While most reformers rejected the Roman sacrament of penance, they nevertheless believed confession was still essential the life of the believer. Recognizing its pastoral necessity, they sought in numerous ways to retain the symbolic heart of the practice, taking steps such as making private confession voluntary and emphasizing the use of communal confessions within their liturgies. In this selection from his commentary on Daniel, Lutheran theologian Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) argues for the importance of confession within the life of the church, drawing on numerous traditional concepts but reframing them within a Protestant doctrine of grace.
Daniel and Confession
Daniel confesses the sins of the people and gives praise to the God of justice because he justly punished the people. Then he begs for the forgiveness of sins and the return of the people. Therefore, this is true contrition to acknowledge the wrath of God against our sins, to become frightened because of the wrath of God, to suffer grief because we have offended God, to bestow on him praise because he justly punishes us and to be subject to punishment.Daniel confesses the sins of the people and gives praise to the God of justice because he justly punished the people. Here he recites this confession, “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame.” This is the voice of true contrition. Just as Psalm 32 teaches, “I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, etc.” (Ps 32:5). And Psalm 51, “Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Ps 51:4) . . . It is necessary to diligently inculcate the church with this doctrine of contrition so that they truly acknowledge sins, truly understand the punishments and calamities inflicted on us because of our sins. Just as Jeremiah says, “Your sins have kept good things from you” (Jer 5:25). And in this place, “Righteous is the Lord our God in all the works he does” (Dan 9:14) . . . Nevertheless, it is not enough to acknowledge sins and to consider punishments, but consolation must be added. Therefore, Daniel not only put forward the doctrine of contrition but adds the other part. He teaches by his own example to pray and to hope for kindness, because of the mercy and promises. As it says elsewhere, Repent and believe the gospel. Faith added to contrition looks to the promises. So Daniel here not only says, “To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness,” but also adds, “To you mercy and atonement.” You promised to show compassion and to forgive. And he repeats several times this sentence, distinctly excluding merit, “We ask not by our own righteousness but because of your great mercy.”