In Anglicanism, both justification by faith alone (article 11 of the 39) and priestly absolution (found within the order of the visitation of the sick in the BCP ) are doctrinal stances in the book of common prayer.

What justification is used in the Anglican church to possess both doctrines as part of the faith? Can justification by faith alone coexist theologically with absolution through a priest?

As an Anglican myself I wallow in both of these doctrines, I have the comfort of the wholesome doctrine of justification by faith alone but can also confess my sins to a vicar to obtain absolute assurance of the forgiveness of my sins.

Article 11 "Of the Justification of Man" says: We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

The Absolution in the Visitation of the Sick goes: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences: And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

  • Can you reword the question? It sounds like you’re trying to corner Anglicans and not actually learn about what they believe. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way though. Oct 28, 2018 at 21:35
  • 2
    It would help if you quoted the parts of the BCP that you derive your belief about Anglican doctrine from. Oct 29, 2018 at 1:51
  • @David - I have added the texts to which you refer. Hope this is OK.
    – davidlol
    Oct 29, 2018 at 12:22
  • @davidlol cheers amigo
    – David
    Oct 29, 2018 at 13:30
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    @NigelJ The Ordinal, is not, strictly speaking, part of the BCP but usually printed at the back. When a priest is ordained the bishop says "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the Church of God.....Whose sins thou dost forgive they are forgiven". This comes from John 20 vv22-23 being what Jesus said to the apostles on evening of the first Easter Day. So Jesus gave the power to the apostles and thence through a chain of bishops and so to each minister. Obviously controversial, but these are the texts.
    – davidlol
    Oct 29, 2018 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


Traditional Anglicanism has seen priestly absolution as declaratory, rather than judicial. Richard Hooker, the Elizabethan theologian put it:

As for the ministerial sentence of private absolution, it can be no more than a declaration what God hath done, it hath but the force of the prophet Nathan's absolution "God hath taken away thy sin", than which construction, especially of words judicial, there is not anything more vulgar.

In the prayer of Absolution in the Visitation of the Sick, the priest begins by a clear statement of the limits of his authority (according to Anglicanism). Christ left power to His Church to absolve, not all sinners, but all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him.

In the Absolution which follows the Confession at Matins and Evensong, the priest says:

Almighty God ... who ... hath given power and commandment to His ministers to declare and pronounce to His people being penitent the absolution and remission of their sins: He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy gospel

Here again the minister is making a declaration that if people repent and believe then God forgives them. This may or may not be the case for any individual member of the congregation and the minister is not there to make a judicial decision as to whom it does, and to whom it does not apply. He makes a declarative statement that those who meet certain conditions are absolved by God.

If a person truly believes and truly repents, then God's forgiveness is assured, whether or not a priest declares that it is.

In the first Exhortation to Holy Communion in the Prayer Book (BCP 1662) the minister urges intending Communicants to examine themselves and to confess their sins to God with full intention to amendment of life in the future. If sins have harmed others then restitution is urged where practicable. It then goes on:

And because it is requisite that no man should come to the Holy Communion but with a full trust in God's mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you who cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or some other learned and discrete Minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God's holy Word he may receive the benefit of Absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.

The Oxford Movement in the Nineteenth Century, a key influence on the Anglo-Catholics, did not at all disagree with Article 11. They merely pointed out its limitations. Granted that justification is by faith alone, it says nothing about how such faith may be obtained, or granted, or nurtured. For some, as the Exhortation to Communion implies, priestly absolution may be an effective way of strengthening faith. In the Anglo-Catholic tradition it is seen as a sacramental grace tending to build up, or even to confer, a genuine repentance and a saving faith.

The practice of priestly Absolution, within the limits prescribed by the Church of England for its effectiveness (penitent believers) is seen as an aid to faith in those who may feel themselves to be of little faith. There is an Anglican mantra, the source of which I doo not know, regarding private confession: All may, None must and Some Should.

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