Saturday, November 26, 2016

History of the Sacrament of Confession / Penance

The Christian practice of confession of sins goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. Here is an excerpt from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, a late Roman historical source dating from about AD 440, which offers a retrospective look at how the sacrament was practiced in the Church of Rome. It is interesting to observe the similarities and differences between what is described below and how the sacrament is practiced today.
As the custom of doing penance never gained ground among the Novatians, regulations of this nature were, of course, unnecessary among them, but the custom prevailed among all other religious sects, and exists even to the present day. It is observed with great rigor by the Western churches, particularly at Rome, where there is a place appropriated to the reception of penitents, where they stand and mourn until the completion of the solemn services, from which they are excluded, then they cast themselves, with groans and lamentations, prostrate on the ground. The bishop conducts the ceremony, sheds tears, and prostrates himself in like manner, and all the people burst into tears, and groan aloud. Afterwards, the bishop rises from the ground, and raises up the others. He offers up prayer on behalf of the penitents, and then dismisses them. Each of the penitents subjects himself in private to voluntary suffering, either by fastings, by abstaining from the bath or from divers kinds of meats, or by other prescribed means, until a certain period appointed by the bishop. When this time arrives, he is made free from the consequences of his sin, and is permitted to resume his place in the assemblies of the church. The Roman priests have carefully observed this custom from the beginning to the present time.
Take from The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII: Chapter 16.

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