the Church (III Sim., viii, 11). He grants only one such chance, but this is sufficient to establish a belief in the power of the Church to forgive sins committed after baptism. St. Ignatius in the first days of the second century seemingly asserts the power to forgive sins when he declares in his letter to the Philadelphians that the bishop presides over penance. This tradition was continued in the Syrian Church, as is evident from passages found in Aphraates and Ephrem, and St. John Chrysostom voices this same Syrian tradition when he writes "De Sacerdotio" (Migne P. G., LXVII, 643), that "Christ has given to his priests a power he would not grant to the angels, for he has not said to them, 'Whatsoever ye bind, will be bound,'" etc.; and further down he adds, "The Father hath given all judgment into the hands of his Son, and the Son in turn has granted this power to his priests."
Clement of Alexandria, who perhaps received his inspiration from the "Pastor" of Hermas, tells the story of the young bandit whom St. John went after and brought back to God, and in the story he speaks of the "Angel of Penance", "τὸν ἅγγελον τῆς μετανοίας", meaning the bishop or priest who presided over the public penance. Following Clement in the Catechetical school of Alexandria was Origen (230). 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. 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. Eccl., iv, xxiii). 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. St. Firmihan, in his famous letter to St. Cyprian, asserts that the power to forgive sins was given to the Apostles and to their successors (Epp. Cyp., LXXV), and this tradition is more clearly expressed both in Basil and Gregory Nazianzen (P. G., XXXI, 1284; XXXVI, 356, 357). 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). This is still more clearly expressed in the "Constitutiones Apostolicæ" (P. G., I, 1073): "Grant him, O Lord Almighty, by Thy Christ the fulness of Thy spirit, that he may have the power to pardon sin, in accordance with Thy command, that he may loose every bond which binds the sinner, by reason of that power which Thou hast granted Thy Apostles." (See also Duchesne, "Christian Worship", 439, 440.) True, this power seems to Hermas to be strangely limited, while Origen, Tertullian, and the followers of Novatian principles were unwilling to grant that the Church had a right to absolve from such sins as apostasy, murder, and adultery. However, Calixtus settled the question for all time when he declared that in virtue of the power of the keys, he would grant pardon to all who did penance—Ego … delicta pœnitentiâ functis dimitto, or again, Habet potestatem ecclesia delicta donandi (De Pud., xxi). In this matter, see Tertullian, "De Pudicitiâ", which is simply a vehement protest against the action of the Pope, whom Tertullian accuses of presumption in daring to forgive sins, and especially the greater crimes of murder, idolatry, etc.—"Ideirco præsumis et ad te derivasse solvendi et alligandi potestatem, id est, ad omnem Ecclesiam Petri propinquam." Tertullian himself, before becoming a Montanist, asserts in the clearest terms that the power to forgive sins is in the Church. "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). 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). 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. (Leo the Great, P. L., LIV, 1011–1013; Gregory the Great, P. L., LXVI, 1200; Ambrose, P. L., XV, 1639; XVI, 468, 477, etc.; Augustine, P. L., XXXIX, 1549–59.)
From the days, therefore, of Calixtus the power to absolve sins committed after baptism is recognized as vested in the priests of the Church in virtue of the command of Christ to bind and loose, and of the power of the keys. At first this power is timidly asserted against the rigorist party; afterwards stoutly maintained. 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. 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.
Later Patristic Age.—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. The ancient sacramentaries—Leonine, Gelasian, Gregorian, the "Missale Francorum"—witness this especially in the ordination service; then the bishop prays that "whatever they bind, shall be bound" etc. (Duchesne, Christian Worship, 360, 361). The missionaries sent from Rome to England in the seventh century did not establish a public form of penance, but the affirmation of the priest's power is clear from the "Pœnitentiale Theodori", and from the legislation on the Continent, which was enacted by the monks who came from England and Ireland (Council of Reims, can. xxxi, Harduin). The false decretals (about 850) accentuated the right of absolution; and in a sermon of the same century, attributed perhaps wrongly to St. Eligius, a fully developed doctrine is found. The Saint is speaking of the reconciliation of penitents and warns them to be sure of their dispositions, their sorrow, their purpose of amendment; for "we are powerless," he says, "to grant pardon, unless you put off the old man; but if by sincere repentance you put off the old man with his works, then know that you are reconciled to God by Christ, yea and by us, to whom He gave the ministry of reconciliation." And this ministry of reconciliation which he claims for the priesthood is that ministry and that power granted to the Apostles by Christ when He said, "Whatsoever you bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven" (P. L., LXXXVII, 609, 610). The theologians of the medieval period, from Alcuin to St. Bernard, insist that the right to absolve from sin was given to the bishops and priests who succeeded to the apostolic