- Making Confession, Hearing Confession: A History of the Cure of Souls
Historical changes in the practice of the sacrament popularly known as confession have been such that it can be difficult to discern continuity. When Annemarie S. Kidder uses confession to include spiritual direction and other practices and takes an ecumenical approach, the history becomes even more convoluted. It is to her credit that she tells the story in a manner that is both interesting and involving. In the first two parts she provides an historical overview, first from biblical beginnings through the Middle Ages and then the Reformation and after in both Roman Catholicism and Protestant traditions. Part 3 looks at contemporary confession, including decline in practice, and the theologies of four twentieth-century figures (Karl Rahner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eugene Peterson, and Adrienne von Speyr). The final part offers practical considerations for contemporary practice.
Inconsistencies in the use of confession, outdated translations of sources when there are recent critical editions, and historically and theologically questionable points are serious flaws. It is questionable, for example, that there was "corporate knowledge of the sins committed" in the exomologesis of public penance (p. 29), that private penance originated in pre-Christian Celtic practice (p. 36), that it developed in Celtic society before the end of the fourth century (p. 23), and that medieval penitentials have a value in assigning penances today (p. 311). Her claim that clerical absolution ended the practice of lay confession also is problematic, as it contradicts what she says about lay spiritual direction. She is apparently unaware of Amédée Teetaert's Confession aux laïques (Paris, 1926), which analyzes the practice through the fourteenth century; isolated instances are documented in the sixteenth century.
Some statements regarding Catholic theology and practice also are problematic. Catholics are not required to confess their sins "prior to partaking of the Eucharist or at least annually during Holy Week" (p. xiii). Nor does Catholicism regard ordained male clergy as "Peter's apostolic successors" (p. 35). Not every sin leads to the loss of the Holy Spirit and trinitarian Communion (p. 320). Her description of indulgences in relation to remission of sin is misleading (p. 52). Neither screen (p. 167) nor confessional (p. 172) has been required except for hearing women's confessions. Comments regarding the sequence of the act of penance and absolution and implications of the changed sequence (e.g., p. 312), the relationship of forgiveness and absolution (p. 316), and the meaning of reconciliation in relation to the sacrament (p. 317) need clarification. Gabriel Marcel was a philosopher, not a theologian (p. 277).
The ecumenical perspective is valuable. The survey of contemporary Protestant practice broadens the understanding of spiritual and pastoral [End Page 749] care—preaching; pastoral visits, exhortations, and discipline; small accountability groups; altar calls; and revivals and crusades, including the use of counselors in Billy Graham's crusades. But was it Christ's "real presence" in the Eucharist or the theology of transubstantiation that sixteenth-century Lutherans and Anglicans rejected? (p. 157). Weren't there English martyrs under Elizabeth I as well as Mary Tudor? (p. 159). The first three volumes of Hughes Oliphant Old's The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI, 1998-99) indicate more pre-Reformation preaching than Kidder acknowledges. She does not examine Eastern Christian practice after the fourth century.
Kidder writes well, and her book is enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, it has historical and theological inconsistencies and flaws that peer reviewers or editors should have corrected. The book will likely be of most value to non-Catholic pastors and spiritual directors in all traditions who have been "hearing confession" without realizing it.