seven sacraments

seven sacraments

Sacraments – An Essay

By: Iain A. Emberson
Date: 20 October 2009


1. Introduction
2. Sacraments - Definitions and History
3. Sacraments - Efficacy and Mode of Operation
4. Sacraments in Action I - Baptism
5. Sacraments in Action II - Holy Communion
6. Conclusion
7. Bibliography




The Sacraments are amongst the most visible forms of outward expression in Christianity,
coming as they do with significant variations, both in number and in practice. This essay will
examine their theological and historical background, and their significance in the ongoing
life of the church. We also focus on the two main sacraments as practised in Protestant
Christianity, viz. Baptism and Holy Communion.


Sacraments - Definitions and History

The early church recognised a number of rites or practices which in some way expressed the
'mystery' (Greek: mysterion) of the Christian faith. McGrath points out that from an early
stage, a connection was made between the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and
the mystery of God's saving work in Christ. 1 Tertullian (c. 160-220) translated the Greek
term into Latin, by using sacramentum, a word which in a secular sense meant an oath of
allegiance, for example the sort that a soldier might make to his commanding officer.
The 4th century theologian Augustine of Hippo defined a sacrament as an “outward and
visible sign of an inward and invisible grace”. Despite this definition, there was no
widespread agreement as to the number of rites that could properly be called sacraments. It
was not until the 12th century, with the work of Peter Lombard (1100-1160), that the
sacraments were systemised and their total number listed as seven. These were Baptism,
Confirmation, Holy Communion, Marriage, Holy Orders, Penance and Unction. All of these,
it was argued were instituted by Christ 2 and remain (with differences in terminology for
some of them), the sacraments of the...

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