ON THE INTENTION REQUIRED IN THE MINISTER OF THE SACRAMENTS:
A Summary of Dogma and Theology compiled by Christopher V. Mirus
PREFATORY NOTE: The following should not be considered a thoroughly
researched presentation of the subject of the intention necessary in a
minister of the sacraments. It is simply my own translation, accurate but
not always graceful, of the writings of two orthodox, respected Catholic
theologians of this century, Msgr. J.M. Hervé and Ludovic Cardinal Billot,
on this subject. These two authors accurately present the Catholic doctrine
on the intention of the minister of the sacraments, along with widely
accepted and conclusively argued theological conclusions based on this
teaching and on the nature of the sacraments. As the passage taken from
Cardinal Billot is a commentary on the relevant question in St. Thomas
Aquinas's Summa Theologica, I have included my translation of this question
immediately prior to the remarks of Cardinal Billot. If it seem audacious
of me to translate St. Thomas, when so many translations by those more
competent than myself are available, it may be attributed to my desire to
further polish my Latin skills.
Appended to these translations is a paper by Prof. William Marshner,
of the Theological Faculty of Christendom College. Prof. Marshner takes up
the argument more or less where the previous authors finish, and elaborates
on an important point which Msgr. Hervé and Cardinal Billot mention only in
passing. Finally, I have undertaken to point out some passages in Msgr.
Hervé and Cardinal Billot which support the conclusion of Prof. Marshner,
and have myself included a few remarks on this subject, which take the form
of a summary of the doctrine.
MSGR. J.M. HERVÉ, S. Th. Dr.: THEOLOGIA DOGMATICA. VOL. III.
Part 4: De Sacramentis in genere
Chapter IV: De ministro sacramentorum.
ARTICLE I: Of the qualities requisite in a minister of the sacraments.
470. Intention is required for the valid administration of the
sacraments; Faith and uprightness, however, are required, that the
sacrament may be worthily performed.
We say nothing of attention or application of mind to the things
which are done. No attention is required for the validity of a sacrament,
but only that the matter and form be performed according to the proper
ritual, along with the due intention. To confect the sacrament licitly,
the minister must be free from any voluntary distraction, which
nevertheless is probably not a grave fault, unless there is a danger of
omitting something essential or otherwise notable.
. H. Schillebeeckx, De sacramentale heilseconomie, p. 455-484.
§ I. -- OF THE INTENTION OF THE MINISTER
471. The idea of intention. Intention is an act of the will tending towards
a given end; in this case, it is the deliberate will of confecting the
472. Classification of intention.
a) Classified according to its end, an intention is:
1. Jocose, or imitative, if the minister both externally and
internally simulates the administration of the sacrament, with
2. External, if it is restricted merely to the external rite as
such, excluding all other consideration. 3. Internal, by which
the minister intends the rite as it is performed among
Christians, or as it is intended by the Church, i.e., that it be
b) Considered according to its relation to the thing done, an
1. Actual, i.e., produced by an act, while the sacramental rite
is being performed; in confecting the sacrament, the minister
wills by an act to administer it: this intention is (actually)
present and conscious.
2. Virtual, i.e., it precedes the performing of the sacrament in
act, but remains during the performing in its power [virtute],
so that the sacramental action is exercised under the influence
of the intention, although the intention is not considered
during the act. This intention is present but not conscious.
3. Habitual, i.e., it is produced before the act and never
retracted, but does not influence the present act, and thus the
act cannot be called a human act. This intention is had by one
who is drunk or hypnotized.
Sometimes, though less correctly, habitual intention is called
an ease of acting produced by the repetition of the act in
question, without any previous intention. This may be had by a
priest who, with diseased mind, takes advantage of an
opportunity to ascend the altar to celebrate the Eucharist.
4. Interpretative, which the minister neither has nor has had,
but would have if he were conscious of what he were doing.
c) Classified according to the manner in which the effect is
intended, an intention is absolute, if it is not subordinated to any
conditions; it is conditional, if it is held only on condition of
d) Classified according to its object:
1. Determinate, i.e., directed towards a certain definite person
or matter, v.g. the intention of a priest who wishes to baptizes
an infant who is present.
2. Undetermined, if it is directed toward a person or matter
insufficiently determined, v.g. the intention of a priest who
wishes to consecrate five of the hosts present, but does not
determine which five.
473. Errors and Opinions.
a) Errors: According to the Protestants, the sacraments are nothing
but signs for arousing or increasing the faith of those who receive them.
Consequently, no intention is required for the validity of the sacraments;
it suffices that any kind of external rite be performed.
b) Theory of Catharinus: Catharinus teaches that "the material
performance of the external rite, when it is performed freely, seriously,
and without any jest," suffices for the validity of the sacrament, even if
the minister has a contrary interior intention. Some others have welcomed
this opinion, particularly some of the Faculty at the University of Paris,
although they modify the opinion with the restrictive clause that "an
external intention does not suffice unless the external rite, considered
along with the circumstances of place, time, and the state of the minister,
seems to those watching to be a sacrament."
. _De_necessaria_intentione_in_perficiendis_sacramentis_. Rome: 1552, p.
205ff; Salmeron, Serry, Drouin, and others believe likewise. Cf.
Godefroy, _Dict._theol._, art. "Intention," col. 2273ff; art "Politi,"
p. 2432-33; Rambaldi, _L'oggetto_dell'intenzione_sacramentale_....
Rome:, 1944; Renwart, _N._R. Theol._," 1955, P. 800-821; 1075-1077.
474. Catholic Doctrine:
1. It has been defined, against heretics, that it is necessary
for the validity of the sacrament that there be in the minister the
intention *of doing what the Church does*.
2. In order to have this intention, moreover, it is commonly taught
that a) it is not necessary that the minister will directly and explicitly
to confect the sacrament or to perform the rite as instituted by Christ and
productive of grace; b) nor does an external intention suffice, in the
sense of Catharinus; c) but it is required, and also sufficient, that
there be an internal intention, at least implicit, of performing the rite
as it is customarily performed in the true Church, with all that this
includes, or is thought, even falsely, to include, or of doing what
Christians are accustomed to do through such a rite: for by so doing, the
minister makes his own the intention of Christians.
3. Finally this intention ought to be at least virtual, equivalent to
an absolute intention, and determined to a particular matter and person.
Thus we derive the following thesis:
ASSERTION: For the validity of a sacrament it is necessary that the
minister have the intention of doing what the Church does; indeed, he must
have an internal intention, which must also be at least virtual, and at
least equivalent to an absolute intention, and also determined as to the
matter and person involved.
475. 1º An intention is necessary... (A dogma of the faith).
This is demonstrated a) From documents of the faith: In the
profession of faith prescribed for the Waldensians by Innocent III (1208),
there is required for the confection of the Eucharist "the faithful
intention of pronouncing"the words of consecration"; likewise Martin V
(1418), Eugenius IV (1439) and the Council of Trent (1547) require "in the
ministers, while they confect the sacraments, the intention at least of
doing what the Church does." And, according to Leo XIII (1897), the
ordinations of Anglicans are invalid because the form has been changed, and
because of a "defect of intention."
b) From Scripture: I Cor. 4:1: "Thus let man consider us as ministers
of Christ and stewards [or dispensers: "dispensatores"] of the mysteries of
God." Therefore he who confers the sacraments acts as a steward and
minister of Christ, not in an undetermined way, but having been constituted
as such by reason and liberty. And no one acts as a minister of Christ,
unless he freely intends to do what Christ himself wills. Thus it is
necessary that he who confects a sacrament, through his intention, subject
himself to Christ, the principal agent of the sacrament. The Church
however, as is plainly seen, conforms herself wholly to the will of Christ.
And so he alone acts as a minister of Christ, who intends at least to do
what the Church does [Cf. Jn. 20:21: "As the Father has sent me, I also
send you." -- Mt. 28:19: "Going out therefore, teach all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Cf. Lk. 22:19; Act. 2:38.].
c) From Tradition: Pope St. Cornelius, in the year 251, said
concerning Novatian: "He, by a certain imperfect and vain imposition of
hands, tried to transmit the episcopacy to himself by force." Firmilian
of Caesarea, in the year 256, rejected the Baptism conferred by those
obsessed. [An obsessed person is one whose body is physically controlled
by a demon. It is unclear whether the term is here being used technically,
or whether it refers to possession as well.] Nor can one hold up in
objection the fact of the little children [or slaves: pueruli] baptized in
play by St. Athanasius while he was still a boy, concerning whom Alexander,
the bishop of Alexandria, judged after an examination that they should not
be rebaptized. For these baptisms were not deemed valid, unless because
there appeared the sincere and true intention of baptizing.
After various proposed solutions, by the beginning of the twelfth
century, theologians were already speaking clearly of the intention
required in the minister of the sacraments; and the formula "intention of
doing what the Church does" was first used in _Praepositivus_ (1231).
d) By theological reasoning: "When a certain thing can have many
ends, it ought to be determined through something else to one single end,
if it that end is to be effected. For in truth those things which are done
in the sacraments can be done for many different ends, as the washing with
water, which occurs in Baptism, can be ordered to bodily cleanliness,
bodily health, to sport, and to many other things of these kinds; and thus
ought to be determined to one end, that is, to the sacramental effect,
through the intention of washing."
. D. 424, 672, 695, 854. 1966. Cf. D. 752, 902, 919.
. Eusebius, _Hist._ _eccl._ 6, 43, 9; Kirch, 254.
. "Ep. 75", among ep. "Cypr."
. Rufinus, _Hist._eccl._ 10, 15; cf. S. Aug., "De Bapt. 4, 24, 31; 7,
53, 102; J. 1632, 1639.
. Cf. Lennerz, n. 116-142.
. 3, q. 64, a. 8.
476. 2º An internal intention is required [Common and certain
A. This is demonstrated from the sense of the Church:
a) For the validity of the sacraments, the councils require,
beyond matter and form, an intention in the minister of doing
what the Church does. And indeed the minister certainly has this
intention, or an internal intention, as they say, when he
immediately, and certainly and seriously intends to perform a
true sacrament or immediately and absolutely wills that a
sacrament be present.
b) Not otherwise teaches the Council of Trent, saying that there
is no absolution, if the confessor lacks the "serious resolve
[of the will: "animus"] of truly absolving."
c) Alexander VIII, in the year 1690, condemned the following
proposition of Farvacques, among the errors of the Jansenists:
"A Baptism is valid when conferred by a minister who observes
every external rite and form of baptizing, but within, in his
heart, resolves to himself: not to intend what the Church
does." Concerning this Benedict XIV said, "It cannot be
denied that a grave wound [has been inflicted by this
condemnation] on the aforementioned opinion (of Catharinus)."
(In practice, he says, the safer theory, that which demands an
internal intention, must be followed; if this intention is
lacking, therefore, the sacrament must be conditionally renewed
in case of necessity; otherwise the Holy See is to be consulted
about what to do.)
The _Roman_Missal_ implicitly teaches likewise, declaring a
consecration ineffectual if the priest, having before himself 11 hosts,
intends to consecrate only ten, without determining which ten he intends,
"because the intention is required." This intention is certainly secret
B. It is demonstrated by theological reasoning: The intention is
required in the minister in order that he may act as a minister of Christ,
and that he might determine the rite, in itself indifferent to many ends,
to be sacramental [n. 475]. But a merely external intention does not
suffice for this, as is obvious from what has been said; an internal
intention, or an intention of truly doing what the Church does or what
. S. 14, cp. 6; D. 902.
. D. 1318; cf. Innoc. IV, "3 Decret." t. 42, cp. 1 et "Decr. S.
officii," 4 Aug. 1768.
. "De Synod.," l. 7, c. 4, n. 8: Catharinus is defended by Bouesse,
_L'economie_sacramentaire_, p. 358, and by Schillebeeckx, _op._cit._,
p. 470-473; he is refuted by Renwart, _loc._ _cit._.
. § 7. concerning the defects which may occur in the celebration of the
477. It matters little whether the minister also acts seriously in
those accompanying acts from which his will to act as a minister of Christ
can be inferred. For the circumstances themselves: 1. cannot make a rite in
itself merely natural into a rite of the kind which Christ instituted; 2.
cannot make a priest really act as a minister of Christ, if internally he
does not wish to do so. It remains therefore that an internal intention is
required in the minister.
488. Objection 1º: The sacraments produce grace "ex opere
operato" (by the deed having been done). Ergo, whenever the external rite
is seriously performed, grace necessarily follows, regardless of whether
the minister has a contrary internal intention, just as seed sown in the
earth yields fruit and as fire burns a rope, regardless of what the farmer
or the one setting the fire internally wish.
R. 1. The sacraments are worked "ex opere operato" whenever they are
and are performed according to the institution of Christ; but that they may
be and may formally be performed according to the institution of Christ,
they depend on the internal intention of the minister confecting and
administering them. -- 2. Therefore the comparison with the causes cited
is not valid, for these causes possess in themselves the power of acting,
and immediately produce their effect and are applied, independently of any
intention. If this comparison were valid, the external rite, even when
accomplished merely to mimic the sacrament, would in fact be a sacrament,
which is the heresy of Luther.
. 3, q. 64, a. 8, ad 1.
. Cf. Franzelin, th. 17; Billuart, diss. 5, a. 7, prob. 6º.
479. Objection 2º: It is necessary that one can be certain of the
validity of the sacraments: for otherwise the salvation of the faithful,
and indeed perhaps the ecclesiastical hierarchy itself, are imperiled. But
in fact, unless an external intention suffices, this certitude concerning
the validity of the sacraments cannot be had, for an internal intention is
known only to God. Therefore an internal intention is not required.
R. Concerning the validity of the sacraments one can have moral
certitude, which suffices for acting prudently, and for dispelling
anxieties of spirit. Thus Leo XIII: "When someone seriously and according
to the ritual adheres to the due matter and form for confecting and
conferring a sacrament, from this fact [considered according to the common
manner in which men act] it may be inferred that he undoubtedly intends
(with an internal intention) to do what the Church does." For indeed, if
there be any such, they are extremely rarely found, who have such malice
that while they perform the sacrament with serious exterior, they
internally withhold the intention; and in such a case, the truth of the
opinion of Catharinus would profit little, since a minister as perverse as
this could most likely secretly falsify the matter and form of the
But in fact Christ provided thus far for the hierarchy, promising the
perpetual assistance of the Holy Spirit, lest the Church ever fail.
IN PRACTICE: Whatever one thinks in theory about the opinion of
Catharinus, it is wholly illicit to follow it, since where the
validity of the sacraments is concerned, the safer portion must
always be chosen..
. Ep. _Apostolicae_curae_, 13 Sept. 1896; cf. 3, q.64, a.8, ad 2.
. D. 1151.
480. 3º An intention at least virtual is required [Theolog. certain].
The intention of the minister is therefore necessary, that the rite
may be performed in the person of Christ and so be determined to be
sacramental. Furthermore, an intention which so influences the act that it
is a "human act" is both required and sufficient.
Hence: 1. An actual intention is not required. For although an actual
intention is best, and must be attended to before men on account of
reverence for the sacrament, it is not within the power of man, whose mind
is often and easily distracted to many things.
2. An interpretative intention does not suffice, since such an
intention does not actually exist. Nor is a habitual intention sufficient.
[The ancient scholastics sometimes say that a habitual intention suffices,
but they call a habitual intention that which we call virtual.] For a
habitual intention is not lasting, and thus does not influence the act and
make it human.
3. An virtual intention is both required and sufficient, since, made
earlier and not retracted, it remains by its power [virtute] and truly
influences the act, making it human.
481. 4º An intention at least equivalent to an absolute intention is
required [Theolog. certain].
An intention equivalent to an absolute intention is one which by its
nature becomes absolute before the sacrament is accomplished.
Such an intention ought to determine the rite, by an act, to be
sacramental; but it cannot do this unless it exists and exercises its
influence at the moment in which the sacrament is confected [De Smet, n.
129.], in other words, unless it be absolute or equivalent to an absolute
a) Such is an intention accompanied by a past or present
condition, v.g. "if you are not baptized," or "if you are
alive," I baptize you"; for in this case, if the condition is
not met, the intention does not exist, nor can the sacrament be
b) Any condition concerning the future invalidates a sacrament.
For a rite conferred under such a condition is not valid when
the matter and form are performed, for at that time the
intention of the minister is lacking; nor is it valid when the
condition is met, for the matter and form are no longer present.
-- The sacrament of Matrimony must be excepted from this
statement, since, when the condition is fulfilled, it becomes
valid: for Matrimony follows the nature of a contract.
482. N. B. a) There is no sacrament even with a condition
concerning a necessary future event v.g. "I absolve you, if the
sun rises tomorrow," if the minister wishes that his intention
depend on such a condition.
b) A condition which is hidden, and known to God alone, probably
prevents the validity of a sacrament. For a sacrament ought to
be administered in the human way of acting; therefore a
condition which does not fall under the human condition can not
be attached. In practice therefore such a condition should never
be attached to the intention, lest the validity of the sacrament
be rendered uncertain.
c) If the minister should hold two contradictory intentions, it
must be determined which one of them prevails; v.g. the minister
wishes to perform a sacred rite, but does not wish this rite be
a sacrament. If the latter prevails in such a manner that it
excludes the former, the sacrament is invalid; if both are
equal, nothing takes place, for each negates the other; if doubt
remains, the sacrament itself is doubtful.
d) Anyone who makes a sacrament invalid, whether by a defect of
the due intention or by an attached condition, or who attaches a
condition without grave cause, sins gravely [n. 391 ff.].
483. 5º An intention determined to matter and person is required
The sacramental action is not conferred on a thing vague and
undetermined, but on a thing concrete and particular; likewise, the effect
of the sacrament is not applied in general, with a sort of vague
conception, nor can it remain undetermined, but it is applied to a certain
clearly defined subject or subjects; v.g. man is not baptized in general,
but this man, Peter; nor are hosts consecrated in general, nor three of the
present hosts, but these three determinate hosts are consecrated, etc.
However, only by the intention of the minister can the matter or the person
be so determined, so that the sacrament is ordered to them.
In practice, the minister may be assumed to (and in fact ought to)
direct his intention to the matter or the person present, whichever they
may be, so that an error concerning the number of hosts to be consecrated,
or the name, sex, or condition or the person, may not invalidate the
sacrament; unless it is established that the minister really has restricted
his intention exclusively to a determined person, or to a determined number
An exception to this principle is the sacrament of Matrimony, in
which the determination of the intention is not towards whichever person
happens to be present, whether it be Catherine or Agatha, but towards a
certain individual person, v.g. Catherine: in which case a marriage with
Agatha would be invalid, unless one actually wished to contract marriage
with the person present, whether it be Catherine or whether it be Agatha.
SUMMA THEOLOGICA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS.
Tertia Pars, quaest. 64, art. 8
Whether the intention of the minister is required for the accomplishment of
Thus we proceed to the eighth article. 1. It seems that an intention
of the minister is not required for the accomplishment of a sacrament. For
in performing the sacraments, the minister acts instrumentally. But the
action is not accomplished according to the intention of the instrument,
but according to the intention of the principle actor. Therefore an
intention of the minister is not required for the accomplishment of a
2. Furthermore, the intention of another man cannot be known. If
therefore the intention of the minister be required for the accomplishment
of a sacrament, the one approaching the sacrament cannot know whether he is
receiving a sacrament; and thus he cannot have certitude of salvation,
chiefly because certain sacraments are necessary for salvation, as was said
above (q. 55, a.3-4).
3. Furthermore, the a man's intention cannot be present when he
is not paying attention. But sometimes those who administer the sacraments
are not paying attention to what they say or do, thinking instead of other
things. Therefore if an intention is necessary, the sacrament is not
accomplished, because of a defect of intention.
But against this is the fact that those things which do not require
intention are causal, which must not be said about the operation of the
sacraments. Therefore the sacraments require the intention of the minister.
CONCLUSION: -- Since those things which are done in the
sacraments can be done in diverse manners and for diverse ends, in the
administration of the sacraments the intention of the minister, or of the
Church, is necessary.
I respond by saying that when a certain thing can have many possible
ends, it ought to be determined through something else to a one single end,
if it that end is to be effected. For in truth those things which are done
in the sacraments can be done for many different ends, as the washing with
water, which occurs in Baptism, can be ordered to bodily cleanliness,
bodily health, to sport, and to many other things of these kinds; and thus
ought to be determined to one end, that is, to the sacramental effect,
through the intention of washing; and this intention is expressed through
the words which are said in the sacraments, when he says for example, "I
baptize you in the name of the Father," etc.
To the first objection therefore, it must be said that an inanimate
instrument does not have any intention with respect to the effect; but in
place of the intention is the motion, with which it is moved by the
principal agent. But an animate instrument, like the minister, is not only
moved, but also in a certain way moves himself, inasmuch as by his will he
moves the members to acting; and thus his intention is required, by which
he subjects himself to the principle agent, so that, in other words, he
intends to do what Christ and the Church do.
To the second it must be said, that concerning this there are two
opinions: for some say that a mental intention is required in the minister,
and if this is lacking, the sacrament is not accomplished; but this defect
in children, who do not have the intention of approaching the sacrament, is
supplied by Christ, who baptizes internally; in adults, however, who intend
to receive the sacrament, faith and devotion supply for that defect. But
this can be said rightly only for the ultimate effect, which is
justification from sins; but as far as the effect which is immediately
signified, the sacrament itself, in other words, as far as the character,
is does not seem that it can be supplied through the devotion of the one
approaching. -- And so others say better, that the minister of the
sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church, whose minister he is; and
in the words which he pronounces, the intention of the Church is expressed,
which suffices for the accomplishment of the sacrament, unless a contrary
intention on the part of the minister or of the one receiving the sacrament
is expressed externally.
To the third it must be said, that one who is thinking about
something else does not have an actual intention, but nevertheless has a
habitual intention [Here St. Thomas uses "habitualis," where we would now
use "virtualis." This is shown by his use of the word "virtus," noted
below.], which suffices for the accomplishment of the sacrament, since the
priest, when going up to baptize, intends in baptizing to do what the
Church does; thus if afterwards in the exercise of the act itself, his
thoughts are carried away to something else, by virtue [virtute] of the
first intention the sacrament is accomplished. Let the minister of the
sacrament attentively take great care that he may have also an actual
intention, but this is not completely placed within the power of man,
since although a man wishes very much to intend, he begins to think of
others things, according to the saying of Ps. 39, verse three, "My heart
has abandoned me."
LUDOVIC CARDINAL BILLOT, S.J.
ON THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH:
A COMMENTARY ON THE THIRD PART OF ST. THOMAS, VOL. 1.
THESIS XVIII (q. 64, a. 8)
It is Catholic dogma that for the validity of a sacrament, there must
be in the minister the intention of doing what the Church does. Moreover,
it is commonly and truly held that an external intention, as they call it,
does not suffice, but that an internal intention is required.
The intention of doing what the Church does, whatever that may be in
the opinion of him who administers the sacrament, is said to be required.
Thus St. Thomas: "Although he who does not believe that baptism is a
sacrament, or does not believe that it has any spiritual power, does not
intend when he baptizes to confer a sacrament, nevertheless he intends to
do what the Church does, even if he counts that as nothing; and because the
Church intends to do something, therefore, as a consequence of this, he
intends implicitly to do something, though not explicitly." But it is
not necessary that the minister think as the Church does, or that he not
err concerning her teaching; for it is enough if his intention is towards
something which is identically that which the Church intends, or, something
which amounts to the same thing, for example, if he intends to do that
which Christ instituted, or which is commanded in the Gospel, or which
Christians are accustomed to do according to the prescription of their
religion. (Thus it is apparent how even a Jew or a pagan can have an
intention sufficient for baptizing. Consider for example a catechumen
placed in a moment of necessity, who asks a pagan saying, "Do for me, I
entreat you, this mercy, that you pour water on me, pronouncing the words,
'I baptize you,' etc., with the intention of doing what I myself intend to
receive according to the prescription of the law of Christians.)
Although, however, all Catholics agree in asserting the necessity of
the aforesaid intention, in the sixteenth century a certain new opinion was
introduced by Catharinus, asserting that a merely external intention
suffices. Furthermore it is called external, not because considered in
itself it is not internal, but because the whole intention is directed
towards external appearance; for according to Catharinus, it consists in
the will by which someone wishes to conduct himself externally as a serious
minister of the sacrament, although within himself he intends to ridicule
or to imitate. Nevertheless, most of the few theologians who agree with
Catharinus say that the aforesaid external intention does not suffice
unless the minister in question confects the sacrament in the place and
sacred vestments according to the customary rite of the Church, for, they
say, through these circumstances an exterior rite in itself indifferent is
determined to be sacramental.
Furthermore, the opinion of Catharinus is not held in honor by the
anathema of Trent. "I deem," says Pallavicini, "that the opinion
proscribed by Trent is the same which Leo X condemned in Luther by his
Constitution: viz., that the sacrament was instituted by Christ in such a
manner, that even if the minister carries it out in manifest derision and
mockery, the effect follows... But in truth the Catholic theologians whom
we have enumerated, agree in demanding for the efficacy of a sacrament the
will, not only of following the external action, considered physically,
which the Church prescribes, (which will is likewise present in the man who
administers the sacrament in jest), but of exercising his action through
the exterior ceremony of a man acting seriously, and through the appearance
of a man directing that ceremony where the Church directs it." -- No less
to the contrary is the most common teaching of theologians, to which one
must completely hold fast. It teaches that an internal intention is
required, one which in other words is not directly wholly to the exterior
appearance, but is an intention by which the minister not only wishes to
refrain from all show of simulation as regards the action which appears
outwardly, but also truly resolves within himself, "I wish to do that which
the Church does."
. S. Thom., in IV, D.6, q.1, a.3, q.2, ad 1um.
. Pallavicini, Hist. of the Conc. of Trent. l.9, c.6.
. Trent, Sess. VII, can. 11 on the Sacraments.
1. AN INTENTION IS REQUIRED, as the Council of Trent defined in the
place already cited: "If anyone says that there is not required in the
ministers, while they confect and confer the sacraments, an intention at
least of doing what the Church does, let him be anathema."
The revelation of this truth, moreover, is contained implicitly in
those places of Scripture, in which the dispensers of the sacraments are
called ministers of Christ and of God, for example, in the oft-praised
testimony of the Apostle, I Cor 4:1. For in order that a man be in act a
minister of Christ in the confection of a sacrament, he ought to have the
intention of doing that which Christ instituted and which the Church does.
And the reason is that the minister differs in this way from an inanimate
instrument: that he is an agent of his own free will, having the mastery of
himself. Moreover, it is necessary that such an instrument move himself,
subjecting himself through his intention to the principal agent, whom he
ought to assiduously serve. Whence, anyone who in jest or derision merely
materially does that which is commanded, can in no way be said to minister
to the one commanding, unless by chance the mere materiality of something
was committed to his ministry, which can not be said at all of the present
case. (Undoubtedly, the general principle is that the minister, insofar as
he is a minister, ought to have the will of doing that which he was
committed to his ministry, just as and in as much as it was committed. For
if anyone for example be sent by his master to a poor man, that he may
bestow alms upon him, his ministry is not to almsgiving formally as such,
but only to the material act of handing over money. And thus the will of
the materiality alone suffices, to which can be joined any other intention
whatsoever, even contrary to the intention of the master. But he who is
sent as a minister or delegate in order to make an agreement, does not
indeed perform the part of a minister by holding only the simulated
intention of making an agreement. Further, since the Scriptures say that
the dispensers of the sacraments are ministers of Christ and of God, they
indubitably teach that they are ministers of the sacraments as sacraments.
The sacraments, however, as sacraments, are not just some rites materially
received; their whole formality is from the institution of Christ. Hence,
the intention of doing that which Christ instituted is necessarily included
in what it is to be a minister of Christ in the sacraments.)
A theological reason follows most clearly from what has been said so
far, for it is by the institution of Christ alone that the sacramental
signs signify sacramentally, that is, by a sacred and practical or
efficacious signification. Further, the institution of Christ cannot bring
about that the words themselves, "I baptize," "I absolve," etc., should
bear some significance beyond what they receive or can receive from the
common meaning imposed by men, merely from the fact that they are
materially pronounced. Moreover, they certainly cannot by the common
meaning imposed by men go beyond the simple order, of empty signs, and
constitute a spiritual washing, or an absolution of sins, or other things
of this kind. And thus they are not elevated to the transcendent state of
the sacraments, which are not empty and simple signs, but are efficacious.
Therefore the rites of baptism, of absolution, of consecration, etc., can
not signify sacramentally unless there be something through which the force
of the institution of Christ is channeled to them, and through which they
are invested therewith. The principle, moreover, which determines the
exterior rite to stand under the institution of Christ, can be nothing
other than the will of a minister who intends not to jest, nor to recite
the formula materially, nor to attempt that which is not in his power, or
anything else of this kind, but to do that itself which Jesus Christ
established in his [Christ's] one religion, and commanded him [the
minister] to do in his [Christ's] name. And in this way, according to the
decree for the Armenians, the minister intending to do what the Church
does, or, speaking abstractly, the due intention of the minister, is the
cause by which the sacrament is efficaciously accomplished.
(Note here that by reason of this intention, the action of the
minister is most rightly said to be morally or imputatively an action of
Christ. Now, however, since the intention of the minister is not one of the
things which constitute the sacrament itself, but only plays the part of an
efficient cause, that which is truly called an action of Christ is not the
sacrament itself, but the confection of the sacrament. This also follows
from the fact that the sacrament itself is not the operatio, but the
operatum [not the doing of the thing, but the thing done: the result], as
is clear also from the formal element alone, which is not the speaking, but
the word. It is, I say, the operatum, in that the power [virtus] of
institution descends precisely because the confection of the operatum is an
act of the institutor working through his minister. And thus all things
agree and fit together. Otherwise, nothing will happen, which fact you may
certainly observe against the proponents of moral causality.)
2. AN INTERNAL INTENTION IS REQUIRED. -- To this point is addressed
the following proposition condemned by Alexander VIII. "A Baptism is valid
when conferred by a minister who observes every external rite and form of
baptizing, but within, in his heart, resolves to himself not to intend what
the Church does" [Enchirid., n. 1185.]. Let the opponents of this belief
say whatever they wish about this condemned proposition, for it is obvious
that this statement concerns one who seriously, as far as exterior
appearance, performs the sacramental rite, as is clear from the opposition
between that which he externally carries out and that which he internally
resolves; for otherwise, if the minister were shown to be simulating as
much outwardly as inwardly, the exterior method of acting would not be
opposed to the internal intention of the heart, which is not what this
Furthermore, related reasons show even better the necessity of an
intention which is fixedly internal. For the force of the institution of
Christ cannot be channeled into that which is externally carried out merely
by the type of intention which Catharinus thought up; and neither can it do
so by reason of the circumstances, the vestments, etc. For even then, with
all these circumstances, the exterior rite can be the truth of the thing, a
mere historical representation, a derisory simulation, or an empty
ceremony. -- And this is confirmed, in that he who has an external
intention alone, differs not at all from an actor, except that an actor is
an open derider, while the other is a secret one. But no derider, whether
open or secret, can be called in the act itself of simulating a minister
and instrument of Christ, truly intending what the Church does, as Trent
requires. -- This is confirmed secondly in that even in human affairs,
whenever an intention is required for the validity of an act, it is
required that the intention be fixedly internal. Just as is every contract
it is proper that there be a will [voluntas] in respect to the object
itself of the contract, and not only a will of behaving externally in the
manner of one who gives consent. Nor is it relevant that in the human
forum, a contract may be held as valid by this alone, that it holds up as
regards external consent. For it is held as valid because it is always
presupposed that an internal consent was present as well. If however, it
could be established that this was lacking, the act would be declared null
even in the external forum. The same may be said concerning a judge
declaring a sentence, concerning a legislator promulgating a law, etc. And
the argument is the same in the case which we are discussing.
FIRST OBJECTION: Insofar as the intention of the minister is
necessary, it is necessary in order to determine an exterior rite which
otherwise could have many possible ends. But the exterior rite is
sufficiently determined through the form. Therefore no intention is
I respond: I distinguish the major premise. If the intention is said
to be required in order to determine the exterior rite, in the manner of
the a form, which is a part intrinsically constitutive of a sacrament, I
deny the major. If it is said to act in the manner of a principle joining
the sacramental sign with the institution of Christ, and making the force
of his institution flow into the sign, I concur with the major. I
contradistinguish the minor, and I deny the consequence. -- In other words,
the sensible element determining the rite, as a constitutive part of it, is
indeed the word, spoken externally, and the word is therefore rightly
designated by the name of "form." But it cannot determine an act to
sacramental signification, unless it stands subordinate to the positive
institution of Christ. The cause, however, through which both the matter
and the form receive the investiture of this institution, is none other,
nor can be, than the intention by which the minister wills to do that which
Jesus Christ commissioned his Church to carry out.
SECOND OBJECTION: The ecclesiastical annals testify that a certain
mimic actor, baptized in a theater, suddenly confessed himself to be a
Christian, and the validity of the baptism was also confirmed by a miracle
and a vision. But the intention was lacking, as much on the part of the
minister as on the part of the recipient. There for no intention is
required for the validity of the sacraments.
I respond, that the ecclesiastical annals testify that the aforesaid
actor was suddenly converted by an extraordinary grace of God, and was
furthermore crowned as a martyr not long afterwards, so that now he is
honored by the Church as a saint. However, this does not really follow from
the miracle and the vision in testimony to the baptism which he had
received. However, admitting the truth of the fact, it will be said that
the baptizer, as well as the baptized, truly had the intention of giving
and receiving that which Christians transmit, though they believed that to
be nothing, and worthy of derision in the theater. Furthermore, the end [in
this case: reason for acting] of the one performing the rite matters
nothing; the only thing that matters is that, for whatever reason, the
internal will of doing what the Church does be present.
THIRD OBJECTION: An intention is invisible, but all the things
necessary for the validity of the sacraments and the impression of the
character ought to be visible. Further, one of the reasons that the
necessity of faith or of the state of grace in the minister was excluded,
was that otherwise all the sacraments would be full of anxiety and
uncertainty. But the same reasoning argues against the necessity of an
intention at least internal.
I respond, that an internal intention is certainly in itself
invisible, but is made visible through the external action with which is
connected, if not with metaphysical or physical necessity, then certainly
with moral certitude. This follows from considering the common manner way
in which men act. For it is completely natural that a man internally intend
that which he does externally; and so, when he celebrates a sacrament of
the Church, through this fact itself he shows that he wishes to do what the
Church does, especially since there is not reason for a man to be tempted
to simulate, since this simulation does not bring any temporal benefit, as
is obvious. Distinguish, therefore, moral certitude from that metaphysical
certitude which is never required in things pertaining to human relations.
For who would say that the validity of a marriage or of any contract, is
not sufficiently certain, from the fact, which no one denies, that interior
consent on the part of those contracting it is necessary? -- Hence there is
a great difference between internal intention, and internal faith of
goodness: not only because the intention alone is demanded in the minister
by the nature of the matter, but also because in many cases, it can happen
that someone is destitute of grace, even if he is apparently good. For this
reason, if the state of grace were necessary in the minister, the validity
of the sacraments would not be established even with moral and human
certitude. But the internal intention of doing what Christ instituted, or
certainly that which Christians believe instituted by Christ, is so
naturally connected with the action of externally ministering, that unless
a man makes a positive effort to intend the opposite of what he does
externally, (and this cannot possibly happen as a general rule), such an
intention is always sufficiently present. Therefore whenever no sign of
simulation appears in the action of the minister, the validity of the
sacrament is well enough established, with moral and human certitude.
FOURTH OBJECTION: St. Thomas, in the present question, ad 2um, says:
"Some say that a mental intention is required in the minister, and if this
is lacking, the sacrament is not accomplished . . . And others say better,
that the minister of the sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church,
whose minister he is; and in the words which he pronounces, the intention
of the Church is expressed, which suffices for the accomplishment of the
sacrament, unless a contrary intention on the part of the minister or of
the one receiving the sacrament is expressed. But an intention which is
opposed to a mental intention, an intention which is always held, as long
as the minister does not express anything contrary to the intention of the
Church, is nothing other that the external intention asserted by
Catharinus. Ergo etc.
I respond that a mental intention is here taken in the same sense as
when we speak of mental prayer as opposed to vocal. And by mental prayer is
understood that which, since it is not connected with any external act, is
accomplished within, in the soul. Prayer which is not mental, or vocal
prayer, is not indeed that which carries only the intention of externally
acting in the manner of one praying, as hypocrites do; certainly this is
not the case. Vocal prayer is that which has the internal act joined with
the external, and conforming itself to vocal recitation. And such is the
case in the present question. For a mental intention in the sense of St.
Thomas, is an intention not ordered though the external celebration of the
sacrament, but through the minister's own mind or his personal conviction,
by which, in other words, he intends something which he himself considers
and believes to be a true sacrament, efficacious of sanctification. And
this is rightly excluded as not necessary. But an intention not mental is
an intention conforming itself to that which is externally done, and which
is always know with sufficient moral certitude when the minister expresses
nothing contrary to the intention of the Church, which is contained in the
words of the form. Furthermore, at the time of St. Thomas there was not
even a faint idea in the schools of the external intention of Catharinus.
IN A FINAL OBJECTION IS CITED Augustine, l.7 de bapt. c.53, where he
says among other things, "It matters nothing to the integrity of a
sacrament in the Catholic Church, whether those who perform it do so
falsely or truly, since they both nevertheless do the same thing."
But it must be said that falsehood, or simulation, is two-fold. First,
there is a falsehood by which someone simulates the intention of doing what
the Church does, and concerning this Augustine does not write. Then there
is a falsehood by which someone, thinking the sacrament to be nothing but
an empty ceremony, nevertheless assumes the appearance of a believer by
carrying out the sacramental rite. It is this falsehood which Augustine
treats of, as is extensively shown by Billuart, de. Sacr. Diss. 5, art. 7.
But this is hardly to the point, as our conclusion has been more than
sufficiently established by what has been said already.
An internal intention merely habitual is not sufficient in the
minister; however, an actual intention is not required; it stands therefore
that and intention at least virtual is required and sufficient.
An intention merely habitual does not suffice, when this is
understood to be an intention which proceeds the act and has not been
retracted, but here and now neither actually nor virtually influences the
act. For such an intention can exist even in the insane, the drunk, or the
sleeping, whom no one calls a valid minister of the sacrament.
Nevertheless, an actual intention is not required, because this
is not held to be within the moral power of man, since it often happens
that his thoughts are distracted to other things without his consent. It
is certainly impossible that the validity of the sacraments should require
that which is not within the moral power of men.
Therefore, a virtual intention is both required and sufficient. Such
an intention, since it precedes the act, remaining is its power [in
virtute], still influences the act. And it is this intention which St.
Thomas, in response ad 3um, calls habitual. "The minister of the sacrament
ought to strive to control his thoughts as much as he can, so that in the
words of the sacramental form, he most preferably should have an actual
intention. But man's thoughts are so prone to wandering, even if an actual
intention is not present at the time when the words are pronounced, as long
as he has intended earlier, and no contrary intention has intervened, the
sacrament is not impeded, for he works through the force of his principal
intention. For it is not necessary that, in a work, the intention be always
joined with the act, but it suffices that the work proceed from the
. In IV, D.6, q., a.2, ad 4um.
MR. WILLIAM MARSHNER, OF THE THEOLOGICAL FACULTY OF CHRISTENDOM COLLEGE:
THE PROBLEM OF WHAT INTENTION IS REQUIRED IN THE MINISTER OF A VALID
The following points are common ground for all theologians.
(1) Everybody accepts the doctrine of the Council of Florence
(_Decree _for_the_Armenians) to the effect that one of the things required
for the validity of the Sacrament is that the minister intend to do what
the Church does.
(2) Everybody agrees that, in order to be intending to do what the
Church does, the minister need not have inward faith in the Church, in the
efficacy of her mysteries, etc. Hence it is agreed that heretics or even
pagans can perform certain Sacraments -- at least baptism -- provided only
that they observe the form and intend to do what the Church does or "what
Christians do." This point is especially important, because it means that
everybody acknowledges the difference between not believing that p and
intending that not-p. For instance, not believing that Christ becomes
really present at the consecration is very different from intending that He
not become present. Granted, an ignorant or heretical priest, who fails to
believe that Christ becomes present, *might also*, when celebrating, intend
that He not become present; but such an intention would be odd and
extraordinarily malicious. The normal thing is that, when a person has no
belief that something happens, he has no reason to intend that it not
(3) Everybody also agrees that, in order to be intending to do what
the Church does, the minister must seem to be carrying out the prescribed
rite correctly and with gravity. Hence it is agreed that rituals carried
out in plays, in jest, or with tell-tale omissions and deformations are not
(4) Finally, it is agreed by all that when a minister is awake and
sane, it is valid to infer from his overt, correct performance of the rite
that he "intends" at least to perform the rite correctly. This inferred
intention is called "external intention," and, by point (3), it is
*necessary* for validity.
These points having been granted, the controversy is over this
In order for the minister to be intending to do what the Church
does, so as to celebrate validly, is it *sufficient* that he
have the merely inferred or external intention of doing so?
Catharinus argues for the affirmative answer as follows. "What the
Church does" in celebrating a Sacrament is perform the rite according to
the established form. Therefore, "intending to do what the Church does" is
intending to perform the rite according to the established form. Now, by
agreed point (4), this latter is what may be inferred from correct, overt
performance and hence is the "external intention." Therefore having the
external intention is intending to do what the Church does and hence is a
sufricient condition, together with the matter and form, for validity.
This argument may be strengthened by a natural analogy. Suppose Jones
is a member of a football team. He and his teammates are on the playing
field with another team. Passes, runs, and tackles are being made. At half
time, an especially stupid reporter asks the members of the team what they
have been doing. They all say, "Playing football, of course" -- all except
Jones. Jones says that all the while he was seeming to play, he had the
internal intention of not playing. Surprised and indignant, his teammates
press him with questions: "Do you mean that you were playing crookedly? Not
giving it your best erfort? Intending to throw the game?" Jones says, "Not
at all. I deliberately saw to it that my external perrormance was flawless;
in my heart, however, I kept intending not to play." Everyone is mystified,
and justly so. For the fact is that Jones's position is incoherent. One's
immediate overt performance has the character of a *means* to what one
intends to do. So Jones is saying that he played football in order not to
play -- indeed, that he intended to play in order not to play, or, at
least, that he intended to play while not playing. All he has suceeded in
doing is contradicting himself. The fact remains that he played, and he has
no coherent way of denying it. Similarly, a minister who did what the
Church does has no coherent way of denying that he did, and intended to do,
Most theologians reject Catharinus's argument on the following ground.
The Council of Florence defined that three things are necessary for a
valid Sacrament: the matter, the form, and the minister intending to do
what the Church does. No theology which would make this list vacuous or
redundant is tenable. Now since the correct external performance both
includes the matter and form and implies the external intention,
Catharinus's claim of the sufficiency of the external intention reduces to
the claim of the sufficiency of the performance itself and hence to the
claim of the sufficiency of the matter and form. So the third thing listed
by Florence becomes redundant. Ergo, Catharinus's position is not tenable,
and a purely external intention cannot be sufficient.
This argument from authority can be strengthened by four further
First, against the alleged analogy from football, it must be observed
that ball-playing and confecting a Sacrament are not similar events. Ball-
playing is an event which consists wholly of natural, physical motions,
whereas the Sacramental event includes, besides the minister's motions and
speech acts, an invisible, supernatural occurrence. Without incoherence,
the minister's intention could be directed against this latter, invisible
part but not against his own, visible part. Therefore the analogy fails.
Secondly, external intention is (by definition) that and only that
which can be inferred from overt performance. But a person (e.g. a pagan
performing what looks exactly like a baptism) might be going through that
performance without knowing that what he is doing is something the Church
does. Therefore, external intention does not *of itself* include or
presuppose knowledge of what the Church does. By contrast, intending to do
what the Church does obviously does presuppose knowing that what one
intends to do is what the Church does. Therefore having the external
intention is not identically intending to do what the Church does, as
Catharinus tried to claim. I owe this observation to Mr. Peter Scheetz.
Thirdly, Catharinus's position seems to entail that no *other*
intention of the minister can have any impact on the validity of the
Sacrament he is performing, so long as his external intention is reflected
in correct performance. If this were true, then the proposition of Francis
Farvacques would be true (see Pourrat, p. 390; Denz. 318 = Denz.-Sch.
2328). But that proposition was condemned by Pope Alexander VIII (ibid.).
Therefore, unless Catharinus's position is taken to have unexpressed
restrictions, it has a condemned entailment and so is false.
Fourthly, as already suggested in rejecting the football analogy, it
is possible to challenge Catharinus's first premise. "What the Church does"
in celebrating a given Sacrament is not simply the liturgically correct
performance of the rite but also the conferral of its supernatural effect
on the well-disposed. It is appropriate to say, after all, that what the
Church does in baptizing is save souls, that what the Church does in
eucharist is bring Christ onto the altar and communicate Him to the
faithful, etc. Therefore, in order to intend to do what the Church "does,"
it is not enough to intend simply to perform one of her rites correctly.
Perhaps one must also intend to accomplish what she accomplishes, or confer
what she confers, through that rite. Alternatively, perhaps one must merely
abstain from harboring an intention not to accomplish what she
accomplishes. Either way, the purely external intention does not suffice.
(Be it noted that while this last argument coheres especially
well with the physical-instrumental theory of Sacramental
causality, it does not depend on it. For suppose the theory of
moral causality is correct. Suppose, in other words, that the
only direct effect of the Sacramental rite is to "cause" God to
confer grace in keeping with the (New) Covenant which He made in
instituting the Sacrament. Nevertheless, the Church will perform
her rite intentionally as an act of the New Covenant. She will
act with the intention that God confer the grace promised, just
as a man who presents a cheque to a bank-teller acts with the
intention that the teller should cash it. So, again, whoever
intends to do what the Church does either must intend to act
with this intention or, at least, must intend to act without any
In my opinion these arguments are conclusive. The claim that having
the external intention to perform a Sacramental rite is, in all respects
and in all cases, a sufficient condition for intending to do what the
Church does, is refuted.
What, however, is the contrary thesis? We seem to be left with
First, there is an ambiguity which needs to be cleared up in agreed
point (2). It was conceded there that "not believing that p" (which would
include having no convictions at all whether p) had no tendency to incline
one toward "intending that not-p." remains to be seen whether the positive
status of believing (perhaps very strongly) that not-p has a similar lack
of impact upon one's internal intention.
Secondly, regarding the internal intention itself, the arguments
against Catharinus have left open two widely different alternatives. They
(1) that in order to be intending to do what the Church does in
a given rite, a minister must have both the external intention
to perform it and also the internal intention (actual or
virtual) to confer what the Church confers through the rite; or
(2) that in order to be intending to do what the Church does in
a given rite, a minister must have the external intention to
perform it and also must not have an internal intention, actual
or virtual, which is a contradictory of the intention to confer
what the Church confers through the rite.
The first of these alternatives poses two serious difficulties.
First, taking baptism as an example, this alternative requires that the
minister of baptism have an internal intention to confer the spiritual
character and/or grace. Let q be the proposition that this baptism will
confer those spiritual goods; let q' be the corresponding purpose that this
baptism shall confer them. Then this alternative requires in the minister
an internal intention that q'. Now suppose the minister is an occult
heretic or a consumer of dissident theology, who believes that baptism has
no ontically supernatural effects or, for that matter, holds any
proposition which entails the falsity of q. Then he cannot possibly intend
that q'; for one cannot intend to have happen what one believes does not
happen. And so it would go for the rest of the Sacraments. Therefore, on
this alternative, sacraments conferred by occult heretics as well as other
sorts of unbelievers will be invalid. Thus, as the defenders of Catharinus
have always warned, an immense uncertainty will spread over baptisms, over
ordinations, and thence over the entire sacramental system of the Church,
at least in many minds. This is "inconvenient" to say the least.
Secondly, this alternative casts grave doubt on agreed point (2)
concerning the non-necessity of internal faith. For suppose, using the same
example of baptism, that the minister merely (a) has no conviction at all
whether q or (b) has no knowledge even that Christians believe q to be true
(though he does know that baptizing is something Christians do). In the
latter case, (b), the minister cannot possibly intend that q' (unless he
receives a private revelation on the spot). In the former case, (a), it
would be at least odd and difficult for the minister to intend that q'. For
without a conviction whether q, the minister might hope that q but could
not easily intend that q'. Or, he might form a conditional intention; e.g.
he might intend that q'-if-God-exists, or q'-if-baptism-works, or q'-if-
Christianity-is-true, etc. But none of these conditional purposes is
identically q'; it is not clear whether they satisfy the requirements of
this first alternative or not. A theologian who defends this alternative
will have to decide and then defend his decision.
I call the first alternative the strong thesis on internal intention.
None of its difficulties affect the second alternative, which I call the
weak thesis. For even an occult heretic who strongly believes that not-q
will have no reason or inclination to intend that not-q', where 'not-q' '
stands for any intention contradictory to q'. The normal intentions of
occult heretics or theological dissidents are not contradictory to q'. For
example, such a person might perform this baptism just to make the parents
and godparents happy, or just to welcome the child into the Christian
community, or just to keep a job with the diocese, avoid hassles, etc. None
of these banal intentions amounts to, or implies, the intention that grace
not be conferred by this baptism. In fact, among those who are not good
Catholics, no one has less reason to intend the non-efficacity of the
Sacrament than someone who positively believes there is no such efficacity.
Hence ordinary occult heresy or theological dissidence will pose little
danger of hidden invalidity, on this second alternative. What does pose
such a danger -- almost the only thing that poses it -- is something vastly
rarer and perhaps infinitely more malicious, namely, the conviction that
this Sacrament, validly performed, could confer grace, coupled with the
determined intention that it not do so. Such a combination would
characterize the mind of a demon.
Hence the second alternative, which I call the weak thesis on
internal intention, preserves intact all of the agreed points, retains all
the pastoral advantages of Catharinus's position, and yet excludes the
condemned error of Farvacques. Consistent with all authentic Church
teachings on this subject, it is the alternative which the present writer
defends -- not only because it is orthodox but also because it is
NOTES BY CHRISTOPHER V. MIRUS
I. There are several statements in the writings of Msgr. Hervé and Cardinal
Billot which imply or state the "weak thesis" of Professor Marshner. I
would like to ennumerate these in order to link these two articles with
that of Professor Marshner.
A. Msgr. Hervé
1. 474 c) "It is required, and also sufficient, that there be an internal
intention, at least implicit, of performing the rite as it is customarily
performed in the true Church, with all that this includes, or is thought,
even falsely, to include."
This implies that the minister can intend that which he thinks the
Church does, even if he thinks wrongly. It does not address the question of
whether this is also the case for formal heretics. I believe that it is
not, because a formal heretic who intends what he believes, formally holds
an intention which is a contradictory of what the Church does.
2. 477. "The circumstances themselves . . . cannot make a priest really
act as a minister of Christ, if internally he does not wish to do so."
This implies that a contradictory intention is necessary to
invalidate the sacrament.
3. 479 R. "For indeed, if there be any such, they are extremely rarely
found, who have such malice that, while they perform the sacrament with
serious exterior, they internally withhold the intention."
This also implies the necessity of a contradictory intention (by
simply refusing to intend what the Church intends).
4. 482 c) "If the minister should hold two contradictory intentions, it
must be determined which one of them prevails; v.g. the minister wishes to
perform a sacred rite, but does not wish this rite to be a sacrament."
This implies that, if there is not contradictory intention, the
intention to perform the sacred rite automatically implies the intention to
do what the Church does, as explained below, part II.
B. Cardinal Billot
1. "The intention of doing what the Church does, whatever that may be in
the opinion of him who administers the sacrament, is said to be required."
See above, I.A.1.
2. Resp. to the 3rd objection "For it is completely natural that a man
internally intend that which he does externally. . . . [T]he internal
intention of doing what Christ instituted, or certainly that which
Christians believe instituted by Christ, is so naturally connected with the
action of externally ministering, that unless a man makes a positive effort
to intend the opposite of what he does externally . . . such an intention
is always sufficiently present."
As Msgr. Hervé and Cardinal Billot point out, the reason that some
intention is necessary is that the person performing the sacrament must be
acting as a minister of Christ. Now no one acts as a minister of Christ
without intending to do so. Thus the minister must intend to perform what
Christ instituted: namely, a sacrament, with all that this entails. This
statement requires some explanation
First, it is not necessary that the minister explicitly intend to act
as a minister of Christ. Ideally, he does intend explicitly to do what
Christ instituted. However, this same intention can be made implicitly in
one of two ways, as stated by the Council of Trent. 1) The minister can
intend to do what the Church does. 2) The minister can intend to do what
Christians are accustomed to do. Either of these intentions contains
implicitly the intention to do what Christ instituted, and this is why the
Church has stated that a minister of the sacraments must have *at least*
one of these intentions.
Second, Christ instituted the sacraments to have their effects "ex
opere operato." This means that the performing of the sacramental rite with
due matter and form is the *cause* of the sacramental effects. Thus
normally, if the minister intends to seriously perform the sacramental rite
as Christ instituted it, or as the Church performs it, or as Christians are
accustomed to perform it, this necessarily carries with it the intent that
the sacred rite bring about its effects. In other words, the intention to
perform the rite that Christ instituted is sufficient to constitute someone
a minister of Christ. When such a person performs this rite, a sacrament
There is, however, a catch. Since it is the intention of the person
that constitutes him a minister of Christ, is it not possible that he could
at the same time have a contradictory intention, which as it were destroys
the first intention and prevents him from acting as a minister of Christ?
In fact, this is possible. If the minister, knowing that Christ instituted
the sacrament to have certain effects, real or imagined, deliberately
intends that these effects not take place, he has by this intention
contradicted his intention to perform the sacred rite as Christ instituted
it. He separates himself from the institution of Christ; he is thus not
acting as a minister of Christ, and no sacrament can take place. As
Professor Marshner noted, such an intention would characterize the mind of
The same reasoning given in this last paragraph also applies to the
intention to do what the Church does, or what Christians are accustomed to
do, since these are actually ways of intending to do what Christ
All of the above boils down to the following statement. For the
validity of a sacrament, the minister must have the intention at least of
doing what the Church does. This intention must be internal and at least
virtual. Such an intention is naturally linked to the performing of the
rite prescribed by the Church, and so is always sufficiently present unless
it has been destroyed by a contradictory intention.
When the minister has such an intention, and when he uses the proper
matter and form, the sacrament is always valid.