Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Power of the Keys and Absolution

I knew on Monday what the next topic would be and I contemplated going ahead and reading about the power of the keys yesterday.  Part of what I had to study for my exam yesterday was this very doctrine in relation to the church.  Calvin just skims over this doctrine, but promises that he will explain it more fully when he writes about the government of the church.  The Systematic Theology II exam I took dealt with the church.  The next month will be especially fun because there is a lot of assigned reading for this course from book 4 of the Institutes.

Jesus is quoted in Matthew 16:18-19 as saying, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  The only other mention of "keys" in the Bible is in Revelation 1:18 where Jesus tells John that he has the keys of Hades and Death.  The doctrine that Calvin is writing about is more related to the Matthew passage than to the Revelation passage.

Calvin explains that the power of the keys has its place in three types of confessions.  The first is when the entire church recognizes a fault and confesses it.  Calvin tells us that when the church declares its guilt and asks for God's mercy, it is necessary to have Christ there to bring reconciliation.  The second is when an individual commits a common offense and repents of it.  When he does, he receives a pardon and is restored to brotherly unity.  The third is when someone has committed an offense and his conscience is troubled so he asks for a minister's help in the matter.  When he opens up to the pastor, he receives from the pastor the gospel message and can then be freed from his anxiety and guilt.  In all case, the "power of the keys" should never be separated from the preaching of the Gospel.

Now Calvin goes into what the Roman Catholics believe.  The first issue is the idea that all persons of "both sexes" (I think he uses the quotation marks here as a reminder of his earlier joke) are to annually confess all their sins to a priest once they have reached a particular age.  They will not be forgiven of their sins unless they truly intend to ask for forgiveness.  If they do not carry out this intent to ask for forgiveness, then heaven's gates will be closed to them.  And finally, the priest has the power to bind and loose their sins.  It is these ideas which all Catholics agree.  Calvin addresses some differences of opinion within the Catholic church on some related topics.  Some claim that there is one key to bind and loose, but others claim that there are two keys - discretion and power.  Others add a third, discernment.  Some believe that the keys are conferred on the priests by Christ through the bishops when they are promoted, but others do not.  At least in the 16th century, there was much confusing in the Catholic church surrounding this doctrine.

One thing that all Catholics agreed upon was that ALL sins must be confessed.  How is this possible?  I could not recount for you all the sins I committed yesterday!  Even David confessed in the Psalms that he was unaware of all the sins he committed.  He admitted that his sins were innumerable.  This is an issue that Martin Luther struggled with while is was a monk.  He spent many hours every day confessing his sins, but knowing that he could never confess them all.  In the movie "Luther," his mentor told him that he spent so much time confessing and it was never anything remotely interesting.  This was not that the mentor was looking for good dirt on Luther, but it was that the sins he was confessing were so minor and frivolous in nature that they were not worth confessing.

The requirement to confess all your sins implemented by the Catholic church is tormenting.  They do offer a remedy that you should confess everything within your power, and you should at minimum repent of your negligence.  If you are not utterly careless in this confession, then your sins will be forgiven according to their doctrine.  Even though they have included this way out, it is still torturous when you are reminded of the initial call to confess all your sins.  Once again, Calvin writes, "For experience convinces each one that, when we have at evening to examine the transgressions of only a single day, the memory is confused; so great is the multitude and variety of them that press upon us."  

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.18-3.4.21

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