Reconciliation

Roman Catholic Christians believe, as do some other Christians, that Jesus gave to the Apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins, reconciling sinners to God for sins committed after Baptism.

On numerous occasions, Jesus exercised the power to forgive sin.

Mk 2:5
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven."
Lk 7:47
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.

Jesus scandalized some Jews of his own time by claiming to have the authority to forgive sins.

Mk 2:7
Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?

Jesus clearly stated that he had the authority to forgive sins.

Mk 2:10-12
"But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth"-- he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone.

Jesus gave the same authority to Peter.

Mt 16:19
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus later gave the same authority to all the Apostles.

Mt 18:18
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The Apostle John, an eyewitness, recorded more directly the words of Jesus giving the power to forgive sins to all the Apostles after the testimony of the Resurrection.

Jn 20:23
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.

Many Christians ask why confession of sin is required for forgiveness. The Church responds that the need for personal confession of sin is required in order for forgiveness because that is the only way a confessor can judge whether to forgive or retain sins. A judgment cannot be made unless the sin in question is known and the disposition of the penitent is also known.

The New Testament speaks of confession of sin.

Ja 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
1 Jn 1:9
If we acknowledge (confess) our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.

Other New Testament scriptures bear witness that the Apostolic Church acknowledged the use of the power to forgive sins.

Acts 2:38
Peter (said) to them, "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."
1 Jn 1:9
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.
1 Jn 2:12
I am writing to you, children, because your sins have been forgiven for his name's sake.

The constant teaching of the Church and the Fathers of the Church in explicit words testify to the existence and use of the power to forgive sins in the Church.

The Didache, (70-110), Ch.4:13
You shall confess your offenses in church, and shall not come forward to your prayer with a bold conscience. This is the way of life.
Tertullian (Rome, 160-220), On Modesty, Ch 21, ML 2, 1024
"But," you say, "the church has the power of forgiving sins." This I acknowledge and adjudge more [than you; I] who have the Paraclete Himself in the persons of the new prophets, saying, "The church has the power to forgive sins"
Ambrose (Tier, 340-397), On the Holy Spirit, Bk. 3, Ch 18, ML 16, 808
See that sins are forgiven through the Holy Spirit. But men make use of their ministry for the forgiveness of sins, they do not exercise the right of any power of their own. For they forgive sins not in their own name but in that of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They ask, the Godhead gives, the service is of man, the gift is of the Power on high.
Jerome (Stridon, 345-419), Letters, No. 14, ML 22, 352
Far be it to censure the successors of the apostles, who with holy words consecrate the body of Christ, and who make us Christians. Having the keys of the kingdom of heaven, they judge men to some extent before the day of judgment, and guard the chastity of the Bride of Christ.

The ecumenical councils of the Church, the official Magisterium, also attest to the truth of this sacrament.

The Council of Constance (1414 - 1418)
A Christian has the obligation, over and above heartfelt contrition, of confessing to a priest.
The Council of Florence (1438-1445)
The fourth sacrament is penance.
The Council of Trent (1545 - 1563)
But our Lord instituted the sacrament of penance notably on the occasion when after his resurrection, he breathed upon his disciples saying: "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained" (John 20:22). The universal agreement of the Father has always understood that by such a striking action and by clear words the power of remitting and of retaining sins, and of reconciling the faithful who have fallen after baptism was communicated to the apostles and to their legitimate successors; ... Therefore this holy council accepts and approves the true meaning of these words of our Lord and condemns the false interpretation of ... those words.

A Biblical Portrait of Sin

To fully understand what God accomplishes in us when He forgives sin, it is important to look to the Bible for the meaning of sin.

Sin in man is, first, an aversion or turning away from God.

Job 34:27
Because they (humankind) turned away from him (God) and heeded none of his ways ...
Is 1:2-4
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master's manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood. Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized.
Dan 9:9-10
But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness! Yet we rebelled against you and paid no heed to your command, O Lord, our God, to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.
Rom 1:19-24
For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over ...
Phil 3:18-19
For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame." Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
Mt 6:24
"No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Jn 12:43
For they (the Pharisees) preferred human praise to the glory of God.
Ja 4:4
Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

The sin of man is also a conversion or turning to created things.

Rom 1:19-24
For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over ...
Phil 3:18-19
For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame." Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
Jn 12:43
For they (the Pharisees) preferred human praise to the glory of God.
Ja 4:4
Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Is 22: 12-13
On that day the Lord, the GOD of hosts, called on you To weep and mourn, to shave your head and put on sackcloth. But look! you feast and celebrate, you slaughter oxen and butcher sheep, You eat meat and drink wine: "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!"
Rev 18:7
To the measure of her boasting and wantonness repay her (Babylon) in torment and grief ...

Aversion from God leads to eternal death.

Rom 6:23
For the wages of sin is death ...
Col 2:13
And even when you were dead (in) transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh ...
Rom 7:13
Sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin, worked death in me through the good

Turning to created things leads to punishment from God.

Num 14:20-23
The Lord answered (Moses): "I pardon them as you have asked. Yet, by my life and the Lord's glory that fills the whole earth, of all the men who have seen my glory and the signs I worked in Egypt and in the desert, and who nevertheless have put me to the test ten times already and have failed to heed my voice, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their fathers. None of these who have spurned me shall see it."
2 Sam 12:13-14
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan answered David: "The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die."
1 Cor 11:29-32
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Rev 18:7
To the measure of her boasting and wantonness repay her (Babylon) in torment and grief ...

The saving power of the blood of Christ saves us from eternal death and washes us free of the guilt of sin.

Eph 1:7
In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace
Eph 2:5
Even when we were dead in our transgressions, (God) brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Eph 2:13
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.
Rom 5:9
How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him.
Col 1:14
... in whom (Jesus) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Heb 9:13-14
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.
Heb 13:12
Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood.
1 Pet 1:18-20
... realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.
1 Jn 1:7
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
Rev 1:5
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ...

The Word of God provides a way for man to do reparation--to remove the temporal punishment due for sin--for the personal or social values lessened or destroyed when man turned to created things in sin.

Dan 4:24
Therefore, O king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor.
Joel 1:14
Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the elders, all who dwell in the land, Into the house of the Lord, your God, and cry to the Lord!
1 Kgs 21:26-29
He (Ahab) became completely abominable by following idols, just as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites. When Ahab heard these words, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth over his bare flesh. He fasted, slept in the sackcloth, and went about subdued. Then the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Have you seen that Ahab has humbled himself before me? Since he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his time. I will bring the evil upon his house during the reign of his son."
Jonah 3:6-10
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: "Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand. Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish." When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
Prov 16:6
By kindness and piety guilt is expiated, and by the fear of the Lord man avoids evil.
Mt 6:16-18
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
Mk 9:28-29
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, "Why could we not drive it (deaf/mute spirit) out?" He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."
Act 10:4
Your prayers and almsgiving have ascended as a memorial offering before God.
1 Pet 4:8
Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.

The constant faith, paradosis, of the Church attests to the two-fold effects of sin, aversion from God and conversion to created things, the two-fold punishments due to sin, eternal and temporal, and the satisfaction of one by the blood of Christ and the other by reparation.

The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the double aspect of sin as follows:

Catechism Section 1472
To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

By way of summary, the following is a chart of the revelation of sin and its consequences.
SIN
aversion from God
conversion to created things
(Job 34:27)
(Is 22:12)
|
|
OFFENDS GOD
PERSONAL/SOCIAL VALUES LESSENED/DESTROYED
CULPA
POENA
(Rom 1:19)
(Rev 18:7)
|
|
eternal punishment due
temporal punishment due
(Phil 3:18)
(2 Sam 12:13; Jonah 3:5)
|
|
DEATH
REPARATION
(Rom 6:23)
(Acts 10:4; Dan 4:24)
|
|
OR
OR
|
|
Friendship restored at Calvary
Punishment from God
(Eph 1:7)
(1 Cor 11:27)
|
|
GRACE
POWER OF THE KEYS
(Eph 2:5; 2 Tim 1:9)
(Mt 16:19; Mt 18:18)
Before death: Indulgences (Mt 16:19)
After death: Purgatory (1 Cor 3:11)

The Existence of Sin

It is frequently said that what the Catholic Church taught about sin was not always biblical. Catholic Christianity has always used the Bible as its source for what is sinful.

It is important to state that all sin offends God. With even the slightest sin in our eyes, we alienate God and are unholy in his sight.

Mt 6:24
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Ja 4:4-10
Adulterers! Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks without meaning when it says, "The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy"? But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says: "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

It has been objected that the long standing teaching of the Church of a distinction between "mortal" and "venial" sin was an artificial distinction. But it was the Apostle John, Evangelist and author of three epistles as well as the Book of Revelation, from whom the church took that distinction among sins.

1 Jn 5:16-17
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly (venial), he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin (mortal), about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.

The Church is also criticized for teaching sin by lists. But again it is from the Bible itself that the Church takes the lead in teaching the word of God about those behaviors which are sin.

Mk 7:20-23
(Jesus said) "But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile."
Gal 5:19-21
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Eph 4:25-31
... putting away falsehood ... Be angry but do not sin ... The thief must no longer steal ... No foul language should come out of your mouths ... All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.
Eph 5:3-7
Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. So do not be associated with them.
Eph 5:18
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery
Mt 5:28
But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Mt 5:32
But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Mt 5:34
But I say to you, do not swear at all
Rev 21:8
But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
1 Cor 6:9-10
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Indulgences

By definition, an indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to personal sin, provided that the sin has already been forgiven. The power invested in the Church and her bishops and priests to grant indulgences is found in several scriptures.

To Peter alone Jesus granted the first power to bind and loose anything.

Mt 16:19
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

To all the disciples Jesus later granted the same power to bind and loose.

Mt 18:18
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

To all the disciples Jesus gave the power to forgive sins.

Jn 20:21-23
(Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

As can be seen from the nature of personal sin, as man turns from God and towards created things, man incurs both guilt and punishment. Through the blood of Jesus, all guilt of sin-turning from God--is remitted through confession of sin. Punishment, limited temporal punishment due to sin-preferring created things to God--still remains.

Num 14:20-23
The Lord answered (Moses): "I pardon them as you have asked. Yet, by my life and the Lord's glory that fills the whole earth, of all the men who have seen my glory and the signs I worked in Egypt and in the desert, and who nevertheless have put me to the test ten times already and have failed to heed my voice, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their fathers. None of these who have spurned me shall see it."
2 Sam 12:13-14
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." Nathan answered David: "The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die."
1 Cor 11:29-32
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The three classic actions leading to indulgences are prayer, good deeds and almsgiving.

Prov 16:6
By kindness and piety guilt is expiated, and by the fear of the Lord man avoids evil.
Dan 4:24
Therefore, O king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long.
Luke 19:8-9
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham."
Act 10:4
Your prayers and almsgiving have ascended as a memorial offering before God.

The teaching Magisterium of the church in ecumenical council also affirms indulgences.

Council of Trent (1545-1563), Decree on Indulgences, Sess. 25
Christ gave the power of granting indulgences to the Church, and since the Church has, even in ancient times, made use of this divinely given power (Mt. 16:19; 18:18), the holy council teaches and commands that the usage of indulgences--a usage most beneficial to Christians and approved by the authority of the holy councils--should be kept up in the Church; and it anathematizes those who say that indulgences are useless, or that the Church does not have the power of granting them.
Vatican Council II (1962-1965), Constitution of the Revision of Indulgences, No. 1
The doctrine of indulgences and their practice have been in force for many centuries in the Catholic Church. They would appear to be solidly founded on Divine Revelation, handed down "from the apostles."

From the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1471
An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 1473
The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man."
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 1478-1479
An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity. Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.



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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

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