Bellarmine on Trent sess. VII can. 13: the sacramental rites and ceremonies

It has been a long while since our last post here; as usual, however, this is not at all to say that we have not been busy. Indeed, we have continued our readings, researches, and translations as earnestly as ever over the past (almost) two years, although the coronavirus pandemic has nonetheless obtruded various obstacles upon our work. Our attention has for a long while now been fixed on matters pertaining to the Church’s authority over the liturgy, and the writings of the theologians on this topic, with particular reference to the Council of Trent and St. Pius V’s reform of the Missal and Breviary. It came to our attention a long while back, that in some of the more radical fringes of the Catholic traditionalist movement, appeals and arguments are made to Trent and to St. Pius V’s Quo primum tempore, as proofs indicting in some substantial way the Novus Ordo Missæ of St. Paul VI. While we have long been dissatisfied with much in and about the liturgical reform, and find little in the new Mass to recommend it over the Tridentine liturgy; nevertheless the aforementioned appeals struck us as both very weak, and injurious to the Church’s authority so far as we were familiar with it. But the documents involved also seemed to us very intriguing, and after happening upon some other interesting and pertinent texts, we resolved to dive more deeply into what the theologians, canonists, liturgists, and rubricists had to say about ecclesial and pontifical power in the liturgy, and about the documents in question. While we are still in the process of finding, reading, translating, and organizing an ever-growing body of texts on this subject for a modest opusculum on the matter, we thought it good to post some lengthier texts which we have translated in the course of our inquiries, which are probably too large to include in full in the main body of that treatise but which we should like to have around for reference nonetheless.

The first entry in this series of sorts will be from the De controversiis of St. Robert Bellarmine, De sacramentis in genere, lib. II, cap. 29-32. In these chapters, our Cardinal and Doctor dissertates on the rites and ceremonies spoken of in the seventh session of Trent, can. 13, expounding and establishing the catholic doctrine on the matter and repelling the errors of the Protestant heretics of his day.

For this translation, we employed the 1613 Tri-Adelphorum edition of the Cardinal’s De controversiis, tom. III, col. 191ff. Since this translation was completed as something ancillary to our projects and hence of lesser importance, we have omitted to include internal hyperlinks to the works referenced within the text as has been our wont in other more recent posts of ours here and at The Josias.

A .pdf version of this translation may be found here.


On the ceremonies of the Sacraments in general.

We shall treat of the rites of the individual Sacraments in their own places; here we dispute only of the rites in general. We have decided to dispute this final controversy, as much because it is a most worthy thing to know, as also so that there be no canon of the Council of Trent regarding the Sacraments in general, which we shall not have defended; for up to this point we have defended all but the last, which declares anathema to those, who either contemn the ceremonies of the Church, or think that they can be omitted without sin.

There shall be four parts of this question. The FIRST, on the name, definition, and partition of ceremonies. The SECOND, on the state of the case, and the errors and lies of the heretics. The THIRD, on the explanation and proof of the truth. The FOURTH, on the objections of the adversaries.


On the name, definition, and partition of ceremonies.

As regards the FIRST, some things shall have to be noted in order to understand the state of the case. The FIRST is, what is a ceremony. And a ceremony is an external act of religion, which act is praiseworthy for no other reason, than that it is for the honor of God. For religion, which is the most noble of the moral virtues, has three acts, as with any other virtue. FIRSTLY, the internal elicited act, which is to will to God due honor, and to give him worship. SECONDLY, the external act corresponding to the internal act, which is any external action, which is not elsewise good, and praiseworthy, than because it is done to worship God, such as sacrifice, genuflexion, and similar things. THIRDLY, the commanded act, that is, the act of any virtue, which is ordained by religion to the honor of God. In this way, fasting, almsgiving, and other things of that sort can be called acts of religion, when they are done to worship God, although they otherwise be the acts of other virtues. Of this third act St. James spoke, cap. 1, that religion is to visit the orphaned, and to guard oneself immaculate from this age; and St. Augustine in the Enchiridion, cap. 3, said, that God is worshiped in faith, and hope, and charity. Of these three acts, the first is in no way a ceremony; the third is also not a ceremony, except insofar as commanded by religion; the second is properly and simply a ceremony, and of it we treat in this place.

As regards the name: Ceremonies, amongst the Hebrews, are called תקים, which word properly signifies not so much the external action itself, as the law, or statute, by which that action is commanded. Wherefore also in the new Testament the Judaic ceremonies are usually called by the name of law, as in Matth. 11. The laws and the prophets until John. Gal. 5. I testify to every man circumcising himself, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. The Greeks render that word everywhere with δικαιώματα, that is, justifications, because they were rites instituted for justifying and purging man. The Latin interpreter almost always translates cæremonia in the old Testament for the Hebrew word תקים. Now this Latin word either is taken from the city of Cære, as is the opinion of Livy, lib. I, and Valerius Maximus lib. 1. c. 1., because in that city the Sacra Romana were preserved at the time when the Gauls plundered Rome; or perhaps more correctly it is drawn from the word carendo, so that a cæremonia is as it were a carimonia, as St. Augustine thinks, lib. 2. retract. cap. 37. and Gellius lib. 4. capit. 9. and Macrobius lib. 2. Saturnal. cap. 3. on account of the fact that certain ceremonies are set in abstaining, and lacking, as it was with the Jews, who abstained from the use of the flesh of swine, and nearly all the vows of the Nazarenes, and of others, who abstained even by vow from the use of wine, and of many other things.

But let us come to the partition. There are five partitions of ceremonies. The FIRST partition is taken from the end, or effect. For some are instituted in order to justify, such as the Sacraments, and of these we do not now treat: some for certain spiritual effects, such as the coercion of demons, as exorcisms, blessed water, etc., some only for adornment and signification, as the white garment of neophytes, the lights of candles, etc., and of these do we treat.

The SECOND partition is drawn from the efficient cause, that is, from the institutor. For some are in a certain way instituted by nature itself, which are able to be called natural: of which sort is, to look to heaven, to lift up the hands, to bend the knee, to beat the breast, when we pray to God: these nature itself teaches, whence they are also common to the Gentiles, and to any sects whatsoever. Some are instituted by God, as were many in the old testament, and some Sacraments in the new; and these are called divine ceremonies. Finally, some were instituted by the Apostles, or their successors, which are called Ecclesiastical ceremonies. And the partition of words is similar; for ceremonies are a certain kind of visible words. For we see some words to be natural, such as those by which we express various effects; for in the same way do all lament, sigh, laugh, etc. Others we see instituted by God, such as in Gen. 1. the name of heaven, earth, sea, and elsewhere the names of certain great men. Finally, we see others instituted by men, as when in Gen. 2. Adam gave names to the living things.

The THIRD partition is drawn from the formal cause. For some ceremonies are immediately the worship of God, such as sacrifice, prayer, adoration, etc.; some dispose to the worship of God, such as fasting, celibacy, harshness of life, etc.; some are instruments of divine worship, such as temples, altars, chalices, etc.

The FOURTH partition is from the material cause, or from the material object. For some ceremonies are concerned with persons; such as exorcisms, insufflations, the scattering of ashes, etc.; some regard times, such as feast days, vigils, Quadragesima, and thus also there are determinate times for the celebration of the Sacraments: some regard the mode, such as that the Sacraments be administered in the Latin tongue; finally, some regard things themselves, such as blessings of water, oil, vestments, palms, etc.

The FIFTH partition is taken from the accidents, so that some are universal, others particular, as the fast of the Sabbath in the times of Augustine was observed at Rome but not at Milan; and contrariwise the washing of feet after Baptism was observed at Milan, and not Rome. See Augustine epist. 118. and Ambrose lib. de Sacramentis 3. cap. 1. Likewise, some are temporary, such as abstinence from blood and things strangled, Act. 25. while others are perpetual, such as the rites of the Sacraments. Finally, some are of precept, others free, regarding which see Augustine epist. 118. Read the rest of this entry »