Joseph Martos
Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Dr. Joe Martos - Friday, 17 February 2012, 1:47 AM
Relate the concepts of legalism and magic to experience and understanding of the sacraments, prayer and worship in the Middle Ages, in the pre-Vatican II church (if you are old enough to remember it), and in the post-Vatican II church.
Picture of arnetta sims
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by arnetta sims - Monday, 16 July 2012, 6:28 PM

I can recall when Catholics paid indulgences to the priest. One could pay for days to be shorten in purgatory. Certain prayers recited on specials day will bring favors. I think the entire theory of novenas were abused. People used novenas to gain wrong effects.

I believe that burning candles for special needs can be considered a form of magic. I believed we promoted too many pagan practices before Vatican II. I think most of these rituals were part of a tradition that lack proper education. My grandmother and early church mothers had very strange practices. As a child I can recall any time someone died the priest had to receive a stipend of $50.00 to bury the dead to make it official. I think today how many people could actually afford to pay the priest during those times?

I agree that there are elements needed for validity of the ritual, but the most important factor is the everlasting effect on the person. I should hope that the individual fully understands the cause of the sacramental reality ,while having an open and willing spirit to receive God's graces.

Liturgical planners and pastors should insure proper care in celebrating the sacraments. The nature and character of the sacraments should be emphasized during the preparation of the reception.

GRADE 2 (Good examples of magic, but little about legalism. Also, the last part needed more development.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Wednesday, 27 June 2012, 03:30 PM)

Picture of Monica Okon
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Monica Okon - Monday, 16 July 2012, 6:36 PM

The Concepts of Legalism and Magic to the Experience and Understanding of the Sacraments, Prayer and Worship

At this point I am tempted to summarize the development of sacramental theology into two words: The process as I see it is a, “Recycling Process or Technique.” I think in this manner because every age comes up with a new understanding about the sacraments based on what was previously understood, experienced, and practiced. Most of the time, this is done either by criticizing or condemning and bringing proofs from scripture or authorities in the past.

In the Middle Ages:

Sacraments were a big part of people’s life in the Middle Ages so much so that theologians like Aquinas was able to see the effects of graces of sacraments in the people he came in contact with. Theologians have gone a long way to make people understand that sacraments were signs of sacred realities because this is the way the means of salvation offered by God could be reached. In other words, one part of the medieval ages paid attention to understand how sacraments worked through explanations and brought proves of why sacraments were important. According to Martos, “It is an age of fides quaerens intellectum, of faith seeking understanding” (65). This was characterized by philosophical explanation, but mostly theoretical in scope. The next step in the evolution of the sacraments could be described as the time that some people were more interested in the practical than theoretical concerns about the sacraments. It was time people were more interested in proper administration, than thinking what the sacrament meant for them. This is how the areas of legalism, nominalism, and magic were introduced.

Very concerned with proper administration of the sacraments is known as Gratian's Decrees. Gratian compiled many areas on the teachings and laws of church’s events, and sacraments were one of those areas. On the sacraments, “the Decrees was more concerned with questions of administration, (for example, whether or not lay people may baptize, or who may legally enter into marriage) than with questions of theology” (65). Even though this document was popular in use, and even played the role of influence and guidance to many ecclesiastical decisions, it was not officially endorsed as the canon. As I noted earlier, there was a big gap between theologians and canonists. “Theologians were primarily concerned with understanding the sacraments and explaining how they functioned within the spiritual life of the Christians; canonists were concerned primarily with regulating the sacraments and determining how they functioned within the institutional life of the church.

For the canonist, importance and effects of each sacrament was based on specific order of rituals. They were concerned with what each sacrament enable the person to be, how to go about it correctly to be in keeping with what the church expects and what to avoid. What I have observed here is that though canonists emphasized on proper administration of the sacrament, they were not independent of the teaching of the church fathers and theologians whose emphasis were on spiritual effects and understanding of the sacraments. Martos comments on the canonists saying, “And for them this meant that great care had to be taken to preserve the signs by administering the sacraments correctly, to ensure that they kept the spiritual effectiveness. Put succinctly, Aquinas’s insistence on the casual nature of the sacraments led canonists to insist on proper performance of the rituals” (66). It is still worth noting that despite this fact, the Middle Ages is responsible for major changes in Catholic sacramental theology.

It was too much insistence on the proper or right way to administer the sacraments that rolled into minimalism of sacramental rites. There were careless exercise of sacramental rites, they misunderstood there were only certain essential requirements, they were thinking of cause and effects rather than the meaning of effects of the sacraments. In other words the proper performance allowed people to do just what was needed to be done without giving them thought to what was done meant to them. They could just carry out specified items to be done in order to be a member of the church, to be husband and wife, for sins to be forgiven etc. I am sure the canonists did not have the intention to reduce the standard of practice and meaning of the sacrament, but that is what happened in the minimal tendency. There were certain minimum standards that which discouraged participation on the part of the individual who is receiving the sacrament. The church said this was what to be done and it was done. This is where I think it also reduced it to the practice of magic. Because for a word to be said or observance of mere rites as stated by the canon law changed the status of the individual without the ability to figure out how it happened was magical at the time. As explained in the video, they simply presumed that as soon as the right words were said, and right actions were performed, God automatically caused supernatural effects on the candidates for sacraments. This is how the idea of magic found it way into Christianity in the late middle ages.

In summary, the legality of the sacraments in the middle ages developed from Gratian Decrees to minimalism, to canon law which regulated the effect of the sacraments through rituals. Pages 67-69 has enumerated the various regulations on each sacrament, that is things to be done and said during the rites in order that the sacraments produce their respective effects ranging from the minister, to words, and intentions. “It was agreed that in order for a ritual to be effective it must have the proper matter and form, be performed by a proper minister, and be done with proper intention” (66). To be more specific, in one of the sacraments,“The priest poured water on the infant’s head, saying the right words, and the child was saved from hell” (74) etc. For a sacrament to be legal and produce effects, according to canon law it must meet the above mentioned stipulations or regulations. It would mean that philosophy gave in to canon law during the middle ages even though canonists did not part from philosophers and scholasticism in totality except that it evolved into legality, validity from mater and form, and there was no sacramental reality without validity. To make sacraments legal means certain elements in this case certain rites of the sacraments or words and actions as laid down by canon law must exist to make it valid. If it is not followed as stated by the canon law it is illegal.

Prayer and worship: in the Middle Ages were closely related to sacraments. Left for the theologians, an aspect of one of the sacraments (Eucharist), “Mass was regarded as a sacramental participation in Christ’s offering of himself to the Father; in canon law the mass was treated as a sacramental ritual containing certain basic elements such as prayers, readings gestures and the materials for consecration” (66-67). Since canon law overshadowed theologians, in the late middle centuries, every aspect of the Christian life seemed to follow the same pattern. Since sacramental life was tuned to magical direction, prayers were also understood the same way. This means as long as the individual said their prayers the right way, or kneel if the particular prayer required kneeling answers were automatically expected. For example, “reciting certain prayers at the proper times would cancel all the punishment one could expect after death” (74). So people developed the habit of praying according to guidelines for different prayers and expected automatic response to their prayers. It must have developed into one of the devotions for such prayers like novenas to saints and other spiritual identities in the church.

Pre-Vatican II: Since nothing is said neither in the book nor the video about this period I myself did not have opportunity to experience the pre Vatican II, I presumed that the practice of the Middle Ages continued to this period.

Post Vatican II:

Both sacraments and prayers during the post Vatican II have seen changes in some areas while some parts have remained intact. For example, the numbers of sacraments 7 are still intact. Water is still one of the elements or symbols or signs in baptism as it was in the Middle Ages. The same applies to other sacraments. The major changes I think is that instead of pouring water on the head of the baptized, immersion is also used in some parishes. So some of the ways the sacraments are celebrated have changed. There is a lot of involvements and participation during prayers and sacraments in modern time. Instead of grace, God’s presence is what is emphasized in sacraments. Priests and ministers can make some changes to the rituals to make it lively and exciting, but most of all to make it meaningful to those who receive the sacraments.

GRADE 4 (Considering how you later supplemented your answer.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Wednesday, 4 July 2012, 06:45 PM)

Joseph Martos
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Dr. Joe Martos - Thursday, 5 July 2012, 2:59 AM
Sister Monica, among Catholics today, whether in the United States or in Africa, do you not still find examples of legalism and magical thinking associated with the mass, sacraments, or sacramentals?
Picture of arnetta sims
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by arnetta sims - Thursday, 5 July 2012, 4:55 PM

Dr. Martos on Monday a friend asked me to explain the ritual of the St. Jude novena. She felt it was similar to Voodoo and did not understand why Catholics practiced this ritual. I hope I gave a sufficent response by explaining that the ritual was an act of faith. The candle burning was an act of edification of ones prayer life and requesting the intercession of Saint Jude. I also explained that if the parish requests a donation it is to be used to purchase new candles. The payment or lighting of the candles did not guarantee favors. Alot of myths and in correct explanations remain in the African American Catholic communities. I believe it is present because of  a culture of African lineage. These traditions were passed also from the slaves who arrived in New Orleans. As African American Catholics we do not speak of them often, but we are aware of these beliefs. My great-grand father was from France. He came to New Orleans with his owners, then he moved to Alabama. He was one of the first black Catholics in my county. As a child I can remember the older family speaking broken French and their practices. There are still others who believe in this magic!

Joseph Martos
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Dr. Joe Martos - Saturday, 7 July 2012, 3:14 AM
I think if we are going to be honest, we have to admit that magical ideas and superstition have ofen been mixed in with Catholic beliefs in countries with low literacy rates and cultures that foster folk religion. Voodoo or vodun in Haiti, a mixture of African and sometimes Christian practices, helped enslaved Africans living under inhumane conditions imposed by their "Christian" masters to seek some relief from their physical and psychological misery. Whenever people are not properly ministered to by the church, they will try to find their own answers to life's mysteries.
Picture of Eileen Rettig
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Eileen Rettig - Saturday, 7 July 2012, 5:10 AM
Even in the white culture there are those who believe in the magical help of the saints. The Visitation Shop here in Mobile does a land office business (pun intended) on statues of St. Joseph to be buried in yards in hopes of a quick sale of a house. As girls my sisters and I would put a statue of Our Lady in the window the night before a major event to ensure good weather. We won't even talk about the tradition here in Mobile of the archbishop going down to the bay to bless it before an approaching hurricane to protect the city from devastation.
Picture of arnetta sims
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by arnetta sims - Tuesday, 10 July 2012, 7:10 PM
Thanks for sharing!
Picture of Monica Okon
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Monica Okon - Monday, 16 July 2012, 6:37 PM

There are many instances and examples of legalism and magical thinking with the mass, sacraments or sacramentals. Let me start with myself. I am one of the big fans of Saint Anthony even if a pin disappears from my sights. Once I mention Saint Anthony when I misplace an item, I expect the item to be found immediately. Some people wear rosary on their necks as a sign of protection from fear and evils. These During consecration at mass, if I do not kneel down even when there are no pews, I feel I did not participate appropriately at mass. In other words I doubt the validity of the celebration for not kneeling.

Recently, I witness a nun catholic received communion at mass. After mass, tried to raise awareness of the situation by telling someone I thought could educate the person from repeating it next time. for me at that time, I thought it was not valid, moreover, it was an abuse. To my greatest surprise, I was the only person out of many who thought differently. Yes there are many instances of magical practices associated with sacramentals.

Picture of Tim Talbott
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Tim Talbott - Monday, 16 July 2012, 6:42 PM

During the Middle Ages in particular, there was a strict sense of legalism. The primary reason for this was that the majority of the laity was illiterate, with little education. This made it easier and more practical to merely tell people what they must do and not do to achieve salvation. In regards to the Sacraments, this delved into such specific subjects as that of form and matter. Questions as to who are the ministers of each of the Sacraments were answered during this time. Distinction between sacramental reality and sacramental grace was made during this time. This served to explain how some received the Sacraments yet did not fully exhibit the “fruits”, or graces, of them. The text also notes that the during this time two other concepts were developed which continued in canon law; liceity and validity of sacramental rites. This means that a Sacrament is licit when all of the requirements of canon law are fulfilled. Dr. Martos sums this period up when he writes, “Sacramental theology of the later Middle Ages could no longer depend on philosophy for its explanations, and so it turned to canon law.”

Regarding the term “magic” in the text, I believe what is meant as negative is the form of superstition which the Church condemns. The practices listed are practices which are all believed today by many, if not most Catholics. I will detail them next in reference to Post –Vatican II, but merely want to point out that what I see these as is Catholic spirituality.

Since I was not alive during Pre-Vatican II period, I will comment on the time since then, or Post-Vatican II. As a result of the clericalism/legalism prevalent in centuries before our own, most Catholic Christians, in particular live a similar kind of faith. There seems to be no sense of responsibility on the part of the laity to learn or advance in their faith. Many if not most feel that they are doing good merely to show up to Mass and leave the rest of it to the clergy. This is not the intended consequence but is the case nonetheless. And just as in the Middle Ages, since people will not take the time to learn the reasons why they do/should practice what they do, they rely simply on the rules, or even worse, do not even follow the rules.

In relation to magic, this can be viewed in many different ways. It would be necessary to explain specifically just what is meant by the term, however. What I see as the negative term of the word in practice, superstition, is not condoned by the Church. An example of this might be in thinking of the words of a specific prayer as having a magical power in and of themselves, as in an incantation. Sacramentals such as the Rosary or scapulars, which are not required beliefs but have spiritual promises and graces attached to them, are not believed to have power such as a magic wand or the like. Rather, they have power in the grace bestowed and the faith and disposition of the person, much like the ritual Sacrament.

GRADE 3 (Strong on the concept of legalism, weak on magic.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Friday, 13 July 2012, 09:45 PM)

Picture of Eileen Rettig
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Eileen Rettig - Monday, 16 July 2012, 8:24 PM

The concept of legalism as regards to rites and rituals in the Catholic Church has both positive and negative ramifications. On the positive side, legalism gives concrete guidelines to be used in order to validly celebrate the rituals we call sacraments. During the middle ages many of the clergy who cared for the spiritual needs of the people were as illiterate as their parishioners. The development of a set of rubrics was essential to ensure that the correct form was being used by the clergy. On the negative side, it allows the sacramental rituals to be reduced to the least possible actions necessary for validity. This resulted in a failure of the people and even a good portion of the clergy to fully appreciate the spiritual benefits of the sacraments.

This legalism gave rise to the development of minimalism in regard to the sacraments. For example, growing up partly in the pre-Vatican II era (I was in high school when the council ended) I learned that the minimum amount of Sunday Mass a person had to attend to fulfill their weekly obligation was the Offertory, Consecration and Communion. Quite a few people frequently missed the readings and the sermon. It also gave rise to the daily Mass being celebrated as quickly as the priest could slur the Latin. It was not unusual prior to Vatican II for a daily Mass to take less than fifteen minutes. While today quite a few priest still take a short amount of time for the Sacred Liturgy, it has been my experience that most daily Masses take about twenty-five to thirty minutes which gives the congregation more of a sense of the sacred.

When a person does not understand how something works he/she will make up the mechanism by which the result is achieved. For example as a young child I did not understand the meteorological causes for lightning and thunder. My parents told me it was God and the angels bowling. Other explanations I have heard about this are God is moving furniture around or the angels are dancing. These are all magical explanations. Since most of the population in the West during the middle ages was illiterate they made up explanations as to how and why the rituals of Christianity worked.

Another possible explanation for the increase in the sense of magic in the sacraments may also be due to the illiteracy of the population. Illiterate cultures depend a great deal on their oral traditions. During the centuries of civilizing the invading Germanic tribes many of the beliefs from their pagan days deliberately got transposed into Christianity. Halloween is a good example of this phenomenon. It is based on an ancient druid festival when the dead are thought to scour the earth. The Christian church then added a special feast, All Saints Day, to honor the dead in order to “Christianize” the custom. Pope Gregory the Great is said to have advised the missionaries he sent to the Germanic and Slavic people to use anything of their cultures that could be used to bring them to the faith.

The Black Death brought about many changes to western culture. Much scholarship was set aside for the practical matters of caring for the sick and dying or simply preserving life. Thus more emphasis was placed on how the rituals were performed than what they meant spiritually. The church had a different structure in many respects. Rome was very involved in political matters along with spiritual ones. This involvement was a major contributing factor in the Protestant Reformation and the Roman Church’s essentially pulling in on itself in a defensive mode. Therefore within the Latin Church things did not change much for the common people and attitudes about the sacraments just got passed down from generation to generation and like the children’s game of “whisper down the lane,” distortions occurred.

One example would be the use of novenas. It is not unusual to find in a pew a slip of paper with a novena to St. Jude written on it. Among the instructions on the paper is to say the prayer for nine consecutive days asking St. Jude (patron of impossible things) for a specific favor. The instructions go on to tell the person that the novena MUST be published, or a certain number of copies must be left in church for the novena to work. And of course if these instructions are followed precisely the novena has never been known to fail. Nothing is wrong with asking a saint to intervene before God for a special request any more than anything is wrong with asking a friend to say a special prayer when facing surgery or having to make a difficult decision. What is wrong is implying that by following each step God MUST grant the request. That is magical thinking and it can still be found in the church today.

GRADE 4 (Excellent integration of historical information and personal experience.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Monday, 16 July 2012, 02:28 PM)

Picture of Marvin Fitchett
Re: Part Two of the Course, Third Assignment, Question 2
by Marvin Fitchett - Wednesday, 25 July 2012, 4:31 AM

The concepts of legalism and magic as it relates generally to religious matters emanate from a lack of understanding. When a participant or observer of a religious ritual does not fully understand the ritual they would equate their participation in the ritual to receiving a spiritual effect. The next line of reasoning involves the previous, but the spiritual effect would be associated to magic.

A construction of a more exact conceptualization of legalism and magic shall be ascertained. The concepts will be examined as they relate to the sacrament, prayer, and worship in the Middle Ages, in the Pre-Vatican II church, and post Vatican II church. The two concepts of legalism and magic became apparent as the discussion of sacramental effectiveness ensured.

A result of sacramental effectiveness was sacramental validity, where the clergy understood performing the necessary acts during a sacramental ceremony then the effects of the sacrament would take effect. This understanding was labeled sacramental minimalism which evolved into the thinking that the spiritual effects happen automatically. The by-products of sacramental minimalism is sacramental legalism and magic.

The concept of sacramental legalism refers to the clergy performing the legal minimum of the sacramental ritual, and then the spiritual effect would occur. Next, the concept of sacramental magic involved the clergy speaking the right words or prayers and performing the right actions in the sacramental ritual, and then God would cause the supernatural to manifest. A worthwhile side note is from the sacramental magic came abuse of the sacraments, the clergy began collecting money for them.

Middle Ages

The Middle Ages’ sacramental foundations were identified with canon law. As the word law is mention, it creates images of the legality, thus sacramental legalism was developed from the canon law. Sacramental legalism established the sacraments validity and reality which effected the administration of the sacraments. Eventually, the sacramental legalism opened the door to sacramental magic, the rituals working automatically.

Pre-Vatican II Church

The Pre-Vatican II church contained both theologians and canonist, who maintained their views regarding the sacraments. The Pre-Vatican II theologians were interested in understanding and presenting a working interpretation of the sacraments. Whereas, the canonists were concerned with the sacrament function, they were searching for the technicality of the sacraments.

Post-Vatican II Church

The Post-Vatican II church maintained its class of theologians. During this period there were two schools-two schools of thought. They were the Dominicans who followed the scholastics and the Franciscans who followed the modern way. The both used the teaching of Aristotle for their own paths of thought. The Dominicans used Aristotle teaching with a logical approach, and the Franciscans approach was that of critical reasoning.

The sacramental condition of legalism and magic can be traced back to the sacraments, prayers, and worship from the Middle Ages, Pre-Vatican II Church, and Post Vatican II Church.