A sacrament is
an outward and visible sign
of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us
The two greater sacraments were "ordained by Christ
The others, though they have not any visible sign which we can be sure was appointed by Christ, are guaranteed by the teaching and practice of the Apostles.
Sacraments have four purposes.
The first is to be "badges or tokens of Christian men's profession" (Article 25) as was taught even by Zwingli who rejected the other purposes of the sacraments.
A man declares publicly that he intends to follow Christ when he receives Baptism, Confirmation, or Communion.
But this, though often of great importance,
is the least of the reasons for which sacraments were instituted.
There are also proofs to us that God intends to bestow His grace of favour upon us.
This appears to have been the value of the sacraments in the eyes of Calvin;
and so far as it goes, it is true.
But they are much more than this.
They are means by which the power of God is conveyed to us,
effectual signs of grace (efficacia signa gratiae), as Articles 25 calls them,
without which signs grace would not be conveyed
unless by some special Divine intervention.
We cannot, for instance, obtain the benefits of baptism without baptism,
where baptism is within our reach;
though where it is not within our reach,
it is probable that God gives what is needed in some other way.
Lastly, the sacraments are pledges to us that we receive the grace of God.
They free us from the peril of the doctrine of assurance,
from relying on our own feelings.
A man may feel no special change after his Communion,
but he knows that he has received the Body and Blood of Christ.
He relies not on his own feelings but on the promise of God.
The Church Catechism refers to the last two purposes when it says that a
sacrament is a means whereby we receive the inward spiritual grace and a
pledge to assure us thereof.
The sacraments are functions of the Church.
They are bestowed only within the Church on members of the Church.
Outside the Church in the widest sense of the word,
there are no sacraments
(that is, no sacraments of this kind,
for as we have seen, there are natural sacraments
which are to be distinguished from the revealed sacraments).
Down to the third century the principle that no sacraments outside the Church
were recognized was observed strictly.
Those who had been baptized by heretics were always baptized again on submitting to the Church.
Most heretics were then persons who denied the most fundamental Christian doctrines, such as Gnostics and Docetists who denied the Incarnation.
The Eastern churches still formally regard heretical baptism and other sacraments
as null and void.
This rigidity is modified by the practice of "economy" which will be discussed later (p. 337).
In the West St. Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, about 250,
admitted heretics into the Church without another baptism.
St. Cyprian of Carthage vigorously opposed this practice.
But the Council of Arles sanctioned the Roman practice in 314,
after which it became universally accepted in the West
(except by the Donatist schismatics).
A century later St. Augustine of Hippo,
in order to bring the Donatists back to the Church,
conceded to them that their clergy should be accepted without a fresh ordination
(the Donatists were orthodox in doctrine
and differed from the Church only on points of discipline).
From that time it has been the general practice in Western Christendom to recognize ordination as well as baptism given outside the Church if given according to the rules of the Church.
It is not the baptized or ordained status of those who remain outside the Church that is recognized;
but when they become reconciled with the Church, they need not be baptized or ordained.
From this it is a short step to say that even while they remain outside the communion of the Church, they are in a sense members of the Church, baptized or ordained.
But it is a step, and the two positions must not be confused.
A sacrament has two distinct kinds of effect:
the internal effect, and the external effect.
The internal effect is spiritual and therefore invisible.
The wind bloweth where it listeth,
and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth;
so is every one that is born of the Spirit
(St. John 3:8).
The external effect changes the recipient's status in the Church.
It is visible and even legal.
This distinction is often ignored, but it is very important.
For instance, confirmation may produce a great internal effect or none at all.
It may change the whole life,
or it may appear to have made no change whatever.
But the confirmed person,
whatever the inward effect may have been,
has the right of full membership,
the right to receive Holy Communion,
which he had not before he was confirmed,
and which he could not otherwise have obtained.
The case is even clearer with ordination.
The man who is ordained priest in bad faith is none the less a priest.
The unworthiness of the ministers hinders not the effect of the sacrament
Members of the Church who believe that she is a visible society lay emphasis
on the external effect of sacraments.
No one is a member at all unless he has been baptized.
No one is a full member unless he has been confirmed
and is a regular communicant.
No one can be recognized as a bishop, priest, or deacon
who has not been ordained by a bishop.
But those who do not believe that the Church is a visible society do not
lay so much emphasis on the external effect of sacraments.
They think that the Church is made up of those who have been converted,
not of those who have been baptized and confirmed
(J. H. Shakespeare, [This writer uses "regenerated" to mean "converted". See p. 343.] The Churches at the Cross-Roads, p. 55),
and that baptism is useless if it does not lead to visible conversion,
and unnecessary if that effect can be produced (as it can) without baptism.
Hence arise endless misunderstandings.
[The opinion that baptism, confirmation, and ordination,
which cannot be repeated,
convey "indelible character" was made a dogma by Trent.
It goes back to St. Augustine but is not accepted by the Orthodox churches.]
The word VALID is a legal word,
and in its proper sense means "recognized by the community".
We say that a will or a cheque is valid if it is drawn in accordance with the law that is, the expressed will of the community.
If it is not drawn so, it is invalid and therefore null and void.
It must be written again.
Sacraments are VALID when the church recognizes
them as being performed in accordance with her law.
A sacrament must be valid if it is to have the proper external effect.
Validity is not directly concerned with the internal effect.
If the Christian religion were concerned only with individuals,
"validity of sacraments" would have no meaning.
But the conception of validity is necessary to every society and therefore to the Church.
Every society must be able to distinguish its members from non-members.
It must therefore have a rule as to what constitutes "valid" membership.
The method of admission must be strictly laid down.
The rules that must be kept, if the privileges of membership are to be retained, must be defined.
There must be no possibility of doubt about who is a member.
The Church likewise must have her rules about what makes baptism or any
other sacrament valid.
If someone claims to be a member whose baptism is not such as the Church can recognize ("invalid") or even doubtful, he must be baptized afresh in order that there may be no doubt about his membership in his mind or anyone else's.
It is the same with confirmation, and ordination, and marriage.
If there is any doubt, the rite must be gone through again.
The Holy Communion does not confer status in the same way as the sacraments just mentioned, but no one would be likely to benefit by his communion if he were beset by doubts whether it was valid.
A sacrament is "invalid" when the Church does not recognize it
because something that the Church requires is lacking.
An invalid sacrament is not necessarily ineffective.
A Jacobite chief dying on the battlefield at Culloden was given communion by his chaplain who, in the absence of bread and wine, used oatcake and whisky.
This sacrament was invalid since the Church requires bread and wine according to our Lord's institution.
But we need not doubt that it was effective.
Nevertheless if anyone used oatcake and whisky or anything else when bread and wine could be obtained or when there was no urgent necessity for the sacrament, the invalid character of the sacrament would probably make it ineffective also;
for it would show either gross disobedience or gross ignorance.
The Church is the steward of the mysteries of God.
She has been given authority to make rules and enforce them.
Her members are bound to obey those rules;
and if they deliberately break them,
they have no right to expect that God will give them His grace.
Therefore we cannot be sure that an invalid sacrament will have any spiritual effect unless those who administer it and receive it are alike ignorant that it is invalid;
in which case, no doubt, God will not allow their ignorance to deprive them of His grace unless their ignorance was their own fault.
[In cases of extreme urgency like the one mentioned above, an invalid sacrament may be better than none at all; but even so, the Church cannot recognize it.]
The Church requires five conditions for a valid sacrament:
the subject, matter, form, minister, and intention must be right.
The subject is the person who receives the sacrament.
He must be capable of receiving it.
For instance, he cannot receive valid baptism if he has been baptized before,
and he cannot receive any other sacrament if he has not been baptized before.
The matter is the material thing used,
as water, bread and wine, laying on of hands, etc.
The form is the words said which define the purpose with which the matter
Confirmation and ordination are both given by laying on of hands,
but they are distinguished by their "form"
which also distinguishes between the making of a deacon,
the ordination of a priest,
and the consecration of a bishop.
The minister must be someone who is authorized by the Church
or who at least is recognized as capable of acting in her name.
For instance, baptism administered by a layman, or even by a heretic, is recognized, but only a bishop or priest can celebrate the Eucharist.
The intention of the minister must be to do what the Church does as far
as can be shown by his outward words and deeds.
A mock sacrament (such as a stage marriage) is no sacrament.
[The early Church did not accept this.
There is a story of a mock baptism
that led to its recipient's conversion and martyrdom.]
It is the external, not the internal, intention of the minister that must be right.
If the absence of internal intention could make a sacrament invalid,
we could not be certain of the validity of any sacrament;
for no one can be certain that any minister is not a secret unbeliever.
If the minister performs the sacrament as the Church requires,
without any denial of his intention to do what the Church intends,
that is sufficient evidence of his right intention.
These conditions necessary to validity have their counterparts in secular
For instance, a cheque that is to be recognized by the bank (that is, valid) must be signed by the right person (right minister) on one of the bank's cheques (right subject, the check of another bank will not do) with ink (right matter).
If anyone thinks that legal requirements should have no place in religion,
let him remember that the Christian religion is embodied in a society.
If it were not, it would not need conditions of validity;
but a society cannot exist without them,
and the Christian Church is a society.
A sacrament received in bad faith -
that is, without the necessary moral conditions -
conveys, as far as we know, no benefit even though valid.
On the contrary, a sacrament received without repentance and faith
conveys harm, not good.
[For the case of infant baptism see pp. 341-3.]
The conditions of validity are necessary to remove doubt in the recipient's mind
and to secure the Church against false claimants to her privileges,
but moral conditions are even more necessary.
A bad priest may administer valid sacraments,
and his wickedness does not necessarily hinder their effect for good;
but his own soul only receives injury when he ministers in a state of unrepented sin.
The unworthiness of the ministers does not make the sacraments invalid.
Wycliffe denied this, but its denial would make any corporate society impossible.
Wycliffe was a theorist who had no opportunity of working out his ideas.
Article 26 lays down that the effect of the sacraments depends on the promise of Christ and not on the worthiness of the minister;
and it is supported by the practice of the Church everywhere.
A sacrament is said to be VALID BUT REGULAR when
it has been performed wrongly (that is, in a way which the Church forbids),
but when the defect is not so grave as to make the Church refuse to recognize
For instance, baptism by a layman is irregular but valid.
It is irregular to celebrate the Eucharist with vessels not made of the precious metals.
It is irregular to ordain a man under twenty-three without a dispensation.
In cases of necessity, irregularity may be justified.
But to give or receive a sacrament irregularly without necessity is a sin.
(There are many degrees of irregularity, some very slight.)
Throughout the discussion of validity and regularity THE
CHURCH has been referred to as if she were united. But though
the whole Church is agreed in accepting the principle of validity (which
no society can do without), there is no general agreement about the conditions
that make some of the sacraments valid (though except in the case of ordination
the differences are not great).
We must therefore use the words VALID and INVALID
with reference to a particular communion.
There is no such thing as absolute validity,
for "validity" means recognition by a particular society.
For this purpose each communion must be regarded as a separate society.
The question of validity between communions arises only when someone wishes to leave one communion for another, or two communions are trying to unite.
Every society has the right to decide what status in other societies it will recognize as equivalent to its own (as when the University of Oxford recognized the degrees given by Cambridge and Dublin), and its decision is final for its members.
We are members of the Anglican Communion, and its decision is final for us.
Even if as an individual I were to think the Anglican Communion mistaken,
as an Anglican priest I should be bound to accept its decision in practice.
This does not mean that the Anglican Communion could alter the conditions of validity which are universally accepted.
It could not, for instance, accept as valid an ordination the minister of which was not a bishop;
but it must decide (since there is no higher authority) whether ordination by a particular bishop conforms to the prescribed conditions.
The Eastern churches, both Orthodox and Separated, have never distinguished
clearly between validity and regularity.
Strictly speaking they recognize no sacraments as valid that they do not themselves administer.
But the Orthodox Communion modifies this strictness by the principle of ECONOMY.
The Church, according to this principle, is the steward (οἰκονόμος) of the mysteries of God and can make that valid which is in itself invalid if necessary for the salvation of souls.
But this principle is severely limited.
It can only be applied to persons who are without doubt orthodox in faith,
and to communions that are orthodox on the sacrament in question.
It could not be applied, for instance, to the baptism of a person belonging to a sect which rejected baptismal regeneration, or to the ordinations of a body which did not believe in priesthood;
still less to persons who were themselves unorthodox on those points.
Orthodox theologians differ widely about the limits of "economy", and Orthodox churches apply the principle in different ways.
A man may be accepted as a priest in one whom another would require to be ordained.
In any case the principle of "economy" is a purely Eastern one.
It has no place in the Anglican system.
Dispensation is in some cases a substitute for it.
But in the Anglican system dispensation can only remove irregularity.
It cannot make an invalid sacrament valid.
The number of the sacraments has been reckoned differently at different
It is universally agreed that Baptism and the Eucharist stand in a class by themselves.
They are distinguished by two marks:
an outward and visible sign ordained by Christ Himself,
and their necessity to salvation for all men.
("Generally" necessary to salvation means not "usually" but "in all cases".)
There are other rites of the Church mentioned in the New Testament
that are commonly called sacraments.
Peter Lombard (about 1150)
was the first to define the number of sacraments as seven:
Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation,
Ordination, Marriage, Penance, and Unction of the Sick.
Both the Orthodox and the Roman Communions accept this number.
The Council of Trent laid down that there are seven sacraments,
neither more nor less, all ordained by Christ Himself;
but it distinguished the two greater sacraments from the five lesser (see p. 470).
The Church of England in Article 25 says that the five "commonly
called sacraments" have not like nature of sacraments with
Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
It does not say that they are not sacraments.
["Commonly called" cannot mean "commonly but wrongly called";
compare "The Nativity of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day"!]
As far as the article goes, it agrees with the Council of Trent.
That there are seven sacraments is not a dogma except in the Roman Communion.
But it is convenient to speak of seven sacraments.
We need not hesitate to do so.
It is certain that Confirmation and Ordination are outward visible signs conveying grace;
though we have no proof that our Lord Himself commanded them,
they rest on the authority of the Apostles directed by the Holy Ghost
(Acts 8.17; II Tim.1.6).
Marriage is called a sacrament because St. Paul calls it "a great mystery", μυστήριον (mysterion) being the Greek word for sacrament.
Some have denied that Penance is a sacrament because it has no outward sign;
others, that Unction is a sacrament because it is for the healing of the body.
(I am inclined to think with some medieval writers that the Anointing of a King
(I Kings 1.39; etc.) is a true sacrament conveying grace.)
But though there are differences about the precise number of the sacraments,
it is necessary to hold that Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Penance or Absolution, and Unction are means by which God's grace is bestowed upon us, ex opere operato; that is, that the reception of Divine grace is guaranteed in these cases by a Divine promise.
Luther taught that there were only three sacraments, the same three that,
according to St. Thomas Aquinas, are necessary to salvation:
Baptism, the Eucharist, and Penance.
The Lutheran denial that Confirmation and Ordination are sacraments is a great obstacle to reunion.