What does become clear is that over the centuries the custom of confession and the part it has played in the lives of Christians from the human approach of the apostles--the advice to "confess your sins to one another" (James 5:16) through the period of the martyrs who refused to confess their faith to the Roman authorities, and paid with their lives, and the role played by the desert fathers and the monastics, who probably served as trusted confidants to each other and to the seekers who came to them (my guess). Then the Roman form of institutionalized confession with all its rigid requirements of conformity and finally, to the first big landmark of change, the liberations of Martin Luther, and the Reformation itself.
One thread continues throughout: the Seal of the Confessional, binding Catholic priests to strict confidentiality, on pain of excommunication, written into Canon law and upheld through all denominations, written or not, to this day. And with echoes on the professions of medicine, law, the private press, and simple human decency.
It is not difficult, and certainly it is of much interest now, to observe the mind and hand of scientists, humanists, and artists in shaping the role of confession, so called, even today. Surely Freud and his followers, Jews included, had some influence in erasing the damaging concept of guilt from an otherwise useful tool in human health. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned"--may happily close with the present Anglican wording of the general confession: "...that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways..."
Books were not enough, in my private researches, I talked to people, found they were hesitant at first--not sure what I was getting at. Prompted by a few stories of my own, they talked. "In England it was called 'popery' she said, but agreed it could be a good idea here, properly done. I was reminded of the quote from James about talking to each other. Most of all, I was reminded of the words by one of our retired senior clergy, who regularly heard confessions during his active years. He said"The Church requires no penance." I already knew that the good father always dons his stole, and that there are a few prayers. Then he added: "...and end with conversation." It was like hearing of talk between two old friends who trust each other, with perhaps one of them a bit older, or wiser, or both.
To all of which, I say, Amen.
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