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 Cardinal Billot - "Mission" & sacraments 
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New post Cardinal Billot - "Mission" & sacraments
Billot: De Sacramentis, Thesis XVI, (L. 4, Contra Gentes, c. 76. Translated by John S. Daly.)

In the Catholic Church alone resides, by the institution of Christ, the supreme authority to dispense [the sacraments]; hence, in the absence of a commission received from her, the administration of the sacraments is illicit and sacrilegious.

It has been shown that the power of authority in [over] the sacraments lies with God, while with Christ as man lies the power of excellence. But both God and Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father are invisible. Yet the dispensers of visible sacraments must be visible, and since those things that come from God are ordered, there must be found some supreme visible authority in the world from which all dispensation of the sacraments in some wise descends.

Now by the supreme dispensing authority I mean the authority to which all sacramental ministry is subordinated, either as to legitimacy or as to validity. The legitimacy depends on this authority insofar as it is the source from which is derived every faculty of legitimate administration. The validity depends on it insofar as guardian of the rule to which the minister’s intention must at least implicitly be conformed for the sacrament to be valid. In order to understand fully the difference between legitimacy and validity, observe that a thing may be done either simpliciter or in due order. The validity of the administration is considered in the first; its legitimacy in the second.

It is taken as already established that the Catholic Church alone, governed by the bishop of Rome, is the true Church of Christ. For the Gospel bears witness that the true Church of Christ is built upon the rock of Peter the Apostle who is to endure unto the end in the person of his successors. So the supreme government of the Church must remain in the visible and manifest [conspicuam] succession of the Apostle Peter for the words upon this rock imply that the Church is founded upon a foundation that can be attained by the external senses. And since the manifest and visible succession cannot exist save through a continuous series of pastors in which the same moral person is acknowledged always to have persisted, it must be concluded that the true Church is there alone where, by counting back from the present ruler, through those who filled the same office before him, we find the Apostle Peter as the first link of the chain. That is a brief summary of the Catholic demonstration used by the most ancient fathers, Greeks as well as Latins (1), and especially Augustine in the popular hymn he composed called Psalm against the Donatist Faction:

Come brethren if you would be grafted onto the vine
It is painful to behold you thus cut off and lying upon the ground
Count back the priests of the very see of Peter
And see who in that series follows whom.
There is the rock the proud gates of Hell prevail not against.
Judge then at length aright all ye that love peace.

This introduction shows, first, that legitimate dispensation of the sacraments can only come from the Catholic Church, so that anyone who does not have a mission from her, by that very fact administers illicitly, and anyone who by receiving the sacrament communicates with the sin of the minister receives sacrilegiously. Secondly it shows that not only the legitimacy but also the validity of the sacraments depends in a measure upon subordination to the true Church, namely by virtue of the intention required in the minister as will in due course be further set out hereunder.

In the first place, with regard to legitimacy, the main proof is derived from the fact that authority to dispense the sacraments flows in its entirety from the mission given to the Apostles in Matthew xxviii;19: “Going therefore…baptising…behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world;” and again in John xx;22: “Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained;” and again in Luke xxii;41: “Do this in commemoration of me.” But the apostolic mission exists and endures only in the Catholic Church. Likewise therefore the authority to dispense the sacraments. The major premise is most certain and admitted by all, for although someone might in fact dispense the goods of another without his authorisation, it is more than certain that no one could legitimately dispense what belongs to another without his mandate. But the sacraments are the property of Christ. Hence they can be legitimately dispensed only by those who have a mission from Christ, i.e. those to whom the apostolic mission has been transmitted. That leaves the major quite unassailable. And the minor is proved by the short and obvious argument that by the very fact that in the Catholic Church alone is found the succession of the Prince of the Apostles, the whole of the mission once entrusted to the Apostles is likewise in her and in her alone.

For this mission was given by Christ in the first place to the apostolic college as to a single hierarchy or principate, that is to say, one that could by no means be divided into independent parts, in accordance with the text of John 17;21: “that they may be one…that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Since however the visible principle of this unity is nought but the head and prince of the apostles designated by Christ himself as universal shepherd of his lambs and sheep, it is entirely impossible that even the tiniest portion of the apostolic authority should be found in any body [coetu] separated and cut off from the summit and headship of the apostolate. Therefore, original apostolicity, as a source, is only found in the successors of Peter and participated apostolicity must be channelled from them to the whole body of the Church, it plainly follows that the apostolic mission endures unfailingly in that Church alone in which from the successors of Peter the rights of venerable communion spread out to all. And it is confirmed by the consideration that in point of fact, in every communion separated from the Apostolic See, it is manifestly impossible that their ministry should by any imaginable means be derived from the apostles; indeed it is certain, by contrast, through facts clearer than the midday sun, that each of them began of itself, in the fifth century, or in the eleventh, or in the sixteenth. Certainly Michael Caerularius, whose predecessors had acknowledged the supreme jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff from antiquity, sent letters to the bishops of the West in the year 1043 separating himself from communion with the Roman See and definitively breaching the bond of subjection. Thus he was turned from a subject into the independent head of his church. Come now. The power of a subordinate member of a hierarchy and the power of an independent head are not one and the same, but different. So the independent power which in the 11th century began in the patriarchs of Constantinople and remains today as the source of the ministry of the Greek sect reached them either by succession or inheritance on the one hand, or on the other hand was communicated to them by the provision of one having authority for this, failing both of which, it was usurped, and if it be usurped, it is not apostolic. And similar reasoning can be applied to all the Protestant sects, for instance the Anglican Church, quite irrespective of the validity of the ordination of its bishops which is entirely beside the point, and even abstracting from the very well known fact that the constitution of this new churchlet derived entirely from the supreme authority of Queen Elizabeth, in which there was certainly nothing apostolic. Thus we must conclude that authority to dispense the sacraments, with legitimate mission, remains in the Catholic Church alone.

There is also another proof, namely that it is impossible that the sacraments should belong to heretics or schismatics; hence they cannot be legitimately dispensed by them. It is evident that the conclusion follows from the antecedent, and the antecedent may be shown to be true on many grounds.

Chief among them is the fact that separated sects are not holy with holiness of source, so no sacraments can be proper to them as the sacraments are sources of holiness. I say that the sects are not holy with holiness of source (2) because as the true religion is the one that leads man by its own sources to the goal of religion which is conjunction with God as his last end, it is utterly impossible that there should be holiness of sources anywhere outside the true religion. Hence, if perchance true sacraments be found in the sects, they are not in them except as goods belonging to another, which cannot profit to the salvation of anyone who receives them in full awareness of the facts as long as the error of separation or schism remains uncorrected. Moreover, the sects as such are called the synagogue of Satan, whose heads are antichrists, as is stated in 1 John ii;18 et seq. so it is impossible that they should legitimately hold goods entrusted by Christ to the Church. And furthermore, the sacraments are of their nature protestation of the true faith, so once again they must belong as personal property to that church alone whose faith is true and indefectible. Hence St Augustine says (Bk 1 De Bapt. c. 14): “It is in vain that they say to us: if you accept our baptism, what else do we lack that you think we should trouble ourselves about your communion? For we reply: We do not accept your baptism, for that baptism does not belong to schismatics or heretics, but to God and His Church, wheresoever it may be found and whithersoever it may be transferred. All that is yours in the affair are your perverse beliefs, sacrilegious actions and impious separation.” (3)

Thus far we have written of the necessity of subordination to the true Church of Christ with regard to the legitimacy of ministration. It remains to write of validity.


We suppose as established from most certain proofs of divine tradition, to be adduced in the next thesis, that valid sacraments can be confected outside the true Church and in the absence of a mission received from her (4); hence the divine law forbidding heretics and schismatics to dispense the sacraments is not an invalidating law, but merely prohibitive. For in the abundance of His goodness, Christ willed that it should be possible to find the remedies of salvation even outside the limits of His Church, not indeed that they might avail to the salvation of those who in full knowledge adhere to an illegitimate minister, but certainly in favour of those who should be absolved through penance from the sin of communicating with a false sect, or especially those who on account of their good faith or lack of the use of reason should be totally excused. As an image of this, the rivers that washed the terrestrial paradise emerged from the garden of pleasure and coursed over the whole earth as St Augustine most beautifully expounds (Bk 4 De Bapt., c.1: “The comparison of the Church to paradise indicates to us that her baptism can indeed be received outside, but that no one outside her can receive or retain the salvation of beatitude. For the rivers from the source of paradise, as scripture bears witness, flowed forth widely even outside. The name of each is given and through which lands it flowed and that they were situated outside paradise is known to all; nor is that happiness of life that is mentioned inside paradise to be found in Mesopotamia or in Egypt where those rivers reached to. Hence the water of paradise was found outside the confines of paradise, but beatitude only within them. And likewise the Church’s baptism can exist outside the Church, but the gift of blessed life is found only inside the Church which is founded upon a rock and which has received the keys of binding and loosing. She is the one who alone holds and possesses all the authority of here spouse and Lord.”

So taking these points as granted, it must now be established that it is also required for the validity of the sacrament that the minister, even illegitimate, should be in some way the minister of the Catholic Church, by virtue of the intention, at least implicit, of doing what the Church does. The reason is that, as will be said below (5), the intention – the internal intention – of doing what Christ instituted is necessary for sacramental validity. But what Christ instituted is necessarily equivalent to what the Catholic Church does and will do until the end, in accordance with the Gospel text: “Behold I am with you (teaching, baptizing) even unto the consummation of the world.” Hence the intention, at least implicit, of doing what the Catholic Church does is necessary for sacramental validity. And note that this argument does not apply indifferently to any sect: first because that a given sect does what Christ instituted may or may not be the case; and secondly because no sect considered strictly [reduplicative] insofar as it is a sect fulfils the will of Christ. Hence one who had only the intention of doing what the Anglican or Lutheran Church does as such would not confect at all given that what the Lutheran Church does quâ Lutheran is not what Christ commanded to be done.

But do not say that if that be so it can scarcely ever occur that a heretical minister should have a sufficient intention to confect validly. For this does not follow, as can be aptly illustrated by the example of matrimony between baptized persons. For by the very fact that Christ raised the matrimonial contract itself to the dignity of a sacrament, so that it could by no means be valid as a contract without being at the same time a sacrament, it follows at once that any Christian whose predominant intention is the will to make a true contract, has by that very fact, implicitly, the intention of performing the sacrament, and in this way he is the minister of Christ even if by chance he does not believe in Christ or does not consider matrimony to be a sacred rite. The only case in which he would be not be a valid minister of the sacrament, and therefore would not truly contract, would be if he had as his predominant intention that of not doing what Christ instituted; for this predominant intention would nullify his other intention – that of truly contracting.

In the same way, since the Catholic Church indefectibly does until the end of the world that which has been entrusted to her, anyone whose predominant intention is the will to do what Christ instituted, by that very fact implicitly has the will to do that which the Catholic Church does, even if he should happen to have no knowledge of the Church or to believe her to be false. And the only case in which he would not have an intention sufficient for the validity of the sacrament would be if his predominant intention were the will not to do what the Catholic Church does, because this predominant intention would nullify the other intention he might have of conferring a true sacrament. But it is an established fact that this case hardly ever, or never, arises.

So it must be concluded that an illegitimate minister does not confect without subordination to the true Church, because the sacramental action is not elevated instrumentally except insofar as it proceeds from one who intends to do what that Church does to whom the sacraments truly belong.


St Augustine beautifully shows that the truth hitherto expounded is typified in what is read concerning that wives of the patriarchs; for everything befell them in figure and signified in the allegorical sense what should come to pass during the times of the New Testament.

He recounts three series of events that befell the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham had two sons, one by his handmaid and the other by a free woman; but only Isaac who was born of the free woman was counted in Abraham’s blessed seed, to the exclusion of Ismael who proudly rebelled against the legitimate mother and her son. Next, Jacob had twelve sons, some born of handmaids and others born of free women – Lia and Rachel yet all of them obtained the inheritance of the house of Abraham in the twelve tribes. Finally, Isaac fathered twins from a single free woman and while both were equal by birthright, Jacob alone was chosen and Esau was rejected because he sold his birthright and did not keep the gift he had received.

Now for the mystical meaning of these events. Of Abraham’s two sons, Ismael prefigures those who being baptised among heretics either do not receive or do not keep the grace of baptism and are cast out of God’s house for rebelling against the Catholic Church, the legitimate and free spouse to whom alone baptism belongs. Of the twelve sons of Jacob, those who were born of handmaids prefigure those who, being baptised among heretics receive the grace of baptism and are therefore counted together with the others among Abraham’s spiritual seed since they do not refuse submission to the legitimate mother the Catholic Church, but either convert to her or certainly submit themselves to her by implicit desire, persevering in good faith and the will to observe all the commandments. Finally, of the two sons of Isaac, Esau signifies those who are baptised in the Catholic Church; but lack baptismal grace because they sell their birthright, to whom is spiritually applied the text of Malachias: “And I have set their mountains in the wilderness and their birthright among the dragons of the desert.”

“They imagine,” says St Augustine (6), “that they have found a very ingenious argument when they enquire whether the baptism of Christ does or does not generate sons in the Donatist faction; their aim is that if we admit that it does so generate they will declare that their faction is mother Church given that she is able to generate sons by the baptism of Christ. (…) As though their faction generated by virtue of that in which it is separated and not of that by which it is joined. For it is separated from the bond of charity, but is united in one baptism. And so there is one Church which alone is called catholic and whatever of hers she retains in the various communions separated from her unity, by virtue of what belongs to her in that which they have, she it is who generates, not they… Therefore she generates both by her own womb and by the wombs of her handmaids, by the same sacraments just as if by the seed of her husband. For it is not for nothing that the Apostle says that all these things happened in figure. But those who become proud and are not joined to the legitimate mother are like to Ismael of whom it is said: ‘Cast out the handmaid and her son for the son of the handmaid shall not be heir with my son Isaac.’ But those who peacefully love the legitimate spouse of their father are like to the sons of Jacob who, though born of handmaids, receive nevertheless the same inheritance. But those who are born from the womb of the mother herself within the unity, but neglect the grace they have received, are like to Esau the son of Isaac who was reprobated, as God bears witness when He says: ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’ whereas both were conceived together and born together of the same womb.”

It is therefore absurd to say that anyone is a Protestant, a Lutheran, a Calvinist or an Anglican by baptism. For by baptism each person receives the character of Christianity; but the whole of Christianity is in the Catholic Church which alone is the army of Christ the emperor, while the sects as such are no more than groups of deserters and rebels. So just as it is impossible for a man to be incorporated into a legion of rebels by the emperor’s own character, so it is impossible to enrol a man in a heretical sect by the sacrament itself. But if he is in fact so enrolled, this arises exclusively through his voluntary adherence thereto, contradicting the intrinsic virtue of the character and by no means suffices to release him from the obligations of that character.

Hence all children validly baptised among heretics or schismatics, until such time as, reaching the age of discernment, they voluntarily adhere to their sect, and join themselves to it by the bond of voluntary communion, pertain not only to the soul but also to the body of the true Church as Catholics in the full sense of the term. And the reason for this is evident; for there can be no act in them contradicting the natural force of the character and sacrament. Thus it is that if it should later happen that they are in doubt about which is the way of salvation, it may justly be said to them that by leaving their sect they would be returning to the church of their baptism. And it is an established fact that this consideration can be of great weight to hesitant protestants or schismatics; for it is helpful to them to understand that in coming to the Catholic Church they are by no means renouncing their baptism which they had formerly received according to family custom, but rather, having detected their error, returning to the very Church to which they had initially belonged both de jure and de facto.
Hence too, all adults sealed with the baptismal character must be said to be Catholics if not in fact, at least by right and duty. Thus the Church has the fullest jurisdiction over them just as she has over her own children in the same way that the legate of the emperor has power over all who have been enrolled in the army, whether they be at present within its limits or counted among the deserters. That is why the Church has in no way exceeded the limits of her rights when she has exercised coactive authority over any baptised persons, even to the extent of withdrawing children from the paternal authority when their Catholic education could not be otherwise provided for.

So, finally, the reception of the sacraments can produce no effect of grace whatsoever in adults who are subject to the Catholic Church neither in fact nor in desire. That is because in an adult it is required that he be disposed, and the disposition needed for grace is naught but the will of submitting oneself to Christ in the order and manner established by Him. But that manner and order is found in subjection to the ministerial head, through whose means must take place that adaptation to the principal head who is Christ Himself, just as in the physical body the heart is not united with the head save by means of the neck.


1. [Footnote missing]
2. Hence it further follow that no sect can be holy by holiness of members ; for if by chance it should occur that some who are in it are truly just before God, this can only be per accidens, i.e ; despite the force and influx of their own sources. But no society is identified by those things that are in it per accidens.
3. It should be noted that the faculty of administering sometimes flows from the Catholic Church even to a heretic, a schismatic or a vitandus, namely in the case of necessity, as a well-known rule of law affirms. Wherefore one who baptises or absolves in such necessity is no longer an illegitimate minister as is clear.
4. Some restriction must be made concerning the sacrament of Penance for the validity of which is required jurisdiction which is not given through ordination but is exclusively communicated by the Church’s prelates. Hence in the Greek sects having validly ordained priests and bishops, the sacrament of penance is null save in articulo mortis when every priest has from the Catholic Church the power to absolve. Yet it might be possible to say that the Church supplies in certain regions where there is common error, i.e. good faith, and a coloured title on the part of the priests. A certain restriction must also be made regarding matrimony following the Tridentine decree introducing the impediment of clandestinity. But of this more elsewhere, especially as the present consideration concerns chiefly those sacraments whose nature is to be confected by the exercise of sacred power and the regular administration of which is ordained by the priestly character – a category to which matrimony does not belong.
5. Thesis XVIII below.
6. Augustine: Bk. 1 de Bapt., chapter 10. Note in this passage that when heretical sects are said to be prefigured by the handmaids of the patriarchs, this should not be understood to mean that the relationship of type and antitype applies to all. Nor does it follow that those handmaids were not wives in conscience in the same way that the sects are in no way the legitimate spouses of Christ. The comparison in fact holds good as to the status of slavery [ancillatum], not as to the rest. This is because, as Bellarmine says, for as long as the divine dispensation concerning polygamy was in force

Last edited by John Lane on Sat Jul 22, 2006 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Wed May 24, 2006 1:40 pm
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It is taken as already established that the Catholic Church alone, governed by the bishop of Rome, is the true Church of Christ. For the Gospel bears witness that the true Church of Christ is built upon the rock of Peter the Apostle who is to endure unto the end in the person of his successors. So the supreme government of the Church must remain in the visible and manifest [conspicuam] succession of the Apostle Peter for the words upon this rock imply that the Church is founded upon a foundation that can be attained by the external senses. And since the manifest and visible succession cannot exist save through a continuous series of pastors in which the same moral person is acknowledged always to have persisted, it must be concluded that the true Church is there alone where, by counting back from the present ruler, through those who filled the same office before him, we find the Apostle Peter as the first link of the chain.


How do you read Cardinal Billot's meaning for 'visible and manifest', and 'can be attained by the external senses'? I think this post needs some real thought, and may support my questions/statements in the 'jurisdiction' forum: those being that we sedes may need to get a 'better handle' on the issue of jurisdiction and what it means in our current crisis.

Thu May 25, 2006 3:17 am

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Are Cardinal Billot's works available in English, or did you have to translate this passage?


Sat Jul 22, 2006 1:54 pm
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Bill wrote:

Are Cardinal Billot's works available in English, or did you have to translate this passage?


Dear Bill,

No, John Daly translated it some years ago. And yes, we need a rich chap who will pay him or somebody like him to spend his time translating good documents! :)

I should have put the translator in the reference. I'll add it now. Thank you for asking.

In Christ our King.

Sat Jul 22, 2006 7:17 pm
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John Lane wrote:
And yes, we need a rich chap who will pay him or somebody like him to spend his time translating good documents! :)

Now that would be a fantastic way for a rich chap to spend his money! :lol:
Thanks for the information.

In Christ,

Sat Jul 22, 2006 8:20 pm
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