Repentance or Penance

Is there any ground in the original Greek for the use of "penance" or "do penance" in the Douay Bible in place of "repentance" and "repent" in the King James?

W. E. HOWELL. [Theological Seminary]

Is there any ground in the original Greek for the use of "penance" or "do penance" in the Douay Bible in place of "repentance" and "repent" in the King James?

The word penance is really an older form of the word penitence, and do penance an older form of do penitence or repent. Wyc­liffe's translation, more than two hundred years before King James, reads: "And I seye to you, so joye schal be in heuene on o synful man doinge penaunce more than on nynty and nyne juste that han no nede to penaunce." Luke 15 :7. The term comes from the Latin paenitet, meaning cause to regret or to feel sorrow. But it is frequently used in a sense as derived from poena or punio, punishment or punish.

The older meaning of penance was to do something, to show sorrow for wrong doing, and grew easily into the meaning of doing something to atone for sin—self-infliction or punishment in expiation. for sin. Thus it came to be righteousness by works. In the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches, as also in some heathen religions, confession is made to a priest. The priest prescribes the punish­ment, the penitent undergoes the punishment or inflicts it on himself,—sometimes over a long period of time,—returns to the priest for absolution, and then goes free from his sin.

Looking at the original Greek, one finds both the verb geraPaco (nietanoeo) and the noun /heravovcra (inetanoesis) meaning a change of mind—the true meaning of re­pentance in relation to sin, and synonymous with change of heart. When this is experi­enced, a change in deeds and life follows as a natural fruitage.

So while repent means to change over the mind, penance (verb) or do penance may mean "pass over the pence," or to do some­thing worthy of absolution. Seldon, in his "Table Talk," says; "Penance is only the punishment inflicted, not penitence, which is the right word." And quoting from Prior:

"Better not do the deed than weep it done, 

No penance can absolve our guilty frame."

Keats, the poet, says:

"His was harsh penance on St. Agnes' Eve:

Another way he went, and soon among

Rough ashes sat he for his soul's reprieve."

An ecclesiastical definition in the Century Dictionary declares penance to be:

"Sorrow for sin shown by outward acts under au­thority and regulation of the church; contrition man­ifested by confession and satisfaction and entitling to absolution; hence, absolution ensuing upon con­trition and confession with satisfaction or purpose of satisfaction. Absolution has been given on these terms since primitive times in the church, and this ancient institution was afterward formally recog­nized as a sacrament by the Roman Catholic, the Greek, and other churches. The sacrament of pen­ance includes four parts: contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution. It is required that there should be a genuine and a supernatural con­trition for the sin committed; that is, a sorrow produced by the influence of the Holy Spirit, coupled with a firm purpose of amendment; that the sin should be confessed fully and unreservedly to a priest; and that satisfaction be made for it by a voluntary submission to such penalty or discipline as the priest may require and by restitution to per­sons wronged ; and absolution can be granted only on these conditions. It can be administered by no one who has not received priest's orders. Every member of the Roman Catholic Church is obliged at least once a year to confess to his parish priest and to do penance under his direction ; he cannot partake of communion without previous absolution, but is not either before confession or during his penitential discipline regarded as under ecclesiastical censure, which is inflicted on the contumacious only."

The reader may have noted President Roosevelt's recent use of the word "contuma­cious" in his ultimatum to Arthur E. Morgan, chairman of the TVA, who would not do the commanded penance of resigning and was therefore adjudged contumacious.

W. E. HOWELL. [Theological Seminary]


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W. E. HOWELL. [Theological Seminary]

November 1938

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