St. Bellarmine & Sacrament Intentions question


#1

Howdy,

Happy Advent #2 to all of you Catholics!!

I have a question, a very specific question. General comments on the topic will be appreciated, but I’m hoping to get to the bottom of this specific question.

Here it is:

I’m reading, at the instruction of a family member, Mary Walsh’s book, “The Wine of Roman Babylon.” Mary was a Catholic, she left the faith when she started reading the Bible and thinking for herself (per her testimony) and now, or at least until she died, she’s either very old or dead by now, she is/was a Seventh Day Adventist, judging by her last few chapters where she says that the soul is mortal, hell is temporary, and Saturday is the day to worship in church. Yeah, I think SDA.

So, in this book, chapter on “Masses and Purgatory” on p. 81 she quotes St. Robert Card. Bellarmine as saying:

“No one can be certain, with the certainty of faith, that he receives a true sacrament, because the sacrament cannot be valid without the intention of the minister, and no man can see another’s intention.” Bellarmine, De Justificatione, Book 3, Ch. 8, in Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei… Vol. 4, p. 442, col. 2

Now, I’m familiar with the 3 necessary parts of the sacrament, namely matter, form, and intention. I also was settled in believing that the words (form) used would count for the proper intention. Otherwise, how picky can you be about intention, since many non-Catholics don’t share the exact intention of the Church when they baptise people, but they are generally considered valid if they use the proper words (form), and matter of course. They would not be valid if the Baptist minister merely intended to administer an outward sign of inner faith, which is not what the Catholic Church teaches. But they are considered valid, so…?

Not the same for the Eucharist, since you don’t believe the transubstantiation occurs w/o both Apostolic Succession and proper belief in the sacrament. Same with Holy Orders too.

So, I’m a little confused. Anybody have the Bellarmine book so you can quote the context?


#2

I should add, that Robert Bellarmine is both a Saint and aDoctor of the Church. So if anyone has the temptation to say anything along the lines of “that was just his personal opinion” please don’t fall to that temptation. Maybe it was, I know Fathers and Doctors have been wrong on many things, but that’s not the discussion for this thread. I’m asking for help with that one particular topic in that particular book of his.


#3

[quote=Reformed Rob]I should add, that Robert Bellarmine is both a Saint and aDoctor of the Church. So if anyone has the temptation to say anything along the lines of “that was just his personal opinion” please don’t fall to that temptation. Maybe it was, I know Fathers and Doctors have been wrong on many things, but that’s not the discussion for this thread. I’m asking for help with that one particular topic in that particular book of his.
[/quote]

Reformed Rob, while I agree that we can’t simply pass off what he says, it is just as true that there are things that Aquinas says that we aren’t obligated to hold to. I think anything an individual says is validated by the Church, but not vice versa.

As far as I know, the Church presumes all sacraments in the Church to be valid, unless reason otherwise is asserted. That of course, has little to do with the intention of the individual minister.

I also believe that the Church supplies for the defects in many cases, and it would take intention in direct contravention in most cases to invalidate a sacrament. (I.e., by saying the words, and holding to the form, even if you don’t necessarily positively intend to do it, the Church supplies it.) But, I suppose a case where a priest as he is pronouncing This is my Body could think I don’t believe this, this isn’t and that could invalidate it?

Or perhaps the $64,000 question, why am I speculating on this when so many people here actually know what they are talking about?


#4

[quote=RobNY]But, I suppose a case where a priest as he is pronouncing This is my Body could think I don’t believe this, this isn’t and that could invalidate it?

Or perhaps the $64,000 question, why am I speculating on this when so many people here actually know what they are talking about?
[/quote]

Rob,

Don’t sell yourself short! Nonetheless, I do appreciate your post.

I also look forward to hearing from someone who has that book and can discuss the context.

Personally, I don’t think that St. Bellarmine would appreciate Ms. Walsh quoting him to support her anti-Catholic arguments. But, I have to consider, maybe she did not take him out of context.

-Rob


#5

[quote=Reformed Rob]Rob,

Don’t sell yourself short! Nonetheless, I do appreciate your post.

I also look forward to hearing from someone who has that book and can discuss the context.

Personally, I don’t think that St. Bellarmine would appreciate Ms. Walsh quoting him to support her anti-Catholic arguments. But, I have to consider, maybe she did not take him out of context.

-Rob
[/quote]

Note also that he says, “with the certainty of faith,” which is a very much a Catholic term with real meaning. Perhaps not “with the certainty of faith,” as we we can know that the doctrines promulgated by the Church cannot be in error, but perhaps with another type of assurance?


#6

“certainty of faith” is the highest type of certainty, and we can know nothing but dogmas with that. But we can certainly have a “moral certitude” about the validity of the sacraments.

Also, one need not believe in the sacrament personally, as long as one knows the Church believes and he intends to preform the ritual doing “what the Church does”.

Aquinas says in his Summa:

"But if his faith be defective in regard to the very sacrament that he confers, although he believe that no inward effect is caused by the thing done outwardly, yet he does know that the Catholic Church intends to confer a sacrament by that which is outwardly done. Wherefore, his unbelief notwithstanding, he can intend to do what the Church does, albeit he esteem it to be nothing. And such an intention suffices for a sacrament: because as stated above (8, ad 2) the minister of a sacrament acts in the person of the Church by whose faith any defect in the minister’s faith is made good. "

Basically, the intention must be to “do what the CHURCH believes is a sacrament” not to “do what YOU believe is a sacrament”. It doesn’t matter what the minister believes, as long as he is intending to do what the CHURCH believes is a sacrament, even if he esteem it to be nothing.

So a priest who does not believe in transubstantiation can still confect the Eucharist because he is saying Mass intending to do what the Church believes to be a sacrament, even though he personally doesn’t believe it. Unless he is delibrately doing it as a mockery, it can be assumed that the reason he is going through the ritual is because the Church believes it is a sacrament and he works for the Church, even if he personally doesnt believe.

But the intention requirement allows, for example, a priest to preform the outward rite but make a positive intention not to confer the sacrament. Like a priest demonstrating to pupils how to confect the Eucharist without actually wanting to consecrate, or some priest being forced by blasphemers to confect the Eucharist for sacraligious purposes…he can delibratley without his intention so that all they are desecrating is mere bread and wine.

Or, for example, a bath-house slave in the ancient Roman empire is describing the new Christian sect to his master. And while he is describing how they say “I baptize thee…etc” he also is pouring water over his master’s head for bathing. But this would not be a baptism. It would be a coincidence, but the slave would not have intended to preform the Church ritual…whether he believed in it or not.


#7

That helps me understand the intention a little better. Thanks.

Like how, in RCIA, in discussing priestly absolution, he can say

Now understand, it is not my intention to absolve any of you, but this is what is done and said in Confession

And thereby it’s known that the sacrament is not being conferred… Gotcha. Not that I didn’t know that, but it helps to have it explained like you have explained it. I understand it a little better now.


#8

Rob, look at the language carefully. It says that you or I cannot be certain “with the certainty of faith” – which is a heavy duty word meaning that something is held without any room for doubt or error. The term is used in the Council of Trent documents concerning justification. What it really means – as Bellarmine states, is that I cannot know with **that **kind of certainty, which is equivalent to a papal pronouncement ex cathedra that something is, in fact true. Bellarmine’s statement refers more to the “knower” than to the validity sacrament itself.

This can be quite confusing but Bellarmine was a lawer (if memory serves) and his thought is alwalys agonizingly precise.


#9

[quote=batteddy]“certainty of faith” is the highest type of certainty, and we can know nothing but dogmas with that. But we can certainly have a “moral certitude” about the validity of the sacraments.

Basically, the intention must be to “do what the CHURCH believes is a sacrament” not to “do what YOU believe is a sacrament”.
[/quote]

Ok, now I’m not trying to be problematic here, but isn’t it a dogma that the proper matter, form, and intention are required for a valid sacrament?

Wouldn’t it be a dogma, therefore, that the faith/intention of the Church makes up for any defect in the faith/intention of the minister?

**So, therefore, couldn’t you know, with the certainty of faith, that a particular sacrament is valid, because the Church’s faith is perfect?

**Maybe my premises are incorrect. Maybe those 2 things are not dogma. Maybe they’re just understood doctrine. Do you understand what I’m getting at?


#10

[quote=Reformed Rob]Ok, now I’m not trying to be problematic here, but isn’t it a dogma that the proper matter, form, and intention are required for a valid sacrament?

Wouldn’t it be a dogma, therefore, that the faith/intention of the Church makes up for any defect in the faith/intention of the minister?

So, therefore, couldn’t you know, with the certainty of faith, that a particular sacrament is valid, because the Church’s faith is perfect?

Maybe my premises are incorrect. Maybe those 2 things are not dogma. Maybe they’re just understood doctrine. Do you understand what I’m getting at?
[/quote]

Rob, I think you’re right: Ecclesia supplicit. But this is such a good question, you might post to the AAA Forum and see what they say.


#11

[quote=mercygate]Rob, look at the language carefully. It says that you or I cannot be certain “with the certainty of faith” – which is a heavy duty word meaning that something is held without any room for doubt or error. The term is used in the Council of Trent documents concerning justification. What it really means – as Bellarmine states, is that I cannot know with **that **kind of certainty, which is equivalent to a papal pronouncement ex cathedra that something is, in fact true. Bellarmine’s statement refers more to the “knower” than to the validity sacrament itself.

This can be quite confusing but Bellarmine was a lawer (if memory serves) and his thought is alwalys agonizingly precise.
[/quote]

Ok, well I can understand that, still my question stands about the dogma of the Church taking the place for the imperfections in the minister.

However, what each of you are saying is good, but you’re missing the point of what Bellarmine is explicitly saying in the quote. Which is why I was hoping someone with the book could provide context.

Bellarmine is quoted as saying “the sacrament cannot be valid without the intention of the minister, and no man can see another’s intention.”

You are making a big to do over “certainty of faith.” Bellarmine is saying that the sacrament cannnot be valid without the intention of the minister. If the intention of the Church makes up for the lack of the minister’s proper intention, then you would have no doubt regarding the validity of the sacrament, because the Church supplies the intention. But Bellarmine is referring directly to the intention of the personal minister of the sacrament “no man can see another’s intention” and saying that’s why you can’t be sure (with the certainty of faith) you ever receive a valid sacrament.

Can one be sure, with the certainty of faith, that the Church supplies the intention?


#12

[quote=Reformed Rob]Ok, now I’m not trying to be problematic here, but isn’t it a dogma that the proper matter, form, and intention are required for a valid sacrament?

Wouldn’t it be a dogma, therefore, that the faith/intention of the Church makes up for any defect in the faith/intention of the minister?

So, therefore, couldn’t you know, with the certainty of faith, that a particular sacrament is valid, because the Church’s faith is perfect?

Maybe my premises are incorrect. Maybe those 2 things are not dogma. Maybe they’re just understood doctrine. Do you understand what I’m getting at?
[/quote]

It makes up for defects, but if the intention is completely opposed, then it could not make up for it, no? Since that is the case, that is, since there can be exceptions even when proper form and ritual are used, you can’t know with the certainty of faith.

Does this make sense?

Side note:

Why don’t you first take the Church’s official position, and use Bellarmine’s position to illuminate it, rather than take Bellarmine’s position and use official Church position to illuminate that? I think you’re working backwards to this.


#13

May I recommend Bernard Leeming S.J., Principles of Sacramental Theology (1956) ? Don’t be put off by the title; the book is very thorough - he discusses different understandings of intention at length. It’s been overtaken by events a bit, such as a certain Ecumenical Council, which has added to the Church’s understanding of the episcopate; but it still has a lot to offer. He looks at the Church’s understanding of ordination (for instance) historically as well as dogmatically, which is not always how the subject is discussed. It’s not the kind of book that its owners would part with.


#14

I see what you’re saying. The main reason I asked this is it was contrary (The Bellarmine quote) was contrary to what I understood from actual Church teaching. Hence my surprise at the quote. But I also realize that actual Church teaching is often quiet complicated and develops over time.

So, I think the angle of my question is like, I thought the Church taught this, but here Bellarmine says this. I’m expecting the answer to be clear, but I’m hoping to find the answer from the Robert Bellarmine himself, you know, from that very work that was quoted.


#15

[quote=RobNY]It makes up for defects, but if the intention is completely opposed, then it could not make up for it, no? Since that is the case, that is, since there can be exceptions even when proper form and ritual are used, you can’t know with the certainty of faith.

Does this make sense?

[/quote]

Yeah, ok. Believe me, it does make sense. I see what you’re saying.

Maybe this is as good as I can hope for unless somebody dusts off an old set of Bellarmine’s works. I’ll keep an eye out for it, I’ve always wanted, well, always for the past 2 years, wanted to read some of his stuff.

Thanks Rob,

Sincerely, Rob


#16

Well, I’ve found some on-line information on this:

  1. If intention is necessary for the validity of the sacraments, how can we ever be sure that the sacraments we receive are valid?

This is over at your friendly neighborhood SSPX.org site. They say, in part:

Since none of us can read the innermost intentions of a minister’s heart how, then, does any one of us know whether or not the sacraments we have received were valid. In effect, Saint Robert Bellarmine points out that we can never have a certitude of Faith concerning the reception of a true sacrament, since no-one can see the intention of another. However, in truth we can never have such a certitude concerning human events. The greatest certitude that we can have is a moral certitude, which is also the certitude that we can have about any contingent, singular reality.

However, it is perfectly possible to have a moral certitude. In the traditional rites of the sacraments and of Mass the guarantee of this moral certitude is contained in the rites themselves. For the traditional rites for Mass and the sacraments express the intentions of the Church in a very explicit manner, leaving no room for doubt whatsoever.

I won’t post all I glean, but maybe another source will be informative. Tops to you who went the “moral certitude” route in addressing this. That’s what the SSPXers say too!


#17

It makes up for defects, but if the intention is completely opposed, then it could not make up for it, no? Since that is the case, that is, since there can be exceptions even when proper form and ritual are used, you can’t know with the certainty of faith.

Exactly. A minister may not believe personally in a sacrament, but as long as he intends to do what the Church believes is a sacrament, it is valid. The intention need only be to do what the** Church** believes and it will supply the rest, whether the minister believes personally or not.

However, the Church does not supply any validity when the minister delibrately intends to NOT do what the Church does and makes a conscious act of the will to exclude a real sacrament from taking place. However, such delibrate malice occuring when you believe you are recieving a sacrament I would assume is very rare.


#18

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