Tuesday, March 10, 2009
In the COMBOX of the previous thread, our Reformed brother in Christ, Ken Temple, wrote:
Here is an area that I would like to understand better, that is, the ex opera operato ideas and when they started and who came up with it. That seems to be later than the first 3 centuries. Am I right in that the issue came out more when Augustine was debating with the Donatists? 4th and 5th Centuries onward. (Ken Temple, March 7, 2009 – 10:11 AM)
The next day (in the same combox) I responded to Ken with the following:
Me: From my studies, I am pretty much in agreement with the consensus of patristic scholars who believe that the CFs of the first three centuries linked baptism with regeneration (and the forgiveness of all previous sins). The efficacy the Eucharist is not nearly as clear-cut.
Augustine’s debate with the Donatists primarily concerned the status of the administrator of the sacraments, and not their effects. (David Waltz, March 8, 2009 – 12:01 PM)
To which Ken replied:
But they did not use the formula, "ex opera operato" - when did that phrase first come into use and by who?I thought I heard someone in a church history lecture say it was Optatus (??). (Ken Temple, March 8, 2009 – 3:53 PM)
Now, I remembered that Optatus, bishop of Milevis, in his treatise, “Against Parmenian the Donatists”, had devoted an entire chapter to the issue of baptism. This morning, I pulled Mark Edwards’ translation (Optatus: Against the Donatists) down from the shelf and reread chapter five. I also was able to find a much older translation by O. R. Vassall-Phillips (The Work of St. Optatus Againsit The Donatists). And finally, I tracked down the work in Mignes’ Patrologia Latina (volume XI). The following quotes from the above three mentioned works is THE locus classicus from Optatus’ pen concerning the issue of ex opera(e) operato*, as it pertains to the sacrament of baptism:
When therefore you see that all who baptize are agents, not masters, and the sacraments are holy through themselves, not through human beings, why is it that you claim so much for yourselves? (Optatus: Against the Donatists, trans. Mark Edwards, 1997, p. 103.)
Since therefore you see that all who baptize are labourers, not lords, and that the Sacraments are holy through themselves, not through men, why do you claim so much for yourselves? (The Work of St. Optatus Againsit The Donatists, trans. O. R. Vassall-Phillips, 1917, pp. 219, 220.)
Cum ergo videatis, omens qui baptizant, operarios esse, non dominos, et sacramenta per se esse sancta, non per hominess, quid est, quod vobis tantum vindicates? (Migne, PL, XI. 1052, 1053.)
Though Optatus does not use the phrase ex opera(e) operato, he does use an equivalent: sacramenta per se esse sancta, non per hominess (the sacraments are holy in/through themselves, not through men).
Concerning this particular passage, O. R. Vassall-Phillips, writes/quotes the following:
Harnack writes of these words (History of Dogma, v, p. 42) : ' This is the famous principle of the objectivity of the Sacraments, which became so fundamental for the development of the dogmatics of the Western Church, although it could not be carried out in all its purity in the Roman Church, because in that case it would have destroyed the prerogatives of the clergy.' It is difficult to see what Harnack had in his mind when he wrote this last qualifying sentence. Nothing can be more certain than that the Roman Church has always taught, without any limitation or qualification whatsoever, that the efficacy of the Sacraments is always and everywhere independent of the virtues or vices of those who administer them. (The Work of St. Optatus Againsit The Donatists, trans. O. R. Vassall-Phillips, 1917, p.220 – footnote 1.)
And earlier, he penned:
…it is a most striking and moving fact that this old Father of the Church bears his express and unequivocal witness not only to the necessity of union with the Cathedra Petri, but also to most of those Catholic Doctrines so violently assailed in the days of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer, Knox and their associates, and still denied on all sides around us.
For example, St. Optatus affirms explicitly the truth of Baptismal Regeneration; again and again makes reference to the Sacrifice of the Altar ; states the doctrine of the Real Presence in words that are incapable of any misunderstanding ; insists on the sacredness of the Holy Chrism ; writes of the adornment of altars for the offering of the Sacrifice ; refers to the ceremony of Exorcism before Baptism ; appeals to deutero-canonical Books as to authentic Scripture ; takes the continuance of Miracles in the Church for granted ; and is quite express in his references to cloistered Virginity and the difference between the Commandments of God and Counsels of Perfection. Sometimes indeed he is so modern in his expressions (or at least his words are so directly applicable to our modern circumstances) that when we first read them we rub our eyes and ask ourselves Can it be a Catholic writer of the fourth century, whom we are reading, not one of the twentieth ? (Ibid., Preface, xi, xii.)
In ending, I would like to recommend to all that they take the time to read Optatus’ entire work. I suspect that many will ponder, along with Vassall-Phillips, whether they are reading a “a Catholic writer of the fourth century”, or one from “the twentieth?”
Grace and peace,
*The following is a working definition for the Latin phrase ex opera(e) operato:
“(Lat. “from the work done”) In Roman Catholic tradition, the view that the efficacy of a sacrament depends on it being a valid sacrament and not on the spiritual goodness of the one who administers it. It seeks to emphasize a sacrament as an objective pledge of God’s grace.” (Donald K. McKim, Dictionary of Theological Terms, pp. 97, 98.)