Near the end of both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed is a statement of belief in the “forgiveness of sins.” The inclusion of this particular statement (along with every other individual statement of each creed) expresses how essential this truth is to the Catholic Faith. The Nicene Creed states that “I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” connecting this belief directly to baptism. Aware that within future installments on the commandments and the sacraments the forgiveness of sins will be given greater treatment, it is also proper within our consideration of the creed to give an overview of “what” the forgiveness of sins implies and why it is a central tenant of the Catholic Faith.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the power of the keys” is referenced in providing an overview of forgiveness of sins. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus says to Peter that He gives him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” giving him the power of binding and loosing to serve as a minister of His forgiveness, reconciling sinners with God. Later in Matthew 18:18, the power of binding and loosing from sin is handed on to all the apostles. According to this image of the keys, to forgive is to unbind or loose one from that which previously held them bound – reconciling the sinner with God and the Church (and therefore restoring them to life within the communion of saints). Both the very acts of committing sin (beginning with the “original sin” of Adam) and the consequences of sinful actions bind sinners (read: “each one of us”) – as the one who sins remains linked to their sin and its harmful consequences. When Jesus Christ came into the world in our human nature as He that is without sin, He had the power to break such bonds, releasing all who were bound by sin and its consequences through His death and resurrection. Thus, it is in Jesus Himself, through His saving works, that such freedom (or being loosed) is made available and truly accomplished. Accordingly, Jesus in His power over sin has authority to forgive sin – and to likewise give the keys (that is, the power to forgive) to those through whom He wills to administer forgiveness, that the forgiveness of sins might be offered to all.
It is by way of our baptism and in our confession of sin with absolution by a priest that such breaking of the bonds is accomplished in us, restoring us to the communion. In our belief in the forgiveness of sin it likewise is noteworthy that there is no sin which is beyond God’s power to forgive, so long as there is true repentance on the part of the sinner. (As a counterpoint, you might recall Jesus’ saying that no one who sins against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven in such passages as Matthew 12:31-32; however, such inability to forgive is not a matter of God not wanting to forgive as it is the rejection of the power God to forgive by the one who commits such a sin; as one who rejects forgiveness cannot receive that which they have presently rejected). To receive God’s forgiveness frees us from the bonds of sin, reconciling us to God and to the communion of saints, opening to us the gates to eternal life.
How important is the forgiveness of sins to our creed? Were there no forgiveness, we would remain in our sins – and not able to inherit eternal life. Next time (mindful of 1 Corinthians 15:12-19), we will see how Jesus’ resurrection, the forgiveness of our sins, and the resurrection of the body are all connected such that you and I might have eternal life.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 976-987 offers a very brief overview of the forgiveness of sins, pointing toward the sacraments of baptism and penance as the ordinary way to receive this forgiveness.