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§ 2. The Sacraments. Their Nature.

Usage of the Word Sacrament.

1. In classical usage the word “sacramentum” means, in general, something sacred. In legal proceedings the money deposted by contending parties was called “sacramentum,” because when forfeited it was applied to sacred purposes. “Ea pecunia, quæ in judiciuin venit in litibus, sacramentum a sacro.” “Sacramentum æs significat, quod pœnæ nomine penditur, sive eo quis interrogatur sive contenditur.” Then in a secondary sense it meant a judicial process. In military usage it expressed the obligation 486of the soldier to his leader or country; then the oath by which he was bound; and generally an oath; so that in ordinary language “sacramentum dicere” meant to swear.446446Freund’s Lateinische Wörterbuch.

2. The ecclesiastical usage of the word was influenced by various circumstances. From its etymology and signification it was applied to anything sacred or consecrated. Then to anything which had a sacred or hidden meaning. In this sense it was applied to all religious rites and ceremonies. This brought it into connection with the Greek word μυστήριον, which properly means a secret; something into the knowledge of which a man must be initiated. Hence in the Vulgate “sacramentum” is used as the translation of μυστήριον in Ephesians i. 9, iii. 9, v. 32; Colossians i. 27; 1 Timothy iii. 16; Revelation i. 20, xvii. 7. It was therefore used in the wide sense for any sign which had a secret import. Thus Augustine says,447447Epistola cxxxviii. (5); Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1836, vol. vii. p. 615, c.Nimis autem longum est, convenienter disputare de varietate signorum, quæ cum ad res divinas pertinent, sacramenta appellantur.” And again he says,448448Sermo cclxxii. (16); Ibid. vol. v. p. 1614, b, c. Ista fratres dicuntur sacramenta, quia in eis aliud videtur, aliud intelligitur. Quod videtur speciem habet corporalem, quod intelligitur, fructum habet spiritualem.” All religious rites and ceremonies, the sign of the cross, anointing with oil, etc., were therefore called sacraments. Augustine frequently calls the mystical or allegorical exposition of Scripture, a sacrament. Jerome449449Works, tom. ix. p. 59. (?) says, “Sacramenta Dei sunt prædicare, benedicere ac confirmare, communionem reddere, visitare infirmos, orare.450450See Gerhard, Loci Theologici, XIX. i. §§ 6, 9; edit. Tübingen, 1768, vol. viii. pp. 204, 205. Lombard says, “Sacramentum est sacræ rei signum.”451451Lombard, Magister Sententiarum, lib. IV. dist. i. B. edit. (?) 1472.

The Theological Usage and Definition of the Word.

3. It is evident that the signification of the word “sacrament” is so comprehensive and its usage so lax, that little aid can be derived from either of those sources in fixing definitely its meaning in Christian theology. Hence theologians soon began to frame definitions of the word more or less exact, derived from the teachings of the New Testament on the subject. The two simplest and most generally accepted of such definitions are the one by Augustine and the other by Peter Lombard. The former says,452452In Joannis Evangelium Tractatus, lxxx. 3; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. iii. 2290, a. 487Accedit verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum;” the latter,453453Lombard, ut supra.Sacramentum est invisibilis gratiæ visibilis forma.” These definitions however are too vague.

It is obvious that the only safe and satisfactory method of arriving at the idea of a sacrament, in the Christian sense of the word, is to take those ordinances which by common consent are admitted to be sacraments, and by analyzing them determine what are their essential elements or characteristics. We should then exclude from the category all other ordinances, human or divine, in which those characteristics are not found. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are admitted to be sacraments. They are (1.) Ordinances instituted by Christ. (2.) They are in their nature significant, baptism of cleansing; the Lord’s Supper of spiritual nourishment. (3.) They were designed to be perpetual. (4.) They were appointed to signify, and to instruct; to seal, and thus to confirm and strengthen; and to convey or apply, and thus to sanctify, those who by faith receive them. On this principle the definition of a sacrament given in the standards of our Church is founded. “A sacrament,” it is said, “is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the New Covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”454454Westminster Shorter Catechism, quest. 92.

To the same effect the other Reformed Symbols speak. For example, the Second Helvetic Confession says: “Sunt sacramenta symbola mystica, vel ritus sancti, aut sacræ actiones, a Deo ipso institutæ, constantes verbo suo, signis, et rebus significatis, quibus in ecclesia summa sua beneficia, homini exhibita, retinet in memoria, et subinde renovat, quibus item promissiones suas obsignat, et quæ ipse nobis interius præstat, exterius repræsentat, ac veluti oculis contemplanda subiicit, adeoque fidem nostram, Spiritu Dei in cordibus nostris operante, roborat et auget: quibus denique nos ab omnibus aliis populis et religionibus separat, sibique soli consecrat et obligat, et quid a nobis requirat, significat.455455xix.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 512.

The definition given in the Geneva Catechism is that a sacrament is “externa divinæ erga nos benevolentiæ testificatio, quæ visibili signo spirituales gratias figurat, ad obsignandas cordibus nostris Dei promissiones, quo earum veritas melius confirmetur.456456v. de Sacramentis; Ibid. p. 160.

The Heidelberg Catechism says, that sacraments are “sacra et 488in oculos incurrentia signa, ac sigilla, ob eam causam a Deo instituta, ut per ea nobis promissionem Evangelii magis declarat et obsignet: quod scilicet non universis tantum, verum etiam singulis credentibus, propter unicum illud Christi sacrificium in cruce peractum, gratis donet remissionem peccatorum, et vitam æternam.457457lxvi., Niemeyer, p. 444.

The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England teach458458Art. XXV. that “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession; but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace, and God’s will toward us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in Him.”

Lutheran Doctrine.

The Lutheran definition of the sacraments agrees in all essential points with that of the Reformed churches. In the Augsburg Confession, its authors say: “De usu sacramentorum docent, quod sacramenta instituta sint, non modo ut sint notæ professionis inter homines, sed magis ut sint signa et testimonia voluntatis Dei erga nos, ad excitandam et confirmandam fidem in his, qui utuntur, proposita. Itaque utendum est sacramentis ita, ut fides accedat, quæ credat promissionibus, quæ per sacramenta exhibentur et ostenduntur.459459I. xiii. 1, 2; Hase, Leipzig, 1840, p. 13.

In the Apology for that Confession it is said: “Si sacramenta vocamus ritus, qui habent mandatum Dei, et quibus addita est promissio gratiæ, facile est judicare, quæ sint proprie sacramenta. Nam ritus ab hominibus instituti non erunt hoc modo proprie dicta sacramenta. Non est enim auctoritatis humanæ, promittere gratiam. Quare signa sine mandato Dei instituta, non sunt certa sigua gratiæ, etiamsi fortasse rudes docent, aut admonent aliquid.460460vii. 3; Hase, p. 200.

Dicimus igitur ad sacramenta proprie sic dicta duo potissimum requiri, videlicet verbum et elementum, juxta vulgatum illud Augustini: ‘Accedit verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum.’ Fundamentum hujus adsertionis ex ipsa natura et fine sacramentorum pendet, cum enim sacramenta id, quid in verbo evangelii prædicatur, externo elemento vestitum sensibus ingerere debeant, ex eo sponte sequitur, quod nec verbum sine elemento, nec elementum sine verbo constituat sacramentum. Per verbum intelligitur primo mandatum atque institutio divina, per quam elementum 489. . . . . separatur ab usu communi, et destinatur usui sacramentali; deinde promissio atque ea quidem evangelio propria, per sacramentum adplicanda et obsignanda. Per elementum non quodvis, sed certum et verbo institutionis expressum accipitur.461461Gerhard, Loci Theologici xix. 2. § 11; edit. Tübingen, 1768, vol. viii. p. 207. In all this the Reformed and Lutherans are agreed. The differences between them in relation to the sacraments do not concern their nature.

Romish Doctrine.

The distinctive doctrine of the Romish Church on this subject is that the sacraments contain the grace which they signify, and that such grace is conveyed “ex opere operato.” That is, they have a real inherent and objective virtue, which renders them effectual in communicating saving benefits to those who receive them. In a certain sense these words may be used to express the Lutheran doctrine; but that doctrine differs from the Romanist doctrine, as will appear when the efficacy of the sacraments comes to be considered. The language of the Council of Trent on this subject is: “Si quis dixerit sacramenta novæ legis non continere gratiam, quam significant; aut gratiam ipsam non ponentibus obicem non conferre; quasi signa tantum externa sint acceptæ per fidem gratiæ, vel justitiæ, et notæ quædam Christianæ professionis, quibus apud homines discernuntur fideles ab infidelibus; anathema sit.462462Sess. VII. De Sacramentis in genere, canon 6; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 39.

The Roman Catechism defines a sacrament “Rem esse sensibus subjectam, quæ ex Dei institutione sanctitatis et justitiæ tum significandæ, tum efficiendæ vim habet.463463II. i. quæst. 6 (x. 11); Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 241. As the task devolved on the Council of Trent was to present and harmonize the doctrines elaborated by the Schoolmen in opposition to the doctrines of the Reformers, the definitions and explanations given by the writers of the Middle Ages throw as much light on the decrees of the Council as the expositions of the later theologians of the Latin Church. On this point Thomas Aquinas says: “Oportet, quod virtus salutifera a divinitate Christi per ejus humanitatem in ipsa sacramenta derivetur. . . . . Sacramenta ecelesiæ specialiter habent virtutem ex passione Christi, cujus virtus quodammodo nobis copulatur per susceptionem sacramentorum.464464Summa, III. lxii. 5; edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 129, b, of fourth set. Again: “Ponendo quod sacramentum est instrumentalis causa gratiæ, necesse est simul ponere, quod in sacramento sit quædam virtus 490instrumentalis ad inducendum sacramentalem effectum. . . . . Sicut virtus instrumentalis acquiritur instrumento, ex hoc ipso quod movetur ab agente principali, ita et sacramentum consequitur spiritualem virtutem ex benedictione Christi et applicatione ministri ad usum sacramenti.” Thus Thomas’s own opinion was adopted by the Council as opposed to that of the Scotists to which Thomas refers, in the same connection: “Illi qui ponunt quod sacramenta non causant gratiam, nisi per quandam concomitantiam ponunt quod in sacramento non sit aliqua virtus, quæ operetur ad sacramenti effectum, est tamen virtus divina sacramento assistens, quæ sacramentalem effectum operatur.465465Aquinas, ut supra, lxii. 4; p. 129, a. This is very nearly the doctrine of the Reformed Church upon the subject. Bellarmin’s illustration of the point in hand is that as fire is the cause of combustion when brought into contact with proper materials, so the sacraments produce their effect by their own inherent virtue. “Exemplum,” he says, “esse potest in re naturali. Si ad ligna comburenda, primum exsiccarentur ligna, deinde excuteretur ex silice, tum applicaretur ignis ligno, et sic tandem fieret combustio; nemo diceret, causam immediatam combustionis esse siccitatem aut excussionem ignis ex silice aut applicationem ignis ad ligna, sed solum ignem, ut causam primariam, et solum calorem seu calefactionem, ut causam instrumentalem.” 466466Bellarmin, De Sacramentis, II. i.; Disputationes, Paris, 1608, vol. iii. p. 109, a.

Jam vero sacramenta gratiam, quam significant, continere, eamque conferre virtute sibi insita, seu ex opere operato, Scripturæ, patres, constansque Ecclesiæ sensus traditionalis luculentissime docent.467467Joannes Perrone, Prælectiones Theologicæ, De Sacramentis in genere, II. i. 39; edit. Paris, 1861, vol. ii. p. 221, a. According to Romanists, therefore, a sacrament is a divine ordinance which has the inherent or intrinsic power of conferring the grace which it signifies.

Remonstrant Doctrine.

It has already been shown that it was the tendency of the Remonstrants to eliminate, as far as possible, the supernatural element from Christianity. They therefore regarded the sacraments not properly as means of grace, but as significant rites intended to bring the truth vividly before the mind, which truth exerted its moral influence on the heart. “Sacramenta cum dicimus, externas ecclesiæ ceremonias seu ritus illos sacros ac solennes intelligimus, quibus veluti fœderalibus signis ac sigillis visibilibus Deus gratiosa beneficia sua, in fœdere præsertim evangelico 491promissa, non modo nobis repræsentat et adumbrat, sed et certo modo exhibet atque obsignat: nosque vicissim palam publiceque declaramus ac testamur, nos promissiones omnes divinas vera, firma atque obsequiosa fide amplecti, et beneficia ipsius jugi et grata semper memoria celebrare velle.468468Confessio Remonstrantium, xxiii. 1; Episcopii Opera, edit. Rotterdam, 1665, vol. ii. p. 92, a, of second set.

Restat, ut dicamus, Deum gratiam suam per sacramenta nobis exhibere, non eam actu per illa conferendo; sed per illa tanquam signa clara ac evidentia eam repræsentando et ob oculos ponendo non eminus aut sub figuris quibusdam tanquam multo post futuram, sed tanquam præsentem: ut ita in signis istis tanquam in speculo quodam, exhibitionem iliam gratiæ, quam Deus nobis concessit, quasi conspiciamus. Estque hæc efficacia nulla alia quam objectiva, quæ requirit facultatem cognitivam rite dispositam, ut apprehendere possit illud, quod signum objective menti offert. Hinc videmus, quomodo sacramenta in nobis operentur, nimirum tanquam signa repræsentantia menti nostræ rem cujus signa sunt. Neque alia in illis quæri debet efficacia.469469Limborch, Theologia Christinia, V. lxvi. 31, 32; edit. Amsterdam, 1715, p. 606, b.

Zwingle alone of the Reformers seems inclined to this view of the sacraments: “Sunt . . . . . sacramenta,” he says, “signa vel ceremoniæ, pace tamen omnium dicam, sive neotericorum sive veteram, quibus se homo Ecclesiæ probat aut candidatum aut militem esse Christi, redduntque Ecclesiam totam potius certiorem de tua fide quam te. Si enim fides tua non aliter fuerit absoluta, quam ut signo ceremoniali egeat, fides non est: fides enim est, qua nitimur misericordiæ Dei inconcusse, firmiter et indistracte, ut multis locis Paulus habet.”470470De Vera et Falsa Religione, Works, edit. Schuler and Schultess, Turici, 1832, vol. iii. p. 231. Elsewhere he says: “Credo, imo scio omnia sacramenta, tam abesse ut gratiam conferant, ut ne adferant quidem aut dispensent. . . . . Dux autem vel vehiculum Spiritui non est necessarium, ipse enim est virtus et latio qua cuncta feruntur, non qui ferri opus habeat: neque id unquam legimus in scripturis sacris, quod sensibilia, qualia sacramenta sunt, certo secum ferrent Spiritum, sed si sensibilia unquam lata sunt cum Spiritu, jam Spiritus fuit qui tulit, non sensibilia. Sic cum ventus vehemens ferretur, simul adferebantur linguæ venti virtute, non ferebatur ventus virtute linguarum.471471Ad Carolum Rom. Imperatorum, Fidei Huldrychs Zwinglii Ratio, § 7; Niemeyer’s Collectio Confessionum, p. 24. It is obvious that all that Zwingle here says of the sacraments, might be said of the Word of God; and, therefore, if he proves anything he 492proves that the sacraments are not means of grace; he proves the same concerning the Word, to which the Scriptures attribute such an important agency in the sanctification and salvation of men.

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