(The MYSTERIES of the Christian Church)
Quoted from McClintock and Strong’s “ Cyclopedia”
(from the Lat. sacramentum, a military oath of enlistment), a word adopted by the writers of the Latin Church to denote those ordinances of religion by which Christians come under an obligation of obedience to God, and which obligation, they supposed, was equally sacred with that of an oath. Considering the simplicity of the manner and the brevity of the terms in which the Lord Jesus Christ instituted certain general and perpetual observances for the Church which he founded, it is difficult to repress amazement at the extent of the discussions and the voluminousness of the controversies that have sprung up in reference to them. Many of those controversies are now obsolete, and all of them shrink to comparative unimportance when the Word of God is taken as the one only source of authoritative instruction on the subject. In order to make proper distinctions between the divine teachings and human theories, and also to see how doctrines have been promulgated in successive periods without the shadow of scriptural authority, it is well first to note both the letter and the spirit of the New Testament teaching in reference to what we now call sacraments. We may then the more intelligently follow the line of historical development and practice, however that may have been corrupted from the simplicity of the Gospel. A negative lesson of no little significance is taught in the fact that the term sacrament is not found in the N.T.; neither is the Greek word μυστήριον in any instance applied to either baptism or the Lord’s supper, or any other outward observance. That word, however, came subsequently into ecclesiastical usage as the equivalent of the Latin sacramentum. The Greek Church still uses it in that sense, designating as the seven mysteries what the Roman Church calls the seven sacraments.
I. Scriptural Statement of the Subject. — The instructions given by the N.T. in reference to baptism and the Lord’s supper are of two kinds:
1. Those found in the example and precepts of Christ himself;
2. Those found in the subsequent practice and teaching of the apostles. Introductory to both is the great fact with which the Gospel history opens, viz. John’s baptism: that was distinctly declared to be a baptism of repentance, introductory to the kingdom of God about to be established by the promised Messiah. John’s baptism, therefore, is to be regarded as a connecting link between the old and the new dispensation; and as it was prophetic of Christ’s immediate advent, so it was sanctioned by the fact of Christ’s accepting, indeed demanding, baptism at the hands of John, in order to “fulfil all righteousness.” By this expression we may understand that Christ not only fulfilled, in his own person, the law of the Abrahamic covenant in circumcision, but also the spiritual law of Christianity which he was about to establish, and of which baptism was to be the appointed emblem. This view is corroborated in the fact that, in connection with this baptism, not only was the Messiahship of Christ attested by an approving voice from heaven, but by the descent upon him of the Holy Ghost (Mat 3:13-17; Mar 1:8-11; Luk 3:21-22). This great event occurred at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry; and although, in the record of his ministrations, little is said of baptism, yet sufficient is recorded to indicate that the rite was practiced from the first as initiatory to Christian discipleship. It is summarily mentioned in Joh 4:1-2, “that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.” In the preceding chapter (Joh 4:22) it had been stated that “Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.” Hence we may infer that baptism was fully established as a custom of the initial Church prior to the formal command by which, in the great Commission, its perpetual observance was enjoined (Mat 28:19). From the first exercise of their appointed office, the apostles preached baptism as a duty (Act 2:38), and administered it to those professing Christianity (see Act 2:41; Act 8:12-13; Act 8:16; Act 8:38; Act 9:18; Act 16:15; Act 16:33; Act 18:8, etc.).
The institution of the Lord’s supper was, in some respects, similar. In his custom of fulfilling all righteousness, our Lord, on the night before his betrayal, assembled his disciples to eat the Passover (q.v.), in accordance with Jewish law and custom. In that connection he not only identified himself as the true Paschal Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world, but appointed bread and wine to be emblems of his body and blood, to be used by all his followers in perpetual commemoration of his impending sacrificial death (see Mat 26:26; Mar 14:22; Luk 22:19; 1Co 11:23-27). That this institution was observed by the apostles and the churches founded by them in the simplicity and sacredness of its original appointment is obvious from various statements and allusions in the Acts and Epistles; but we may search the whole New Testament record in vain for an account of any other appointments of a corresponding character. If, by analysis, we seek to determine what is peculiar and essential to baptism and the Lord’s supper, when considered as ordinances of the Christian Church, the following characteristics will be found to inhere in both:
1. They were illustrated by our Lord’s own example, and enjoined by his specific command;
2. They were enjoined upon the whole Church, and as of perpetual obligation;
3. They were recognized by the apostles and the New Testament churches in the character stated, and by them observed in the form and spirit of their appointment;
4. Each of the institutions named had an important significance with reference to the whole scheme of salvation, and was adapted to serve as a means of grace to all Christians.
If, now, the ordinances named are to be considered as sacraments of the Christian Church (which has never been questioned or denied), it is evident that nothing else should be considered a sacrament in which the same characteristics do not in like manner inhere. Let the several points named be applied as tests to the five additional observances of the Greek and Roman churches, called by them sacraments — viz. confirmation, matrimony, penance, orders, and extreme unction-and it will be seen how radically defective they all are.
Keeping in view the fact that the term sacrament has no sanction from scriptural usage, a question of some importance arises as to how it came to its present significance and general adoption, also whether and to what extent the term itself has become an agency of error. In considering this question, it is well to go back in thought to the post-apostolic age, and trace downward, by successive steps, the development of ideas and customs in the Christian Church.
1. Ideas of peculiar sacredness could not fail to be associated with duties enjoined in the last commands of the Lord Jesus — the recently crucified but now ascended Savior.
2. These ideas would be intensified in the participation of the Lord’s supper, which, by its very design, addressed itself to the tenderest sympathies and highest moral purposes of the human soul.
3. As the act of communion demanded of each believer, not only self- examination as to his faith and spiritual life, but also an actual or implied pledge of future obedience and devotion to Christ, the Captain of our salvation, so that pledge might easily come to be regarded somewhat in the light of an oath.
4. More especially as Christians were taught to regard themselves as soldiers, called to fight the fight of faith and to war a good warfare, it would be natural to regard the act of devotion by which they pledged allegiance to Christ as very analogous to the sacramentum, or oath, by which Roman soldiers swore allegiance to their emperor. Hence the Lord’s supper came to be called sacramentum eucharistoe.
5. In like manner, as baptism was regarded in the light of an enrolment to be a soldier of Jesus Christ, so it came to be called sacramentum aquac. Thus, or similarly, in point of historic fact, the term sacrament became generic and inclusive of the two and only observances enjoined by Christ as of universal and perpetual obligation upon the Church. Moreover, as both sacraments were designed to serve as outward signs of a promised invisible grace, they would naturally be reverenced as involving much that was incomprehensible to the natural mind, in fact, mysterious. Hence, in the Greek language, the term μυστήριον (mystery) came to be used as the equivalent of sacramentum in the Latin. This term “mystery,” however, became misleading by very natural processes. It had for a long time been applied to certain secret ceremonies, practiced specially among the Greeks….., and could hardly fail to suggest analogous and corrupting ideas to Christians at all inclined to a worldly policy The writers of the New Testament had, in fact, repeatedly used the words mystery and mysteries, but never in connection with either baptism, the Lord’s supper, or any Christian ceremony. They had spoken of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, the mystery of faith, the mystery of godliness, and also of the Gospel as “the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest.”
II. Multiplication of the Sacraments such obviously appropriate uses the term mystery was, in ecclesiastical language, so far perverted as to be made almost exclusively to represent Christian ceremonies, a wide door was opened for the ingress of erroneous opinions and practice. The very term suggested secrecy where publicity was designed. It obviously prompted the artificial rules of the disciplina arcani (q.v.), and thus strongly encouraged ceremonial instead of spiritual conversion. It also stimulated the inventiveness of ecclesiastics in the multiplication of so called sacraments. It gave countenance to priestly pretensions on the part of Christian ministers, and encouraged the imitation of Jewish and pagan rites. Combined with other influences of like nature, it contributed to that great perversion of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper by which it came to be regarded as a propitiatory sacrifice — a parent error, from which the mystical ceremonies and the doctrine of transubstantiation were logical outgrowths. Errors also arose from a loose application of the word sacramentum. As that term involved the generic idea of sacredness, so it came to be applied to various other usages that sprang up in the Church, with the tendency to attribute to them an importance and sanctity corresponding to those of the sacraments proper. For successive centuries the number of observances called, in this loose sense, sacraments was more or less varied and indefinite; one writer (Damian) enumerated twelve. But by degrees, the sacred number seven came to be adopted as the limit, yet not always in application to the same ceremonies or in the same order. The present enumeration of the Roman Church is credited to the schoolman Peter Lombard (d. 1164), although for at least three centuries later more or less controversy was maintained among the schoolmen as to the number and order of the sacraments. It was the General Council of Florence in 1439 that, following Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas, first assumed to define authoritatively the number as subsequently maintained by the Church of Rome. The definition or limitation then decreed was promulgated in a synodal epistle from pope Eugenius to the Armenians in 1442. The language of the decree is full and explicit, not only as to the number, but also as to the doctrine of the sacraments. It says:
“The sacraments of the new law are seven — namely, baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony — which differ much from the sacraments of the old law: for those do not cause grace, but represent it as only to be given through the passion of Christ; but the sacraments of the new law contain grace, and confer it on those who worthily receive them. The first five are ordained for the spiritual perfection of each man in himself; the last two, for the government and multiplication of the whole Church…. All these sacraments are perfected in three ways — namely, by things as to the material, by words as to the form, and by the person of the administrator who confers the sacrament with the intention of doing what the Church does — of which, if any be wanting, the sacrament is not perfected. Among these sacraments there are three baptism, confirmation, and orders — which impress indelibly on the soul a character: that is, a certain spiritual sign, distinguishing him from others. Hence they are not repeated on the same person. But the other four do not impress a character, and admit of reiteration.”
The sacramental theory of the Roman Catholic Church has rarely, if ever, been better stated. As thus formulated, it was an ingenious and authoritative digest of views that had been developed during long centuries in which tradition and superstitious inventiveness had usurped the supreme control in matters of religion. During that period the living oracles were silent, and nearly all the prevailing influences united to enhance the prerogatives of the clergy by attaching magical or supernatural influence to their supposed priestly functions. Baptism, loaded down with accumulated ceremonies, became the essential agency of regeneration; absolution from sin was given or withheld at the option of a priest; while extreme unction was regarded as an important, if not an essential passport to usher a dying person into the presence of God. But it was the Lord’s supper in which all that was most solemn and mysterious was concentrated. That rite had become the holy of holies in the Christianity then prevalent. In it the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ was believed to be secured as often as the priest performed the act of consecration; but the manner of that presence was for a long time undiscussed, being neither defined by canon, agitated before council, nor determined by pope. “During all those centuries no language was thought too strong to express the overpowering awe and reverence of the worshippers. The oratory of the pulpit and the hortatory treatise had indulged freely in the boldest images; the innate poetry of the faith had worked those images into realities.” A specimen of the oratorical hyperbole employed in reference to this subject may be taken from Chrysostom, written in his treatise on the priesthood, about A.D. 380: “The priestly office is discharged upon earth, but holds the rank of heavenly things, and very rightly so…. For when you behold the Lord sacrificed and prostrate, and the priest standing over the sacrifice, and praying, and all stained with that precious blood, do you then suppose you are among men and standing upon earth? Are you not immediately transported to heaven? . . . Oh, the marvel! Oh, the love of God to man! He who sits with the Father on high is at that moment held in the hands of all, and gives himself to those who are willing to embrace and to receive him!”
For centuries following Chrysostom, the prevalent ideas of the real presence in the eucharist were not only vague, but widely dissimilar, ranging from the border of a just spiritualism to a gross materialism, but with growing tendencies to the latter, until, at length, the more material the conception came to be of an actual and repeated sacrifice, the more it seemed to impress minds wholly uninstructed in Scripture truth. For a long period inquiries into the nature of the sacred mysteries were regarded as presumptive; but when, at length, speculation arose, the most startling theorists excited the most attention. It was to Paschasius Radbert, a monk of Corvey (A.D. 831), that the Roman Church was indebted for the first clear statement of what came afterwards to be known as the doctrine of transubstantiation. Although Paschasius did not employ that term, he fully set forth the idea which the term was afterwards invented to express. He taught that the substance of the bread and wine was actually annihilated, notwithstanding the corporeal form remained, in passing into and becoming the body and blood of the Redeemer — the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, which had been resuscitated in the resurrection, and which was now multiplied in countless numbers of times and places. He did not shrink from following out this theory to its grossest consequences, sustaining it by the narration of various miracles, such as the host bleeding and assuming the human form. It is not to be supposed that Paschasius originated this theory; his task was that of formulating it from the still cruder notions of the average popular and priestly mind of his day. But, dark as were the times in which he lived, his theory, when reduced to a connected statement, was too gross to pass unchallenged. A protracted discussion arose, known in ecclesiastical history as the First Eucharistic Controversy.
Against the theory of Paschasius, Frudegard, a monk of another order, and Ratramnus, another monk of Corvey, urged sundry arguments, and quoted many passages from the fathers, especially from Augustine, showing that the body of Christ in the eucharist could not be the same body as that in which he was born, suffered, and rose again. Ratramnus, in fact, wrote a learned work entitled De Corpore et Sanguine Domini, in which he modestly but ably controverted the positions of his abbot, Paschasius. The latter had strongly urged those views of the sacrifice of the mass that had prevailed from the time of Gregory the Great. On the other hand, Ratramnus designated the eucharist as being only a commemorative celebration of Christ’s sacrifice, by remembrance of which Christians should make themselves capable of partaking of the divine grace of redemption. Rabanus Maurus, John Scotus Erigena, and others also wrote in opposition to the theory of Radbert. Thus the controversy was protracted into the 10th century, but with a constantly increasing tendency to reject and silence all opposition to the extremest views as heretical.
Notwithstanding the popular drift in the line of transubstantiation, Berengar of Tours (q.v.), about the middle of the 11th century, opened, by his acute and able opposition to the theory of Paschasius Radbert, what has been denominated the Second Eucharistic Controversy. His position was that the substance of the bread and wine was not changed by the consecration, but only their efficacy, thus maintaining a dynamic, as against an actual change. His chief literary opponent was Lanfranc (q.v.), but his ecclesiastical opponents were legion. In the apparent consciousness that he could not be answered, he was summarily arraigned by popes and prelates, before councils and synods, and forced repeatedly to renounce his doctrines on pain of death. As often as he was able to escape from the power of his persecutors, he recanted his successive renunciations of his doctrines respecting the sacraments, until he at length found a refuge in France, where he was permitted, at the age of ninety, to die in peace. His views found many adherents, both in France and Germany, who came to be known and proscribed as Berengarians.
A synod of Rome in 1079 confirmed the doctrine of Paschasius Radbert; and, although for some years afterwards that doctrine was maintained by the use of other terms, it at length found definite expression in the term transubstantiation, which is said to have been first used by Hildebert of Tours (about 1134). Steps were now successively taken by which discussion was checked and opposition in the Church practically silenced. Pope Innocent III, at the Lateran Council of 1215, made transubstantiation (q.v.) an unchangeable article of the Roman Catholic faith; pope Urban IV, in 1264, instituted the annual festival of Corpus Christi; and pope Clement 5, in 1311, reduced the doctrine in question to a liturgical form. By these means, not only the theologians and the clergy of the Church, but also the masses of the people, were committed to the actual deification of the host, or consecrated wafer. The withholding of the cup from the laity was deemed a logical sequence of the doctrine of transubstantiation of more controlling influence than the express command of Christ with reference to the cup — “Drink ye all of it.” The precept quoted was thenceforward conveniently limited to the clergy.
From the periods named above, scholasticism was busy in the vindication and explanation, by various ingenious methods, of the new dogma; while in practice, the sacrifice of the mass became more than ever the center of the Roman ritual. Nor is it easy for Protestants in the 19th century to understand how completely the combined influence of the decrees of the Church, the writings of the schoolmen, the ceremonies of the ritual, and the parade of festivals had blotted out of the public mind the simple scriptural idea of the eucharist, and substituted in its place a vague but blind superstition in reference to this now mutilated sacrament. The efforts made during successive centuries to give reality and impressiveness to the Roman doctrine of the sacraments, and especially that of the eucharist, had not been limited to traditional and preceptive influences; stupendous miracles in demonstration of it had been often and widely proclaimed. “Besides, the very nature of the doctrine itself adapted it singularly to retain its hold on an ignorant and superstitious generation. The notion once impressed upon the multitude that, when they celebrated one of the sacraments of their Church, they actually swallowed the real body and blood — the very person of their God — was too intensely exciting, too attractive to their imagination, too closely connected with their senses, to be abandoned without great reluctance. We might, indeed, wonder how it was found possible to obtain so general a credence for a dogma than which, in its popular sense, no more audacious paradox was ever obtruded on the credulity of man; but, once received, once impressed on the belief, once embraced as an essential truth, it became so entirely essential, so predominant, so engrossing, as to take almost exclusive possession of the soul, and to throw a shade of comparative insignificance over every other tenet. To be deprived of this conviction; to be assured that the consecrated elements hitherto reverenced and adored as the very body of the Divinity were no more than bread and wine, unchanged by the sacerdotal consecration, either in substance or in accident, was, in the vulgar mind, to part with the portion of religion most nearly touching both feelings and practice. ‘That they were robbed of their God’ was the first impression produced upon ignorant devotees; and those who had nourished that ignorance, and found their profit in it — the chiefs and champions of the system to which that dogma was so essential — united in one great confederacy to propagate the cry” (Waddington, History of the Reformation, ch. 31).
III. Roman Catholic View. — The full and authoritative statement of the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning the sacraments is given in the Decree of the Council of Trent, as embraced in the following extract of the preface and in thirteen consecutive canons:
“In order to complete the exposition of the wholesome doctrine of justification, published in the last session by the unanimous consent of the fathers, it hath been deemed proper to treat of the holy sacraments of the Church, by which all true righteousness is at first imparted, then increased, and afterwards restored, if lost. For which cause the sacred, holy, ecumenical, and general Council of Trent, lawfully assembled, etc., abiding by the doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures, the tradition of the apostles, and the uniform consent of other councils and of the fathers, hath resolved to frame and decree these following canons, in order to expel and extirpate the errors and heresies respecting the most holy sacraments which have appeared in these times–partly the revival of heresies long ago condemned by our ancestors, partly new inventions and have proved highly detrimental to the purity of the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls. The remaining canons, necessary to the completion of the work, will be published hereafter, by the help of God.
“Canon 1. Whoever shall affirm that the sacraments of the new law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, or that they are more or fewer than seven–namely, baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony–or that any of these, is not truly and properly a sacrament, let him be accursed.
“2. Whoever shall affirm that the sacraments of the new law only differ from those of the old law in that their ceremonies and external rites are different, let him be accursed.
“3. Whoever shall affirm that these seven sacraments are in such sense equal that no one of them is in any respect more honorable than another, let him be accursed. “
4. Whoever shall affirm that the sacraments of the new law are not necessary to salvation, but superfluous, or that men may obtain the grace of justification by faith only, without these sacraments (although it is granted that they are all not necessary to every individual), let him be accursed.
“5. Whoever shall affirm that the sacraments were instituted solely for the purpose of strengthening our faith, let him be accursed.
“6. Whoever shall affirm 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 obstacle in its way, as if they were only the external signs of grace or righteousness received by faith, and marks of Christian profession whereby the faithful are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be accursed.
“7. Whosoever shall affirm that grace is not always given by these sacraments, and upon all persons, as far as God is concerned, if they be rightly received, but that it is only bestowed sometimes and on some persons, let him be accursed.
“8. Whoever shall affirm that grace is not conferred by the sacraments of the new law, by their own power (ex opere operato), but that faith in the divine promise is all that is necessary to obtain grace, let him be accursed.
“9. Whoever shall affirm that a character (that is, a certain spiritual and indelible mark) is not impressed upon the soul by the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and orders (for which reason they cannot be repeated), let him be accursed.
“10. Whoever shall affirm that all Christians have power to preach the word and administer all the sacraments, let him be accursed.
“11. Whoever shall affirm that, when ministers perform and confer a sacrament, it is not necessary that they should, at least, have the intention to do what the Church does, let him be accursed.
“12. Whoever shall affirm that a minister who is in a state of mortal sin does not perform or confer a sacrament, although he observes everything that is essential to the performance and bestowment thereof, let him be accursed. “
13. Whoever shall affirm that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, commonly used in the solemn administration of the sacraments, may be despised or omitted without sin by the minister, at his pleasure, or that any pastor of a church may change them for others, let him be accursed.”
Refutations of the Romanistic theory of the sacraments have been so numerous and detailed in the writings of the Reformers, from the days of Wycliffe down to the present time, that it seems only necessary to present here a brief resume of the standard objections to it:
1. The sacramental theory of the Church of Rome wholly ignores the great scriptural doctrine of salvation by faith.
2. It elevates ceremonies above Christian obedience and duty.
3. It is artificial in naming as sacraments several things which Christ did not appoint as such –e.g. confirmation, penance, orders, extreme unction, and matrimony; which last, instead of being instituted by Jesus Christ, was, in fact, appointed by God from the creation of man.
4. It is arbitrary in dividing the eucharist and denying the cup to the laity.
5. It unduly exalts the functions of the priesthood, making the gift of divine grace dependent on the intention of the administrator of a real or supposed sacrament.
6. It sanctions immorality in the highest offices and most sacred ceremonies of religion by maintaining that wickedness, even to the extent of mortal sin, does not disqualify the celebrant from truly administering the holy sacraments.
7. It gives incentives to bad living, and even to crime, by teaching men that the sacraments impress upon the soul an indelible character of grace and spirituality, irrespective of their personal faith or practice.
The doctrine of the Old Catholics (q.v.), as stated in Art. VIII of the Theses agreed upon in the Conference at Bonn in 1874, is thus expressed:
“1. We acknowledge that the number of the sacraments was fixed at seven first in the 12th century, and then was received into the general teaching of the Church, not as a tradition coming down from the apostles or from the earliest times, but as the result of theological speculation.
“2. Catholic theologians (i.e. Bellarmine) acknowledge, and we acknowledge with them, that baptism and the eucharist are ‘principalia, proecipua, eximia salutis nostroe sacramenta.’”
IV. Tenets of the Oriental Churches.– The Greek Church, including the Russian, teaches that there are seven sacraments (μυστήρια), the same as the Roman Catholic — namely, baptism, unction with chrism, the eucharist, penitence, the priesthood, lawful marriage, and extreme unction (Orthodoxa Confessio [A.D. 1643], qu. 98; Dosithei Confessio [A.D. 1672], deer. 15; Longer Catechism [prepared by Philaret, and approved by the Synod of A.D. 1839], qu. 285). That Church holds, indeed, some peculiarities as to the mode of administering certain of these sacraments; but they nevertheless strenuously maintain the divine character and essential importance of them all.
The Armenian and Coptic churches [see each] have substantially the same views upon the subject as the Greek Church. The orthodox Nestorians (q.v.), however, including the Christians of St. Thomas, believe, with Protestants, in two sacraments only, namely, baptism and the Lord’s supper; but the “Chaldaean” branch, of course, coincides with the Roman view.
V. Views of the Lutheran Reformers and of later Protestants.– Notwithstanding the formidable combination of influences to popularize and maintain the doctrine of transubstantiation, many minds revolted against the absurdities it involved. Some individuals and sects went to the extreme of rejecting the sacraments altogether; others, including most of those known as Reformers before the Reformation, alike objected to the invented and redundant sacraments, and pointed out many errors and abuses connected with the administration of baptism and the eucharist. This opposition, however, was manifested under many restraints and embarrassments, not merely caused by the spirit of persecution that was everywhere so rife, but by those prejudices and habits of mind to which the reformers themselves were subject. Bold and uncompromising as was Luther on most subjects in which Roman errors were involved, he nevertheless on the one topic now in question exhibited weaknesses of character and an infirmity of judgment that can only be accounted for by the influence of his education and early habits of thought. Even after that great man had fully accepted the doctrine of salvation by faith, and rejected the greater number of those errors and inventions by which the Roman system had made void the word and truth of God, he remained so tenacious of the doctrine of Christ’s real and corporeal presence in the bread and wine of the eucharist as to make a violent and almost fatal issue with his fellow Reformers on that point. No argument was sufficient to move him from his fixed adherence to the literal interpretation of the phrase, “This is my body.” Hence, not only he, but Melancthon and all those German Reformers who acted with them, while rejecting transubstantiation, rigidly adhered to that slight variation from it known as consubstantiation (q.v.). The controversies between Luther and Zwingli and their several adherents unhappily put in jeopardy some of the most important interests of the Reformation, and gave great cause of rejoicing to the partisans of the papacy. But for that unfortunate issue, which, at a very critical period, divided the Reformers and weakened their strength, it cannot be doubted that much more rapid progress would have been made in restoring to the Church the true but long lost idea of the supper of the Lord as instituted by him and appointed for the confirmation of faith in his atoning sacrifice. But, notwithstanding all hindrances, it is from the period of the Reformation that improvements may be noted in those doctrinal views of the sacraments which found expression in the creeds of representative churches. To show the successive steps of progress made as the result of controversy on the subject, quotations will now be given from several of the more celebrated creeds put forth during the 16th century. The oldest of all the Protestant confessions of faith is that of Augsburg, of which several articles related to the sacraments. That celebrated document was prepared by Melancthon, and read, June 27, 1530, in the presence of the emperor Charles V and his court, including many prominent Roman Catholic theologians. Although its tone was apologetic, nevertheless its utterances were distinctly Protestant, except in some of the articles relating to the sacraments.
Part I, Art.VIII, allows the validity of the sacraments, although administered by evil men.
Art. IX declares that baptism is necessary to salvation.
Art. X is in these words: “Of the Lord’s supper, they (the Lutherans) teach that the [true] body and blood of Christ are truly present [under the form of bread and wine], and are [there] communicated to those that eat in the Lord’s supper.”
On the Use of the Sacraments, contains the following language: “They were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather that they should be signs and testimonies of the will of God towards us, set forth unto us to stir up and confirm faith in such as use them. Therefore men must use sacraments so as to join faith with them which believes the promises that are offered and declared unto us by the sacraments. Wherefore they (the Lutherans) condemn those that teach that the sacraments do justify by the work done (ex opere operato), and do not teach that faith which believes the remission of sins is requisite in the sacraments.”
Part II, Art. I, enjoins communion in both kinds, and discountenances the carrying about the elements in procession.
Art. III says: “Our churches are wrongfully accused of having abolished the Mass; for the mass is still retained among us, and celebrated with great reverence.” Nevertheless, the article proceeds to condemn private masses as being celebrated only for lucre’s sake.
The Augsburg Confession does not definitely assert, but clearly implies, that the sacraments are only two in number. The Helvetic Confession of 1536 was explicit on that point, stating, also, that both baptism and the eucharist are only outward signs of the hidden things, or inward graces, spiritually imparted to faith in the promises of God. That confession also denies that the body and blood of Christ are naturally united, locally included, or actually present in the material bread and wine; but it affirms that the bread and wine, by the institution of God, are symbols through which, as from Christ himself, by the ministry of the Church, a true spiritual communication of his body and blood is made, not in perishable food, but for the sustenance of the soul’s life.
In the further development of Protestantism, the most noted ecclesiastical statement of the doctrine of the sacraments is found in the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, originally adopted in 1563. The following extracts embrace the more important points:
“Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him.” “There are two sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, baptism and the supper of the Lord.” “Those five commonly called sacraments–that is to say, confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction–are not to be counted for sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of sacraments with baptism and the Lord’s supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” “The sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them; and in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation…. Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the supper of the Lord cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthrows the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the supper only after a heavenly and spiritual manner; and the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the supper is faith.”
In the three symbols above quoted may be seen the types of doctrine which have prevailed, with slight variations of expression, in all Protestant evangelical churches. The Lutheran churches of Europe and America have alone followed the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession. The Calvinistic churches of all countries have followed, in the main, the Zwinglian doctrine as set forth in the first Helvetic Confession; while the formula of the Church of England has been adopted by the Methodist churches of Great Britain and America and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.
Notwithstanding the variations of views and statements that prevailed among the different branches of early Protestantism, yet so substantial was the unity among all classes of the reformers in rejecting the doctrine of the opus operatum, and also, as sacraments, all observances besides baptism and the Lord’s supper, that the general drift of the Protestant doctrine became widely diffused and accepted during the first period of the Reformation. That the influence of counter discussion had come to be greatly dreaded by the Roman theologians is obvious from several expressions made use of by the Council of Trent in 1547. Nevertheless, as we have seen, that council proceeded to reaffirm the mediaeval theories of the sacraments in their most objectionable forms.
In many points of view, it may be regarded as extremely unfortunate that among the active agents of the Reformation there arose serious differences of views as to the sacraments, and more especially that those differences resulted in actual divisions and oppositions between brethren agreed in general principles and striving for common results. On the other hand, it is not difficult to infer that much discussion was necessary at that period as a means of clearing away the misconceptions of preceding ages, and of bringing out scriptural truth into a prominent light. It is impracticable and quite unnecessary here to outline the successive and protracted controversies with reference to the sacraments which took place between Luther and Zwingli and their successive followers for several generations, or, indeed, the somewhat different controversies that prevailed in Great Britain, bearing upon the same subject. It is, however, only just to remark that the influence of John Calvin in the Protestant sacramental controversy was very opportune and very powerful. As a contemporary and friend both of Luther and Zwingli, he sought to mediate between the extreme views of both. His theory was, in fact, an ingenious compromise between the realism of Luther and the idealism of Zwingli. He adopted the figurative interpretation of Christ’s words, τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ σῶμά μου, and rejected all carnal and materialistic conceptions of the eucharistic mystery; but he at the same time strongly asserted a spiritual real presence and communion of Christ’s body and blood for the nourishment of the soul. “He taught that believers, while they receive with their mouths the visible elements, receive also by faith the spiritual realities signified and sealed thereby–namely, the benefit of the atoning sacrifice on the cross and the life-giving virtue of Christ’s glorified humanity in heaven, which the Holy Ghost conveys to the soul in a supernatural manner; while unbelieving or unworthy communicants, having no inward connection with Christ, receive only bread and wine to their own judgment.” Luther had always insisted upon the corporeal presence and the oral manducation of the body and blood of Christ by communicants.
Calvin substituted for that idea the virtual, or dynamic, presence of Christ’s humanity, and a spiritual reception and assimilation of the same by the act of faith and through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. This view was substantially adopted by the writers and adherents of the Heidelberg Catechism, and, in fact, passed into all the leading Reformed confessions of faith. In fact, Melancthon, during the latter period of his life, substantially approved of Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s supper. That circumstance gave rise to a controversy in the bosom of the Lutheran Church, by which it was divided into Lutherans, or, more properly, ultra-Lutherans, and Melancthonians, or Philippists. Luther’s doctrine, by a literal interpretation of the words of institution, not only involved the oral manducation, but the practical ubiquity, of the body of Christ. Under the influence of Bucer and Calvin, and a further study of Augustine and of the Holy Scriptures, Melancthon had rejected both these views; although, through modesty and strong personal attachment, he did not separate from Luther or define an opposite theory. Luther, though grieved at these changes of view, nevertheless did not withdraw his friendship from Melancthon; but when both were dead, direct issues were made between their respective followers. A long and bitter controversy ensued, which extended to several other topics of theology, as well as that relating to the ubiquity, or multipresence, of Christ’s body. The high Lutherans insisted upon ubiquity as a necessary result of the real communication of the two natures in Christ; while the Philippists and Calvinists rejected it as inconsistent with the nature of a body, with the reality of Christ’s ascension, and with the general principle that the infinite cannot be comprehended or shut up in the finite. At the end of the controversy, the views of the extreme Lutherans became limited to only a portion of the Protestants of Germany; while those of Melancthon and Calvin were adopted by the Reformed churches of Germany, Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands. Practically, the same views were embodied in the later Helvetic confessions, in the creeds and catechisms of the Scotch Kirk, and in the Westminster Confession.
During the last three hundred years a great degree of practical unity has prevailed throughout Protestant Christendom in reference to the theory of the sacraments. This fact may be attributed to the general use and recognized authority of the Word of God. There have, indeed, been some small sects which, following the views of Socinus, have, by their theories, reduced the sacraments to mere commemorative observances, having a certain emblematic significance, but void of any spiritual influence. The Friends, or Quakers, have even rejected the sacraments as not designed for continued observance, at least in an outward form. They claim that the one baptism appointed for perpetuity among Christ’s followers is the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and the true Lord’s supper is that alluded to in Rev 3:20 : “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Aside from such slight exceptions, the great body of Protestants, while rejecting the mass and all other superstitious ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church, have sought to practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper both in the form and spirit of their original appointment. It is true that somewhat extended controversies have arisen as to the subjects and the mode of baptism, prompted chiefly by the exclusive claims of those who would reject from the Lord’s supper all who have not been baptized by immersion. Another form of exception to the general Protestant sentiment has been exhibited by that class of Anglicans and others who have distinguished themselves by those Romanizing tendencies which have so frequently terminated in adhesion to the Church of Rome, with her full list of sacraments.
VI. Literature.–Taking into view all the phases of controversy that have been developed in reference to the sacraments, the literature of the subject is exceedingly voluminous; but by far the greater part of it is now obsolete and never likely to be reproduced. That the discussions of the past have, on the whole, had a favorable issue is indicated by the fact that the great majority of modern publications relating to baptism and the Lord’s supper are of a practical character, aiming to set forth the design, the obligations to their observance, and the duties growing out of them. Publications of this character are so numerous and so common that an attempt to give a full or even a specimen list of their titles is deemed quite unnecessary. The following are chiefly books which discuss the broader aspects of the sacraments in general, or which furnish historical data respecting the development of sacramental theories: Chrysostom, On the Priesthood (Homilies); Augustine, On Catechising the Ignorant; On Baptism (Sermons 218, 272); On True Religion; Ambrose, On the Sacraments; Gregory Nazianzum, Oration 60; Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Orations; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Discourses; Gregory the Great, Liturgy; Book of Morals; the so called Apostolic Constitutions (bk. 8); Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church; Hagenbach, History of Doctrines; Neander, Church History; Gieseler, Church History; Melancthon, Sententia de Coena Domini; Calvin, De Coena Domini; Albertin, De Eucharistia; Beza, Discourses; Cranmer, Definition of the True Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper; Cudworth, True Notion of the Lord’s Supper; Halley, On Symbolic Institutions; Barrows, Sermons; South, Sermons; Owen, Sacramental Discourses; Brevant, Sacrament and Sacrifice; Willet, Synopsis Papismi; Elliott, Romanism; Bennett, History of the Eucharist; Whately, On the Sacraments; Adam Clarke, On the Eucharist; Luckey, On the Lord’s Supper; Nevin, Mystical Presence; Harbaugh, Creed and Cultus; and Essays by other authors in Tercentenary Monument of the Heidelberg Catechism. The authors who have discussed the doctrine of the sacraments as a topic of theology are almost innumerable. See also all Church creeds, e.g. Schaff, Creeds of the Churches (N.Y. 1878, 3 vols. 8vo). (D.P.K.)