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Sacrament and the Sacraments.

A. In ecclesiastical and late Lat., sacramentum (“something to be kept sacred”) has various meanings, e.g., (1) a secret; (2) the gospel revelation; (3) a mystery; (4) a sacrament (in the sense of ch. rites, e.g., Baptism and Communion); (5) the office of the ministry.

The term has been traced to the time of Tertullian, when it was applied, e.g., to Christian rites. The Vulgate uses sacramentum for the Gk. word mysterion Eph 1:9; 3:3, 9; 5:32; Cl 1:26–27; 1 Ti 3:16; Rv 1:20; 17:7. In all these passages the KJV and RSV use the word “mystery.”

B. M. Luther: “The sacred writings have only 1 sacramentum, i. e., Christ Jesus” (WA 6, 97); he explains this by references to OT and NT passages in which he uses the word Geheimnis (“mystery”) in his Ger. Bible tr. He compares the “great sacramentum of the incarnation of the Son of God” with Jacob's ladder (WA 43, 582); here too sacramentum is tr. Geheimnis in the Walch eds. But when, in the same passage, he uses the pl. sacramenta, the Walch eds. tr. Sacramente (Eng.: “He descends to us through the Word and the sacraments”).

C. Luther (WA 56, 321–322) quotes Augustine of Hippo (De trinitate, IV iii 6 and IV xx 27): “To cause both our resurrections, He [Christ] appointed beforehand and set forth in sacramentum and type His own one resurrection.… In it was wrought a sacramentum as regards the inner man.” In this passage, sacramentum has been tr. “mystery.”

D. Without the mystery of the incarnation we would not have our liturgical sacraments. We are baptized into the death of the incarnate Son of God (Ro 6:3) and in Communion receive His body and blood (Mt 26:26–28).

E. The doer, or agent (Lat. agens), in the sacraments is Christ Himself. The act performed by a minister is not simply a signum significans (“sign that means something”) but a signum efficax (“creative sign”). Hence Luther not only asks: “What does such baptizing with water signify?” but also says: “It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare.… Baptism [is] a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul wrote to Titus (3:5–8).” And: “Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament [of the altar].” (SC IV 6, 10; VI 6)

The “community” in which the sacraments are administered is the ch., the body of Christ. Luther: “In the sacrament [of the altar] we are all, as it were, baked into 1 cake. For there is 1 [Ger. einerlei] faith, 1 confession, love, and hope.… Christ instituted this sacrament to keep the Christians together.” (WA 52, 209 and 210)

Irenaeus: “Those … who do not partake of [Christ] are neither nourished into life from the mother's breasts nor do they enjoy that most limpid fountain which issues from the body of Christ.” (Adversus haereses, III xxiv 1)

F. The union effected by faith bet. Christ and the believer is called mystical union. We are “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Ro 6:3). In Communion, “the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Co 10:16–17). But it is not the mere performance of a sacrament, nor even the reception of the body and blood of Christ, that creates the mystical union. For an unbeliever also receives the body and blood of Christ in Communion, but not to salvation; he does not thereby enter into the mystical union (1 Co 11:27–29). Faith alone joins one to Christ and so effects the mystical union.

G. These sacraments have been called holy mysteries of sublime purity and awesome mysteries of trembling (not of fear, but of joy).

H. Proper observance of the sacraments follows the directions of Christ's institution. Communion is observed in remembrance of Him. “To remember Christ is to remember His benefits and realize that they are truly offered to us” (AC XXIV 31 [Lat.]). “The remembrance of Christ is … the remembrance of Christ's blessings and the acceptance of them by faith, so that they make us alive” (Ap XXIV 72). “The command of Christ, 'Do this,' which comprehends the whole action or administration of this sacrament (namely, that in a Christian assembly we take bread and wine, consecrate it, distribute it, receive it, eat and drink it, and therewith proclaim the Lord's death), must be kept integrally and inviolately.” (FC SD VII 84)

I. Luther calls Baptism not only important and precious, but a priceless medicine, an inexpressible, infinite, divine treasure (LC IV 26, 34, 37, 43) and the Lord's Supper a great and precious treasure, gift, and blessing, “a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body.” (LC V 22, 29, 36, 56, 68, 78)

J. The miracles of Christ happened at a certain time for certain persons; the sacraments are for the universal ch. of all time. Cf. J. Gerhard, Locus de sacramentis, 10.

K. Fellowship with Christ involves fellowship with one another (1 Jn 1:6–7; cf. Ro 12:4–5; Eph 4:25). Luther: “Disharmony and discord conflict with the Sacrament of the Altar.… The name is 'Communion,' the reality [Lat. res] [is] the unity of hearts, as [there is] 1 faith, 1 Baptism, 1 Lord, 1 hope.” (WA 1, 329)

L. The no. of sacraments depends either on arbitrary listing or on definition of “sacrament.” RCs list 7 sacraments, without defining “sacrament.” Ap XII 41: “Absolution* may properly be called a sacrament of penitence”; this must be understood in the sense of LC IV 74: “Baptism … comprehends also the 3d sacrament, formerly called Penance, which is really nothing else than Baptism.” “If we define sacraments as 'rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added,' we can easily determine which are sacraments in the strict sense.… The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution (which is the sacrament of penitence).… If ordination is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament.… Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God's command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament?” (Ap XIII 3, 4, 12, 16). Luther: “A sacrament must have 2 things for sure: God's Word and the instituted external sign [or means, or element; Ger. Zeichen]; these we find only in the 2 sacraments [Baptism and Communion].” (WA 11, 454) ES

See also Grace, Means of, I, III, IV; Roman Catholic Church, The, B 4, 6, 7; Sacraments, Roman Catholic; Worship.

A. C. Piepkorn, What the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church Have to Say About Worship and the Sacraments (St. Louis, 1952).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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