A Manual of Catholic Theology, Based on Scheeben's “Dogmatik”
Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
With a Preface By Cardinal Manning

Volume II --Book VII –The Church and the Sacraments
(Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Order, Matrimony)
pp.464-532

CHAPTER VI. Penance

After being cleansed in the laver of regeneration, strengthened by the Holy Ghost, and fed with the body and blood of Christ, man would seem to need no further aids to secure his salvation. But his will is free; his flesh, since the Fall, is weak. He is therefore able and inclined to transgress. God, too, on His side, for His own wise purposes, permits sin to take place (supra, § 159). But He does not leave man helpless. "As a father hath com- passion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him; for He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust. He forgiveth all" our "iniquities, He healeth all our diseases" (Ps. cii. 13, 3); "As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live"(Ezech. xxxiii. 11). Sins committed after baptism do not altogether undo the work of that sacrament. The original sin cannot return; the baptized sinner does not cease to be a Christian and a member of the Church. It is not fitting, therefore, that these sins should be remitted by a repetition of baptism, even if that were possible. Hence our Divine Lord instituted a special sacrament --Penance --for the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. See St. Thomas, 3, qq. 84-90: Suppl., qq. 1-28, with the commentaries; Bellarmine, Controv. iv.; Chardon, Hist, des Sacrements; De Augustinis, De Re Sacramentaria, lib. iii.; Faith of Catholics, vol. iii.

Sect. 268. --Nature and Institution of the Sacrament of Penance.

I. We have already examined the stages by which the sinner is enabled to pass from death to life, and to blot out the stains of sin on his soul. In instituting a sacrament for this purpose, our Lord, as usual, took certain acts and endowed them with a special power. Here it is the acts of the virtue of penance which are the basis or matter of the sacrament. Penance is not a mere emotional sorrow, but a habit residing in the will. The penitent is sorry for his sin, inasmuch as it is an offence against God; and together with, or rather included in, this sorrow, there is a determination not to offend any more. Moreover, repentance involves not merely cessation from sin, but a readiness to make good the injury done to God and man (St. Thom., 3, q. 85, a. 3). We may go further, and add that confession also is an element of full and true repentance. The guilty man is persuaded that there is no forgiveness for him as long as his sin lies buried in his bosom. Sometimes the acknowledgment of his guilt is made to the world at large; sometimes, and perhaps oftener, to some trustworthy person, thereby satisfying the impulse to unburden himself, and at the same time securing immunity from punishment. The chronicles of crime, the plots of the novelist and dramatist, bear testimony to this instinctive impulse to confess.1

1. De Maistre, Du Pape, Hv. iii. ch. 3.

Contrition, Confession, and Satisfaction --the acts of the virtue of Penance --are therefore the matter of the sacrament. What elevates these acts of the penitent to the dignity of a sacrament --in other words, the form of the sacrament of Penance --is the priest's absolution.2

2. It is, of course, by Christ's institution that it form possesses this elevating power.

"The form of the sacrament of Penance," says the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. chap. 3), "wherein its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister, / absolve thee, etc.; to which words indeed, certain prayers are, according to the custom of Holy Church, laudably joined, which, nevertheless, by no means regard the essence of that form, neither are they necessary for the administration of the sacrament itself. But the acts of the penitent himself, to wit, Contrition, Confession, and Satisfaction, are, as it were, the matter of this sacrament (sunt quasi materia hujus sacramenti)." There had been much discussion among theologians concerning the matter and form of penance. Scotus, preceded by Robert Pullen and followed by Ockham, held that the absolution alone was of the essence of the sacrament, the acts of the penitent being merely necessary conditions; and, consequently, that absolution, considered as a sensible rite, was the matter; and, considered as signifying the effect, was the form. Durandus believed the absolution to be the form, and the confession alone to be the matter. In his view contrition was only a condition, and satisfaction the spirit, of the sacrament. Some theologians even held that the imposition of the priest's hands was part of the matter. The decrees of the Council were so worded as not to exclude the Scotist opinion. (Cf. St. Thom., 3, q. 84, a. I.)

II. That our Lord instituted a rite whereby His Apostles and their successors should forgive sin, is plain from Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers.

I. After His resurrection He said to His Apostles, "As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you. . .Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins ye shall forgive (Greek), they are forgiven them (Greek); and whose sins ye shall retain (Greek), they are retained (Greek)" (John xx. 21, 23). These words clearly prove that the power on earth of forgiving sins (Mark ii. 10) which the Son of Man possessed from His Father, He conferred upon His Apostles; and not on them alone, but also on their successors, for Christ's mission was to be exercised by His ministers for all days, even to the consummation of the world (supra, § 240). Moreover, this power of forgiving sins was to be exercised by means of an external rite, because on the one hand the penitent must show signs of penance, and on the other the minister must make known to the penitent that his sins are forgiven. The Council of Trent says that it was when our Lord pronounced these words that He "principally" instituted the sacrament of Penance. Other words of our Lord also refer to its institution: "Whatsoever ye shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matt, xviii. 18). Here, too, the discretion as to binding or loosing can be exercised only by external manifestation on the part of the penitent and the minister.1

1 See, however, supra, p. 307.

2. These passages of Holy Scripture have served the Fathers as texts for discourses on the sacrament of Penance.

"He that, like the Apostles, has been breathed upon by Jesus --and who can be known by his fruits as having received the Holy Ghost, and become spiritual by being led by the Spirit, after the manner of the Son of God, to each of the things that are to be done according to reason --he forgives whatsoever God would forgive, and retains the sins that are incurable; ministering as the prophets ministered to God when they spoke not their own, but the things of the Divine will --so he also to God, Who alone has the power of forgiving. The words respecting the forgiveness which accrued to the Apostles are, in the Gospel according to John, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost,' etc." (Origen, De Orat., n. 28).

"God would never threaten the penitent if He forgave not the penitent. God alone, you rejoin, can do this. True; but that which He does through His priests is His own power. For what is that which He says to His Apostles, 'Whatsoever ye shall bind,' etc.? Why this, if it was not lawful for men to bind and loose? Is this allowed to Apostles only? Then to them alone is it allowed to baptize, to them alone to give the Holy Ghost, and to them alone to cleanse the sins of the nations; inasmuch as all this was given in command to none but the Apostles. But if in the same place both the loosing of the bonds and the power of the sacrament are conferred, either .the whole has been derived to us from the model (form and power) of the Apostles, or neither has the former been abrogated from the decrees [of God] (Aut totum ad nos ex apostolorum forma et potestate deductum est, aut nec illud ex decretis relaxatum est)" (Pacian, Ep., i. n. 6).

The second book of St. John Chrysostom's work on the Priesthood is almost entirely filled with rules as to the guidance of souls in the sacrament of Penance. We must here content ourselves with the following brief extracts: --

"Men that dwell on earth and have their abode therein, have had committed to them the dispensation of the things that are in heaven, and have received a power which God hath not given to angels or to archangels; for not to these was it said, 'Whatsoever ye shall bind,' etc. They that rule on earth, have indeed also power to bind but the body only; whereas this bond touches the very soul itself, and reaches even unto heaven; and what the priests shall do below, the same does God ratify above, and the Lord confirms the sentence of His servants. And what else is this but that He has given them all heavenly power? For He saith, 'Whose sins ye shall,' etc. What power could be greater than this? . . . The Jewish priests had power to cleanse the leprosy of the body; or, rather, not to cleanse it at all, but to decide on those who were clean, and you know what struggles there were for the sacerdotal dignity then; but these [Christian priests] have received power not to cleanse the leprosy of the body, but the uncleanness of the soul; not to decide that it is cleansed, but to cleanse it indeed (Greek)" (De Sacerdotio, lib. iii. nn. 5,6).

"'Whose sins ye shall forgive,' etc. He gave the power of forgiving sins --He Who by His own breath infused Himself into their hearts, and bestowed on them Him Who forgives sins. 'When He said this He breathed on them,' etc. Where are the men who teach that sins cannot be forgiven men by men? Who with a cruel spirit take from the sick and the wounded their cure, and deny them their remedy? Who impiously insult sinners with despair of a return? Peter forgives sins, and receives the penitent with all joy, and avails himself of this power which God has granted to all priests" (St. Peter Chrvsol., Serm. Ixxxiv.).

Further passages will be cited below, when we come to speak of Confession.

"Our Lord then principally instituted the sacrament of Penance when, raised from the dead, He breathed on His disciples, saying, 'Receive ye,' etc. By which action so signal, and by words so plain, the unanimous consent of the Fathers hath always understood that the power of forgiving and of retaining sins, for the reconciling of the faithful, was communicated to the Apostles and to their legitimate successors. And with great reason did the Catholic Church reject and condemn as heretics the Novatians who obstinately in olden times denied that power.... If any one shall say that in the Catholic Church Penance is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ our Lord for reconciling the faithful unto God as often as they fall into sins after baptism, let him be anathema.... If any one shall say that those words of the Lord the Saviour, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost,' etc., are not to be understood of the power of forgiving and of retaining sins in the sacrament of Penance, as the Catholic Church hath always from the beginning understood them, but shall wrest them, contrary to the institution of this sacrament, to the power of preaching the Gospel, let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, sess. xiv. chap. I, and canons 1 and 3). Cf. St. Thom., 3, q. 84, a. I.

Sect. 269. --The Recipient.

Penance differs from the other Sacraments chiefly in this, that the recipient must not merely have the intention of receiving it, and place no obstacle in the way of its efficacy; he must also positively contribute by his own acts to the working of the Sacrament. Some theologians, indeed, have held that these acts are only necessary conditions, and do not enter into the essence of the Sacrament; but even in this opinion the recipient must necessarily perform these acts in order that the effect may be produced. We need hardly point out that the efficacy of the Sacrament is not due to the merits of the penitent. His acts are part of the sacrament which, like the other sacraments, owes all its efficacy to the merits of Christ.

I. Contrition, which holds the first place among these acts, is defined by the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. chap. 4) "A sorrow of mind and a detestation for sin committed with the purpose of not sinning for the future" (Animi dolor ac detestatio de peccato commisso, cum proposito non peccandi de cetero)"

1. It is plain that God will not forgive a sinner without sorrow for sin. The penitent must not only cease from offending, and resolve to begin a new life; he must also have a hatred of the evil that he has done. "Cast away from you all your transgressions by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit" (Ezech. xviii. 31). "Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning; and rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God" (Joel ii. 12, 13). "Against Thee only have I sinned, and done evil in Thy sight ... I have laboured in my groaning; every night will I wash my bed; I have watered my couch with my tears. ... I will recount to Thee all my years in the bitterness of my soul" (Ps. 1. 6; vi. 7; Isa. xxxviii. 15). "And Peter . . . going forth, he wept bitterly" (Matt. xxvi. 25). "And standing behind at His feet, she began to wash His feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head" (Luke vii. 38). "I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee; I am not now worthy to be called thy son" (ibid. xv. 18, 19). "And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven, but struck his breast, saying, O God, be merciful to me a sinner" (ibid, xviii. 13; see also Acts ii. 37).

2. Detestation for sin may arise from various motives: the vileness of sin itself; the fear of hell, or other punishments; the love of God, Who has been offended. Hence there has been a discussion among theologians as to which motive is necessary for forgiveness.

(a) There can be no doubt that hatred of sin, because by it we have offended the infinitely good God, reconciles us to Him at once, even before the actual reception of the sacrament; but this sorrow, which is perfect Contrition, or Contrition properly so called, includes the readiness to do all that God commands, and consequently includes the desire to receive the sacrament instituted for the remission of sin (see Council of Trent, sess. xiv. chap. 4).

(b) The difficulty is therefore about the efficacy of imperfect Contrition (attrition); that is, sorrow arising from the lower motives already mentioned. That such sorrow, if accompanied with the resolve to lead a better life, is a true and profitable sorrow, and paves the way for grace, is defined by the Council of Trent (ibid.'). Is it, however, sufficient for the efficacious reception of the sacrament? Unless it is so, it is hard to see in what the faithful are benefited by the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, except it be by a certainty of forgiveness, and an additional outpouring of grace upon the soul. The question was discussed with so much acrimony in the seventeenth century, that Alexander VII was obliged to intervene, and forbid both parties to pronounce theological censures on each other. Later on, St. Alphonsus was able to say, "It is certain, and commonly held by theologians, that perfect Contrition is not required, but that Attrition is sufficient" (Theol. Moral, lib. vi. n. 440). See also Ballerini, Opus Theol. Mor., vol. vi. p. 24; De Augustinis, De Re Sacram., De Poenit., part ii. art. 7.

II. By Confession is meant the acknowledgment, by word of mouth or in some equivalent way, of our sins to a priest. The sacrament is by its very nature similar to a criminal trial: the penitent is at once accuser, defendant, and witness; while the priest is the judge. When the penitent has declared himself to be guilty, and appeals for mercy on the ground of repentance, it is for the priest to decide whether the case is one for forgiveness or retention of the crime, and also to determine the satisfaction to be made in case of absolution.

I. The necessity of Confession is contained in the words of Christ: "Whose sins ye shall forgive," etc. As the Council of Trent observes (sess. xiv. chap. 5), it is manifest that the Apostles and their successors could not exercise the power conferred upon them except after due knowledge of the case, nor could they observe equity in enjoining punishment unless the faithful declare their sins specifically and individually. The same may be inferred from the words relating to the power of binding and loosing (Matt, xviii. 18). Two other texts, though not directly enjoining confession to a priest, yet prove the necessity of confession, and have been interpreted to refer to Confession in the technical sense: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity” (i John i. 9); "Confess, therefore, your sins one to another (Greek), and pray for one another, that you may be saved" (James i. 16; cf. v. 14). The meaning of this latter passage, as Estius observes (in loc.}, is: confess yourselves not only to God, but also men to men; that is to say, to those whom you know to be endowed by God with the power of forgiving sins.

2. We have already seen in the preceding section that the Fathers taught that Christ conferred upon the Apostles and their successors the power of forgiving sins. They also go on to show that confession is required in order that this power may be exercised.

"If we have revealed our sins not only to God, but also to those who are able to heal our wounds and sins, our sins will be blotted out by Him Who saith, 'Behold, I will blot out thine iniquities as a cloud, and thy sins as a mist'" (Origen, Hom. xvii., in Lucam). "If a man become his own accuser, while he accuses himself and confesses, he at the same time ejects the sins and digests the whole cause of the disease. Only look diligently round to whom thou oughtest to confess thy sin. Prove first the physician to whom thou shouldst set forth the cause of thy sickness, who knows how to be weak with the weak, to weep with the weeping, who knows the art of condoling and sympathizing; that so, in fine, thou mayest do and follow whatever he shall have said. ... If he shall have understood, and foresee that thy sickness is such as ought to be set forth and cured in the assembly of the whole Church, and thereby perhaps others be edified and thou thyself easily cured, this must be prescribed with much deliberation, and on the very experienced advice of that physician" (Id., Hom. 2, in Ps., xxxvii.; see also Hom. 2, in Levit.). This comparison of the priest with the physician, and the penitent with the patient, is insisted on by Origen and many other Fathers, to bring Out the necessity of confession, since the patient must declare his symptoms or show his wounds to his physician in order to be cured.

"The confession of sins follows the same rule as the Basil, manifestation of bodily infirmities. As, therefore, men do not disclose their bodily infirmities to every one, nor to a few at random, but to such as are skilful in the cure of them, so also ought the confession of sins to be made to those who are able to apply a remedy" (St. Basil, Reg. Brev., 228).

"Put off the old man ... by means of confession (Greek) that you may put on the new man. . . . Now is the season of confession: confess the things that thou hast done, whether in word or in deed; the things done in the night and those in the day" (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech., 2-5).

"Sin is to be confessed in order that pardon may be Hilary, obtained" (St. Hilary, Tract, in Ps., cxviii.).

"Lo! we have at length reached the close of holy Lent; now especially must we press forward in the career of fasting, and make more fervent prayers, and exhibit a full and accurate confession of our sins (Greek) . . . that with these good works, having come to the day of Easter, we may enjoy the bounty of the Lord. . . . For as the enemy knows that we can during this time, after having treated of what holds us fettered, and having confessed our sins and shown our wounds to the physician, attain to an abundant cure, he then in an especial manner opposes us" (St. John Chrysostom, Hom, xxx., in Gen., I, 5).

Many other similar passages may be found collected together in Faith of Catholics, iii. pp. 36-113. It should be noted that, though some of these passages may seem to refer only to confession generally, or to public confession, they really prove the necessity of private, or auricular confession, as it is called. This is clear from the duty of confessing to a priest, and also from the duty of acknowledging even the most secret sins. To be obliged to make public declaration of hidden crimes, especially of those against certain of the commandments, would be too great a burden to impose upon the faithful, and would involve most injurious consequences. "Although," says the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. chap. 5), "Christ hath not forbidden that a person may --in punishment of his sins and for his own humiliation, as well for an example to others as for the edification of the Church that has been scandalized --confess his sins publicly, nevertheless this is not commanded by a Divine precept; neither would it be very prudent to enjoin by any human law that sins, especially such as are secret, should be made known by a public confession."

An account of the "Suppression of the Penitentiary," narrated by Socrates (Hist. Eccl, v. 19) and Sozomen (Hist. Eccl., vii. 1 6), will be found in Chardon, sect. ii. chap. 2.

3. Though the necessity of confession is plainly contained in and inferred from Christ's words, yet, inasmuch as He did not expressly and explicitly command it, the mediaeval theologians used to discuss whether it was or was not of "Divine institution (juris divini). "As the Council of Trent has decided this question in the affirmative (sess. xiv. can. 6 and 7), the utmost that may now be said is that the Church has promulgated or declared the necessity of confession. This, indeed, was the meaning of some of the Schoolmen who denied the Divine institution. Others, again, admitted the Divine institution, but denied that it could be proved from John xx. 21, taken by itself, with- out the help of tradition. Before the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), a small number of theologians held, with Peter Lombard (Sent., iv. dist. 17), as an "opinion," that it was enough to confess to God, without doing so to man. They were led to this view through not understanding that perfect charity --which undoubtedly remits sin before actual confession --includes the desire (votum) and the obligation of confession.

Further information concerning confession should be sought in the writings of moral and ascetical theologians.

III. The third act required on the part of the recipient is satisfaction. When the guilt (culpa) of sin has been pardoned by God, there often remains the liability to some temporal punishment to atone for the injury done to Him, and also to serve for the reformation of the sinner. If such punishments were not inflicted, "taking occasion therefrom, thinking sins less grievous, we offering as it were an insult and outrage to the Holy Ghost, should fall into more grievous sins, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath" (Council of Trent, sess. xiv. chap. 8). There are numbers of instances of such punishments recorded in Holy Scripture. Adam received -pardon for his sin (Wisd. x. 2), yet severe temporal punishment was inflicted upon him. The Israelites were punished for their murmuring, even after the sin itself was forgiven. "And the Lord said, I have forgiven, according to thy word . . . but yet all the men that have seen My majesty, and the signs that I have done in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted Me now ten times, and have not obeyed My voice, shall not see the land for which I swore to their fathers, neither shall any one of them that hath detracted Me, behold it" (Num. xiv. 20-23). Even Moses was shut out of the promised land as a punishment for his want of confidence at the waters of strife (Deut. xxxii. 49-52). When David repented of his adultery and murder, Nathan said to him, "The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die. Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme for this thing, the child that is born to thee shall surely die" (2 Kings xii. 13, 14; cf. 18, 19). So, too, he was punished temporarily for the sin of numbering his people (2 Kings xxiv.).

I. That the temporal punishments due to sin already forgiven may be atoned for by penitential acts, is also clearly taught in Scripture. The Israelites over and over again, by their fastings and tears and prayers, averted the chastisements due for their falling away from God (Judges, passim); the people of Ninive, by the same means, warded off the destruction of their city (Jonas iv.); Manasses, after that he was m distress, he prayed to the Lord his God; and did penance exceedingly before the God of his fathers; and he entreated Him and besought Him earnestly; and He heard his prayer, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom (2 Paral. xxxiii. 12, 13); "Water quencheth fire, and alms resisteth sins" (Ecclus. iii. 33); "Alms delivereth from all sin and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness" (Job iv. n). "As we have sinned greatly," says St. Cyprian, "let us weep greatly. . . . Men must pray and entreat most earnestly, pass the day in grief, spend nights in vigils and tears, spend their whole time in sorrowing lamentations, lie stretched on the ground, prostrate them- selves among ashes, sackcloth, and dust; after Christ's raiment lost, wish for no other clothing; after the devil's food, of choice must fast; apply themselves to just works (justis operibus incumbere) whereby sins are purged away; give abundant alms, whereby souls are freed from death. . . . He who has thus made satisfaction to God (Deo satisfecerit), who by penitence for what he has done, by shame for his sin has gained for himself an increase both of virtue and faith from the very suffering which his fall occasions, heard and helped by the Lord, will give gladness to the Church which he had lately grieved, and merit not only God's pardon now, but a crown also " (De Lapsis, cap. 35). See also Tertullian, De Poenitentia, cap. 3; St. Ambrose, In Luc., lib. vii. n. 156; St. Jerome, Ep., cviii.; "Whilst we thus, by making satisfaction, suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Jesus Christ, Who satisfied for our sins, from Whom all our sufficiency is; having also a most sure pledge that if we suffer with Him we shall also be glorified with Him" (Council of Trent, I.c.}.

2. In accordance with this doctrine, it has always been the practice of the Church that the minister of the sacrament of penance should "enjoin salutary and suitable satisfactions according to the quality of the crimes and the ability of the penitent." If it be objected that such acts are opposed to the efficacy of Christ's satisfaction, the Council of Trent replies, "Neither is this satisfaction which we discharge for our sins so our own as not to be through Jesus Christ. For we who can do nothing of ourselves as of ourselves, can do all things with the co-operation of Him Who strengthened us. Thus man hath not wherein to glory, but all our glorying is in Christ; in Whom we live; in Whom we merit; in Whom we satisfy; bringing forth fruits worthy of penance, which from Him have their efficacy; by Him are offered to the Father; and through Him are accepted by the Father" (I.c.; see also canons 12-15).

On the whole of this section concerning the acts of the penitent, see St. Thomas, 3, q. 90, and Suppl. q. 1 sqq.; De Augustinis, Op. cit., part ii. art. 7, 8, 9.

Scholion. It has been shown that the temporal punishment due to sin is not always remitted when the guilt of the sin has been forgiven, and that the penances imposed by the priest in confession are given for the purpose of securing this remission. But our Lord has given to His Church the power of remitting temporal punishment, even apart from the sacrament of Penance. Such a remission has been known by various names, e.g. relaxatio, donatio, or condonatio, but is now generally called an Indulgence. It is not, therefore, as some imagine, a remission of sin; much less is it a permission to commit sin.

I. "Whereas the power of conferring Indulgences was granted by Christ to the Church, and she has even in the most ancient days used the said power delivered unto her of God, the sacred holy Synod [of Trent] teaches and enjoins that the use of Indulgences, for the Christian people most salutary and approved of by the authority of sacred Councils, is to be retained in the Church; and it condemns with anathema those who either assert that they are useless, or who deny that there is in the Church the power to grant them" (sess. xxv.). We are therefore bound to believe (a) that the Church has the power of granting Indulgences; and (b) that Indulgences are of benefit to the faithful.

(a) The power of binding and loosing on earth and in heaven, granted to St. Peter (Matt. xvi. 19) and to the Apostles (ibid, xviii. 18), in the widest terms and without any sort of restriction must include the power of remitting all that is due to sin. In the case of the repentant, incestuous Corinthian, St. Paul exercised this power (2 Cor. ii. 6, 7, 10) by remitting the sentence of excommunication and the remainder of the penance imposed (see Estius's Commentary, in h.l.). In the ages of persecution, the canonical penances were frequently relaxed by the inter- cession of the martyrs (Tertullian, Ad Martyr., cap. i.). St. Cyprian, in particular, treats of this practice. "Since I am informed," he says, "that some (of the lapsed) are urgent with you (the martyrs and confessors). ... I beseech you with all possible earnestness, that, mindful of the Gospel, and considering what and what kind of concessions the martyrs your predecessors in times past made, how anxious they were in all cases, --you would also anxiously and cautiously weigh the- requests of your petitioners; that as the Lord's friends, and hereafter to judge with Him, you would look into the conduct and the merits of each, and examine also the kind and quality of their offences, lest, if anything should have been rashly and unworthily either promised by you or executed by us, our Church should begin to be ashamed even before the very Gentiles," etc. (Ep. x., Ad Mart, et Conf., n. 4). These relaxations were actually granted by the bishops, and not by the martyrs themselves. "The blessed martyrs have written to me concerning some individuals, requesting that their desires may be considered. When the Lord shall have first given peace to all ... then each of these cases shall be examined into, in your presence, and aided by your judgment" (Ep. xi., Ad Plebem. n. I; see also Epp. Ad. Clerum, Ad Clerum Romae). In the fifth canon relating to penitents, the Council of Ancyra (314) decreed that "the bishops have the power, having considered the manner of their conversion, to deal indulgently (Greek) with them, or to add a longer period. But, above all things, let their previous as well as their subsequent life be inquired into, and so let the indulgence be measured out" (Greek). And the Council of Nicaea: "For as many as, in fear and tears and patience and good works, manifest their conversion in deed, and not in appearance (only), these having completed the appointed time as hearers, may deservedly communicate in the prayers; together with authority to the bishop to determine something yet more indulgent respecting them" (can. 12). We have not space to trace the subsequent history of Indulgences. We may, however, mention the great Indulgence granted by Urban II (1098) to Crusaders, releasing them from all canonical penances which they might have incurred.

(b) The benefit derived from an Indulgence does not mean that the person who receives it is simply let off his canonical penance here on earth. Unless his liability to temporal punishment was remitted by Almighty God, an Indulgence would really be of no benefit at all. But our Lord's words, "Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven" and the words of St. Paul, "I have done it in the person of Christ" (2 Cor. ii. 10), abundantly prove that the relaxation is ratified by God. Although open to abuse, Indulgences are an encouragement to repentance: "You should rather pardon and comfort (the sinner) lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Cor. ii. 7).

2. The Church grants these relaxations out of the superabundant merits of Christ and His saints, which constitute, as it were, a treasure at her disposal for distribution. "The reason why they are valid is the unity of the Mystical Body (the Church), in which many in their works of penance have paid more than their debt, and many have patiently borne unjust tribulations by which their punishments (poenae) could be expiated, if any were due to them; whose merits are so great as to exceed the punishments due to all who are now alive; and, above all, on account of Christ's merit which, although it works in the sacraments, is not restricted thereto, but by its infinity exceeds (excedit, 'goes beyond') the efficacy of the sacraments. . . . One can make satisfaction for another. Now the saints, in whom the superabundance of satisfactory works is found, have not performed these works for the benefit of any particular individual . . . but for the whole Church at large; as the Apostle says (Col. i. 24) that he 'fills up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh for His body which is the Church,' to which he writes. And so the forementioned are common to the whole Church" (St. Thomas, Suppl., q. 25, a. i).

3. Indulgences may be applied, by way of suffrage, to the souls in purgatory. As "the souls of the devout dead are not cut off from the Church" (St. August., De Civ. Dei, lib. xx. cap. 9, n. 2), they can still benefit (if they need it) by the prayers and good works of their brethren on earth; and in their behalf the Church can unlock the treasure of merit which she possesses. But she cannot directly apply this merit to them; she can only offer it to God, and beg Him to apply it to them as He may think fit.

4. Among the good works to which Indulgences are attached, are almsgiving and contributions for various ecclesiastical purposes. In the Middle Ages it was common to grant Indulgences to those who, unable to take the Cross themselves, gave sums of money towards the equipment of Crusaders. Such practices no doubt sometimes gave rise to abuses, and to the erroneous belief in the "sale" of Indulgences. The Council of Trent, "being desirous that the abuses which have crept therein, and by occasion of which the excellent (insigne) name of Indulgences is blasphemed by heretics, be amended and corrected, ordains . . . that all evil gains for the obtaining thereof --whence a most prolific cause of abuses among the Christian people has been derived --be wholly abolished," etc. (sess. xxv.). See also St. Thomas, Suppl., q. 25, a. 3.

5. Indulgences are either plenary remitting the whole of the temporal punishment; or partial remitting only a portion. The expression, "an Indulgence of seven years," does not mean a remission of seven years' purgatory, but merely a remission of so much punishment as could be obtained by seven years' canonical penance on earth. See St. Thomas, Suppl., qq. 25-27; De Augustinis, De Re Sacr., p. ii., Appendix.

Sect. 270. --The Minister.

I. The power of the keys --of opening and shutting, binding, loosing, forgiving, and retaining was --conferred by Christ upon the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests, as will be shown further on when we come to speak of the sacrament of Order. Hence bishops and priests alone are the ministers of the sacrament of Penance (Council of Trent, sess. xiv. chap. 6.). The passages already quoted from the Fathers leave this beyond doubt. The practice of confessing to lay persons, when a priest could not be had, was common in the Middle Ages, and continued until recent times. It was recommended by some of the greatest of the Schoolmen Peter Lombard, Albertus Magnus, Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas himself (In iv. Sent, dist., 17, q. 3, a. 3).1

1 See Chardon, sect. ii. chap. 7.

This, however, did not imply that laymen could absolve. The act of confessing was looked upon as a humiliation, and as an endeavour on the part of the sinner to conform as far as in him lay to Christ's ordinance. Hence the confession would tend to appease the offended God, and would be a means of moving the hearer to pray for him who had acknowledged his sins. In accordance with the general principle that the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the moral worth of the minister, the Council defined that "even priests who are in mortal sin exercise --through the power of the Holy Ghost which was bestowed in ordination--the office of forgiving sins as the ministers of Christ" (ib.).

II. Every priest receives at ordination the power of the keys. "Receive the Holy Ghost," says the ordaining bishop, imposing his hands on the candidate; "whose sins thou shalt forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins thou shalt retain, they are retained."

I. As, however, the exercise of this power is an act of judicial authority, it can be performed only upon such subjects as are assigned to the priest. In other words, he must have jurisdiction over the penitent before he can absolve him (Council of Trent, sess. xiv. chap. 7). This jurisdiction may be either "ordinary" (in virtue of office) or "delegated." The Pope has ordinary jurisdiction over all the world; the bishops over their dioceses; the parish priests over their parishes. Hence the Pope can absolve any of the faithful; the bishops those of their dioceses; the parish priests the members of their flock.1

1 Bishops and parish priests can also absolve those who come into their dioceses or parishes, but only by implied concession of the bishops to whose dioceses these penitents belong.

2. Priests belonging to religious Orders obtain delegated jurisdiction from the Pope. This privilege gave rise to so much opposition during the Middle Ages, 2 that the Council of Trent decided that no priest, even though he be a religious, should hear the confession of a secular person without the approbation of the bishop of the diocese (sess. xxiii., De Ref., cap. 15.)

2 See Chardon, sect. ii. chap. 8.

3. It was the custom from the earliest times for those who had been guilty of certain grave crimes to be absolved only by the bishops, or even by the Sovereign Pontiff. For wise reasons the person conferring jurisdiction can rightly limit it as to time, place, person, or case. This power of "reservation," as it is called, can be exercised by the Pope over the world, and by the bishops in their dioceses, "unto edification, but not unto destruction." "Lest, however," adds the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. chap. 7), "any one should perish on this account, it hath always been very piously observed in the Church of God that there be no reservation at the point of death (in articulo mortis), and that, therefore, all priests can absolve any penitents whatsoever from any kind of sins and censures whatsoever (omnes sacerdotes quoslibet poenitentes a quibusvis peccatis et censuris)."

III. The form of the sacrament of Penance, in which the efficacy of the sacrament chiefly resides, is the priest's absolution. This word is used to denote the act of "loosing" (solvere, solutio), in accordance with the power conferred by Christ (Matt. xvi. 19; xviii. 18). In Roman Law absolutio meant acquittal.3

3 "Sententiis decem et octo absolutio confici poterat" (Cicero, Pro Cluentio, 27).

Like so many other legal expressions, it was adopted by Tertullian (De Pooenit., 10) to signify release or acquittal from the guilt and punishment of sin.

1. The priest's absolution has been defined to be a judicial act, and not a mere pronouncing or declaring that the a penitent's sins are forgiven (Council of Trent, sess. xiv. chap. 6, can. 9). This is clear from the words of Christ: "Whose sins ye shall forgive" etc.; "Whatsoever ye shall loose" etc.

2. The exact formula to be used was not expressly stated by Christ or His Apostles. It is certain that for * upwards of a thousand years a precatory form ("May Christ absolve thee," or similar words) was in general use, as indeed is still the case in the East. The indicative form ("I absolve thee") came into use in the Western Church during the early Middle Ages, and gradually supplanted the other. The two are found side by side in Alexander of Hales and St. Bonaventure; St Thomas, however, was strongly in favour of the indicative form (3, q. 84, a. 3), and this was afterwards adopted by the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. chap. 3). At the present day a priest of the Western Church using the precatory form alone would grievously sin, and would expose the sacrament to the danger of nullity. Various explanations have been given of the difficulties connected with the variation of the formula of absolution. The best would seem to be to hold that where Christ Himself and His Apostles have not specifically determined the form of a sacrament, He left it to be determined by their successors; and that the Church in such cases may vary this form at different times and places, so as to bring out more clearly the exact force and significance of the sacrament. Thus, in the present case there can be no doubt that the indicative formula of absolution brings out the judicial character better than the precatory formula would do.1

1 It should be carefully noted that the Council of Trent does not condemn the precatory formula; and that it abstains from defining the form of confession in the canons of the often-quoted fourteenth session. It is only in the third chapter that the Council says with some vagueness, which of course was not accidental, "the form of the sacrament of Penance, in which its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister, 'I absolve thee,' etc. (poenitentia formam in qua praecipue ipsius vit sila est, in illis ministri verbis positam esse, Ego te absalvo" etc.).

The latter, however, does not altogether exclude the judicial character of the act of the minister, for it leaves him to decide whether the penitent is disposed for absolution, and also leaves him to determine the penance to be imposed.

3. The old Sacramentaries and Penitential books enjoin the imposition of the priests hands while he is giving absolution. So, too, the Roman Ritual at the present day contains the rubric, "Deinde dextra versus poenitentem elevata dicit, 'Misereatur,'" etc.; this lifting up of the hand being a sort of survival of the more ancient custom. Hence some of the Fathers speak of imposition of hands as a synonym for the sacrament of Penance, and attribute to it the forgiveness of sins. We have already (§ 254) spoken of the meaning of this rite. Its connection with the sacrament of Penance arose from our Lord's words (Mark xvi. 18), "They shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover;" and from His practice of healing the sick by touching them (ibid. vi. 5; Matt. viii. 3). But, as St. Thomas points out, the laying on of hands there spoken of is not sacramental, but is ordained for the working of miracles; that by the touch of the hand of Christ, or of a sanctified man, even corporal infirmities may be taken away (3, q. 84, a. 4). No mention is made of it by the Council of Trent. It is therefore only an accidental adjunct, and not a part of the sacrament.

In addition to the works mentioned on p. 464, see also Batiffol, Etudes d' Histoire et de Theologie Positive, tom, i., Les Origines de la Penitence; Vacandard, La Confession Sacramentale dans I' Eglise Primitive; Turmel, Histoire de la Theologie Positive, pp. 141 sqq., 317 sqq., 453 sqq.









A Manual of Catholic Theology, Based on Scheeben's “Dogmatik”
Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
With a Preface By Cardinal Manning

Volume II --Book VII –The Church and the Sacraments

CHAPTER VII. Extreme Unction

"OUR most merciful Redeemer, Who would have His servants at all times provided with salutary remedies against all the weapons of all their enemies: as in the other sacraments He prepared the greatest aids whereby during life Christians may preserve themselves whole from every grievous spiritual evil, so did He guard the close of life with a most firm defence, viz., the Sacrament of Extreme Unction " (Council of Trent, sess. xiv., Extr. Unct.). This sacrament has been known under various other names: e.g. "Oil of blessing" (oleum benedictionis); "Holy Oil" (oleum sanctum, and Greek); "the Sacrament of Sacred Unction” (sacramentum sancta unctionis); and also among the Greeks, (in Greek) (oil with prayer).

Sect. 271. --Nature and Institution of Extreme Unction Its Matter and Form.

I. In speaking of the number of the sacraments (supra. p. 372), we said that Penance and Extreme were the two medicinal or healing sacraments: Penance for the healing of the soul, and Extreme Unction for the healing of the body, and also for strengthening and cleansing the soul when about to leave the body. Bodily disease and death are, as we have seen (supra, p. 24), the penalty of sin. Extreme Unction does not altogether remove these, for we must all die; nevertheless, even when it does not restore health, it robs death of its sting and its victory by making death the means of cleansing and purifying the body, and thereby fitting it for eternal life. More will be said on this subject when we come to speak of the effects of the sacrament. The natural act raised to a supernatural sphere is, in this case, anointing. As we saw in speaking of Confirmation, rubbing the limbs with oil was practised for the purpose of strengthening them; and we may add, what more concerns us here, anointing is a potent means of healing (Isa. i. 6; Mark vi. 13; Luke x. 38). Hence it was chosen as the rite for supernaturally conferring the health of the body and strength of the soul. "Is any man sick among you?" says St. James, "let him bring in the priests (Greek) of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil (Greek) in the Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith (Greek) shall save (Greek) the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up (Greek); and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him " (v. 14, 15). The rite here described is undoubtedly identical with the sacrament of Extreme Unction as administered by the Church. It is clear that the Apostle is giving a precept which is to hold good for all time, because it comes in the midst of other general commands: "Is any of you sad? Let him pray. Is he cheerful in mind? Let him sing. Is any man sick? etc. . . . Confess your sins one to another. Pray for one another that you may be saved." Again, all the ancient authorities on Extreme Unction refer to this passage; and they declare that the Church in administering this sacrament is acting in obedience to the Apostle's injunction. That the rite is a sacramental one is clearly indicated: there is the external action (prayer and anointing), and the inward supernatural effect ("shall save him," "shall raise him up," "the sins shall be forgiven"). The institution by Christ we shall now proceed to show.

II. "Now this sacred unction," says the Council of Trent “ was instituted by Christ our Lord as truly and properly a sacrament of the New Law, insinuated indeed in Mark (vi. 13), but recommended and promulgated to the faithful by James the Apostle, and brother of the Lord. 'Is any man,' etc. In which words, as the Church hath learned from Apostolic tradition, received from hand to hand, he teacheth the matter, the form, the proper minister, and the effect of this salutary sacrament." And the Council condemns those who say "that Extreme Unction is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ our Lord, and promulgated by the blessed Apostle James; but is only a rite received from the Fathers, or a human figment " (can. i). Hence the Council teaches on the one hand that the passage in St. James is a "promulgation" and "commendation; "and on the other that the passage in St. Mark (the Apostles "anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them") is an "insinuation. "According to the Catechism of the Council (De Extr. Unct., cap. xvi.). this latter term means that our Lord gave a sort of specimen or example (specimen quoddam) of this unction. Some of the greatest mediaeval theologians, e.g. Hugh of St. Victor (De Sacr., lib. ii. p. xv. cap. 2) Peter Lombard (Sent., iv. dist. 23), and St. Bonaventure (in Sent., l.c., a. I, q. 2), taught that Christ did not Himself institute the Sacrament, but left the Apostles to do so. St. Thomas Suppl. q. 29, a. 3; and 3, q. 64, a. 2) and his school maintained the immediate institution by our Lord, declaring it to be one of the many acts unrecorded in the Gospels (John xx. 30; Acts i. 3). The Thomist view, though not expressly defined, appears to be more in harmony with the teaching of the Council, and has therefore been the prevailing opinion in modern times. See, however, Franzelin, De Sacr., thes. xiv. p. 183 seq.

In the writings of the early Fathers there are fewer references to Extreme Unction than to the other sacraments. This comparative silence doubtless arose from the fact that it did not belong to the public life of the Church; and also that it was looked upon as an appendage of Penance (Council of Trent, sess. xiv., De Extr. Unct.), and so did not require separate mention. Thus we find the two spoken of together by Origen (In Levit., Hom. 2, n. 4); St. John Chrysostom (De Sacerd., iii. n. 6); St. Caesarius (Serm., cclxv. n. 3). The most striking patristic authority on the subject is Pope St. Innocent I. "The words of St. James," he says, "ought without doubt to be taken or understood of the faithful who are sick, who can be anointed with the holy oil of chrism, which, being prepared by a bishop, may be used not only for priests, but for all Christians, for anointing in their own need, or in that of their connections (non solum sacerdotibus sed omnibus uti Christianis licet in sua aut suorum necessitate inungendum [al. inungendo] ). . . . For this chrism cannot be poured upon penitents, inasmuch as it is a kind (genus) of sacrament. For to persons to whom the other sacraments are denied, how can it be thought that one kind [of sacrament] can be granted?" (Ep. ad Decentium, cap. 8;1

1 The apparent difficulty about the laity being ministers as well as the priests, is easily explained if we bear in mind that inungcndum t or inungendo, is taken passively.

The Liturgical books, from St. Gregory's Sacramentary onwards, contain numberless proofs of the use of Extreme Unction; and frequent mention of it is made in Provincial Councils, e.g. Chalon sur Saone (813), Aix la Chapelle (836), Mayence (847), Pavia (850), and also in the General Councils of Constance (1414) and Florence (1439). All the Eastern Churches, too --Greek, Armenian, Coptic, and Nestorian --are at one with the Roman Church, concerning the doctrine of Extreme Unction. See Perpet. de la Foi, 1. v. c. 2; Martene, De Eccl. Rit., tom. ii. cap. 7; Denzinger, Ritus Orient., ii. 483 seq.

III. As there is no express record of the immediate institution of Extreme Unction by our Lord, so there is no express record how far He Himself determined its matter and form. Nevertheless, "the Church," says the Council of Trent (sess. xiv. ch. i), "hath understood the matter thereof to be oil blessed by a bishop: for the unction very aptly represents the grace of the Holy Ghost, with which the soul of the sick person is invisibly anointed; and, furthermore, that these words, 'By this unction' etc., are the form."

I. 1 treating of the sacraments generally, we said that the matter of a sacrament is the natural action which has been raised by our Lord to a supernatural sphere. Certain of the sacraments, however, make use of material tangible objects (e.g. water, oil, etc.), and these are sometimes styled "the matter" of the sacrament. Theologians call these material things "the remote matter," and the application of them "the proximate matter."

(a) Oil is the remote matter of the sacrament. St. James expressly says, "Anointing him with oil." "The spiritual healing," says St. Thomas, "which is granted to a man at his last end should be perfect, for none comes after it; and it should be soothing, so that hope, which is especially needed by the dying, may not be broken, but encouraged. Now, oil is soothing, and penetrating, and flowing; and, therefore, as regards both the foregoing requirements, it is the fitting matter of this sacrament" (Suppl., q. 29, a. 4). There is some difficulty, however, regarding the necessity of the bishop's blessing, as in the Eastern Church it is the priest who blesses the oil during the administration of the sacrament. Though the Council of Trent says that oil "blessed by a bishop" is the matter, yet the Council does not expressly say that this blessing is essential. Of course, in practice no oil may be used for the sacrament in the Western Church unless it has been blessed by a bishop. See two decrees on the subject in Denzinger's Enchiridion, nn. 1494, 1495.

(b) There has been considerable diversity of practice in different times and places regarding the parts anointed. As a rule the oil was applied to the organs of sense: the nose, ears, mouth, and eyes. Sometimes only one portion was anointed. Thus St. Eugendus, as we learn from his Acts, was anointed only on the shoulders. Moreover, inasmuch as one of the purposes of the sacrament is the restoration of bodily health, it was often administered by anointing the diseased part (see Martene, De Eccl. Rit., tom. ii. c. vii. art. 4). According to the present usage of the Roman Church, the anointing of the four above-mentioned organs of sense, together with the hands, feet, and loins, is prescribed. The anointing of the loins is now, however, commonly omitted. Although the Decretum pro Armenis (Council of Florence) orders these, it does not declare them to be essential; and the Council of Trent speaks of unctio in the singular. One single anointing complies with St. James's instruction, and is therefore sufficient; but in practice the ritual must be followed (see St. Alphonsus, lib. vi. n. 710).

2. While the minister of Extreme Unction anoints, he pronounces certain words which are the form of the sacrament. These words, in some rituals, are absolute; in others they are a prayer; in others, again, they are both absolute and also a prayer. As far as the essence of the sacrament is concerned any one of these is sufficient, though a prayer is more in accordance with St. James's words, "Let them pray over him," "The prayer of faith shall save," etc. And the Council of Trent says that the words, "By this holy unction," etc., which are a prayer, are the form. Here, again, the Council must not be understood in an exclusive sense, as though these words were the only valid form. In practice they must be used in the Western Church (see St. Alphonsus, l.c., n. 711). The various Eastern rites may be found in Renaudot, Perpetuite de la Foi, l. v. cc. 1, 2, 3; see also Chardon, I.c., ch. i.

Sect. 272. --The Minister, Recipient, and Effects of Extreme Unction.

I. "The proper ministers of this sacrament," says the Council of Trent, "are the Presbyters of the Church; by which name are to be understood in that place (James v.), not the elders by age, or the foremost in dignity amongst the people, but either bishops or priests, rightly ordained by the imposition of the hands of the priesthood" (sess. xiv. ch. 4, and can. 4). As St. James speaks of "priests" (in the plural), we find it prescribed in many ancient rituals that the sacrament should be administered by more than one priest (see also St. Thom., Contr. Gent., iv. 73). Sometimes one was to anoint, while another recited the prayers; sometimes one part was anointed by one priest and another part by another; sometimes each priest anointed each part and recited the prayers. At the present day Extreme Unction is administered in the Greek Church by seven, or at least three, priests. Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of the present Western usage in which only one priest administers (Chardon, I.c., ch. i.); and the Council of Trent condemns those that say "that the rite and usage of Extreme Unction, which the holy Roman Church observeth, is repugnant to the sentiment of the blessed Apostle James" (I.c., can. 3). See St. Thomas, Suppl., q. 3 1, a. 1,3.

II. "It is also declared," continues the Council of Trent, "that this unction is to be applied to the sick, but especially to those who lie in such danger as to seem to be about to depart this life; whence, also, it is called the sacrament of the departing. And if the sick should recover, after having received the unction, they may again be aided by the succour of this sacrament when they fall into another like danger of death" (sess. xiv. ch. 4). According to the usage prescribed by the Roman ritual, it is given after the Holy Viaticum. But nearly every ancient ritual reverses this order (Martene, De Ant. Eccl. Rit., tom. ii. p. 108). As sickness is a necessary condition for receiving this sacrament ("Is any man sick [Greek] among you?" "The prayer of faith shall save the sick man [in Greek] )," it cannot be given to soldiers going to battle, or to the condemned before execution. It should not, however, be delayed until the sick person has lost consciousness, and so cannot receive the sacrament with attention and devotion (Catech. of the Counc. of Trent, ii. 6, 9). It cannot be repeated in the same illness; but if the sick person recovers and falls ill again, it may again be administered. See St Thomas, Suppl., q. 33; St. Alphonsus, I.c., n. 715.

III. The effects of the sacrament are thus described by the Council of Trent: "The thing (res) here signified is the grace of the Holy Ghost, whose anointing cleanses away sins, if there be any still to be expiated, as also the remains of sins; and raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, by exciting in him a great confidence in the mercy of God, whereby the sick person, being supported, bears more easily the inconveniences and pains of his illness, and more readily resists the temptations of the devil, who lieth in wait for his heel (Gen. iii. 1 5); and at times obtains bodily health when expedient for the welfare of the soul" (sess. xiv. ch. 2). Here, then, are three effects enumerated: (1) remission of sin; (2) strengthening of the soul; (3) restoration of health.

I. Although remission of sin is the first effect mentioned by the Council, the sacrament was not primarily instituted for this purpose. St. James says, "If he be in sins (Greek), they shall be forgiven him." The sacraments of the dead are only two in number: Baptism and Penance; the former for the remission of Original Sin, the latter for the remission of Actual Sin. Nevertheless, if the sick person has been unable to confess, and has only attrition (supra, p. 471), the sacrament of Extreme Unction can remit his mortal sins. If, however, these have already been forgiven, the sacrament removes "the remains of sin" (peccati reliquias); that is to say, the evil effects of sin, the weakening of the will, spiritual sloth, disgust for heavenly things, etc. And it also remits, more or less, the temporal punishment due to sin.

2. The strengthening of the soul in the final combat with the Evil One is the primary object of Extreme Unction. "As in the other sacraments," says the Council of Trent, in addition to the words quoted above, "our Redeemer prepared the greatest aids whereby during life Christians may preserve themselves whole from every grievous spiritual evil, so did He guard the close of life, by the sacrament of Extreme Unction, as with a most firm defence. For though our adversary seeks and seizes opportunities all our life long to be able in any way to devour our souls, yet is there no time wherein he strains more vehemently all the powers of his craft to ruin us utterly, and if he can possibly, to make us fall even from trust in the mercy of God, than when he perceives the end of our life to be at hand " (sess. xiv., of Extr. Unct.).

3. Seeing that we must all die, and, moreover, that the restoration of health may only give occasion for fresh sin, it is clear that the third effect of this sacrament is conditional; viz. if God sees that the prolongation of life will be beneficial to the sick person.

These various effects are admirably described by St. Thomas: "Every sacrament is instituted primarily for some one effect, though it may likewise produce other effects as consequences of this one. And inasmuch as a sacrament produces what it signifies, its primary effect is to be gathered from its signification. Now, this sacrament is administered by way of a cure, just as baptism is administered by way of washing. And a remedy is meant to remove disease. Hence this sacrament is primarily intended to heal the disease of sin. Hence, just as baptism is a spiritual regeneration, and penance a spiritual raising to life, so extreme unction is a spiritual healing or curing. But just as the healing of the body presupposes the body to be alive, so does the healing of the soul (medicatio spiritualis) presuppose the life of the soul. And therefore this sacrament is not given as a remedy against defects by which the life of the soul is taken away, e.g. original sin or mortal sin; but against those defects by which a man is spiritually weakened and is deprived of perfect strength for acts of life, grace, and glory; and this defect is nothing but a certain debility and unfitness (ineptitudo) left in us by original or actual sin; and it is against this weakness that man is strengthened by this sacrament. But inasmuch as this strength is given by grace which suffers not the presence of sin, therefore if [the sacrament] finds any mortal or venial sin in the soul, it removes the guilt (culpa) of the sin, provided that the recipient places no obstacle in the way, as already observed in the case of the Eucharist and Confirmation. And therefore James also speaks of the remission of sin conditionally, saying, 'If he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him;' that is to say, as regards guilt; for [the sacrament] does not always blot out sin, because it does not always find it present; but it always remits sin so far as regards the weakness aforesaid, which is called the remains of sin" (Suppl., q. 30, a. i). See also Bellarmine, De Extr. Unct. c. 8; Suarez, Disp., xli.

On the whole of this chapter, see St. Thomas, Supp. xxix. xxxiii.; Chardon, Hist, des Sacrements; De Augustinis, De Re Sacramentarta, lib. iii.; Turmel, Hist, de la Theologie Positive, pp. 154, 340, 463; Billot, De Ecclesia Sacramentis, tom, ii.; Ballerini, Opus Theologicum Morale, vol. v.













A Manual of Catholic Theology, Based on Scheeben's “Dogmatik”
Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
With a Preface By Cardinal Manning

Volume II --Book VII –The Church and the Sacraments

CHAPTER VIII. Holy Order

The powers with which Jesus Christ has endowed His Church are not exercised by the body of the faithful, nor are they merely delegated by the faithful to certain members chosen for that purpose. Our Lord Himself instituted the Christian priesthood, and gave to the Apostles and their successors the power of consecrating, offering, and administering His Body and Blood, as also of forgiving and retaining sins (Matt. xxvi.; Mark xiv.; Luke xxii.; John xx.). By Divine ordinance there is in the Church a hierarchy, consisting of bishops, priests, and other ministers of various ranks, who possess in different degrees the sacred powers belonging to or connected with the priesthood. Holy Scripture speaks not only of priests, but also of deacons (Phil. i. 2; I Tim. iii. 8, 12; Acts vi. 5; xxi. 8); and from the earliest times we find mention of other inferior orders, sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, lectors, and doorkeepers (Council of Trent, sess. xxiii. chap. 2). The means instituted by Christ for the transmission of the priestly powers is the sacrament of Order. We shall treat first of this sacrament generally, and afterwards devote a section to the consideration of each of the different orders.

Sect. 273. --Order a Sacrament Its Matter and Form.

I. Order (ordo), as St. Thomas explains (Suppl., q. xxxiv. a. 2, ad. 4), means "rank," whether high or low but in ecclesiastical use it is taken in the sense of eminent rank --the clerical state as distinguished above that of the laity. It is also used to denote the particular rank occupied in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. And further, it designates the rite by which the rank is conferred; though this would be more clearly indicated by the word "ordination." As a sacrament, it is defined by Peter Lombard: "A certain sign or seal of the Church whereby a spiritual power is given to the ordained" (Sent. iv. dist 24).

I. St. Paul, writing to his disciple St. Timothy, says, "Neglect not the grace (Greek), which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood (Greek) (i Tim. iv. 14); and again, "I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God, which is in thee by the imposition of my hands (and in Greek) (2 Tim. i. 6; cf. i Tim. v. 22; Tit. i. 5; Heb. v. 14). We also read that the Apostles ordained the deacons by prayer and laying on of hands (Greek) (Acts vi. 6). And in the same book we read that the prophets and doctors at Antioch prayed and imposed hands (Greek) upon Saul and Barnabas (xiii. 3); and that these latter in turn ordained (Greek) priests for every Church (xiv. 22). It is St. Paul, also, who tells that Christ Himself" gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry (Greek), for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. iv. II, 12). Now, in these various passages we find all the elements of a sacrament: the external symbolical rite, consisting of the imposition of hands and prayer; the grace conveyed by this rite; and likewise Divine institution.

2. The Fathers, in commenting on these and similar texts, sufficiently indicate the sacramental nature of ordination. "Observe," says St. John Chrysostom, "how the writer (of the Acts) avoids redundancy; for he says not how, but simply that they were ordained by prayer, for this is the (Greek) or laying on of hands (Greek). The hand of man is laid on, but God works all; and it is His hand that touches the heart of him that is ordained, if he be ordained as he ought to be" (Hom. xiv. n. 3). "What some of these men, forced by truth, have begun to say, 'He that recedes from the Church does not forfeit baptism, but yet loses the right of conferring it,' is evidently in many ways a useless and foolish opinion. . . . For each is a sacrament, and each is given to man by a certain consecration (utrumque enim sacramentum est, et quadam consecratione utrumque homini datur): baptism when a man is baptized, the other when he is ordained; and for this cause, in the Catholic Church, neither is allowed to be repeated" (St. Augustine, lib. ii., Contra Epist. Parm., cap. 13, n. 28). "Let the Donatists explain to us how the sacrament of the baptized cannot be lost, and the sacrament of the ordained can be lost. . . . For if both are sacraments, which no one doubts, how is the one not lost and the other lost? No injury should be done to either sacrament" (ibid., n. 30). "The Sacred Scripture," says St. Leo, "also shows how, when the Apostles were, by the command of the Holy Ghost, sending Paul and Barnabas to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, they, fasting and praying, imposed hands upon them; that we may understand with what religious attention both of those who give, and of those who receive, care is to be taken lest the sacrament of so great a benediction seem to be negligently accomplished" (Ep. ix., ad Diosc., c. i.). And the Council of Trent says, "Whereas by the testimony of Scripture, by Apostolic tradition, and the unanimous consent of the Fathers, it is clear that grace is conferred by sacred ordination which is performed (perficitur) by words and outward signs, no one ought to doubt that Order is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of Holy Church" (sess. xiii. chap. 3; cf. can. 3).

II. There has long been a celebrated controversy among theologians as to the matter and form of this sacrament. A short sketch of the rites and ceremonies of the ordination service will be of help to enable us to come to a decision on the question.

Episcopal consecration has always in all ages been given by imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Ghost, in accordance with what we read in the Acts, and Epistles of St. Paul. This has been proved to demonstration by numbers of passages from the Fathers, and from ancient Rituals and Pontificals published by Morin (De Sacr. Ecclesice Ord., part, i et 2), and Martene (lib. i., De Antiq. Eccl. Rit., cap. 8, art. i). An additional ceremony of ancient origin, in use both in East and West as early as the fourth century, is the placing of the book of the Gospels on the head or shoulders of the bishop-elect. In the ordination of a priest there are, according to the Roman Pontifical, three impositions of hands: first, by the bishop and assistant clergy in silence; secondly, by the same, but the bishop reciting two prayers; and thirdly, after the communion, by the bishop only, who pronounces the words, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins ye shall," etc. The bishop also causes each to touch the chalice containing wine, and the paten with bread upon it, at the same time saying, "Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate masses as well for the living as for the dead." In the Greek rite, the third imposition of hands, with the accompanying words, and the handing of the chalice and paten, are omitted. A deacon is ordained in the Latin rite by imposition of the hands of the bishop, who pronounces the words, "Receive the Holy Ghost for strength, and to withstand the devil and his temptations; "and then, with hands extended over him, the bishop goes on to pray that the Holy Ghost may come down upon him. The stole and dalmatic are placed upon him; and lastly, the book of the Gospels is handed to him to be touched while the bishop pronounces the words, "Receive the power of reading the Gospel in God's Church, as well for the living as for the dead." In the Greek rite this last ceremony is omitted. It should be noted that the prayers recited by the bishop are not the same in the two rites. As the Church has always recognized both rites of ordination, it is clear that the matter and form of the sacrament must be sought in what is common to both. The neglect of this consideration has led to many erroneous opinions on the question.

I. When treating of the matter of the sacraments generally (supra, 246), we said that our Lord took certain natural acts and made them, when performed with certain distinguishing marks, capable of producing a supernatural effect. In the sacrament of Order, as described in Holy Scripture, we find that the laying on of hands is the natural act so chosen. This act, as already pointed out (§ 254), is a way of singling out a person, set- ting him apart and conferring upon him some office or dignity.1

1 (In Greek, which), mean(s) to lay hands upon a person. Xeiporovia, Greek simulated) is a stretching out of hands, and so an election by show of hands. These expressions and their derivatives, like so many others, came to have technical ecclesiastical meanings, not always restricted to ordination, and sometimes they are carefully distinguished from each other. Thus, St. Hippolytus says, "The bishop ordains (Greek simulated: xeiporovei ). . . The presbyter imposes hands, but does not ordain (Greek visibly simulated: xeipoOerei ov xeiporovei )" (De Charism., n. 17).


The imposition of hands, common alike in East and in West, and made use of in the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons, is therefore the matter of Order. Holy Scripture, as we have seen, says that it was by imposition of hands that the Apostles ordained bishops, priests, and deacons. So, too, the Fathers and Councils use the word (simulated) Xeiporovia (imposition of hands) as equivalent to ordination. The Council of Trent (sess. xiv. ch. 3) says expressly that Extreme Unction can be administered only by bishops or priests "ordained by the imposition of hands."

The tradition of instruments, which was commonly held by the Schoolmen to be the matter of Order, has never been in use among the Greeks, and is not mentioned by the ancient Latin rituals. It was introduced about the tenth century, and gradually spread during the Middle Ages, so as to be general in the West by the time of the Council of Trent. At that Council (sess. xxiii.) an attempt was made to define the matter and form of the Sacrament; but, at the suggestion of the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Fathers contented themselves with declaring that ordination "is performed (perficitur) by words and external signs;" and quoting St. Paul: "I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace that is in thee by the imposition of my hands" (2 Tim. i. 6). Nevertheless, as may be seen in the Preface to Morin's De Sacr. Eccl. Ordinationibus, the Scholastic opinion was still prevalent as late as 1639. Mainly owing to his researches and those of Martene, it is now almost universally abandoned. We should mention that St. Bonaventure held that imposition of hands was the sole matter of Order (iv. Dist. 24, P. 2, a. i, q. 4). As, however, the tutior pars must always be followed in the administration of the sacraments, the tradition of instruments must be strictly carried out in all Latin ordinations (St. Alph. Theol. Mor., lib. vi. tract, v. n. 742.)1

1 On the Decretum pro Armenis, which declares the tradition of instruments to be the matter, see supra, p. 361, note.

2. As the form of a sacrament must be used at the same time as the matter, it follows that the difference of opinion as to the matter of Order implies difference of opinion as to the form. Thus, those who hold that the tradition of instruments is the matter, will also hold that the form is the words accompanying this action; and, on the other hand, those who contend for the imposition of hands, will maintain that the accompanying words are the form. As regards episcopal consecration, it should be noted that the words, "Receive the Holy Ghost," do not occur at all in the Eastern rites, and were almost unknown in the West for more than twelve hundred years.2

2 They do not occur in any of the English pontificals (consecration of bishops), except in that of Exeter (Maskell, Monum. Ritualia EccL Angl., iii. p. 258). The Reformers inserted them in the Edwardine Ordinal.

The Council of Trent (sess. xxiii. can. 4) merely condemned those who held "that vainly do the bishops say, Receive ye the Holy Ghost" without declaring in any way that these words were the form. Hence, by comparing the various rites of all ages and places, we find that an appropriate prayer is the form of the sacrament (Chardon, /.c, p. 2, ch. i). The Apostles "praying, imposed hands upon them; " " then they fasting and praying and imposing their hands upon them," etc.; "and when they had ordained (Greek) to them priests in every Church, and had prayed with fasting," etc. (Acts vi. 6; xiii. 2; xiv. 22).

This prayer should specify the particular Order which is being conferred, or should mention the powers conveyed by the Order. "The imposition of hands ... by itself signifies nothing definite, and is equally used for several Orders and for Confirmation." In the case of priestly ordination, the words should "definitely express the sacred Order of Priesthood, or its grace and power, which is chiefly the power of consecrating and offering the true body and blood of the Lord in that sacrifice which is no nude commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross. . . . The same holds good of Episcopal consecration " (Bull Apostolicae Curae, condemning Anglican Orders).1

1 Anglican Orders were declared "absolutely null and utterly void," on account of defect of form in the rite, and defect of intention in the minister. "From [the Anglican rite] has been deliberately removed whatever sets forth the dignity and office of the priesthood in the Catholic rite. That form consequently cannot be considered apt or sufficient for the sacrament which omits what it ought essentially to signify. ... As the sacrament of Order, and the true sacerdotium of Christ were eliminated from the Anglican rite, and hence the sacerdotium is in no wise conferred truly and validly in the Episcopal consecration of the same rite, for the like reason, therefore, the Episcopate can in no wise be truly and validly conferred by it; and this the more so because among the first duties of the Episcopate is that of ordaining ministers for the Holy Eucharist and sacrifice." For the defect of intention, see supra, p. 371. On the whole question, see A Vindication of the Bull Apostolica Curae, by the Cardinal-Archbishop and Bishops of the province of Westminster.


On the controversy concerning the matter and form of Order, .see especially Benedict XIV., De Synodo Dioeces., lib. viii. cap. 10, and the various authorities there quoted.

Sect. 274. --The Minister and Recipient of Order Its Effects.

I. The sole ministers of the sacrament of Order are bishops. In the Holy Scriptures we read that ordination was conferred only by the Apostles, or by those whom the Apostles had consecrated as bishops. It was the Apostles who imposed hands on the first deacons (Acts vi. 6); Paul and Barnabas ordained priests for the Churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (ibid. xiv. 22); Timothy was consecrated bishop by St. Paul (2 Tim. i. 6); and the same Apostle instructs both Timothy and Titus as to ordaining others (i Tim. iii., iv.; Tit. i.). "What is there," says St. Jerome, "which a bishop can do and a priest cannot do, except ordaining?" (Ep., 146,3!. 85, ad Evang., n. i.) "The order of bishops," says St. Epiphanius, "is generative of fathers, for it begets fathers to the Church; whereas the priestly order, unable to beget fathers, begets, through the laver of regeneration, children to the Church, but not fathers or teachers" (Adv. Haeres., 75). And St. Chrysostom teaches that it is only in ordaining that bishops are superior to priests (Hom., 11, in Ep. 1 ad Tim.). So, too, the Canons of the Apostles (can. I et 2), the Apostolic Constitutions, and the ancient Councils (especially the Fourth Council of Carthage, A.D. 398) bear witness to the same doctrine and practice. The Council of Trent condemned those who maintain that bishops "have not the power of confirming and ordaining, or that the power which they possess is common to them and to priests" (sess. xxiii. can. 7). Finally, it is fitting that only the higher officers of the Church should possess the power of ordaining those who should be her ministers (St. Thom., Suppl., q. 38, a. i).

So far we have spoken of the sacrament of Order generally. Various questions concerning the minister of each order will be dealt with in the next section.

II. In order to receive the sacrament of Order validly, a person must be (1) of the male sex; (2) baptized; (3) he must not have the intention not to be ordained.

I. "Let women keep silence in the Churches, for it is not permitted them to speak; but to be subject, as also the law saith. But if they would learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the Church" (i Cor. xiv. 34, 35). "Let the women learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to use authority over the man, but to be in silence" (i Tim. ii. II, 12). And in enumerating the qualifications of a bishop, St. Paul speaks of men only. Against certain early heretics who admitted women to the priesthood, see Tertullian, De Praescr., cap. xli., and St. Epiphanius, Adv. Haeres., 79. The latter points out that if any woman could be capable of exercising the ministry, it was the Blessed Virgin: yet God conferred upon her no priestly power.1

1 The blessing of an abbess is merely an ecclesiastical ceremony, conferring no sort of jurisdiction. On the fable of Pope Joan, see Dollinger, Papstfabeln.

"Baptism," says St. Thomas, "is the gate of the sacraments. Since Order is a sacrament, it therefore presupposes baptism. . . . The character impressed in baptism makes a man capable of receiving the other sacraments. Hence, he who has not received baptism cannot receive any of the other sacraments" (Suppl., q. 35, a. 3).

3. That Order is invalid when conferred against the will of a person, follows from the general doctrine of intention on the part of the recipient of a sacrament. Pope Innocent III expressly states this in the case of the sacrament of Order (lib. iii., Decret., tit. 42, c. 3, Majores; Denzinger, Enchir., n. li.). There is a difficulty, however, with regard to the ordination of boys who have not reached the use of reason. The common opinion is that it is valid, but that those who have been so ordained are not bound by the duties of the clerical state (e.g. celibacy), unless they afterwards elect to remain in this state. See Bened. XIV., Instr. on the Coptic Rites.

III. The effects of the sacrament of Order are Grace and a Character.

1. Although this sacrament is primarily intended for the benefit of the Church at large, and not for that of the individual upon whom it is conferred, nevertheless it bestows upon him sanctifying grace, and therefore not only makes him capable of performing certain sacred duties, but also fits him for the worthy performance of them." Neglect not the grace (Greek) which was given thee by prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood" (i Tim. iv. 14). "I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God (Greek) which is in thee by the imposition of my hands" (2 Tim. i. 6). "Just as," says St. Thomas, "sanctifying grace is necessary for the worthy reception of the sacraments, so also is it for the worthy administration of them. And, therefore, as in baptism, whereby a person is made capable of receiving the other sacraments, sanctifying grace is given, so also in the sacrament of Order, whereby a person is ordained for the administration of the other sacraments" (Suppl., q. 35, a. i). The Holy Ghost Himself is conferred by Ordination. "When He (Jesus) had said this, He breathed upon them and said, Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins ye shall forgive," etc. (John xx. 22). "If any one shall say that by sacred ordination the Holy Ghost is not given, and that vainly therefore do the bishops say, Receive ye the Holy Ghost ... let him be anathema " (Conc. Trid., sess. xxiii. can. 4).

2. On the character conferred by Order, see supra, p. 375. The Council of Trent condemns those who say "that a character is not imprinted by ordination, or that he who has once been a priest can become a layman" (sess. xxiii. can. 4). Such has ever been the doctrine of the Church. She has at all times refused to reordain those who have been ordained in heresy or schism, except when there has been any doubt of the validity of their former ordination. The Fourth Council of Carthage expressly forbade reordination; and St. Augustine, in his second book against Parmenian, and also in De Gestis cum Emerito (the bishop of the Donatists), strongly insists upon its unlawfulness. St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, and others were supplanted by intruding bishops who administered orders; but these ordinations were recognized when the rightful bishops were re-instated. Later on, however, we find that the orders conferred by intruders were sometimes declared invalid, notably in the case of the Antipope Constantino's ordinations, and again in those of the heretic Photius.1

1 Concerning the latter, Pope Nicholas I says, "Nihil habuit, nihil dedit, nisi forte damnatiotiem habuit quam se sequentibus propinaverit" etc.

The doubt continued (see Pet. Lomb., Sent. iv. dist. 24) until the question was discussed with great clearness by Robert Pullen, whose opinion as to the validity of heretical, intruded, and simoniacal ordinations was accepted by Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas, and Scotus. See Chardon, P. ii. ch. 6.

Sect. 275. --The Different Orders.

The so-called canons of the Fourth Council of Carthage mention eight different grades of Order : Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Sub-deacon, Acolyte, Exorcist, Lector, and Ostiarius (door-keeper). In connection with these, a word must be said on the ecclesiastical Tonsure.

According to the learned Pere Morin, the cutting of the hair, as a distinct rite of initiation into the clerical state, does not date farther back than the end of the seventh century.1

1 See, however, Mabillon, in his preface to the Third Century of the Saints of the Benedictine Order.

Before this, however, it formed part of the ceremony of conferring the lowest of the Orders, as it does at the present day in the Eastern Churches. For the history and the various forms of the Tonsure, see Chardon, Part i. ch. 3. The Orders themselves are divided into Major (Sub-diaconate, Diaconate, and Priesthood, including the Episcopate), and Minor (Ostiarius, Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte). "If any one shall say that, besides the priesthood, there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both major (majores) and minor ... let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, sess. xxiii. can. 2).

I. “Whereas the ministry of so holy a priesthood is a Divine thing, to the end that it might be exercised in a more worthy manner and with greater veneration, it was suitable that in the most well-ordered settlement of the Church there should be several and diverse orders of ministers, to minister to the priesthood by virtue of their office; orders so distributed as that those already marked with the clerical tonsure should ascend through the lesser to the greater orders " (Council of Trent, sess. xxiii. ch. 2). Whether these Minor Orders are part of the sacrament, the Council does not say. The mediaeval theologians, as a rule, hold the affirmative (St. Thom., Suppl, q. 37, a. 2}; at the present time the negative opinion is more common. That Christ instituted them cannot easily be proved; and, besides, the Eastern Church, at least in modern times, recognizes only one of them, viz. Lector. A bishop is the ordinary minister of them; but by the consent of the Sovereign Pontiff, a simple priest can confer them. “Henceforth," says the Council of Trent (sess. xxiii., De Ref., cap. 10), " it shall not be lawful for abbots or for any other persons whatsoever ... to confer the tonsure or minor orders on any one who is not a Regular subject to them." The Council therefore recognizes that these orders can be given by others than bishops. The rites by which they are conferred at the present day are almost exactly as described in the canons of the Fourth Council of Carthage, and consist of handing the various instruments with appropriate accompanying words.

II. In treating of the Sacred or Major Orders, we are at once confronted with the difficulty as to the position of the Sub-diaconate, which in the East is considered as a Minor Order.

I. The office of a Sub-deacon, as the name implies, is to assist the Deacon at the altar: to prepare the chalice and paten, to read the Epistle, to pour the water into the wine intended for the sacrifice, and to wash the sacred linen. The bishop confers the Order by handing to the recipient the empty chalice and paten, and saying to him, "See what ministry is delivered to thee: Wherefore I admonish thee that thou so conduct thyself as to be able to please God." Then the various vestments are placed upon him, and the book of the Epistles handed to him--all of which ceremonies are accompanied with appropriate words. This order is very ancient in the Church. St. Cornelius, who became Pope in the year 251, says, in his letter to Fabius of Antioch, that there were in his day sub-deacons in the Church of Rome; and St. Cyprian, who died in 258, himself ordained Optatus sub-deacon (hypodiaconum). The rite of ordination is described in the fifth canon of the Fourth Council of Carthage. The Council of Trent (sess. xxiii.), in its second chapter, says, "The sub-diaconate is classed among the greater orders by the Fathers and Councils." Nevertheless, according to Chardon, it was not so classed as late as the end of the eleventh century (see Hist, des Sacram., Pt. i. ch. i, and the authorities there cited). Even if the Sub-diaconate is now looked upon as a sacred order (as indeed it must be, at least in the West, after the decision of Trent), it does not follow that it is necessarily a sacrament; for the Council, in enumerating the various members of the hierarchy, speaks only of "bishops, priests, and ministers" thereby leaving the question an open one. St. Thomas holds it to be bothsacred and a sacrament (Suppl., q. 37, a. 3). In the Eastern Church it is still reckoned as a minor order. The ordinary minister is a bishop; nevertheless, there are many instances of priests conferring the sub-diaconate, e.g. chorepiscopi and various abbots. See the Synod of Meaux, A.D. 845, can. 44; and Pius V's Bull, denying the right to the Abbot of Premontre, but admitting that the Abbot of Citeaux enjoyed it.

2. The word "deacon" (in Greek) means a minister or servant; but it has come to have a technical ecclesiastical meaning, and is now used to indicate one of the Sacred Orders of the Church. The functions of a deacon are to serve the priest at the altar, to sing the Gospel, to preach, and to baptize. The Order is conferred by the bishop imposing hands upon the recipient, and pronouncing appropriate prayers. The formula at present found in the Roman Pontifical, Receive the Holy Ghost, etc., is not older than the twelfth century. The diaconate is certainly a sacrament, for it is an efficacious outward sign (laying on of hands and prayer), of inward grace (the Holy Ghost Himself, Who is conferred by it). The Council of Trent condemns those who assert that "vainly therefore do the bishops say, Receive ye the Holy Ghost " (sess. xxiii. can. 4); and that "in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by Divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers" (can. 6). Hence deacons, at least, must be members of this divinely constituted hierarchy; and in this belief both the Eastern and Western Churches are agreed. The "seven" chosen in Acts vi. are generally recognized as the first "deacons." They were ordained by the Apostles, who "praying, imposed hands upon them." Although originally chosen for "serving tables," we find them preaching and baptizing; and St. Paul requires deacons to "hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (i Tim. iii. 9). St. Ignatius speaks of deacons as "ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ," "for they are not ministers (Greek) of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God" (Ad Trall., 2). See also St. Clement, I Ad Cor., 42; St. Ignatius, Ad Magnes., 2; Tertullian, Praescr., c. 41, De Bapt., c. 17; St. Augustine, Ep. 21, ad Valer., I. To the objection that the order was instituted by the Apostles, and not by Christ, we may reply, with St. Ignatius (Ad Smyrn., 8), that Christ left the powers of the sacrament of Order to the Apostles to be transmitted by them entirely or in various degrees, and that they accordingly conferred upon "the seven" only a portion of these powers.

3. According to the Roman Pontifical, the functions of a Priest are "to offer (sacrifice), to bless, to preside (præesse), to preach, and to baptize." He has also the power of forgiving sins, and is the ordinary minister of Extreme Unction, in addition to the sacraments mentioned. The precise nature of his powers can be best studied by comparing them with those of a Bishop.

4. The functions of a Bishop are thus set forth by the Roman Pontifical: "A Bishop should judge, expound (interpretari), consecrate, ordain, offer, baptize, and confirm." According to the Council of Trent, "Bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the Apostles, principally belong to the hierarchical order; they are placed, as the same Apostle [St. Paul] says, by the Holy Ghost, to rule the Church of God (Acts xx. 28); they are superior to priests; they administer the sacrament of Confirmation; ordain the ministers of the Church; and they can perform very many other things, over which functions others of an inferior order have no power " (sess. xxiii. ch. 4, and can. 7).

(a) Although there are plausible grounds for holding that "bishop" and "presbyter" are synonymous in the New Testament, yet we have clear traces of a real distinction recognized between them in Apostolic times. St. James the Less was beyond doubt Bishop of Jerusalem, as is clear from the relations of St. Peter and St. Paul with him (Acts xii 17; xv. 13 sqq.; xxi. 1 8; Gal. i. 19), and from the belief universally existing as early as the middle of the second century. Moreover, St. Paul gives Titus (i. 5) power to ordain presbyters; and to Timothy (i Tim. v. 19) he lays down instructions regarding the judgment of presbyters. Hence both Timothy and Titus were superior in office to these presbyters. An argument may also be drawn from the Apocalypse (i.-iii.), where the "Angels of the Churches" are plainly those officials to whom the care of each of these Churches or dioceses has been entrusted; in other words, they are the bishops of these dioceses.

(b) The Fathers in sub-apostolic times insist on the distinction between the office of bishop and the office of presbyter. St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, writes as a bishop, and distinguishes himself from his presbyters. "I exhort you," says St. Ignatius (Ad Magnes., n. 6), "that ye study to do all things in a Divine unanimity the bishop holding presidency in the place of God; and the presbyters in the place of the Apostles; and the deacons most dear to me entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ.... Be ye made one with the bishop, and with those who preside for a pattern and lesson of incorruption." See also Ad Trall., nn. 2, 3, 7; Ad Philad., n. 7; Ad Smyrn., n. 8; Ad Polycarp, n. 6. St. Irenaeus, speaking of Acts xx. 17 sqq., says, "For at Miletus, having convoked the bishops and the presbyters," etc. thereby showing that he does not recognize the two as synonymous. "The degrees in the Church on earth of bishops, presbyters, deacons, are, in my opinion, imitations of the angelic glory, and of that dispensation which is said in Scripture to await all who, walking in the steps of the Apostles, live in perfect righteousness according to the Gospel" (Clem. Alex., Strom., lib. vi. n. 13). See also Tertullian, De Bapt., n. 17; Origen, De Oratione, n. 28; Hom, ii., in Numer., n. I, and many other places; St. Hippolytus, De Charism. We say nothing of later Fathers, for by the fourth century it is admitted as a settled maxim that bishops only could ordain; and Epiphanius goes so far as to say of Aerius, the presbyterian, "His doctrines were, beyond all human conception, replete with madness" (Adv. Hares., 75).1

1 See the excellent art. BISHOPS, in Addis and Arnold's Catholic Dictionary.

Whether the Episcopate is a distinct order, or only an extension of the priesthood, has long been a disputed point among theologians. The Fathers seem to look upon it as a distinct order; but most of the great mediaeval doctors are of the contrary opinion (Albertus Magnus, Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas, in their commentaries on the fourth book of the Sent., dist. xxiv.). The Council of Trent refrained from coming to any decision on the question. The canons and decrees on the hierarchy, however, point in the direction of the earlier view; and hence this opinion has once more become the prevailing one. See Perrone, Prael. Theol, De Ordine, cap. ii. n. 78.

On the relation of the bishops to the Sovereign Pontiff, see supra, p. 336, and also Vol. I. p. 38.

On the whole of this chapter see St. Thomas, Supp. qq. xxxiv.-xl.; Chardon, Hist, des Sacrements; Morin, De Sacris Ecclesiae Ordinationibus; De Augustinis, De Re Sacramentaria, lib. iv.; Turmel, Hist, de la Theol. Positive, pp. 155, 250, 344, 466; Billot, De Ecclesia Sacramentis, tom. ii.; Ballerini, Opus Theol. Morale, vol. v.; Card. Gasparri, De Sacra Ordinatione; Atzberger, Handbuch der Katholischen Dogmatik, iv. p. 749.













A Manual of Catholic Theology, Based on Scheeben's “Dogmatik”
Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
With a Preface By Cardinal Manning

Volume II --Book VII –The Church and the Sacraments

CHAPTER IX. Matrimony

On the sixth day of creation God formed man out of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and gave him a companion, Eve, whom He drew in a wondrous manner from the side of the sleeping Adam. By so doing, God willed that couple to be the source of the human race, which was to be propagated by successive generations; and, in order that His wise designs might be the better accomplished, He endowed the union of man and woman with the qualities of unity and perpetuity (cf. supra, 128, 129). Christ Himself taught that, by its very institution, marriage should be between two only; that the two became one flesh, and that the marriage tie was so close that no man could loose it (Matt. xix. 5, 6). But the primitive perfection of marriage gradually became corrupted even among God's own chosen people. Moses permitted them, on account of the hardness of their heart, to give a bill of divorce (Deut. xxiv. i). Among the Gentiles every sort of abomination prevailed, so that woman was degraded from being the man's companion to be his drudge or his toy, and children became the mere chattels of their parents. These evils, however, were not to be without a remedy. Jesus Christ, Who restored man's dignity and perfected the Mosaic law, took marriage under His especial care. He deigned to be present at the wedding feast at Cana, and made it the occasion of His first miracle. He reproved the Jews for their corrupt practices regarding marriage, and particularly forbade divorce. But He did far more. He raised matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament, thereby giving it the power to confer upon those who receive it the grace required by their state, and making it a figure of the union between Himself and His Church. "Husbands, love your wives," says St. Paul to the Ephesians, "as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it.... Men ought to love their wives as their own bodies. . . . No man ever hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church; because we are members of His body, of His flesh, and His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament (Greek); but I speak in Christ and in the Church" (v. 25 sqq.).1

1 See Leo XIII.'s Encyc. Arcanum, on Christian Marriage.

There are thus three stages in the history of marriage: marriage under the natural law; marriage under the Mosaic law; and marriage under the Christian dispensation. By the law of nature there was little restriction as to entry into the marriage state, but only death could, dissolve it. Moses put limits to the competency of persons to marry (Lev. xviii.), but permitted divorce under certain circumstances. In neither of these two stages was marriage a sacrament. Christ restored the primitive prohibition of divorce, and made the marriage of Christians a sacrament. We are here concerned with this third stage.

Marriage may be considered as an act or as a state; in other words, either as a contract, or as a status arising therefrom. Natural marriage is a contract whereby a man and a woman are united for the purpose of generation and education of offspring. This contract, when between Christians, is a sacrament conferring grace upon those who are rightly disposed.

Sect. 276. --Christian Marriage a True Sacrament.

The Council of Trent condemns those who hold that "Matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the law of the Gospel, instituted by Christ our Lord; but has been invented by men in the Church, and does not confer grace" (sess. xxiv. can. i).

I. The chief text of Scripture in support of this doctrine is that already quoted from the Epistle to the Ephesians: "Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord; because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it; that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church: because we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament (Greek, Vulg., sacramentum): but I speak in Christ and in the Church (in Greek)" (Eph. v. 22-32). The last words of this passage, as rendered in our version, would seem to decide the question. But reference to the original text, and to the use of the word sacramentum in the Vulgate itself, shows that this word alone cannot be relied on as an argument (see supra, p. 359). The proof, such as it is, is taken rather from the passage as a whole. The Apostle, speaking of Christian marriage, declares it to be a great sign of something sacred, viz. the union of Christ with His Church. Now, it is by sanctifying grace and by a continual influx of graces that this union takes place. A perfect representation of this union should therefore contain something corresponding with the graces bestowed by Christ upon His Spouse --should likewise confer upon the parties grace connected with their state. Besides, the due fulfilment of the obligations imposed upon Christian spouses requires supernatural aid.

Another passage of Scripture which may be quoted is St. John ii., where our Lord's presence and conduct at the marriage feast are narrated. St. Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on this passage, says, "It was befitting that He Who was to renew the very nature of man, and to restore all nature to a better state, should bestow a blessing not only on those who had been already called into life, but should also prepare beforehand that grace for those not yet born, and make their entrance into existence holy. . . . He, the delight and joy of all men, gave a dignity to marriage by His presence, that He might do away with the former shame and grief attached to child-birth" (Lib. ii., in Joann.). And St. Augustine: "The Lord came to the nuptials that conjugal chastity might be strengthened, and that the sacrament of marriage (sacramentum nuptiarum) might be manifested" (Tract. 9, in Joann., n. 2). St. John Damascene, St. Epiphanius, and others interpret the passage in the same sense.

II. The Council of Trent, however, only says that St. Paul "alludes to," or "hints at (innuit) "the Catholic doctrine of marriage. The strongest proof is drawn from tradition.

1. The value of testimonies found in ancient rituals and books of administration of sacraments cannot be denied. Those used by the Greek Church, the Churches of the Copts, the Jacobites, and the Nestorians, not to speak of the ancient Latin rituals, all contain ceremonies and prayers implying the belief that matrimony is an efficacious sign of grace (see Perpetuite de la Foi, t. v. 1. 6).

2. The following passages will serve as specimens of the doctrine of the Fathers: "This excellence (of matrimony) is threefold: faithfulness, offspring, the sacrament. In faithfulness it is required that neither should act in violation of the marriage tie; in the offspring, that it be received in love, fed with kindness, educated religiously; and in the sacrament, that the wedlock be not dissolved, and that neither, if divorced, be united to another, not even for the sake of offspring" (St. August, De Genesi ad Lit., ix. c. vii. n. 12). "Throughout all nations and men, the excellence of wedlock is in the procreation of children, and in the faithfulness of chastity; but as regards the people of God, it is also in f the sacrament, through which holiness it is a crime, even for the party that is divorced, to marry another whilst the husband lives" (St. August., De Bono Conjugali, n. 32, al. 24). "There are in this matter two modes of life: one inferior and common --I mean matrimony; and the other angelic, and which cannot be surpassed --I mean virginity. He that chooses the worldly, matrimony, that is, is not to blame; but he receives not so great gifts; for some he will receive since he bears fruit thirty-fold. But whoso embraces a chaste state, and one that is above the world, although the road is, compared with the other, more rugged and difficult, yet has he more wonderful gifts, for he has produced a perfect fruit even an hundred-fold" (St. Athanasius, Ep. ad Amunem). "We know that God is the Lord and the guardian of marriage, Who suffers not another's bed to be defiled; and he that commits this crime sins against God, Whose law he violates, Whose grace he dissolves. And therefore, and for the very reason that he sins against God, he loses the fellowship of the heavenly sacrament (sacramenti ccelestis amittit consortium)" (St. Ambrose, De Abraham, c. 7).

To these various testimonies must be added all those which assert the sevenfold number of the sacraments, among which matrimony is included (see above, p. 373).

The doctrine concerning matrimony is a striking instance of development (§ 35). Even so late as the middle of the thirteenth century, St. Thomas contents himself with saying that it was "more probable" that matrimony conferred grace. But the Second Council of Lyons, held in 1274, decided that matrimony was a sacrament (Denzinger, Enchirid., lix.).

Sect. 277. --The Nature of the Sacrament of Matrimony Matter and Form Minister.

Assuming that matrimony is a sacrament, we have now to consider wherein the sacrament consists. Some theologians have tried to make such a distinction between the contract and the sacrament as to hold that the contract may exist, even between Christians, without the sacrament. According to this view the matter of the sacrament is the act of the parties (i.e. the contract), the form is the blessing, and the minister is the priest; hence a marriage contracted without the priest's blessing would be a true marriage, but no sacrament The Catholic doctrine as laid down by Pius VI, and afterwards by Pius IX and Leo XIII, is that in the case of baptized persons the contract and the sacrament are identical; the one cannot exist without the other. Hence the blessing is not the form, nor is the priest the minister.

I. 1. It is plain from the foregoing section that Christ raised to the dignity of a sacrament that same marriage which God had instituted in the beginning. Now, this marriage was none other than a contract, and consequently it is the contract which constitutes the sacrament Moreover, the sacrament of matrimony is a sign of the union between Christ and His Church, which union is typified by the contract itself.

2. The unanimous teaching of the mediaeval theologians is in favour of the inseparableness of the contract and the sacrament. It will be enough to quote passages from the leaders of the two rival schools to show that, in spite of their many differences, they were at one in this matter.

"The words expressing the marriage consent are the form of this sacrament, not the priest's blessing" (St. Thom., Suppl., q. 42, a. i). "The external acts and the words expressing consent, directly produce a sort of bond which is the sacrament of marriage" (ibid., a. 3). "The sacrament of marriage has for its matter lawful persons, and for its form their consent. . . . For the essence of matrimony these two suffice: lawfulness in the persons, and unity in consent" (St. Bonav. In 4 Sent., d. 28, a. i, q. 5).

3. The definitions of the Councils are equally clear. Councils. "The seventh is the sacrament of matrimony, which is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church, according to the Apostle's saying, 'This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and the Church.' The efficient cause of matrimony is properly (regulariter) the mutual consent by words at the same time expressed" (Council of Florence, Dec, pro Armenis). It is evident that these last words refer to matrimony as a sacrament, because the decree is an instruction regarding the sacraments The Council of Trent (sess. xxiv.) says, " The first parent of the human race, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, pronounced the bond of matrimony perpetual and indissoluble when he said, 'This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.' But that by this bond two only are united and joined together, our Lord taught more plainly, when rehearsing those last words as having been uttered by God, He said, 'Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh; 'and straightway confirmed the firmness of that tie, proclaimed so long before by Adam, by these words, 'What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.' But the grace which might perfect that natural love, and confirm that indissoluble union, and sanctify the married, Christ Himself, the institutor and perfecter of the venerable sacraments, merited for us by His Passion. . . . Whereas therefore, matrimony, in the law of the Gospel, excelleth in grace, through Christ, the marriages of olden time; with reason have our holy Fathers, the Councils and the tradition of the Universal Church, always taught that it is to be counted among the sacraments of the new law." According to the Council, therefore, our Lord not only gave His approbation to matrimony as instituted in the beginning, but enriched it with the grace which He merited; consequently, the contract has been raised to the dignity of a sign conferring grace.

4. To the definitions of the councils the authoritative teaching of the Popes may be added. "It is a dogma of the Faith," says Pius VI. (Ep. ad Episc. Motulensem), "that matrimony which, before Christ's coming, was only an indissoluble contract, has become, since His coming, one of the seven sacraments of the law of the Gospel [a sacrament] instituted by Christ our Lord, as the Council of Florence defined. . . . Hence it is that to the Church alone, which has the entire care of the sacraments, belongs all right and power of assigning the form to this contract which has been raised to the sublime dignity of a sacrament, and consequently of judging of the validity or invalidity of marriages." "The distinction, or rather separation [between the contract and the sacrament], cannot be approved of; since it is clear that in Christian matrimony the contract is not separable from the sacrament, and consequently that a true and lawful contract cannot exist without being by that very fact a sacrament. For Christ our Lord endowed matrimony with the sacramental dignity; but matrimony is the contract itself, provided that the contract is rightly made [lawfully, jure]. . . . Therefore it is plain that every true (justum) marriage among Christians is in itself and by itself a sacrament; and that nothing is further from the truth than that the sacrament is a sort of added ornament or quality introduced from without, which may be detached from the contract at the discretion of man" (Leo XIII, Encyc. Arcanum).

II. From what has been said, it is evident that the contract is not the matter, and that the blessing is not the form. But it is by no means certain what the matter and form of matrimony really are. Since the Council of Florence all indeed agree, with some few exceptions, that the distinction of matter and form applies to this sacrament. We have already seen (p. 360) that the matter of a sacrament is the natural act which our Lord has raised to a supernatural dignity, while the form is that which differentiates the process or action, and makes it to be a sacrament. The common opinion regarding matrimony is that the offer is the matter, and the acceptance the form: in other words, the act of the promisor is the matter, and the act of the promisee the form. It is not easy to see how this view discriminates between sacramental and non-sacramental marriage. The following is suggested as one answer to the difficulty. Our Lord in instituting this sacrament acted on the same principle as in the others; He took a natural act and raised it to be something supernatural. But, instead of making the distinguishing element to consist of words, or the like, He placed it in the Christian character of the parties; in other words, He ordained that whenever the contract of marriage should be entered into by baptized persons, that contract should be a sacrament. To say that the form of matrimony is the fact of having been baptized, would sound strange. It may be better, therefore, to say that the contract considered as concerned with human beings is the matter; while considered as concerned with Christians (baptized) it is the form.1

1 Compare Scotus's view of the matter and form of Penance (supra, p. 466).

III. If it be granted, as we have already shown, that marriage contracted between Christians without the priest's blessing is a sacrament, it is clear that the parties themselves, and not the priest, are the ministers of the sacrament. As, however, a person cannot administer a sacrament to himself [except in the case of the Blessed Eucharist (see supra, § 259)], we must hold that the man administers to the woman, and the woman to the man. It should be noted, however, that a few of the most learned theologians have followed the celebrated Melchior Canus in holding that the priest is the minister. After the repeated declarations of the Popes as to the validity of clandestine marriages, we do not see how Canus's opinion can be defended. Nay, the Council of Trent had already clearly spoken, at least in its disciplinary enactments: "Although it is not to be doubted that clandestine marriages, made with the free consent of the contracting parties, are valid (rata) and true marriages, so long as the Church hath not rendered them invalid; and, consequently, that those persons are justly to be condemned, as the Holy Synod doth condemn them with anathema, who deny that such marriages are true and valid . . . nevertheless the Holy Church of God hath, for reasons most just, at all limes detested and prohibited such marriages " (sess. xxiv., De Ref. Matr.).

We have already seen that the chiefs of the two great mediaeval schools of theology were at one concerning the nature of the sacrament of matrimony. They also agree that the priest is not the minister. "The priest's blessing," says St. Thomas, "is not required in matrimony as belonging to its essence" (Suppl., q. 45, a. 5). And St. Bonaventure: "Marriage contracted clandestinely is truly received, but not with salutary effect, because it is against the Church's command" (In iv. Sent., d. 28, a. 5).

It may be objected that the Council of Trent distinctly enjoins that the priest shall say, "I join you together in matrimony," which indicates that he is the minister. We answer that the teaching of the Council is clear from what has already been quoted. The words to be used by the priest merely mean that he, as the Church's minister, declares the marriage to be valid and lawful, and confers upon it the blessing of God.

Sect. 278. --The Recipient of the Sacrament of Matrimony Its Unity and Indissolubility.

I. All persons capable of entering into the natural contract of marriage are, if baptized, capable of receiving the sacrament of Matrimony. This rule, however, is subject to the laws of impediments, which will be dealt with in the next section. A lawful marriage between unbaptized persons is no sacrament. If, however, they are afterwards baptized, and then explicitly renew their consent, their marriage becomes a sacrament. Some theologians assert that this takes place even without any explicit renewal. There is a difficulty concerning the marriage of a baptized and an unbaptized person. The Church, as we shall see, makes such a marriage null and void. Sometimes, however, she allows it. Hence the question arises: does the baptized party in this case receive the sacrament? Theologians are divided in their opinions. The affirmative seems to us the better view. The contract is a true contract, and where there is a true contract, the sacrament must exist, unless there is something wanting on the part of the recipient or the minister. But here the baptized party is capable of being a recipient, and the unbaptized party is capable of being the minister, as in the case of the sacrament of Baptism.

II. Marriage, as originally instituted by God, was between one man and one woman. This is called monogamy. Opposed to it is polygamy, which may be the union of one man with several women (usually called polygamy, but more properly polygyny), or the union of one woman with several men (polyandry). Perfect monogamy implies complete unity of marriage, i.e. a union unbroken even by death. But in the ordinary use it does not exclude successive plurality of wives or husbands.

1. We need not here refer to the unlawfulness of polyandry, as natural law itself condemns it. Whether simultaneous polygamy is also forbidden by the law of nature is disputed among theologians. The difficulty arises from the practice of the Patriarchs, which is nowhere reprobated in Scripture. Some writers hold that plurality of wives was lawful until the Gospel law was enacted. But the commoner view is that it was always contrary to the law of nature, and that a Divine dispensation was granted in the case of the Patriarchs. "Friendship," says St. Thomas, "consists in a sort of equality. If, therefore, while a woman may not have several husbands ... a man might have several wives, there would not be a free, but a slavish friendship of the woman for the man. And this is proved by experience, for among men having several wives, the wives are as handmaids. Again, an intense friendship for many is impossible.... If, therefore, the wife has only one husband, and the husband several wives, there will not be an equal friendship on each side" (Contra Gent., iii. 124). The Saint elsewhere explains that God could grant dispensations in this matter, because plurality of wives, although forbidden by the law of nature, was not opposed to the primary end of marriage, which is generation (In iv. Sent., d. 33, q. i).

2. Under the law of the Gospel, polygamy is strictly forbidden. The Council of Trent anathematizes those who say "that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is prohibited by no Divine law " (sess. xxiv., De Matrim., c. 2). This doctrine is plainly proved by the words of our Lord when consulted by the Pharisees concerning divorce: "Have ye not read that He Who made man from the beginning made them male and female? And He said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh (Greek). Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." When the Pharisees objected that Moses permitted divorce, our Lord appealed to the primitive institution of marriage, and declared that this was thenceforth to be observed: "Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so" (Matt. xix. 2-9). Now marriage, as originally instituted, was clearly monogamous: "male and female made He them;" "cleave to his wife;" "two in one flesh." Again, Christ taught that he who put away his wife and took another committed adultery. A fortiori, therefore, would it be adulterous to take another wife without putting the first away. Moreover, Christian marriage is a figure of the union between Christ and His bride, the Church, which is one (Eph. v. 22, 23).

We have no room for the many passages which might be quoted from the Fathers against plurality of wives. One or two will be enough. "It is not lawful for thee," says St. Ambrose, "to take a wife while thy wife is alive. To seek another while thou hast thine own, is the crime of adultery" (lib. I, De Abraham, c. 7). And St. Augustine: "So much do the laws of marriage continue between them (the parties) while they live, that they who are separated are more united to each other than to those to whom they cleave. They would not be adulterers unless they continued to be spouses" (De Nupt. et Concup., i. c. 10).

The history of the Roman Pontiffs shows how strenuously they have upheld the unity of marriage. But of this we shall speak presently.

3. Successive plurality of wives or husbands is not forbidden even under the Gospel law. "I say to the unmarried and to the widows: it is good for them if they so continue even as I. But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to be burnt" (i Cor. vii. 8, 9). And further on: "A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is at liberty; let her marry to whom she will, only in the Lord." The Apostle does not restrict his words to second marriages. He speaks indefinitely, and consequently the right has an indefinite extent. Nevertheless, in the Greek (Catholic) Church a third marriage is generally forbidden by ecclesiastical law.

III. Marriage, besides being one, is also indissoluble. To understand this rightly, some important distinctions must be made. Dissolution properly so-called is the breaking of the very bond of marriage so that the parties become free. Separation of bed or board, or both, does not involve dissolution of the bond. So, too, a declaration of nullity does not break the bond, but rather asserts that there has never been any bond at all. Again, we should carefully distinguish between (1) natural, i.e. non-sacramental marriage (legitimum); (2) consummated sacramental marriage (ratum et consummatum); and (3) unconsummated sacramental marriage (ratum). We shall now state the laws applying to each of these cases.

1. It is commonly held by Catholic theologians that by the law of nature marriage is indissoluble. "Marriage," says St. Thomas, “is intended by nature for the bringing up of children not merely for a time, but for their whole life. Wherefore, by the law of nature, parents lay up treasure for their children, and the children are their heirs. Therefore, since offspring is a good common to both husband and wife, their companionship should remain undivided, according to the dictate of the law of nature. And thus indissolubility of marriage belongs to the natural law" (Suppl., q. 67, a. i). And again: "Woman stands in need of man not only for the purposes of generation, but also for her own government, because man is wiser and stronger. Man takes woman into his companionship because she is required for generation; when, therefore, her comeliness and fruitfulness are at an end, she is prevented from being taken by another. If, then, a man, after taking a woman in the days of her youth, when she has comeliness and fruitfulness, could put her away when she grew old, he would be inflicting upon her an injury opposed to natural equity. In like manner it is clearly unbecoming for a wife to be able to put away her husband, since the wife is naturally subject to her husband as her ruler; for whoever is subject to another cannot quit that other's rule. It is therefore against natural order for the wife to leave her husband. If, then, the husband could leave his wife, there would be no equal companionship between them, but a sort of slavery on the part of the wife" (Cont. Gent. iii. 123). The other arguments based on reason need not be insisted on here.

Our Lord Himself taught the indissolubility of natural marriage. "And there came to Him the Pharisees, tempting Him, saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause? Who, answering, said to them, Have ye not read that He Who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And He said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matt. xix. 3-6). From Adam's words, spoken under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and relating to primitive, natural marriage, our Lord infers the indissolubility of that same marriage. The passage which follows shows that this is the rightful interpretation. When the Pharisees objected, "Why, then, did Moses command to give a bill of divorce and to put away?" Our Lord answered, "Because Moses, by reason of the hardness of your heart, permitted you to put away your wives; but in the beginning it was not so." Christ therefore insists that the power of putting away was only a permission granted on account of hardness of heart (Greek). He affirms that, apart from this permission, which was only given by the law of Moses, it is not lawful to put away, because to do so would be against the primitive and natural institution of marriage.

The Council of Trent understands this passage in the sense given. "The first parent of the human race, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, pronounced the bond of marriage perpetual and indissoluble when he said, 'This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.' But that by this bond two only are united and joined together, our Lord taught more plainly, when rehearsing those last words as having been uttered by God, He said, 'Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh; 'and straightway confirmed the firmness of that tie, proclaimed so long before by Adam in these words, 'What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder'" (sess. xxiv., proem). Pius VI, quoting these words of the Council, continues, "It is therefore clear that marriage, even in the very state of nature, and certainly long before it was raised to the dignity of a sacrament, was divinely instituted in such a way that it carried with it a perpetual and indissoluble bond which could be broken by no civil law" (Ep. ad Episc. Agriensem, 1789).

Although natural marriage is in itself indissoluble, it can nevertheless be dissolved by God, its author. It was He who inspired Moses to allow the Hebrews to put away their wives. Even under the Gospel law He has made it lawful to break the bond of natural marriage under certain peculiar circumstances. Writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, ."If any brother have a wife that believeth not, and she consent to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And if any woman have a husband that believeth not, and he consent to dwell with her, let her not put away her husband. . . . But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace" (i Cor. vii. 12-15). That is to say, a Christian man or woman married to an unbeliever (i.e. not baptized) is not, in some cases, subject to a sort of slavery so as to be bound to live with the unbeliever, or to live apart in continence. If the unbeliever refuses to live with the Christian, the latter is not bound to go after the unbeliever, but may, after taking the proper steps, look upon himself or herself as free. Nay, more, even if the unbeliever is willing to live with the Christian, but with the intention of perverting or tempting the Christian, the latter is free in this case also. For the Apostle says that if the unbeliever consents, he should not be put away; hence, if he should not consent in the proper manner, we are to understand that he may be put away. Such is the interpretation given by St. John Chrysostom, Theophylact, Peter Lombard, St. Thomas, and many others; and the practice of the faithful, approved by the Church, abundantly confirms it. "If one of the parties of an infidel marriage be converted to the Catholic Faith," says Innocent III., " and the other party will not dwell with him (or her), or not without blasphemy of God's name, or in order to tempt to mortal sin, the one who is quitted shall, if he please, marry again, and in this case we understand what the Apostle saith, ' If the unbeliever depart, let him depart, for a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases;' and the canon also in which it is said, 'Contumely of the Creator dissolves matrimony in the case of him who is quitted'" (1. 4, Decret., tit. 19, c. 7). Gregory XIII, St. Pius V., and Benedict XIV taught the lawfulness of these second marriages, and permitted them in practice.

2. Marriage between Christians is, as we have seen, always sacramental. This fact makes Christian marriage absolutely indissoluble.1

1 See, however, infra, 3.

The Council of Trent has condemned those who say "that on account of heresy, or irksome cohabitation, or the affected (designed) absence of one of the parties, the bond of marriage may be dissolved; ... or that the Church hath erred in that she hath taught, and doth teach, in accordance with the doctrine of the Gospel and of the Apostles, that the bond of marriage cannot be dissolved on account of the adultery of one of the married parties, and that both, or even the innocent one who gave not occasion to the adultery, cannot contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other, and that he is guilty of adultery who, having put away the adulteress, shall take another wife, as also she who, having put away the adulterer, shall take another husband " (sess. xxiv. cann. 5, 7).2

2 The wording of can. 7 should be carefully noted. The condemnation is aimed directly at those who assert that the Church has erred in her teaching concerning divorce. This teaching is not itself defined, although of course it may be inferred from the canon.

(a) "Whosoever," says our Lord, "shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her (Greek). And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery" (Mark x. II, 12). And St. Paul teaches that death alone can solve the marriage tie. "For the woman that hath an husband, whilst her husband liveth is bound to the law; but if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. Therefore, whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress if she be with another man; but if her husband be dead she is delivered from the law of her husband, so that she is not an adulteress if she be with another man" (Rom. vii. 2, 3). "To them that are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife" (i Cor. vii. 10, 11). He also compares Christian marriage with the indissoluble union between Christ and His Church (Eph. v. 24 sqq.).

(b) Tradition, both theoretical and practical, inculcates the same doctrine. St. Augustine may be taken as representing the Fathers. "Throughout all nations and men the excellence of wedlock is in the procreation of children, and in the faithfulness of chastity; but as regards the people of God, it is also in the holiness of the sacrament (in sanctitate sacramenti), through which holiness it is a crime, even for the party that is divorced, to marry another whilst the husband lives (De Bono Conjug., vi. n. 3; cf. supra, p. 513).

(c) "It must be allowed," says Leo XIII, (Encyc. Arcanum), "that the Catholic Church has been of the highest service to the well-being of all peoples by her constant defence of the sanctity and perpetuity of marriage. She deserves no small thanks for openly protesting against the civil laws which offended so grievously in this matter a century ago; for striking with anathema the Protestant heresy concerning divorce and putting away; condemning in many ways the dissolution of marriage common among the Greeks; for declaring null and void all marriages entered into on condition of future dissolution; and lastly, for rejecting, even in the early ages, the imperial laws in favour of divorce and putting away. And when the Roman Pontiffs withstood the most potent princes, who sought with threats to obtain the Church's approval of their divorces, they fought not only for the safety of religion, but even for that of civilization. Future ages will admire the courageous documents published by Nicolas I against Lothair, by Urban II and Paschal II against Philip I of France, by Celestine III and Innocent III against Philip II of France, by Clement VII and Paul III against Henry VIII, and, lastly, by Pius VII, that brave and holy Pontiff, against Napoleon I, in the height of his prosperity and power."

There is a well-known passage of Holy Scripture which objection, is commonly quoted in favour of divorce: "Whosoever," says our Lord, "shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery" (Matt. xix. 9). Catholic interpreters usually explain this difficult text by referring to Mark x. 11, 12; Luke xvi. 18; and I Cor. vii. 39, where divorce is absolutely forbidden. They hold, therefore, that the apparent exception given in St. Matthew must be explained so as not to clash with the absolute rule given in the other Evangelists and St. Paul. There is, however, much difference of opinion as to the exact meaning of the text. Some writers lay stress on the word (in Greek), which they take to mean fornication, and not adultery (which is a different Greek word). Hence, according to them, the sense is: Whosoever shall put away his wife, except she be a wife of fornication, i.e. a mere concubine, etc. Others, likewise insisting that fornication is meant, hold that our Lord, speaking to Jews, told them that it was lawful for them to put away a wife who was found guilty of having sinned before marriage, because among them marriage with a virgin was alone looked upon as valid. Afterwards, when speaking to the disciples about marriage as it was to be among Christians, He forbade divorce under any circumstances. The common interpretation, however, allows that our Lord meant by (Greek), [meaning] adultery, and that He spoke not merely of marriage under the Mosaic law; but it considers that He spoke not of divorce properly so-called, but of perpetual separation. The meaning would therefore be: Whosoever shall refuse to live with his wife altogether --which he may not do, except if she has committed adultery -- himself commits adultery, i.e. becomes responsible for adultery on the part of his wife by exposing her to the danger of living with another. This interpretation may seem forced, but it may be proved from the context, and it has great patristic authority in its favour. The Pharisees asked our Lord whether it was lawful to put away one's wife. Our Lord answered that it was not lawful. They objected that Moses allowed it. Our Lord replied that Moses did so on account of the hardness of their heart, but that in the beginning it was not lawful. He then laid down the new law, restoring the primitive indissolubility. Now, if He allowed divorce, He would not have restored the primitive perfection of marriage, wherein what God had joined together no man could put asunder. Moreover, in the Sermon on the Mount our Lord had said, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery" (Matt. v. 32). Some ancient authorities read, "Maketh her an adulteress" (in xix. 9, as well as here). That is to say, exposes her to the danger of adultery, and so becomes responsible for her sin. It should be noted, too, that our Lord does not say, "Whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another, except it be for fornication, committeth adultery," but "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication," etc. And that both in v. 32 and xix. 9 He says absolutely, "He that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery." The following passages from three of the greatest Fathers will show that they held the unlawfulness of divorce, even in case of adultery. "As long as the husband is alive, even though he be an adulterer, or sodomite, or covered with crimes, and be deserted by his wife for these enormities, he is still her husband, and she may not take another. It was not on his own authority that the Apostle so decreed, but, Christ speaking in him, he followed Christ's words, Who saith in the Gospel, 'Whosoever putteth away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress; and whosoever shall take her that is put away, is an adulterer.' Note the words, 'Whosoever hath taken her that is put away is an adulterer.' Whether she puts her husband away, or is put away by her husband, whoso shall take her is an adulterer" (St. Jerome, Ep., 55). St. Augustine deals expressly with the question of divorce in two books, De Conjugiis Adulterinis. Pollentius, to whom the books were addressed, was of opinion that adultery was a lawful excuse for divorce. He asked why, if our Lord meant that divorce was never lawful, He did not say so simply. The Saint answered that our Lord wished to condemn the graver sin of divorce where there was no adultery, without, however, excusing divorce in the case of adultery. The words given in Mark x. II, 12, and Luke xvi. 18, condemn both cases absolutely. St. John Chrysostom, in his sermon "On the Bill of Divorce," insists strongly on indissolubility even in the case of adultery. "A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; and, therefore, even though he gives her a bill of divorce, even though she leaves the house and goes to another, she is bound by the law, and is an adulteress. ... If [divorce] were good, [God] would not have made one man and one woman, but would have made two women for the one Adam, if He willed one to be put away and the other to be taken. But by the very formation [of our first parents] He made the law which I am now writing about. And what law is that? Let every man keep for ever that wife who first fell to his lot. This law is more ancient than the law of the bill of divorce," etc.(nn. i, 2).

The passages quoted from the Fathers in favour of divorce are for the most part either mere repetitions of our Lord's words, as recorded by St. Matthew, and therefore capable of the same interpretation; or else are ambiguous, and may be understood to refer to separation rather than divorce. Civil laws favouring divorce, even when enacted by Christian princes, are of no weight as theological arguments.

3. The absolute indissolubility of the marriage bond applies only in the case of sacramental marriage which has been consummated. If the parties, although validly married, have not become one flesh, the marriage is capable of dissolution. The Council of Trent has defined that the solemn religious profession of one of the parties Bering, breaks the bond in such a case (sess. xxiv. can. 6). Long before the Council this law was recognized and acted upon. Many instances are mentioned by ecclesiastical writers in which the bridegroom left his bride intact and consecrated himself to God; and the practice is always highly extolled. Whether the Pope also had the power of dissolving these marriages, was formerly disputed among theologians; but it is now certain that he has the power. "There can be no further question," says Benedict XIV, "about the power of the Pope concerning dispensation in the case of unconsummated sacramental marriage; the affirmative is commonly held by theologians and canonists, and is acted upon in practice, as is well known" (Question. Canon., 479)-

Sect. 279. --The Church's Control over Marriage Impediments.

I. The relation between man and wife has such an important bearing upon the religious and civil welfare of the community, that marriage cannot be said to be a mere contract. There must be some restriction as to the parties competent to marry, and some regulation as to their mutual rights and duties, and as to the continuance of the relation. To whom should this control belong? The State claims it on the ground of the civil consequences of marriage. On the other hand, Christian marriage is a sacrament, and therefore, like all else that is sacred, belongs to the Catholic Church. Leo XIII (Encyc. Arcanum) teaches that Christ entrusted to the Church the entire control over Christian marriage. It is hers to limit, for wise reasons, the competency of certain persons to contract with each other, or at all. She has the right to decide whether error, or force, or fraud has annulled the contract. Above all, she is the guardian of the unity and perpetuity of the marriage bond. These powers she has always and everywhere exercised, not as derived from the consent of governments, but as given to her directly by her Divine Founder. When Christ condemned polygamy and divorce, He was not acting as the delegate of the Roman governor of Judaea, or of the tetrarch of Galilee. St. Paul's judgment on the incestuous Corinthian in no way assumed the tacit consent of Nero. The Councils of Aries, Chalcedon, and many others down to Trent, have all issued decrees concerning marriage independently of emperors and kings. Nay, the three great imperial jurisprudents, Honorius, Theodosius the Younger, and Justinian, acknowledged that in matters relating to marriage they were merely the guardians and defenders of the sacred canons. "Therefore," says Leo XIII, "rightly was it defined at the Council of Trent that the Church has the power of establishing diriment impediments of matrimony (sess. xxiv. can. 4), and that matrimonial cases belong to ecclesiastical judges (can. 12)."

Although the Pontiff teaches that Christ entrusted to the Church the entire control (totam disciplinam) of Christian marriage, he does not say that the State has nothing to do with marriage. On the contrary, he insists that the Church does not wish to interfere with the civil consequences of marriage. In her regulations she ever pays attention to circumstances of time, place, and character, and does her best for the public welfare. Her greatest desire is to be at peace with the State, seeing that so much good results when the two work together. It is worthy of note that a few great theologians and canonists have held that the State also has the power of establishing diriment impediments, but this opinion is now commonly rejected.

II. Just as civil contracts are subject to the laws of the State, in like manner the contract of marriage is governed by canon law. The chief laws concerning marriage are those treating of the capacity or incapacity of certain classes of persons to enter into the contract. The impediments are of two kinds: forbidding (impedientia), and diriment (dirimentia). The former render marriage unlawful; the latter make it null and void. Persons who marry under a forbidding impediment contract really and truly, but sin grievously thereby. When the impediment is diriment, those who attempt marriage not only sin grievously, but are not married at all. The full treatment of these impediments belongs to moral theology.

Scholion. Though Christian marriage is a sacrament the Council of Trent has condemned those who hold " that the married state is higher than the state of virginity or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity or in celibacy than to be united in matrimony" (sess. xxiv. can. 10).

The teaching of the Council is based upon the words of St. Paul and of our Lord Himself. "He that is without a wife," says the Apostle, "is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord: that she may be holy both in body and spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the things of the world, how she may please her husband" (i Cor. vii. 3234). "There are eunuchs," says our Lord, "who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it" (Matt. xix. 12; cf. Apoc. xiv. 3, 4). St. Thomas Aquinas has treated of virginity in his usual masterly fashion (Contra Gent., iii. c. 136). The reader will there find a complete answer to the common objections against the unmarried state.

On matrimony see St. Thomas, Supp. qq. xli.-lxviii.; Sanchez, De Sancto Matrimonii Sacramento; De Augustinis,
op.cit., lib. iv.; Palmieri, De Matrimonio Christiana; Ballerini, op. cit., vol. vi.; Card. Gasparri, De Matrimonio; Scheeben, Mysterien, p. 471; Atzberger, op. cit., p. 769; Didon, Indissolubilite et Divorce; Turmel, op. cit., pp. 157, 346, 469.





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