Easter Eve’s renewed popularity might be caused by a renewed interest in sacramentals for Anglican ritual– the paschal candle, holy fire, the blessing of the font, sacred salt, distribution of lesser candles, burning of palms, use of incense, etc.. The Easter Eve service I last attended was packed with sacramentals, and, as each sacramental was blessed, the priest waved a stylus and incanted prayers, making the ceremony resemble wizardry. “Superstition” is a term often used by English Reformers against the abuses of Papistry but also, occasionally, overly-scrupulous Puritanism. My interest is with the former, namely, how Roman sacramentology agrees with medieval alchemy when it believes an ordinary substance (be it a palm leaf, candle, or charism oil) is magically transformed into divine essence through an infusion of invisible spirit. This post is a compendium to another, the St. Louis Affirmation, building upon a workable enumeration of Sacraments.
Recently, I found a working definition for ‘superstition’ in the Basilikon Doron of King James. While warning his heir apparent, Prince Henry, of the danger of impoverished faith, James describes two kinds of spiritual sicknesses: leprosy and superstition. Though Leprosy is like the hard heart, superstition is ascribing more holiness to a thing than God’s Word permits. James, of happy memory, says:
“Above all them, my Son, labor to keep sound this conscience, which many prattle of, but over few feel: especially be careful to keep it free form two diseases, wherewith it useth oft to be infected; to wit, Leaprosy, and Superstition; for the former is the mother of Atheism, the other of Heresies. By a leaprouse conscience, I mean a cauterized conscience, as Paul calleth it, being become senseless of sin, through sleeping in careless security…And by superstition, I mean, when one restrains himself to any other rule in the service of God, then is warranted by the word, the only true square of God’s service” p. 16
While the description of leprosy as a “cauterized conscience” alongside superstition as the ‘mother of heresy’ is fascinating, James continues by further elaborating the subject of ‘superstition’ into two parts. The first part is Puritanical, stemming from vain interpretation of scripture. The other part is from obeying church traditions contrary to God’s word, perhaps blindly following popular convention… this being Papist. Against both errors, King James reminds Prince Henry scripture is the final rule of faith:
see 39. p. 17, “As for keeping your conscience sound from that sickness of superstition, ye must neither lay the safety of your conscience upon the credit of your own conceits, nor yet of other mens’ humors, how great doctors of Divinity that ever they be; but ye must only ground it upon the express Scripture: for conscience not grounded upon sure knowledge, is either an ignorant fantasy, or an arrogant vanity.
Superstition is a point that touches both Puritan and Papal extremes. Throughout the Basilikon, James attributes faulty opinion to those “jesuit-puritans”, implying Geneva and Rome’s common antagonism against Evangelical adiaphora, or christian liberty. The English defense of adiaphora– a polemic steadily built upon by Ridley, Cranmer, Jewel, Whitgift, and to Hooker– touches the heart of the English Reformation. Article 34, “it is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like: for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed…so that nothing be ordained against God’s word“. Adiaphora distinguishes between rites that belong to God’s command, naturally having salvific or justifying importance, versus those ceremonies that are merely customary and laudable, and therefore open to wise alteration. James says:
cont’d “Beware therefore in this case with two extremes: the one, to believe with the Papists, the Churches authority, better than your own knowledge; the other, to lean with the Anabaptists, to your own conceits and dreamed revelations. ..But learn wisely to discern between points of salvation and indifferent things, between substance and ceremonies; and between the express commandment and will of God in his word, and the invention or ordinance of man; since all that is necessary for salvation is contained in the scripture..”
James protests the confusion between gospel sacraments and pious sacramentals on the grounds of “right use”. Ironically, James says his own mother, Mary Queen of Scots (a devout Roman Catholic, though no papist), was an example of a christian rightly knowing ceremony. Not even she believed the baptismal spittle of the priest had an intrinsic, salvific quality. By removing the spittle from her son’s baptism, the Queen demonstrated the amenability of tradition. James comments:
“And as for the Queen my Mother of worthy memory; although she continued in that Religion she was nourished, yet was she so far from being superstitious or Jesuited therein, that at my Baptism (although I was baptized by a Popish Archbishop) she sent him word to forbear to use the spettle in my Baptism; which was obeyed, being indeed a filthy and an apish trick, rather in scorn then imitation of Christ. And her own very words were, That she would not have a pockie priest to spit in her child’s mouth. As also the Font wherein I was Christened, was sent from the late Queen here of famous memory [Elizabeth I], who was my Godmother; and what her Religion was, Pius V was not ignorant. ” ( p. 122)
After which, James describes his own faith:
p. 124, “I hope I shall never be condemned as a Heretic, for not being a Novelist. Such are the private Masses, where the priest playeth the role of the part of both priest and people; the Transsubstantion, Elevation for Adoration, and Circumportation in procession of the Sacrament; the works of Supererogation, rightly named Thesaurus Ecclesia; the Baptizing of the Bells, and a thousand other tricks: But above all, the worshipping of Images. If my faith be weak in these, I confess I had rather believe too little than too much: And yet since I believe as much as the Scriptures do warrant, the Creeds do persuade, and the ancient Councils decreed; I may well be a schismatic from Rome, but I am sure I am no Heretic. I am no Iconomachus; I quarrel not with the making of Images, either for public decoration, or for men’s private uses: But that they should be worshiped, be prayed to, or any holiness attributed unto them, was never known of the Ancients”
The phrase ‘apish trick’ makes a strong allusion to magic. King James’ Premonition begins as a defense of royal supremacy, but it oddly ends with an exegesis upon the book of Revelation. James identifies the image-worship and sorcery of wicked men (Rev. 9:20-1) to the honoring of Roman ritual, implying Rome had its own ‘charms’ and conjurations:
“By their sorcery consider of their Angus Dei, that will slacken fire; of the hallowed shirts, and divers sorts of Reliques; and also of Prayers that will preserve men from the violence of shot, of fire, of sword, of thunder, and such like dangers; And judge, if this be not very like to Sorcery and incantation of charms” p. 142
Another book written by King James, known as the Demonology, further considers the implications superstition and curiosity in the occult. Commentators believe James wrote this work against the soothsaying and alchemy by doctors like John Dee who was supported by Elizabeth’s court. James suggests there are degrees of sorcery, some belonging to folkish custom, others owing to overt sorcery that cloaks itself as ‘science’. However, both led the mind astray from God, placing faith often upon vain trinkets, the iota of outward acts, false miracles, angels, etc.– “apish tricks”, rather than the means of justifying grace obtained or instituted by Christ. To this extent, Papists and Luciferians share a common and unprofitable language:
chap. 4, book 1, “Two principall thinges cannot well in that errand be wanted: holie-water (whereby the Devill mockes the Papistes) and some present of a living thing unto him. There ar likewise certaine seasons, dayes and houres, that they observe in this purpose: These things being all readie, and prepared, circles are made triangular, quadrangular, round, double or single, according to the forme of apparition that they crave. But to speake of the diverse forms of the circles, of the innumerable characters and crosses that are within and without, and out-through the same, of the divers formes of apparitiones, that that craftie spirit illudes them with, and of all such particulars in that action, I remit it to over-manie that have busied their heades in describing of the same; as being but curious, and altogether unprofitable. And this farre onelie I touch, that when the conjured Spirit appeares, which will not be while after manie circumstances, long praiers, and much muttring and murmuring of the conjurers; like a Papist priest, dispatching a hunting Masse: how sone I say, he appeares, if they have missed one iote of all their rites; or if any of their feete once slyd over the circle through terror of his feareful apparition, he payes himselfe at that time in his owne hand, of that due debt which they ought him; and other-wise would have delayed longer to have payed him: I meane hee carries them with him bodie and soule. If this be not now a just cause to make them wearie of thes formes of conjuration, I leave it to you to judge upon; considering the long-somenesse of the labour, the precise keeping of dayes and houres (as I have said)”
Not only do conjurers attribute false power to rituals lacking the appointment of God, but oftentimes the tokens and utensils used at these rites are thought to be infused with spirit. According to James, sorcerers believe demons are enslaved within the material confines of trinkets like ‘tablets’ and ‘rings’. Don’t Papists either confirm or teach a similar doctrine when they exorcise water or invoke the Holy Ghost upon candles? Of the false opinion that earthly things are inhabited by fallen spirits, requiring exorcism, James says,
chp. 6, “He [the Devil] will permit himselfe to be conjured, for the space of so many yeres, either in a tablet or a ring, or such like thing, which they may easely carrie about with them: He gives them power to sel such wares to others, whereof some will be dearer, and some better cheape; according to the lying or true speaking of the Spirit that is conjured therin. Not but that in verie deede, all Devils must be lyars; but so they abuse the simplicitie of these wretches, that becomes their schollers, that they make them beleeve, that at the fall of Lucifer, some Spirites fell in the air, some in the fire, some in the water, some in the lande: In which Elementes they still remaine. Whereupon they build, that such as fell in the fire, or in the aire, are truer then they, who fell in the water or in the land, which is al but meare trattles, and forged be the author of al deceit. For the fel not be weight, as a solid substance, to stick in any one parte: But the principall part of their fal, consisting in qualitie, by the falling from the grace of God wherein they were created, they continued still thereafter, and shal do while the latter daie, in wandring through the worlde, as Gods hang-men”
It should be apparent that James is applying Evangelical sacramentology against so-called witchcraft when he uses terms like “cooperation” or “stick in any part”. According to evangelical belief, how the Holy Spirit consecrates the sacrament is exclusive to baptism and the supper. It is not indiscriminate to every sacramental–like ashes, candles, oils, crucifixes, or rings– whether or not an epiclesis is cast upon them. This is an essential understanding for the English reformation; namely, the church cannot create additional means of grace apart from that which is proven in scripture. To do otherwise, mocks or “apes” God’s divine institution:
CHAP. II BOOK 2 “To some others at these times hee teacheth, how to make Pictures of waxe or clay: That by the rosting thereof, the persones that they beare the name of, may be continuallie melted or dryed awaie by continuall sicknesse. To some hee gives such stones or poulders, as will helpe to cure or cast on diseases: And to some he teacheth kindes of uncouthe poysons, which Mediciners understandes not (for he is farre cunningner then man in the knowlege of all the occult proprieties of nature) not that anie of these meanes which hee teacheth them (except the poysons which are composed of thinges naturall) can of themselves helpe anything to these turnes, that they are employed, but onelie being Gods Ape, as well in that, as in all other thinges. Even as God by his Sacramentes which are earthlie of themselves workes a heavenlie effect, though no waies by any cooperation in them: “
And yet are all these thinges but deluding of the senses, and no waies true in substance, as were the false miracles wrought by King Pharaoes Magicians, for counterfeiting Moyses: For that is the difference betwixt Gods myracles and the Devils, God is a creator, what he makes appeare in miracle, it is so in effect.
Nonetheless, James probably more generous than I with respect to Papist superstition. While Rome is a distressed church, it’s certainly not as wicked as an actual coven of witches. James concedes the operation of grace even in Rome. When asked how the rites of Papists appear to cure demonic possession, James replies that it’s not by Romish trattles that such ‘evil’ is exorcised– nor by any chanting of the minister– but true exorcism of the soul comes by faith, fasting, and prayer as commended by Christ. In so far as Rome still administers baptism, Rome offers grace. We might refer to Article #26, “yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments”. Even so, James is fairly generous with Papists:
“As to the other part of the argument in-case they can, which rather (with reverence of the learned thinking otherwaies) I am inducedto beleeve, by reason of the faithfull report that men found of religion, have made according to their fight thereof, I think if so be, I say these may be the respectes, whereupon the Papistes may have that power. Christ gave a commission and power to his Apostles to cast out Devilles, which they according thereunto put in execution: The rules he bad them observe in that action, was fasting and praier: the action it selfe to be done in his name. This power of theirs proceeded not then of any vertue in them, but onely in him who directed them. As was clearly proved by Judas his having as greate power in that commission, as any of the reste. It is easie then to be understand that the casting out of Devilles, is by the vertue of fasting and prayer, and in-calling of the name of God, suppose manie imperfectiones be in the person that is the instrumente, as Christ him selfe teacheth us [Mat.7.] of the power that false Prophets sall have to caste out Devils. It is no wonder then, these respects of this action being considered, that it may be possible to the Papistes, though erring in sundrie points of Religion to accomplish this, if they use the right forme prescribed by Christ herein.For what the worse is that action that they erre in other thinges, more then their Baptisme is the worse that they erre in the other Sacrament, and have eiked many vaine freittes to the Baptisme it selfe.
Generosity is important if we are to ever reunite Western Christendom. Elsewhere, I’ve toyed with the wording of the St. Louis Affirmation in order to justify the counting of seven sacraments, admitting a “high grace view” for lesser ordinances so long as Baptism and Holy Communion was plainly said to remit sin. Perhaps the distinctions between five lesser and two greater sacraments are really a question of two kinds of grace? In this respect, F.D. Maurice pleads a mystery that perhaps bears upon sacramentals. Maurice fears an unfettered rationalism that causes men to despair the operations of God through certain less proven agencies like the laying on hands. His basic argument is that God, as a perfectly loving Father, provides the grace His children require– God’s Fatherhood being in-and-of-itself a sufficient explanation for sacraments:
“Reverence is so necessary to man, servility is so natural a counterfeit of it, that all loud utterances of contempt for dignities do but lead to a more ignominious prostration before them, or to the enthroning of some more despicable and hideous idol. Begin with reverence for the King of kings and Lord of lords; let Him be your fear, and Him be your dread, and you will find respect for all human powers through which He shines forth, favorable to the growth of manly freedom…And so it is with all charms, enchantments, magic, in their old or new forms. Unbelief is no help against these…Believe that God is acting, and you dare not indulge in tricks, or impose the belief of them upon anyone else…and at once bring us to the awful divine significance of it; to the truth that the great Father is indeed owning those whom He has regenerated, as His children, taking them out of the hands of subordinate teachers into His own immediate service, enduing them with the powers necessary for that service.” p. 80-81, The Church a Family.
According to James, priests may invoke spirit(s) which descend to occupy a token’s substance, thereby granting that token instrinsic power for personal protection, wealth, cures, etc., has strong affinity with alchemic ideas, namely, the transmutation of something mundane into a higher or divine essence. Accordingly, any material object can possess or convey the Holy Spirit, given the object is placed upon an altar, sprayed with holy water, or censed with the proper incantation of a Priest (usually an epiclesis or invoking prayer). The Roman Catholic Catechism still holds to this medieval belief, supplanting the institution of Christ for that of the Church-Papacy, admitting,
“1104, Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes the present.
11o5 The Epiclesis (invocation upon) is the intercession in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, so that the offerings may become Christ
1127 the sacraments confer the grace they signify… The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms itself into everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.
1128 From the moment that a [one of seven] sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it…
1189 The liturgical celebration involves signs and symbols relating to creation (candles, water, fire), human life (washing, anointing, breaking bread) and the history of salvation (the rites of the Passover). Integrated into the world of faith and taken up by the power of the Holy Spirit, these cosmic elements, human rituals, and gestures of remembrance of God become bearers of the saving and sanctifying action of Christ.”
‘Restoring the Sacred’ (an anglo-catholic slogan seen time to time on websites and in other ‘catholic’ literature), borrows the alchemic mindset when it uses exorcist and epiclesis rituals for making sacramentals as “bearers of Christ’s saving action”. The unrestrained manner of such priestcraft has pantheistic overtones, taking no account of where Christ promised Himself to be present, or how He specifically gave His unique, justifying benefits to mankind. Edward H. Browne speaks of the dangers of Eastern mystery (Masonic?) schools which have penetrated Christianity with pantheistic ideas, implicating much of modern theology that purports to base itself upon the incarnation:
“Pantheism has been the prevailing Esoteric doctrine of all Paganism, and, with various modifications, the source of a great part of ancient philosophy. The Orphic Hymns have evident traces of it. Thales and the Eleatic school expressed it distinctly, and in the definite language of philosophy. There can be little doubt that it was the great doctrine revealed in the mysteries. The Egyptian Theology was plainly based upon it. It was at the root of the Polytheism of the Greeks and Romans, and their gross idolatry was probably but an outward expression of its more mystic refinements. The Brahmins and Buddhists, whose religious systems still prevail amongst nearly half the human race, though also, exoterically, gross Polytheists, are yet, in their philosophy, undisguised Pantheists. The Jewish Cabala is thought to have drunk deep of the same fountain.
When the Christian faith came into contact with Eastern Philosophy, it is probable that Pantheistic notions found their way into its corruptions. Gnostic and Manichees, and possibly some of the later heretics, such as the Paulicians, had some admixture of Pantheism in their Creeds. Simon Magus himself may possibly have used its language, when he gave himself out as ‘the great power of God’.
Its leading idea is, that God is everything, and everything is God. All personal character of the Deity is lost. The supreme being of the Hindoos is therefore neither male nor female, but neuter. All the numberless forms of matter are but different appearances of God; and though he is invisible, yet every thing you see is God. Accordingly, the Deity himself becomes identified with the worshipper. ‘He, who knows that Deity, is the Deity itself’. Hence, as all living beings are manifestations of, and emanations from, the Deity; the devout Brahmin or Buddhist, while he believes that by piety man many become more and more truly God, looks forward, as his final consummation and bliss, to Nirvana, or absorption in the Deity.
This system of religion or philosophy, which has prevailed so extensively in heathendom, and found favor with the early philosophic heretics, and probably with the brethern of the free spirit in the twelfth century, was taught in the seventeenth century by Benedict de Spinosa, a Portuguese Jew, and has been called Spinozism. Some of the philosophic divines of Germany have revived it of late, and have taught it as the solution of all the Christian mysteries; so that with them the Christ or God-man is not the individual personal Jesus: but mankind is God made man, the miracle-worker, the sinless one; who dies and rises, and ascends into heaven, and through faith in whom man is justified.” (p. 20-22, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles)
The restorationin Anglican worship of sacramentals is fairly recent. The American 1928 book of common prayer sets a precedent by giving ambiguous benedictions for marriage rings, unction oil, baptismal water. But these rites lack regular form, so one might assume the 1928 BCP’s use of sacramentals was perhaps incomplete or otherwise under development. If sacramentals like the Paschal candle or Lenten ashes are to be fully restored, they need a regular and theologically coherent structure that removes medieval and alchemic error. Too often pre-reformation ceremonial is used to overthrow the English Reformation.
Anglicans admirably avoided this trouble with their comprecation prayers for saints, so maybe a ‘right use’ for sacramentals remains possible. Perhaps we should re-examine the prayers of Bishop Andrewes who safely restored sacramentals according to the theology of the Anglican Reformation. This article does good to set the bar: Andrewes and Additions to the Offeratory.