St. Thomas on Sacramentalism

Mar 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Protestants often caricature the Catholic doctrine on sacramentalism as if it taught that a sacrament was something like a magic wand waved over the recipient regardless of his disposition. But this is not an accurate description of the Catholic doctrine.   In this short article, I will explain why.

On this day, March 7, 1274, St. Thomas Aquinas fell asleep in the Lord.  In the old calendar, this was his feast day.  And so in his honor, I would like to show how St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the sacraments do not dispense the need for faith and repentance in the recipient. A recipient may place an impediment such that the sacrament does not have its effect, but this is not to say that the sacrament is not inherently efficacious.

If a sacrament was efficacious, wouldn’t that mean that it always has its effect regardless of the disposition of the recipient? No. We do not disprove the tendency of a rock to fall to the ground by catching it. We only prove that something might hinder the rock from doing what it would have otherwise accomplished. One who places an impediment in between a sacrament and his own reception is like one who stops a rock from falling.

Sacraments contain grace like words contain information. The sacrament will confer that grace upon the recipient, so long as he places no obstacle in its path, just as a word will convey information to the hearer so long as the hearer does not place an obstacle in its path (such as deliberately ignoring the word or sticking his fingers in his ears).

I have already responded once to the repeated claims that the Catholic doctrine on sacramental efficacy amounts to belief in magic. You can read that response here. But I would like to show that if one were familiar with the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, he would already know how misplaced and uninformed these sort of accusations are.

The first thing one should know about the Catholic doctrine of sacraments is that their function is to confer grace. Reformed Protestants view the few sacraments they retain as signs of, not causes of grace. God is the cause of grace, they argue. They are right that God is the cause of grace, but their doctrinal error is caused by a failure to distinguish between types of causes. God is the principal cause of grace, and the sacrament is the instrumental cause of grace.1 Thus, to say that sacraments cause grace is not to deny that God is the origin of that grace.

Since sacraments cause grace, what is true of grace is also true of the sacrament as its cause. As St. Thomas often repeats, grace does not destroy nature but rather perfects it. This is an easy way to recognize the falsity of the Protestant caricature that Catholics view sacramental efficacy as a magical override of nature. Free will belongs to man’s nature; hence sacraments do not destroy man’s free will. Rather, sacraments confer grace which perfects man’s will. A man’s will can place an impediment to reception of the sacramental grace. For example, if a man were forcibly baptized against his will, the sacrament would not have its effect. St. Thomas says, “in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect.”2

What about forgiveness of sins? Does man have to repent or can he simply receive the sacrament of baptism, penance, or extreme unction? Many Protestants would say that the Catholic Church teaches that one must simply receive the sacraments and that one’s will to repent is not important, or at the very least, not essential. But St. Thomas says, “there is no remission of sins, even in Baptism, without an actual change of the will, which is the effect of Penance.”3 Repentance is essential to forgiveness. The sacraments do not forgive one’s sin in spite of one’s impenitence; that is impossible. Furthermore, properly speaking, forgiveness of sins is an effect of penance as a virtue. That is, forgiveness of sins is a proper result of a man repenting of his sins. The grace is conferred by penance as a sacrament, but its proper cause is the virtue of penance.4

According to St. Thomas, ‘“the power of the sacraments which is ordained unto the remission of sins is derived principally from faith in Christ’s Passion.”5 And he goes on to say:

No sin can be forgiven save by the power of Christ’s Passion: hence the Apostle says that “without shedding of blood there is no remission.”6 Consequently no movement of the human will suffices for the remission of sin, unless there be faith in Christ’s Passion, and the purpose of participating in it, either by receiving Baptism, or by submitting to the keys of the Church. Therefore when an adult approaches Baptism, he does indeed receive the forgiveness of all his sins through his purpose of being baptized, but more perfectly through the actual reception of Baptism.7

We have seen that according to Catholic doctrine, repentance is necessary for forgiveness of sins and that man may freely reject the graces offered to him in the sacrament. As stated above, faith is also necessary. St. Thomas also says that, “she [the Church] does not intend to give Baptism save to those who have right faith, without which there is no remission of sins.”8 Thus faith, repentance, and assent are all necessary components of receiving sacramental grace.9 As with other issues of contention, the sandy ground on which the Protestant objection was built washes away once we examine the authentic Catholic doctrine.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us that we might be able to better understand the mysteries of the sacraments and more so that we would often avail ourselves to them and be found worthy recipients of the grace that they confer unto salvation.  Amen.

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 3.62.4 []
  2. Ibid., 3.69.9 []
  3. Ibid., 3.86.2 []
  4. Ibid., 3.86.6 []
  5. Ibid., 3.62.5 []
  6. Hebrews 9:22 []
  7. Ibid., 3.69.1 []
  8. Ibid., 3.68.8 []
  9. This applies even to children because these things which they are not able to produce are produced by the Church. Thus in child baptism, the Church believes, wills, and repents on his behalf. []
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32 comments
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  1. Oh, if only I had the words you state here today! Your analogies in the beginning of this article are priceless…as a Sunday School teacher, I’m always trying to bring to the table a sense of realism and relativity to the kids…I’ll definitely be sharing this with the kids next sunday..7th graders.
    Thanks again,
    Mike

  2. Thanks for the article Tim,
    Just to let you know I think a link is broken or does not work correctly in paragraph 5. When I clicked on it I was sent to a webpage that said “nothing found.” Just letting you know.
    God bless,
    -Steven Reyes

  3. Steven – thanks. I fixed the link.

    Mike – thanks for the kind words.

  4. NOTE: In this thread I will be arguing a Reformed Protestant position. I am quite Catholic and this is simply just an exercise to see if I understand the Reformed system enough that I can argue within its framework. Personally I find the below argument to be severely flawed on several levels (metaphysically and anthropologically), but it is the best tightest “Reformed” argument that I can write (sans using scripture because while I am comfortable abusing philosophy in play I am not comfortable to do the same with scripture. I had Tim’s permission to engage in this debate.)

    @ Tim

    In the above article, I do not find that you have adequately graspt the Reformed position on Roman sacramentalism. In addition, while caricatures are caricatures, I shall attempt to indicate that there is some reality to the view that sacraments are like magic.

    Let us start by keeping with your example of baptism as the primary focus as to how sacraments work according to the Roman position.

    Part of your argument is that the will is necessary, at least in a negative sense, for a sacrament to have efficacy. In other words, that in order for a sacrament to “work”, one must not will contrary to the outcome of the sacrament. This is different, I am sure you will recognize, than saying that one must positively will the desired outcome of the sacrament to have efficacy. I don’t think you are adequately taking that into account in your article, for the Roman position is much more complex. In the analogy that you give about the rock falling to the ground, there really are these questions in play 1.) Does the rock actually move to the ground? 2.) Assuming 1, can an individual prevent the rock from landing on the ground? 3.) Assuming 1, can an individual help the rock move to the ground? 4.) Assuming 1 is the individual necessary for the rock to move to the ground?

    First, let us address what is efficicy of baptism? For the Roman, it is at the core that the individual is ontologically regenerated. Personally, I would argue that St. Aquinas is not really addressing ontological regeneration, that the individual is indeed a “new born in Christ” but when speaking of efficacy it is more so the outward signs of living a good life. 3.69.8 proves this

    I answer that, 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.

    This is actually much closer to the Protestant understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments — they they “do what they do” based upon the degree of faith of the individual present. One could argue, based simply on the above, that baptized individual are not equally regenerated, which is not the Roman position so I shall refrain from that.

    Let us address #4 first. In the quote that you gave,3.69.9, as well as in 3.68.7 and backed up in 3.68.10 where St. Aquinas states that children of parents who will against the sacrament cannot be baptized. This is contrary to the Roman 1983 code of canon law Can. 868 ß2 which states that baptism of children against intent of the parent is permitted. This is also contrary to the position that the Rome takes that baptized non-Catholic Christians should not be rebaptised. Now anyone growing up in a classical Reformed community clearly knows what baptism does and what it does not do. The intention is clearly not Roman and may be said to be anti Roman. Which Reformed adult baptism has not be instructed in what we don’t mean by the sacraments? And yet Rome accepts the Reformed community’s baptism’s as having worked.

    Thus we must say that a positive will that wills what Rome believes is not necessary.

    Let us now address #2 now as it is related. According to Roman theology can a will that actively rejects “ontological regeneration” prevent “ontological regeneration” from occurring if such a person was baptized? It is hard to say yes since Rome accepts Reformed baptism as valid. Innocent II Letter to Humbert in 1201 states that only a “never consent and is absolutely unwilling” receives not the “Christian imprint” but a forced baptism where the individual conditionally consents but is still absolutely unwilling does impart the Christian imprint. Further the Catechism of Trent states “Insane, delirious persons who were once of sound mind and afterwards became deranged, having in their present state no wish to be baptized, are not to be admitted to Baptism, unless in danger of death. In such cases, if previous to insanity they give intimation of a wish to be baptized, the Sacrament is to be administered; without such indication previously given it is not to be administered. The same rule is to be followed with regard to persons who are unconscious.” I could go on giving various examples, but it think it should suffice that the Roman position is that people aren’t just baptized left and right not because it “wouldn’t work” but because to do such would be a violation of their human dignity and would be morally wrong on the part of the individual doing a baptism.

    Thus we must say that a negative will does not necessarily effect the working of baptism.

    Let us now address #3

    It seems quite clear that an individual does help the rock fall to the ground, in as much as St. Aquinas understands the efficacy of baptism. The question needs clarification: Does the individual help in his ontological regeneration? Rome teaches that baptism justifies the individual. Does the individual cause or help to cause his own justification? If you answer yes, should a Reformed individual not immediately charge you with Pelagianism? It seams to me to avoid the charge, baptism’s outcome cannot be helped or caused by the individual, unless of course there is another way to explain this.

    Thus we must say that the individual does not help or cause the effect of baptism.

    With 2-4, what can be said about the principle effect of baptism (that it regenerates the individual fully and completely)? That it occurs Ex opere operato and not ex opere operantis.

    Let us look at #1 and ask if the ex opere operanto effect of baptism occurs. Does the rock hit the ground?

    You wrote

    The first thing one should know about the Catholic doctrine of sacraments is that their function is to confer grace. The Reformed view the few sacraments they retain as signs of, not causes of grace. God is the cause of grace, they argue. They are right that God is the cause of grace, but their doctrinal error is caused by a failure to distinguish between types of causes. God is the principal cause of grace, and the sacrament is the instrumental cause of grace. 1 Thus, to say that sacraments cause grace is not to deny that God is the origin of that grace.

    First there are problems with your statement here. What is grace other than the divine approval of God that he imputes to those justified by the blood of the Son? You assume a doctrinal error here on the part of Reformed. The problem is not “instrumental” vs. “principal” causes of grace, the problem is that you are saying that an individual is approved by God on the basis of an ex opere operato human activity. You cannot deny that baptism is a human activity. Can man’s activity justify himself? What causes us to be approved by God is whether or not we have been elected to be imputed Christ’s merits on the Cross. If we have been approved then we have been approved. Baptism exists simply as a sign of that approval which can only come from God’s eternal election. Now granted we increase our sanctification ex opere operantis based upon the degree of faith, but it must additionally be understood that the faith that we have, as per the WCF, is not something that we cultivate based on the disposition of our will but rather it is a gift which does not justify us but rather that we rest upon as our firm foundation. We receive from the hand of God that which he desires for us to receive based upon whether or not we are elected and the degree of faith which he gives us to rest upon.

    You also write

    This is an easy way to recognize the falsity of the Protestant caricature that Catholics view sacramental efficacy as a magical override of nature. Free will belongs to man’s nature; hence sacraments do not destroy man’s free will. Rather, sacraments confer grace which perfects man’s will. A man’s will can place an impediment to reception of the sacramental grace. For example, if a man were forcibly baptized against his will, the sacrament would not have its effect. St. Thomas says, “in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect.”

    Now here you make a doctrinal error. The argument that you put forth is not concurrent with classical Protestant theology as such theology rejects the notion of free will. Thus we are not saying the sacraments are wrong because they destroy man’s free will as man doens’t have free will. Man by nature is fallen and as such does not have free will as he is bound to the sin of Adam. Does not Augustine in the Confessions point out the malice of even infants? Here is why the Roman sacramental ex opere operanto overrides man’s fallen nature: It is stated by the Catholic position that a non-Christian may baptize and this baptism is effectious. Can the work of an unjustifed man, justify a man? How can this bring about divine approval? It is man’s nature to sin and do evil — how can he do a work which justifies himself? Even if the one doing the baptism was one of the elect, how would this work cause divine approval when the only thing that causes divine approval is the imputation of man’s demerits to Christ on the Cross and the subsiquent imputation of Christ’s merits to the individual and that moment in time which God has forordained from before all time.

    Thus we can and must say that baptism is not the rock hitting the ground but only the sign of the rock hitting the ground.

    Let us now ask the question, are the Roman sacraments “magic”?

    What is magic? Magic is a ritual where by through the incantations and works of the sorcerer, the sorcerer seeks to control the divine/supernatural to produce the intended and desired outcome. That sounds very simmular to ex opere operanto baptism. A priest, through a ritual of matter (water) and form (trinitarian evocation), seeks to produce the desired outcome of divine approval. How is that different?

    @Tim — have fun taking the wrecking ball to the above.

  5. Thanks for this, Tim. What you say at the end is exactly right. This is one of those things that Protestants “just know” about Catholics and “what they believe,” but their misunderstanding is grounded in ignorance (just simply “not knowing”). Nor is their ignorance of something ethereal or complex, but of a distinction that shows itself to be very simple if they just take a moment to seek answers in good will. I still remember back in high school, when I first converted, what my evangelical friends and I thought about Catholics. “Oh, they just think they can go out and do whatever they want on Friday and Saturday and magically be forgiven by their priest at confession.” Perhaps the saddest part is that there probably were a lot of Catholic students in my high school who believed that, and that such people are a primary cause of ignorance of Catholic teaching among evangelicals.

  6. No problem Tim. Thanks for the article, I agree with Mike, sometimes it’s helpful to get easy analogies to describe complex processes. :-)

  7. David (#5):

    Perhaps the saddest part is that there probably were a lot of Catholic students in my high school who believed that, and that such people are a primary cause of ignorance of Catholic teaching among evangelicals.

    There’s an evangelical, non-denom church near me called “Believer’s Chapel.” Over 90% of its members are ex-Catholics, including my barber. On any given Sunday, there are more baptized Catholics worshiping in that church than in my parish just down the road. They refuse to call themselves “Protestant”; they’re just “Christians.” Here’s the thing: I have yet to meet a single one who has, or had, a firm grasp of Catholic doctrine. What they reject are caricatures and fictions.

    The obvious solution would seem to be regular adult religious education in Catholic parishes, conducted by orthodox, knowledgeable people. There is no shortage of such people, even in my area, who are willing to serve. But in most parishes, their services are not wanted. That’s the problem, and it starts with the clergy. Not all, but most. Adult formation is just not a priority.

    What these “Christians” seem to looking for is what they didn’t get in their Catholic parishes. I hesitate to blame them. Perhaps many are still Catholic in their hearts. That, at any rate, might explain why they don’t like to be called Protestants.

    Best,
    Mike

  8. I have always explained this concept in light of the Scholastic axiom: “Quidquid recipitur modo recipientis recipitur” i.e. Whatever is received, is received in the manner of the one receiving it.

    Am I correct to apply this line of thinking?

    I think a good biblical story to show a parallel is the woman who was healed upon touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. We know that not everyone who encountered Jesus in the Gospels was healed — only those who had faith. And what are the sacraments, but our own present day encounter with Jesus?

  9. Mike & David – Amen.

    Brian – Baptism produces an equal effect in all in respect to its own operation. But you are right to say that not all receive it equally as St. Thomas affirms. Those who draw nearer to an equal fire are unequally affected by it.

    Children, however, are all equally disposed to baptism and so receive its grace equally.

  10. (speaking as a Catholic in this post)

    @ Mike # 7

    The obvious solution would seem to be regular adult religious education in Catholic parishes, conducted by orthodox, knowledgeable people. There is no shortage of such people, even in my area, who are willing to serve. But in most parishes, their services are not wanted. That’s the problem, and it starts with the clergy. Not all, but most. Adult formation is just not a priority.

    I agree with this absolutely. I hold a BA / MA in theology. Am I employed? No. The parish that I go to and teach CCD at I cannot tell you how many times I have begged to “do more”. I just got off the phone with the archdiocese director that handles licensure for catholic schools as I have been looking for a way to get what is needed to teach theology 6th-12th grade (cannot tell you what a run around that has been). He found it unimportant that I should be interested in going to a college were the educational courses were taught from a Catholic perspective not from a secular perspective.

    Part of the problem is that it is a systemic issue. The whole system of catechetics needs to be torn down and rebuilt, especially at the parish level.

    I am not just saying that because I would like to have more food on the table, but because there are so many people out there who are starving for the Gospel message.

  11. (speaking as a Catholic in this post)

    @ Brian k # 8 and Tim # 9

    I would caution against viewing the effects of the sacraments from a largely ex opere operantis point of view. Catholic sacraments are not things of degrees (as is the case for the Protestant sacraments), they either are fully what they are or are fully not. Baptism is a full regeneration of the individual or it is not — it is not a part way thing. When you are talking about St. Thomas’ fire example, you are really discussing the secondary effects of baptism, not the primary effect. Even then it can be said that the secondary effects are given in their full degree but they are not utilized by each individual equally.

    Be mindful that when saying “But you are right to say that not all receive it equally as St. Thomas affirms. Those who draw nearer to an equal fire are unequally affected by it.” that you are not being mistaken as saying that at baptism individuals receive differing degrees of justification, and that in fact baptism doesn’t justify but only imparts a degree of justification based upon the degree of one’s faith. That is a sentiment that I have often heard protestants say that they think Catholics believe — it is what it sounds like you are saying (to the Protestant ears that I am wearing).

    Let me also point out and underline that the Catechism section on Baptism 1213-1284 says nothing about the primary effects of baptism being dependent on the degree of faith involved (which is sort of important because theological faith is given in baptism and springs from it, thus one doesn’t have theological faith going into it and as such cannot affect the graces received from the point of view of faith. Remember also that fiducial faith is the Protestant understanding of faith which is not the same as the Catholic understanding, you writing can read it is understanding faith as fiducial and it is important to make sure your definitions are clear).

  12. Nathan,

    I’m just answering as St. Thomas does. On this question, whether or not all receive equally, he divides not between primary and secondary effects but between essential and accidental. He says, “The essential effect of Baptism is that for which Baptism was instituted, namely, the begetting of men unto spiritual life. ” … [arguments] … “therefore some receive a greater, some a smaller share of the grace of newness;”

    On the accidental, he says, “But the accidental effect of Baptism, is that to which Baptism is not ordained, but which the Divine power produces miraculously in Baptism.” … and “And such like effects are not equally received by all the baptized.”

    Referring to the differentiation in the essential effect, he later says, “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. ”

    On the question of remission of sins, of course, the “least baptismal grace suffices to blot out all sins.”

    I agree that Catholic sacraments are not things of degrees. But according to St. Thomas, while the effect of the sacrament is the same for all (as the heat of the fire is the same for all) not all men draw as near to the sacrament; just as not all men draw as near to the fire. That’s all I meant.

  13. Mike,

    What possible reason can the clergy have for not wanting to utilize the available resources for adult Catholic education? At the very least they must be aware that they are losing gads of (potentially contributing) parishoners. I mean the example you gave is astounding. Would not your parish clergy like to have all those folks at “Believer’s Chapel” back in the pews – even if for the worst of reasons? I would love to hear your take (or anyone else’s) as to why there should be such resistance. Is it just a perception of too much hassle to facilitate such catechesis; not wanting to admit past failures; lack of trust in possible “maverick” adult education teachers? Anyway, I’d love to hear your thouhts.

    Pax Christi,

    Ray

  14. Mike/Ray/Nathan,

    I have experienced the same thing at my parish. I just don’t get it.

  15. (speaking as a catholic in this post)

    @ Ray #13

    Probably not because if you are handling your liturgy like this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ5it20gKqw

    The very last thing you want is a bunch of well read and intelligent Christians making demands for you to do the liturgy like this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhqIXso18GI (homily is worth listen to)
    or this if you are Eastern Catholic
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOIi0rFf-PI

  16. Ray/Nathan/Tim:

    Tim wrote: “I just don’t get it.” And Ray asked:

    Is it just a perception of too much hassle to facilitate such catechesis; not wanting to admit past failures; lack of trust in possible “maverick” adult education teachers?

    I think each of those is a factor. Together, they explain why most clergy are unwilling to overcome centuries of inertia to do what the U.S. bishops themselves called for in 1998. Such unwillingness leads to actual blindness. For example, I once met a recently installed bishop at a Corpus Christi procession (Tim, you’ll know which bishop I’m talking about). In due course, I asked him how he intended to implement the plan outlined by the document I’ve just linked to. He didn’t know. Why? He had never heard of it. A week later, I sent him my résumé offering to implement it for the diocese under his direction, along with an annotated copy of said document. I received no reply. That wasn’t all that long ago. Shows you how bad things really are. And this is an orthodox, prayerful bishop!

    My theory is that the Holy Spirit is doing this sort of work mostly outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church. It’s work needed to form adult faith, the sort of faith the Pope has openly called for. Eventually, when the obvious has been right under people’s noses for long enough, they will act accordingly. One hopes.

    Best,
    Mike

  17. Dear (Protestant version of) Nathan,

    Part of your argument is that the will is necessary, at least in a negative sense, for a sacrament to have efficacy.

    Also in the positive sense. As I quoted St. Thomas, “in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect.”

    I would argue that St. Aquinas is not really addressing ontological regeneration, that the individual is indeed a “new born in Christ” but when speaking of efficacy it is more so the outward signs of living a good life. 3.69.8 proves this

    You said you would argue this, but I didn’t catch the argument. Can you show why you think St. Thomas is a nominalist regarding sacraments? The quotation does not show what you say it shows.

    This is actually much closer to the Protestant understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments — they they “do what they do” based upon the degree of faith of the individual present.

    But that’s not what he said. A fire does what it does irrespective of how close one is to it – but the fire has a varied effect on the person depending on how nearly the person draws to it. The fire’s power/efficacy is not determined by the individual; only its effect *in the individual* is determined by the individual.

    This is contrary to the Roman 1983 code of canon law Can. 868 ß2 which states that baptism of children against intent of the parent is permitted.

    In danger of death.

    This is also contrary to the position that the Rome takes that baptized non-Catholic Christians should not be rebaptised. …. The intention is clearly not Roman and may be said to be anti Roman.

    The baptized non-Catholic wishes to be baptized although they misunderstand the theology of baptism. Understanding the correct theology of baptism was not listed by St. Thomas as an essential of receiving the sacrament. A man might see even though he does not understand the eye. An animal does not even grasp the concept of seeing, but it sees. It is something different when one wants baptism even though he believes that baptism does not regenerate than it is for one to believe that baptism does regenerate but actively will not to receive such regeneration. Is there a man, even among the Reformed, who specifically desires not to be regenerated by baptism? Is he regenerate? God be his judge.

    the Roman position is that people aren’t just baptized left and right not because it “wouldn’t work” but because to do such would be a violation of their human dignity and would be morally wrong on the part of the individual doing a baptism.

    Again with the fire analogy – baptism always works as fire always gives off heat. But in addition to being a violation of their human dignity, it is an affront to the sacrament to baptize men unwillingly knowing that these men are not likely to receive the grace of baptism because they have not drawn near to it.

    It seems quite clear that an individual does help the rock fall to the ground, in as much as St. Aquinas understands the efficacy of baptism.

    He does not help by adding to it anything of his own but rather by not placing in its way any obstacle. Thus, a child, adding absolutely nothing (not helping the rock fall) receives the full grace because he places no obstacle.

    What is grace other than the divine approval of God that he imputes to those justified by the blood of the Son?

    Grace, as a quality, acts as a formal cause in the soul. As whiteness makes a thing white, so does grace make the soul just. (Summa 2a.110.2) I know you will disagree with this (as a Reformed Protestant that is) but if you want to judge what Aquinas says about the effects and conferring of grace, then you need to judge him within his framework of what grace is.

    You cannot deny that baptism is a human activity.

    I would not. It certainly is a human activity, the activity of the human Jesus Christ, who is the first agent in all sacraments. That is, the power worked in the sacraments is not the power of the one giving the sacrament, but the power of Jesus Christ. Are other humans involved? Yes, just as other humans are involved in justifying faith. Faith is a gift from God of course, and so is baptismal grace.

    Man by nature is fallen and as such does not have free will as he is bound to the sin of Adam. Does not Augustine in the Confessions point out the malice of even infants?

    Well you have the cherry-picking thing down pat! Certainly St. Augustine says things of that nature, but he also goes to great lengths to defend man’s free will. c.f. St. Augustine, On Grace and the Free will. Says Thomas Flint, “what is central to an action’s being free, says the libertarian, is that the causal activity of all other agents up to and at the time of the action be compatible both with the agent’s freely performing the act and with the agent’s refraining from performing the act.” The re-definition of free will to mean that, if an agent were free, he could choose good without God’s grace, itself presupposes a sort of Pelagianism. It says that pre-fallen man could have freely chosen good without God’s grace because he was free and his nature was intact. But Thomists reject this, saying that even before the Fall, grace was necessary. To be free doesn’t mean that you can do supernatural things (love God), it means that you are not compelled against your nature to do anything. We could obviously get into a long debate on the free will here, but this is taking us off course. The statement I made assumes a Thomistic concept of free will. We can disagree on that point, but I think you can accept it temporarily for the sake of the rest of the argument.

    Can the work of an unjustifed man, justify a man?

    As stated above, the principal conferring agent in the sacrament is Jesus Christ. The proximate minister works as an instrumental agent. Even a justified man could not justify another man; only Jesus Christ can do that.

    Thus we can and must say that baptism is not the rock hitting the ground but only the sign of the rock hitting the ground.

    I have seen no reason to say that.

    A priest, through a ritual of matter (water) and form (trinitarian evocation), seeks to produce the desired outcome of divine approval. How is that different?

    See the post to which I linked in the article.

  18. But are the graces conferred by the Eucharist always received equally? I am thinking of the old line about a gallon of water being poured into cupped hands — a gallon is poured but not a gallon is received. What’s lacking isn’t the grace in the sacrament, but rather our ability to receive it.

  19. I like the rock analogy.

    If F=MxA, we know that the force (F1) of the rock is the same due to the constant of gravity (A). The force of the object (baptism) as it acts on another object (person) will be co-relative to the amount of vectorial disruption (M, direction, change in speed) of F1 by an opposite force (F2). So, the sacrament can confer the grace F1 co-relative to the receiving objects resisting force (F2) which will equal F3. (F1-F2=F3)

    Disposition is F2. What could possibly constitute an F2 (both in terms of direction and speed)? To continue to use this analogy (possibly beating it into the ground), the direction of F2 is equal to the individual’s orientation (“O”) to the truth of the sacrament. The change in speed of F2 is equal to the individual’s culpability in holding “O”. Or, we might ask, “How earnestly does one hold to O”? Lastly, the M of F2 would be equal to the age of the receiver. Hence, where the M of the receiver is minute at best (a newborn), the possible resistance to F1 would be negligible. Or, F1-F2=F3=F1

    Above I describe the possible negative effect of F2. However, it is important to see the velocity change of F1 as an action having a positive effect on the net F3 in its relationship to F1 since they are not the same per se.

  20. (speaking as a Protestant here. The argument below is not what I consider to be “sound” thus if anyone is scandalized, know they shouldn’t because for every “Protestant” argument that I put forth below, I have in my head the proper Catholic rejoinder that trumps it.)

    @Tim

    Glad to see your reply, but it seams to me that you are missing the thrust of the argument that I have given and instead focusing on what we share in common — namely that the degree by which one benefits from the sacraments is dependent upon the degree to which they rest upon faith. We more or less agree upon that, not withstanding the fact that the Roman concept of faith is a wholly different animal than the Reformed concept. What we disagree over is whither or not the sacraments are ex opere operato, that is that their primary effect occurs based on the work done and not the worker. For example, Rome would say that a non-Christian can baptize an individual, or not quite as far, that heretics baptize validly.

    A summary of my argument and then I will address your rejoinder

    1.) St. Aquinas’ discussion on the efficacy of baptism does not represent the dogmatic Roman position but is instead closer to the Protestant strictly ex opere operantis position on the efficacy of the sacraments. This is because Aquinas’s position does not address the efficacy of ontological regeneration but instead focuses strongly on the view that the will is necessary and is a determining factor for the degree of efficacy of the sacrament. This is even to the point that Aquinas in 3.68.10 says that the will of a parent to reject baptism of an infant is sufficient to eliminate the efficacy of the sacrament. On the Contrary, the Roman dogmatic position, as found in the CCC (as Nathan B. (Catholic)) pointed out is fully ex opere operato and does not factor the will into the efficacy of the sacrament. Further as I pointed out, Canon Law (1983) 868 ß2 indicates that the will is not a determining factor in the the efficacy of the sacrament (an infant cannot will and the negative will of the parents has no impact).

    2.) That the Roman position is that the primary effect of baptism is ontological regeneration should not be controverted. That ontological regeneration, according to the Roman position, is a either full regeneration, not a part way or a thing of degrees, or none at all, should equally not be controverted. I ask my three questions as to how, if at all, the will, negative or positive, has an effect upon this ontological regeneration. I show that it does not. I conclude that the Roman position on baptism is strictly ex opere operato in terms of the primary effect of ontological regeneration.

    3.) I then define what magic is and compare that to ex opere operato sacraments. I conclude that they are the are essentially the same thing.

    Response to your rejoinder

    [in the negative and] Also in the positive sense [the will is necessary for baptism to be effective]. As I quoted St. Thomas, “in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect.”

    Are you here arguing that the will is a determining factor in whether or not an individual is justified? Is this not Pelagianism / semi-Pelagianism? Even if you argue that the Holy Spirit prepares the human will so that the will might respond in a manner that produces the effect, you still have baptism being this equation of part activity of the Spirit and part activity of the human will.

    More importantly though, is what you are putting forth here actually the Roman position? It seems to me that you are putting forth a Pelagian position on the sacraments disguised as the Roman position, unless of course the Roman position is Pelagian, which is what we Reformed also say.

    If we look at the CCC (as Catholic Nathan pointed out) it says nothing about the will being a necessary factor, nor does the Code of Canon Law. Further we cannot be talking about theological as being necessar faith, as theological faith is given in baptism and doens’t proceed it, and regardless infants neither can will, reason, or have fiducal faith and yet Rome, being paedobaptists, say that infants are justified.

    St. Aquinas is just a theologian. Can you find something of Magisterial weight that states that the human will is a fundamental and necessary factor (whether positive or negative) in baptism in order for the individual to be ontologically regenerated?

    You said you would argue this, but I didn’t catch the argument. Can you show why you think St. Thomas is a nominalist regarding sacraments? The quotation does not show what you say it shows.

    I said I would argue [that St. Aquinas is not really addressing ontological regeneration], not that I shall now argue. I also did not say that St. Thomas is a nominalist regarding sacraments (which is not possible because nominalism hadn’t developed). I ment the phrase more along the lines of [If I were you] I would argue…….

    Here is a quick why — Rome understands justification and sanctification as a unified concept. That is why Augustine writes about “justification unto justification”. In the Roman concept you have “initial justification” and “ongoing justification”/santification. Reformed will never refer to sanctification as justification because in the Reformed concept initial justification is the fullness of everything given from the very begining with nothing more to give, whereas in the Roman concept initial justification does not merit one for heaven so that Augustine will say that our rebirth in baptism is unmerited where as our acceptance into heaven is merited. Early sources and medieval sources tend to speak simply about “justification” with out breaking the concept down into “initial justification” and “ongoing justification”/sanctification. When you are reading Aquinas 3.69.8, you have to parce a bit in your head Aquinas usage of “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” and see that Aquinas is not meaning that the ontological regeneration is a thing of degrees but that the ongoing justification/sanctification element in baptism (the various gifts of the Spirit that occure upon regeneration) is a thing of degrees.

    That solves the appearance of Pelagianism that you are giving off (caused by saying that the will is a determining factor in ontological regeneration) but it still leaves, and makes more clear, the issue of ex opere operato sacraments. Saying that the will is a factor in sanctification is not an issue for the Reformed, it is when you say it is a factor in justification (whether that is initial justification or ongoing justification, the later of which is explicitly rejected in Reformed theology).

    But that’s not what he said. A fire does what it does irrespective of how close one is to it – but the fire has a varied effect on the person depending on how nearly the person draws to it. The fire’s power/efficacy is not determined by the individual; only its effect *in the individual* is determined by the individual.

    I think you are getting lost in the flames. Is ontological regeneration something that can be a half measure? No that is not the Roman position. Thus when we are talking about the primary effect of baptism we are talking about the fact that the fire has warmed the individuals (justification) and not about the degree to which they experience that warmth (santification).

    We are concerned about the primary effect (that the individual has been ontologically regenerated) and not secondary effects (again I point out that while Aquinas is keen on talking about these secondary effects as dependent upon the human will, the CCC does not speak of them as dependent on the human will).

    In danger of death.

    What does the “in danger of death” affect? It is not suddenly allowing baptism to have its effect. It is not as if a healthy child who is baptised against the will of the parents is not regenerated but then the child is suddenly regenerated if you slit their writs prior to baptism. The “danger of death” simply removes the injustice of baptizing against the will of legitimate authorities. A case in point here is that during WWII, Jews often hid their children with Roman families, and those families often had those children baptised, though it was clearly against the will of the Jewish parents. Were these children baptized? Aquinas would say no, but the Rome has said yes.

    It is something different when one wants baptism even though he believes that baptism does not regenerate than it is for one to believe that baptism does regenerate but actively will not to receive such regeneration. Is there a man, even among the Reformed, who specifically desires not to be regenerated by baptism? Is he regenerate? God be his judge.

    Let me flip things around a bit. In the Roman understanding of Marriage, the human will plays a much more clear and defined roll as the two people getting married are the ministers of the sacrament (in baptism the individual is not the minister and as a result what he receives is dependent upon the action and intent of the one doing the baptizing). If at the moment of marriage the man does not believe that marriage is intended for procreation and intends to practice contraception, the marriage is not valid. Thus Roman does teach that the human will can block the efficacy of the sacrament. When we look at baptism, we see a different story. Rome teaches that Reformed validly baptize. However, which Reformed individual, who has been through proper preparation, does not explicitly reject baptismal regeneration? Conversely which Roman individual who has been through proper preparation, does not explicitly reject baptism as only a sign of election? Thus Rome does not treat the human will as having an effect on Baptism — as Pope Innocent II put it, it is not the “unwilling to receive regeneration” that prevents regeneration, it is threshold of conditional consent.

    Put it this way ….because the patient consents to go under the knife, their will doesn’t factor into what the doctor works, for it is the doctor’s skill and intent that produces the outcome of the operation.

    Again with the fire analogy – baptism always works as fire always gives off heat. But in addition to being a violation of their human dignity, it is an affront to the sacrament to baptize men unwillingly knowing that these men are not likely to receive the grace of baptism because they have not drawn near to it.

    are you conceeding the point here that the human will does not effect whether or not someone is justified?

    My point in engaging Aquinas and the 3 considerations has been to get you to the point of narrowing down the primary effect of baptism to justification, what Romans understand as ontological regeneration, and to see that the human will on the part of the recipiant doesn’t have a positive impact upon it and a negative impact (placing an obsticale) may place an obsticle but does not prevent the rock from hitting the ground (for example the Reformed who rejects infused ontological regeneration is still regenerated).

    It seams to me that you are willing to conceed the point on the part of Roman baptism, as far as initial justification is concerned, not being positively impacted by the recipiant’s will and if I push you some more you will begrudgenly give me the point reguarding man’s having a negative impact upon baptism since you have affirmed 1.) baptism always works as a fire always gives off heat to those who have entered around it 2.) when you discuss the negative, you use the language of obsticles and talk of how one receives less but do not speak of how one might prevent and receive nothing at all.

    Grace, as a quality, acts as a formal cause in the soul. As whiteness makes a thing white, so does grace make the soul just. (Summa 2a.110.2) I know you will disagree with this (as a Reformed Protestant that is) but if you want to judge what Aquinas says about the effects and conferring of grace, then you need to judge him within his framework of what grace is.

    Really? Does not imputed grace cover human nature as the whitness of snow coverns and makes the dung hill white? Let me argue here then against Aquina’s in the section you refered to and show that he is confused as whitness and justice are not qualities of things but accidents of things, and thus if Grace be like whitness and justice it too must be an accident and not a quality. Rome teaches that with the Eucharist, the nature of the wine becomes Christ, but the accidents remain, such as the redness of the wine. Is whitness not like redness? Yes it is. “Whitness” doesn’t make a thing’s nature white anymore than “redness” is a quality of wine’s nature. Whiteness is an accident and external, it is not the nature of a thing. Such also is grace — it is God’s divine aproval which is imputed to us. We gain “whitness” the atribute of being approved by God, it covers us and makes us white. Let us now consider justice. What is being just? Is it not the state of being approved by God? If one is approved by God, then it must be by God’s decree for approval comes from God’s delaration and not from the nature of a thing. If we say that it is by the nature of a thing that God declares aproval, then God is beholden to a created thing and He is forced to declare a certain outcome based upon something that is not Himself. How can this God be sovereign then? Does creation dictate to God, does creation testify on behalf of itself or does creation testify against itself, that it is not God and it is God’s sovereign will alone that He declares something to be just or not just, and as a declaration must be an imputed thing.

    We could obviously get into a long debate on the free will here, but this is taking us off course. The statement I made assumes a Thomistic concept of free will. We can disagree on that point, but I think you can accept it temporarily for the sake of the rest of the argument.

    The Thomistic concept of free will is not the only one allowed by Rome, but I would not wish to get to far down the rabbit whole when it comes to free will because it is quite beside the point as I was trying to show you that the Reformed position against Rome is not that we are upset because the Catholic sacraments destroy the notion of free well (Reformed rejects free will thus does not see it as being destroyed) The problem is not that the Roman sacraments destroy free will, thus they override nature, but that the Roman sacraments destroy man’s nature as a creature. Free will is a moot point because it is still the ex opere operato work of a creature that justifies an individual. That is how Roman sacraments destroy man’s nature, it is because they ascribe to man’s work that which belongs to God’s nature alone.

    As stated above, the principal conferring agent in the sacrament is Jesus Christ. The proximate minister works as an instrumental agent. Even a justified man could not justify another man; only Jesus Christ can do that.

    Ok I want to use this to get back into the argument of ex opere operato sacraments being “magic”.

    Let us for a moment accept what you said as true, for the sake of argument. When we look at the activity of Roman baptism, not at the theology one is told to believe, what do we see?

    1. Priest invokes God.

    2. Priest specifies, through prayer, ritual, chant, that the power of the Spirit is to bless the water and to through the pouring of the water upon the recipent convey supernatural infusion upon the recipient.

    3. Priest carries out actual ritual of baptism.

    What how does one preform magic?

    1.) Sorcerer invokes the name of a spirit.

    2.) Sorcerer, through prayer, ritual, chant induces/binds the spirit to produce the outcome that the sorcerer intends.

    3.) Sorcerer carries out actual ritual spell.

    What is the difference?

    Now let us look at the Reformed concept of Baptism.

    As baptism is a sign of what God has done or will do, there is no invoking of God by the minister. God remains in control and is not at the bidding of the minister. God’s sovereign election before creation and the application of imputed justification occures when God wills and not at the dictates of a minister or at the dictate of the one who requests baptism. Creature remains creature and God remains sovereign. Theologically there is no messing with philosophical positions on how one interacts with God or the will of the individual affecting the outcome of (initial) justification. Practically, what you see is what you get — no hocus pocus (ya I know couldn’t resist) and the pouring of the water is simply the sign of the individual becoming part of the visable church and an indication of the hope that God has indeed (or will indeed) impute to the one justification. We gain assurance that we have been so justified so long as we remain in submission to our elders and the “biblically” proscribed way of life.

  21. What’s the best work to read (an idiot’s guide) on Aquinas’ sacramentology?

  22. Nathan,
    That video was frightening. My first thought was “how much ya wana bet there are 100% altar girls”… sure enough there were.
    Second thought: What is with the dancers with smoking pots? Are they serving chilli durring mass?
    Third: Is this the mass on the starship enterprise? Is that Bishop Captain Picard? DO NOT beam me up to the mothership Scotty.
    Fourth: Dancing deacons with rainbow bibles? Blink.. rub eyes.. huh?

    Final thought… I wish it were funny. But it’s just sad.

  23. David and Nathan,

    That happened in March 2010 and PBXVI installed the new Bishop, Jose Gomez (Opus Dei) the next month. Coincidence? Let’s just say the Holy Father probably got that on his ipod and threw down his pint in disgust.

    What was up with the saxaphone?

    keep praying…

  24. @ David Meyer

    (speaking as a Catholic here)

    I wish it was chilli. If you analyze the action in the various videos you can go “ok I guess these things are all related” but when you look at the the action in terms of the subject/object of the action it is very clear that video 1 is all about the self while videos 2 and 3 are about God.

    Part of the problem (and there has always really been this problem) is that worship can become quickly self-centered and can loose sight of God. Most Protestant worship is really just oratory because once you remove the Eucharist all that you have left is either doing a bunch of singing or launching into a very long speech where the minister tells you what he thinks the bible means. On the flip side, modern American Catholicism has been dominated by “social justice”, not in the good sense but in the sense that flattens the vertical dimension of worship while broadening the horizontal until worship becomes a celebration of self, the I of the “people of God”.

    I think though that the mess is not something to be discouraged by. We live in a fallen world still and we are still quite tempted to worship self over God. The door swings both ways for this is true for both the progressivist and the rigorist who also falls into self worship. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_d._%C3%84._066.jpg

    But take heart for there are plenty of people out there that are trying to shake people from their naval gazing and return our focus to our Eucharistic Lord.

  25. Richard 21,

    I would recommend reading Tertia Pars “The Sacraments” along side of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s commentary if you can find it. A lot of the commentary can be found here. Not a “for dummies guide” but can be helpful at the least.

    God bless.

  26. Richard,

    Rediscovering Aquinas and the Sacraments may also be helpful.

    TC

  27. Nathan B said:

    Most Protestant worship is really just oratory because once you remove the Eucharist all that you have left is either doing a bunch of singing or launching into a very long speech where the minister tells you what he thinks the bible means

    I really wish you wouldn’t engage in such silly caricatures of Protestant worship. There’s a much more than “a bunch of singing” or “launching into a speech”. That’s hardly a charitable view of what Protestants do. Would you think it fair if I characterize Catholic worship as nothing more than worshiping some bread and wine? Somehow I think not. Let’s not engage in such tactics.

  28. Steve G:

    I’m a former Protestant minister now Catholic. Would a more charitable characterization be:

    There is a vast array of different worship practices. Some do skits. Some dance. Others follow more strict procedures. However, these churches are shrinking and the churches that follow more contemporary, modern, and free forms of worship are growing fast. Sometimes there is fast music followed by slow music that serves to “set the mood” for reflection, prayer, or even elation. Sometimes there is an “altar call” at the end or the homilist may just ask for a response internally to a challenge. Nevertheless, generally there are two-parts to the services, music and word. This is similar to the Catholic Mass and even some churches still practice a communion service at the end (we might call this word/worship). In the worship/word Protestant churches, since there is no Eucharist as the penultimate experience of God (like the heretic Catholics), but rather the first half serves to excite the Christian to love God, then delve into the depths of his love in slow hymns, songs, maybe even done to popular pop music themes. This will be followed by some type of transition where there are announcements, offering, or some other type of interlude. Then comes the preaching. This is the source and summit of the Protestant service. The ambo is placed in the centre of the stage to demonstrate the centrality (although some churches still have it in the traditional left-side placement) of God’s Word. Sermons may be long or short. Some types of Protestants will have very long sermons and may have musical accompaniment to accentuate the feeling of the homily. In these churches, the conclusion might lead them back into more intense musical expressions. The lights may be brought low, even fog machines (in the growing churches) may produce an effect, and worshipers may close their eyes, raise their hands, and do other activities (in the emerging churches they might paint, draw, or even take communion randomly) while experiencing a wave of emotions as they think about the message and listen to the music. Then it will end and everyone leaves.

    Does that work?

  29. @ Steve G #27

    I really wish you wouldn’t engage in such silly caricatures of Protestant worship. There’s a much more than “a bunch of singing” or “launching into a speech”. That’s hardly a charitable view of what Protestants do. Would you think it fair if I characterize Catholic worship as nothing more than worshiping some bread and wine? Somehow I think not. Let’s not engage in such tactics.

    There is a difference between what I said and what you said. What you said is uncharitable because you are making a statement about what you think Catholics do — worship bread and wine. What I said is not uncharitable because I am not making a statement about what I think is done rather I am simply stating the primary actions in a typical Protestant worship — singing and oratory. Now if you would have said that the primary focus of Catholic worship is the Eucharistic sacrifice (even by secular standards, or any religion’s standards, the action is a sacrificial action) that would have been charitable.

    Now does Catholic worship have a bunch of singing? Sort of, depends on who is doing the music and if they are doing liturgical singing or just singing a bunch of song. But lets just say yes.

    Now does Catholic worship have oratory and speechifying? Yes sure, though it is rarely long (it is not the primary focus) and it is not supposed to be something where the priest gives you his thoughts on what the scripture means. Ideally the priest is going to tell you what the Church finds the passage to mean. But again I wouldn’t argue one viewing Catholic worship as containing speechifying by the priest.

    But again back to my main point, one you remove the sacrificial action of the Eucharist (again by anyone’s standards, the action is sacrificial regardless of whether or not it is in reality a sacrifice) all you are left with is the singing and speechifying. Because the Eucharist is lost, a Protestant service is either lots and lots of singing or a really long speech on what the minister thinks the bible means (and everything inbetween these).

    And it is not like my view here is foreign to the Reformed world. That is why you can find plenty of Reformed individuals pointing out how the Reformed structure of worship has become simply oratory and you do have a debate within the Reformed world on how to recapture authentic worship. NPP and Feudal Vision really are caught up into the problem of what is authentic worship.

    So are sola scriptura and sola fide — it all revolves around what is the center of authentic worship. Is it the singing? (I know plenty of Protestants who would argue that congregational singing is the center). Is it the speechifying on the meaning of the bible? (again many would point to this) Is it the Eucharist? If it is the Eucharist then SS and SF fall apart because Eucharist and SS and SF are incompatible. That is why there exists no, and there cannot exist, Protestant theological system that holds to SS and FF while holding to the sacrifice of the Eucharist as the center of worship.

  30. in the above — Feudal Vision should of course be Federal Vision

  31. Gentlemen,

    An interesting read on the topic is from Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, How the World Lost its Story here. It’s about the liturgy, not the Eucharist, but about the end of modernity as a kind of end of Protestantism.

  32. David Meyer in 22 said

    That video was frightening. My first thought was “how much ya wana bet there are 100% altar girls”… sure enough there were.

    Do you think the female altar servers are a cause of or sympton of the type of mass in the youtube video?

    Don’t you have female altar servers in your parish and the mass you attend?