(These topics are largely from Chapter 16 in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001
The Greek word mysterion in the New Testament refers to the saving work of God
Augustine (354-430) first tried to defined what a sacrament is. Three requirements:
Augustine's definition was later felt to be too broad. He considered the Lord's Prayer and the Creed, for example, to be sacraments, "signs of the sacred"
Hugh of St. Victor (Paris theologian, 1096-1141) refined Augustine's requirements and added an additional requirement
During the time of Hugh of St. Victor, the requirement for efficacy has a special significance in distinguishing between "Sacraments of the Old Covenant" versus "Sacraments of the New Covenant:"
Problems with the definition of Hugh of St. Victor:
Peter Lombard (1100-1160) was called the "Master of the Sentences." His textbook The Four Books of the Sentences became definitive beginning theology textbook for the next 350 years. Peter slightly modified the four requirements of Hugh of St. Victor:
Peter then showed that only 7 "sacraments" met these requirements
Martin Luther (1483-1546) narrowed the definition of a Sacrament, emphasizing the need for a physical or material element, its efficacy to forgive sins, and its institution of by Jesus.
Or more succinctly: a physical sign instituted by Jesus with the power to forgive sins
Only 2 of the 7 Catholic sacraments met this strict definition:
Ulrich Zwingli (1481-1531, Swiss Reformer) said a sacrament (he accepted Luther's two, Baptism and the Eucharist) is a sign instituted by Jesus, which signifies the commitment and loyalty of the believer. He denied that a sacrament had efficacy -- that is, that they bestowed grace or the forgiveness of sins.
2.1.1. The Diocletian Persecution
Roman emperor Diocletian (b. 284, d. 313) issued Edict of February 303:
This persecution of Christians ended with conversion of Emperor Constantine (b. 280, d. 337) and Edict of Milan 313
Church leaders who had turned over their books to be burned were called traditores "those who handed over" [their books]
Felix of Aptunga was a traditor who later consecrated Caecilian as Bishop of Carthage, North Africa in 311
Donatists in North Africa (leader was Donatus) argued:
The Donatists formed a separate church. Sociological issues complicated the theology:
By 388, when Augustine returned to North Africa from Rome, the Donatist Church was larger than the Catholic Church
The Donatist and Augustine, arguing for the Catholics, had very different view on how the validity of a sacrament depended on the purity of the minister giving the sacrament.
The Catholic position became the dogma for the Church to the present.
Nothing more is accomplished by a good priest and nothing less by a wicked priest, because is it accomplished by the word of the creator and not the merit of the priest. Thus the wickedness of the priest does not nullify the effect of the sacrament, just as the sickness of a doctor does not destroy the power of his medicine. Although the "doing of the thing (opus operans)" may be unclear, nevertheless, the "thing which is done (opus operatum)" is always clean
- Pope Innocent III (1160-1216)
Article 25, Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer (p. 873):
On the Sacraments:
". . . Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their [a minister's] wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men."
The role or function of sacraments (not mutually exclusive)
The ability to bestow grace (the efficacy of a sacrament) was part of the definition of a sacraments until the Reformation, when some Reformers (Zwingli) disputed whether a sacrament bestowed grace
Medieval theologians debated not whether the sacraments somehow conveyed or bestowed grace, but whether they:
An example of this second view is seen in the quote:
When Peter Lombard states that the sacraments effect what they signify, this must not be understood to mean that the sacraments themselves cause grace, in the strict sense of the world. Rather, God effects grace at the presence of the sacraments
- Peter of Aquila
The Protestant Reformers emphasized that sacraments strengthen faith and reassure us of God's promises. In particular, there was a sense that God had given us the signs of the sacraments as a gracious gift because of the weakness of our faith:
The function of the sacraments to strengthen faith and reassure us of the God's promises is also emphasized in Post Vatican II Catholicism, where sacraments said to sustain and nourish both:
Because [sacraments] are signs, they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen and express it. That is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed confer grace, but in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace to their profit, to worship God duly, and to practice charity.
- Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, p.20.
In no religion, whether true or false, can people be held together in association, unless they are gathered together with some common share in some visible signs or sacraments.
-Augustine of Hippo
The role of sacraments as enhancing unity and commitment was greatly emphasized by the Protestant reformers. For some of them, such as Ulrich Zwingli, this was the primary, if not the only purpose of a sacrament:
Ulrich Zwingli (Swiss Reformer):
4. The Eucharist: The Question of the Real Presence
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
- Matthew 26:26-28 (NRSV)
What does "this is my body" really mean?
The Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem show a clear belief in the "real presence" in the fourth century
[Jesus Christ] by his own will once changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee. So why should we not believe that he can change wine into blood?. . . We should therefore have full assurance that we are sharing in the body and blood of Christ. For in the type of bread, his body is given to you, and in the type of wine, his blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the body and blood of Christ you may become of one body and one blood with him.
- Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures given to those preparing for baptism, 350 A.D.
John of Damascus in the early 8th century affirms the real presence, and suggests we must consider it a mystery, something beyond our understanding:
And now you ask how the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine and the water become the blood of Christ. I shall tell you. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and achieves things which surpass every word and thought... Let it be enough for you to understand that this takes place by the Holy Spirit.
- John of Damascus, (665-749)
Theories on the Real Presence:
Fourth Lateran Council 1215 gave the first doctrinal explanation of the meaning of the "real presence:" Transubstantiation.
Transsignification and Transfinalization were theories developed by group of Belgian Roman Catholic theologians in 1960's, most prominently Edward Schillebeeckx
They are both based on the idea that the identity of an object cannot be isolated from the object's
The official view of the Roman Catholic Church affirms these theories only if transubstantiation is also accepted:
As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new signification and a new finality, for they are no longer ordinary bread and wine but instead a sign of something sacred and a sign of spiritual food. Yet they take on this new signification, this new finality, precisely because they contain a new "reality." ... For what now lies beneath the aforementioned species [that is, what is now the new substance of the elements] is not what was there before, but something completely different... namely the body and blood of Christ.
- Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, 1965
Consubstantiation is the name given to Luther's view, and is the official doctrine of the Lutheran church today.
Analogy (taken from Origen, 185-254)
Zwingli argued there was no real presence, and the Eucharist is symbolic of Christ:
There are passages in the New Testament which can be interpreted as condoning infant baptism:
There are also likely pressures for infant baptism in the early church:
Whatever the reason, Infant baptism had become normal by the second or third century
There has remained unease however over the theological basis and the importance of the need for infant baptism in some mainstream Christian denominations.
Karl Barth (1886-1968, Reformed theologian), for example, wrote that baptism:
There are three major views in Christian thinking about the need for infant baptism:
"Original Sin": is the "disease," "bondage," "guilt" that explains why, if human beings were created by a good God, they:
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (~200-258) wrote that the grace imparted by baptism provides:
Augustine (354-430) further taught that:
Peter Lombard (1100-1160) tried to mitigate the harsh consequence of the Doctrine of "Original Guilt" for unbaptized infants by suggested to go to a "limbo" state where they receive the "penalty of being condemned" but not "the penalty of the senses" (the experience of the physical pain of hell)
Ulrich Zwingli (1481-1531, Swiss Reformer)
Ulrich Zwingli however believed in the importance of infant baptism and justified it as the outward sign of membership in the People of God, the "successor" to circumcision in the Old Covenant
Functioning in this way, he wrote that infant baptism illustrated the more inclusive and gentle character of Christianity:
The radical reformers, and the later Baptist church in England in the 17th century, rejected infant baptism.
Benajah Harvey Carroll (1843-1914), leading Southern Baptist in Texas, listed four requirements for a valid Baptism:
"The Doctrine of the Sacraments," Chapter 16 in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001