What is the meaning of “Sacrament” according to the Council of Trent?

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Q: What is the meaning of “Sacrament” according to the Council of Trent?

A: Catholic doctrine:
Against all innovators the Council of Trent declared: “If anyone say that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer grace on those who place no obstacle to the same, let him be anathema” (Sess. viii, can.vi). “If anyone say that grace is not conferred by the sacraments ex opere operato but that faith in God’s promises is alone sufficient for obtaining grace, let him be anathema” (ibid., can. viii; cf. can. iv, v, vii).

The phrase “ex opere operato”, for which there is no equivalent in English, probably was used for the first time by Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205), and afterwards by Innocent III (d. 1216; de myst. missae, III, v), and by St. Thomas (d. 1274; IV Sent., dist. 1, Q.i, a.5). It was happily invented to express a truth that had always been taught and had been introduced without objection. It is not an elegant formula but, as St. Augustine remarks (Enarration on Psalm 138): It is better that grammarians should object than that the people should not understand.

“Ex opere operato”, i.e. by virtue of the action, means that the efficacy of the action of the sacraments does not depend on anything human, but solely on the will of God as expressed by Christ’s institution and promise.

“Ex opere operantis”, i.e. by reason of the agent, would mean that the action of the sacraments depended on the worthiness either of the minister or of the recipient (see Pourrat, “Theology of the Sacraments”, tr. St. Louis, 1910, 162 sqq.).

Protestants cannot in good faith object to the phrase as if it meant that the mere outward ceremony, apart from God’s action, causes grace.

It is well known that Catholics teach that the sacraments are only the instrumental, not the principal, causes of grace. Neither can it be claimed that the phrase adopted by the council does away with all dispositions necessary on the part of the recipient, the sacraments acting like infallible charms causing grace in those who are ill-disposed or in grievous sin.

The fathers of the council were careful to note that there must be no obstacle to grace on the part of the recipients, who must receive them rite, i.e. rightly and worthily; and they declare it a calumny to assert that they require no previous dispositions (Sess. XIV, de poenit., cap.4).

Dispositions are required to prepare the subject, but they are a condition (conditio sine qua non), not the causes, of the grace conferred. In this case the sacraments differ from the sacramentals, which may cause grace ex opere operantis, i.e. by reason of the prayers of the Church or the good, pious sentiments of those who use them.

 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.h…

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