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The Early Church Fathers on the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A.D. 200-258)
    Firmilian of Cæsarea, (A.D. 210-272)
    Lactantius, (A.D. 240-c.330)
    St. Anthony of Egypt, (A.D. c.251 - 356)
    St. James of Nisibis, (unknown-361)
    St. Athanasius of Alexandria, (A.D. 296-372)
    St. Ephrem the Syrian, (of Edessa), (A.D. 306-378)
    St. Pacian of Barcelona, (A.D. c.310-375)
    St. Hilary of Poitiers, (A.D. 315-367)
    St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386)
    St. Gregory of Nazianzen, (A.D. 318-389)
    St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394)
    St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396)
    Blessed Isaias, (lived in the 4th century)
St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A.D. 200-258), North African; bishop; biblical scholar, martyr.

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 "[I Corinthians 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 (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

The Lapsed 28

Sinners 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" [I Corinthians 11:27]

Letters 9:2 [A.D. 253]

Firmilian of Cæsarea, (A.D. 210-272), Cappadocian; bishop, contemporary of Gregory Thaumaturge, ardent admirer of Origen; remembered for the moral support he gave St. Cyprian of Carthage on the issue of baptizing heretics.

"For the rest, what a crime it is, whether of those who admit, or of those who are admitted, that, their defilements unwashed by the laver of the Church, their sins not manifested, they, by a communion rashly granted, touch the body and blood of the Lord, though it be written, "Whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord."

Inter Ep. St. Cyp. 75 .p. 309.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 218

Lactantius, (A.D. 240-c.330), was an early Christian author, the goal of his writings was to present Christianity in a form that would be attractive to philosophical pagans.

"As every sect of heretics thinks its followers are, above all others, Christian and even its own "catholic" church, it should be known that only the true (Catholic Church) has Confession and penitence, which wholesomely heals the wounds and sins to which the weaknesses of the flesh are subject to."

Divin. Instit. l. iv. c. 30.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 53

St. Anthony of Egypt, (A.D. c.251 - 356), (also known as Anthony the Great, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Desert, and Anthony the Anchorite), Egyptian; prominent leader among the Desert Fathers. The biography of Anthony's life by Athanasius of Alexandria helped to spread the concept of monasticism, particularly in Western Europe through Latin translations.

"Let us now revert to that shame which is full of grace and glory. Be not, then, ashamed to do whatsoever is in accordance with the will of God; neither be ashamed to learn the Lord's doctrines and words, nor to disclose to thy priest thy sins."

Sermones ad Monach. Sect. 12, De Verecundia, Galland. T. iv. p. 656.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 55

"The most excellent of all the works that man can do is, to confess his sins before God and his elders."

Admonit. ad Monach. Ibid. p. 705.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 55

St. James of Nisibis, (unknown-361), bishop of Nisibis in Mesopotamia, was present at the council of Nicaea, and died about the year 361. We have his life by Theodoret of Cyrus. A. Antonelli published eighteen sermons by this saint at Rome in 1756.

"From the time that Adam transgressed the commandment, sin reigned . . . until our Lord who took and fastened it to the cross. Still do its stings remain and pierce many. There is not a disease, or a pain, to which a cure and a remedy cannot be applied, provided a skilful physician be called in. But they who are wounded in our conflict have the remedy of penitence, which being applied to their wounds, they are healed. O ye physicians, the disciples of our skilful physician, take unto yourselves the remedy, whereby the wounds of the afflicted may be cured. . . He that has been wounded in battle is not ashamed to put himself into the hands of a skilful physician, seeing that he received his wound through the severity of the contest; and the king rejects him not when cured, but places him in the list of his veteran troops: so neither ought he, whom the devil has wounded, to be ashamed to confess his failings; to fly from him; and to implore the medicine of penitence. For he that is ashamed to lay open his wounds to a physician, from his wounds being corrupted, his whole body is infected; whilst he who is not ashamed has his wounds cured, and returns to the fight. And whereas he, that has contracted a deadly illness, hopes not for cure, nor again puts on his wanted armor; he that is overcome in our warfare may hope for a cure, if he say, "I have sinned", imploring penitence; but he that is ashamed, cannot be cured, because he will not disclose his wounds to the physician, who receives two pence (Luke 10:35), and out of them cures all that are wounded. And you who are the disciples of our physician, as you are endowed with the power of healing, take care that you be not an obstacle in the way of the cure of those who need medicine; but you will apply the medicine of penitence to him who shows you his wounds. And he who is ashamed to manifest his evil, do you admonish him not to conceal it from you.

Serm. vii. de Paenit. n. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, Galland.. T. v.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 55-56

"To you who have already been wounded, I give this counsel and say, "Be not ashamed of saying, we have been maimed in battle. Receive a medicine without price, and be ye converted, and steadfast, lest ye perish." I will bring to your memory, O physicians, something that is written in the books of our skilful physician, for He prohibits not penitence. For when Adam had sinned, He called him unto penitence, saying, "Where art thou, Adam?" and he hid his sins from Him that searcheth the heart, and excused himself because Eve had deceived him. And because he confessed not the sin of his transgressions, the sentence of death was passed against him, and all that sprang from him. . . . You see, then, dearly beloved, of what benefit it is to confess, and to be awakened from iniquity. And do you hearken, who have the keys of the gates of Heaven, and open the gate to the penitent, and follow what the blessed Apostle has said: "Brethren, and if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1).

"Be likewise on your guard, lest any of you fall into temptation. The Apostle feared, and said, in his alarm, of himself: Perhaps I who have preached to others may be found utterly a castaway. Whosoever, therefore, amongst you shall be scandalized at another s sin, saith he, do not judge him as an enemy, but correct him as a brother, lest, being separated by you, he be received by the devil. . . . But, penitents, to you I again say, do not cast aside the remedy which has been given to you unto salvation. For thus say the Scriptures: "They who confess their sins, and restrain themselves from them, on such the Lord will have mercy."

Serm. vii. de Paenit. n. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, Galland.. T. v.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 56-57

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, (A.D. 296-372), Egyptian; bishop, theologian, and Doctor of the Church. He was present, as an assistant to St. Alexander of Alexandria, at the council of Nicea who he succeeded in A.D. 326. During more than forty years he was the champion of orthodoxy, and suffered much severe persecution from the Arian party.

"As man is illuminated with the grace of the Holy Spirit by the priest that baptizes, so also he who confesses in penitence, receives through the priest, by the grace of Christ, the remission (of sins)."

Frag, (ut videtur) ex Lib. contr. Norat. T. iii. p. 75
And in Montfaucon's Nova Collect. T. ii. p. 103.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 60

St. Ephrem the Syrian, (of Edessa), (A.D. 306-378), Syrian; born in Nisebis, deacon, hymnist, poet. His works were even during his own lifetime almost all translated into Greek, and were, as St. Jerome informs us, held in such high estimation, as to be read in some churches after the Holy Scriptures. We have his life by St. Gregory of Nyssa.

"I know that the multitude of His mercies surpasses the multitude of my transgressions. I know that He, when amongst us, showed mercy to all; and I confess that He has vouchsafed, in baptism, remission of sins; for I also have partaken of this grace; but I still stand in need of a cure for sins after baptism. But He that raised the dead is not without power to heal me. I have become blind, but He cured one that was born blind. ... I have been put out as a leper, but if He wish I shall be made clean. I know that I have sinned after knowledge, but I have holy David interceding for me."

T. i. Gr.-Lat. p. 137; Reprehensio sui ipsius.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 119-120

St. Pacian of Barcelona, (A.D. c.310-375), bishop of Barcelona, Jerome praises his eloquence, learning, chastity, and holiness of life. He is also remembered from a phrase from one of his letters: "My name is Christian, my surname is Catholic.".

"You now understand, Novatians, that God can be merciful; that a remedy, however slow (or late), is still within the power of our unhappy brethren who confess what is past; that the wounded man, whom the Levite and priest passed by, can be cured by Christ; that the prayers of the Church are not to be refused to the humble; that the hands of the priesthood are not to be withheld from the brethren that claim our compassion. . . . We know that it (the Church) is a well of liming water, and a sealed fountain, unpolluted by the filth of any heretical whirlpool. . . . Having confessed our own sins, we exhort the rest also to confess theirs, and to believe on Him who justifies the impious by faith. . . . We beware also of false prophets and ravening wolves, whilst on our guard against you. And our opinion is, that Jannes and Mambre resisted Moses, as you resist the Catholics."

Ep. iii. n. 21, p. 268..
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 69-70

St. Hilary of Poitiers, (A.D. 315-367), French; husband, theologian, bishop of Poiters around A.D. 355, and Doctor of the Church. Referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians" and the "Athanasius of the West.". He was obviously a firm supporter of St. Athanasius.

"There is the most powerful and most useful medicine for the diseases of deadly vices, in Confession. But confession of sin is not as an open acknowledgment of things unknown by others, as if a thief interrogated about a theft, or a homicide about a murder, make a confession; nor as though "God, who searcheth the reins and the heart", being ignorant, needs thy confession for His knowledge,— He who readily sees into, not only what has been thought, but what will be thought. But confession of sin is this, that what has been done by thee thou confess to be a sin, through thy conviction that it is a sin. For there is no one that engages upon any act that he performs, without either some pleasure as its fruit, or without a persuasion that there is something of good in it: either thinking the act right, or taking pleasure in it. But when, through God's teaching, and the reasonableness of what is true, he comprehends that what he has chosen under the appearance of usefulness or of pleasure, is a sin; through his conviction of sin he confesses that what he has done is sinful. . . . Sins, therefore, must be ceased from, after that in confession there is conviction of sin; and the confession is to be, as the prophet teaches, with the whole heart; not in part, nor with a partial operation of the sins, now known to us, yet abiding within us. For what if one that is penitent on account of theft, should increase his money by unjust and foul gains? He will not indeed be a thief, but he will be covetous and an extortioner."

Tract, in Psalm 137. n. 2-3, pp. 555-56.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 59

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386), Palestinian; ordained by Maximus, he was made bishop of Jerusalem in A.D. 345; scholar and Doctor of the Church. None of his writings have been preserved to us, except eighteen catechetical instructions addressed to catechumens, and five mystagogic discourses addressed to neophytes.

"Put off the old man, who is corrupted according to the deceitful lusts, by means of the confession (exomologesis), that you may put on the new man.. . . The present is the season of Confession (exomologesis): confess the things that thou hast done, whether in word, or in deed; the things done in the night, and those in the day. Confess in an acceptable time, and in a day of salvation, receive the heavenly treasure."

Catech. i. n. 2-5. vp. 17-18.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 60

St. Gregory of Nazianzen, (A.D. 318-389), Cappadocian; archbishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church.

"Let us not wait to be accused by others, but become searchers of ourselves; a great remedy against evil is confession, and the flight of sin."

T. i. or. xl. 15, p. 236.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 63

St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394), bishop of Nyssa in A.D. 371, an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. He was the brother of the great St. Basil.

"Whosoever, by secret theft, has usurped what belongs to an other, and has afterwards manifested, by means of an open declaration, his transgression to the priest, he will cure his wound by zeal in a direction opposed to his (former) disposition; I mean, by giving his substance to the poor, in order that by the distribution of what he possesses, he may clearly show that he is cleansed from the disease of avarice."

T. ii. Epis. Canon, ad Letoium, p. 122.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 63

St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396), German; reluctantly made bishop in the A.D. 374., Doctor of the Church. He closed a great and glorious career in A.D. 396. We have his life by Paulinus.

"Hearken unto this remedy: "The just man at the beginning of his discourse is the accuser of himself." (Proverbs 18:17) The poison is sin; the remedy, the accusation of one's crime; the poison is iniquity — Confession is the remedy of the relapse. And therefore is it truly a remedy against poison, if thou "declare thine iniquities, that thou mayest be justified."

T. i. In Psalm 18. n. xi. p. 820.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 73

"A modest confession pleads much for a guilty person; and the punishment which we cannot by any advocacy avoid, by shame we alleviate."

T. i. In Psalm 18. n. xiv. p. 821.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 73

"As often as we receive the blood of the Lord, we show forth the death of the Lord. As then He was once sacrificed for all men, so we, as often as our sins are forgiven, receive the sacrament of His body, that by means of His blood there may be the remission of sins. By the Lord's open declaration has it most plainly been enjoined that the grace of the heavenly sacrament is to be restored to those who have been guilty of even the most grievous crime, provided that with their whole heart, and with manifest confession of sin, they do penitence."

T. ii. L. ii. De Paenit. c. 3, n. 18-19, p. 420.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 76-77

"Let us now see whether the Holy Ghost forgives sins. But here there cannot be a doubt, as the Lord Himself has said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins ye shall forgive,etc." Men indeed furnish their ministry unto the remission of sins, but they do not exercise the right of any power. For they do not, in their own name, forgive sins, but in the name of Father and Son and Holy Ghost. They pray, the divinity forgives.

By baptism also there is no doubt that sins are forgiven; but in baptism the operation is of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost."

T. ii. L. iii. de S. Sancto. c. xviii. n. 137-8, pp. 693-4.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 78

Blessed Isaias, (lived in the 4th century), Abbot

"Be strengthened therefore in heart, and do not say, "How can I keep His commandments, being that I am a sinful man?" For he that shall have confessed his sins, being converted to God by penitence, shall be regenerated. "As we have borne the image of the earthly", says the Apostle, "let us bear also the image of the heavenly." (1 Corinthians 15:49) God, therefore, as I see, has given unto man the power to be changed by penitence, and for the whole man to be renewed by its means."

Orat. xxv. n. 17, Galland, t. vii. p. 312.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 72


Confession is the disclosing of sins which the penitent makes to a priest. This obligation evidently follows from the words of Christ, when He instituted the sacrament of penance:

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

There are three essential parts to the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation:

  1. Contrition
  2. Confession, and
  3. Penance, also known as Satisfaction.

It's very important to note: When we confess to a priest, we are actually confessing to Jesus Himself, who is "in the person of Christ, the man". If you need help understanding this Ask Us.



The Church's Scriptures that support Confession to priests of the Church:


Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to St. Peter

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven."

Matthew 16:19

Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to the Apostles who are in union with St. Peter.

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

Matthew 18:18

Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to forgive sins to His Apostles.

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 20:21-23

The Prayer of Faith.

13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? 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; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.


James 5:13-15

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves but if we confess our sins.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-9

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