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Joshua Wasylciw wrote:

Hey there,

I have a . . . unique . . . yeah, let's call it a unique question for you.

I am a practicing Catholic who is extremely interested in the symbolic and ritualistic aspects of the Church. While it seems that, for obvious reason, the number three is important to the Church, in the coats of arms of:

  • the Holy See
  • His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, and
  • His Holiness Pope John Paul II

only two keys are present.

  • Since the entire idea of the Catholic Church is based around Jesus giving the keys to the kingdom of Heaven to St. Peter, why do Papal coats of arms always show only two keys and not three?

There must be a reason for only having two keys. If there were not a logical reason, you would think there would be three keys.

  • I realize this is an incredibly abstract question — I am just a University student with too much time on my hands — but if you know anything about this, could you let me know?

The answer isn't crucial to my faith or anything — just something I have always wondered about.

Thank you for your time,


  { If we are a Trinitarian Church, why are there only two keys in the coat of arms and not three? }

and in a similar question:

Heather Hood wrote:

Hi, guys —

On the Pope's flag there are two keys:

  • one to bind and loose on Earth
  • one to bind and loose in Heaven
  • What can be bound on Earth and what can be bound in Heaven?
  • Are they two separate acts or just one act?
  • If there is only one act, why then are there two keys?

Thank you,


  { Is the binding and loosing on Earth and in Heaven one act, and if so, why two keys on the flag? }

Eric replied:

Hi Joshua, Hi Heather,

I wouldn't over-analyze it.

I think the chief reason there are two keys is because Jesus said,

"I will give you the keys [plural] of the kingdom of Heaven". (Matthew 16:19)

So to represent keys, the flag designer used two keys.

As for whether it's one act or two, binding on earth results in binding in Heaven, and likewise with loosing. Of their very nature, earth and Heaven go together so it really proceeds from one act.

As for what can be bound or loosed, I would prefer to defer to my colleagues on this as
I'm uncertain, but I would say laws and disciplinary decrees would be among them which is
how the Hebrews understood this.

Hope this helps,


John replied:

Hi, guys —

Binding and loosing was a common Rabbinic expression. It was what the Sanhedrin did when they:

  • made decisions
  • established traditions, and
  • so forth.

The authority to bind and to loose was given to Peter along with the keys, but later in Gospels Jesus gives the same binding and loosing authority to the Church so the keys and the binding and loosing are two distinct symbols.

The keys are symbolic of a unique power given to one man. We see very similar language in Isaiah, when God takes away authority from one (Shebna) and gives it another (Eliakim).
(Isaiah 22:15-25).

The authority of the Keys are distinct in that they only belong to the successors of Peter.

Hope this helps,


Mary Ann replied:

Dear Joshua and Heather,

Good question!

The same key opens and closes the door it is meant for so the two keys are for two different doors — Heaven and earth — not two different actions (binding and loosing).

Alternately, it could be keys plural because every steward had keys plural, and the Old Testament reference to it belongs to (the steward of the king) who had the keys plural.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi Joshua, Hi Heather,

Though I agree with my colleague Eric when he said:
I wouldn't over-analyze it.

I think the chief reason there are two keys is because Jesus said,

"I will give you the keys [plural] of the kingdom of Heaven".

(Matthew 16:19)

My secondary guess, which is based totally on theological opinion, is that the two keys represent the:

  • key to the faith and morals of Heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the
  • key to the faith and morals of Earth (the Church Militant).

Through the divine office Jesus established through the Papacy, the implementation or (binding and loosing on issues of faith and morals) with these keys is done via One Act, because we belong to One Eucharistic Family and Faith, though there are two different locations, Heaven and Earth.

You said:
What can be bound on Earth and what can be bound in Heaven?

Nothing needs to be bound in Heaven; it is the fullness of Truth. Issues or Teachings based on faith and morals are bound [or rather safeguarded and protected] on Earth with Heaven through the Papacy.

No pope creates any new doctrine. Any new practice, that never existed back in 33 A.D.,
is evaluated based on the Apostolic values of the Church.

As Eric alluded to, there are other laws and disciplinary decrees issued by the Vatican that the faithful should obey, but they are not matters of faith and morals.

Hope this helps,


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