Monday, October 22, 2012
Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles
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 the 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, have they a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as S. Paul saith.
Sacramenta a Christo instituta non tantum sunt notae professionis Christianorum, sed certa quaedam potius testimonia et efficacia signa gratiae atque bonae in nos voluntatis Dei, per quae invisibiliter ipse in nobis operatur, nostramque fidem in se, non solum excitat verum etiam confirmat.
Duo a Christo Domino nostro in Evangelio instituta sunt Sacramenta, scilicet, Baptismus et Coena Domini.
Quinque illa vulgo nominata Sacramenta, scilicet, Confirmatio, Poenitentia, Ordo, Matrimonium, et Extrema Unctio, pro Sacramentis Evangelicis habenda non sunt, ut quae partim a prava Apostolorum imitatione profluxerunt, partim vitae status sunt in Scripturis quidem probati, sed Sacramentorum eandem cum Baptismo et Coena Domini rationem non habentes, ut quae signum aliquod visibile seu ceremoniam a Deo institutam non habeant.
Sacramenta non in hoc instituta sunt a Christo ut spectarentur aut circumferrentur sed ut rite illis uteremur. Et in his duntaxat qui digne percipiunt, salutarem habent effectum: qui vero indigne perci piunt, damnationem, ut inquit Paulus, sibi ipsis acquirunt.
The subject of Article XXV is not the number of sacraments. Let us be clear that the very use of the word “sacraments” is not because the word, with a definition, is even in the Bible. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the word is never used, because they do not confuse Latin with genuine biblical languages. Their use of the word “mystery” (μυστήριον) is biblical. But, even so, there is no list in the Bible of seven mysteries or sacraments that are spelled out in association with either word. The closest we might get is to marriage as “the μυστήριον of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32),” somehow by grace lived out as an outward sign among believers who have entered into the state of life we call matrimony.
How did we come to have the word “sacrament” in our theological vocabulary then? Like the word “Trinity” it is of ecclesiastical origin, not Divine origin; that is, neither word came to us directly by revelation. But, just as the word “Trinity” points to a doctrine that has been revealed by Jesus Christ and given to the Church through His Apostles, and that is set forth quite definitely in the Bible, the word “sacrament" is based on study and very sound exegesis, drawn out of what is revealed and taught in the Bible.
From study of the Bible we can see that God has promised to respond directly when people carry out a form of prayer and other sacred actions, provided there is an intention that is consistent with God’s revelation. For an example of God promising to act through human action and intention, we may look at something as natural as marriage: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9).” That should make it clear that human actions and intentions may be all that is visible, but often not all that is real and important. Here we learn from Christ Himself that God acts and makes real specific things that people speak and intend.
Over the centuries, study of the Bible resulted in the identification of seven things that share common properties. Those properties are human action in the material world of space and time, coupled with an intention to act consistently with God’s revelation, resulting in a Divine action that has been promised in the holy Scriptures. In each of these, the Divine promise is a guarantee; it is inescapable. The two have been made One Flesh by God Himself, and the person Baptized really is now “in Christ,” baptized by One Spirit into the Body of Christ (I Cor 12:1 Rom. 6:1f). The person Confirmed has received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the Apostle’s hands, or those of their successors (Acts 8:18). God does work in each of them, for so He promised.
To these seven mysteries or sacraments the Church gave recognition. The Church did not create them or establish them. The Church received them as gifts, and the understanding of them as revelation from God. All sacramental theology is drawn out of the Bible. It is not merely human tradition.
Because God has promised to act, the Article says of sacraments, “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.” We, in the Church, are responsible to carry out the “sign,” the outward and human action and words that signify; God does the real work of grace “effectually” and supernaturally, and if invisible to the human eye, very real nonetheless.
In some ways the sacraments have become “a corrupt following of the Apostles” just as a manuscript may be “ a corrupt manuscript” due to human errors, whether deletions or additions. One example is how the sacrament of anointing with oil and prayer by the Presbyters (πρεσβύτερος, translated as “elders’ in the KJV), for healing, became “extreme unction” simply to prepare for death. The origin is Biblical (James 5:14-16), but the following of it has been corrupted. But, to have a corrupt manuscript we must have a genuine manuscript that came before. We have the genuine manuscript; all of the sacraments have been identified by study of the Bible itself. The designation “sacrament” is of human origin; but each sacramental promise has been revealed by God.
The first words of Article XXV define its meaning: “Sacraments ordained of Christ.” Quite rightly, and in keeping with all Reason and with the Catholic Tradition, of the sacraments only two were ordained by Christ, that is by Jesus Himself as He walked the earth in His human nature. These are also called the Dominical Sacraments because Jesus the Lord ordained them, as well as “Sacraments of the Gospel” later in this very Article, because Jesus Christ both ordained them and established a sign or ceremony, and it is all recorded in the Four Gospel books. Anglican theologians refer to the greater and lesser sacraments, or the major and minor sacraments, to give the greater emphasis to the two sacraments ordained of Christ: “Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord (Anglican Catechism).”
Neither Article XXV nor the Catechism teach that there are only two sacraments. What they teach, most consistently, clearly and obviously, is that only two have been ordained of Christ Himself in the Gospel. Only two are generally necessary to salvation, that is, only two are absolutely meant for all Christians everywhere. The word “generally” means two things: First, that God wills it, and has so revealed, for the whole church, “you and your children and all who are afar off.” Also, it means that God Himself is not limited to our reach. We have been given the Great Commission to “teach all nations, baptizing them…” That God is not bound to the limits of how far our hands may reach, means that He can give grace, when necessary, to save people who have no means to be baptized, and who may never have received the food and drink of eternal life, such as the thief who died beside Christ on a cross (Luke 23:43). But, because the revealed will of God, and His promise, are general, we administer Baptism and the Supper of the Lord to everyone, along with genuine preaching of the Gospel.
Anyone who knows the titles found in traditional Bibles and Books of Common Prayer of the Church of England, will have no problem recognizing the phrase “commonly called” as an affirmation. In 1549 the Book of Common Prayer used a new name for the Mass that was drawn from the Bible, “Holy Communion,” and so titled the service. It was called “THE SUPPER OF THE LORDE AND THE HOLY COMMUNION, COMMONLY CALLED THE MASSE.” Books of the Bible saw this phrase as well: “The first Book of the Kings, commonly called The First Book of Samuel,” ETC. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has titles such as “The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-day of Christ, commonly called Christmas-Day.” Indeed, the very name “The Book of Common Prayer” should clue us in to how significant the phrase is.
The word “common” comes from “community.” This word is also related to the word “Communion,” the word chosen by the English translators concerning the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood (in I Corinthians 10:16), the word used for what became the new title of the service “commonly called the Mass.” What was the Greek word in the New Testament that the translators were covering, then, when they gave us the English word “communion” for the sacrament? It was the same word used for “fellowship” (e.g. I John 1: 3), pronounced koinonia (κοινωνία).
So, though it may sound unimpressive to modern ears to read the words, “Those five, commonly called Sacraments,” it was not some way of trivializing them. “Commonly called” is an affirmation of what the Church has chosen to call “those five.” In Book III of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity Hooker called ordination a sacrament. After all, the usage of the word is not based on revelation in scripture. The purpose of mentioning “Those five, commonly called Sacraments” was not to denigrate them, and not to say that the word should not be used for them. Indeed, it should be used for them because we belong to the community, or fellowship, of the Church; we all receive Communion in that Church, and we offer Common Prayer as the body of Christ.
The point was to distinguish the sacraments of the Gospel, to set them apart as the expressed and revealed general will of God for all believers everywhere. “Those Five… have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” How true. Jesus gave us the sign and ceremony for Baptism after His resurrection from the dead: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matt. 28:19,20 RSV)." And, although we have traditions that dress it up with many elaborations and rubrics, the basic requirements of how to celebrate the Supper of the Lord were established on “the night in which He was betrayed” by Christ Himself. We must at least “Do this” that He established “in remembrance” of Him. We must bless the bread and the cup, we must say His words of institution, and we must take and eat, and we must drink. He most assuredly ordained “the sign and ceremony” of Baptism and of His Supper.
Of the other five, those sacraments that are not "generally necessary to salvation," and some of which are not meant for everybody (e.g., marriage and orders), the New Covenant has empowered them with deeper and richer meaning; but everyone of those five are in the Old Testament, beginning with marriage during the time of Man's innocency.1 Moses gave the Hebrews laws for the ordination of the Levitical priests, and did himself ordain Joshua prefiguring Apostolic Succession.2 When Samuel anointed David, the shepherd boy and future king was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to be a prophet, prefiguring Confirmation.3 Absolution belonged to the Levitical priests who heard confession and made atonement.4 It was prefigured also by the Prophet Nathan.5 Healing is a constant theme in the Old Testament, with Levitical priests who cleansed the lepers by washing, sacrifice and anointing (leaving after Baptism nothing for the Church to follow except the anointing and prayer)6, as well as the miracles of Elijah and Elisha.
To acknowledge, therefore, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord as “sacraments ordained of Christ” and “sacraments of the Gospel” is simply to acknowledge that it is by Christ’s own command that we administer them to all of our people.
That we should duly use them
The final paragraph in Article XXV has everything to do with why Archbishop Cranmer saw the need to add, to title of the service, the words “Holy Communion.” In the historical context of the sixteenth century the people often merely “heard Mass.” The language had been Latin, not a tongue they understood. The actions were seen as belonging to the clergy. It was rare for the common people to receive the sacrament when they attended a Mass. They would, however, at the ringing of the bell “gaze” at the sacrament when it was elevated.
“The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them.” In modern times, these words offend people who like Eucharistic devotions, Benedictions and Corpus Christi processions. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with such devotions; but, none of them is what the sacrament was ordained for by Christ. The Article never says that these devotions are “Repugnant to the word of God.” Obviously, that is not because the reformers who wrote the Articles were too polite to tell us when they thought such words applied to a practice or doctrine. These words do not forbid such devotions. They do something more important; they tell us that we are, as Jesus commanded, to eat and drink.
Only as worthily receive the same
The final words of the Article agree with St. Paul’s warning to the Church in Corinth: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (I Cor. 11: 27-29 RSV).” They agree also with the words of Jesus that tie eating His Body and drinking His Blood to believing (cp. John 6:47 and 54). Why? Because unrepentant sin and unbelief hinder the working of God’s grace. To eat and drink in a state of unbelief and willful unrepentant sin, adds sin to sin. We should eat and drink “with hearty repentance and true faith,” so that He will work invisibly in us, and not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him.
1. Gen. 2:21-25.
2. Deut. 34:9, John 20:21-23, I Tim. 5:22, II Tim. 1:6; 2:2, Titus 1:5
3. I Sam. 16:13, Acts 8:14f
4. Lev. 1:4, and all of chapter 4.
5. II Sam. 12:13
6. Lev. 14:17-19 in context.
Fr. Laurence Wells
Gerald Bray is a theologian for whom I have immense respect and gratitude. He has written a number of books from which I have learned much. His defense of the Filioque is for me the last word on the matter, and I cannot wait to plough through his 800 page survey of Systematic theology entitled God is Love, which I have now on order. I would surely recommend his brief commentary on the Articles entitled “The Faith We Confess.” But he greatly disappoints me when he writes, “What exactly is a sacrament? The concept is not present in the Bible.” He does go on to state that the sacraments are not only “sure and certain witnesses,” but moreover “effectual means of God’s grace.” I would be less disconcerted if he had written “the term sacrament is not present in the Bible.” But Dr Bray is a precise writer and we must take his denial seriously.
While the term sacrament, like the term Trinity and a long list of important words, is truly missing from any Biblical concordance, I would respectfully submit to Dr Bray that the concept of sacrament is profoundly Biblical and moreover much of the Bible in both Testaments is simply meaningless apart from this idea. We will begin with the definition of the term found in the Church Catechism, which was added in bits and pieces to the English Prayer Book from Herry VIII’s time to 1604. There we read,
"Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
Answer. I mean and outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same [grace], and a pledge to assure us thereof."
It is an intriguing fact that this definition is almost undistinguishable from those given in two very different documents, the Baltimore Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church and the Westminister Shorter Catechism (WSC) of the Puritan churches. The Baltimore Catechism tells us: “A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism, with less brevity, allows, “A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” The most obvious difference here is that the Sons of Calvin insisted on a point which Baltimore did not deny, “Nullum sacramentum sine fide.” The word “believers” was there in the WSC for a reason, to make it clear that the sacraments are not magical or mechanical.
The concept of a sacrament is grounded, first of all, in the uniquely Biblical doctrine of creation. In the first chapter of Genesis we are told seven times (!) in the six day literary framework that “God saw that it was good,” and in the last occurrence of this formula the word is heightened to “very good,” that is, emphatically good. The OT reasserts this in many places, notably in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is.” I recall a sermon preached many years ago by Dr George Buttrick of Harvard on this text out of which he developed the idea of a “sacramental universe” in which the glory of God is manifested in material things.
But it is in the rebellious and fallen creation that material things emerge as sensible signs of God’s grace. Before Adam and Eve are driven out into “this tough world” as exiles from God’s presence, He graciously replaces their wretched garments of fig leaves (the symbol of man’s silly ineffectual effort to shield himself from Divine judgment) with animal skins, the symbol of Divine protection through sacrifice. Noah perceived in the rainbow God’s covenantal undertaking never again to destroy the world by a flood. “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations; I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant…(Genesis 9:12—13).” Here already is the vocabulary of our sacramental theology (sign, covenant, remember), the words which our Lord uttered in the upper room on the night in which He was betrayed.
As the covenant of grace is progressively unfolded in the Old Testament, the sacramental category becomes ever more explicit. When God made a covenant with Abraham (or rather gave Abraham the privilege of covenant status and covenant blessings), God specifically ordained the rite of circumcision as the indispensable covenant sign. “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you (Genesis 17:10).” The “sign” is no empty ceremony, but is the sacramental means by which the covenant becomes effectual. In the language of later theology, it is signum efficax. To lack the sign of circumcision is to be excluded from the covenant. And of course the immutable mark of circumcision points us to the indelible character of the Christian sacrament it foreshadowed.
The Passover meal or Seder supper, which in the fullness of time became the matrix of the Christian Eucharist, was endowed from the outset with a thoroughly sacramental character, “outward and visible sign, inward and spiritual grace, instituted by God.” We read, “the blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you (Exodus 12:13).” This unique event is perpetuated in a sacred meal consisting of the lamb without blemish and unleavened bread, the bread of hasty flight, bread eaten “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand (Exodus 11).” When our Lord and His disciples gathered to celebrate the Passover, He did not create a sacrament, as they were celebrating an ancient sacrament which His disciples understood very well. After all, it was the disciples who asked, “Where will you have us prepare for you to the Passover?” Rather, He transformed a sacrament of the Old Testament by investing it with a fuller and deeper meaning. “This [bread, the sign of your forefathers’ affliction] is [from now on] my Body...Do this [that is, offer this] for my Memorial [no longer as the memorial of the Exodus events].” Christian sacramental faith was implicit and more than implicit in the Old Testament concept of the “sign.” This word became central and critical in St. John’s Gospel, but John was mining a rich lode of ideas never far from the surface of the Old Testament. The three major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel frequently engaged in actions which to a modern reader seem like petty sermon illustrations. These were, however, a more serious affair, actions of “prophetic symbolism,” not sacraments of grace but effective signs of Divine judgment. We might think of Isaiah’s strange name for his son, Shear-Jashub, “A remnant shall return (Isaiah 7).” By bestowing such a name, the prophet invoked the impending catastrophe. The People of God will be reduced to a remnant. This was a name designed to strike fear in the heart of a godless king Ahaz. Before that chapter was complete, we read of another miraculous and sacramental name, the name Immanuel, the son of a Virgin, a son whose paternity was not revealed by Isaiah. Both names, however, are examples of things which point far beyond themselves to greater realities and which mysteriously bring those realities into the worldly situation.
Or we might think of Jeremiah’s dramatic action of smashing a potter’s earthenware bottle in a public place with a devastating message addressed to the people of Jerusalem. If this were only a clever audio-visual aid for a sermon, it might have gone unnoticed. But it aroused the wrath of the priest Pashhur ben Immer and got Jeremiah thrown into the stocks. His action was a negative sacrament, a sacrament in reverse, an action which did not represent, seal and convey grace, but which released and gave effect to wrath. Biblical sacraments can work both ways.
But there, throughout the Bible, is the concept, grounded in Creation, developed in the progress of God’s saving purpose, revealed even negatively in the preaching and symbolic actions of the prophets. When our Lord commanded His apostles to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” they did not reproach Him with the complaint, “But Lord, we thought you were giving us a purely spiritual religion; is it not enough that we should simply be preachers of the Gospel?” When He commanded “Do this in memory of me,” they did not object to some vulgar materialistic rite, with potential for superstition and idolatry. As Gregory Dix wrote, “Has any command been so obeyed!” Both He and they lived in an Old Testament worldview in which it was perfectly logical for outward and visible things, like water, bread, wine, oil, and such actions as “the laying on of hands” to become the spectacular events in which the Creator God continues to bless His elect people.