Recently I had a small discussion with some of my catholic friends: some of them refuse the idea that the Confession act, as it is known in present day - as the acknowledgment of one's sins given in the verbal form towards a priest or a bishop with the subsequent remission (forgiveness) of sins - wasn't present at the Apostolic times (i.e. in the early Christian Church).

I personally think, that even if the form of the confession could be different (like public confession of sins), but as the result it was forgiveness given by bishop/priest, i.e. essentially the same sacramental act.

I wondering, are any:

1) Official Catholic doctrine regarding this subject,

2) Any authoritative historian researches about this subject.

  • related I think this might be a little broad. I would like to know the answer to one thing you're asking though. Why did confession need to be like it is today. I think if your friends don't likr confession it is perfectly reasonable. No one likes going to confession.
    – Peter Turner
    May 30, 2017 at 2:45
  • Have you looked at the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1422-1498) under the heading "penance and reconciliation" which is the actual name of the sacrament in the Catholic Church? Once you have read through that I think you can better refine and scope your question, per @PeterTurner comment. May 30, 2017 at 4:02

1 Answer 1


This question is indeed very broad. I'm new over here but I would really want to try and give you some thoughts.

To answer briefly : It is essentially the same Sacramental act

I would begin by saying that as you can see in John 20:21-23, it is said:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” [...] If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”`

The Council of Trent (1551) declares that before the coming of Christ, penance was not a sacrament, nor is it since His coming a sacrament for those who are not baptized. The Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon His disciples saying what is cited here-above. See Fourteenth Session - Chapter V of the Council of Trente

The Council then expresses that Christ left priests, etc. that may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness.

What is important is to note that this power does not belong to the laity. This is evident since the Papal Bull of Martin V Inter cunctas (1418).

This is more however like 'how come the Confession Sacrament is now established?' as it is and might be off-topic.

On the methods of doing it: It doesn't seem to have changed much

You should look at some articles on this old manuscript which is called the Didache. Section 14 of the Didache states:

On every Lord's Day—his special day—come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.

Which seems to say that the first Christians did indeed confess their sins to the first priests, themselves named from the Apostles.

I would be delighted to enhance this answer if it's not precise enough.

  • Was confession held in apostolic times by verbal expression if sins?
    – Andremoniy
    May 30, 2017 at 21:55
  • I guess that yes, it did (see about the Didache) May 30, 2017 at 22:06
  • Yes, but this confession could be just act of sorrow without verbal telling one's sins to a priest. Like now in the beginning of the Mass everybody just acknowledges his/her sins without telling them.
    – Andremoniy
    May 31, 2017 at 6:54
  • @Andremoniy (referred to as the Confiteor) May 31, 2017 at 12:52
  • @Anremoniy The ability to retain or grant pardon of sins (John 20:23) more than implies the need to hear them so as to be able to judge the sin one that shall be forgiven, or one that shall be retained by the priest. See Origen's Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 (A.D 248) "[A filial method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner ... does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, “I said, to the Lord, I will accuse myself of my iniquity." May 31, 2017 at 13:48

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