Monday, May 23, 2016

Necessary For Salvation?

Are the sacraments necessary for salvation? The Catechism says yes. St. Thomas (or in this case, one of his students) agrees. It seems to me that the first two objections encapsulate what would become the Protestant objections to the sacramental system.

The first objection is that receiving the sacraments requires bodily effort, and we know that striving profits little. The Thomist says that would be true on the natural level, but not the supernatural level.

The second objection is that the grace from the Passion is sufficient in an unmediated way. That is, "Why have this other thing as necessary, when the most important thing has already been done?" The Thomist says that man needs the grace that the sacraments offer.

 (We'll just call the writer "The Thomist.") The Thomist says that sacraments are spiritual, in their signification, and in their causality. (Reply to Objection 1.) It seems clear that one could consider them useful but not necessary if their purpose were signification alone. It also appears, based on the reply to Objection 3, that The Thomist doesn't see a conflict between the sufficient cause, (the Passion) and the sacraments, because the sacraments are the means by which the Passion is applied to people. You might be able to re-phrase Objection 3 as a question: "Can two necessary causes exist, even if one cause depends on the other cause?"

We can see that the true conflict at the Reformation concerned the freedom of the will. If man's will is not free in the sense of bondage due to sin, then the sacramental system, thwarted only in God's saving intent by a bad will, would seem like a cruel joke. One also gets around the problem of the will by suggesting that the elect have already previously been made alive. You could argue therefore that the sacraments would fulfill their function as signs of God's salvation already wrought, and that is  precisely what Reformed Protestants argue. The question is whether it is reasonable to believe that man's will is in bondage.


F Noltie said...

Nice post. 😃

Unless I'm quite mistaken, I think that St. Thomas actually did write the 61st question of part III; see the editor's note at the bottom of this page:

Also, note that in New Advent's structuring of things, the supplement (which was compiled by Reginald de Piperno) is separate from the 3rd part (which implies that Aquinas wrote the latter but not the former).

Nathan said...

The necessity of the sacraments may be consistent with free will and viewed by Reformers as inconsistent with their doctrines of bondage of the will, but it doesn't follow that the necessity of the sacraments is implied by free will. Indeed, the conflict among most leaders at the Reformation certainly concerned freedom of the will, but were they arguing about what mattered most?

I would rather ask, is the necessity of sacraments for salvation consistent with the character of the Lord we know? In fact, is the doctrine of eternal retributive suffering consistent with the character of Jesus? As for which leaders we should trust, Jesus told us in Matthew 7 how to recognize them. Who, at the time of the reformation, rose to that standard? Elijah did not hear God in the storm.