Part II. The Application of the Catholic Religion
Hitherto we have been investigating the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic religion as to the nature ol God revealed in the person of Jesus. We have next to consider the means by which the individual Christian is enabled to secure for himself the benefits made available for him by the fact that in the person of Jesus God became man, died for the forgiveness of men's sins, and placed at their disposal a new power of living in accordance with His will. For the essential nature of God as revealed in Jesus is His perfect goodness, and it is only in so far as he is at least endeavouring to live up to that pattern of divine holiness that man is able to approach to God or enter into communion with Him. At the same time it is a matter of daily experience that man is by himself entirely unable to live up to that standard in any way, and that his natural inclinations tend in many, if not most, directions to lead him into a course of life entirely contrary to it. Hence the revelation of God in Jesus would have been of little value, if it had not been accompanied by the gift of a new power to enable man at least to strive after the attainment of holiness. The best of the Jews at the time of the Incarnation realised that the Law with its system of external observances was only of value as a means for the attainment of holiness, and also that it was inadequate to enable man to attain to that standard of holiness which it held before him. The ancient Jewish cosmogony which forms the opening of the Old Testament ascribes this inherent weakness of man to an original act of sin committed by the first created human beings; from their first disobedience there followed a taint of sin to which all their descendants were made subject.
The importance of the story lies of course not in its historical value, for it was only a mistaken conception of the nature of scriptural truth that led to the attempt to defend the literal accuracy of the narrative when it was first seriously questioned in the nineteenth century, but in its recognition of the fact that man does as a matter of daily experience naturally incline to evil rather than to good, and its insistence that this tendency to evil is not due to God, Who, being Himself perfect, cannot be the author of evil. There is indeed here a theological problem of some difficulty, for it is difficult to hold as a matter of faith that this general tendency to evil is the result of one original act of sin, committed by an original ancestor of man, at that stage in the history of the world at which there first emerged in the order of evolution a being which was capable of acting as the organism in which the divinely given faculties of the soul could exercise themselves. It is sufficient for our present purpose to insist on the undoubted fact that man as we know him is a being partly belonging to the purely natural order in which moral evil does not exist, (for creatures of the purely natural order are without moral responsibility which exists only where there is a knowledge of good and evil, and the power to choose freely between them), yet also belongs in part to the supernatural order and was created in order that he might raise himself from the natural to the supernatural level. Yet by himself he must inevitably fail to do so, for his natural tendency is to prefer the lower to the higher level of existence. A full investigation of the whole problem is impossible here: it is sufficient to recognise the facts of human nature.
The Catholic religion offers then a system by which man is enabled to overcome this obstacle of sin, and fulfil the purpose for which he was created. That purpose of course is not simply to attain to holiness or moral perfection. The purpose for which man was created is to promote the glory of God by serving Him in this world and by attaining in a future life to a full perfection of his being in which he will be united to God by love and yet retain his own personal individuality. The functions of man in that state can only be described in terms of metaphor drawn from this life, which must at the best be inadequate for their purpose; it is best to describe the activity of man in his perfect state as the offering of praise and glory to God, but it must always be remembered that in using this or any other phrase we are employing human language to describe something which the human mind cannot conceive. The advantage of this particular conception is that it recognises that the object for which man was created is not his own happiness or his own perfection, but God. Perfection is necessary since it is only as made perfect that man can adequately fulfil the purpose for which he was created; but the purpose itself is that supernatural activity which is best described as the praising of God.1 Our next step then is to consider how a being who by himself invariably tends towards evil can be enabled to rise to that state in which he is able to devote his whole being to the end for which he was created, namely the promotion of the glory of God.
1 It may seem strange that no reference has been made to the service of others as part of the end for which man was created. Ultimately however the service of others is not the end of man, for such service is only of value in so far as it is either consciously or unconsciously done out of love of God and with the desire to promote His glory. In man's present state such service of others must always form a large part of the Christian life; but Christianity looks beyond this life to a state in which all mankind, except those who have finally chosen evil rather than good, will have attained to their perfection, and will be occupied eternally in the perfect fulfilment of the end for which they were created. In such a state it is difficult to see how there would be any room for the service of others, since all men will have full possession of all that they need. Hence the service of others seems to be confined to the existing order of the world rather than to belong to the final end of man. So in the Gospels Our Lord commends those who have performed works of mercy on the ground that in the last resort they are rendered to Himself, i.e., to God. The point is of some importance in view of the modern tendency to see in the service of others the ultimate end of man. The Christian point of view is that it is only the fulfilment of the end of man in so far as it is one of the highest forms in which in the present state of existence we are able to offer our service to God.
The solution of the problem lies in the recognition of the fact that by himself man is entirely unable to raise himself out of his natural state of sinfulness. In that state he is unable to please God, or to deserve anything but His displeasure, for the simple reason that his own preference is always to reject the good and to choose the evil. Yet he does so in spite of the fact that he knows, even if imperfectly, that he is rejecting what he recognises to be good and preferring what he recognises to be evil. Thus he is to some extent at least to blame for his preference of evil and therefore deserving of punishment; while God, being perfectly just, cannot simply ignore his guilt and remit the punishment which the sins of man have deserved. Such forgiveness of sin is indeed right in man, for all men are sinners and therefore have no right to judge one another by the strict standard of justice untempered by mercy; but God Who is perfectly just cannot simply ignore the sins of men. It was to meet this hopeless alienation of man from God that God himself became man. Man had deserved punishment, but could not by any suffering he might undergo atone for the injury which by his sins he had offered to the majesty of God. The death of Jesus on the Cross was an act of Divine mercy, by which God Himself bore that burden of suffering which the sins of man had deserved. The fact that Jesus was God rendered His death infinitely precious in the sight of God, and therefore sufficient and more than sufficient to atone for the whole tale of human sin. [It should be observed that while the death of Jesus on the Cross must be regarded from the human point of view as a single historical incident in the order of history, God Himself is outside the order of time. Thus the crucifixion is the expression in terms of the temporal order of a fact which in its essential character is timeless, namely the willingness of God to offer His Son, and the willingness of God the Son to offer Himself to atone for the sins of the world. This explanation removes the difficulty sometimes caused by rather crude statements of the doctrine of the atonement, which seem to imply that before the Incarnation the world lay completely under the wrath of God, which was only appeased by the fact that at that moment the Son offered Himself to placate the divine wrath of the Father. Such statements are of course merely popular presentations whose weakness is due to the fact that in all theology we are dealing with a historical revelation of eternal facts, which human thought cannot fully comprehend. The same explanation shows how it was possible for man before the Incarnation to know and obey, however imperfectly, the will of God. See further c.v.]
This act of divine forgiveness was a free gift which man had done nothing to deserve. But the mercy of God did not end with forgiveness. With the death of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead there was bestowed on man a new dispensation in which he was made capable of receiving the continual help of God, without which he could never hope to escape from the old dominion of sin. This divine gift by which man is enabled to overcome sin and to offer acceptable service to God is known as grace. It is only in so far as the actions of man proceed fron this divine power working within him that he is able to do anything that is good. Of course it is not to be supposed that it was impossible for man to do any good thing before the death and resurrection of Jesus. But all good actions done before the atonement had become a fact of human history were only done in virtue of the fact, as we should say in human terms, that God foresaw the atoning death of His Son, or in language which more adequately represents a fact which passes our understanding, that the atonement is from the point of view of God an eternal fact. Thus all good actions done before the Incarnation were done by the grace of God, just as the good actions of unbelievers and heathen now are, in so far as they are good, done by the aid of a divine gift of grace of which the recipient is ignorant. Since therefore man can only attain to holiness or perform any action acceptable to God by means of a divine gift of grace, the Catholic system of religion is the means by which this gift is normally made available for the needs of man. [The doctrine of grace rests, apart from revelation, on the immediate facts of Christian experience that the forgiveness of past sin and the power to render acceptable service to God proceed ultimately from a divine gift, which man could never deserve. It has largely been moulded by St. Paul's personal experiences which have left a permanent mark on this side of Christian doctrine. None the less a moment's reflection will show that the view that man by himself can do anything pleasing to God implies ultimately a low and anthropomorphic conception of the divine nature, since it implies that a purely human action can be acceptable to the Creator of the universe. It is otherwise if good actions are seen to be due to the action of God Himself working within us. Similarly it involves a low ideal of the standard of human perfection, for it fails to recognise the absolute standard of perfection demanded by Jesus, and the impossibility of attaining it by any merely human efforts. But if the attainment of perfection is impossible except by a divine gift, it follows that all actions, in so far as they tend towards it must, proceed from a similar cause.] The new fact involved in the Christian dispensation is that it brought to man a full knowledge of the means of obtaining this gift, and a system in which this gift was promised to all who should seek it in the appointed way. What had hitherto been only partially revealed was now made clear. Hitherto man had been compelled to seek after God, if haply he might find Him; henceforward the means of access to God was made available to all men by a Divine covenant, which guaranteed that all who sought for God by the appointed means should be certain of finding Him. This possibility was due to the free gift of grace rendered available for mankind by the death of Jesus. By His own efforts man could never attain to the true knowledge of God or offer him any acceptable service. At the same time this gift of grace is not given to man in such a manner as to override the freedom of his will; all can obtain it who are prepared to submit to or co-operate with the action of grace upon their souls; but it remains within the free choice of man to decide whether he will accept or refuse it. In the succeeding chapters we shall consider the means which the Catholic religion provides for obtaining this Divine gift of grace, without which it is impossible for man to fulfil the purpose for which he was created, namely the praise and service of God, or to attain to that state of holiness which is a necessary condition for the fulfilment of that end. It is always to be remembered that, for the Christian, holiness is always the Christ-like character, that is, a character which is so moulded by the action of the grace of God that it resembles as nearly as possible the character of God as revealed in terms of humanity in the person of Jesus.
Since grace is a gift of God, it is natural that in order to obtain it, man should have recourse to Him from Whom it proceeds. It is indeed possible for God, with Whom all things are possible, to bestow grace on those who do not seek it. Hence there are, at least apparently, cases in which sinners or unbelievers who have persistently refused to admit the claims of God, have been suddenly converted by an overpowering gift of grace, which has completely subdued their hostility. Even here, however, there must necessarily be a voluntary submission to the action of grace, which renders conversion in the last resort an act of surrender on the part of the human will. In any case such conversions are abnormal, and no man can presume on the mercy of God by continuing in sin and expecting that God will, without any co-operation on his own part, bestow on him a sudden gift of conversion. Normally those who would obtain grace must seek for it, possessing the full assurance that those who seek for it will not fail to find it. In point of fact the mere action of turning towards God is in itself only rendered possible by a gift of grace from God: and it carries with it a reciprocal action of God towards us. Of this reciprocal action we normally have no conscious feeling at the outset of the Christian life; frequently Christians never have any conscious experience of the action of God upon their souls, at any rate none of which it can be said with any certainty that it is not an illusion produced by the excitement of the emotions. Our knowledge of the fact that we cannot turn towards God without receiving from Him a corresponding gift of grace rests onjaith in the promises of Jesus, confirmed by the effect on our lives of any serious attempt to do so. This effect is to be measured not by any passing phase of emotion but by our growth in the love of God and by our development in the Christian character. Thus, although we are not necessarily or normally conscious of any action of God towards us, yet we believe that even the initial act by which man turns to God is really an act by which he submits to the action of divine grace, since we are assured by faith that our action is but one side of the process by which the soul receives grace, and further that although it is all-important that we should make the initial act of surrender, yet this act is but a small and unimportant matter as compared with the action of God towards us.
Communion between God and the soul may take the form either of immediate personal access to God of the kind usually described as prayer, or it may take the form of some external action to the proper performance of which a special promise of grace is attached. The latter form of communion with God is the sacramental system of the Catholic Church and will be considered in the following chapters. The reason for postponing it for the moment is that the benefits which the sacraments convey to us depend in part on the presence within our souls of a certain attitude towards God, which may in the widest sense be described as one of prayer, prayer being used here to cover all those processes by which the soul disposes itself towards God, whether the attitude consciously present to the mind be primarily active or passive, i.e., whether the mental process be primarily one of active endeavour to approach to God or of submission and surrender to His action on the soul. It is obvious that without some such attitude of the soul towards God the benefits of the Sacraments will be lost; a certain disposition is required, if they are to produce their proper effect. We shall return to this point in the following chapter. For the moment we shall consider briefly the Catholic conception of prayer.
Prayer does not of course consist in the utterance of words in coherent speech, or in personal presence at any corporate act of worship; yet there are numbers of Christians who have apparently no idea that any other form of prayer exists or is possible. The essence of prayer is the endeavour of the soul to approach to God; formal words are of value only in so far as they assist this endeavour of the soul to approach to God; they are harmful where, as may easily be the case, they hinder it. Prayer is in its essence the attempt of the soul to enter into communion with God.
From this point of view we may briefly consider the methods by which the soul can dispose itself for this communion of which the principal are vocal and mental prayer. By vocal prayer are meant all forms of prayer in which the soul addresses itself to God in words which are either actually uttered with the lips or explicitly present to the mind although not actually uttered. Such prayers are obviously necessary for those who are only beginners in religion, since the mind is normally trained by the learning of set forms of speech which are calculated to excite the emotions which it is desired to produce. For instance we train a child in good manners in order to produce the virtue of courtesy; similarly we teach a child to say prayers in order that it may learn its proper relation to God. Such prayers may either take the form of requests for particular benefits, whether temporal or spiritual, or they may take, as in the one prayer taught by Jesus to His disciples and known to all Christians as the Lord's Prayer, the form of a general submission to the will of God, and a request for all such temporal and spiritual blessings as it is the will of God to bestow upon ourselves and all mankind.
It has been suggested that vocal prayer is primarily necessary for those who are beginners in religion: but it is essential for all Christians to remember that in this life they can never rise above the status of beginners. It is therefore impossible for Christians ever to rise above the necessity for a continued use of vocal prayer. There have been times when Christians have endeavoured to do so with disastrous results. The effect of the attempt has been to breed a spirit of pride, which leads to forgetfulness of the attitude of humility and dependence which is proper for man, when he comes before the throne of God. It exposes the Christian to the constant danger of supposing that he is being favoured with some special measure of divine inspiration, which allows him to ignore the duty of exercising the ordinary Christian virtues. Further it encourages him to suppose that he can, without reference to the whole body of Christian experience, decide for himself as to the relative importance of particular aspects of the Christian revelation, and the truth or falsehood of particular aspects of Christian doctrine.
For this reason the Church insists on the necessity of a certain measure of corporate vocal prayer as the duty of all Christians. Such prayer emphasises both the double aspect of man's nature as a spiritual and material being, (for the use of speech is proper to man only in so far as he is a material being), and also keeps him in constant memory of the fact that he is a member of a body, the whole Christian society, and that he cannot think that his relations with God are a matter which concerns himself alone. Thus the Church has from the very earliest times attached to the bare forms of words necessary for the administration of the sacraments suitable utterances of prayer and worship. In particular the sacrament which figures most largely in the regular religious life of the Christian, the Eucharist, is always celebrated to the accompaniment of a whole service of praise, thanksgiving, intercession, penitence and instruction, attendance at which has from the beginning been enjoined as the weekly act of worship binding on all Christians. In this way a certain minimum of corporate vocal worship is imposed on all: while those who by their profession are particularly pledged to devote their lives to the service of God are bound also to the daily recital of certain forms of vocal prayer. It was originally the practice for those pledged to a life of service of God to recite these offices of vocal prayer, (composed principally of Psalms and readings from the Scriptures) together, as acts of corporate worship: at present it is usual for the clergy to recite them in private, the corporate recitation of them being confined to those who live in religious communities: it seems likely that experience will show that the spiritual value of private recitation (in which the individual unites himself mentally with the whole Catholic Church) far outweighs the importance of adhering to the primitive practice of corporate recitation, and that the exercise of these forms of prayer will tend increasingly to be performed in private. At the same time other forms of corporate vocal worship have been introduced o foster the devotion of ordinary Christians, who otherwise might fall into the danger of forgetting completely the duty of approaching God in prayer; while other verbal forms are suggested for the private use of the faithful either daily or as the occasion may suggest to their piety. In all cases the value of these forms of prayer lies in their aptitude to produce a certain attitude of the soul towards God by exciting mental devotion, or in their capacity to provide an opportunity for the exercise of that devotion: without such exercise the faculty would soon perish of atrophy.
The practice of direct intercession for spiritual or material benefits is of course one of those which it is hardest to justify from the point of view of philosophy: it seems to imply the possibility that God may change the course of the whole world in response to the petition of man. Its justification rests in the fact that Our Lord Himself promises to grant the prayers of those who call upon Him in this manner. Certain modern Christians incline to the view that such petitions should be confined to prayers for spiritual blessings for ourselves and for others, and would explain the whole process of prayer as one of auto-suggestion (in the case of petitions for ourselves), and apparently of some kind of "thought-transference" (in the case of petitions for others). It is hardly necessary to point out that such a view is entirely alien to the teaching of Jesus: it is ultimately an attempt to reconcile Christianity with a materialist view of the universe, by excepting a limited portion of human life from the purely material sphere. At the same time, it is necessary to recognise that direct intercession has in the past played an excessive part in the conception of prayer current among the majority of Anglicans: it is particularly to be regretted that even Anglicans who follow the Catholic conception of religion in general have not emancipated themselves from the excessive use of "corporate intercessions" as a form of public worship.
Mental Prayer in its proper sense consists of all those actions of the soul by which it endeavours to approach to God without the use of any actual words. Such prayer may take many forms. The commonest type is that in which some incident in the Christian system, whether it be a particular incident in the life of Our Lord or of one of the Saints, a doctrine of the Church or saying of some great Christian teacher, is made the subject of our consideration with a view to its practical application to the circumstances of daily life. From this consideration the soul proceeds to acts of love or desire for closer union with God, hope, contrition, humility, and the like. As the soul advances, the need of formal consideration grows less and the part played by reason grows smaller, the attention being concentrated on the forming of direct acts and aspirations of the will towards God. In the end, in some of the greatest of the Saints, especially in those who have been called to a life of prayer, rather than of active service of God in works of charity towards others, the power of directing such aspirations towards God has become habitual in such a way as to enable them to attain to a regular state of contemplation or union with God, which is hardly intelligible to the ordinary Christian. For a full account of the various degrees of mental prayer and the methods for following it the reader must consult the works of ascetic theologians; in general however it is safe to say that it must normally begin with the consideration by the intellect of some particular point, which is used for the purpose of exciting the will to a practical carrying-out of the lesson it suggests. Naturally it is as a rule most profitable to base such prayer on the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels with a view to the practical imitation of His example. In all cases, however, the purpose of such prayer is to increase the conformity of our will to the will of God.
While however a certain disposition of the soul towards God is a necessary condition for the receiving of grace in any form, this type of prayer which is technically known as mental prayer is not. Its value for the development of the spiritual life cannot be over estimated, and it is probable that it should be practised far more widely than is commonly the case; it is likely that many who are content with vocal prayer and the use of the Sacraments would find the utmost benefit from it. None the less it is not an absolute necessity, in the same sense that a general disposition of the soul to seek grace from God, which can be produced by vocal prayer, is necessary for the reception of any kind of grace.
It has been noted above that any action of the soul towards God is immediately met by a reciprocal action on the part of God towards the soul. This belief is a necessary corollary of that personal love of God for each individual soul which forms so large a part of the teaching of Jesus. Now man is not a purely spiritual being. He is in this life united to a material body, and it will be seen later that this material body, although it is in itself corruptible, is none the less the germ of a nature which is eternal. Consequently it is natural that the grace of God should not simply be conveyed to man by imperceptible and purely spiritual means, but that God should provide material means of communion between Himself and the individual soul. Such methods overcome the difficulty which man, as being on one side of his nature a material creature, would experience if his means of communion with God were limited entirely to the spiritual side of his nature, more especially in view of the fact that in the first instance it is the material side of man's nature that predominates; the spiritual element has to be trained by a long and laborious process before it can take its rightful place as the dominant element in human nature. Similarly they make due provision for the fact that the material element in human nature is not evil, but is itself capable of sharing in that benefit of redemption from sin which was won for man by the atoning death of Jesus upon the Cross; in some form or another the material element in the nature of man is capable of being developed into something eternal.
This principle finds its supreme expression in the belief in the Incarnation. For the belief that Jesus is God Himself, made man, proves that a human nature similar to ours is capable of being the means of expressing the nature of God. A human life and a human death have been in fact the method by which God has revealed Himself to man. But this revelation was not confined to a single place and a single period of time. It has been extended in such a way that every generation and every part of the world can be brought into communion with the incarnate life and the death of Jesus. This extension is the sacramental system of the Catholic Church. In this system we have the divinely appointed means by which man, in virtue; of his initial turning to God, receives under certain external forms the gifts of divine grace which he needs if he is to: receive the benefit of eternal salvation won for all men by the death of Jesus, i.e., the power to overcome sin and to attain to that state of holiness in which he can accomplish the eternal purpose for which he was created, namely the praising of God or the attainment to union with God by love. (It will be remembered that these are merely two inadequate forms of human speech for describing a state which passes our understanding). The authority for the use of such forms comes from Jesus Himself, either directly in virtue of the fact that He Himself ordained their use, or indirectly in so far as the power to convey particular gifts was bestowed by Him on His first followers, who themselves used particular forms for their conveyance to others, although it cannot be demonstrably shown that Jesus Himself ordained the use of those particular forms. Thus the sacramental system is the divinely appointed means by which grace is conveyed to man. By its right use man has an assurance of salvation; without it he has none, for it was only in connection with its use that Jesus promised salvation to His disciples. We may indeed have the fullest trust that those who fail to use it through no fault of their own, and do, even without knowing it, co-operate to the best of their ability with the grace that God gives them, will in the end obtain salvation; but of this we have no certain divine promise. Those who knowingly and deliberately reject it can only do so at the extreme peril of their souls.
The Sacraments are seven in number. They may conveniently be divided into those which are broadly speaking necessary for the life of the ordinary Christian and those which are necessary only for certain particular purposes. These must now be considered briefly here, though it is manifest that only the most summary treatment is possible.
The first of the Sacraments is baptism, in which the sins of the person baptized are forgiven. It has been seen above that man himself has a natural tendency to prefer evil to good. Whether we regard this tendency as the result of an initial act of sin committed by his first parents, or whether we regard it as due to the fact that he is a creature of the natural order, who must strive to raise himself to the supernatural, is of secondary importance. The fact remains that man has this natural tendency, which in itself puts him into a state of opposition to God. This tendency is known as original sin. As a result of it he does invariably, from the time he develops the most elementary use of reason, commit actions which he knows more or less clearly to be evil; the extent of this knowledge varies, according to the extent to which he has acquired the use of reason and the nature of his upbringing. Such actions are described as actual sins, as against the inherent state of original sin in which all men are born. The Sacrament of baptism instituted by Jesus Himself consists of a ceremonial washing in which the person baptized is dipped in water, (in modern practice water is poured on the head of the person baptized), while the person who administers the sacrament pronounces the words: "I baptize thee in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." By this external action is conveyed the forgiveness of all sin of which the person baptized has hitherto been guilty. This in all cases includes original sin; in the case of those not baptized until they have reached an age at which they are able to understand the distinction between right and wrong it includes also such actual sins as they may have committed. By means of the sacrament the person baptized is thus raised from a natural to a supernatural state. He is not indeed delivered from the natural tendency to prefer evil to good, but he is delivered from a state of being naturally unacceptable to God, and is placed in a state in which it is possible for him to be the recipient of grace. Naturally it remains within his own free will whether he makes use of it or whether he allows the tendency to prefer evil to good to dominate his life. Baptism will not force him to make use of grace, but it puts him in a position in which the grace of God is made available for him in virtue of a direct divine covenant. He is thus said to be regenerated or born again into a new supernatural life; whether he will develop it, or by preferring to develop only the natural life allow the supernatural to remain dormant and ultimately to perish of inanition, depends on himself. Since the new life, once conveyed, is a permanent gift, baptism can only be conferred once on the Christian.
In practice it is usual to confer this Sacrament on infants who are in a state of original sin, but incapable of actual sin. It might be objected that this practice is inconsistent with the point of view urged in the preceding section that some initial act of submission to God is the necessary condition of receiving grace. The practice of the baptism of infants however rests on the vicarious desire for baptism expressed by the persons who bring the infant to the font and their promise on its behalf to lead a Christian life, a promise which carries with it the duty of providing for the instruction of the child in the Christian religion. The fact that those baptized in infancy may and often do fail to lead a Christian life may be due to neglect of this duty by those who promised on the child's behalf, or to deliberate preference of evil by the person baptized; unhappily such subsequent failures are often to be found in the case of those not baptized until they have reached years of discretion. The justification of the practice of infant baptism lies in the fact that those so baptized have a promise of eternal salvation, since they are delivered from original sin, which is the only barrier between their souls and God; its legitimacy is warranted by the action of Jesus in blessing infants brought to Him and rebuking those who would have kept them from Him; obviously no higher authority can be necessary.
Of the fate of infants who die unbaptized we have no certain knowledge, except in so far as it seems manifestly inconsistent with the belief that God is love to suppose that they suffer eternal punishment for the lack of baptism, when their lack of it is due to no fault of their own. It is a commonly received opinion that they attain to a state of natural happiness, lower than that of the baptized, but none the less a state of positive happiness; but here we are in the region of speculation. It may be added that the Church attaches such importance to the deliverance from sin which this sacrament conveys, and the consequent claim which it gives to the covenanted promise of eternal salvation, that in the case of an emergency, for instance in the case of a dying infant, any baptized person can administer it.
The second sacrament in respect of the life of the Christian is the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. (It is of course only second to baptism in so far as it can, like the rest of the Sacraments, only be conferred on those who have by baptism been made Christians, and in so far as it is only available for those who have reached the age of reason). The institution of this Sacrament took place at the last meal eaten by Jesus with His disciples before His crucifixion. At this meal He "took bread and blessed, and brake it and gave to them and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank of it. And He said unto them, This is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many." This is the account of the institution of the Holy Sacrament given in St. Mark's Gospel; the narratives recording the incident vary slightly, as is natural in view of the fact that the incident they record was associated, by the time that the narratives were written, with the principal feature of Christian worship. Hence we are dealing with narratives which have already passed into a very wide use as a fixed part of Christian worship, and have thus crystallised into slightly different forms as the result of oral transmission, and cannot now be changed by the writers of the Gospels, for the sake of harmony. The point is of importance in view of the fantastic theories which have sometimes been built on the minor variations in the account of the institution of the Eucharist preserved in the New Testament. In particular the fact that the account in St. Mark's Gospel makes no mention of any command on the part of Jesus to continue the use of the rite has been taken to indicate that in fact He had no intention that it should be continued, and that the Eucharist as a Christian institution is derived not from Jesus but from the later introduction into the Church of a rite modelled on the story of the Last Supper. Such theories may be dismissed as fantastic; the Eucharist as a Christian institution dates back to the period when Christianity regarded itself as simply a sect of Judaism, in which the introduction of the Eucharist as a ritual meal would have been unthinkable, unless it had been due to the command of Jesus Himself. Whether the command to continue the scene of the Last Supper was originally given in the words in which St. Paul records it in his first letter to the Corinthians or in some other form of words is obviously a secondary point.
It is a matter of common knowledge that the exact meaning of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, have furnished the ground for endless controversies. As a matter of history the Church has from the first tended in one direction. It has always been the view that the repetition of the words uttered by Jesus on that occasion over the elements of bread and wine by a duly authorised minister of the Church produced in them a change by which they cease to be common bread and wine and become instead the Body and Blood of Jesus which were offered for the salvation of man upon the Cross. (It has sometimes been held that a specific prayer for the accomplishment of this change must be added to the original words of Jesus). This change does not affect their external properties; it is a change which, leaving their qualities exactly as they were, in so far as they are knowable to the ordinary means of human perception, yet transforms their essential nature from that of bread and wine into that of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Such a change naturally leaves unaffected not only those properties which are the object of the ordinary knowledge of the senses, but also those which are the object of the most elaborate scientific analysis: the change belongs not to the natural but to the supernatural plane. All the perceptible or thinkable qualities of bread remain exactly as they were before: but the reality which is present on the altar after the "words of consecration," (i.e., the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper and now repeated by Him through the agency of His minister), is no longer bread but the Body of Jesus Himself. He is present, as He was present to His disciples in His incarnate life, giving Himself under the forms of Bread and Wine to be the food that sustains the spiritual life of His faithful people.
This belief, in its explicit form, was only reached by the Church after the lapse of some centuries. The delay in its formulation was mainly due to the fact that no particular controversy arose on the question of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus during earlier periods of Christian development. Here, as in the case of other doctrines, the experience of Christian devotion saw in the Eucharist the appointed means by which the Lord vouchsafed to give Himself to His children as the regular means for the support of that new life which they had received at Baptism. That food could only be regarded as His Body and Blood in view of the words uttered by Him at the Last Supper, the consecrated elements being the means by which He communicated His divine life to later generations, just as His bodily presence was the means by which He communicated it to His first followers. Thus to St. Paul the partaking of the Eucharist was a partaking of, or a communion with, the Body and Blood of Christ; to receive it unworthily was to be guilty of a deadly outrage against His person. The development of Catholic doctrine followed the natural meaning of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, which in their obvious sense, when divested of the various conceptions which subsequent ages of controversy have endeavoured to read into them, imply an identity of the consecrated elements with His Body and Blood. Now ordinary bread and wine are manifestly not the Body and Blood of Jesus; they are simply bread and wine. Hence it is necessary to suppose that some change has taken place in the Eucharistic elements in virtue of which this identification is possible. That change is certainly not on the natural plane, on which they remain unaltered; it follows necessarily that the change is in the supernatural and supersensible order. Hence the constant tendency of Christian devotion was to see in the Eucharistic elements a means by which Jesus presents Himself to the Christian, enabling him by faith to enjoy that personal fellowship with Him, which it was the privilege of His first disciples to enjoy in Galilee and Jerusalem, and to receive the benefits of the forgiveness won by His death on the Cross and the new life won by His Resurrection. The doctrinal formulation of a later age was merely the formal statement of what had always been implied in the devotional attitude to the Eucharist of every earlier generation of Christians.
It may be added that this belief is in harmony with the general tenour of Christian doctrine. The whole natural order is from the Christian point of view a self-revelation of God, true so far as it goes, yet not complete, nor yet so clear that by it alone we can discover the true nature of God. It needs a direct divine revelation to make it possible for man to find God, althoi:gh in itself creation points towards Him. Similarly all that is true in the discoveries of human wisdom proceeds from a divine light vouchsafed to the human soul, and is thus the result of a divine revelation, but that revelation is only partial until it finds its completion and confirmation in the person of Jesus. Thus the whole natural order is a partial revelation of God; but Jesus Himself is the full and perfect revelation of God, vouchsafed indeed in terms of the natural order, yet, since He Himself is God, emanating from a higher than the natural order. From this point of view it is consonant with the general methods of the divine operation that objects of the natural order should be employed as the means by which the divine nature, revealed in the humanity of Jesus, should be rendered accessible to all mankind. The attempt to find a purely symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist by regarding it as a means by which the faithful are able to enter into spiritual communion with Jesus in virtue of their faith, not in virtue of His actual presence under the outward forms of bread and wine, is in effect inconsistent with the whole method of the Incarnation, since it implies that the supreme means vouchsafed to man for entering into communion with God depends for its efficacy on the efforts of man himself, not on a divine gift, which does indeed need the co-operation of man to render it effective, yet depends for its efficacy on the divine gift, not on the human action. Further it demands from the believer a power to distinguish between the actual elements and the divine gift which they symbolize, which is bound either to be ignored by the uneducated Christian, (who will thus receive the Holy Sacrament in a "superstitious "belief that it is the Body and Blood of Christ when in fact it is not), or to remain something so unintelligible to him that he will abandon the practice of receiving the Sacrament as something reserved for those more learned than himself. The belief that the Eucharist is to be regarded as simply a memorial feast of bread and wine to commemorate the death of Jesus scarcely needs to be seriously considered, since it fails so manifestly to give any meaning to the words of Jesus, "This is my body." The objection that common things such as bread and wine, or so material a process as eating are unworthy of being used as the supreme method by which God should bestow Himself upon man, is of course from the point of view of an entire unbeliever a perfectly valid one: it is very difficult to believe that the Creator of the universe should give Himself to man in such a form. But it is equally remarkable that he should take upon Himself the form of a crucified Jew. On this point it is only necessary to remember that Jesus proclaimed that the divine method was to "hide these things from the wise and prudent and to reveal them unto babes." An objection to the Catholic conception of the Eucharist on these grounds is in fact a fundamental objection to Christianity, and must stand or fall with the arguments advanced in Part I, Chapter V.
There is, however, a further aspect of this Sacrament to be considered here. As the life of Jesus was not merely an act of revelation by which God showed His true nature to man, but also, particularly in the death with which it closed, a sacrifice by which God offered Himself to be an atonement for the sins of mankind, whose nature He had taken upon Himself for the purpose, so the Eucharist is an act of sacrifice by which the one Sacrifice of Calvary is pleaded for the benefit of individual Christians. This belief again was inherent in Christian devotion long before it received any definite formulation. It originated in the fact that so soon as the Church was separated from the old system of Judaism, the Eucharist naturally took the place of the sacrificial worship of the Temple as the centre of Christian life. The language of Jesus at the Last Supper implied that the new rite was the foundation of a new dispensation, just as the original Passover, which was being commemorated by Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper, was the foundation of the old covenant between God and the Jewish people. As that covenant found its expression in a sacrificial system, so it was natural to find in the new an expression of the universal human need for some oblation which might enable man to come with confidence before the throne of God. Since the Body and Blood of Jesus offered on Calvary were also present under the Eucharistic forms, it was natural to regard them as being now, what they were then, the oblation offered for the sins of all mankind. There is indeed a certain difficulty here, since it was also firmly believed that the sacrifice of Calvary was the one perfect atonement for the sins of all mankind; it is difficult to believe that the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice can in any sense be a real sacrifice, unless it can be regarded as in some way adding to the value of the sacrifice offered by Jesus on the Cross. Yet the minds of Christians felt an imperative need for a real sacrifice with which the individual believer may venture in spite of his unworthiness to approach the divine majesty. The solution of this quite genuine difficulty is two-fold. In the first place, to adopt a human analogy we may regard the merits of the death of Jesus as an inexhaustible reservoir of merit, which potentially can make atonement for the sins of all mankind. Yet by themselves they do jjoi profit the individual, except in so far as he makes them his own. Obviously Christianity in any form postulates the belief that some action on the part of the individual is necessary, if the merits of the death of Jesus on the Cross are to be of any avail for his particular needs; any other view involves the belief that all men are inevitably saved, whether they desire it or not. From this point of view any action by which man approaches God is, so far as it goes, a means by which he appropriates to himself the merits of the Cross, in virtue of which alone his action can have any value. Of all such actions the greatest is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, in which we directly offer the one oblation of Calvary for our particular needs, the sacrifice being thus the divinely appointed channel by which the merits of the "inexhaustible reservoir" are applied to our own individual needs.
There is however another point of view, from which it is perhaps possible to transcend the undoubted difficulty of harmonizing the demand of Christian experience for a real sacrifice with its insistence on the complete efficacy of the death of Jesus on the Cross as the perfect sacrifice of atonement for all human sin. The Christian revelation is the revelation of God Himself in terms of space and time; yet God Himself is not bound by space and time, which are His creatures. From the human point of view the atonement can only be known as an event in which God Himself suffered the death of the Cross. Thus we are bound to think of a period in time before the atonement had taken place, and to distinguish the activity of Jesus in His incarnate life from His mode of being as God the Son before the Incarnation, and again to distinguish His heavenly being as both God and man after His ascension into heaven from His mode of being both before and during His incarnate life. Yet reflection shows that while these distinctions are valid in so far as they are necessary for us to be able to understand the Incarnation at all, yet, as stated, they cannot apply exactly to the nature of God, which is timeless. From the human point of view the Incarnation and Atonement are incidents in history; yet they cannot be incidents in the history of God, to Whom every moment of time is equally present, just as is every point of space. From the divine point of view the fact of the Atonement is the love of God for man, which is so deep that He was willing to become man and die on the Cross for our salvation. That He did so is a fact of history; yet none the less it is also an eternal fact which has an existence apart from the order of time. Thus self-sacrificing and atoning love is an element in the eternal nature of God, quite apart from the realisation of that love in the course of history in the death of Jesus as the atonement for the sins of man on Calvary. We have here a mystery which surpasses human understanding, but is none the less rendered necessary by the demand of human thought that the nature of God should be above change.
This conception meets us in the pages of scripture. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest who in virtue of the sacrifice of Calvary pleads eternally for us in heaven. Such a conception is necessary, yet not finally adequate, since it implies a change in the nature of the divine being after the Incarnation. The writer of the Apocalypse writes with yet greater penetration of Jesus as "the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world." Here we have a clear grasp of the timeless nature of the sacrifice of Calvary as something inherent in the nature of God apart from its manifestation in the temporal order; we have seen above that this conception is necessary to explain the possibility of man receiving grace before the Incarnation. If this be applied to the Eucharist, we find a solution of the difficulty noticed above. The true character of the atonement is its eternal character as an element in the divine nature. The crucifixion is its manifestation as a fact of human history; it could only be manifested in this way within the temporal order of human life. On the other hand the sacrifice of the Eucharist is its local and temporal manifestation to individual Christians in every part of time and space. The offering of Calvary could necessarily be offered only at one time and at one place; but the atonement as an eternal fact is necessary to the whole of mankind at every moment of Me. In the Eucharist we have then the eternal sacrifice in a form in which it can be pleaded by all men at all times; for in it the Son offers to the Father that sacrifice which it is His eternal nature to present for the sins of mankind. Thus Calvary and the Eucharist are different modes of presenting in the world the one eternal fact; the former is its supreme manifestation in the temporal order, the latter its local and partial manifestation for the particular needs of individual Christians. The ultimate fact is beyond either, for it is an element in the eternal nature of God. We can rightly regard Calvary as the offering of the one Sacrifice, and the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice as its local application; but our conception, though true so far as it goes falls short of the eternal truth, which is ultimately beyond our understanding.
It is obvious that in the case of this Sacrament the grace provided is nothing less than the divine life of Jesus as God made man, given to be the food of our souls. Since He is the actual reality present under the outward forms of bread and wine, the grace He gives is in itself unlimited. On the other hand the capacity of the soul to receive grace from Him is not unlimited; it is limited both by sin and by lack of spiritual development. Those who presume to receive Him when they are in a state of grievous sin receive, as St. Paul has pointed out, not grace but condemnation; those who receive Him with a very small degree of devotion will normally receive but a small measure of grace; it is obvious indeed that to receive Him with a complete lack of devotion may involve a degree of sin which can only bring with it guilt and condemnation. Naturally "devotion "here is not to be interpreted as any mere sense of spiritual enthusiasm; what is needed is the intention of receiving Jesus for the benefit of the soul with humility and repentance; though such an intention will of course be developed and deepened as the soul advances in Christian holiness into a higher degree of spiritual union with God, which will increase the capacity of the soul to assimilate the grace of the Sacrament.
The celebration of the Christian mysteries is reserved to those who have been admitted to the Christian priesthood. The nature of this office will be discussed below.
NOTE.--The belief in the nature of the Blessed Sacrament described above inevitably rendered it from the first the centre of all Christian worship. The Eucharistic service, commonly known as the Mass is in its origin a combination of certain elements of the old worship of the Jewish synagogue with the specifically Christian worship of the Eucharist; it must be remembered that the Eucharist is the only act of worship for the regular daily life of the Christian which owes its origin to Jesus Himself. From the time when Christianity spread beyond the city of Jerusalem the Mass has formed the centre of the weekly religious life of the Christian; for many years it was regarded as inevitable that those present at the Mass on Sunday should also receive Holy Communion. The decline of this practice was due to the lower standard of Christian devotion which became prevalent after the triumph of the Church in the reign of Constantine. The low moral standard of many Christians led to their abstention from communion, for which they felt themselves unfit, except at one or two great festivals' The tendency since the Reformation has been to insist on the desirability of frequent communion. At the same time the very ancient rule that those who receive Holy Communion should be fasting (a rule based on a just perception of the necessity of inculcating the disposition of internal reverence by rules of external observance), has been maintained, in spite of the change of social custom as a result of which i} is now usual to eat the first meal of the day at a comparatively early hour. The result of this development has been that it is now common for Catholics to receive Holy Communion at a "Low Mass," i.e., a celebration of the Eucharistic service at which the accessories of ceremonial are less elaborate, and music and singing are omitted. This type of service is also that normally provided on weekdays, when the faithful have little time to spare from the claims of their work. The more elaborate service of "High Mass "(or a Mass with singing and music though without the full ceremonial of High Mass) remains as a form of worship for Sundays and great festivals: on Sundays it is usually postponed until a comparatively late hour, in order to enable the faithful to fulfil the weekly obligation of hearing Mass on Sunday. At such services there are few communicants except the Priest who is actually celebrating, and usually none, the reason being the change in social manners noted above; those of the faithful who desire to receive Holy Communion have done so at a Low Mass at an earlier hour. This is, however, merely a matter of practical convenience; there is no reason why High Mass should not be celebrated at an early hour with a large number of communicants, as often happens on festivals which are not public holidays, when the faithful are only able to be present early in the morning. These are matters in which the parish Priest decides for himself; and naturally his decision is, or should be based on the convenience of his flock.
A further development which must be noted here is the practice of reserving the Consecrated Elements (in practice only under the form of Bread), in order to give Holy Communion to those who for one reason or another are unable to receive it during the course of the Mass. Originally the practice was due to the necessity of providing the Sacrament for the sick, who were unable to be present at Mass on Sunday; naturally other causes besides sickness might occasionally arise, such as imprisonment or the inability of Christians of servile status to be absent from the houses of heathen masters.
The practice of sending the Holy Sacrament out of the Church for such objects dates back to the middle of the second century A. D. when Justin Martyr treats it as an established practice, not as an innovation.
The practice of "Reservation" is more than ever necessary in modern times, when the pressure of work makes it very difficult for the ordinary Christian to receive Holy Communion on weekdays, if it is only possible for him to do so during Mass; for although it may be possible to find an hour for the daily Mass which will suit the bulk of the laity, it is certain to be unsuitable for many. This difficulty is very urgent in large industrial parishes but it is said to apply even more strongly to rural areas.
Since Catholics believe that the Consecrated Elements are in fact the bodily presence of Jesus Himself, it is inevitable that they should be reserved with every circumstance of outward dignity, which may serve to express and at the same time to inculcate the devotion which the Church owes to her Lord. So present among men in this manner, He will be the principal though by no means the only object of the private devotions of those who enter a church to pray, and they will be assisted in their prayers by such external marks of devotion as have been shown to be most suitable to provide such assistance. Services will be provided in which the congregation can offer to Jesus that homage which is His due; and by fostering devotion to Jesus in the Holy Sacrament they will inevitably tend to increase the desire of the Christian to receive Him more frequently and devoutly in Communion. In all such acts of worship the homage which the faithful offer will be rewarded by the grace which flows from the actual presence of Jesus among them. Naturally this measure of grace is incomparably less than that which they will receive in Holy Communion. Yet at the same time the increased devotion to Jesus in the Holy Sacrament, which such acts of worship produce, will increase their capacity to assimilate the grace which He gives them when, they actually receive Him in Communion.
In no point did the teaching of Jesus arouse so much hostility among the Jews of His time as in its claim to exercise the divine prerogative of the forgiveness of sin. This claim was openly made on several occasions; and on several occasions Jesus expressed His intention of conferring the authority which He claimed to exercise in the matter on His disciples. In the first period of Christian development which preceded the public recognition of Christianity by the Roman Empire this prerogative was exercised mainly in two ways. The first was in the conferring of baptism. Those baptised were normally adults, and in receiving baptism they received forgiveness for the sins of their past lives as heathen; in some cases their baptism was preceded by a public confession of their sins, but it is probable that this was only in cases where the past life of the person baptized had been one of notorious iniquity.
The second was in the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. The early missionary activity of St. Paul was marked by a peculiar reliance on the power of a sudden conversion to change the whole moral outlook of the convert, who was admitted to baptism with little or no preliminary testing or instruction; and the result was often disastrous. Subsequent generations found by experience that it was unsafe to assume that a convert had so far broken with the habits of his heathen life as to be fit for admission to the full privileges of the Church, until he had been tested by a long period of instruction and probation. As a result of this probation, coupled with the fact that the would-be convert had also to face the prospect of persecution at the hands of the Imperial authorities, if he were known to be a Christian, the general moral level of professing Christians at this time was so high that serious lapses into sin could be regarded as something monstrous and unnatural. Hence such sins as relapsing into idolatry or open and notorious violations of the moral law of the Ten Commandments were regarded as outrages against the majesty of God, so grievous that they could only be expiated by long periods of public penance imposed after a public confession of guilt. In the case of certain sins reconciliation was only granted at the moment of death.
With the peace of the Church the position was changed. Considerations of worldly prudence favoured the profession of Christianity. The result was a rapid accession of converts educated as heathen, with very little desire to break with the sins of the past. Moreover generation after generation of Christians grew up as time went on, who had never been anything but Christians, or envisaged the possibility of any other religion. The result was a serious decline in the average moral level of the Christian society. It remained infinitely superior to the old heathen level, but it was very much lower than it had been when Christianity was a perilous profession, which none would embrace unless he was inspired by the most ardent faith. In such a position the old system of discipline, which regarded open sins on the part of Christians as monstrous and almost inexplicable enormities, could nolonger be maintained. To meet the difficulty a new system grew up for dispensing that power to forgive sins which Jesus had bestowed on His disciples. By this system the practice of public confession was changed to one of private confession to an authorised person; while for the performance of a lengthy public penance was substituted the private performance of such works of piety as the person through whom forgiveness was conveyed might regard as suitable. The result was obviously a far milder system of dealing with serious sins, which could now be forgiven in return for a private confession and a comparatively slight penance, instead of a public confession and a lengthy period of discipline and separation from communion. It is easy to argue that by thus modifying her demands the Church was putting a premium on sin. In fact however it is very difficult to see any other course that was open to her. To have retained her older practice would have involved the exclusion of all but a minority of mankind from her membership, and would also have committed her to the entirely unchristian view that sin consists solely of open and, notorious breaches of the moral law. There has always been a dangerous tendency for the Church to fall into this error, and to confine her attention to such sins, while ignoring the less obvious but equally dangerous sins such as pride and uncharitableness, which were in point of fact condemned by Jesus more strongly than actions which the world in general regards as grave moral offences. The system of moral discipline thus introduced developed during the centuries which followed the peace of the Church into the system now generally current, by which the normal means for the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is confession to a priest, who imposes the performance of some act of piety as a satisfaction for the injury done to God by the sins confessed, (and also, in cases where such sins have involved a serious injury to a neighbour, which it is in the power of the sinner to repair, the making of suitable reparation; normally this can only arise in certain cases of theft or slander). In virtue of the confession of sin and the performance of the penance imposed the priest pronounces the absolution of the "penitent," as the Christian who comes to seek for the forgiveness of his sins is called, in virtue of the penitence or sorrow for sin which is implied in his coming to seek forgiveness. It is of course only in virtue of the penitence which leads him to seek forgiveness that any forgiveness is possible; a sinner who confessed his sins without any degree of sorrow for them whatsoever would be incapable of forgiveness; he would not receive pardon even though the priest prononuced absolution over him, while the priest would be bound if he were really certain that the penitent had no such sorrow for his sins, to refuse to pronounce absolution. (Naturally it very rarely happens that any such certainty is possible). The pronouncement of absolution is, apart from this possibility, a complete forgiveness of sin, the priest gating not in his own person, in respect of which he has obviously no right to exercise the Divine prerogative of forgiving sin, but in the person of Jesus, Whose authority in this matter he received at his ordination. This authority is of course that which Jesus gave to His disciples and they handed down to their successors. (This point will be more fully discussed below). It may be observed that at one period it was customary for the hearing of confessions to be undertaken not by priests but by persons consecrated to the religious life as monks or hermits, the presumption being that they had the power of forgiveness in virtue of their peculiar holiness. It is obvious that the Church was wise in attaching the power not to personal holiness but to the office of the priesthood, since it is impossible to be certain that a person who apparently has attained to the highest degree of holiness is not in fact merely a peculiarly successful hypocrite; we may have a moral certainty on the point, but never an absolute certainty. Now if the power to forgive sins depended on actual holiness, the sinner could have no certainty that his sins were forgiven, since it would always be possible that the person to whom he had made confession was in fact not qualified by his personal character to convey forgiveness.
It has been observed that the Priest hears confessions and conveys forgiveness not in his own person but in that of Our Lord Jesus Christ. On this fact rests the secrecy which every priest is bound to observe as to matters which he has learnt in the hearing of confessions. This secrecy is absolute, there being no circumstances which justify a Priest in revealing to others matters which he has learnt in this way. He may not even refer to such matters in private conversations with the penitent outside the confessional, unless the penitent should express a desire to discuss them; naturally he may not in any way change his general attitude and behaviour towards the penitent on the ground of anything he has learnt in this way. Nor may he use his authority for his own personal advantage, or in any way which might injure the temporal position of the penitent, except in so far as he may order the restitution of ill-gotten gains, where such restitution can be made without involving further loss to the penitent.
In practice the use of the Sacrament of penance is enjoined on the faithful once a year, namely at the festival of Easter, when all Christians are bound also to receive Holy Communion in honour of the Resurrection of Jesus. In itself it is only essential as a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins of the kind described as "mortal," as opposed to those known as "venial." The authority for distinguishing between sins of such gravity that they involve the death of the soul, ("mortal" sins) and those which are of a lesser gravity ("venial" sins) can be traced to the Scriptures. None the less it presents a considerable difficulty. A mortal sin should properly be one which destroys the soul by cutting it off from the grace of God, until such time as it is forgiven. This indeed appears to be the sense of the scriptural writers, who describe certain sins as being "sins unto death," and of such a final degree of iniquity that it is not even possible for others to pray for those who commit them. Christianity however in its later development has never accepted this belief which seems to set a limit to the infinite possibility of the divine mercy, and has never admitted that any sin can be so deadly as to be incapable of forgiveness. On the other hand, if mortal sins are such as to cut a soul off from divine grace, it is, from the theological point of view, impossible to see how they can be forgiven. For sin cannot be forgiven without repentance on the part of the sinner; and it is impossible to see how the sinner can repent without the assistance of the grace of God,
A sin which really cut the soul off completely from grace would in fact render it incapable of repentance and therefore entirely incapable of forgiveness.
A further difficulty has been raised from an opposite point of view. Sin is in its essence deliberate rebellion against the will of God; an action is only sinful in so far as the sinner knows that it is contrary to the divine will, at least to the extent of knowing that it is contrary to some general law of right and wrong, although he may not be explicitly conscious that the ultimate basis of the distinction between right and wrong is the will of God. It has therefore been argued that since any sin involves an act of rebellion against the will of God, it is impossible to distinguish between degrees of sin; for any act of rebellion against the will of God must be of the gravest sinfulness. Such an objection, however, seems to ignore the plain facts of human experience. We cannot really believe that all sins are equally wicked--for instance that a deliberate and cold-blooded murder is not worse than a slightly uncharitable speech. It is true that the general worldly standard which ignores all sins entirely except in so far as they result in open and scandalous violations of the moral law is profoundly unchristian; but at the same time it is not really possible to believe that all sins as such are equally grievous.
While, however, there is considerable difficulty in the distinction between mortal and venial sins as a matter of theological theory, there is no doubt of its value as a general rule of practice, which enables the priest to decide which sins are more immediately fraught with danger to the salvation of the soul in virtue of their more grievous character. It should be noted that the distinction is not one which will guide us to the attainment of Christian perfection; the idea that venial sins are unimportant, and can be acquiesced in with complacency so long as mortal sins are avoided, is entirely foreign to Catholic theology. On the other hand it is primarily as a means of obtaining forgiveness for mortal sins that the Sacrament of penance is useful. Hence it is necessary for those who have fallen into mortal sin to receive sacramental absolution before receiving Holy Communion, in order that their souls may be in a fit state to receive their Lord; while those who are exposed to temptations as a result of which they frequently fall into mortal sin are recommended to make frequent use of both sacraments, in order to obtain the grace which they need to resist their own particular temptations. In this respect experience proves the efficacy of the generally recommended practice as a means of overcoming temptation. In the case of those whose sins are normally of the kind regarded as venial there is not the same necessity for frequent confession, though it has been found by many to be of the utmost assistance as a means of overcoming temptation and growing in holiness. This however is a matter of opinion, and those who do not find that frequent use of the Sacrament of penance assists their spiritual life are under no obligation to practise it. There is indeed a danger that those who are content with rare confessions may grow to acquiesce in habits of venial sin which may in the long run develop into mortal sins of the most dangerous, because the least obvious kind, as for example habitual uncharit-ableness towards others or spiritual pride; but such dangers cannot be entirely avoided even with a regular and frequent practice of confession. They can only be avoided by a continual and serious struggle to attain to Christian holiness, and particularly by a regular use of mental prayer and frequent communion. Frequent confession is a valuable assistance in such a struggle in the majority of cases; but it cannot be said to be absolutely necessary. The primary purpose of the sacrament is the forgiveness of mortal sin; those who do not find it also a means for increasing in grace can content themselves with using it comparatively rarely, though by Catholic rules they are bound to make use of it at least annually.
It may be noted that in the case of this sacrament the external element consists in the action of the sinner in confessing his sins and expressing his sorrow for them, and the pronouncement of the words of absolution by the priest; it has been seen that the internal disposition needed is that of sorrow for sins actually committed, accompanied, as genuine sorrow for sin must obviously be, with an intention of avoiding sin in the future. This intention will often be a very weak one, particularly at the outset of the Christian life, but it is in itself an element of true repentance.
On the day of Pentecost the first disciples of Jesus received the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift was of a twofold kind. In the first instance it was a gift of strength and guidance to enable them to undertake the task of converting the world; in the second it was the formal bestowal of the powers which Jesus had promised them for the establishment and government of his kingdom on earth. How far this distinction was explicitly present to the minds of the disciples may perhaps be doubted; but it represents the double way in which they communicated the gift they had received to their converts. We find that in fact they believed themselves to have the power to convey to others the gift of the Holy Ghost, either for the general purpose of giving strength and guidance to all converts, or for the specific purpose of conveying to selected Christians the powers and duties that they had themselves received for the government of the Church, the teaching of its doctrines and the conduct of its worship. The latter group of powers we shall consider in dealing with the Sacrament of Holy Order. The former gift is one which all Christians can receive. The essence of the Sacrament is the bestowal of the Holy Ghost to strengthen the Christian in his struggle for the overcoming of temptation and the attainment of Christian holiness. The Sacrament can like baptism only be conferred once on the Christian, since the divine gift once bestowed is permanent. It may be allowed to become dormant, if the recipient falls into a life of sin; but in such cases the divine power must be revived by repentance and amendment of life, not by a fresh bestowal of the Divine gift. In this respect the practice and teach-ing of the Church rest entirely upon those of the first generation of Christians as recorded in Holy Scripture, where the initial gift of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost was clearly regarded as something unique, and distinct from subsequent outpourings (in the form of speaking with tongues or the power to work miracles) afterwards vouchsafed to the persons actually present at Pentecost. In the same way a gift of the Holy Ghost was expected to accompany the imposition of the hands of the Apostles immediately after the baptism of the convert, and this initial gift was again regarded as distinct from subsequent outpourings of the Holy Ghost on the same person. Since the power to confer the Holy Ghost was from the first reserved to the Apostles, this Sacrament is normally conferred by a Bishop, who is regarded as the successor to the full measure of Apostolic authority in this matter, not, as is the case with priests, to certain specific portions of it conveyed to him at ordination.
It may be added that by the general practice of Western Christendom this sacrament is bestowed upon those who have attained to the age of reason and is conveniently joined to a ratification by the person confirmed of the promises made for him by his sponsors at Baptism. It is clear that this distinction between the two sacraments is convenient in view of the general practice of infant baptism; but in view of the practice of the Church at certain periods and in certain places of confirming infants immediately after baptism it cannot be said to be necessary. The actual method of conferring the Sacrament has varied widely at different times, and there is no single external action which can be said to be essential to it beyond the utterance of prayers by the Bishop, (or his authorised deputy) of a character suitable to indicate the nature of the gift bestowed. In the English Church the conferring of this Sacrament normally precedes admission to Holy Communion for the first time. The practice is open to somewhat serious objection, since it tends in some cases to be regarded as more important than the first communion, and to be the climax of the Christian life. This is perhaps mainly due to the tendency to defer both confirmation and first communion to an inconveniently late age, when the person confirmed has already formed time to develop a number of sinful habits, without gaining from the gift of the Holy Ghost in Confirmation and the practice of regular communion and confession grace to resist the growth of such habits. The same objection would not be felt if it were recognised that confirmation should usually be administered before the age of ten.
Holy Unction is a sacrament based on the command of Our Lord to His disciples to heal the sick, a command which they fulfilled by anointing them with oil and laying their hands on them. The external ceremonies were accompanied with prayer. It would appear that the practice of anointing was definitely regarded as a sacramental means of healing, not as a natural one, i.e., that cures produced in this way were regarded as due not to any medicinal value which the use of oil might possess, but to the power of God exercised in answer to the use of the appointed sacramental means and the prayers of the faithful. For although anointing as a means of healing certain diseases was fairly common, yet there is no suggestion that its use should be restricted to cases where it might conceivably be of any value; while cures produced in this way are ascribed to the prayers of the faithful, not to the medicinal properties of the oil. Similarly in the Epistle of St. James it is anticipated that the anointing of the sick will result not merely in their restoration to health, but also in the forgiveness of their sins.
Thus from the first the object of the rite was to secure certain spiritual benefits, namely the forgiveness of sins, and also the material benefit of healing of sickness, if it should" be the will of God to grant it. The progress of medical science has naturally lessened the emphasis laid on the latter aspect; for it is no part of the Christian Faith to suppose that God will vouchsafe miraculous cures to replace the normal means for the healing of sickness, any more than it is part of the Christian religion to suppose that the faithful should abstain from earning their living by ordinary means and trust that God will feed them. Thus in modern practice the use of the sacrament is confined to cases of sickness where there is a strong possibility that the patient, in spite of all medical assistance, will not recover. Its object is primarily to confirm and strengthen that divine forgiveness of sin! which the patient has already won by his confession and absolution; for since he needs at the moment when death is imminent the fullest possible assurance of forgiveness, it is only natural and fitting that he should be provided with a sacrament for conveying that assurance. At the same time it is recognised that the sacrament may be and sometimes is a means for conveying a divine gift of healing to those who seemed at any rate to be beyond all hope of recovery; though naturally it is impossible to prove that the recovery was definitely due to the use of the sacrament.
It is obviously only fitting that a fact of such far-reaching importance in human life as the union of a man and a woman in marriage should come under the special provision of the Christian religion. It is hardly necessary to point out the emphasis laid by Judaism on the virtue of sexual purity, an emphasis which Jesus increased in His personal teaching. The Christian Church indeed in accordance with His teaching has always held that the highest ideal is that of absolute virginity, but that only some Christians have a special vocation to this state. For most Christians the natural and proper condition is the married state; and the entrance upon this state is surrounded with the sacramental sanctions of the Church. There is indeed no definite external form for conveying the sanction and blessing of the Church to those entering upon the married life. The external element here is provided by the appearance of the two persons contracting holy matrimony before the priest as representing the whole body of Christian people and solemnly undertaking the obligations of Christian marriage, while receiving the divine blessing upon their agreement.
In view of the controversies on the subject of marriage now current, it is well to point out that Christian marriage can only be dissolved by the death of one of the partners to it. Hence, while the Church in certain cases permits of the separation of married persons, it does not permit either of them to marry again so long as the other partner is alive. The attitude of the Church in this matter has often been criticised. In itself this criticism is unjust; for the Church does not regard it as being in any way impossible for the innocent partner to a marriage which has ended in disaster to live for the future in the single state in which many Christians are called to live their whole lives. On the other hand in the present state of English law and English society there is an undeniable difficulty. Owing to the position of the English Church as the established Church of the country, it is the normal social convention for marriages to be solemnized in Church by a rite which presupposes that both partners accept the Christian view of marriage, whereas in fact in a large number of cases they do not. The result is that it is very difficult for the Church to refuse her sanction to a marriage, in which one or possibly both parties have no intention of observing the terms of the agreement into which they enter; in fact the form which the Church regards as the solemnization of a sacrament is regarded by many of those married by it as a mere formality to which no meaning attaches. At the same time the influence of the Church in the past has been strong enough to limit very largely the power of obtaining a divorce which will allow the persons divorced to marry others; such divorces can only be obtained by an expensive legal process. The result is that in practice only the rich can obtain a divorce, which allows of re-marriage; the poor have in general to be content with a judicial separation, which does not. This is an obvious injustice. At the same time the Church not unnaturally objects to any extension of the facilities for obtaining divorce which would in fact tend to increase the number of marriages solemnized by her in which the two partners have no intention of observing the pledges solemnly made by them. Further the extension of such facilities would in large industrial areas render it difficult for the parish clergy to be certain that they were not in many cases solemnizing marriages between persons, who having previously been married to and divorced from persons still living are incapable of receiving the sacrament of matrimony. On the other hand while the Church has an undoubted right to legislate as to the conditions in which her members are allowed to marry, and the conditions under which the bond of matrimony may be dissolved, it is hard to justify her claim to legislate for these who do not accept her authority. This is obvious; but at the same time it is under the present conditions difficult, if not impossible, for her in practice to confine the solemnization of marriages in Church to those who are genuinely Christians.
A further complication is introduced by the fact that the Christian is also a citizen, and has in his capacity as a citizen to consider the question of the extent to which an extension of the facilities for obtaining divorce would be of benefit to the nation. Many Christians in fact believe that on social apart from religious grounds the present facilities are excessive and would be glad to see them limited. From this point of view the fact that the law at the moment discriminates in favour of the rich as against the poor is no argument in favour of extending existing facilities; it is only an argument in favour of the abolition of the existing facilities. At the same time such an attitude, which is in itself perfectly logical, is somewhat impracticable, since in point of fact there is no probability that the existing facilities will ever be restricted; and the opposition of Christians to the extension of the divorce laws tends in fact to become an attempt to retain in practice an unjust distinction in favour of the rich. Similarly their opposition to the extension of the grounds on which divorce may be given tends to become an attempt to impose the Christian standpoint in one particular on those who reject it in everything else.
The only solution for the difficulty would appear to be the recognition of the right of the Church to refuse her sanction to all marriages in which the partners are not practising Christians, who recognise the right of the Church to exercise her discipline over their lives--not only in this but in other respects. In this way the Church would be able to secure the observance by her children of their obligations in respect to Christian marriage, while she would not be compelled to solemnize the external forms of matrimony between those who do not in fact accept her doctrine as to the nature of the marriage contract. It has been urged that this solution would mean the disestablishment of the Church of England; but this would be better than the profanation of the sacrament of holy matrimony.
It should be added that the Church only sanctions the exercise of marital relations with a view to the production of children. For this reason the use of artificial means which render the production of children entirely impossible is forbidden to Christians, as being a contradiction of the end for which matrimony was ordained.
It has been observed that in the course of His life on earth Jesus selected twelve of His followers to be His disciples in a special sense. They were given the privilege of a peculiarly close association with Him in order that after His departure they might be able to carry on the task of preaching to all mankind the salvation which He had come to earth to bring to men. At the day of Pentecost they received a special outpouring of the Holy Ghost to qualify them for the proper fulfilment of the task which He had entrusted to them. That task was naturally in the first instance largely concerned with preaching to others the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that faith in Him was the means by which mankind could hope to obtain forgiveness of sin and eternal life in the world to come. At the same time they were able to exercise remarkable powers in the way of healing sickness, which served to convince the public of the truth of their claim, as did also the power of "speaking with tongues" frequently manifested in the earlier Christian generations. It would seem that this speech consisted of more or less inarticulate utterances of praise to God, parts of which were intelligible to the hearers, while parts were not.
The Christian who manifested it fell into a state of trance in which he was believed to contemplate celestial mysteries, some of which he was able later to communicate to others. It is natural that in the period of Christian development covered by the New Testament our attention should largely be occupied with those branches of Apostolic activity which are concerned with the preaching of the Gospel to the heathen, or the affirmation of certain elements of Christian doctrine which were naturally not grasped at once by converts just emerging from Judaism or heathenism. We hear comparatively little of the normal sacramental life of the Christian community for the simple reason that it is assumed as a matter of course that it is going on quietly and uneventfully, except where we hear something to the contrary. Thus the Christian ministry as it meets us in the New Testament is very largely one of preaching. But it is only the very erroneous conception of the nature of the Bible current at the time of the Reformation that has led to the modern error that preaching is the main function of the Christian ministry. The value of preaching lies in the fact that it is normally the most convenient method for bringing the Gospel to the notice of the unbeliever or for stimulating the faithful to a greater degree of devotion. In an ideal Christian community it would cease to have any value, for all the members of the community would already be practising the Christian religion to the best of their ability, while there would be no unbelievers to be converted. The only function of oral teaching would be its use for the instruction of the young. Naturally it is not likely that in fact there could ever be a Christian community of this kind; even in remote villages where all the inhabitants accept the Christian faith, there is always the danger that without instruction and exhortation the faithful will relapse into carelessness and slackness. None the less it must not be supposed that preaching is the primary function of the Christian ministry, or listening to sermons that of the Christian laity.
Consequently even in the New Testament we meet with the beginnings of a transition. We read of groups of local elders or "presbyters," whose office would appear to be modelled on that of the elders of the Jewish synagogues both in Palestine and in the countries of the Dispersion. They are primarily concerned with the government of the local Christian community, the instruction of the faithful and the conduct of public worship. They are qualified to perform these duties by the fact that they have received from the Apostle responsible for the foundation of the local community the gift of the Holy Ghost, conveyed by prayer and the imposition of hands. The power so given them qualifies them for certain duties, whose exact extent is not very clearly specified. It appears however that they represent the Apostle in his absence, though it is not clear from the New Testament itself whether they exercise all his powers or only certain limited elements of it. Probably the need for any exact delimitation in the matter was not felt.
Meanwhile, however, the number of Christian communities was growing rapidly; and it soon became impossible for any individual Apostle to keep in close personal contact with all the communities which he had founded. The New Testament of course only describes in detail the work of St. Paul, but the rapid spread of Christianity seems to imply that other Apostles were able to preach over areas of such extent that it would be impossible for them to be certain of paying regular personal visits to all the Churches for whose foundation they were responsible. Meanwhile the newly formed communities needed supervision of a more authoritative character than the local presbyters could supply. New errors sprang up, and personal quarrels arose which needed settlement by someone whose verdict all would accept as final. It must be remembered that the local presbyters would often be converts of little more importance than the rest of the members of the community. To meet the difficulty the Apostles appointed some of their most intimate and trusted personal disciples to visit the local communities and settle their difficulties. These delegates of the Apostles often carried with them letters from the Apostles to add weight to their personal influence, but they also were authorised to use a very wide measure of independence in settling the points at issue.
Thus at the close of the Apostolic age we find that the normal Christian community is governed by a group of local presbyters appointed by the Apostle, who himself pays visits to the community as far as the circumstances permit, or if necessary sends a trusted personal representative to settle such matters as the local presbyters cannot deal with themselves. In certain cases these personal representatives are sent to reside more or less permanently at important centres in order to supervise the local community and those of the adjoining region. These Apostolic delegates are for all practical intents and purposes equal in rank to the Apostles.
From this state of affairs it is but a small step to the position which meets us in the early years of the second century A. D. The Apostles are dead, as are for the most part those who had known them in the flesh. But in all large Christian centres we find a college of presbyters at the head of which stands a Bishop, (the word properly means "overseer"). The title of Bishop was in the first instance given equally to all presbyters, as being responsible for the supervision of the local community; it has however by this time been restricted to one person This one person is not however simply a member of the college of presbyters acting as the President of the college, but otherwise equal to them; he has rather succeeded to the position of the Apostles or the Apostolic delegates who meet us in the later writings of the New Testament.
He is the centre of the whole life of the local community, who presides at its meetings for the celebration of the Eucharist and for other forms of worship, and is responsible for its fidelity to the doctrine of Our Lord and His Apostles. Further in the event of his death his successor must receive from the Bishops of neighbouring Churches his consecration to the office of the episcopate.
The local Bishop appoints and ordains the presbyters to their office. It may be added that in certain cases both bishops and presbyters are nominated by popular election; but this does not make them bishops or presbyters; they can only attain to these ranks in the Church by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost from those who are themselves Bishops, the gift being conveyed by prayer and the solemn imposition of hands.
It is with the functions of these two orders of Bishops and presbyters, or priests, that we are mainly concerned, the third order of the sacred ministry, that of deacons, as well as the minor orders, which no longer survive in the English Church, being in modern usage only preliminary stages in the career to the priesthood, so far at least as the Catholic Church in Western Europe is concerned.
It has already been observed that it is an error to suppose that the primary function of the Christian ministry is preaching. It would be equally erroneous to say that its primary duty is to administer the Sacraments or to govern the Church. The function of the Christian minister is to act as the representative of Jesus in the Church on earth in virtue of the authority to represent Him which He conferred on His first disciples, and which they in turn have handed down to their successors. As His representative, the Christian minister, possesses the double character which He also possessed; he represents God to man and he also represents man to God. In a certain sense this character belongs to all Christians; for all Christians are by the divine gifts bestowed upon them the "Temples of the Holy Ghost," and as such they ought to be a standing revelation of God to the world in which they live, and they should also be in the regular practice of employing the gifts which they have received in order to plead for the welfare of all mankind before the throne of God. On the other hand the Christian ministry has this representative character in a special sense. It is endowed not merely with those gifts of the Holy Ghost which are common to all Christians, but a special gift in virtue of which it is qualified to perform those definitely supernatural functions which Jesus Himself claimed to exercise in the course of His earthly ministry. From this point of view it is convenient for the moment to consider the two orders of Bishops and Priests as one; this method of procedure is justified by the fact that historically the priesthood is in fact rather to be regarded as exercising certain functions of the Episcopate than as possessing a separate character of its own. The Bishop of a diocese is thus the local representative of Our Lord Jesus Christ, having inherited by succession the powers bequeathed by Him to His Apostles; while the priest of a parish is also the representative of Our Lord in that particular parish in virtue of that part of the powers of the Apostolate which is conferred on Him by the Bishop.
Now it is necessary to observe that this representative character springs from the divine gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon the Christian priest or Bishop at his ordination or consecration. It does not rest in the power of one man to act as the representative to God of other men, nor yet to act as the representative of other men to God. In so far as the ordinary Christian may be said to do so, his power proceeds from the divine gift of the Holy Ghost given to him as a Christian. The Christian minister possesses this power only in virtue of a special gift of the Holy Ghost given to him for the purpose. It is from this power that he derives his authority to administer the sacraments. He has the right to forgive sins in virtue of the authority to do so which Our Lord exercised during the course of His earthly ministry. He handed on that power to His disciples, who hi turn handed it on to their successors. He can offer the Eucharistic sacrifice and by the words of consecration instituted by Jesus Himself turn bread and wine into His body and blood, because he has received a divine gift, in virtue of which he becomes the instrument through whom Our Lord offers here and now the full and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world which He offered once upon Calvary and perpetuates in the Eucharistic rite.
Thus the Priesthood and the Episcopate confer a supernatural character, which enables those admitted to them, although men, to perform, in virtue of their office, the divine functions exercised by Our Lord on earth and to administer the Sacraments, which He instituted in virtue of His prerogative as God, as His agents for conveying to all races and generations of men that supernatural life which He came to bestow on those who follow Him. At the same time, in exercising these functions the sacred ministry acts as representative of man to God. For Bishops and Priests represent the whole body of Christian people. The value of the earthly ministry of Jesus lay in the fact that it was the divine life manifested in man; the death of Jesus on the Cross derives its value from the fact that He offered it as man, and, by doing so, atoned for the sins of those whose nature He had assumed. The humanity of Jesus now manifests itself in the Church, which is His Body. By this is meant that the human nature, which He manifested once and for all, has now its local and particular manifestation in the whole society of Christian believers, in virtue of the fact that they all are partakers in the humanity which He assumed, as well as in the divine life which He bestows. The ministry of the Church is the agency through which this humanity, now embodied in a human society, finds its expression. For instance in pleading the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Priest represents the whole Church--the society of those who are entitled to the benefits won by the death of Jesus on the Cross. They are entitled to those benefits in virtue of their share in the humanity of Jesus, and can therefore offer His sacrifice as their own sacrifice also. In this respect the Priest is the agent of the whole body; and in the same way in exercising the ministry of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin he also acts as the representative of the whole body, which is injured by the sin of one particular member. In the same way the Bishop in conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost acts not merely as the representative of Jesus in bestowing a divine gift, but also as the representative of the Church in deciding that the recipient is worthy of it.
This representative aspect of the sacred ministry is, however, not the only one, nor indeed is it the principal one. If the Bishop or Priest were simply the representative of man to God, there would be no reason why any Christian should not exercise it. The distinctive aspect of the Catholic conception of these offices is the belief that in virtue of his ordination the minister receives a supernatural gift enabling him to act in the place of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to exercise the divine powers which He Himself exercised during His earthly life.
Since, however, it is impossible for man, by any por-gress he may make in the attainment of Christian holiness, to qualify himself for the exercise of such powers, it follows that the validity of the actions of the minister does not depend upon his personal character. In forgiving sins, in offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, in conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Priest or Bishop is exercising a supernatural authority, which he possesses in virtue of his office, i.e., in virtue of the supernatural power conveyed to him at his ordination or consecration. Consequently the faithful will derive the full benefit of his ministrations as the representative of Jesus, whatever his private character may be: and on the opposite side' no amount of progress in Christian holiness will enable the Christian to justify himself for the exercise of the functions of the ministry, unless he has received the supernatural grace conveyed to him by the sacrament of Holy Orders.
It may seem strange at first sight that a person should be qualified to act as the representative of Jesus, when his personal character in no way qualifies him to do so. A moment's consideration will, however, show that this is necessary. No amount of personal holiness could ever qualify the greatest of saints to act as the representative of Our Lord upon earth. Still less would it be possible for any man to say at what point any other had reached a degree of holiness, which, however inadequate in itself, might none the less be regarded as sufficient to qualify him by the help of the grace of God to exercise authority in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus if the validity of the sacraments depended on the personal merits of the minister it would never be possible for the faithful to be sure that they were in fact receiving valid sacraments; for they could never be certain that the minister, however holy he might seem, was in fact qualified to act as the representative of Christ. He might be merely a successful hypocrite. Thus for the validity of these functions of the Christian ministry personal holiness is not a necessary qualification.
Naturally however it is not to be supposed that the Christian minister is justified in isolating this side of his life from the rest. In the whole of his life he is bound to endeavour to act as one who represents God to man and man to God. His life must therefore be both an example to his flock and also a continual offering of prayer and good works to God on their behalf. In this respect he has a special vocation to holiness of life and receives at his ordination or consecration special gifts of grace to enable him to attain to it. He will have to answer at his judgment for any failure on his part to do so, and for the harm that his failures may have done to the souls of others. Although a deliberate acquiescence in failure to live up to the standard involved in his capacity as the representative of God to man and man to God will not prevent the faithful from obtaining sacramental grace from his ministrations, it may easily lead to the falling away of some who might otherwise have been saved; and for such souls the priest will have to render an account.. Naturally it will interfere to a very grave extent with his duty of teaching and preaching the Gospel. For although this is not the sole duty of the Christian ministry, yet it very seldom happens that a large part of the life of the priest is not concerned with it. As a preacher and teacher the priest is the representative of Jesus, carrying on His work of revealing God to man in terms which man can understand. That revelation has indeed been made once and for all in the person of Jesus; but it is the duty of the Bishop or Priest to proclaim it in such a way that all may hear and understand it. In respect of this part of his duty the functions of the priest are of course to a lesser degree shared by all Christian people; for no genuine Christian can be content unless in his daily life he is in some way or another bearing witness to his faith. But whereas the laity may not have openings for the actual teaching of the faith, it will normally fall to the task of the priest to spend a large part of his time in teaching and preaching. In order to undertake this part of his duties he will need grace to enable him to proclaim aright the doctrines of the Christian faith to those who are committed to his charge, and the chief quality necessary for this purpose will be personal holiness, since normally no one will believe the message of one who does not practice what he preaches. Naturally the means for developing himself in this respect will be mainly the regular and devout use of prayer and the sacraments and the regular offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, which will continually remind him of his responsibilities, and also provide him with the most effective means of interceding for the people committed to his charge. Further, the priest is bound to the daily recitation of the divine office.
In the Church of England this takes the form of the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. These services are primarily the worship which priests and those devoted to the religious life are bound to offer daily as part of the offering of prayer to God by the Church of which they are the representatives, not popular devotions for Sunday morning and Sunday evening. In offering it the Christian minister is primarily fulfilling his duty as the representative of man to God; but he is also engaged in a task which will contribute very largely to his own sanctification. Further qualities which he will need, and which he will derive from the grace given him at his ordination and from his life of prayer will be zeal and discretion. To these again may be added knowledge of the truths which it is his duty to proclaim and of the best methods of bringing them home to the different classes of people to whom it may be his duty to minister. This involves not so much the academic knowledge of Christian theology (for a very small amount of this knowledge will be enough for the ordinary parish priest), as technical knowledge of the best ways of expressing the truth so as to arouse the consciences of different people. Naturally it is impossible here to consider in further detail the qualifications necessary for the Christian ministry; it is sufficient to indicate that its duties cannot be adequately discharged by those who are not seriously attempting to attain to Christian perfection.
It will be gathered from what has been said above that the functions of the Christian priest as opposed to those of the Bishop are the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the exercising of the ministry of forgiveness of sins. These parts of the Apostolic office are those delegated to the priesthood; the right to convey the Holy Ghost to others in order to ordain them to the priesthood or to consecrate them to the Episcopate was in the first period of the Church reserved to the Apostles and to the Bishops who are their successors in the full privileges of the Apostolic office. In general the right to give the Holy Ghost in confirmation is also reserved to the Episcopate, though there has been a certain divergence of practice in this respect. As regards the functions of preaching and teaching the two offices vary rather in respect to the nature of the flock committed to the charge of the parish priest and the Bishop respectively than in any difference inherent in the nature of the two offices. The special functions of the episcopate as regards the government of the Church and the preservation of the true teaching of the Church from all forms of error will be more conveniently treated in Part III of this book.
It should be added that the external form by which the Sacrament of Holy Order is administered is the imposition of hands by the Bishop as the inheritor of the full power to convey the gift of the Holy Ghost which was in the first place bestowed upon the Apostles, the act of the imposition of hands being accompanied by prayers which, either by their actual tenour or by the circumstances in which they are uttered, are clearly intended to bestow this particular grace.
IN concluding our consideration of the sacramental system of the Catholic religion, it will be of some value to attempt in the briefest outline to consider the ideal of life which the Church holds before her children. That ideal is the sacramental ideal; we will examine how that ideal realises itself in practice. It is of course necessary to remember that the ideal is one which is not fully capable of attainment in this life, for it is nothing less than absolute perfection, based on the adaptation of the example of Jesus in the Gospels to the particular surroundings in which the individual finds himself. Many who accept the Catholic religion appear at least to make little or no progress towards it, and to be content to live a life that is little, if at all, better than that of sinners who deliberately reject the whole Christian religion; such persons, if they exist, are the shame of the Catholic Church, but it is necessary to bear in mind that it is impossible for man in this life to judge how far those who seem to care little for Christian holiness may not in fact be waging in secret a heroic struggle against almost overwhelming temptations. We shall therefore be considering an ideal to which all Catholics should be continually striving to attain, though full attainment lies beyond the grave: and we shall admit that many fall lamentably short of it, though we can never dare to sit in judgment on any of our brethren.
The Catholic life is a sacramental life in the first instance because it is a new divine life, given to the believer in baptism, reinforced by the gift of the Holy Ghost at Confirmation, and continually nourished by the gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. This supernatural life is a divine gift, which the Christian has done nothing to deserve. None the less it depends on his own free choice whether he will allow it to develop, or whether he will allow it to perish. For he can, and does allow it to perish when by deliberate and grievous sin he forfeits his claim to any share in the salvation won by the shedding of the precious Blood of Jesus upon Calvary. Yet by repentance he can regain all that he has lost; and hi return for repentance--itself a gift of divine grace--he can obtain in the sacrament of penance a full and absolute pardon for all his sins. Nor will he merely be content to receive the Christian sacraments, as if their efficacy depended simply on themselves, and in no way on himself. For though the grace of the sacraments in themselves is infinite, yet our capacity to assimilate that benefit is not. The extent to which our souls are capable of receiving grace depends on the extent to which by prayer and the continual attempt to labour for Christian holiness, we allow the grace of God to have dominion in them. Hence prayer, especially mental prayer based on the earthly life of Jesus, and self-denial are necessary to the full living of the sacramental life. All Christian devotion will find its centre in the Eucharist, as the preeminent means of grace instituted by Our Lord Himself: but it will also be a life that abounds in every form of Christian devotion.
It will thus be a natural life lived within the natural life of man, but continually looking forward to the time when it will be fulfilled in the glory of heaven. In this sense we may almost say that the whole life of the Christian is in itself a sacrament, since it is a visible embodiment of an invisible divine reality. In order that the divine element may prevail over the earthly, it will be a continual mortification or putting to death of the natural inclination of the heart of man towards evil. Thus any Christian life, if it is in any sense to be worthy of the name, will be a constant watch and warfare against temptation, not merely against temptations to gross and obvious sins (although many in this life may hardly pass beyond the stage of struggle against the more obvious forms of evil), but also against those more subtle but no less deadly forms of evil which may easily bring man to disaster. In particular the Catholic will always be on his guard against spiritual pride. Knowing that he has the true and full revelation of God, he will always watch lest he should fall into any danger of despising those less privileged than himself. He will remember that it is no merit of his own that has won for him so great a favour.
Further, as he advances towards Christian holiness he will find it necessary to limit his enjoyment of innocent but purely natural pleasures. There is no full Christian life that does not demand a bearing of the Cross of Jesus. It may indeed happen to some Christians that the continual struggle against grievous temptations and the humiliation of frequent defeats will furnish the whole of that share in the Cross which he is at the moment able to bear; but for all some share of the Cross is necessary, and normally this will involve self-denial not simply in regard to sinful pleasures, but in regard to those that are innocent. Sometimes such self-denial will be absolutely necessary, since pleasures and interests that are not absolutely sinful may easily constitute a serious danger to the individual by threatening to divert his soul from the service of God. For this reason the Christian religion has always upheld the ideal of the religious life--a life devoted to poverty, chastity and obedience as the means for attaining to greater progress in the struggle for Christian holiness. This ideal is not indeed held up before all Christians, but only those who are called to it by God. Some are bound by the claims of human charity and duty to live in the world, and to labour in some ordinary earthly occupation, instead of devoting themselves entirely to a life of prayer or the service of others. But the ideal of the religious life is one which should always be present to the mind of the Catholic; for he should always live in hope that it may be one day the will of God to call him to it, or at least endeavour in his daily life to approximate as closely as his circumstances permit to that standard of perfection. Naturally those who, while living in the world, also live a life of holiness worthy of those actually called to the religious life will obtain the greater reward.
Naturally the ideal Catholic life may not be one of great earthly success; but for earthly success the true Christian has no regard. His ideal is the Cross, the symbol of earthly defeat which is heavenly triumph: his heroes are the martyrs who in their earthly defeat obtained the crown of heavenly glory. He will regard earthly success, if it comes to him, as a trivial and irrelevant thing, only caring for the things that are eternal. He will always have full faith that the cause of His Master will triumph, even if he himself be defeated. Poverty and suffering have no terrors for him; they are rather the supreme privilege and glory of the Christian who in them is given the glory of sharing in the earthly sufferings of Jesus. Naturally he will not acquiesce in the infliction of these things upon others, and will do all he can to alleviate them as his Master did, Who went about doing good: but as they affect himself, they have no terrors, any more than death itself, which is his final release from the toils and labours of this life and his admission to the presence of Jesus. He must indeed fear death in so far as he knows that he is unready to face the judgment of God by reason of his sins; but in itself he can only welcome it as his release.
Finally his life is a constant revelation of Jesus to those about him. Always he will be careful lest by reason of anything that he may do, the name of his Master may be blasphemed among the heathen. Wherever the opportunity offers, he will reinforce his passive testimony by the active proclamation of the Gospel to his neighbours; he will always congratulate as peculiarly privileged those who are called to preach the Name of Jesus to the heathen. Whatever his walk of life may be, he will seek to find some means whereby he may make known to others the secret of that invisible life which is in him.
It may be said that such a life will be one of gloominess and misery. The testimony of those who have advanced furthest in it is decisive to the contrary. It has always been the greatest of the Saints who were most willing to endure every kind of mortification; it has always been the greatest of the Saints who have been most remarkable for their perfect and spontaneous happiness.