St Ignatius Martyr to the faithful in a row writes that "the Lord forgives those who repent, provided that their repentance leads them to the unity of God and to communion with the bishop".
More precise testimonies are made in the century II: like that of Dionysius of Corinth that, towards the middle of the century, recommends "to welcome those who convert from any sin or crime or even from a misuse heretic".
There are two outstanding documents: a long titled The Shepherd, and written by Erma, brother of the Pope S. Pius I. We are towards the 150. The writing was developed, in order to claim the lawfulness of confession, i.e. a sacramental means of remission of sins after baptism. The announcement is proposed with circumspection and caution, perhaps not to impact too rudely the conscience of the well-intentioned refiners. It is affirmed that the uniqueness of confession after baptism gives confession, but for one time.
The same claim, with the same limit, makes Tertullian in a work titled Precisely De Pénitential: There is a second penance (the first being baptism), but only once. "And is it not enough this time alone?" - Adds Tertullian - you receive what you would not deserve, because you had lost what you had already received, it is more great to give again than to give, as it is saddest thing to have lost that not having received".
Yet in the gospel are written those words about the forgiveness of offenses: "How many times Shall I have to forgive my brother if he sins against me? Peter asked Jesus. Up to seven times? " And Jesus answered him "Not up to seven times, but up to seventy seven times." Will the generosity of man perhaps be greater than that of God? If the man must always forgive, will God not always forgive?
With Tertullian we are at the beginning of the century III, when another controversy had turned on, no longer about the possibility of being acquitted after baptism, but about the sort of sins to be absolved. This controversy was longer and more tenacious.
At first the objections were especially against the serious carnal sins, at a later time especially against the sin of apostasy. In the first moment it was diverted into a heresy, the Montanism, which also joined Tertullian. They demanded irremissibly the most, serious carnal sins. Tertullian rises against the measure of Pope S. Callisto, who prescribed to absolve such sins from whoever they were, even by a priest. The content of the decree of Pope Callisto is known only through the two polemic works of Tertullian (De Dicitea) and Ippolito (Filosofumeni). This Decree reaffirmed the doctrine and practice always held by the Church of Rome the power of the keys to cover or sort of sin.
A little later the Penitential controversy polarized on apostasy. The persecution of the same was the first very systematic and cunning. He professed to want to dismantle Christians and not to make martyrs, he put into practice every art to induce Christians to act as a tribute to the religion of the State and the act of homage was issued a regular certificate (Petition). Some were able to be released the Petition without carrying out the act, were the Libellatici (certificates). Many were then the Libellatici and many the lapsi (fallen), so that, after the dead, the church found themselves facing their problem, which assumed unexpected proportions. Admitting them to forgiveness, readmitting them in the church? Many refused, opposing the apostasy of one's resistance, suffering, the martyrdom of others. The forgiveness and readmission of the former was perhaps not an insult. For the seconds? Even here the refiners ended up in heresy: The Heresy of the novatian, which contested the church with the same power to absolve. To defend Roman doctrine and Praxis, the Bishop of Carthage, S. Cipriano, went to the field.
Since the end of the century III, the period of theoretical controversy and practical uncertainties can be regarded as exceeded: now the doctrine and practice, always living in Rome, became universal doctrine and praxis: every sin remissible without limit, provided there are the subjective and objective conditions for which the sacrament is valid and lawful.
Adultery and apostasy could be reconnected with two of the three canonical sins, that is, explicitly denounced in the first norms (canons), issued. From the Council of the Apostles held in Jerusalem in 54, when he was resolved not to submit the Gentiles, who they wanted, to become Christians, to the bonds of the Mosaic law, but to invite them, however, to "refrain from the contamination of idols, fornication, suffocated animals and blood" (Acts 15, 20). The exact meaning of these prescriptions and their legal and ethical value discuss the exegetical. The refiners of then, rather succinctly, will attributed you a well-defined meaning and a well-defined ethical evaluation. Beside adultery and apostasy it seems that some support the unforgivable even of murder, almost third canonical sin. There are two things. The first, that the list of sins irremissibly was quite variable: the same Tertullian ends up saying Irremissibly, in addition to fornication, also the other two canonical sins, and also fraud and blasphemy. The second thing is that in regard to these sins they remained long-rigoristic. Still in certain particular councils of the century IV it is reiterated that it does not absolve certain sins. Thus some canons of a council of Elvira in 300 deny absolution to certain forms of idolatry and fornication; and other canons of a council of Arles of 314, deny it to the unhindered. Furthermore, the Council of Nicaea had to deal with the thing and put an end to the uncertainties, asserting in a peremptory and general way that communion should not be denied to anyone who, in danger of death, requires it. Which assumes that there is no sin that the church does not want or cannot absolve, at least at the point of death.
Note that even the rigorous, who denied the power or the opportunity to be absolved from certain sins, is not to condemn the sinner to eternal perdition: if they wanted the church not to absolve even at the point of death, they did not commit their Power even at that extreme point, however, protest in vain to entrust the sinner to God's mercy. The church, meanwhile, who refused her office of effective mediation, would offer effective perpetrator.
In Matthew we speak of the irremissible of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and in the first letter of John we speak of sins that lead to death and sins that do not lead to death. It is the distinction of deadly and venial sins, according to our current language. There are two steps of difficult interpretation: what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Sin in mortem? What is the relationship between canonical sins and the sin of the mortem? It does not seem, however, that the death of John or the irremissibility of which Matthew speaks must be understood in such a way as to constitute an unsurpassable limit to the power of the church about the remission of sins.
It remains understandable; however, as at the beginning of the Christian reflection, of the long exegetical journey, these texts should be studied on penitential doctrine and praxis. Thus Origin which, as well, usually affirms the power of the church to forgive all sin, in a passage of the prayer it is spoken about incurable sins, namely irremissible and of the three canonical sins, and of the sin that leads to death. Even Cyprian, who was one of the most combative controversialists against the Rigorist heresy remains perplexed before the text of Matthew, and speaks of the irremissibility of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
We renew the invitation
If your heart is anxious to do something for the brethren who are gripped by suffering or loneliness, you can implore the Lord with ardor. Prayer is one of the highest forms of charity.
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