Penitence

April 3, 2007

It is probably too late to take another tack on your paper (not that you should anyway) but I think that penance may not be a word that accurately describes what you are opposing. In fact, the word penance (in its French origin) was derived from a word similar to penitence, which in turn was derived from the same Latin word that gives us our English word repentance. In many languages they are the same word.

In many traditions, penance follows this pattern (as described below): confession, repentance, discipline. The question at hand is probably: what is the purpose of the discipline? I’m sure that many of us, as we are discipled, have confessed our sin to others, displayed that we wish to forsake our wrongdoing and to move towards God, and perhaps in turn our “spiritual mentor” has prescribed a plan of combating sin, or a particular Bible passage to study. To deny this as a valid expression of the Christian faith would be heresy, and to say it is not necessary would be foolish.

I would imagine that your problem arises from the Roman Catholic position that the “discipline” step is a sacrament, required for justification. On a side note, I may be wrong, but it occurs to me that in “Pure” Catholicism, the penance itself may not be considered to justify, but rather is required to maintain communion with the church, outside of which they believe (believed?) there can be no salvation.

Returning to the point — I believe that in the context of sanctification, this process (confession, repentance, discipline) is not only acceptable but necessary.

Honestly, though, I went back to try and figure out what to say about that, but I can’t figure out what it is that you’re opposing … it seems like each example represented a discrete idea, rather than another aspect of a single, unifying whole. Eh. Maybe I just didn’t get it. 🙂

Shifting gears …

It is important to look at the original language because it is not enough to reason from one’s own opinions or to argue philosophically, for the truth does not come from men, but from God.”

Hm … saying that God is the source of truth does not necessarily require that your expository style and interpretational approach are the only correct one; neither does it require that no man can, drawing from the principles laid out in the Bible, form conclusions about current issues without recourse to quoting a verse to support each and every clause of each sentence.

For one thing, if we have the Holy Spirit, certainly it (He?) would be able to lead us to truth, such that we are freed from merely parroting the phrases in the Bible, but rather understand and can explain them. Secondly, as I’m sure you know, referencing the Bible is no guarantee against error. It is easy to approach the Bible with preconceptions, and whether you realize or not, read into it only what you agree with.

Look at the epistle writers if you want a great example. They only occasionally reference other scriptures, and are usually pretty sloppy in their interpretation. Though I doubt we should claim verbal plenary inspiration for our works, shouldn’t these writings be our first model for composing sermons, discussions, blog posts?

If you are merely teaching someone to understand the Bible, you can let it speak for itself (often the best course). But if you are addressing an issue whose scope is beyond a single passage, you must have a principle-based, “Bible-wide” theology. And if you are extending into the deep waters of philosophical questions, though Christ is your guide, it might perhaps be better to take the boat of Philosophy, rather than attempt to walk on water.

pen·i·tence
noun
the state of being penitent; regret for one’s wrongdoing or sinning; contrition; repentance.

pen·ance noun

1. a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin.
2. a penitential discipline imposed by church authority.
3. a sacrament, as in the Roman Catholic Church, consisting in a confession of sin, made with sorrow and with the intention of amendment, followed by the forgiveness of the sin.

Wikipedia article on penance: penance in the Eastern Church

… The penitent then accuses him or herself of his or her sins. The priest quietly, and patiently listens. After the confessant reveals all of his or her sins, the priest then offers advice and counsel. The priest may modify the prayer rule of the penitent, or even prescribe another rule, if needed to combat the sins that the penitent struggles most with. Penances are usually given with a therapeutic intent, so that they are opposite to the sin committed.

For a hypothetical example, if the Eighth Commandment has been broken and the person has stolen something, then it could be prescribed that the he or she should return what was stolen (if possible) and give alms to the poor on a more regular basis. Opposites are to be treated with opposites. If the penitent suffers from gluttony, the confessant’s fasting rule is reviewed and perhaps increased. The intention of Holy Confession is never to punish, but to heal and purify. Holy Confession is also seen as a “second baptism”.

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2 Responses to “Penitence”

  1. Nathan Wells Says:

    Yeah, I was not exactly happy with it paper either. The definition of penance was given by our prof. so nothing I can do about that.

    I agree, it is close to repentance – and in what I read from Catholics on it (before I knew my prof. wanted us to do “evangelical” penance, it is very close to our view of repentance, but as you said, has that extra “discipline” part, and that is viewed as payment – the main issue I think I was trying to get across is that those who do penance are trying to pay for their sin and therefore do not fully trust Christ that his work was sufficient.

    There is definitely room in our faith for discipline, but I hope that in reading what I wrote I didn’t seem to come off as saying we shouldn’t do anything to fix, or having an action plan to help us not sin in the future.

    But you are right, the examples I used were a little discombobulated.

    I tried to smooth out some things in regards to your comments about the original languages – I just updated the post and crossed out the old stuff.

    Thanks for taking time to read – it is good for me to revisit my stuff, even though it is no longer for class.

  2. Ben Says:

    Yeah, I don’t think everything I said was necessarily a criticism of your paper; it just kind of stirred me up to think about these issues so I wrote what I thought. I guess I haven’t really experienced “evangelical penance” as your teacher described it, so I defended my “confess/repent/discipline” idea, just in case that was what he was attacking.

    Boy, I don’t envy you having to write that paper though! A teacher tells you: “this is my contentious conclusion. I want you to prove it.” Ack!

    Anyway, iron sharpens iron! Keep up the good work!


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