Two short chapters on sacraments this week.
1 The perfection of spiritual strength consists properly in a man’s daring to confess the faith of Christ in the presence of anyone at all, and in a man’s being not withdrawn therefrom either by confusion or by terror, for strength drives out inordinate terror.
Therefore, the sacrament by which spiritual strength is conferred on the one born again makes him in some sense a front-line fighter for the faith of Christ. And because fighters under a prince carry his insignia, they who receive the sacrament of confirmation are signed with the sign of Christ; this is the sign of the cross by which He fought and conquered. This sign they receive on the forehead as a sign that without a blush they publicly confess the faith of Christ.
Notes Did you see a martial metaphor coming?
2 This signing takes place with a mixture of oil and balm which is called chrism, and not without reason. For by the oil one designates the power of the Holy Spirit, from whom Christ, too, is called “anointed” (Ps. 44:8; Luke 4:18); and consequently from Christ they are called “Christians” (Acts 9:26), so to say, as fighting under Him. And by the balm, through its fragrance, good repute is indicated. For the public confession of faith in Christ this good repute must be had by those who dwell among men of this world, brought forth, so to say, from the hidden recesses of the Church onto the field of battle.
3 Suitably, too, this sacrament is conferred only by bishops, who are in some sense the leaders of the Christian army. For even in secular military forces it is the prerogative of the army leader to select some men to be enrolled; so, also, those who receive this sacrament seem to be enrolled somehow in the spiritual military forces. Hence, also, a hand is laid upon them to designate the derivation of manliness from Christ.
Notes Ah, manliness. A most unwelcome argument in our age.
1 Now, bodily life needs material nourishment, not only for increase in quantity, but to maintain the nature of the body as well, lest it be dissolved by continuous resolutions and lose its power; in the same way it was necessary to have spiritual nourishment for the spiritual life that the reborn may both be conserved in virtues and grow in them.
2 Spiritual effects were fittingly given under the likeness of things visible (as was said); therefore, spiritual nourishment of this kind is given to us under the appearances, of the things which men rather commonly use for bodily nourishment. Bread and wine are of this sort. Accordingly, this sacrament is given under the appearances of bread and wine.
3 But consider this: He who begets is joined to the begotten in one way, and nourishment is joined to the nourished in another way in bodily things. For the one who begets need not be conjoined to the begotten in substance, but in likeness and in power only. But nutriment must be conjoined to the one nourished in substance.
Wherefore, that the spiritual effects may answer the bodily signs, the mystery of the incarnate Word is joined to us in one way in baptism which is a spiritual rebirth, and in another way in this sacrament of the Eucharist which is a spiritual nourishment. In baptism the Word incarnate is contained in His power only, but we hold that in the sacrament of the Eucharist He is contained in His substance.
4 And since the fulfillment of our salvation took place through the passion and death of Christ, in which His blood was separated from His flesh, we are given the sacrament of His body separately under the appearance of bread, and of His blood under the appearance of wine, and so we have in this sacrament both memory and the representation of our Lord’s passion. And in this our Lord’s words are fulfilled: “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:56).
Notes John, you will recall, also tells us of how Jesus initially lost a large number of followers after asking his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood.