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Christology A Determinant Of Sacramental Thought


Errors in sacramental teaching necessarily accompany misconceptions of
the person of Christ. The incarnation is a cosmic sacrament, the
meeting-point of divine and human, and the sacraments of the church are
types of the vaster mystery. In both type and antitype it is all
important to give due weight to divine and human, and not to exalt one
element at the expense of the other. Those who undervalue the human
nature of Christ are disposed to undervalue the outward sign in the
sacraments. Not appreciating the hypostatic union of divine with
human, they misunderstand the sacramental union of the same elements.
Blind to the significance of Christ's humanity in the economy of
redemption, they fail to see how matter can be the channel of
sacramental grace. Yet the discipline of faith is the same in both
cases. The Christian enterprise is not merely to believe in the
divine, but to believe in the divine manifested in the human.

There are two divergent, almost opposing, schools of sacramental
teaching, both of which have inherited the spirit of monophysitism.
Both are instances of sacramental monism. First, there are those who
identify the outward signs and the inward grace; second, those to whom
the inward grace is everything and the outward sign nothing. Both
schools of thought destroy the nature of a sacrament. The radical
error of both consists in undervaluing the human and material. In the
first case the error takes the form of the transubstantiation doctrine,
which is exactly parallel to the extreme form of Eutychianism.
According to Eutyches, the human nature of Christ was absorbed into the
divine and lost there; the truth of His being was the divine
personality; the human element was only an appearance. Similarly the
transubstantiation theory conceives the mutation of the substance of
the material elements and the loss of their proper nature; the
appearance of reality that the accidents possess is an illusion of
the senses. We may note in passing that the opposite error to
transubstantiation finds its Christological parallel in Nestorianism.
Socinianism which separates symbol from sacramental grace is
sacramental dualism, as Nestorianism is Christological dualism. Both
abandon a vital unity of divine and human. The pietistic or mystical
view of the sacraments does so too, but in a different way. This
second form of sacramental monism has much in common with the doctrine
of one nature. To the pietist the divine seems all important, and the
material no help, but rather a hindrance to the spiritual life. The
faith of the individual to him is the seat of the efficacy of the
sacraments; he regards matter as unreal if not sinful, and in either
case unworthy to be a channel of divine grace. Echo after echo of
monophysite thought can be caught here. The surest way to combat
sacramental errors on both sides is a clear and definite statement of
the catholic doctrine of Christology.

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