Sacrament to any act or ritual by which Christians seek to express their faith in God and represent it in a concrete way, with some type of sacrifice, effort or public demonstration.
The sacrament is one of the most important moments of religion since it supposes the direct connection between the individual and his God, his way of expressing his permanent and deepest love for that God. According to campingship, the sacraments are typical of the Christian religion although they are not present in all its variants.
The first to use the word sacramentum in a Christian cultic context seems to have been Tertullian. The term was not new; was common in non-Christian language and had a precise religious valence (as the root sac- clearly indicates): sacramentum was the soldier’s oath of allegiance to the emperor and, in legal language, the sum of money to be paid to the emperor. temple by the one who lost a civil cause. This justifies the preferentially baptismal use that the term had at the beginning: baptism could very well appear to the first Christians as the equivalent of an oath of fidelity to Christ on the part of one who was preparing to enter his “militia”, and also as an act of worship to Godthat saves. In the successive centuries of the ancient age the term had great fortune and even a great variety of application: sacramento could translate the Greek term mysterion (also transliterated in mysterium) in its Pauline meaning of divine plan of salvation realized and revealed in Christ and also he was able to translate the categories, typical of the Biblical exegesis of the Fathers, of image, figure, type, similarity.
It is in the time of Saint Augustine that the term sacramentum begins to have a more precise and almost technical meaning. The credit for this transition is generally attributed to the great doctor of Hippo, but it is possible that the trend had already spread in the Latin Church. In the 6th century, Isidore of Seville will underline the aspect of mystery, understood precisely in the sense of hidden, secret, enclosed.
The age of scholasticism saw the great work of systematizing the theology of the sacraments. Here are his main acquisitions.
- a) The number of the sacraments. Scholasticism felt the need to put order in the concept and in the indiscriminate use of the sacrament. A distinction was made between sacraments (major, or true and proper sacraments) and sacramentals (or minor sacraments), setting the number (seven). This identification, already outlined in the 11th century, became definitive and canonical from Pedro Lombardo in the following century.
- b) The concept of sacrament. Scholasticism developed a concept of the sacrament destined to be classical and to inform all subsequent theology. “It is properly called a sacrament that which in such a way (quod ita) is a sign of God’s grace and a form (form) of invisible grace, which bears (in itself) the image (imaginem) of grace and which is its cause”. Later theologians will only have to complete, but not much to add.
- c) The efficacy of the sacrament. The question that the scholastics ask is how a material and sensible reality can produce a spiritual and supernatural grace. The answers are many and diverse: the sacraments are an occasion of grace, they contain grace, they dispose of grace. Entire schools of theologians are found in these answers. Thomas and his school proposed instrumental causality. More recently there was talk of moral causality, that is, free. In later theology the doctrine of St. Thomas certainly prevailed, which seemed to guarantee in the most certain way the efficacy of the sacramental rite.
- d) The “ex opere operato”. The formula, among the most successful in theology, is to be understood in relation to its opposite use, the ex opere operantis (ecclesiae). The formula attempted to safeguard the sacrament from the danger of repeated Donatist temptations, guaranteeing the validity and efficacy of the sacrament regardless of the sanctity or unworthiness of the celebrating minister. The intention, although legitimate, was not enough to prevent such a doctrine from eventually giving rise in practice to an almost magical vision of sacramental efficacy.
- e) The hilemorphism. The medieval rediscovery of Aristotle as a master of philosophical and theological thought also led to the consideration of the sacraments in terms of the hylemorphic theory (matter and form). For each sacrament an attempt was made to distinguish the material and the formal element; While for some sacraments the undertaking could have been easy enough (baptism, anointing of the sick), for others there was no lack of difficulties and the most heated controversies. Controversies not only between the various schools, but also and above all between the various confessions or Churches.
- f) The institution of the sacraments. The Church had always lived in the faith that Christ was at the origin of her sacraments; but the scholasticism raised the problem with particular urgency, trying to define what institution meant (and in what sense it could be spoken of for each sacrament) on the part of Christ. The attempt to establish for each sacrament the New Testament source that proves its institution was not lacking either. Not all the results of this effort were up to the task lavished. The preferential legal character given to the concept of institution, the clearly apologetic reading of the texts of the New Testament, the approximation of historical knowledge, exegesis and the critical method led to results that were not always convincing and sometimes even paradoxical and extravagant in the authors. less controlled.
- g) Sacramental anthropology. The praxis of the contemporary Church, not compensated by a critical knowledge of the history of the sacraments, led the scholastics to consider the current use as normal use in all times of the Church. The sacraments were read in this way according to the praxis of a time: confirmation with the first age of reason, anointing of the sick given at the point of extreme unction)… This led to an anthropological interpretation inspired by the development of the human person, development that the sacraments should accompany and help. The limit of this reading is the very limit of that praxis and that of pastoral.
The first half of the 20th century is dominated by neo-scholastic thought, the official doctrine of the Roman theological school and of the pontifical universities. The effort is centered on a return to the genuine thought of the great scholastics, in particular of Saint Thomas. The answers are naturally diverse in the various theologians; but it is difficult to find in his writings elements of sure originality, in any case capable of allowing real progress in understanding the delicate problem.
On the other hand, a real step forward was taken towards the middle of the century with the recovery of an epistemological category that was too long forgotten and undervalued, the only one probably capable of placing research on its true terrain, that of expression and language: the category of the symbol.
The intuition is in itself very simple: if the sacrament belongs to the genus and the category of the symbol, its efficacy, that is, its way of producing the effect, will have to be sought in the sphere of symbolic efficacy (causality). In other words, the sacrament will produce its effect in the way that is proper to the symbol (and to the symbolic action). The most accredited contemporary theology now moves along this line. But it is not a uniform theory. The very difficulty of arriving at a satisfactory and universally acceptable definition of the symbol makes the undertaking even more arduous.
Diversely based on a close connection between Christology and ecclesiology, on the ontological structure of the same reality, on anthropology or on other bases yet, all these answers have in common the intuition that the sacrament, as a symbol, works by saying, no doing. That is, it works and produces an effect not insofar as it does something (dipping, breaking bread, anointing, etc.), but insofar as, by doing something, it says and makes one understand the true purpose for which it is put. The effect of the sacrament must not be sought in what is being done immediately, “but in what the action alludes to. And it reaches its end and produces its effect precisely because, with its material action, it remits (effectively envisioning it with the symbolic allusion) to that effect. Without this most essential intention (intendere),
If this path is now well known and acquired on a theoretical level, there is still a lot to do on a practical level. Pastoral and liturgical (practical) deductions have actually been much less consequential and spirited than speculative thinking.
After the patristic age, the word sacrament, in the field of theological thought and canon law, became more and more specialized until it was reserved in a proper sense for the only seven acts of worship considered capable of “producing grace”: exactly the seven sacraments.
In this precise sense the term sacrament belongs by right to Christian worship and theology. However, in the historical-ethno-religious terminology the word has already entered to indicate “a rite that is made explicit through visible signs or materials and that constitutes a peculiar relationship with the world of powers or an entrance into the sacred, in by virtue of its magical-automatic efficacy or also by virtue of an eminently religious charge. In this way a Christian cultic reality has become a parameter and criterion for classifying the “plus various ritual behaviors, which, in any case, have distant analogies with the Christian sacraments “: initiation rites (also with collation of character), sacrificial and totemic, which somehow recall”
This way of proceeding by researchers in the history of religions may upset the Christian theologian, who is afraid of seeing the theology of the sacrament reduced to pure phenomenology of the rite. However, precisely this fact can offer a precious starting point for a theology of the sacraments that does not want to limit itself to repeating what has already been said and that, above all, does not resign itself to abstract and ideological apriorism, but aspires, on the contrary, to be founded on the solid foundation of reality and experience.
- Baptism: You receive the grace of supernatural life and conversion into a child of God and a member of the Church.
- Confirmation: gives the grace of Christian maturity and being an apostle of the Kingdom of Christ.
- Eucharist: It is the sacrament of the sacrifice of Christ, who offers himself to the Father and, under the species of bread and wine, offers himself as food for your spirit.
- Reconciliation: It is the act of reconciliation with God through the repentance of your sins and the forgiveness of God himself.
- Anointing of the sick: the grace of strength is received to face the disease.
- Marriage: It is the act by which Christ unites man and woman for life.
Order: Christ calls and transmits to some men the power of the ministerial priesthood.
- matter: object or thing (water, bread and wine, oil) or a sensible action (penance and marriage).
- the form, or words that ordinarily consist of spoken formulas.
- a Minister: who administers the sacrament, the first and foremost is Jesus Christ. To dispense grace, he uses human persons, they are ordinary ministers of all the sacraments, except marriage, those who have received the priestly order, bishops and priests, those who marry from marriage.
- A subject: Who receives the sacrament. It is the human person who wants to freely receive, if he has reason, to use these means to obtain the graces of God in order to his sanctification and eternal salvation.