Opus Operatum

Opus Operatum (Lat. literally the work wrought) is the phrase employed by Roman Catholic theologians to describe the manner of the supposed operation of the sacramental rites in the production of grace (q.v.). It is intended to imply, say the Romanists to Protestant polemics, that the ministration of the rite (opus) is in itself, through the institutions of Christ, an efficient cause of grace, and that, although its operation is not infallible, but requires and presupposes certain dispositions on the part of the recipient, yet these dispositions are but conditiones sine qua non, and do not of themselves produce the grace; and hence, when the sacraments are administered to dying persons in a state of apparent insensibility, this is done in the hope and on the presumption that the dying person may, though seemingly unconscious, be nevertheless really disposed to receive the sacrament. The teachings of the Romish Church do not, however, warrant such a mild construction. It is evident from the received writings of the Church of Rome that, even if the dispositions conditioned above be wanting, the sacrament will itself justify the unrepentant sinner. Thomas Aquinas boldly defended the doctrine that the sacraments now have virtue ex opere operato, and not, as in Old-Testament times, ex opere operantis. And the Council of Trent (sess. 7, canons 7, 8) says: "If any one shall say that grace, as far as concerneth God's part, is not given through the said sacraments, always and to all men, even though they lightly receive them, but [only] sometimes, and to some persons, let him be anathema. If any one shall say that by the said sacraments of the new law grace is not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for obtaining grace, let him be anathema." It is but too clearly apparent from these quotations that the efficacious operation of the sacrament does not presuppose as conditions the repentance and other moral dispositions of the recipient, and that the grace which they give is due, not to these dispositions, but to the sacraments alone. This doctrine, if carried out, would obviously equalize, in a great measure, the benefits received by the worthy and the unworthy who approach the altar, and would justify the administration of baptism to the heathen, etc., not only on consent, but by the application of physical force. In a certain sense it is unquestionably true that all the appointed means of grace have an effect ex opere operate, inasmuch as the act itself though inefficacious in its own nature, is an institution of God, and consecrated by him as an instrument not to be made void at the caprice of man. Thus the preaching of the Gospel is inevitably a savor of life or of death. The administration of baptism is invariably an admission into the Church. But that the use of an appointed ordinance goes beyond this, and results in all cases in a moral effect on the individual, and in the insuring of higher portions of divine grace or ex necessitate, is contrary to the views of the apostolic and primitive Church, the doctrine of Scripture, and the preservation of man's free agency. See for Protestant views, Elliott, Delineation of Romanism; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, p. 370; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 2:80, 303, 306. On Roman Catholic views, Mohler. Symbolik; and Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, s.v.

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