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CHAPTER LXXVIIThat Sacraments can be administered even by Wicked Ministers

NO agent can do anything in what is beyond his competence, unless he gets power from elsewhere: thus the mayor10211021Balivus, the Scotch Bailie, a common term also in England when St Thomas wrote, or a little after. The privileges of the mediaeval towns originated in charters granted them by the king or some feudal lord. In all these matters of positive institution, the appointment gives the authority, not the personal character of the functionary, be he mayor or be he priest. cannot put restraint upon the citizens except in virtue of the power that he receives from the king. But what is done in the Sacraments exceeds human competence. Therefore no one can administer the Sacraments, however good he may be, unless he receives power so to do. But the opposite of goodness is wickedness and sin. Therefore neither by sin is he hindered from the administration of the Sacraments, who has received power to do so.10221022Holiness does not make the priest, nor does wickedness unmake him: for contrariorum eadem est ratio. By ‘administration’ here is meant ‘valid administration,’ not ‘licit.’ It is a mortal sin to administer a Sacrament, being oneself in mortal sin. But that is the affair of the minister, not of the recipient.

5. One man cannot judge of the goodness or wickedness of another man: that is proper to God alone, who searches the secrets of hearts. If then the wickedness of the minister could hinder the effect of the Sacrament, it would be impossible for a man to have a sure confidence of his salvation:10231023Fiduciam certam de sua salute, that is, a reasonable assurance of his being validly absolved and now in the state of grace. his conscience would not remain free from the sense of sin. But it is irrational for any one to have to rest the hope of his salvation on the goodness of a mere man: for it said, Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man (Jer. xvii, 5). In order then that we may rest the hope of our salvation on Christ, who is God and man, we must allow that the Sacraments work salvation in the power of Christ, whether they be administered by good or evil ministers.

Hence the Lord says: The Scribes and Pharisees have come to sit in the chair of Moses: whatever things therefore they say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not (Matt. xxiii, 2).

Hereby is cast out the error of those who say that all good men can administer the Sacraments, and no bad men.10241024This was one of the tenets of the then rising sect of the Fraticelli (Denzinger, Enchiridion, nn. 413, 414), repeated by Wycliffe: “If bishop or priest be in mortal sin, he neither ordains nor consecrates nor baptises” (ib. n. 480). It would be as wise to hold that all good men can sign cheques, and no bad men. To this day that notion is not uncommon in England that a Romish priest claims to absolve from sin in virtue of his own superabundant personal sanctity.

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