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Altar of the Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden , around 1448. Left panel: Baptism, Confirmation, Sacrament of Penance; right panel sacrament of ordination, marriage, anointing of the sick; in the middle the sacrament of the Eucharist as the fruit of the sacrifice on the cross
Dispensing of graces, Johannes Hopffe , Wrisberg-Epitaph , 1585

In Christianity, a sacrament is a rite which , as a visible sign or as a visible act , brings to mind an invisible reality of God and lets you participate in it.

Word origin

The word sacrament comes from the Latin church term sacramentum, "sign of salvation, means of salvation, path of salvation, visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation". The Latin root sacer means "holy, inviolable". The word sacramentum is used in theology as a Latin translation of the Greek word μυστήριον mystérion (secret) next to the Latinized Greek word mysterium .

History of the Sacrament

From the 2nd century onwards, the terms Mysterion and Sacramentum were fused together in Western Roman theology . Biblically attested events that were viewed as moments of the divine plan of salvation were identified as mysteria and special, unique events of the earthly existence of Jesus - his birth and his crucifixion - were understood as the mysteries or sacraments par excellence.

Already in the Imperium Romanum and in the Latin language widely used there , the term Sacramentum was used, where it stood for an oath , for example in civil proceedings, civil service or oath in the Roman military . It was also used to describe the sum of money that the contending parties had to provide as bail in a process. In all of these cases, the legal aspect is also a religious one: in the event of defeat, the process bail was due to a shrine or its priest; the oath and oath delivered the victims to the judgment of the deity or signified consecration ( Sacratio ) an authority of a divine character, namely to the Roman emperor who was revered as a divine person.

The Church Father Augustine often used the terms Sacramentum and Mystery in the same way. He meant "every sensually perceivable fact, the meaning of which is not exhausted in being what it immediately gives itself, but which also points to a spiritual [...] reality".

Augustine, who performed a wide range of sacraments, such as the "sacraments of Israel" (such as circumcision , the sacrifices , the Passover , the anointing of priests and kings), saw the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as the greatest sacrament. He was the first to fundamentally build up a systematic, philosophically and theologically well thought-out doctrine of the sacraments by making the distinction between a “thing” and a “sign”. For Augustine things were things that do not designate something, but stand for themselves, like house, animal or the like. On the other hand, according to Augustine, signs always refer to something else. He distinguished the “natural signs” from the “given signs”. With the natural signs a thing is recognizable in an unintentional way, for example when the smoke indicates a fire. The signs given, on the other hand, such as a directed hand movement, the laying on of hands or a greeting, would be intentionally set to bring something to the attention. Above all, this also included the word as a sign . According to Augustine, sacraments are signs that “belong to the divine things” because they point to a sacred reality ( De civitate Dei X 5: “Sacramentum, id est sacrum signum”).

The Augustinian doctrine of grace is based on the idea that every person is free to obey the will of God or to sin . Without the grace of God , man cannot effectively do good. But every person is free to consciously oppose grace and act sinfully.

The signs of divine grace consist of a material act and words that clarify it. Through the visible things, believers are led to the invisible realities.

The broad concept of the sacrament of the old church , which was also imprecisely defined in terms of number, was valid until the 12th century. In the 11th and 12th centuries there were still very different ideas about the number of sacraments. The 11th century or just its second half and at least the beginning of the 12th century are considered to be the early scholastic era . It was not until early scholasticism that the first sacraments came about and with them, around the middle of the 12th century, the definition of the number seven.

With the effect of the Aristotelian philosophy, which reached its climax with the reception under the Doctor of the Church Thomas Aquinas , the physical and metaphysical effect was in the foreground of interest. The motto was: “The sacraments cause what they designate to be placed in closer relation with the concept of grace.” Thomas explained that they bring about grace through the effectiveness of God as the “primary cause” and the sacraments that God through Christ entrusted to his church as a "second cause". So the seven sacramental acts can be explained as sovereign interventions of the Creator and Redeemer God in human existence. God uses the rite as a tool to convey his grace, the sacraments are the way of mediating salvation.

In the Aristotelian view, all sacraments consist of “matter” ( ancient Greek ) λη , hýlē ) and “ form ” ( ancient Greek μορφή , morphḗ ) (see also hylemorphism ).

The “matter” is either the visible element, the bread and the wine in the Eucharist or the water in baptism , or the sensible, symbolic act, such as the repentant confession of guilt in penance. The “form” would consist of the words that the donor utters to clarify the element or the action, for example in the words of the priest about the absolute or consecration . Where the sacraments are administered in accordance with their institution by Christ and according to the will of the Church, let the sacrament infallibly bring about grace. It brings about it ex opere operato , that is, through the power of the act performed itself. It is sufficient for the effectiveness of the sacrament that the donor, the legitimized agent, intends to do what the church wants to do, and that the recipient, the Believers who are not negative or indifferent to God's offer of grace.

At the Council of Trent (1545–1563) the number of sacraments was negotiated. It was only at this point in time that the seventh number of sacraments - Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Consecration and Marriage - was laid down in the Rules of Procedure of the Council of Session VII decree on the sacraments .

Legitimation of the sacraments

In practice, the meaning of the dispensation of the sacraments goes deeper because, alongside the proclamation of the Word of God, it is the essential mission of every church and the essential foundation of its right to exist as an institution in general. A salvific or promoting spiritual effect promised by God is linked to the formal presentation of a sacrament. Depending on the denomination, the legitimation for the administration of the sacrament is made dependent on those called "from within the ranks", up to anyone who is recognized as a Christian and can baptize. There is only partial mutual recognition of the validity and effectiveness of the sacraments administered in each case.

The essence of the sacrament

According to a long theological tradition, Jesus Christ himself is understood as the "primordial sacrament", the origin and goal of divine saving action in the world, as was the case with Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas . Even Martin Luther wrote: "Only a sacrament only knows the Scriptures, which is Christ the Lord himself."

The number of individual sacraments and their understanding is different in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and in the churches that emerged from the Reformation on the other. Within the Reformation branch, on the other hand, there are strong differences that for centuries have been perceived as dividing the church.

Orthodox churches

In the Orthodox Churches , the sacraments are called holy mysteries (from the Greek mysterion , "secret"). Seven of the sacraments have never been determined to be binding, since Orthodoxy also sees the entire Church and all church activities as "sacramental" and as a mystery; there is no clear demarcation between the sacraments and sacramentals .

The idea of ​​the legal validity of the sacraments only plays a subordinate role in Orthodox theology, rather the actual effectiveness is decisive. The discussions about the validity or invalidity of sacraments, which are typical of Western theology of sacraments, are therefore sometimes difficult to understand for orthodox believers and are often perceived as legalistic .

Nevertheless, questions of recognition play a major role in interdenominational dialogue with other churches. Thus the recognition of baptisms of other Christian denominations in Orthodoxy such a big problem that the baptism at crossings must be repeated from time to time. The main difficulty is the temporal separation between baptismal donation and confirmation, which is common today in the western church area, which is often rejected as not being orthodox in the eastern church area. In the Orthodox tradition, the sending of the Spirit is inseparable from initiation through baptism, which without this rite is considered incomplete.

The idea that holy mysteries can be performed by lay people who do not belong to the clergy or monasticism is also alien to the Orthodox tradition. For this reason, Orthodox theology sometimes has great difficulties with the unproblematic regulations on emergency baptism by lay people in the western area . According to Orthodox belief, marriage only becomes a sacred mystery through the blessing of the priests; the western idea, according to which spouses give each other the sacrament of marriage and the priest only testifies, is rejected by the orthodox churches.

The seven mysteries are commonly referred to as:

This outsourcing of certain mysteries, however, is due to an alignment with the Western tradition and is not considered a binding truth of faith in Orthodox Christianity.

Roman Catholic Church

The term sacrament has several meanings in Catholic theology. In a narrower sense, it describes the individual sacraments. In a further, this overriding sense, it means any kind of encounter between God and man that is always sacramentally mediated . Jesus Christ himself works in the sacraments and acts through his church , so that the Second Vatican Council also describes the church as a whole in an analogous way as “the sacrament, that is, the sign and instrument for the most intimate union with God as for the unity of all humanity “Has designated. According to a long theological tradition, Jesus Christ himself is understood as the "primordial sacrament", the origin and goal of divine saving action in the world, as was the case with Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas . Since the 1930s, the idea of ​​the church as a basic or root sacrament was developed by theologians such as Karl Rahner SJ and Otto Semmelroth SJ and was incorporated into the template for Lumen gentium .

Understanding the sacrament presupposes faith , but the sacrament promotes and strengthens faith at the same time. The sacraments have their place in the liturgy as a celebration of the Church. According to the Catholic view, they represent the salvation wrought in Jesus Christ , offer a view of the completion of the history of salvation (cf. also eschatology ) and thus become effective for the present as places of encounter between God and man.

Every sacrament has an outward sign through which a certain inner grace is indicated and at the same time communicated. These sacred, grace-giving signs are instituted according to the teaching of the Catholic Church of Christ. Some sacraments, such as Baptism , Confirmation and Consecration , imprint an indelible mark on the recipient . Therefore, these sacraments can only be received once.

The validity of the sacraments is tied to the form of execution given in the tradition and regulated by church law as well as to the intention of the donor to execute the sacrament in accordance with the intention of the church. Those who have not received baptism cannot validly receive the other sacraments. The effectiveness of the sacraments also depends on the internal constitution and readiness of their recipients, which is called disposition . Anyone who receives a sacrament without proper disposition is subject to an inner barrier, which is traditionally called obex ("bolt") and makes the outward reception fruitless, since inner grace cannot penetrate. Anyone who receives or gives a sacrament invalid or in an unworthy manner and does so with evil intent may commit sacrilege , which can be a grave sin .

The administration of most sacraments is reserved for ordained ministers. The baptism can be donated by anyone (even an unbaptized) if the person being baptized is in danger ( emergency baptism ), provided that the donor wants to do what the church does at the baptism. According to the Western Church conception , the married couple give each other the sacrament of marriage ; However, for Catholics, the vow of marriage before a priest or deacon is legally required for the validity of the marriage ( formal requirement ).

Since sacraments work out of themselves according to a dogmatic conception confirmed by the church in the 16th century ( ex opere operato ), the effectiveness of a sacrament occurs on the basis of its correct execution and independent of the moral constitution of the person giving it. The degree of effectiveness depends on the willingness of the recipient to receive the grace.

In the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church , the number of seven sacraments has emerged, which was established in its seven number by the second council of Lyon on July 6, 1274:

“The Holy Roman Church holds fast and teaches that there are seven ecclesiastical sacraments.
Tenet etiam et docet eadem sancta Romana Ecclesia, septem esse ecclesiastica sacramenta. "

The seven sacraments are:

Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are the three sacraments through which man is incorporated into the Church. Because they are closely related internally, they should be performed with catechumens beyond infancy - if possible - in a single celebration.

In addition to the seven sacraments, the Catholic Church knows sacramentals with which either everyday life is to be sanctified (e.g. blessing of children, holy water , signs of the cross , blessing of food), special days are marked ( ash cross , washing of feet , blessing of blows ) or people, places or objects in particular be taken into the service of the church (e.g. abbot's benediction , virgin consecration , church consecration ).

Anglican churches

There is consensus in the Anglican churches that baptism and the Eucharist are the two “Lord Sacraments” mentioned in the Lambeth Quadrilateral . The other five acts that are considered sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church (Confirmation, Sacrament of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Sacrament of Orders) are also considered sacraments by many Anglicans, while some are considered to be sacramentals . These are stated in the thirty-nine articles that they are "often called sacraments," but it should be noted that the "thirty-nine articles" are merely a historical representation of the faith in the Elizabethan age and do not contain the present complete doctrine of the Anglican Church .

The understanding of baptism is the same as in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches; for an understanding of the Eucharist, see the relevant section in the Eucharist article .

Protestant churches

Evangelical Lutheran Churches

According to the Lutheran view, the sacraments are “signs and witnesses” of the divine will, through which faith on the one hand is awakened and on the other hand it is also strengthened. At the same time, the sacraments also demand faith, since only faith can seize salvation in the sacrament. The apology of the Augsburg Confession defines in the 13th article that baptism , confession and the Lord's Supper are to be considered sacraments in the strict sense :

"Vere igitur sunt sacramenta baptism, coena Domini, absolutio quae est sacramentum poenitentiae."

“Truly, however, the sacraments are baptism, the Lord's supper, absolution, i. H. the sacrament of penance. "

In a broader sense also, after Apology 13 consecration (ordination) apply to the ministry as a sacrament:

“Si autem ordo de ministerio verbi intelligatur, non gravatim vocaverimus ordinem sacramentum. Nam ministerium verbi habet mandatum Dei et habet magnificas promissiones. "

“But where one wants to call the sacrament of the order a sacrament of the preaching office and the Gospel, then there would be no burden to call ordination a sacrament. For God instituted and commanded the preaching office and has a glorious promise from God. "

- Apology of the Augsburg Confession : BSLK p. 293, line 10

The confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church indicate that Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick should not be sacraments, since they have neither God's command nor His command. However, these could also be used in the Lutheran Church, even if they are not sacraments.

On the validity of the sacrament, Martin Luther is quoted here using the example of the Lord's Supper:

“Whether a boy takes or gives the sacrament, he takes the right sacrament, that is Christ's body and blood, as well as the one who acts in the most dignified manner. For it is not based on human holiness, but on God's word. And like no saint on earth, yes no angel in heaven, who can make bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, so nobody can change it or walk, whether it is misused right away. Because for the sake of person or unbelief, the word does not become wrong by becoming and instituted a sacrament. For he does not say, If you believe or are worthy, you have my body and blood, but: Take, eat and drink, this is my body and blood; further: Doing such things (namely that I now do, use, give and take). That is said as much: God grant you are unworthy or worthy, then you have his body and blood here from the power of these words, so come to the bread and wine. Note this and keep it well; because on the words are all our reasons, protection and defenses against all errors and temptations, if they have ever come or may come. "

- Martin Luther : Great Catechism

Here Luther emphasizes more on the faith of those who give the sacrament than on the faith of those who receive them.

In faith - according to the prevailing popular church view - the recipient seizes the effect necessary for salvation. In the unworthy taking of the sacrament, however, the effect is judged. This popular church view led to the fact that in Pietism some people and groups rejected the sacraments and thus placed themselves outside the church (“separatists”).

Evangelical Reformed Churches

The Evangelical Reformed churches know the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper . In the Reformed tradition, however, the sacraments only have the meaning of symbols . They are signs that make a spiritual reality clear, but do not bring it about. Compare also from the Heidelberg Catechism , the essential confession of the Reformed Church in Germany: “There are visible holy landmarks and seals, used by God to make the promise of the Gospel even better understood and to seal them; namely that because of the one-time sacrifice of Christ, made on the cross, he gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace ( 1 Mos 17.11  EU ; Rom 4.11  EU ; 5 Mos 30.6  EU ; 3 Mos 6:23  EU ; Heb 9,8.9.24  EU ; Ezekiel 20:12  EU ) ". This was the big controversial topic in the famous Marburg religious discussion between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli in 1529. In all other questions they were able to come to an understanding in such a way that the differences did not lead to the separation of the churches. The Lord's Supper dispute , however, remained the reason for the separation of the Lutheran and Reformed churches.

Evangelical Free Churches

Many Protestant free churches also reject the conception of the sacrament as a sign that has a saving effect. Instead, the sacraments are understood by Ulrich Zwingli, analogous to the Evangelical Reformed tradition, as signs without sacramental meaning. This understanding is to be found among others among Baptists and in the Bund Freikirchlicher Pentecostal congregations . Mennonites mostly do without the term sacrament entirely.

New Apostolic Church

In the New Apostolic Church there is not only Holy Baptism with water and Holy Communion, but also the Sacrament of Sealing . Baptism and sealing are only carried out once on the believer and cause - in the New Apostolic understanding of faith - the so-called "rebirth out of water and the Spirit" (see also Jn 3, 5  EU ). Holy Communion is in every service by administration of the sacrament hosts celebrated.

Christian Science

In Christian Science , the Lord's Supper is “spiritual communion with the one God”. The outward sign of the services , which take place twice a year in this form only in the branch churches, is a changed order of the service with the kneeling praying Our Father at the end of the service and the singing of doxology . Here are bread and wine , baptism and communion spiritually interpreted and received. “Our bread that comes from heaven is truth. Our cup is the cross. Our wine is the inspiration of love, the drink that our master drank and recommended to his followers, ”writes Mary Baker Eddy in the Textbook of Religion.

Christian community

The Christian community sees itself as a cultic community. Its central celebration is the "act of consecration", which, formally speaking, shows similarities with the structure of the Catholic Eucharist in its liturgy with the main parts "Gospel reading - sacrifice - conversion - communion". There is no binding understanding of the sacraments in the Christian community. The exercise in communal life with one another extends, among other things, to consciously comprehending this. One speaks in the Christian community from the "Circle of sacraments": To the central Eucharistic sacrament, the "people act of consecration" with / without preaching gather the six other sacraments, except one, the "confession" or "fate advice" from the idea can only be performed once in the biography. The baptism is based on men's relationship to the "church of Christ Jesus," which is understood denominational. The other sacraments of the Christian community in addition to the act of consecration are:

The sacraments are carried out by the priest in a fixed manner and in liturgical robes with sometimes different wording and colors depending on the season.


  • Catholic
    • Leonardo Boff : Little Sacraments. Patmos, Düsseldorf 2003, ISBN 3-491-77054-8 .
    • Josef Finkenzeller , The Number and Counting of the Sacraments , in: Leo Scheffczyk (Ed.), Werner Dettloff (Ed.), Richard Heinzmann (Ed.), Truth and Annunciation. Michael Schmaus on his 70th birthday, Paderborn, Munich, Vienna 1967, Volume 2, pp. 1005-1020.
    • Ralf Miggelbrink: Is marriage a sacrament? , in: Geist und Leben 74 (2001), pp. 193-209.
    • Franz-Josef Nocke : General doctrine of the sacraments. In: Theodor Schneider (Ed.): Handbuch der Dogmatik. Volume 2., Düsseldorf 2002, pp. 188-224.
    • Franz-Josef Nocke: Special doctrine of the sacraments. In: Theodor Schneider (Ed.): Handbuch der Dogmatik. Volume 2., Düsseldorf 2002, pp. 226-376.
    • Theodor Schnitzler: What the sacraments mean. Help to a new experience. Herder, Freiburg 1983, ISBN 3-451-19559-3 .
    • Walter Simonis : Signs of Life of the Church. Sacraments , Düsseldorf 2006, Patmos Verlag, ISBN 3-491-70398-0 .
  • Christian community
    • Michael Debus: Resurrection Forces in Fate. The sacraments of the Christian community. Urachhaus, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 978-3-8251-7526-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Sacrament  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Kuhn: The sacraments of the church - sevenfold unity. In: Hubert Luthe (Ed.): Christ Encounter in the Sacraments. Butzon & Bercker Verlag, Kevelaer 1981, p. 127, ISBN 3-7666-9219-4 .
  2. ^ Karl Ernst Georges : Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary. 8th edition. Hannover 1918 (reprint Darmstadt 1998), Volume 2, Col. 4228f. [1]
  3. ^ Josef Finkenzeller : The doctrine of the sacraments in general. From scripture to scholasticism. In: Handbook of the history of dogma. Vol. 4: Sacraments - Eschatology. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1980, p. 39.
  4. Martin Luther: Disputatio de Fide infusa et acquisita . WA 6,86,5ff., Quoted in: Ralf Miggelbrink: Introduction to the teaching of the church. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-16321-4 , p. 57, also for the whole.
  5. ^ Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium , 1.
  6. Ralf Miggelbrink: Introduction to the teaching of the church. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-16321-4 , p. 58.
  7. Second Vatican Council: Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 59 and 2; 5-13; see. introductory Catechism of the Catholic Church, Munich a. a. 1993, especially No. 1114–1152 (pp. 324ff.), Online under Catechism of the Catholic Church .
  8. Hubert Vorgrimler : Sacrament. III. Theology and dogma historical . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 8 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1999, Sp. 1442 .
  9. ^ The integration of school-age children into the church , study edition for the Catholic dioceses of the German-speaking area, 1986
  10. ^ The Catechism. An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism. Section "The sacraments". April 15, 2007, accessed June 29, 2011 .
  11. Augsburg Confession, Article 13
  12. Eberhard Fritz: "Lubricant cheese" and "Streichpflaster". The rejection of the sacraments in Württemberg radical pietism . In: Leaves for Württemberg Church History 114/2014. Pp. 37-51.
  13. Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 65
  14. Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 66.
  15. The Lutheran-Mennonite Conversation in the Federal Republic of Germany (PDF; 248 kB)