Debates about the theory and practice of penance in the early Church were governed by the underlying question of whether the Church was ‘a society of saints or a school for sinners’, with the latter view gradually becoming dominant. Using the gospels and Paul's letters as a basis, the distinction was developed between mortal and venial sins, but there remained difficulties over which sins fell into which category. Gradually, two ideas gained hold: first, that penance should be treated as therapeutic rather than judgemental; and second, that penants should be allowed to confess in private to a priest or bishop rather than publicly before the whole congregation.
Chapter. 2835 words.
Subjects: History of Christianity
Full text: subscription required