Augsburg Confession, Article 25: Confession

Paris psaulter (610x352)The Augsburg Confession earlier covered the topic of Confession in Article 11. However, in Article 11, the focus was on absolution, not on confession itself. The purpose of this article was to show how highly Lutherans value Private Confession.  

This article also explains the abuses that the Lutheran churches have eliminated from the practice of confession. Although the Lutheran Reformers did not require those confessing their sins to list every sin they had committed, they did require Confession before receiving the Lord’s Supper. After citing Scripture, to show that no one can list all of his sins, the Augsburg Confession then citec the Church Fathers.


AC XXV: Confession

[Private] Confession has not been abolished in our churches. The Body of Christ is not usually given to those who have not been previously examined and absolved. The people are also most-diligently taught to have faith in the Word of Absolution, before of which there was a deep silence [within the Roman-Catholic Church]. People are taught that they should dearly prize the Absolution because it is the voice of God and is pronounced following the command of God. The power of the keys [Matthew 16:19] is set forth in its beauty. The people are reminded what great comfort it brings to anxious consciences and that God requires faith to believe such Absolution as God’s own voice resounding from heaven [John 12:28-30]. The people are taught that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins. Before, satisfactions were praised without restraint, but little was said about faith, the merits of Christ, or the righteousness of faith. On this point, our churches can scarcely be faulted. For even our adversaries have to concede that our teachers have diligently taught the doctrine of repentance and brought it to light.

What is more, our churches teach that being able to name every sin is not necessary and that consciences should not be burdened with the anxiety of having to list every sin. It is impossible to recite every misdeed, as Psalm 19:12 testifies: “Who understands his errors.” And Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than anything else is. It is incurable.” For if only sins that can be named are forgiven, consciences could never find peace, because many sins cannot be seen or remembered. The ancient writers also testify that such a listing of sins is not necessary. Chrysostom is quoted in the canons saying: “I do not say that you make your sins known in public or that you should accuse yourself before others. But I would have you obey the prophet who says, ‘reveal you ways before the Lord’ [Psalm 37:5]. Therefore, confess your sins to God, the true Judge, with prayer. Declare your sins, not with the tongue, but with the memory of your conscience.” The marginal note in Concerning Confession (dist 5, chap., “Consider”) admits that Confession is of human right only. Nevertheless, because of the great benefit of Absolution, and because of otherwise useful to the conscience, Confession is retained among us.

  • According to this article, what is the most-important part of Confession?


Rome’s Response

As to Confession, we must adhere to the reply and judgment given above in Article 11.

This was how the Roman Catholic Church’s responded to AC 11:

Nevertheless, two things must here be required of them:

–          one, that they compel an annual confession to be kept by their subjects . . .

–          that . . . a diligent examination of their conscience being made, they make an entire confession of their offenses, that is, of all which occur to their memory in such investigation.

For the support which they claim from Chrysostom is false . . . In his tenth homily on Matthew, Chrysostom teaches about a fixed time for Confession. He says that after the wounds of crimes have been opened, they should be healed, penance intervening. But how will crimes lie open if they are not disclosed to the priest in Confession?… It is true: a full confession is not necessary for salvation. However, it [the Lutheran understanding] strains Christian discipline and obedience, so they must be admonished to conform to the orthodox Church. According to Jerome, theirs is the heresy of the Montanists, who were condemned over 1200 years ago because they were ashamed to confess their sins. 

  • How are we to understand Rome’s response, “It is true: a full confession is not necessary for salvation”?


  • According to the Roman-Catholic Church, were Lutherans “ashamed to confess their sins”?


Excursus: How Private Confession Died in the Lutheran Church

“The Body of Christ is not usually given to those who have not been previously examined and absolved.”

While Luther was absent from Wittenberg after the Diet of Worms in 1521 (in hiding for his protection), Carlstadt had tried to abolish the practice of confession as completely unnecessary. When Luther returned, he reinstated the practice.

When Johannes Bugenhagen became parish pastor in Wittenberg in 1523, reinstated introduced the practice of going to confession before communing. As long as the whole congregation lived within easy walking distance of the church this practice was not hard to maintain.

However, in the 16th century, this practice began to weaken. At one time, the custom was adopted of holding a special “Confessional Service” before Divine Service for those who wished to commune. It was from this practice where the confession and absolution was eventually incorporated into the Preparatory Service for the whole congregation before the beginning of the Divine Service.

Other ways to help keep this practice was to “announce” one’s intention to commune. This announcement was also to be a time to confess sins and receive absolution. However, this “announcing” for communion evolved into only announcing one’s intention to commune. Many here probably remember this practice of “announcing before communion.”

This announcing to commune was later transferred to making such an announcement on a card the Sunday before receiving communion. This evolved into the communion cards we have today.



  • Does our current-day practice carry out faithfully what our Confessions state?


  • As a Lutheran, were you ever before taught what you are learning now?


  • Why or why not do you think this is the case?


  • Is our current practice wrong or not as right as it should be?


Scripture and the Church Fathers list 9 kinds of confession (condensed from Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, pages 589-619):

  1. A confession that is heard by God alone (Ps. 32:3, 5; 1 John 1:9; Prov. 28:13; Lev. 16:21; Deut. 9:3-19; Psalms 19, 25, 51).
  2.  A confession made to a neighbor against whom one has sinned (Luke 17:4; James 5:16; Matt. 5:23-24; 6:15; 18:18).
  3. A general confession of sins. A sinner makes confession not only inwardly to God, but also outwardly before the pastor, and receives absolution, without listing the circumstances of each sin (2 Sam. 12:13; Ps. 51:5, 9; Neh. 8 and 9; Luke 7:37, 38; Matt. 9:2; Acts 19:4-5; 19:18; Luke 19:8-10; 15:21).
  4. In the ancient church, those found guilty of public misdeeds, and punished with excommunication, had to confess their sins publicly, in harmony with examples from Scripture (Luke 7:37-50; 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; 7:8-12; Josh. 7:18-21). But this applied only to public sins, and did not involve naming “secret” sins.
  5. When unusual crimes had been committed, which were not publicly known, such sinners were counseled first to confess to the priest [pastor] and seek his advice before deciding to make the confession public (so the evil won’t mock the penitent, Psalm 37).
  6. Later, by the time of Pope Leo the Great (Pope, 440-61), confession was changed to something private. The priest, without revealing the sin to the whole church, would impose a public penitence.
  7. In the Eastern-Orthodox churches, this public confession was changed to Private Confession long before Leo. One reason was the attitude of some in the congregation not to grant absolution to those who had lapsed in time of persecution. They were encouraged to confess their sin to pastor, who was bound by oath to keep his mouth shut.
  8. Later, in the Roman Church, even the practice of imposing public satisfaction, after Private Confession, became obsolete. This eventually led to the later practice of confession in the Church of Rome today.
  9. The Church Fathers also make many statements to encourage the people to confess other sins to their pastor. The reasons for this were: to understand better the true nature of sin, for the sake of counsel to help prevent future sins in a specific area, for comfort, and to show to the sinner that he is truly deserving of absolution because of Jesus Christ.



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