1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sacrament

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 /avarhptov, a mystery, a usage which is explained below.

The Latin word sacramentnm 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.15.) 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 arm a without abandoning the standards and sacraments of his chief.” In the treatise To the N ations, 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 M arcion, iv. 34, he speaks of the sacrament of baptism and Eucharist. In the work against the Jews, ch. xi., he speaks of the letter Tan 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 pref'ured 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 puafr'/;pto1/, mystery. In, the tract On M onogamy, 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. 1150) 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 1 S7 5 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 criterion's we use of what constitutes a sacrament. The Anglicans recognize baptism and the Eucharist alone, under the impression that Christ ordained theseand 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 Cor. iv. 1) call himself and others “ ministers of Christ and stewards of) the mysteries of God l' 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 thevpower 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, “ Isign thee with sign of the cross and confirm thee with chrism of salvation in name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit V; 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 drunkards ora 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 baptisms and ordinations, for they had been vitiated by his sins. CII such points the Catholics, followedxthe 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 last named as a sacrament was, in spite of the commendation uttered by lesus (Mark x. 9), .slow and arduous, owing to the encrati te 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.. . 5 3

In any Latin pontifical or .Greek euchologionwe ind. 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 Milanzl “ 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 ithe 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 hernay grieve for that he is exposed to the shafts of this blessed engineof defence, and, groan because by the oil of peace the swellings of his antique furypare kept down and repressed; through our Lord Tesus 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. Horner (London, 1904, p. 165): “ God, my Lord almighty, who madest heaven and earth . . who mingled st and unitedst the immortal with the mortal, who madest' living man a combination of the two, and gavest to that whiqh 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 thyholy name.” °

Suchhpetitions as the above are common in the more ancient of Qthe 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 trea, tises;f for a drug was not a chemicalpsubstance 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 equallyjtake possession of a material substance, and even replace the substance, leaving the outward accidents of colour, shape and sizégfunchanged. 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 sacramental. Thus in the Theologia dagmalica 1 Mzmumenta veteris liturgiae Ambrosianae, by M. Magistretti and A, Qeriani (Milan, 1897), p. 99. J 7 et moralis of P. M. Belmont, bishop of Claremont (8th ed., Paris, 1899, vol. iii. p. 119) the following dehnition 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 sacramental 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 sacramental, 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 sacramental 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. étrennes) 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 (σφραγίς), and Illumination (φωτίσμός) 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[1] 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 agapé 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 uncircumcised 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 agapé 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 belletristic 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: “ O 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, A pol. cont. Arian. 31, Migne 25, 300) that a court of law had not been cleared of catechumens, Tews and pagans, in a case where the legal discussion introduced the topic of the table of Christ; and the preachers of the 4th and 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 ἴσασιν οἱ πιστοί, 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 350 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.

Literature.—Theologia dogmatica et moralis ad mentem S. Thomas Aquinatis et S. Alphonsi de Ligorio (6 vols., Paris, 1899); Gustav Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen (Göttingen, 1894); L. Duchesne, Origines du culte chrétien (Paris, 1898); Joseph Bingham, Origines ecclesiastical (London, 1834); Adolf Harnack, Dogmengeschichte (Freiburg, 1897). (F. C. C.)

  1. Perhaps, however, Pliny refers only to the renegades among them.