Being a Catholic means Eucharist and Confession. The two work together, for without confession, one cannot partake in the Eucharist. This article is about a journey to understand forgiveness in the biblical sense of how to obtain it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has regulations on how forgiveness is to be administered. While they do teach that only God can forgive sin, they also adhere to the clergy are the one’s to administer the rite (sacrament). This is found in the Catechism. Part Two Section Two Article 4 No. 1441, “ Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: “Your sins are forgiven.” The second part of No. 1441 states “Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.”
They take this ‘authority’ for two reasons. The first is a single line in scripture (John 20:23) “After His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. The second is the belief that the power of the Catholic Church derives straight from the Apostles and Peter as the first designated Pope. It must be understood that other denominations (and Latin Rite Catholic is a denomination of non-Protestants) also make this claim. This article is not about their claims of authority. Although through it, that authority may be questioned.
Let us look at the history of priestly confessions. The Fathers of the Church (those after the Apostles) did speak on confession. But not always to a priest. Barnabas in his letter (AD 74) simply states “you shall confess your sins”.Since he was an Apostles he would be referring to this verse (1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sin,he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. The he that is spoken of here is God.
Tertullian (AD 203) states, “The Church has the power of forgiving sins.” Hippolytus (AD 215) states while speaking of a new appointed bishop in the church, “and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command.” John Chrysostom (AD 387) states John 20:23 and then says this. “The Father has give all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men”.
So this belief dates back to at least the third century. The command to receive forgiveness and penance from a priest, was not placed into the rules and regulations of the church until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215. Two things came out of this council, in relation to this article. The first being the Eucharist, the real presence in the communion wafer and wine after a priest consecrates the host. The second point relating to this article is the addition to canon (law) that confession must be made to a priest once a year at the minimum. So, for the first 1200 years of the church, confession to a priest was not commanded.
There is the first issue with the ‘need of a priestly mediator, instead of God’s omnipotent grace and ability. The second is that none of the Apostles ever forgave a sin. The book of Acts in the New Testament is the continuing story of the post resurrection disciples (some now given the term of Apostle). They heal, the teach, they preach, but nowhere in the entire accounting of their ministries and travels do they once forgive a sin.
The third thing to discuss in this, is the supposed need for a human mediator between man and God. We are told in 1 Timothy 2:15 “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” If one sees the bible as the true word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the various writers over the various centuries from Moses to John, then this statement in itself eliminates a priest as mediator in which is needed by the canon of the Church of Rome. It also calls into question of Mary as co-mediatrix. This article is not to condemn or deny the mother of Christ. But does put into light any source as a mediator between man and God that is not Christ.
Martin Luther gave the reformative concept of salvation and grace through Christ alone. So, as the Bereans would do, let us search scripture.
In Acts 2:38, Peter said “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
It is also stated in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Jesus says in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Through the words of the Apostle Peter and Jesus the Christ, it is only through Jesus that a man can be saved and forgiven his sins. And being the only mediator between man and God, Jesus does not relinquish or share that ability with anyone.
And let us take the warning of the Apostle Paul when it comes to teaching. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)
So as my journey in faith with Christ continues, I see an opening of possibilities in faith and ministry, as well as the possible ending of part of this path. Never take as gospel what you hear or read. Always search it for yourself. Be guided by the Holy Spirit. And be ready to defend your faith. And never let tradition take the place of scripture.