Bonhoeffer on auricular confession


‘In confession there occurs a breakthrough to the cross. The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The spirit an flesh of human beings are inflamed by pride, for it is precisely in their wickedness that human beings want to be like God. Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. it hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian. Because this humiliation is so difficult, we keep thinking we can avoid confessing to one another. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory of such humiliation.’

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (DBW5), 111.

Thanks to Halden for posting this here.

Holy Week is nearly here. I’ve yet to find a confessor out here in Arizona. It’s almost three years now since we moved. I really need to get crackin’.

I really dislike going to confession, but it’s so critically important to my spiritual life that I manage it somehow. Bonhoeffer, as he typically does, explains why.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. What are your thoughts regarding anonymous confession (RC style) versus by-appointment confession, which seems to be in vogue in the Episcopal church?

  2. My practice has been to make a face-to-face non-anonymous confession. I don’t think you’d experience the shame and humiliation that Bonhoeffer describes otherwise.
    Most Episcopal parishes don’t have confessional booths available to them – I expect that’s why you’re seeing the trend you describe.

  3. Pixie Melfi says

    What is “RC style”? I’m new to the Episcopal Church and trying to learn the style of worship and the terms used. Coming from a Southern Baptist style of worship I have lots of questions so I’m trying to read everything I can.

  4. I think eric if referring to the traditional confessional booths that you’ll see in most RC parishes. The confessor goes into one “closet” and the penitent goes into the other. There’s a screen between the two that allows the two people to talk to each other but not see each other.
    Does that help Pixie?

  5. Pixie Melfi says

    Thanks, now I understand….I didn’t know “RC” stood for Roman Catholic…sorry blonde moment. Although I can relate to where Eric is coming from, by the time you wait for an appointment, which in my case was three days, confession just doesn’t seem as important at that point. When I feel the need to confess, I need to do it right then, not several days later. Thanks so much for responding…I’m still trying to find my way.

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