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§ 4. The Efficacy of the Sacraments.

Zwinglian and Remonstrant Doctrine.

According to the doctrine of Zwingle afterwards adopted by the Remonstrants, the sacraments are not properly “means of grace.” They were not ordained to signify, seal, and apply to believers the benefits of Christ’s redemption. They were indeed intended to be significant emblems of the great truths of the Gospel. Baptism was intended to teach the necessity of the soul’s being cleansed from guilt by the blood of Christ and purified from the pollution of sin by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. They were further designed to be perpetual memorials of the work of redemption, and especially to be the means by which men should, in the sight of the Church and of the world, profess themselves to be Christians. As a heathen, when he desired to be admitted into the commonwealth of Israel, received circumcision, which was the divinely appointed seal of the Abrahamic covenant, so participation in the Christian sacraments was the appointed means for the public profession of faith in Christ. Paul presents the matter in this light in 1 Corinthians x. 15-22, where he argues that participation in the sacred rites of a religion involves a profession of that religion, whether it be Christian, Jewish, or heathen. The sacraments, therefore, are “badges of Christian men’s profession.” This doctrine, however, attributes to them no other than what Zwingle calls in the passage above quoted, “an objective power;” that is, the objective presentation of the truth which they signify to the mind.

Ex quibus hoc colligitur sacramenta dari in testimonium publicum ejus gratiæ, quæ cuique privato prius adest. . . . . Ob hanc causam sacramenta, quæ sacræ sunt cerimoniæ (accedit enim verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum), religiose colenda, hoc est in precio habenda, et honorifice tractanda sunt, ut enim gratiam facere non possunt, Ecclesiæ tamen nos visibiliter sociant, qui prius invisibiliter sumus in illam recepti, quod cum simul cum promissionis divinæ verbis in ipsorum actione pronunciatur ac promulgatur, summa religione suscipiendum est.482482Zwinglii Fidei Ratio, Niemeyer, vol. i. pp. 25, 26. In his treatise on true and false religion, Zwingle says: “Impossibile est, ut res aliqua externa fidem hominis internam confirmet et stabiliat.483483Works, edit. Schuler und Schultess. (?) See Strauss, Dogmatik, vol. ii. p. 519. And again he says484484Expositio Christianæ Fidei, 70; Niemeyer, vol. i. p. 49. that the sacraments as other memorials can 499only produce historical, but not religious faith. Zwingle in the use of such language, had doubtless more a negative, than an affirmative object before his mind. He was more intent on denying the Romish doctrine of the inherent power of the sacraments, than of asserting anything of their real efficacy. Nevertheless it is true that Zwingle has ever been regarded as holding the lowest doctrine concerning the sacraments of any of the Reformers. They were to him no more means of grace than the rainbow or the heaps of stone on the banks of the Jordan. By their significancy and by association they might suggest truth and awaken feeling, but they were not channels of divine communication.

Doctrine of the Reformed Church.

The first point clearly taught on this subject in the Symbols of the Reformed Church is that the sacraments are real means of grace, that is, means appointed and employed by Christ for conveying the benefits of his redemption to his people. They are not, as Romanists teach, the exclusive channels; but they are channels. A promise is made to those who rightly receive the sacraments that they shall thereby and therein be made partakers of the blessings of which the sacraments are the divinely appointed signs and seals. The word grace, when we speak of the means of grace, includes three things. 1st. An unmerited gift, such as the remission of sin. 2d. The supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit. 3d. The subjective effects of that influence on the soul. Faith, hope, and charity, for example, are graces.

The second point in the Reformed doctrine on the sacraments concerns the source of their power. On this subject it is taught negatively that the virtue is not in them. The word virtue is of course here used in its Latin sense for power or efficiency. What is denied is that the sacraments are the efficient cause of the gracious effects which they produce. The efficiency does not reside in the elements, in the water used in baptism, or in the bread and wine used in the Lord’s Supper. It is not in the sacramental actions; either in giving, or in receiving the consecrated elements. Neither does the virtue or efficiency due to sacraments reside in, or flow from the person by whom they are administered. It does not reside in his office. There is no supernatural power in the man, in virtue of his office, to render the sacraments effectual. Nor does their efficiency depend on the character of the administrator in the sight of God; nor upon his intention; that is, his purpose to render them effectual. The man who administers 500the sacraments is not a worker of miracles. The Apostles and others at that time in the Church, were endued with supernatural power; and they had to will to exercise it in order to its producing its legitimate effect. It is not so with the officers of the Church in the administration of the sacraments. The affirmative statement on this subject is, that the efficacy of the sacraments is due solely to the blessing of Christ and the working of his Spirit. The Spirit, it is to be ever remembered, is a personal agent who works when and how He will. God has promised that his Spirit shall attend his Word; and He thus renders it an effectual means for the sanctification of his people. So He has promised, through the attending operation of his Spirit, to render the sacraments effectual to the same end.

The third point included in the Reformed doctrine is, that the sacraments are effectual as means of grace only, so far as adults are concerned, to those who by faith receive them. They may have a natural power on other than believers by presenting truth and exciting feeling, but their saving or sanctifying influence is experienced only by believers.

All these points are clearly presented in the standards of our own Church. The sacraments are declared to be means of grace, that is, means for signifying, sealing, and applying the benefits of redemption. It is denied that this virtue is in them, or in him by whom they are administered. It is affirmed that their efficiency in conveying grace, is due solely to the blessing of Christ and the coöperation of his Spirit; and that such efficiency is experienced only by believers. Thus in the Shorter Catechism, the sacraments are said to be holy ordinances “instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”485485Ques. 92. In the Larger Catechism the sacraments are said to be instituted “to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his [Christ’s] mediation.”486486Ques. 162. The word “exhibit,” as here used, means to confer, or impart, as the Latin word “exhibere” also sometimes means. That such is the sense of the word in our standards, is plain because the exhibition here spoken of is confined to those within the covenant; and because this word is interchanged and explained by the word “confer.” Thus in the Confession of Faith487487Chap. xxvii. 3. it is said, “The grace which is exhibited in, or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any virtue in them.” And again,488488Chap. xxviii. 6. that by the right 501use of baptism “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.” With this view of the sacraments as means of grace all the other leading symbols of the Reformed Churches agree. Thus the First Helvetic Confession489489Art. XXI.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 120. says, “Asserimus, sacramenta non solum tesseras quasdam societatis Christianæ, sed et gratiæ divinæ symbola esse, quibus ministri, Domino, ad eum finem, quem ipse promittit, offert et efficit, cooperentur.” The Gallican Confession says: “Fatemur talia esse signa hæc exteriora, ut Deus per illa Sancti sui Spiritus virtute, operetur, ne quicquam ibi frustra nobis significetur.490490Art. XXXIV.; Ibid. p. 337. In the Geneva Catechism491491V. De Sacramentis, 2 and 5; Ibid. pp. 160, 161. it is said: “Quid est sacramentum? Externa divinæ erga nos benevolentiæ testificatio, quæ visibili signo spirituales gratias figurat, ad obsignandos cordibus nostris Dei promissiones, quo earum veritas melius confirmetur. . . . . Vim efficaciamque sacramenti non in externo elemento inclusam esse existimas, sed totam a Spiritu Dei manare? Sic sentio: nempe, ut virtutem suam exerere Domino placuerit per sua organa, quem in finem ea destinavit.” The language of the Belgic Confession492492Art. XXXIII.; Ibid. p. 383. is to the same effect: “Sunt enim sacramenta signa, ac symbola visibilia rerum internarum et invisibilium, per quæ, ceu per media, Deus ipse virtute Spiritus Sancti in nobis operatur. Itaque signa illa minime vana sunt, ant vacua: nec ad nos decipiendos aut frustrandos instituta.

These symbols of the Reformed Churches on the continent of Europe agree with those of our own Church, not only in representing the sacraments as real means of grace, but also in denying that their efficacy is due to their inherent virtue, or to him who administers them, and in affirming that it is due to the attending operation of the Spirit, and is conditioned on the presence of faith in the recipient. This is plain from the quotations already made, which might be multiplied indefinitely. On this point Calvin says: “Neque sacramenta hilum proficere sine Spiritu Sancti virtute.” And again: “Spiritus Sanctus (quem non omnibus promiscue sacramenta advehunt, sed quem Dominus peculiariter suis confert) is est qui Dei gratias secum affert, qui dat sacramentis in nobis locum, qui efficit ut fructificent.493493Institutio, IV. xiv. 9, 17; edit. Berlin, 1834, part ii. pp. 355, 360. Guerike494494Allgemeine Christliche Symbolik, von H. E. Ferdinand Guerike, D. D., Leipzig, 1839, p. 378. gives as one 502of the main points of difference between the Lutherans and Reformed on this subject, that the latter deny the inherent power of the sacraments, and insist that the “virtus Spiritus Sancti extrinsecus accidens” is the source of all their sanctifying influence.

There is, therefore, a strict analogy, according to the Reformed doctrine, between the Word and the sacraments as means of grace. (1.) Both have in them a certain moral power due to the truth which they bring before the mind. (2.) Neither has in itself any supernatural power to save or to sanctify. (3.) All their supernatural efficiency is due to the coöperation or attending influence of the Holy Spirit. (4.) Both are ordained by God to be the channels or means of the Spirit’s influence, to those who by faith receive them. Nothing is said in the Bible to place the sacraments above the Word as a means of communicating to men the benefits of Christ’s redemption. On the contrary, tenfold more is said in Scripture of the necessity and efficiency of the Word in the salvation of men, than is therein said or implied of the power of the sacraments.

Besides the points already referred to as characteristic of the Reformed doctrine on the sacraments, there is a fourth, which is, that the grace or spiritual benefits received by believers in the use of the sacraments, may be attained without their use. This, however may perhaps be more properly considered, when the necessity of the sacraments comes under consideration.

The Lutheran Doctrine.

There are two points specially insisted upon by Lutherans in reference to the efficacy of the sacraments. The first is, the absolute necessity of faith in order to any real sanctifying or saving benefit being derived from the use of those ordinances. On this point they are in perfect accord with the Reformed. Hase is right when he says that the idea, “That a sacrament can confer saving benefit without faith is utterly destructive of Protestantism.”495495Evangelische Dogmatik, II. ii. 1, § 213; 3d edit. Leipzig, 1842, p. 442. Augustine had long ago taught the doctrine, “Unde ista tanta virtus aquæ, ut corpus tangat, et cor abluat, nisi faciente verbo: non quia dicitur, sed quia creditur.496496In Joannis Evangelische Tractatus, LXXX. 3; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. iii. p. 2290, a. And Bernard of Clairvaux says: “Sacramentum enim sine re sacramenti sumenti 503mors est: res vero sacramenti, etiam, præter sacramentum, sumenti vita æterna est.497497Guigo (attributed to St. Bernard); Works of St. Bernard, edit. Migne, Paris, 1859, vol. iii. p. 327, b, c (ii. 214).

The Lutheran symbols on this point are perfectly explicit. In the “Augsburg Confession”498498I. xiii.; Hase, Libri Symbolici, Leipzig, 1846, p. 12. it is said: “Itaque utendum est sacramentum ita, ut fides accedat, quæ credat promissionibus, quæ per sacramenta exhibentur et ostenduntur. Damnant igitur illos, qui docent, quod sacramenta, ex opere operato justificent, nec docent fidem requiri in usu sacramentorum, quæ credat remitti peccata.

In the “Apology for the Augsburg Confession”499499VII. 18-21; Ibid. p. 203. it is said. “Damnamus totum populum scholasticorum doctorum, qui docent, quod sacramenta non ponenti obicem conferant gratiam ex opere operato, sine bono motu utentis. Hæc simpliciter Judaica opinio est, sentire, quod per ceremoniam justificemur, sine bono motu cordis, hoc est, sine fide. . . . . At sacramenta sunt signa promissionum. Igitur in usu debet accedere fides. . . . . Loquimur hic de fide speciali, quæ præsenti promissioni credit, non tantum quæ in genere credit Deum esse, sed quæ credit offerri remissionem peccatoram.

The second point in the doctrine of Lutherans in regard to the efficacy of the sacraments is one in which they differ from the Reformed, and as Guerike, himself a strenuous Lutheran, correctly says, approximate to the Romanists. They hold that the efficacy of the sacraments is due to their own inherent virtue or power; a power independent, on the one hand, of the attendant influences of the Spirit (extrinsecus accidens), and, on the other hand, of the faith of the recipient. Faith, indeed, is necessary to any saving or sanctifying effect, but that is only a subjective condition on which the beneficial operation of the power, inherent in the sacraments, is suspended. Bellarmin’s illustration is applicable to the Lutheran doctrine as well as to his own. Fire will not cause wood to burn unless the wood be dry; but its dryness does not give fire its power. Luther’s own favourite illustration was drawn from the case of the woman who touched the Saviour’s garment. There was inherent healing virtue in Christ. Those who touched him without faith received no benefit. The woman having faith was healed the moment she touched the hem of his garment. Her faith, however, was in no sense the source of the power which resided in Christ. Guerike complains that the Reformed 504teach that “the visible signs do not as such convey any invisible divine grace; that without the sacraments the Christian may enjoy through faith the same divine gifts which the sacraments are intended to convey, and hence do not admit their absolute necessity, much less that they are the central point of the Christian method of salvation (der christlichen Heilsanstalt).”500500Allgemeine Christliche Symbolik, § 54, Leipzig, 1839, pp. 375, 376.

Luther did not at first hold this inherent power of the sacraments, but seemed disposed to adopt even the low views of Zwingle. In his work on the Babylonish Captivity he says, “Baptismus neminem justificat, nec ulli prodest, sed fides in verbum promissionis, cui additur baptismus. . . . . Nec verum esse potest, sacramentis inesse vim efficacem justificationis seu esse signa efficacia gratiæ.501501Luther, Captivitas Babylonica, de Sacramento Baptismi; Works, edit. Wittenberg (Latin), 1546, vol. ii. leaf 79, p. 2. Melancthon uses much the same language: “Non justificant signa, ut Apostolus ait, Circumcisio nihil est: ita baptismus nihil est. Participatio mensæ Domini nihil est: sed testes sunt καὶ σφραγίδες divinæ voluntatis erga te, quibus conscientia tua certa reddatur, si de gratia, de benevolentia Dei erga se dubitet. . . . . Quæ alii sacramenta, nos signa appellamus, aut si ita libet, signa sacramentalia. Nam sacramentum ipsum Christum Paulus vocat.502502Loci Communes; De Signis; edit. Strasburg, 1523, in Dodecas Scriptorum Theologicorum, Nuremberg, 1646, pp. 774, 775. Hinc apparet, quam nihil signa sint, nisi fidei exercendæ μνημόσυνα.503503Ibid., De Baptismo, p. 778.

As, however, Luther understood our Lord’s words in John iii 6, as teaching the necessity of baptism, he inferred that if the sacrament is necessary to salvation it must have saving power. But as the Bible teaches that no one can be saved without faith, he held that the sacraments could have no saving effect unless the recipient was a believer. We have thus the two essential elements of the Lutheran doctrine of the sacraments; they have inherent, saving, sanctifying power; but that power takes effect for good only upon believers.

The necessity of faith is clearly stated in the passages already quoted from the “Augsburg Confession” and the “Apology;” the inherent power of the sacraments in opposition to the Reformed doctrine is as clearly taught in the Lutheran standards. Both points are included in some of the proof passages which follow. Guerike says: “It is undoubtedly the Lutheran, in opposition to the Reformed doctrine of ‘virtus Spiritus sancti extrinsecus 505accedens,’ that the grace is in, and not merely with or by (mit oder neben), the sacraments.”504504Symbolik, Leipzig, 1839, p. 393, note. He refers to the language of Luther in his Larger Catechism in reference to baptism. Luther says: “Interrogatus, quid baptismus sit? ita responde: non esse prorsus aquam simplicem, sed ejusmodi, quæ verbo et præcepto Dei comprehensa, et illi inclusa sit, et per hoc sanctificata ita ut nihil aliud sit, quam Dei seu divina aqua.” He adds, however, “non quod aqua hæc per sese quavis alia sit præstantior, sed quod ei verbum ac præceptum Dei accesserit. Quocirca mera sycophantia est et diaboli illusio, quod hodie nostri novi spiritus, ut blasphement et contumelia afficiant baptismum, verbum et institutionem Dei ab eo divellunt, nec aliter intuentur eum, quam aquam e putreo haustam ac deinceps ita blasphemo ore blaterant: Quid vero utilitatis manus aquæ plena præstaret animæ? Quis vero adeo vecors et inops animi est, qui hoc ignoret, divulsis baptismi partibus, aquam esse aquam? Qua vero fronte tu tibi tantum sumis, ut non verearis ab ordinatione Dei pretiosissimum κειμήλιον avellere, quo Deus illam constrinxit et inclusit, neque inde divelli vult aut sejungi? Quippe verbum Dei, aut præceptum, item nomen Dei, in aqua ipse solet esse nucleus, qui thesaurus ipso cœlo et terra omnibus modis nobilior est et præstantior.505505Catechismus Major par. iv., De Baptismo; Hase, Libri Symbolici, edit. Leipzig, 1846, p. 537.

Lutherans are wont to refer to the analogy between the Word and sacraments. The difference between them and the Reformed as to the sacraments, is analogous to the difference between the two churches as to the Word. The Reformed refer the supernatural power of the Word, not to the literal Word as written or spoken; not to the mere moral truth therein revealed, but to the coöperation, or as Paul calls it, the demonstration, of the Spirit. The Lutherans, on the other hand, teach that there is inherent in the divine Word (not in the letters or the sound but in the truth), a supernatural, divine virtue, inseparable from it, and independent of its use; and which is the same to believers and unbelievers; sanctifying and saving the former, because of their faith, and not benefiting the latter, because of their voluntary resistance. So the sacraments have an inherent, divine power, certain of producing saving effects, if they meet with faith in those who receive them. “The Lutheran Church,” says Guerike, “regards the sacraments as actions, wherein God, through external signs by Him appointed, offers and confers his invisible and heavenly 506gifts; they see in the sacraments visible signs, which in virtue of the divine word of promise pronounced over them, in such sense contain the invisible divine gifts they signify, that they communicate them (mittheilen) to all who partake of them, although only to believers to their good.”506506Guerike’s Symbolik, p. 372.

This inherent divine virtue of the sacraments does not reside in the elements; nor does it flow from him who administers them; nor is it due to the concurrent operation of the Holy Spirit; but to the Word. The elements employed are in themselves mere elements; with the Word, they are divinely efficacious, because the divine Word, wherever it is, is fraught with this divine, supernatural, saving, and sanctifying power which always takes effect on those who have faith to receive it

Dr. Schmid of Erlangen, however, admits that there is a difference of view on this subject, between the earlier and later theologians of his Church. The former made the sacrament consist of the element and the Word, and referred its supernatural effect to the inherent divine power of the latter, agreeably to Luther’s representation in his Larger Catechism, where, when speaking of baptism, he says, in words already quoted: “non tantum naturalis aqua sed etiam divina, cœlestis, sancta et salutifera aqua (est) . . . . hocque nonnisi verbi gratia, quod cœleste ac sanctum verbum est.” The later theologians, however, from the time of Gerhard, did not make the sacrament consist of the element and the Word; but of something terrestrial and something celestial. The former is the element or external symbol, “quod est res corporea visibilis . . . . ordinata ad hoc, ut sit rei cœlestis vehiculum et medium exhibitivum.” The latter, or “res cœlestis,” is “res invisibilis et intelligibilis, re terrena visibili, tanquam medio divinitus ordinato exhibita, a qua fructus sacramenti principaliter dependet.” According to this view the efficacy of the sacrament does not depend upon the Word, but upon this “res cœlestis,” of which the “res terrena” is the vehicle and medium. The office of the Word is to unite the two. It is called the “αἴτιον ποιητικόν, hoc est, efficere, ut duæ illæ partes essentiales unum sacramentum constituant in usu sacramentorum.507507Schmid, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche. Frankfort and Erlangen, 1853, pp. 415-417. This doctrine of the later Lutherans is attended with serious difficulties. It brings them into conflict with Luther and Lutherans of the older school who are strenuous 507in referring the efficacy of the sacraments to the Word. The elements without the Word, are mere elements. It is the Word in which the supernatural power resides which produces the effect the sacrament is intended to accomplish. But according to this later view there are in the sacraments two things, the sign and the thing signified; a “res terrena” and a “res cœlestis.” They are so united that where the one is given and received by faith, the other is received. This “res cœlestis,” however, is not the Word. In the case of the eucharist, for example, it is the real body and blood of Christ, and these being inseparably united with his soul and divinity, it is this marvellous gift, and not the Word, which makes the Lord’s Supper the life-sustaining food of the soul.

So far as the efficacy of the sacraments is concerned, the main point of difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed is, that the latter attribute their sanctifying power to the attending influences of the Spirit; the former to the inherent, supernatural power of the Word which is an essential part of these divine ordinances. Even on this point Chemnitz expresses himself in a way to which any Reformed theologian may assent. “Recte Apologia Augustanæ confessionis dicit, eundem esse effectum, eandem virtutem, seu efficaciam, et verbi et sacramentorum, quæ sunt sigilla promissionum. . . . . Sicut igitur Evangelium est potentia Dei ad salutem omni credenti: non quod magica quædam vis characteribus, syllabis, aut sono verborum inhæreat, sed quia est medium, organon seu instrumentum, per quod Spiritus Sanctus efficax est, proponens, offerens, exhibens, distribuens et applicans meritum Christi, et gratiam Dei, ad salutem omni credenti: ita etiam sacramentis tribuitur vis et efficacia: non quod in sacramentis extra sen præter meritum Christi, misericordiam Patris, et efficaciam Spiritus Sancti, quærenda sit gratia ad salutem; sed sacramenta sunt causæ instrumentales ita, quod per illa media seu organa, Pater vult gratiam suam exhibere, donare, applicare: Filius meritum suum communicare credentibus: Spiritus Sanctus efficaciam suam exercere, ad salutem omni credenti.508508Examen Concilii Tridentini, de Efficacia et Usu Sacramentorum, edit. Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1573, 1574, part ii. p. 22, b.

The Lutheran doctrine as generally presented and as stated above, stands opposed, (1.) To the doctrine of the Romanists which denies the necessity of a living faith in the recipient in order to his experiencing the efficacy of the sacraments; and which not only represents them as imbued with an inherent power, but also 508teaches that they confer grace “ex opere operato.” (2.) To the doctrine which makes the sacraments merely badges of a Christian profession. (3.) To the doctrine which represents them as mere allegories or significant exhibitions of truth. (4.) To the doctrine which regards them as merely commemorative, as a portrait or monument may be. (5.) To the doctrine which denies to them inherent efficacy and refers their sanctifying influence to the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit; and (6.) To the doctrine which assumes that they confer nothing which may not be obtained by faith without them. In all these points, with the exception of the last two, Lutherans and Reformed are agreed.

Doctrine of the Church of Rome on the Efficacy of the Sacraments.

It has already been stated that the Romanists teach, (1.) That the sacraments contain the grace which they signify. (2.) That they convey that grace “ex opere operato.” (3.) That there is a certain efficacy common to all the sacraments. They all convey grace, i.e., “gratia gratum faciens, sanctificans;” and besides this common influence, in baptism, confirmation, and orders, there is conveyed an indelible character (quoddam indelebile) in virtue of which they can never be repeated. (4.) That the conditions of the efficacy of the sacraments on the part of the administrator are, first, that he have authority (this is limited in its application to baptism); and second, that he have the intention of doing what the Church designs to be done; and in regard to the recipient, that he does not oppose an obstacle. The sacraments are declared to be effectual “non ponentibus obicem.”

In what Sense do the Sacraments contain Grace?

By this is meant that they possess in them inherent virtue of rendering holy those to whom they are administered. Their power in the sphere of religion is analogous to that of articles of the “materia medica” in the sphere of physics. Some have a narcotic power; some act on one organ and some on another; some are stimulants, and some are sedatives. Or to refer to the illustration so familiar with Bellarmin; the inherent virtue of the sacraments to confer grace, is analogous to that of fire to burn. Fire produces combustion because it is ordained by God and imbued with power to that end. The sacraments confer grace because they are endowed with grace-imparting efficacy and are ordained by God for that purpose. “Containing grace 509and “conferring grace” “virtute sibi insita,” are explanatory forms of expression. The sacraments are said to contain grace because they confer it by their inherent virtue. This is intended as a denial that their efficacy is due to the moral, or to the supernatural power of the truth; or to the attending influences of the Spirit, or to the subjective state of those who receive them.

As to the peculiar effect ascribed to baptism, confirmation, and orders, little is said. These sacraments are never repeated. For this some reason was to be assigned, and, therefore, it was assumed that they left an indelible impression on the soul. What that is, cannot be stated further than by saying that it is a “Signum quoddam spirituale et indelebile in anima impressum. Qui eo insigniti sunt, deputantur ad recipienda vel tradenda aliis ea, quæ pertinent ad cultum Dei.509509Perrone, Prælectiones Theologicæ, De Sacramentis in genere, cap. ii. 1, 2; edit. Paris, 1861, vol. ii. pp. 220, a, 224. The language of the Council of Trent sheds no light on the subject. It simply says:510510Sess. vii. de Sacramentis in genere. canon 9; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 39.Si quis dixerit, in tribus sacramentis, baptismo scilicet confirmatione, et ordine, non imprimi characterem in anima, hoc est signum quoddam spirituale et indelebile, unde ea iterari non possunt; anathema sit.” The only passages of Scripture referred to by Perrone in support of this assumption, are 2 Corinthians i. 22, and Ephesians i. 13, in which the Apostle speaks of all believers being sealed by the Holy Spirit. In those passages there is not the slightest reference to any sacramental impression. In the second part of the Roman Catechism in answer to the question, What “character” in this connection signifies, it is said that it is something which cannot be removed, and which renders the soul fit to receive or to perform certain spiritual benefits or functions. Thus in baptism a certain something is impressed upon the soul by which it is prepared to receive the benefit of other sacraments, and by which it is distinguished from the souls of the unbaptized. In confirmation the soul is marked as a soldier of Christ and prepared to contend against all spiritual enemies. In orders something is received which fits the recipient to administer the sacraments, and which distinguishes him from all other Christians.

Ex Opere Operato.

The Council of Trent anathematizes, as we have seen, not only those who deny that the sacraments convey grace, but also those who deny that they convey it “ex opere operato.” The meaning 510of this phrase is intelligible enough if left unexplained. It has been obscured by the explanations given by Romanists themselves, as well as by the conflicting views of Protestants on the subject. To say that the sacraments contain grace; that they convey it “virtute sibi insita,” that they convey it “ex opere operato,” all amount to the same thing. The simple meaning is that such is the nature of the sacraments that, when duly administered, they produce a given effect. There is no necessity and no propriety in looking beyond them to account for the effect produced. If you place a coal of fire on a man’s hand, it produces a certain effect. That effect follows without fail. It follows from the very nature of the thing done and from the act of doing it. It makes no difference, whether we say that the coal contains heat; or, that it burns in virtue of its inherent nature; or that the effect is produced “ex opere operato.”

Of course there are certain conditions necessary in order to the production of the effect. The hand must be alive, otherwise it is not the hand of a man; it is simply a lump of clay. There must be no obstacle. If you interpose a porcelain plate between the coal and the hand, the hand will not be burnt. The coal must be ignited, not simply a piece of carbon. So the thing done must be a real sacrament. It must have everything essential to the integrity of the ordinance. The coal, in the case supposed, must be brought into contact with the hand; but whether it be placed there by the use of a silver spoon, or of a pair of iron tongs, makes no difference. So it makes no difference whether the priest who administers the sacrament be a good man or a bad man, whether he be orthodox or heretical. He must, however, do the thing; and he cannot do it without intending to do it. If the man’s hand is to be burnt, in a given time and place, the coal must be intentionally placed upon it.

Although the doctrine of the Church of Rome as to the way in which the sacraments convey grace, seems to be thus simple, there is no little apparent diversity among the theologians of that Church in their views on the subject. This diversity, however, is really more in the mode of stating the doctrine, than in the doctrine itself. Lutherans agree with Romanists in denying that the efficacy of the sacraments is due to the attending influences of the Holy Spirit; and they agree with them in attributing to them an inherent supernatural power. The main point of difference between them is that the Lutherans insist on the presence and exercise of faith in the recipient. According to them the sacraments 511convey grace only to believers. Whereas Romanists, as understood by Lutherans and indeed by all Protestants, deny this necessity of faith or of good dispositions in order to the due efficacy of the sacraments. This, however, Bellarmin pronounces a deliberate falsehood on the part of the Protestants; and he uses language on this subject which Luther himself might have employed, “Est merum mendacium,” he says, “quod Catholici dicant, sacramenta prodesse peccatoribus: omnes enim Catholici requirunt pœnitentiam, tanquam dispositionem ad gratiam rocipiendam” Falsum est Catholicos non habere pro obice incredulitatem: omnes enim Catholici requirunt necessario in adultis actualem fidem, et sine ea dicunt neminem justificari.511511Bellarmin, De Sacramentis, I. 2; Disputationes, Paris, 1608, vol. iii. p. 6, b, c.Voluntas, fides, et pœnitentia in suscipiento adulto necessario requiruntur, ut dispositiones ex parte subjecti, non ut causæ activæ: non enim fides et pœnitentia efficiunt gratiam sacramentalem, neque dant efficaciam sacramento; sed solum tollunt obstacula quæ impedirent, ne sacramenta suam efficaciam exercere possent; unde in pueris, ubi non requiritur dispositio, sine his rebus fit justificatio.512512Ibid. II. i.; pp. 108, d, 109, a. Luther would not agree with this last clause about infants; but to the rest of the paragraph he could hardly object. Then follows in Bellarmin the illustration quoted above.513513See. p. 490. Fire does not owe its efficacy to the dryness of the wood; nevertheless the dryness is a necessary condition of combustion.

In another passage Bellarmin is still more explicit: “Igitur ut intelligamus, quid sit opus operatum, notandum est, in justificatione, quam recipit aliquis, dum percipit sacramenta, multa concurrere; nimirum ex parte Dei, voluntatem utendi illa re sensibili; ex parte Christi, passionem ejus; ex parte ministri potestatem, voluntatem, probitatem; ex parte suscipientis voluntatem, fidem, et pœnitentiam; denique ex parte sacramenti ipsam actionem externam, quæ consurgit, ex debita applicatione formæ et materiæ. Cæterum ex his omnibus id, quod active, et proxime atque instrumentaliter efficit gratiam justificationis, est sola actio illa externa, quæ sacramentum dicitur, et hæc vocatur opus operatum, accipiendo passive (operatum) ita ut idem sit sacramentum conferre gratiam ex opere operato, quod conferre gratiam ex [vi] ipsius actionis sacramentalis a Deo ad hoc institutæ, non ex merito agentis vel suscipientis.514514De Sacramentis in genere, II. i.; ut supra, p. 108, c.


Notwithstanding all this the Romanists do teach the very doctrine which the Reformers charged upon them, and which the Protestant Symbols so strenuously condemn. This is clear, —

1. Because the same words do not always mean the same thing. Bellarmin says that Romanists teach that faith on the part of the recipient is necessary in order to the efficacy of the sacraments, at least in the case of adults. Protestants say the same thing; and yet their meaning is entirely different. By faith, Protestants mean saving faith; that faith which is one of the fruits of the Spirit, which, if a man has, his salvation is certain. Romanists, however, mean by faith mere assent, which a man may have, and be in a state of condemnation, and perish forever. This is their formal definition of faith, as given by Bellarmin himself; and the Council of Trent pronounces accursed those who say that the assent given by unrenewed men to the truth, is not true faith. Romanists do not hold that sacraments convey grace to avowed atheists or professed infidels; but that they exert saving power on those having the kind of faith in the Church which the bandits of Italy profess and cherish. So also the repentance required is not the godly sorrow of which the Apostle speaks, but that remorse which wicked men often experience. These points have been abundantly proved in the preceding pages.515515See above, the chapter on Faith. A coal of fire will burn a man’s hand; it is true the man must be alive, but whether he is a good or bad man makes no difference. The sacraments confer grace by their inherent efficacy. It is true the recipient must be a believer; but whether he has what St. Peter calls “the precious faith of God’s elect,” or the same kind of faith that Simon Magus had, makes no difference.

2. That this is the true doctrine of the Church of Rome is evident from the manner in which it is presented by its leading theologians. This appears from the great distinction which they make between the sacraments of the Old, and those of the New Testament. The former only signified, the latter confer grace. The latter are effectual “ex opere operato;” the former, as Thomas Aquinas says, were effectual only “ex fide et devotione suscipientis.” Again, the necessity of anything good in the recipient is expressly denied. Thus Gabriel Biel († 1495) says “Sacramentum dicitur conferre gratiam ex opere operato, ita quod ex eo ipso, quod opus illud, puta sacramentum, exhibitur, nisi impediat obex peccati mortalis, gratia confertur utentibus, sic quod præter exhibitionem signi foris exhibiti non requiritur bonus motus 513seu devotio interior in suscipiente.516516Collectorium in IV. Libros Sententiarum, lib. iv. dis. 1, qu. 3; Basle, 1508, by count, p. 14, b, of the text of book iv. In like manner also Duns Scotus declares,517517In Lib. IV. Sentent., lib. iv. dis. 4. qu. 2; Venice, 1506, by count, p. 34, b, of book iv. præter istam (primam causam meritoriam sc. Christum) non oportet dare aliam intrinsecam in recipiente, qua conjungatur Deo, antequam recipiat gratiam;” and Petrus de Palude,518518In his commentary on the Sentences, lib. iv. dis. 1. qu. 1; Paris, 1514, by count, p. 4, a, b, of book iv. In sacramentis novæ legis non per se requiritur, quod homo se disponat: ergo per ipsum sacramentum disponitur.” The later Romish theologians teach the same doctrine. Thus Klee519519Dogmatik, Specielle Dogmatik, III. i. 1, § 7; Mainz, 1835, vol. iii. p. 95. says that the sacraments, when rightly dispensed, are of necessity effectual. And Moehler says: “The Catholic Church teaches that the sacrament works in us, in virtue of its character as an ordinance of Christ, appointed for our salvation (‘ex opere operato, scl. a Christo,’ instead of ‘quod operatus est Christus’), i.e., the sacraments bring from the Saviour a divine power, which can be caused by no human frame of mind (Stimmung), nor by any spiritual state or effort, but which is given by God for Christ’s sake directly in the sacrament.”520520Symbolik oder Darstellung der dogmatischen Gegensätze der Katholiken und Protestanten; von Dr. J. A. Möhler, IV. § 28; 6th ed. Mainz, 1843, p. 255. It is true, he immediately adds, “Man must receive them, and must be susceptible of their impression, and this susceptibility expresses itself in repentance, in sorrow for sin, in longing for divine help, and in trusting faith; nevertheless he can only receive them, and hence only have the requisite susceptibility.” All this, however, according to the Romish system, the unrenewed man has, or may have. In the case of infants there is nothing but passivity: simple non-resistance; and this is all that is required in the case of adults.

3. One of the points of controversy between the Jansenists and Jesuits related to this very subject. The Jansenists maintained that the efficacy of the sacraments depended on the inward state of the recipient. If he were not in a state of grace, and in the exercise of faith when they were received, they availed nothing. This doctrine the Jesuits controverted, and their influence prevailed in the Church. Jansenism was condemned and suppressed.

4. Another argument is derived from the constant practice of the Romish Church. There is no pretence of her recognized ministers demanding the profession, or evidence of what Protestants understand by saving faith in order to the reception of the 514sacraments, or as the condition of their sanctifying influence. On the contrary, they act on the principle, that the sacraments confer grace in the first instance. They baptize crowds of uninstructed heathen, without the slightest pretence that they are penitents or believers. If faith be a fruit of regeneration, and if, as Romanists all teach, regeneration is effected in baptism, how can the presence of faith in the recipient be a condition of the efficacy of baptism.521521See Historischer Anhang über die Wirksamkeit der Sacramente “ex opere operato,” vol. ii. § 107, p. 363, of Köllner’s Symbolik. Köllner comes to the conclusion that there is no great difference between the Lutheran and Romish doctrines on the efficacy of the sacraments; a conclusion in conflict with the conviction of Luther and his associates.

The Administrator.

Lutherans and Reformed agree in teaching, first, that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend on anything in him who administers them; and second, that as the ministry of the Word and sacraments are united in the Scriptures, it is a matter of order and propriety that the sacraments should be administered by those only who have been duly called and appointed to that service. In the Second Helvetic Confession,522522XX.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 518. therefore, it is said, “Baptismus pertinet ad officia ecclesiastica.” According to the Westminster Confession,523523Chap. xxvii. 4. “There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel. That is to say, baptism and the supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.”

The doctrine of the Lutheran Church is thus stated by Hollaz: “Jus dispensandi sacramenta Deus concredidit ecclesiæ, quæ exsecutionem aut exercitium hujus juris, observandi ordinis et εὐσχημοσύνης causa commendavit ministris verbi divini vocatis et ordinatis. In casu autem extremæ necessitatis, ubi sacramentum est necessarium nec nisi periculo salutis omitti potest, quilibet homo Christianus (laicus aut femina) sacramentum initiationis valide celebrare potest.524524Examen, III. ii. 3, quæst. 6; edit. Leipzig, 1840, p. 518. This is considered as not inconsistent with the Augsburg Confession, which says:525525I. 14; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1846, p. 13.De ordine ecclesiastico docent, quod nemo debeat in ecclesia publice docere, aut sacramenta administrare, nisi rite vocatus.

The doctrine of the Church of Rome on this subject is briefly stated in the canons enacted during the seventh session of the 515Council of Trent.526526Sess. vii.; Canones de Sacramentis in genere, 10, 11; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 40. We read thus: “Si quis dixerit, Christianos omnes in verbo, et omnibus sacramentis administrandis habere potestatem; anathema sit.” The Council say in “all” the sacraments; for the Church of Rome, although denying the power of any but canonically ordained priests to render the administration of the sacraments efficacious, admits of the efficacy of lay baptism. Again, “Si quis dixerit, in ministris, dum sacramentis conficiunt, et conferunt, non requiri intentionem saltem faciendi, quod facit ecclesia; anathema sit.” Intention is defined to be the purpose of doing what Christ ordained and what the Church is accustomed to do. On this subject Bellarmin says, (1.) It is not necessary (in baptism at least) that the administrator should have an intelligent intention of doing what the Church does; for he may be ignorant of the doctrine of the Church; all that is required is that he intend to administer a Church ordinance. (2.) It is not necessary that he intend to do what the Church of Rome does; but what the true Church, whatever that may be, is accustomed to do. Hence, he says, the Catholic Church does not rebaptize those who have been baptized by the Geneva churches. “Non tollit efficaciam sacramenti error ministri circa ecclesiam, sed do fectus intentionis.” (3.) That not actual intention, but only virtual, is required. “Virtualis dicitur, cum actualis intentio in præsenti non adest ob aliquam evagationem mentis, tamen paulo ante adfuit et in virtute illius sit operatio.527527Bellarmin, De Sacramentis in genere, I. xxvii.; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iii. pp. 94, d, 95. On this account the Roman Catechism says, that baptism administered by a heretic, a Jew, or a heathen, is efficacious: “Si id efficere propositum eis fuerit, quod ecclesia Catholica in eo administrationis genere efficit.528528Catechismus Romanus, II. ii. 18 (xxii. 24), Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, vol. i. p. 270. This agrees with the popular view of the doctrine of intention. The administrator must intend to produce the effect which the sacrament was designed to accomplish. If he baptizes, he must intend to regenerate; if he absolves, he must intend to absolve; if he consecrates the bread and wine, he must intend their transmutation; if he offers the host, he must intend it as a sacrifice; and if offered for a particular person, he must intend it to take effect for his benefit. According to this view everything depends on the will of the officiating priest.

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