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

f 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.