An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed – Tenth Article of the Creed

“The forgiveness of sins.”

In the Catholic Church there is Forgiveness of Sins and Remission of Punishment

The Church of Christ, having been established for the salvation of men, must contain within herself all the means necessary to enable her to secure the end for which she was established. She must necessarily be able to place men in a position and condition to enter heaven. But as we know from the most emphatic assertion of the Redeemer, that nothing defiled can enter the kingdom of heaven, it must follow that the Church of God be not only an institution of conversion, but also a place of cleansing, in which men can find the means and appliances for freeing themselves from sin. Hence we believe in such forgiveness of sins, that is to say, we believe that men can obtain forgiveness of sins and remission of penalties in the Catholic Church by virtue of the merits of Christ.

Sins are forgiven by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ. For every sin, by which is offended the majesty of God, satisfaction must be made. Divine justice requires this. Now, Our Saviour, by His bloody death on the cross, has made this satisfaction for all men, so that the forgiveness of sins is owing to His merits and not to ours, for we would not be able to make sufficient satisfaction or atonement. Hence Saint Paul writes in his epistle to the Ephesians, “He hath predestinated us . . . through Jesus Christ unto Himself: . . . and hath graced us in His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:5-7)

Together with the sin the penalty also is remitted, especially the eternal punishment which the sinner has justly merited, for wherever there is no offense or displeasure to God there can be no penalty or guilt. Thus the remission of the penalty or guilt rests on the same grounds as those on which the remission of sins depends, namely, on the merits of Jesus Christ, who Himself bore the penalty for us, as Isaias had long before foretold, “He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed.” (Isaias 53:5)

Now, there have been some heretics who taught that only venial sins, and not mortal sins, could be forgiven after the reception of baptism. But in this matter the Lord made no exception when He gave to His apostles the full power to forgive sins. His own way of dealing with sinners shows this. Magdalen was a great sinner; those are great sinners at whose conversion the angels in heaven rejoice, for they are set up against the just who remain just, and even if they commit venial sins do not become unjust, for it is written, “A just man shall fall seven times, and shall rise again.” (Proverbs 24:16) Hence remission of sins must extend to the grave ones as well as to the venial ones, and hence in the Catholic Church all sins are remitted, without exception.

Conditions of Obtaining Pardon for Sin and Remission of Guilt

We can not receive the pardon of our sins and the remission of their well-deserved punishment without doing something on our part. God is indeed merciful and ever ready, in His holy Church, to remit all our many sins. But He requires from us, first, that we do true penance; secondly, that we receive the sacraments established by Christ for the remission of sins.

The repentance here intended is a penitential life, which is founded on deep, sincere, inward compunction and sorrow. Without such actual contrition expressed in, and proved by, works of penance, there can be no forgiveness of sins. For where there is no contrition there can be no disgust for sin, hence no justness or righteousness. Only that contrition is true that manifests itself in deeds. Hence it is altogether absurd to strike our breasts and to cry out, “O Lord, my sins distress and grieve me.” Nor will copious tears suffice if they do not come from the heart, if they do not move us to good deeds. Penitential works consist in self-imposed punishments, freely and cheerfully undergone in order to turn away God’s punishments, and to show that we feel guilty and ashamed of our evil doings. We should also show a redoubled zeal in our efforts to repair our sins of neglect, and an ardent practical desire to contribute to the glory of God in proportion to the degree in which we have despised and offended His sovereign majesty. Thus, true and sincere penance should not consist in words, but must bear fruit in life.

Furthermore it is necessary for the penitent to employ the means of grace appointed by God for that purpose. For it has pleased the Lord to associate the forgiveness of sins with certain visible signs, as we shall see more at length when we treat of the sacraments. The sacraments by which sins are forgiven are Baptism and Penance.

In Baptism are forgiven original sin, and also actual sin. In Penance only those sins arc forgiven which men have become guilty of since the time of their baptism. It is true that venial sins are forgiven through a heartfelt contrition, yet it is safe to confess them, in order, by submitting them to the judgment of our father confessor, to obviate sell-deception regarding their importance. In both these sacraments the eternal punishment due to the sin is remitted, together with its guilt, while the penitent may obtain remission of the temporal penalties either in baptism or through indulgences granted by the Church.

If asked who has the right to remit sins through the administration of this sacrament, it is self-evident that so sublime a function can not be deputed to every one without discrimination. A class of persons are appointed to dispense these favors, not promiscuously and arbitrarily, but in accordance with law and the true spirit of the Church, who, while she wishes all to be saved, is at the same time the guardian of the treasures of divine grace.

Hence it is only bishops and priests who may administer the Sacrament of Penance, and the latter only as far as empowered by the bishops. Baptism, too, may be given only by bishops and priests, except in cases of necessity, and then any lay person may administer it, for admission to heaven is dependent on that sacrament.

Thus the bishops and priests are the physicians of our souls, who heal the wounds thereof. It is indeed a source of great comfort that our blessed Lord not only promised us the forgiveness of our sins, but that He also assures us emphatically, through the mouth of His representatives, of the actual forgiveness of them.

Now, on the one hand, as it is a strict duty for all parents (and one to which they are bound under pain of mortal sin), not to permit their children to be deprived of the graces imparted in the Sacrament of Baptism, so is it also a duty incumbent on every one who is conscious of having committed a grievous sin, to purify himself in the Sacrament of Penance, in order that he may not be displeasing in the sight of God, and be in danger of losing his immortal soul.

When a man kneels before his God with all the contrition of a Magdalen, and in holy repentance hopes in the mercy of God with all the faith and confidence of the blind man in the gospel, the priest becomes, so to speak, his redeemer, and the words are once again verified and realized which Jesus spoke to the afflicted patient, “Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” (Matthew 9:2)

Jesus, the Refuge of Sinners

(Words of Saint Juliana of Norwich)

The name of the almost superhumanly enlightened virgin, Juliana of Norwich, is but little known. Herself, as well as all the wonderful gifts she received from heaven, would be entirely hidden from our knowledge had not one Serenus Cressy, a Benedictine monk, published in the year 1670 the revelations of divine love with which this holy soul was favored.

Juliana was born in the year 1342 and lived a hermit’s life in Norwich. In her thirtieth year she was deathly sick, and then it was that she was enlightened by revelations of divine love, as well as quickened and comforted. After her recovery she wrote this history and its instructive lessons in a little book. How long she lived afterward, what became of her, and where she died, history fails to tells us.

Let us be satisfied with hearing and reading her tender and instructive words from her little book on “The Love of Jesus, the Refuge of Sinners.” Among other things, Juliana writes: “Our heavenly Father has a special complacency in all that Jesus did for our redemption and hence He gave us to Him as a reward. This gift with its reward rejoiced Jesus so much that His Father could not have offered Him anything more acceptable. We are, therefore, not only His property since He redeemed us, but we are His happiness, His reward, His glory, His crown. The Father presented us to Him. Oh, how beautiful, how wonderful, how thrilling it is to think and to know that we are His crown! This is such a joy for Jesus that He considers all His sufferings and trials, even His very cruel and ignominious death, as nothing. Moreover, Jesus is also our tender mother, who, unlike all earthly mothers, has not borne us for pains and death, but for joy, happiness, and everlasting life. The sweet and loving name of mother can be applied to no one more fittingly than to Him who is the true parent of life and of all things. The sweet mother of love knows and understands the wants of the child. She guides it tenderly and carefully, and when it is older and larger she changes her treatment of it, though not her affection for it, when she permits it to be chastened in order to destroy sin and to impart virtue and grace. If we fall through human frailty Jesus lifts us up again by His gentle mercy and loving kindness.

“Once we are fully strengthened through His operation we choose voluntarily by His grace to be always His friends and servants. Yet He sometimes allows us to fall more deeply than we had ever fallen before – at least it seems so to us. Then we think that all is lost forever. But such is not the case. A mother may indeed permit that her child now and then encounter suffering if she perceives that it is useful to him. But her love can not allow her child to be in danger of sin.

“Yet all this must an earthly mother bear. But Jesus, our heavenly parent, can never permit His children to be lost, for He is almighty, all-wise, and eternal love. There is no one like unto Him. May He be praised and glorified!

“If our wickedness and peril are shown to us, then we feel mortified and ashamed, and know not how to help ourselves. Then, however, our kind mother does not wish us to flee from her; that would afflict her grievously. She wishes that we should rather act as children who, the greater their trouble and the worse their care, fly to their mother the more quickly; who, if they can do nothing else, cry with all their might for their mother. So, too, does Jesus wish that we, like a troubled child with its mother, should call on Him, saying, ‘Dear mother, kind mother, loving mother, I have sullied myself, I have made myself unlike you, and now I can not help myself. Only you and your grace can save me.’ If we do not feel the help of Jesus at once we may surely believe that, like a wise mother, He permits us to suffer and to weep a little longer because He sees that our troubles will benefit us. In short, He wishes that we, like good children, should ever preserve, in happiness and adversity, a loving confidence in His maternal love.

“The flood of His mercy, His precious blood mingled with water, can wash us and make us beautifully clean. His wounds are opened to heal us with joy. His beloved hands are ever outspread toward us and ready to bless us. Yes, in every respect He proves Himself to be like a matron who has nothing more to do than to serve her offspring.

It is His glory to make us happy.
It is His office to make us happy.

“And He wishes us to know this, that thus we may love Him more intensely and confide in Him undoubtingly.

“Our poor soul will find no rest until it repose in Him, for He is the fulness of grace and happiness, loving and gentle, full of blessing. He is the true light and life.”

Penance not to be Delayed

Saint Augustine says: “If a person become sick, has recourse to penance, and asks for absolution and then dies, I say we can not refuse him the absolution he demands, yet we can not assert that he has fared well. Whether he departed this life in safety or in insecurity I know not Penance indeed we can give, but not certainty. I do not say that such a person is damned, nor can I say that his case is altogether a happy one. If you would escape all doubt, make your own case sure and certain, and leave uncertainty alone. Do penance while you are in health and when time is at your disposal. If you will do this, then I can assure you that you are safe; for at the hour of death you dislike sin chiefly because you are not able to sin any longer. If you are willing to do penance when you are no longer able to sin, then your sins have left you rather than you them.”