Monday, July 13, 2009

FATHERS: The Absolver


For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw nigh to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation.

For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, “Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?” What authority could be greater than this? (On The Priesthood, St John Chrysostom, ca 375 AD)


St. John the Golden mouth- Chrysostom, is considered a hero to almost about every branch of Christianity in existence today. All hold his preaching abilities in high esteem, all see his dedication to the power and clarity of the word of God, and all are impressed by his vast knowledge of the scriptures along with his ability to convey that knowledge. It would seem logical then to most readers for St John to believe that the preaching office as that place where the sacred vocation of the priesthood finds its zenith. However, what we read in his first major treatise does not support that view. In fact, what we find is that St John considers the highest privilege and responsibility of the priestly office to be the forgiveness of sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He begins to extol the privilege by saying: “For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority.” One need only consider his assertion for a moment in order to agree with him. After all, what good is scripture reading and preaching in the world, if the forgiveness of sins is never pronounced and applied to the wounded and dying sinner? It is within this absolution that the grace of God is made most visible to the blind soul. It is in the act of absolution that life rises out of death, and that death is trampled upon by our Lord Jesus. It is in absolution that all of the sacraments find their fulfillment. However, most astonishing to St John is the fact that God would actually place this grace of His into the hands of sinners, priests. “What authority could be greater than this?”

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