least he’s willing to engage. I was never as adamant as he is, but as soon as I started asking “why” related to confession, justification, purgatory, Mary – really every Catholic doctrine that was foreign to my Protestant mind – the scales started to fall. It’s all beautiful and true and gifts from God, not to burden us, but for our current and future benefit. RCIA was wonderful, the Easter vigil was heaven on earth, and after about 5 years of struggle, I’m finally home. Thanks be to God.

  10. I’m interested to hear some opinions on the more recent changes to the Church. We know that in the period of the Early Church, Europe was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. In the period know as the Dark Ages, Europe transitioned from a universal empire to a feudal system; unity to fragments; equality to inequality. The past 200 years has been a transitional period as well. It seems like Vatican I widened the gap between Catholics and Protestants, and alienated some of the best minds in the Church. Vatican II, on the other hand maybe went too far in attempting to reconcile with those outside of the church, and weakened its claim to objective truth. As a Catholic, I think it is important to understand the age in which we live, so that we may give more effective witness.

    1. Jeff,

      Although the Roman empire fragmented in its demise, it was the Catholic Church that took up the pieces and built Western Civilization. Thomas Woods’ book “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilzation” is a good read. Hilaire Belloc once said, “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe” that is, out of these different tribes and kingdoms, it was the Catholic Church that finally brought unity.

      The same feat was repeated in the American continents. Where once there were only disunited and warring native tribes who worshipped the gods of their own making, the Catholic Faith brought unity. This was accomplished as Europe was being fragmented again, but this time by warring Protestant forces.

      Today, the European Union is on the verge of collapse. European secularists do not understand that the denying the Faith has consequences, and they are very grim. The only force on earth capable of reuniting Europe once again is the ONE, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Protestantism cannot accomplish that.

      “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25). This is something we should be constantly witnessing to Protestants who deny this most essential aspect of the faith.

  11. In 1551, the Council of Trent declared:

    “As a means of regaining grace and justice, penance was at all times necessary for those who had defiled their souls with any mortal sin. . . . Before the coming of Christ, penance was not a sacrament, nor is it since His coming a sacrament for those who are not baptized. But the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon His disciples saying: ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’ (John 20:22-23). By which action so signal and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and to their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after Baptism.” (Sess. XIV, c. i)

    A great council composed of the best theological minds of the Catholic Church declared that the Early Fathers were unanimous in teaching that bishops and priests have power to forgive sins from Christ. Were these men guided by the Spirit when they said this?

    On the other hand, we have Craig Truglia using his very narrow and limited private interpretation to tell us what he thinks what the Church Fathers really taught. What compelling reason do we have to think that it is the Spirit that is guiding him?

    We have 500 years of Protestantism to tell us where private interpretation eventually ends when pursued to its logical conclusion. It leads to radical individualism which is the antithesis of what it means to be a “ONE, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” Church. It leads to a denial at the most fundamental level of what it really means to be Christian. Five hundred years of hindsight is not something the Council of Trent had when they saw Protestantism.

    St. Augustine (d. 430) warns the faithful: “Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins” (De agon. Christ., iii).

    St. Ambrose (d. 397) rebukes the Novatianists who “professed to show reverence for the Lord by reserving to Him alone the power of forgiving sins. Greater wrong could not be done than what they do in seeking to rescind His commands and fling back the office He bestowed. . . . The Church obeys Him in both respects, by binding sin and by loosing it; for the Lord willed that for both the power should be equal” (On Penance I.2.6).

    Again he teaches that this power was to be a function of the priesthood. “It seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through penance; Christ granted this (power) to the Apostles and from the Apostles it has been transmitted to the office of priests” (On Penance II.2.12).

    The power to forgive extends to all sins: “God makes no distinction; He promised mercy to all and to His priests He granted the authority to pardon without any exception” (On Penance I.3.10).

    Against the same heretics St. Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona (d. 390), wrote to Sympronianus, one of their leaders: “This (forgiving sins), you say, only God can do. Quite true: but what He does through His priests is the doing of His own power” (Ep. I ad Sympron., 6 in P.L., XIII, 1057).

    In the East during the same period we have the testimony of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 447): “Men filled with the spirit of God (i.e. priests) forgive sins in two ways, either by admitting to baptism those who are worthy or by pardoning the penitent children of the Church” (In Joan., 1, 12 in P.G., LXXIV, 722).

    St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) after declaring that neither angels nor archangels have received such power, and after showing that earthly rulers can bind only the bodies of men, declares that the priest’s power of forgiving sins “penetrates to the soul and reaches up to heaven”. Wherefore, he concludes, “it were manifest folly to condemn so great a power without which we can neither obtain heaven nor come to the fulfillment of the promises. . . . Not only when they (the priests) regenerate us (baptism), but also after our new birth, they can forgive us our sins” (On the Priesthood III.5 sq.).

    St. Athanasius (d. 373): “As the man whom the priest baptizes is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost, so does he who in penance confesses his sins, receive through the priest forgiveness in virtue of the grace of Christ” (Frag. contra Novat. in P.G., XXVI, 1315).

    The above quotes were from the Catholic Encyclopedia on “The Sacrament of Penance”
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm

    1. Johann Mohler said that the Reformation divided the Rational and Spiritual elements. The Protestants of the 16th century conceived a spiritual church; those of the 18th century a rational one.

  12. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to this discussion. The well developed dialogue is refreshing and is a light and blessing for all who read it.

    I’m a mediocre (at best) apologist with a passion for reading as much of this stuff as I can, and here are my thoughts on the debate at hand (and, truly, all Christian debates):

    Each issue presented will always be viewed, by any side, through the lens of [i]some[/i] tradition. Is the lens Catholic? Is it a Calvinist lens? And ultimately, which lens are we most confident reflects the eyes of Christ?

    As I see this issue, it takes a very narrow reading of St. John Chrysostom and the rest of the Fathers to fit the Protestant view on confession, penance and absolution. In fact, the Church builds in the possibility of [i]extra[/i]ordinary means of absolution without sacramental confession through perfect contrition. Of course, this includes the intent to confess as soon as possible. The source of the grace that fuels the absolution is certainly our ever merciful Creator, so there is plenty of overlap on that point between the two arguments. I guess my question is this: why take the difficult, toiling path of the extraordinary means of confession when God gave us such a great gift to make His grace present for the absolution of sins through the ministry of the Church built on the Apostles, day after day, week after week, month after month in the confessional, based on the words of Christ Himself in John 20:23 and the witness of St. Paul in his second letter to Corinth, forgiving the sins of the local Church there “in the person of Christ”?

    As it pertains to the development of doctrine over time, multiple folks have mentioned that the change in practice (public confession to private, change in the depth and severity of penance) do not undermine the divinely revealed Truth that exists in a supernatural sense when the act takes place with a contrite heart in the presence of a successor to the Apostles, as it pertains to the permission given to bind and loose sin.

    I took a look at Craig’s web site, and it appears he advocated, just yesterday, for the return of confession to parts of the Christian world where it is no longer a practice. I think in a non-sacramental sense, what he is saying certainly will do nothing but bring positive results to the natural world, because we should all be seeking forgiveness and being rich in mercy toward one another. Where I think it falls short is in the supernatural means set out by God through Christ’s words in John 20 in conjunction with the commission to the Apostles to be those to whom the Truth was given by Christ, and to they and their successors who hold the responsibility to protect and transmit correct doctrine and dispel heresy.

    So, while I read Craig’s article and see his own thoughts on the writings of St. John Chrysostom with a healthy amount of Calvin thrown in, I am left with a choice. I will set store by the teaching and doctrine of the Church of the living God, built by Christ on the foundation of Peter and his Apostles as God’s means of using His grace to pave the way for our sanctification, rather than one man’s thoughts on theology and the “divine revelation” of a 16th century Frenchman.

    All that said, I recognize in Craig (and all who participate in these discussions) an earnest search for Truth, and the dialogue can do nothing but help us one day reunite the Body as Christ prayed for, and as exists in its fullness in the Catholic faith. Prayers for each of you, today.

    Peace,

    Moonboots

    1. Moonboots,

      If confession were to return to those Christian places where they are no longer practiced, it would be a practice no different than confessing your faults to a psychiatrist or to a group theraphy like Alcoholics Anonymous. It has no supernatural effect. Outside the Sacrament of Penance in the Catholic Church, it has no sacramental value. It cannot forgive sins.

      Remember, it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:16). As Catholics, we believe that Faith is a supernatural theological virtue. It is supernatural because only God can give it to you by infusing it in your soul. You don’t acquire it by your own human efforts. It is theological because its goal is to direct you to things pertaining to God. And it is a virtue because it moves us to live a moral life. In the Mass, we constantly recite the words of the Roman Centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” to remind us how even the Lord was so amazed at the greatness of his faith. He himself could not find anything in Israel to match it (Matthew 8:5-13). And that man was a pagan!

      Now, we also believe “in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church” and that when Jesus ascended to Heaven, he sent the Spirit to guide His Church and to teach it all truth. We put our faith in the Lord that He would keep His promise. So in John 20:22-23, when the Lord said “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” he also gave them the power to forgive or not forgive sins. Those two things are integrally connected. Therefore to believe in the Holy Spirit is to believe in the Catholic Church. And to believe the Catholic Church is to believe the Lord gave it power to absolve or retain sins. One cannot deny the latter without denying the former.

      That is why the sin against the Holy Spirit can neither be forgiven in this world nor in the world to come (Matthew 12:31-32). For how can one be forgiven of sins if he obstinately refuses to believe that this power of forgiveness is right here on earth where the Lord left it where all sinners can avail of it? How can the Lord heal you if you refuse to believe? It takes faith to believe everything that the Lord says, and Craig believes only those things that suits and satisfies his private interpretation of scripture.

      He may not realize it, but he is really unloading so much ammo on his two feet. It is harming his very soul. For him, penance is nothing but an old, ancient fad that needs to be revived; the mere subject of a theological conjecture that seems right for the times. It is not a sacrament. If tomorrow, his own pastor were to institute confession and penance in their church exactly according to Craig’s whims, would that make it sacramental? How could it be, when just yesterday that same pastor and those who ordained him were all denying that very power by not exercising it?

      Such are the tangled webs woven by those who teach for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). Outwardly, they have the appearance of godliness, but they deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). We better heed the words of warning by St. Augustine: “Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins” (De agon. Christ., iii).

      1. Rico,

        We’re on the same page. I perhaps fell short of that in my post in mentioning the “non-sacramental” sense and the good that would come only in the “natural” world but fall short of supernatural sanctifying grace. To clarify a bit, if you had an atheist friend who was abusing alcohol, you would want them to turn to Christ, become united with the Church and seek treatment and reconciliation through the sacrament.

        However, if such a person showed an aversion to the faith, it would remain preferable for them to seek treatment in Alcoholic’s Anonymous rather than continue down a path mired in the sinful behavior. In fact, my prayer would be for such an individual to recognize that an actual grace may be their prompting to cease the behavior (and thus attend an AA meeting) and eventually have such an actual grace lead them back to (or for the first time, into) the Church to seek true, sanctifying grace in the sacrament.

        If any ecclesial communion were to teach that confession to any random person, or a minister outside of the successors of the Apostles, would provide the sanctifying grace that God placed under the Apostles’ ministry, I would agree with you that those two things are not equitable. Just sharing thoughts on the potential for the process of conversion guided by God’s grace to take an intellectual step in the natural world before taking the ultimate step into the supernatural world. That shouldn’t contradict your comment on Hebrews 11, because though the prompting to move away from the sinful behavior and seek forgiveness seems natural, it’s supernatural in origin from the beginning if one were to chase that prompting to its Source. That is, a gift from God.

        If my post suggested that supernatural grace from confession could come from any source other than the sacrament as entrusted to the Church, I apologize. That was not my intent.

        Peace,

        Moonboots

  13. Moonbots,

    No apologies needed here. My response was meant to elaborate more on the absurdity of advocating the return of confession and penance while denying that the Catholic Church can forgive sins. Craig apparently exhibits more faith in his own private interpretation of the scriptures or the Church Fathers than faith on the actual words of Jesus in John 20:28. Is confession and penance necessary for salvation? According to him, it is not. On what scriptural grounds? None whatsoever. He just says so. On his own imaginary authority.

    This is exactly what we expect to find when a man, after so much wrestling with the scriptures, no longer sees the difference between the word of God and his own silly words. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is the perrenial problem with many so-called Christians who, although they know so little about the Faith, are so hyper-eager to teach others about their misunderstanding of the Faith. They simply ignore the warning in James 3:1

    “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

    Craig probably thinks that by teaching others about his “layman’s understanding of the will of God” that God will find nothing wrong with him should his ideas end up misleading poor ignorant souls. Not at all. If he is looking for a fast track to Hell, he is actually doing it right now. There is a reason why we Catholics have a saying that “the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of priests, and lighted by the skulls of bishops as lampposts”. No heresy would have succeeded had they not been propagated by the teachers of the Church who should have known better.

    Craig’s biggest problem is that there is no one above him to correct him. He is subject to no one. He is his own magisterium. He may see the Bible as the final authority, but only when he interprets it. He may be agreaable with his pastor right now, but once he finds his pastor teaching things he cannot bear, nothing can stop him from breaking off and look for another church, or worse, starting his own church.

    The beauty of the Catholic Faith is that when we surrender our private interpretations of scripture, and listen to the Magisterium instead, we increase not only in faith, but in hope and charity as well. “Charity… rejoiceth in Truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). There is no charity in teaching heresy. And heresy is most rampant among those who find themselves outside the Unity of the ONE, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. That the Church is intended to be united in ONE means nothing to them. Because they know that to be one with the Church is to submit in all humility to the judgment of the Church. This is something they will refuse to do because they love their opinions more than they love the unity of the Church.

    1. In The Comentary on John Lecture 8 Jonh 6:61-72, Saint Thomas Aquinas says “if we wanted to know before believing, we would neither know nor be able to believe, as Augustine says, and as in another version of Isaiah: if you do not believe, you will not understand (Isa 7:9).”

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