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A sacrament, as defined in Hexam's Concise Dictionary of Religion is what Roman Catholics believe to be "a rite in which God is uniquely active." Augustine of Hippo defined a Christian sacrament as "a visible sign of an invisible reality." The Anglican Book of Common Prayer speaks of them as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace." Examples of sacraments would be Baptism and the Eucharist."[1] Therefore a sacrament is a religious symbol or often a rite which conveys divine grace, blessing, or sanctity upon the believer who participates in it, or a tangible symbol which represents an intangible reality. As defined above, an example would be baptism in water, representing (and conveying) the grace of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Forgiveness of Sins, and membership into the Church. Anointing with holy anointing oil is another example which is often synonymous with receiving the Holy Spirit and salvation. Another way of looking at Sacraments is that they are an external and physical sign of the conferral of Sanctifying Grace.[2]

Throughout the Christian faith views concerning which rites are sacramental, that is conferring sanctifying grace, and what it means for an external act to be sacramental vary widely. Other religious traditions also have what might be called "sacraments" in a sense, though not necessarily according to the Christian meaning of the term.


General definitions and terms

The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. –Augsburg Confession[3]

In the majority of Western Christianity, the generally accepted definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign that conveys spiritual grace through Christ. Christian churches, denominations, and sects are divided regarding the number and operation of the sacraments. Sacraments are generally held to have been instituted by Jesus Christ, although in some cases this point is debated. They are usually administered by the clergy to a recipient or recipients, and are generally understood to involve visible and invisible components. The invisible component (manifested inwardly) is understood to be brought about by the action of the Holy Spirit, God's grace working in the sacrament's participants, while the visible (or outward) component entails the use of such things as water, oil, and bread and wine that is blessed or consecrated; the laying-on-of-hands; or a particularly significant covenant that is marked by a public benediction (such as with marriage or absolution of sin in the reconciliation of a penitent).

As defined by the Roman Catholic Church, recognised by the Eastern Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox, (though these two do not categorically define the number), and Independent Catholic and Old Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Churches (Eastern and Oriental) typically do not limit the number of sacraments, viewing all encounters with reality in life as sacramental in some sense, and their acknowledgement of the number of sacraments at seven as an innovation of convenience not found in the Church Fathers. It came into use, although infrequently, later on from later encounters with the West and its Sacramental Theology.[4] Other denominations and traditions, both in eastern and western Christianity may affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, these include many of the Protestant denominations and some of the Old Believers in the Orthodox communion, some of whom reject all sacraments except Baptism.

Some post-Reformation denominations (including Protestants and other Christian denominations who reject that label) do not maintain a sacramental theology, although they may practice the rites themselves. These rites may be variously labelled "traditions" or – in the case of Baptism and the Eucharist ("the Lord's Supper") – "ordinances," since they are seen as having been ordained by Christ to be permanently observed by the church. Protestant denominations, both sacramental and non-sacramental, almost invariably affirm only these two as sacraments, traditions, or ordinances; although they may also practice some or all of the other traditional sacraments as well whilst not acknowledging the action of divine grace in the external form.

Catholic teaching


The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden, ca. 1448.

The following are the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church:[5]

Traditionally the Catholic Church defined sacraments as "An outward sign of inward grace, a sacred and mysterious sign or ceremony, ordained by Christ, by which grace is conveyed to our souls."[6] Regarding the validity of the sacraments, however, The Catholic church teaches that:

All sacraments must have proper matter, form, and intention. The form is the sacramental sign, the verbal and physical liturgical action, e.g. the "this is my body" spoken during communion. The matter is the part of the sacrament to which something is done, the physical objects, e.g. the waters of baptism (although not all physical objects used in administering a sacrament are considered essential matter). Intention means that the priest or minister must have the willful intention to do what the Church does (facere quod facit ecclesia). Note that a minister does not have to believe personally all that the Church believes for the sacraments to be valid; he simply has to intend to do what the Church does. This means that if a person pours water over your head, reciting the words spoken at baptism, but is doing so only to demonstrate how to baptize, that baptism is not valid. Also, a child who is pretending to baptize another child would not confer a valid baptism upon that child, because his intention is to play, not to baptize. The importance of intention also shows that while the sacraments are effectual in and of themselves, they are not magic whereby God works against our will.

Sacraments are effective ex opere operato, i.e. effective on account of the work itself. As expressed by professors of sacred theology, the phrase conveys the fact that the sacrament signifies what it accomplishes, and it accomplishes by signifying. During the 4th century some otherwise orthodox Christians asserted that the effectiveness of the sacraments depended on the holiness of the minister. In other words, if the presbyter baptizing was in a state of sin, his baptisms didn't "take." These Christians eventually broke off from the wider Catholic Church, and were called "Donatists." The Donatists, situated primarily in North Africa, asserted that bishops consecrated by sinful bishops weren't really bishops at all. St. Augustine and others spilled a lot of ink to refute this position regarding sacraments, which is characterized in the Latin as ex opere operantis, i.e. sacraments are effective on account of the one doing the work. While the Church calls her priests (and all Christians) to high standards of holiness, the sacraments are effective independent of a minister's holiness because a perfect God is ultimately providing the sacramental grace, not the imperfect human minister.[7]

Eastern and Oriental Orthodox teaching

See also: Eastern Orthodoxy — Mysteries

The seven sacraments are also accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy, but these traditions do not limit the number of sacraments to seven, holding that anything the Church does as Church is in some sense sacramental. Some lists of the sacraments taken from the Church Fathers include the Consecration of a Church, Monastic Tonsure, and the Burial of the Dead.[8] More specifically, for the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christian the term sacrament is a term which seeks to classify something that may, according to Orthodox thought, be impossible to classify. The Orthodox communion's preferred term is Sacred Mystery. While the Catholic Church has attempted to dogmatically define the sacraments, and discover the precise moment when the act results in the manifestation of the grace of God, the Orthodox communion has refrained from attempting to determine absolutely the exact form, number and effect of the sacraments, accepting that simply that these elements are unknowable to all except God. According to Orthodox thinking God touches mankind through material means such as water, wine, bread, oil, incense, candles, altars, icons, etc. How God does this is a mystery. On a broad level, the mysteries are an affirmation of the goodness of created matter, and are an emphatic declaration of what that matter was originally created to be.

Despite this broad view, Orthodox divines do write about there being seven "principal" mysteries. On a specific level, while not systematically limiting the mysteries to seven, the most profound Mystery is the Eucharist or Synaxis, in which the partakers, by participation in the liturgy and receiving the consecrated bread and wine (understood to have become the body and blood of Christ itself) directly communicate with God. In this sense, there is no substantial difference from the practice of other churches of the Catholic patrimony.[9] The emphasis on mystery is, however, characteristic of Orthodox theology, and is often called apophatic, meaning that any and all positive statements about God and other theological matters must be balanced by negative statements. For example, while it is correct and appropriate to say that "God exists", or even that "God is the only Being which truly exists", such statements must be understood to also convey the idea that God transcends what is usually meant by the term "to exist."[citation needed]

Anglican teaching

As befits its prevailing self-identity as a via media or "middle path" of Western Christianity, Anglican sacramental theology expresses elements in keeping with its status as a church in the Catholic tradition, and a church of the Reformation. With respect to sacramental theology, that Catholic heritage is perhaps most strongly asserted in the importance Anglicanism places on the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification, and salvation as expressed in the church's liturgy. Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians participating in an Anglican/Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission declared that they had "reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the Eucharist".[10]

Anglicans recognise the seven sacraments, however, two of them — Baptism and the Holy Eucharist — are seen as having been ordained by Christ ("sacraments of the Gospel," as Article XXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles describes them). In this sense, Baptism and Eucharist are the "precepted, primary, and principal sacraments ordained for our salvation.[citation needed]" and the other five sacraments are lesser, deriving their efficacy from the former.

In the Anglican tradition, the sacerdotal function is assigned to clergy in the three orders of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. Anglicans hold to the principle of ex opere operato with respect to the efficacy of the sacraments vis-a-vis the presider and his or her administration thereof. Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles (entitled Of the unworthiness of ministers which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament) states that the "ministration of the Word and Sacraments" is not done in the name of the one performing the sacerdotal function, "neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness," since the sacraments have their effect "because of Christ's intention and promise, although they be ministered by evil men."

Luther's Seal
 Lutheranism portal

Lutheran teaching

Lutherans hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution.[11] Whenever they are properly administered by the use of the physical component commanded by God[12] along with the divine words of institution,[13] God is, in a way specific to each sacrament, present with the Word and physical component.[14] He earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament[15] forgiveness of sins[16] and eternal salvation.[17] He also works in the recipients to get them to accept these blessings and to increase the assurance of their possession.[18]

Martin Luther defined a sacrament as an act or rite:

  1. instituted by God;
  2. in which God Himself has joined His Word of promise to the visible element;
  3. and by which He offers, gives and seals the forgiveness of sin earned by Christ.[19]

This strict definition narrowed the number of sacraments down to two or three: Holy Baptism, the Eucharist, and for some, Holy Absolution, with the other four rites eliminated for not having a visible element or the ability to forgive sin. Lutherans do not dogmatically define the exact number of sacraments.[20] In line with Luther's initial statement in his Large Catechism some Lutherans speak of only two sacraments,[21] Baptism and the Eucharist, although later in the same work he calls Confession and Absolution[22] "the third sacrament."[23] The definition of sacrament in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession lists Absolution as one of them.[24] It is important to note that although Lutherans do not consider the other four rites as sacraments, they are still retained and used in the Lutheran church. Within Lutheranism, the sacraments are a Means of Grace, and, together with the Word of God, empower the Church for mission.[25]

Teachings of other Christian traditions

The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper) is considered a sacrament, ordinance, or equivalent in most Christian denominations.

The enumeration, naming, understanding, and the adoption of the sacraments vary according to denomination. Many Protestants and other post-Reformation traditions affirm Luther's definition and have only Baptism and The Lord's Supper as sacraments, while others see the ritual as merely symbolic, and still others do not have a sacramental dimension at all[citation needed].

In addition to the traditional seven sacraments, other rituals have been considered sacraments by some Christian traditions. In particular, foot washing as seen in Anabaptist and Brethren groups, and the hearing of the Gospel, as understood by a few Christian groups (such as the Polish National Catholic Church of America), have been considered sacraments by some churches[citation needed].

Since some post-Reformation denominations do not regard clergy as having a classically sacerdotal or priestly function, they avoid the term "sacrament," preferring the terms "sacerdotal function," "ordinance," or "tradition." This belief invests the efficacy of the ordinance in the obedience and participation of the believer and the witness of the presiding minister and the congregation. This view stems from a highly developed concept of the priesthood of all believers. In this sense, the believer himself or herself performs the sacerdotal role[citation needed].

Baptists and Pentecostals, among other Christian denominations, use the word ordinance, rather than sacrament because of certain sacerdotal ideas connected, in their view, with the word sacrament. .[26] These churches argue that the word ordinance points to the ordaining authority of Christ which lies behind the practice.[27]

Latter Day Saints

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

For members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Sacrament is the Lord's Supper, in which participants eat bread and drink wine (or water, since the late 1800s). It is essentially the same as the Eucharist or Holy Communion in other Christian denominations. In Mormon congregations, the Sacrament is normally provided every Sunday as part of the Sacrament meeting. In LDS teachings however, the word ordinance is used approximately as the word Sacrament is used in Christianity in general.[citation needed]. In terms of Ordinances which roughly equate to Christian sacraments in terms of conferring an invisible form of grace the LDS have several which are of a saving nature and are required for "exaltation". These are:

  1. baptism,
  2. confirmation,
  3. Ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods (in the case of men),
  4. The temple Endowment, and
  5. Celestial Marriage.

There are other Ordinances which are performed, but which are not required for salvation, these are "Sacrament" or the Lord's Supper, ministering to the sick, the blessing of a child, and various other blessings.[28]

Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)

The Community of Christ holds that the sacraments express the continuing presence of Christ through the Church. They help believers establish and continually renew their relationship with God. Through them believers establish or reaffirm their covenant with God in response to God’s grace.[29] They denomination recognizes eight sacraments:

  1. Baptism,
  2. Confirmation,
  3. The Blessing of Children,
  4. The Lord's Supper,
  5. Marriage,
  6. Administration to the sick,
  7. Ordination, and
  8. The Evangelist's blessing.[30]

Non-sacramental churches

Some denominations do not have a sacramental dimension (or equivalent) at all. The Salvation Army does not practice formal sacraments for a variety of reasons, including a belief that it is better to concentrate on the reality behind the symbols; however, it does not forbid its members from receiving sacraments in other denominations[31]

The Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) also do not practice formal sacraments, believing that all activities should be considered holy. Rather, they are focused on an inward transformation of one's whole life. Some Quakers use the words "Baptism" and "Communion" to describe the experience of Christ's presence and his ministry in worship.[32]


  1. ^ Hexam's Concise Dictionary of Religion "Sacrament" obtained at
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopaedia: "Sacraments"
  3. ^ See Augsburg Confession, Article 7, Of the Church
  4. ^ The Sacraments
  5. ^ Here listed in the traditional order (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1210)
  6. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia. The Sacraments. Obtained online at
  7. ^ Bennet, D. (2008). The Sacraments: Meeting God in our own world. Obtained Online from on 25/08/2008
  8. ^ Meyendorff, J. (1979). The Sacraments in the Orthodox Church, in Byzantine Theology. Obtained online at
  9. ^ Holy Eucharist obtained online at
  10. ^ See Windsor Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine from the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation and Elucidation of the ARCIC Windsor Statement. Accessed 2007-10-15.
  11. ^ Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 161. 
  12. ^ Ephesians 5:27, John 3:5, John 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:16, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  13. ^ Ephesians 5:26, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  14. ^ Matthew 3:16-17, John 3:5, 1 Corinthians 11:19, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  15. ^ Luke 7:30, Luke 22:19-20, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 162. 
  16. ^ Acts 21:16, Acts 2:38, Luke 3:3, Ephesians 5:26, 1 Peter 3:21, Galatians 3:26-27, Matthew 26:28, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 163. 
  17. ^ 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 163. 
  18. ^ Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 163. 
  19. ^ Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, St. Louis: Concordia, 1991, 236
  20. ^ The Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII, 2: "We believe we have the duty not to neglect any of the rites and ceremonies instituted in Scripture, whatever their number. We do not think it makes much difference if, for purposes of teaching, the enumeration varies, provided what is handed down in Scripture is preserved" (cf. Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 211).
  21. ^ Luther's Large Catechism IV, 1: "We have now finished the three chief parts of the common Christian doctrine. Besides these we have yet to speak of our two Sacraments instituted by Christ, of which also every Christian ought to have at least an ordinary, brief instruction, because without them there can be no Christian; although, alas! hitherto no instruction concerning them has been given" (emphasis added; cf. Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 733).
  22. ^ John 20:23, and Engelder, T.E.W., Popular Symbolics. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934. pp. 112-3, Part XXVI "The Ministry", paragraph 156.
  23. ^ Luther's Large Catechism IV, 74-75: "And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, as it is really nothing else than Baptism" (emphasis added; cf. Theodore G. Tappert, trans. and ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 751).
  24. ^ The Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII, 3, 4: "If we define the sacraments as rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to determine what the sacraments are, properly speaking. For humanly instituted rites are not sacraments, properly speaking, because human beings do not have the authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without the command of God are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps serve to teach or admonish the common folk. Therefore, the sacraments are actually baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution (the sacrament of repentance)" (cf. Tappert, 211). Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 13, Of the Number and Use of the Sacraments
  25. ^ Use and Means of Grace, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1997, 56
  26. ^ "BBC: Religion and Ethics: Pentecostalism". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  27. ^ "BELIEVE Religious Information Source: Baptists". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  28. ^ Gospel Topics: Ordinances. Obtained online at
  29. ^ Stephen M. Veazey. "Community of Christ: Sacraments in the Community of Christ Community of Christ". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  30. ^ Communication Services of Community of Christ, Independence Mo.. "Community of Christ: The Sacraments". Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  31. ^ The Salvation Army: Why does The Salvation Army not baptise or hold communion?.
  32. ^ [Eden Grace: Reflection on what Quakers bring to the ecumenical table]

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SACRAMENT, in religion, a property or rite defined in the Anglican catechism as " an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace"; if the grace be allowed to be inherent in the external symbolic thing or act as well as in the faithful who receive or do it, this definition holds good not only for the Latin Church, but for more primitive religions as well. In the Greek Church the equivalent word is yuvriipcov, a mystery, a usage which is explained below.

The Latin word sacramentum originally meant any bodily or sensible thing, or an action, or a form of words solemnly endowed with a meaning and purpose which in itself it has not. Thus the money deposited by each of two litigants in a sacred precinct or with a priest, was called a sacrament. The winner of the suit got back his deposit, but the loser forfeited his to the god or to the winning party. In Livy it signifies the oath (q.v.) which soldiers took among themselves not to run away or desert. Pliny uses it similarly of the oath by which the Christians of Bithynia bound themselves at their solemn meetings not to commit any act of wickedness. Tertullian (c. 160-240) uses it in both senses, of an oath, as in the passage of his treatise About Spectacles, where he says that no Christian " passes over to the enemy's camp without throwing away his arms, without abandoning the standards and sacraments of his chief." In the treatise To the Nations, i. 16, he speaks of " the sacraments of our religion," intending, it would appear, the love-feast and Eucharist. So in the Apology, ch. vii., he speaks of " the sacrament of infanticide and of the eating of a murdered child and of incest following the banquet," the crimes of which the Christians were commonly accused. In the work Against Marcion, iv. 34, he speaks of the sacrament of baptism and Eucharist. In the work against the Jews, ch. xi., he speaks of the letter Tau set in ink on the foreheads of the men of Jerusalem (Ezek. ix. 4), as " the sacrament of the sign," i.e. of the cross; and in chap. xiii. of the same work he dwells on the sacrament of the wood prefigured in 2 Kings vi. 6. The stick with which Elisha made the iron to swim in that passage, and the wood which Isaac carried up the mountain for his own pyre " were sacraments reserved for fulfilment in the time of Christ." In other words they were types, things which had a prophetic significance. In the same work, chap. x., he speaks of " the Sacrament of the Passion foreshadowed in prophecies." In his work On the Soul, chap. xviii., the aeons and genealogies of the Gnostics are " the sacraments of heretical ideas." In the work About the Crown, chap. iii., he describes how the faithful " take the sacrament of the Eucharist also in their meetings held before dawn." Elsewhere he speaks of " the sacraments of water, oil, bread." In the work Against Valentinians, chap. xxxix., he speaks of the " great sacrament of the name," here rendering the Greek word µvo riipcov, mystery. In the tract On Monogamy, chap. xi., he speaks of " the sacrament of monogamy." Elsewhere he talks of the " sacrament of faith," and " of the Resurrection," and " of human salvation," and " of the Pascha," and " of unction," and " of the body of Christ." Later Latin fathers use the word with similar vagueness, e.g. Augustine speaks of the salt administered to catechumens before baptism and of their exorcism as sacraments; and as late as 1129 Godefrid so calls the salt and water, oil and chrism, the ring and pastoral staff used in ordinations. But by this time the tendency was in the West to restrict the sense of the word. Thus Isidore Hispalensis, c. 630, in his book of Origins, vi. 19, recognized as sacraments baptism and the chrism, and the Body and Blood, and he writes thus: "Under the screen of corporeal objects a divine virtue of the sacraments in question secretly brings about salvation; wherefore they are called sacraments from their secret or sacred virtues." Bernard (In coen. Dom. § 4, op. ii. 88) calls the rite of washing feet a sacrament, because without it we have no portion with Christ (John xiii. 8), and therefore it is necessary to salvation. Hugo de St Victor, c. 1120, in his work On the Sacraments, distinguishes six, but of different grades of importance. The two principal ones necessary to salvation are baptism and the Eucharist; then come the water of aspersion and the wearing of cinders, and so forth; these advance a man in sanctity. Lastly come those needful to the hallowing and instituting of other sacraments, those which concern the conferring of orders or of monkish habit. In his Summa he declares that as there are seven chief sins, either original or of act, so there must be seven sacraments to remedy them; but he only enumerates six, namely baptism and the sacraments of confirmation, of the altar, of penance, last unction and matrimony. Peter Lombard (c. r r 50) added as a seventh that of ordination, and to this number the Latin Church adhered at the councils of Florence and Trent. This enumeration was also adopted in 1575 as against the Augustan confession of the year 1540 by Jeremiah Patriarch of Constantinople, and again in a council held in the same city in 1639 to anathematize Cyril Lucar, who with the Anglicans recognized two only, baptism and the Eucharist. It is hardly fair on the strength of these two pronouncements to attribute the doctrine of seven sacraments to the Eastern churches in general; except under a sporadic Latin influence, they have not troubled themselves so to define their number.

In this article it is impossible to attempt a history of the sacraments and of the controversies which in every age have arisen about them. It is enough to formulate a few general considerations of a kind to orientate and guide inquirers. To begin with, it is obvious that the number of sacraments must vary according to the criterions we use of what constitutes a sacrament. The Anglicans recognize baptism and the Eucharist alone, under the impression that Christ ordained these and none other. The Latin doctors by arguments as good as those usually put forth in such controversies have no difficulty in proving that Christ instituted all seven. How, they argue, could Paul (1(1 Cor. iv. 1) call himself and others " ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God " unless the mysteries in question had been directly instituted by Christ. They contend even that extreme unction was so instituted, and that St James in his Epistle did but promulgate it. So Christ instituted confirmation non exhibendo sed promittendo, not by undergoing it and so setting it forth in His own person, but by promising to send the Paraclete. The sacrament of confession and penance He equally instituted when He assigned the power of the keys to the Apostles.

The Latin Church, following Gulielmus Antissiodorensis (c.1215), distinguishes in each sacrament the matter from the form. The matter is the sensible thing which in accordance with Christ's institution can be raised to a sacramental plane. It is, e.g. water with immersion in the case of baptism; bread and wine in the Eucharist; anointing and laying on of hands in confirmation; contrition in the sacrament of penance. The form consists of the words used in the rite, e.g. in penance, of the formula " I absolve thee "; in the Eucharist, of the words " This is my body " and " This is the cup of my blood " or " This is my blood "; in confirmation, of the words " I sign thee with sign of the cross and confirm thee with chrism of salvation in name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit "; in baptism, of the words " I baptize thee in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or among the Greeks " N. or M. is baptized in the name," &c.). Merely verbal change in these formulae made without prejudicing the sense does not invalidate the sacrament. On the part of the minister or priest officiating must be present also an inward intention or will to do what the Church does. Thus a drunkard's or a madman's sacraments would only be mockery, even though the recipients received them in good faith and devoutly. On the other hand, sanctity of life on the part of the minister is not necessary in order to the validity of the sacraments which he confers, although this was held to be the case by the Donatists in the 4th century, and following them by the Waldensians and Albigenses in the 12th, and by the followers of Hus and Wycliffe in the 14th. The latter enunciated the following rule: " If a bishop or priest be living in mortal sin, then he neither ordains, nor consecrates, nor baptizes." The Cathars even held it necessary, in case a bishop fell into mortal sin, to repeat his ba p tisms and ordinations, for they had been vitiated by his sins. On such points the Catholics followed the more sensible course.

Certain of the sacraments can obviously only be once conferred, e.g. baptism, confirmation and orders; but can be conditionally repeated, if there is a doubt of their having been validly conferred. In conditional baptism the Latins, since about the year 1227, use the formula, " If thou art not baptized, then do I baptize thee," &c. The Latins further insist on a strict observance of the traditional matter and form. Thus baptism is not valid if wine or ice be used instead of water, nor the Eucharist if water be consecrated in place of wine, nor confirmation unless the chrism has been blessed by a bishop; also olive oil must be used. The distinction, be it noted, of form and matter seems more appropriate to the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, confirmation and last unction, than to those of orders, penance and matrimony. The recognition by the Church of the lastnamed as a sacrament was, in spite of the commendation uttered by Jesus (Mark x. 9), slow and arduous, owing to the encratite enthusiasms of the first generations of believers. In many regions baptism involved renunciation of married life, and for at least the first two hundred years marriage was a civil rite preceding baptism, which was deferred until the age of thirty or even later. Liturgical forms for consecrating marriage are of late development, and the Church took the institution under its protection through outside social pressure rather than of its own will and wish.

In any Latin pontifical or Greek euchologion we find numerous prayers for the consecration, not only of men, but of things. Here is an example of such a petition from the 9th century codex of Heribert, archbishop of Milan:' " Be thou graciously pleased by the infusion of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and enhance the substance, of old approved by thee, of this oil here before thee; to the end that whatsoever in the human kind hath been touched therewith may speedily pass to a higher nature, and that the ancient Enemy may not, after anointing with the same, claim aught for himself, but that he may grieve for that he is exposed to the shafts of this blessed engine of defence, and groan because by the oil of peace the swellings of his antique fury are kept down and repressed: through our Lord Jesus Christ," &c.

Or again the following prayer for baptism over the water from the Ethiopic Statutes of the Apostles as translated by the Rev. G. Homer (London, 1904, p. 165): " God, my Lord almighty, who madest heaven and earth. .. who mingledst and unitedst the immortal with the mortal, who madest living man a combination of the two, and ga y est to that which was made body a soul also, which thou causest to dwell within: stir this water and fill it up with thy Holy Spirit, that it may become water and Spirit for regeneration to those who are to be baptized: work a holy work and make them to become sons and daughters of thy holy name." Such petitions as the above are common in the more ancient of the Christian cults, and are all alike inspired by the idea that a spirit or divine virtue can be confined in material objects which are to be brought into contact with or swallowed by men and animals. The same idea pervades old medical treatises; for a drug was not a chemical substance taking effect naturally on the human system, but something into which a supernatural virtue had been magically introduced, in order the more easily and efficaciously to be brought to bear upon the patient. The spirits which take possession of man or animal can equally take possession of a material substance, and even replace the substance, leaving the outward accidents of colour, shape and size unchanged. This primitive belief, termed " animism " by E. B. Tylor, asserts itself everywhere in Christianity; and objects thus invested with spiritual or curative powers are called by the Latin doctors sacramentals. Thus in the Theologia dogmatica 1 Monumenta veteris liturgiae Ambrosianae, by M. Magistretti and A. Ceriani (Milan, 18 97), p. 99.

et moralis of P. M. Belmont, bishop of Claremont (8th ed., Paris, 1899,1899, vol. iii. p. 119) the following definition is given of sacramentalia: " Sacramentals are certain things or actions instituted or consecrated by the Church for the production of certain spiritual effects, and sometimes for the obtaining of a temporal effect." Some of the older authorities, like Caietanus and Soto, taught that sacramentals as above defined have power to produce their effects ex opere operato, i.e. by their own inherent virtue; others that they produce them ex opere operantis, i.e. through the merit and disposition of the user. But in the latter case, argues M. Belmont, what is the use of the prayers offered up over the substances; and how account for the differences of effects which by the testimony of the faithful are respectively caused by water duly blessed and by water falsely blessed? If the mere state of mind of the person using the water determines the effect, then in the case of both kinds of benediction, the true and the false alike, it would be one and the same. He therefore inclines to the opinion that there is no inherent virtue in sacramentals, but that God is moved by the prayers uttered in their consecration to produce salutary effects in those who use them. Thus he avoids on the one side the opus operatum view, and on the other a merely receptionist position.

The consecration of material objects and in general their use in religion and cult was consistently avoided by the Manicheans; not because they failed to share the universal belief of earlier ages that spirits can be inducted by means of fitting prayers and incantations into inanimate things, but because the external material world was held to be the creation of an evil demiurge and so incapable of harbouring a pure spirit. The sacramentals of the great Church were denounced by them as vehicles of the evil one; and this class of prejudice was carried to such a length that some of them eschewed even baptism with water and the sacrament of bread and wine. That they retained the laying on of hands in their spiritual baptism was an inconsistency which their orthodox opponents did not fail to note; the human hand, argued the latter, is, like the rest of the body, no less the work of the evil creator than water, oil, bread and wine, or than the wood, metal and stone out of which altars, images and churches are made. Relics for the same reason were abhorred by the Manicheans; the Catholics defending them on the ground that the bodies of saints participate in a divine virtue and have a power of making men whole and working miracles in the same manner as had the cloak of Elijah (2 Kings ii. 14), or the corpse of Elisha (ibid. xiii. 21), the hem of Christ's garment (Matt. ix. 20), Peter's shadow (Acts v. 15), the handkerchiefs or aprons off Paul's body (ibid. xix. 12). The Manicheans' answer to such arguments was that miracles worked by Christ and the Apostles in the material world were only apparitional and not real, while those of the Old Testament were satanic.

It has been argued that the sacramental rites of the Christians were largely imitated from the pagan mysteries; but for the first two hundred years this is hardly true, except perhaps in the case of certain Gnostic sects whose leaders intentionally amalgamated the new faith with old pagan ideas and rites. It is true that Gentile converts carried over into the new religion many ideas and habits of cult contracted under the old; this was inevitable, for no one lightly changes his religious habits and categories. For long generations the doctors of the Church fought bravely against such an infusion of heathen customs; thus in Latin countries we find the rule to keep New Year's day as a fast, just because the pagans feasted on it, giving one another gifts (strenae, Fr. etrennes) and taking omens for the coming year. But in the 4th century this puritanic zeal gave way; and this and other pagan feasts were taken over by the Church; a century earlier in Asia Minor Gregory the Thaumaturge was actively transforming into shrines and cult of martyrs the temples and idolatrous rites of heroes and demigods. In proportion as such conversion was facile and rapid, it was probably imperfect.

That baptism is called the Seal (vdpa'yls), and Illumination (4ceno-phs) in the 2nd century has been set down to the influence of the pagan mysteries; but as a matter of fact the former term is a metaphor from military discipline, and the idea conveyed in the latter that gnosis or imparting of divine love is an illumining of the soul is found both in the Old and New Testaments. Nor because the pagans regarded the close meetings of the Christians usually held in private houses as mysteries in which incest and cannibalism were rife, does it follow that the Christians themselves accepted the comparison. On the contrary, as a thousand passages in the earlier apologists attest, they viewed the pagan mysteries with horror and detestation. Nor were they so solicitous, as it is pretended, to conceal from the authorities what they did and said in their liturgical meetings. The Christians' of Bithynia were evidently quite frank about them to Pliny (c. 112), and Justin in his Apology reveals everything to a pagan emperor (c. 150). That catechumens could not participate in the agape or love-feast (of which in this epoch the Eucharist was merely an episode) does not give to those feasts the character of a Greek mystery. The uncircumcized proselyte was similarly excluded from the Paschal meal on which the Eucharist was largely modelled, even though it may not have been in any way a continuation of the same. Baptism and the agape took their rise in Palestine, and in their origin certainly owed little or nothing to outside influences. For both there can be found Jewish models, if necessary. The sacred feasts of the Essenes and Therapeutae in particular, as described by Josephus and Philo, closely resembled the Eucharistic agape.

Undeniably Clement of Alexandria and Origen apply the language of the Greek mysteries to Christian gnosis and life. " These are," says Clement, " divine mysteries, hidden from most and revealed to the few who can receive them." And Origen compares them to the sacred vessels, and would have them " guarded secretly behind the veil of the conscience and not lightly produced before the public." He who so produces them " dances out the word of the true philosophy," - a technical description of the profanation of the mysteries. It is not even safe, according to these two fathers, to commit too much to writing; and Clement undertakes not to reveal in writing many secrets known to the initiated among his readers; otherwise the indiscreet eye of the heathen may rest on them, and he will have cast his pearls before swine. But we may discount most such talk in these writers as bellettristic pedantry, copied as a rule from Philo of Alexandria, their literary model. In the latter's description of the Therapeutae (ed. Mangey, ii. 475) we read how each ascetic had " in his house a room in which in solitude they celebrated the mysteries of the holy life, introducing nothing therein, either to drink or to eat, nor anything else necessary for the uses of the flesh." And in scores of other passages Philo dwells on " the ineffable mysteries " of Jewish faith and allegory. He even writes thus: " 0 ye initiated ones, with purified sense of hearing, shall ye accept in your souls these truly sacred mysteries, nor divulge them to any of the uninitiated.... I have been initiated by Moses the friend of God in the great mysteries." But because he uses the language of the Greek mysteries, Philo never imitated the thing itself; and he is ever ready to denounce it in the bitterest terms. Clement and Origen really meant no more than he. At a later period, however, the difficulty of screening the rites of baptism and Eucharist from the eyes of catechumens and from their ears the creeds and liturgies - a difficulty which had ever been formidable and which after the overthrow of paganism must have become insurmountable - seems to have provoked not only a great outpouring on the part of the Christian rhetors, like Basil, Chrysostom, the Gregories and the Cyrils, of phrases borrowed from the Greek mysteries, but perhaps an actual use of precautions. Thus the bishop of Rome, Julius (c. 340), complained (Athanasius, Apol. cont. Arian. 31, Migne 25, 300) that a court of law had not been cleared of catechumens, Jews and pagans, in a case where the legal discussion introduced the topic of the table of Christ; and the preachers of the 4th and 1 Perhaps, however, Pliny refers only to the renegades among them.

5th centuries in their, discourses often make a point of not citing the creed or describing the Eucharist; they stop short and ejaculate such remarks as 'oa6cv of irco-roi, norunt fideles (" the faithful know it "). Such was the Disciplina arcani. All will admit who study the post-Nicene Church, that the Christian sacraments have stolen the clothes of the pagan mysteries, dethroned and forbidden by the Christian emperors. The catechumenate, an old institution, older in most regions than the mysteries themselves, suggested and rendered feasible such wholesale theft, especially in an age in which the sacerdotal class wished to be pre-eminent, and left nothing undone to enhance in the eyes of the multitude the importance and solemnity of rites which it was their prerogative to administer. The disappearance, too, of the pagan mysteries must have left a void in many hearts, and the clerics tried to fill it up by themselves masquerading as hierophants.

In the age of the Council of Nice the custom arose of baptizing children of three, because at that age they can already talk and utter the baptismal vows and responses. Not a few homilies of that age survive, denouncing the deferring of baptism, and urging on parents the duty of initiating their young children. Thus there is much evidence to show that long before A.D. 500 child baptism was in vogue. But in that case how can the creed and ritual of baptism, the Lord's Prayer and the Eucharistic formulae, have been kept secret? How can they have been the " awful mysteries," the " dread and terrible canons," the " mystic teachings," the " ineffable sentences," the " oracles too sacred to be committed to writing " which the homilists of that age pretend them to have been? Could our modern freemasons continue to hide their watchwords and ritual, or even make a pretence of doing so, if they were constrained by public opinion to initiate every child three years of age? The thing is absurd. When, therefore, we find such phrases in Greek and Latin homilies of the period of 3 50 to 550 we must regard them as elaborate make-believe. Because catechumens as well as the faithful were present at the sermons, the preachers thought it becoming to throw them in; but the audience must have been aware that their secrets were open ones.


Theologia dogmatica et moralis ad mentem S. Thomae Aguinatis et S. Alphonsi de Ligorio (6 vols., Paris, 1899); Gustav Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen (Gottingen, 1894); L. Duchesne, Origines du culte chretien (Paris, 1898); Joseph Bingham, Origines ecclesiasticae (London, 1834); Adolf Harnack, Dogmengeschichte (Freiburg, 1897). (F. C. C.)

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Sacramentals >>

Simple English

Sometimes Sacrament can stand for Eucharist

In Christianity, a sacrament is a special rite. It is a visible token of the reality of god.

Sacraments in the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church knows seven such sacraments. These are

Protestant views

Following Martin Luthers tradition, many Protestant churches only see Baptism and Eucharist as Sacraments. They also have most of the other rites, but do not consider them to be sacraments

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox views

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches basically have the same views as the Roman Catholic Church. They say however, that many things the church does (as church), can be seen as sacraments, in some way.

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