This truth theologians express by saying that the sacraments are necessary, not absolutely but only hypothetically, i.e., in the supposition that if we wish to obtain a certain supernatural end we must use the supernatural means appointed for obtaining that end. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church and of Christians in general that, whilst God was nowise bound to make use of external ceremonies as symbols of things spiritual and sacred, it has pleased Him to do so, and this is the ordinary and most suitable manner of dealing with men.
Of this there is no reasonable doubt, as regards the very ancient days, of which St. Cyril's catechetical lectures may be taken as characteristic documents.
Nor was it otherwise with the more conservative of the reformed bodies of the sixteenth century.
It is not really a necessity, but the most appropriate manner of dealing with creatures that are at the same time spiritual and corporeal.
In this assertion all Christians are united: it is only when we come to consider the nature of the sacramental signs that Protestants (except some Anglicans) differ from Catholics.
Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. The subject may be treated under the following headings: Almighty God can and does give grace to men in answer to their internal aspirations and prayers without the use of any external sign or ceremony.