Chapter XI.

The Sacraments.

It has pleased God, in condescension to our weakness, to confirm his promises by signs. The bow of heaven is a divinely-appointed token, confirmatory to the world of the promise that there shall be no second deluge. The world has but one sign of its safety; the Church has two of her perpetuity. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper,--like two beauteous bows bestriding the heavens of the Church,--are seals of the covenant of grace, and give infallible certainty to all who really take hold of that covenant, that they shall enjoy its blessings. But the Church of Rome has accounted that these two signs are not enough, and, accordingly, she has increased them to the number of seven. These seven sacraments are baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony. That Church is accustomed to boast with truth that most of these sacraments are unknown to Protestants:[1] she might have added, with equal truth, that they are unknown to the New Testament. The institution of Baptism and the Supper is plainly to be seen upon the inspired page; but where do we find the institution of these five supplementary sacraments? Not a trace of them can be discovered in Scripture; and the attempt to adduce Scripture in their support is so hopeless, that it has seldom been made.[2] But what is it that Roman infallibility will not attempt? Dens proves in the following notable way from Scripture, that the sacraments must be seven in number. He quotes the passage, "Wisdom hath builded her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars." "In like manner," says he, "seven sacraments sustain the Church." He next refers to the seven lamps on one candlestick, in the furniture of the tabernacle. These seven sacraments are the seven lamps that illuminate the Church.[3] The Jesuit would have rendered his argument irresistible, had he but added, there were seven evil spirits that entered the house that was swept and garnished. These seven sacraments are the seven spirits whose united power and wisdom animate the Roman Catholic Church. The Council of Trent rested the proof of these sacraments mainly on tradition, and a supposed hidden and mystical meaning in the number seven. And, in truth, there sometimes is a mystic meaning in that number; as, for instance, when the seer of Patmos saw seven hills propping up the throne of the apocalyptic harlot. Protestants most willingly yield up to the Roman Catholic Church the entire merit of discovering these sacraments, as they also yield up to her the entire benefit flowing therefrom.[4] The first two, baptism and penance, confer grace; the rest increase it. The first, therefore, are sometimes called the sacraments of the dead; the others, the sacraments of the living.

The Roman Catechism defines a sacrament as follows:--"A thing subject to the senses, which, in virtue of the divine institution, possesses the power of signifying holiness and righteousness and of imparting these qualities to the receiver."[5] There was considerable difference of opinion in the Council of Trent as to the way in which grace is conveyed along with the sacraments; but the fathers were unanimous in holding that it is so conveyed, and in condemning the reformers, who denied the power of the sacraments to confer grace. Accordingly, in their decree they speak of "the holy sacraments of the Church, by which all true righteousness is first imparted, then increased, and afterwards restored if lost."[6] "The Catholic doctrine," says Dens, "is, that the sacraments of the new law contain grace, and confer it ex opera operato."[7] And in this he is borne out by the Council of Trent, who declare, "If any one shall say that these sacraments of the new law cannot confer grace by their own power [ex opera Operato], but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain grace, let him be accursed."[8] Three of these sacraments,--baptism, confirmation, and orders,--confer an indelible impression, and therefore they are not, and cannot be, repeated. As to the seat of this indelible stamp or impression, the Romish divines are not agreed,[9] --some fixing on the mind, others on the will, while a third party make this wondrous virtue to reside in the hands and the tongue; which gave occasion to Calvin to say, that "the matter resembled more the incantations of the magician than the sound doctrine of the gospel." Not only do the sacraments infuse grace at first, but they confer an increase of grace, and all that divine aid which is necessary to gain their end.[10] This grace is contained in the sacraments, say the Romanists, "not as the accident in its subject, or as liquor in a vase (as Calvin has vilely insinuated), but it is conferred by the sacraments as the instrumental cause."[11]

One very important point remains, and that is, the validity of the sacrament. In order to this, it is not enough that the forms of the Church be observed in the administration of the sacrament; the right direction of the intention of the administrator is an essential requisite. "If any one shall say," says the Council of Trent, "that in ministers, while they form and give the sacraments, intention is not required, at least of doing what the Church does, let him be anathema."[12] Any flaw here, then, vitiates the whole proceeding. If the priest who administers baptism or extreme unction be a hypocrite or an infidel, and does not intend what the Church intends, the baptized man lives without grace, and the dying man departs without hope. The priest may be the greatest profligate that ever lived; this will not in the least affect the validity of the sacrament; but should he fail to direct aright his intention, the sacrament is null, and all its virtue and benefit are lost,--a calamity as dreadful as the difficulty of providing against it is great. For as the intention of another cannot be seen, it can never be known with certainty that it exists.

It is not difficult to imagine the tremendous evil to which a single invalid act may lead. Take the case of a child whose baptism is invalid from the want of intention on the part of the priest. This child grows to manhood; he takes orders; but he is no priest. Every priestly act he does is null. Those he ordains are in the same predicament with himself; they neither possess nor can transmit the true apostolic ichor. Every host they consecrate, and which is first adored, then eaten, by the worshippers, is but a simple wafer. They cannot absolve; they cannot give the viaticum. But even this is not the whole of the mischief. It may happen, that of these pseudo-priests, one may be chosen to fill Peter's chair. He wants, of course, the infallibility; and so the Church loses her head, and becomes a corpse. There is no Romanist who can say with certainty, on his own principles, that there is a true catholic and apostolic Church on the earth at this day.

Roman Catholics are accustomed to grant that the sacraments in general, and baptism in particular, administered by Protestants or by other heretics, are valid and efficacious as regards their effects.[13] This is a stretch of charity quite unusual on the part of that Church; and we may be sure that Rome has good reasons for being so very liberal on this point. Good reasons she verily has. She grants that baptism administered by heretical hands is valid, in order that when these children grow up she may have a pretext to seize upon them, and compel them to enter the Roman Catholic Church. And in the fourteenth canon of the seventh session of the Council of Trent, she pronounces an anathema on all who shall say that such children, when they grow up, are to be "left to their own choice, and not to be compelled to lead a Christian life," that is, to become Roman Catholics. Thus has the Pope converted an ordinance which was designed to represent our being delivered from the yoke of Satan, and made the freedmen of Jesus Christ, into a brand of slavery. As in the feudal times the lords of the soil were accustomed to put collars, with their names inscribed, upon the necks of their slaves, so baptism is the iron collar which Rome puts upon the necks of her slaves, that she may be able to claim her property wherever she may chance to find it. "Heretics and schismatics," says the Catechism of Trent, "are excluded because they have departed from the Church; for they no more belong to the Church than deserters to the army they have left. Yet it is not to be denied that they are under the power of the Church, as those who may be called by her to judgment, punished, and condemned by an anathema."[14] In short, like deserters from the army, on being retaken they may be shot. And thus, as Blanco White remarks, "the principle of religious tyranny, supported by persecution, is a necessary condition of Roman Catholicism: he who revolts at the idea of compelling belief by punishment is severed at once from the communion of Rome."[15] If we may believe Bellarmine, the apostles would have burned all they failed to convert, had they had the use of the civil power. Their time would have been divided betwixt directing Christians in their faith and morals, and drawing up rules for the trial and execution of pagans and heretics, had they seen the least chance of being permitted to act upon their plan. Think of Paul writing some such sentence as this:--"Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,"--and laying down his pen, and going straight to assist at an auto da fe!

[1] Milner's End of Controversy, let. xx. [Back]

[2] One of the above sacraments, viz. extreme unction, it is lawful to administer on the top of a long stick to those who may be dying of pestilence. "Licet autem judicio episcopi in eo casu inungere aegrotum adhibita oblonga virga, cujus in extrema parte sit gossypium oleo sacro imbutum." (Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. viii. p. 166.) [Back]

[3] Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. v. pp. 140, 141. [Back]

[4] Cajetan and a host of Roman Catholic doctors admit that several of these sacraments were not instituted by Christ. (See authorities in Blakeney's Manual of Romish Controversy, pp. 37-44 ; Edin. 1851.) Marriage is a sacrament of the new law (the gospel); yet it existed 4000 years before the gospel. [Back]

[5] Catechismus Romanus, pars ii. cap. i. s. ix. p. 114. Delahogue thus defines a sacrament:--"Signum sensibile a Deo permanenter institutum, et alicujus sanctitatis seu justitiae operativum." (Delahogue, Tractatus de Sacramentis in genere, p. 2 ; Dublin, 1828.) [Back]

[6] Concil. Trid. sess. vii.,--Dec. de Sacramentis. [Back]

[7] Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. v. p. 90. [Back]

[8] Concil. Trid. sess. vii. can. viii. [Back]

[9] From a recent barbarity, we should infer that modern Romanists place the seat of this impression in the finger points. Ugo Bassi, the chaplain of Garibaldi, had the skin peeled off the tips of his fingers before being shot. [Back]

[10] Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. v. p. 94. [Back]

[11] Idem, tom. v. p. 90. [Back]

[12] Concil. Trid. sess. vii. can. xi. [Back]

[13] Concil. Trid. sess. vii. can. xii., et de Btptismo, can. iv.: Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. ii. p. 36. [Back]

[14] Cat. Rom. de Symbolo, art. ix. [Back]

[15] Prac. and Int. Evidence against Catholicism, p. 124. [Back]

Read Book Two, Chapter Twelve: Baptism and Confirmation.

Back to Dogmas of the Papacy Index

Back to Overview

Back to the Home Page