Sacraments According To St. Thomas Aquinas Essay, Research Paper
Saint Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) was an Italian theologian, one of the foremost Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages. His Summa Theologica (c.1266-1273) was a provincial document of scholastic philosophy. Summa Theologica explored all facets of medieval life, philosophy and theology, political theory, and morality1. The medieval church had a particular interest in the sacraments because they manifest salvation to an individual in a tangible form and tied the individual to the church2. Specifically, I am going to address the importance of the sacraments as defined by Aquinas.
According to Aquinas, the number of sacraments should be seven3, since the number of sacraments was not officially acknowledged until the Council of Florence in 1439CE4. The purpose of sacraments is to perfect man according to the law of God and also to remedy against the shortcomings caused by sin, whether original, mortal, or venial sin5. Each of the sacraments corresponds with a particular defect caused by sin6. Baptism confers spiritual life and is intended to remedy against original sin. As a man grows in his spiritual walk with God he needs to be strengthened, whereby, confirmation by the Holy Spirit is given to strengthen man during his walk with God. To maintain a strong relationship with God nourishment is needed, which is Eucharist or communion. The fourth sacrament is penance, which is ordained against mortal sins committed after baptism. Extreme unction or a prayer finally combats venial sin for a critically ill or injured person. The sacrament of order refers to the individuals’ responsibility to community by creating rulers of the church. Finally, holy matrimony or marriage is the sacrament that ties people of a community to one another7.
Aquinas studied heavily the works by Aristotle and believed that man could only be united in religion if common, visible symbols or sacraments were shared. Although the sacraments are external practices, they signify and invoke spirituality in man8. The salvation of man is determinant upon the sacraments: man can only grasp the spiritual world through what he perceives with his senses of the physical world, God is the principle agent of a sacrament’s interior effects9.
Aquinas argues that baptism was instituted after Christ’s Passion, citing Romans 6:3: All we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in His death, etc. Also, the Lord’s words in John 3:5 to Nicodemus: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Thus, by deductive reasoning, salvation from original sin, attributed to Adam, is achieved through God’s grace in the act of baptism. So the sacrament of baptism is not the water but the simple symbolization of being cleansed of sin10. Finally, those baptized in Christ’s name, Matth. 28:9: In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, become conformed through faith and charity puts on Christ through grace, thus, the character of rebirth as Jesus told Nicodemus.
When A man reaches a certain age and is mature and able to perform mature human acts he must be confirmed. In confirmation, man comes of age, comparatively, in the spiritual life11. Through this sacrament Christ sends the Holy Ghost as an advocate for man until Christ returns for the second time. McDermott translates Aquinas as saying, “In baptism a man is enabled to do those things which belong to his own salvation in so far as he lives for himself; in confirmation he receives the power to engage in battle against the enemies of the faith12.” Interpreted more simply, as a person grows ability increases and with it responsibility to witness to others whom are unbelievers.
So far we have the sacramental signs of baptism is spiritual birth and confirmation is spiritual maturity, consequently spiritual food is needed, which is the Eucharist, also called communion. Because men need tangible forms of religion to be more united, Eucharist symbolizes the Lord’s past suffering and gathers man together because the bread symbolizes Christ’s body and the wine commemorates His blood13. The sacrament of Eucharist becomes absolutely sacred because it is representative of Christ’s own body14.
During the sacrament of penitence both the sinner and the priest perform ritual duties15. Penance is necessary for sinners because death results from sin and for salvation to occur sins must be removed. The priest operates as Christ’s vehicle for salvation, symbolically speaking, and completes the sacramental action of penitence and forgiveness16. Without penance a man who sins cannot be delivered by charity, faith, or mercy. Each of the previous attributes requires either grievances or forgiveness; penance is necessary for salvation if sins are committed17.
Extreme unction or anointing the sick, as each sacrament has indicated a more Christ like character, anointing the sick is the next plateau in becoming Christ like18. Anointing the sick is performed when an individual stands at the threshold of eternity to cleanse the remainder of sins that weren’t removed by penance, namely, venial sins19. Extreme unction is a sign of hope and is performed to keep the ill person involved in readings and prayers20. Aquinas dictates that extreme unction should be last among the sacraments because it is performed at the end of a person’s life. Because anointing the sick is usually performed at the end of a person’s life it allows the person to become infinitely close to perfection at death just before meeting Christ21.
For man to share in governing the community the sacrament of holy orders is necessary. A holy orders grant priests the ability to offer sacrifice not only for themselves but also for the entire community22. Order is representative of “marriage” between the church and a priest23; furthermore, holy orders is ordained by God to prevent against divisions in the community24. Basically, holy orders create the ability to name church officials.
Finally, but not least, in no specific order, is marriage or holy matrimony. Marriage is a sacrament because it was instituted for the sake of natural function, reproduction of the human species25. Holy matrimony came to symbolize the relationship between Christ and church; thus, a relationship between husband and wife should be indicative of the relationship between Christ and the church. Furthermore, matrimony was ordained against sexual impurity or concupiscence26. Comparatively, if food is used properly it nourishes the body, in the same way, sex was ordained for marriage and if used properly within marriage is enjoyable, not only for pleasure but for reproduction27.
The sacraments, as described by Aquinas, are ordained in opposition to the capital sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, each can be further subdivided into mortal sins, which equal willful transgression of God’s law28. Aquinas stressed the necessity of reason in faith in the Roman Catholic Church29. In an effort to not sound redundant, Aquinas essentially devised and described how the sacraments were to work within the adopting Roman Catholic religion. The sacraments became final form in the high Middle Ages30 and became a system to reassure those who believed in the faith, and to establish the church as a quintessential intermediary between God and man31.
The Medieval church was a perpetuator of the feudal system in Europe. By means of sacrament, the church was able to localize people so that they may retain privileges of salvation. Furthermore, by controlling the sacramental action, the church insured its stability in an age of reform and revolution.