In our last article we dealt with the general definition of sacraments instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, as laid down in Article XXV. The Article proceeds to the disputed question as to the number of the Dominical sacraments.
The term ‘Dominical’ is used to distinguish sacraments “ordained of Christ our Lord” from other religious signs. The article states directly, “Then: are two sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel” and specifies “Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.”
In dealing with this subject it is important to notice that the extended section in which “the five commonly called sacraments” are dealt with specifically belongs to the recension of the Articles sanctioned in 1563. Further in the 1563 draft the words “In which sort neither penance” were included after the words “hath not like nature of sacrament with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” and the concluding words of the section are made to apply to penance only, reading “For that it bath not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” It is remarkable that in the Latin form the plural is used in that concluding section.
The enlarged Article of 1563 contains a direct refutation of Canon I of the XIIth Session of the Council of Trent held on March 3, 1547, which reads “If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law were not all Instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord; or that they are more, or law, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony, or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.”
Reason for Change
It might, at first sight, seem strange that the Reformers hesitated so long before inserting this very direct refutation of the Canon of The Council of Trent. One reason may be that Cranmer when translating Justus Jonas’ Catechism, had declared that we must receive remission of sins in the Church and desire absolution. That would account for the singling out of Penance in the early draft of 1563. Penance is enjoined, but is not a sacrament because it lacks a sign or ceremony ordained of God. Unfortunately this can only remain a reasonable conjecture, as we have no direct evidence of the reason for the change.
A second ground may be offered. The Reformers may have thought that the explicit assertion of The Council of Trent needed a more explicit treatment than was contained in the quotation from Augustine which formed the opening statement in the 1552 Articles “Our Lord Jesus Christ hath knit together a company of new people with the sacraments, most few in number, most easy to be kept, most excellent in signification, as in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper”. While the statement asserted that sacraments were “most few in number” and specifically indicated “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” it did not declare directly that there were only two sacraments or that our Lord had not instituted seven sacraments. The controversies of Mary’s reign offer abundant evidence of the urgency of this question. As a confirmation of this suggestion, it is advisable to point out that the very words of the Tridentine Canon are used. Our English version translates “sacraments ordained of Christ,” but the Latin for the word “ordained” is “instituta”, the very word employed in the Canon of the Council of Trent. The same is true of the later phrase “ordained of God” where the Latin word is “institutam.”
Much confusion has arisen through not noticing this conformity. There is indeed a significant alteration in phrasing when we come to the phrase “sacraments of the Gospel.” Here the Tridentine Canon reads “The sacraments of the New Law.” The framers of our Articles were deeply sensible of Paul’s argument that the redemption of Christ was “Apart from the law” and hence substituted the word “Gospel” for the term “New Law.” The distinction is important to observe, but it does not materially affect the definite repudiation of the Canon of Trent,
The careful reader will have little difficulty in appreciating the main message of the Article as it affects the controversy concerning the number of the sacraments. Accepting the then usual restriction of the word “sacrament” to those signs directly instituted by Christ the Article definitely asserts that there are two “ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel.” It proceeds to assert that the five commonly called sacraments “are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel.” That is a most explicit statement. There is no hint in the Article of any distinction between “greater” and “lesser” sacraments. It declares very definitely that the “five commonly called sacraments” lack the authority conferred on Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. They have not been instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ
There is no difference between the Tridentine Canon and the Article on the definition of a sacrament. Both declare that it is essential for the Sacraments of the New Law, or as the Article puts it, of the Gospel, that they should be instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord. If that particular requirement be dispensed with, then it is impossible to say that sacraments lacking this characteristic are no more and no less than seven. In the older Latin versions of the Scripture the word “mystery” was frequently rendered “sacrament”. St Augustine renders 1 Corinthians 13:2 “If I should know all sacraments” (Tract on John 6.21) and St. Hilary renders Colossians 1:26 “The sacrament that had been hidden from ages and generations” (Comm. in Psalm 138). The same word, “sacrament” is employed in the Vulgate in the next verse “God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this sacrament.”
These quotations may be deemed sufficient to justify the language of “The Homily of Common Prayer and Sacraments” in which we read, “In a general acceptation the name of a sacrament may be attributed to anything whereby a holy thing is signified. In which understanding of the word the ancient writers have given this name, not only to the other five, commonly of late years taken and used for supplying the number of the seven sacraments, but also to divers and sundry other ceremonies as to oil, washing of feet, and such like, not meaning thereby to repute them as sacraments in the same signification as the two forenamed Sacraments are.”
It may be pertinent to observe that this particular passage does no occur in the Homily as appointed by Convocation, which is content with declaring “and as for the number of them, if they should be considered according to the exact signification as fully expressed and commended of Christ in the New Testament there be but two, viz., Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.” Still the Homilies with Elizabeth’s interpolation were accepted again in 1662, so we can regard the interpolation as expressing the mind of the divines of The Church of England. As Scudamore points out, only once in an incidental reference in “The Sermon on Swearing” (drawn up in 1547) is the wider use of the term sacrament employed. We read there “By like holy promise the sacrament of matrimony knitteth man and wife in perpetual love” (ib, p. 71).
The important point to notice is that “the five commonly called sacraments” cannot be regarded as “instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Scudamore also points out that as early as 1540: “To the question whether this word Sacrament is or ought to be attributed to the seven only, two out of fifteen (divines) maintained that it ought. But all allowed that ‘there is no determined number of sacraments spoken of in the old authors “ (Notitia Eucharistica, p. 22). Strype in his “Memorials of Archbishop Cranmer,” Bk. I. App. 28 and 29, gives in some detail these questions and answers. It is important to notice that they were compiled before the Reformation proper had taken hold of English minds, two years before Cranmer had condemned Lambert for denying Transubstantiation.
“No Determined Number”
The Article, therefore, in its repudiation of a limited number of sacraments unless the institution of our Lord is made a condition in the use of term, was expressing a view which we may say, was still widely held before the Canon of The Council of Trent was framed. It may not be wholly irrelevant to mention that prior to the restricted use of the term, which the Church adopted and the Council of Trent endorsed the word “sacrament” was employed to designate an oath. This is the sense of the term in the quotation from “The Sermon on Swearing.” The context reads: “For by lawful promise and covenants, confined by oaths, princes and their countries are confirmed in common tranquility and peace. By holy promises, with calling the name of God to witness, we be made lively members of Christ, when we profess his religion receiving the sacrament of baptism. By like holy promise the sacrament of matrimony knitteth man and wife in perpetual love.”
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, 11th November, 1959. This article is part of our Articulate series, listening to TC Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one.
 Sadly we cannot locate the article Hammond refers to here in our archives, nor can we find any of his treatment of Articles 20-24.