1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Confessor

CONFESSOR, in the Christian Church, a word used in the two senses of (1) a person the holy character of whose life and death entitle him or her, in the judgment of the Church, to a peculiar reputation for sanctity, (2) a priest empowered to hear confessions.

(1) In the first sense the word confessor was in the early Church sometimes applied loosely to all martyrs, but more properly to those who, having suffered persecution and torture for the faith, were afterwards allowed to die in peace. The present sense of the word, as defined above, developed after the ages of persecution had passed. It came to be applied by custom, as did the predicate “Saint,” to the holy men of the past; e.g. Ecgberht, archbishop of York (Excerpt. cap. xxviii), speaks of “the holy fathers whom we have styled confessors, i.e. bishops and priests who have served God in chastity.” But, as in the case of “saint,” the right of declaring the holy dead to be “confessors” was ultimately reserved to the Holy See. The most celebrated instance of the formal bestowal of the style is that of King Edward of England, who was made a “Confessor” on his canonization by Pope Alexander III. in 1161, and has since been commonly known as Edward the Confessor.

(2) The confessor in the second sense is now termed in ecclesiastical Latin confessarius (med. Lat. confessare, to confess), to distinguish him from the “ confessor ” described above. The functions of the confessor are dealt with in the article Confession (q.v.). Here it need only be pointed out that though, in the Roman Catholic Church, the potestas ordinis of every priest includes the power of granting absolution, according to the established discipline of the Church, no priest can be a confessor, i.e. hear confessions, without a special faculty from his bishop. .