Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

(1) Etymology and primitive meaning

The word confessor is derived from the Latin confiteri , to confess, to profess, but it is not found in writers of the classical period, having been first used by the Christians. With them it was a title of honour to designate those brave champions of the Faith who had confessed Christ publicly in time of persecution and had been punished with imprisonment, torture, exile, or labour in the mines, remaining faithful in their confession until the end of their lives. The title thus distinguished them from the martyrs, who were so called because they underwent death for the Faith. The first clear evidence of the distinction just spoken of is found in an epitaph which is recorded by De Rossi (Bullettino di archeologia cristiana, 1864, p. 30): "A Domino coronati sunt beati confessores comites martyrum Aurelius Diogenes confessor et Valeria Felicissima vivi in Deo fecerunt" [The blessed confessors, companions of the martyrs, have been crowned by the Lord. Aurelius Diogenes, confessor, and Valeria Felicissima, put up (this monument) during their lifetime]. Among writers St. Cyprian is the first in whose works it occurs (Ep. xxxvii): "Is demum confessor illustris et verus est de quo post-modum non erubescit Ecclesia sed gloriatur" (That confessor, indeed, is illustrious and true for whom the Church does not afterwards blush, but of whom she boasts); he shows in the passage that suffering alone for the Faith did not merit the title of confessor unless perseverance to the end had followed. In this meaning the title is of more frequent occurrence in the Christian writers of the fourth century. Sidonius Apollinaris (Carmen, xvii), to quote one instance, writes, "Sed confessorem virtutum signa sequuntur" (But signs of power follow the confessor). A similar use may be verified in Lactantius, "De morte persecut.", xxxv; St. Jerome, Ep. lxxxii, 7; Prudentius, Peri steph ., 55, etc.

(2) Later meaning

After the middle of the fourth century we find confessor used to designate those men of remarkable virtue and knowledge who confessed the Faith of Christ before the world by the practice of the most heroic virtue, by their writings and preachings, and in consequence began to be objects of veneration, had chapels ( martyria ) erected in their honour, which in the previous centuries had been the especial privilege of the martyrs. In the Eastern Church the first confessors who received a public cultus were the abbots St. Anthony and St. Hilarion, also St. Philogonus and St. Athanasius. In the West Pope St. Silvester was so venerated even before St. Martin of Tours, as can be shown from the "Kalendarium" published by Fouteau--a document which is certainly of the time of Pope Liberius (cf. "Praenotata" in the aforesaid "Kalendarium", iv).

(3) Modern meaning

Since the time when the Roman pontiffs reserved to themselves definite decision in causes of canonization and beatification, the title of confessor (pontiff, non-pontiff, doctor) belongs only to those men who have distinguished themselves by heroic virtue which God has approved by miracles, and who have been solemnly adjudged this title by the Church and proposed by her to the faithful as objects of their veneration. (See MARTYRS; PERSECUTIONS; BEATIFICATION AND CANONIZATION. For the office of confessor in the Sacrament of Penance see PENANCE, SACRAMENT OF.)


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:1-6
1 I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm Of David] To Yahweh belong the earth and all ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:54-59
54 He said again to the crowds, 'When you see a cloud ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 24th, 2014 Image

St. Anthony Mary Claret
October 24: Claretian archbishop and founder. Anthony was born in Salient in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter