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True it is that in writing of the extent of the power conferred, he makes exception for the sins of idolatry and adultery, which he terms irremissible, although Dionysius of Corinth (170) years before held that no sin was excepted from the power of the keys granted by Christ to His Church ( Eusebius, Hist. In the Alexandrian Church we have also the testimony of Athanasius, who in a fragment against the Novatians pointedly asserts: "He who confesses his sins, receives from the priest pardon for his fault, in virtue of the grace of Christ (just as he who is baptized )." Asia Minor is at an early date witness of this power to absolve. Cyp., LXXV), and this tradition is more clearly expressed both in Basil and Gregory Nazianzen (P. The Roman tradition is clear in the "Pastor" of Hermas, where the power to forgive sins committed after baptism is defended (Sim., viii, 6, 5; ibid., ix, 19).This same tradition is manifest in the Canons of Hippolytus, wherein the prelate consecrating a bishop is directed to pray : "Grant him, O Lord, the power to forgive sins " (xxii).Matthew , 183, 184.) The granting of the power to absolve is put with unmistakable clearness in St.John's Gospel: "He breathed upon them and said, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost.XIV); for the very context is against such an interpretation, and the words of the text imply a strictly judicial act, while the power to retain sins becomes simply incomprehensible when applied to baptism alone, and not to an action involving discretionary judgment.But it is one thing to assert that the power of absolution was granted to the Church, and another to say that a full realization of the grant was in the consciousness of the Church from the beginning.
Through baptism was obtained not only plenary pardon for sin, but also for temporal punishment due to sin.Man once born anew, the Christian ideal forbade even the thought of his return to sin.Of a consequence, early Christian discipline was loath to grant even once a restoration to grace through the ministry of reconciliation vested in the Church. Paul's declaration in his Epistle to the Hebrews : "For it is impossible for those who were once illuminated, have tasted also the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, have moreover tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come and are fallen away, to be renewed again to penance" etc. The persistence of this Christian ideal is very clear in the "Pastor" of Hermas, where the author contends against a rigorist school, that at least one opportunity for penance must be given by the Church (III Sim., viii, 11).This interpretation becomes more clear in studying the rabbinical literature, especially of Our Lord's time, in which the phrase to bind and to loose was in common use.(Lightfoot, Horæ Hebraicæ Buxtorf, Lexicon Chald.; Knabenbauer, Commentary on Matthew, II, 66; particularly Maas, St.In the commentary on the words of the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses", he alludes to the practice of penance in the Church, recalling the text of John, xx, 21.He asserts that this text is proof of the power to pardon sin conferred by Christ upon His Apostles and upon their successors. Cyprian , asserts that the power to forgive sins was given to the Apostles and to their successors (Epp."Collocavit Deus in vestibulo pœnitentiam januam secundam, quæ pulsantibus patefaciat [januam]; sed jam semel, quia jam secundo, sed amplius nunquam, quia proxime frustra" (De Pœnitentiâ, vii, 9, 10). At first this power is timidly asserted against the rigorist party; afterwards stoutly maintained.Although Tertullian limits the exercise of this power, he stoutly asserts its existence, and clearly states that the pardon thus obtained reconciles the sinner not only with the Church, but with God (Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, I, note 3, 407). At first the sinner is given one opportunity for pardon, and gradually this indulgence is extended; true, some doctors thought certain sins unpardonable, save by God alone, but this was because they considered that the existing discipline marked the limits of the power granted by Christ. Following the theologians, the canonists, such as Regino of Prüm, Burchard of Worms, Ivo of Chartres, furnish us with fuller proofs of the same power, and Harduin (Councils, VI, i, 544) cites the fifteenth canon of the Council of Troslé (909), which states expressly that penance through the ministry of Christ's priests is "fruitful unto the remission of sins ". Bernard, who takes Peter Abelard to task for daring to assert that Christ gave the power to forgive sins only to His disciples, and consequently that the successors of the Apostles do not enjoy the same privileges (P. But while Bernard insists that the power of the keys given to the Apostles is lodged in the bishop and in the priests, he with equal stress insists that such power be not exercised unless the penitent make a full confession of wrong committed (ibid., 938).The whole Montanist controversy is a proof of the position taken by the Church and the Bishops of Rome ; and the great Doctors of the West affirmed in the strongest terms the power to absolve granted to the priests of the Church by Christ. After the middle of the fourth century, the universal practice of public penance precludes any denial of a belief in the Church's power to pardon the sinner, though the doctrine and the practice of penance were destined to have a still further expansion. When the great scholastic epoch began, the doctrine which obtained was a power to absolve sins and this power distinctly recognized, in virtue of the power granted by Christ to His Apostles.Following the golden age of the Fathers, the assertion of the right to absolve and the extension of the power of the keys are even more marked. On the part of the penitent, sorrow and a promise of better life were necessary, and also a declaration of sin made to him whom Christ had appointed judge. Anselm seemed to annul the power to absolve which antiquity had granted to the priesthood, and to reduce the office of reconciliation to a mere declaration that sin had been forgiven. Victor (1097-1141) took ground against Anselm, not because Anselm insisted on contrition, but because he seemingly left no place for the power of the keys. Hugo says the sinner is "bound down by obduracy of soul, and by the penalty of future damnation"; the grace of God frees man from the darkness brought on by sin, while the absolution of the priest delivers him from the penalty which sin imposes — "The malice of sin is best described as obduracy of heart, which is first broken by sorrow, that later, in confession, the sin itself, i.e.