What are the different viewpoints between Anglicans, Orthodox churches and the Roman Church over the sacrament of Confession.

Of course Roman Catholics must confess mortal sins to priest to be absolved of the sin. How would an Anglican view forgiveness in this sense? Is the generic liturgical absolution in an Anglican eucharist ceremony the equivalent?

Similarly, how do the Orthodox churches address this sacrament?

The answer should show the differences or distinctions.

2 Answers 2


Roman Catholic Understanding

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution (II.II.II.4.VII.1457)

I do not believe that the Roman Catholic understanding is that one's sins are not absolved if one fails to confess mortal sins in any case, but rather only in the case of mortal sins being knowingly concealed:

When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know." (Ibid., II.II.II.4.VII.1456)

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, as it is called, also requires of the penitent "satisfaction":

Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance." (Ibid., II.II.II.4.VII.1459)

Eastern Orthodox Understanding

Within the eastern Church there is no such enumeration of "venial" and "mortal" sins. In general the Orthodox Church is less legalistic. All that is required of the penitent is:

Contrition for his sins, with a full purpose of amendment of life, faith in Jesus Christ, and hope in His mercy.1

The sacrament, which is referred to as the "Mystery of Penitence", is described as:

A sacrament in which he who confesses his sins is, on the outward declaration of pardon by the priest, inwardly loosed from his sins by Jesus Christ Himself.2

There is also a component of penitence in the Orthodox sacrament, but it is seen as less of a "satisfaction" and more of spiritual curative - this despite begin called sometimes by its Greek name, epithemia ("punishment", cf. 2 Corinthians 2:6):

Under this name are prescribed to the penitent, according as may be requisite, divers particular exercises of piety, and divers abstinences or privations, serving to efface the unrighteousness of sin, and to subdue sinful habit; as, for instance, fasting beyond what is prescribed for all, or for grievous sins suspension from the holy communion for a given time.3

Although there are a large number of Church canons prescribing recommended epithemia for various offenses, priests have enormous discretion in deciding what sort of epithemia may be required, if any.

Anglican Understanding

My knowledge of Anglican ecclesiology is limited, but I understood that only Baptism and the Eucharist are recognized as Sacraments, as held by the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion that are found in the Book of Common Prayer:

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles.4

1 The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Question 353
2 Ibid., Question 351
3 Ibid., Question 356
4 Article XXV, "Of the Sacraments"

  • I think you are right about your summary of Catholic doctrine.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 5:00
  • For Catholics, a penitent is only obliged to confess the mortal sins that he can recall. (If the penitent recalls a mortal sin after the fact, he should simply confess it the next time he goes to confession. However, it is already forgiven; i.e., he may receive Communion, etc.) Commented May 17, 2017 at 14:40

Guest37 rightly quotes the 25th of the 39 articles with respect to the sacraments from an Anglican perspective. Since the 39 articles were set down, there has been some change of the attitudes of most Anglicans. Contemporary attitudes of a sizeable plurality of Anglicans hold that, although confession does not meet the requirements of a sacrament, which are first an explicit command from Our Lord, (as for example

"Do this in memory of me."),

and an outward and visible sign (as the bread and wine are of communion), that nevertheless confession is a good and worthy practice of piety, despite the absence of an explicit commandment by Our Lord, one can safely say that the current attitude of most Anglicans today towards confession can be expressed in these six words: "all may, some should, none must".

  • This answer would be improved if it compared the Anglican view with Roman and Orthodox views. It looks a bit like a comment on another answer. Commented May 17, 2017 at 12:53
  • @KorvinStarmast, I didn't feel I could improve upon the views of the Roman Catholics and Orthodox as reviewed by Guest37, but felt his answer with respect to the Anglican views was inferior. I therefore only intended to address what I saw as the insufficiency in respect to Anglican views.
    – brasshat
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:56
  • I see the dilemma. Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:59
  • I had to address the literal question, which asked about "sacraments" and not "practices". I understand and respect your addition, but since Article 25 specifically states that, for Anglicans, confession is NOT a sacrament, there was not much more to be added. If the question had been phrased "sacraments or practices", then perhaps something more should have been said.
    – guest37
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 16:10
  • The first line of the original post, however, mentioned "different viewpoints". And while, for an Anglican, confession is not a sacrament, there is a typical Anglican viewpoint on the issue.
    – brasshat
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 16:26

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