The Frat Boys of Nidaros Seminary

Jan 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

From the letter Cum, sicut ex to Sigurd, Archbishop of Nidaros (a city in Norway), July 8, 1241:

Since as we have learned from your report, it sometimes happens because of the scarcity of water, that infants of your lands are baptized in beer, we reply to you in the tenor of those present that, since according to evangelical doctrine it is necessary “to be reborn from water and the Holy Ghost” (John III:5) they are not to be considered rightly baptized who are baptized in beer.

Shortly thereafter the fraternity was disbanded and the seminarians were ordered to brew tea instead.

Well we’ve been told we needed some more humor on CTC so there it is.  This does, however, lead into a more serious point regarding the sacraments.   All sacraments have both form and matter.   And not just any matter, the matter must signify.  If it does not signify what it effects, it is not a sign; and since all sacraments are signs of divine grace, if it is not a sign then it is not a sacrament.

Water, not beer (sorry frat boys), was chosen for baptism because it signifies the cleansing from sin which baptism actually effects.  It could not have been beer because beer is not a sign of cleansing.   The same goes for the other sacraments: some matter, which of itself does not effect grace (water does not cleanse from sin even if you use it three times), when combined with the proper form (intention, formulae, etc.) actually effects grace because of God’s promises.  This is Catholic sacramentalism — more on that doctrine in the future…

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  1. Good find, Tim.

    I enjoy reading monastic letters from that era. I have a small book of writings of Bernard of Clairvaux from that era and I chuckle when I find comments like that one.

    Related to the matter and the form – I believe that Taylor was once witness to a ‘Doritos and Dr. Pepper’ communion at a youth group as a teenager.

  2. Tim,

    I have never laughed so hard reading Called to Communion. Something about the mental picture of a 13th century monk pouring a nice foamy brew on a crying baby is just too funny.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  3. Lets see… so many jokes so little time…

    “I baptize you in the name of the lager, and of… er uh I mean…”

    At first my mind objected to the archbishop’s reasoning, because beer is mostly water. But nice explaination Tim. People don’t wash themselves in beer (only because of the cost mind you) so beer does not signify washing even if it is mostly water.

    I would love to get my “holy water” for home use from that font. I would bring a bigger container than I currently use. It would encourage more frequent use as well!

    David M.

  4. I can think of a few beers that taste dangerously close to water.

  5. That’s a good point Jesse. That was back in the 13th century when the beer was pretty stout.. The Vatican may need to re-visit this antiquated teaching. They may actually allow baptism in Miller Lite for example.

  6. LOL. We need more of this boys good show.

    R. E. Aguirre
    Regula Fide Blog

  7. Spoil sports. You probably also object to using grape juice in place of wine, don’t you?

  8. Bill, yes.

  9. So do I, of course, but how does that fit in the “form and matter” analysis? Grape juice is drink; indeed, it is the fruit of the vine. Is fermenation of the juice an element of the form? Or are we simply not in a position to substitute our judgment for that of the Lord? Just curious!

  10. Bill,

    Fermented juice (wine) is the proper matter of the sacrament. The form of the sacrament is the phrase “this is My Body” and the corresponding “this is My Blood” or “this is the chalice of My Blood.” We could not use a substitute for the matter (say rice instead of bread or milk – or even grape juice instead of wine) anymore than we could use a substitute for the form (say “this is something to help you feel good” instead of “this is My Body”).

    The question would often progress from there to – well what about very slight variations on the matter or form — at what point does the sacrament become invalid? The Church has real theologians to answer these nuanced questions. For amateurs like me, I’m content to leave it to the experts and know that these mysteries are far above us. If the priest were to say, “This is My Blood in the cup” or something like that, I can’t really answer whether it would become invalid. Part of the form includes the intention of the priest so that were he to intend to say it correctly and happened to fumble a word or somehow said it incorrectly in ignorance, it would still be valid. However, if he were to intentionally substitute words which substantially altered the meaning of the phrase, I think this would render it invalid.

    Likewise, we don’t need to worry whether some dust dropped into the pan when the bread was being baked. This sort of thing would not invalidate the sacrament even though the rubrics clearly call for pure wheat bread. Hope this is helpful!

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