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The Parts of Repentance

In chapter 12 of the first classis of doctrines in the Enchiridion  Theologicum (pp. 102ff.), Niels Hemmingsen identifies three parts (partes) of repentance (poenitentia): contrition, faith, and new obedience (contritio, fides, nova obediantia). This third might raise some eyebrows (especially given his title for the chapter, where there are only two parts: poenitentia cum suis partibus, contritione et fide): is new obedience really part of repentance? For Hemmingsen, the answer is, “Well, yes and no.” In other words, he might like to toss in a good, old-fashioned distinguo at this point.

In the strict sense, the answer is “no.” He believes that only the first two are “substantial parts” (substantiales partes)–that is, of the essence–of repentance, while the third (and here is the “yes”) is added as an “inseperable property” (inseperabilis proprietas). New obedience necessarily follows true conversion, even though it is not the “substance” of it: “[W]hen new obedience is added to the previous two [i.e., contrition and faith], we should understand that it is adjoined as a necessary property that can in no way be torn away from complete [integra] and true conversion.” Elsewhere he calls it the fruit [fructus] of repentance that is the “continual ally” of true faith; and in yet another passage he uses the phrase “new life,” which, because it necessarily follows from true repentance, can be called an “integral part” of repentance (quae pars poenitentiae integralis dici potesti). For Hemmingsen, there is distinguishability without seperability.1

All that by way of preface. One of the texts he uses as proof for this threefold scheme is one I had never considered in this way.2 That text is the thief on the cross in Luke’s version (Luke 23:39-43):

Similar is the example of the robber, who recognizes his own sin, calls upon Christ by faith, and produces the fruit of faith: invocation, gratitude toward God, and love toward his neighbor. For the fact that he admonishes his companion [on the cross] belonged to charity.

For Hemmingsen, this brief vignette is sufficient to encapsulate the entire Christian life in miniature: grief over sin (contrition), the laying hold of Christ by faith (justification), and the new life that flows from it as evidenced in love for one’s neighbor (sanctification).

  1. He also makes a distinction between “repentance” and “faith” themselves, in spite of calling faith a pars of repentance in the chapter title. In Scripture, when the word “repentance” is used by itself, it includes all its “parts,” including faith, by implication. When, however, the word “faith” is expressed, “repentance” should be construed as “contrition.” “Conversion” as a whole, then, will consist of repentance and faith.
  2. I would guess, however, though I haven’t looked, that it may be a standard proof for this idea?

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.