Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rediscovering Confession

It would appear that confession is making something of a comeback among certain faith groups. Some like the Roman Catholic Church are not hugely surprising. But the revival of confession (albeit often without a sacramental understanding) among Protestants is I think a rather interesting phenomena. This from the Wall Street Journal...
This February at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI instructed priests to make confession a top priority. U.S. bishops have begun promoting it in diocesan newspapers, mass mailings and even billboard ads. And in a dramatic turnaround, some Protestant churches are following suit. This summer, the second-largest North American branch of the Lutheran Church passed a resolution supporting the rite, which it had all but ignored for more than 100 years...

...Several factors are feeding the resurgence. Aggressive marketing by churches has helped reinvent confession as a form of self-improvement rather than a punitive rite. Technology is also creating new avenues for redemption. Some Protestants now air their sins on videos that are shared on YouTube and iTunes or are played to entire congregations. And the appetite for introspection has been buoyed by the broad acceptance of psychotherapy and the emphasis on self-analysis typified by daytime talk television.

"Every day on Jerry Springer we see people confessing their sins in public, and certainly the confessional is a lot healthier than Jerry Springer," says Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, who last March sent out 190,000 pamphlets calling on Catholics to confess.

Scholars also say the return to confession is part of a larger theological shift in which some Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals are returning to a traditional view of churches as moral enforcers. Catholic leaders have sought to make the tradition less onerous to keep it from dying, while Protestants are embracing it as a way to offer discipline to their flocks. Several Protestant pastors said they felt their churches had become too soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches that seek converts with feel-good sermons, Starbucks coffee and rock-concert-like services, but rarely issue calls to repent.
I am not very comfortable with the theology behind a lot of this. But it is certainly an interesting development. From a more Orthodox point of view I would post the comment of Kolokotronis from over at Free Republic (in response to a Roman Catholic posting the Latin Church's formula for absolution as an affirmation of the theology of the priest acting in persona Christi).

"For your information and discussion"
Ok, the article says this: "The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament:..."

"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

You see, this is one of those examples of the truly vast difference between the Latin and Orthodox Churches; its that post 11th century atonement theory rearing its head again. Couple that with the notion that it is the priest doing the absolving and we see in rather stark relief the differing phronemai of the Churches.

As Fr. Deacon John Chryssavgis noted in an article on the sacrament of confession, "It is the reduction of sin to a punishable legal crime, an act of law­breaking inviting a penalty that is almost wholly absent in patristic literature." He goes on to say, "The word for "confess" in Greek (ἐξομολογοῦμαι, ὁμολογῶ) does not bear the contemporary meaning peculiar to it. When we say "confess" we imply that we accept, recognize or witness an event or fact. But this is not the original mean­ing. The point is not of admitting, more or less reluctantly, a hitherto "unrecognized" sin, but an acceptance of and sub­mission to the divine Logos (exomologesis) beyond and above the nature and condition of man. It is this Logos, the Word of God, that man seeks to regain, or rather to com­mune with. To confess is not so much to recognize and ex­pose a failure as to go forward and upward, to respond from within to the calling of God. Created in the image and likeness of God, man bears before himself and in himself that image and likeness. In repenting he does not so much look forward as reflects and reacts to what lies before and beyond him."

In Holy Orthodoxy The Church teaches her children "Have you committed a sin? Then enter the Church and repent of your sin ... For here is the Physician, not the judge; here one is not investigated but receives remission of sins." +John Chrysostomos.

Finally, the idea that the priest is anything more than a witness on behalf of the Christian community is completely unknown to patristic authors and the notion that the priest in any way "absolves" the penitent is seen only in Russian Orthodoxy as a result of later Western influences on that particular church. Even there the notion is increasingly condemned, especially outside of Russia proper.

Food for thought.

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