among orthodox Lutherans (see Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie s. “Beichte”).
To come to England, Wesley provided for spiritual discipline (1) through the class-meeting, whose leader has to advise, comfort or exhort as occasion may arise; and (2) through the ministers, who have to bear the chief responsibility in the reproof, suspension or expulsion from communion of erring brethren. In the Salvation Army people are continually invited to come forward to the “penitent form,” and admissions of past evil living are publicly made. Among the Calvinistic bodies in the British Isles and abroad kirk-discipline has been a stern reality; but in none of them is there private confession or priestly absolution.
The Church of England holds in this matter as in others a central position. The method of confession adopted in the public services of the Church of England, with which the Book of Common Prayer is primarily concerned, may be described as one of general confession to God in the face of the church, to be in secret used by each member of the congregation for the confession of his own particular sins, and to be followed by public absolution. But three other methods of confession for private use are mentioned in the exhortations in the communion service, which constitute the principal directory for private devotions among the authoritative documents of the English Church. First, all men are urged to practise secret confession to God alone, and in it the sins are to be acknowledged in detail. Secondly, where the nature of the offence admits of it, the sinner is to acknowledge his wrongdoing to the neighbour he has aggrieved. And, thirdly, the sinner who cannot satisfy his conscience by these other methods is invited to open his grief to a minister of God's word. Similarly, the sick man is to be moved to make a special confession of his sins if he feels his conscience troubled with any weighty matter. The priest is bound, under the most stringent penalties, never to divulge what he has thus learnt. See the 113th canon of 1604, which, however, excepts crimes “such as by the laws of this realm the priest’s own life may be called into question for concealing the same.” It is, however, maintained by some that, except in the case of the sick, the only legitimate method of receiving absolution in the Church of England is in the public services of the congregation; and the Church of Ireland has recently made important alterations even in the passages that concern the sick, while the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States has omitted that part of the visitation service altogether. It is probable that auricular confession never altogether died out in the Church of England, but it is obvious that evidence on the subject must always be hard to find. Certainly there has been a great increase and development of the practice since the Oxford movement in the early part of the 19th century. Two chief difficulties have attended this revival. In the first place, owing to the general disuse of such ministrations, there were none among the English clergy who had experience in delicate questions of conscience; and there had been no treatment of casuistry since Sanderson and Jeremy Taylor (see Casuistry). Those, then, who had to hear penitents unburden their souls were driven to the use of Roman writers on the subject. A book called The Priest in Absolution was compiled, and at first privately circulated among the clergy; but in 1877 a copy was produced in parliament, and gave rise to much scandal and heated debate, especially in the House of Lords and in the newspapers. In the following year Dr Pusey published a translation of the Abbé J. J. Gaurne’s Manual for Confessors, abridged and “adapted to the use of the English Church.” The other chief difficulty arose from the absence of any authoritative restraint on the hearing of confessions by young and unqualified priests, the Church of England merely directing the penitent who wishes for special help to resort to any “discreet and learned minister.” In 1873 a petition signed by four hundred and eighty-three clergy was presented to Convocation asking for the “education, selection and licensing of duly qualified confessors.” The bishops declined so to act, but drew up a report on the subject of confession. The question excites the keenest feeling, and extreme views are held on either side. On the one hand, it is opposed as the citadel of sacerdotal authority and as a peril to morals. On the other hand, there are those who speak as if auricular confession were a necessary element in every Christian life, and hold that post-baptismal sin of a grave sort can receive forgiveness in no other way. Such a view cannot be found within the covers of the English Prayer-Book.
Bibliography.—Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, book vi.; Morinus, Commentarius historicus de sacramento paenitentiae; Marshal, Penitential Discipline (1717); F. W. Robertson, Sermons, third series—Absolution (London, 1857); Mead, “Exomologesis” and “Penitence” in Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (London, 1875); E. B. Pusey, Advice, &c., being the Abbé Gaume’s Manual for Confessors, &c. (Oxford, 1878); Carter, The Doctrine of Confession in the Church of England (London, 1885); H. C. Lea, A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church (Philadelphia, 1896); Boudinhon in Revue d’histoire et de littérature religieuses (1897 and 1898); H. Wace, Confession and Absolution. Report of Fulham Conference (London, 1902); H. B. Swete, in Journal of Theological Studies (April 1903); P. Batiffol, Études d’histoire et de théologie positive, première série (4th ed., Paris, 1906). (W. O. B.)
2. Law.—In criminal procedure confession has always, of course, played an important part, and the attempt to obtain such a confession from the incriminated person, whether by physical torture or by less violent means, was formerly, and in certain countries still remains, a recognized expedient for securing the conviction of the guilty. This method was carried to ruthless extremes by the Inquisition (q.v.), but was by no means unknown in countries in which this institution never gained a foothold; as in England, where torture was practised, though never legalized, for this purpose. In spite of a general tendency to relinquish the inquisitorial method, it is still prevalent in certain countries, notably in France, where the efforts of the prosecution, especially during the preliminary investigations, are directed to extracting a confession from the accused. In English law, on the other hand, the confession of an incriminated person can be received in evidence against him only if it has been free and voluntary. Any threat or inducement held out to a person to make a confession renders the confession inadmissible, even if afterwards made to another person, it having been held that the second confession is likely to be induced by the promise held out by the person to whom the first confession was made. Any inducement to a person to make a confession must refer to some temporal benefit to be gained from it. In conformity with the principle of English law that a person ought not to be made to incriminate himself, it is usual, when a person in custody wishes to make a statement or confession, to caution him that what he says will be used in evidence against him. Particular facts may have an important bearing on the admissibility or otherwise of a confession—innumerable decisions will be found in Archbold’s Criminal Pleading (23rd ed.). In divorce law, the confession of a wife charged with adultery is always treated with circumspection and caution, for fear of collusion between the parties to a suit. Where, however, such a confession is clear and distinct, the court will usually receive it as evidence against the wife, but not against a co-respondent. In a case where a Wife's confession was obtained by falsely stating to her that the suspected co-respondent had confessed, such confession was held admissible. (T. A. I.)
CONFESSIONAL (Late Lat. confessionale, neut. adj. from confessionalis, “pertaining to confession, ” Fr. confessional, Ital. confessionale), a box, cabinet or stall, in which the priest in Roman Catholic churches sits to hear the confessions of penitents. The confessional is usually a wooden structure, with a centre compartment—entered through a door or curtain—in which the priest sits, and on each side a latticed opening for the penitents to speak through, and a step on which they kneel. By this arrangement the priest is hidden, but the penitent is visible to the public. Confessionals sometimes form part of the architectural scheme of the church; many finely decorated specimens, dating from the late 16th and the 17th centuries, are to be found in churches on the continent of Europe. A notable example, in Renaissance style, is in the church of St