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The Early Church Fathers on Contrition for ones sins.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)

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.

"For all sins, therefore, whether committed in the flesh or in the spirit, whether by deed or will. He who has appointed punishment through condemnation, has also promised forgiveness through penitence, saying unto the people: Be penitent, and I will make thee whole. And again, "I live, saith the Lord, and I will have penitence rather than death." Wherefore penitence is life, seeing that it is preferred before death. To this penitence do thou, O sinner, like unto myself, (yea, less than myself, for I acknowledge my superiority in sinfulness) so press, so embrace it, as does the shipwrecked the protection of some plank. This shall hold thee up, when plunged in the waves of sin, and shall bring thee onwards to the haven of divine mercy."

"How foolish, how unjust, not to fulfill penitence, and to expect the pardon of sins; this is, not to pay the price, and yet to stretch forth the hand for the merchandise. For at this price the Lord hath determined to grant His forgiveness: by this compensation of penitence He proposes that freedom from punishment is to be repurchased. If, therefore, those who sell, first examine the money which they covenant to receive, lest it be cut, or scraped, or of false metal, we believe that the Lord also will first test our penitence when about to grant us go great a reward, to wit, that of everlasting life. But, thou wilt say, "Let us put off our actual penitence until that time." It shall then, I suppose, be seen that we are amended, when we are absolved. By no means. But it must be when, pending the pardon, punishment is before our eyes. When we have not yet merited to be delivered, that we may be able to merit it."

De Paenit. n. 6, p. 122.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 26-27

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

"The chains of sins are bonds which are burst asunder, not only by means of divine baptism, but also by martyrdom for Christ, and by tears which flow from penitence."

T. ii. Select, in Psalm 115. p. 792, 790;
Also T. iv. L. ii. in Ep. ad Romans n. 1, p. 476.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 2



What is required in this contrition or sorrow, is,

    • that it be interior, that is, that it spring from the heart, penetrated by the consciousness of guilt:
    • that it be supernatural, that is, that it arise from grace or the influence of the divine Spirit on the soul, and not from considerations merely human:
    • that it be supreme, that is, above all other grief:
    • that it be universal, that is, that it include every grievous sin of which the sinner has been guilty: and
    • that it contain a firm purpose of amendment, without which no sorrow can be real.


The Church's Scriptures that support Contrition are:


Repentance and contrition that includes exterior acts of satisfaction

6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief, it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil; for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and sorely troubled; they shall turn back, and be put to shame in a moment.

(Psalms 6:6-10)

It always implies a recognition of wrong done to God, a detestation of the evil wrought, and a desire to turn from evil and do good.

51 1 <To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to> after he had gone in to Bathsheba.> Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
16 For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar.

(Psalms 51:1-19)


11 "I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live."


(Ezekiel 33:11)

The Sign of Jonah

41 The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.


(Matthew 12:41)

Repent or Perish

13 1 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? 3 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."


(Luke 13:1-5)

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry. 25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'


(Luke 15:11-32)

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."


(Luke 18:9-14)

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