Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Church Society: Private Confession and the English Reformers

Issues Doctrine Private Confession

Church Society: Private Confession

Also known as Auricular Confession

This article is prompted by at a statement in the 1995 report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission entitled "Life in Christ".

In section 46 of Life in Christ it states:

The Reformers' emphasis on the direct access of the sinner to the forgiving and sustaining Word of God led Anglicans to reject the view that private confession before a priest was obligatory, although they continued to maintain that it was a wholesome means of grace, and made provision for it in the Book of Common Prayer for those with an unquiet and sorely troubled conscience.

This is misleading, and apparently deliberately so. As anyone with an understanding of the history of the Church of England will know the English Reformers did not simply set out a better way but totally rejected the medieval practice of private or auricular confession believing it to be an abuse. The reason that the report is misleading is because it fails to point out that the context of this confession is the service for the Visitation of the Sick. Such a confession would be private only because it takes place in the person's home (or hospital these days) because that person is unable to be present at the public meeting of the church for public confession. No provision is made for any other situation.

It is also misleading to describe private confession as a means of grace. That is part of the medieval sacramentalist teaching of the Roman Church which was all part of its abuses and still persists today. Private confession is not a sacrament and Anglicans explicitly reject the idea that it is.

Of course if someone has a troubled conscience they may want to seek help and comfort from a fellow believer, but that person does not need to be a minister.

Our authorized book of Homilies state:

It is most evident and plain, that this auricular confession hath not its warrant of God's word.

Whilst John Sharp a former Archbishop of York wrote:

"Could they produce but one text of the Bible to prove this Auricular Sacramental Confession of Sins to a Priest was recommended by our Lord or his Apostles, or that it was practised by any Christian, either of the clergy or laity, or so much as mentioned by the holy men of that time, something might be said. But this they cannot do, and therefore to impose their doctrine on all the Christian world is most intolerable."—

And former Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson wrote:

"… the necessity of confessing our Sins to Men (that is to the priest), in order to the forgiveness of them, is a great point of difference between us and the Church of Rome, it being by them esteemed a necessary Article of Faith, but by us, so far from being necessary to be believed, that we do not believe it to be true."


  • Homily on Repentance (No 32) Part 2
  • Sharp - Dis. on Prov. xxviii. 13. Rat. Def. Dis. xviii. p. 249.
  • Tillotson - Sermon cvi. Works, vol. ii. p. 8. London, 1712.

The latter two are quoted from Voices of the Church of England on Auricular Confession - Church Association Tract 27

David Phillips, July 2009

Note from Charlie J. Ray:

It has been pointed out to me that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer did allow for private confession for those who had fallen into grievous sins after baptism and were now struggling with the assurance of their justification even after they had repented. Cranmer says the following in his Catechism of 1549:

Now the sum of the commission which Christ gave to his disciples was this, that they should preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name: and he added thereto both a promise and a threatening, saying, " He that will believe and be baptized shall be saved, but he that will not believe shall be damned." Wherefore all things which the ministers of the church do say or do to us, ought to be directed to this end, that they may loose us, and declare unto us the forgiveness of our sins, when we truly repent and believe in Christ. But when we do not repent us of our sin, and forsake the same, or do not believe the Gospel, then they ought to bind or reserve sin, and to declare unto us, that if we still continue in sin, we shall be damned for ever. And when the ministers do thus execute their commission, then they obey God, and whose sins soever they forgive in earth, their sins be forgiven in heaven also: and contrariwise, whomsoever they bind in earth, their sins be bound also in heaven.

But if the ministers would enterprise to do contrary to their commission, that is to say, to forgive sins to unrepentant sinners and unbelievers; or to bind their sins, and deny them absolution that be repentant and trust in the mercy of God; then they should not do well, nor their act should be of any force, but they should deceive themselves and others also: and then should that be true that Christ speaketh in the Gospel, "When the blind leadeth the blind, both fall into the ditch." But when the ministers do truly execute their office, you ought, good children, to take great comfort, and to confirm your faith thereby, that you may stedfastly believe, and in all temptations answer your adversary the devil after this manner: God hath sent to me one of his ministers; he in the name and place of God hath declared to me the forgiveness of my sins, and hath baptized me in the assurance of the same: wherefore I doubt not but that my sins be forgiven, and that I am made the son and heir of God. Thus, good children, you ought generally in all temptations to fortify your faith, and to comfort yourselves with the authority of God's word; but specially you shall learn this also, that our Lord Jesus Christ did intend, by this authority of the keys, to comfort the troubled consciences of them, that, after their baptism, do fall into heinous offences.

For it is not so easy a thing to rise again from sin, as the mad and blind world do think; but when the devil and our faith shall skirmish together, then, in those straits and troubles of conscience, we have need of the help of some true minister of the church, which (as it were in our swooning) may lift us up with the word of God, comfort, and refresh us. As the wise King Solomon doth declare by this sentence : "Woe to the man which is alone, for when he falleth, he hath no man to lift him up again." And our Lord Jesus Christ doth speak so oftentimes in the Gospel of the authority of the keys, and hath added so great promises to the same, that it may well appear, by the earnestness of Christ's words, how careful he was for troubled consciences, and how fatherly an affection he had to comfort the same. Wherefore it undoubtedly followeth, that we have great need of this comfort, and that it is much to be esteemed and set by. For first of all, our Saviour Christ, before he gave these keys indeed, he promised to Peter that he would give them, saying, "I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be also loosed in heaven."

Secondarily, Christ doth teach us how we shall use these keys, both in open and in secret sins. Of the use of the keys in open sins Christ speaketh these words: "If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between him and thee alone. If he hear thee, thou hast won thy brother: but if he hear thee not, then take yet with thee one or two, that upon the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. If he hear not them, tell it unto the congregation: if he hear not the congregation, let him be unto thee as an heathen and publican, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." And of the use of the keys in privy and secret sins, our Saviour Christ hath taught us by his own deed and example. For to the man that was sick of the palsy, Christ said thus: "Son, conceive a stedfast faith, thy sins be forgiven thee." And as touching binding of sins, he said to the hard-hearted and stubborn Jews, "If you were blind, you should have no sin: but now because you say you see, your sin abideth still," that is to say, it is not forgiven.

Thirdly, our Saviour Christ, after his resurrection, gave the keys to his Apostles (as before he had promised), breathing upon them and saying, " Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven." Now forasmuch as our Saviour Christ, in giving the keys, did promise us so great comfort, did so diligently teach the use of them, and did so faithfully and lovingly ordain and command them, and put them (as it were) into the hands of his Apostles and their successors, we ought in no wise to despise this great authority which God hath given unto men, but thankfully to use it. For know this for a surety, good children, that it is a very great offence against God, little to care for his great gifts and benefits. Therefore when we fall again to great sins after that we are once baptized, we ought not to walk in a certain retchlessness*, thinking that our sins be forgiven us, only because God is merciful. (For this opinion or wavering imagination is more weak and feeble than that in the fear and battle of the conscience, it is able to stand against the violent force and crafty assaults of the devil.) But in this fight between our conscience and the devil our great trust and comfort is the sure word and work of God, which may ascertain us that our sins are forgiven, that is to say, when we obtain forgiveness of our sins and absolution of the ministers of the church, to whom Christ hath delivered the keys, and hath promised, saying, " Whose sins ye shall forgive in earth, their sins be forgiven in heaven also."

[* or, recklessness].
In short, Cranmer's view of absolution as a sacrament has to do with Gospel repentance and Gospel assurance and absolutely nothing to do with the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance as a sacrament, meriting forgiveness by doing penances and good works, etc. This should be abundantly clear from the larger context of the sermon on baptism.


The Fourth Sunday after Trinity.
The Collect.
O GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen.

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