St. Ambrose lived in Germany from 340-397 AD. He wrote “On the mysteries” and the treatise, On the sacraments”. St Augustine lived near present day Algeria from 354-430 AD. Both of these individuals were very important in the history of the Christian Church. A little over 600 years later Peter Lombard (1096-1160) wrote his 4 books of Sentences. His book influenced other writers who make after him. The Commentary on the Sentences dates from St. Thomas’s first teaching years in Paris, where he began teaching around the year 1252. As a new teacher, St. Thomas was expected to prepare lectures based on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Luther cited the Sentences to caution students against speculative philosophy.
Peter Lombard, The Sentences, Books 1–4
Book 1: The Mystery of the Trinity
Book 2: On Creation
Book 3: On the Incarnation of the Word
Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs
Elizabeth Frances Rogers, 1892-1974 translated Peter Lombard’s On The Doctrine of Signs in 1917. (Book IV of The Sentences) Peter Lombard quoted from Ambrose 33 times and Augustine 99 times in Sentences: Book 4.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) once complained that there were as many commentaries on Peter Lombard’s “Sentences” as there were theologians. In the works of St. Augustine, we find the first attempt at a definition of sacrament. A sacrament is a “sacred sign,” or “signs, when they pertain to divine things, are called Sacraments.” (De Civitate Dei. X. c. 5.). You can read about the formulation of a definition of sacraments by clicking here.
Signs is a very important concept for both theology and philosophy; (the philosophical study of signs and symbols is called semiotics).
Below are a few quotes from Peter Lombard’s 4th book and then links to Ambrose’s book and Lombard’s book if you’re interested in reading it.
Peter Lombard says:
III. What a sign is.
“But a sign, is the thing (res) behind the form which it wears to the senses, which brings by means of itself something else to our minds.”
For every sacrament is a sign, but the converse is not true. A sacrament bears a resemblance to the thing, of which it is a sign. The apostle calls works of the Law, which were instituted only to signify something, or as a yoke. There are two parts of which a sacrament consists, namely words and things: words, as the invocation of the Trinity; things, as water, oil, and the like.
VIII. What remedy those had who lived before circumcision.
We ask now of the men who lived before circumcision, and of the women who lived before and after, what remedy they had against sin. Some say, that sacrifices and oblations were efficacious for them for the remission of their sin. But it is better to say that the men who sprang from Abraham were justified by circumcision, and the women by faith and good works, either their own, if they were adults, or their parents’, if children. As for those who lived before circumcision, the children were justified by the faith of their parents; parents on the other hand were justified by the efficacy of sacrifices, that is, by that which they apprehended spiritually in these sacrifices. Wherefore Gregory: ”That which is accomplished in our time by the water of baptism, was effected in the time of the ancients by faith alone for children, or by the efficacy of sacrifice for their elders, or by the mystery of circumcision for those who sprang from the stock of Abraham.”
Wherefore to Abraham who was already justified by faith, it was only a sign, it bestowed nothing upon him inwardly.
Wherefore Augustine: “Baptism is consecrated by the word; take away the word, and what is water, except water? the word is added to the element, and it becomes a sacrament. Whence is this great virtue of water, that it should touch the body and cleanse the heart, unless it be by the word working? not because the word is said, but because it is believed. For in the word itself the passing sound is one thing, the virtue remaining is another.”
VIII. When circumcision lost its power.
Also we are frequently asked if circumcision lost its power immediately on the institution of baptism. — To this we reply that all commands of the law were terminated by the death of Christ. From that time therefore circumcision lost its power so that thereafter it did not help; it rather hindered those who performed it; but until the oblation of the true host it was able to help. For if before the passion the commands of the law had come to an end, Christ would not, when the passion was imminent, have eaten the Passover with his disciples.
Sacraments accomplish what they symbolize in the elect only; they do not understand that this must be interpreted: that, while the sacraments accomplish remission in others, they do not do it for them unto salvation, but only for the elect. For that in baptism sin is remitted to all infants, Augustine clearly says: “From the new-born infant to the decrepit old man, just as no one is debarred from baptism, so there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism; but infants to original sin only, adults however to all sins which they have added to original sin by evil living,” unless the enormity of their life prevents. Some also who are baptized with faith, receive the sacrament and the thing.
That baptism is equally good when administered by a good, or a bad man.
Who are permitted to baptize?
Let us now further consider who are permitted to baptize. On this point Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636) says: “It is established that baptism is administered only by priests, and it is not lawful even for deacons to perform the ministry of it without a bishop or priest, unless, when they are absent at a distance, extreme necessity of weakness requires it, and then it is also allowable for the faithful laity to baptize.” From the fourth Council of Carthage “Let no woman, no matter how holy, presume to baptize, unless necessity compels her.“
III. That no one may be baptised in his mother’s womb.
We must also understand, “that although immersion is performed three times on account of the mystery of the Trinity, yet it is counted only one baptism.” — We are also not to be ignorant that no one can be baptized in his mother’s womb, even if the mother be baptized. Wherefore Isidore “Those who are in their mothers’ wombs cannot be baptized, because he who is not yet born according to Adam, cannot be born again according to Christ, nor can we speak of the rebirth of one, whose birth has not preceded it.” Also, Augustine : “No one can be born again before he is born.”
‘For unless a man be born again of water and of the holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ No one is born again, unless he is already born.” “Wherefore this sanctification can be received according to predestination.” — Here he seems to speak doubtfully, when he also says: It is not said that the infant believed in the womb, but that he leaped; nor did Elisabeth say: he leaped in faith, but, he leaped in my womb. And this sanctification could be the sign of greatness recognized by the older person, but not comprehended by the child. — He speaks without assertion of this sanctification, not defining just how the sanctification is to be understood, whether it be the sign of something to come, or the truth of the justification accomplished by the Spirit. But it is better that we say that these two (Jeremiah and John) were justified in the womb contrary to the common law, and aided by grace all sins were forgiven them; this is also taught by many testimonies of the saints. (John 3.3-5)
Of the replies of the godparents.
- Of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Now we must next discuss the sacrament of confirmation, for we are often questioned concerning its virtue. For the form is clear, that is, the words which the bishop says, when he signs the baptized on the forehead with the sacred chrism.
- That it can only he performed by the chief priests.
This sacrament cannot be performed by any except the chief priests, for we read that in the time of the apostles it was not performed by others than the apostles themselves, nor can, nor ought it be performed by others than those who hold the place of the apostles. For if it be undertaken by others, it is held to be null and void, nor will it be counted among the sacraments of the church. But it is lawful for presbyters to touch the baptized on the breast but not to sign them with the chrism on the forehead.
- Of the sacrament of the altar.
“After the sacrament of baptism and of confirmation, follows the sacrament of the Eucharist. Through baptism we are cleansed, through the Eucharist, we are perfected in what is good.” Baptism extinguishes the fire of sins, the Eucharist restores us spiritually. Wherefore it is well called the Eucharist, that is, good grace, because in this sacrament not only is there increase of virtue and grace, but he who is the fount and source of all grace is received entire.
- Of the sacrament and the thing (res).
Now let us see what is the sacrament and what the thing (res). “The sacrament is the visible form of invisible grace”; the form therefore of the bread and wine which appears here is the sacrament that is, “the sign of a sacred thing, because it calls something to mind beyond the appearance which it presents to the senses.” Therefore the appearances “keep the names of the things which they were before, namely, bread and wine.”
Of the heresy of others who say that the body of Christ is not on the altar save in sign.
Of the testimonies of the Saints by which he proves that the true body of Christ is on the altar.
- Saint Ambrose 340-397
“On the mysteries” and the treatise, On the sacraments”.
- Peter Lombard
Book IV, Distinctions I-XXVI (Sentences)