[Article XI(IV): Of Confession]
Written in Latin by Philip Melanchthon (1531)
Translated from the Latin into German by Justus Jonas (1531)
English Translation by Ambrose and Socrates Henkel (1851), Revised by W. F. Lehmann (1854)
Link to Bente/Dau Translation from Latin (1921)
[1(58)] Our adversaries approve the eleventh article, in which we speak of absolution. But, in relation to confession they add, that every Christian should confess once every year, according to the chapter: Omnis utriusque sexus; and though he cannot fully enumerate all his sins, yet he should exert himself to recollect all of them, and state in confession as many as he can remember.
We shall hereafter continue our remarks on this whole article, when we come to speak of Christian repentance. [2(59)] It is well known, and our adversaries cannot deny, that the doctrines advanced by our divines on the subject of absolution and the keys, are so thoroughly Christian, so judicious and pure, that many afflicted souls derive great consolation therefrom, after receiving proper instructions on this vital subject; namely, that it is the command of God and the proper use of the Gospel, to believe the absolution of our sins, and to be assured that they are forgiven us without any merit of our own, through Christ, and that, when we believe the words of absolution, we are as surely reconciled to God, as if we heard a voice from heaven.
This doctrine, which is indispensably necessary, has afforded great consolation to afflicted minds. Many upright, intelligent, and pious men, in the very beginning, highly commended Dr. Luther, on account of our doctrine; and they were much gratified to see the sure consolation which we need restored to light. For the important doctrine of repentance and absolution had been wholly suppressed, when the sophists no longer presented true and constant consolation to the conscience, but directed men to their own works, which produce nothing but despair in the alarmed conscience.
[3(60)] But with respect to the time of confession, it is a fact, and known to our adversaries, that many in our churches make confession not only once a year, but often, and attend to absolution and the holy Supper. And our ministers, when they treat of the use and the blessings of the holy Sacraments, carefully teach and admonish the people frequently to attend the holy Supper. Besides the works of our divines are well known, and so written that the honorable and pious among our adversaries must approve and commend them.
[4(61)] It is likewise always announced by our pastors, that all those who live in open vice, in fornication, adultery, etc., and those who scorn the holy Sacraments, shall be excommunicated and excluded. In this we therefore follow the Gospel and the ancient canons.
[5(62)] No one, however, is compelled to receive the Sacrament on a particular day, or at a fixed time; for it is impossible for all to be equally prepared at a fixed time; and if all the people in a whole parish were to approach the altar at one time, they could not be examined and instructed with the same diligence, with which this is now done among us. And the ancient canons and the Fathers have prescribed no particular time. The canon says only: "If any go to the church, and it is found that they do not commune, they shall be admonished. Those that do not commune, shall be admonished to repentance. If they wish to be regarded as Christians, they must not always abstain from it."
Paul, 1 Cor. 11:29, says: "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself." Our ministers therefore do not urge those to receive the Sacrament, who are unprepared.
[6(63)] But as to the recollection and enumeration of sins in confession, our ministers do not ensnare the souls of men, by requiring them to specify all their sins. Although it has a good effect to accustom rude and inexperienced persons to specify in confession some of the sins which trouble them, in order that they may more easily be instructed; yet that is not the question now, but whether God has commanded us thus to enumerate all our sins; and whether those, which are not enumerated, cannot be forgiven?
Our adversaries, therefore, should not have quoted against us the chapter: Omnis utriusque sexus, which is well known to us. They should rather have shown us from the holy Scriptures, from the Word of God, that God has commanded such an enumeration of sins.
[7(64)] It is, alas, but too evident and notorious in all the church throughout Europe, how this part of the chapter--Omnis utriusque sexus--which requires all to confess their sins, has thrown the conscience into misery, distress, and snares. But the text itself has not done as much harm as the books of the Summists, in which the particular circumstances of sins are collected, have since done. For thus especially did they involve the conscience in great perplexity and unspeakable torment; and this affected none but good men; for the impudent and dissolute cared but little about it.
[8(65)] The text says, that each one must confess to his own priest. Now, what great strife, what deadly envy and hatred, were excited between the clergymen and the monks of various orders, in determining the question: which is the proper priest? All brotherly love and friendship ceased, when power or the confessor’s fees were concerned.
We therefore maintain, that God did not command that our sins should be enumerated and specified. Panormitan, and many other learned men, entertained the same views. We would not burden the conscience with the chapter: Omnis utriusque sexus; but with regard to it, as of other human ordinances, we say that it is not a divine service, necessary to salvation. Besides, this chapter commands an impossibility, namely, that we must confess all our sins. Now, it is certain, that there are many sins which we cannot remember, and some of the greatest even we do not see; as the Psalmist, 19:12, says: "Who can understand his errors?"
[9(66)] Intelligent and pious pastors well know how far it may be necessary and useful, to question the young and ignorant in confession. But we neither can nor will approve the tyranny, which the Summists, like jailors, exercise over the conscience, tormenting it continually; and which would not have been so severe, if they had said but a single word concerning faith in Christ, which truly consoles the conscience.
But in their many large collections of Decretals, Commentaries, Summaries, and Confessions, there is not a word or tittle concerning Christ, faith, and the remission of sins. Not a word can be found there, teaching Christ, or what he is; but our adversaries are occupied with these registers only in order to collect sins, and increase their number. Now this might be well enough, if they had but a proper conception of the sins, which God regards as such. The greater portion of their summaries, however, is taken up with foolishness and human ordinances. [10(67)] O, how many pious souls, willing to do right, were driven to despair, and deprived of their rest, by this wicked and ungodly doctrine; for they knew no better, and thought they must thus torment themselves with enumerating and adding their sins together; and yet they found that this was impossible, and ever brought disquietude. But our adversaries have taught errors equally great on the whole subject of repentance, which we shall hereafter state.
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