Exomologesis (ἐξομολόγησις, confession). The word was used in the ancient Church to denote not only confession in words, but also the various acts required of penitents to give expression to sorrow for sin, and resolution of amendment.
1. It is common with Romanist writers, when "they meet with the word exomologesis in any of the ancient writers, to interpret it as private or auricular confession, such as is now practiced in the communion of that Church, and imposed upon men as absolutely necessary to salvation. But they who, with greater judgment and ingenuity among themselves, have more narrowly considered the matter, make no scruple to confess that the exomologesis of the ancients signifies a quite different thing, viz. the whole exercise of public penance, of which public confession was a noted part. The learned Albaspinaeus very strenuously sets himself to refute this error in the writers of his own party. Cardinal Bellarmine, says he (Observatt. lib. 2, cap. 26), and Baronius, and Maldonat in his controversies, and Pamelius in his commentaries upon Tertullian and Cyprian, lay it down as a certain truth that the fathers generally take the word exonologesis for private and auricular confession; but, having long and accurately considered all the places where it is mentioned, I cannot come in to their opinion. The fathers, adds he, always use this word when they would describe the external rites of penance, viz. weeping, and mourning, and self-accusation, and other the like things, which penitents usually practiced in the course of public penance" (Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 18, chapter 3).
2. So anxious was the primitive Church to preserve the voluntary character of penance, that it was deemed unlawful to exhort or invite any one to submit to this kind of discipline. It was required that the offenders should seek it as a favor, and should supplicate for admission among the penitents. The following are the duties or burdens imposed upon them. Penitents of the first three classes — the mourners (flentes), the hearers (audientes), the kneelers or prostrators (genuflectentes or substrati) — were never allowed to stand during public prayers, but were obliged to kneel. Open and public confession before the whole church was to be made with lamentations, tears, and other expressions of grief, and these were to be often repeated. All ornaments of dress were to be laid aside, and all expressions of joy or pleasure to be abandoned. Male penitents were required to cut their hair and shave their beard in token of sorrow, and females were to appear with their hair dishevelled, and wea. ing a veil. During the whole time of penance the candidates were required to abstain from bathing, feasting, and corporeal pleasures lawful at other times. They were forbidden to Imarry during this period of humiliation. In addition, they were obliged to be present at every religious ceremony, and to perform works of love and charity, particularly almsgiving. They were also expected to perform the office of the parabolani in visiting and relieving the sick and burying the dead (Riddle, Christian Antiquities, book 4, chapter 4).
3. The greater litanies are sometimes termed exomologeses, confessions; because fasting, and weeping, and mourning, and confession of sins was usually joined with supplication to avert God's wrath and reconcile him to a sinful people (Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 13, chapter 1, § 11).