Father Z opineth:
How about our Protestant friends who, sadly, do not have access to this beautiful fount of mercy which is the Sacrament of Penance? How are their sins forgiven? Are their sins forgiven?
Bluntly put, we don’t know.
And so, "by this we see how the papacy maketh all sin unpardonable, which hath not the priest’s absolution; except peradventure in some extraordinary case, where albeit absolution be not had, yet it must be desired ... They bind all men, upon pain of everlasting condemnation and death, to make confession to their ghostly fathers of every great offence they know, and can remember that they have committed against God."
What then shall we do?
It standeth with us in the Church of England, as touching public confession, thus:
First, seeing day by day we in our Church begin our public prayers to Almighty God with public acknowledgment of our sins, in which confession every man prostrate as it were before his glorious Majesty crieth guilty against himself; and the minister with one sentence pronounceth universally all clear, whose acknowledgment so made hath proceeded from a true penitent mind; what reason is there every man should not under the general terms of confession represent to himself his own particulars whatsoever, and adjoining thereunto that affection which a contrite spirit worketh, embrace to as full effect the words of divine Grace, as if the same were severally and particularly uttered with addition of prayers, imposition of hands, or all the ceremonies and solemnities that might be used for the strengthening of men’s affiance in God’s peculiar mercy towards them? Such complements are helps to support our weakness, and not causes that serve to procure or produce his gifts. If with us there be “truth in the inward parts,” as David speaketh, the difference of general and particular forms in confession and absolution is not so material, that any man’s safety or ghostly good should depend upon it.
And for private confession and absolution it standeth thus with us:
The minister’s power to absolve is publicly taught and professed, the Church not denied to have authority either of abridging or enlarging the use and exercise of that power, upon the people no such necessity imposed of opening their transgressions unto men, as if remission of sins otherwise were impossible; neither any such opinion had of the thing itself, as though it were either unlawful or unprofitable, saving only for these inconveniences, which the world hath by experience observed in it heretofore. And in regard thereof, the Church of England hitherto hath thought it the safer way to refer men’s hidden crimes unto God and themselves only; howbeit, not without special caution for the admonition of such as come to the holy Sacrament, and for the comfort of such as are ready to depart the world.
And the power of the keys?
Our Lord and Saviour in the sixteenth of St. Matthew’s Gospel giveth his Apostles regiment in general over God’s Church. For they that have the keys of the kingdom of heaven are thereby signified to be stewards of the house of God, under whom they guide, command, judge, and correct his family. The souls of men are God’s treasure, committed to the trust and fidelity of such as must render a strict account for the very least which is under their custody. God hath not invested them with power to make a revenue thereof, but to use it for the good of them whom Jesus Christ hath most dearly bought.
And because their office herein consisteth of sundry functions, some belonging to doctrine, some to discipline, all contained in the name of the Keys; they have for matters of discipline, as well litigious as criminal, their courts and consistories erected by the heavenly authority of his most sacred voice, who hath said, Dic Ecclesiæ, Tell the Church: against rebellious and contumacious persons which refuse to obey their sentence, armed they are with power to eject such out of the Church, to deprive them of the honours, rights, and privileges of Christian men, to make them as heathen and publicans, with whom society was hateful.
That is all.