Christian Baptism, Confirmation, Confession and Penance

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BAPTISM

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Baptism of Christ
by Meister von Daphni
Baptism is the act by which people are accepted into the church and receive the grace (or power) of Christ by saying certain vows and being doused with water, perhaps followed by the laying on of hands, by a influential member of the religious community. The first of the sacraments, baptism signifies the entering of a new life — a second birth so to speak — in which the individual will one day die but be able to transcend death. It also marks the initiation of the individual into the church community and the Christian way of life. The water symbolizes the washing away of sins and purification.

Baptism comes from the Greek verb “baptao” or “baptizo”, meaning “to plunge.” Sometimes the people who are baptized are completely submerged in a river or lake or special pool or basin (known as a “font” ) within a church. The most significant form in the Catholic church is the triple immersion, complete submersion with the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” Sometimes those baptized are simply sprinkled with Holy water or have it poured on their head (ablution).

The Christian church believes in one baptism into the Christian church, whether this be as an infant or as an adult, as an outward sign of an inward commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes a baptism takes place when a person is a baby. This is done to prepare a child for a religious upbringing. The adults who say the infant’s vows become the child’s godparents. Other times people are baptized when they are older. This usually occurs to converts. The infant baptisms usually occur to people born into the religion.

There are many different baptism rituals. One described in a forth century liturgy and held on the night before Easter went like this: the candidates assembled in chamber of the baptistery, where facing West they renounced Satan and facing East they declared their bond with Christ. After taking off their clothes they were anointed with oil to exorcize evil spirits and then were immersed three times, symboling the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection, in the font in water blessed by a bishop. The candidates were asked questions relating to their faith in the Trinity and a bishop laid hands on them. The ritual ended when the candidates were dressed in white robes and were escorted to the church altar for their first Eucharist.

For Orthodox Christians, the whole body is immersed in water that has been previously blessed by special prayers. Orthodox Christians look down on the Catholic act of just pouring water on the person being baptized. Orthodox baptism represents the inclusion of a newly born Christian into the community of believers.

During medieval baptisms, salt was placed on the infant's forehead, chest, right hand and mouth and the devil was exorcized from the body with a series of prayers. To open the child to god, the priest spit on his left hand and touched the infants ears and nose with his saliva.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ;

Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex

Religious Basis of Baptism

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Catholic baptism
Baptism is regarded as a command of Christ and the most important sacrament. It was done before Christ, and is associated with John Baptist who preceded Jesus. When Gentiles adopted Judaism they were baptized because they were impure, and then circumcised. Jesus was baptized by John Baptist before he launched his career as teacher and miracle worker. He ordered his disciples to baptize all people.

Baptism is sometimes viewed as a spiritual circumcision in which a person is initiated into the Christian community by performing an act that symbolizes the Covenant with God. “Ye were also circumcised with the putting of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism” (Colossians ii, 11-12). It is also viewed as means by which an individual becomes acquainted with the Holy Spirit (so “ye are a temple of God, and Spirit of God dwelleth in you, Corinthians xiii, 14).

Baptism, Pope Benedict XVI wrote “is different from the usual religious ablutions. It cannot be repeated, and its is meant to be the concrete enactment of conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever. It is connected with an ardent call to a new way of thinking and acting, but above all with the proclamation of God’s judgment...descending into the water the candidates for baptism confess their sin and seek to be rid of the burden of guilt. What did Jesus do in this same situation? Luke...tells us that Jesus was praying while he received Baptism.”

Confirmation

Confirmation — the application of a small amount of holy oil on the head of a believer — is a reaffirmation of baptismal vows to remain in the church and follow its teaching. It is regarded by Catholics, Orthodox Christians and some other Christians a sacrament. In the Catholic church after an individual reaffirms the vows a bishop lays hands on him or her, as the Apostles did with early Christians, as a sign of the Pentecost — which brought an end to the mysterious resurrection period and allowed the apostles to go forth and spread the word of their faith. Confirmation is an expression of salvation and “confirms” the existence of Christ.

Catholic Confirmation is usually done to a child as he or she nears adolescence to signify they have become an adult in the faith or a grown Christian. It usually involve some “profession of faith.” In France, where there is a “solemn communion,” believers can be confirmed before making a profession of faith.

The holy oil (known as “chrism” in the Catholic church) is consecrated by a bishop and priest on Maundy Thursday (the day before Goof Friday). It is placed on the forehead and symbolizes the Spirit, which from the point of Confirmation forward is a guiding force behind everything the recipeint does. The person who offers Confirmation — usually a bishop accompanied by priests’says the recipient’s name followed by the words “be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The confirmed recipient then replies: “Amen.” From that moment forward the confirmed person is regarded as a fully fledged member of the People of God, or layman in the church.

Confirmation as a Sacrament

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Confirmation blessing
Christian confirmation is a sacrament or rite of passage in which a baptised person strengthens their relationship with God and becomes a full member of the Christian community. According to the BBC: Confirmation is “practised by several Christian denominations. The word means strengthening or deepening one's relationship with God. Confirmation is a popular practice in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Churches where infant baptism is also performed. It enables a baptised person to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism. It is also a sign of full membership to the Christian community. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC |::|]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Confirmation is a sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.It has been variously designated: bebaiosis or confirmatio, a making fast or sure; teleiosis or consummatio, a perfecting or completing, as expressing its relation to baptism. With reference to its effect it is the "Sacrament of the Holy Ghost", the "Sacrament of the Seal" (signaculum, sigillum, sphragis). From the external rite it is known as the "imposition of hands" (epithesis cheiron), or as "anointing with chrism" (unctio, chrismatio, chrisma, myron). The names at present in use are, for the Western Church, confirmatio, and for the Greek, to myron. [Source: New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia]

“Confirmation can be held at any age. In the Eastern Churches, it is conferred on infants straight after baptism. In the West, most denominations insist that participants are old enough to understand the significance of their promises. Christians believe Jesus instituted the sacrament or rite of confirmation when he promised to send another counsellor to empower his disciples to bear witness. (John 14:16; John 15:26; John 16:13). |::|

The roots of the practice of confirmation are found in the Acts of the Apostles: |“Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” — Acts 8:14-17 |::|

“Confirmation candidates attend a series of special classes to learn about the sacrament, their faith and Christian responsibilities. Confirmation preparation helps candidates to have a proper understanding of how to live as a follower of Christ. At one time, candidates were required to learn a series of questions and answers by heart known as the catechism. Today's classes are more comprehensive and the particular needs of candidates will be borne in mind.

Catholic Confirmation

According to the BBC: “The majority of Catholics are baptised as babies before they are old enough to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Their parents and godparents promise to bring them up in the Christian faith following Jesus's example. When they reach an age where they are able to understand the difficulties and challenges of living out the Christian faith, they are invited to confirm the promises made on their behalf at baptism through confirmation. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC |::|]

“In most Catholic churches today, Catholics are confirmed when they are about 14 years old. The sacrament of confirmation is often held on Pentecost Sunday when Christians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. |::|

“Catholics believe confirmation is one of seven sacraments instituted by Christ. The effect of the sacrament of confirmation is a special outpouring of the Spirit as granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. A bishop usually confers confirmation although a priest is sometimes allowed to administer the sacrament if a person has already been baptised into another Christian Church and is entering into full communion with the Catholic Church through confirmation. A priest is also allowed to confer the sacrament if a person (adult or child) is in danger of death. (Code of Canon Law, canon 884) As the sacrament is usually reserved to a bishop, it is common in the Catholic Church to confirm large groups of older children and young adults together during Mass. |::|

“The bishop lays his hands on the head of each candidate. This is a sign that he is appointing them to be true witnesses to Christ. The bishop prays that each person will receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: reverence, understanding, courage, knowledge, wisdom, awe and wonder and right judgment. He makes the sign of the cross on their foreheads with holy chrism oil. This is a sign of strength and a reminder of their commitment to follow Christ even to the cross. In many English-speaking countries, candidates will take the name of a saint. The saint will act as a patron and guide to the person seeking confirmation. Candidates will usually devote time during their confirmation classes to choosing a saint who particularly inspires them. |::|

“Catholics are usually confirmed after they have received their first Holy Communion. However, this is not the traditional order for conferring the three sacraments of Christian initiation. When an adult is initiated into the Catholic Church, he or she must receive baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion in that order. In some parts of the world, Catholic dioceses are returning to the traditional order, allowing children to be confirmed before they receive their first Holy Communion for the first time at the age of seven or eight. |::|

Orthodox Confirmation

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Greek Orthodox Baptism
Confirmation is also known as Chrismation, or Christening. Orthodox Christian children are confirmed with a sacred oil that has been elaborately prepared in a ceremony presided over by a Patriarch. It represents the sacrament of the Pentecost: when a Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, which enables him or her to receive all other sacraments and elevates them to a kind of “special order” status that allows them to teach, and take part in governing a Christian community.

Orthodox Christianity differs from Catholicism in that baptism and christening are performed together. Orthodox Christian children are baptized and christened around the age of ten months or earlier to signify salivation. Having this done at such an early age means that their life as a religious participant begin very early.

According to the BBC: “Eastern Churches refer to confirmation as Chrismation. They confer Chrismation at the same time as baptism. This is also the practice of Eastern Rite Catholics. (An Eastern rite Catholic is in union with the Pope but is not a member of the Roman Catholic Church). The special relationship between Roman Catholics and members of the Eastern Churches means that the Catholic Church does not confirm converts from the Eastern rite. By contrast, when Roman Catholics and Protestants convert to Orthodoxy, they are usually received into the Church by Chrismation but without baptism. However, some bishops require converts to be admitted through baptism. Protestants, in particular, may have to be baptised again. |::|

Confirmation Rite

According to the BBC: “In Christian confirmation, a baptised person believes that he or she is receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. A bishop usually conducts the service but there are variations in how it is carried out. In the Anglican Church, the sacrament of confirmation is conferred through the laying of hands. In the Roman Catholic Church, each participant is also anointed with oil. In Protestant denominations outside the Church of England, confirmation is seen as a rite of passage or initiation to full Christian discipleship. It is a symbolic act allowing the baptised person to make a mature statement of faith. Confirmation is not regarded as a sacrament or a means of conferring divine grace. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC |::|]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “In the Western Church the sacrament is usually administered by the bishop. At the beginning of the ceremony there is a general imposition of hands, the bishop meantime praying that the Holy Ghost may come down upon those who have already been regenerated: "send forth upon them thy sevenfold Spirit the Holy Paraclete." He then anoints the forehead of each with chrism saying: "I sign thee with the sign of the cross and confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Finally, he gives each a slight blow on the cheek saying: "peace be with thee". A prayer is added that the Holy Spirit may dwell in the hearts of those who have been confirmed, and the rite closes with the bishop's blessing. [Source: New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“The Eastern Church omits the imposition of hands and the prayer at the beginning, and accompanies the anointing with the words: "the sign [or seal] of the gift of the Holy Ghost." These several actions symbolize the nature and purpose of the sacrament: the anointing signifies the strength given for the spiritual conflict; the balsam contained in the chrism, the fragrance of virtue and the good odor of Christ; the sign of the cross on the forehead, the courage to confess Christ, before all men; the imposition of hands and the blow on the cheek, enrollment in the service of Christ which brings true peace to the soul. (Cf. Summa Theologiæ III.72.4). |=|

“The bishop alone is the ordinary minister of confirmation. This is expressly declared by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, De Conf., C. iii). A bishop confirms validly even those who are not his own subjects; but to confirm licitly in another diocese he must secure the permission of the bishop of that diocese. Simple priests may be the extraordinary ministers of the sacrament under certain conditions. In such cases, however, the priest cannot wear pontifical vestments, and he is obliged to use chrism blessed by a Catholic bishop. In the Greek Church, confirmation is given by simple priests without special delegation, and their ministration is accepted by the Western Church as valid. They must, however, use chrism blessed by a patriarch. |=|

Confirmation in the Bible

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Submersion baptism in Chile
In Acts of the Apostles (8:14-17) we read that after the Samaritan converts had been baptized by Philip the deacon, the Apostles "sent unto them Peter and John, who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost; for he was not yet come upon any of them, but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost". [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“Again (19:1-6): St. Paul "came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples; and he said to them: Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? But they said to him: We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost. And he said: In what then were you baptized? Who said: In John's baptism. Then Paul said: John baptized the people with the baptism of penance . . . Having heard these things, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied".|=|

“From these two passages we learn that in the earliest ages of the Church there was a rite, distinct from baptism, in which the Holy Ghost was conferred by the imposition of hands (dia tes epitheseos ton cheiron ton Apostolon), and that the power to perform this ceremony was not implied in the power to baptize. |=|

“No distinct mention is made as to the origin of this rite; but Christ promised the gift of the Holy Ghost and conferred it. Again, no express mention is made of anointing with chrism; but we note that the idea of unction is commonly associated with the giving of the Holy Ghost. Christ (Luke 4:18) applies to Himself the words of Isaias (61:1): "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel". St. Peter (Acts 10:38) speaks of "Jesus of Nazareth: how God anointed him with the Holy Ghost". St. John tells the faithful: "You have the unction (chrisma) from the Holy One, and know all things"; and again: "Let the unction [chrisma], which you have received from him, abide in you" (1 John 2:20-27). |=|

“A striking passage, which was made much use of by the Fathers and the Schoolmen, is that of St. Paul: "He that confirmeth [ho de bebaion] us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, who also hath sealed [sphragisamenos] us, and given us the pledge [arrabona] of the Spirit in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 1:20-21). No mention is made of any particular words accompanying the imposition of hands on either of the occasions on which the ceremony is described; but as the act of imposing hands was performed for various purposes, some prayer indicating the special purpose may have been used: "Peter and John . . . prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost". Further, such expressions as "signing" and "sealing" may be taken as referring to the character impressed by the sacrament: "You were signed [esphragisthete] with the holy Spirit of promise"; "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed [esphragisthete] unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). See also the passage from Second Corinthians quoted above.” |=|

Confession

Confession is a ritual closely associated with Catholicism but is also performed in the Orthodox church. In confession, believers acknowledge their sins and promise to be better in the future. Confession can be done privately, communally with a congregation, or it can be done at a church in front of a priest. Catholics churches generally have confession booths, wooden boxes which stand on the side aisles of churches, where believers tell their sins to a priest who is concealed behind a screen. In many cases, penitents can be received in a small room, in which longer dialogues are possible.

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St Dominic in Prayer by El Greco
In a Catholic confession, a priests acts as a judge and decides what an individual can do to be absolved of his sin. The priest occupies the seat of judgement and the penitent kneels before him. Priests are given the power from Christ to declare God’s forgiveness and offer absolution to sinners. Those that are forgiven are told to undertake reparation or some form of thanksgiving to show their penitence, usually in the form a few prayers. Those guilty of small are often told to repeat “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” a number of times.

Confession is often associated with St. Augustine, who recounted is life in his important book “Confessions” (See St. Augustine). Contrition, confession and satisfaction are regarded as necessary steps in obtaining absolution. Catholics require believers to engage in confession at least once a year, often around Easter in conjunction with communion. With the understanding that communion feeds and confession cleanses us.

In a Catholic confession, the priest act as a judge and decides what an individual can do to be absolved of his sin. An Orthodox priest by contrast acts as a witness not a judge. He gives an introductory prayer and tells the penitent that only Jesus Christ can heal him. The priest acts as a fellow member of the church and a shoulder to cry on so to speak and offers advise on how the penitent can repent. At the end of the confession the priest asks God to reconcile the penitent to the church and forgive him of his sins.

Orthodox Christians receive their first confession at around age seven. The event is preceded with instruction about moral responsibility. Afterwards they are deemed old enough to fast, reflect on themselves morally and receive confession. In the Russian church the taking of Holy Communion is always preceded by confession. Among other Orthodox groups confessing is not so commonly used.

Orthodox Confession is not a simple confession before a priest after one has sinned. In accordance with Orthodox teachings, a sinner is expected to make amends with the people who have been harmed by his actions first . Only then does he go before priest to confess.

Christian Penance and Sin

Sins are generally regarded as breaking the commandments. Thomas Aquinas described the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth, gluttony, pride, anger, envy, greed, and lust.

Penance is regarded by Catholics and some other Christians as a sacrament. It refers to carrying out some act as retribution for sinning. Confession and penance generally go hand and hand. Some Christians go to extreme measures to show their penitence. The customs of self-flagellation and wearing hair shirts as acts of contrition became popular in the 13th century.

While baptism washes away original sin, penance (for reconciliation) cleans up the sins people commit in their daily lives. In the Gospels, Christ affirms that he was give the divine privilege of forgiving sins while curing the paralyzed man. On the evening of his resurrection, he transferred this power to the apostles and from them it was passed on to the church hierarchy of priests. Before sin can be forgiven the sinner must make an act of contrition by confessing the sins and expressing regret.

Mortification of the Flesh

The idea of the “mortification of the flesh” — literally putting the “flesh to death” — has been an aspect of Christianity since its inception with the letters of Paul being the scriptural source of the practice. Romans viii 13 reads: “If you live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye live through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” In Colossians iii 5 Paul says: “Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

In medieval times devout Christians often whipped themselves in public and wore course hair garments under their clothes as punishments and resolution for their sins. To reduce their time in purgatory penitents walked around churches on their knees, wore scratchy underwear, climbed long stairways shackled in chains and whipped themselves in Holy processions, with self-castration perhaps being the most extreme form of self denial.

The tradition dates back to the “desert fathers.” who lived hermetic lives in caves of Egypt in the early centuries of Christianity. They laid the ground work for monks and nuns with their vows of celibacy and poverty. Modern studies of self-inflicted suffering in religious observances suggests there are two main purposes: 1) to gain mastery over some perceived weakness or fault, such as lust and desire; and 2) induce a trance-like state that is believed to bring one closer to the divine.

Sinner’s Confession, Ordeal and Miracle

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Bolivian Aymara praying
Caesarius of Heisterbach: wrote in between 1220-1235: “Dom Bernard of Lippe, who was once an abbot and is now a bishop in Livonia, is wont to tell a miracle contrary to this last. "I knew, (he said,) a fisher in the bishopric of Utrecht who had long lived incontinently with a certain woman; and, because his sin was too notorious, fearing one day to be accused at the synod then impending, he said within himself: 'What will you now do, poor wretch? If you are accused of incontinence in this synod and must confess, you will forthwith be compelled to take her to wife; or if you deny it you will be convicted by the ordeal of white-hot iron and be still more confounded." [Source: “From C.G. Coulton, ed, Life in the Middle Ages, (New York: Macmillan, c.1910), Vol I, 73-74 [slightly modernized], sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

“So, coming forthwith to a priest (rather, as the event showed, from fear of punishment than from love of righteousness), he confessed his sin, asked from counsel and found it-. 'If,' said the priest, 'you have a firm purpose never to sin again with her, then you may carry the white-hot iron without further care and deny your sin; for I hope that the virtue of confession will free you." And this did, to the amazement of all who well knew his incontinence. Lo! here by God's power, as in former examples, the fire restrained its force against its own nature; and, as you will hear later, it grew hot even more marvelously against nature. To be brief, the man was absolved. Many days afterwards, as he rowed with another fisher at his work on the river, and the house of the aforesaid woman came in sight, then the other said unto him: 'I marvel greatly, and many marvel with me, why the iron did not burn you at the synod, though thy sin was so notorious.' He, boasting unworthily of the grace that had been conferred on him (for he had already conceived the purpose of sinning again), smote the river water with his hand and said: 'The fire hurt me no more than this water!' Mark the marvelous justice of God! who had guarded the penitent in His mercy, punished now by a just and strange miracle the same man when he relapsed: for no sooner had he touched the water than it was to him as white-hot iron. He drew back his hand suddenly cried aloud; but he left his skin in the water. Then, in tardy repentance, he told his comrade all that had befallen him."

“Our fellow-monk Lambert was wont to tell a like miracle to this. A countryman who had a feud against another gave money to a certain wicked man of the Order of wandering Religious, (of whom there are many,) that he might burn the other's house; which this man, entering under the cloak of religion, set afire at a convenient time. Again this abandoned wretch, forgetful of the hospitality he had-received, set fire to the same house for the same bribe, after that it had been rebuilt. The, master, troubled at this double loss, accused all of whom he had any suspicion, but they purged themselves by the ordeal of white-hot iron. Again the burned house was rebuilt; and this iron which had been used for the ordeal was thrown into one corner of it. To be brief, that false religious vagrant came again, corrupted by his former covetousness, and was received with all kindness. He marked the aforesaid iron and asked what purpose it served: to which his host answered: "I know not who has twice set fire to my house; and, though I had suspicion of certain men, they have borne that iron at white-heat and yet were not burned" Then said the other: "The iron might be turned to some use": and lifting it up (as God would have it) he was so burned in the hand that he cried aloud and cast it down. When the master of the house saw this, he caught the incendiary by the cloak and cried: "Thou art the true culprit!" The e man was taken before the judge, confessed his crime unwillingly, and was condemned to be broken upon the wheel.”

Confession Stories from the 12th and 13th Centuries

Caesar of Heisterbach wrote in Dist. III, Cap. II. (Vol. I, pp 112-13.): “A certain soldier dwelt in a certain village with whose wife the priest of the same village committed adultery. The soldier was told that the priest was carrying on an intrigue with his wife. He, since he was a prudent man and did not readily believe the story, wished to say nothing about it to his wife or the priest, but to learn the truth more fully. But he was not without some suspicion. There happened to be in another village, not far distant from the one in which the soldier lived, a possessed person, in whom there was such a wicked demon that in the presence of bystanders she revealed sins which were not cloaked by a true confession. When the soldier learned this from common report he asked the priest, whom he suspected, to go to a certain meeting with him. And the priest promised.

“When they had reached the village where the possessed one was, the priest, conscious of his guilt, began to suspect the soldier, because he was not ignorant that one possessed by so wicked a demon dwelt there. And, fearing for his life if he was betrayed by the demon, feigning some necessity, he entered a stable and throwing himself at the feet of a servant of the soldier, said, I ask you in the name of the Lord to hear my confession." The servant greatly terrified raised him up and heard what he had to say. After the confession had been made, the priest asked that a penance should be inflicted upon him; and the servant replied very prudently, saying, "Whatever you would enjoin on another priest for such a crime, shall be your atonement." [Source: “University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 14-17]

“And so going forth now in greater security, the priest came with the soldier to the church. There meeting the possessed one, the soldier "Do you know anything about me?" For he did this on purpose to take away any suspicion that the priest might have. When demon made some reply to him which I do not know, he added "What do you know about that master?" The demon replied, "I know nothing about that one." And after he had said this in German, he immediately added in Latin, "He was justified in the stable." No clerk was present at the time....I heard also the fruit of this confession. The priest, not mindful of the benefit conferred upon him, deserted the world and became a monk in a certain monastery of our order. He is believed to be still living, as I have learned from a certain abbot of the Cistercian order.

Heretic Healed by Confession Relapsed and Was Burnt

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Christ flagellation by Diego Velazquez
Caesar of Heisterbach wrote in Dist. III, Cap. XVII. (Vol. II p. 133-34): “In the same city, namely Argentina which is Strassburg, ten heretics were seized. When they denied their guilt, they were convicted by the ordeal of red-hot iron and were condemned to be burnt. When on the appointed day they were being led to the fire, one of the attendants said to one of them, "Wretched one, you are condemned. Now do penance and confess your sins, lest after the burning of the body, which is only momentary, hell-fire burns your soul eternally." When man replied, "I certainly think that I have been mistaken, but I fear repentance in so great straits is by no means acceptable to God." The former replied, "Only confess from your heart. God is merciful and will receive the penitent." [Source: “University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 14-17]

“Wonderful fact ! For as soon as the man confessed his perfidy, his hand was fully healed. While he delayed in confession, the judge summoned him to the punishment. His confessor replied to the judge " It is not just that an innocent man should be condemned unjustly.'' Since no trace of a burn was found on his hand, he was dismissed.

“The man had a wife living not far from the city entirely ignorant of these things which have been related. When he came to her rejoicing , and said, "Blessed be God who has liberated me today from the destruction of body and soul !" and explained to her the cause; she replied, "What have you done, most wretched man, what have you done? Why have you withdrawn from your holy and sacred faith for fear of momentary pain? You ought rather, if it were possible, expose your body a hundred times to the flames than once to withdraw from a faith so well proven."

“Whom does not the voice of the serpent seduce? That man, unmindful of the favor divinely conferred upon him, unmindful of the so manifest miracle, followed his wife's advice and returned to his former error. God, not unmindful truly of the crime, in return for so great ingratitude, tortured the hand of each one. The burn was renewed in the hand of the heretic and, because his wife was the cause of his returning to his error, she was made his companion in the renewed pain. So vehement was the burn that it penetrated to the bones. And since they did not dare in the village to utter the cries which the violence of the pain extorted, they fled into the nearest woods, howling e like wolves. Why protract my words? They were betrayed, led into to the city, and together cast into the fire, which was not yet fully extinguished, and were burnt to ashes.”

Confession Stories Involving the Devil from the 12th and 13th Centuries

In “Through Confession the Devil's Record Blotted Out”, Étienne de Bourbon wrote in No. 176. (pp. 155-156.): “The manifold inconveniences and losses which our enemies suffer from the confession of our sins ought to incite us to confession…“It destroys the devil's records. And note how, when a certain clerk was leading a most holy life so that the devil envied him, the devil by tempting the clerk caused him to fall into grievous sin. When moreover the devil wished to confound him, and having assumed human for had accused him before his bishop, and a day had been fixed on which the devil was to prove his charges, by bringing before the judge his, accounts in which were recorded the place, the time, and the persons to whose knowledge the clerk had sinned, the latter, seeing that he was in hard straits, confessed all, grieving and purpling not to return to sin. When moreover they were in the presence of the judge and the devil said he had much against the clerk which he could prove by writing and witnesses, he unrolled his records and found all that had been in them erased. He said, "All that I had against this man was certainly written here this very day and I do not know who has destroyed it all." Having thus spoken, he vanished. The clerk, moreover, narrated all of these things to the bishop, in the secrecy of confession.

On “Through Confession a Forgotten Prayer Erased From the Devil's Book,” Étienne de Bourbon wrote: “Also it is related that when a certain holy father was at one time engaged with the brethren in some work and had forgotten, on account of his occupation, to say the none at the right time, he saw the devil passing before him, bearing on his shoulders a very large book in the shape of a roll which looked as large as a tower. He adjured the devil in the name of the Lord to drop that book, and when he unrolled the book, he found written on one page that he himself had not said the none on the day and at the hour when he ought to have said it. Moreover, prostrating himself at once at the feet of his companions, he confessed his negligence, and immediately looking again in the devil's roll, he found that what had been written there before was erased, and thereby he knew the efficacy of confession. [Source: No. 177. (p. 156.)]

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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