26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
It is interesting that Luther says here that the Pope does not have the “power of the keys”. The teaching of the Catholic Church was that Jesus had given that power to Peter who was considered the first Pope and had in turn pasted it on to all the Popes that followed. Therefore the power of absolution by those under the Pope was a power given to them by the Pope.
The “power of the keys” refers to who can forgive sins. Truly only Jesus can forgive sins by His death on the cross, it is that death that paid for all the sins of all people for all time. But a couple of times while He was here on earth, Jesus said that the power to forgive was given to those who believe. In Matthew 16:19 following Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus says that those who believe that confession have the power to forgive. (Matt.16:19) The Catholic Church had interpreted that verse to mean that Jesus gave that power to Peter alone, but in the verses around Matthew 18:18 Jesus gives the power to forgive to all believers, described how Christians are to act with other Christians who have done wrong (sinned). He finishes that with the statement in verse 18, that “whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven”. Again in John 20:23 after His resurrection Jesus appears to the disciples and it says that He breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Once again the Theses that Luther stated in 1517 on the door to the church, is really his jumping off point for a theology that was just beginning to be formed, so that he could clearly state what he believed about the “Office of the Keys” a couple years later when he wrote the Catechism. There he states without reservation that any believer can announce the forgiveness of sin to any other believer and we can be sure that our forgiveness is sure and complete because of the death of Jesus.
Because we know that we are forgiven we can be absolutely sure that we have a place in heaven with Jesus.
Oh most Holy Father, it is with great joy that I come to you as one who knows that I am forgiven by you on account of Jesus. With boldness I ask that you visit me with an extra measure of Your Spirit so that I may announce that same forgiveness to others around me who also believe. In that way we will all share in the glory that is to come. In Jesus name, Amen.