Thomas (III:61:3, ad 3; III:65:1, ad 7) as external observances which may be considered as the sacred signs of that time, prefiguring future sacred institutions: hence, he adds, they may be called sacraments of the law of nature. As the time for Christ's coming drew nearer, in order that the Israelites might be better instructed God spoke to Moses, revealing to him in detail the sacred signs and ceremonies by which they were to manifest more explicitly their faith in the future Redeemer.
Those signs and ceremonies were the sacraments of the Mosaic Law, "which are compared to the sacraments which were before the law as something determined to something undetermined, because before the law it had not been determined what signs men should use" (The ceremonies by which men were made and signed as worshippers or ministers of God.
(a) for the people, various expiations, (b) for the priests, the washing of hands and feet, the shaving of the head, etc. Augustine says the sacraments of the Old Law were abolished because they had been fulfilled (cf.
Matthew ), and others have been instituted which are more efficacious, more useful, easier to administer and to receive, fewer in number ("virtute majora, utilitate meliora, actu faciliora, numero pauciora", XIX.13). The Decree for the Armenians, published by order of the Council of Florence, says that the sacraments of the Old Law did not confer grace, but only prefigured the grace which was to be given by the Passion of Christ.
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.
Morgan Dix ("The sacramental system", New York, 1902, p. "Of sacramental doctrine this may be said, that it is co-extensive with historic Christianity.Commentators on the Scriptures and theologians almost unanimously assert that there were sacraments under the law of nature and under the Mosaic Law, as there are sacraments of greater dignity under the Law of Christ.Under the law of nature so called not to exclude supernatural revelation but because at that time there existed no written supernatural law salvation was granted through faith in the promised Redeemer, and men expressed that faith by some external signs.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.