Lombard on the Keys of the Kingdom

‘We can affirm with truth, and believe that God alone remits and retains sins. And yet he has given power of binding and loosing the the Church; but he binds and looses after one manner and the Church after another; for he remits sins by himself alone, who cleanses the soul from inward pollution, and looses from the debt of eternal death. But he has not given this power to the priests, to whom yet he has given the power of binding and loosing, that is, of showing who are bound or loosed. Upon which account, the Lord having first cured the leper by himself, afterwards sent him to the priests by whose judgment he was to be declared clean. And having first raised Lazarus to life, he then presented him to the disciples that they should loose him; for though a man be loosed before God, yet he is not accounted loosed in the face of the Church but by the judgment of the priest. Therefore the evangelical priest, in loosing and retaining sins, acts and judges after the same manner as the legal priest did heretofore in the case of those who were defiled with leprosy, which is the emblem of sin. Whence St Jerome, commenting on these words of our Lord to Peter, “To thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of Heaven,” and “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven,” says, some not understanding this place, assume to themselves something of the supercilious pride of the Pharisees, so as to imagine that they have power to damn the innocent and save the guilty; whereas before God the only thing that is inquired into is the life of criminals, and not the sentence of the priests. In Leviticus the lepers are commanded to show themselves to the priests, whom they do not make leprous or clean, but only show who are clean or unclean. So here it is plainly declared that God does not always follow the judgment of the Church, which sometimes judges by surreption and ignorance; but God always judges according to truth. And in remitting or retaining sins the evangelical priests have the same right and office as the legal priests had of old under the law in curing the lepers. These, therefore, remit or retain sins whilst they judge and declare them to be remitted or retained by God. For the priests put the name of the Lord upon the children of Israel, but he himself blessed them, as it read in Numbers vi.’

— Peter Lombard, Sentences 4.18, quoted by Richard Paul Blakeney


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