July 21, 2002

Sacraments & the Mind

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

I’ve been fairly busy recently, and haven’t been able to read as much as I would have liked to. I’m still working my way through E. Brooks Holifield’s The Covenant Sealed. He points out that many of the early Puritans thought that “conceptual understanding was essential to sacramental worship” (pp. 35-36). In fact, it seems that some of the early Puritans saw the efficacy of the sacraments as a matter of reasoning. William Perkins wrote:

The signes and visible elements affect the senses outward and inward: the senses convey their object to the mind: the mind directed by the holy Ghost reasoneth on this manner, out of the promise annexed to the Sacrament: He that useth the elements aright, shall receive grace thereby: but I use the elements aright in faith and repentance, saith the mind of the believer: therefore shall I receive from God increase of grace. Thus, then, faith is confirmed not by the worke done, but by a kind of reasoning caused in the mind, the argument or proofe whereof is borrowed from the elements, being signes and pledges of God mercie (cited p. 53, emphasis Holifield’s).

Elsewhere, Perkins wrote,

[When] the elements of bread and wine are present to the hand and to the mouth of the receiver; at the verie same time the body and bloud of Christ are presented to the minde: thus and no otherwise is Christ truly present with the signes (cited p. 58).

William Bradshaw wrote in a similar vein:

Hence also it appears, that we specially eate the flesh of Christ, and drink his bloud, when with a beleeving heart and mind, we effectually remember and in our remembrance, we seriously meditate of, and in our meditations are religiously affected, and in our affections thoroughly inflamed with the love of Christ, grounded upon that which Christ hath done for us, and which is represented and sealed unto us in this Sacrament (cited p. 59).

From quotations such as these, it seems that at least some of the Puritans thought that the way the sacraments (and the Lord’s Supper in particular) work is by making us think. Moved, it appears, by a fear of any kind of ex opere operato view (“not by the worke done,” says Perkins), they adopted instead a view grounded on the primacy of the intellect — as if God’s way of working was primarily (or even, perhaps, only) through the mind and depended on intellectual understanding: no intellectual understanding, no efficacy of the sacraments and no grace enjoyed by those who use the sacraments.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:40 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Sacraments & the Mind”

  1. dan glover Says:

    It is easy to see how the current Evangelical “mere memorial” or symbol view of the Supper could have found its beginning in this type of thinking. I know of some Evangelicals who honestly believe it is wrong for Christians to be baptized or take the Lord’s Supper since that shows a lack of faith in the spiritual realities taking place that these signs are merely reminders of. “I don’t need a reminder”, they say. “Jesus means so much to me I don’t need bread and wine to remind me of his death.” But Jesus said we do need it and commanded us to keep this meal. I know of countless other Evangelicals who would never say as much but who practically treat the Lord’s Supper and Baptism as optional, since in their words, “it is not necessary for salvation”. Individualist, Minimalist, Gnostic Christianity. I’m with Lewis. Please pass the bread.

Leave a Reply