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VII. Sacramentalism

φαντάσματα θεῖα καὶ σκιαὶ τῶν ὄντων.


It is not uncommon to find all that we have so far said about the institutional and ceremonial element in the historical religions of the world admitted by many who yet hold that these considerations do little or nothing to remove the real scandal these religions present to the rational philosopher. His trouble, it may be said, arises not from the bare fact that these religions are institutional, but from the peculiar character of the institutions which are fundamental in them. Full recognition of the value which ceremonial has for religion, as for other human activities, is no justification of sacraments, and sacraments, under one name or another, are prominent and central in positive religions all the world over. The sacraments of the various religions are alike, under all their differences, in possessing a character which distinguishes them sharply from mere ceremonial practices which are found effective as means of aiding the created spirit to realise the presence of the Creator, or as simple external symbols of devout states of mind. According to the claims regularly made for them, sacraments are physical acts, concerned with sensible objects, through which the Creator conveys a spiritual benefit, exercises a spiritual effect within the spiritual life of a rational creature.1 Here we have the feature which distinguishes sacraments from rites in general. In a rite we may have nothing more than an action on the part of the human agents who take part in its performance; in a sacrament “God offers something to man.” What makes a rite into a sacrament is that the ritual act is taken to be neither a device by which men induce a certain frame of mind in themselves, nor a mere symbolic declaration of their conviction that a certain state has been, or is being, induced in them by the action of God; the sacramental rite is itself an actual “channel” of grace, an “efficacious sign,” or “instrumental cause” by the intermediation whereof the Creator affects the created spirit.”2

I think that, in the light of all we know from the comparative study of religions, we must confess recognition of sacraments and sacramental acts, in this sense, to be so widely diffused a characteristic of actual religions that it must be regarded as typical; and, again, that it can hardly be eliminated from our own religion, by general admission at least the most adequate example of the type historical religion, without most gravely modifying its character. A “non–sacramental Christianity” might, or might not, be an improvement on what has been known for nineteen centuries as Christianity; it ought to be impossible, in the face of a chain of witnesses from St. Paul’s day to our own, to pretend that it is the same thing.

Now here, it may fairly be said, is the real crux. It is an affront to reason and intelligence to ask men to believe that an act resoluble by analysis into a contact, or series of contacts, between my own body and others can effect a change in my spiritual state. Such a belief has often been called, not merely in the heat of sectarian recrimination, a discreditable survival or artificial resuscitation of pre–civilised superstitions about the efficacy of “material magic,” a throwback to the cult of the “fetish.” Some of our contemporaries notoriously make the sacramentalism of historical Christianity a reason for pronouncing it no religion for a rational man; others find themselves driven to escape that conclusion only by the desperate expedient of declaring that a sacramentalism already found full–fledged in St. Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians and the Fourth Gospel is no part of “historic” Christianity. My own purpose, in this place, is neither to make an apologia for Christian sacramentalism, nor to discuss a problem of ecclesiastical history. What concerns me is the broad philosophical issue whether the conceptions on which all sacramentalism, Christian or non–Christian, rests are in their intrinsic character irrational superstitions or not, and, as a student of philosophy, I am interested in this issue because of its bearing on the still more general question, raised at the beginning of this course, of the relation between positive religion and a purely philosophical, or natural, religion. The question I have before me for treatment to–day is still the very general one whether what a positive religion professes to disclose of God, whenever it goes beyond what we are warranted in asserting by a metaphysic of nature and of morals, must be regarded as, at best, temporary illusion, or not. Hence the only issue with which I shall be concerned, in what I have to say of the sacraments of historical religions, is the broad one whether belief in physical objects and bodily acts connected with them as “means of grace,” instruments through which a special contact of the created spirit with its Creator is effected, involves thinking of God and of the divine activity in a fashion incompatible with a sound and reasonable metaphysic. Any references I shall make to the sacraments of Christianity, or the sacramental doctrines of Christian Churches, in particular will be meant to be illustrative of general principles, and my illustrations will be taken from this quarter rather than another for the double reason that the Christian sacraments are those with which we are all most familiar, from our education in a Christian society, and that they have been made the object of the reflective study of theologians and philosophers in an exceptional degree, and throughout an extended period of time. Many other religions possess sacraments of some kind; none possesses the same kind of conscious sacramental theory.

When we look at sacramental practice and theory from this point of view, we can at least see without much trouble that controversial language about “materialistic magic,” like most controversial rhetoric, merely confuses the issue. Whatever the sacraments of Christianity, or its precursor Judaism, may be, they are not a survival or recrudescence of “primitive” magic. In saying this I do not mean to imply that some practices of a sacramental kind found in the historic faiths of the world may not prove to be little more than the continuation of the nature–magic of savages into a more civilised age. That is a question for the anthropologist and the historian of “civilised origins.” I may have doubts whether even they know very much about the matter, and I am quite sure that I do not. The ritual drinking of soma among the early Aryans, or of wine in some of the Hellenic mysteries, certainly has the character of a sacramental act as we have defined it, and at the same time may be continuous with, or a throwback to, practices which may fairly be called savage and magical, devices for the induction of an abnormal state of exaltation valued for itself merely as abnormal, independently of any thought of a special contact with deity. (As I say, I doubt whether anyone knows whether this statement is true, but I see no reason why it should not be true.) Circumcision, the great sacrament of the “older law,” presumably had its origin in something very savage and superstitious, though the anthropologists seem at present as much in the dark as anyone else as to what that something may have been.3 The same thing may be true of the ritual application of water to the body which has been adopted by Christianity from pre–existing practice as its sacrament of initiation. Nor do I wish to deny that investigation might reveal strange origins for a whole number of the secondary accessory details which, to this day, accompany the celebration of sacraments in the most spiritual and philosophical of the historical religions. The point I want to make is, that whatever may have been the far–away origin of specific ritual acts which in these religions are sacramental, the acts do not become sacramental in the sense in which our own religion, for example, possesses sacraments, until they have received a specification and sanction which take them wholly out of the class of the magical.

This ought to be suggested, in the first place, by a simple historical reflection which forces itself on us the moment we make a serious study of the facts about the sacraments of the “old” and the “new” law. Both Judaism and Christianity are religions which have been historically preceded by a conscious breach with the nature–cults we loosely call “primitive” because no one can say how they arose. Whenever and however the practices of circumcision and of ritual reception of bread and wine originated, the conviction of the believing member of the Jewish synagogue who circumcises his son, or the faithful Christian who approaches the Lord’s Table, is that for him the act receives its significance and obligation from an historical divine institution, in virtue of which it procures him or his a definite divine gift. Many other nations might practise circumcision for known or unknown reasons; it may be that the Hebrew of the days of the monarchy himself practised it merely as a custom of which he could give no explanation. But the Jewish Church founded on “the Law” practised it (and it is irrelevant to my point whether the Jewish Church had an existence before the Exile or not) because it had been instituted by a divine command to Abraham, and made by that command the title–deed to a share in the divine promises to Abraham and his descendants. There might be, indeed, we know that there were, ritual meals in various cults of the first century A.D., but the Christian came to “the Lord’s Supper” because the command to do so had been given on an historical occasion—“in the night when he was given up”—by his divine Master, and the Master had promised “eternal life” to those who fulfilled it.

For our purpose the important point is not so much whether these beliefs were strictly accurate in point of fact, but that they were accepted as accurate, and that it was these beliefs which gave the acts their character as sacraments. There have been many divergent modern speculations about the origin of the widely diffused practice of circumcision. It has been pronounced to be a hygienic precaution of a purely utilitarian kind, or a prophylactic against imaginary dangers attending on entrance on the active exercise of sexual functions, or a symbolic consecration of the whole person to a deity, and these are only some of the conflicting hypotheses. But an orthodox and pious Jew, when he circumcises his child, may be presumed to be thinking neither of hygiene nor of protection against vaguely imagined dangers besetting the performance of sexual acts, but of the promise of God to Abraham, and it makes no difference in principle whether this promise to Abraham is an incident of authentic history or not. If it could be demonstrated that every detail of every act which is regarded as sacramental in a sacramental religion had pre–existed as a piece of so–called nature–magic for ages before the religion adopted it, this would not alter the fact, which is of primary importance for us, that the reason why the adherents of that religion practise these acts has nothing to do with the known or unknown reasons for its earlier performance. The reason why the act continues to be practised, and is regarded as sacramental, is that it is believed to be historically of divine institution, and to have specific effects attached to it in virtue of its character of being divinely appointed. This character would not be affected by the fullest proof that the same act had been performed by others without divine institution, and with no reference to consequences attached to it by an historical divine promise. The Biblical record of the covenant with Abraham, for example, does not pretend to be a narrative of the origin of the custom of circumcision; it is a narrative of its appointment to be a sacrament to Abraham and his descendants. We cannot really suppose intelligent Jews not to have known the notorious fact that the same rite was general with such a nation as the Egyptians, nor need we suppose them to have fancied that the Egyptians had borrowed the practice from themselves. But they did not regard the Egyptians as qualified by their circumcision to inherit the blessing. The rite was not, in their case, a sacrament.4

These reflections suggest at once the true differentia which distinguishes sacraments from “materialistic magic.” A magical act, if we use the words with any precision, means an act which, provided it is correctly performed, produces its supposed consequences automatically. Magic, like early science, is a matter of technique. It may, and does, exist where there is little or no belief in the control of events by any kind of divine will or agency; in fact, in developed systems of magic, the performance of the prescribed acts, or the recitation of the prescribed spell, is thought of as actually compelling divinities, whether they will or not, to the execution of the magician’s will.5 At bottom, therefore, magic and religion, in the sense in which we have used that word throughout our discussion, are directly opposed in principle. The second draws all its significance from the tension between this world of the temporal and the other world of the eternal, which so mysteriously encloses and interpenetrates this: the first is a purely this–world affair, as much so as sanitary engineering or electric lighting. In fact, it is not the priest, but the technician, who knows how to turn physical science to an utilitarian account, who is the real counterpart in our society of the wizards and sorcerers of darker ages. In the “temporal world” as conceived by Hume and his later disciples, that is to say, as conceived by the leading representatives of the Natur–philosophie of half a century ago, there is really no difference between the functions of science and the functions of magic. Science, on the Humian view, consists in discovering formulae which “sum up the routine of our sense–perception,” and may therefore be used as practical receipts for the production of desired effects. Since, on the theory, all that the formulae record is conjunctions of events which stand in no sort of rational connection, the scientific laws which supply the modern inventor with his rules for procedure have exactly the same arbitrary character as the spells and incantations of magic. And the one justification admitted by a philosophy of this kind for its belief in its “laws of nature,” the plea that, in some inexplicable way, they are found to “work” when applied to practice, is precisely the kind of justification a savage might allege for his belief in spells and charms. Without any desire to prejudge a case by rhetorical exaggeration, I must confess that I can see in principle no difference between physical science as conceived by Mach or K. Pearson, and the magic of an African medicine–man, except that the spells of the European man of science prove themselves in fact so much more trustworthy and potent; they are uncommonly “big” medicine.

The fact that our “customary experience” leads us to disbelieve in the particular conjunctions on which the magician of savage or semi–savage societies relies must not blind us to the much more important fact that it is purely “this–world” conjunctions which are the foundation of his procedure. It is true that “this world,” as he conceives it, may contain constituents not recognised by the European secularist, ghosts of the dead, powerful spirits and demons, and the like, though those things are not indispensable to magic. Magic can flourish wherever there is belief in the potency within the sensible world of inexplicable and unintelligible “conjunction.” And spirits and demons, as such, are just as much of the temporal and secular world as electrons or “wavicles”; it is only with the contrast of the eternal and the temporal that we reach the conception of the genuinely “other,” and absolutely unsecular. When the superstitious revive the old magical practices in an age of high secular civilisation, it is true that they commonly attempt to give them a laughable dignity by calling them occult science. But, in principle, the conjunction in which the modern patrons of sorcery are interested are no more “occult” than any other conjunction which has to be accepted as a bare unexplained conjunction, that is, according to an empiricist metaphysic of nature, than any of the conjunctions summed up in our scientific laws.

For according to a consistently empiricist metaphysic, there is no real difference in respect of arbitrariness between the conjunction of administration of a dose of prussic acid and death and the conjunction between the same effect and the decapitation of the deceased’s portrait by an enemy: the first is certainly the more familiar, but is every whit as unintelligible as the second. And if the proceedings of the medicine–man are occult in the different sense that the knowledge of the receipt for them is confined to a few experts, the same thing is equally true of the proceedings of the modern “wizard” of electrical science. Very few of us know how to make the “grand projection,” or to “tie the knot”; very few also know how to construct a “wireless” set.

Thus, if we are to look for a modern equivalent for magical operations, we shall find it much more truly in the triumphs of applied science than in the sacraments of religion. In magic, as in “science,” there is a complete absence of that which lies at the root of every sacrament, the free outward–moving activity of the divine. When “gods” are brought into connection with magic, they are degraded from their position as gods; their part in the magical act is not to be the sources of “grace,” the bestowers of a gift, but to be passive instruments in the hands of the magician; the activity comes, in the end, from him. Hence the very fact that ex hypothesi a sacrament is a channel through which free and unconstrained divine activity expresses itself, an act in which “God gives something to man,” as is indicated in religions like Christianity and Judaism by the stress laid on historical divine institution of the rite, definitely takes sacraments once and for all out of the domain of the magical.6

And as there is no “magic” in them, there is, for the same reason, no materialism. The sacramental act is, indeed, performed by contact with bodily objects, but it is never held that the bodies employed have any intrinsic efficacy to produce the effect of the sacrament. No theologian, to my knowledge, has ever held that wheaten flour and wine have in themselves any intrinsic efficacy in conferring on him who partakes of them “remission of sins and all other benefits of the Passion”; they are not analogous to the ambrosia and nectar of classical fables.7 It has always been held that if their reception is instrumental to these effects, it is so simply by virtue of divine appointment, and that God might, had He pleased, have conjoined the same benefits with different instruments, or produced them without any physical instrument at all. Ex post facto theological reflection has discerned a symbolic appropriateness of the instruments appointed to the effects, but this is a very different thing from ascribing to them an intrinsic efficacy of their own. The whole of the instrumental efficacy actually ascribed to them is assumed to be freely conferred on them by the divine volition. References to “materialistic magic” thus misrepresent the true character of the objection they are intended to convey, and should be dismissed from serious self–respecting argument.8

The objection really intended gains in point and seriousness by being freed from these vulgar irrelevancies. The thought, at bottom, is that any action of the Creator on the created spirit should be direct and without physical instrumentality; it is conceiving unspiritually of God to imagine that the Spirit of all spirits needs, or employs, any bodily intermediary in His action on the spirits He has created. He is intimately present to them all; “to Him every heart is open and every volition speaks”; can we suppose that His response sponse to our needs requires to be conveyed, or can be conveyed, through objects and acts in the physical world? This line of thought is further reinforced by the consideration that no religion of high ethical quality can conceive of graces of character as conferred on a man by the mere performance of a bodily act, independently of all internal state of soul. We need no witness beyond our common experience of men to see that the carnal, worldly, and proud do not derive spiritual life from mere bodily participation in the ordinances of any religion.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali,

sorte tamen inaequali,

vitae, vel interitus.

We can thus readily understand the wide diffusion of a strong prejudice against the belief that bodily acts and objects can be “instruments” and “efficacious signs” of spiritual benefits, even among those who would probably be shocked to discover that their prejudice, if carried to its logical consequences, would be fatal to rites and sacraments which they themselves prize and reverence. To take a trivial illustration, I have found a professedly Anglican writer denouncing, not merely as childish, but as actually blasphemous, the practice of blessing medals, crosses, and the like, on the ground that it is impious to ask the Holy Spirit to bless “purely material things.” Yet I have little doubt that the writer makes no scruple about asking God, several times in the day, to “bless” his meat and drink, or that he is sincerely attached to the English Communion Office, with its formal and visible blessing of the bread and the cup, a prayer actually described in the rubric which accompanies it as one of “consecration.” Clearly, if the principle is sound that God cannot without impiety be asked to bless anything which is material, we must be prepared to be consistent with it. If it forbids us to recognise sacraments as means of grace, it must equally prohibit the irrationality and impiety of praying that a leg of mutton or an apple–pie may be “blessed to our use.” In neither case is the blessing on the physical object really disjoined from the blessing on the user. In the central sacrament of Christianity, for example, the oblation of bread and wine is blessed, or consecrated, “that it may become to us,” ut nobis fiat, the Body and Blood of the Lord, or, as another rite says, “to the end that all who shall receive the same may be sanctified and preserved to eternal life,” exactly as the meat on our tables is blessed that it may become to the partakers sustenance for the temporal life of soul and body. In both cases, improper reception is expected to effect disease, and not health; in neither is the beneficial effect conceived to follow in any purely mechanical way from the performance of an external act.

Thus the real question at issue is whether it is incompatible with a rational conception of God to hold that certain specific physical things and acts may be, not from an intrinsic necessity grounded in their character as these particular physical things and acts, but by free divine appointment, channels, or vehicles of a specific contact between the divine spirit and the created. It is important to remember that in Christianity, at any rate, it has never seriously been held that these specific contacts can only be effected by this specific mediation. It is a general position, accepted by the theologians of the most highly “sacramental” Christian societies, that “God has not bound His power by the sacraments,” i.e. that though the things and acts in question have been appointed as the usual and regular channels for the reception of these specific gifts or graces, the effects can be and are produced directly, without the intervention of the physical things and acts when these are not to be had. This is what is meant, for example, by the well–known phrase of the English Catechism that the two great distinctive “sacraments of the new law” are “generally” necessary to salvation. The meaning is not that they are universally indispensable, as De Morgan asserts in a passage of his Formal Logic.9 The framers of the sentence were too familiar with Aristotelian terminology to make a careless confusion between the καθόλου and the ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολύ, and too acute to miss the point that, if the meaning had been what De Morgan takes it to be, they would be asserting that the penitent thief was lost after all, in spite of the formal promise, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise”.10 The meaning of the proposition, a meaning admitted by the extremist sacramentalists, is that the sacramental acts are “as a rule,” when they can be had, the vehicles of certain spiritual gifts; when they cannot be had, this impossibility is no bar to the bestowal of the gifts without them. This explains a whole series of positions, familiar in the literature of the sacraments, which would otherwise be unintelligible. It accounts, for example, for the Crede et manducasti of Augustine, an utterance not meant to excuse neglect of the sacraments, but to comfort the Christian who is physically cut off from them by no fault of his own with the assurance that he is not cut off from their Giver, or their benefits. It explains also the doctrine of the “baptism of desire” as replacing baptism with water, in the case of necessity,11 and the still more famous doctrine that “desire” in its extreme form, that of martyrdom, “supplies the lack” of all sacraments.12 Unless we are careful to bear in mind both the qualifications, that sacraments are held to owe their efficacy wholly to divine appointment and in no way to the intrinsic properties of their matter or their form, and also that “God has not bound His power by the sacraments,” we shall be discussing a falsified issue.

It is, no doubt, true that one can find examples in various religions of quasi–sacramental rites which are thought of without these important qualifications, as producing their effects in virtue of a kind of natural necessity,13 and therefore independently of any interior disposition on the part of the community14 who receive them; and, again, as, for the same reason, absolutely indispensable for the effect. But this only means that in such religions the notion of a sacramental has not yet been duly discriminated from that of a magical act. Our concern here is with the sacramental concept when it has been clearly formulated, and it is irrelevant to consider stages of thought and practice at which the important logical distinction between the sacramental and the magical has not yet been drawn.

Now that we have got our issue properly formulated, we should, I think, see at once that the prejudice against the sacramental in historical religions is only one of the many forms assumed by a more universal prejudice against the physical itself, the standing prejudice of that false spirituality which does so much mischief to the thinking and moral practice of many circles in our own society. There can be no sound logical foundation for a priori rejection of the possibility that certain specific spiritual benefits may normally be conveyed through special physical channels, apart from the allegation that it is, in general, irrational to hold that the physical can act upon the spiritual. If our physical state can, and does, in general make a specific difference to our spiritual state, there is no good philosophical reason for dismissing as “superstitious” the assertion that sacraments, in particular, are instrumental in specific ways to the spiritual life. And if we look at the world of experience as a whole, without preconceived bias, nothing seems more certain than that, speaking generally, the rule is that the physical is everywhere instrumental to the psychical. If we take the word sacrament in a wide sense to mean any physical occasion which normally ministers as an instrument to the soul’s life, we may clearly say that these are natural, as well as supernatural, sacraments, and that the physical world is everywhere pervaded by the sacramental principle.

It is the notorious fact, for instance, that the effect of the regular reception of proper food at the proper hours is instrumental to mental as well as to physical health; that we suffer in intellect and character, as well as in body, if we cannot get our proper sleep; that proper change of air and bodily occupation reinvigorate a man’s moral being as well as his physique; on the other side, the explanation of bad intellectual and artistic work, and, again, of bad moral conduct, is often very largely to be found in unwholesome physical surroundings. You can seriously affect a man’s thinking and his conduct for the better by seeing that he is fed as he ought to be, gets due sleep and exercise, and fresh and untainted air.

Here, again, it holds good that the connection between the instrument and the effect is found to hold generally, not universally, and that the benefit of the “natural sacraments,” like that of the sacraments of religion, depends on co–operation in the recipient. A man may do work of the highest excellence, or lead a life of singular moral nobility, in spite of bad, or insufficient food, or air, or sleep; unfavourable surroundings may throw him back the more on his own inner resources, and impel him to make a specially vigorous assertion of his superiority to circumstance; bodily infirmity, as philosophers have noted, seems sometimes to provoke an exceptional activity of mind. But these qualifications do not destroy the truth of the general rule that vigorous and healthy intellectual and moral life needs the instrumental ministration of the physical; the mens sana is not ensured by the possession of the corpus sanum and it may be found coexistent with a corpus morbidum, but it would be the height of presumption to count on retaining the mens sana, if I neglect to take the ordinary and available means of keeping my body in health. The possibility of a nature–miracle gives me no right to expect that the miracle will be forthcoming to counteract the consequences of my own negligence.

Further, over and above this general dependence of intellectual, artistic, and moral activity on physical environment, specific achievement in all these kinds is also, ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολύ, dependent on specific features of the physical environment. The “miracle of genius,” it is true, occurs, from time to time, in the most unpromising surroundings. But, speaking generally, it is the rule that a man’s specific intellectual, or moral, or artistic, accomplishment is conditioned by the way in which his interest has been awakened by his natural and social environment. A man is not likely, in spite of the dubious and exaggerated stories of the childhood of Pascal, to become a great mathematician if, in the most receptive period of life, he has never seen a mathematical book or diagram, nor to become a great painter, if he is brought up where there are neither paintings nor drawings to be seen, nor a great musician, if he has heard no music. He is not likely to develop a burning love of justice if he is born and brought up in the zenana of an Oriental Sultan, or of purity of thought, word, and act if his boyhood has been passed in a society permeated by the worship of the lingam.

We recognise this, when we speak, as we so often do, of the defects which may mar the whole work of even a rarely gifted artist for want of early opportunity to study good models, or the imperfections in the work of a scientific man caused by unavoidable ignorance of what has been done in his own subject before him. Opportunity to study the best models at the right time, to take the most obvious illustration, is, in the last resort, one provided by the physical order. It is a physical fact that a given northern artist had no access to any works of the great Italian masters, or a given poet to those of Sophocles or Shakespeare, until an advanced period of life, but it is a physical fact which may mar the artistic quality of his whole life–work. We may fairly say that, when all allowance has been made for the mystery of “genius,” it is the normal thing that genius should get its inspiration and direction from specific occasions, furnished, in the end, by its natural surroundings. The same opportunities are not utilised in the same way without the genius, but without the right kind of opportunity the genius will be imperfectly developed, or developed on false lines. It may be a sentimental exaggeration to fancy that a common village churchyard holds a group of “mute, inglorious Miltons.” A Milton is not likely to go through the world “mute,” in any case. But it is at least true that if Milton had been condemned by circumstances to be all his life the thatcher or hedger of a country village, he would hardly have uttered himself in Paradise Lost or Samson.15

Indeed, one does not see how the rule could well be otherwise, in view of the elementary fact that a man is an embodied, not a discarnate, intelligence, and that the more we get to know of the whole life of man, the closer and more intimate we find the connection between the intelligence and the embodiment to be. The logical outcome of the tendency to deny or minimise the dependence of mental life on suggestions and opportunities presented by the physical would be the extravagant modern Docetism called, very improperly, “Christian Science,” which, if I am rightly informed, declares that we really have no bodies, but dupe ourselves into fancying that we have them. This is a doctrine not merely intellectually fantastic, but morally dangerous, from its tendency to encourage unconscious hypocrisy in its professors. If one may judge them by their actions, many of them seem habitually to take exceptional care to surround themselves with a plentiful provision of theoretically non–existing comforts and luxuries for their theoretically non–existent bodies. They may persuade themselves in speculation that they have no bodies; in practice they seem commonly to behave as if they had, and as if the comfort of the body were a much greater good, and its discomfort or suffering a much worse evil, than most religions or philosophies admit. If we agree, not with their verbal profession, but with the operative beliefs revealed by their practice, we shall expect that the regular rule of life will prove to be that moral, intellectual, and aesthetic good is mediated to its human recipients through definite physical channels. “Spirituality” will mean to us not behaving as though we had no bodies, and were not set in a framework of bodily happening, but utilising the transactions between our own body and others to the full as opportunities for the discernment of truth, the practice of virtue, the creation or enjoyment of beauty. We need no proof of the falsity of the kind of “spirituality” which consists in pretending that the body is not there, beyond the moral havoc which it makes of the whole life of sex, marriage, and parenthood. Our true business with it is not to ignore it, but to keep it “in its proper place”.

We should expect, then, in the light of analogies supplied by normal intellectual and moral life, that if there is a still further level of the life of the spirit concerned with conscious relation to the divine, at this level also the fact that such a life has to be lived by embodied creatures would be pertinent. We should no more expect the body, with the occasions and opportunities it provides, to play no part in ministering to such a “supernatural” life than we should expect the same thing in connection with life at other levels: thus we should anticipate as more probable than not that the highest gifts God has in store for us would, as a general rule, come to us in connection with, and dependence on, physical things and bodily acts as their channels, or instruments. In a world where nature is so full of sacraments, it would be strange that “grace” should not have its sacraments too. Nor would this anticipation mean that we look on divine agency as tied down to, and only able to exert itself through, these particular special channels, since their raison d’être lies not in the nature of God, but in the nature He has given us as embodied creatures. If there are wholly disembodied intelligences who are “separate” from “matter,” like angels in the Thomistic philosophy,16 we cannot well suppose that their intercourse with the Creator, however it may be conditioned, is mediated by the channel of “sacraments”; but we at least are not such angels, and nothing has ever come of the attempts of men to forget that they are not angels except deadly evil; ignoring the body commonly ends in sinking below the level of the beasts that perish. Since, when all is said, at our highest we are and remain men, we should naturally expect our most direct contacts with the divine to be contacts under conditions which take account of our embodiment.

No doubt, it might be urged in reply to reasoning of this kind that there is a real difference between the part played by bodily channels and instruments in ministering to our moral and mental life generally and the part sacramental religions ascribe to their sacramental objects and acts. In the first case, the instrumentality is part of the cursus ordinarius of nature; in the second, it is, in a sense, arbitrary. This difference, however, ought not to create a difficulty for a philosopher who has already accepted the Theism without which there can be no rational religion. From the theistic point of view, the cursus ordinarius of nature itself ultimately depends on divine appointment; la nature is not a name for an independent agency, but for the instrumentality through which the Creator commonly acts; the one real difference between the two cases is that the instrumentality, for example, of food, sleep, and air in ministering to mental and moral health does not depend, as it is held that the efficacy of sacraments in ministering to the soul’s “eternal welfare” does, upon specific divine institution at a definite time and place inside human history. And this difference itself does not seem to hold good for all the acts which can fairly be called sacraments of grace. It seems impossible to deny that we have in matrimony an institution which falls short of its full purpose, if its effect is merely to promote temporal happiness and prosperity; a marriage which deserves to be called a “marriage of true minds” is definitely productive of fine spiritual graces in the parties, and thus, as it seems to me, since the dona matrimonii transcend the secular, we do not think worthily of the institution unless we regard it as a sacrament of grace.17

Yet it is notorious that theologians have been hard put to it to answer the question precisely where and when the “sacrament” was instituted. Thus we are told in the supplement added to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas18 that “matrimony, in so far as it is ordained for the procreation of offspring,” was instituted at the creation of Eve; “so far as it is a remedy against sin,” it was instituted after the Fall, “in the time of the law of Nature”; so far as it involves restriction and specification of the persons, it was instituted “in the law of Moses”; so far as it represents “the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church,” it was instituted “in the new law”; but so far as it promotes friendship and mutual obsequium between the parties to it, it is an institution of the civil—i.e. the Roman—laws. The first and last of these “institutions,” however, do not concern marriage in its character as a sacrament.

In the light of our present historical knowledge, such an answer would amount to saying that the one definite historical occasion to which we can point as that of the institution of matrimony, “as far as it is a sacrament,” is the occasion when Christ was asked a casuistical question about the legitimacy of divorce by opponents, who perhaps wished to involve him in trouble with Herod Antipas. I confess that to me it seems fanciful to make a reply to such a question amount to a formal act of institution; I doubt, again, whether all theologians would be willing to make the status of Baptism as a principal “sacrament of the new law” stand or fall with the strict historicity of the words of the command, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them,” etc. It is interesting to read that the hard–and–fast limitation of sacraments conferring grace to the afterwards traditional seven did not, apparently, make its appearance until the twelfth century, and that in the thirteenth Bonaventura expressly ascribed the institution of two of the seven, Confirmation and Unction, to the apostles, while his master, Alexander of Hales, had actually traced the origin of Confirmation as a sacrament to a ninth–century Council. The effect on the Western Church of the hard–and–fast dogmatising of the divines of Trent, and the Reformers alike, about the number of the sacraments of grace and their immediate institution by Christ seems to me to have been wholly unfortunate.19

It would perhaps be a better taken point to attack on principle the validity of the analogy we have presupposed between the action of God as the source of the order of nature and His action as the source of “supernatural” grace. It might be said that we must look for no such analogy, since the bestowal of grace is ex kypo–thesi a strictly supernatural transaction between the Creator and the creature. Since the gift bestowed, then, does not belong to the order of nature, the divine action by which it is bestowed should itself be wholly independent of nature and of opportunities afforded by nature, as its channel. It should strike straight, without any “means” at all, from the depths of the Creator to the depths of the creature. Where there is a recognisable instrumentality, it might be said, its very presence is an indication that we are dealing with an effect which belongs to the natural order. This, I suppose, is the thought in the mind of an anti–sacramentalist critic when he says, as such critics have done, that he cannot see why any Christian should expect or receive any particular grace from participation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. (It is meant, in fact, that this rite, or “ordinance,” is not really a sacrament, in the sense in which the word has been historically employed in the theology of the Christian religion.)

I confess that this line of argument seems to me not unplausible, though it appears to lead to consequences which are probably not before the minds of those who employ it. That the grace of God needs no physical channels is a favourite controversial argument in the mouths of those who give the supreme place in devotion and worship to the “ministry of the word,” as against opponents who attach importance as great, or greater, to sacraments. Yet, after all, the “word” itself is ministered in dependence on physical occasions; its reception involves hearing or reading, and hearing and reading are as much physical acts as eating and drinking, or any others which are performed sacra–mentally in any religion. Again, the hearing or reading is just as liable as any other activity to become divorced from appropriate preparation and interior disposition, and to become merely external and mechanical. It is as easy to hear or read unspiritually as it is to receive a sacrament unspiritually.

It is quite impossible, with the best will in the world, to construct a worship for men which will be really independent of contacts with the physical. Thus the objection to sacraments on the ground of their physical character, carried to its logical conclusion, should issue in an extreme quietism hostile to all use of “means,” though common sense really forbids the conclusion to be drawn. If it is not drawn, if marks apprehended through the eye, and sounds apprehended through the ear, are once recognised as a regular and ordinary “mean” by which the spirit of man may be awakened to consciousness of the presence of God, and may draw “grace to help” from that presence, there is no obvious reason why other physical experiences also should not be normal and appointed vehicles for the same contact with the divine.

But the truth, I take it, is that the whole question is one we cannot settle by appeal to a priori anticipations. It is irrational to attempt to decide on the strength of general metaphysical theory how God must act in bestowing good gifts on His creatures. The one question we can ask with sanity about such a matter is the historical question how in fact God is found to deal with us. Repugnance to give recognition to the sacramental element in historical religions as having abiding value seems to be, in the last resort, only one more form of the persistent reluctance shown by the numerous philosophers who, consciously or unconsciously, regard mathematics as the one type of what knowledge should be, to do justice to the reality of the historical. Far too many of our contemporaries—not all of them “idealists”—are still beset by the ambition to contemplate human life in all its detail under a supposed “form of eternity” which actually means the dismissal of time and history as illusions. Yet the whole poignancy of human life arises from the fact that it is an unsolved tension between the temporal and the eternal, in which the eternal, though steadily gaining on and subduing the temporal to its purposes, never absorbs it. To suppose that I can understand my own life without recognising the temporal everywhere in it is to repeat the old error of Lucifer, who mistook himself for God.

At the cost of some reiteration of the already said, I cannot escape recurring once more to what I regard as the true and important thought that it is just this presence of a never completely resolved strain of temporality in human life as we know it which makes the presence of uneliminated mystery and the stubbornly factual so characteristic of it. If we could compass a vision of life from which the last vestige of bare succession and contingency had vanished, all mystery would have disappeared with them. The work which God works from the beginning would stand revealed to us as something transparent and self–evident to the understanding; we should comprehend the ways of God finally and completely. But then also all opposition between the comprehender and the comprehended would have vanished; the world, thus completely comprehended, would present no single feature which stood over against the understanding as irreducibly foreign and given “from the outside”; it would be to each of us what a work of art might be to the artist who had constructed it with complete and conscious mastery, never for an instant uncertain as to his own meaning, never carried “out of himself” by an “inspiration” which mastered him, and never hampered by the intractability of a medium less than absolutely plastic to his purpose.

In fact no work of a human artist is ever of this kind. Every human artist is at times uncertain of the effect he means to produce, at times in the grip of an invasive inspiration which carries him to unforeseen effects, at times condemned to wrestle with difficulties due to the obstinate intractability of the medium in which he works. And in our attempts as philosophical thinkers to understand a world which we have in no sense created, we are not even in the position of the human artist towards his product, but at best in that of the audience before whom a great drama or symphony is being rendered for the first time. We cannot say, before the curtain goes up on a scene, what the dramatist has in store for us. At the most we may hope so far to catch something of the spirit of the whole piece that the scene, when we have witnessed it, will be found to be in keeping with the none too clearly discerned purport of the whole. What that purport is we can only divine from the scenes which have already been enacted before us; we see the play only once, we have to leave the theatre before the performance is ended, and we are not allowed to bring a “book of the words” to the representation.

To complicate the situation still further, we are not merely an audience, we are also ourselves part of the cast for some of the scenes, and we are not furnished in advance with the text of our own part. The drama of history, as we sometimes call it, is like a play in which each actor is provided with some general knowledge of what has been said and done before he comes on the stage, and is perhaps aided by some whispered hints from an unseen prompter, but otherwise has to fashion and conduct his part for himself, as best he can. There is no going behind the scenes to secure a book of the play in advance, and the book of the play is what philosophers who set themselves to “geometrise” history falsely imagine themselves to possess. If they really had it, faith and proof would alike be swallowed up for them in vision.

It is wrong in principle, then, I should say, to attempt an a priori answer to the question whether belief in sacramental “means of grace” is rational or irrational, for the simple reason that the geometrising of the historical is wrong in principle. However strongly the philosopher may be convinced that history has the unity of a dominant pattern, he is bound to be equally assured that he can bring no knowledge of the pattern with him in advance to his study of history. Such light as he may gain on the character of the pattern will only come to him fitfully and tentatively, as the historical dance unfolds itself to his gaze. And the historical includes not only the interplay between man and man, but all the contacts there may be, in the depths of the soul itself, between man and his super–historical Maker. If He is beyond and above history, we are always immersed in it, and since quidquid recipitur recipitur ad modum recipientis, He can only reach us by an activity striking down into the temporal and historical. His dealings with us cannot be what they might be if we were non–temporal beings.

The real question we have to answer, then, is this. Granting that there is a quality or level of life which is specifically religious, not merely scientific, or aesthetic, or ethical, do we find, when the appeal is made to history, that life with this quality is normally and customarily exhibited at its rarest and best in connection with definite practice of sacramental acts, or in detachment from them? Is it, on the whole, true that religions lose or gain in the clearness and concentration with which they bring God and eternity as dominant realities into the lives of their followers, in proportion as the sacramental element is absent from them, or present in them? If the testimony of history is that such sacramental acts are normally most prominent in those religions, or in those periods of the history of a given religion, in which there is the most sensitive and abiding appreciation of the eternal values, this would be, not indeed mathematical demonstration, but historical proof that normally God does utilise the physical things and acts we call sacramental as genuine instruments for the conveyance of His best gifts. If the verdict of impartial history is found to be that the real appreciation of the eternal values and the control of life by that appreciation is equally well, or even better, sustained by the types of religion which rely least on sacraments, this would be fair historical proof that the sacramentarianism of some existing historical religions is a temporary accident, and possibly an unfortunate accident, which religion may be expected to outgrow as it reaches a clearer understanding of its own significance. This, as it seems to me, is the only form of the question whether sacramentalism is rational or irrational which admits of a determinate solution.

Naturally, it is no part of my business to answer the question for anyone else. But it may be in place to make some observations in defence of an over–hasty answer in either sense. The appeal, to be of real worth, must be made to history, not simply to the mere personal experience of a single individual. If we base our judgement only on our convictions about our personal experience, it is liable to be affected both by our own imperfect intellectual interpretation of our experience, and by mistaking our personal “temperamental” bias for something typically and universally human. The case is not sufficiently made out for sacramentalism by merely urging, however vehemently, that I believe my own spiritual life to have benefited from devotion to the sacraments of my Church. I may even be mistaken about the fact. I may take for personal growth in grace what is really something very different.20 Or supposing the fact to be indubitable, I may be committing the common fallacy of ascribing a real effect to a wrong cause. Finally, if I am right both about the fact and about its explanation, I may be wrong in arguing that a practice thus necessary and beneficial to me must have the same worth for everyone else, in spite of all individual variations of temperament. (This is actually recognised by ardent sacramentalists among Christians when they say, as they often do, that there can be no single rule equally valid for everyone, e.g. in the matter of frequency of Communions.)

On the other side, the anti–sacramentalist would not establish his case by merely asserting, however sincerely, that in himself a genuine spirituality exists in conjunction with abstention from sacramental observances. He, again, may be mistaken about the alleged fact; he may take for spirituality in himself what is only fastidiousness, as I believe is not uncommonly done.21 If he is not mistaken about the fact, he may always be met by the suggestion that he would have received the gift of a still higher spirituality if he had not neglected “the means,” or that he is possibly neglecting to allow for the special peculiarities of his own idiosyncracy, and forgetting that the whole question is not one of what is possible in exceptional cases, but of what is the general rule. To avoid all these sources of mistake it is necessary that the appeal be made to a super–individual experience, over a sufficiently wide range of space and time. And for the same reasons, I should say, it would be improper, in a thoroughly philosophical treatment of the question, to confine attention to the history of a single religion, with its specific hallowed traditions, since it does not seem possible to maintain the simpliste view that there are no genuine contacts with God outside the boundaries of some one historical religious community. In that sense, at any rate, extra ecclesiam nulla salus would be a palpable untruth.

It would thus not be dealing with the question on a sufficiently wide scale, for example, to study and compare the types of spiritual life provided, within the limits of the Christian religious tradition, by a highly sacra–mentarian community, like the Roman Catholic Church, and a non–sacramental body, like the Society of Friends. If one relied simply on that comparison, there would, I think, be serious risk of overestimating the spirituality compatible with rejection of the sacramental, for a reason which has been more than once dwelt on by von Hügel. One needs to remember that the Society of Friends sprang up and has continued to flourish in the midst of a wider Christian community which is sacramental in its practice, and that the type of religion which the Society seeks to cultivate was from the first conditioned and prescribed by the existing and powerful tradition, and has ever since been more or less fed by the great devotional literature, of this wider community. As von Hügel observes,22 though George Fox turned his back on the sacramental system and believed himself to have received a new and special illumination directly from God, the actual content of the illumination is determined throughout by the Johannine Gospel, the high sacramentarian writing, par excellence, of the New Testament. And, of course, the Society at the present day, does not dream of trying to screen the life of its members from the influence of the great devotional literature of Christendom at large. Hence, though Fox and the Society he founded may not practise the Christian sacraments, his life and theirs could not be what they were and are but for the living influence of the sacramental tradition of the Church at large. When one is, so to say, within the “sphere of influence,” even if one is outside the “occupied territory” of the organised historic Christian Church, one is never really far away from the operation of the Christian sacraments.23

For this reason an historical inquiry would not be complete if confined to a study of the types of spiritual life fostered by various Christian communities. One should further attempt a comparison between the spiritual fruits of a religion like Christianity, which, in its most significant historical forms, is intensely sacramental, and a religion like Islam, which is overwhelmingly non–sacramental. Of course, in such a survey, it would be indispensable to avoid the besetting unfairness of the controversialist. One would be scrupulously careful not to make the comparison one between Christianity, as it shows itself in the lives of its saints, and Mohammedanism, as shown in the lives of its average men. In fact, one would have to make a double comparison, between the saints of both religions, and, again, between the average sinners of both. One would require to know whether the average, faulty, largely worldly minded Christian reveals himself to be, at any rate, more sensitive to non–secular influences than the average Moslem, or not, and also whether in the highest and best of the saints of Islam, there may not be something lacking which we find in the saints and heroes of Christianity, and which, so far as we can see, is secured for them, directly or indirectly, by the Christian sacramental tradition.

To be really fruitful, the inquiry would need to be conducted with anxiety to avoid a further insidious source of misapprehension. If the judgement finally reached is to be worth anything, the effects on which it is based must be themselves quite definitely fruits of the religious life. The question is not at all whether societies honouring and practising sacraments will be found, on appeal to history, to enjoy marked social and economic prosperity, to make striking contributions to art and science, or to acquire and retain political eminence. Macaulay’s well–known attempt to decide whether Calvinism or Romanism is the better religion by contrasting the post–Reformation history of Scotland with that of Spain24 is an obvious example of a bad ignoratio elenchi. One cannot simply take advance in wealth, comfort, political prestige, and the industrial arts as unfailing indications of special nearness to God.

But we need equally to remember that a similar, though less obvious, ignoratio elenchi would be committed if judgement were based upon “moral statistics,” unless the word “moral” is to be understood in a sense which would make it impossible to prefix it as an epithet to the noun “statistics.” Two societies may exhibit much the same degree of respect for the commonly recognised moral duties of regard for life and property, female honour, and the spoken word, and yet stand on different levels in apprehension of God and the eternal. The commonly recognised and easily constated obligations are of a kind which men find forced upon them as conditions of a tolerable secular civilisation. Their importance may be clearly perceived, and a high average standard in the practice of them attained, by a society intelligently bent on the pursuit of a worldly and second–rate aim in life, and grossly indifferent to the eternal and transcendent. Even men who are content to aim at nothing more than stable, comfortable existence, if they are clear–sighted, will discover the necessity of being, in the main, honest and humane, faithful husbands, decent parents, loyal observers of their promises, though their whole conception of good may remain thoroughly worldly.

There are, it is true, virtues for which a completely this–world scheme makes no provision, such as the humility which expresses our sense of our creatureliness. But a virtue like humility does not manifest itself in a recognisable distinct group of performances; it is rather an attendant disposition of soul by which all the performances connected with the various “departmental” virtues gain an added beauty. It shows itself not so much in what is done as in the manner of the doing, and thus the sort of moral statistics which may be instructive about the standing of a society in regard, for example, of respect for human life, or for the bond of legal wedlock, will throw no light on the degree of humility present in it. And speaking more generally, the real differences between a highly religious man or society and a man or society with a morality of a worldly minded type will mostly escape the notice of the collector of moral statistics. Both types of society may, for example, respect the bond of marriage; the difference between the two lies not so much in their respect for that bond as in their conceptions of the principal good to be promoted by regard for it. The divergence between the man to whom marriage has a sacramental significance and one in whose eyes it is merely an important social institution of the civil law means that the first will not be satisfied with himself as a husband, if he has succeeded in being what the second understands by a model husband; it need not show itself in the records of the percentages of divorces, or in any similar form recognisable by the moral statistician.

In general, the kind of information provided by such statistics would be inconclusive for the purposes of the sort of inquiry I have in mind for a double reason. All that these statistics can tell us is whether grave transgressions of overt act are relatively many or few in a community. This throws some light on the moral condition of the average man in the community, though not all the light we could desire. But it leaves it quite uncertain whether in a society in which the average moral practice is high, and there are not many who fall below it, there are, or are not, those who rise above it.

It is conceivable that the same society which is shown by statistics to be fertile in gross offenders may also be unusually fertile in great saints. The gross sinners affect the statistics; since the saint cannot be detected by externals, the great saints do not. Again, the sins which will show up in the statistical record—sins of carnality and violence—though grosser, are not so fatal to the soul’s life as the highly respectable sins of self–sufficiency, cold egoism, and spiritual pride. But these, not being transgressions of the civil code, do not appear in the records. One society may be more disfigured than a second with offences springing from appetite and anger, and yet more fruitful in examples of spontaneous self–forgetting, kind offices, and little heroisms which go un–chronicled, and these are the things which really reveal life of supernatural quality. But they do not stand out visible to the human observer, except where we find them displayed on an exceptional scale in the life of the saint. This is why, as it seems to me, in instituting the appeal to history of which I have spoken, it is imperative to take into account not only the comparative level of average goodness exhibited in two societies, but the comparative fertility of the two societies in the highest types of heroism and sainthood.

  • 1.

    A few typical statements may be given here for reference. Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini, ii. I: “definitio a divo Augustino tradita quam deinde omnes doctores scholastici secuti sunt. Sacramentum, inquit ille, est signum rei sacrae: vel, ut aliis verbis, in eandem tamen sententiam, dictum est: Sacramentum est invisibilis gratiae visibile signum ad nostram iustificationem institutum.” (The passages meant seem to be Aug. De civ. Dei, x. 5: “sacrificium ergo visibile invisibilis sacrificii sacramentum, id est, sacrum signum est.” Bernard, In cena Domini: “sacramentum dicitur sacrum signum sive sacrum secretum”.) Articles of Religion, xxv.: “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 goodwill towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us. …” Anglican Catechism: “Q. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament? A. I mean an 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, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” Shorter Catechism, q. 91: “A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”

  • 2.

    These various expressions are, perhaps, not all exactly equivalent, but the distinctions between them, if there are any, are not easy to make out, and at least it is clear that the Roman, Anglican, and “Reformed” statements cited above are all in substance agreed in rejecting any reduction of sacraments to the level of declaratory symbolism.

  • 3.

    See art. “Circumcision” in E.R.E.

  • 4.

    It might be said that circumcision lacks the character of a sacrament, inasmuch as it is only a “token,” or declaratory, not an efficacious sign. But such a view hardly does justice to the demand of Gen. xvii., that the “uncircumcised man–child” shall be “cut off” because “he hath broken my covenant.” The implication here surely is that the Israelite enters personally into the “covenant” relation by being circumcised. If he neglects the rite, he has wilfully cut himself off from the covenant.

  • 5.

    Naturally, I cannot justify this view of the essentia of magic at length here. For a useful summary of the sort of evidence on which I am basing it, and a conspectus of the various anthropological theories, I may conveniently refer to the elaborate composite article “Magic” in E.R.E.

  • 6.

    The so–called messe noire of the “Satanists,” if it really exists, on the other hand, is a deliberate attempt to convert a divine sacrament into a magical act, to “put a spell” on the Creator, to use His power for ends which are not His; hence its essentially blasphemous character.

  • 7.

    Cf. the prayer in the Roman Office, “quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus: et de munere temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum” (said by the celebrant immediately after reception).

  • 8.

    Of course I do not mean to deny that popular superstitions connected with the Christian sacraments have sometimes degraded them into instruments of “magic,” but such superstitions misrepresent the Christian conception.

  • 9.

    Formal Logic, p. 272.

  • 10.

    For, even if the penitent thief had been baptized, it is certain that he was not one of the company gathered a few hours before in the upper room. De Morgan also forgot that one Anglican rubric forbids the admission of children of tender years to the Communion, while a second pronounces that “baptized infants dying in infancy are certainly saved.”

  • 11.

    St. Bernard (to Hugh of St. Victor, Ep. 77) “cum his (sc. Ambrose and Augustine), inquam, me aut errari aut sapere fateor, credens et ipse sola fide hominem posse salvari, cum desiderio percipiendi sacramentum, si tamen pio adimplendo desiderio mors anticipans seu alia quaecunque vis invincibilis obviarit. Vide etiam ne forte ob hoc Salvator cum diceret qui crediderit et baptizatus fuerit, salvus erit, caute et vigilanter non repetierit qui vero baptizatus non fuerit, sed tantum qui vero, inquit, non crediderit, condemnabitur.” Cf. St. Thomas (S.Th. iii.a q. 66, art. 11 resp.), “eadem ratione aliquis per virtutem Spiritus Sancti consequitur effectum baptismi, non solum sine baptismo aquae, sed etiam sine baptismo sanguinis, in quantum scilicet alicuius cor per Spiritum Sanctum movetur ad credendum, et diligendum Deum, et poenitendum de peccatis.” iii.a q. 68, art. 2, resp. “potest sacramentum baptismi alicui deesse, re, sed non voto … et talis sine baptismo actuali salutem consequi potest propter desiderium baptismi, quod procedit ex fide per dilectionem operante per quam Deus interius hominem sanctificat, cuius potentia sacramentis visibilibus non alligatur.”

  • 12.

    S.Th. iii.a q. 68, art. 2 ad secund. “dicendum quod nullus pervenit ad vitam aeternam, nisi absolutus ab omni culpa et reatu poenae: quae quidem universalis absolutio fit in perceptione baptismi, et in martyrio: propter quod dicitur quod in martyrio omnia sacramenta baptismi complentur, scilicet quantum ad plenam liberationem a culpa et poena.”

  • 13.

    The point is illustrated by the doctrine of Christian theologians on the necessity of an “intentio ministri” to make a sacrament valid. On this see, e.g., St. Thomas (S.Th. iiia q. 64, arts. 8 and 10). His doctrine is that there must be an intention of the “minister” to administer a valid sacrament, or there is no celebration of the sacrament; an intention to celebrate a valid sacrament for an ulterior nefarious purpose (e.g. to consecrate a Host for purposes of sorcery) is a grave sin on the part of the ministrant, but does not annul the veritas sacramenti.

  • 14.

    A difficulty might be felt here in connection with the baptism of infants. It is raised by St. Thomas (S.Th. iii.a art. 68, q. 9, where it is objected against the practice that infants can have neither intention nor faith). St. Thomas’s reply is in substance taken from St. Augustine: the faith and intention are there, on the part of the Church which is receiving the child into its fold.

  • 15.

    And if Blake had not been condemned by circumstances to lifelong semi–illiteracy, we may safely say that we should have had something from him very different from the fitfully splendid nightmares commonly called his “prophecies.”

  • 16.

    But it is well not to be sure that there are. Even the most convinced Thomist will not deny that the higher “intelligences” communicate with, and have social relations with, one another. And he is forbidden by his own philosophy to credit any created intelligence with the power directly to read the thoughts of another: that, as Donne says, is held to be “beyond an angel’s art.” It would seem to follow that every such intelligence must have some such instrument and vehicle of communication with its fellows as is provided for us by our “weight of body and limb,” though it may be well to avoid occasion for error by not calling that vehicle a “body.” Only it would serve the same function as is now served by our familiar organism, that of being a standing instrument of intercommunication. But this is purely speculative, and by the way.

  • 17.

    The Anglican Church seems officially to “hedge” on this point. In the 25th Article Matrimony is said not to have “like nature of a Sacrament” with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, on the ground that it has no “visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” This might mean either that it is not a sacrament, or only that it is not on the same level as the two great “generally necessary” sacraments of the Gospel. The second interpretation seems most consonant with the language of the Catechism about sacraments, and with the assertion of the Office for Matrimony that “it is an honourable estate instituted of God.”

  • 18.

    Q. 42, art. 2.

  • 19.

    Cf. for the whole subject the articles “Sacraments” (Christian, Western), “Sacraments” (Christian, Lutheran), and “Sacraments” (Christian, Reformed) in E.R.E.

  • 20.

    E.g. advance in mere “refinement,” or even that subsidence of carnal passion which is effected by growing physically older.

  • 21.

    As, e.g., when the vegetarian plumes himself, as he sometimes does, on his superiority in spirituality to the flesh–eater. All that is true is that the vegetarian has the daintier palate, but there is no special connection between daintiness and spirituality.

  • 22.

    Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion, pp. 231, 293.

  • 23.

    One might fairly say that the graces manifested, often strikingly enough, in the lives of members of the Society of Friends are mediated by the reception of the Christian sacraments, though not by their own personal reception. The reception by the Christian community at large plays the same part here that the “faith of the Church” does in the baptism of infants.

  • 24.

    In the Essay on Ranke’s History of the Popes.