SIX VOLUMES IN ONE
BY THE DISTINGUISHED EXPONENTS OF CATHOLICISM
REV. HENRY DODRIDGE, D. D.
REV. HENRY EDWARD MANNING, D. D.
REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada
REV. STEPHEN KEENAN
REV. BERNARD VAUGHAN, S. J.
REV. THOMAS N. BURKE, O. P.
THE TENTH ARTICLE OF THE CREED.
Q. Which is the tenth article?
A. The forgiveness of sins.
Q. How do you explain this matter?
A. We believe that God has given a power to his Church to forgive sin; for though it is God alone that can forgive sin, as the principal agent, yet he may employ others as instruments to confer grace, and by consequence to forgive sin.
Q. Where is this power expressed in the holy Scriptures?
A. First, when original sin is forgiven by the sacrament of baptism. Second, when Christ said, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven. St. John xx. 23. Again, when Christ having cured the lame and sick man of a palsy, and told him, his sins were forgiven him, the Jews were scandalised, saying within themselves, that only God could forgive sin, this man blasphemes; but our Saviour seeing their thoughts, said, which is easier to say, thy sins are forgiven thee, or to say, rise up and walk; therefore to let you see, says he, that the son of man has power to forgive sins, Matt. ix. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, he ordered the sick man to rise and take up his bed and walk. He wrought that miracle to convince them that such a power was conferred upon him as man.
Q. But is not this power an usurpation of the divine authority? It encourages persons to commit sin, seeing that the priest has a power to absolve whom he pleases; nay, further, why may he not give them leave to commit sin?
A. It is rather an acknowledgement of the divine power; because an instrument has no virtue of itself, but derives all its efficacy from the principal agent; whereof there is a plain instance in working miracles where God is honored, and his power illustrated by those who cure distempers and raise the dead; by being the instruments he employs for those purposes. As for priests having a power to forgive whom they please, or to give persons leave to sin; those are ignorant surmises and downright calumnies. The power of absolving from sin, is granted with such restrictions, that no one is capable of receiving any benefit, but only such as bring proper dispositions, and are esteemed worthy of absolution in the sight of God.
Q. Pray what are those dispositions?
A. There are several. First, a sinner must be inwardly and sincerely sorrowful for having offended God. Secondly, he must make a firm resolution not to offend him any more. Thirdly, he must humbly and sincerely declare all his mortal or deadly sins by confession. Fourthly, he must promise to restore the good name, or goods of others, he has unjustly detained. Fifthly, he must promise to avoid the occasions of sinning, etc.
Q. When these things are complied with, the power of absolving seems useless, and the power is only declarative, not executive.
A. When those dispositions are accompanied with a perfect love of God above all things, and with a will to confess, the sin is forgiven before absolution; but when the love of God is only weak and imperfect, absolution completes the work; not unlike to a blast, which recovers a few sparks of fire, which otherwise might disappear and come to nothing. Thus, a sinner who begins to love God, by an humble acknowledgment and confession of his sins, renders himself capable of receiving a further grace, by the power God has left to his Church.
Q. Has the Church a power of absolving from all sins whatever? This I mention,upon account of some expressions in the Scriptures, which seem to insinuate, as if certain sins could not, or would not be forgiven, even by God himself, much less by the Church.
A. The Scriptures only speak of the greater difficulty there is, in having some sins forgiven, more than others: for instance, habitual sins, blasphemy, impugning the known truth, etc., and where there is a direct opposing of God's grace, upon which forgiveness entirely depends: but even in these cases, the Scriptures assure us, that God's mercy cannot be limited, and mention several particulars where such sins have been forgiven. The only sin that God can be said to be incapable of forgiving, is final impenitence, whereby a sinner renders himself incapable, for want of proper dispositions ; not that there is a want of either power, or will, in God, but because forgiveness, in that case, is inconsistent with his divine justice, and nature of the offence. Now as to the power of the Church, it is under no limitations where the offender brings proper dispositions ; hence, the Novatians (who affected a strictness of discipline, in order to seduce the people, and make them believe they were more holy than others) were condemned for heretics, pretending that the Church had not power to forgive some sort of sins.
Q. Is this all that is meant by the forgiveness of sins?
A. No, by the power of forgiving sin, we are to understand another power flowing from it, viz.: A power of granting indulgences.
Q. What is an indulgence ?
A. This will be specified when we come to explain the sacrament of penance.