Sacraments by New Advent Encyclopedia Part 1

Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification (Catechismus concil. Trident., n. 4, ex St. Augustine, "De Catechizandis rudibus"). The subject may be treated under the following headings:

  • The necessity and the nature of the sacramental system
  • The nature of the sacraments of the new law
  • The origin (cause) of the sacraments
  • The number of the sacraments
  • The effects of the sacraments
  • The minister of the sacraments
  • The recipient of the sacraments

Necessity and nature

In what sense necessary

Almighty God can and does give grace to men in answer to their internal aspirations and prayers without the use of any external sign or ceremony. This will always be possible, because God, grace, and the soul are spiritual beings. God is not restricted to the use of material, visible symbols in dealing with men; thesacraments are not necessary in the sense that they could not have been dispensed with. But, if it is known that God has appointed external, visibleceremonies as the means by which certain graces are to be conferred on men, then in order to obtain those graces it will be necessary for men to make use of those Divinely appointed means. This truth theologians express by saying that thesacraments are necessary, not absolutely but only hypothetically, i.e., in the supposition that if we wish to obtain a certain supernatural end we must use thesupernatural means appointed for obtaining that end. In this sense the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, can. 4) declared heretical those who assert that the sacraments of the New Law are superfluous and not necessary, although all are not necessaryfor each individual. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church and of Christians in general that, whilst God was nowise bound to make use of external ceremonies assymbols of things spiritual and sacred, it has pleased Him to do so, and this is the ordinary and most suitable manner of dealing with men. Writers on the sacraments refer to this as the necessitas convenientiae, the necessity of suitableness. It is not really a necessity, but the most appropriate manner of dealing with creatures that are at the same time spiritual and corporeal. In this assertion all Christians are united: it is only when we come to consider the nature of the sacramental signs that Protestants (except some Anglicans) differ from Catholics. "To sacraments considered merely as outward forms, pictorial representations or symbolic acts, there is generally no objection", wrote Dr. Morgan Dix ("The sacramental system", New York, 1902, p. 16). "Of sacramental doctrine this may be said, that it is co-extensive with historic Christianity. Of this there is no reasonable doubt, as regards the very ancient days, of which St. Chrysostom's treatise on the priesthood andSt. Cyril's catechetical lectures may be taken as characteristic documents. Nor was it otherwise with the more conservative of the reformed bodies of the sixteenth century. Martin Luther's Catechism, the Augsburg, and later the Westminster, Confessions are strongly sacramental in their tone, putting to shame the degenerate followers of those who compiled them" (ibid., p. 7, 8)

Why the sacramental system is most appropriate

The reasons underlying a sacramental system are as follows:

  • Taking the word "sacrament" in its broadest sense, as the sign of somethingsacred and hidden (the Greek word is "mystery"), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men thesigns of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity. "The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands" (Psalm 18:2). The invisible things of him [i.e. God], from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; hiseternal power also, and divinity" (Romans 1:20).
  • The redemption of man was not accomplished in an invisible manner. Godrenewed, through the Patriarchs and the Prophets, the promise of salvationmade to the first man; external symbols were used to express faith in the promised Redeemer: "all these things happened to them [the Israelites] infigure" (1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 10:1). "So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman" (Galatians 4:3-4). The Incarnation took place because God dealt with men in the manner that was best suited to their nature.
  • The Church established by the Saviour was to be a visible organization (seeCHURCH: The Visibility of the Church): consequently it should have externalceremonies and symbols of things sacred.
  • The principal reason for a sacramental system is found in man. It is thenature of man, writes St. Thomas (III:61:1), to be led by things corporeal and sense-perceptible to things spiritual and intelligible; now Divine Providence provides for everything in accordance with its nature (secundum modum suae conditionis); therefore it is fitting that Divine Wisdom should provide means of salvation for men in the form of certain corporeal and sensible signs which are called sacraments. (For other reasons see Catech. Conc. Trid., II, n.14.)

Existence of sacred symbols

(a) No sacraments in the state of innocence. According to St. Thomas (III:61:2) and theologians generally there were no sacraments before Adam sinned, i.e., in the state of original justice. Man's dignity was so great that he was raised above the natural condition of human nature. His mind was subject to God; his lowerfaculties were subject to the higher part of his mind; his body was subject to hissoul; it would have been against the dignity of that state had he been dependent, for the acquisition of knowledge or of Divine grace, on anything beneath him, i.e., corporeal things. For this reason the majority of theologians hold that nosacraments would have been instituted even if that state had lasted for a long time.

(b) Sacraments of the law of nature. Apart from what was or might have been in that extraordinary state, the use of sacred symbols is universal. St. Augustine says that every religion, true or false, has its visible signs or sacraments. "In nullum nomen religionis, seu verum seu falsum, coadunari homines possunt, nisi aliquo signaculorum seu sacramentorum visibilium consortio colligantur" (Reply to FaustusXIX.11). Commentators on the Scriptures and theologians almost unanimously assert that there were sacraments under the law of nature and under the Mosaic Law, as there are sacraments of greater dignity under the Law of Christ. Under thelaw of nature -- so called not to exclude supernatural revelation but because at that time there existed no written supernatural law -- salvation was granted through faith in the promised Redeemer, and men expressed that faith by some external signs. What those signs should be God did not determine, leaving this for the people, most probably to the leaders or heads of families, who were guided in their choice by an interior inspiration of the Holy Ghost. This is the conception ofSt. Thomas, who says that, as under the law of nature (when there was no writtenlaw), men were guided by interior inspiration in worshiping God, so also they determined what signs should be used in the external acts of worship (III:60:5, ad 3). Afterwards, however, as it was necessary to give a written law: (a) because the law of nature had been obscured by sin, and (b) because it was time to give a more explicit knowledge of the grace of Christ, then also it became necessary to determine what external signs should be used as sacraments (III:60:5, ad 3;III:61:3, ad 2) This was not necessary immediately after the Fall, by reason of the fullness of faith and knowledge imparted to Adam. But about the time of Abraham, when faith had been weakened, many had fallen into idolatry, and the light ofreason had been obscured by indulgence of the passions, even unto the commission of sins against nature, God intervened and appointed as a sign of faith the rite ofcircumcision (Genesis 17; Summa Theologiæ III:70:2, ad 1; see CIRCUMCISION).

The vast majority of theologians teach that this ceremony was a sacrament and that it was instituted as a remedy for original sin; consequently that it conferredgrace, not indeed of itself (ex opere operato), but by reason of the faith in Christwhich it expressed. "In circumcisione conferebatur gratia, non ex virtute circumcisionis, sed ex virtute fidei passionis Christi futurae, cujus signum erat circumcisio -- quia scilicet justitia erat ex fide significata, non ex circumcisione significante" (Summa Theologiæ III:70:4). Certainly it was at least a sign of something sacred, and it was appointed and determined by God himself as a sign offaith and as a mark by which the faithful were distinguished from unbelievers. It was not, however, the only sign of faith used under the law of nature. It is incredible, writes St. Augustine, that before circumcision there was no sacrament for the relief (justification) of children, although for some good reason theScriptures do not tell us what that sacrament was (Against Julian III.11). Thesacrifice of Melchisedech, the sacrifice of the friends of Job, the various tithes andoblations for the service of God are mentioned by St. Thomas (III:61:3, ad 3;III:65:1, ad 7) as external observances which may be considered as the sacredsigns of that time, prefiguring future sacred institutions: hence, he adds, they may be called sacraments of the law of nature.

(c) Sacraments of the Mosaic Law. As the time for Christ's coming drew nearer, in order that the Israelites might be better instructed God spoke to Moses, revealingto him in detail the sacred signs and ceremonies by which they were to manifest more explicitly their faith in the future Redeemer. Those signs and ceremonies were the sacraments of the Mosaic Law, "which are compared to the sacraments which were before the law as something determined to something undetermined, because before the law it had not been determined what signs men should use" (Summa Theologiæ III:61:3, ad 2). With the Angelic Doctor (I-II:102:5) theologians usually divide the sacraments of this period into three classes:

  1. The ceremonies by which men were made and signed as worshippers orministers of God. Thus we have (a) circumcision, instituted in the time ofAbraham (Genesis 17), renewed in the time of Moses (Leviticus 12:3) for all people; and (b) the sacred rites by which the Levitical priests wereconsecrated.
  2. The ceremonies which consisted in the use of things pertaining to the service of God, i.e. (a) the paschal lamb for all the people, and (b) the loaves of proposition for the ministers.
  3. The ceremonies of purification from legal contamination, i.e. (a) for the people, various expiations, (b) for the priests, the washing of hands and feet, the shaving of the head, etc. St. Augustine says the sacraments of the Old Law were abolished because they had been fulfilled (cf. Matthew 5:17), and others have been instituted which are more efficacious, more useful, easier to administer and to receive, fewer in number ("virtute majora, utilitate meliora, actu faciliora, numero pauciora", Reply to Faustus XIX.13). The Council of Trent condemns those who say that there is no difference except in the outward rite between the sacraments of the Old Law and those of the New Law (Sess. VII, can. ii). The Decree for the Armenians, published by order of the Council of Florence, says that the sacraments of the Old Law did not confer grace, but only prefigured the grace which was to be given by thePassion of Christ. This means that they did not give grace themselves (i.e. ex opere operato) but only by reason of the faith in Christ which they represented -- "ex fide significata, non ex circumcisione significante" (Summa Theologiæ I-II:102:5)

Nature of the sacraments of the New Law

Definition of a sacrament

The sacraments thus far considered were merely signs of sacred things. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, accepted today by many Episcopalians, thesacraments of the Christian dispensation are not mere signs; they do not merelysignify Divine grace, but in virtue of their Divine institution, they cause that gracein the souls of men. "Signum sacro sanctum efficax gratiae" -- a sacrosanct sign producing grace, is a good, succinct definition of a sacrament of the New Law.Sacrament, in its broadest acceptation, may be defined as an external sign of something sacred. In the twelfth century Peter Lombard (d. 1164), known as the Master of the Sentences, author of the manual of systematized theology, gave an accurate definition of a sacrament of the New Law: A sacrament is in such a manner an outward sign of inward grace that it bears its image (i.e. signifies or represents it) and is its cause -- "Sacramentum proprie dicitur quod ita signum est gratiae Dei, ei invisibilis gratiae forma, ut ipsius imaginem gerat et causa existat" (IV Sent., d.I, n.2). This definition was adopted and perfected by the medieval Scholastics. From St. Thomas we have the short but very expressive definition: The sign of a sacred thing in so far as it sanctifies men - "Signum rei sacrae in quantum est sanctificans homines" (III.60.2).

All the creatures of the universe proclaim something sacred, namely, the wisdom and the goodness of God, as they are sacred in themselves, not as they are sacredthings sanctifying men, hence they cannot be called sacraments in the sense in which we speak of sacraments (III.60.2, ad 1um). The Council of Trent includes thesubstance of these two definitions in the following: "Symbolum rei sacrae, et invisibilis gratiae forma visibilis, sanctificandi vim habens" -- A symbol of somethingsacred, a visible form of invisible grace, having the power of sanctifying (Sess. XIII, cap.3). The "Catechism of the Council of Trent" gives a more complete definition: Something perceptible by the senses which by Divine institution has the power both to signify and to effect sanctity and justice (II, n.2). Catholic catechisms in Englishusually have the following: An outward sign of inward grace, a sacred andmysterious sign or ceremony, ordained by Christ, by which grace is conveyed to oursouls. Anglican and Episcopalian theologies and catechisms give definitions whichCatholics could accept.

In every sacrament three things are necessary: the outward sign; the inwardgrace; Divine institution. A sign stands for and represents something else, either naturally, as smoke represents fire, or by the choice of an intelligent being, as the red cross indicates an ambulance. Sacraments do not naturally signify grace; they do so because they have been chosen by God to signify mysterious effects. Yet they are not altogether arbitrary, because in some cases, if not in all, theceremonies performed have a quasi-natural connection with the effect to be produced. Thus, pouring water on the head of a child readily brings to mind the interior purification of the soul. The word "sacrament" (sacramentum), even as used by profane Latin writers, signified something sacred, viz., the oath by which soldiers were bound, or the money deposited by litigants in a contest. In the writings of the Fathers of the Church the word was used to signify somethingsacred and mysterious, and where the Latins use sacramentum the Greeks usemysterion (mystery). The sacred and mysterious thing signified is Divine grace, which is the formal cause of our justification (see GRACE), but with it we must associate the Passion of Christ (efficient and meritorious cause) and the end (finalcause) of our sanctification, viz., eternal life. The significance of the sacraments according to theologians (e.g. Summa Theologicæ III.60.3) and the Roman Catechism (II, n. 13) extends to these three sacred things, of which one is past, one present, and one future. The three are aptly expressed in St. Thomas'sbeautiful antiphon on the Eucharist: "O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis ejus, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur -- O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of thepassion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future life is given to us".

Errors of Protestants

Protestants generally hold that the sacraments are signs of something sacred(grace and faith), but deny that they really cause Divine grace. Episcopalians, however, and Anglicans, especially the Ritualists, hold with Catholics that thesacraments are "effectual signs" of grace. In article XXV of the Westminster Confession we read:

Sacraments ordained of God be not only badges or tokens of Christianmen's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God's good will towards us by which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken but strengthen and confirm our faith in Him (cf. art. XXVII).

"The Zwinglian theory", writes Morgan Dix (op. cit., p. 73), "that sacraments are nothing but memorials of Christ and badges of Christian profession, is one that can by no possible jugglery with the English tongue be reconciled with the formularies of our church." Mortimer adopts and explains the Catholic formula "ex opere operato" (loc. cit., p. 122). Luther and his early followers rejected this conception of thesacraments. They do not cause grace, but are merely "signs and testimonies ofGod's good will towards us" (Augsburg Confessions); they excite faith, and faith(fiduciary) causes justification. Calvinists and Presbyterians hold substantially the same doctrine. Zwinglius lowered still further the dignity of the sacraments, making them signs not of God's fidelity but of our fidelity. By receiving the sacraments we manifest faith in Christ: they are merely the badges of our profession and the pledges of our fidelity. Fundamentally all these errors arise from Luther's newly-invented theory of righteousness, i.e. the doctrine of justification by faith alone (see GRACE). If man is to be sanctified not by an interior renovation through gracewhich will blot out his sins, but by an extrinsic imputation through the merits ofChrist, which will cover his soul as a cloak, there is no place for signs that causegrace, and those used can have no other purpose than to excite faith in theSaviour. Luther's convenient doctrine on justification was not adopted by all his followers and it is not baldly and boldly proclaimed by all Protestants today; nevertheless they accept its consequences affecting the true notion of thesacraments.

Catholic doctrine

Against all innovators the Council of Trent declared: "If anyone say that thesacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer grace on those who place no obstacle to the same, let him beanathema" (Sess. viii, "If anyone say that grace is not conferred by thesacraments ex opere operato but that faith in God's promises is alone sufficient for obtaining grace, let him be anathema" (ibid., can. viii; cf. can. iv, v, vii). The phrase "ex opere operato", for which there is no equivalent in English, probably was used for the first time by Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205), and afterwards by Innocent III(d. 1216; de myst. missae, III, v), and by St. Thomas (d. 1274; IV Sent., dist. 1, Q.i, a.5). It was happily invented to express a truth that had always been taught and had been introduced without objection. It is not an elegant formula but, as St. Augustine remarks (Enarration on Psalm 138): It is better that grammarians should object than that the people should not understand. "Ex opere operato", i.e. by virtue of the action, means that the efficacy of the action of the sacraments does not depend on anything human, but solely on the will of God as expressed byChrist's institution and promise. "Ex opere operantis", i.e. by reason of the agent, would mean that the action of the sacraments depended on the worthiness either of the minister or of the recipient (see Pourrat, "Theology of the Sacraments", tr. St. Louis, 1910, 162 sqq.). Protestants cannot in good faith object to the phrase as if it meant that the mere outward ceremony, apart from God's action, causesgrace. It is well known that Catholics teach that the sacraments are only the instrumental, not the principal, causes of grace. Neither can it be claimed that the phrase adopted by the council does away with all dispositions necessary on the part of the recipient, the sacraments acting like infallible charms causing grace in those who are ill-disposed or in grievous sin. The fathers of the council were careful to note that there must be no obstacle to grace on the part of the recipients, who must receive them rite, i.e. rightly and worthily; and they declare it a calumny to assert that they require no previous dispositions (Sess. XIV, de poenit., cap.4). Dispositions are required to prepare the subject, but they are a condition (conditio sine qua non), not the causes, of the grace conferred. In this case the sacraments differ from the sacramentals, which may cause grace ex opere operantis, i.e. by reason of the prayers of the Church or the good, pious sentiments of those who use them.

Proofs of the Catholic doctrine

In examining proofs of the Catholic doctrine it must be borne in mind that our rule of faith is not simply Scripture, but Scripture and tradition.

(a) In Sacred Scripture we find expressions which clearly indicate that thesacraments are more than mere signs of grace and faith: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5); "He saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5); "Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:17); "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life . . . For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55-56). These and similar expressions (see articles on each sacrament) are, to say the least, very much exaggerated if they do not mean that the sacramentalceremony is in some sense the cause of the grace conferred.

(b) Tradition clearly indicates the sense in which they have been interpreted in theChurch. From the numerous expressions used by the Fathers we select the following: "The Holy Ghost comes down from heaven and hovers over the waters, sanctifying them of Himself, and thus they imbibe the power of sanctifying" (Tertullian, On Baptism 4). "Baptism is the expiation of sins, the remission of crimes, the cause of renovation and regeneration" (St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ). "Explain to me the manner of nativity in the flesh and I will explain to you the regeneration of the soul . . . Throughout, by Divine power and efficacy, it is incomprehensible; no reasoning, no art can explain it" (On the Baptism of Christ). "He that passes through the fountain [Baptism] shall not die but rises to new life" (St. Ambrose, On the Mysteries I.4). "Whence this great power of water", exclaimsSt. Augustine, "that it touches the body and cleanses the soul?" (Tractate 80 on the Gospel of John). "Baptism", writes the same Father, "consists not in the meritsof those by whom it is administered, nor of those to whom it is administered, but in its own sanctity and truth, on account of Him who instituted it" (Cont. Cres., IV). The doctrine solemnly defined by the Council of Trent had been announced in previous councils, notably at Constantinople (381; Symb. Fid.), at Mileve (416; can.ii) in the Second Council of Orange (529; can. xv); and in the Council of Florence (1439; Decr. pro. Armen., see Denzinger-Bannwart, nn. 86, 102, 200, 695). The early Anglican Church held fast to the true doctrine: "Baptism is not only a sign of profession and a mark of difference, whereby christened men are discerned from those that be not christened, but is also a sign of regeneration or New-Birth, whereby as by an instrument they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the church" (Art. XXVII).

(c) Theological argument. -- The Westminster Confession adds: "The Baptism of children is in any wise to be retained in the church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ". If Baptism does not confer grace ex opere operato, but simply excites faith, then we ask: (1) Of what use would this be if the language used be not understood by the recipient, i.e. an infant or an adult that does not understandLatin? In such cases it might be more beneficial to the bystanders than to the onebaptized. (2) In what does the Baptism of Christ surpass the Baptism of John, for the latter could excite faith? Why were those baptized by the Baptism of Johnrebaptized with the Baptism of Christ? (Acts 19). (3) How can it be said thatBaptism is strictly necessary for salvation since faith can be excited and expressed in many other ways? Finally Episcopalians and Anglicans of today would not revert to the doctrine of grace ex opere operato unless they were convinced that the ancient faith was warranted by Scripture and Tradition.

Matter and form of the sacraments

Scholastic writers of the thirteenth century introduced into their explanations of the sacraments terms which were derived from the philosophy of Aristotle. William of Auxerre (d. 1223) was the first to apply to them the words matter (materia) andform (forma). As in physical bodies, so also in the sacramental rite we find two elements, one undetermined, which is called the matter, the other determining, called the form. For instance, water may be used for drinking, or for cooling or cleansing the body, but the words pronounced by the minister when he pours water on the head of the child, with the intention of doing what the Church does, determines the meaning of the act, so that it signifies the purification of the soulby grace. The matter and form (the res et verba) make up the external rite, which has its special significance and efficacy from the institution of Christ. The words are the more important element in the composition, because men express their thoughts and intentions principally by words. "Verba inter homines obtinuerunt principatum significandi" (St. Augustine, Christian Doctrine II.3; Summa TheologiæIII.60.6). It must not be supposed that the things used for the acts performed, for they are included in the res, remarks St. Thomas (Summa Theologiæ III.60.6, ad 2)have no significance. They too may be symbolical, e.g. anointing the body with oil relates to health; but their significance is clearly determined by the words. "In all the compounds of matter and form the determining element is the form: (Summa Theologiæ III.60.7).

The terminology was somewhat new, the doctrine was old; the same truth had been expressed in former times in different words. Sometimes the form of thesacrament meant the whole external rite (St. Augustine, Of Sin and Merit I.34;Council of Mileve, De bapt.). What we call the matter and form were referred to as "mystic symbols"; "the sign and the thing invisible"; the "word and the element" (St. Augustine, Tractate 80 on the Gospel of John). The new terminology immediately found favour. It was solemnly ratified by being used in the Decree for theArmenians, which was added to the Decrees of the Council of Florence, yet has not the value of a conciliar definition (see Denzinger-Bannwart, 695; Hurter, "Theol. dog. comp.", I, 441; Pourrat, op. cit., p. 51). The Council of Trent used the wordsmatter and form (Sess. XIV, cap. ii, iii, can. iv), but did not define that thesacramental rite was composed of these two elements. Leo XIII, in the "Apostolicae Curae" (13 Sept., 1896) made the scholastic theory the basis of his declaration, and pronounced ordinations performed according to the ancient Anglican riteinvalid, owing to a defect in the form used and a lack of the necessary intention on the part of the ministers. The hylomorphistic theory furnishes a very apt comparison and sheds much light on our conception of the external ceremony. Nevertheless our knowledge of the sacraments is not dependent on this Scholasticterminology, and the comparison must not be carried too far. The attempt to verify the comparison (of sacraments to a body) in all details of the sacramental rite will lead to confusing subtilities or to singular opinions, e.g., Melchior Cano's (De locis theol., VIII, v.3) opinion as to the minister of Matrimony (see MARRIAGE; cf. Pourrat, op. cit., ii).

Origin (cause) Of the sacraments

It might now be asked: in how far was it necessary that the matter and form of thesacraments should have been determined by Christ?

Power of God

The Council of Trent defined that the seven sacraments of the New Law were instituted by Christ (Sess. VII, can.i). This settles the question of fact for allCatholics. Reason tells us that all sacraments must come originally from God. Since they are the signs of sacred things in so far as by these sacred things men are sanctified (Summa Theologiæ III:60:2); since the external rite (matter and form) of itself cannot give grace, it is evident that all sacraments properly so called must originate in Divine appointment. "Since the sanctification of man is in the power ofGod who sanctifies", writes St. Thomas (Summa Theologiæ III:60:2), "it is not in the competency of man to choose the things by which he is to be sanctified, but this must be determined by Divine institution". Add to this that grace is, in some sense, a participation of the Divine nature (see GRACE) and our doctrine becomes unassailable: God alone can decree that by exterior ceremonies men shall be partakers of His nature.

Power of Christ

God alone is the principal cause of the sacraments. He alone authoritatively and by innate power can give to external material rites the power to confer grace on men.Christ as God, equally with the Father, possessed this principal, authoritative, innate power. As man He had another power which St. Thomas calls "the power of the principal ministry" or "the power of excellence" (III:64:3). "Christ produced the interior effects of the sacraments by meriting them and by effecting them. . . Thepassion of Christ is the cause of our justification meritoriously and effectively, not as the principal agent and authoritatively but as an instrument, inasmuch as His Humanity was the instrument of His Divinity" (III:64:3; cf. III:13:1, III:13:3). There is theological truth as well as piety in the old maxim: "From the side of Christ dying on the cross flowed the sacraments by which the Church was saved" (Gloss. Ord. in Rom. 5: Summa Theologiæ III:62:5). The principal efficient cause of grace is God, to whom the Humanity of Christ is as a conjoined instrument, the sacraments being instruments not joined to the Divinity (by hypostatic union): therefore the savingpower of the sacraments passes from the Divinity of Christ, through His Humanity into the sacraments (Summa Theologiæ III:62:5). One who weighs well all these words will understand why Catholics have great reverence for the sacraments.Christ's power of excellence consists in four things: (1) Sacraments have their efficacy from His merits and sufferings; (2) they are sanctified and they sanctify in His name; (3) He could and He did institute the sacraments; (4) He could produce the effects of the sacraments without the external ceremony (Summa TheologiæIII:64:3). Christ could have communicated this power of excellence to men: this was not absolutely impossible (III:64:4). But, (1) had He done so men could not have possessed it with the same perfection as Christ: "He would have remained the head of the Church principally, others secondarily" (III:64:3). (2) Christ did not communicate this power, and this for the good of the faithful: (a) that they might place their hope in God and not in men; (b) that there might not be differentsacraments, giving rise to divisions in the Church (III:64:1). This second reason is mentioned by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:12-13): "every one of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

Immediate or mediate institution

The Council of Trent did not define explicitly and formally that all the sacraments were instituted immediately by Christ. Before the council great theologians, e.g.Peter Lombard (IV Sent., d. xxiii), Hugh of St. Victor (De sac. II, ii) Alexander of Hales (Summa, IV, Q. xxiv, 1) held that some sacraments were instituted by theApostles, using power that had been given to them by Jesus Christ. Doubts were raised especially about Confirmation and Extreme Unction. St. Thomas rejects the opinion that Confirmation was instituted by the Apostles. It was instituted byChrist, he holds, when he promised to send the Paraclete, although it was never administered whilst He was on earth, because the fullness of the Holy Ghost was not to be given until after the Ascension: "Christus instituit hoc sacramentum, non exhibendo, sed promittendo" (Summa Theologiæ III.62.1, ad 1um)). The Council of Trent defined that the sacrament of Extreme Unction was instituted by Christ andpromulgated by St. James (Sess. XIV, can.i). Some theologians, e.g. Becanus,Bellarmine, Vasquez, Gonet, etc. thought the words of the council (Sess. VII, can.i) were explicit enough to make the immediate institution of all the sacraments byChrist a matter of defined faith. They are opposed by Soto (a theologian of thecouncil), Estius, Gotti, Tournély, Berti, and a host of others, so that now nearly alltheologians unite in saying: it is theologically certain, but not defined (de fide) thatChrist immediately instituted all the sacraments of the New Law. In the decree"Lamentabili", 3 July, 1907, Pius X condemned twelve propositions of theModernists, who would attribute the origin of the sacraments to some species of evolution or development. The first sweeping proposition is this: "The sacraments had their origin in this that the Apostles, persuaded and moved by circumstances and events, interpreted some idea and intention of Christ", (Demzinger-Bannwart, 2040). Then follow eleven propositions relating to each of the sacraments in order (ibid., 2041-51). These propositions deny that Christ immediately instituted thesacraments and some seem to deny even their mediate institution by the Saviour.

What does immediate institution imply? Power of the Church.

Granting that Christ immediately instituted all the sacraments, it does notnecessarily follow that personally He determined all the details of the sacredceremony, prescribing minutely every iota relating to the matter and the form to be used. It is sufficient (even for immediate institution) to say: Christ determined what special graces were to be conferred by means of external rites: for somesacraments (e.g. Baptism, the Eucharist) He determined minutely (in specie) thematter and form: for others He determined only in a general way (in genere) that there should be an external ceremony, by which special graces were to be conferred, leaving to the Apostles or to the Church the power to determine whatever He had not determined, e.g. to prescribe the matter and form of theSacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXI, cap. ii) declared that the Church had the power to change the "substance" of thesacraments. She would not be claiming power to alter the substance of thesacraments if she used her Divinely given authority to determine more precisely thematter and form in so far as they had not been determined by Christ. This theory (which is not modern) had been adopted by theologians: by it we can solvehistorical difficulties relating, principally, to Confirmation and Holy Orders.

May we then say that Christ instituted some sacraments in an implicit state?

That Christ was satisfied to lay down the essential principles from which, after a more or less protracted development, would come forth the fully developedsacraments? This is an application of Newman's theory of development, according to Pourrat (op. cit., p. 300), who proposes two other formulae; Christ instituted all the sacraments immediately, but did not himself give them all to the Church fully constituted; or Jesus instituted immediately and explicitly Baptism and Holy Eucharist: He instituted immediately but implicitly the five other sacraments (loc. cit., p. 301). Pourrat himself thinks the latter formula too absolute. Theologiansprobably will consider it rather dangerous, and at least "male sonans". If it be taken to mean more than the old expression, Christ determined in genere only the matterand the form of some sacraments, it grants too much development. If it means nothing more than the expression hitherto in use, what is gained by admitting a formula which easily might be misunderstood?


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