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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Seven Sacraments:
Catholic Doctrinal Documents

Although Christians celebrated specific rituals - above all Baptism and the Eucharist - from the beginning, remarkably little time was spent by the early theologians of the Church discussing the meaning of these rituals. The main focus was on Baptism, both as to its meaning and as to its juridical implications. For the Latin West this concern with Baptism was to lead to a very specific terminology for some of the rituals. The Latin word sacramentum - which meant "oath" - was applied to Baptism in connection with its establishing of a "new covenant" between a human being an God. In time this term "sacrament"became the focus of theologization of the Church's rites. For a very long period, the exact number of sacraments was undefined, and even exactly which ceremonies were "sacramental". In the 12th and 13th centuries the Latin Church saw the development of both a popular devotional focus on the sacraments (especially the Eucharist, which came, in some cases, to play the role previously dominated by relics), and of "sacramental theology".

In Greek Christianity these various Christian rites were called "mysteries" [i.e. things to be hidden from unbelievers] and the exact number of them was defined in a variety of ways. Even though Orthodox Christians today will usually agree that there are seven sacraments, but will also want to include such important rituals as funerals and monastic vows as "sacramental".

It was in its contact with Eastern Christians that the Latin Church was forced to define - for the first time - the number and nature of its sacraments.

The documents below are

1. An excerpt from the Profession of Faith of Michael Paleologus.
This was a profession of faith demanded of this Byzantine Emperor when he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1274. This seems to have been the first important Church document which listed the seven sacraments.

2. A much longer excerpt from the Decree for the Armenians, issued at the Council of Florence in 1439
The Council of Florence, as well as attempting to bring about Union with the Greek Orthodox, also aimed to unite with the Armenian Church. This document was published as the Bull
Exsultate Domine by Pope Eugenius IV. This text went far beyond the 1274 list, in that it put forth a specific sacramental theology of matter and form, derived from Aquinas' treatise "On the Articles of Faith and the Sacraments of the Church". [It may be noted that the text simply imposes current Latin theology - there was no attempt, for instance in the discussion of confirmation, or in discussion of the essential aspect of the Mass, to address the experience of the Eastern churches.]

3. An extract from the modern Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis of Pope Pius XII, issued in 1947.
The Council of Florence had made a serious mistake in its description of the matter of the sacrament of ordination. Following Aquinas it had insisted that the matter was the "handing over of the instruments" of the order in question. [Aquinas here had ignored earlier teachings.] Pius XII simply states that it the laying of hands which counts. [Although often reviled in modern times, Pius XII revolutionized Catholic scholarship in all areas of study except theology (over which he kept a tight rein) - especially Biblical studies and history - by allowing for the full use of historical data.]

1. An excerpt from the Profession of Faith of Michael Paleologus

II Council of Lyons, 1274

The same Holy Roman Church also holds and teaches that there are seven sacraments of the Church: one is baptism, which has been mentioned above; another is the sacrament of confirmation which bishops confer by the laying on of hands while they anoint the reborn; then penance, the Eucharist, the sacrament of order, matrimony and extreme unction which, according to the doctrine of the Blessed James, [James 5:14-15] is administered to the sick. The same Roman Church performs (conficit) the sacrament of the Eucharist with unleavened bread; she holds and teaches that in this sacrament the bread is truly transubstantiated into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wine into His blood. As regards matrimony, she holds that neither is a man allowed to have several wives at the same time nor a woman several husbands. But, when a legitimate marriage is dissolved by the death of one of the spouses, she declares that a second and afterwards a third wedding are successively licit, if no other canonical impediment goes against it for any reason.nst it for any reason.

Source: The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, rev ed., ed. J. Neusner and J Dupuis, (New York: Alba House, 1982), no. 28 (p. 19) [= Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion, 860]

2. Decree for the Armenians, Council of Florence 1439

Pope Eugenius IV. Bull Exsultate Domine

[DS 1310] We have drawn up in the briefest form a statement of the truth concerning the seven sacraments, so that the Armenians, now and in future generations, may more easily be instructed therein.

There are seven sacraments under the new law: that is to say, baptism, confirmation, the mass, penance, extreme unction, ordination, and matrimony. These differ essentially from the sacraments of the old law; for the latter do not confer grace, but only typify that grace which can be given by the passion of Christ alone. But these our sacraments both contain grace and confer it upon all who receive them worthily.

[DS 1311] The first five sacraments are intended to secure the spiritual. perfection of every man individually; the two last are ordained for the governance and increase of the Church. For through baptism we are born again of the spirit; through confirmation we grow in grace and are strengthened in the faith; and when we have been born again and strengthened we are fed by the divine food of the mass ; but if, through sin, we bring sickness upon our souls, we are made spiritually whole by penance; and by extreme unction we are healed, both spiritually and corporeally, according as our souls have need ; by ordination the Church is governed and multiplied spiritually ; by matrimony it is materially increased.

[DS 1312] To effect these sacraments three things are necessary: the things [or symbols], that is, the " material"; the words, that is, the "form"; and the person of the "ministrant," who administers the sacrament with the intention of carrying out what the Church effects through him. If any of these things be lacking, the sacrament is not accomplished.

Sacraments Which Impress an Indelible Character

[DS 1313] Three of these sacraments ­ baptism, confirmation, and ordination ­ impress indelibly upon the soul a character, a certain spiritual sign, distinct from all others; so they are not repeated for the same person. The other four do not imprint a character upon the soul, and admit of repetition.


[DS 1314] Holy baptism holds the first place among all the sacraments because it is the gate of spiritual life, for by it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church. Since through the first man death entered into the world [cf. Rom 5:12] , unless we are born again of water, and of the spirit, we cannot, so saith Truth, enter into the kingdom of heaven [cf. John 3:5]. The material of this sacrament is water, real and natural ­­ it matters nothing whether it be cold or warm. Now the form is: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." {rest added from Neusner-Dupuis} or "By my hand N. is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". For as the principal cause from which Baptism derives its virtue is the Holy Trinity, while the instrumental cause is the minister who confers the sacrament externally, the sacrament is performed whenever the act carried out by the minister is expressed along with the invocation of the Holy Trinity.

[DS 1315] The ministrant of this sacrament is the priest, for baptism belongs to his office. But in case of necessity not only a priest or deacon may baptize, but a layman or a woman ­ nay, even a pagan or a heretic, provided be use the form of the Church and intend to do what the Church effects.

[DS 1316] The efficacy of this sacrament is the remission of all sin, original sin and actual, and of all penalties incurred through this guilt. Therefore no satisfaction for past sin should be imposed on those who are baptized ; but if they die before they commit any sin, they shall straightway attain the kingdom of heaven and the sight of God.


[DS 1317] The second sacrament is confirmation. The material is the chrism made from oil, which signifies purity of conscience, and from balsam, which signifies the odor of fair fame; and it must be blessed by the bishop. The form is: " I sign thee with the sign of the cross and confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

[DS 1318] The proper ministrant of this sacrament is the bishop. While a simple priest avails to perform the other anointings, this one none can confer save the bishop only ­ for it is written of the apostles alone that by the laying on of hands they gave the Holy Ghost, and the bishops hold the office of the apostles. We read in the Acts of the Apostles, when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard how Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John ; who, when they were come, prayed that they might receive the Holy Ghost; for as yet it was fallen upon none of them, ­ they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands upon them and they received the Holy Ghost. [Acts 8:14-17] Now, in place of this laying on of hands, confirmation is given in the Church. Yet we read that sometimes, for reasonable and urgent cause by dispensation from the Holy See, a simple priest has been permitted to administer confirmation with a chrism prepared by a bishop.

[DS 1319] In this sacrament the Holy Ghost is given to strengthen us, as it was given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost, that the Christian may confess boldly the name of Christ. And therefore he is confirmed upon the brow, the seat of shame, that he may never blush to confess the name of Christ and especially his cross, which is a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles [cf. 1 Cor 1:23], according to the apostle. Therefore he is signed with the sign of the cross.


[DS 1320] The third sacrament is the Eucharist. The material is wheaten bread and wine of the grape, which before consecration should be mixed very sparingly with water; because, according to the testimony of the holy fathers and doctors of the Church set forth in former times in disputation, it is believed that the Lord himself instituted this sacrament with wine mixed with water, and also because this corresponds with the accounts of our Lord's passion. For the holy Pope Alexander, fifth from the blessed Peter, says, " In the offerings of sacred things made to God during the solemnization of the mass, only bread and wine mixed with water are offered up. Neither wine alone nor water alone may be offered up in the cup of the Lord, but both mixed, since it is written that both blood and water flowed from Christ's side." [cf. John 19:34: Pseudo-Alexander I, Epistola ad omnes orthodoxos, 9]

Moreover the mixing of water with the wine fitly signifies the efficacy of this sacrament, namely, the union of Christian people with Christ, for water signifies "people," according to the passage in the Apocalypse which says, "many waters, many people." [cf. Rev 17:15] And Julius, second pope after the blessed Sylvester, says: " According to the provisions of the canons the cup of the Lord should be offered filled with wine mixed with water, because a people is signified by the water, and in the wine is manifested the blood of Christ. Therefore when the wine and water are mixed in the cup the people are joined to Christ, and the host of the faithful is united with him in whom they believe." [Pseudo-Julius I: Epistola ad episcopos Aegypti]

Since, therefore, the holy Roman Church, instructed by the most blessed apostles Peter and Paul, together with all the other churches of the Greeks and Latins in which glowed the light of sanctity and of doctrine, has from the beginning of the nascent Church observed this custom and still observes it, it is quite unseemly that any region whatever, should depart from this universal and rational observance. We decree, therefore, that the Armenians likewise shall conform themselves with the whole Christian world, and their their priests shall mix a little water with the wine in the cup of oblation.

[DS 1321] The form of this sacrament is furnished by the words of the Saviour when he instituted it, and the priest, speaking in the person of Christ, consummates this sacrament. By virtue of these words, the substance of the bread is turned into the body of Christ and the substance of the wine into his blood. This is accomplished in such wise that the whole Christ is altogether present under the semblance of the bread and altogether under the semblance of the wine. Moreover, after the consecrated host and the consecrated wine have been divided, the whole Christ is present any part of them.

[DS 1322] The benefit effected by this sacrament in the souls of those who receive it worthily is the union of man with Christ. And since, through grace, man is made one body with Christ and united in his members, it follows that through this sacrament grace is increased in those who partake of it worthily. Every effect of material food and drink upon the physical life, in nourishment, growth, and pleasure, is wrought by this sacrament for the spiritual life. By it we recall the beloved memory of our Saviour; by it we are withheld from evil, and strengthened in good, and go forward to renewed growth in virtues a graces.


[DS 1323] The fourth sacrament is penance. The material, as we may say, consists in the acts of penitence, which are divided into three parts. The first of these is contrition of the heart, wherein the sinner must grieve for the sins he has committed, with the resolve to commit no further sins. Second comes confession with the mouth, to which it pertains that the sinner should make confession to his priest of all the sins he holds in his memory. The third is satisfaction for sins according to the judgment of the priest, and this is made chiefly by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The form of this sacrament consists in the words of absolution which the priest speaks when be says, "I absolve thee," etc. ; and the minister of this sacrament is the priest, who has authority to absolve either regularly or by the commission of a superior. The benefit of this sacrament is absolution from sins.


[DS 1324] The fifth sacrament is extreme unction, and the material is oil of the olive, blessed by a bishop. This sacrament shall not be given to any except the sick who are in fear of death. They shall be anointed in the following places: the eyes on account of the sight, the ears on account of the hearing, the nostrils on account of smell, the mouth on account of taste and speech, the hands on account of touch, the feet on account of walking, and the loins as the seat of pleasure. The form of this sacrament is as follows: "Through this holy unction and his most tender compassion, the Lord grants thee forgiveness for whatever sins thou hast committed by the sight," ­ and in the same way for the other members.

[DS 1325] The minister of this sacrament is a priest. The benefit is even the healing of the mind and, so far as is expedient, of the body also. Of this sacrament the blessed apostle James says: " Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." [James 5:14]


[DS 1326] The sixth sacrament is ordination. The material for the priesthood is the cup with the wine and the paten with the bread; for the deaconate, the books of the Gospel; for the subdeaconate, an empty cup placed upon an empty Paten; and in like manner, other offices are conferred by giving to the candidates those things which pertain to their secular ministrations. The form for priests is this: "Receive the power to offer sacrifice in the Church for the living and the dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." And so for each order the proper form shall be used, as fully stated in the Roman pontifical. The regular minister of this sacrament is a bishop; benefit, growth in grace, to the end that whosoever is ordained may be a worthy minister.


[DS 1327] The seventh sacrament is matrimony, the type of the union of Christ and the Church, according to the apostle who saith, "This is a great mystery" [Eph. 5:32 ­ In the Vulgate Paul's word "mysterion" is translated "sacramentum"] ; but I speak concerning Christ and the church." The efficient caususe of marriage is regularly the mutual consent uttered aloud on the spot. These advantages are to be ascribed to marriage: first, the begetting of children and their bringing up in the worship of the Lord; secondly, the fidelity that husband and wife should each maintain toward the other; thirdly the indissoluble character of marriage, for this typifies the indissoluble union of Christ and the Church. Although for the cause of adultery separation is permissible, for no other cause may marriage be infringed, since the bond of marriage once legitimately contracted is perpetual.

Source: James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History: Vol. I: (Boston:: Ginn and co., 1904), 348­54 [= Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion, 1310-27]

3. Pope Pius XII: Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum Ordinis 1947.

This text is included to clarify for any modern Catholic readers, current teaching on the matter and form of the sacrament of orders. Pius XII here specifically had to address the mistake made at the Council of Florence in reference to the "handing over of the instruments of office" as the matter of the sacrament. In stating the matter was the "laying on of hands" he was returning to a more ancient tradition. As Neusner-Dupuis note, he did not pronouncing on the historical question whether the rite did in fact undergo a susbstantial change in the Western Church. [For modern discussions it is worth noting that all three orders are consider sacramental - including the diaconate. This is of significance when the ordination of women is under discussion, since women were indubitably called "deacons" - not just "deaconesses" - in many early Church documents.

(Matter and form of diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate)

[DS 3858] 3. ...Even according to the mind of the Council of Florence itself, the handing over of the instruments (traditio instrumentorum) was not required for the substance and validity of this sacrament in virtue of the will of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If the same handing over of the instruments has at some time been necessary, even for validity, in virtue of the will and precept of the Church, all know that the Church has the power to change and abrogate what she has determined.

[DS 3859] By virtue of our supreme apostolic authority we declare with sure knowledge and, as far as it may be necessary, we determine and ordain: the matter of the holy orders of diaconate, presbyterate and episcopate is the laying on of hands alone, and the sole form is the words determining the application of the matter, words by which the effects of the sacrament ­ that is, the power of Order and the grace of the Holy Spirit­are unequivocally signified, and which for this reason are accepted and used by the Church. This leads us to declare, and, if other provisions have been legitimately made in the past at any time, we now determine that, at least in future, the handing over of the instruments is not necessary for the validity of the holy Orders of the diaconate, the presbyterate and the episcopate.pate.

Source: The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, rev ed., ed. J. Neusner and J Dupuis, (New York: Alba House, 1982), no. 1737 (p. 506-507) [= Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion, 3858-3859]

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall January 1998


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