Repentance (religion)

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Penitents at the Way of the Cross in Iztapalapa , Mexico

In the religious sense, repentance is a reorientation of man.

Origin of the term

The words that are used in different languages ​​for the term “penance” (from Middle High German büezen in the sense of “improve, make good, eliminate, treat, erase”) have very different meanings in the respective everyday language, which can easily lead to misunderstandings .

  • The Hebrew term שוב thrust from the Jewish Tanakh includes the conversion to YHWH , the God of Israel. It means loyalty to the covenant and trust in God as well as turning away from unsavory human actions. It begins in the conscience and has an effect on behavior , especially in Teschuvah ("repentance"), Tefillah ("prayer") and Tzedakah ("humanity").
  • The word metanoia μετάνοια (from νοεῖν noein , "think" and μετά meta , "around" or "after") from the Greek Old Testament and the Greek New Testament literally means "rethink, change of mind, reversal of thinking".
  • In church Latin metanoia was translated as paenitentia ("repentance, penance"), often ground down to poenitentia and incorrectly derived from poena ("punishment").
  • In Luther German was paenitentia translated penance, linguistically bass is "better", used and originally meant "benefit, advantage." Luther , on the other hand, emphasized more “horror and believing repentance”. So it signified the satisfaction of the sinner towards God.
  • From this in German the meaning "externally imposed punishment or reparation, which is independent of the inner attitude" developed.

In Christianity

In Christianity, repentance represents the endeavor to restore a relationship between God and man that has been disturbed by human offenses. Repentance leads through the knowledge of one's own guilt ( Job 42.6  EU ) to the righteous works of new life ( Acts 26.20  EU ), which include turning away from the previous way of life ( Rom. 6,1f  EU ). Jesus Christ is seen here as the atonement for original sin and the sins of all people.

In the Catholic Church

Penitents during Holy Week in Palma de Mallorca

In the Catholic Church , the term repentance can mean:

  • participation in the suffering of Christ
  • the fulfillment of a work of reparation, which can consist of prayer, alms, service to one's neighbor, or voluntary renunciation, often in connection with the reception of the sacrament of penance
  • in the old church a punishment imposed by the church for a wrongdoing, in order to lead the sinner to inner conversion through this external penance and to reconcile him with God and the church.

The times of penance throughout the church throughout the church year are Advent , Lent and , according to tradition, also the quarter days .

In the Evangelical Church

In the Protestant Church , repentance is understood primarily as a change in one's inner attitude and emphasizes that repentance is brought about by God. Man does not repent of his own accord, but God is the cause of repentance. External actions are associated with this reversal, but not as a prerequisite, but as a natural consequence of a fundamental change in the inner attitude. The word repentance can be applied to special days or acts of repentance, or to a constant way of life. This is expressed in the first of Luther's 95 theses :

"Since our Lord and Master Jesus Christ says: 'Repent' etc. ( Mt 4,17  LUT ), he willed that the whole life of believers should be repented."

In the orthodox churches

In the Orthodox Churches , metanoia ( see: Metanie ) is primarily understood to be a change in attitude to life that comes about through the voluntary cooperation of the Holy Spirit on the one hand and the individual on the other. The aim is to accept God's forgiveness, to leave the anger against God and fellow human beings behind, and thus to move from an unnatural, inhuman "death attitude" to a natural, human attitude to life. The world spoiled in the Fall, however, pulls man again and again in the wrong direction, contrary to his actual nature as the image and likeness of God, so that the metanoia is a lifelong effort against one's own spiritless following. The reception of the sacraments , fasting and prayer help by presenting a counter-image to the fallen world in the "here and now".

In pietism

The pietism and some evangelicals understand by penance also a unique, fundamental conversion to Jesus Christ, which results in a changed life. This conscious change in life is the answer to the offer of God's grace, ends the previous life as an unbeliever and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, begins a life oriented towards God.

In Judaism

The month of Elul is considered to be the beginning of the "Teschuwa", the repentance. This is not yet concluded with Rosh Hashanah , but extends over the following ten days of repentance up to Yom Kippur . This is the holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish year. His prayers and scriptures speak of repentance and reconciliation - with oneself, with fellow men and with God. Eating, drinking, bathing, personal hygiene, wearing leather (including leather shoes) and sexual relations are forbidden on this day, and in modern times also smoking. The fasting  - the total absence of food and drink - begins just before sunset and ends on the following day, after nightfall.

In Islam

In Islam, God is the only one who accepts man's repentance, provided that it is genuine repentance with a firm intention to refrain from sins in the future.

“The heavens almost incline to break from above, and the angels glorify their Lord with His praises and implore forgiveness for those on earth. See, surely Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful. "

- Sura 42 Aya 5

There is no fixed practice of penance. The devout Muslim must trust in the mercy of Allah and repent for his sins through religious acts (praying, fasting, etc.).

In Buddhism

Hatsuhana repents with crossed hands under the roaring Tonosawa waterfall for healing her son's knee until she dies from the hardship and austerity ; Ukiyo-e by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

In Buddhism , the term repentance or repentance is seen as a reorientation similar to that in Greek (μετάνοια metanoia) and the Chinese term ( 懺悔  /  忏悔 , chànhuǐ ) used in Buddhist texts is also translated as “penance” or “repentance”. The process of repentance begins with the recognition of the unwholesome character of action, speech or thought or the unwholesome intention behind it. In the awareness that all activity forms karma and has corresponding consequences, the harmful character of unwholesome thoughts, words and actions (on 'self' and 'other') is recognized and thus regretted. The 'active repentance' or penance is the decision to turn back, to not harm , to purify or purify the spirit and to prepare the ground for healing actions. Complete repentance and repentance eliminates the karmatic consequences (which may also have to be endured) and opens the way to complete liberation even for those who are guilty of extremely unwholesome acts. A classic example is the robber and murderer Angulimala ( MN 86, Angulimāla Sutta), who eventually becomes an arhat , a saint. See the Buddhist confession of repentance .

See also


  • Hans Wißmann, Peter Welten, Louis Jacobs a. a .: Article repentance ; in: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 7 (1981), pp. 430–496 (with further literature)

Web links

Commons : Repentance  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. See for example Jürgen Martin: The 'Ulmer Wundarznei'. Introduction - Text - Glossary on a monument to German specialist prose from the 15th century. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1991 (= Würzburger medical-historical research. Volume 52), ISBN 3-88479-801-4 (also medical dissertation Würzburg 1990), p. 122 ( büezen ) and 130 ( gebüezen ).
  2. Der Duden, Vol. 7: Dictionary of Origin; Mannheim, Vienna, Zurich 1989 2
  3. The people of God carry out this constant repentance in many ways: by sharing in the suffering of Christ by enduring, doing works of mercy and love and daily converting according to the gospel of Christ, they become in the world a sign of turning to God . The Church expresses this in her life and in the celebration of the liturgy, when the faithful confess that they are sinners and ask for the forgiveness of God and their brothers, as in the penitential services, in the proclamation of the word of God, in prayer and through the penitential elements of the Eucharist happens. In the sacrament of penance, however, believers receive pardon from his mercy for the insults inflicted on God and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by sin and which contributes to their conversion through love, example and prayer. The celebration of penance according to the new Roman Rituals, 1974, pastoral introduction
  4. Johannes Hoffet: De paenitentia in genere, sive qua virtus, seu qua sacramentum est. Theses theologicae Würzburg 1561 (copy in the University Library of Würzburg: 35 / Diss 3350).