The Church Fathers speak on Confession
"Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . . On the Lord's Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure" (Didache 4:14, 14:1 [A.D. 70]).
"Assemble on the Lord's day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; But first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one...For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, 'Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord and my name is the wonder of nations' (Malachias 1, 11,...)." [90 - 150 A.D]).
Ignatius of Antioch
"For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ" (Letter to the Philadelphians 3 [A.D. 110]).
Irenaeus of Lyons
"[The Gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women. . . . Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of the life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between the two courses" (Against Heresies 1:22 [A.D. 189]).
"[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness" (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).
"[The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your Royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles . . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church, and by the Spirit of the high-priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command" (Apostolic Tradition 3 [A.D. 215])
"[A final method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine ,after the manner of him who say, 'I said, "To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity"'" (Homilies in Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]).
Cyprian of Carthage. (c.250).
"I entreat you, beloved brethren, that each one should confess his own sins while he is still in this world - while his confesion can still be received and while the satisfaction and remision made by the priests are still pleasing to the Lord." - (ANF. 5.445).
Cyprian of Carthage
"The Apostle likewise bears witness and says: ' . . . Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord' [1 Cor. 11:27]. But [the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest . . . they do violence to his body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him" (The Lapsed 15:1
Cyprian of Carthage
"Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord" (ibid., 28).
Cyprian of Carthage
"[S]inners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion. [But now some] with their time [of penance] still unfulfilled . . . they are admitted to communion, and their name is presented; and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the Eucharist is given to them; although it is written, 'Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord' [1 Cor. 11:27]" (Letters 9:2 [A.D. 253]).
Basil the Great
"It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God's mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles" (Rules Briefly Treated 288 [A.D. 374]).
"Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.' Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? 'Whose sins you shall forgive,' he says, 'they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.' What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [Matt. 10:40, John 20:21The Priesthood 3:5 [A.D. 387]).
Ambrose of Milan
"For those to whom [the right of binding and loosing] has been given, it is plain that either both are allowed, or it is clear that neither is allowed. Both are allowed to the Church, neither is allowed to heresy. For this right has been granted to priests only" (Penance 1:1 [A.D. 388]).
"We read in Leviticus about lepers, where they are ordered to show themselves to the priests, and if they have leprosy, then they are to be declared unclean by the priest. . . . Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop or presbyter binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who is to be loosed" (Commentary on Matthew 3:16:19 [A.D. 398]).
"When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance" (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 [A.D. 395]).
"[The murderer] Coroticus . . . fears neither God nor his priests, whom he [God] chose and to whom he granted that highest, divine, and sublime power, that whom they should bind on earth should be bound in heaven" (Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus 6 [A.D. 452]).
Pope Leo I
"With regard to penance, what is demanded of the faithful is clearly not that an acknowledgment of the nature of individual sins written in a little book be read publicly, since it suffices that the states of conscience be made known to the priests alone in secret confession" (Magna indign. 2 [A.D. 459]).