Sacramental Graces and Practical Apostasy

Dec 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

If the Catholic view of the efficacy of grace is correct, why are “bad Catholics” so prevalent (and so bad)? As I considered conversion from the Reformed faith, this was a question to which I returned regularly. But since being received into full communion with the Catholic Church, and viewing things from a Catholic frame, the question had slipped into the quietude of “non-issue” for me.

But a recent encounter with a “battle buddy” in the military reminded me how much this question had previously troubled me. My friend “Mike” considers himself Catholic. He was raised going to church and attended Catholic schools. But he does not attend mass on many weekends, and has not been to confession in years. He would not agree with the Church on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or on her rejection of birth control, pornography, or masturbation as being morally licit.

At first blush, there appears to be a disconnect between Mike’s lifestyle and the Catholic teaching that real graces are received through the sacraments regardless of the state of the recipient. That is, if the Catholic sacramental teaching were true, one might reasonably anticipate that all recipients of the sacraments would show signs of being recipients of grace. Is the Catholic sacramental doctrine proven false by the prevalent reality of apostate Catholics?

This problem stopped bothering me after I entered the Church because I came to appreciate what the Church of Christ truly is. The Church is, first and foremost, a place for sinners seeking healing. It is a place for us who are afflicted with an interior moral leprosy. What the Catholic Church appreciates particularly well is that all sin has consequences, not just eternal, but temporal too. We have all heard a hurtful comment made at church before, and have seen the harm such comments can have. Our flaws and sins are so magnified by the beauty of faith.

So we should anticipate, and we in fact see, that when the Church gathers in local groupings of sinners, the waves of sin-consequences flow together into an upheaval, a confused sea. In the Church you see whole families falling away because of apathy toward the faith. You see people hurting people. This does not mean that grace is inactive; it means that our sinfulness is at times overwhelmingly substantial.

But you also see love conquering over sin in so many instances. You see the grace of God acting through His followers to touch suffering people who live in pitiable conditions. You see brilliant people walking away from certain worldly success to give themselves over to service. You see some of the closest families (often large families) pouring out love one to another in everything they do. These signs of hope give evidence of Christ’s efficacious graces flowing through the flock and tempering, eventually conquering sin in our lives.

Besides realizing that the Church was a place for sinners, and as such I should expect to see sinfulness in spite of the riches of grace available in the sacraments, there is another reason I stopped concerning myself about the inherent efficacy of the sacraments. The catechesis being done in Catholic homes – homes touched by the moral failings of western society in general – got lousy for a long time. Take Mike, for example, who does not even know that the Church still teaches from a Catechism.

This poor catechesis, this failing of parents and teachers, leaves the Church’s children in great peril of abandoning the faith even though they receive the sacraments. The children do not recognize what it is they are receiving (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:29). They do not recognize the snares of the world into which they walk. The lack of teaching also leaves a whole host of people self-describing as “Catholic” even though they have sacramentally removed themselves from the Church, self-made excommunicants. In this way the average American knows scads of “catholics,” but knows a much smaller number of faithfully practicing Catholics. This gives an exaggerated and undeserved perception that the Church’s sacraments are failing to live up to expectations.

Finally, the widespread apostasy of Catholic-raised men and women, in spite of their having received efficacious sacraments, is understood by looking at the Catholic teaching on free will. The Christian sacramental initiation is not a mystical vesting of salvation. That is, it does not give us the legal right to enter Heaven. If it did, St. Paul would not have referred to beating his body in order to make his “calling and election sure.” (2 Peter 1:10.) It would be a mistaken view of grace to see it as so powerful as to blow away our own sinful wills. Grace perfects nature, it does not commandeer it.

The lived reality in the Catholic Church is the complex and metaphysical interplay between man’s freedom to sin or pursue holiness; Satan’s and other evil spirits’ actual influence of men and women into evil practices; and God’s loving grace to bolster men and women in the face of these challenges. His grace is not simply dispositive in a way that robs us of our freedom, nor is it inadequate to allow us salvation. With the Catholic Church of the modern day in western nations, we see but one snapshot of what the complex interplay of good and evil with human freedom can look like.

We all sin so much, and our sins can so easily hurt the Church and those around us. The true shock, then, is not that the Catholic Church is so replete with sin, but that the Catholic Church holds together at all, preaching Christ and calling on His mother in every generation as “blessed.” May we not settle for apathy and disunity, but strive each and every day for vigilant holiness and sacramental unity.

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  1. Nice to see you writing Tom! One other thing I would add is that the efficacy of the sacraments are most likely not received by these individuals. A sacrament is intrinsically efficacious, but that doesn’t mean that the recipient will receive the graces. An individual may place an impediment to reception of the sacramental grace by something (such as mortal sin).

    So these cafeteria Catholics who rarely go to mass and who reject so much of the faith are most likely not receiving the graces of the sacraments because they are in a state of mortal sin.

  2. It’s hard to touch this subject without sounding like a Pharisee. Let me start by saying that I am a sinner, and a convert to Catholicism from a Calvinist background.

    There are lots of Catholics and lots of Protestants that I admire for their holiness and Christian walk. Perhaps where I’ve noticed a difference is in terms of extreme holiness. Certainly there are wonderful and faithful Christians of many stripes. But within the Catholic Church I encountered people that reach a level of holiness that I did not know was possible on this earth. I am thinking of folks like the Little Sisters of the Poor. Just as when one hears about a terrible crime, it stretches one’s mind about how evil people can be, encountering the sisters stretches one’s mind in terms of how good and holy someone can become. Of course, I would attribute it to the power of Jesus as dispensed through the sacramental life.

  3. I would like to add that approaching the sacraments while not in a proper relationship with God (or properly motivated to be in a right relationship) will not only cause an obstacle to grace, but can actually push an individual further away from God.

    1 Cor 11:29 “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”

  4. Tim,

    Look at it systemically though. We can assume that most western Catholics today, particularly those we are discussing here, are ‘ancestral’ Catholics. So even if Mike doesn’t receive the graces because of his broken relationship with the Church, at some point in his lineage, whether it was his parents or up yonder, there was a faithful Catholic receiving the graces transmitted by the sacraments. So take that as a clarification of my point that one might reasonably expect to see the fruits of grace at work in the Church when one looks at the Church from afar — and one might challenge the Catholic claim by pointing out all the bad Catholics out there.

    Brian,

    I agree; it is not only fruitless for a person in mortal sin to receive the sacraments, but actually harmful in that they call down judgment on their waywardness. They are shunning the free offer God makes to them. This is why the current state of affairs in so many of our parishes is so saddening and frustrating.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  5. Tom Brown: That is, if the Catholic sacramental teaching were true, one might reasonably anticipate that all recipients of the sacraments would show signs of being recipients of grace.

    I am not sure what you are trying to say here. The meritorious effects of the sacramental graces can be blocked by those who receive the sacraments in an unworthy manner. But God’s grace is never wasted – the sacramental grace that is not received by the one who places obstacles in the way of receiving those graces will be given to those who are properly disposed to receive those graces.

    But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

    Matthew 25:26-30

    opus operatum; ex opere operato

    A technical phrase used by theologians since the 13th century to signify that the sacraments produce grace of themselves, apart and distinct from the grace dependent upon the intention of the person conferring the sacrament; the latter effect is designated by the phrase ex opere operantis. The phrase is first found in the writings of Peter of Poitiers (c.1130-1215),

    “The act of Baptism is not identical with Baptism because it is an opus operans while Baptism is an opus operatum.”

    The phrase was not in general use in the time of Saint Thomas but it was officially adopted by the Council of Trent and used to signify the objective character of the sacraments as producers of grace in opposition to the subjectivism of the Reformers. According to Trent, therefore, the term opus operatun signifies that the correct use of the sign instituted by Christ produces the grace irrespectively of the merits of either minister or recipient (ex opere operantis), though the intention of conferring the sacrament is required in the minister and the intention of receiving in the recipient, if he be an adult, for a valid and worthy reception of the sacrament. For the council clearly states that the sacraments “confer Grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto.”

    New Catholic Dictionary

    For the council clearly states that the sacraments “confer Grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto.”

    The vocation of every Catholic is a vocation of holiness. The nominal Catholic that has no intention of listening to the Church, or living a life of holiness, has certainly placed an obstacle in the path towards holiness.

    Brian : … approaching the sacraments while not in a proper relationship with God (or properly motivated to be in a right relationship) will not only cause an obstacle to grace, but can actually push an individual further away from God.

    Well said! The intention of those receiving the sacraments matters greatly – ex opere operantis.

    “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

  6. Mateo,

    I meant that one who knows the Catholic teaching on sacramental graces, that grace subsists in the sacrament qua sacrament, might reasonably reach this conclusion: the recipients of said grace-filled sacraments can be expected to show signs of receiving grace.

    Please note that I do not deny the further Catholic qualification, that there can be obstacles to the reception of the graces objectively conveyed in the sacrament. My post went on to explore why it is that we have the two truisms that the sacraments contain real graces, and that there are many self-described Catholics who fail to evidence the reception of graces.

    Your and Tim’s point about the condition of heart that prevents one from benefiting from these graces is a valid one. Like I said to him above, I meant more to explore the systemic question: in a familial line of Catholics who were (until some certain point in time) all faithful recipients of the grace-filled sacraments, how did they even get to a point where someone was in mortal sin? I hope my post answered that question.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  7. Tom Brown: That is, if the Catholic sacramental teaching were true, one might reasonably anticipate that all recipients of the sacraments would show signs of being recipients of grace…

    I agree; it is not only fruitless for a person in mortal sin to receive the sacraments, but actually harmful in that they call down judgment on their waywardness.

    Indeed. As St Paul says, receiving the Sacrament unworthily can make you sick – or even kill you.

    So one would expect Catholics to show those signs, in some cases by being holier than average – and in some by being worse. And I think that is what one does see. abusus optimi pessimus Unholy humans are much worse than unholy cows.

    jj

  8. Tom:

    The true shock, then, is not that the Catholic Church is so replete with sin, but that the Catholic Church holds together at all, preaching Christ and calling on His mother in every generation as “blessed.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. Happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    Best,
    Mike

  9. “in a familial line of Catholics who were (until some certain point in time) all faithful recipients of the grace-filled sacraments, how did they even get to a point where someone was in mortal sin? I hope my post answered that question.”

    The sacraments don’t take away our free will.

    Adam and Eve had the perfect Father, and were born without sin–but still chose to disobey.

  10. John,

    Indeed. As St Paul says, receiving the Sacrament unworthily can make you sick – or even kill you.

    Not to sound snide, because I’m genuinely curious, but why is it that many Catholics who unrepentantly refuse to submit to the Church’s teaching take the Eucharist repeatedly without seeming to suffer any ill-effects?
    I realize you could say that they are storing up divine judgment in the hereafter–which, if Catholicism is true, they certainly are–but as you said, St. Paul warns that taking the Eucharist unworthily can in fact have this-world effects on your health. I personally know at least two Catholics who don’t exactly exhibit behavior that is in line with the Church’s teaching, but who, so far as I know, are both (at least infrequently) communicants.

    Spencer

  11. The true shock, then, is not that the Catholic Church is so replete with sin, but that the Catholic Church holds together at all, preaching Christ and calling on His mother in every generation as “blessed.”

    One thinks of the famous story in the Decameron in which the fact that the Church persists despite corruption in high places is proof of its divine origin :-)

    jj

  12. but why is it that many Catholics who unrepentantly refuse to submit to the Church’s teaching take the Eucharist repeatedly without seeming to suffer any ill-effects?

    “Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance?

    By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works.” –Rom 2:4-6

  13. Spencer:

    Not to sound snide, because I’m genuinely curious, but why is it that many Catholics who unrepentantly refuse to submit to the Church’s teaching take the Eucharist repeatedly without seeming to suffer any ill-effects?
    I realize you could say that they are storing up divine judgment in the hereafter–which, if Catholicism is true, they certainly are–but as you said, St. Paul warns that taking the Eucharist unworthily can in fact have this-world effects on your health. I personally know at least two Catholics who don’t exactly exhibit behavior that is in line with the Church’s teaching, but who, so far as I know, are both (at least infrequently) communicants.

    I wish I knew. Yes, you are right, one sometimes wish God’s judgements were a little more … public – but perhaps not the best attitude. Psalm 37 and green bay trees come to mind!

    jj

  14. My priest told the story of a woman who said, “I don’t go to Church anymore because it’s full of hypocrites.” The priest said, “Who’s a hypocrite? Let me know so that I can rebuke them!” With that, the woman broke down in tears. Likewise: Tell me, who are these bad Catholics that are unworthy to receive communion? Let me know so that I can rebuke them!

  15. Very good and helpful post. Looking to this post in turretinfan, about the same issue “bad fruits of Catholics”, I wanted to point out that like I have seen in other fundamentalists like reformation500’s Bugay (though I am glad that turretinfan admits that the scandals does not deal with the fact if the RCC is or not the True Church found by Christ) even here you can see those alliances which remind you of that of Herod with the Pilate, before crucifying Christ. Here is about the weakyleaks, and in other posts I have seen the alliances with the anti-christian historians, when they are united against apostolic sucession, papacy etc.

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2010/12/church-christ-founded.html

    Leonard

  16. Tom,

    This may be off-topic a bit, but what would you say to Martin Luther’s objections along these lines to the sacrament of the anointing of the sick (I’m thinking of the objection where he says something like “look, lots of people receive the anointing and still die, so obviously it is not efficacious like the Catholic Church teaches.”)?

  17. Leonard,

    Thank you for pointing that other blog post out; I had not seen it. It’s interesting that he wrote that around the same time I did. His argument is that while great sin in the life of the Catholic Church does not disprove Catholicism’s claims about itself, the sin is “evidence” that is nonetheless hard to reconcile with those claims.

    I hope what I’ve said here is a competent response. There are complex forces at play on all fronts. I hope this fellow at Turretinfan pushes himself to look a little deeper than this “evidence” that he finds hard to reconcile with his understanding of the Catholic Church’s claims.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  18. Tom Brown: Please note that I do not deny the further Catholic qualification, that there can be obstacles to the reception of the graces objectively conveyed in the sacrament. My post went on to explore why it is that we have the two truisms that the sacraments contain real graces, and that there are many self-described Catholics who fail to evidence the reception of graces.

    The points you made about why the sacramental graces may not bring about an increased holiness in the recipients of the sacraments are well made; e.g. “This poor catechesis, this failing of parents and teachers, leaves the Church’s children in great peril of abandoning the faith even though they receive the sacraments. The children do not recognize what it is they are receiving (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:29). They do not recognize the snares of the world into which they walk …”. And your comment as to why there are sinners in Christ’s Church is also well made: “The Church is, first and foremost, a place for sinners seeking healing.” As you say, we should expect to see sinners in Christ’s church, since “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17).

    Tom Brown: I meant that one who knows the Catholic teaching on sacramental graces, that grace subsists in the sacrament qua sacrament, might reasonably reach this conclusion: the recipients of said grace-filled sacraments can be expected to show signs of receiving grace.

    You also wrote the following, which gave me pause for reflection:

    At first blush, there appears to be a disconnect between Mike’s lifestyle and the Catholic teaching that real graces are received through the sacraments regardless of the state of the recipient.

    … Besides realizing that the Church was a place for sinners, and as such I should expect to see sinfulness in spite of the riches of grace available in the sacraments, there is another reason I stopped concerning myself about the inherent efficacy of the sacraments.

    Is it unconditionally true that real graces are “received through the sacraments regardless of the state of the recipient”? Are the sacramental graces inherently efficacious without regard to a person’s state of grace when the sacraments are received? I want to comment on these questions for those who might be reading this thread – my comments are for those that are trying to understand what the Catholic Church teaches in this matter. Here is my understanding. I will start with the case of an infant in an Eastern Rite Catholic Church to whom all three Sacraments of Initiation are given (Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation and the Eucharist). Real sacramental graces are indeed received by that infant, regardless of the fact that the infant was in a state of original sin before the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation. In this case, the sacraments are always inherently efficacious. Now take the case of a man that is in a state of moral sin that partakes of the Sacrament of the Eucharist that has been validly and licitly consecrated at the Divine Liturgy. Is it true that he will unconditionally receive the sacramental grace of that Eucharist, regardless of his state of grace? Not at all. The Eucharist that he partakes of is illicit for him, because he is in a state of mortal sin. He may not receive any grace at all from the sacrament, but instead, he may receive divine wrath because he received the Eucharist illicitly. The Eucharist that he illicitly received is still the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the graces of that sacrament will not be wasted because he has created an obstacle for their reception. Someone that is disposed to receive the graces of the sacrament he received illicitly will benefit from those graces. I think that the idea that the sacramental grace of the Eucharist is never wasted was illustrated visually in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in scenes that baffled some of my Protestant friends. In Gibson’s film, Pilate’s wife, Claudia Procula, gives Mary a gift of fine linen, and Mary uses it to soak up the shed blood of Jeus. I believe that the idea here is that the Precious Blood of Jesus (which is received in the Eucharist) is never wasted. The Precious Blood was shed for the sins of all men at the Cross, but the shed blood of the Christ does not bring about the salvation of all men. God the Father never allows the Precious Blood to be trampled into the ground by unrepentant men.

    Tom Brown: If the Catholic view of the efficacy of grace is correct, why are “bad Catholics” so prevalent (and so bad)? As I considered conversion from the Reformed faith, this was a question to which I returned regularly.

    An older cradle Catholic might be surprised that this would even be a question that you would ponder. But I suppose that is because the cradle Catholic might have little understanding of what a person brought up in a Reformed community might have been taught about grace. In my admittedly limited understanding of Reformed theology, the Calvinists believe that the person that has been unconditionally elected to receive grace will automatically lead a life of holiness, since all grace is supposedly “irresistible”. If grace automatically brings about holiness in an adult, then the reception of the sacraments (which are the primary channels of grace) should automatically bring about holiness in adults. But for Catholics, especially older cradle Catholics, it is an alien way of thinking to believe that grace is “irresistible” after one reaches the age of reason. I was taught that even if I was in state of grace, I also had the freewill that allowed me to make a choice to commit mortal sin. That choice for evil would cause me to fall from grace, just as Adam and Eve used their free will to choose evil and fall from grace.

    Pre-Vatican II, there was a great of effort expended by priests and religious education teachers to instill in Catholics a fear of falling from grace. Catholics were taught that they should go to confession when they sinned, and there was plenty of instruction about what constituted sinful behavior. Today, Catholics often receive a watered down catechesis about what constitutes sinful behavior. Catholic guilt is out, and huggy-Jesus is in, and the new catechesis is partially an overreaction to an older catechesis that so emphasized the wrath of God against sinful behavior. It is a challenge to develop a balanced catechesis that teaches both the reality of mortal sin, and that a loving God is on our side as we struggle against our concupiscence. Within the Protestant world I see the same challenge – how to present a Gospel that is neither exclusively hellfire and damnation nor insipid kumbaya pablum.

    As to the catechesis on transforming power of grace, Catholics, of course, have never been taught anything that smacks of “Once Saved, Always Saved” – neither the Calvinist version of OSAS, nor the antinomian version of OSAS that is commonly taught among evangelical Protestant sects such as the Southern Baptists. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I ever heard antinomian OSAS being preached, and I was amazed that anyone could actually believe that this was the Gospel preached by Jesus. It just seemed so obvious to me that the scriptures utterly repudiated the notion that a Christian could die as an unrepentant serial killer, an unrepentant apostate, or an unrepentant Satan worshipper and still be bound for glory after his death. But such is the logic of a doctrine of grace that asserts that if a man gets “saved” at some time in his life, that there is no conceivable sin that the “saved” man could ever commit that would cause him to be damned.

    In my relatively uniformed understanding of Calvinism, I assume that the typical Calvinist’s belief about “the perseverance of the saints” (i.e. Calvinist OSAS) leaves no room for antinomianism. If one did die as, say, an unrepentant Satan worshipper, the Calvinist would say that the Satanist “was never one of the elect in the first place” – or something to that effect, since holiness is a sign of election. But as a Catholic, the Calvinist version of OSAS never struck me as making any sense either, since it denies that the sin of apostasy can be even committed – (only Christians can commit the sin of apostasy, and if a Christian can never lose his election, then no one can commit the sin of apostasy). Why all the warnings in the scriptures about the sin of apostasy if no one can commit the sin of apostasy?

    When I first heard Harold Camping preach a Calvinist version of OSAS on his Family Radio station, I thought that Harold Camping wasn’t thinking clearly, that he was unaware that he was implying that he had no freewill. Later, I actually heard Harold Camping declare that he had no freewill, which left me speechless. How can you argue with a man that believes he has no freewill? What does even mean for a man to “sin”, if he has no freewill? Time spent at CTC, makes me think that Harold Camping isn’t the best person from which to learn a “Reformed” understanding of matters concerning freewill. I am hoping that CTC will publish a lead article about freewill and mortal sin some time in the future.

    If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. 1 John 5:16-17 RSV

  19. Tom B.:

    You wrote:

    I hope what I’ve said here is a competent response. There are complex forces at play on all fronts. I hope this fellow at Turretinfan pushes himself to look a little deeper than this “evidence” that he finds hard to reconcile with his understanding of the Catholic Church’s claims.

    I’m not sure your post necessarily responds directly to the issues I was raising, though it does seem to have some overlap. My points were more intuitive. We frequently hear appeals to Rome’s political unity, but we wonder why we should consider unity of more value than purity.

    -TurretinFan

  20. TurretinFan wrote:

    We frequently hear appeals to Rome’s political unity, but we wonder why we should consider unity of more value than purity.

    This assumes that Protestant doctrine is purer. Catholics believe the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, and that corruptions and novelties arose later.

  21. Dear Christine,

    My post was actually dealing with issues of moral purity on which (in principle) both your and my church agree. There may also be a question of doctrinal purity, but that was not my point. I do understand that your church claims to have the fullness of truth, and I am sure you understand that we respectfully disagree.

    -TurretinFan

  22. Tom,

    Mateo’s comment #18 is helpful. The Seventh Session of the Council of Trent provides three relevant canons which must be taken together to be rightly understood:

    Canon 6. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer that grace on those who place no obstacles in its way, as though they were only outward signs of grace or justice received through faith and certain marks of Christian profession, whereby among men believers are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be anathema.

    Canon 7. If anyone says that grace, so far as God’s part is concerned, is not imparted through the sacraments always and to all men even if they receive them rightly, but only sometimes and to some persons, let him be anathema.

    Canon 8. If anyone says that by the sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred ex opere operato, but that faith alone in the divine promise is sufficient to obtain grace, let him be anathema.

    Some Protestants (and probably some Catholics) mistakenly conceive of ex opere operato as though the recipient necessarily receives grace by receiving the sacrament. In other words, they think that what is said in Canon 8 is incompatible with the the qualification “on those who place no obstacles in its way” in Canon 6. But that is a misunderstanding of of the meaning of ex opere operato. Ex opere operato does not entail that every recipient of the sacrament receives grace. It means that grace is always given in the sacrament, by an objective efficacy of the sacrament, as a genuine instrumental cause by divine ordination; but the grace that is given can be resisted or blocked, by the recipient who places an obstacle in the way.

    The qualification “on those who place no obstacles in its way” had been previously taught by Pope Eugenius IV in his Decree for the Armenians in 1439, who explains that the sacraments contain grace and confer grace upon those who receive them worthily (i.e. do not place an obstacle in its way). (See Denzinger 695). Pope Eugene IV was standing in the doctrinal tradition he had received, as we can see by comparing what he wrote with what St. Thomas says about the sacraments in that section of his < http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeArticulisFidei.htm” target=”_blank”>De articulis fidei et Ecclesiae sacramentis (On the Articles of Faith and the Sacraments of the Church), which he wrote around 1261. St. Thomas there writes:

    The effect of the Sacrament is likewise impeded through the fault of the recipient, for example, if one feigns to receive it and with a heart unprepared to receive worthily. Such a one, although he actually receives the Sacrament, does not receive the effect of the Sacrament, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit. “For the Holy Spirit of discipline will flee from the deceitful.” [Wis. 1:5] On the other hand, however, there are some who never even receive sacramentally, yet who receive the effect of the Sacrament because of their devotion towards the Sacrament, which they may have in desire or in a vow.

    St. Thomas makes a distinction between receiving the sacrament, and receiving the effect of the sacrament (i.e. grace). The person who approaches the sacrament unprepared to receive it worthily, may place an obstacle to the reception of the grace conferred by that sacrament.

    In 1273, the year before he died, St. Thomas raised the following objection in Summa Theologica III Q.69 a.8:

    Further, grace and virtues are bestowed on man by Baptism. But some, after Baptism, seem to have more grace and more perfect virtue than others who have been baptized. Therefore Baptism has not an equal effect in all. (Summa Theologica III Q.69 a.8 arg.2)

    He replies to that objection as follows:

    That greater or lesser grace appears in the baptized, may occur in two ways. First, because one receives greater grace in Baptism than another, on account of his greater devotion, as stated above. Secondly, because, though they receive equal grace, they do not make an equal use of it, but one applies himself more to advance therein, while another by his negligence baffles grace. (Summa Theologica III Q.69 a.8 ad.2)(my emphasis)

    St. Thomas here explains that there are two ways in which greater or lesser grace can [subsequently] appear in the baptized. The first is that some people receive greater grace in baptism than do others. And the second is that some people apply themselves more with the grace they have received, so as to advance more or grow more in grace, while others, by negligence of the grace given to them, “baffle” [deest] the grace they received in baptism, and thereby squelch, smother, diminish or even expel it.

    Why then do some receive more grace in baptism than do others? In the Responseo of that article he writes:

    The effect of Baptism is twofold, the essential effect, and the accidental. The essential effect of Baptism is that for which Baptism was instituted, namely, the begetting of men unto spiritual life. Therefore, since all children are equally disposed to Baptism, because they are baptized not in their own faith, but in that of the Church, they all receive an equal effect in Baptism. Whereas adults, who approach Baptism in their own faith, are not equally disposed to Baptism; for some approach thereto with greater, some with less, devotion. And therefore some receive a greater, some a smaller share of the grace of newness; just as from the same fire, he receives more heat who approaches nearest to it, although the fire, as far as it is concerned, sends forth its heat equally to all.

    But the accidental effect of Baptism, is that to which Baptism is not ordained, but which the Divine power produces miraculously in Baptism: thus on Romans 6:6, “that we may serve sin no longer,” a gloss says: “this is not bestowed in Baptism, save by an ineffable miracle of the Creator, so that the law of sin, which is in our members, be absolutely destroyed.” And such like effects are not equally received by all the baptized, even if they approach with equal devotion: but they are bestowed according to the ordering of Divine providence.

    Here he is saying that the essential effect of baptism, i.e. regeneration (i.e. becoming a partaker of the divine life), is given equally to all who are baptized prior to attaining the age of reason, because prior to the age of reason, all are equally disposed to Baptism, because they are not baptized in their own faith (in fide propria), i.e. by their own act of faith. Others speak on their own behalf. (See Summa Theologica III Q. 69 a.6 ad 3, where St. Thomas writes, “As Augustine says [Serm. clxxvi]: “Mother Church lends other feet to the little children that they may come; another heart that they may believe; another tongue that they may confess.” So that children believe, not by their own act, but by the faith of the Church, which is applied to them: by the power of which faith, grace and virtues are bestowed on them.”)

    But in the case of those who have already reached the age of reason, not all come to baptism with the same devotion. Some come to baptism with greater devotion, and some with lesser devotion. And since those who have reached the age of reason are baptized in their own faith, i.e. by their own act of faith, and since grace is given according to the measure of devotion of the recipient, therefore in those who are baptized after having reached the age of reason, some receive more grace than do others.

    In the second paragraph of his Responseo he talks about the accidental effect of baptism. Here he is talking about what God may choose to do miraculously in baptism, beyond that which He has promised to do in baptism and for which He instituted the sacrament of baptism. Here is referring to miraculous cases where concupiscence (i.e. the disorder in the lower appetites) has been greatly diminished or destroyed in baptism. This effect is not equally received by all in baptism, but only as God in His providence wills it.

    In article 9 of that same question, St. Thomas asks: “Whether insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism?” He answers:

    As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), “God does not compel man to be righteous.” Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. Wherefore it is manifest that insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism.

    St. Thomas sees this notion, that the disposition of the recipient can block or impede the effect of the sacrament, as part of the Tradition. He quotes from St. John Damascene and St. Augustine regarding this question, and his answer is sufficiently clear.

    In his section of the Summa Theologica on the sacrament of the Eucharist, St. Thomas asks “Whether the forgiveness of mortal sin is an effect of this sacrament [i.e. the Eucharist]?”. He answers:

    The power of this sacrament [i.e. the Eucharist] can be considered in two ways. First of all, in itself: and thus this sacrament has from Christ’s Passion the power of forgiving all sins, since the Passion is the fount and cause of the forgiveness of sins. Secondly, it can be considered in comparison with the recipient of the sacrament, in so far as there is, or is not, found in him an obstacle to receiving the fruit of this sacrament. Now whoever is conscious of mortal sin, has within him an obstacle to receiving the effect of this sacrament; since he is not a proper recipient of this sacrament, both because he is not alive spiritually, and so he ought not to eat the spiritual nourishment, since nourishment is confined to the living; and because he cannot be united with Christ, which is the effect of this sacrament, as long as he retains an attachment towards mortal sin. Consequently, as is said in the book De Eccles. Dogm.: “If the soul leans towards sin, it is burdened rather than purified from partaking of the Eucharist.” Hence, in him who is conscious of mortal sin, this sacrament does not cause the forgiveness of sin. (Summa Theologica III Q.79 a.3 co.)(my emphasis)

    St. Thomas draws this from St. Paul, because in the sed contra of that same article he writes, “It is written (1 Corinthians 11:29): “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.” (This language of receiving “worthily,” used later by Pope Eugenius IV, has its origin in this verse.) Here he explains that being conscious of mortal sin is an obstacle to receiving grace in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    In article 8 of this same question, St. Thomas asks: “Whether the effect of this sacrament [i.e. the Eucharist] is hindered by venial sin?” He answers:

    Venial sins can be taken in two ways: first of all as past, secondly as in the act of being committed. Venial sins taken in the first way do not in any way hinder the effect of this sacrament. For it can come to pass that after many venial sins a man may approach devoutly to this sacrament and fully secure its effect. Considered in the second way venial sins do not utterly hinder the effect of this sacrament, but merely in part. For, it has been stated above (Article 1), that the effect of this sacrament is not only the obtaining of habitual grace or charity, but also a certain actual refreshment of spiritual sweetness: which is indeed hindered if anyone approach to this sacrament with mind distracted through venial sins; but the increase of habitual grace or of charity is not taken away.

    St. Thomas here explains that if one comes to the sacrament of the Eucharist without any attachment to venial sin, those past acts of venial sin do not hinder the effect of this sacrament. But if one comes to the sacrament of the Eucharist clinging to venial sin (and thus not with full and complete devotion to Christ), the refreshment of spiritual sweetness (refectio spiritualis dulcedinis) effected by this sacrament is diminished, but not the increase of habitual grace and charity. So not only mortal sin, but even venial sin can impede the reception of the grace offered to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    In each of these cases, we see the general principle expressed later in Session Seven at the Council of Trent, namely, that the disposition of the recipient of the sacrament can place an obstacle to the grace conferred by that sacrament.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. Devin,

    I think it’s a complete misapprehension of what is promised in the efficacy of the sacrament of anointing. It’s not magical potion that heals all physical ailments, for sure. And it’s not mere symbology. There’s plenty of terrain between these two points, and here is what the above discussion is getting at with Mateo et al.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  24. Mateo, I guess I wrote with the teaching that a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace in mind, and was not giving much of an eye to subjective instances where the mortally sinful condition of the recipient blocks said graces. That led me to sloppy and incorrect word choices. Thank you for your valuable explanation and articulation.

    Bryan, thank you for the explanation. Grace is always given over but not necessarily received.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  25. @turretinfan:

    My post was actually dealing with issues of moral purity on which (in principle) both your and my church agree.

    Important point – but perhaps sets up a false dichotomy: purity vs unity.

    The Catholic Church has, at various times during its history, been more or less insistent on the purity of its membership. As is well known, during the early centuries of persecution, moral failure would place you quickly under quite severe discipline. At other times – and ours may be one – you have to work fairly hard to get in trouble. That the current perceived (I’m not sure how real it is) laxity is not a good thing, many, including myself, would agree. That the Protestant conclusion – that moral purity can somehow make a schismatic group into a church in any sense – follows, is, by no means, clear.

    If, as I believe, Jesus made His Church one – then it is one, and if you say that ‘one’ doesn’t have to mean organisational oneness, then, it seems to me, you have defined ‘one’ in a way that deprives it of much meaning. In what sense am I, a Catholic, in oneness with, say, a Baptist, but not, for instance, with a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness – even an atheist who is a man of good will?

    ‘Oneness’ always meant, in the early Church, submission to the Church’s authority, including in externals. So purity isn’t at odds with oneness; it is a desideratum, certainly – but only is genuinely attainable in the context of the oneness, including organisational oneness, of the Catholic Church.

    jj

  26. Devin, (re: #16)

    To follow up what Tom said, the sacraments were given for our spiritual perfection. That is, they are ordered to bringing us to a supernatural end. i.e. heaven. Whether we attain to heaven or hell depends on the state of our soul at the moment of our death, not on the state of our body at the moment of our death. Thus God sometimes allows us to suffer bodily, not as punishment for sin, but for the good of our soul, which good is infinitely more important than the good of our body. All the sacraments are for the conferring of grace. The primary purpose of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is not healing of the body, but the conferring of a certain supernatural grace, as we read in article 1 of Question 30 the Supplement to the Summa:

    Hence the chief object of the institution of this sacrament [i.e. anointing of the sick] is to cure the sickness of sin. Therefore, just as Baptism is a spiritual regeneration, and Penance, a spiritual resurrection, so Extreme Unction is a spiritual healing or cure.

    This sacrament heals “a certain spiritual debility in the mind,” and this healing is necessarily effected by the sacrament, provided the recipient places no obstacle:

    Since, however, this strength is given by grace, which is incompatible with sin, it follows that. in consequence, if it finds any sin, either mortal or venial, it removes it as far as the guilt is concerned, provided there be no obstacle on the part of the recipient. (Supp. Q.30 a.1)

    The next article asks whether bodily health is an effect of this sacrament. The reply reads:

    Just as Baptism causes a spiritual cleansing from spiritual stains by means of a bodily washing, so this sacrament causes an inward healing by means of an outward sacramental healing: and even as the baptismal washing has the effect of a bodily washing, since it effects even a bodily cleansing, so too, Extreme Unction has the effect of a bodily remedy, namely a healing of the body. But there is a difference, for as much as the bodily washing causes a bodily cleansing by a natural property of the bodily element, and consequently always causes it, whereas Extreme Unction causes a bodily healing, not by a natural property of the matter, but by the Divine power which works reasonably. And since reasonable working never produces a secondary effect, except in so far as it is required for the principal effect, it follows that a bodily healing does not always ensue from this sacrament, but only when it is requisite for the spiritual healing: and then it produces it always, provided there be no obstacle on the part of the recipient. (Supp. Q. 30 a.2)

    Hence Pope Eugenius IV writes in 1439 that through this sacrament we are “spiritual and corporally [healed], according as it is expedient to the soul.” Then a few paragraphs later, he writes, “Now the effect [of this sacrament] is the healing of the mind and moreover, insofar as it is expedient, of the body itself also.” In other words, if our corporal healing is expedient for the health of our soul, then provided we place no obstacle, then in this sacrament we receive both spiritual and corporal healing. But if corporal healing would not be expedient for the health of our soul, then, provided we place no obstacle, in this sacrament we receive spiritual healing but not corporal healing. The healing of the body is not the primary purpose of this sacrament; the good of the soul is the primary purpose of this sacrament, and the healing of the body is thus contingent on whether it would be expedient for the spiritual health of our soul.

    In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, we see three effects of this sacrament listed:

    Another advantage of the Sacred Unction is that it liberates the soul from the languor and infirmity which it contracted from sins, and from all the other remains of sin. The time most opportune for this cure is when we are afflicted with severe illness and danger to life impends, for it has been implanted in man by nature to dread no human visitation so much as death. This dread is greatly augmented by the recollection of our past sins, especially if our conscience accuses us of grave offences; for it is written: They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins, and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them. Another source of vehement anguish is the anxious thought that we must soon afterwards stand before the judgment seat of God, who will pass on us a sentence of strictest justice according to our deserts. It often happens that, struck with this terror, the faithful feel themselves deeply agitated; and nothing conduces more to a tranquil death than to banish sadness, await with a joyous mind the coming of our Lord, and be ready willingly to surrender the deposit entrusted whenever it shall be His will to demand it back. To free the minds of the faithful from this solicitude, and fill the soul with pious and holy joy is, then, an effect of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

    From it, moreover, we derive another advantage, which may justly be deemed the greatest of all. For although the enemy of the human race never ceases, while we live, to meditate our ruin and destruction, yet at no time does he more violently use every effort utterly to destroy us, and, if possible, deprive us of all hope of the divine mercy, than when he sees the last day of life approach. Therefore arms and strength are supplied to the faithful in this Sacrament to enable them to break the violence and impetuosity of the adversary, and to fight bravely against him; for the soul of the sick is relieved and encouraged by the hope of the divine goodness, strengthened by which it bears more lightly ail the burdens of sickness, and eludes with greater ease the artifice and cunning of the devil who lies in wait for it.

    Finally, the recovery of health, if indeed advantageous, is another effect of this Sacrament. And if in our days the sick obtain this effect less frequently, this is to be attributed, not to any defect of the Sacrament, but rather to the weaker faith of a great part of those who are anointed with the sacred oil, or by whom it is administered; for the Evangelist bears witness that the Lord wrought not many miracles among His own, because of their unbelief.

    Notice that recovery of bodily health is the third effect of this sacrament, not the first or primary effect. Notice also the qualifier: “if indeed advantageous.” The meaning of “if indeed advantageous” is if indeed bodily healing would be spiritually advantageous to us. Lastly, note that according to this Catechism, even if bodily healing would be spiritually advantageous to us, a person might not receive that effect of the sacrament, because of a particular obstacle he places to the reception of the effect of that sacrament; one such obstacle is a lack of faith. Again, as with the other sacraments, the reception of the grace conferred by that sacrament can be blocked if the recipient places an obstacle to it.

    This same teaching concerning this sacrament can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church of 1994, which says in CCC 1520 concerning this sacrament:

    A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”(my emphasis)

    The first grace of this sacrament is not physical healing, but a grace for the soul. But the grace conferred by this sacrament may also heal the soul, “if such is God’s will.” If it would be of benefit to our soul, God will also through this sacrament heal our body. But He will not do so if it would bring harm to our soul, because as mentioned above, the health of the soul is infinitely more important than the health of the body, because our eternal destiny does not depend upon the state of our body at the moment of death, but upon the state of our soul, namely, whether we are in a state of grace and have agape in our heart, or whether we are in a state of mortal sin.

    So for these reasons, hopefully it is clear why the argument: “lots of people receive the anointing [of the sick] and still die, so obviously it is not efficacious like the Catholic Church teaches” is an unsound argument. The purpose of the sacrament is not to prevent physical death, but to help us avoid the second death (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 14, 21:8). And the grace ordered to that purpose is always given, ex opere operato, but that gift is not always received, if the person places an obstacle. Physical healing is not always received through this sacrament, either because in a person’s case physical healing would not be expedient for the good of his soul, or because he places an obstacle of some sort, such as unbelief.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. My post was actually dealing with issues of moral purity…

    Sorry, but this makes even less sense–are you claiming that Protestants are more morally pure than Catholics, or care more about moral purity than Catholics??

  28. Tom Brown: Mateo, I guess I wrote with the teaching that a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace in mind, and was not giving much of an eye to subjective instances where the mortally sinful condition of the recipient blocks said graces. That led me to sloppy and incorrect word choices. Thank you for your valuable explanation and articulation.

    Thank you for your fine article. I was worried I came across as nit-picky and harsh. I want to be a source of encouragement, not discouragement, for those who labor to make CTC one of the best of the Catholic websites.

    May God bless you, and may God bring forth good fruit from your work at CTC!

  29. Dear Christine,

    No, I am not trying to compare Protestants and Catholics in terms of moral purity. Perhaps the following explanation will help to explain where my post was coming from. I’ll use numbers, so that you may more easily identify my mistakes, if you believe I am making a mistake.

    1) One of Rome’s claims is that the bishop of Rome (the pope) is the earthly head of the catholic church, meaning the universal church.

    2) If Rome’s claim is true, then Rome provides unity.

    3) However, Rome has been led by popes who were not just sinners (like all men) but who were open, unrepentant sinners (men like Alexander VI and Julius III come to mind as examples). Such men are wolves, not sheep.

    4) Thus, if Rome’s claim is true, then at some times God has handed over the entire church into the hands of a man who was a wolf – not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but an open wolf.

    5) It seems counter-intuitive (for a lot of reasons that I didn’t bring up in the original post) that the leader of the whole church would be a man who is not properly considered to be a member of the church, because he does not have faith in God (as evidenced by his openly and unrepentantly wicked life).

    6) I bring up the issue of intuition, because intuition is frequently appealed to in these discussions by folks on both sides. I’m not under the misapprehension that intuition proves anything. People can have mistaken intuition.

    I hope that helps to clarify things.

    Sincerely,

    TurretinFan

  30. @TurretinFan:

    Just a couple of points:

    4) Thus, if Rome’s claim is true, then at some times God has handed over the entire church into the hands of a man who was a wolf – not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but an open wolf.

    Accepting your characterisation – I don’t know enough about these men to judge – the point of Papal infallibility is that God ensures that they do not teach the universal church that all Christians must believe something that is, in fact, false. It is not the same as Papal impeccability – which no one could pretend exists, even in those Popes who are saints.

    5) It seems counter-intuitive (for a lot of reasons that I didn’t bring up in the original post) that the leader of the whole church would be a man who is not properly considered to be a member of the church, because he does not have faith in God (as evidenced by his openly and unrepentantly wicked life).

    You misunderstand what it means to be considered a member of the Catholic Church. A baptised person is, ipso facto, a member of the Catholic Church – yes, that means you, if you are validly baptised (though, to be sure, your membership is imperfect). Some members of the Catholic Church are bad members. Some are very bad indeed. They are members, nonetheless. I believe Dante had some Popes in hell.

    jj

  31. But how can someone be members of the Catholic Church if indeed members who are baptized into the body of Christ are set free from the practice and slavery to sin? To be a part of the body of Christ is simultaneously having a share in the efficacy of his crucifixion and resurrection, wherein slavery to sin and disobedience is not a characteristic. In fact, if one is slave to sin, He does not have the Holy Spirit. This is nothing other than what St. Paul said (Romans 8:5-11)

    Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

    9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.

    Notice how living in the flesh, as some Popes did, is not characteristic of having the Holy Spirit, which is the same thing as being a part of the body of Christ, which is the same thing as being a member in the Church.

    Therefore, those who practice sin are not of Christ, nor are they one of His, they really do not have any authority whatsoever.

  32. One of my concerns is that the NT describes the church as the community who is baptized into christ, and become his body, and therefore spiritually share in the freedom from the PRACTICE of sin and the power of the resurrection , and therefore are ushered into the practice of righteousness. It concerns me that the catholic perspective allows for no human member of the catholic church to actually be in the process of righteousness and yet the church maintains its identity and function unblemished. This is a cause for concern, for the apostles described the church in moral categories as well as others. And those who are living in sin do not constitute membership in Christs church.

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