ASK FATHER: Did Francis say something heretical about God and our sins?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

You always [write] about going to confession and that’s great!  But I read in a Catholic Herald article that in a speech about confession Pope Francis said that God ‘forgets’ our sins.   How can that be?  Is this heresy?

What’s up with that?   In a Catholic Herald article we read what Francis said during the Sunday Angelus address (15 Sept 2019).  Here’s the text (no English) HERE. Also, I went to see the video.  He says this at about 10:20 – HERE.  Let’s see the Catholic Herald [my emphases and comments].

‘God, when He forgives, loses His memory,’ the Pope said  [Ummm…]

Pope Francis said on Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional.

“How do you defeat evil? Accepting God’s forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message on September 15.

“God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.  [NB that the account says he went off script.  Indeed, that’s why I posted the video link.  He is speaking off the cuff.  Whenever he does that… well… results vary.]

In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained.  [YAY!]

“Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said.  [It does with us if we don’t ask for forgiveness and amend our lives!]

Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” [And tells us, as he did the adulteress, to sin no more.]

“Jesus ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said.  [So let’s do our part and be properly disposed to receive Him.]

“It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: ‘Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added.  [GO TO CONFESSION!]

[…]

God forgets.   God loses His memory.

No and No.

God cannot forget, just as God cannot learn or be surprised.  God’s being and His knowledge are the same.  He doesn’t “forget” in the strict sense.

However, speaking off the cuff like this, I think we can chalk up to well… him, speaking off the cuff.  I don’t think that he is trying to teach something that’s false.

There are times when people do awful things to us, then apologize and we say, “Fuggedaboutit. I have.” We haven’t forgotten, but we intend to put the person at ease. We are not going to hold it against him, or harbor a grudge. I think Francis was just being avuncular and folksy (probably not a great idea very often, if you think about it).  “God forgets your sins” means he won’t hold your sins against you.

He got it right on when he said, “It is no longer there”.  That’s just before he goes off script.

When we confess our sins, with sincerity and intention of amendment, and the priest gives us absolution, we are not just unbound from the guilt of that sin, we are washed clean of it.  It is washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, in the river of mercy from Christ’s side, the sacramental laver of baptism and of the sacrament of penance.  By Christ’s own authority and with His own power, the priest takes that sin away so completely from your soul that, though the memory of it remains, it is no longer that dark blotch, as it were, on your soul.  God does not cover up or white wash that sin, so that it is still there, but he’s just going to “forget about it” and not hold it against you.  He “forgets” in the sense of “forgives” with a mending, healing forgiveness.  Sin is an evil and evil is a deprivation, a diminishing of being.  God doesn’t leave the wound and ignore it.  He heals it and completes you again so that the sin no longer removes you from Him.   It is gone.  In that sense you might say that God forgets.

But God does not forget.  Remember that, in justice, there is still something owed after sin has been forgiven.  We must make amends.  We make “amends, amendments”, in our life to set it straight, and in our relations with those whom we harmed by our sin, principally God, but also others  – we are in this together and even private sin hurts everyone – and ourselves.   That’s why the sacrament of penance reconciles us also with the Church.  Our sin hurt all the members of the Church.   We, in justice and in religion, owe reparation to neighbor and to God.   If we don’t do reparation here, we will have to do it in Purgatory, provided we die in God’s favor.

BTW… the profundity of how sin breaks us and our relationships is reflected in the deep and ancient forms of absolution that come from the genius of the Roman Rite.   Think of the subtleties of meaning, nuances in “indulgentiam, absolutionem et remissionnem peccatorum” that the priest pronounces.  Each term has a nuance of meaning for logical phases and, with each term, we are reconciled with the Church, ourselves and God in a different way – those different ways being all one way.

In trying to say something that average people can get, using human analogies to describe God or anything God does can go off the rails pretty easily if we want to pick on it.  Anthropomorphic language for God goes only so far.

So, just forget about what Francis said about “God losing His memory”.

And GO TO CONFESSION!

Oh… and another thing…

Whenever Church figures say something that doesn’t sound right or that it, in fact, wrong, use the opportunity.  That is one of the good things about this chaotic time: people who haven’t cracked a good book of Catholic doctrine or a catechism for looooong time have started to ask questions and to look things up.  “THAT didn’t sound right.  I wonder what the Catechism says about it.”  A good thing that will come from this chaos is that the smaller, leaner Church will be better educated and formed in the Faith.

Some sharing options...

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in GO TO CONFESSION, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Pope Francis, What are they REALLY saying? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to ASK FATHER: Did Francis say something heretical about God and our sins?

  1. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Pope Francis doesn’t share my traditional Catholic anthropology of man, which by the way, is one of the most compelling intellectual arguments for Catholicism.

    It is more deeply disturbing that Francis seems to lacks a basic Catholic understanding of the Theology of Divinity, Soteriology, etc, as well…

    Sigh….

  2. Hidden One says:

    Pope Francis is simply using standard biblical imagery in his customary imprecise way.

    We find this image of God forgetting our sins in Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17, among other places (mostly OT).

  3. veritas vincit says:

    Of course, God cannot forget. He knows all.

    Having said that…..

    I once heard a story about someone who was receiving visions of Our Lord (unfortunately, I cannot remember who, although I think it was a canonized saint). That person’s spiritual director, wanting to test the authenticity of those visions, instructed the vision to ask Our Lord this question, “What was my last mortal sin?” (referring to the spiritual director.

    The visionary reported Our Lord said to him, “I don’t remember.”

    The sense of that account as told to me was that when our sins are forgiven in Confession, Our Lord “forgets” them and does not hold them against us. That is the sense that I think Pope Francis meant (using his characteristic imprecise language, no doubt).

  4. JonathanTX says:

    I think that by the Principle of Charity we have to assume that in this case Pope Francis was speaking metaphorically, in the sense of Isaiah 43:25 (“I am, I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember thy sins.”) and Hebrews 10:17 (“And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”).

    It’s just makes me sad that Pope Francis says such goofy things so often that it has become a reality that we have to actively consider whether the Pope is saying something contrary to the Faith.

  5. dbf223 says:

    Francis has said many things in his papacy that I’ve found tactless or insipid, and some things at times outrageous or disturbing. I don’t find this to be disturbing though. Whether this is technically correct theologically, this is a manner of speaking that is pretty common among devotional or apologetic writers. Isn’t this just a kind of hyperbole, or an anthropomorphic expression, meant to emphasize the greatness of God’s mercy to those who repent?

  6. jim123 says:

    Hebrews 8:12

  7. Ioannes Andreades says:

    You can be sure that Satan does not forget your sins regardless of whether you’ve confessed them.

  8. surritter says:

    What jim123 said — Hebrews 8:12.
    I don’t really see anything faulty in what Francis said. As God is outside of time, and omniscient, etc., of course he has no ability to “forget.” But we all know what the pope meant.

    And to the first veritas Vinci… that anecdote is usually related to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

  9. PostCatholic says:

    I once was loaned a book of letters Pope John Paul I in which he wrote letters to Figaro and Mark Twain and Pinocchio, among many others. Somewhere in there was a story about a car that a man lubricated with jam because he liked the smell of it very much more than oil. I never finished the book but it was explained to me that the letters were developed from Roncalli’s weekday service sermons of a type called a (sp? )”ferverino.”

    In such addresses, there aren’t prepared remarks and the homilist tries to convey some point of morality or moral theology to his (I suppose it’s always his if this Italian term is only applied to talks by Catholic clergy?) They’re impassioned, off-the-cuff, and often over-simplify doctrines and don’t deliver the framework and argument for whichever particular exhortation of “be good” that speaker is making. JP1 had given a bunch of these and I was given to understand that his book was an attempt to lay structure underneath those addresses.

    That’s my recollection of the JP1 book. I’m open to correction; as I said I think I only read a few chapters of it and can’t tell you the title. But my question is this: Is it OK for a Pope to deliver a “ferverino” given his particular role in defining dogma? Is it at all possible that that’s what Francis was doing, whether right or wrong?

  10. Lurker 59 says:

    This is actually quite bad soteriology. It is also important to analyze this thought in conjunction with what Pope Francis has said about justification and The Mercy^tm in the past, and not use a hermeneutic that is foreign to his theology. I won’t rehash that in this comment.

    It is important to recall that our salvation is a reason for glorifying God — that every time God rescues one of His sheep from sin, that it is a cause for glorifying God. As such, that we have sinned and how we have sinned is integral to the story of our restoration. We don’t see it on this side of things, but after the General Judgment, all will be laid bare and there will be a great recalling and we will see how everything that has been has been for God’s own glory — even our sins which He permitted us to do, and which He permitted us to grieve Him so that He might more clearly reveal His glory to us and that we might praise Him all the more.

    Spiritual writers may sometimes speak of God “forgetting” our sins, but that is more so because we have such a hard time not dwelling on guilt (or being plagued by devils who never forget our falls, as Ioannes Andreades astutely mentioned above).

    Lets look quickly at Hebrews 8:12. will I remember –>
    Strong’s G3415 – mnaomai. to bear in mind, i.e. recollect; by implication, to reward or punish:

    Obviously, this is a bit deeper than “have a cognition about a past event.”

    So when we are looking at Heb8:12b “and I will remember their sins no more.” is not that God “forgets” but rather that God isn’t going to continuously punish sins anymore. This is really really important because Judaism doesn’t have a way out of the cycle of sin — you have to yearly and perpetually have the high priest offer new sacrifice because the sin’s affront to God is only being appeased not being expunged. This is also the whole point of the Book of Hebrews — showing how Jesus is the High Priest who offers an eternal once and for all sacrifice for the sins of man that finally allows justice to be accomplished. That justice is accomplished, God need no longer “remember their sins” because sin has been atoned for once and for all.


    Forgiveness is not God forgetting. This implies that the problem is with God. Humans sin. This displeases God so to solve the problem God must forget our sins so He is no longer displeased. We are not Protestants here. Forgiveness of sins is not God forgetting, it is not God ripping up the charges, it is not God counting Christ’s sufferings in the place of our punishments. Forgiveness is God, through the infusion of grace, fixing what sin has broken in us, and because what has been broken is now fixed, we can now have a relationship and communion with Him.

    The problem of sin is on our end, the solution is on God’s end and this is worked out through our cooperation. Saved by grace, through faith, which worketh in love.

  11. Pius Admirabilis says:

    God most definitely does not forget our sins. And even though He forgives us completely, He will still punish us for them. Either in this life or in the life to come. This is why the Church offers us Indulgences, which will “delete” any punishments (of course not as an automaton, but through sharing a special gift of God’s mercy He has given to the Church). Indulgences are so, so important! Maybe if the Pope knew about them, he would not speak such nonsense.

  12. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    Isaiah 43:25
    I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
    Psalm 25:7
    Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.

  13. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    The beautiful Scripture passages provided by several other commenters convey well God’s merciful “forgetfulness” of our sins. Another that comes to mind is as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us. (Psalm 103:12), which sounds very much to me like an example of Semitic imagery expressive of complete and utter forgiveness.

    Nothing is forgotten; nothing is ever forgotten, insofar as the omniscient God has perfect knowledge of all things. When we stand before Him, having received absolution for our sins, we need not be ashamed or fear that He holds anything against us, for as Father Z. wrote so beautifully in the article, God says to us Fuggedaboutit, as He has.

    “As far as East is from West” is another way of saying Fuggedaboutit is the way He views our sins.

  14. Ellen says:

    This doesn’t bother me too much. I get the gist of what the pope is saying even though he didn’t put it too well. I have been told by many a priest that he forgets the sins he hears in confession.

  15. BenFischer says:

    I thought Jesus said as much in the Divine Mercy visions (or another visionary). St Faustian or whoever was stressing about a previously confessed sin and Jesus told her “do not be troubled, I have forgotten it” or words to that effect (definitely including the word “forget”). I assumed then that Jesus was speaking figuratively and I assume Francis is as well. This seems like a tempest in a teapot.

  16. maternalView says:

    There’s a cute little meme going around that says “when people bring up your past tell them Jesus stopped the charges. ”

    When my friends post that I respond positively. I know what they’re saying and trying to encourage.

    On the other hand, Pope Francis’ reputation precedes him and it’s appropriate to parse out his comments.

  17. Elizabeth D says:

    Here’s another thing, in the Benedictus we say every day that God promised through Abraham that we should be free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life. I have pondered this a great deal. Is it, then, that from the perspective of Eternity, then, the perspective of looking simultaneously on all the days of time, God will not see sin in His saints but holiness and righteousness only, all days, even though each of these same saints acknowledge that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”? Nevertheless somehow God does not look at it; even in looking upon the temporality of the human creature, on past days of sin, in the redeemed He sees not sin but the person whom He has joined to His justice, whom He has joined to the Body of His co-eternal Son the destroyer of sin and death. It is Jesus Who possesses holiness and righteousness all the days of His life, which is imputed to the saints who are His members in the Benedictus. Is this not the explanation? I hate my sins they cause me great shame and it is satan who wants to identify me with them forever. I want what is promised in the Benedictus.

  18. matcast says:

    When the Pope was talking about God “forgetting” our sins, I didn’t interpret it as He “forgets” our sins like one forgets where he or she put his or her car keys. I believe the Father Z is correct that Pope Francis was trying to explain absolution in basic terms. When God forgives, He forgives and “forgets,” as in he is not going to hold your absolved sins over your head to be used against you at some future time like we humans do. He is not the great parole officer where if you stray into sin again, you are judged for the entire life-long compendium of your sins. Through His love and mercy, your sins are absolved as if they never occurred, or in other words, they are forgotten.

    As a layman, I always believed that through the sacrament of reconciliation, my slate is wiped clean. That if I am truly contrite, my sins are forgiven. The question is, does absolution forgive the sin or does it merely provide a stay of wrath until final judgement? I always believed it was the former, but if it is the latter, then it seems there is a great unspoken ‘loophole’ in the sacrament of reconciliation.

  19. Benedict Joseph says:

    Veritas vincit is referencing an event in the lives of Saint Margaret Mary and the Jesuit Saint Claude de la Colombière. Picture this in the context of the great revelation of the Sacred Heart and the necessity to make reparation to Christ’s Heart for our sins and the sins of the world. I remember reading of this event years back and taking the greatest consolation in it, as I still do. But nevertheless we are mindful that Almighty God is omnipotent and forgetfulness does not belong to His nature. The hyperbole employed in our Lord in His response to Saint Margaret’s inquiry is merely there to emphasize, during the time when Jansenism was flourishing, that we are to have confidence that our sins are indeed absolved when we make a good confession and thus we should not obsess over them.
    We live in a decidedly different epoch where the existence of the Adversary himself is denied and by Jesuits of the highest station, no less. We transverse an ecclesial landscape where the erroneous notion of universal salvation is entertained by significant ecclesiastics.
    The good Lord forgets nothing, neither our sins nor our good deeds. He is willing to forgive everything if our disposition is earnestly to avoid falling into sin again when we make our confession. We are deeply flawed. He knows our intentions are inadequate to the task. We need be confident in His grace to grow through to virtue over time, a lifetime, as well as His mercy when we meet Him face to face.
    Confidence!

  20. tho says:

    If God forgets our sins why do we have Purgatory?

  21. Godisgood says:

    Well said!

  22. Godisgood says:

    Beautiful!

  23. Godisgood says:

    Precisely so we can be purged of our attachment to anything other than God and to “pay” the temporal punishment due to the sins which have been forgiven. Frankly, I think that purgatory is God’s mercy, allowing us the opportunity to let go of the attachments which keep us from wholeheartedly loving the Lord.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Obviously our forgiven sins will be part of our “case file” when we stand before the Just Judge; and they will be mentioned at the General Judgment, because everything gets mentioned at the General Judgment.

    But we won’t be punished for them, because they are forgiven.