Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Antidote to John Calvin's Institutes (IV,19:1-3) [Seven Sacraments: Definitions and Essential Criteria / The Fathers (Especially Augustine) ]

St. Augustine

See the introduction and links to all installments at the top of my John Calvin, Calvinism, and General Protestantism web page; also the online version of the Institutes. Calvin's words will be in blue throughout. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

* * * * *

Book IV



1. Connection of the present discussion with that concerning Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Impiety of the popish teachers in attributing more to human rites than to the ordinances of God.

The above discourse concerning the sacraments might have the effect, among the docile and sober-minded, of preventing them from indulging their curiosity, or from embracing, without authority from the word, any other sacraments than those two, which they know to have been instituted by the Lord. But since the idea of seven sacraments, almost common in the mouths of all, and circulated in all schools and sermons, by mere antiquity, has struck its roots, and is even now seated in the minds of men, I thought it might be worth while to give a separate and closer consideration of the other five, which are vulgarly classed with the true and genuine sacraments of the Lord, and, after wiping away every gloss, to hold them up to the view of the simple, that they may see what their true nature is, and how falsely they have hitherto been regarded as sacraments.

Note how Calvin casually assumes that the other five sacraments have no biblical basis, have not been instituted by our Lord, and how he takes a swipe at Tradition by calling it "mere antiquity" -- also the condescending quality that we have, sadly, come to expect from Calvin. The anti-Catholic faction among his followers today often strikingly mirror his style and foul disdain for Catholicism.

Here, at the outset, I would declare to all the pious, that I engage not in this dispute about a word for love of wrangling, but am induced, by weighty causes, to impugn the abuse of it. I am not unaware that Christians are the masters of words, as they are of all things, and that, therefore, they may at pleasure adapt words to things, provided a pious meaning is retained, though there should be some impropriety in the mode of expression. All this I concede, though it were better to make words subordinate to things than things to words. But in the name of sacrament, the case is different. For those who set down seven sacraments, at the same time give this definition to all—viz. that they are visible forms of invisible grace; and at the same time, make them all vehicles of the Holy Spirit, instruments for conferring righteousness, causes of procuring grace.

That is what unbroken Sacred Tradition had established; correct. Calvin has no authority to tear it down by virtue of sophistry and revolutionary theological novelty. Nor does he even do a very good job in attempting to do so, as we shall see in due course.

Accordingly, the Master of Sentences himself denies that the sacraments of the Mosaic Law are properly called by this name, because they exhibited not what they figured. Is it tolerable, I ask, that the symbols which the Lord has consecrated with his own lips, which he has distinguished by excellent promises, should be regarded as no sacraments, and that, meanwhile, this honour should be transferred to those rites which men have either devised of themselves, or at least observe without any express command from God?

Gratuitous false assumptions . . . presumably we will be given reasons for his thinking so, as he proceeds.

Therefore, let them either change the definition, or refrain from this use of the word, which may afterwards give rise to false and absurd opinions. Extreme unction, they say, is a figure and cause of invisible grace, because it is a sacrament. If we cannot possibly admit the inference, we must certainly meet them on the subject of the name, that we may not receive it on terms which may furnish occasion for such an error. On the other hand, when they prove it to be a sacrament, they add the reason, because it consists of the external sign and the word. If we find neither command nor promise, what else can we do than protest against it?

And if we find support for it, by the same methodology, what else can we do than accept it?

2. Men cannot institute sacraments. Necessary to keep up a distinction between sacraments and other ceremonies.

It now appears that we are not quarreling about a word, but raising a not unnecessary discussion as to the reality. Accordingly, we most strenuously maintain what we formerly confirmed by invincible argument,

Calvin's arguments, of course, always being "invincible" and the Last Word . . .

that the power of instituting a sacrament belongs to God alone, since a sacrament ought, by the sure promise of God, to raise up and comfort the consciences of believers, which could never receive this assurance from men.

We wholeheartedly agree.

A sacrament ought to be a testimony of the good-will of God toward us. Of this no man or angel can be witness, since God has no counsellor (Isa. 40:13; Rom. 11:34). He himself alone, with legitimate authority, testifies of himself to us by his word. A sacrament is a seal of attestation or promise of God. Now, it could not be sealed by corporeal things, or the elements of this world, unless they were confirmed and set apart for this purpose by the will of God.

I've dealt in past installments about this "seal and confirmation of salvation" notion (i.e., as the sole essence of sacraments) and have shown again and again that it has no scriptural support and is often refuted by Sacred Scripture.

Man, therefore, cannot institute a sacrament, because it is not in the power of man to make such divine mysteries lurk under things so abject. The word of God must precede to make a sacrament to be a sacrament, as Augustine most admirably shows (Hom. in Joann. 80).

That's right. St. Augustine accepted seven sacraments (see more on that below), so citing him as to definition hardly bolsters Calvin's overall case.

Moreover, it is useful to keep up some distinction between sacraments and other ceremonies, if we would not fall into many absurdities. The apostles prayed on their bended knees; therefore our knees may not be bent without a sacrament (Acts 9:20; 20:36). The disciples are said to have prayed toward the east; thus looking at the east is a sacrament. Paul would have men in every place to lift up pure hands (1 Tim. 2:8); and it is repeatedly stated that the saints prayed with uplifted hands, let the outstretching, therefore, of hands also become a sacrament; in short, let all the gestures of saints pass into sacraments, though I should not greatly object to this, provided it was not connected with those greater inconveniences.

These, of course, are sacramentals, not sacraments, so noting them is neither here nor there.

3. Seven sacraments not to be found in ecclesiastical writers. Augustine, who may represent all the others, acknowledged two sacraments only.

If they would press us with the authority of the ancient Church, I say that they are using a gloss. This number seven is nowhere found in the ecclesiastical writers, nor is it well ascertained at what time it crept in.

It's true that "the seven sacraments" as a concept and accepted norm (under that description) was a developed doctrine. Thus, The Catholic Encyclopedia ("Sacraments") states:

Thus time was required, not for the development of the sacraments - except in so far as the Church may have determined what was left under her control by Jesus Christ — but for the growth and knowledge of the sacraments. For many centuries all signs of sacred things were called sacraments, and the enumeration of these signs was somewhat arbitrary. Our seven sacraments were all mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, and we find them all mentioned here and there by the Fathers . . . After the ninth century, writers began to draw a distinction between sacraments in a general sense and sacraments properly so called.

Individual sacraments, however, are described as such (at least in their effects, if not by name) from early times; thus, by deduction, one can arrive at strong patristic evidences for all seven. Calvin agrees that baptism and the Eucharist are sacraments, so I need not establish those in the fathers, though they disagree with him as to their nature and effects. It is easy to document acceptance of the other five on an individual basis. Many collections of patristic utterances regarding sacraments are posted on the Internet:

Confession / Reconciliation / Absolution / Penance / Satisfaction

Confession (Catholic Answers)

Confession / Penance (Joe Gallegos)

The Sacrament of Confession: The Fathers on Specific Scriptures ("Matt 1618")

Whose Sins You Forgive: Confession and Penance in the Fathers (Phil Porvaznik)


St. Ambrose

For those to whom [the right of binding and loosing] has been given, it is plain that either both are allowed, or it is clear that neither is allowed. Both are allowed to the Church, neither is allowed to heresy. For this right has been granted to priests only.

(Penance 1:1 [A.D. 388] )

St. Jerome

If the serpent, the devil, bites someone secretly, he infects that person with the venom of sin. And if the one who has been bitten keeps silence and does not do penance, and does not want to confess his wound . . . then his brother and his master, who have the word [of absolution] that will cure him, cannot very well assist him.

(Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:11 [A.D. 388] )


Confirmation (Catholic Answers)

Confirmation (Joe Gallegos)


St. Hippolytus

The bishop, imposing his hand on them, shall make an invocation, saying, ‘O Lord God, who made them worthy of the remission of sins through the Holy Spirit’s washing unto rebirth, send into them your grace so that they may serve you according to your will, for there is glory to you, to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, both now and through the ages of ages. Amen.’ Then, pouring the consecrated oil into his hand and imposing it on the head of the baptized, he shall say, ‘I anoint you with holy oil in the Lord, the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.’ Signing them on the forehead, he shall kiss them and say, ‘The Lord be with you.’ He that has been signed shall say, ‘And with your spirit.’ Thus shall he do to each.

(The Apostolic Tradition 21–22 [A.D. 215] )

St. Cyprian

It is necessary for him that has been baptized also to be anointed, so that by his having received chrism, that is, the anointing, he can be the anointed of God and have in him the grace of Christ.

(Letters 7:2 [A.D. 253] )

Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick / "Last Rites"

Extreme Unction / Anointing (Joe Gallegos)


Aphraates the Persian Sage

[O]f the sacrament of life, by which Christians, priests, kings and prophets are made perfect; it illuminates darkness, anoints the sick, and by its secret sacrament restores penitents.

(Treatises, 23:3 [A.D. 345] )

St. John Chrysostom

The priests of Judaism had power to cleanse the body from leprosy—or rather, not to cleanse it at all, but to declare a person as having been cleansed. . . . Our priests have received the power not of treating with the leprosy of the body, but with spiritual uncleanness; not of declaring cleansed, but of actually cleansing. . . . Priests accomplish this not only by teaching and admonishing, but also by the help of prayer. Not only at the time of our regeneration [in baptism], but even afterward, they have the authority to forgive sins: ‘Is there anyone among you sick? Let him call in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he has committed sins, he shall be forgiven’.

(On the Priesthood 3:6:190 ff. [A.D. 387] )

Holy Orders

Bishop, Priest, and Deacon (Catholic Answers)

Holy Orders (Joe Gallegos)


St. Ignatius of Antioch

Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest.

(Letter to the Magnesians, 6:1 [A.D. 110] )

St. Basil the Great

The Cathari are schismatics; but it seemed good to the ancient authorities, I mean Cyprian and our own Firmilianus, to reject all these, Cathari, Encratites, and Hydroparastatae, by one common condemnation, because the origin of separation arose through schism, and those who had apostatized from the Church had no longer on them the grace of the Holy Spirit, for it ceased to be imparted when the continuity was broken. The first separatists had received their ordination from the Fathers, and possessed the spiritual gift by the laying on of their hands. But they who were broken off had become laymen, and, because they are no longer able to confer on others that grace of the Holy Spirit from which they themselves are fallen away, they had no authority either to baptize or to ordain.

(To Amphilochius, Epistle 188:1 [A.D. 347] )

Holy Matrimony

The Permanence of Matrimony (Catholic Answers)

Holy Matrimony (Joe Gallegos)

Divorce: Early Church Teaching (Dave Armstrong)


St. Ignatius of Antioch

It is becoming, therefore, to men and women who marry, that they marry with the counsel of the bishop, that the marriage may be in our Lord, and not in lust. Let everything, therefore, be [done] for the honour of God.

(To Polycarp, 5 [A.D. 110] )

St. Ambrose

Since the marriage ceremony ought to be sanctified by the priestly veiling and blessing,how can that be called a marriage ceremony where there is no agreement in faith?

(To Vigilius, Letter 19:7 [A.D. 385] )

I confess, indeed, that they sometimes use freedom with the term sacrament, but what do they mean by it? all ceremonies, external writs, and exercises of piety. But when they speak of those signs which ought to be testimonies of the divine favour toward us, they are contented with those two, Baptism and the Eucharist.

Those may have a certain preeminence, but they are not the only ones so spoken of, as the above data proves. It's merely another case of Calvin seeing what he wants to see, and ignoring the rest.

Lest any one suppose that this is falsely alleged by me, I will here give a few passages from Augustine. “First, I wish you to hold that the principle point in this discussion is, that our Lord Jesus Christ (as he himself says in the gospel) has placed us under a yoke which is easy, and a burden which is light. Hence he has knit together the society of his new people by sacraments, very few in number, most easy of observance, and most excellent in meaning; such is baptism consecrated by the name of the Trinity: such is the communion of the body and blood of the Lord, and any other, if recommended in the canonical Scriptures” (August. ad. Januar. Ep. 118).

The "and any other" at the end indicates that St. Augustine did not believe in two only. We can be thankful that Calvin did not leave that part out, since he is a master of selective citation and half-truths.

Again, “After the resurrection of our Lord, our Lord himself, and apostolic discipline, appointed, instead of many, a few signs, and these most easy of performance, most august in meaning, most chaste in practice; such is baptism and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord” (August. De. Doct. Christ. Lib. 3 cap. 9).

Again, "such is" does not equate with two only. He simply cites two that are preeminent.

Why does he here make no mention of the sacred number, I mean seven?

Because that was not yet a formal understanding of the Church: in those terms.

Is it probable that he would have omitted it if it had then been established in the Church, especially seeing he is otherwise more curious in observing numbers than might be necessary?

Yes. It wasn't established; rather it was a developing doctrine, just as many others were. For example, the Two Natures of Christ doctrine was still developing several hundred years after Augustine's time. The doctrine of the atonement developed rather late: particularly by St. Anselm, but also by other prominent teachers.

Nay, when he makes mention of Baptism and the Supper, and is silent as to others, does he not sufficiently intimate that these two ordinances excel in special dignity, and that other ceremonies sink down to an inferior place?

No, not necessarily.

Wherefore, I say, that those sacramentary doctors are not only unsupported by the word of God,

This is an utter falsehood. I shall provide a great abundance of biblical proofs as the chapter proceeds (in the sections for each of the five disputed sacraments).

but also by the consent of the early Church, however much they may plume themselves on the pretence that they have this consent. But let us now come to particulars.

I have offered much proof from the fathers in links for the reader to peruse. Calvin has only offered a few tidbits from St. Augustine, claiming that he is indicative of the fathers as a whole ("who may represent all the others") in his (incorrectly alleged) views. I have shown that Augustine accepted the essential Catholic meaning of all seven sacraments (therefore if indeed he is seen to "represent all the others" then the Catholic case for seven sacraments in the fathers is firmly established and sealed (no pun intended):

Confession / Reconciliation / Absolution / Penance / Satisfaction
I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance.

(Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 [A.D. 395] )

Let no one say I do penance secretly; I perform it in the sight of God, and He who is to pardon me knows that in my heart I repent . . . Was it then said to no purpose, "What you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed in heaven"? Was it for nothing that the keys were given to the Church?

(Sermo cccxcii, n. 3, in P.L., XXXIX, 1711)


Or when we imposed our hand upon these children, did each of you wait to see whether they would speak with tongues? and when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so perverse of heart as to say "These have not received the Holy Ghost?"

(Tractate 6 on the Gospel of John).

Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick / "Last Rites"

In St. Augustine's Speculum de Scripturâ (an. 427); in P.L., XXXIV, 887-1040), which is made up almost entirely of Scriptural texts, without comment by the compiler, and is intended as a handy manual of Christian piety, doctrinal and practical, the injunction of St. James regarding the prayer-unction of the sick is quoted. This shows that the rite was a commonplace in the Christian practice of that age; and we are told by Possidius, in his Life of Augustine (c. xxvii, in P.L., XXXII, 56), that the saint himself "followed the rule laid down by the Apostle that he should visit only orphans and widows in their tribulation (James 1:27), and that if he happened to be asked by the sick to pray to the Lord for them and impose hands on them, he did so without delay" . . . It is fair, then, to conclude from the biographer's statement that, when called upon to do so, St. Augustine himself used to administer the Jacobean unction to the sick.

(The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Extreme Unction")

Holy Orders

In like manner as if there take place an ordination of clergy in order to form a congregation of people, although the congregation of people follow not, yet there remains in the ordained persons the Sacrament of Ordination; and if, for any fault, any be removed from his office, he will not be without the Sacrament of the Lord once for all set upon him, albeit continuing unto condemnation.

(On the Good of Marriage, 24:32 [A.D. 401] )

. . . just as priests are ordained to draw together a Christian community, and even though no such community be formed, the Sacrament of Orders still abides in those ordained, or just as the Sacrament of the Lord, once it is conferred, abides even in one who is dismissed from his office on account of guilt, although in such a one it abides unto judgment.

("De bono conjugii", chapter 24)

Holy Matrimony

Undoubtedly the substance of the sacrament is of this bond, so that when man and woman have been joined in marriage they must continue inseparably as long as they live, nor is it allowed for one spouse to be separated from the other except for cause of fornication. For this is preserved in the case of Christ and the Church, so that, as a living one with a living one, there is no divorce, no separation forever.

(Marriage and Concupiscence 1:10:11 [A.D. 419] )

In marriage, however, let the blessings of marriage be loved: offspring, fidelity, and the sacramental bond. . . . The sacramental bond, which they lose neither through separation nor through adultery, this the spouses should guard chastely and harmoniously.

(Ibid., 1:17:19)

Among all people and all men the good that is secured by marriage consists in the offspring and in the chastity of married fidelity; but, in the case of God's people [the Christians], it consists moreover in the holiness of the sacrament, by reason of which it is forbidden, even after a separation has taken place, to marry another as long as the first partner lives.

("De bono conjugii", chapter 24)

No comments: