Article XII – Of Repentance – (Our churches) teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.
They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin.
The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.
They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.
“Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions” (the book I recommended to you all) includes the following in the introduction to this article:
The Roman teaching about repentance was the spark that ignited the Lutheran Reformation. When Luther learned his congregational members were buying indulgences, hoping to avert God’s punishment for sins by paying money, he was incensed. Repentance is not about “paying off” God or making some satisfaction for our sin. Repentance is recognizing the reality of our sin and turning to God in faith for His mercy.”
Rome still commands us “to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that repentance consists of three things: contrition, confession, and satisfaction (CCC paragraph 1448). Each of these is considered a human work. Once this is done, God’s grace is available. In this, Rome makes forgiveness conditional based on human works. This denies to sinners the comforts of the Gospel, makes forgiveness something that is due to us because of something we have done, and so takes away from the glory due to Christ in His work of redemption.
Christ’s own teaching about the kingdom of heaven and our receiving of this gift echoed in this article. It was a consistent teaching of those who were part of the Lutheran Reformation from the beginning. The first of Luther’s Ninety Five Theses quotes Christ in the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” John’s first letter affirms this, as we do each time we gather as God’s people: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
This is truly a BRIEF treatment of the issues around the article – which is also related to Article VI – Of Justification; the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. In the Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession this article takes up over 23 pages. I hope that you will think about this a bit, raise questions, and be patient with me until next month when we will delve deeper into this article.