Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Are Priests Necessary for Confession?

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to all seminarians, and in that letter, he discussed many things, including the sacrament of confession. I have received some questions about confession, both in my summary of the Holy Father's letter, and in a brief explanation about confession that I gave later, for the sake of people unfamiliar with that sacrament/sacraments in general.

In particular, people seem to wonder if it is necessary to have a priest for confession.

I haven't taken any sacramental theology courses yet, but I hope I understand why a priest is necessary for confession.  Otherwise, I will certainly do a poor job of hearing confessions, if, by the grace of God, I become a priest.  Therefore, I pray for the guidance of the Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of Confessors, as I try to determine...

Are Priests Necessary for Confession?

Argument 1: It would seem that priests are not necessary for confession, because a person can repent of his or her sins and pray to God, without the aid of a priest. This is sufficient enough to attain God's grace.

Argument 2: Further, the Catholics claim that in the sacrament of confession, a person's sins are forgiven by the priest. But we know that only God can remove sins. A priest is not God, therefore, a priest cannot remove sins. So a priest is not needed for the forgiveness of sins.

Argument 3: In his first letter, Saint John says that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). He speaks of the necessity of confession, but he does not mention priests. Therefore, priests are unnecessary for confession.

To these arguments, I respond...


On the contrary, Saint Augustine says, "Let no one say to himself, 'I do penance to God in private. I do it before God.' Is it then in vain that Christ has said: 'Whatever you loosen on earth shall be loosened in heaven'? Is it in vain that the keys have been given to the Church? Do we make void the Gospel? Void the words of Christ?"

That the priest is necessary for confession can be reasonably shown from various sources, such as the testimony of the past several thousand years. Primarily, though, we can see it flows directly from the nature of the priest. For we understand that it is only the priest, by virtue of his ordination, who is able to validate the sacraments. Confession is a sacrament; therefore, it must be administered by a priest in order to be valid.

The Lord Jesus himself appointed priests to administer confession, when he commissioned his apostles to go forth and to forgive people's sins in his name. For it is written: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever's sins you forgive shall be forgiven, and whoever's sins you retain shall be retained." (John 20:23). And again, Jesus says, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). This power to forgive sins is given to none but the church and its priests. Therefore, it would be folly to think that the forgiveness of sins takes place outside the church, without the aid of priests.

Response, Argument 1: Repentance for sins and the forgiveness of sins are two entirely different things. While true repentance can and does occur without a priest, true forgiveness cannot.

Response, Argument 2: The priest does not forgive sins by his own power, but by God's power working in him. "The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1466)

Response, Argument 3: In this passage, Saint John argues for the necessity of confession, but he does not explicitly state what form this confession must take, whether it be private prayer, public recitation, or the sacrament of reconciliation. Therefore, his statements cannot be taken as a means to discount or approve any particular form of confession.

16 comments:

ClassicCartoonsGuy said...

Hmm, interesting article. But, I have to ask what about the body of believers? Scripture states that all believers are "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). And that Jesus Himself is our Great High Priest that we are to "hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Stephanie said...

I still don't understand why you need a preist...

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...not 100% sure I completely agree with this; however, I do see a certain value of priests for confession. It seems to me that, at the very least, confessing the sin to not only God but to another person would help the confessor be able to let go of the sin. This has been helpful with me - it's very hard for me to let go of past sins unless I am able to talk to someone else about it.

ClassicCartoonsGuy said...

I agree with Anonymous 1:43 PM. Confession to another person is valuable, as the book of James even commands this, but states that we are to "confess [our] sins to one another." As the Church, we are one body in Christ and must help each other through their struggles because when one member of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.

Anonymous said...

So true of objection.But I see the value of priests, just one thing I object, what if god doesn't forgive us for the sins we did that were harming others? Like if Adolf Hitler said he was sorry for what he did in World War 2, do you think God would forgive him for killing his daughters, and sons
( us ) I bet he would, but would punish him for what he did.Other then that I agree with everyting else.

Anonymous said...

I don't really understnad what we need priests for . . . I need some help on this one, but I agree with ClassicCartoonsGuy, Anoymous, and other Anoymous.God might forgive us for what we did, but would he punish us? And I know to confess our sins, but still . . . would god punish us?

Airam said...

Really interesting, thanks dude!

Jessica said...

That made me thinking what Anonymous 1:43 was saying.Also, I agree with Anonymous 3:06.Would god punish us? I just don't get the objection mike, and why the need of priests? Some families might have the bible, and read it, but some families aren't christian.Thanks mike, now your making me go deeper in my family history!

PS.That wasn't a sarcastic thank you up there

Anonymous said...

wow ... this is an interesting theological discussion. my belief is that God, and only God, can forgive us. i respect priests and pastors, but i think their job is sermons and mass/church services. but it isn't wrong to confess sins to a pastor or priest.

Anonymous said...

Happy to see you entering the priesthood, that is no small task. We need more people like you for this! Keep questioning, but always stay strong in your faith, it will guide you, sustain you and you will lead others to truth when you seek it for yourself.

Balin said...

In response to the questions about punishment, I think the key is in the crucifixion and resurrection - God has taken the punishment away from us through His grace and mercy.

Riley said...

Wow, that gave me alot to think about!
I'm a girl by the way

Jesica Arnold said...

I completely agree with Michael.
The priest him self cannot forgive sins, Jesus/God/holy spirit can. But he does it through the priest, the confession isn’t valid if you don’t confess to a priest or do your penance.

Jesica said...

(I feel smart now)

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying you *can't* have a priest, but I honestly don't believe they are necessary for a confession to be valid. The neccessity of priests is not part of the doctrine of the Christian church, that is why I argue. Catholicism is significantly differing from the original Bible teachings in its insistance on saints and priests and sacrements and all kinds of ceremonies and rituals! Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "But by grace are ye saved through faith...not of works, lest any man should boast." The concept of sacrements and such seems non-canonical with the teachings of the Scriptures.

--J.F.

Katie said...

I think that having a priest for confession as a necessity for the "validity" of the confession is not in line with what the Bible teaches and also undermines the power of God in a way. The Bible is very clear that God is the One who will forgive us if we simply ask Him to when we repent. No where in the Bible does it state that a priest or any other person or thing on earth is necessary for a valid confession. Confession is confession, and as long as we are confessing from our hearts in true repentance, then we will be forgiven. God has promised this, and He does not and will not break His promises.
If we could not communicate with God personally through prayer and had to go to a priest in order for our confessions to be heard by God, then that would undermine God's power and might. One of the most beautiful things about being a follower of Christ is the fact that we can talk to God directly and have a personal relationship with Him. He loves us and wants to hear us when we pray--including the times when we confess our sins.