Friday, January 30, 2004

Article XXV. Concerning Confession

Concerning Confession, Article XXV. of the AC

1] Confession in the churches is not abolished among us; for it is not usual to give the body of the Lord, except to them that have been previously examined and absolved. And 2] the people are most carefully taught concerning faith in the absolution, about which formerly there 3] was profound silence. Our people are taught that they should highly prize the absolution, as being the voice of God, 4] and pronounced by God's command. The power of the Keys is set forth in its beauty and they are reminded what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences, also, that God requires faith to believe such absolution as a voice sounding from heaven, and that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins. Aforetime satisfactions were immoderately extolled; 5] of faith and the merit of Christ and the righteousness of faith no mention was made; wherefore, on this point, our churches are by no means to be blamed. For this even our adversaries must needs concede 6] to us that the doctrine concerning repentance has been most diligently treated and laid open by our teachers.

7] But of Confession they teach that an enumeration of sins is not necessary, and that consciences be not burdened with anxiety to enumerate all sins, for it is impossible to recount all sins, as the Psalm 19, 13 testifies: Who can understand his errors? Also Jeremiah, 17, 9: 8] The heart is deceitful; who can know it? But if no sins were forgiven, except those that are recounted, 9] consciences could never find peace; for very many sins they neither see 10] nor can remember. The ancient writers also testify that an enumeration is not necessary. For in the Decrees, Chrysostom is quoted, 11] who says thus: I say not to you that you should disclose yourself in public, nor that you accuse yourself before others, but I would have you obey the prophet who says: "Disclose thy way before God." Therefore confess your sins before God, the true Judge, with prayer. Tell your errors, not with the tongue, but with the memory of your conscience, etc. 12] And the Gloss (Of Repentance, Distinct. V, Cap. Consideret) admits that Confession is of human right only [not commanded by Scripture, but ordained by the Church]. 13] Nevertheless, on account of the great benefit of absolution, and because it is otherwise useful to the conscience, Confession is retained among us.

The question of right reception of the sacrament doesn't come up super often in my context, but it does come up. Especially when we get to passages from 1 Corinthians in the lectionary. Mostly, the reception of the sacrament is done because all are doing it, and the only ones who exclude themselves are Catholics pious enough to know better. The concept of confession prior to reception is lost. It is not even on the horizon as an historical artifact.

I find myself of two minds on this shift in our linking of confession and the Supper. On the one hand, to limit the reception of the Supper simply to the culmination of a penitential rite seems misguided. The Supper is always much more than that. We say, according to the creed, that in the Supper we receive the forgiveness of sins. But we also say that in the forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation. So these two sides of the same coin should play out liturgically. It is both a penitential rite and a celebratory rite.

But to lose completely the penitential, so that it becomes simply a somber thing one does with wafers and chalices is also misguided. We have, it seems, maintained the semi-somber nature of the meal without going to the depths of the consolation present in the meal itself. This itself would be argument enough for re-instituting individual confession prior to reception. To celebrate this sacrament in its fullness would be to re-institute the confession, but also to celebrate the meal totally- in the meal there is life and salvation, consolation in the forgiveness of sins, alleluia!

This article concludes with an interesting example of the confessors' concern to be in continuity with Scripture AND the tradition of the church. In fact, it cites positively Gratian's note, that "confession is not commanded in Scripture but was instituted by the church." And then continues, "The preachers on our side diligently teach that confession is to be retained because of the absolution." Thus a tradition instituted by the church (not Scripture) is retained for the sake of the absolution. This is a key example of how the confessional documents are themselves a part of the development of doctrine in the church, not simply a blind repetition of Scripture. Allegiance to Scripture without sensitivity (or even admission) to the role of tradition and the church in its interpretation is not confessional, it's a later product of fundamentalism that any good confessional Lutheran, and anyone in the catholic tradition, would disavow.

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