Vol. 5, Chapter XIV. The Sacramental System

112. Literature on the Sacraments

Literature: — General Works: The Writings of Abaelard, Hugo of St. Victor, Peter Lombard, Alb. Magnus, Th. Aquinas, Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, and other Schoolmen. — G. L. Hahn: Lehre von d. Sakramenten, Breslau, 1864. — *J. Schwane: Dogmengesch. der mittleren Zeit, 787-1517, Frei b. 1882, pp. 579-693. — J. H. Oswald: D. dogmatische Lehre von d. hl. Sakramenten d. kathol. Kirche, 5th ed., Munich, 1894. The Histories of Christ. Doctr. of Fisher, pp. 254-263; Harnack, II. 462-562; Loofs, pp. 298-304; Seeberg, II. 107 sqq. — Hergenröther-Kirsch: Kirchengesch., II. 682-701. The works on Canon Law of Hinschius; P. Hergenröther (Rom. Cath.), pp. 667-684; Friedberg, pp. 374-495. — Hefele-Knöpfler, V. VI. — The art. Sakrament in Wetzer-Welte and Herzog. — D. S. Schaff: The Sacramental Theory of the Med. Ch. in “Princeton Rev.,” 1906, pp. 206-236.

On the Eucharist, §§115, 116: Dalgairns: The Holy Communion, its Philos., Theol., and Practice, Dublin, 1861. — F. S. Renz: D. Gesch. d. Messopfer-Begriffs, etc., 1st vol., Alterthum und Mittelalter, Munich, 1901. — J. Smend: Kelchversagung und Kelchspendung in d. abendländ. Kirche, Götting., 1898. — A. Franz: D. Messe im deutschen Mittelalter, Freib., 1902. — Artt. Communion, Messe, Transubstantiation in Wetzer-Welte and Abendmahl and Kindercommunion in Herzog.

On Penance and Indulgences, §§117, 118: Joan Morinus: Comment. hist. de disciplina in administratione sacr. poenitentiae, Paris, 1651. — F. Beringer, S. J., transl. fr. the French by J. Schneider: D. Ablässe, ihr Wesen und Gebrauch, 12th ed., Paderb., 1900. — *K. Müller: D. Umschwung in der Lehre von d. Busse während d. 12ten Jahrhunderts, Freib., 1892. — H. C. Lea: A Formulary of the Papal Penitentiary in the 13th Century, Phil., 1892; *A Hist. of Auricular Confession and Indulgences, 3 vols. Phil., 1896. — * TH. Brieger: D. Wesen des Ablasses am Ausgange des Mittelalters, Leipzig., 1897. — A. Kurtz: D. kathol. Lehre vom Ablass vor und nach dem Auftreten Luthers, Paderb., 1900. — C. M. Roberts: Hist. of Confession until it developed into Auric. Conf. a.d. 1215, London, 1901. — * W. Köhler: Dokumente zum Ablassstreit vom 1517, Tübing., 1902. Very convenient, containing thirty-two of the most important documents on the subject and including Jacob von Juterbocks, Tract. de indulgentiis, c. 1451, and excerpts from the Coelifodina, 1502. — * A. Gottlob: Kreuzablass u. Almosenablass, Stuttg., 1906. — A. M. Köninger: D. Beicht nach Caesarius von Heisterbach, Mun., 1906. — Artt. Ablass, *Bussdisciplin by Funk, II. 1562-1590. and Busse, II. 1590-1614, in Wetzer-Welte and *Indulgenzen by Th. Brieger in Herzog, IX. 76-94. For other Lit. see Brieger’s art. in Herzog

On Extreme Unction, etc., §119: See artt. Oelung and Ordo in Wetzer-Welte, IX. 716 sqq., 1027 sqq., and Oelung by Kattenbusch and Priesterweihe in Herzog, XIV. 304 sqq., XVI. 47 sqq. For marriage, the works on Christian Ethics. — Von Eicken: Gesch. u. System der mittelalterl. Weltanschauung, pp. 437-487, Stuttg., 1887. — The artt. Ehe in Herzog, V. 182 sqq. and Wetzer-Welte, IV. 142-231 (including a number of subjects pertaining to marriage).

On Grace and the Future State, §§120, 121: Anselm: De conceptu virginali et originale peccato, Migne, 168. 431-467. — P. Lombardus: Sent., II. 31, etc. — H. Of St. Victor: De sacramentis, I. 7, Migne, 176. 287-306. — Alb. Magnus: In Sent., II. 31 sqq., etc., Borgnet’s ed., XXVII. — Bonaventura: In Sent., II., etc.; Peltier’s ed., III. — Th. Aquinas: Summa, II. 71-90, III. 52 sqq.; Supplem., LXIX. sqq., Migne, IV. 1215-1459 — Duns Scotus: Reportata. XXIV.-XXVI., etc. The Histories of Doctrine of Schwane, pp. 393-493, Harnack, Loofs, Seeberg. Sheldon.


113. The Seven Sacraments

As the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ were wrought out in the Nicene and post-Nicene periods, so the Schoolmen of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries wrought out the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments. At no point were the medieval theologians more industrious or did they put forth keener speculative force. For the Roman Catholic communion, the results of this speculation continue to be of binding authority. The theologians most prominent in developing the sacramental system were Hugo of St. Victor, Peter the Lombard, Alexander of Hales, and Thomas Aquinas. Hugo wrote the first treatise on the sacraments, De sacramentis. Thomas Aquinas did little more than to reformulate in clear statement the views propounded by Hugo, Peter the Lombard, and especially by Alexander of Hales, and with him the development comes to an end. The substance of his statement was adopted by the councils of Ferrara, 1439, and Trent, 1560.

Through the influence of Peter the Lombard and Thomas Aquinas, the number of the sacraments was fixed at seven, — baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, ordination, marriage. Bernard had spoken of many sacraments and enumerated ten, including footwashing and the investiture of bishops and abbots. Abaelard had named five, — baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, marriage, and extreme unction. Hugo de St. Victor in his Summa also seems to recognize only five, — baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, and extreme unction, but in his work on the Sacraments, in which he brought together all he had said on the subjects in other writings, he enumerated thirty. Here, evidently, the word is taken in a wide meaning and is almost synonymous with a religious rite. Hugo divided the sacraments into three classes, — sacraments which are necessary to salvation, baptism and the eucharist, those which have a sanctifying effect such as holy water and the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday, and a third class which prepares for the other sacraments. He called the sprinkling with water a sacrament. Thomas Aquinas also ascribed a quasi-sacramental character to such rites, quaedam sacramentalia.

The uncertainty concerning the number of the sacraments was a heritage from the Fathers. Augustine defined any sacred rite a sacrament. The Third Lateran, 1179, used the term in a wide sense and included the investiture of bishops and burial among the sacraments. The Catholic Church today makes a distinction between certain sacred rites, called sacramentalia, and the seven sacraments. Thomas gave as the reason for this number seven — that three is the number of the Deity, four of creation, and seven represents the union of God and man.

Ingenious and elaborate attempts were made to correlate the seven sacraments to all of man’s spiritual maladies and to show their “congruity” or adaptation to meet all the requirements of fallen and redeemed human nature. Baptism corresponds to the defect of spiritual life, confirmation to mental weakness found in those recently born, the eucharist to the temptation to fall into sin, — labilitas animi ad peccandum, — penance to sins committed after baptism, extreme unction to the remainders of sin not cleared away by penance, ordination to the lost condition of mankind, matrimony to concupiscence, and the liability of mankind to become extinct by natural death.

The number seven also corresponds to the seven virtues, — baptism, extreme unction, and the eucharist to faith, hope, and love, ordination to enlightenment, penance to righteousness, marriage to continence, and confirmation to endurance. Bonaventura elaborates at length a stimulating comparison to a military career. The sacraments furnish grace for the spiritual struggle and strengthen the warrior on the various stages of his conflict. Baptism equips him on entering the conflict, confirmation encourages him in its progress, extreme unction helps him at the finish, the eucharist and penance renew his strength, orders introduce new recruits into the ranks, and marriage prepares men to be recruits. Augustine had compared the sacraments to the badges and rank conferred upon the soldier, a comparison Thomas Aquinas took up.

The sacraments were not needed in man’s estate of innocence. Marriage which was then instituted was a “function of nature” and nothing more. There were sacraments under the old covenant as well as under the new. The Schoolmen follow Augustine in declaring that the former prefigure the grace to come and the sacraments of the New Testament confer grace. With Albertus Magnus and other Schoolmen it was a favorite question why woman was not circumcised.

In defining what a sacrament is — quid est sacramentum — the Schoolmen started with Augustine’s definition that a sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, but went beyond him in the degree of efficiency they ascribe to it. Beginning with Hugo, they assert in unmistakable language that the sacraments, or outward symbols, contain and confer grace, — continere et conferre gratiam, — the language afterwards used by the council of Trent. They have a virtue inherent in themselves. The favorite figure for describing their operation is medicine. Hugo said, God is the physician, man is the invalid, the priest is the minister or messenger, grace is the antidote, the sacrament is the vase. The physician gives, the minister dispenses, the vase contains, the spiritual medicine which cures the invalid. If, therefore, the sacraments are the vases of spiritual grace, they do not cure of themselves. Not the bottle, but the medicine, cures the sick. Bonaventura entitled his chapters on the sacraments “Sacramental Medicine.”

The sacraments are remedies which the great Samaritan brought for the wounds of original and actual sin. They are more than visible signs and channels of grace. They do more than signify. They sanctify. They are the efficient cause of gracious operations in the recipient. The interior effects, Thomas Aquinas says, are due to Christ, or, as he says in another place, to the blessing of Christ and the administration of the priest conjoined. The mode of this efficacy is ex opere operato. This expression, used by William of Auxerre and Alexander of Hales, Thomas adopted and says again and again that the sacraments make righteous and confer grace, ex opere operato, that is by a virtue inherent in themselves.

By this, Thomas Aquinas does not mean that the religious condition of the recipient is a matter of indifference, but that the sacrament imparts its virtue, if need be, without the operation of an active faith. The tendency of Protestant writers has been to represent the Schoolmen as ascribing a magical virtue to the visible sacramental symbol, if not irrespective of the divine appointment, then certainly irrespective of the attitude of the recipient. Such is not the view of the Schoolmen. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between the original cause of grace, which is God, and the instrumental cause, which is the sacrament. The virtue of the latter depends upon God’s appointment and operation. The benefits of Christ’s atonement pass over to the faithful through faith and the sacraments. The Church, said Bonaventura, received the sacraments from Christ and dispenses them to the salvation of the faithful. The sacraments are efficacious only to those who are of a religious disposition.

Duns Scotus, whose opinions were set aside at the council of Ferrara for those of Thomas Aquinas, insisted that God can confer grace apart from the sacraments, and their efficacy is dependent upon an action of the will. They act indirectly, not directly. Duns controverted Thomas’ view that the sacrament is a visible sign containing supernatural virtue in itself absolutely. The sacraments involve a psychological process in the soul. As symbols, they remind the soul of God’s grace and attract it. A good state of the heart, however, is not a meritorious cause of their efficacy. For their reception, it is sufficient if there be no moral impediment, obex, that is, no impeding indisposition. It is the excellency of the sacraments of the new law, Duns says, that the very reception of them is a sufficient disposition to grace.

The relation the priest sustains to the sacraments is a vital one, and except in extraordinary cases his ministration is essential. Their efficacy does not depend upon the priest’s personal character, provided only he administer according to the rite of the Church. An immoral priest may confer sacramental grace. To use the medieval illustration, pure water may be conveyed through a leaden pipe as truly as through a silver pipe. Even if the intention of conferring grace is absent from the mind of the officiating priest, the efficacy of the sacrament is not destroyed. The priest acts in the name of the Church, and in uttering the words of sacramental appointment he gives voice to the intention of the Church. This intention is sufficient for the perfection of the sacrament in any given case. Ultimately, it is Christ who works the effect of the sacrament and not the priest through any virtue of his own. Here, too, Thomas followed Augustine.

On this point also, Duns differed from the great Dominican by declaring that “a virtual intention” on the part of the celebrant is essential to the efficacy of the sacrament. He illustrates his position by a pilgrim on the way to the shrine of St. James. The pilgrim may not think of St. James during the whole progress of his journey, but he starts out with “a virtual intention” to go to his shrine and keeps on the way. So a priest, during the progress of the sacramental celebration, may allow his mind to wander and forget what he is doing, but he has the virtual intention of performing the rite.

The sacraments may be “useful,” said Bonaventura, if performed outside of the Church, provided the recipient afterwards enter “holy mother Church.” This he illustrates by Augustine’s comparison of the sacraments to the four rivers of paradise. The rivers flowed into different lands. But neither to Mesopotamia nor Egypt did they carry the felicity of life, though they were useful. So it is with the sacraments when administered outside of the pale of the true Church.

The sacraments are not all of equal necessity. Baptism alone is indispensable to eternal life. Baptism and the eucharist are the mightiest, but of all the most mighty — potissimum — is the eucharist, and for three reasons: 1. It contains Christ himself after a substantial manner. 2. The other sacraments are preparatory to it. 3. All the faithful partake of it — adults who are baptized, as well as those who are in orders. Three sacraments have an indelible character, — baptism, ordination, and confirmation. Their mark cannot be effaced nor may they be repeated. They are related to salvation as food is related to life. The other four sacraments are necessary to salvation only in the way a horse is necessary to a journey.

The Schoolmen were not fully agreed as to the author of some of the sacraments. Peter the Lombard expressly said that extreme unction was instituted by the Apostles. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas held they were all instituted by Christ.

Hugo of St. Victor said, God might have saved man without the sacraments but no man can be saved who rejects them. They were to the medieval mind the essential food of the religious life, and, in building up the sacramental system, the medieval theologian felt he was fortifying the very fabric of the Church. In the authority to administer them lay the power of the priesthood to open and shut the kingdom of heaven, to pass the judgment of bliss or woe for this life and for the life to come. This sacramental theory, based now upon a false now upon a one-sided interpretation of Scripture, and compactly knit by argumentation, substituted the mechanical efficiency of sacramental grace for the Saviour into whose immediate presence the soul has a right to approach through penitence of heart and prayer. The sacramental system became the Church’s Babylonish captivity, as Luther called it in his famous tract, in which the rights and liberty of the Christian believer are fettered by the traditions of men.


114. Baptism and Confirmation

Baptism is the door to the other sacraments and to the kingdom of heaven. It is essential to salvation, except for persons who desire to be baptized and have not the opportunity to receive the rite. The desire on their part to be regenerated by water and the Holy Spirit is certain evidence that the heart is already regenerated. For the necessity of baptism, Thomas Aquinas and the other Schoolmen rely upon Joh_3:3, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Of all the sacraments the most necessary, baptism effects regeneration, nay, it is regeneration itself. It removes the guilt and the punishment due original sin and all sins actually committed. The ablution of water signifies the ablution from guilt, and the freezing of water, to use the strange figure of Thomas Aquinas, the subtraction of all punishment. Baptism also has the positive effect of conferring grace, an effect which is symbolized by the clearness of water.

The validity of the sacrament requires the full use of the threefold name of the Trinity. Hugo of St. Victor differs from the later Schoolmen on this point, although in doubt whether the use of the name of Christ alone or the name of God alone be not sufficient. Bernard had allowed the use of the formula “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the true and holy cross.” These men wrote before the Fourth Lateran Council. Bonaventura and Thomas acknowledged that, in early times, the Church had often been satisfied with baptism into the name of Christ, the Trinity being, in such cases, understood. But since the deliverance of the Fourth Lateran, the omission of a single syllable from the trine formula invalidated baptism. Exorcism, unction with oil, and the giving of salt were prescribed to be used in the solemnization of the rite. Exorcism expelled demons and prevented them from impeding the recipient’s salvation. Salt, put into the ears, signified the reception of the new doctrine, into the nostrils, its approbation, and into the mouth, confession. Oil signified the fitting of the recipient to fight demons.

The proper administrator of baptism is the priest, but, in cases of necessity, laymen may baptize, male or female, and parents may baptize their own children. For in the kingdom of heaven there is neither male nor female. But a woman must administer the rite privately, even as she is not allowed to speak in public. Yea, Thomas Aquinas went so far as to say that an unbaptized man may, in case of necessity, lawfully administer baptism, for Christ is free to use the agent he pleases, and it is he who baptizes inwardly, Joh_1:33. The main reason for allowing such baptism is to extend the limits of salvation as far as possible.

Children are proper subjects of baptism because they are under the curse of Adam. As the mother nourishes her offspring in the womb before it can nourish itself, so in the bosom of mother Church infants are nourished, and they receive salvation through the act of the Church. A child cannot be baptized before it is born; it is of the essence of baptism that water be applied to the body. It was the view of Thomas Aquinas and most of the Schoolmen that it is unlawful to baptize the children of Jews and pagans without the consent of the parents. Duns Scotus was an exception and permitted the forcible baptism of the children of Jews, yea of adult Jews.

The definition of baptism excludes all unbaptized children, dying in infancy, from heaven. The question is discussed by that mystic and lovable divine, Hugo of St. Victor, whether the children of Christian parents may be saved who happen to be put to death in a city besieged by pagans and die unbaptized. He leaves it unanswered, remarking that there is “no authority for saying what will become of them.” Duns Scotus makes it plain that children yet unborn are under the law of sin, not because they are connected with the bodies of their mothers, but because of their own bodies. He mercifully excepts from the law of perdition unborn infants whose mothers suffer martyrdom or blood baptism. The Reformers, Zwingli excepted, shared the views of the medieval theology that unbaptized children dying in infancy are lost. At a later date, about 1740, Isaac Watts and other Protestant theologians, as a relief from the agonizing thought that the children of non-Christian parents dying in infancy are lost and suffer conscious torment, elaborated the view that they are annihilated. It remained for a still later Protestant period to pronounce in favor of the salvation of all such children in view of the superabounding fullness of the atonement and our Lord’s words, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Water is essential to baptism. The Schoolmen agreed that wine, oil, or other liquid will not do. Duns Scotus said in regard to baptism in beer that its validity would depend upon a scientific test whether the beer continued to be a species of water or not. The Lombard declared without qualification for immersion as the proper mode. Thomas Aquinas refers to it as the more general practice of his day and prefers it as the safer mode, as did also Bonaventura and Duns Scotus. At any rate, the water must be applied to the head, for this is the most important part of man, standing as it does for the immortal agent. Both trine immersion, the custom of the Greek Church, and single immersion are valid. Trine immersion symbolizes the three persons of the Trinity and the three days of the Lord’s burial; single immersion the unity of the Deity and the uniqueness of Christ’s death. Synods, as late as the synod of Tarragona, 1391, spoke of the submersion of children in baptism.

The sacrament of confirmation corresponds to the adult period as baptism does to the child period (1Co_13:11). It completes, as it were, the earlier ordinance and confers the graces of strength and hardihood. The baptized thus become full Christians. The Schoolmen differed as to whether the sacrament was instituted immediately by Christ or by the Apostles or by the councils of the Church. Thomas Aquinas took the view that it was founded by Christ, being implied in the promise of the Holy Spirit (Joh_16:7).

The rite is performed by the bishop, who is the successor of the Apostles, who uses the words, “I sign thee with the sign of the cross, I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Chrism, or sacred oil, which is the symbol of the Spirit, is applied, and the cross is signed upon the forehead, the most prominent part of the body. It is there shame shows itself when young Christians lack the courage to acknowledge their profession.


115. The Eucharist

The eucharist, called by the Schoolmen the crown of the sacraments and the sacrament of the altar, was pronounced both a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the elaboration of the doctrine, scholastic theology reached the highest point of its speculation. Albertus Magnus devoted to it a distinct treatise and Thomas Aquinas nearly four hundred columns of his Summa. In practice, the celebration of this sacrament became the chief religious function of the Church. The festival of Corpus Christi, commemorating it, was celebrated with great solemnity. The theory of the transmutation of the elements and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity were among the chief objects of the attacks of the Reformers.

The fullest and clearest presentation of the eucharist was made by Thomas Aquinas. He discussed it in every possible aspect. Where Scripture is silent and Augustine uncertain, the Schoolman’s speculative ability, though often put to a severe test, is never at a loss. The Church accepted the doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrificial meaning of the sacrament, and it fell to the Schoolmen to confirm these doctrines by all the metaphysical weapons at their command. And even where we are forced by the silence or clear meaning of Scripture to regard their discussion as a vain display of intellectual ingenuity, we may still recognize the solemn religious purpose by which they were moved. Who would venture to deny this who has read the devotional hymn of Thomas Aquinas which presents the outgoings of his soul to the sacrificial oblation of the altar?

Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium.

Sing my tongue the mystery telling.

The culminating point in the history of the medieval doctrine of the eucharist was the dogmatic definition of transubstantiation by the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215. Thenceforth it was heresy to believe anything else. The definition ran that “the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood by divine power.” The council did not foist upon the Church a new doctrine. It simply formulated the prevailing belief.

The word “transubstantiation” is not used by Hugo of St. Victor and the earlier Schoolmen. They used “transition” and “conversion,” the latter being the favorite term. The word “transubstantiation” seems to have been first used by Hildebert of Tours, d. 1134. According to Duns Scotus, the doctrine cannot be proved with certainty from the Scriptures and must be accepted upon the basis of the decision of the Church. The passages, chiefly relied upon for proving the doctrine, are Joh_6:1-71 and the words of institution, “this is my body,” in which the verb is taken in its literal sense. Rupert of Deutz is the only Schoolman of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries who dissented from it. He seems to have taught the theory of impanation.

Three names, applied to the eucharist, had special significance. It is a sacrifice because it repeats Christ’s oblation on the cross. It is a communion because it presents the unity of the Church. It is a viaticum because it is heavenly manna for pilgrims on their way to heaven. Thomas Aquinas also uses the term of John of Damascus, assumption, because the sacrament lifts us up into the Deity of Christ, and calls it hostia, or the host, because it contains Christ himself, who is the oblation of our salvation. It was also called the mass.

The elements to be used are wheaten bread, either leavened or unleavened. Water is to be mixed with the wine as Christ probably mixed them, following the custom in Palestine. Water symbolizes the people, and the wine symbolizes Christ, and their combination the union of the people with Christ. The mixture likewise represents the scene of the passion. Thomas Aquinas also finds in the water flowing in the desert, 1Co_10:4, a type of this custom. He relied much, as did Albertus Magnus before him, upon the words of Pro_9:5, Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you. But the admixture of the two elements is not essential. The synods of Cologne, 1279, Lambeth, 1281, etc., prescribed two or three drops of water as sufficient.

At the moment of priestly consecration, the elements of bread and wine are converted into the very body and blood of Christ. The substance of the bread and wine disappears. The “accidents” — species sensibiles — remain, such as taste, color, dimensions, and weight. What becomes of the substance of the two elements? asks Peter the Lombard. There are three possible answers. First, the substance passes into the four original elements or into the body and blood of Christ. Second, it is annihilated. Third, it remains in part or in whole. Duns Scotus adopted the second explanation, the substance is annihilated. The Lombard, Bonaventura, and Thomas Aquinas adopted the view that the substance is converted into the body and blood of Christ. Against the theory of annihilation Thomas used the illustration that it does not follow because air, from which fire is generated, is not here nor there, that it has been annihilated. The change on the altar is altogether supernatural. The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, per modum quantitatis, but in substance; not in its dimensions, but by a sacramental virtue, ex vi sacramenti, in a way peculiar to this sacrament. It is on the altar and is apprehended by faith only.

Upon the basis of the separate existence of substance and “accidents” the Schoolmen proceeded to perfect their theory. What the substance of bread is, if it is not its nutritive power, and how it is possible to think of bread without those qualities which make it bread to us, the practical mind cannot understand. Scholastic dialectics professed to understand it, but the statements are nothing more than a fabric of mystifying terms and gratuitous assumptions. Wyclif thoroughly exposed the fallacious reasoning.

Thomas Aquinas went so far as to declare that, though the substance of bread and wine disappears, these elements continue to preserve the virtue of their substance. Luther said the Schoolmen might as well have set up a theory of transaccidentation as of transubstantiation. Thomas Aquinas anticipated his objection and argued that by a providential arrangement this was not so for three reasons: 1. It is not the custom for men to eat human flesh and drink human blood, and we would revolt from eating Christ’s blood and flesh under the form of bread and wine. 2. The sacrament would become a laughing stock to infidels if Christ were eaten in his own form. 3. Faith is called forth by the enveilment of the Lord within the forms of bread and wine. The body of Christ is not broken or divided by the teeth except in a sacramental way. Creation, said this great Schoolman, is easier to understand than transubstantiation, for creation is out of nothing, but in the sacrament the substance of bread and wine disappear while the accidents remain.

A second statement elaborated by the Schoolmen is that the whole Christ is in the sacrament, divinity and humanity, — flesh, bones, nerves, and other constituents, — and yet the body of Christ is not there locally or in its dimensions.

This is the so-called doctrine of concomitance, elaborated by Alexander of Hales, Thomas Aquinas, and other Schoolmen with great subtilty. According to this doctrine the divinity of Christ and his body are never separated. Wherever the body is, there is also the divinity, whether it be in heaven or on the altar. The determination of this point was of importance because the words of institution mention only Christ’s body.

A third integral part of the scholastic treatment of the eucharist was the assertion that the whole Christ is in each of the elements, a view which offered full justification for the withdrawal of the cup from the laity. Anselm had taken this view, that the entire Christ is in each element, but he was having no reference to the withdrawal of the cup.

Two serious questions grew out of this definition; namely, whether the elements which our Lord blessed on the night of his betrayal were his own body and blood and what it was the disciples ate when they partook of the eucharist during the time of our Lord’s burial. To the second question the reply was given that, if the disciples partook of the eucharist in that period, they partook of the real body. Here Duns Scotus brought to bear his theory that a thing may have a number of forms and that God can do what to us seems to be most unreasonable. As for the first question, Hugo of St. Victor shrank from discussing it on the sensible ground that such divine mysteries were to be venerated rather than discussed. The other Schoolmen boldly affirmed that Christ partook of his own body and blood and gave them to the disciples. “He had them in His hands and in His mouth.” This body, according to Thomas, was “immortal and not subject to pain.” Thomas quoted with approval the lines: — 

The King, seated with the twelve at the table,

Holds Himself in His hands. He, the Food, feeds upon Himself.

This monstrous conception involved a further question. Did Judas partake of the true body and blood of the Lord? This the Schoolmen answered in the negative. The traitor took only natural and unblessed bread. Leaning upon St. Augustine, they make the assertion, upon a manipulation of Luk_22:1-71 and Joh_13:1-38 according to which Christ distributed the bread and the wine before Judas took the sop, that the sop, or immersed morsel, was delusive. Judas was deceived.

Another curious but far-reaching question occupied the minds of Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, and other Schoolmen. Does a mouse, in eating the consecrated host, actually partake of its consecrated substance? Thomas argued in this way: the body and blood of Christ would not be withdrawn, if the consecrated host should be cast into the mire, for God allowed Christ’s body even to be crucified. As for mice, they were not created to use the bread as a sacrament, and so they cannot eat Christ’s body after a sacramental manner, sacramentaliter, but only the accidents of the elements, per accidens, just as a man would eat who took the consecrated host but did not know it was consecrated. Bonaventura, quoting Innocent III., took the more reasonable view that the body of Christ is withdrawn under such circumstances. Peter the Lombard had said that an animal does not take the body of Christ in eating the bread. But what it does take and eat, God alone knows. Duns Scotus took up the similar question, what occurs to an ass drinking the water consecrated for baptism and sensibly called it a subtilitas asinina, an asinine refinement, for the virtue of ablution inhering in such water an ass could not drink. To the theory of transubstantiation, Rupert of Deutz has been referred to as an exception. John of Paris was deprived of his chair at the University of Paris for likening the union of Christ’s body and the bread to the coexistence of the divine and human natures in Christ’s person. He died, 1306, while his case was being tried at Rome. Ockam tentatively developed the theory of impanation whereby Christ’s body and the bread are united in one substance, but he expressed his readiness to yield to the dogma of the Church.

The sacrificial aspect of the eucharist was no less fully developed. In Hugo of St. Victor we hear nothing of a repetition of the sacrifice on the cross. He speaks of the mass as being a transmission of our prayers, vows, and offerings — oblationes — to God. Peter the Lombard said the sacrifice on the altar is of a different nature from the sacrifice on the cross, nevertheless it is a true sacrifice. The later Schoolmen, following Alexander of Hales, laid stress on the sacrificial element. The eucharist is an unbloody but “real immolation” performed by the priest.

The altar represents the cross, the priest represents Christ in whose person and power he pronounces the words of consecration, and the celebration represents the passion on the cross. The priest’s chief function is to consecrate the body and blood of Christ.

The sacrifice may be offered daily, just as we stand daily in need of the fruits of Christ’s death and as we pray for daily food. And because Christ was on the cross from nine till three o’clock, it is proper that it should be offered between those hours, at any rate during the daytime and not in the night, for Christ said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work,” Joh_9:4.

To the discussion of the twofold effect of the eucharist as a sacrament and as a sacrifice, the Schoolmen also give much attention. Like the other sacraments, the eucharist has the virtue of conferring grace of itself. As a sacrament it inures to our nourishment and perfection in Christ; as a sacrifice to the removal of sins venial and mortal. As a sacrament it benefits those who partake; as a sacrifice its benefits accrue also to persons who do not partake, living and dead. For this position Thomas Aquinas quotes side by side the words of our Lord, Luk_22:1-71 and Mat_26:1-75, “which is shed for you” and “which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” the latter passage being taken to include parties not present in the benefits of the sacrifice on the altar.


116. Eucharistic Practice and Superstition

The celebration of the eucharist is the central part of the service of the Latin Church. Thomas Aquinas said it is to be celebrated with greater solemnity than the other sacraments because it contains the whole mystery of our salvation. He gives the meaning of the various ceremonies,  such as the signing with the cross, the priest’s turning his face to the people a certain number of times with reference to Christ’s appearances after the resurrection, the use of incense, the stretching forth of the priest’s arms, the breaking of the bread, and the rinsing of the mouth after the wine has been taken. How important the prescriptions were considered to be, may be inferred from the careful attention this great Schoolman gives to them. If a fly, he says, or a spider, be found in the wine after consecration, the insect must be taken out, carefully washed and burnt, and then the water, mingled with ashes, must be thrown into the sacrary. If poison be found in the consecrated wine, the contents of the cup are to be poured out and kept in a vessel among the relics.

The priest’s fitness to consecrate the elements lies in the sacerdotal power conferred upon him at his ordination. He consecrates the elements not in his own name but as the minister of Christ, and he does not cease to be a minister by being bad, malus. He alone is the mediator between God and the people, so that it lies not within the power of a layman to administer the eucharist. The Angelic doctor declares that, while in the other sacraments the benefits accrue through the use of the elements, in the eucharist the benefit consists in the consecration of the elements by the priest and not in their use by the people.

Ecclesiastical analysis and definition could go no farther in divesting the simple memorial meal instituted by our Lord of the element of immediate communion between the believer and the Saviour, and changing it as it were into a magical talisman. It would be disingenuous to ignore that with the Schoolmen the devotional element has a most prominent place in their treatment of the eucharist. Especially when they are treating it as a sacrifice is emphasis laid upon devotion on the part of the participants. But, after this is said, the Protestant Christian still feels that they did not appreciate in any adequate degree, the place of faith as the necessary organ of receiving the divine grace extended through this sacred ordinance. The definition which the medieval theologians gave to the Church and the mediatorial power they associated with the priesthood precluded them from estimating faith at its true worth.

The theory of the sacrificial efficacy of the mass encouraged superstition. It exalted the sacerdotal prerogative of the priest who had it in his power to withhold or give this viaticum, the spiritual food for pilgrims looking forward to heaven. The people came to look to him rather than to Christ, for could he not by the utterance of his voice effect the repetition of the awful sacrifice of the cross! The frequent repetition of the mass became a matter of complaint. Albertus Magnus speaks of women attending mass every day from levity and not in a spirit of devotion who deserved rebuke. Councils again and again forbade its being celebrated more than once a day by the same priest, except on Christmas and Easter, and in case of burial. Masses had their price and priests there were who knew how to sell them and to frighten people into making provision for them in their wills.

The elevation and adoration of the host were practised in the Latin Church as early as the twelfth century. Honorius III., 1217, made obligatory the ringing of a bell at the moment the words of institution were uttered that the worshippers might fall on their knees and adore the host. The Lambeth synod of 1281 ordered the church bells to be rung at the moment of consecration so that the laboring man on the field and the woman engaged in her domestic work might bow down and worship. Synods prescribed that the pyx, the receptacle for the host, be made of gold, silver, ivory, or, at least, of polished copper. A light was kept burning before it perpetually. In case a crumb of the bread or a drop of the wine fell upon the cloth or the priest’s garments, the part was to be cut out and burnt and the ashes thrown into the sacrary. And if the corporale, the linen cover prescribed for the altar, should be wet in the blood, it was to be washed out three times and the water drunk by a priest. If a drop happened to fall on a stone or a piece of wood or hard earth, the priest or some pious person was to lick it up.

The festival of the eucharist, Corpus Christi, celebrated the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday, had its origin in the vision of Juliana, a nun of Liege, who saw the full moon, representing the church year, with one spot on its surface. This spot indicated the Church’s neglect to properly honor the real presence. She made her vision known to the bishop of Liege and the archdeacon, James Pantaleon. A celebration was appointed for the diocese, and when James became pope, under the name of Urban IV., he prescribed, in 1264, the general observance of the festival. John XXII. inaugurated the procession wherein, on Corpus Christi day, the host was carried about the streets with great solemnities. The liturgical service used on Corpus Christi was prepared by Thomas Aquinas at the appointment of Urban IV. Two important changes occurred in this period in the distribution of the elements, — the abandonment of the communion of children and the withdrawal of the cup from the laity.

The communion of children practised in the early Church, and attested by Augustine and still practised in the Greek Church, seems to have been general as late as the reign of Pascal II. Writing in 1118, Pascal said it was sufficient to give the wine to children and the very sick, as they are not able to assimilate the bread. In their case the bread was to be dipped into the wine. Just how the change took place is unknown. Odo, bishop of Paris, 1175, forbade the communion of children. The synod of Treves, 1227, denied to them the bread, and the synod of Bordeaux, 1255, the wine as well as the bread. The greater Schoolmen do not treat the subject. The Supplement of Thomas Aquinas’ Theology says that the extreme unction and the eucharist were not administered to children because both sacraments required real devotion in the recipients.

The denial of the cup to the laity, the present custom of the Roman Catholic Church, became common in the thirteenth century. It was at first due to the fear of profanation by spilling the consecrated blood of Christ. At the same time the restriction to the bread was regarded as a wholesome way of teaching the people that the whole Christ is present in each of the elements. Among other witnesses in the twelfth century to the distribution of both the bread and the wine to the laity are Rupert of Deutz and pope Pascal II. Pascal urged that this custom be forever preserved. But it is evident that there was already at that time divergence of practice. The Englishman, Robert Pullen, d. ab. 1150, refers to it and condemned the dipping of the host into the wine as a Judas communion, with reference to Joh_13:26.

By the middle of the thirteenth century the feeling had grown strong enough for a great authority, Alexander of Hales, to condemn the giving of the cup to the laity and on the doctrinal ground that the whole Christ is in each of the elements. As a means of instructing the people in this doctrine he urged that the cup be denied. But Albertus Magnus, his contemporary, has no hint justifying the practice. Thomas Aquinas followed Alexander, giving as his chief reason the danger of profanation by spilling the sacred contents of the chalice. It is sufficient, he said, for the priest to partake of the cup, for the full benefit accrues by the participation of a single element, communio sub una specie. Christ distributed bread only and not drink to the five thousand.

The usage gradually spread. The chapter of the Cistercians in 1261 forbade monks, nuns, and lay brethren of the order to take the cup. The few Councils which expressed themselves on the subject were divided.

The council of Constance threatened with excommunication all who distributed the wine to the laity. It spoke of many “perils and scandals” attending the distribution of the wine. Gerson, who voted for the enactment, urged the danger of spilling the wine, of defilement to the sacred vessels from their contact with laymen’s hands and lips, the long beards of laymen, the possibility of the wine’s turning to vinegar while it was being carried to the sick, or being corrupted by flies, or frozen by the cold, the difficulty of always purchasing wine, and the impossibility of providing cups for ten thousand or twenty thousand communicants on Easter. The council of Trent reaffirmed the withdrawal of the cup as an enactment the Church was justified in making. Gregory II. had commanded the use of a single chalice at communion.

Some strange customs came into vogue in the distribution of the wine, such as the use of a reed or straw, which were due to veneration for the sacred element. Many names were given to this instrument, such as fistula, tuba, canna, siphon, pipa, calamus. The liturgical directions required the pope to drink through a fistula on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. He still follows this custom at the public mass. The practice maintained itself in some parts of the Lutheran Church as in Hamburg and vicinity, and Brandenburg down to the eighteenth century.

Another custom was the practice of cleaning the mouth with a rinsing cup of unconsecrated wine, after one or both the elements had been received, and called in German the Spülkelch. A synod of Soissons of the twelfth century enjoined all to rinse their mouths after partaking of the elements. Peckham, archbishop of Canterbury, 1281, enjoined priests to instruct the people that in partaking of the bread they were partaking of the whole Christ, and that what was given them in the cup was only wine, given that they might the more easily swallow the sacred body. The custom of taking a meal immediately after the sacrament, dating back to the fifth century, is also found in this period.

This treatment of the medieval theory of the eucharist would be incomplete without giving some of the marvellous stories which bear witness to the excessive reverence for the sacred host and blood. One of the most famous, the story of the monk, who was cured of doubts by seeing the host exude blood, is told by Alexander of Hales, Bonaventura, and others. Cases when real blood was seen in the chalice were not infrequent. The host sometimes remained uninjured amid the ashes of a burnt church. Caesar of Heisterbach relates several cases when a snow-white dove was seen sitting near the chalice at the celebration of the mass and a number of cases of the appearance of Christ in visible form in the very hands of the consecrating priest. Thus one of the monks, present when the mass was being said by Herman, abbot of Himmelrode, saw after the consecration of the host the Christ as a child in the abbot’s hands. The child rose to the height of the cross and then was reduced again in size to the dimensions of the host, which was eaten by the abbot. The same writer narrates that a certain monk, Adolf, of the Netherlands, after consecrating the host, saw in his hands the virgin carrying the child, Christ, in her arms. Turning the host, he saw on the other side a lamb. Turning it back again, he saw Christ on the cross. Then there was nothing left but the visible form of the bread, which the pious monk ate. The writer goes on to say that Adolf did not feel full joy over this vision, for he kept a concubine. A Fleming woman of the town of Thorembais, who had been refused the sacrament by a priest, was visited the same night by Christ himself, who gave her the host with his own hands.

At a church dedication in Anrode, the invited priests engaged in conviviality and while they were dancing around the altar, the pyx was overthrown and the five hosts it contained scattered. The music was at once stopped and search was made but without result. The people were then put out of the building and every corner was searched till at last the hosts were found on a ledge in the wall where the angel had placed them.

Perhaps the most remarkable case related by the chronicler of Heisterbach is that of the bloody host of St. Trond, Belgium. This he had himself seen, and he speaks of it as a miracle which should be recorded for the benefit of many after generations. In 1223 a woman in Harbais, in the diocese of Liège, kissed her lover with the host in her mouth, in the hope that it would inflame his love for her. She then found she could not swallow the host and carefully wrapped it up in a napkin. In her agony, she finally revealed her experience to a priest who called in the bishop of Livland who happened to be in the town. Together they went to the place where the host was concealed and lo! there were three drops of fresh blood on the cloth. The abbot of Trond was called in and it was then found that half of the host was flesh and half bread. The bishop thought so highly of the relic that he attempted to carry off two of the drops of blood, but sixty armed men interfered. The sacred blood was then put in a vase and deposited among the relics of the church of St. Trond. This case was fully believed by Caesar, and he expresses no doubt about the many other cases he reports.

Another case related by Etienne of Bourbon is of a farmer who, wanting to be rich, followed the advice of a friend and placed the host in one of his beehives. The bees with great reverence made a miniature church, containing an altar, on which they placed the sacred morsel. All the bees from the neighborhood were attracted and sang beautiful melodies. The rustic went out, expecting to find the hives overflowing with honey but, to his amazement, found them all empty except the one in which the host had been deposited. The bees attacked him fiercely. He repaired to the priest, who, after consulting with the bishop, went in procession to the hive and found the miniature church with the altar and carried it back to the village church while the bees, singing songs, flew away.

These stories, which might be greatly multiplied, attest the profound veneration in which the host was held and the crude superstitions which grew up around it in the convent and among the people. The simple and edifying communion meal of the New Testament was set aside by medieval theology and practice for an unreasonable ecclesiastical prodigy.