Confession: A Socratic Dialogue

emptyconfessionalThese dialogues aren’t meant to cover every aspect of, or every objection to, each doctrine. There’s more that could be said, obviously.

They’re meant to be a fun and intellectually stimulating introduction to Catholic teachings that can sometimes be hard to understand.

Also, I’ve tried to make it a reasonably fair exchange between Martin (the Protestant) and Justin (the Catholic), but I haven’t tried that hard.

The goal here is to demonstrate the superiority of the Catholic position, something that couldn’t be done in the space I’ve done it in if I were to launch every Protestant objection to the doctrines discussed.

Cool? I don’t think Protestants are cotton-headed ninny muggins’s. Promise.

Enjoy, and please give me your feedback below.

Martin: Last week we spoke about the priesthood, I was thinking today we could talk about confession.

Justin: Sounds good.

Martin: So I guess the obvious question is, why do you confess your sins to a man instead of God?

Justin: I confess my sins to both.

Martin: Why?

Justin: Because I believe that the sacrament of confession, established by Christ, is the ordinary way in which a person is to be forgiven of serious sin after baptism.

Martin: Don’t you think that God is powerful enough to forgive you without the mediation of a priest?

Justin: Of course I do.

Martin: Then why do you confess your sins to a priest?

Justin: Er … because the sacrament of confession, established by Christ, is the ordinary way in which a person is to be forgiven of serious sin after baptism?

Martin: Seriously?

Justin: I guess I just don’t see the problem. What is your objection, exactly?

Martin: The idea that a sinful man can forgive someone’s sins is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit!


Justin: I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but it seems your argument isn’t with me, or even with the Catholic Church, but with our Blessed Lord.

Martin: Nope. I’m pretty sure it’s with you and your heretical church.

Justin: Martin, if our Lord wanted to give sinful men the ability to forgive sins, what more would he have to do than to say to sinful men: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That’s from John chapter twenty, verse twenty three.

Martin: I know where it’s from, but you misunderstand the verse, don’t you?

Justin: Do I?

Martin: Yes! Jesus was saying to the apostles, go preach the gospel! It’s the gospel, the good news that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn: 3:16) To accept this gospel is to have one’s sins forgiven. To reject it is to be “condemned already” (Jn 3:18).

Justin: I find it funny, Martin, that you often accuse me of not taking Jesus at his word, and yet here you are saying that when Jesus told the apostles that they could forgive and retain sins, he didn’t mean that they could forgive and retain sins. So, again, not to sound like a jerk, why would I follow you when the words of our Lord contradict you?


Martin : That’s absurd. I’m not asking you to follow me. And you do sound like jerk. Just a little. Look, I’m asking you to accept the authority of the word of God, but in order to do that you have to first read the Scriptures in context. Remember, a text with context is …

Justin: … is often a pretext for a prooftext, yes, you’ve said that before.

Martin: I wish you’d remember it.

Justin: Look, why don’t we read the verse in it’s context. Our Lord appears to the disciples after his resurrection; shall we start at verse twenty one?

Martin: Just finding it now . . . here it is. Sure, verse twenty one; I’ll read it “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.'”

Justin: K, stop there for a moment. Why did the Father send the son?

Martin: 2 Corinthians 5:19 says that it was to reconcile the world to himself.

Justin: Amen!

Martin: See now you just sound silly. I’m the Baptist. I say “Amen!” You Catholics are supposed to say, “Corinthy-what?”

Justin: Ha! Now that’s gonna leave a mark.

Martin: I’m just joking.

Justin: I know, I know. Okay, so Jesus who was sent to reconcile the world to the Father is now sending the apostles do to the same.

Martin: Yes, by proclaiming the Gospel.

Justin: Indeed! And this gospel includes the sacrament of Confession, but keep reading.

Martin: Show me one place in the Bible where the word “sacrament” is used?

Justin: Show me one place in the Bible where the word “Bible” is used? Or “trinity”? Or “Incarnation”? You won’t find those words but that does not thereby make them illegitimate. Keep reading.

Martin: “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.

Justin: K. So we know something significant is happening here, right? The only other time God ever breathed on someone in Sacred Scipture is when he breathed the breath of life into Adam.

Martin: Yes, he’s giving them the Holy Spirit

Justin: uh-huh.

Martin: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Justin: You see, Martin, I agree with you. Only God can forgive sins. The Catechism acknowledges this is chapter 1441.

Martin: You know I’m never gonna look that up, right?

Justin: Oh stop, of course you will. Okay, here, I’ll read it for you . . . “Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, ‘The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ and exercises this divine power: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name” (CCC 1441).

I think you should take Jesus at his word. He’s giving his disciples the power to forgive and retain sins. And how are they to know which sins to forgive and which to retain? By hearing their confession of course!

Martin: You’re hanging your entire argument on one verse?

Justin: So what if I am? Is this verse not the word of God? But let’s look elsewhere if you like. This sacrament was prefigured in the Old Testament. We only need to look to the beginning of Genesis where we see God asking to Adam, Eve, and Cain, “where are you?” And, “what have you done?” He is eliciting from them a confession. Not because he was unaware of what they did, but because they were …

Martin: … Yes but this proves my point, doesn’t it? We are to confess directly to God. No where in the Old Testament do you see God telling men to confess to men.

Justin: Yeah, look, I’m sorry; you’re wrong.

You need to read Leviticus, chapter five; And Numbers, chapter five. In that Leviticus chapter we read that “the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin” after he publicly confesses it. See, Martin, You’re setting up a false dichotomy. You’re saying either a man can confess to God or he can confess to men. What I’m saying, what the Bible teaches is that God has given this power to men! I know you don’t like that. I know it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but it’s what the Bible teaches.

I invite you to meditate upon Matthew, chapter nine. There we see that the crowds glorified God, who had given such authority—the authority to forgive sins—to men. It comes from God. As St. Paul said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor.5:18).

Martin: So if I’m a Catholic, and I’ve committed what you call a serious sin, or a mortal sin, and a priest doesn’t get to me in time to hear my confession, according to you I’ll go to Hell.

Justin: Not necessarily. If a man is truly repentant then God will forgive him. Remember what I said earlier, the sacrament of confession is the ordinary way a person is forgiven of serious sin after Baptism. We are bound to this Sacrament, but God isn’t. Let me ask you a question. If your Mother got cancer, could God heal her?

Martin: Of course!

Justin: Okay. But does that mean that you wouldn’t send her to a doctor?

Martin: No, I would.

Justin: Because ordinarily we are healed through the mediation of a doctor. This doesn’t mean God can’t heal us directly. The same thing applies to this wonderful Sacrament Christ has established. Though he can forgive us our sins when we are truly sorry, perfectly contrite, that doesn’t obviate the ordinary means he established by which we can have the assurance that our sins are forgiven.

Martin: Where can I learn more?

Justin: Well, you could start with that Catechism that you said you’d never read. Starting with paragraph 1422. Catholic Answers have a great tract that recounts and documents how the earliest Christians after the apostles all accepted the sacrament of confession. Oh, and check out this short video:

 Read my other Socratic dialogues here.

16 thoughts on “Confession: A Socratic Dialogue

  1. Matt,
    You should do a Socratic Dialouge regarding the theme “Why I hate Religion but love Jesus” also known as “It’s about relationship not religion”. I recently saw a church billboard which read; “Come to bible study to find out why Jesus > Religion”

    1. I second to that. I often see non-Catholic Christians say, “it’s a relationship, not a religion”.

  2. Hahaha! I love the humor you incorporated into this. You have a wonderful way of keeping the reader interested. It’s hard to focus on dry text, but this kind of brings it to life, if that makes sense.

    I have had a similar conversation with a Baptist on this (let me just say it didn’t go over as well as this did – I needed to understand more in order to explain it) and she asked, “well, what does it mean that they can RETAIN the sins?”

    I didn’t know how to answer until recently when someone illustrated the point with an example. If a couple are living together without being married, and had no intention of reforming and the priest knew that, then he could retain it.

    Just a little add-on there. Thanks again!

  3. Hey Matt,

    Can you do a Socratic dialogue on some combination of mortal sin and how it separates us from God and/or the concept of once-saved-always-saved.

    I think that would go well with this one because it could be a road block to even having this conversation.

    Peace, brother!

  4. Matt,

    Thanks for continuing to post explanations of the faith that show the reasonableness of Catholic teachings. I hate to be a grammar Nazi, but I believe dialogue is misspelled in your post heading.
    God bless you!

    1. Christopher, thank you for the correction! I just changed it. Please let me know if you see other mistakes.

      1. …very last paragraph: “Catholic Answers have..” should be “has”.

        But great dialogue! We need more of these! The most recent conversations I’ve had with protestants are of “papal infallibility” and “assured salvation” and it was very hard to get them to understand Scripture’s teachings about both. Please help 🙂

  5. I love it, Matt. I love the part where Justin asks Sam, “If your Mother got cancer, could God heal her?” Then Sam answers, “Of course!”. Justin goes on to ask more question,”Okay. But does that mean that you wouldn’t send her to a doctor?” “No, I would” Sam answers. Great analogy! Create another one, please. I enjoy your dialogues. Very entertaining 🙂

  6. The socratic dialogue you present is beautiful. When I discuss these things with people I try so hard to make my point that I have to stop because we get too upset. Now, thanks to you and the other Catholic evangelists, I am finding on the internet it’s possible to do this. Thank you.

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