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The Early Church Fathers on the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107)
    Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97)
    The Didache, (A.D. 80-90)
    St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163)
    St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)
    St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)
St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107), Syrian; ecclesiastical writer, bishop, martyr. A disciple of St. John, the Apostle; he was bishop of Antioch, in which see he succeeded St. Peter, or, as others think, Evodius. He is supposed to have governed that church for about forty years. He suffered martyrdom at Rome in the year 107.

For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ.

Letter to the Philadelphians 3 [A.D. 110]

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.

Letter to the Philadelphians 8

Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97), Roman; Pope from A.D. 88-97; martyr. That St. Clement was honored by the friendship of the great Apostle, St. Peter, is not doubted. There are good reasons to believe that he was designated by that Apostle as his successor in the see of Rome. The authenticity and genuineness of St. Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians are acknowledged. We learn from Eusebius and from other writers, that it was publicly read in many churches. This second epistle is the oldest extant Christian homily we have attributed to him, (A.D. 150).

Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1432

The Didache, (A.D. 80-90) the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache means "Teaching") is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century.

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . , On the Lord's Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure

Didache 4:14,14:1 [A.D.70]

St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163), Samaritan; born in Sichem (Naplousia) in Palestine; a platonic philosopher, apologist, and martyr for the faith; he was a convert to Catholic Christianity in A.D. 133. He wrote two Apologies for the Christian religion, one addressed to Antoninus, the other to Marcus Aurelius. He was martyred at Rome in the year 163.

You shall judge righteously. You shall not make a schism, but you shall pacify those that contend by bringing them together. You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]

St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

[The Gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women. . . Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between two courses.

Against Heresies 1:22 [A.D. 189]

Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218), North African; ecclesiastical writer, Christian apologist and lawyer, son of a centurion and contemporary of St. Irenæus, a native and citizen of Carthage. The zeal and ability with which he defended the Christian cause, and vindicated its faith and discipline, have immortalized his name, though it has suffered by his adoption, around the year A.D. 200, of some of the Montanist's errors, whose cause he is thought to have supported until his death. His works are numerous, and are written with great ability and erudition, but in an harsh style.

[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness.

Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]

The Church has the power of forgiving sins. This I acknowledge and adjudge.

Repentance 21

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236), Roman; bishop and martyr, probably a scholar of St. Irenæus of Lyons.

[The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your Royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles. . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church, and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command.

Apostolic Tradition 3 [A.D. 215]

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

[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".

Homilies in Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]

"But the Hearers of the Church may, perhaps, say: those of old were almost better dealt with, than we, when sacrifices being offered with divers rites, pardon was granted to sinners.. . . Hear, therefore, now, how many are the remissions of sins in the Gospels.
The first is this, by which we are baptized unto the remission of sins. . . . There is also yet a seventh, although hard and laborious, the remission of sins through penitence, when the sinner "washeth his bed with tears, and his tears become his bread day and night", and when he is not ashamed to declare his sin to the priest of the Lord, and to seek a remedy; according to him who says: "I said, I will confess against myself mine injustice to the Lord, and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my heart." (Psalm 31:5) In which that also is fulfilled, which the Apostle James says: "But if any one is sick amongst you, let him call the priests of the Church."(St. James 5:14)

T. ii. Hom. ii. in Levit. n. 4, pp. 190-1.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 45


Confession is the disclosing of sins which the penitent makes to a priest. This obligation evidently follows from the words of Christ, when He instituted the sacrament of penance:

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

There are three essential parts to the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation:

  1. Contrition
  2. Confession, and
  3. Penance, also known as Satisfaction.

It's very important to note: When we confess to a priest, we are actually confessing to Jesus Himself, who is "in the person of Christ, the man". If you need help understanding this Ask Us.



The Church's Scriptures that support Confession to priests of the Church:


Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to St. Peter

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven."

Matthew 16:19

Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to the Apostles who are in union with St. Peter.

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

Matthew 18:18

Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to forgive sins to His Apostles.

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 20:21-23

The Prayer of Faith.

13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.


James 5:13-15

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves but if we confess our sins.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-9

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