Forgiveness Rituals in Early Christianity

Rikard Roitto’s Roitto’s project focuses on rituals of forgiveness in early Christianity: both rituals of divine forgiveness and ritualized interpersonal forgiveness.

Early Christian theology frequently understands the problem of humanity as “sin” and the solution to the problem as “forgiveness”, “justification” etc. Although forgiveness was not necessarily the only interpretation of the meaning of the rituals of baptism and the Eucharist, as it evolved the interpretation of these rituals gravitated towards one of forgiveness. In other words, the efficacy of the ritual was often interpreted as divine forgiveness. Theories as to how ritual consolidates teaching may help us understand the relationship between world view and ritual. Theories of ritual efficacy may also help us understand how rituals were experienced as effective in removing and remitting sin.

In early Christian texts, interpersonal forgiveness, repentance, confession of sins and conflict resolution is often connected to divine forgiveness. Christian communities did not simply forgive; they imitated divine forgiveness and mediated it to repentant transgressors. Moreover, the instructions for interpersonal forgiveness were frequently scripted, like a ritual protocol. Costly signaling theory may help us understand how ritual protocols for forgiveness contributed to better intragroup cooperation, which in turn contributed to the survival of the movement.