The Ghost of Synods Past: The First Synod of Arles

Bishops, priests, and deacons representing 43 dioceses gathered in Arles on August 1, 314; Bishop Marinus of Arles presided. Topics addressed included excommunications, a common date for Easter, the Donatist heresy, and the rebaptism of heretics.

Arles, France, in a 2016 photo. The first synod of Arles was held in 314. (Image: Chensiyuan / Wikipedia)

Early in the year 303, “when the feast of the Saviour’s passion was near at hand, royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom,” the fourth-century historian Eusebius of Caesarea recalled in his Ecclesiastical History.

“Not long after,” continued Eusebius, “other decrees were issued, commanding that all the rulers of the churches in every place be first thrown into prison, and afterwards by every artifice be compelled to sacrifice” to the pagan gods. “Then truly a great many rulers of the churches eagerly endured terrible sufferings, and furnished examples of noble conflicts. But a multitude of others, benumbed in spirit by fear, were easily weakened at the first onset.”

Thus, during the brutal persecution begun under the Roman Emperor Diocletian and his co-Emperor Galerius, some Christians “endured terrible sufferings” and were martyred, while others quietly rode out the storm. Still others, “benumbed in spirit by fear,” committed apostasy by publicly renouncing their faith and offering sacrifice to the pagan gods. And others became traditores: they handed over the Sacred Scriptures, sacred vessels, or their fellow Christians to the imperial officials in exchange for lenient treatment.

The disparate reactions to the persecution in Carthage, the leading see in the province of Proconsular Africa, helped lead to the rise of the Donatist heresy and schism. In an effort to restore unity, Constantine I, after becoming emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire, convened the First Synod (or Council) of Arles in 314. Although unsuccessful in ending the schism, the synod fathers helped shape the Church’s doctrinal heritage.

Bishops Mensurius and Caecilian of Carthage

Early in the persecution, in July 303, Bishop Felix of Thibiuca was arrested for refusing to hand over the Sacred Scriptures. He was sent to Carthage to be tried before Gaius Annius Anulinus, the proconsul who governed the province. Before he was beheaded, Felix said:

God, I thank you. I have passed fifty-six years in this world. I have preserved my chastity; I have observed the Gospels; I have preached the faith and the truth. Lord God of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, I bend my neck as a sacrifice for you, who abide forever.

In February 304, forty-nine men, women, and children were captured in Abitina as they attended a clandestine Sunday Mass; their trial, too, took place in Carthage before the proconsul. In recent decades, Pope St. John Paul II (n. 46), Pope Benedict XVI (20052007), Cardinal Robert Sarah, and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk have referred to the martyrs’ inspiring testimony about the Sunday Mass.

These are the only martyrs of Carthage from Diocletian’s persecution whose deaths are recorded in the current Roman Martyrology; the other Carthaginian martyrs come from different periods of persecution.

Mensurius, Carthage’s bishop during Diocletian’s persecution, did not encourage martyrdom and decided that those who courted death by turning themselves over to the authorities should not be venerated as martyrs. This decision was in line with the Synod of Elvira, which took place in Spain during the same decade; there, the synod fathers discouraged Christians from destroying idols and taught that those who were slain after doing so were not to be venerated as martyrs.

Mensurius hid the Sacred Scriptures and replaced them with heretical writings, which were seized by Roman officials who believed them to be the Scriptures. This ruse tainted Mensurius in his critics’ eyes, and some later accused him and his chief assistant Caecilian of being traditores.

Caecilian, a deacon, was so zealous in discouraging martyrdom that—if his contemporary critics are to be believed—he prevented the faithful from supplying food to imprisoned Christians, some of whom declared themselves to be no longer in communion with Mensurius.

Mensurius died around 311, and the majority of the surviving clergy and faithful of Carthage acclaimed Caecilian as his successor. Among his consecrators was Bishop Felix of Abthugni, an accused traditor who had been away from his see when his cathedral was destroyed.

Two priests of Carthage refused to accept the election of Caecilian. Bishop Secundus of Tigisis, the primate in neighboring Numidia, joined by seventy Numidian bishops, met in a synod to settle the dispute—an action that was not surprising, as the primate of Numidia customarily consecrated the bishop of Carthage, but had not done so in Caecilian’s case.

The Numidian bishops chose Majorinus, a lector, as the new bishop of Carthage. Majorinus enjoyed the financial support of Lucilla, a wealthy widow who had clashed with Caecilian over her veneration of the relic of an unrecognized martyr. After her candidate was chosen, she rewarded the Numidian bishops with donations.

But the Numidian bishops did more than appoint a new bishop of Carthage. They “declared that a traditor could not act as a bishop, and that any who were in communion with traditor[e]s were cut off from the Church,” wrote Father John Chapman, an English Benedictine scholar. “They called themselves the Church of the martyrs, and declared that all who were in communion with public sinners like Caecilian and Felix were necessarily excommunicate.”

By declaring that all who were in communion with Caecilian were automatically excommunicated, the Numidian bishops raised the stakes immeasurably. Soon, many African sees had two bishops: one in communion with Caecilian, the other in communion with Majorinus. When Majorinus died in 313 and Donatus succeeded him as Caecilian’s rival bishop in Carthage, the Donatist schism became the greatest wound to Christian unity since the Novatianist schism six decades earlier.

Constantine

In the violent world of imperial politics that followed the abdication of Diocletian and Galerius in 305, Constantine emerged victorious, first in the West, and then throughout the Roman Empire.

In October 312, Constantine defeated his brother-in-law Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine ordered the beheading of Maxentius’ corpse and had the head paraded through Rome. Constantine then sent Maxentius’ head to Carthage—“demonstrating,” in the words of a Danish classicist, “that Constantine was clearly bent on driving home a message to Maxentius’ more hard-line supporters there.”

In February 313, Constantine—a catechumen who delayed his baptism until shortly before his death decades later—issued the Edict of Milan, which ordered tolerance for Christianity and the return of property confiscated during the persecution. Gaius Annius Anulinus, the proconsul who had executed Christians during the persecution, complied. That same year, Constantine asked Pope St. Miltiades to end the schism in Carthage after hearing evidence from Caecilianus’ supporters and detractors.

In his letter to the pope, Constantine wrote:

Since many such communications have been sent to me by Anulinus, the most illustrious proconsul of Africa, in which it is said that Caecilianus, bishop of the city of Carthage, has been accused by some of his colleagues in Africa, in many matters; and since it seems to me a very serious thing that in those provinces which Divine Providence has freely entrusted to my devotedness, and in which there is a great population, the multitude are found following the baser course, and dividing, as it were, into two parties, and the bishops are at variance — it has seemed good to me that Caecilian himself, with ten of the bishops that appear to accuse him, and with ten others whom he may consider necessary for his defense, should sail to Rome, that there, in the presence of yourselves and of Retecius and Maternus and Marinus, your colleagues, whom I have commanded to hasten to Rome for this purpose, he may be heard, as you may understand to be in accordance with the most holy law …

You will consider in what way the above-mentioned case may be most accurately investigated and justly decided. For it does not escape your diligence that I have such reverence for the legitimate Catholic Church that I do not wish you to leave schism or division in any place.

In October 313, Pope Miltiades, joined by bishops from Italy and Gaul, met at the Lateran Palace, a gift of Constantine to the pope. The pope and the bishops upheld the validity of the election and consecration of Caecilian and excommunicated Donatus.

St. Miltiades died three months later; St. Sylvester I succeeded him. Donatus appealed the Roman synod’s decision to Constantine, leading to the First Synod of Arles.

The First Synod of Arles

The acts of the First Synod of Arles have been published in their original Latin in works by Philippe LabbeHermann Theodor BrunsMartin Joseph RouthCuthbert Hamilton TurnerCharles Munier, and others. A Lutheran college and seminary have published an English translation of the acts; many Catholics would be inclined to translate the Latin in some places differently. (A Catholic would be more likely to translate communio as “Communion” or “communion,” rather than “fellowship,” and offerre as “to offer [Mass]” rather than “to conduct services.”)

As he summoned bishops from the West to a synod in the coastal city of Arles in Gallia Narbonensis, Constantine manifested his anger at Donatus’ appeal. To the bishop of Syracuse, the emperor wrote:

When some began wickedly and perversely to disagree among themselves in regard to the holy worship and celestial power and Catholic doctrine, wishing to put an end to such disputes among them, I formerly gave command that certain bishops should be sent from Gaul, and that the opposing parties who were contending persistently and incessantly with each other, should be summoned from Africa; that in their presence, and in the presence of the bishop of Rome, the matter which appeared to be causing the disturbance might be examined and decided with all care.

But since, as it happens, some, forgetful both of their own salvation and of the reverence due to the most holy religion, do not even yet bring hostilities to an end, and are unwilling to conform to the judgment already passed, and assert that those who expressed their opinions and decisions were few, or that they had been too hasty and precipitate in giving judgment, before all the things which ought to have been accurately investigated had been examined — on account of all this it has happened that those very ones who ought to hold brotherly and harmonious relations toward each other, are shamefully, or rather abominably, divided among themselves, and give occasion for ridicule to those men whose souls are aliens to this most holy religion.

Wherefore it has seemed necessary to me to provide that this dissension, which ought to have ceased after the judgment had been already given by their own voluntary agreement, should now, if possible, be brought to an end by the presence of many.

Bishops, priests, and deacons representing 43 dioceses gathered in Arles on August 1, 314; Bishop Marinus of Arles presided. The clerics hailed from the provinces and regions of ApuliaCampaniaDalmatiaHispaniaMauretaniaRoman BritainSardiniaSiciliaViennensis, and cities throughout Gaul and Italia. They came, too, from the provinces of Proconsular Africa and Numidia. Caecilian was among the synod fathers.

St. Sylvester, the new pope, did not attend. He was represented by a Roman priest who was the first papal legate in history, according to Kiril Plamen Kartaloff, author of Papal Diplomacy.

The synod fathers affirmed the validity of Caecilian’s consecration and Pope St. Miltiades’ condemnation of Donatus. Addressing Pope Sylvester at the synod’s conclusion, they wrote:

Being connected by a common bond in love and by a chain in the unity of our mother the universal Church, being brought by the will of our most godly emperor to the city of Arles, we thus salute you with deserved reverence, O most glorious father; where we have borne heavy and ruinous injury to our laws and traditions … by men with violent minds.

Both the present authority of our God and the tradition and rule of truth have thus rejected these men [the Donatists], so that no account of what is spoken among them might remain nor any type of accusation or a trial be convened. For that reason, by the judgment of God and mother Church which first renewed and confirmed them [Caecilian and those in communion with him], they [the Donatists] have been either condemned or repulsed.

The synod fathers also approved twenty-two canons, some of them related to events associated with the origins of the Donatist controversy.

At various times, Mensurius, Caecilian, and (most plausibly) Felix of Abthugni had been accused of being traditores. One of the synod’s canons provided that contemporary written evidence was necessary to establish guilt, that laicization was the appropriate punishment, that ordinations celebrated by a traditor bishop were valid:

Concerning those who are said to have given up the Holy Scriptures or the vessels of the Lord or the name of their brethren, it has pleased us whoever of them shall have been convicted by public documents and not by mere words, should be removed from the clerical order; though if the same have been found to have ordained any, and those whom they have ordained are worthy, it shall not render their ordination invalid.

And because there are many who are seen to oppose the law of the Church and think that they ought to be admitted to bring accusation by hired witnesses, they are by no means to be admitted, except, as we have said above, they can prove their accusations by public documents.

The canon that immediately followed declared that those who made false accusations were to be deprived of Holy Communion until death.

Caecilian had been ordained by three bishops following his election. The synod fathers declared that henceforth no one should presume to ordain someone a bishop unless seven other bishops were present—but that if it is not possible for seven to come, a bare minimum of three bishops was necessary.

The synod fathers also delved into other matters.

The rebaptism controversy

Writing around the year 200, the influential theologian Tertullian, who lived in Carthage, argued that baptisms celebrated by heretics were ipso facto invalid (n. 15). Heretics who wished to enter into the Catholic Church, then, would need to be rebaptized, since their initial baptism was held to be invalid.

During the third century, the practice of rebaptizing heretics spread beyond Proconsular Africa to Antioch and Asia Minor; the validity of heretics’ baptisms was upheld in Rome, Palestine, and Alexandria.

With particular vehemence, Pope St. Stephen I, who died in 257, and the bishop St. Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred in 258, opposed each other on this question. St. Cyprian considered the rebaptism of heretics a disciplinary matter on which bishops could disagree. Pope St. Stephen, however, taught that heretics were not to be rebaptized; instead, “let there be an imposition of hands for penance.” Despite the pope’s teaching, the practice of rebaptism persisted throughout much of Africa in the decades that followed.

The synod fathers at Arles decided to take up the question. Echoing Pope St. Stephen’s teaching, they declared:

Concerning the Africans, because they use their own law so as to rebaptize, it has been decided that, if anyone from a heretical sect comes to the Church, he should be asked his creed, and if it is perceived that he has been baptized in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, only the hand should be imposed upon him, in order that he may receive the Holy Spirit. But if upon being questioned he does not answer this Trinity, let him be baptized.

Other canons

Amid the Easter controversies of the day, the synod fathers asked Pope Sylvester to establish a common date for the celebration of Easter. Eleven years later, in 325, the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea established a common date.

Echoing the canons of the earlier Synod of Elvira in Spain, the synod fathers at Arles decreed that

  • clergy who committed usury were to be excluded from Communion
  • charioteers and actors would be excluded from Communion as long as they continued in their professions. (Chariot races were associated with pagan religious festivals; pantomimes, excluded by the Synod of Elvira, were associated with mythological themes.)
  • young Christian women who married unbelievers would be excluded from Communion for “a considerable time”
  • the infirm who come to believe in Christ should receive the sacraments immediately—presumably rather than undergo a lengthy catechumenate
  • members of the faithful who were excluded from Communion as a penance for sin had to readmitted to Communion in the same place where the penance was given—lest one bishop “trample on” another’s authority

Like the synod fathers at Elvira, the bishops at Arles were concerned about whom to admit to Holy Communion. The bishops knew their flocks, and those from elsewhere were required to show a letter of reference (presumably from another bishop) declaring that they were permitted to receive the Holy Eucharist. At Arles, the synod fathers directed that new letters were to be issued upon the receipt of old letters.

Public officials who professed the Catholic faith were a matter of special concern to the bishops at Arles. When such officials were transferred to other areas in the empire, the bishops directed that they “receive letters of ecclesiastical communion, so that, therefore, in whatever places they serve, [pastoral] care may be given by the bishop of that place, and that when they begin to act against [the Church’s] discipline, only then let them be excluded from Communion.” The synod fathers applied the same oversight to those who wished to enter into public service.

The synod fathers at Arles also issued other canons:

  • In a canon that doubtless pleased Constantine, they decreed that “those [soldiers] who lay down their weapons in peacetime” should be excluded from Communion.
  • The synod fathers forbade deacons from “offering”—presumably offering Mass– a practice that had begun to happen, the synod fathers said, “in many places.” They also directed urban deacons not to take honors appropriate to priests upon themselves, but to exercise their ministry only with the knowledge of the local priest.
  • They decreed that bishops who make pilgrimages to Rome should be given a place where they might offer Mass.
  • They directed priests and deacons to persevere in their ministry in the same places in which they were currently ministering—an early attempt to address the phenomenon of clerici vagantes. Those who took it upon themselves to minister in another place were to be removed from their office.

Addressing the indissolubility of valid marriages, the synod fathers declared:

With regard to those who discover their wives in adultery, and who, though in early manhood, are as Christians forbidden to remarry, it has seemed good that as far as possible they should be advised during the lifetime of their wives, though adulteresses, not to marry others.

In their final canon, the synod fathers addressed those apostates who offered no evidence of repentance, remained estranged from the Church, and then, on their deathbed, sought Communion. Such apostates, they said, were not to receive Holy Communion unless they recovered their strength and began to bear “fruits worthy of penance.”

The aftermath of Arles

Donatus, convinced he was in the right, did not submit to the synod fathers, even though he was aware that displeasing Constantine had its consequences: the memory of Maxentius’ head on display in Carthage was surely fresh in his mind. But Constantine was more lenient with Donatus than he was with his brother-in-law, as Encyclopaedia Britannica notes:

Despite further appeals by Donatus and his supporters, Constantine gave a final decision in favour of Caecilian in November 316. The schism did not die out. Persecution from 317 to 321 failed, and in May 321 Constantine grudgingly granted toleration to the Donatists. The movement gained strength for several years, but in August 347 Emperor Constans I exiled Donatus and other leaders to Gaul, where Donatus died about 355. When Julian the Apostate became emperor in 361, the exiled Donatists returned to Africa and were the majority Christian party for the next 30 years.

In his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, St. John Henry Newman wrote that by the end of the fourth century, there were 468 Catholic bishops in Africa, while “the Donatists rivalled them with as many as 400. . . . Their Churches in Africa were nearly as numerous as those of the Catholics.” There was even a Donatist bishop of Rome in addition to the legitimate pope.

St. Augustine, whom Father Adrian Fortescue described as a “missionary bishop surrounded by a Donatist majority,” called upon the Donatists to return to Catholic unity in sermons and other writings. In his Correction of the Donatistswritten in 417, he recalled the violence with which the Donatists sometimes persecuted the Catholic faithful. The Donatists, too, suffered persecution, but perdured until the Arab conquest of North Africa two centuries later.

The legacy of Arles

In his twelfth-century collection of canon law (the Decretum), the Camaldolese monk Gratian cited the First Synod of Arles’s canons on the usury of clergy, the date of Easter, and the rebaptism of heretics, thus ensuring the synod’s influence on canonists into modern times.

The synod fathers’ reaffirmation of the validity (in some cases) of baptisms celebrated by non-Catholic Christians continues to inform Catholic teaching and practice. In 2001, Father Luis Ladaria, then an official (and later the prefect) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cited the synod in 2001 when he explained why Mormon baptisms are invalid.

So, too, has the synod’s teaching on the distinction between deacons and priests, which two curial dicasteries cited in the 1998 Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons. In 2002, the International Theological Commission noted that

this tendency [of some deacons] to invade the field of competences of priests, which was also manifested in the claim to preside at the Eucharist (albeit as an exception) was put a stop to by the synod of Arles (314) and particularly by the Council of Nicaea (325, can. 18).

In a 2006 document, the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity recalled the First Synod of Arles’s penitential discipline. The Arles synod’s desire for a common date for Easter has found many echoes throughout history, including during the October 2023 session of the Synod of Bishops, even if the latter did not cite the former (p. 16).

Above all, the First Synod of Arles’s teaching that traditor bishops—and by extension, other clergy who have committed wicked deeds—deserve to be disciplined after due process, but that the sacraments they celebrated were valid, has poignant relevance in the decades marked by the sexual abuse scandal.

The idea that “the Church contains none within her pale but the just and holy” was “the heresy of the Novatians and Donatists of old time,” St. John Henry Newman wrote in 1851. “But this no Catholic asserts, every Catholic denies.”

Newman added:

Our Lord expressly said that the Church was to be like a net, which gathered of every kind, not only of the good, but of the bad too … Thus, not indeed by the divine wish and intention, but by the divine permission, and man’s perverseness, there is a vast load of moral evil existing in the Church; an enemy has sown weeds there, and those weeds remain among the wheat till the harvest. And this evil in the Church is not found only in the laity, but among the clergy too; there have been bad priests, bad bishops, bad monks, bad nuns, and bad Popes. If this, then, is the charge made against us, that we do not all live up to our calling, but that there are Catholics, lay and clerical, who may be proved to be worldly, revengeful, licentious, slothful, cruel, nay, may be unbelievers, we grant it at once. We not only grant it but we zealously maintain it.

Related at CWR:
“The Ghost of Synods Past: The Synod of Elvira” (January 20, 2024) by J. J. Ziegler
“The Ghost of Synods Past: The Synod of 1967” (May 23, 2024) by J. J. Ziegler


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About J. J. Ziegler 64 Articles
J. J. Ziegler, who holds degrees in classics and sacred theology, writes from North Carolina.

10 Comments

  1. “Head-strong” convictions and “them’s-fighting-words” FEELINGS in “dem
    dere days”. . quite a contrast to Pope Francis’ “mumblings” these days.
    Yet, I wonder who of the “two schools” has brought about more change
    [ for better or for worse ] inside and outside the Catholic Church.

  2. In the final entry, Newman might be made to appear as endorsing a big-tent pluralism of religions, and a Church without contours, of “everyone, everyone” absent any personal conversion. But is this true? Newman also affirmed the realism of baked-in conscience and the natural law, as does the Second Vatican Council (“…the permanent binding force of universal natural law and the all-embracing principles, Man’s conscience itself gives ever more emphatic voice to these principles.” Gaudium et Spes, n. 79).

    Newman:
    “Conscience has rights because [!] it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a license to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again [Gradualism, and der Synodal Weg redefining even sexual morality and the Church itself] […] Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it if they had. It is the right of self-will.”

    And, in the 21st-century Church?
    Again, a divided Mystical Body of Christ as in the Donatist times? Now, with the clericalist blessing of “irregular” couples, and especially the tribal LGBTQ religion—one “couple” at a time? A construction shunned by many national bishops conferences and dioceses across the globe, including all of continental Africa—the homeland of Augustine and the earlier Synod of Arles.

    SUMMARY: Synod-ism, quo vadis?

  3. JJ Ziegler provides this writer with enough material for at least a semester course on Doctrinal History of Early Church Councils.
    An outstanding one is “clergy who have committed wicked deeds—deserve to be disciplined after due process, but that the sacraments they celebrated were valid, has poignant relevance in the decades marked by the sexual abuse scandal”. That remains an issue today for many laity most who suffered post Vat II catechesis. That is, for those who survived with faith intact. Confession, the sacrament of penance and the widely held belief that a heretic priest’s absolution is invalid. Unlike baptism by a heretic priest, the initial sacrament that validates the rest, consecration of the Eucharist, confession and absolution are valid if the correct form is used despite the heretic priest’s unbelief. Using the correct form finds its validation in the mind of the Church rather than the deficiency of the priest.

    • Thank you, Father, for this excellent commentary. You teach and reach far more of the faithful than you know. Again, thank you for this intellectual clarification.

      • JML in respect to baptism by a heretic priest, the Council of Trent confirms its validity:
        “Canon 4: If anyone says that the baptism which is given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true baptism, let him be anathema”.

  4. Fr. Morello: It is the constant teaching of the Church that if an unbelieving or heretical priest does not intend what the Church does when he consecrates the bread & wine, then the consecration is not valid, no? Form, matter, but also intention, yes? While this apparently applies for a valid Consecration, we could use some help as to how intention does regarding other Sacraments.

    • Not quite antigon. Approach the teaching of the Church in its extremely vital judgment regarding the validity of the sacraments from the definition of the sacraments, which operate ‘ex opere operato’. Which means they derive their efficacy not from the minister nor from the recipient, rather from the sacrament regardless of the merits of the minister or recipient.
      In this manner the Church assures us throughout its long history of heretical movements, false opinions, active priests who have lost the faith, as many today do not believe – that we can be assured that our baptisms, confessions, marriages are valid.

    • Also antigon, the question has been questioned by some, although the CCC 1128 says: This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation 1 that the sacraments act ex opere operato [literally: ‘by the very fact of the action’s being performed’], i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that ‘the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God. 2 From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them”.
      St Thomas Aquinas adds: “Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning ‘from the work worked’ that, in reference to sacraments, signifies that they derive their efficacy not from the minister [which would mean that they derive it ex opere operantis, meaning ‘from the work of the worker’] or from the recipient, but from the sacrament considered independently of the merits of the minister or the recipient. According to the ex opere operato interpretation of the sacraments, any positive effect comes not from any human worthiness or faith, but from the sacrament as an instrument of God”. Notice that the validity of the sacrament is not dependent on the faith of the priest, but from the sacrament as an instrument of God. So in the confessional despite the ill or deficient intent of the priest it is God who forgives.

      • Addendum: Also antigon, the question [of validity] has been questioned by some. You mention the form which expresses the intention. There’s also the ‘matter’, the bread and wine. All must be correct for validity.
        In such instances, and it has occurred where priests were not using the proper matter besides instances of improper form, the late Bishop Francis X Roque vicar of the Military Archdiocese to the VA believed that based on what is taught in the Catechism and Canon Law, and the opinion of Thomas Aquinas God will provide for sake of the faithful. Roque was also a combat chaplain involved in offering the sacraments under duress, when offering the Last Sacraments, confession and absolution, anointing could not always be conferred precisely as required. We can be assured that God provided in those instances, since the sacraments are the instruments of God.

  5. And for further clarification, although God is not restrained from doing what he wishes, in regard to the Holy Eucharist, I don’t believe Bishop Roque meant that an invalid consecration would be made valid [for example if real wine and wheat bread were substituted with something other], rather that God would provide the graces the parishioners expected to receive. In that sense I’m confident that God would provide.

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