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Keys, Power of the,

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a term which in a general sense denotes the extent of ecclesiastical power, or, in a narrower sense, the right to authorize or prohibit absolution; and it is upon the interpretation in the one sense or the other that the Protestant and Romish churches differ from each other. We base this article, in the main, upon that in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 13:579 sq.

I. New-Testament Doctrine.-The expression - בֵּיתאּדָּוַד מִפְתֵּח, or " key of the house of David" (Isaiah 22:22), denotes the power which was given to the king's officer over the royal household. In literal symbolism, κλείς Δανυ δ (Revelation 3:7) denotes the authority which Christ as King exercises over his realm with special regard to his right of admission or dismission. When Jesus (Matthew 16:19) solemnly intrusted to Peter, as a representative of the apostles, the keys of the heavenly kingdom, he invested him by that act simply with his apostolical station, which involves the founding of the Christian Church by the preaching of the forgiveness of sin (Luke 24:47) and the establishment of the Gospel doctrine (Matthew 20:19). In this sense the commission (John 20:23) to the other eleven apostles must likewise be interpreted, for we have no reason to believe that the apostles ever exercised the authority, as Jesus did, of relieving the sinner of his guilt; and yet. even if proofs could be adduced to show that the apostles did exercise such authority, all evidence that such authority was transferred to the Church after the apostolic age is surely wanting. Besides, it is proper to make a distinction between the power of the keys claimed for Peter as an expression of apostolical authority, and the power " to bind and to loose" which Jesus (Matthew 16:19) also conferred not only upon his other apostles, but upon the whole Church (Matthew 18:18). Both expressions, to. bind and to loose, which in New-Testament usage do not require a personal, but an impersonal object, mean, according to Rabinnical language, to permit and to forbid, to confirm and to revoke (see Lightfoot, ad loc. Matthew, and comp. the art. (See BIND) ); and in the N.T. passages quoted they can refer only to the sphere of Christian social life. Against the opinion of the later Church, that Paul (1 Corinthians 5:3-5) made use of the apostolic authority to forgive and to retain sins, Ritschl (Al,-Kathol. Kirche, 2d edit., p. 337 sq.) argues that in this passage only a disciplinary regulation is referred to; that Paul conceded to the Church the right of discipline, and only exercised authority when lie supposed himself to act in harmony with the wish ot the Church; and that, if the apostle (2 Corinthians 2:6-10) held a contrary doctrine, he would be subject to the charge of simulation. The apostolical writings, moreover, do not allude to any other agency in the Church for the remission of sins than that spoken of by Paul himself, 2 Corinthians 5:18 sq., namely, reconciliation by Christ and the prayers of believers (1 John 5:16; James 5:16).

II. Doctrine of the Patristic Period.-The misconception of the meaning of the power to bind and to loose was early manifested in the Church. The Jewish-Christian Clementine Homilies, it is true, still evince a knowledge of the original signification of the words to bind and to loose, inasmuch as they still supply-in the N.T. sense -simply an impersonal object; but, withal, they have so far enlarged upon the meaning of the expression as to find comprehended in the power to which it alludes all privileges of the episcopal office as a continuation of the apostolical office (iii, 72). Quite the opposite was held in the Gentile-Christian Church of the 2d century. It interpreted the power " to bind and to loose" as authority to retain and to forgive sin, and supplied the two verbs with personal objects; yet regarded- in the spirit of the apostolic Church-as the authorities vested with the power to bind and to loose, the society (Church), and not the bishop.

In so far as from a heathen-Christian stand-point the power of the "keys" was identified with the power " to bind and to loose," the former was held to express in one conception both the latter acts, viz. excommunication and readmittance to the Church; but as the keys of Peter were taken also to comprehend all rights of Church government, and especially of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, we need not wonder that among the Church fathers of the patristic period all these different views were somewhat mixed (comp. Tertullian, De Putdic. 21; Cyprian, le unit. eccles. cap. 4). It was in the period of scholasticism that a really strict distinction was aimed at, and yet to this day Roman Catholics have failed to recognise generally this discrimination.

The whole Church was at first regarded as bearers of the keys, i.e. of the power to bind and to loose, evidently because Christ works and has his abode there. (For this reason, also, the martyrs were accorded the position of " precipua ecclesire membra," in whom Christ is active for his own glorification. Comp. Eusebius, 5:2, 5; Tertullian, De Pudic. ; Idem, Apolog. 39).

The first decided change of view is found among the Montanists. Tertullian (in his De Pudicitia) limits the promise of Matthew 16:18 sq. simply to the person of Peter as the apostolical founder of the Church; the power to forgive sin he regards as the right of the Church in so far as she is identical with the Holy Ghost. The bearer of this right he holds to be the spiritual man (spiritualis homo), but that the latter, in the interests of the Church, abstains from exercising this prerogative. His opponent, the Roman bishop, however, interpreted it in favor of all the bishops (bishopric umerus episcoporum, chap. xxi). This thought Cyprian enlarged upon with a free use of the Montanistic thesis, holding that the episcopate is the inheritor (heir) of the apostolic power, the seat and the organ of the Holy Ghost, and therefore possessed of power to bind or to loose of its own accord. Of course, from such a stand-point, Cyprian was forced to reject as presumption the claim of the martyrs to the power of the keys; he only conceded to them the right of intercession for the fallen. To prove the ideal unity of the Church, Cyprian advances the argument that the power of the keys was first intrusted by Christ to Peter, and only afterwards to the other apostles (De unit. eccles. cap. iv). In the writings of Optatus Milevitanus this thought takes the form that Christ intrusted the keys to Peter, and that Peter himself surrendered them to the other apostles.

The power of the keys in this sense evidently denotes the episcopal power in all its extent, i.e. the ecclesiastical government. With Cyprian, to bind and to loose already means to retain or forgive sins forever, yet he only uses these expressions when speaking of the forgiveness of sins by baptism (e.g. Epist. 73, c. 7). Later, however, they are used in a narrower sense, and refer to great sins committed after baptism; in short, they denote the right of exercising penance-discipline, a power in principle conceded to the bishop, but which actually he was permitted to exercise only in union with all his clergy. Not all sins committed after baptism were subject to the power of the keys, only the greater ones, as Augustine has it, "committed against the Decalogue" (Serm. 351. i, "De pcenit." c. 4). This declaration, however, is to be taken with the exception of all inward sins, i.e. trespasses against the ninth and tenth commandments; moreover, in the older practice, only the different species of idolatry, murder, and unchastity were punished by ecclesiastical courts. It is incorrect to argue, as has been done on the part of Protestants, that only the public sins-those which caused trouble to the Church, were taken account of by the Church. As to the sins alluded to above, whether committed in secret or publicly, it was supposed that they did injury to the gifts of regeneration, and entangled the soul in the meshes of spiritual death; they were therefore called peccata (delicta or crimina) mortalia, also copfitalia; the others were regarded as simply daily experiences of the remains of weakness cleaving to the believer, of which it seems almost impossible to be rid in this life. For the former only the power of the keys and the exercise of penance were regarded as in force; the latter, on the other hand, were supposed to be atoned for by the daily penance of a believing heart, by the fifth request in the Lord's Prayer, by oblation and the eucharist, etc. They were called neccata venialia.

Actually the power of the keys was exercised by the whole clerical body, under the presidency of the bishop. In formal inquisitorial proceedings, the fact of the commission of a mortal sin was determined either by the voluntary confession of the perpetrator or by indictment and hearing of witnesses, followed, in case of established guilt, by the declaration of excommunication; but the excommunicated retained the privilege of praying for admission to the exercise of penance in the Church. This last, in early days, was in all cases public, especially after the time of Augustine, at least in cases of public crime; but after the beginning of the 4th century it was regulated by steps corresponding to catechumenical grades. Upon the expiration of the term of penance, the length of which, in the early Church, was discretionary with the bishop, but in later times was determined by ecclesiastical laws, the excommunicated was again received into Church membership. This act, which was consummated by imposition of hands, prayer, and the kiss of peace by the bishop, with the assistance of the clergy before the altar (ante apsidem), in presence of the membership of the Church, was called reconciliation, or the bestowal of peace (pacem dare). Penitent souls, however, in danger of immediate death, could be reconciled even before the expiration of their period of penance, in presence of the bishop, by any presbyter, or, if such a one was not accessible, even by a deacon (Cyprian, Epist. 18:1; Conc. Eliberit. can. 32); a practice which we find even as late as the Middle Ages, and which clearly proves that in the early Church reconciliation was more an act of jurisdiction than of order.

In the earliest days of the Church, the exercise of its prerogative of the power "to loose," in reconciliation, coincided completely with absolution, except that to this term there was not given the meaning which it received in the Middle Ages. Above all, it must not be forgotten that the Church fathers did not place the atoning power in the reconciling activity of the Church, but in the activity of the penitent himself; from the Church the penitent received only instruction how to heal the wound he had created by sin: hence they frequently designated penance as the medicine, and the clerus imposing it as the physician; he (the penitent) was to repair himself from his crime by his good works, and merit the divine forgiveness. Thus must be understood Cyprian's frequent demand of "justa poenitentia," which consists in the congruity of the guilt with the penance offered as reparation. That God alone absolved from sin was the accepted axiom of the early Church. Yet the Church hesitated not to consider itself one of the means of grace, competent to assist in the work of salvation, acting upon the theory laid down by Cyprian: "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus." So long as the mortally sinning one saw himself inwardly and outwardly separated from the Church, the absolute way to salvation, divine forgiveness, seemed to him inaccessible; there was no need of judgment by the courts, he was already judged. If the Church again admitted him to membership among the purified, he was not necessarily among the number of the saved, but he had at least the prospect of salvation; he now belonged to the number of those over whom the Lord on the final day would sit in judgment, from whom he would select his own. Upon this point Cyprian (Ep. Leviticus, 15, 24) and Pacian (Epist. (dl Sqympron. in fine) are very clear. As the absolving judgment of the Church thus becomes rather uncertain, depending upon approval or rejection in the final judgment, there was need of further elucidation. Reconciliation was therefore joined with prayer by a petition that God would forgive the penitent his sins, accept as sufficient his repentance, which of course could only afford a limited satisfaction for the committed offence, and restore to him the lost spiritual gifts. For this reason the act was accompanied by the imposition of hands; compare Augustine, De Baptisn. 3:c. 16, who says of this ceremony that it is " oratio super hominem," i.e. the symbolic pledge that the answer of prayer should benefit the penitent, and that with it was bestowed the gift of the Holy Ghost. In this sense Cvprian speaks of a "remissio facta per sacerdotes apud Dominum grata"-for he knows only a forgiving activity of God; and with him all absolving action of the Church confines itself to the restitution of external communion, and the prayerful intercession of the Church viz. of the priests, martyrs, and believers. However greatly Pacian and Ambrosius may differ in their defence against the Novatians on the right of the priest to absolve from sin, they never claimed for the priest more than the power of intercession-a privilege which they believed he held in common with the congregation.

It is in the Augustinian period that we first discover an endeavor to define the place of the priest in the exercise of the power of the keys. The older fathers, Cvprian and Ambrose, had limited the effect of mortal sins by holding that they inflicted a mortal wound upon the fallen-calling to mind the man who, on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among murderers; and so ecclesiastical penance was regarded simply as a remedy for the afflicted. In the Augustinian period, however, sin was held to be a death- inflicting agent, implying that the fallen was dead, and had to be restored to life. But, as the Church did not possess this power, a change of heart was supposed to precede the exercise of the power of the keys-in short, that a divine influence visited the heart before any human agency could be effectually applied. Augustine, in several passages of his writings (e.g. Tract. 22 in Er. Joh.; Tract. 49, No. 24) finds the process exemplified in the resurrection of Lazarus: the sinner, like Lazarus, is dead, and, so to speak, rests spellbound in the grave; Mercy awakens him, and restores him to life by wounding him inwardly, and, amid great pain, brings him to a consciousness of his offences; upon Mercy's call he arises, like Lazarus, from the grave, and comes to light, bowed down by his guilt, and, with an acknowledgment to the bishop, seeks the means of salvation in the practice of penance; he is at last freed by the activity of the priests, as Lazarus was freed by the disciples. This picture we find, from this time forward, in most representations of the penance process, down to the Middle Ages; and especially did the Victorinians form their conception of absolution upon it. If in this picture the act of loosing can only designate the united action of the Church on the fallen, viz. the imposition of penance, intercession, the removal of excommunication, and the admission to the means of grace, it would seem that in other places Augustine holds that the forgiveness of sin is to be mediated by the Church; yet even here he does not speak of the Church as a professed institution of mercy, but rather the community of saints, or of the predestined, by whom the Spirit of God performs its work.

Thus he says (Serm. 99, cap. 9): "The Spirit forgives, not the Church; this Spirit is God. God dwells in his temple, i.e. in his saintly believers, in his 'Church, and he forgives sin by this agency, because it is the living temple." But even this forgiveness is. considered only as the fruit of prayers pleasing to God, and therefore answered by him. While, therefore, Augustine traces forgiveness in reconciliation mainly to the prayerful intercession of the faithful, Leo the Great argues that the priests alone are specific intercessors for the fallen, and that without their intercession forgiveness cannot be secured (" ut indulgentia nisi supplicationibus sacerdotum nequeat obtineri"). He bases this exclusive intercession prerogative of the priests upon the fact that the Saviour, according to his promise (Matthew 28:29), which Leo refers simply to the clerus, always assists the action of his priests, and that he makes them the channel of his spiritual gifts (Ep. 82, al. 108; ad Theod. cap. 2). It is thus that the Catholic notion of the clerical priesthood, which, independent of the laity, communicates God's mercy, and regards this mediatorship as essential, has taken definite shape; and what has been added in later times is simply a more complete or perfect development of the idea as it originated with Leo. But even he does not make the assertion that the priest, instead of being a mediator by prayer for forgiveness, has himself the authority, by virtue of his office, to absolve from sin.

We do not possess an absolution-formula of the first ages of the Church, but we have every reason to suppose, upon the premises stated, that it could only have been deprecative. Augustine even denounced the expression " I forgive thy sins," of the Donatists, as heretical (Serm. 99, c. 7-9). If, in our last allusion to the reconciliation of the sinner by means of prayerful intercession, the priest alone seemed to be entitled to be deprecator, we find a very different view was entertained by other Church fathers. In accordance with Leviticus 14:2, Jerome says that the priests cannot make the leper clean, nor the reverse; they can simply distinguish between the clean and the unclean (Comm. in Matthew lib. iii). Not understanding, therefore, Matthew 16:19 to concede to the bishops and the elders any other power, it follows that he concedes to the ecclesiastical office simply the authority of distinction, i.e. the judicial power of pronouncing those as loosed who by the mercy of God had been inwardly loosed, and those as bound who have not yet been loosed by God's mercy- a judicial decision whose validity is essentially confined to the forum of the Church, and does not extend to the forum of God. Just so says Gregory the Great (Horn. 26, in Ev. No. 6), "It must be determined what guilt has preceded and what penitence has followed guilt in order that the shepherd may loose those whom the Lord in his mercy visits with a sense of re- :entance. Only when the judgment of the inner judge is obeyed can the action of the officer to loose be a correct and real one." Adding, as he does, like Augustine, the narrative of the resurrection of Lazarus, it is evident that Gregory did not consider the bishop's action in mortal sins as anything more than constituting a recognition of the inner condition of the sinner; those into whose heart God has breathed the spirit of life the ecclesiastical judge is to pronounce as loosed, those yet spiritually dead as bound.

As in the early Church great penitence was conceded only once, so reconciliation by the Church was not repeated a second time. In the writings of Sozomen (lib. 7:16) we first find a witness for the principle of admitting also backsliders to penance and reconciliation. This change of practice was a necessary consequence of the enactment of penitential laws which extended the muse of the term mortal sin also to such offences as had formerly been considered simply venial.

III. Doctrine of the Middle Ages and the Roman Catholic Church.-The ancient Church classified her members into three sections-the faithful, the catechumens, and the penitent. The power of the keys was exercised upon the last, and in a certain sense also upon the second class; these two only were in any need of reconciliation or absolution by the Church. There is not the slightest evidence or reason to believe that the faithful were obliged to make confession of sins to the priest, even before communion. On the other hand, we find, after the beginning of the Middle Ages, a tendency among the newly-converted Germanic nations to enlarge the practice of penance into a general institution in the Church, and to make the power of the keys, which concerned the penitent alone, a general court of appeal and of mercy for all the faithful. This was done first by subjecting also mental sins to the power of the Rkes, while in the earlier Church such a thing had never been dreamed of. The origin of this innovation has been demonstrated with full evidence by Wasserschleben (BPussordnung d. abendlindischen Kirche, p. 108 sq.). Monachism was the exercise of penance for all life. In the monastery it was early considered an act of asceticism to disclose to the brethren the most secret manifestations of sin. In the old British and Irish Church education was directed especially to the order and interests of practical Church life; morals and discipline were generally regulated by monastic rule, which thus penetrated society at large, and more or less influenced all civil legislation.

As early as the penance-canons of Vinniaus, who flourished towards the end of the 5th century, the order is given that mental sins, even though prevented from execution, should be atoned for by abstinence from meat and wine for the period of twelve months. The Anglo-Saxon Poezitentiale, which bears the name of Theodore of Canterbury, prescribes for lusts of fornication twenty to forty days' abstinence. The rules of penance of the Irish monk Columban (died A. 1). 615) imported these regulations to the Continent, and ordered that all sinful lusts of the mind should be atoned for by penance with bread and water from forty dlays to six months (compare Wasserschleben, Bussordnug, p. 108,109, 185,353). In the 5th century the semi Pelagian John Cassian, of Marseilles, established eight principal or radical sins (vitia principalia), from which spring the actual sins, namely, intemperance, licentiousness, avariciousness, anger, sadness, bitterness, vanity, pride (Coll. S.S. Pattrum V, " de octo principalibus vitiis"). In the instructions of Columban (Biblioth. Patr. mraxim. 12:23) they are mentioned uInder the name of " crimina capitalia," by which the early Church designated simply those actual mortal sins that were subject to public penitence, and under this name they were introduced into several Anglo-Saxon and Frankish penance-regulations. The Synod of Chalons, in the year 813, directs the priest, in canon 32, to pay special regard to the principal sins of the confessors, a commendation which Alcuin already made in his De divinis oficiis, cap. 13. From these eight radical sins the seven death-sins of scholasticism were developed. In these regulations of penance we find also already penance redemptions, so important to the history of absolution, which originated simply by a transfer of the old Germanic composition system to ecclesiastical life.

The extension of the power to bind and to loose over all Christians was a necessary consequence of such influences as those just alluded to. In the instructions for penance of the abbot Othman, of St. Gall (died A.D. 761), we have the principle laid down that without confession there is no forgiveness of sin. In Columban's book of confession (can. 30). on the borders of the 6th and 7th centuries, it is ordered that before every communion there should be confession, especially of mental excitements. According to Regino of Prum (died 915) (De discipl. eccles. ii, 2), every person ought to confess at least once a year. The first provincial synod which makes confession a general obligation is that of Aenham, A.D. 1109 (canon 20, in two very varying recensions). Innocent III is really the originator of the general penance law, (See PENANCE), and thus likewise of the regular periodical exercise of the power of the keys over all Christians. Iis regulation had no doubt the intention of staying, by ecclesiastical shackles on the conscience, a spreading heresy, as seems evinced by the similarity of canon 29 of the fourth Lateran synod with the twelfth canon of the celebrated Synod of Toulouse in 1229.

Notwithstanding the opposition which manifested itself in the Frankish realm against the penitential books and those of its rules not corresponding to the regulations of the older canons, its principles took effectual hold. and caused a decided revolution in the practice of penance and reconciliation. Even though, after the 4th century, by the side of the public penance, private penance for secret offences had been practiced, reconciliation had remained public; now a distinction was made between public and private penance; the latter was inflicted on voluntary confession, the former for offences publicly proved against the perpetrator; and for great crimes, such as murder, public penance was followed by public reconciliation, which was gradually called absolution. But as, moreover, the extension end enlargement of the practice of penance and confession greatly increased the confessional business, the imposition of public penance, and the grant of a corresponding reconciliation, remained the prerogative of the bishop, while private confession and private absolution fell to the presbyter, who, however, exercised the right to forgive sin merely as the bishop's delegate. In the early Church reconciliation was granted only upon the expiration of penance; the penance regulations of Gildas, owever, permitted private reconciliation upon completion of half of the penitential Iperiod; the rules of Theodore of Canterbury granted it at the expiration of a year, or even after six months. Boniface ordered in his statutes that it should be granted immediately after confession (Gieseler, Ch. Hist. ii, I, § 19, note b). All these changes became prevalent in the Carlovingian Age.

Public reconciliation of the penitents was practiced in the Romish Church as early as the 5th century on Green-Thursday (Epist. Innocentii 1, ad Docentiuin, c. 7); in the Milanese and Spanish on Char-Friday (Morin. lib. 9:cap. 29). After the penitents on Ash Wednesday had received ashes upon their head, and had been solemnly expelled from the Church, they were, according to the Pontrficle Romanuem, again solemnly led, on Green- Thursday, to the cathedral, where they were relieved of their excommunication and blessed by the bishop after the mercy-seat had been implored and the person sprinkled with holy water and incense. Public reconciliation and public penance naturally, in the course of the Middle Ages, gradually gave place to private confession and private absolution. Since the Reformation it has become obsolete, and the formulas for the same find a resting-place in the Episcopal ritual (comp. Daniel, Codex liturgicus, i, 279-288).

Upon the theological importance of absolution, and the relation which the priest in the administering of it sustains to it, the same opposite opinions which we found in the patristic period were entertained in the first half of the Middle Ages. According to the view of which Jerome and Gregory the Great must be especially designated as representatives, the priest is judge in obro ecclesice, and may by his judgment simply determine and certify for the Church the manifestation of divine mercy in the penitent's heart. Thus. in the Homilies of Eligius of Noyon, which, in all probability, belong to the Carlovingian period, we read that the priests, who are in Christ's stead, must by their office, in a visible manner (externally or ecclesiastically), absolve those whom Christ, by an invisible (inwardly effected) absolution, declares worthy of his reconciliation (atonement).

Thus says Haymo of Halberstadt (died 853), in a sermon (Homn. in Octav. Pasch.), after alluding to the practices of the O.T. priests towards lepers: " Those whom he recognises by repentance and worthy improvement as inwardly loosed, the shepherd of souls may absolve by his declaration." According to this view, divine forgiveness not only precedes priestly absolution, but also confession; it is the portion of the sinner from the moment when he repents in his heart and turns to God. Absolution of the Church in this instance is simply the confirmation of what God has already done. A proof that this was the stand-point in the 12th century is furnished in Gratian's treatment of the Decretals (cans. 33:qu. iii). He there proposes the question whether anybody can give satisfaction to God bv simple repentance without confession (and consequently, also, without absolution). He first adduces the reasons and authorities that must compel an affirmative answer to this question, then those that would answer it in the negative; at the close he leaves it to the reader to decide for himself in favor of the one or the other, as both opinions have the favor and disapproval of wise and pious men. Peter the Lombard, Gratian's contemporary, says (Sent. lib. 4:dist. 17) that the sense of forgiveness is felt before the confession of the lips, indeed, from the moment when the holy desire fills the heart. The priest has therefore the power to bind and to loose only in the sense that he declares men bound or loosed, just as the disciples declared Lazarus free from his bonds only after Christ had restored him to life.

The declaration of the priest has therefore simply the effect of releasing before the Church the person already loosed by God. According to cardinal Robert Pulleyn (died 1115), the death-sinner enjoys divine forgiveness as soon as he repents; absolution is a sacrament, i.e. the symbol of a sacred cause, for it externally represents forgiveness already secured in the heart by repentance, not as if the priest actually forgave, but by the external symbol, for the sake of greater consolation, he makes the penitent doubly sure of forgiveness, although it has already become manifest (Sentent. lib. 7:1). If, at the same time, the anxiety still remaining in the heart is lessened or relieved, this is the effect of absolution, not depending so much upon the activity of the priest as upon God, from whom it springs. By the exercise of divine forgiveness the sinner is simply relieved of the ultimate consequences of his guilt, i.e. eternal damnation; yet earlier or more immediate punishment can only be prevented by his future efforts to atone for the act. Hence the priest imposes a certain measure of satisfaction, a compliance with which can alone free the transgressor from punishment corresponding to the greatness of his guilt; if the satisfaction is too moderate, the penitent must not fancy himself absolved before God; he will have to atone to the fulness of the measure either in this world or in purgatory. The direct bestowal of complete absolution before God we evidently do not find here conceded to be the prerogative of the Church; her judgment is competent only to free the sinner after compliance with her imposition of punishment; on divine punishments she has no judgment.

Nearest in view to Robert Pullevn comes Peter of Poictiers, chancellor of the University of Paris (he died about 1204), who (in his five Libri Sententiarum) lays down the doctrine that forgiveness of sin precedes confession, and that it is secured by repentance. He earnestly contends that the priest cannot relieve the confessing one of his guilt or of eternal punishment; both he asserts to be the prerogative of God alone. The priest has simply the authority to indicate or to declare that God has forgiven the penitent his sin. God, however, relieves of eternal punishment only on condition of definite satisfactions, which the priest has to determine as to measure, and to impose according to the greatness of the crime; and on this account the priest must possess not simply the power to loose, but also the power of discretion (clavis discretionis), which is not granted to everybody. The penitent is therefore advised in all cases to go, if possible, beyond the measure of satisfaction imposed by the priest, lest in purgatory the offender may be obliged to make satisfaction for his neglect here. It is quite characteristic that this scholastic regards confession as a sacrament of the O.T., for the whole process of penance he bases upon the personal activity of the penitent (Sent. 3:cap. 13 and 16).

Alongside of this view, according to which the possessor of the power of the keys officiates essentially as judge infbro ecclesice, another is entertained, which finds its strongest exponent in Leo the Great, according to whom the priest is intercessor and mediator for the penitent before God. This particular view, in its successive developments, has exerted the greatest influence in expanding the priestly power of the keys. This position is assigned to the priest in all late penitential books. Its nature is clearly defined by Alcuin, who, from the analogy of Leviticus (v, 12), in which the sinner is advised to seek the priest with his sacrifice, draws the conclusion that Christian penitents also must bring their sacrifice of confession to God by way of the priest, in order that it may be pleasing to and secure the forgiveness of the Lord (Adfjratr. inprovinc. Gothorum, ep. 96). For this very reason he calls (in his De offciis divinis) the priest " sequester ac medius inter Deum et peccatorem horninern ordinatus, pro peccatis intercessor." This sacerdotal intercession received a higher import in the 11th or 12th century by the De vera et falsa pcenitentia, a work attributed, though incorrectly, to Augustine. It develops the following doctrines:

1. That the priest in confession stands in God's stead-his forgiveness is God's forgiveness; for does not Christ say, " Whom ye hold to be loosed and bound, but on whom ye practice the work of justice or of mercy?" (cap. xxv).

2. Gregory the Great had already laid down the dogma that by penance (but not by absolution), sin, which in itself was irremissible, became remissible, i.e. became an expiable guilt by the personal activity of the penitent. This thought was modified in the work just alluded to, so that in confession, it- is true, the sinner is not cleared before God, but the committed offence is changed from a mortal to a venial sin (cap. xxv).

3. Such sins no longer incur eternal, but simply temporal punishment, and may be atoned for, either in this world by works of confession, or after death in purgatory, where the pain to bq endured for them shall far exceed any torments which the martyrs ever suffered in this life. This thought was taken up by the Victorinians, and from it was developed a complete system. Hugo of St. Victor regarded the priest as the visible medium which man, spellbound by his senses, needs in his approaches to God, and which God uses to pour upon the human heart his mercies; yea, in virtue of this position he does not hesitate to refer the passage in Exodus 21:28 to the priests, and to call them gods (comp. lib. ii, De sacr. pt. 14: cap. 1). And why should he not ? Had not pope John VIII, in the year 878 (Epist. 66), already assumed for himself the power, in virtue of his authority from Peter, to bind and to loose, to absolve from all sins, those who had fallen in battle for the Church ? and had not bishop Jordanus, of Limoges, in 1031, at the council held in that city, developed the principle that Christ had intrusted to his Church such a power, that she may loose after death those whom in life she had bound? (Mansi, 19:539; Gieseler, Ch. Hist. ii, 1, § 35, note K). Hugo's principles quickly spread among his contemporaries. Cardinal Pulleyn says that confession made to the priest means virtually '(quasi) confession to God; and Alexander III declares that what the priest learns in confession he does not learn as judge, but as God (" ut Deus," cap. 2, ap. Greg. De offic.judicis ordin. i, 31). Now if we behold in the priest an intermediate being between God and man, surrounded by a splendor before which the layman's eye is blinded, it is no more than reasonable to expect that his acts must gain in importance, and his position approach nearer and nearer to the office of God's representative. Hugo beholds the sinner bound by a twofold bondage-by an internal and external, by hardness and by incurred damnation; the former God loosens by contrition, the latter by the assistance of the priest, as the instrument by which he works. Here also the resurrection of Lazarus serves both as example and as proof (lib. ii, pt. 14: cap. 8).

His pupil, Richard of St.Victor, goes a step further in his tract De potestate ligandi et solvendi. Loosing from guilt, the effects of which are manifest in imprisonment (impotency) and servitude (sin service), God alone performs, either directly, or indirectly by men, who need not necessarily be priests; it is done even before confession, by contrition. The loosing from eternal punishment God performs by the priest, to whom, for this purpose, the power of the keys has been intrusted; he changes it (i.e. the punishment) into a transitory one, to be absolved either upon earth or in purgatory. The loosing from transitory punishment is effected by the priest himself by changing it into an exercise of penance, which is done by the imposition of a corresponding satisfaction. If hitherto we find independently, side by side, two opinions, namely, that the administrator of the power of the keys either judges inforo ecclesice or as an interceding mediator, we need not wonder that the advance of doctrinal development soon effected a dialectical union of the two. Richard of St. Victor evidently aimed at such a fusion; the great scholastics of the 13th century accomplished it; and Thomas Aquinas is to be especially regarded as the author of the doctrine defined by the Council of Trent. Alexander of Hales, in his Summa Theologice (pt. 4:qu. 20, membr. 3:art. 2), opens with the sentence, "The power to bind and to loose really belongs only to God; the priest can simply co-operate." But wherein shall this co- operation consist? Never would the priest take the liberty to absolve any one did he not suppose him to be loosed by God. Alexander is the first writer who meets the alternative as to whether the priest is to be regarded as deprecator or as judge. He holds him to be both in one person; the former he is before God, the latter before the penitent. But the power to loose he can exercise only after God has loosed. He is .to the sinner simply an interpreter of what God has already accomplished in him, or is doing in reply to priestly intercession.

Alexander of Hales then proceeds to the question whether the priest can remit eternal punishment. He replies (membr. ii, art. 2), that as eternal punishment is infinite, and cannot be severed from the offence, the priest does not possess any power to remit it; only God, whose powers have no bounds, can do this. On the other hand, the power of the keys can extend to temporal (or finite) punishments, inasmuch as the priest is God's instituted arbitrator. He explains this in detail thus: God's mercy forgives so that it does not affect his justice. His justice would require a measure of punishment exceeding our powers of endurance; therefore he has instituted, in his mercy, the priest as arbitrator, and given him authority to levy the divine punishment, and also, in virtue of Christ's sufferings, to remit a portion of it, for which God's justice need not be exercised. To the question whether the keys have authority also over purgatory, he replies, only per accidens, inasmuch as the priest may change the purgatorial punishment into a temporal one, i.e. into an exercise of penance. Just so reason Bonaventura (lib. 4, dist. 18, art. ii) and Albert the Great (Comment. lib. 4, dist. 18, art. xiii), the former often in the very words of Alexander.

Upon this basis Thomas Aquinas completed the doctrine of the Romish Church on the power of the keys. As Thomas generally distinguishes in ecclesiastical" power" between potestas ordinis and potestas jurisdictionis (Suppl. part 3, Sumnuce, qu. 20, a. 1, resp.), so there exists also a twofold "key," namely, clavis ordinis and clavis jurisdictionis (qu. 19, art. 3). The keys of the Church themselves are the power to remove the obstacle interposed by sin, and thus make admission to heaven possible (qu. 17, art. 1). The clavis ordinensis, so called because the priest receives it at ordination, directly opens heaven to the person by the forgiveness of sins (sacramental absolution), while the clavis jurisdictionis only indirectly causes this result, namely, by the intercession of the Church through excommunication and absolution in the ecclesiastical forum. It is therefore not in a strict sense a clavis coeli, but simply qucedam dispositio ad ipsam (qu. 19, art. 3). To the acts of clavisjurisdictionis belong furthermore also the grant of indulgence (qu. 25, art. 2, ad 1 m.). Only the clavis ordinis is of a sacramental nature (ibid.); hence also laymen and deacons may possess and exercise the clavis jurisdictionis, like the judges infbro ecclesice, for instance, the archdeacons (quest. 19, art. 3) and the papal legates (quest. 26, art. 2). On the other hand, the use of the sacramental clavis ordinis necessarily presupposes the possession of the clavis jurisdictionis, as the priest receives at ordination simply the authority to forgive sins, while for the exercise of it a definite circle of men (so to speak, the material or the object of the power of the keys), who are subjected to his jurisdiction (" plebs subdita per jurisdictionemr," qu. 17, art. 2, ad 2 m.), is necessary. 'he clavis ordinis can therefore not be exercised until after the possession of the clavis jurisdictionis (qu. 20, art. 1 and 2); and, vice-versa, a bishop may, by the withdrawal of the clavis jurisdictionis, deprive a schismatic, heretic, excommunicated, suspended, or degraded person of his inferiors (subjects), as well as of the possibility of exercising the clavis ordinis (qu. 19, art. 6).

The sacramental power of the keys (claris ordinis) comes into practice in priestly absolution, and it is particularly due to Thomas Aquinas that in the Romish doctrine this power of the keys has gained so much importance, that all parts of the sacrament of penance secure their unity in it. Thomas himself argues that God alone relieves of guilt and eternal punishment on condition of mere contrition; but this contrition can only assure the heart and afford evidence of forgiveness when followed by the fulness of love (as an attendant of faes formata), and furthermore must be accompanied with a desire for sacramental confession and absolution. To him who thus repents, guilt and eternal punishment are already remitted before confession, because in the concomitant desire, while repenting, to subject himself to the power of the keys, the latter at once exerts its influence (in voto existit, although not in actu se exercet). If such a person comes into the penance-chair, the grace showered upon him is greatly increased (augetur gratia) by the exercise (in actu) of the power of the keys. But if contrition does not sufficiently fill the sinner's heart (for want of love, as is frequently the case in the simple attritio), and therefore his disposition does not admit the actual exercise of the power of the keys, then the latter supplements his disposition by removing any still existing hinderance to the inpouring of sin-forgiving grace, provided he does not himself bar all access to his heart. In all these relations the priest has that place in the sacrament of penance which water holds in the sacrament of baptism; the former is instrumentum animatum, as the latter is instrumentum inanimatum.

His power, whether simply in voto requested or in actu exerted, makes way for the overflowing stream of mercy, and secures the necessary disposition for its reception (ibid. qu. 18, art. 1 and 2). The power of the keys is consequently the red thread which is threaded at contrition, drawn through penance, and becomes visible to the outward eye also in absolution. It gives the real form, the frame that secures to all acts of penance (which by it first become partes sacramenti, and receive a sacramental character) their inner connection, and supplies to all what is still needed for their completion (comp. qu. 10, art. 1). This is manifest in the effects of absolution by the power of the keys; for example (according to qu. 18, art. 2), temporal punishment is remitted (just the opinion of Richard of St. Victor). Yet this is not completely done as in baptism, but only so in part; the portion still remaining must be atoned for by the personal satisfactions of the penitent, by his prayer, by almsgiving, by fasting to the fulness of the measure meted out by the priest (qu. 18, art. 3). The imposition of satisfactions Thomas calls binding, i.e. obliging to atone for punishments still in reserve. The satisfactions have the twofold object of appeasing divine justice and of counteracting any tendency in the soul to sin. Punishment still in reserve (poenne satisfactorie) again can be remitted in virtue of the clavis jurisdictionis by means of indulgence (qu. 25, art. 1), which in the forum of God has the same value as in that of the Church; and this, according to the idea of substituting satisfaction on which it rests, may be of benefit even to souls in purgatory.

By this further development of the doctrine of the power of the keys the form of absolution also was necessarily considerably altered. Alexander of Hales says that in his day the deprecative formula preceded and was followed by the indicative; and this he justifies from his stand-point by the sentence, " Et deprecatio gratiam impetrat et absolutio gratiam supponit" (comp. pt. 4:qu. 21, membr. 1). The indicative form of absolution, however, must have been an innovation, for the unnamed opponent of Thomas alluded to in his opusculum xxiii (others xxii) actually asserts that to within thirty years the absolution formula used by all priests was Absolutionerm et remissionem tibi tribuat Deus. Thomas defends with special emphasis the formula Ego te absolvo, etc., because it has in its favor the analogy of other sacraments, and because it precisely expresses the effect of the sacrament of penance, namely, the removal of sin, as an exercise of the power of the keys. He interprets its contents in the following words: "Ego impendo tibi sacramentum absolutionis." But he also advises that the indicative form be preceded by the deprecative, lest on the part of the penitent the sacramental effects may be prevented (comp. Daniel, Cod. Liturg. i, 297).

The doctrine of Thomas had in its essentials already been dogmatically defined by Eugenius IV in 1439 at the Council of Florence (Mansi, 31:1057), and in its different rules more minutely at the Council of Trent, at its fourteenth session, Nov. 25,1551. The Council of Trent, in its decree and the canons appended, had simply pronounced authoritatively the exclusive right of the priest to absolve, and it explained the spirit of the latter to be not merely an announcement of forgiveness, but a judicial and sacramental act. The Roman catechism enters far more into detail on this particular point: as the priest in all sacraments performs Christ's office, the penitent has to honor in him the person of Christ. Absolution announced by him does not simply mean, but actually procures forgiveness of sin (pt. ii. cap. 5, qu. 17 and 11), for it causes the blood of Christ to flow unto us, and washes away sins committed after baptism (qu. 10). If, in contrition, confession, and satisfaction, the personal activity of the penitent (the opus operans) is pre-eminent, on the other hand, in absolution (by which, as the forma sacramenti, those acts of penance first really assume a sacramental character, and become partes sacramenti), he must become perfectly passive (for it operates altogether ex opere operato). From this stand-point the objection frequently raised on the Roman Catholic side against Protestant polemics seems in some sort reasonable, namely. that absolution is neither hypothetical nor absolute, and that it is a sacramental act to which this distinction cannot actually be applied; and it must be conceded on our part that, with the conditions understood to be concurrent, it furnishes such a degree of certainty that its effects cannot fail to be manifest in every one who does not intentionally frustrate it.

This, however, is only one side, in which the priest stands as intercessor between God and the penitent, no longer (as formerly regarded) as a deprecant simply, but as dispenser of mercies. The Roman Catholic conception of absolution furnishes for consideration still another side, according to which the priest is essentially judge, not simply inforo ecclesice, but also, at the same time, in foro .Dei, i.e judge in God's stead. As such, he investigates sin to determine a corresponding punishment, and examines the spiritual condition of the confidant in order to know whether to bind or to loose. He is therefore not simply executor of the opus operatum, but also judge of the opus operans. Now, as such, he gives a judgment, and this must be either hypothetical or absolute. If we look at the form of the sacramental practice, " Ego te absolve," and compare with it the assurances of the Roman catechism that the voice of the absolving priest is to be looked upon as if he heard the words of Christ to the leper, "Thy sins be forgiven thee" (I. c. qu. 10), we cannot do otherwise than regard the priestly decision as absolute, both by its form and contents, as an infallible divine decision. But if, on the other hand, we consider that the priest-and this is conceded on the part of the Roman Catholics-may also be fallible; that the confessor is, after all, a very imperfect surrogate on account of his want of omnipotence; yea, that but very rarely he can attain to an accurate knowledge of the spiritual condition of the confidant, his judgment must necessarily become conditioned; the whole sacrament becomes equally hypothetical, as upon this rests its basis. Thus the Roman Catholic doctrine fluctuates between two opposite poles of assurance and contingency. This, indeed, is the necessary consequence of its development as we have followed it in history, in which two separate originally distinct views as to the position of the priest in absolution had been combined, without, however, really agreeing with each other.

IV. Doctrine of the Reformation and Protestantism. A very new development was given to the doctrine of the power of the keys by the Reformers. Especially noteworthy is,

1. Luther's Attitude.-He retained private confession and private absolution, although he knew them to be innovations of the Middle Ages; he even never wholly abolished the sacramental character of absolution. Yet, notwithstanding this apparent adherence to Romish practices, it will be found that he changed, so to speak, regenerated the whole institution in a reformatory spirit. With Luther also the power of the keys is identical with the power to bind and to loose. The keys he regards as nothing else than the authority or office by which the Word is practiced and propagated. As the Word of God, from the nature of its contents, is both law and gospel, so the sermon has the twofold task of alarming the secure sinner by threats of the law, and of giving peace to the troubled conscience by the consolations of the Gospel, i.e. by the forgiveness of sins. The former is denoted by the binding key, the latter by the loosing key, which are both equally essential to keep Christians in the narrow path of spiritual life. Even the sermon Luther therefore considers as an act (the essential act) of the power of the keys, and the consolation afforded by it as a perfectly effectual absolution. From the latter, however, is to be particularly distinguished common absolution, accorded at the close of the sermon, to which Luther assigns the task of admonishing all hearers to obtain for themselves forgiveness of sin; also private absolution, to be received only at the confessional, and which is nothing more nor less than a sermon confined to one auditor. The existence of these different modes of exercising the power of the keys he ascribes partly to God's riches, who did not wish to manifest any littleness in the matter, and partly to the wants of an abashed conscience and a timid heart, which greatly need this strength and stimulant against the devil. The value of private absolution he places in its quasi sacramental character, for, like the sacrament, it also affords a real advantage in confining the Word to a particular person, and thus more securely strikes home than in the sermon.

It is true, for this reason, private absolution cannot be regarded as an absolute necessity to forgiveness of sin; but he views it as unquestionably beneficial and advisable (Steitz, Privatbeichte ut. Privatabsolution, p. 7-14). As Luther, moreover, did not look upon the confessional as a judicial authority, but simply as a mercy- seat, so he looked upon absolution, which he recognised as the most important feature of confession, not as a judicial decision, but as the simple announcement of the Gospel: " Thy sins are forgiven thee"-the apportionment of the forgiveness of sin to a particular person, the confinement of its consolation to the most individual needs of a single heart. The power and effect do not depend, according to Luther, upon the priestly character or upon the priestly utterance of him who administers it, but upon the word of Christ, which is announced by it, and upon the command of Christ, which is executed by it. For this very reason, all distinction of human and divine activity disappears from it; neither is the sentence of the person absolving afterwards ratified by God, nor does the absolver announce upon earth the judgment of heaven; but in the forgiveness at absolution God's forgiveness is directly afforded. The only condition upon which the effect of absolution depends is that upon which rests the effect likewise of the Word of God, i.e. of the sermon, namely, faith; for by faith it is received. Repentance is efficacious only so far as it is the indispensable preparation for the reception, but in itself cannot insure forgiveness, as without faith it remains simply sin come to life and experienced in the heart, a Judas-pain of despair (Steitz, ut supra, § 6, 13, 15-18). Notwithstanding this irremissible necessity of faith, Luther is far from basing upon it the power of absolution; a weak faith may receive strength also; yea, even to the unbeliever it is truly offered, and affords him forgiveness on account of the indwelling of the Word of (;od, at least for the moment, but if repelled by unbelief it only adds to his responsibility before the judge. The result of absolution is consolation to the conscience and peace with God in forgiveness of sins and restitution in innocence of the baptismal pledge.

Private absolution, Luther holds, must be administered to every individual who demands it; and on this account the power to loose in private absolution is not accompanied by the power to bind. Upon this rests the importance of the distinction between private absolution and private confession; for to confess does not mean anything else than inwardly to desire absolution for our sins and for our guilt: confession can therefore not be offered to any one, for God himself does not offer it; it must be an inward want. For this reason, again, no remuneration can be demanded of the person confessing. Luther makes no distinction between the absolution of the layman and that of the priest. It is also his opinion that man cannot too frequently enjoy absolution and the consolation of forgiveness, hence God, in the riches of his mercy, has so ordered it that this consolation may be experienced wherever the Church of the faithful exerts her influence. He holds, finally, that while it may be well to confess all one's different sins, it is moet important to confess those that particularly oppress the heart.

The key to bind, for which Luther found no place in private confession, he assigned particularly to jurisdiction; it found its application, therefore, in the ban. Luther's opinions on this point may be summed up as follows: the ban can be exercised only in cases of public sin and reproach, and for notorious disinclination to repentance; it is the public declaration of the Church that the sinner has bound himself, i.e. has deprived himself of all association of love, and surrendered himself to the devil. It excludes simply from the public association with the Church and her sacraments, not from the inner membership of the Church, from which the sinner himself only can cut loose. It is merely a public punishment of the Church, and has no other object than to improve the sinner. For this reason he is simply excluded from the sacrament, not from the sermon, nor even from the intercession of the Church on his behalf. The loosing from the ban is the public declaration of the Church that the person hitherto under ban has been reconciled to and is again accepted by the Church. This loosing is to be granted to any one who seeks it in repentance and faith; and this absolution of the Church, in virtue of the power of the keys, is God's absolution. A ban unjustly imposed can do the person so punished no harm, and should be borne patiently; nor must it be forgotten that external membership in the Church may be coexistent with exclusion from inner membership.

2. Melancthon coincided generally with Luther on the doctrine of the power of the keys, but with this difference, that he regarded the keys as an essential attribute of the episcopal or ministerial office. Yet we find in ecclesiastical regulations made under his supervision, as early as 1543, some decided deviations from Luther's doctrines. It is there directed to admit no one to communion "unless he have previously received private absolution from his pastor or some other competent person" (Richter, Kirchenordnung, ii, 45). Furthermore, the right is conceded to the absolving minister, under certain conditions, to deny absolution to the confessing. The ban itself, however, in consequence of its abuse, was early taken from the hands of the clergy, and its imposition left to the Consistory. Absolution was bestowed in the church at Sunday vesper service by imposition of hands. The formulas of absolution are partly exhibitory; not unfrequently both stand side by side for selection.

Chemnitz is the first who disputes that absolution can be regarded as a sacrament in the same manner as baptism and communion, and assigns for his reason that it rests simply upon the Word of God, and has received no additional external sign. He also regards the exercise of absolution as a specific prerogative of the sacred office, although he still holds to the old Protestant principle that the keys were given to the Church herself. (See Schmidt, Dogmatik, § 53, note 5; Heppe, Dogymatik, 3:250; Kliefoth [see below], p. 278.) Moreover, he argues that it must be left to the absolving clergyman to use his judgment and cognition in the refusal or grant of absolution.

Quite differently teach Quenstedt and Hollaz. They explicitly speak of the power to forgive sin as an official prerogative of the servants of the divine Word, and the latter even teaches, in a quite un-Protestant manner. that the servants (ministers) relatively and effectually convert, renew, and bless the sinner by the Word of God; so they also relatively and effectually forgive sin (Heppe, p. 252).

As a misconstruction of the original Protestant view on this doctrine, we must certainly regard Baier's position that absolution is a juridical act; and he, in consequence, distinguishes the potestas ordinis and the potestas clavium orjurisdictionis, and determines the former to be a potestas publice docendi et sacramenta administrandi, and the latter a potestas remittendi et retinzendi peccata (comp. Schmidt, § 59, note 9).

3. The Swiss reformers, from the very commencement, interpreted the power of the keys to refer especially to the exercise of ecclesiastical government, and more particularly to Church discipline, and in this sense they have formulated in their confessions the rules pertaining to this subject. On the other hand, Calvin referred the power of the keys altogether to the preaching of the Gospel and the exercise of Church discipline, disregarding the sacramental idea. He taught:

1. Absolution is twofold: one part serves faith, the other belongs to Church discipline.

2. Absolution is nothing else than the witness of the forgiveness of sin based upon the forms of the Gospel (Instit. lib. 3:cap. 4:§ 23).

3. Absolution is conditional; its conditions are repentance and faith.

4. As to the existence of these conditions men must necessarily be uncertain, so that the certainty of binding and loosing does not depend upon the judicial decision of a human court. The servants of the divine Word can therefore absolve only conditionally (§ 18): in virtue, viz. of this Word they can promise forgiveness to all who believe on Christ, and threaten damnation to those who do not lay hold of Christ (§ 21).

5. In this exercise of their functions they can, for this reason, not fall into error, for they do not promise more than the Word of God commands them; while the sinner can secure for himself certain and complete absolution with perfect assurance whenever he will lay hold upon the mercy of Christ in accordance with the spirit of the Bible promise, "According to thy faith be it unto thee" (§ 22).

6. The other absolution, which forms a constituent of Church discipline, has nothing to do with secret sins; it extinguishes only any offence which may have


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Keys, Power of the,'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/k/keys-power-of-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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