The Roman penitential system and the emergence of Reformation doctrine – extra 1

08 Jun

“Go and sin no more”

A recent post here on the Brothers of John the Steadfast caused me to finish this one, which goes along with the series found here and here.

I have been having a great discussion with a Roman Catholic apologist who has shown incredible patience (this is needed with me) and a willingness to try to help me see things from his perspective.   We have been discussing the Roman Catholic view of absolution, and with that, whether or not Rome says that a person may have real certainty that they are in a “state of grace” (see here and here also)  Here is what I am concluding is the crux of the issue

“Does the word of Gospel absolution, the moment a repentant person hears it, really deliver God’s very own forgiveness, life and salvation or not?  Is it fully sufficient to both create and renew faith – which then motivates the believer to joyfully go on to “sin no more”– or not?”

You’ll notice that I don’t say anything in particular about certainty there – even though certainty certainly does, we insist, go hand in hand with this.  

So, I think that is the main question.   After reading stuff from the Council of Trent, the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), it seems clear to me that they ultimately think that the pastor’s absolution always simply announces the reality – the forgiveness – that has already occurred.  In other words, the absolution is never meant to actually directly give forgiveness, life, and salvation from God and before God.  This means that it is not for persons who, feeling no love for God in their hearts, know they are evil, and who perhaps hate their sin primarily because they fear God.   No, strictly speaking, the power the pastors have to forgive sins is to “reconcile sinners with the Church” (CCC, 1444)   When it comes to reconciliation with God Himself, the sinner is the one who *must* reinstate the favor and friendship of God first:  “If, then, (the pastor) happens to encounter those who seem to distrust the infinite goodness and clemency of God, let him endeavour to inspire their minds with confidence, and raise them up to the hope of obtaining the grace of God” (Trent Catechism).  Note the kind of hope that is given.  On the contrary, although things like “abandoning all hope of salvation” and “conceiving a sorrow which bears no proportion to their crimes” (Trent Catechism) are certainly not fitting and are sinful in themselves, this kind of demonic attack is not first to be met by requiring persons to overcome said sins before absolving them, but by actually persuading the sinner through the Words of absolution (and more if necessary) that God forgives them and restores them in the midst of their struggle.

The views of St. Thomas Aquinas on this issue are the original basis of this discussion.  It seems clear to me that for Thomas, presumptive hope (i.e the “sin of presumption”) would be that which chiefly banks on the “grace already received” in the present, as opposed to God’s “omnipotence and mercy”– i.e. that He will provide all the sanctifying grace we need to merit, through our actions, eternal life.  I submit that if we think in this way, because of the demands of God’s law and the sin which inheres in us, we will lose the true confidence God means for us to possess, and this can potentially leave us with only false confidence not placed where it should be – which is the true “sin of presumption”!

Regarding this making of satisfaction in RCC theology (which follows absolution as a part of the Sacrament of penance), it seems to me that we can basically say that for each sin, the recovery is threefold (as the previous posts in this series reviewing Pastor Sonntag’s work show):  in view of self, in view of the neighbor, and in view of God.  Therefore there is a threefold reparation which must take place for each and every sin.  I think it is safe to say this is somewhat like a “recommended prescription and exercise regiment which remains somewhat in doubt, not simply because its complexity and extent must be so great, but in the end, because it finally depends on the will of the individual to complete the tasks at hand”  (this is a quote from my pastor – who also said this:  “And of course, the priests forgiveness is conditional and at times doubtful–Why the need to bring in a higher office (bishop) to forgive greater sins?!”)

The discussion has been most enlightening.

Once more, our  take, in a nutshell:  When God labels “sin”, we say “Amen”.  When God turns us to Him and says “forgiven”, we say “Amen”.  It *is* true!

Believe it like a child – and go and sin no more!

(of course “sinning no more” does not exclude taking appropriate steps to make things right between yourself and those you have sinned against you as circumstances allow – this to we are now free to do in His strength)

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Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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