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Darren Shaver wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have one question that has been on my mind for a while now:

  • How can a "Father" (or Priest), forgive someone their sins, when in actually the only person that can forgive sins at all, "and in their entirety", is the "Father of all creation himself ", God the Father?
  • Can you help me understand Catholic teaching in this area?

To be fair, I should tell you that I am not a Catholic, but a Methodist, but still don't understand this simply act of attrition.

  • Can you explain it to me, in a way that I can understand?

Thanks in advance,

Darren Shaver

  { How can a Catholic "Father" forgives someone of their sins, when only "God the Father" can? }

Mary Ann replied:

Dear Darren —

You are right that only God forgives sins. Jesus Christ is God, and He forgives sins. The Holy Spirit is God, and He forgives. Jesus breathed the Spirit into the Twelve and commanded them to forgive sins, saying He would forgive when they did:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 20:19-23

The Church passes on this gift of the Spirit in ordination. Through ordination Christ acts through the priest in the sacraments. All Catholics receive the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, and so we all can baptize, if necessary, and we can all:

  • live in Christ's life and offer sacrifice of praise in union with Him, and
  • be prophets of truth by His Spirit.

We also can perform marriage in Christ, the couple is the minister of Marriage.

Nevertheless, the Apostles received a special gift on Easter, which they pass on. This gift simply means that Christ acts in them, when they do as Christ commands:

  • forgive sins
  • consecrate bread and wine
  • impart the Spirit
  • ordain in the Spirit, and
  • pray for the sick.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Darren —

I just wanted to add two cents to what Mary Ann has said.

When she says, Jesus Christ is God, this should be understood within the context that the Catechism puts it:

242 Following this apostolic tradition, the Church confessed at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) that the Son is "consubstantial" with the Father, that is, one only God with him. (The English phrases "of one being" and "one in being" translate the Greek word homoousios, which was rendered in Latin by consubstantialis.)The second ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381, kept this expression in its formulation of the Nicene Creed and confessed:

"the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father"

Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed

So when Our Lord forgives through his priests, these actions are one with God, the Father
in forgiving all sins.

Hope this helps,


Darren replied:

Mike —

Thanks for getting back and adding to what Mary Ann had stated in her answer. I do appreciate it, I really do, but with both answers I have another question, and this is probably one of the reasons why I'll never convert from being a Methodist to being a Catholic. — I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being a Catholic, it's just that I don't understand some of the major points in the whole scheme of things here.

Both you and Mary Ann stated that the Holy Spirit, being part of the Trinity, can also "forgives sins", as does Jesus Christ, and God the Father. Well, here I'll have to agree to disagree with you because I was brought up believing the Holy Spirit is in fact the mouthpiece of God. What He wants for us is beneficial for us to know. God says this through the Holy Spirit Himself and because, in general, anything that comes out of the mouth of God that he wants us to know about, He gives to the Holy Spirit to instruct us in — in the way we should go.

I mean this in general, because there are times indeed when God the Father Himself will directly speak in our lives, or send us angels along our path for a specific purpose. You see, I don't believe and have never believed that the Holy Spirit Himself can or does forgive any sins committed by us. The only person that can and does forgive sins is God the Father and Jesus Christ Himself.

Similarly, I don't believe in the principle that Peter was the first Pope of the Catholic Church just because Jesus gave "him" the Keys to the Kingdom as stated in Matthew 16:18-19.

What I do believe though is that Christ Himself was indeed talking to and trying to get the spiritual principle across to the disciples concerning his divine nature, which was indeed the important thing here. In doing so, Peter spoke up first but any of the others could have answered. Peter just happened to be the first so, in essence, the Church could have had any of the other disciples head the Church, but here Peter just happened to speak up first. That's my opinion, and the Catholic Church has theirs, as well, and I respect that, I really do.

Thanks a lot, and I hope to hear back from you soon. Until then, have a great weekend.

— Darren

Mike replied:

Hi, Darren —

Thanks for the reply.

I would agree that we have a major difference of opinion on "the" basic tenet of Christianity:
the Trinity. These paragraphs may help you to at least understand the Catholic view of what we believe:

253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the "consubstantial Trinity". The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: "The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God." In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), "Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature."

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. "God is one but not solitary." "Father", "Son", "Holy Spirit" are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: "He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son." They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds." The divine Unity is Triune.

255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: "In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance." Indeed "everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship." "Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son."

As for whether Peter was the first Pope, with due respect, I think you are overlooking two key verses (17 and 18) of the Scriptures:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build MY Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Matthew 16:13-20

So it's not just a matter of who spoke up first. Plus this leaves us with another question:

  • Since Jesus is God, if He had chosen another Apostle who was going to speak out, wouldn't He have just waited for that Apostle to speak up?

This posting may help too:

You said:
It's just that I don't understand some of the major points in the whole scheme of things here.

I would encourage you to consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as Catholics and understand those major points of view in the whole scheme of things . . . plus with the advent of new technology there are now more and cheaper ways to read the Catechism.

Hope this helps,


John replied:

Darren —

When Christ gave Peter the Kingdom, he spoke using the singular tense. He didn't speak in the plural tense. The "you" is singular in the Greek and in the Greek there are both a singular and plural words.

17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is also paraphrasing Isaiah 22. Most Protestant Study Bibles will also cross reference Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22; in particular, the section on the key. In Isaiah 22, the key is taken from one prime minister and given to another by God and succession is established. The language is very, very, similar. The Apostles hearing this, Peter hearing this, and the Jews reading Matthew's account of the Gospel, would have all understood that Peter was being given authority that none of the others had.

15 Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, "Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here and whom have you here, that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock? 17 Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, 18 and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master's house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father's house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole weight of his father's house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. 25 In that day, says the LORD of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a sure place will give way; and it will be cut down and fall, and the burden that was upon it will be cut off, for the LORD has spoken."

Isaiah 22:15-25

In fact later in chapter 18 the authority to bind and loose (make decisions, discern doctrine, and impose pastoral disciplines) was given to the whole Church:

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. Matthew 18:18

but in Matthew 16, Peter alone was vested with the keys and unique authority to bind and loose on behalf of the Church.


Darren replied:


Thanks for the clarification, I do appreciate it.

— Darren

John replied:

Hi, Darren —

No problem!

I used to be a Protestant Minister. I tried looking at that text a ton of different ways, but when
I started reading the writings of the Church Fathers from the first three centuries there was almost universal acceptance that Peter was the one given primacy. Even the Eastern Fathers, who tended not to give as much authority to Rome, all admitted that Peter was chief among the Apostles.

To be frank, the only thing that keeps the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics separate is that we can't agree on the jurisdiction of the Pope. They don't even deny that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter.

These two Churches are really the only Churches that can trace there way back to the Apostles.

  • We both have seven sacraments
  • we both believe in the Communion of Saints
  • we both believe that the faithful departed can pray for us and we can pray for them, not to be saved, but to be purified — there being a huge difference.

When we pray for faithful departed we pray for those who are saved put have not been fully sanctified in this life and, if you need it, I can give you some Scripture passages that attest to this.

My point is that these are the Ancient Churches which really belong under one roof. They have been having this family squabble for the last 1000 years and, if you ask me, I'd say it's pretty silly.

Nevertheless, the Church was up and running for 350 years before we even had an official list of books that belonged in the Bible. We didn't have a canon or official list of books until 382 A.D. at the Council of Rome. This was later ratified in 387 A.D. at the councils of Hippo and Carthage.

The Church functioned with Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and a Teaching Authority but it was the Teaching Authority of the Church, based on Sacred Tradition, that discerned, binding and loosing, what books belonged in the Bible, and which books did not. That' how we know there are only four inspired Gospels while the Gospel of Thomas is a forgery and a heresy.

We also know what epistles belong and which ones don't. There are hundreds of early Christian writings that many Christians loved to read and some were treated like Scripture for the first three centuries.

  • the Epistle of Barnabas
  • the Shepherd of Hermas, and
  • the Didache

come to mind right away but it took the Church to say:

Look, these are good reading, but they aren't Scripture.

So if you are going to trust the Bible, you need to trust the Church that gave you the Bible.

God Bless,


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