Confession is the popular name for the Christian Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation recognized by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The rite consists in the acknowledgment of sins to a priest, who grants absolution in the name of God. Its biblical basis is found in the action of Jesus forgiving sins (Mark 2) and his commissioning of the Apostles to forgive sins (John 20:22-23).
Essential to every confession is an inner conversion of the heart, with sorrow for sin and intent to lead a new life. In the Orthodox Church, confession is usually required before the reception of Communion. Since 1215, Roman Catholics have been required to confess their sins annually if they are in serious sin. A new Roman Catholic rite was introduced in 1973, which places greater emphasis on the community and its place in reconciliation.
Some other Christian churches, such as the Lutheran and the Anglican, provide for individual confession on request, but general confession during public worship, and individual confession directly to God in private, is more characteristic of Protestantism.
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Favazza, Joseph, The Order of Penitents (1988); Martos, Joseph, Doors to the Sacred (1982).
The Hebrew yada and Greek homologeo (plus derivatives and related concepts) convey the idea of confession, acknowledgement, and praise of God's character and glorious works, often with expression of man's confession of faith in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ; also man's confession to God of his sins and wicked works.
In the OT one acknowledges and praises God's name: "We give you thanks and praise your glorious name" (I Chr. 29:13; cf. Ps. 145:1). Also the very person of God is praised: thanks is given to God who is good (Ps. 106:1), whose name (and therefore person) is holy (Pss. 97:12; 99:3), great, and awesome (Ps. 99:3). Exalted above all, God is praised as God of gods and Lord of lords (Ps. 136:2-3) and the God of heaven (Ps. 136:26). He is praised for his works of creation (Pss. 89:5; 136:4-9) and providential acts to his people (Ps. 136:10-24) and creatures (Ps. 136:25). A believer's true commitment to God is implied in such praise.
In the NT emphasis is placed on the personal acknowledgment of Christ: "Whoever acknowledges me before men" (Matt. 10:32) and particular acknowledgment of him as Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9; cf. Phil. 2:11). This confession of Christ includes acknowledging him in his deity as the Son of God (Matt. 16:16; I John 4:15) and in his humanity as incarnate in the flesh (I John 4:2; II John 7).
The Bible also teaches that one is to confess his sins to this sovereign God. In the OT levitical sacrifices this is portrayed when the worshiper confesses his sins over the head of the sacrificial animal (cf. Lev. 1:4; 16:21), a picture or type of Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), bearing the sins of his people (Isa. 53:6; I Cor. 5:7). The OT also emphasizes the great confessions of Israel's sins (Ezra 10:1; Neh. 1:6; 9:2-3; Dan. 9:4, 20). Personal confession is seen in David's acknowledgment (Ps. 32:5).
Confession of sin is also emphasized in the NT (Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5), and with it is connected the promise of forgiveness of sins (I John 1:9; cf. Matt. 6:12), a forgiveness which is based solely on the death of Christ (Eph. 1:7). That confession of sin, an acknowledgment that forgiveness is possible only through Christ the risen Lord, God uses as an instrument in bringing the sinner to salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). This is to be a sacrifice of praise to God (Heb. 13:15). Although confession of sin is to be made to God alone (Luke 18:13), on occasion believers are encouraged to share their confession with one another (James 5:16).
W H Mare
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
W.A. Quanbeck, IDB,I,667-68; R.H. Alexander, TWOT,I, 364-66; O. Michel, TDNT,V, 199-219; V.C. Grounds, ZPEB,I, 937-39.
The official Protestant statements of belief issued as standards of doctrine during the 16th and 17th centuries are called confessions of faith. The result of dogmatic controversy, they are generally polemical and reflect the historical situations from which they arose. A list of the major confessions of faith issued by the Lutheran, Calvinist, or Reformed churches includes the Augsburg Confession (1530), Helvetic Confessions (1536 and 1566), Gallican Confession (1559), Belgic Confession (1561), Scottish Confessions (1560 and 1581), Heidelberg Catechism (1562), and Westminster Confession (1647). Since the 17th century, other confessions have been issued by the Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers. Many Reformation statements were called Articles of Religion. The ancient professions of faith are usually called Creeds.
(Editor's Note: BELIEVE contains individual web-page presentations of each of the above confessions, as well as the full text of several of them. See the links at the end of this presentation.)
Variations on the term "confession" are found in the NT (e.g., I Tim. 3:16; 6:13). In the early church the word was used to describe the testimony of martyrs as they were about to meet their deaths. Its most common usage, however, designates the formal statements of Christian faith written by Protestants since the earliest days of the Reformation. As such, "confessions" are closely related to several other kinds of brief, authoritative summations of belief. The term "creed" most frequently refers to statements from the early church which Christians in all times and places have recognized, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and (less frequently) the Athanasian Creed.
While Orthodox Churches hold to the authority of seven ancient ecumenical creeds, and while the Roman Catholic Church continues to use the term for later doctrinal formulations (as "the Creed of the Council of Trent," 1564), it is not uncommon to speak of just the Apostles' or just the Nicene affirmations as the creed. "Catechisms" are structured statements of faith written in the form of questions and answers which often fulfill the same functions as confessions. Finally, the technical term "symbol" is a general designation for any formal statement, whether creed, confession, or catechism, which sets apart the community which professes it from those who do not.
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
Written on behalf of the Protestant territories of Northern Germany for presentation to emperor Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg. Melanchthon's twenty one original articles were composed as a response to John Eck's attack on the Protestants as guilty of being ancient heresies. Thus the articles attempt to show that the Protestant faith is in line with the ancient Church. Many, but not all, of the articles were acceptable to Rome. In 1540 Melancthon revised the confession to be acceptable to Calvin. The Lutherans rejected this revision and Melancthon himself.
As established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, on September 12, 1801.
Written by Heinrich Bullinger in Switzerland after surviving the Black Plague as a codicil to his will. It is in response to the Anabaptists and makes an attempt to reconcile with the Lutherans. It is influenced by Ulrich Zwingli. Its central doctrines are those of Covenant and Baptism.
Written by John Knox and five other "Johns" (Willock, Winram, Spottiswood, Row and Douglas), in 1560, at the conclusion of the Scottish civil war in response to medieval catholicism and at the behest of the Scottish Parliament in five days. Its central doctrines are those of election and the Church. It was approved by the Reformation Parliament and Church of Scotland, attaining full legal status with the departure of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1567.
The Genevan Confession was credited to John Calvin in 1536 by Beza who said Calvin wrote it as a formula of Christian doctrine suited to the church at Geneva.
Written by the Westminster Assembly at the call of Parliament together with the following two catechisms and heavily influenced by Reynolds. It is written in the context of the English Civil War and as a response to high church Anglicanism. The central doctrines of this and the two catechisms are the sovereignty of God and the authority and proper interpretation of Scripture.
The A Puritan Confession, along with the A Puritan Catechism were both compiled and published around 1855 by Charles Spurgeon.
The London Baptist Confession of Faith, with scripture proofs, was adopted by the Ministers and Messengers of the General Assembly which met in 1689.
Short theological statements, articles of religion were official Protestant declarations of doctrine issued during the 16th and 17th centuries. The best known are the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1563), revised by the U.S. Episcopal Church in 1801. Other Reformation articles include the Schwabach Articles (1529), Ten Articles (1536), Schmalkaldic Articles (1537), Six Articles (1539), Forty-two Articles (1553), Lambeth Articles (1595), and Irish Articles (1615). Many Reformation statements were called Confessions of Faith.
George, Timothy, Theology of the Reformers (1988); Leith, John H., ed., Creeds of the Churches (1982).
Originally used to designate the burial-place of a confessor or martyr (known also as a memoria or martyrion), this term gradually came to have a variety of applications: the altar erected over the grave; the underground cubiculum which contained the tomb; the high altar of the basilica erected over the confession; later on in the Middle Ages the basilica itself (Joan. Bar., De invent. s. Sabini); and finally the new resting-place to which the remains of a martyr had been transferred (Ruinart, II, 35). In case of translation the relics of a martyr were deposited in a crypt below the high altar, or in a hollow space beneath the altar, behind a transenna or pierced marble screen such as were used in the catacombs. Thus the tomb was left accessible to the faithful who wished to touch the shrine with cloths brandea) to be venerated in their turn as "relics". In the Roman church of St. Clemente the urn containing the remains of St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch is visible behind such a transenna. Later still the term confession was adopted for the hollow reliquary in an altar (Ordo Rom. de dedic. altaris). The oil from the numerous lamps kept lighted in a confession was considered as a relic. Among the most famous subterranean confessions of Rome are those in the churches of S. Martino al Monti; S. Lorenzo fuori le Mure, containing the bodies of St. Laurence and St. Stephen; S. Prassede containing the bodies of the two sisters Sts. Praxedes and Pudentiana. The most celebrated confession is that of St. Peter. Over the tomb of the Apostle Pope St. Anacletus built a memoria, which Constantine when building his basilica replaced with the Confession of St. Peter. Behind the brass statues of Sts. Peter and Paul is the niche over the grated floor which covers the tomb. In this niche is the gold coffer, the work of Benvenuto Cellini which contains the palliums to be sent to archbishops de corpore b. Petri according to the Constitution "Rerum ecclesiasticarum" of Benedict XIV (12 Aug., 1748). All through the Middle Ages the palliums after being blessed were let down through the grating on to the tomb of the Apostle, where they remained for a whole night (Phillips, Kirchenrecht, V, 624, n. 61). During the restoration of the present basilica in 1594 the floor gave way, revealing the tomb of St. Peter and on it the golden cross weighing 150 pounds placed there by Constantine, and inscribed with his own and his mother's names.
Publication information Written by F.M. Rudge. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Helvetic Confession text
Belgic Confession text
Heidelberg Catechism text
Puritan Confession text
Canons of Dordt (Dort)
Canons of Dort text
London Confession text
London Baptists' Confession
Westminster Confession text
Book of Concord (Lutheran)
Formula of Concord (Lutheran)
Southern Baptist Confession of Faith
Methodist Articles of Religion
Free Methodist Articles of Religion
New Hampshire Baptist Confession
Reformed Church Beliefs
Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican)
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