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The Early Church Fathers on Contrition for ones sins.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
    St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444)
    Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458)
    St. Nilus the Elder, (c. A.D. late 4th century - c. 430)
    St. Peter Chrysologus, (A.D. 406 - 450)
St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

"Neither, as regards remission, in the Church, of crimes however grievous, is the mercy of God to be despaired of by those who do penitence, each according to the measure of his sins. But in the doing of penitence, in cases where such a sin has been committed that the transgressor has been separated from the body of Christ, not so much the amount of time, as of sorrow, is to be considered. For "a contrite and humble heart God does not despise." But as, for the most part, the sorrow of another's heart is not known to a third person, nor does it reach the knowledge of others by means of words, or of any other signs, it being in His sight to whom it is said, "My groaning is not hid from Thee", periods of penitence are rightly fixed by those who are over the churches, that the individual may also satisfy the Church, in which the sins themselves are remitted; for out of her they are not remitted. For she has received as hers the Holy Spirit as a pledge, without which sins are not remitted, so that they obtain eternal life unto whom (their sins) are remitted."

T. vi. Enchirid. de Fide, n. 17 (al. 66), col. 379.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 33

St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444), Egyptian; bishop, theologian and Doctor of the Church. He succeeded Theophilus in the patriarchal see of Alexandria, in A.D. 412, and was the great champion of orthodoxy against Nestorius, against whom the general council of Ephesus was called, in A.D. 431 and in which St. Cyril presided.

"Be converted to me with all your heart." (Joel 2:12) Cast away the past, and let what has gone by be utterly in oblivion, and show forth in yourselves better things. Mitigate (the anger) of God by other things, by fasting and labor, weeping and lamentation. For the effect of engaging in these things shall be the enjoyment thenceforward of happiness and gladness. For, as prosperity ends, and the sinking into pleasures terminates in sighs and punishment, so, goodness and penitential labors eventuate in happiness. It is therefore profitable to weep over sin, and to be sorrowful according to God. For, as Paul writes, "The sorrow that is according to God worketh penitence steadfast unto salvation." Furthermore, it is necessary carefully to consider this, how great the efficacy of fasting is. It appeases the Lord; it mitigates His wrath; it averts punishment. For, subjecting ourselves to stripes, we readily appease the wrath of God well-nigh enkindled and inflamed against us, and we easily turn aside the hand that smites us."

T. iii. Coin, in Joel. p. 218.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 33-34

Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458), Greek; an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (A.D. 423-457). He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms. His friendship for Nestorius embroiled him, for a time, with his great contemporary, St. Cyril of Alexandria.

"The wounds which we receive after baptism are also curable; but curable, not by the remission taking place as formerly, through faith, but through many tears and sighs and lamentations, and fastings and prayer, and labors proportionate to the amount of sin committed. For we have been taught, neither to despair of persons so disposed, nor too readily to communicate to them the divine (mysteries)."

T. iv. L. iv. Haer. Fabul. c. xxviii. p. 479.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 34

St. Nilus the Elder, (c. A.D. 385 - c. 430) (also known as Nilus of Sinai, Neilos, Nilus of Ancyra), Syrian, was one of the many disciples and fervent students of St. John Chrysostom; an eyewitness of the martyrdom of Theodotus.

"As a tree dried up from want of water, if it receive water buds forth, so also a soul dead in sin, if it shall repent, and shall propitiate the master of the household, it is cleansed from its defilements, and having partaken of the spiritual grace, and the mind being irrigated with rich streams (drops), it brings forth fruits of justice."

L. ii. Epist. ccii. p. 225.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 35

St. Peter Chrysologus, (A.D. 406 - 450), deacon, bishop of Imola and Ravenna, and Doctor of the Church, his piety and zeal won for him universal admiration, and his oratory merited for him the name Chrysologus, meaning: golden-worded or golden mouth.

"Opportunely, during this time of fasting, has blessed John, the teacher of penitence, come unto us, a teacher in word and deed, a true master; what his word proclaims, his example sets forth. . . . We, therefore, have need of a greater penitence (than the Jews), and the nature of the remedy is to be proportioned to the nature of the wound. Let us, therefore, be penitent, my brethren, let us be penitent speedily, . . . the presence of the judgment already excludes us from the opportunity of satisfaction,. . . . and we who have not, of our own will, sought for merit, let us acquire virtue, at least by compulsion; that we may not be judged, let us be our own judges; we owe penitence to ourselves, that we may avert the sentence from ourselves. It is the highest happiness to enjoy the unvarying security of innocence; to preserve a holiness of body and of mind that never has been violated, . . . but if our mind should happen to have been pierced by any arrow of sin ... then let the medicine of penitence bring relief to the ailing, though not to the sound; let the knife of compunction be used, the cautery of sorrow applied, the fomentations of sighs be had recourse to, let the glowing heat of the swollen conscience evaporate, let the ulcers of guilt be washed with tears, let hair-cloth wipe away the uncleanness of the body. Let him who would not preserve his health as became him, endure the bitter observance of penitence. . . . And the same John had his garment of camel s hair (Matthew 3), ... in such a garment it behooved the teacher of penitence to be clothed, that they who had turned aside from the discipline of righteousness, and rendered themselves all deformed by various kinds of sins, might be subjected to the weighty burdens of penitence, and to the severe sufferings of satisfaction: that made straight and attenuated like a needle by passing through the narrow way of penitence, they may enter into the wide fields of forgiveness, and the Lord's saying be fulfilled, that "a camel can pass through the eye of a needle." (Matthew 19:24)

Serm. clxvii. pp. 232-33.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 34-35



What is required in this contrition or sorrow, is,

    • that it be interior, that is, that it spring from the heart, penetrated by the consciousness of guilt:
    • that it be supernatural, that is, that it arise from grace or the influence of the divine Spirit on the soul, and not from considerations merely human:
    • that it be supreme, that is, above all other grief:
    • that it be universal, that is, that it include every grievous sin of which the sinner has been guilty: and
    • that it contain a firm purpose of amendment, without which no sorrow can be real.


The Church's Scriptures that support Contrition are:


Repentance and contrition that includes exterior acts of satisfaction

6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief, it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil; for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and sorely troubled; they shall turn back, and be put to shame in a moment.

(Psalms 6:6-10)

It always implies a recognition of wrong done to God, a detestation of the evil wrought, and a desire to turn from evil and do good.

51 1 <To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to> after he had gone in to Bathsheba.> Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
16 For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar.

(Psalms 51:1-19)


11 "I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live."


(Ezekiel 33:11)

The Sign of Jonah

41 The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.


(Matthew 12:41)

Repent or Perish

13 1 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? 3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."


(Luke 13:1-5)

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry. 25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'


(Luke 15:11-32)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."


(Luke 18:9-14)

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