Tuesday, August 4, 2009

OFFSPRING: Seven Sacraments


How many sacraments are there? The number of sacraments is one of those things that theologians argue about, with the best of intentions, but to the confusion of many people in the church. This is unfortunate, because God is a God of order and peace and of confusion.

The word sacrament is a word used to describe God’s work, and not to limit. The Eastern branches of Christ church whose basic theological language is Greek, still mostly use St. Paul’s Greek word mystery, in the old sense of “the revelation of some truth that is unknowable until it is revealed”.

The list of seven sacraments is very useful for studying both the mercy of God and the needs of mankind. We must be careful, however, not to treat the number ‘seven’ as a magical number that limits God’s grace. The seven Sacraments consist of the two “dominical Sacraments” of Baptism and the Holy Communion; and the five “minors sacraments” of confirmation, Penance, matrimony, Holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. (An Outline of an Anglican Life, Louis Tarsitano, 1994)


A major struggle of the western church since the time of the reformation has been the struggle over authority. What and who has authority to determine the church’s doctrine? Is it scripture alone? Is it Holy tradition? Is it Holy tradition informed by scripture? Is it scripture informed by Holy tradition? Depending upon whom we ask we will get different answers. Nevertheless, all catholic traditions such as Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism have a wider view of authority than the post reformation scripture alone that was championed primarily by the Lutherans and the Calvinists. The catholic traditions look back to the early church and accept the teachings practiced by the whole church as authoritative because we believe that they were also given to us by the apostles in their teaching. In other words, the catholic view is that St Paul meant what he said in 2 Thes 2: 15: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The plain historical fact is that the church has always practiced seven liturgical sacraments. This practice then accounts for the catholic view of the seven sacraments as being brought into the life of the church under the auspices of the apostles. Tarsitano makes three brilliant points in his writing; first, he states that these arguments about end up truly confusing the people of God rather than helping them, and the reason for this is because many have been told that the tradition cannot be trusted. After all look at Rome and all of the tings they place under tradition. Papal infallibility, Papal supremacy, the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, indulgences, mandatory celibacy fro priests, & c… However, the fact is also that these things were not of apostolic origin; they were added much later, mostly in the 12th to 14th centuries. Right from the earliest of days the church had other traditions that preceded these late inventions that we have every reason to believe are apostolic and in no way contradict the scriptures but rather expand and enhance them.

The seven sacraments are such a tradition. As such, Tarsitano secondly points out that they are “the revelation of some truth that is unknowable until it is revealed,” namely the mercy of God and the needs of man. In holy tradition salvation involves the whole person and the whole life. In these seven principle sacraments we see God’s work in physical reality, and experience the word of God explaining and applying it to our lives.

Thirdly, Tarsitano points to the two dominical or commanded sacraments of scripture, and the additional five minor sacraments employed by the church to deliver God's grace as they were taught by the apostles. all put together we find God condescended to meet our physical needs. In these seven sacraments we find the incarnational nature of Christianity at its fullest.

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