Skip to comments.The Sacraments [Ecumenical]
Posted on 07/15/2008 1:23:12 PM PDT by NYer
Adult conversion to Catholicism involves more than adding a few new beliefs. It means a whole new world and life view. No ingredient in that new perspective was more of a shock to my old Protestant sensibilities when I became a Catholic than the idea that the God-man is really present in, and not just symbolized by, what appears to be a wafer of bread and a cup of wine. It seemed scandalous!
It has ceased to scandalize me, though it has not ceased to amaze me, that Almighty God suffers me to touch him, move him and eat him! Imagine! When I move my hand to my mouth with the Host, I move God through space. When I put him here, he is here. When I put him there, he is there. The Prime Mover lets me move him where I will. It is as amazing as the Incarnation itself, for it is the Incarnation, the continuation of the Incarnation.
I think I understand how the typical Protestant feels about sacramentalism not only because I was a Protestant but because it is a natural and universal feeling. The Catholic doctrine of the sacraments is shocking to everyone. It should be a shock to Catholics too. But familiarity breeds dullness.
To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic. And the Catholic definition of a sacrament a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace, a sign that really effects what it symbolizes sounds like magic. Catholic doctrine teaches that the sacraments work ex opere operato, i.e., objectively, though not impersonally and automatically like machines. They are gifts that come from without but must be freely received.
Protestants are usually much more comfortable with a merely symbolic view of sacraments, for their faith is primarily verbal, not sacramental. After all, it is the Bible that looms so large in the center of their horizon. They believe in creation and Incarnation and Resurrection only because they are in the Bible. The material events are surrounded by the holy words. The Catholic sensibility is the inside-out version of this: the words are surrounded by the holy facts. To the Catholic sensibility it is not primarily words but matter that is holy because God created it, incarnated himself in it, raised it from death, and took it to heaven with him in his ascension.
Orthodox Protestants believe these scriptural dogmas, of course, just as surely as Catholics do. But they do not, I think, feel the crude, even vulgar facticity of them as strongly. Thats why they do not merely disagree with but are profoundly shocked by the real presence and transubstantiation. Luther, by the way, taught the real presence and something much closer to transubstantiation than most Protestants believe, namely consubstantiation, the belief that Christs body and blood are really present in the Eucharist, but so are the bread and wine. Catholics believe the elements are changed; Lutherans believe they are added to.
Most Protestants believe the Eucharist only symbolizes Christ, though some, following Calvin, add that it is an occasion for special grace, a sign and a seal. But though I was a Calvinist for twenty one years, I do not remember any emphasis on that notion. Much more often, I heard the contrast between the Protestant spiritual interpretation and the Catholic material , magical one.
The basic objection Protestants have to sacramentalism is this: How can divine grace depend on matter, something passive and unfree? Isnt it unfair for Gods grace to depend on anything other than his will and mine? I felt that objection strongly until I realized that the sheer fact that I have a body this body, with this heredity, which came to me and still comes to me without my choice is also unfair. One gets a healthy body, another does not. As one philosopher said, Life isnt fair.
Its the very nature of the material world we live in, the very fact of a material world at all, that is so unfair that it moved Ivan Karamazov to rebellion against God in that profoundest and most Christian novel, Dostoevskys The Brothers Karamazov. As he explains to his believing brother Alyosha, Its not God that I cant accept, its this world of his a world in which bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. But it might be better than fair rather than less, gift rather than payment, grace rather than justice, fair as beautiful rather than fair as rational like a sacrament.
In fact, the world is a sacrament. We receive God through every material reality (though not in the same special way as in the sacraments proper). The answer to the Protestant objection to the unfairness of the sacraments is that only a world of pure spirit would be perfectly fair. Only angels get exactly what they deserve individually.
Praise God, we get infinitely more than we deserve! The sacraments remind us that the whole world is a sacrament, a sacred thing, a gift; and the sacramental character of the world reminds us of the central sacrament, the Incarnation, continued among us in the seven sacraments of the Church, especially in the Eucharist. The sacramental view of the world and the Catholic doctrine of the sacraments illuminate each other like large and small mirrors.
Both the sacrament of the world and the sacrament of incarnation/ Eucharist also remind us that we too are sacramental, matter made holy by spirit. Our bodies are not corpses moved by ghosts, or cars steered by angels, but temples of the Holy Spirit. In our bodies, especially our faces, matter is transmuted into meaning. The eyes are the windows of the soul.
Protestants sometimes object to the sacraments by asking whether a babys eternal destiny is altered if the water of baptism does not quite reach his forehead before the church building falls on him and kills him, or whether a penitent who gets run over and killed by a truck while crossing the street on his way to a sacramental confession will suffer hell or a longer purgatory only because the truck happened to hit him before rather than after confession. The answer to such a question is: not necessarily. We do not know Gods plan unless he reveals it to us, and he has revealed the sacraments. But not only the sacraments. The early Church called the death of martyrs who had no opportunity for baptism the baptism of blood, and the intention (explicit or even implicit) to be baptized the baptism of desire (thus allowing good, God-seeking pagans into heaven). This Catholic doctrine of back-door grace seems shifty verbal trickery to many Protestants, but it is necessary to preserve two undeniable truths: first, that we are commanded to receive the sacraments and told that unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life in you and, second, that God is just and merciful and does not deny grace to any who seek it.
Perhaps we Catholics are like the laborers who worked only an hour, in our Lords parable (Mt 20:1-16), and those without the sacraments like those who worked all day. It seems unfair that both groups got the same wages. So it seems unfair that we are given all this extra sacramental help, easier grace, so to speak. But the Lord of the vineyard replied to this objection: Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own? This reply scandalizes our sense of political justice. But it fits the nature of the world; and it is the world of nature, Gods creation, rather than politics, mans creation, that declares the glory of God. The sacraments declare the same scandalous generosity.
We dont deserve to be born or to be born again or to be baptized. We dont deserve Gods sun or Gods Son. We dont deserve delicious bread and wine or the Body and Blood of Christ. But we are given all this, and more. As Christopher Derrick put it, in a poem entitled The Resurrection of the Body:
Hes a terror that one:
Turns water into wine,
Wine into blood
I wonder what He turns blood into?
Catholics often have a more-than-intellectual faith in the sacraments that Protestants do not understand. Thus they dont see why Catholics who come to disagree with essential teachings of the Church dont just leave. The answer is symbolized by the sanctuary lamp. They do not leave the Church because they know that the sacramental fire burns there on the ecclesiastical hearth. Even if they do not see by its light, they want to be warmed by its fire. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a magnet drawing lost sheep home and keeping would-be strays from the deathly snows outside. The Churchs biggest drawing card is not what she teaches, crucial as that is, but who is there. He is here! Therefore I must be here.
Peter Kreeft teaches at Boston College in Boston Massachusetts. He is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator’s Resource Center.
Amen. Amen. A thousand times, Amen.
On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church
The Great Heresies
SALVATION PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
JUSTIFICATION IN CATHOLIC TEACHING
Hermits and Solitaries [Ecumenical]
THE PRIESTHOOD DEBATE
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND MERIT
A Well-Rounded Pope [Ecumenical]
A Monastery to Last 1,000 Years [Ecumenical]
Explaining Purgatory from a New Testament Perspective [Ecumenical]
In the Crosshairs of the Canon [How We Got The Bible] [Ecumenical]
'An Ordinance Forever' - The Biblical Origins of the Mass [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: Church Authority In Scripture [Ecumenical]
Beginning Catholic: Catholic Tradition: Life in the Spirit [Ecumenical]
Vatican plea to uncover Virgin Mary and show her breast-feeding baby Jesus
Why do Catholics have to confess their sins to a priest instead of praying straight to God? [Ecu]
Our Times: The Age of Martyrs
The Eucharist - the Lord's Sacrifice, Banquet and Presence
Beginning Catholic: Catholic Morality: Life in Christ [Ecumenical]
Chosen In Him: The Catholic Teaching on Predestination [Ecumenical]
Thank you for you Amen! I ditto it :-)
His ignorance of Protestant beliefs is astounding. His probably ought to stick to speaking about things he knows about, if any.
In the interest of Ecumenical discussion, what does he get wrong?
1)”To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic. “
Obviously ignorant of the Lutheran view (and that held by some Anglicans), and despite claims to the contrary, shows a lack of understanding of the Reformed view.
2.”They believe in creation and Incarnation and Resurrection only because they are in the Bible.”
He needs to read up on Natural Revelation.
3. “some, following Calvin, add that it is an occasion for special grace, a sign and a seal. “
Seems like he never learned this part: “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. WCF XXIX, 5;
“Sacramental Eating of the Lord. Besides the higher spiritual eating there is also a sacramental eating of the body of the Lord by which not only spiritually and internally the believer truly participates in the true body and blood of the Lord, but also, by coming to the Table of the Lord, outwardly receives the visible sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord. To be sure, when the believer believed, he first received the life-giving food, and still enjoys it. But therefore, when he now receives the sacrament, he does not receive nothing. For he progresses in continuing to communicate in the body and blood of the Lord, and so his faith is kindled and grows more and more, and is refreshed by spiritual food.... The body of Christ is in heaven at the right hand of the Father; and therefore our hearts are to be lifted up on high, and not to be fixed on the bread, neither is the Lord to be worshipped in the bread. Yet the Lord is not absent from his Church when she celebrates the Supper. “ Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter 21.
3. “The basic objection Protestants have to sacramentalism is this:...Isnt it unfair for Gods grace to depend on anything other than his will and mine?
God’s grace doesn’t depend on our will.
I will be the first to say that it is very hard to cover all Protestant beliefs about any doctrine. There are just so many of them. But Kreeft does get it right for many Protestant denominations.
This is a brief story of his faith upbringing and conversion
Here is a link to his works. http://www.peterkreeft.com/books.htm
Not bad for such an ignorant man, eh? (sarc)
1) Luther, by the way, taught the real presence and something much closer to transubstantiation than most Protestants believe, namely consubstantiation, the belief that Christs body and blood are really present in the Eucharist, but so are the bread and wine. Catholics believe the elements are changed; Lutherans believe they are added to.
He recognizes Lutherans' practice - however, such believe does not define the majority of Protestants, does it?
2) Okay, you got me. What do you mean by that? You think people can know of the Resurrection through means other than Scripture?
3) Isn't that exactly what he is saying? As I read it, those confessions say that you can receive grace by the act, as long as you have the required faith. That isn't what Catholics believe.
4) It doesn't? You don't believe that we must choose Christ?
2. We are taught, “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable”.
You don't need the Scriptures to know that there is a God, and Creation; your own senses tell you that. That is General Revelation.
For Salvation, of course, you need more. That is Special Revelation, and it ordinarily comes from what God has taught us through the Scriptures.
3. God's grace isn't dependent on our will, only on His. It is only AFTER He, by His grace, has quickened us, that we have the capability to respond. (See, in context, Eph 2:1, 2:5, Col 2:13, 1 Peter 2:24)(See also Eph 2:8-10).
4. And you left the easiest for last. No.
Legal disclaimer: these comments do not address his views of Catholicism, but in the spirit of the Ecumenic thread, address only his characterizations of protestant views.
Certainly. There are, for example, 3 distinct views of Communion/Lord's Supper. But it doesn't show good scholarship to make broad generalizations and try to fit all protestants into it.
2) I think when he said "creation," he meant something along the lines of "creationism." I completely agree with your delineation between General and Special Revelation, and the logical progression from said revelation to Natural and Divine Law.
3) I think you mixed 3 up, since you had used it twice in your original post - your original '3' was regarding the objectiveness of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in Catholic theology, versus the WCF saying grace is imparted during the ritual depending on the internal constitution of the recipient. I'm not sure how your point here applies to that - if it does apply, could you dumb it down for this Cat-lick? ;-)
4) This confounds me, because in your number 3 above, you say "[then] we have the capability to respond." If we have the capability to respond, mustn't we exercise that capability?
PAR35: Obviously ignorant of the Lutheran view
"To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic.
Since Lutherans don't believe the sacraments are mere symbols, he must be saying that Lutherans think there is magic.
That shows an ignorance of the Lutheran view.
Clearly not, since the author points to the fact that the Lutherans got at least some parts of their sacramental theology right.
For every generic statement about the Protestants there is a denomination for which it is not true. That goes without saying.
I went back and looked. You are correct. If we continue the discussion, I'll yield to your numbering system.
First, we'd need to discount the mainline Protestants for whom the sacrament is pretty much meaningless other than as a comfortable habit.
The Baptists would be the largest of the symbolic crowd, and they've had a large influence on the large 'E' Evangleicals. On the other hand, there has been a lot of recent discussion as to how large the Southern Baptists really are - certainly far smaller than their claimed numbers.
The Lutherans and Reformed are discussed above - and there are a lot of Lutherans in the country.
So I'm not sure I'd concede the 'prevalent' at this point.
2. I don't see much left to debate there.
I have to post and run - I'll get back for the other 2 later.
Well, Anglicanism doesn't really have a fixed teaching on the Eucharist - some certainly teach the symbolic understanding, others don't. So, we can add some of them to the total. And, although I think we'll get into this when you come back, from my vantage point, I'd argue Calvinism teaches the symbolic understanding - however, like I said, that was point 3, so we'll work on that in a bit.
I don't know enough about Presbyterians or Methodists to really have an opinion, but I'd guess they have a more symbolic understanding. And I certainly think "Purpose Driven" groups have a symbolic understanding. Anyway, I look forward to continuing this conversation.