The Baptism of Christ by Paolo Veronese-1661
The Sacraments as True Causes of Grace: An Ecumenical Obstacle | Joshua Madden | HPR
If the Church can be accused of anything at all, (it is that) she attributes too much power to God, for it is only she who proclaims to the world that God is so powerful that he takes up creation and uses it to bring about that which he wills.
n his treatment of the sacraments in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas naturally begins the discussion by asking what a sacrament is, 1 and whether they are necessary. 2Immediately following these introductory questions, Thomas broaches the topic we will here be discussing, the question addressed in the very first article of question 62, “Whether the Sacraments Are the Cause of Grace?” In this article, the third objection to this question appears to be the strongest: “what is proper to God should not be ascribed to a creature. But it is proper to God to cause grace, according to Psalm 83:12: “The Lord will give grace and glory. Since, therefore, the sacraments consist in certain words and created things, it seems that they cannot cause grace.” This is a lucid and forceful objection that cannot be swept aside lightly, and it is this exact objection that the Protestant Christian will raise against the Catholic understanding of the sacraments. John Calvin, who will act as our dialogue partner in this treatment, says as much in his defining work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, when he states, “They (the sacraments) do not of themselves bestow any grace.” 3 In response to this objection, Thomas makes clear the distinction in causes relating to the sacraments, distinguishing between a principal cause and an instrumental cause. It will soon become clear why we can say that the sacraments truly cause grace by acting as instrumental causes, deriving their power from the Incarnate Word who has ordained them to confer grace through the mediation of the Church. Understood in this way, the question, “Whether the Sacraments are the Cause of Grace,” can be answered in the affirmative.
Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin on Sacramental Efficacy
It is no secret that one of the main points of contention between Protestant Christianity and the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox churches) is the institution and efficacy of the sacraments. Most of Protestant Christianity will affirm the existence of only two sacraments: baptism and communion, or “The Lord’s Supper,” as it is commonly called