Who Can forgive sins but God alone?
This question is often leveled at Catholic and Orthodox Christians by Protestants. “Go directly to Jesus” we are told “the priest is a man he can’t forgive sins” we are told. Really… Jesus was asked that same question ‘Who Can forgive sins but God alone?‘ in Luke 5:21. To demonstrate that he did have that authority he healed the man to whom he had declared forgiveness.
“Well Jesus was God but the priest isn’t.” No the priest isn’t God. but who says we aren’t going to Jesus in the confessional? To think that the absolution given by the priest is given by his natural human authority is to misunderstand the Christian priesthood. It is Christ who forgives, and it is by the authority of Christ that the priest declares forgiveness. Jesus gave the ministry of acting in his authority to the Church, specifically Peter and the apostolic college. “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Mathew 16:19. He specified the forgiveness of sins through the power of the Holy Spirit when he said “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” John 20:21-23. It is Jesus who forgives, through the means he established to give his forgiveness.
But must we go to the priest? Isn’t it easier to go to Jesus directly and avoid all that unpleasantry of telling someone our sins? Well here is what St. Augustine has to say about it.
“Let no one say I do penance secretly; I perform it in the sight of God, and He who is to pardon me knows that in my heart I repent. Was it then said to no purpose, ‘What you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed in heaven?’ Was it for nothing that the keys were given to the Church?” (Sermo cccxcii, n. 3, in P.L., XXXIX, 1711)
The fact of the matter is, while it is unpleasant to enter the confessional, one comes out of it with unspeakable peace. With a confidence that those sins having been forgiven “ARE FORGIVEN”.