History of Reconciliation


Sacrament of Reconciliation

36 AD - Present

See Notes

1st Century Christianity

100 - 150

The first communities of Christians were so profoundly convinced of the once-and-for-all conversion and forgiveness in baptism that they could not imagine anyone sinning scandalously again after it. One was converted to holiness, serious public sin after baptism was no envisaged.

circa 2nd Century; Hermas


A document written by Hermas has questions that tries to come to terms with the knotty problem of remitting public, serious sins committed after baptism. This is the first indication we have of some modification of thee former once-and-for-all rigoristic baptismal forgiveness.

2nd Century Christianity

150 - 250

2nd century Christians could not only confess one baptism for the remission of sins, but also one other way as well. If this was used up, then once more the sinner was simply and helplessly handed over “to the mercy of God”. Christians in the early communities of the Church obtained forgiveness for those sins by practicing deeds of penance: prayer, tears and prostrations, fasting and alms-giving. 3 sins which were excluded from a second chance of repentance: murder, adultery and apostasy.

circa 3rd Century; Tertullian


He has said in one of his documents of the “one plank” left to the “drowning sinner.” So we have here the first signs of another way besides baptism to have public, scandalous sins forgiven and this is very significant. This thought alone will be the foundation of the canonical penance system that will soon emerge.

3rd Century Christianity

250 - 300

Multiple discussions began in the 3rd century, time of many persecutions, on how to exercise Church penance regarding grave sinners, e.g. idolaters, adulterers, murderers. In this century, the sacrament of penance as reconciliation first emerged in a recognizable form. We find references to admission of sinfulness by outward signs (e.g. shaved head, sackcloth) and by self-accusation.

circa 4th to 6th Century; Canonical Penance

300 - 500

Special canons were issued by regional, local Church councils on how to deal with the public penance. Because of that it is called canonical penance.

4th Century Christianity; The Council of Nicea

325 - 400

The Council of Nicaea put the forgiveness of grave sins under the authority of the bishops. The council also spelled out a penance for those who had “fallen without compulsion.”

circa 4th Century; Public Penance

350 - 400

The Penitents confessed their sins to the whole community. They were temporarily ex-communicated from the community worship for the length of their penance.

circa 5th Century; Pope Saint Leo I


He objected to a public confession and said, “it is enough that the guilt of conscience be revealed to priests alone in secret confession.” This was the pope’s attempt to abolish public penance, sackcloth, ashes, etc. He contrived private penance as a parallel to public penance. He advised confession to God as sufficient for daily sins.

circa 7th Century; Council of Chalons-sur-Saône


This council approved the Celtic monastic practice and tried to establish Episcopal control over it. The severity of penances led to fewer Christians practicing sacramental penance. Some found other persons who would take on the penance and prayers for them.

circa 7th Century; Tariff Penance


Bishops gathered in that council were convinced that it was useful for the salvation of the faithful when diocesan bishop prescribed penance to a sinner as many times as he or she would fall into sin. The practice of so called tariff penance was brought to continental Europe from the British Isles by Hiberno-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon monks.

13th Century; Fourth Council of the Lateran


They made it law that every Catholic Christian goes to confession in his parish at least once a year. The association of penance with the eucharist was probably established during this time. They prescribed that all who had “reached the age of discretion should at least once a year faithfully confess all their sins in secret to their own priest” and receive communion. Repeated absolution of sins was officially accepted and deemed necessary for proper Christian life.

16th Century; The Council of Trent


The council states that Christ left priests, as judges, unto whom all the mortal crimes into which the faithful may have fallen should be revealed in order that, in accordance with the power of the keys, they may pronounce the sentence of forgiveness or retention of sins.
For all of its canons on the sacrament of penance, the council could not and would not disturb the tradition, which held that sins are forgiven at the eucharist. They tried to dispel any necessary connection between the two sacraments but was not successful.
Distinguished between what the sacrament required of the faithful and what it did not.
1. That “All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious” had to be confessed.

20th Century; Birth Control Pill


The first oral contraceptive introduced outside the United States was Schering's Anovlar was made available in Australia. This had given more choice for the public and somehow indirectly encourged pre-marital sex, one thing the church doesn't agree upon. Thus widening the gap between the society and the church.

20th Century; The 2nd Vatican Council


New approaches were taken in the presentation of this sacrament, taking into account the concern of scrupulosity, or the exaggerated obsessive concern for detail.

20th Century; The New Rite of Penance


It was made operative in lent of 1976 and has 3 types of reconciliation plus on non-sacramental approach.