Michel at Louvain. But, more usually, confessionals are movable pieces of furniture.
The confessional in its modern form dates no farther back than the 16th century, and Du Cange cites the year 1563 for an early use of the word confession ale for the sacrum poenitentiae tribunal. Originally the term was applied to the place where a martyr or “confessor” (in the sense of one who confesses Christ) had been buried. There are, however, instances (e.g. the confessional of St Trophimus at Arles) where the name was attached to the spot, whether cell or seat, where noted saints were wont to hear confessions. In the popular Protestant view confessional boxes are associated with the scandals, real or supposed, of the practice of auricular confession. They were, however, devised to guard against such scandals by securing at once essential publicity and a reasonable privacy, and by separating priest and penitent. In the middle ages stringent rules were laid down, in this latter respect, by the canon law in the case of confessions by women and especially nuns.
In England, before the Reformation, publicity was reckoned the best safeguard. Thus Archbishop Walter Reynolds, in 1322, says in his Constitutions: “Let the priest choose for himself a common place for hearing confessions, where he may be seen generally by all in the church; and do not let him hear any one, and especially any woman, in a private place, except in great necessity.” It would seem that the priest usually heard confessions at the chancel opening or at a bench end in the nave near the chancel. There is, however, in some churchwardens accounts mention of a special seat: “the shryving stool,” “shriving pew” or “shriving place” (Gasquet, Parish Life in Mediaeval England, p. 199). At Lenham in Kent there is an ancient armchair in stone, with a stone bench and steps on one side, which appears to be a confessional.
With the revival of the practice of auricular confession in the English Church, confessionals were introduced into some of the more “extreme” Anglican churches. Since, however, they certainly formed no part of “the furniture of the church” in the “second year of King Edward VI.” they can hardly be considered as covered by the “Ornaments Rubric” in the Prayer-Book. The question of their legality was raised in 1900 in the case of Davey v. Hinde (vicar of the church of the Annunciation at Brighton) tried before Dr Tristram in the consistory court of Chichester. They were condemned “on the ground that they are not articles of church furniture requisite for or conducive to conformity with the doctrine or practice of the Church of England in relation to the reception of confession” (C. Y. Sturge, Points of Church Law, London, 1907, p. 137).
“Confessional,” in the sense of a due payable for the right to hear confession, is now obsolete. As an adjective confessional is used in two senses: (1) of the nature of, or belonging to confession, e.g. “confessional prayers”; (2) connected with confessions of faith, or creeds, e.g. “confessional differences.” (W. A. P.)
CONFESSION AND AVOIDANCE, in pleading, the plea admitting that facts alleged in a declaration are true, but showing new facts by which it is hoped to destroy the effect of the allegations admitted. A plea in confession and avoidance neither simply admits nor merely denies; it admits that the facts alleged by the opposite party make out a good prima facie case or defence, but it proceeds to destroy the effect of these allegations either by showing some justification or excuse of the matter charged, or some discharge or release from it. All matter in confession and avoidance must be stated clearly and distinctly, and must be specific. If intended to apply.to part only of a statement of claim, it must be so stated.
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. .
CONFIRMATION (Lat. confirmatio, from confirmare, to establish, make firm), in the Christian sense, the initiatory rite of laying on of hands, supplementary to and completing baptism, and especially connected with the gift of the Holy Ghost to the candidate. The words “confirm” and “confirmation” are not used in the Bible in this technical sense, which has only grown up since the 5th century, and only in the Western churches of Christendom and in. their offshoots, but the rite itself has been practised in the Church from the beginning. The history of confirmation has passed through three stages. In the first ages of the Church, when it was recruited chiefly by converts who were admitted in full age, confirmation, or the laying on of hands (Heb. vi. 2), followed close upon baptism, and in the majority of cases the two were combined in a single service. But only the highest order of ministers could confirm (see Acts viii. 14-17); whereas priests and deacons, and in an emergency laymen and even women, could baptize. There was therefore no absolute certainty that a believer who had been baptized had also received confirmation (Acts xix. 2). But two circumstances tended to prevent the occurrence of such irregularities. In the first place, there were in early days far more bishops in proportion to the number of believers than is the custom now; and, secondly, it was the rule (except in cases of emergency) to baptize only in the season from Easter to Pentecost, and the bishop was always present and laid his hands on the newly baptized. Moreover, in the third and fourth centuries the infants of Christian parents were frequently left unbaptized for years, e.g. Augustine of Hippo. Later, when the Church had come to be tolerated and patronized by the state, her numbers increased, the rule that fixed certain days for baptism broke down, and it was impossible for bishops to attend every baptismal service. Thereupon East and West adopted different methods of meeting the difficulty. In the East greater emphasis was laid on the anointing with oil, which had long been an adjunct of the laying on of hands: the oil was consecrated by the bishop, and the child anointed or “sealed” with it by the parish priest, and this was reckoned as its confirmation. With its baptism thus completed, the infant was held to be capable of receiving holy communion. And to this day in the Eastern Church the infant is baptized, anointed and communicated by the parish priest in the course of a single service; and thus the bishop and the laying on of hands have disappeared from the ordinary service of confirmation. The West, on the other hand, deferred confirmation, not at first till the child had reached years of discretion, though that afterwards became the theory, but from the necessities of the case. The child was baptized at once, that it might be admitted to the Church, while the completion of its baptism was put off till it could be brought to a bishop. Western canons insist on both points at once; baptism is not to be deferred beyond a week,