A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: Abuses of Confession

This is part 26 of 30 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Augsburg Confession

Article XXV: Of Confession.

1] Confession in the churches is not abolished among us; for it is not usual to give the body of the Lord, except to them that have been previously examined and absolved. And 2] the people are most carefully taught concerning faith in the absolution, about which formerly there 3] was profound silence. Our people are taught that they should highly prize the absolution, as being the voice of God, 4] and pronounced by God’s command. The power of the Keys is set forth in its beauty and they are reminded what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences, also, that God requires faith to believe such absolution as a voice sounding from heaven, and that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins. Aforetime satisfactions were immoderately extolled; 5] of faith and the merit of Christ and the righteousness of faith no mention was made; wherefore, on this point, our churches are by no means to be blamed. For this even our adversaries must needs concede 6] to us that the doctrine concerning repentance has been most diligently treated and laid open by our teachers.

Much regarding Confession has already been discussed in Article XI.  The Reformers focus in this section on the abuses that were fixed.  However, yet again they start with a defense that they have not abolished Confession at all.  For the Reformers, as with their adversaries, it was standard practice to go to Confession prior to Holy Communion.  Regardless of whether its the General Confession at the beginning of the Divine Service or Private Confession, one should examine oneself prior to Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).

Confession is given for our consolation.  So that the Office of the Keys may be exercised and Absolution is given.  We are to be of sure of the Absolution as a voice coming from heaven.  The pastor stands in the stead of Christ. He proclaims Christ and forgiveness as surely as the Father does (Matthew 16:13-20, John 12:20-36).

We are forgiven freely for Christ’s sake.  Satisfactions are not required for the Absolution to be effective. The Roman Catholics focused more on the Satisfactions than on the Absolution.  To the point that it was believed that the Satisfactions were the things that remitted sin.  Instead, Absolution should stand alone as the Gospel delivered to terrified sinners and be freed from any attachment to works, else we too will fall into the same trap.

7] But of Confession they teach that an enumeration of sins is not necessary, and that consciences be not burdened with anxiety to enumerate all sins, for it is impossible to recount all sins, as the Psalm 19:13 testifies: Who can understand his errors? Also Jeremiah 17:9 : 8] The heart is deceitful; who can know it? But if no sins were forgiven, except those that are recounted, 9] consciences could never find peace; for very many sins they neither see 10] nor can remember. The ancient writers also testify that an enumeration is not necessary. For in the Decrees, Chrysostom is quoted, 11] who says thus: I say not to you that you should disclose yourself in public, nor that you accuse yourself before others, but I would have you obey the prophet who says: “Disclose thy way before God.” Therefore confess your sins before God, the true Judge, with prayer. Tell your errors, not with the tongue, but with the memory of your conscience, etc. 12] And the Gloss (Of Repentance, Distinct. V, Cap. Consideret) admits that Confession is of human right only [not commanded by Scripture, but ordained by the Church]. 13] Nevertheless, on account of the great benefit of absolution, and because it is otherwise useful to the conscience, Confession is retained among us.

As previously discussed in Article XI one need not name every sin in Confession as the Roman Catholics required (Psalm 19:12, Jeremiah 17:1-13).  If we had to name all our sins our consciences would never find rest. However, God knows all our sins and pardons them for the sake of Christ.

The form of confession is a human rite; the divine rite is Absolution.  We are to confess our sins to God, but there is no set rite from God.  Therefore a form is not required only that we do it, as such we should not make a false divine law where the Lord has not made one (1 John 1).

The Confutation reiterates its position from Article XI.  Thus the Apology on Article XI is the response to this Article.  As discussed in Article XI, the Confutation agrees with this article but requires confession at least once a year and that all sins be confessed.

1 Savior, when in dust to Thee
Low we bow the adoring knee;
When, repentant, to the skies
Scarce we lift our weeping eyes;
O, by all Thy pains and woe
Suffered once for us below,
Bending from Thy throne on high,
Hear our penitential cry!

2 By Thy helpless infant years,
By Thy life of want and tears,
By Thy days of deep distress
In the savage wilderness,
By the dread, mysterious hour
Of the insulting tempter’s pow’r,
Turn, O turn a fav’ring eye;
Hear our penitential cry!

3 By thine hour of dire despair,
By thine agony of prayer,
By the cross, the nail, the thorn,
Piercing spear, and torturing scorn,
By the gloom that veiled the skies
O’er the dreadful sacrifice,
Listen to our humble sigh;
Hear our penitential cry!

4 By Thy deep expiring groan,
By the sad sepulchral stone,
By the vault whose dark abode
Held in vain the rising God,
O, from earth to heav’n restored,
Mighty, re-ascended Lord,
Bending from Thy throne on high,
Hear our penitential cry!

(LSB 419)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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