Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Part 2 History

Chapter r21 The Apostolic Period [0-399]

Summary Period #1

Preliminary Questions


History Grid

Jesus and the Apostolic Church

The Early Patristic Period

To Think About


Richard M. Gula, S.S.  To Walk Together Again, Chapter 6 "Reconciliation Through the Ages" pp 187-226.

James Dallen. The Reconciling Community: The Rite of Penance, pp 5-77.

James Dallen. "The Absence of a Ritual of Reconciliation in Celtic Penance." The Journey of Western Spirituality. A.W. Sadler (ed.). Cholo:Scholars Press, 1981,

Monika K. Hellwig. Sign of Reconciliation and Conversion. Chapter 2: "Rites of Penance and Reconciliation in the Patristic Church."

Cyril Vogel. Le Pecheur et la penitence dans l'eglise ancienne. Paris: Cerf, 1966.

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History Grid

History of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Name(Jesus and Sub-apostolic Church)Canonical Penance Celtic Penance (Tariff Penance)Scholastic ConfessionReconciliation
Paradigm (Think...)Jesus in the Gospels    
Process (Stages)Former life
MinistriesCommunity and its ministers and its overseer    
Positive AspectsPart of the ongoing journey of the holy Church  
Negative AspectsNo provision for exceptional tragic situations  

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Jesus and the Apostolic Church

Jesus appears in our midst and reveals a God who is loving and merciful beyond human imagination.  He teaches us to forgive one another even as this all-merciful God has forgiven us.

For example...

And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." Matthew 9:2 (NRSV)

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. ... Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Luke 7:44-48 (NRSV)

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" ... he said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." John 8:3-11 (NRSV)

[Note that the forgiveness comes first; then, overwhelmed by God's mercy, comes sorrow and repentance.]

 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."  John 20:22-23 (NRSV)  Commentary:  The resurrected Christ confers upon his disciples the mission of which he spoke in 17:18 (cf.4:38; I3:20). This is a commission of the Church to perpetuate the work of divine salvation accomplished in Christ. (Bruce Vawter, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p 63)  For John. the gift of the Spirit, which of its nature is invisible, flows from the glorification of Jesus, his return to his Father. That a real gift of the Spirit is involved here on Easter night was made clear at the Second Council of Constantinople. It is a gift that has relationship to the forgiveness of sins. A parallel text in Luke indicates that the immediate object may be the remission of sins in connection with conversion and baptism; but the Council of Trent has defined that the remission of sins committed after baptism through the sacrament of penance is (also) it be included. (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel and Epistles of John, p  )  

The Early Patristic Period: 150-300 A.D.

As church rituals and liturgical rites begin to take shape, sinners become Christian through the sacraments of initiation. They are prepared for this event by a lengthy Catechumenate. During this time conversion is to take place so that by the time the sacraments of initiation are celebrated the time of sinning is over.  [To understand this thinking, a parallel might be drawn to a seminary system. Men enter the system with varied sexual backgrounds and experiences. However during the years of preparation it is expected that the person has passed through this time of "experimentation" and by the time he is ready to profess celibacy at ordination, "the time of sinning is over." -- This is just a metaphor to help you understand the thinking of the early Church.]

Should serious sins occur after the sacraments of initiation have been celebrated, the sins are forgiven in the Eucharist, which reconciles us to God and to one another (which is the meaning of forgiveness of sin).  Confession as we know it today, (which the Baltimore Catechism taught was "instituted by Christ") was completely unknown at this period.

Didascalia Apostolorum

Apostolic Constitutions

The Sacramentary of Verona

The rigorist attitude that  grew in the second century was largely due to Christianity's rapid growth and its changing social and cultural situation. (Dallen 29)  

The Eastern tradition...emphasized the Church's ministers as healers and the importance of spiritual direction. 

The Pastor Hermas

Tertullian (c160-c225) in De penitentia says that reconciliation possible for all repentant sinners; in De pudicitia he now teaches that the Church is incapable of forgiving the gravest sins:  the famous "triad" of apostasy, murder, and adultery (cf. Acts 15:29). (Dallen p. 31) 

Venia = forgiveness. Venial sin = forgivable sin.  This is different from our usage; even serious sins were in the category of venia if they were forgivable. 



The Tria Capitalia

To Think About

How did the overwhelming mercy of Jesus so quickly develop into such a rigorist attitude as to shape Canonical Penance?

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