Summer 2014

The Sacramental Character of Faith

José Granados

“Belonging to the one flesh of Jesus and the Church is what makes the one flesh of the spouses new, sealing it with the same indissolubility of Christ’s love for his members.”

In his treatise De sacramentis christianae fidei, Hugh of St. Victor inquires about the meaning of the expression sacramentum fidei. The primary meaning of the term refers to baptism and the other sacraments of the faith. Furthermore, along with this more commonly-accepted meaning, Hugh finds another: sacramentum fidei can mean—taking the genitive as epexegetical—the faith itself inasmuch as it is also a sacrament, which is to say, inasmuch as it has a sacramental structure:1 it prefigures and anticipates, in the manner of a real symbol, the full and definitive encounter with God.

Hugh’s insight is important in overcoming a subjectivist view of faith, understood as an autonomous conviction of the isolated individual. Recall that faith is one’s response to an encounter with the Word of God, which reaches us in our concrete situation in the body and in time, and was manifested fully in Jesus.2 Thus, according to Hugh’s statement we are reminded of all this precisely by the sacraments. Indeed, just as the sacraments are always rooted in the flesh in order to communicate to us the life that springs from the Body of Christ, so too faith—because it originates in the encounter with the incarnate Word—will have a close connection with the sensible perception that situates man in the world; just as the sacraments help us to situate ourselves in history, through the memory of the Crucified and Risen Lord and through the anticipation of his return, so too faith is a light that travels through the ages, revealing our origin in the Father and our definitive impetus toward him; and just as the sacraments are ecclesial events, which build up the Church and are celebrated by her, so too faith will give us its light only from within the community of believers. The encyclical of Pope Francis, Lumen fidei, confirmed this twofold bond: “While the sacraments are indeed sacraments of faith, it can also be said that faith itself possesses a sacramental structure” (LF, 40).

Thus the question of the relation between faith and sacrament becomes important, not only for sacramental theology, but also for the theology of faith. In this essay I do not want to discuss this relation in general terms. Instead I will concentrate on its consequences so as to illuminate a particular case and a delicate one: what is the role of faith in the celebration of marriage?3


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1. Cf. De sacr. christianae fidei I, 10, 9: “Sacramentum fidei dupliciter potest intelligi. Sacramentum enim fidei vel ipsa fides intelligitur, quae sacramentum est, vel sacramenta fidei intelliguntur quae cum fide percipienda sunt, et ad sanctificationem fidelium praeparata sunt.” [“Sacrament of faith can be understood in two ways. For the sacrament of faith is either understood as faith itself, which is a sacrament, or else sacraments of faith can be understood as those things that are to be received with faith and were prepared for the sanctification of the faithful.”] On the relationship between faith and sacrament in Hugh of St. Victor, cf. Renzo Gerardi, “Fede e sacramento in Ugo di S. Vittore,” in Rivista di teologia morale 12 (1980): 231–52. On this connection between faith and sacrament cf. St. Augustine, Letter 98, 9: “Sicut ergo secundum quemdam modum sacramentum corporis Christi corpus Christi est, sacramentum sanguinis Christi sanguis Christi est, ita sacramentum fidei fides est.” [“Therefore, just as in a certain way the sacrament of Christ’s Body is the Body of Christ, and the sacrament of Christ’s Blood is the Blood of Christ, so too the sacrament of faith is the faith.”]

2. In this essay I refer to the fides qua, the faith that informs the heart of the believer; and I consider it only in the act of celebrating marriage (marriage
in fieri).

3. For a general overview of the problem, I take the liberty of referring the reader to: José Granados, Una sola carne en un solo Espíritu: teología del matrimonio (Madrid: Palabra, 2014), 255–67, with bibliography.