Friday, November 09, 2007

Sacraments and the promises of God

In a previous post I mentioned some important facts about the sacraments, and how it is that the Church arrived at the number seven. In the process I explained why it is that Article 25 attests to the seven, two as Dominical and five as of previous (Old Testament) institution though given deeper meaning and power in the New Testament. I stated also and that the only usages we have of the phrase "commonly called," as used in Article 25, are affirmative in nature, whether in English Bibles or the Earlier editions of the Book of Common Prayer, and that any suggestion that this one instance contained a different or contrary meaning in its usage carried a burden of proof that would be impossible for anyone to demonstrate. I was then made into an object of controversy by writers of another blog who, in discussions that followed, demonstrated inability to pay attention to serious discussion, as well as functional illiteracy concerning theology in general. The bad taste that left in my mouth slowed me down in following through with a planned second part. But, there is a second part.

To get on to the second part, I want to quote a few lines from the first post:

First of all, we must define what a sacrament is. It is a means of grace that is charismatic in nature, and therefore depends upon the Holy Spirit. In a sacrament it is God who works through the material world by making use of the Form, Matter and Intention provided to the Church. The Bible never comes out and says this. Instead it simply demonstrates that God has always worked this way, not only in the New Testament, but as far back as the Book of Genesis. (When Saint Paul described marriage as a mystery in Eph. 5:32, he took all the air out of the low Church room, since he called it a musterion.)

(I would add that every sacrament is part of how the Incarnation is extended through the Church, the body of Christ. God's grace comes to us in the material world. Making use of matter, sanctifying and empowering matter, is consistent with the truth that "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.")

After centuries of studying the Bible, the Church noticed that in these seven mysteries, as recorded in scripture, we see common characteristics. The Church acts with proper Form, Matter and Intention, and without fail God acts to impart grace specific to the promises relevant to that mystery. It is these characteristics that the seven sacraments have in common, and that are easily drawn out (exegesis) of scripture. It is obvious that this sacramental theological system arose from the promises and recorded facts of scripture. Therefore, any argument to restrict the count of the sacraments to two is nonsense because it requires a new and arbitrary definition in place of the one commonly accepted by ancient Tradition. When my daughter was four years old, she insisted that our cat was not an animal. I asked why, and she informed me that animals live in a zoo, and since the cat lived with us in the house, not in a zoo, the cat was not an animal. I suppose this was a very good Low Church definition of an animal.

We spend so much effort on describing the performance of sacraments in almost a mechanical fashion, that we may forget the important divine element, namely, the promise that God acts when we follow through with the Form, Matter and Intention of outward and visible signs. Look at the promises:

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" John 6:54

"Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." Colossians 2:12

"Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." Acts 8:17

"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them..." John 20:23

"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." James 5:14, 15

"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands." II Timothy 1:6

"For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. " Matthew 19:5,6

We see in each of these sacraments that when the Form, Matter and Intention are present in God's Church, He acts. I do not know everything that is meant by any of these promises, but I do know enough to see that the work of God according to his promises, as recorded in scripture, is supernatural and charismatic. These seven mysteries are not magic, and they are not merely mechanical. And yet, they are dependable; that is because of the promise of Divine action, namely of Divine grace.

Slippery Slope

We can learn a valuable lesson from the heresies of the Episcopal Church, that is, by their example we may heed a sober warning. At last count, twenty six diocesan bishops of that institution were divorced and remarried, several of these after their consecration to the episcopate. Even if some of these cases would have contained some grounds for annulment, the ECUSAns simply don't annul. Despite the clear teaching of scripture, that God has joined a man and wife as one flesh, they believe that divorce has some sort of efficacy. They seem to think it is real. For decades they have been treating the sacrament of marriage as if it is were simply a man made institution, instead of what it is: "
Holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church." Their brave new concept of marriage may work for Barney Frank, who argued that marriage is a human and legal invention, and that it can be redefined as between two people of the same sex. And, it may work for ECUSAn bishops who want to put away the wife of their youth, and get "hitched" to a sexy young thing. But, we reject it in favor of the revelation of God, that when a man and woman speak the words of the Form (the vows), with the reality of Matter (their own bodies as a man and a woman) and the correct Intention (as long as they both shall live), that they are no longer two, but one flesh, and that it is God who makes the two one; not the priest, not the law of the state, but God.

Look at this part of the history of the ECUSAn error: They have been treating marriage as less than a Divine institution for decades, having lost all respect for the mystery of Christ and his Church as it is reflected in this outward and visible sign of marriage. And, in recent years they have begun to have "open communion," so that everyone is invited to share in the feast, whether Christian or not, without even so much as a requirement of baptism (and certainly nothing close to the standards of "Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and..."). To them there is no longer any reality of the Body and Blood of Christ, just a "community meal" for the sake of a pleasant "warm and fuzzy." This is all wrong; but, it is consistent. It began with marriage, and spilled over into their flawed understanding of other sacraments (of course we could say a lot about their notion of Holy Orders).

(We in the Continuing Churches need to take warning as well. When an old and established jurisdiction chooses an archbishop who, between himself and his wife, have four marriages and three annulments, they may be legally correct for all we know; and it is their business. But, they will have to live with the consequences to their reputation and the message it sends to the members of each parish and mission.)

If we lose sight of the Divine work that makes any one of the sacraments efficacious, supernatural, charismatic and real, we risk losing the sense of God's presence and power among us, and of forgetting all of his promises. If we approach the sacraments, all of them, having in mind the promise in his word that God will act, they will be the way of life.


Unknown said...

Thank you Father, that is very helpful. Could you comment further: in my part of the Common Cause world, much is made of a fourth requirement for valid sacraments: the necessity of the "proper minister." And by this some have made the priesthood the central thing, indeed for some the only thing, that the Church is all about. I note you emphasize the work of the Holy Ghost, rather than the intrinsic power of the priest, with which I resonate, and gets me labeled "low church" even though I share your high view of the sacraments. Any words of wisdom?

Alice C. Linsley said...

In my research on Genesis I've become convinced that the Christian Faith is a consistent expression of the oldest divine revelation to humanity. The number 7 is part of this consistency.

Our present division of time into 60 seconds, 60 minutes and 6 days +0 (which would be 7 for us) is based on the ancient Afro-Asiatic system, of which the Sumerian civilization (about 7000 - 2000 B.C.) is a good example. This sexagesimal system was based on a calendar with 360 (60x6) days in a year (with a few days added when the priests realized that the calendar needed adjusting according to the discrepancy between the lunar phases and the solar cycle).

The oldest time counting device ever found dates to about 80,000 years ago and was found in a cave in the Lebombo Mountains of southern Africa. This lunar phase binary calendar is also based on the number 6.

My guess is that the number 6 reflects the binary worldview of these ancient Afro-Asiatics. They observed 12 moon cycles and divided them into 2 supplementary units of time. Likely the units were conceived as pertaining to the binary distinctions of male and female, dry and rainy periods, and hunting and reproduction.

In the mystical number symbolism of the Afro-Asiatics, as reflected in the Ten Siferot, the number 6 isn't regarded as evil or flawed. It represents earth, all flesh and reproduction. It is less perfect than 7 because the earth and flesh are not yet perfected, teleologically speaking. For that to be accomplished, there must be ascension to the number 7. For people who use base 6, the number 7 (6 + 0) represents a new beginning, and for Christians this is fulfilled in the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. So it makes sense that the Church, the Body of Christ, which is a new creation, should be characterized by 7 sacraments.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

leadams wrote:
I note you emphasize the work of the Holy Ghost, rather than the intrinsic power of the priest, with which I resonate, and gets me labeled "low church" even though I share your high view of the sacraments. Any words of wisdom?

We should not imagine that a tension exists between the sacrament of Holy Orders and the charismatic reality of all the sacraments. Every sacrament is essentially charismatic, that is, the grace or gift of the Holy Spirit. This includes the sacrament of Holy Orders, and the sacraments that depend on it.

Also, the proper minister need not always be a priest. Baptism is valid whether done by a priest or not; the ministers of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony are the bride and groom; and in emergencies (the point of death) the Church has regarded absolution from a layman as valid.

The fact that the Holy Spirit is the One makes the sacraments real does not contradict the need for a proper minister. The form Accipe
Spiritum Sanctum
in the Ordinal shows that the priesthood, and the episcopate, is the charismatic work of the Holy Spirit in each ordination and each consecration. Without Him we have no orders and no sacraments.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The seventh of Martin Luther's 95 Thesis is this: "God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making humbly submissive to the priest, His representative."

God established the priesthood as the means whereby Christians may confess and receive assurance of forgiveness. I trust Anglican priest, unlike TEC priests, won't neglect this important work.

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Hart has, as usual, presented his thoughts usefully and cogently.

However, he does not give us sufficient information about one of his examples: "We in the Continuing Churches need to take warning as well [from] an old and established jurisdiction [that chose] an archbishop who, between himself and his wife, have four marriages and three annulments...."

To judge the need for this warning, we would first need to know what the procedures and standards in nullity cases are within the overseas Lambeth Province where these marriages took place, prior to that prelate's transfer to the continuing church. Or, even better, we should know what those procedures and standards were at the time of those marriage cases.

Without this, we cannot know whether the resulting declarations of nullity were legitimate. If they were legitimate, then we must accept that as the necessary consequence of the principle that the marriages of laymen and of clerics are identical in nature and not to be separated artificially into two separate categories, in one of which nullity may operate but in the other of which it cannot.

This is clearly implied in Article XXXII and is a necessary consequence of the fact that there is but one Sacrament of Matrimony, applicable to all members of the Church, rather than one that applies to clergy and another that applies to laymen, just as there is but one Sacrament of Orders, that applies in its requirements equally to Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

From this it likewise follows that the Church's marriage discipline, and its authority to judge the validity or invalidity of Sacraments, applies just as much to the lower clergy as it does to the higher. Thus it would be a great fallacy, as well as a pastoral error, to treat the "remarriage" (actually, initial Sacramental marriage) of priests and deacons in any way differently than that of Bishops.

Similarly, we should take no position that suggests to our general membership that declarations of nullity may be "good enough" for its sons and daughters but are not "good enough" for the clergy.

As it is at present, after a nullity process it's trying enough to explain to anxious parents and grandparents that their children are now "really" married and that the Church could not have "undone" a prior civil and natural marriage had that prior relationship also been a Sacrament. To create immense spiritual and pastoral problems, all we need to add to that doubt and difficulty is the fallacious but insidious notion that once the Church has exercised the Power of the Keys, a couple united under its oversight may be "really" married (sort of), except, of course, the male partner now isn't quite "good enough" ever to be a clergyman.

Or, that if through some unaccountable laxity, he should sneak through the postulancy process as far as the Diaconate or Priesthood, the Holy Spirit clearly could not call such a man to be a Bishop because he's like fish that's been around a bit too long: you can donate it to the local food pantry but you certainly wouldn't serve it to your boss.

John A. Hollister+

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, I was not writing about a prelate who transferred, and we all know that. He was consecrated right where he is. I did not say that the APCK is wrong, but that they must live with the consequences to their reputation and the message it sends to their members. This places quite a serious responsibility on them, and a self-inflicted wound.

I must disagree with my clerical colleague. The clergy are held by St. Paul (I Tim. 3) to a higher standard than the laity. A man with such complex marital baggage as the new APCK archbishop would not have been allowed to serve as an Anglican clergyman in the 16th Century, or the 17th Century, or the 18th, or the 19th, or even throughout a little more than half of the 20th. So, this historical fact sheds light on the true meaning of the relevant Article. It also raises the question, just what Anglicanism are we "Continuing?" Post 1976 it appears.

John A. Hollister said...

I fully understand that Fr. Hart had a bitter experience and, it seems, received most unfair treatment during his sojourn in the Anglican Province of Christ the King. Nevertheless, I regret that my comment caused Fr. Hart to feel the need to particularize his reference to the extent that he has now done.

It is, at the very least, unedifying to identify a man by title and affiliation and then hold him up to implicit criticism when the facts that underlie his personal situation must, in the nature of the case, remain unknown to anyone but the cognizant authorities of his home jurisdiction.

It is also inequitable to do so when the same treatment is not meted out to others whose "complex marital baggage" includes irregular conduct that is, in at least one prominent case, criminal in nature and, in another, while merely civil in character, is open, notorious, and apparently ongoing.

Yet those men, who have certainly been no great exemplars of marital discipline, manage to escape Fr. Hart's scrutiny. Yet it is reasonable to suppose that they have been and will in future be the cause of far greater scandal to the laity than the one he has chosen to single out for comment. Also, let us not forget that, unlike these others, the only apparent "misconduct" of the man whom he uses as a negative example has been to get married with the full approval of his judicatory's authorities.

John A. Hollister+

Fr. Robert Hart said...

No one has escaped my scrutiny, but I am sure that a lot of facts have escaped my knowledge. Furthermore, I have not criticized ++James Provence, and I know that he went through the procedures quite properly as they were placed before him by ++Morse and the others. I am, however, asking what Anglicanism we claim to be Continuing. It may be that in these matters we are wiser than our fathers, and that they were intolerant in a matter in which we have more enlightenment. But, once we have decided this is the case, even about toleration to clergymen regarding annulments, we must understand the dangerous territory we have entered. Once we think we have a better perspective than the previous generations, we had better make double damn sure our feet don't slip like the Episcopalians.

Our movement suffers from too much clericalism, and the clergy have been getting most of the breaks (favored clergy at least). I question the depth of our sense of pastoral responsibility.

poetreader said...

I am not called upon to judge those over me in the Lord, nor do I desire to do so. I do, however make certain demands upon those over me that I do not make of tyhose of like status to me, because I believe the Scriptures make such demands. Sin is sin, and is equally sin, whoever commits it; but not everything that is fitting for a layman is necessarily fitting for a clergyman. Why not? Because an ordained person is ordained to teach, not only in words, but also by example. Can a person 'remarry' if that first union has been deemed valid ab initio? I would suppose that to be within the realm of good moral theology. Do such 'second' marriages look much different from the serial polygamy freely practiced in this society? Not without a whole lot of explanation that sometimes seems a bit abstruse.

What messsage, then, is being presented, both for public consideration, and, more importantly, for the edification of the faithful, when a clergyman has more than one living dpouse or former spouse? Is it perhaps one that tends to encourage self-justification of a loose attitude toward divorce? Human being being what they are, of course it will be perceived that way. Is there perhaps an expectation produced as to whether the cleric (wapecially if he be a bishop) might be more lenient than otherwise? There certainly will be such an expectation. Will that exp[ectation be realized in practice? One hopes not, but is that not preneting the bishop with unnecessary temptation.

We aren't talking validity here, but the wisdom of an action; and, in the light of St. Paul's admonition that a bishop be the husband of one wife, It seems a far wiser and safer course to insist that a person with an appearance of an irregular marital situation not be considered for ordination.

I've come to realize for myself that no man has the right to be ordained. God indeed calls to ministry, but that call leads to ordination only when the Church says so. There are other ways than that for a man to obey God, and they are no less a fulfillment of His call.