On Auricular Confession in the Anglican Churches

This is a snippet from a forthcoming article that M and I wrote; feel free to pile on any other thoughts on Confession:

The Anglican Exhortation and its understanding of confession and reconciliation stand squarely within the tradition of Omnis utriusque sexus and the Augsburg Confession. Two Exhortations stand before the Eucharistic liturgy in the 1549 book. The first exhorts the congregation to search their souls and gauge their readiness before receiving the Eucharist. The second is to be used when the congregation is negligent to come and receive. Indeed, its very purpose is to encourage congregants to come and receive and to do anything necessary that would enable them to come. It states in part:

And yf there bee any of you, whose conscience is troubled and greved in any thing, lackyng comforte or counsaill, let him come to me, or to some other dyscrete and learned priest, taught in the law of God, and confesse and open his synne and griefe secretly, that he may receive suche ghostly counsaill, advyse, and comfort, that his conscience maye be releved, and that of us (as of the ministers of GOD and of the churche) he may receive comfort and absolucion, to the satisfaccion of his mynde, and avoyding of all scruple and doubtfulnes: requiryng suche as shalbe satisfied with a generall confession, not to be offended with them that doe use, to their further satisfiyng, the auriculer and secret confession to the Priest: nor those also whiche thinke nedefull or convenient, for the quietnes of their awne consciences, particuliarly to open their sinnes to the Priest: to bee offended with them that are satisfied, with their humble confession to GOD, and the generall confession to the churche. But in all thinges to folowe and kepe the rule of charitie, and every man to be satisfied with his owne conscience, not judgyng other mennes myndes or consciences; where as he hath no warrant of Goddes word to the same.[i]

Following both Omnis utriusque sexus and the Augsburg Confession, this exhortation connects the rite of reconciliation directly to purification for the reception of the Eucharist. Unlike Omnis utriusque sexus and in line with certain Reformation understandings, it considers a general confession and absolution sufficient for the church’s role in purification.[ii] Further, in line with Reformation teaching, aural confession is recommended in the case of the disquieted conscience. The definitive statement, then, is that none must undergo the rite, but it is available for those souls who require it for the quieting of the conscience.


[i] 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Online: http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1549/ Communion_1549.htm. Accessed Nov 28th, 2007.

[ii] Despite their insistences to the contrary, the Lutheran churches moved to general confessions rather than retaining individual examination and confession. While it has been revived in certain times and places, the practice of private absolution has fallen into disuse in Lutheran circles.

5 Replies to “On Auricular Confession in the Anglican Churches”

  1. The pastor of the parish I attended my first year at university was very liberal (he had considerable admiration for J.S. Spong and little patience for Anglican fretting about apostolic succession, participated in an extra-synodical ordination of a gay pastor, and yet owned a biretta) but held the line on reckoning the number of sacraments at 3 on a strict reading of the Book of Concord.

  2. In 29 years as an Anglican I’ve made precisely one auricular confession. During my Roman Catholic boyhood and adolescence I went pretty much every week. Think there’s a connection?

  3. Our parish recently moved from a by-appointment arrangement to regular weekly times for hearing confessions. I don’t know if it’s had an effect on the number of penitents. Our sister Anglo-Catholic parish in RI also has weekly times.

    I much prefer the Eastern Orthodox model of handling confession – the logistics, as it were, not the emphasis in some jurisdictions on confessing before every communion.

  4. So sad to see that Protestants don’t know their Bible well!

    Us Roman Catholics are constantly accused of not knowing the Bible, yet it is very ironic that I have to prove that Auricular Confession should be practiced and available every week!
    In the Gospel of James 5:16-1716 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.…”

    Also, Jesus ONLY gave the 12 Apostles the power to bind and loose sins in John 20:22-23 “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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

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