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superstitions with which, under existing circumstances, they are interwoven, they appear to be framed for the purpose of mocking both God and men. But that we may not seem too severe in agitating every particular point, we shall content ourselves with the general repetition already given.
XX. The nature of those vows which are legitimate and acceptable to God, I think, has been sufficiently declared. Yet as timid and inexperienced consciences, even after they are dissatisfied with a vow, and convinced of its impropriety, nevertheless feel doubts respecting the obligation, and are grievously distressed, on the other hand, from a dread of violating their promise to God, and on the other, from a fear of incurring greater guilt by observing it, it is necessary here to offer them some assistance to enable them to extricate themselves from this difficulty. Now, to remove every scruple at once, I remark,
I that all vows, not legitimate or rightly made, as they are of no value with God, so they ought to have no force with us. For if in human contracts no promises are obligatory upon us, but those to which the party with whom we contract wishes to bind us; it is absurd to consider ourselves constrained to the performance of those things which God never requires of us: especially as our works cannot be good unless they please God, and are accompanied with the testimony of our conscience that he accepts them. For this remains a fixed principle, that “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin:” (y) by which Paul intends, that whatever work is undertaken with doubts, is consequently sinful, because all good works spring from faith, by which we are assured of their acceptance with God. Therefore, if it be not lawful for a Christian man to attempt any thing without this assurance, and if any one through ignorance has made a rash vow, and afterwards discovered his error, why should he not desist from the performance of it? since vows inconsiderately made, not only are not binding, but ought of necessity to be cancelled: and also, as they are not only of no value in the sight of God, but are an abomination to him, as we have already demonstrated. It is useless to argue any longer on a subject which does not require it. This one argument appears to me sufficient
(y) Rom. xiv. 23.
to tranquillize pious consciences, and to liberate them from every scruple-That all works pot proceeding from a pure source, and directed to a legitimate end, are rejected by God, and rejected in such a manner that he forbids our continuance, as much as our commencement of them. Hence we may conclude, that vows which have originated in error and superstition, are of no value with God, and ought to be relinquished by us.
XXI. This solution will furnish an answer to the calumnies of the wicked, in defence of those who leave monachism for some honourable way of life. They are heavily accused of breach of faith and perjury, having broken, as it is commonly supposed, the indissoluble bond which held them to God and the Church. But I maintain that there is no bond, where that which man confirms is abrogated by God. Besides, though we should grant that they were bound while they were involved in error and ignorance of God; now, since they have been enlightened with the knowledge of the truth, I maintain that the grace of Christ has delivered them from the obligation. For if the cross of Christ possesses such efficacy as to deliver us from the curse, under which we were held by the law of God, how much more then shall it extricate us from other bonds, which are nothing but delusive snares of Satan? Whomsoever, therefore, Christ illuminates with the light of his gospel, there is no doubt that he liberates them from all the shares in which they had entangled themselves by superstition. Though they are not at a loss for another defence, if they are not qualified to live in celibacy. For if an impossible vow be the ruin of souls, which it is the will of the Lord to save and not to destroy; it follows that it is not right to persevere in it. But the impossibility of an observance of the vow of continence by those who are not endued with a special gift, we have already shewn, and without my saying a word, experience itself declares; for it is notorious what extreme impurity prevails in almost all monasteries, and if any of them appear more virtuous and modest than the rest, it does not follow that they are really more chaste, because they conceal the vice of unchastity. Thus God inflicts awful punishments on the audacity of men, when, forgetting their weakness, they covet, in opposition to nature, that which is denied them, Vol. III.
and, despising the remedies which God had put into their hands, indulge a contumacious and obstinate presumption that they are able to overcome the vice of incontinence. For what shall we call it but contumacy, when any one who is admonished that he stands in need of marriage, and that it has been given to him by the Lord as a remedy, not only contemns it, but binds himself by an oath to persevere in that contempt?
The Sacraments. CONNECTED with the preaching of the gospel, another assistance and support for our faith is presented to us in the sacraments: on the subject of which it is highly important to lay down some certain doctrine, that we may learn for what end they were instituted, and how they ought to be used. In the first place, it is necessary to consider what a sacrament is. Now I think it will be a simple and appropriate definition, if we say that it is an outward sign, by which the Lord seals in our consciences the promises of his good-will towards us, to support the weakness of our faith, and we on our part testify our piety towards him, in his presence and that of angels, as well as before men. It may however be more briefly defined, in other words, by calling it a testimony of the grace of God towards us, confirmed by an outward sign, with a reciprocal attestation of our piety towards him. Whichever of these definitions be chosen, it conveys exactly the same meaning as that of Augustine, which states a sacrament to be " a visible sign of a sacred thing,” or “a visible form of invisible grace:" but it expresses the thing itself with more clearness and precision; for as his conciseness leaves some obscurity, by which many inexperienced persons may be misled, I have endeavoured to render the subject plainer by more words, that no room might be left for any doubt.
II. The reason why the ancient Fathers used this word in such a sense, is very evident. For whenever the author of the old common version of the New Testament wanted to render the Greek word revesngior, mystery, into Latin, especially where it related to divine things, he used the word sacramentum,“ sacrament.” Thus in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “ Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.” (a) Again, “ If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery.” (b) In the Epistle to the Colossians: “The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery." (c) Again, to Timothy: “ Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” (d) In all these places, where the word mystery is used, the author of that version has rendered it sacrament. He would not say arcanum, or secret, lest he should appear to degrade the majesty of the subject. Therefore he has used the word sacrament for a sacred or divine secret. In this signification it frequently occurs in the writings of the Fathers. And it is well known, that baptism and the Lord's supper, which the Latins denominate sacraments, are called mysteries by the Greeks; a synonimous use of the terms, which removes every doubt. And hence the word sacrament came to be applied to those signs which contained a representation of sublime and spiritual things: which is also remarked by Augustine, who says, “It would be tedious to dispute respecting the diversity of signs, which, when they pertain to divine things, are called sacraments."
III. Now, from the definition which we have established, we see that there is never any sacrament without an antecedent promise of God, to which it is subjoined as an appendix, in order to confirm and seal the promise itself, and to certify and ratify it to us: which means God foresees to be necessary, in the first place on account of our ignorance and dulness, and in the next place on account of our weakness; and yet, strictly speaking, not so much for the confirmation of his sacred word,
(a) Ephes. i. 9. (6) Eph. ii. 2, 3. (e) Col. i. 26, 27. (d) 1 Tim. iii. 16.
as for our establisment in the faith of it. For the truth of God is sufficiently solid and certain in itself, and can receive no better confirmation from any other quarter than from itself: but our faith being slender and weak, unless it be supported on every side, and sustained by every assistance, immediately shakes, fluctuates, totters and falls. And as we are corporeal, always creeping on the ground, cleaving to terrestrial and carnal objects, and incapable of understanding or conceiving of any thing of a spiritual nature, our merciful Lord, in his infinite indulgence, accommodates himself to our capacity, condescending to lead us to himself even by these earthly elements, and in the flesh itself to present to us a mirror of spiritual blessings. “For if we were incorporeal,” as Chrysostom says,
. "he would have given us these things pure and incorporeal. Now because we have souls enclosed in bodies, he gives us spiritual things under visible emblems. Not because there are such qualities in the nature of the things presented to us in the sacraments; but because they have been designated by God to this signification."
IV. This is what is commonly said, that a sacrament consists of the word and the outward sign. For we ought to understand the word, not of a murmur uttered without any meaning or faith, a mere whisper like a magical incantation, supposed to possess the power of consecrating the elements, but of the gospel preached, which instructs us in the signification of the visible sign. That which is commonly practised under the tyranny of the Pope, therefore, involves a gross profanation of the mysteries: for they have thought it sufficient for the priest to mutter over the form of consecration, while the people are gazing in ignorance. Indeed, they have taken effectual care that it should be all unintelligible to the people; for they have pronounced the consecration in Latin before illiterate men: and have at length carried superstition to such a pitch as to consider it not rightly performed, unless it be done in a hoarse murmur which few could hear. But Augustine speaks in a very different manner of the sacramental word. “Let the word,” says he, “ be added to the element, and it will become a sacrament.” For whence does the water derive such great virtue, as at once to touch the body and purify the