Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 1st, 2016 by Joel Watts

The Seven Sacraments as the Gospel acted out

The Seven Sacraments held by the various Catholic communions are often dismissed by Protestants as superfluous to Scripture. Perhaps they are, but that is not the argument I want to make. Rather, I want to suggest we see them as the exact representation of the Gospel story.

seven sacraments

St. Bonaventure sees them mystically in relation to the seven ages,

Concerning the number and division of the sacraments of the new law, the following must be held. There are seven sacraments corresponding to the sevenfold grace which, through the seven ages of time,† leads us to the Principle, to repose, to the circle of eternity, as to an eighth age, that of universal resurrection. († See Prologue (2), On the Length of Holy Scripture, page 8.)1

But, I think there is more to the institution of these sacraments. If you step back from the Articles of Religion and the great Anglican Divines, you see something of a myth enacted throughout the life of the Christian, that of the gospels’ telling of the life of Jesus. Again, from St Bonaventure:

For He instituted these sacraments in words and material elements for the sake of conveying clear meaning and effective sanctification; but in such a way that while they would always signify truly, they would not always heal effectively, by reason of a defect, not of their own, but of the recipient.

These sacraments Christ instituted in different ways. Some, He confirmed, approved, and brought to full perfection, to wit, Matrimony and Penance; others He established implicitly in their original form, to wit, Confirmation and Extreme Unction; others again, He originated, brought to full perfection, and received in Person, to wit, Baptism, Holy Eucharist, and Orders. He fully instituted these three, and was also their first Recipient2

 Each sacrament is traced directly back to the Gospels.

  • Baptism — Mark 1.9
  • Eucharist — Mark 14.12-26
  • Confirmation/Chrismation — Mark 1.10-11
  • Reconciliation — Mark 1.15, among other times and places
  • Anointing of the sick — Mark 1.140-45
  • Marriage — John 2.1-12
  • Holy orders — Mark 1.16-20

The Sacraments, seven in number, are hardly a late invention. Rather, they serve to incorporate the life of the Christian into the story of Jesus. The Christian becomes Christ-like in their actions, taking very literally the command to follow Him.

  1.  Saint Bonaventure, Breviloquium (trans. José De Vinck; vol. 2; The Works of Bonaventure: Cardinal Seraphic Doctor and Saint; Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1963), 230.
  2.  Saint Bonaventure, Breviloquium (trans. José De Vinck; vol. 2; The Works of Bonaventure: Cardinal Seraphic Doctor and Saint; Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1963), 233.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

One Response to “The Seven Sacraments as the Gospel acted out”
  1. Ok. Always learn something new. I though, “seven ages of time”? What the heck is that referring to?

    “3. These seven ages are thus distinguished on the basis of the signal events that ushered them in, whereby they correspond to the days of the world’s creation.

    The first age is also called infancy, for the Flood deleted all memory of it, as time completely erases the memory of early life.vi The second is called childhood, for then occurred the separation of tongues; correspondingly, in childhood we begin to speak. The third is called adolescence, for then Abraham was summoned to receive circumcision and the promise of offspring; as, in adolescence, the procreative power begins to be active. The fourth is called manhood, for at that time the Synagogue flourished under the kings; similarly, manhood is the age of greater might. The fifth is called decline, for during the exile the Jewish priesthood weakened; as in man’s declining years, strength and appearance deteriorate. The sixth is called old age, for the world’s sixth age ends with the day of judgment, but is enlightened with the wisdom of Christ’s teachings; as man’s old age is linked to death, but enlightened with the bright light of understanding.”

    We must be at the end of the 5th, “as in man’s declining years, strength and appearance deteriorate”!

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