4. Penitence

image of ancient crossPenitence
(Taken from McClintock and Strong’s “ Cyclopedia”)
in the Christian Church, is an initiation of the discipline of the Jewish synagogue, or, rather, it is a continuation of the same institution. Excommunication in the Christian Church is essentially the same as expulsion from the synagogue of the Jews; and the penances of the offender, required for his restoration to his former condition, were not materially different in the Jewish and Christian churches. The principal point of distinction consisted in this, that the sentence of excommunication affected the civil relations of the offender under the Jewish economy; but in the Christian Church it affected only his relations to that body. Neither the spirit of the primitive institutions of the Church, nor its situation, or constitution in the first three centuries, was at all compatible with the intermingling or confounding of civil and religious privileges or penalties. The act of excommunication was at first an exclusion of the offender from the Lord’s Supper and from the agapae. The term itself implies separation from the communion. The practice was derived from the injunction of the apostle (1Co 5:11): “With such a one no not to eat.” From the context, and from 1Co 10:16-18; 1Co 11:20-34, it clearly appears that the apostle refers, not to common meals and the ordinary intercourse of life, but to these religious festivals. Examples of penitence or repentance occur in the Old Testament; neither are there wanting instances, not merely of individuals, but of a whole city or people, performing acts of penitence- fasting, mourning, etc. (Nehemiah 9 and Jonah 3). But these acts of humiliation were essentially different, in their relations to individuals, from Christian penance. We have, however, in the New Testament an instance of the excommunication of an offending member, and of his restoration to the fellowship of the Church by penance, agreeably to the authority of Paul (1Co 5:1-8; 2Co 2:5; 2Co 2:11). This sentence of exclusion from the Church was pronounced by the assembled body, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. By this sentence the offender was separated from the people of the Lord, with whom he had been joined by baptism, and was reduced to his former condition as a heathen man, subject to the power of Satan and of evil spirits. This is perhaps, the true import of delivering such a one up to Satan.
A similar act of excommunication is described briefly in 1Co 16:22 : “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” The μαρὰν ἀθά corresponds in sense with the Hebrew חרם, and denotes a thing devoted to utter destruction. It is only the SyroChaldaic מרנא אתה expressed in the Greek character, and means, “The Lord cometh.” The whole sentence implies that the Church leaves the subject of it to the Lord, who cometh to execute judgment upon him. All that the apostle requires of the Corinthians is that they should exclude him from their communion and fellowship, so that he should no longer be regarded as one of their body. He pronounces no further judgment upon the offender, but leaves him to the judgment of God. “What have I to do to judge them that are without?” (1Co 16:12), i.e. those who are not Christians, to which class the excommunicated person would belong. “Do not ye judge them that are within?” i.e. full members of the Church. But them that are without God judgeth; or, rather, will judge, κρινεῖ, as the reading should be. It appears from 2Co 2:1-11, that the Church had not restored such to the privileges of communion, but was willing to do so, and that the apostle very gladly authorized the measure. It is important to remark that in the primitive Church penance related only to such as had been excluded from the communion of the Church. Its immediate object was, not the forgiveness of the offender’by the Lord God, but his reconciliation with the Church. It could, therefore, relate only to open and scandalous offenses. De occultis non judicat ecclesia — the Church takes no cognizance of secret sins — was an ancient maxim of the Church. The early fathers say expressly that the Church offers pardon only for offenses committed against her.
The forgiveness of all sin she refers to God himself. “Omnia autem,” says Cyprian (Ep. 55), “remissimus Deo omnipotenti, in clujus potestate sunt omnia reservata.” Such are the concurring sentiments of most of the early writers on this subject. It was reserved for a later age to confound these important distinctions, and to arrogate to the Church the prerogative of forgiving sins. The readmission of penitents into the Church was the subject of frequent controversy with the early fathers and ancient religious sects. Some contended that those who had once been excluded from the Church for their crimes ought never again to be received to her fellowship and communion. But the Church generally was disposed to exercise a more charitable and forgiving spirit. During the severe persecutions which the Christians suffered in the early ages of the Gospel, many, through fear of tortures and death, apostatized from the faith. It frequently happened, after the danger was past, that these persons were desirous of returning to communion with the Church; but they were not readmitted to communion until they had made a public confession of their offense. In this manner confession began to be a part of ecclesiastical discipline; and being thus, in the first instance, applied to a crime of a public nature, it was afterwards extended to private sin. Besides the shame of public confession, the offending party was compelled to submit to public reproof, to acts of penance, to exclusion from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and to the temporary suspension of all the privileges of a Christian.
During the 4th and 5th centuries numerous councils were held for regulating the nature and duration of ecclesiastical censures, and for settling the degree of discretionary power to be vested in bishops for the purpose of relaxing and shortening them, according to the circumstances of the case. As public confession was soon found to be attended with many inconveniences, offenders were permitted to confess their sins privately, either to the bishops themselves or to priests deputed by them to hear such confessions. When the punishment, which was still public, though the sin remained secret, was finished, the penitent was formally received into the Church by prayer and imposition of hands. In the 5th century public penance was submitted to with difficulty and reluctance; and it was thought expedient to allow penance, in certain cases, to be performed in monasteries, or in some private place, before a small select number of persons. This private penance was gradually extended to more and more cases; and before the end of the 7th century the practice of public penance for private sins was entirely abolished. Strenuous opposition was made to this at first, but the laxer custom prevailed. About the end of the 8th century penance began to be commuted: in the room of the ancient severities, prayers, masses, and alms were substituted; and in process of time the clergy of the Romish Church gained such an ascendency over the minds of the people as to persuade them that it was their duty to confess all their sins, however private or heinous, to the priests, who had power to prescribe the conditions of absolution (q.v.).
The nature and origin of private penance is a subject of controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants; the former contending that it had existed from the first, and that it held the same place even in the ages of public penance for secret sins which the public penance did for public offenses. At all events, from the date of the cessation of the public discipline, it has existed universally in the Roman Church. (See below.) According to Protestants, penance has no countenance whatever from Scripture, and is contrary to some of the most essential principles of the Christian religion; particularly to the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone, on the ground of his complete or “finished” work; penance being, in fact, founded on a doctrine of at least supplementary atonement by the works or sufferings of man — the sinner himself. The outward expressions of humiliation, sorrow, and repentance common under the Jewish dispensation, are regarded as very consistent with the character of that dispensation, in which so many symbols were employed. It is also held that the self-inflicted austerities, as fasting, sackcloth and ashes, etc., of Jewish and earliest Christian times, had for their sole purpose the mortification of unholy lusts and sinful passions, in the people of God; or the expression of sorrow for sin, so that others beholding might be warned of its evil and restrained from it; all which is perfectly consistent with the principles of Christianity, if kept within the bounds of moderation and discretion. But penance in any other view, as a personal exercise, is utterly rejected. Arguments founded on the meaning of the two Greek words μετανοέω and μεταμέλομαι, both translated in our English version repent, are much urged by many Roman Catholic controversialists, the former being represented as equivalent to the English do penance; but this is condemned by Protestants as inconsistent with the very use of the words in the New Testament itself. That penance began, as a practice, very early in the Christian Church, is not only admitted by Protestants, but is alleged in proof of the very early growth of those corruptions which finally developed themselves in the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and of which Protestants also hold that there are plain intimations in the New Testament, not only prophetical, but showing the development of their germs to have already begun during the age of the apostles.
In the Romish Church penance is affirmed to be “truly and properly a sacrament, instituted by Christ our Lord, for the benefit of the faithful, to reconcile them to God as often as they shall fall into sin after baptism” (Council of Trent, sess. 14, can. i). To receive this sacrament three things are necessary: first, sorrow for sins committed, along with a purpose to commit them no more; secondly, an entire confession of all the sins committed; thirdly, the performance of the penance enjoined by the confessor. By penance, as ordinarily employed, at least in Protestant literature, is meant not the entire sacrament, but the satisfaction or the doing of the penance imposed by the priest after confession. According to Roman theology, by the atonement of Christ and the absolution of the confessor only the eternal punishment of sin is remitted. Where the penitent has intense contrition the temporal punishment is also remitted. But ordinarily the temporal penalties remain to be suffered either in this life or in purgatory. “Whoever,” says the Council of Trent, “shall affirm that the entire punishment is always remitted by God, together with the fault, and therefore that penitents need no other satisfaction than faith, whereby they apprehend Christ who has made satisfaction for them, let him be accursed.” Penance, accordingly, is imposed upon the sinner, not only to atone for the punishment due, but also to cure the bad effects left by sin. If penance be not performed in this life, the penalties remain to be suffered in purgatory (q.v.), unless they are remitted by indulgence (q.v.). Besides fasting, alms, abstinence, which are the general conditions of penance in the Romish Church, there are others of a more particular kind, such as the repeating of a certain number of Ave Marias, paternosters, and credos, the wearing of hair shirts, self-flagellation, etc. The acts of the penitent are stated to be the matter, as it were (quasi materia), of this sacrament, the form of which resides in the words of absolution (Ibid. sess. 14, cap. 3). The following is the manner in which public penance is inflicted in the Romish Church, according to Gratian (Decret. pars i, Dist. 1, c. 64, p. 290, Paris, 1612):
“On the first day of Lent the penitents present themselves before the bishop, clad in sackcloth, with naked feet, and eyes cast down on the ground. This was to be done in the presence of the principal clergy of the diocese, by whom the penitents were introduced into the church, where the bishop, weeping, and the rest of the clergy repeated the seven penitential psalms. Then, rising from prayers, they threw ashes upon the penitents, and covered their heads with sackcloth, declaring to them, with mournful sighs, that as Adam was ejected from Paradise, so must they be turned out of the Church. The bishop then commanded the officers to turn them out of the church doors; and all the clergy followed after, repeating the curse pronounced upon Adam: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’ (Gen 3:19). A similar penance was inflicted upon them the next time the sacrament was administered, which was the Sunday following. All this was done to the end that the penitents, observing in how great a disorder the Church was by reason of their crimes, should not lightly esteem of penance.”
In the Roman Catholic so-called Douai version of the Scriptures the term penance is generally substituted for repentance. Thus, e.g. “Except ye repent,” etc., is rendered “Except ye do penance;” and in Mat 2:2 we have not n” Repent,” but “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;” and again in Mar 1:4 : “John was in the desert baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins.”
Dens, in his System of Divinity, divides penances into three classes: vindictive, medicinal or curative, and preservative. All satisfactory works he regards as included under the three kinds-prayer, fasting, and alms. “The following,” says this Romish divine, “can be enjoined under the head of prayer once, or oftener, either for many days or weeks, namely:
1. To say five paternosters and five Ave Marias, in memory of the five wounds of Christ, either with bended knees or outstretched arms, or before a crucifix.
2. To recite the rosary, or Litanies of the blessed Virgin Mary, or of the saints. etc.
3. To read the psalm Miserere, or the seven penitential psalms.
4. To hear mass, or praises. or preaching.
5. To read a chapter in Thomas a Kempis.
6. To visit churches, to pray before the tabernacle.
7. At stated hours, in the morning, evening, during the day, or as often as they hear the sound of the clock, to renew orally or in the heart ejaculatory prayers, acts of contrition or charity, such as ‘I love thee, O Lord, above all things;’ I detest all my sins: I am resolved to sin no more;’ ‘O Jesus, crucified for me, have mercy on me,’ etc
8. At an appointed day to confess again, or, at any rate, to return to the confessor. To fasting may be referred whatever pertains to the mortification of the body, so that a perfect or partial fast can be enjoined.
(1) Let him fast (feria sexta) on the sixth holy day, or oftener.
(2) Let him fast only to the middle of the day.
(3) Let him not drink before noon, or in the afternoon, unless at dinner or supper, though he may be thirsty; let him abstain from wine and from cerevisia forti.
(4) Let him eat less, and take in the evening only half the quantity.
(5) Let him rise earlier from bed; let him kneel frequently and for a long period; let him suffer cold, observe silence for a certain time, and abstain from sports and recreations, etc.
To alms is referred whatever may be expended for the benefit of our neighbor. (1) To give money, clothes, food, etc. (2) To furnish personal assistance, to wait on the sick, to pray for the conversion of sinners, etc., and other works of mercy, whether corporeal or spiritual.”
As we have just seen, the Church of Rome affirms “penance” to be a “sacrament,” instituted by Christ himself, and secret “confession” to be one of its constituent parts, instituted by the divine law; and she anathematizes those who contradict her: the Church of England denies “penance” to be a sacrament of the Gospel, affirms it to have “grown of the corrupt following of the apostles,” and “not to have” the proper “nature of a sacrament,” as “not having any visible sign or ceremony ordained by God,” and of course denies the ‘ sacramental character of “confession.” The Church of Rome pronounces that, by the divine law, “all persons” must confess their sins to the priest: the Church of England limits her provisions for confession to “sick persons.” The Church of Rome pronounces that all persons are “bound” to confess; the Church of England directs that the sick “be moved” to make confession. The Church of Rome insists upon a confession of “all sins whatsoever;” the Church of England recommends “a special confession of sins.” if the sick person “feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter.” The Church of Rome represents penance as instituted for reconciling penitents to God “as often as they fall into sin after baptism,” and imposes confession “once a year;” the Church of England advises it on a peculiar occasion.
The purpose of the Church of England in so advising it evidently is the special relief of a troubled conscience; whereas the Church of Rome pronounces it to be “necessary to forgiveness of sin and to salvation;” and denounces with an anathema “any one who shall say that confession is only useful for the instruction and consolation of the penitent.” Penance, then, according to the ecclesiastical law of England, is a punishment affecting the body of the delinquent, by which he is obliged to give a public satisfaction to the Church for the scandal he has given by his example. Instead of the ancient discipline practiced against offenders, the United Church of England and Ireland at present contents herself with an office “called a commination or denouncing of God’s anger and judgments against sinners,” which is annually read on Ash-Wednesday after the morning service. In case of incest or of incontinency, the offending party is usually enjoined to do a public penance in the cathedral or parish church, or in the public market, barelegged and bareheaded, in a white sheet, and to make an open confession of his crime in a prescribed form of words. This penance is augmented or moderated according to the quality of the fault and the discretion of the judge. In smaller faults and scandals a public satisfaction or penance, as the judge of the ecclesiastical court shall decree, is to be made before the minister, churchwardens, or some of the parishioners, respect being had to the quality and circumstances of the offense; as in the case of defamation or laying violent hands on a minister, or the like. As these censures may be modified by the judge’s discretion, so also they may be totally altered by the commutation of penance, by the oblation of a sum of money for pious uses, which shall be accepted as a satisfaction of public penance. Anciently such commutation money was to be applied to the use of the Church, in the same manner as fines, in cases of civil punishment, are converted to the use of the public (Burn, Eccles. Law, 3:77, 80. See also Collier, Eccles. Hist. bk. iv).
In the discipline of all the other Protestant churches penance is now unknown. The nearest approach to the Roman Catholic polity on the subject was that in use among the English Puritans of the 17th century, and more particularly in the Church of Scotland during that and the succeeding century, when it was common “to make satisfaction publicly on the Stool of Repentance” (q.v.). As far back even as 1576 we find in the records of the General Assembly this enactment:
“The kirk ordaynes sic persones as are convict of incest or adulterie, and hes not stubbornly contemnit the admonitions of the kirk, nor sufferit the sentence of excommunication for their offenses, shall make publict repentance in sackcloath, at their own kirks, bareheaded and barefooted, three severall dayes of preaching, and after the said third day to be receavit in the societie of the kirk in their owne cloathes. The uthers that hes been excommunicat for their offenses shall present themselves, bareheaded and barefooted, sax preaching dayes, and the last, after sermone, to be receavit in their ownne cloathes, as said is. Give they be excommunicat for their offenses, they shall stand bareheaded at the kirk doore, every preaching day, betwixt the assemblies, secluded from prayers before and after sermnone, and then enter in the kirk, and sit in the publick place bareheaded all the tyme of the sermons, and depart before the latter prayer. The uthers that are not excommunicat shall be placeit in the publick place where they may be knawne from the rest of the people, bareheaded, the tyme of the sermones, the minister remembering them in his prayer in the tyme after preaching; all the saids persons to bring their ministers’ testimonialls to the next assembly of their behavior in the meantyme, according to the act made thereupon be the kirk in the 2d sessione, halden July 7, 1569.” “No superintendent nor commissioner, with advyce of any particular kirk of their jurisdictione, may dispense with the extreamitie of sackcloath prescryvit be the acts of generall discipline for any pecuniall soume ad pios usus.”
These laws were impartially executed: peers and peeresses, as the earl and countess of Argyle, earl and countess of Arran — Arran being at the time prime minister — were laid under public censure. Felons were subjected to such discipline, and then executed.
It does not seem to have occurred to the Reformers or their more immediate successors in the Protestant churches that their system of discipline, with its public rebukes and enforced humiliations of various kinds — as the wearing of a sackcloth robe, and sitting on a particular seat in church — was liable to be interpreted in a sense very different from that of a mere expression of sorrow for sin; but. the belief is now very general among the most zealous adherents of their doctrinal opinions that in all this they adopted practices incongruous with their creed, and in harmony rather with that of the Church of Rome. Nor do they seem to have perceived that Church discipline (q.v.), in its proper sense, as relating to ecclesiastical rights and privileges, is wholly distinct from the imposition of penalties by churches or Church courts. Penitential humiliations, imposed by ecclesiastical authority, are now no more in favor where Church discipline is most strict than where the utmost laxity prevails. The commutation of penalties deemed shameful, for a fine to the poor of the parish, was an abuse once prevalent in Scotland, but never sanctioned by the higher ecclesiastical authorities.
See, besides Bingham and Coleman, Riddle, Christian Antiquities; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism; Killen, Ancient Church, p. 491 sq.; Siegel, Christl. Alterthumer, 1:192 and 286; Calvin, Institutes; Marshall. Penitential Discipline, p. 101 sq. (in Anglo-Catholic Library); Jahrb.f. deutsch. Theol. 8:91 (1868); 2:355 sq.; Cramp, Text-Book of Popery; Willet, Synop. Panpism; Haag, Histoire des Dogmes Chretiennes; Hagenbach, fist. of Doctrines; Barnum, Romanism; Theol. Rev. v. 427; (London) Quarterly Review, Jan. 1868 (Amer. edition), p. 55; and especially Die Bussordnungen der abenzdlandischen Kirche, by Dr. F. W. H. Wasserschleben (Halle, 1851, 8vo, 726 pp.). After a historical introduction, showing a most thorough survey of the whole subject in its original sources, all the penitentials and canons relating to penance in the British, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, and Spanish churches are given at length. It is a repertory, in fact, of penitential law-not in abstracts, but in a reprint of the original documents themselves.
Penates were certain inferior deities among the Romans, who presided over houses and the domestic affairs of families, and were called Penates because they were generally placed in the innermost and most secret parts of the house, “in penitissima cedium parte, quod,” as Cicero says, “penitus insident.” The place where they stood was afterwards called penetralia, and they themselves received the name of Penetrales. It was in the option of every master of a family to choose his Penates, and therefore Jupiter, and some of the superior gods, are often invoked as patrons of domestic affairs. According to some, the Penates were divided into four classes; the first comprehended all the celestial, the second the sea gods, the third the gods of hell, and the last all such heroes as had received divine honors after death. The Penates were originally the manes of the dead, but when superstition had taught mankind to pay uncommon reverence to the statues and images of their deceased friends, their attention was soon exchanged for regular worship, and they were admitted by their votaries to share immortality and power over the world, with Jupiter or Minerva. The statues of the Penates were generally made of wax, ivory, silver, or earth, according to the affluence of the worshipper, and the only offerings they received were wine, incense, fruits, and sometimes the sacrifice of lambs, sheep, goats, etc. In the early ages of Rome human sacrifices were offered to them; but Brutus, who expelled the Tarquins, abolished this unnatural custom. When offerings were made to them, their statues were crowned with garlands, poppies, or garlic; and, besides the monthly day that was set apart for their worship, their festivals were celebrated during the Saturnalia. Some have confounded the Lares and the Penates, but they were different.

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