Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Does The Anglican Church Teach Confession?


A Reply By Twenty Five Of Her Bishops And Doctors

ABOUT forty years ago the Rev. E. B. Pusey, one of the profoundest scholars of his day, made a study of Reformation and post-Reformation Anglican authorities to prove their position on the above question. The following statements are taken from Dr. Pusey's preface to Gaume's "Manual for Confessors."

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Reformer: "Let him that is a sinner go to one of them [priests of the church], let him acknowledge and confess his sin, and pray him that, according to God's command­ment, he will give him Absolution."

Bishop Ridley, Bishop of London and Reformer, says of Confession to a priest: "I ever thought it might do much good to Christ's congregation."

Bishop Latimer, Bishop of Worcester and Reformer: "To speak of right and true Confession, I would to God it were kept in England; for it is a good thing."

Thomas Becon, an early Reformer of Puritan ten­dencies, says: "Why auricular Confession should be con­demned and exiled from the bounds of Christendom, I see no cause; but that it should be approved, retained, main­tained, and used, I find causes many, yea, and these right urgent and necessary."

William Turner, Dean of Wells Cathedral, a puritanizing Reformer, says: "We do not utterly forsake auric­ular or ear Confession." "Let the Bishops," he adds, "ap­point learned men to hear Confessions, and not blockheads, and then the people shall come to the priests by heaps and swarms."

Bishop Cosin, of Durham, in his "Collection of Private Devotions," lays down as one of the Precepts of the Church to communicate at stated times, and adds: "For better preparation thereunto, as occasion is, to disburthen and quiet our consciences of those sins that may grieve us, or scruples that may trouble us, to a learned and discreet priest, and from him to receive advice and the benefit of Abso­lution."

Bishop Overall (one of the Compilers of the Prayer-Book and authors of the Church Catechism), says of mortal sin: "We require Confession of it to a priest, who may give him, upon his true contrition and repentance the bene­fit of Absolution." Also in his Visitation Articles in 1619 he required his clergy to warn anyone with a troubled conscience to "open his grief" that "he may receive the benefit of Absolution."

The same requirement was made by Cosin in 1627: by Bishop Andrewes of Winchester in 1629: by Bishop Montague of Norwich in 1638: by Bishop Lindsell of Peterborough in 1633; by Bishop Dee of Peterborough in 1636: by Bishop Duppa of Chichester in 1638: by Bishop Juxon of London in 1640: by Bishop Wrenn of Norwich in 1662: by Bishop Fuller of Lincoln in 1668: by Bishop Gunning of Ely in 1679: and by Archdeacons Kent, and Pory, in 1631 and 1662.

Bishop Andrewes, of Winchester: In his MS. Notes on the Prayer-Book Exhortation, he says: "It is most ex­pedient that this be read to induce the people that they be­think themselves of the sovereign benefit of Absolution by this penitent Confession."

Bishop Sparrow of Norwich: "He that would be sure of pardon, let him seek out a priest and make his humble Confession to him."

Bishop Montague of Norwich: "Private Confession unto a priest is a very ancient practice in the Church, of excellent use and practice, being discreetly handled. We refuse it to none, if men require it, if need be to have it. We urge it and persuade it in extremes. We require it in case of perplexity."

Archbishop Ussher on being accused of being op­posed to Confession, treated the charge as a calumny, and quoted the Prayer-Book, "whereby," he said, "it appeareth that the exhortation of the people to confess their sins unto their ghostly fathers maketh no such wall of separation betwixt the ancient doctors and us."

Bishop Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Conner and Down:"Confession to a priest . . . is of so great use and benefit to all that are heavy laden with their sins, that they who carelessly and causelessly neglect it, are neither lovers of the peace of consciences, nor are careful for the advan­tage of their souls."

Dr. Crakanthorp was one of the strongest and most famous of Anglican controversialists. He says: "As to auricular Confession being abrogated among us, thou [his Roman opponent] dealest artfully and deceitfully. Private Confession, whereby any disburdens to the bosom, or, if thou willest, the ear of the priest . . , our Church both teaches and approves."

Bishop Berkeley, after whom the Berkeley Divinity School is named, in 1741 says of Confession: "It may be had in our Communion by any who please to have it; and, I admit it, may be very usefully practiced."

To Dr. Pusey's list we may add the name of Dr. Winnington Ingram, the present Bishop of London (1920), well known and beloved in America. While inveighing against the ideal of compulsory Penance, as do we all, he says: "Those who say that auricular Confession is not allowed in the Church of England, say so simply in the teeth of the direct statement of the Prayer-Book." (Church Times, March 24th, 1911.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A lucid and concise statement of the place of personal, private confession in the Church of England - and also, I believe, in the Church of Ireland, likewise a member church of the Anglican Communion - can be found in documents given at :

The focus there is upon what is explicitly ordered and permitted in the Book of Common Prayer, in association with the sacrament of Holy Communion and the Office of the Visitation of the Sick; and in what may (in the authors'/signatories' views) be taken by logical inference from and extension of them.

It is contended by these authors and signatories that the specific permitting of private, personal confession to be found in these two places in the BCP permits a much more general use of confession between individuals and priests, all of the latter being deemed by their Orders to be "discreet and learned ministers of God's Word".

The arguments advanced by these authors and signatories seem wholly in accord with the statements of the various 16th and 17th century Anglican divines cited and quoted in your piece.

It is noteworthy that the undertaking of such confessions, and the priests' pronouncing of absolution following them, are specifically NOT accorded any sacramental significance or 'compulsory' status whatsoever, thus distinguishing such occasional, 'as felt individually necessary'confessions within the Anglican obedience from those of the Roman Catholic Church, which attaches formal sacramental status to regular personal confessions and makes them an absolute requirement of the faithful.

The present commentator was first made specifically aware in the early 1970s of this Anglican position on personal, occasional confession by the late Rev. Canon J. Gough Meisser and also by his late father, the Ven. Alfred McKelvie, both senior priests of the Church of Ireland.

Colin McKelvie
County Down
Northern Ireland

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