Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peter Kreeft on the Sacraments

Professor Kreeft writes:
Protestants don't see why Catholics who come to disagree with essential teachings of the Church don't just leave. The answer is symbolized by the sanctuary lamp. They do not leave the Church because they know that the sacramental fire burns there on the ecclesiastical hearth. Even if they do not see by its light, they want to be warmed by its fire. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a magnet drawing lost sheep home and keeping would-be strays from the deathly snows outside. The Church's biggest drawing card is not what she teaches, crucial as that is, but who is there. "He is here! Therefore I must be here."...

To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic. And the Catholic definition of a sacrament — a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace, a sign that really effects what it symbolizes — sounds like magic. Catholic doctrine teaches that the sacraments work ex opere operato, i.e., objectively, though not impersonally and automatically like machines. They are gifts that come from without but must be freely received.

Protestants are usually much more comfortable with a merely symbolic view of sacraments, for their faith is primarily verbal, not sacramental. After all, it is the Bible that looms so large in the center of their horizon. They believe in creation and Incarnation and Resurrection only because they are in the Bible. The material events are surrounded by the holy words. The Catholic sensibility is the inside-out version of this: the words are surrounded by the holy facts. To the Catholic sensibility it is not primarily words but matter that is holy because God created it, incarnated himself in it, raised it from death, and took it to heaven with him in his ascension....

You can read the whole thing here.

3 comments:

Daniel Murphy said...

Kreeft writes (in the citation):

"To Protestants, sacraments must be one of two things: either mere symbols, reminders, like words; or else real magic."

This is false. Protestants have accepted the (two biblical) sacraments as means of grace, over against both a merely symbolic view (which admittedly is a view of many Protestants) and Roman Catholicism's ex opere operato view.

For example, the Westminster confession of faith speaks of grace being "conferred" through the sacraments, of the "efficacy" of baptism, and of "spiritual nourishment" in connection with the Lord's supper. And from the Larger Catechism (Q/A 154): "The outward and ordinary means, whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer..." And Q/A 161 speaks of the sacraments as being "effectual means of salvation."

Tim A. Troutman said...

Daniel, you say Dr. Kreeft's statement is false but you go on to prove it by taking one of his options. He calls it magic, you refer to it by its proper name (ex opere operato..) but you reject the Catholic doctrine that sacraments intrinsically work (i.e. ex opere operato) for the reasons given by Calivin, WCF, and the rest... calling it superstitious etc... That's what your community believes. Dr. Kreeft is right.

Further, you call your view "biblical", which begs the question, and then go on to support it not with the bible but from the WCF. Something's missing.

Daniel Murphy said...

Tim,
Daniel, you say Dr. Kreeft's statement is false but you go on to prove it by taking one of his options. He calls it magic, you refer to it by its proper name (ex opere operato..)...

You seem to say that I take one of Kreeft's options, namely, the ex opere operato view; which is false (and I was writing about official Protestant theology, not myself; I could have contested Kreeft's claim even if I were Catholic). You go on to say, in the rest of the sentence, that I reject the ex opere operato view; so how is this an option of Kreeft's that I "take"?

...but you reject the Catholic doctrine that sacraments intrinsically work (i.e. ex opere operato) for the reasons given by Calivin, WCF, and the rest... calling it superstitious etc... That's what your community believes. Dr. Kreeft is right.

Kreeft's claim that I said was false was not that Protestants reject the Roman Catholic view of the nature of the sacraments. It was the claim that, for Protestants, either one goes with Rome or one goes with a merely symbolic view. This is false, as documented by the WCF; there is at least a third option.

Further, you call your view "biblical", which begs the question, and then go on to support it not with the bible but from the WCF. Something's missing

What I said was that two of Roman Catholicism's sacraments (baptism and the Lord's supper) are biblical sacraments. I should have said "two" rather than "two biblical," because the former would have sufficed to warn one from equivocating with the concept of a "sacrament" in a Protestant/RC dialectic (since there is a difference not merely about the nature of the sacraments but about how many there are); and the latter is tendentious. But the issue of how many sacraments are biblical is not the issue at point and I was not arguing for the claim that only two are biblical, much less "supporting" that idea from the WCF. Nor was I even attempting to support any particular position about the nature of the sacraments (as means of grace, etc.) by citing the WCF. I was simply documenting. The truth or falsity of the documented view is irrelevant here. A Roman Catholic who affirms an ex opere operato view of the sacraments could (and should) reject Kreeft's claim.