Rev. C. C. MARTINDALE, S.J.
MAN’S APPROACH TO GOD
Composite nature of man
these essays make one work, and follow one another in a definite order, I
might assume that readers of this one have read those that come before it,
and therefore, the one that treats of the nature of Man.
I must be forgiven if I recall the essential point of that essay.
Man is not an Automaton, nor an Ape, nor an Angel.
By this I mean, a man is not just a piece of mechanism, like a
steam-engine; nor yet is he merely an animal, that has but instinct and
cannot think nor choose. Nor
yet is he an angel, for angels are simply Minds–they have no bodies:
“a spirit hath not flesh nor bones as ye see me having,” said
our Lord, when after the Resurrection the Apostles thought they were
seeing a ghost. Man is
Body-Soul. He is flesh-and-blood, and mind. Mind means the power of thinking, and the power of choosing.
And in Man, Mind works along with the brain in a way which we need
not here discuss, provided we remember it; and when I say “brain,” I
include all the rest that man’s living body involves–the nervous
system, the senses, the instincts. Therefore,
whenever the ordinary living man feels, he also thinks; and when he
thinks, his imagination and his emotions and his nervous system, and in
fact all that is in him, respond and become active at least in some
when you are dealing with man, it is quite useless to try to separate him
into two, and pretend he is either just a body, or just a mind.
This essay will show that God, according to the Catholic Faith,
does not do so: but first, it is worth seeing that man, when he has dealt
with God, or has sought to get into touch with him–in a word, to
“worship” him–has always acted in accordance with this double nature
of his: or, on the rare occasions when he has tried to do otherwise, has
got into grave trouble.
speak, of course, of the normal man behaving normally, and not of morbid,
nor of mystical states; and, of course, I am speaking of man in this life,
and not in the next.
Man’s knowledge of God
what I have said, you will see that man cannot so much as think of
God as if man were merely Mind. He
has to use his brain, and when he does this, he makes pictures with his
imagination–even today, after all our training, we make some sort of
picture to ourselves when we say the word “God.”
Even the Scriptures are full of phrases that represent God as
though he were like ourselves–our Lord’s eternal exaltation in heaven
is described as “sitting down at the right hand of God,” “not,” as
the Catechism reminds us, “that God has hands.”
He is a Spirit: but we, being men, have to picture him to ourselves
somehow. As a matter of fact,
the human mind has always risen to the thought of God from the experience
of material objects–that is, of course, save in the case of direct and
special revelations: but these are abnormal and I am speaking only of the
normal. For example, a quite uneducated man, call him a “savage”
if you like, is quite able to rise from the spectacle of limited, changing
things to the notion of that great Cause which must be at the back of
he can do so is defined by the Vatican Council, though of course that
Council does not say that all men as it were hatch the notion of God from
what they see around them or that they do it in the same way, or
successfully. In fact,
experience shows that though the most simple man can quite well use the
sight and touch of things in order to reach a notion of a God who made
them, and keeps, them, and arranges them, yet he can quite well go on to
misuse his mind on the subject, and make many a mistake about it.
For example, if he sees a violent storm, or a raging mountain fire,
or volcano, he will very easily proceed to say that the God who is
responsible for this must be not only powerful but cruel or destructive.
The fact remains that he has got, by means of his mind, to the
thought of God, by way of his senses; and then has proceeded, also because
of what he sees and feels, to use his mind awry, and to draw deductions
that careful training would show him to be unwarranted.
us therefore keep to this conclusion — When a man so much as begins to
think about God, he always starts from something that touches his senses,
and he can never altogether exclude the fact that he is Body as well as
Mind, and in his life never will so exclude it.
Nor should he. It is
quite useless to try to pretend you are something that you are not, and
God does not mean you to try. Why
should he? If he has made you a man, he does not wish you to behave as
if you were something quite different, like an ape, or like an angel.
Some men practically behave like the former, and you call them
“sensualists.” A minority
of students and over-cultured persons would like to behave as if they were
just minds–you call them “intellectualists.” Each sort is lopsided. You
are sometimes tempted to think that the latter sort is in the greater
danger. For the sensualist
may always pull himself up–human nature does not take kindly to a
complete collapse into animalism. But
the man who despises material things is quite likely to experience a
sudden fatigue, to give up, and to suffer a “reaction,” and become
extremely greedy for the good things of life.
If he does not, he is none the less quite out of touch with
ordinary men and women.
when a man is very convinced of anything, he always wants to do
something about it. If he is
a simple person, he probably does it at once, and rather noisily.
With education, he may behave with greater restraint: but if he
never tends to express himself, as we say, he is probably a languid
and colorless person. If
children are pleased, they jump and dance. When a man feels in good form, he sings in his bath.
When he is in love he wants to kiss the girl he loves; and, in
short, he wishes to do something exterior to give vent to the interior
state of his feelings. So
when men have been convinced of the existence of God, they have always
done and said things to reveal the fact.
They feel how small they are compared to him–they fall flat on
the ground, or kneel. They
feel he is good and great and takes care of them–they sing hymns or
gesticulate or even dance. Above
all, when they feel that everything, and themselves in particular, belongs
to him, they have invariably tended to show this outwardly–usually by
“giving” him something, to prove that they recognize his right to
everything. Men interested in
fields, will offer him field-produce; in orchards, fruit: in flocks, a
sheep or goat or ox. This has
gone so far that they feel
they ought to offer him something which represents themselves even
more adequately, and you find instances of men killing their eldest son,
or mutilating themselves so that the “life-blood” flows.
Why “killing”? It
seems fairly clear that men, by destroying the “gift” they offer to
God, are trying to prove to themselves, and even to show to God, that they
truly recognize that he deserves the whole of the gift, and that nothing
is kept in reserve: and that they must never take it back, because they
have in reality no “right” in it at all.
They will also feel the need of expressing outwardly what they
think in their minds and picture with their imaginations, and so they make
images, and surround these images with signs symbolical of the homage they
want to pay to the invisible God. They
will do all the things that occur to them; and everything that their
senses or imagination can suggest does occur to them.
They will burn sweet spices: they will light bright fires: they
will sing and dance, and they will collect colored flowers or stones or
anything else that strikes them. And
above all, since man is “social” and lives together in groups, of
which he feels the unity very acutely, men will tend to do all these
things in common, and make social acts of them.
is what I mean by worship–any and every piece of human homage paid to
God: and while it is quite true that the supreme and only necessary homage
is that of the mind, whereby we know God, and the will, whereby we love
him and choose to subordinate ourselves to him, yet man rightly tends to
express himself exteriorly, and “cult” or “worship” has always, in
accord with complete human nature, contained an exterior, material
is well to see that neither in the Old nor the New Testament has exterior
cult been disapproved of, any more than the use of our brains concerning
God and the things of God has been rebuked.
It is perfectly clear from what I have said that just as a man can
make all sorts of mistakes when he starts thinking about God, so he can
make mistakes about the ways in which God likes to be worshipped.
For example, the human sacrifices and mutilations I mentioned above
are not really an apt way of expressing the completeness of our response
to God’s all-inclusive claim. So
what you will find in the Old and New Testaments is a progressive check
upon inadequate ways of showing your worship of God, but you will
not find that the exterior worship is in itself condemned.
The Hebrews inherited from their pagan ancestors a number of forms
of worship, and picked up a number more during their sojourns among
pagans. When Moses gave them their Law, he abolished many of these,
and regulated others, and above all taught a true knowledge of God’s
nature and attributes so as to prevent a wrong meaning being given to the
acts of worship they still used. The
one thing that was absolutely forbidden was, the making of images of God
for the eye. It was too easy
for men to attach a wrong value–a “person-value,” so to say, to such
images. But the Hebrews still went on talking about God in terms that
suit the imagination, for they were not abstract philosophers: and as late
as you like in Hebrew history, ritual is very minute and exact, and even
increasingly so in some ways. As
to the New Testament, I say no more than this, so as not to anticipate:
Our Lord shows perfectly well that he recognizes the duty of expressing
exteriorly our interior worship, if only because in the Our Father he
provided his disciples with a form of words; and what he rebuked was, not
exterior actions, but the idea that exterior actions were good enough
without interior dispositions, or, hypocrisy in the carrying out of such
actions, for example, in order to win esteem, and not to worship God.
And he himself, in the Garden of Gethsemani, allowed his body to
reveal the agony of his mind, by falling prostrate, and lifted his eyes to
heaven when giving thanks, and raised his hands when he blessed the
Apostles, and by the use of clay cured the blind man, and by the use of
formulas–like the very term “Father” as applied to God–sanctioned
our drawing help from customary things of sense, and pictured heaven as a
leads me to my second point: the first has been, that man by his very
nature tends to worship as well as think about God by means of his
knowledge and experience of created things, and that God has not
prohibited him from doing so.
GOD’S DESCENT TO MAN
want now to go much further than this, and say that God not only as it
were puts up, reluctantly, not to say disdainfully, with this sort of
worship from the mean whom he has made, but spontaneously deals with them
in accordance with their whole nature in which the material element plays
so great a part.
God reveals himself through visible things
all, God is himself the Author of nature.
He could quite well, had he chosen, have created nothing but
angels. (Even had he done so,
the angels would have had to worship him, as in fact they do, in
accordance with their nature.)
However, he not only created this visible universe, but created Man
in particular, and continually thrusts nature into his eyes and on to his
attention so that to worship God by means of nature and in nature is the
very suggestion, so to say, of God himself.
St. Paul (Rom. i) insists that men had no excuse for not knowing
and worshipping God, since “what is invisible in God is (none the less)
ever since the foundation of the world made visible to human reflection
through his works, even his eternal power and divinity”; and to the
Lystrians (Acts xiv) he preaches a charming little sermon to those
simple-minded pagans about how God has never left himself without
sufficient witness, by means of his ceaseless gifts of rain and sun, of
harvests and happiness. As I
said, the nature of pagan notions about God, and worship of God, could
easily degenerate; but the root of the matter is there, and was supplied
by God himself.
hold, no less than the Protestant tradition does, that God revealed
himself freely and specially to the Hebrews.
From the first, we read how God revealed himself and worked through
what struck the senses–objects, like the Burning Bush, the Pillar of
Fire, the Glory over the Ark–in a sense, through the symbol of the Ark
itself: phenomena, like the storm upon Mount Sinai: events, like the
Plagues of Egypt. The rules
for sacrifice and ritual were not just tolerated by God, but sanctioned
positively by him: and, altogether, the Old Testament dispensation was so
made up of material things intended to be used spiritually in a greater or
a less degree, that the Prophets had to spend much more time in recalling
the Jews to interior dispositions of soul and in exhorting them to be true
to the details of the Law. I
add, that God chose to reveal himself by means of writing–the Old
Testament religion is a “book-religion”–and again, through men:
prophets, priests and kings. And
all this was essentially social: the People was held together not only by
its worship of One and the selfsame God, but by tribal and national and
family ceremonies, from what concerned marriage right up to the great
festivals like the Pasch, the Day of Atonement, and Pentecost.
the manifold reasons for, and nature of, the Incarnation, this volume
already contains an essay. Let
me then say here only one thing: It establishes once and for ever, and in
fullest measure, the principle that God will not save human nature apart
from human nature. The
material side of the transaction of our Saving might have been minimized.
God might have saved us by a prayer, a hope, by just one act of
love. He might have remained
invisible to eye, inaudible to ear. But
he did not. He took our human
nature–the whole of it. Nothing
that is in us, was not in him. Jesus
Christ was true God, and true Man. In
him was that two-fold nature, in one Person.
And indeed, in his human nature was that double principle that is
in ours–there was body, and there was soul.
In Jesus Christ are for ever joined the visible and the invisible;
the Infinite, and the created, limited thing that man is: Man, in short,
and God. Since, then, the
Incarnation, no one can possibly criticize a religion because it is not
wholly “spiritual.” We
are not wholly spiritual: Christ is not wholly spiritual.
The religion that we need, the religion that he gives will not be
totally unlike what we are, and what he is.
Christ did not treat us as though we were stone: nor yet, as if we
were angels. He became Man,
because we are men; and as men he, perfect Man, will treat us.
The work of salvation incarnational: the sacraments
expect that a man’s work will be characteristic of him.
When therefore you observe that the whole method of our salvation
was an incarnational one, wherein the Spirit operates in and by means of
the flesh, you will expect to see this work itself out in detail.
You see that it does so, first, in the massive fact of the sort of
Church that Christ founded. The
Church, existing as it does upon this earth for the sake of men who live
on the earth and not for disembodied souls, still less for angels, is so
constructed as to suit the situation.
It is visible, yet invisible.
It has its way in, and its way out.
It has quite definite frontiers.
It has a perfectly unmistakable form of government.
Of the structure of the Church, this volume has also spoken.
I need therefore not dwell on it, any more than I need upon the
Incarnation itself. I need
but add, that the nature of its Founder being what it is, and the nature
of the Church being what it is, and our nature being such as we have
described it, you cannot possibly be surprised if what goes on within the
Church is in keeping with all the rest.
The object of the Church being the salvation and sanctification of
ourselves, the method of the Church will include and not disdain a
material element. Even
beforehand, we might have expected this, nay, felt sure that it would be
so. In the concrete, this method will turn out to be, normally,
the Sacramental System. This is what we have to study.
me but add, that we should be glad that this is so.
Had our Lord given us a wholly “spiritual” religion (if such a
thing is conceivable), we might have reproached him for neglecting those
bodies of ours, which minister to us so much good pleasure, and provide
for us such grave difficulties. We
might have grieved that he had done nothing for our social instinct, that
always, in every department, forces us to create some social unit or
other. Again, knowing
ourselves all too well, we might have felt that the ideal, just because so
disembodied, would prove to be beyond us: we would be sure that the weight
of our bodily humanity would sooner or later drag us down.
After all, we must eat and rink: men marry: they mingle with their
fellows–if we can in no way coordinate all this with what is spiritual,
catch it up, use it, see how it is legitimate and can be made of
value–we are practically being asked to despair of human life.
On the other hand, if we see that no part of human nature is
neglected by our Lord, we are, as I said, not only grateful but most
humbly grateful, seeing that what has so often supplied material for sin
is judged, by Christ, as none the less able to be given a lofty task, the
sublimest duty–that of co-operating with Grace, nay, being used by Grace
and in its interests. And
once and for all, we see that God scorns nothing that he has made: that
Jesus Christ was Man, not despising nor hating his manhood; that his
Church understands, as he does, all that is “in man”; and that as the
Eternal Son of God assumed a human nature, never to lay it down, so too in
our very bodies, and helped by bodily things, we are to enter into that
supernatural union with God through Christ, wherein is to consist our
THE SACRAMENTAL SYSTEM
we read the earliest documents relating to the Christian Church, we find
Christians at once using all sorts of religious behavior.
They do not only pray, or propound a moral code–you find them
being dipped in water: meeting for common meals of greater or less
solemnity: “laying hands” on one another: maintaining the institution
of marriage: anointing sick persons with oil: not eating certain sorts of
foods: paying attention to certain days, such as that of the New Moon, and
also the first day of the week, and sometimes adopting quite strange
rites, like putting honey upon the lips of children or even adults.
rites did not all stand upon the same footing.
Some were prohibited: some were tolerated or kept within certain
bounds (like the observance of special days): some were regarded as quite
exceptionally solemn, and were imposed officially. Looking at the matter from outside, you see, on the whole,
that what these last-named had of special about them was, that Christ
himself had instituted them, or at least his Apostles officially imposed
or used them: and that they implied something beyond themselves, and even
produced certain results in the soul.
No one, for example, professed to suppose that Christ had ordered
the observance of the New Moon: though placing honey on the lips of a
child, or milk, might signify something spiritual, no one quite claimed
that it produced any special result in the child’s soul.
On the other hand, you will hear expressions such as that we are
“saved by means of the Bath of New Birth” (Titus iii 5):
that the Holy Spirit, or Grace, is given “by means of the laying-on of
hands” (2 Tim. i 6; Acts viii 18).
And marriage is spoken of as a “mighty symbol” (Eph. v
25) (The word “musterion,” here translated as “symbol,” is
is easily seen that there was much here that might induce confusion, and
even abuses, and needed clearing up.
Indeed, the confusion is often manifest.
Some people urged that it was better not to marry at all: others
acted as though Christianity had abolished all restrictions upon whom you
married. Some began to make
life intolerable by introducing all sorts of food-restrictions; others
went freely to pagan feasts. Some
seemed to think that the “bath of New Birth” was meant to give you
even bodily immortality: others that you could bathe in it vicariously, on
behalf of those who had already died.
Some turned the meals, taken in common, into an occasion for
creating social cliques, and quite failed to see in the meal that which it
stood for or signified–to put it at the lowest, for Paul makes clear
that as the ceremony to which it was but a preface proceeded, there was
more in it than just a noble or pure idea: the “Lord’s Body” itself
was to be discerned therein, to be fed upon as he had ordained, with vast
consequences to those who thus received it.
Hence even the preface to this, with its signification of union in
charity, was being travestied by these social schismatics.
must not be surprised that these Christian rites were not, at first,
exhaustively explained, nor perfectly understood by all.
Very little, in Christian doctrine, was or could be immediately
stated in an adequate formula: even in the simpler matter of issuing
orders, it was at once found that questions were asked, and
interpretations had to be given. Thus,
the Apostles decreed that meat that had been used in a pagan sacrifice
must not be eaten. “What,” asked the Christians, “are we to do when
marketing? what, when invited to dinner?
How can we tell whether the meat in the butchers’ shops, or
offered at table, has come from a pagan temple or not?”
Such questions needed answering whenever they arose.
So with dogma. The
Christians knew that they worshipped Christ as God.
“How then,” some of them asked, “could he have been also man?
He could not. His humanity must have been merely apparent–He could not.
His humanity must have been merely apparent–he was a
ghost-man.” “No,” said
the Church, “he was true man.” Already
St. John has to make this point. Thereupon
the pendulum swung back. “Then
he cannot have been true God–his sonship can have only been one of
adoption, not of nature. He
must have been ‘divine,” not God.”
“No,” insisted the Church, “he was true God too.”
Questions and answers continued till the theology of the
Incarnation, as we say, was worked out–the complete theory and
the proper official expressions in which the dogma was to be stated were
provided. The same sort of
process is seen in regard of these pieces of ritual behavior that the
Christians carried through. It
will be clear that I am not remotely suggesting that what we now know as
the Seven Sacraments did not exist from the beginning, and exist in
substance just as they do now: but, if I may say so reverently, the first
Christians needed desperately to use our Lord Jesus Christ himself,
rather than speculate about him–though the time came and came soon when
they had to do that, and did it: and somewhat in the same way they were
baptized, married, confirmed, went to Communion, but had no “covering
formula,” so to call it, to apply to all these transactions precisely
from what we call the “sacramental” point of view.
You first see
coming to light the notion that certain transactions are
“signs”–they visibly represent something you do not see–an idea,
or an event. Washing with
water is a very natural symbol of spiritual purification; sharing in a
common meal naturally symbolizes social unity, and, indeed, the breaking
of bread could well represent the sacrifice of Christ himself: oil had
always stood for a symbol of health and well-being.
Hence the word “mystery” began very soon to be used by
Christians of their rites, and the Latin word “sacramentum” after a
while began to be used as a translation of “mystery.”
But be careful about these words.
“Musterion” originally only meant something concealed within
it, and then, just a “secret.” The
pagan rites known as “Mysteries” consisted in ceremonies of a
symbolical sort, wherein religious impressions were made on the minds of
the participants–for example, the solemn exhibition of an ear of corn
represented the presence of a god: an elaborate dance or procession
represented the progress of a soul in the underworld, and so forth.
What the devotee had learnt or experienced was to be kept a dead
secret. “Mystery,” then,
in this original sense has nothing to do with the word technically used
now to mean a Truth in itself surpassing human intelligence, and needing
to be revealed by God, and even so, not fully intelligible to our natural
powers of thinking. Similarly,
“sacrament” meant at first no more than a “holy thing,” or rather,
a “religionified” thing, so to say.
It was first applied to money deposited by litigants in some
religious place, or forfeited by the loser and given to religious
purposes. It came thus to
mean any solemn engagement, and in particular the military oath.
As equivalent (very roughly: the Latins were not skillful in
finding equivalents for Greek words) to “mystery,” it meant little
more than that what it was applied to was more sacred than its mere
external nature would lead you to suppose.
But you see
at once that this notion of “sign” extends so widely as to cover
almost anything; similarly, almost any religious performance could be
called a “holy thing,” and indeed the word “sacrament” for a long
time was applied to all sorts of religious activities–the Lord’s
Prayer was a sacrament in this sense.
We ourselves apply the word “mystery” not only in the technical
sense, but, for example, to the incidents commemorated in the Rosary,
because they were material occurrences with profound significations.
The notion then admits of much further definition.
It is at once
clear that some “significant” transactions stood out as quite special
because they had been instituted by Christ himself. He said: “Go,
baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
He said: “Do this in commemoration of me.”
Yet even this would not be sufficient as a definition of certain
special transactions; for Christ told his Apostles to “Wash one
another’s feet,” for example. Here is an obvious symbol, and it was instituted by himself,
and the institution is duly observed from time to time in the Church even
now. Yet it stood on quite a
different footing, for instance, from baptism.
But why did it do so?
became clear that some of these signs were instituted by Christ to produce
certain results in those who used them, and by no means ordinary results
of a moral or devotional sort, such as the looking at a pious picture
might do, or even what I have just quoted–the Washing of Feet.
Our Lord says definitely that Baptism is necessary for salvation
(Mark xvi 16); that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must be born
again by water as well as by the Holy Spirit (John iii 5); and St. Paul
(quoted above) says we are “saved by means of the bath of New
Birth.” When, after
baptism, hands are laid on the newly baptized, or when they are laid on
those set apart for the Christian ministry, the Holy Ghost, and Grace, are
said to be given “by means” of this laying-on of hands.
We see then
that there exist in the Church certain material transactions, such that
they stand as signs of something spiritual, and also, somehow cause and
confer and contain what they signify, and that these efficacious signs
were in some sense instituted by Christ himself.
There is one more preliminary remark to be made.
The Sacramental System
I have called
this essay The Sacramental “System.”
This implies that Christ has not as it were instituted
“sacraments” casually, but according to a principle; and that the
sacraments are not thrown haphazard into the Church, but form an orderly
series: not only that their existence is governed by an idea, but
that an idea rules, no less, their number and their nature, gives them
coherence and a unity. The
idea that governs their existence has already been sufficiently, perhaps,
explained. I therefore merely
recall that it involves the doctrine that matter is not bad, nor to be
despised, but can be, and is, made use of by God and by Christ and by the
Church in the work of our sanctification.
The opposite to this would be the doctrine that matter, or the
body, or the visible world at large is somehow bad, and this
doctrine was best seen in the sect of the Manicheans–a curious sect,
Persian in origin, but made up as time went on of all sorts of ideas and
practices. As a matter of
fact, the notion has always existed in some shape side by side with the
true Catholic one, which is, that nothing that God has made is bad, nor
has it become bad since and because of the Fall.
Right down to our own day, a false Puritanism has existed: the
Middle Ages saw many strange versions of it, involving strange results,
such as, that food, marriage, and in fact anything to do with the physical
life of man, was bad, owing to his fallen state, or even to the essential
badness of matter. It is no
part of my duty to go into this here; but you will see at once that the
Sacramental System opposes this definitely.
No part of God’s creation is bad: every part of it can be used by
God for the most spiritual purposes.
The results, on the other hand, of the false doctrine have been
very bad indeed. Men, by dint
of thinking that matter and the body were bad, have developed a sort of
insane hatred of them, and have gone so far in their desire to be rid of
them as even to commit suicide. Or
again, since they saw that they had not the strength thus to inflict pain
and denial upon themselves consistently, they took refuge in the notion
that their body was not really part of themselves at all, but that the
real “self” resided somehow inside the body, like a jewel in an ugly
and filthy case or shell; and so they said that it could not really matter
what their body did, because it was not really “they.”
They could then allow the body to indulge in every kind of
debauchery, while still maintaining that their soul, or “self,’ was
living a lofty and holy life. The
sacramental doctrine of the Church prevents both these disastrous notions
taking root amongst us. Even
were the body no more than the shell of the soul, it has to be treated
with extreme respect, and kept holy and pure, because it contains so
precious a thing. But it is
more than the soul’s shell: along
with the soul it constitutes “man”: and so, body must be saved no less
than soul, and by means of bodily or material things the living man is
approached and may be helped as well as by spiritual things.
We thank God that this is so: were it not, we might despair.
When I said
that the sacramental “system” also implies that the actual Sacraments
can be arranged in an “order” of an intelligible sort, I meant that
they could be thought of by us, in proportion as we understand them
better, in that sort of way. Thus,
there is obviously such a thing as natural life–the life by which
we all of us live by dint of being born and not having yet died.
In the essay on Grace you have seen that God has freely willed to
make to man a “free gift” (which is what the word Grace really means),
namely, a supernatural life which is in no way due to him nor can be
earned by him, but which involves a far greater happiness and well-being
for him if he lives by it. Now
just as a man requires to be born in order to live at all, so must he have
a “new birth” if he is to begin to live by this “new life.”
This New Birth is given by the first Sacrament, Baptism.
After a while, boys and girls begin to “grow up”: they take
stock of their position and responsibilities: also, their bodies and their
minds change in many ways, and their human nature may be described as
being “completed.” They
also require not a little strengthening, body and mind, during this
period. In many ways the
Sacrament of Confirmation may be regarded as fulfilling a like
“completing” function in the supernatural life: it does not give that
life, but it completes and establishes it, and St. Thomas compares it to
adolescence. As life
proceeds, it is normal for men and women to go even further in the
completing of their human life, by joining another life to their own in
marriage. The Church does not
substitute anything for human marriage, but it so infuses grace into and
through the Christian marriage contract as to raise it to the dignity of a
Sacrament, and a supernatural element enters into this great human
crisis-in-life. Within the
Christian Church, however, men may be called to consecrate their lives to
the immediate service of God as priests.
This choice and vocation are of such overwhelming importance, and
so unlike anything else, that we are not surprised to see that Ordination,
in the Catholic Church, is a Sacrament too, not merely a setting aside of
a man for a special duty. But
for the proper maintenance of any part of life, appropriate food has to be
given: for the maintenance and development of the supernatural life it
will be seen that there is in the Church a unique and a uniquely
appropriate food, the Eucharist. Again, a man may fall sick: he thereupon requires doctoring:
there is in the Church a Sacrament instituted precisely for the purpose of
healing even the gravest sicknesses of the soul, which are all due to sin.
But after all, no human life lasts for ever upon this earth: men
die. When death is imminent,
or probable, in how great a need does the spirit stand!
for the body and its brain can now no more assist it.
At such an hour the supernatural life, too, runs its grave risks;
and the “Last Sacraments” are there to succour it.
Thus it will
be seen that the Sacraments can all be thought of under the heading, or
general idea, of “Life” and its needs.
In this way their unity of purpose and order in action can be
clearly seen, and more easily appreciated and remembered.
I have now to
enter with somewhat more detail into the Catholic teaching concerning the
various elements that make up a “Sacrament.”
THE THEOLOGY OF THE SACRAMENTS
It used to be
said that the Sacraments, as Catholics understand them, were medieval
inventions. Research showed
that St. Augustine, who died in 430, taught a fully “sacramental”
theology. He was therefore
said to be the guilty innovator. Finally
it is clear that well before his time, in fact from the beginning, the
Church contained the fact and, better than that, the use of
those things which we now call Sacraments.
The Sacraments are signs
Sacraments always included and could not but include the element of
“sign,” “symbol,” is evident. The water used in baptism symbolized at once the washing away
of spiritual stains: also, as St. Paul saw, it symbolized (especially when
the candidate for baptism was often, though not always, immersed in
the baptismal water) the complete passing away of the “old man,” the
merely natural man, and the emergence of the New Man, the supernatural
self. The “bath” is a
“bath of second and new birth.” The
Eucharistic meal symbolized forthwith a unity among Christians, in
charity, which any common meal, taken among men, naturally symbolizes even
in our Western world, and still more in the Eastern one.
The Bread, one loaf of many grains, symbolized that mystical Body
of Christ which the Church is. And
the Breaking of the Bread, the Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross; and
again, the participation of all in that one Bread, the fellowship of
Christians in Christ himself. The
wine, again, so manifestly symbolized Christ’s Blood outpoured in
sacrifice, that the heresy of the Aquarians, who wished to use water
instead of wine, stood condemned, if for no other reason, because the
“sign” provided by the wine thus disappeared.
The “imposition of hands,” used in Confirmation and in
Ordination, was even more obviously a sign of the giving of the Holy Ghost
when the metaphor of “god’s Right Hand,” meaning that same Holy
Ghost, was more in use than it is now.
The hand, issuing from clouds, so common in ancient days, was at
once recognized as meaning the Holy Spirit; when the priest today, at the
Blessing of the Font, plunges his hand into the water, this symbolizes the
same thing–the infusion of the Holy Spirit.
Oil, used in Confirmation, Ordination, and in the Sacrament of the
Sick, also carried an obvious symbolical value both to Jewish and ex-pagan
converts. For, among the
Jews, the olive had always gone along with the vine and the fig-tree as a
symbol of prosperity, and oil had been poured on those who were
consecrated to kingship and so forth, in sign of the gift of the richness
of God’s blessing. Among
the Greeks, its use by athletes at once connected it with the idea of
suppleness and strength. Marriage,
even natural marriage among pagans, had always been fenced about with
ceremonies expressive of union, even when that union was far rather one of
possession by the man than of true union between two.
But the very event of a marriage, necessarily expressing itself
outwardly, enabled St. Paul to present it as the sign and symbol of a far
higher union, that between Christ and his Church, and indeed the metaphor
of Espousal as applied to the union between God and the chosen people, or
God and the individual soul, was quite ancient and familiar.
Finally, the whole concrete behavior of penitent and priest could
not but express, exteriorly, the spiritual events of forgiveness and
restoration to grace.
enough, those Sacraments which were not only most necessary, but whose
institution was most vividly described in Scripture, and whose material
element was most obvious, such as water, bread and wine, were most dwelt
upon by early writers; and, again naturally enough, the idea of their
symbolic character was chiefly worked out in a place like Alexandria,
where people tended to see signs in almost everything, and attached
symbolical values to the most concrete historical events.
The Lain world was far less inclined to look below the surface of
things, yet here too from the beginning the “sign” value of
Sacramental transactions is perfectly clear.
Augustine, who was very fond of working out the notion of God’s
“traces” in nature–even in connection with such doctrines as the
Holy Trinity–naturally elaborates the meaning of “signs” in general.
He says that a “sign” is a thing which, because of its outward
form which it thrusts upon the senses, makes something else, by its own
nature, come into the mind. A
Sacrament, then, he says, is a “sacred sign of a spiritual object.” It is a natural object that evokes the idea of, because
picturing, a spiritual object. Of
course he says much more than this; but we are keeping close to the
“sign-element” in Sacraments.
As the Middle
Ages began to dawn, it was seen that men were insisting rather upon the
“mystery-element” in Sacraments, i.e., of the hiddenness of
what was in them, rather than on the manifesting of the spiritual and
invisible by the material and visible.
But the balance soon swung back, or rather, reached a good
equilibrium–in Sacraments was seen both the outward sign, and
the inward thing that was symbolized.
The thing by its nature was “secret,” because invisible; but it
was meant to become visible by means of what signified its presence.
Matter and form of Sacraments
perhaps just mention here that you may often read the phrase “the matter
and the form” of the Sacraments.
This is a philosophical notion that need not really delay us.
In practice it means that the exterior element in the Sacraments
can be seen as consisting of two parts, one more general, like the water
in baptism–for water can stand for all sorts of things, as oil can, or
bread–and the other more specifical and more accurately expressing what
the general symbol really stands for in the circumstances; this second
part consists of words or their equivalent actions: thus “I baptize
thee” shows for what, precisely, the water is being used, and what, in
consequence, it symbolizes: something more is required than the mere fact
of meeting and living together, to show that a man and woman really mean
to be husband and wife. And
so for the rest.
philosophical terms, derived from Aristotle, have been found useful, so as
to make clear what are the essential elements of the sacramental sign, i.e.,
what is necessary for the validity of the sacrament.
So far, then,
it is at least clear how foolish are they who talk about Catholic
Sacraments as “meaningless bits of ritual” and so forth.
They include ritual; but since they are essentially and from the
nature of the case signs, they cannot possibly be
The Sacraments are causes
however, insisted that the Sacraments are a very special sort of
“sign.” They are not mere
pictures. The essence of the
matter is seen in phrases like: “you are saved by means of the
bath of New Birth.” The
grace which is in thee by means of the imposition of my hands.”
If I decide to become a Christian, and then go through a ceremony
to show that I have acted on my decision, that ceremony is a sign of my
decision, but need not be anything else.
If I went to Holy Communion, and it made me remember the Passion,
and this memory touched my heart, my act of Communion might well count as
a “commemoration” of the Passion, which occasioned my having religious
sentiments, but it still would not be more than an exterior commemoration,
even symbolical, of a past event, such as my touching my hat when I pass
the Cenotaph, which may well fill me with affectionate or patriotic
emotions and resolves. Nay,
even though on the occasion of my doing this or that, God gives me
grace, the thing that I do remains merely the occasion of that gift.
Thus I might do a kind act to a sick man, and on occasion of this
God might bless and help me. But
the doing of that act would not be a Sacrament.
You see then the difference between a sign of something invisible
which is the mere occasion of my obtaining that invisible thing; and a
sign which is that by means of which I obtain the invisible thing
it symbolizes. It is in this last sense that the Sacraments are Signs.
perfectly definite “by means of” so clearly to be read in the
Scriptures, and the almost violent description of the effects produced by
good or bad Communions, given by St. Paul (1 Cor. xi), there could be no
doubt as to the work done by the Sacramental Signs, which become,
as Origen says (abut 250 A.D.), symbols which are the “origin and
fount” of the invisible thing they symbolize.
The notion became clear precisely by way of that double nature of
man on which we have already insisted.
The Sacrament was one thing, and yet it reached and affected both
elements in man, the invisible spiritual soul no less than the body.
When these very early writers asked themselves how this
might be, they contented themselves on the whole by answering: “By means
of the Spirit or Power of God, working in” the water, and so forth.
The fact that a Sacrament is an efficacious symbol, as we now say,
was then clearly realized well before Augustine.
Cyprian, indeed, insists that the Eucharist at once symbolizes, and
is, the Sacrifice of Christ; it is a representation which contains
the reality. In Augustine,
the notion of efficacy is so strong that he keeps saying that in the
Sacrament it is Christ who acts; Christ who washes; Christ who cleanses. But it could still be argued that Augustine does not make
clear the difference between a divine action on the occasion of a
sacrament rite carried through and a divine action so bound to the rite
that it is done through and by means of it.
But you can see from an examination of his whole mind that if you
had asked him directly this question: Am I given grace by means of the
Sacrament? he would have answered: Yes.
But as language became ever more exact, keeping pace with thought
ever more accurate, the nature of the bond between the divine action and
the sacramental sign become perfectly clear.
Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1140) says: A Sacrament is a corporal
or material element, set forth exteriorly to the senses, which by its
similarity portrays, and by its institution means, and by blessing
contains, some invisible and spiritual grace.
While Peter Lombard (c. 1150) says even more clearly: A
Sacrament is properly so called because it is the sign of the grace of
God, and the expression of invisible grace, in such a way as to be not
only its image, but its cause.
helped more swiftly than anything else to make this nature of a
Sacrament–“efficacious sign”–quite clear, was a series of three
questions: What exactly is it that is done to us by our using a Sacrament?
Who can administer a Sacrament? if not just anyone, how far does
the effect of the Sacrament depend on the person of its minister? and how
far do my personal dispositions enter into the affair?
does the good result obtained from using a Sacrament depend upon me?
Many details of the answers to be given to these question belong to
other essays which deal with the Sacraments severally.
Here I need do little more than get at the various principles
involved, illustrating them by allusion to the several Sacraments rather
than examining each Sacrament separately.
Causes of Sanctification
The answer to
the first question–What does the (due) use of a Sacrament bring about in
me? was easily and immediately answered–Sanctification.
Baptism was from the very words of Christ seen to be absolutely
necessary if the soul was to be saved at all.
But salvation comes through grace and only through grace.
Therefore sanctifying Grace is what is given through the use of the
Sacraments. I need but add
one point here. This grace
is, quite simply, a divine life infused into the soul–a supernatural
union with God. Grace then is
always and everywhere one and the same thing.
But Grace may be given to a soul in which grace is not–as to the
unbaptized, or again, to those who by mortal sin have lost grace; or, more
grace may be given to those who already possess grace.
There may be the first infusion of Grace, or the restoration of
Grace, or the ever renewed intensification of Grace.
Already, then, you can see that though the gift be, in all the
Sacraments, one and the same thing, yet it may be given in various
circumstances, and in fact is variously given according to the
circumstances of those using the various Sacraments–for example,
Baptism, Penance, or Confirmation. However,
this is not the only difference between Sacraments.
Marriage and Ordination, for example, are not just means of
providing more grace to people who happen to be going to get married or be
ordained. They are meant to provide them with grace because they
are going to be married or ordained; that is, grace so acting as to help
them in their circumstances–to sanctify them precisely as married
people or as priests. That
is, grace is given not just in general, but in view of the state upon
which its recipients are entering or in which they live and need special
assistance. Baptism gives the
first grace of all which unites a man to God through Christ: Confirmation
establishes him in this: Penance restores a man to that supernatural life
if he have lost it; so, too, are those of the sick: all our life through
we have need of more and more grace, especially in difficult moments, and
we gain it supremely through Holy Communion.
This special grace is called “sacramental grace,” to
distinguish it from “sanctifying” grace at large.
Christ the author of the Sacraments
The fact that
the whole existence of the Sacraments, and of each Sacrament, is concerned
with the giving of Grace, involves a point so important that it may be
touched on here. It is, that
the Sacraments were instituted by Christ.
Historically, this fact became emphasized for the very reason that
we have been giving. It was
because the Sacraments give grace that men saw, and insisted on, the fact
that they were instituted by Christ; it was not because they were
instituted by Christ that men concluded they gave grace.
Both ways of looking at the thing can be true; but the former was
the way in which men first and chiefly looked at it.
The Sacraments give grace. But
Grace is only given by God through the merits of Jesus Christ.
Therefore if the gift of Grace is so annexed to the Sacraments as
to make them (anyhow in the case of baptism) an instrument of salvation,
they must have been of divine institution: but since everything in the
Church, that is essential and substantial, was created by Christ himself
upon earth, therefore, the Sacraments were instituted not just by God, but
by the God-Man, Christ.
Not that such
a statement settles a variety of subsidiary questions, any more than the
definition of the Council of Trent does, which simply states that the
Sacraments were “all of them instituted by Jesus Christ”; and even the
Modernist errors condemned by Pius X can be grouped under the general
notion that it was not Christ who instituted the Sacraments in any
real sense, but that they grew up under pressure of circumstances, either
in the time of the Apostles or even after it, and began by being mere
rites of various sorts, quite different in nature from anything we have
been talking about.
notion is as alien to facts as would be the idea that for a Sacrament to
have been instituted by Christ, it was necessary for Christ personally and
in so many words to institute it just as it is at present carried out in
the liturgy of the Church. The
earlier writers of the Church did not go into details on the subject: no
one ever disputed that Baptism and the Eucharist were instituted by Christ
in person and in a form from which the Church must never recede.
But it was usually through something else that the point was
reached and the fact asserted–I mean, for example, it was the habit of
the Gnostics to appeal to a kind of inner light, as settling truth and
right, which drove an Irenaeus to insist that the proper guardian of truth
was the episcopate, whose origin was Christ himself by way of the
Apostles, though Ignatius had already been clear enough on the subject (Irenaeus
fl. about 140-200; Ignatius, +107). But
when it began to be thought that the administration of the Sacraments or
at least their “matter and form” must always remain, the have
remained, unchanged in every way, then writers were either forced to
assert that Christ had so instituted them in person, or, since that would
be very difficult and in fact impossible to show, that he need not have
instituted them in person at all, but that, for example, the Holy Ghost,
not Christ, instituted Confirmation, and a Church council in the ninth
century instituted Penance (so Alexander of Hales, c. 1245).
In this department, Dominican and Franciscan ones going too far
away from the doctrine of institution by Christ himself–St. Bonaventure,
for example, allowing that Confirmation and Unction might have been
instituted either by the Apostles or immediately after their death, though
by divine authority. There
was, however, current the idea that Christ might have instituted the
Sacraments quite generally, and no more–that is, have appointed the
divine effect, leaving the method of its obtaining to the arrangement of
his Church. The real point is
reached when one sees that a man can be described as “instituting” a
thing whether he does so in detail, or whether he initiates a thing only
“in the rough,” and leaves the working out of it to others.
Take the case
of Confirmation. You could,
conceivably, imagine Christ saying: “When a man has been baptized, lay
your hands on him and anoint him with oil, saying certain words: this sign
will produce grace in him, such as to ‘confirm’ him and ‘complete’
his baptism.” Or, “When a
man has been baptized, he will require to be ‘confirmed’: do this by
some suitable sign.” Though
the Council of Trent has defined that all the Sacraments were instituted
by Christ, which settles for us that they were not merely invented by the
Apostles, nor merely grew up under pressure of circumstances, yet that
Council does not state in what way exactly they were instituted by Christ.
It does not, to start with, follow that they were all instituted
in the same way. But
it would never be admitted by a Catholic theologian, and should not be
asserted by any historian, that Christ merely gave the Apostles some vague
hint that there were to be transactions of a sacramental sort in his
Church, and then left them to do what they thought best in the matter.
Apart from all other considerations, a historian would, I think,
see that the older Apostles were so very conservative–and among them
all, perhaps, St. James the most conservative–that they would never have
started anything at all unless they were quite sure that Christ meant them
to do exactly that. Hence
since no one ought to dispute that Baptism and the Eucharist were
instituted immediately and explicitly by Christ himself; and since the
Apostles immediately began to confirm and to ordain; and since it was
precisely St. James who promulgated what was to be done in the way of
anointing the sick; and since it was St. Paul (who positively piqued
himself on not being an innovator) who declares the sacramental value of
Christian marriage; and given Christ’s assertion that those sins which
the Apostles remitted were remitted, and those that they retained were
retained–with the necessary consequence that they would be called upon
at times to remit and to retain sins–we are right to be morally certain,
historically, that the Apostles had Christ’s direct order to do, in
substance, all those things which we now know as the administration of the
then, we can show that all the Sacraments can be connected up with
something that Christ said; and a foundation for the assertion that he
instituted them can be found in his own words: the general behavior and
temperament of the Apostles bear out that herein they acted on some sort
of mandate received from Christ in person: precisely in what way he gave
it, save in the case of Baptism and the Eucharist, we cannot ever know.
What further is certain is that the Church cannot substantially
alter anything that he instituted, though in what precisely the substance
of the material element of the Sacrament, by his order, consists, again
can be matter for discussion. What
the Church has the perfect right to do is to ordain that a Sacrament has
now to be administered in such and such a way, under pain of its being
illicitly or even invalidly administered.
Thus the Church can add conditions to the administering of the
Sacraments, but she cannot subtract anything in them that is of Christ’s
ordaining and has been substantial in them from the beginning.
The Sacraments and pagan mystery-cults
is rather the explanation of Catholic doctrine than the refutation of
false doctrines. It is
however so often said, nowadays, that St. Paul practically invented the
Sacraments by introducing into certain current practices quite new ideas,
that this theory have to be glanced at.
I might notice, in passing, how far things have traveled since the
time when the Sacraments were called “medieval accretions.”
So thoroughly “sacramental” is the earliest Church seen to have
been, that no one short of St. Paul is appealed to as the originator of
Sacraments. Paul therefore is
said to have borrowed religious terms and notions from the
“mystery-cults” of the contemporary pagans.
These mystery religions involved the exercise of a great deal of
magical ritual (magic is spoken of briefly below) and the recitation of
formulas, so that the “initiate,” as he was called, became on the one
hand much impressed by the uncanny spectacles he had seen, and, on the
other, was convinced he now was guaranteed to escape the dangers in the
next world which were calculated to befall one who found himself there
without some such magical preliminary.
In more philosophical forms of these cults, a good deal of allegory
was introduced, and a more philosophical initiate might maintain that in
some sense he was incorporated with the god in whose honor the mystery was
celebrated. Indeed, the
god’s history might be enacted during the celebration by means of a
symbolical dance or other piece of ritual.
Briefly: Paul knew of, as did everyone, the existence and general
nature of mystery-cults, and once or twice remotely alludes, with
contempt, to them. The rule
observed by himself, St. John, and early Christians in general, with
regard to pagan forms of worship, was to keep from all contact with them:
their abhorrence of them was almost ferocious.
Paul does not use any of the characteristic words of the
mystery-religions; he insists that he introduced nothing into the
Christian creed or code that was new–save, if you will, the emphasis
laid by him on the truth that non-Jews were to be admitted as freely into
the Church as Jews were, and that none of them had to observe the Jewish
ritual. The mysteries
moreover were expensive affairs, and reserved for a small minority who
were pledged under secrecy to reveal nothing that they experienced;
Christianity on the other hand was for all.
Christianity was a doctrine; there was no doctrine in the
mysteries–they affected not the intelligence, but the imagination and
the nerves. The whole method
and effect of the mysteries was “magical”–you recited the due
formula, performed the proper programme, and the effects occurred
automatically. There was
nothing moral about the mysteries, the purity you there gained was merely
a ritual one–in the concrete the celebration of the mysteries was
anything but pure: one writer has called them a mixture of shambles and
brothel. If anyone imagines
that Paul is going deliberately to borrow or even unconsciously to absorb
anything from such a source, with which to improve the Faith to which he
had turned, we abandon such a critic as foolish, or, as determined to
discover at any and every cost some non-Christian source for the Christian
The minister of the Sacraments
Sacraments therefore receive their efficacy from Christ.
What then is the role played by the “minister” of the
Sacrament? for after all you cannot baptize nor confirm nor ordain nor
anoint nor absolve yourself, nor can a layman at any rate consecrate the
Eucharist; and though the man and the woman are the ministers, each to the
other, of the sacrament of Marriage, yet each does require the other, and
obviously cannot administer that Sacrament to himself by himself.
role of the minister in the administration of Sacraments did not come up
on, so to say, its own merits, but, because of the claim of heretics to
administer the Sacraments equally with the orthodox. This claim seemed so horrible to certain groups, or to
fierce-tempered individuals like the African Cyprian that, on the grounds
that where the Church was not, the Holy Spirit was not, and where he was
not, nothing of a sanctifying nature could exist, and therefore not the
Sacraments, they denied to heretic ministers the power to administer any
Sacrament whatsoever validly. This
dispute will be found explained, and the course it took, in the pages of
this volume dealing with the Sacrament of Baptism.
But behind that dispute existed the universally admitted certainty,
that a proper minister is necessary in the case of each and every
Sacrament, and the dispute really turned upon the question–Who was
the proper one? It was, all
admitted, the “word” of the proper minister that made the bread to be
Christ’s Body, that made the water to be no mere water, but baptismal
water. This conjunction of
the word with the thing, so that a moral whole was created, supplied that
due material element through which the Spirit of God could act.
But the minister was not ever regarded simply as a man.
Had he been so regarded, certainly much might have turned upon his
moral or mental dispositions. But
he was definitely regarded as representing, in his person, the Church; and
the Church was the continuation of Christ, and the dwelling-place of his
Spirit. Therefore, albeit it
was a man who spoke the words, Christ spoke through them–“Christ
therefore certain that the moral condition of the minister of the
Sacrament does not interfere with its validity on its own account.
The mere fact that his soul has sin in it, does not render him
useless as an instrument in the hands of the Church and of Christ, for the
“making” of the Sacrament. It
is desirable, in every way, that a priest, for example, should be a holy
and even a cultured man. But
the fact that he is immoral, or boorish, cannot affect the Sacrament as
such. Certainly a devout
priest will obtain, by his holiness and the fervor of his prayer,
additional grace for those on whose behalf he administers a Sacrament; but
this is a consideration exterior to the essence of the Sacrament itself.
Similarly, two people who intend to get married and go through the
marriage ceremony in proper circumstances, may, if they be frivolous,
obtain little enough actual grace, but they will be truly married, and
have administered to one another the Sacrament.
It is very important even here to distinguish between a valid
Sacrament and a fruitful one.
The intention of the minister
then, no way in which the minister can interfere with the validity of the
rite he accomplishes? Certainly,
but only one–that is, by not “intending” to accomplish a Sacramental
rite at all, even though he goes through the ritual quite scrupulously.
Illustrate this as follows. If
an unbaptized person says to me: I do not intend to become a Christian,
but I wish you would show me how people are baptized.
And if I were to answer: Very well.
I do not intend to baptize you; but were I to do so, this is how I
would do it–and proceeded to pour the water, pronouncing the words.
I did not mean to baptize the person, and the person did not intend
to be baptized; therefore I did not baptize him despite the complete
performance of the ritual. After
all, this is the merest common sense.
In just the same way, if a woman, for example, is forced to go
through a marriage ceremony, and does so, but does not intend that her
submission to the rite should mean a real marriage, married she is not.
Observe what a denial of this would imply.
It would mean that a woman could be married off, willy nilly, like
a head of cattle. All
civilized persons would reject so barbarous a notion.
what sort of intention must the minister have? He must have “the intention of doing what the Church
does.” The Council of
Trent, while defining the intention was necessary, did not settle whether
a purely external intention of doing the rite properly sufficed, or
whether some deeper kind of intention was needed too.
It is at least certain that the minister need not personally
believe that the Church’s doctrine is true: provided he intends to do
what the Church does, whatever that may be, he does do it.
Of course, if the minister intends, positively, to do something
different from what the Church does, he has not the requisite intention: I
mention this, because while the ordaining bishops in the days of the
Protestant revolution in this country would undoubtedly have said that
they meant to do what Christ did when ordaining, and therefore, what his
true Church did, yet they meant definitely not to create
sacrificing-priests in the old sense; therefore they did not create them.
Add to this that by changing the rite they showed that they had not
the slightest intention of making priests in the old sense.
So, owing to this lack of due intention (as well as for other
reasons), the old sort of priest was not made.
The traditional sort of Order was no more given.
Dispositions of the recipient
This leads us
to the final question, How far do the dispositions of the recipient of the
Sacrament affect its work in his soul?
The question was most urgently asked when the Reformers began to
say that nothing save the dispositions of the recipient mattered.
There could be two extremes–one, where the action of the
Sacrament would be described as purely mechanical; carry the rite through,
and then, whatever be your interior dispositions, its effect is produced;
this would be the extreme of “magic”; the other extreme would involve
(as among many of the Reformers it actually did) the assertion that the
minister and the form of administration mattered nothing at all; all that
mattered was the faith of the recipient: this would be complete
subjectivism. Anyhow the
question, so far as Catholic doctrine goes, has already been half answered
above. If the subject to whom
the sacramental rite is administered does not in any sense intend to
receive the Sacrament, he does not receive it.
I say, “in any sense,” because there can be such a thing as a
virtual intention: the recipient may be distracted at the moment and not
think about what he is doing; or (in the case, for example, of Penance and
the Eucharist) the action may have become so customary that he does what
he does without reflecting on the nature of his action at all.
However, were you to interrupt, and ask him what he intends to be
doing, he would answer that he means to be getting absolved, or to be
receiving Communion. He has
therefore a virtual intention, and validly, so far as that is concerned,
receives the Sacrament in question. Even
an habitual intention–an intention once made and never
retracted–suffices for the valid reception of any Sacrament except
Penance and Matrimony, which, by reason of their special nature, require
at least a virtual intention in their recipients.
question of Baptism being given to children is treated of the essay upon
that Sacrament. Enough here
to say that the will of the Church, and in a sense of the parents or
sponsors, creates a social solidarity such that the child, embedded
therein, can be answered for by that will.
Obstacles to grace
But the real
problem arises when a man approaches a Sacrament with such dispositions as
to present an obstacle to grace. Such
obstacle, in the case of the “Sacraments of the Living” (The
Sacraments of the Living are those which presuppose the state of grace in
the recipient–i.e., all the sacraments except Baptism and
Penance, which two are called Sacraments of the Dead), would be conscious
mortal sin; in the case of the “Sacraments of the Dead,” unrepented
mortal sin. The question is
particularly important for those Sacraments which cannot be repeated–i.e.,
Baptism, Confirmation, Order and Matrimony (which cannot be repeated, at
any rate, while the matrimonial bond persists).
If I approach these sacraments with an obstacle to grace, yet
desiring to receive the Sacrament, I am indeed validly baptized,
confirmed, ordained, or married, but, I cannot actually receive grace
(which is the union of the soul with God), since I am all the while
resolving to be disunited from him. What
then happens? Theologians teach that the grace of the Sacrament is produced
in my soul when I remove the obstacle set by my evil will.
Effects of “ex opere operantis”
then mean that the whole of the effects of the Sacraments are achieved
within me if I merely interpose no obstacle of evil will to those effects?
Is grace given wholly “ex opere operato,” as they
say–by means of the work done?
the mere subjecting myself to a certain rite?
By no means. there is
also the effect which comes “ex opere operantis,” which means, through
the effort I myself put into the transaction.
If I approach a Sacrament without an obstacle to grace indeed, yet
dully, Grace will no doubt reach me: but if I approach it with, so to say,
an appetite, Grace will be appropriated and assimilated by me far more
richly. All our Christian
religious life, and our sacramental life most certainly, is in reality
co-operative. The special
feature about Christ’s activity is, that it always comes first–the
very impulse to seek or desire a Sacrament or any other good thing comes
from God before it exists in our own heart; and that it creates, and
creates what is supernatural, whereas our own best efforts, unaided,
cannot create more than what is commensurate to them, that is, what is
natural. I cannot lift myself
up by the hair of my own head.
Sacraments, then, produce an effect such that they cannot be repeated.
They impress upon the soul what is called a “Character,” or
seal. The sacramental “Character” is not grace, but is a
separate effect produced in the soul by the three sacraments of Baptism,
Confirmation, and Order. They
place my soul for ever in a special relation to Christ, and I cannot be
replaced in it. I am for ever
a baptized, confirmed, or ordained person.
Even apostasy cannot alter this fact.
Even though, by my evil will, I prevent the Sacrament from
producing grace within me, yet I cannot prevent it from producing this
“Character,” if I will to receive the Sacrament validly at all.
The theory of the Sacramental Character followed on the Church’s
consistent practice of not re-baptizing, re-confirming, re-ordaining
anyone who had properly been baptized and the rest.
The controversies on this matter concerned, not the principle, but
the concrete question whether so and so had been properly baptized, and
the rest. I think that
further discussion of these points, and of allied speculations, is now
The Sacraments and “magic”
critics of the Catholic Faith and practice are never tired of denouncing
the Sacraments as pieces of “magic.”
It is seen by now how wrong at every point they are.
A magical transaction would be of the following nature.
I repeat a formula, or perform an act, like “Open Sesame!” or,
sticking pins into a wax figure of my enemy, either without knowing why,
or merely because someone whom I consider to know why tells me to.
Automatically, an effect takes place, such as a door opening, or
the sickness of death of my foe. All
I have to do is to carry my part through with mechanical accuracy.
In the use of a Sacrament, first of all, the rite means something:
it is a sign. Further, I use
that rite because Christ, the Son of God, appointed it and told me
to use it. Further, I do so,
not because there are any mechanical consequences attached to it, but
because it is the cause in me of Grace, a purely supernatural thing of
which God alone is the origin and giver.
Again, he who administers to me that rite, does not do so in any
private capacity, nor because he has the key to certain spells or pieces
of esoteric knowledge, but because he acts as the Church’s minister, and
she acts in him, and Christ acts in her.
Finally, whether or no the Sacrament be fruitful in me depends on
my intention and will, wholly or in part.
Hence at no point do a magical transaction and a sacramental
Synopsis of the teaching of the Council of Trent
concluding, it may be of service to summarize the teaching of the Council
of Trent, our classical source of information, upon the Sacraments in
general. That Council
denounces those who should say that the Sacraments of the New Law were
not, all of them, instituted by Christ, or, that they are more, or fewer,
than the seven often enumerated above.
That any of these is not a true and proper Sacrament.
That these Christian Sacraments differ in no way from Old Testament
Sacraments save in their ceremonial.
(Observe, that this implies that there were Sacraments under the
Old Law, but that they were different from ours.
The main differences are, that the Old Testament Sacraments were
indeed Signs instituted by God, but that they looked forward to and
promised the Grace of Christ, yet did not impart it: in so far as they
were efficacious signs, they effected not a moral, but a legal and ritual
purity.) The Council proceeds
to denounce anyone who says that the Seven Sacraments are all of them on
an equal footing, so that none is in any way nobler than another (clearly,
Baptism, an absolutely necessary Sacrament, is on a different footing from
Marriage or Ordination, since no one is obliged to get married or
ordained). That the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for
salvation, but superfluous, and that without them or the desire of them a
man obtains the grace of justification from God by means of faith alone.
Not, the Council adds, that all the Sacraments are necessary for
each and every man. The
allusion to the “desire” for a Sacrament alludes primarily to
“baptism by desire,” which is explained in the essay on Baptism:
briefly, it means that if a man does not know of Baptism, he can (by means
of an act of perfect charity, that is, of love of God for his own sake,
and of detestation of sin for his sake, with the implied readiness to do
all that God might command him, if he knew it) obtain grace and salvation.
Similarly, if he knows of Baptism, and wishes for it, and cannot
obtain, e.g. anyone to baptize him, or water, he can cleanse his
soul from sin, as I have just explained.
The “faith” alluded to by the Council means faith as
Protestants conceived of it, i.e. trust.
The Council further denounces one who should say that Sacraments
exist only in order to nourish faith in the recipient.
That they do not contain the Grace that they signify, or do not
confer that grace upon those who interpose no obstacle, as though they
were merely external signs of grace or justice, received by means of
faith, or were mere marks, as it were, of the Christian profession,
whereby believers might be distinguished from unbelievers. Or that Grace is not always given, and to all, so far as
God’s action goes, even if the Sacrament be duly received; but only
sometimes, and to certain persons. (This
regards the false Protestant doctrines of predestination, according to
which God so predetermines certain souls to hell, that no matter what they
desire and do, they are not given Grace.)
Or that Grace is not given through the Christian Sacraments “ex
opere operato,” but that sheer trust in the divine promise suffices for
the obtaining of Grace. That
the three Sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, Order, do not impress a
“character” on the soul, that is, a spiritual and indelible sign, so
that these three Sacraments cannot be reiterated.
Or that all Christians have power to celebrate and administer all
the Sacraments. That the intention at least of doing what the Church does is
not required in the ministers when they celebrate and impart the
Sacraments. That a sinful
minister, who observes all the essential elements in the celebration or
imparting of a sacrament, yet does not celebrate or impart it at all.
Finally, that the traditional Catholic rites, wherewith the
Sacraments are surrounded, can be despised, omitted, or altered at the
whim of any and every pastor.
As for the
errors of Modernism, condemned by Pius X, which concern the Sacraments, I
have sufficiently indicated their general character. Those which touch upon the nature of Sacraments at large are,
that the opinions concerning the origin of Sacraments, entertained by the
Fathers of the Council of Trent and doubtless coloring their dogmatic
decisions, are very different from those which are now rightly admitted by
those who study the history of Christianity.
That the Sacraments took their rise from the Apostles and their
successors who interpreted some idea or intention of Christ according to
the suggestion or impulse of circumstances.
That the aim of Sacraments is merely to recall to men’s minds the
ever-beneficent presence of the Creator.
doctrines fly in the face of the traditional Catholic dogma concerning the
Sacraments must by now be clear.
eyes back, then, to those brief records of the life of Christ that the
four Gospels are, we see that the Eternal Son of God was sent to redeem
our race, and to elevate it to an unthinkably lofty state of union with
its God, and was sent to do all this as Man, and by means of his manhood.
We see that no thing that was in man did he despise: no human
element did he fail to make his own.
He did not, if I dare say so, just verify in himself the definition
of “man,” but in every way he lived as man in this our world of human
men and women and of all material things.
In his teaching he constantly helped himself, and his hearers, by
using the things he saw around him for the conveying of his doctrine; and
submitted himself not only to the rich and meaningful ritual of the Law,
and was circumcised, and went to the Temple feasts, and observed the
Pasch, and so forth, but spontaneously, for his own reasons, sought for
and carried through an action that in his case seems to us almost
uncalled-for. He was baptized
by John. Thus Christ our Lord
was human, and lived as man among men, and used all simple and human
things during his life, and caught them up into his own spiritual life,
and wove them into his teaching.
Hence we are
not surprised to find him saying that we too, his disciples, are to be
dipped in water; salvation is to come, not just to him who “believes,”
but to him who believes and is baptized.
If we are surprised at anything herein, it is at the sudden
increase of solemnity that invests his words when this topic of baptism
arises. When after his resurrection he send forth his Apostles to
that world-wide, world-enduring work that he came to inaugurate, he bids
them not only to baptize, but to do so in a manner that involves the
invocation of the whole of the Most Blessed Trinity–the Father, the Son,
and the Spirit, are all knit into this tremendous act; and into it, you
would say, all that is, is taken up–man’s new birth, that transforms
him from being child of earth into son of God, takes place by means of
“water and the Spirit,” the two in conjunction and co-operation: the
new World of Grace is definitely seen in mysterious parallel with that
first creation, when the Spirit of God was borne over the face of the
watery abyss and earth took shape and the world grew into life.
this, at the most solemn hour of all, when he was about to leave the house
where for the last time before his Passion he had eaten with the men he
loved and chose, he orders them to do what he has just done–to take
bread, to bless and break it–to take win, and to bless it–and then to
partake in what has been blessed, because it is his Body and His
Blood–Himself. What should
be the consequences of entering thus into himself, and receiving himself
into us, if not the living by an intertwined life, his and ours?
We become “one thing” with him, even as he with the Father is
“One Thing.” And if
indeed it be true that without the New Birth by water and the Spirit, we
cannot be said to live at all from the Christian point of view, so, in his
words in the synagogue of Capharnaum, he insists and re-insists that
without this eating of his Flesh and drinking of his Blood, we cannot
maintain that new life, still less develop it and bring it to its
another moment of exceptional solemnity–when, breathing on his Apostles,
he tells them that they now possess the Holy Ghost, and adds that the sins
they remit, are remitted, and the sins that they retain, are likewise
doubtless, he definitely wishes his Apostles to give a special, healing,
Christian care to the sick; and certainly he insists that the old
permission for divorce, dating from Moses, was now to be regarded as over
and done with, and indeed become impossible, for it is God, he says, that
joins the hands and lives of those who marry.
then, by solemn declarations, sometimes by gentle hints and suggestions,
amplified, it may be, in unrecorded parts of his instruction during those
Forty Days after his resurrection when he must have fulfilled his
intention of telling them the “many things” that earlier they “could
not bear,” or, perhaps, left just as hints to men whom his Spirit was
going to guide into using even his hints aright–well, by grave
asseverations, or by quiet suggestion, he prepared the Apostles for their
work, and started them off on that career which was to be theirs, and
which was to continue itself in all the Church’s history.
comes: the Spirit is given, and the Apostolic Age of the Church’s
history begins. From the
outset we see that there is one Gate into that Church–Baptism.
“Here is water! What
hinders me from being baptized?” asks the convert officer. Without the slightest question, Baptism follows upon
conversion. This mighty
action is installed upon the very highest plane: there is One Baptism just
as there are one Faith, one Lord, one God.
Into the baptismal laver we descend, just the men to whom our
mothers gave life: we come forth therefrom, a New Creation, new-born,
Christ-men: our lives are hid in Christ, and in us, Christ lives.
And forthwith after Baptism we see the Apostles again without
discussion “laying hands” upon the new Christian, and at once the Holy
Ghost is given; and similarly, when men are set apart for the Christian
ministry, hands are laid upon them, the Holy Ghost descends, and a
permanent gift exists within the man by means of this imposition of hands,
so that it can be invoked, and stimulated by the will of him who has
received it, for it is always there.
too, is declared by Paul to be a mighty “mystery,” or symbol:
henceforward it is not to be thought of save in terms of Christ and of his
Church, between whom Grace has achieved an ineffable espousal; and James,
manifestly familiar and authoritative, bids the sick to be anointed so
that sins be forgiven them, and they be saved.
And even in life, men can be (as St. Paul’s action with regard to
the incestuous Corinthian proves) cut off from the body of the Church,
handed over to Satan, and thereafter, on the Apostle’s own terms,
with paramount dignity, the Breaking of Bread is established among
Christians, and Paul leaves us in no doubt as to its meaning.
It involves a real participation in the life and sacrifice of
Christ, such that the soul, that shares in that Feast unworthily, becomes
guilty in regard of the Body and Blood of Christ himself, and sickens to
its death. The Eucharist is,
in a unique sense, what it signifies.
passed: the Christians of the Early Church continued happily–heaven-wise
happily in their human-wise tragic conditions–living their Christian
life; living in company with Christ, and experiencing his presence,
experiencing too those overwhelming gifts of the Spirit that were so
necessary in days when there was no other accumulated experience such as
we have, of what Christianity means and can do for men; and using in all
simplicity the practices that they had been taught to use.
For a while there was little enough speculation, though even from
the outset they began to draw conclusions–sometimes exaggerated and
mistaken ones, as when it seems pretty clear that some of St. Paul’s
converts were so impressed by the “life” which they had understood was
given by Baptism, that they were surprised and almost shocked when a
convert died so much as physically, and anyway, felt sure that there must
be some method baptizing, by proxy, those who had already died but would,
they felt certain, have wished for baptism had they lived.
Others soon enough were to surmise that Communion–that
“medicine that makes immortal”–must confer even bodily incorruption;
and others, again, began to wonder whether the Holy Ghost did not somehow
actually take up his dwelling in the baptismal water, and whether the
reality in that water were not somehow similar to that veiled beneath the
Eucharistic Bread. It will be
noticed that all the mistakes lie on the side of reality, not of
understatement, so very far were they from imagining that the Sacraments
were mere ways of suggesting pious thoughts, of evoking faith, and so
forth, or that the virtue of the Sacrament was wholly in the well-disposed
the two all-important Sacrament, Baptism and Eucharist, the necessary
ingress into the Christian Life, and the unutterably precious “daily
bread” of the living soul, were what immediately and outstandingly
occupied the minds of those who had after all, constantly to make use of
the latter when once they had made the vitally necessary use of the
former. Naturally, too, I suppose, it was in the Latin half of the
Empire–Africa, at any rate–that attention was first notably given to
the Sacrament of Penance–that rectification of violated Law.
The Romans always understood Law better than the Greeks did; and
the lawyer Tertullian, the first Christian thinker who wrote in Latin,
began according to his temperament to think this topic out.
Doubtless that same temperament, hard and even ferocious at times,
caused him to err in his views of the merciful Sacrament: still, he
rendered great services to those who were, more accurately, to follow him.
At first it may seem strange that along with Penance, Confirmation
claimed his more close attention. Yet
not strange; for Tertullian, personally, and like all good Roman men, was
a soldier, and in the vigorous Sacrament he detected something he
harmonized with his idea of what a Christian, militant in his antagonistic
world, ought to be.
later, another African, Cyprian, again rendered great service to the
better elucidation of the Sacraments of Baptism and of Order, because the
tendency of his compatriots to split off into a mere nationalist church,
forced his attention to all that concerned unity and schism; and so
passionate was his abhorrence of the latter, that inevitably he tended to
deny to heretics and schismatics powers that they actually possessed, or
could possess, those, that is, of ordaining and baptizing.
Here then the question of who was the due minister of these or of
other Sacraments began to get aired, and again, of Intention; and again,
the fact of the non-repetition of Baptism, Confirmation, and Order, if
once it could be shown that they had been properly conferred, struck out
the clear notion of the sacramental Character or Seal; while the deaths of
unbaptized martyrs brought into the open the idea of baptism of blood, and
by desire. Even the
tremendous importance seen to belong to the Blessing given by the minister
of a Sacrament, to the material element used in it, made a remote
preparation for that theory of “matter and form” in Sacraments that
was to have so great a historical importance later on.
by little the thing that Christians had always possessed and serenely made
use of, came to be better understood, more clearly described and defined,
shielded against abuse, linked up with other parts of the Christian Faith
and practice, and to take its place within that mighty system of Theology
that the ages are still bringing towards perfection.
figure of St. Augustine dominated the imagination of the centuries that
succeeded him: he did not complete the theology of the Sacraments; but
scattered up and down his works may be found practically all the elements
that were to compose it. It
was he, perhaps, that brought into prominence the action of Christ himself
in the several Sacraments, and who developed the notion of Character, and
again, of that revival of Grace of which we spoke, when an obstacle placed
by the human will in the way of the fruitful effects of a validly
administered Sacrament was at last removed.
This cleared up most usefully the problem which confronted those
who observed that heretics of a manifestly rebellious sort were ordaining
priests, who themselves continued rebellious and ill-disposed.
They had felt it was all or nothing–either these ordinations were
valid, and then it looked as if a contumacious rebel could confer grace
upon another contumacious rebel; or, that the ordination was not valid at
all, and must be repeated when the heretic was converted.
In its measure this problem had affected Confirmation too and even
Baptism. However, the
explanation that a Sacrament could indeed be valid and therefore produce
the Character, although grace was excluded so long as the obstacle
remained (There are theologians who suggest that all the Sacraments
give grace that revives when an obstacle, set by sinful will, is removed),
solved the difficulty, which returned however, when in the bad centuries
of Europe the reformation of incontinent clergy which had obtained its
ecclesiastical position by simony had to be thought of.
The practical question of whether these men had to be re-ordained
when they repented could be solved along Augustinian lines without much
As I said,
the theology of St. Augustine contained in itself practically all the
elements of a complete treatise upon the Sacraments. Not much was left to do but to co-ordinate them.
When therefore all the elements which compose a Sacrament in the
strict sense were set before the eyes, it was easily enough seen that
seven rites, and no more nor less, contained them all.
Hence we are not to be surprised when we find that a writer so far
forward in the Church’s history as Peter Lombard (c. 1150) was
the first definitely to catalogue the Sacraments as Seven.
Other rites were seen to approximate to them, and to contain some
but not all of the requisite elements, and could be called with greater or
less accuracy Sacramentals, but not Sacraments.
I think it
may safely be said that after the Middle Ages little more that was
constructive in sacramental theology was done.
Certain points were cleared up–the distinction between the opus
operatum and the opus operantis was made explicit; the kind of
causality brought into play when a Sacrament was described as
“causing” Grace was thought out, and so forth.
Since then what has really happened has been that the history of
the several Sacraments has been far more closely studied, and the Catholic
theory has been defended against attacks far more vigorous and definite
than the old ones were. For
of course the religious revolution of the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, with its claim to reinstate Christ in the position from which
the cultus of Saints, ritual, sacerdotalism, the Papal authority, and so
forth were said to have dislodged him, did all that it could to discredit
the Catholic doctrine with regard to Sacraments in particular.
If you had to find one word in which to crystallize the Catholic
sacramental tradition, I think it would be “Efficacy.”
The Sacraments are, as we see, efficacious of themselves.
It was this that the Reformers attacked.
A Sacrament was an absolutely inert thing.
They could not eliminate all the Sacraments (as a matter of fact,
the Quakers did, as the Salvation Army today also does), but they got rid
of five out of the seven, and then stripped the two that remained of any
intrinsic value or force. The
whole “work” was done by the recipient.
He arrived with that trust in God to which the word “faith” was
attached, and on the grounds of that faith, good was accomplished within
him. At least this much
credit has to be given to the Reformers–they believed in certain
fundamental things, such as sin and grace, forgiveness and salvation, to
which modern creeds pay practically no attention at all.
None the less, teh Reformation was the immediate ancestor of that
skepticism which today pervades almost everything religious, and has
succeeded in making modern non-Catholics forget, above all, anything
connected with the dogma of the Supernatural as such.
But, as we saw, the Sacraments have no meaning save on the
well be grateful for the institution by our Lord Jesus Christ of those
Seven Sacraments that we have been speaking of. We have had once or twice to look aside from the Catholic
doctrine to those alien systems, or that alien chaos, that confronts all
that we mean by the Sacramental System.
We can afford to smile when non-Catholics talk of “meaningless”
or “magical” rites, and we need not retort with gibes of
“subjectivism,” for not only are all gibes, directed even to the most
mistaken of honest and sincere men, out of place, but they have
practically come to be off the point, for, save among Catholics, there is
today very little theory about Sacraments at all, and less and less use of
them or of their substitutes.
this doctrine carries us back to the love of God for man.
Why, unless God had loved us, should he have willed so much as to
offer us the gift of Supernatural Life, and why, save again because he
loved us, should he have willed to restore to us that life, once our race
had lost it through sin? Well,
he did decree to restore us to the place from which the race, in Adam, had
fallen; and that restoration was not to be done as it were in some
technical way, as though, for example, God taught us just how to make a
“good act of contrition,” and thereupon pronounced us once again his
sons. The redemption and
restoration of mankind was to be done through God’s eternal Son taking
our human flesh so as to knit up our nature with his divine nature into
one person, Jesus Christ. This
torrential invasion of God’s love makes any sacramental doctrine we may
proceed to tell of quite “natural,” since never can the Sacraments
catch up, in their tender intimacy, with that tremendous and total
approach of God in human guise. Or
is there a way in which one of them, at least, so catches up?
I suggest it in a moment. At
any rate, God has entered our world as man, and in a sense Christ himself
can be called the Supreme Sacrament, since his humanity veils, yet is the
vehicle of, his invisible divinity, and through that Humanity the eternal
God energizes and does his work in our souls if we but make use of him.
all, Jesus Christ our Lord no longer treads this earth.
He has left it, and “sits ever at the right hand of the
Father.” Yet would he not
leave us desolate and without himself.
In that visible-invisible Society which the Church is, he continues
himself, and in the Church lives and teaches and rules and gives life to
Church, like her Head, has never preached some chill doctrine of the
salvation of our souls such that we must think that our bodies are of no
interest or value. We are and
ever hereafter shall be true men, body-soul, however much our bodies shall
be perfected and exalted by glory. And
in many ways, though in seven chief and special ways, Grace, that is the
germ of glory, reaches us, and all of these ways most mercifully take into
account our bodies as well as our souls. Simple
elements are taken up by Christ, and are made the visible part in those
transactions through which we appropriate salvation.
For ever, henceforward, Water must be regarded by us with awe and
affection, since Christ has used it in his Sacrament of Baptism.
Drowning and barren water has become that which washes from us all
spiritual stain, and that from which we ascend, new-born sons, to God.
He takes that ancient gift of Oil, in which our forefathers saw so
many hints of the richness and grace of God, and anoints and consecrates
us by its means–anoints our youth, that it may be strong for God and
joyous in God; anoints the men who are to be priests, the royal priests,
of God Most High; anoints too those wick who stand in such special need of
consolation and spiritual power. Is
there not a quite special tenderness in the fact that the Sacrament of
Marriage takes–not, this time, some non-human element, but the human
action and will of two human beings who should love one another and who
desire to join in building up that true vital cell of the full human life,
which a home is? The contract
that these two freely enter upon is the very stuff of God’s Sacrament;
and, again a special delicacy of his goodness, it is these same two, the
man and the woman, who are ministers of this Sacrament, and give to one
another the Grace of Christ. For
my part, I cannot but see once more in the Sacrament of Penance a great
revelation of the gentle “homeliness” of our Lord, since here too he
refrains from introducing some alien material on to which the divine
forgiveness may descend and in which it may operate.
Here too the material element in the Sacrament consists in human
acts–in the acts of that very penitent who might be thinking that he was
not so much as worthy to enter into the house of his Father, nor lift up
his head in the presence of his offended God.
No. God calls him to
his side, bids him confess his sins, and then uses the acts of contrition
and resolution, as of confession, nay, uses the very sins themselves that
the penitent has spread forth before him as that wherein his healing Grace
But it is the
Eucharist beyond which the inventiveness of God’s humble love could not
proceed. God takes, once
more, the simple elements of Bread and Wine, and, this time, not only
becomes as it were their partner in the sacramental work, but, leaving
only their appearance for the sake of our poor senses, transubstantiates
their reality into his most real Self, so that the Gift here is the Giver;
the means have become the End. We
are given, not a memory, not a hope; not a metaphor, not an instrument,
We shall then
be wise to practice living as it were upon this Sacramental
principle. We shall seek ever
too look below the surface. We
shall see in all nature traces of God’s presence and of his power. We shall reverently anticipate, as it were, the Church, by
creating “sacramentals” for our own use, by seeking to see God in all
things, and above all in our fellow-men, by worshipping him there–for
there indeed and of necessity he is–and by drawing thence his reward,
which is grace, love, and truth. But
this is matter for our private devotion; and though we are wise to keep
that devotion in the framework, so to say, of the Church’s sanctioned
ideas, yet we shall be wisest of all to recall continually those great
Sacraments that we have received and can receive no more–Baptism, that
opened every grace to us: Confirmation, that established in us that
Christian Character owing to which we can call on the Indwelling Spirit,
as by right, to succour us: and above all we shall be wise and acting
rightly if we make the maximum of use of the two great Sacraments of
Penance and of the Eucharist, wherefrom we draw sure and certain healing
if we are sick, even if we are spiritually sick to death, and increase of
soul’s health and strength if, as God grant, there be life in our souls
and sin be absent from them.
shall pray for those who know nothing of these Sacraments: we shall pray
that all men and women now alive may make those acts of faith and
contrition upon which all the rest of the spiritual life is built (for
they involve, too, charity), and we shall ask that as many as possible may
pass from the realm of desire and what is but implicit, to the full,
conscious, deliberate and most joyous appropriation of all the riches of
C. C. Martindale, S.J.