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§ 3. Nnmber of the Sacraments.

If the word sacrament be taken in the wide sense in which it was used in the early Church for any significant religious rite, it is obvious that no definite limit can be set to their number. If the word be confined to such divine ordinances as answer the conditions which characterize baptism and the Lord’s Supper, then it is evident that they are the only sacraments under the Christian dispensation; and such is the view taken by all Protestants. It is true that in the Apology for the Augsburg Confession it is said: “Vere sunt sacramenta, baptismus, Cœna Domini, absolutio, quæ est sacramentum pœnitentiæ. Nam hi ritus habent mandatum Dei et promissionem gratiæ, quæ est propria Novi Testamenti.” The last was soon dropped out of the list of sacraments, although the Lutherans retained confession as a distinct Church institution. The confession however was to be general, an enumeration of sins not being required, and the absolution which followed was simply declarative, and not judicial, as among the Romanists. The Reformed symbols required private confession to be made to God, and general confession in the congregation of the people; and recommended in extraordinary cases, where the conscience is burdened ot the mind perplexed, private confession to the pastor or spiritual adviser.

The Romanists have seven sacraments, adding to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, matrimony, orders, penance, confirmation, and extreme unction. Matrimony, however, although a divine institution, was not ordained for signifying, sealing, and applying to believers the benefits of redemption, and therefore, is not a sacrament. The same may be said of orders. And as to confirmation, penance, and extreme unction, in the sense in which Romanists use those terms, they are not divine institutions at all.


Confirmation indeed, or a service attending the introduction of those baptized in infancy, into full communion in the Church, was early instituted and long continued among Protestants as well as among Romanists. Those who had been baptized in 493infancy, had their standing in the Church on the ground of the profession of faith and the engagements made in their name, by their parents or sponsors. When they came to years of discretion, they were examined as to their knowledge and conduct, and if found competently instructed and free from scandal, they assumed the obligation of their baptismal vows upon themselves, and their church membership was confirmed. In all this, however, there was nothing of a sacramental character.

This simple service the Romanists have exalted into a sacrament. The “material,” they say, is the anointing with oil, or the imposition of hands; or as Thomas Aquinas and Bellarmin say, the two united. Perrone makes the anointing the essential thing. The gift or grace conveyed, “ex opere operato,” is that supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost, which enables the recipient to be faithful to his baptismal vows. The administrator must be a prelate, as prelates only are the official successors of the Apostles, and, therefore, they only have the power of conveying the Holy Spirit by the imposition of hands, which was one of the prerogatives of the apostleship.


Romanists distinguish between “pœnitentia,” repentance or penitence, as a virtue and as a sacrament. As a virtue it consists in sorrow for sin, a determination to forsake it, and a purpose “ad sui vindictam in compensationem injuriæ Deo per peccatum illatæi.e., a purpose to make satisfaction to God. As a sacrament it is an ordinance instituted by Christ for the remission of sins committed after baptism, through the absolution of a priest having jurisdiction. The matter of the sacrament is the act of the penitent including contrition, confession, and satisfaction. The form is the act of absolution on the part of the priest. By contrition is meant sorrow, or remorse. It is not necessary that this contrition should be anything more than a natural, as distinguished from a gracious, exercise or state of mind; or as the Romanists express it, it is not necessary that contrition should be “caritate perfecta.” The confession included in this assumed sacrament, must be auricular; it must include all mortal sins; a sin not confessed is not forgiven. This confession is declared by the Council of Trent to be necessary to salvation. “Si quis negaverit, confessionem sacramentalem vel institutam, vel ad salutem necessariam esse jure divino; aut dixerit, modum secreti confitendi soli sacerdoti, quem Ecclesia catholica ab 494initio semper observavit, et observat, alienum esse ab institutione et mandato Christi, et inventum esse humanum; anathema sit.472472Sess. xiv. canon 6; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 68. In sin there is both a “reatus culpæ” and a “reatus pœnæ.” The former, together with the penalty of eternal death, is removed by absolution; but “reatus pœnæ” as to temporal punishment, to be endured either in this life or in purgatory, remains or may remain. Hence the necessity of satisfaction for sin in the sense above stated. The absolution granted by the priest, is not merely declaratory, but judicial and effective. On this point the Romish Church teaches “1º Christum delere peccata sacerdotum ministerio; 2º sacerdotes sedere judices in tribunali pœnitentiæ; 3º illorum sententiam ratam in cœlis esse; 4º sacerdotes hac potestate præstare angelis et archangelis ipsis.473473Perrone, Prælectiones Theologicæ, De Poenitentia, V. i. 155; edit. Paris, 1861, vol. ii. p. 351, a. This doctrine that no real sin, committed after baptism, can be forgiven unless confessed to a priest; that the priest has the power to remit or retain; that he carries at his girdle the keys uot only of the visible Church on earth, but also of heaven and hell; and that he opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens, is one of the strongest links of the chain by which the Church of Rome leads captive the souls of men. No wonder that she says that the power of a priest is above that even of angels and archangels.


Orders or ordination is made a sacrament, because instituted or commanded by Christ, and because therein the supernatural power of consecrating the body and blood of Christ and of forgiving sin is conferred. It is thus defined: “Ordo sacer et sacramentum divinitus institutum, quo tribuitur potestas consecrandi corpus et sanguinem Domini, nec non remittendi et retinendi peccata.” On this subject the Council of Trent says: “Si quis dixerit, per sacram ordinationem non dari Spiritum Sanctum, ac proinde frustra episcopos dicere: Accipe Spiritum Sanctum; aut per eam non imprimi characterem; vel eum, qui sacerdos semel fuit, laicum rursus fieri posse; anathema sit.474474Sess. xxiii. canon 4; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 88. The right and power to ordain belong exclusively to prelates, for they alone possess the apostolical prerogative of communicating the Holy Spirit by the imposition of hands. The Apostles, however, had only the power of communicating miraculous gifts. They neither 495claimed nor pretended to exercise the power of conferring the sanctifying or saving influences of the Spirit. As the Church of Rome claims for its clergy a power far above that of angels or archangels, so it claims for its bishops powers far transcending those of the Apostles.


Matrimony is declared to be a sacrament because, although not instituted by Christ, it was made by Him the symbol of the mystical union between the Church and its divine head; and because by its due celebration divine grace is conferred upon the contracting parties. It is thus defined: “Sacramentum novæ legis, quo significatur conjunctio Christi cum Ecclesia, et gratia confertur ad sanctificandam viri et mulieris legitimam conjunctionem, ad uniendos arctius conjugum animos, atque ad prolem pie sancteque in virtutis officiis et fide christiana instituendam.475475Perrone, ut supra, De Matrimonio, 1. vol. ii. p. 407.

Extreme Unction.

This is defined to be a sacrament wherein by the anointing with oil (per unctionem olei benedicti) and prayer in the prescribed form, by the ministration of a priest, grace is conferred to the baptized dangerously ill, whereby sins are remitted and the strength of the soul is increased. “Si quis dixerit, sacram infirmorum unctionem non conferre gratiam, nec remittere peccata, nec alleviare infirmos; sed jam cessasse, quasi olim tantum fuerit gratia curationum; anathema sit.” “Si quis dixerit, presbyteros Ecclesiæ, quos B. Jacobus adducendos esse infirmum inunguendum hortatur, non esse sacerdotes ab Episcopo ordinatos, sed ætate seniores, in quavis communitate; ob idque proprium extremæ unctionis ministrum non esse solum sacerdotem; anathema sit.476476Conc. Trident. sess. xiv. “De sacramento extremæ unctionis,” can. 2, 4; Streitwolf, vol. i. pp. 70, 71.

Reasons for fixing the Number of the Sacraments at Seven.

It is a work of supererogation for Romanists to assign any reason for making the number of the sacraments seven, and neither more nor less, other than the decision of the Church. If the Church be infallible her judgment on the question is decisive; if it be not infallible no other reason is of any avail. They admit that there is no authority from Scripture on this point, 496and on no subject in dispute between them and Protestants, can appeal be made with less show of reason to the testimony of tradition. Romish theologians, therefore, while they claim common consent in support of their doctrine on this subject, avail themselves of all the collateral aid they can command. Thomas Aquinas says that there is an analogy between the natural and spiritual life of man. He is born; he is strengthened; he is nourished; he needs means of recovery from illness; he needs to propagate his race; to live under the guidance of legitimate authority; and to be prepared for his departure from this world. The sacraments provide for all these necessities of his spiritual life. He is born in baptism; strengthened by confirmation; nourished by the Lord’s Supper; recovered from spiritual illness by penance; the Church is continued by holy matrimony; the sacrament of orders provides for the Christian a supernaturally endowed guide; and extreme unction prepares him for death. Thus through the seven sacraments all his spiritual wants are supplied.

Then again as there are seven cardinal virtues, there should be seven sacraments. Besides seven is a sacred number: there are seven days in the week; every seventh year was Sabbatical; and there were seven golden candlesticks, and seven stars in the right hand of Christ. It is not wonderful therefore that there should be seven sacraments. It is obvious that all this amounts to nothing. The two sacraments instituted by Christ for the definite purpose of “signifying, sealing, and applying to believers,” the benefits of redemption, stand alone in the New Testament. No other ordinance has the same characteristics or the same design. Admitting, therefore, that the Fathers and the Church were unanimous in calling any number of other sacred institutions sacraments, that would not prove that they belong to the same category as baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

It is, however, notorious that no such general consent can be pleaded in support of the seven sacraments of the Romanists. The simple facts on this subject are, — (1.) As already remarked, in the early Church every sacred rite was called a sacrament. Then their number was indefinite. (2.) The preeminence of baptism and the Lord’s Supper over all other sacred rites being recognized, they were called, as by Augustine, the chief sacraments. (3.) When attention was directed to the fact that something is true of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which is true of no other sacred ordinances or rites, that they, and they only, of 497external ceremonies were appointed to be “means of grace,” then they were declared in this light to be the only Christian sacraments. Justin Martyr,477477Apologia I [II.] Ad Antoninum Pium, 65, 66; Works, edit. Commelinus, Heidelberg, 1593, p. 76. Cyril of Jerusalem,478478Catechesis Mystagogicœ Quinque, Schram, Analysis Patrum, Augsburg, 1789, vol. x. pp. 250-268. and Augustine,479479Enarratio in Psalmum ciii. 14; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1836, vol. iv. p. 1626, d. so speak of them.480480Perrone in his Prælectiones Theologicæ, De Sacramentis in genere, i. 14; edit. Paris, 1861, vol. ii. p. 217; refers to these and tries to explain the facts away. (4.) As a ritualistic spirit increased in the Church, first one and then another rite was assumed to be a “means of grace,” not always, however, the same rites, and thus the number of sacraments was increased. (5.) For centuries, however, no definite number was admitted by anything like general consent. Some made the number three; the Pseudo Dionysius in the sixth century made six. Peter Damiani, the friend of Gregory VII., made twelve. “Ratherius, Bishop of Verona († 974), Fulbert, Bishop of Chartres († 1028), Bruno, Bishop of Wurzburg († 1045), Rupert, Abbot of Deutz († 1135), admitted only baptism and the Lord’s Supper; others, as Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans († 821), Agobard, Bishop of Lyons († 840), Lanfranc, Bishop of Canterbury († 1089), Hildebert, Bishop of Tours († 1134), Hugo, of St. Victor († 1141), call them ‘duo sanctæ ecclesiæ sacramenta.’”481481Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, Art. “Sacramente,” vol. xiii., p. 241. The writer of the elaborate article in Herzog refers to the thorough investigation of this question in the Dissertation by G. L. Hahn, entitled, Doctrinæ Rom. de numero Sacramentorum septenaris rationes historicæ, Vratial. 1859. (6.) It is certain, says the writer just quoted, that Peter Lombard († 1164) is the first who enumerated the seven sacraments as held by the Romanists. He gives no reason for fixing on the number seven; but that which was already on hand in the traditional sanctity, attributed to that number. It was regarded as the symbol of universality and perfection. This was sufficient for deciding on an arbitrary number. What has been said is enough to show that Romanists have not even any plausible ground for their appeal to common consent in support of their doctrine on this subject. Such appeal on their theory is unnecessary. If the Church be infallible, and if the Church testifies that Christ ordained matrimony, extreme unction, etc., to be sacraments; that testimony is decisive. If, however, the Church, in the papal sense of the word, be the very reverse of infallible, then its testimony, so far as the faith of Christians is concerned, amounts to nothing.

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