"That the doctrine of confession has caused difficulties for the (Roman) Catholic Church, in one way or another, is unchallenged. After mentioning the ‘countless attacks’ upon this teaching, ‘The Catholic Encyclopedia’ remarked: ‘If at the Reformation or since the (Roman Catholic) Church could have surrendered a doctrine or abandoned a practice for the sake of peace and to soften a ‘hard saying’, confession would have been the first to disappear.’" R.E. Woodrow
WHAT IS CONFESSION? - THE ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW
The Baltimore Catechism defines confession as simply "...the telling of our sins to an authorized priest for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness."1 Another of Rome’s Catechisms states that "Sins are forgiven by the power of God, which Jesus Christ has given to the priests of His Church."2 The French Catechism goes even further in its description of confession, claiming that "One must receive absolution in feelings of total humility, considering the confessor (the priest), as Jesus Christ Himself whose place he takes."
It is taught that the confession of one’s sins to a priest, one of 6 commandments decreed by the Roman Catholic Church, should be made at least once a year. We are told that confession, in order to be valid, must be spoken into the ear of a priest; this is termed ‘auricular confession’. "In the Roman system the priest constantly comes between the sinner and God. In...the New Catechism No. 1, with imprimatur by Cardinal Francis Spellman, of New York, we read: ‘You must tell your sins to the priest to have them forgiven.’ And again, ‘Confession is telling your sins to the priest to obtain forgiveness.’"3
The Roman Catholic Church says of Jesus Christ: "He who forgave sins so readily while He was on earth continues to do so. Now He does it through the ministry of the priests in the sacrament of penance."4
"...this confession is made by every individual, in SECRECY AND IN SOLITUDE, to the priest sitting in the name, and clothed with the authority, of God, invested with the power to examine the conscience, to judge the life, to absolve or condemn according to his mere arbitrary will and pleasure. This is the grand pivot on which the whole ‘Mystery of iniquity’, as embodied in the Papacy, is made to turn; and wherever it is submitted to, admirably does it serve the design of binding men in abject subjection to the priesthood."5
The book, ‘Instructions for Non-Catholics’, written primarily for those in the process of converting to Roman Catholicism, boldly declares: "The priest does not have to ask God to forgive your sins. The priest himself has the power to do so in Christ’s name. Your sins are forgiven by the priest the same as if you knelt before Jesus Christ and told them to Christ Himself."
Roman Catholics are taught to confess all their mortal sins to the priest who, ironically, although able to ‘forgive their sin’, cannot remit the punishment due to those allegedly ‘forgiven’ sins. The Baltimore Catechism specifies that "When we have committed no mortal sins since our last confession, we should confess our venial (less serious) sins or some sin told in a previous confession for which we are again sorry, in order that the priest may give us absolution."6
Roman Catholicism teaches that any sin that is not confessed is not forgiven. Even the omission of one sin may invalidate the entire confession. This is in contrast with the inspired words of David in Psalm 19:13 where he says, "...cleanse me from my unknown faults", undeniably implying that it is humanly impossible for a man to be aware of all his sins, let alone confess them.
Amazingly, "According to a decree of the Council of Trent it is not necessary, in order to obtain pardon in the confessional, that the sinner be sorry because his sin was an offence against God, but only that he be sorry for fear that unless he confesses before a priest and receives forgiveness he will go to hell forever. The decree reads: ‘It is sufficient if he is sorry for fear of otherwise burning in hell for all eternity.’"7
Many Roman Catholics prefer to confess their sins regularly to the same priest. The more devout followers attending the confessional once a month and others as frequently as once a week. Bishop Hay asks the question: "Is this confession (to the priest) necessary for obtaining absolution?" He confidently responds: "It is ordained by Jesus Christ as absolutely necessary for this purpose."8 Now just where Bishop Hay gets his evidence to support this non-biblical claim is a mystery. He certainly does not get it from the Bible.
Children as young as 7 are required to begin confessing their sins to a priest, who is said to be a mediator between God and man; a claim that, as shall be looked at later in more detail, is completely rejected by the Roman Catholic Bible, which plainly declares that Jesus Christ is the ONE and ONLY Mediator between God and man.
Confession, as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, customarily takes place in what is called a ‘confessional box’—a partitioned, dimly lit, wooden structure, which may be found in every Roman Catholic Church. On occasion, however, confessions are conducted in the confessant’s home and may even take place in a priest’s private rooms.
After having entered the confessional, one kneels before the priest and commences his ‘confession’ with the words: ‘Bless me father for I have sinned; it has been ‘several’ weeks since my last confession father, and these are my sins...’ In some churches, what is known as the Confiteor is recited before the confession is made. The Confiteor consists, in part, of the following: "I confess to Almighty God, to the blessed virgin Mary, to blessed Michael the archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints and to you father (referring to the priest)..." Note that there is no reference made at all, in this avowal, to the Lord Jesus Christ and that the confession is made equally to God, Mary, an archangel and to mere men.
The confessant is then required to name his sins as well as the number of times they were committed. The priest may, and often does, ask questions probing the sinner for more detail in order that a ‘full and proper confession’ be made. The priest then prays, gives a blessing and ‘absolves’ the sinner of his sins saying, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." The priest then assigns him penance, usually made up of the Lord’s Prayer and several Hail Mary’s.
"Acts of penance can include restitution, recitation of certain prayers, self-denial, bodily affliction, and prescribed devotional exercises. However, temporal punishment and penance due to confessed and forgiven sin can also be satisfied by means of indulgences."9
THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF (AURICULAR) CONFESSION
Something that by now should not come as any surprise to Roman Catholics is the fact that, as with the rosary, purgatory and baptism, the whole concept of confessing one’s sins to a priest did not originate within the Roman Catholic Church, but emanates from the heart of Babylon. The Babylonian system of secret confession to a priest was required of all those who wished to be admitted to the ‘Mysteries’ of that pagan system.
Once this confession was made, the confessant came under the power of the priest. This Babylonian system is indistinguishable from that of the Roman Catholic Church today. "Without such confession, in the Church of Rome, there can be no admission to the Sacraments, any more than in the days of Paganism there could be admission without confession to the benefit of the Mysteries."10
This concept of confession to a priest was not only practiced in Babylon but also later found among the Greeks. Some of the pagan priests of ancient Greece, called Köes, often heard confessions and were said to have ‘purged the guilt away’. Certain types of confession were also taught in the religions of Medo-Persia, Egypt and Rome long before the commencement of Christianity.
The pagan concept of auricular confession operated under the pretence that the mysteries, which the initiate was to be admitted to, were so high and holy that no man with a guilty conscience or unpurged sin could be lawfully admitted. Therefore, "For the safety....of those who were to be initiated, it was held to be indispensable that the officiating priest should thoroughly probe their consciences, lest coming without due purgation from previous guilt contracted, the wrath of the gods should be provoked against the profane intruders."11 The Roman Catholic Church has evidently continued this pagan practice and, as we shall see shortly, justified it by a perverted use of the Scriptures.
What has escaped the notice of most Roman Catholics is the fact that no authorization was ever given, nor was this auricular confession practiced during the first 1,000 years of Christianity! The early ‘Church fathers’ knew nothing of the concept. Confession was taught in accordance with Holy Scripture, with sin being confessed only to God for it was He alone whom man had offended. David, in the Old Testament, said to God: "Against You alone have I sinned..." (Psalm 51:6; cf.Luke 15:18).
Auricular confession is nowhere to be found in the writings of Augustine, Origen, Nestorius, Tertullian, Jerome, Chrysostom or Athanasius. All of these early ‘Church fathers’ wrote volumes that dealt with the practice and duties of Christians, and yet not once did they ever speak of the need of confessing one’s sins to a priest! Now, these facts cannot be denied— they are not up for discussion—they cannot be challenged, and therefore must not be ignored! Will you, the Roman Catholic, continue to follow the mere inventions of men, or will you turn to the Word of God and adhere to sound and reliable teaching?
In the early Church "there were, to be sure, public confessions before local church groups, in order that offenders might be restored to fellowship....such confessions were open, general and voluntary, and were as different from auricular confession as light is from darkness."12
"To those who value the testimony of primitive Christianity the fact that this practice (of confession to a priest) is not to be found during the earliest centuries of the Christian Church should demonstrate conclusively the vanity and needlessness of the entire concept."13
In later years, as the Roman Catholic Church became more powerful, the confessional was introduced for those seeking counsel and advice from the priest. At the outset, auricular confession was on a voluntary basis and was introduced into the Roman Church in the 5th century by Pope Leo the Great. Yet not until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 A.D., under Pope Innocent I, was it made compulsory, requiring all Roman Catholics to confess and seek absolution from a priest at least once a year! It is interesting to note that it was during this 13th century that priestly and papal power was greatly extended. Needless to say, this is far from a mere coincidence.
As will be borne out in a later chapter, the only ‘priest’ mentioned in the New Testament in relation to the Christian Faith, is Jesus Christ. If, then, there is no such thing as a ‘Christian priest’ apart from Christ Jesus Himself, auricular confession should therefore be poured into His ear and not that of the Roman Catholic priest.
THE POWER OF THE CONFESSIONAL
As was the case with the priests of old Babylon, so it is today for the modern priest of Rome. The confessional is a means of great power over the people and a way of acquiring knowledge (secrets) from individual families to governments.
Through the confessional, Roman Catholic priests are made privy, not only to the sins and secrets of individuals and their families—which often include the detailed sexual problems occurring between husbands and wives—but they are also made familiar, by the agency of the confessional, with the sins and secrets of presidents and prime ministers, even kings. The confessor of the king of France often boasted: "With my God in my hand (referring to the communion wafer), and my king at my knee (referring to the confessional) who can greater be?"
"What greater intellectual and moral bondage for human beings could be imagined, or what more dangerous power could be possessed, than that of the Roman (Catholic) confessional? History furnishes many impressive warnings; such as Charles IX and the massacre of St. Bartholomew; or of Louis XIV and the cruel revocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685."14
Former Roman Catholic priest, Lucien Vinet, who himself heard countless confessions and who knows firsthand how the Roman Catholic system works, has this to say about auricular confession: "It has been instituted, we priests know it so well, primarily to make it possible for the agents of Rome to control the most intimate reactions of human hearts and minds in the interests of the authority and prestige of a human political and religious system." Vinet adds: "When an organization such as the Roman system can control not only the education, the family and policies of the civil government of its members, but even their very thoughts and desires, we do not wonder that it can prosper and succeed. Roman Catholics, whether they feel that they ought to admit it or not, are forced into submission to Romanism through the process of torturing auricular confession."15
ROMAN CATHOLIC ‘PROOF’ OF AURICULAR CONFESSION
There are two main Scriptures to which the Roman Catholic Church refers in defence of its’ ‘confession to a priest’ doctrine: John 20:23 and James 5:16. As we saw at the outset of this booklet, one Roman Catholic Catechism states that "Sins are forgiven by the power of God, which Jesus Christ has given to the priests of His church."
Though the Roman Catholic Church freely admits that ultimately it is God ALONE who can forgive sins, she insists that He does so through the Roman Catholic priest. John 20:23 is the principal verse used to enforce this claim. Article 198 of the Roman Catechism states: "Jesus Christ gave to the priests of His Church the power of forgiving sins..." The article later quotes the Words of the Lord Jesus spoken to His disciples in John 20:23: "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." The footnotes to this verse in the Roman Catholic New American Bible inform us that "The Council of Trent defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the sacrament of penance."
This verse from the Gospel of John is interpreted to mean that it is the prerogative of the priest to forgive sins or to hold back forgiveness. In contrast to this, the Lord Jesus makes it perfectly clear in Mark 3:28,29 that "...all sins and all blasphemies that people utter WILL BE FORGIVEN THEM. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness...." The book, ‘The Catholic Religion’, agrees and declares that "No matter how serious a sin is, God will forgive it if the sinner is truly sorry and asks pardon."16
However, in commenting on the priest’s ‘power’ to grant and refuse forgiveness, ‘The Catholic Encyclopedia’ states that "In order for him to do this, sins ‘specifically and in detail’ (according to the Council of Trent), must be confessed to him, for, ‘How can a wise and prudent judgement be rendered if the priest be in ignorance of the cause on which judgement is pronounced? And how can he obtain the requisite knowledge unless it come from the spontaneous acknowledgement of the sinner?’ Having given priests the authority to forgive sins, it is inconsistent to believe, says the article, ‘that Christ had intended to provide some other means of forgiveness such as confessing to God alone.’ Confession to a priest for those who commit sins after their baptism, is ‘necessary unto salvation.’" 17
What is in fact inconsistent and totally unbiblical is a sinful man approaching a priest—another sinful man—for the forgiveness of sins committed against God, when, as will be detailed later, the true Christian has direct access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ!! Not to mention the fact, which the Roman Catholic Bible clearly states, "...WHO BUT GOD ALONE CAN FORGIVE SINS?" (Luke 5:21).
Furthermore, to teach that confession to a priest is ‘necessary unto salvation’ would mean that for the first 1,000 years of Christianity no one attained salvation, for the concept of confession to a priest had not even been heard of!! The whole system is utter nonsense.
Let it be known that the Roman Catholic Bible does not contain any examples of any apostle saying to anyone, ‘I absolve you from your sin,’ or even, ‘your sins are forgiven you’. If this power to forgive sin was delegated to the apostles by Jesus, as is the contention of Roman Catholicism, they undoubtedly would have called attention to such a vital doctrine in their writings; or at the very least there could be found a place where such power to forgive sins was displayed. Yet the Roman Catholic Bible contains no such evidence. Only the one true God, can and does forgive sin. Psalm 130:4 states: "...with YOU is forgiveness and so YOU are revered" (cf. Psalm 32:5; Daniel 9:9).
Notice, too, that John 20 does not say that Jesus spoke to His priests, but to His disciples (v.20). The only Christian priesthood mentioned in the New Testament is the priesthood of believers. The apostle John, writing to the seven churches in Asia, said: "...To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, who has made us into a kingdom, PRIESTS FOR HIS GOD AND FATHER, TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOREVER (AND EVER). AMEN" (Revelation 1:5,6).
The Roman Catholic Bible says that all true believers in Christ Jesus are to allow themselves to be "...built into a spiritual house to be a HOLY PRIESTHOOD..." (1 Peter 2:5). In verse 9 of the same chapter, Peter says to believers, "...you are a chosen race, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD..." (cf. Revelation 5:10; 20:6). The entire Body of Christ, which is made up of all true believers, is a priesthood. It is not something that is exclusive to a small group of men.
What the expressions in John 20:23 do indicate is the fact that the disciples were given "..a declarative power only: the right to proclaim in Christ’s name and with His authority, that all who truly repent of sin and trust in Him for pardon and salvation, shall surely be forgiven and saved (see Acts 10:42,43; 13:38,39). But it is Christ alone, and not the minister, who forgives. According to Scripture, the minister is only a herald to announce what the King will do, on condition of repentance and faith on the part of the sinner."18
The Lord Jesus Christ states, in Luke 24:47, that it is written: "...repentance, for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name to all the nations..." On no occasion did the apostles forgive anyone of their sin, for they could not. They did, however, by the preaching of the Gospel, proclaim the forgiveness of sins. They were, as is every true Christian today, to declare the forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the Gospel.
The other Scripture cited by the Roman Catholic Church as confirming the doctrine of auricular confession is James 5:16: "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed..." This Scripture, taken from the passage in James 5:13-16, deals with the anointing of the sick and the forgiveness of any sins which may have caused the sickness. Primarily, James is here prescribing confession and prayer to those who were sick, for he adds in v.16 "...that you may be healed..." "The duty inculcated, and which is equally binding on all now, is, that if we are sick, and are conscious that we have injured any persons, (we are) to make confession to them."19 Not to a priest!
James tells believers to "...confess your sins TO ONE ANOTHER..." (v.16). He evidently is not talking about confessing their sins to a priest in order to obtain absolution, but is telling them that they are to confess sin, which has been committed against another, to that one whom they have sinned against, and that those who have sinned against us should come to us and ask forgiveness and not to a third party, such as a priest.
In Matthew 5:23,24, Jesus instructs believers that, upon recollection of their having grieved a brother by sinning against him, they are to go and "...be reconciled with your brother..." Jesus Christ does not tell His people to confess their sin to a priest, but to seek out the offended brother and confess their sin to him.
A key phrase in James 5:16 is: "...to one another..." James is saying that they should CONFESS THEIR SINS TO EACH OTHER!! In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages them to be "...FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER as God has forgiven you in Christ" (4:32); and in Colossians 3:13, Paul’s instruction is: "bearing with one another and FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER, if one has a grievance against another..."
In addition, the confession specified in James 5:16 does not refer to a person in health that he might be saved, but to a person in sickness that he might be healed. Moreover, there is no mention of a priest or any minister in this verse!.