Understanding the Wisdom of St. Augustine on Confession

The Context of St. Augustine’s Remarks

The insightful words of St. Augustine, a significant figure in the early Christian Church, often invite deep contemplation and understanding. Particularly, his comments regarding the Sacrament of Confession and its potential hazards to virtue in priests have been a subject of discussion among the faithful. To understand his perspective, it is crucial to delve into the intent behind his cautionary advice.

St. Augustine’s View on Confession and Virtue

St. Augustine’s remarks about the dangers associated with the hearing of Confessions are often misinterpreted. His words, rather than casting doubt on the Sacrament itself, highlight the level of virtue and integrity required of a priest who undertakes this sacred duty. In this light, his advice serves as a reminder of the responsibility and spiritual maturity needed to guide and absolve the faithful.

In the Book of James, we find a similar emphasis on the role of confession in Christian life: “Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much.” (James 5:16, Douay–Rheims Bible). This verse underscores the importance of confession, not just as a sacramental act but as a communal practice of humility and healing.

The Balancing Act: Virtue and Vigilance

St. Augustine’s warning, thus, is not an indictment of the Sacrament or those who administer it but a call for vigilance and moral fortitude. It is a reminder that while priests are called to be stewards of God’s grace through the Sacraments, they must also guard their hearts and minds against the temptations and trials that come with such intimate spiritual work.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, captures this balance beautifully: “We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honorable, but we are without honor.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10, Douay–Rheims Bible). Here, Paul reflects on the paradoxical nature of Christian ministry – a path of humility, service, and often, misunderstanding.


In conclusion, the words of St. Augustine regarding the dangers inherent in the Sacrament of Confession serve as a valuable lesson. They remind priests of the need for constant spiritual vigilance and moral integrity in their sacred duties. Far from discouraging the practice of confession, these words aim to elevate the standard of virtue and responsibility expected of those entrusted with the care of souls.

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