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God renewed, through the Patriarchs and the Prophets, the promise of salvation made to the first man; external symbols were used to express faith in the promised Redeemer: "all these things happened to them [the Israelites] in figure" (1 Corinthians ; Hebrews 10:1)."So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. Thomas (III:61:2) and theologians generally there were no sacraments before Adam sinned, i.e., in the state of original justice.Thomas (III:61:3, ad 3; III:65:1, ad 7) as external observances which may be considered as the sacred signs of that time, prefiguring future sacred institutions: hence, he adds, they may be called sacraments of the law of nature. As the time for Christ's coming drew nearer, in order that the Israelites might be better instructed God spoke to Moses, revealing to him in detail the sacred signs and ceremonies by which they were to manifest more explicitly their faith in the future Redeemer.Those signs and ceremonies were the sacraments of the Mosaic Law, "which are compared to the sacraments which were before the law as something determined to something undetermined, because before the law it had not been determined what signs men should use" (The ceremonies by which men were made and signed as worshippers or ministers of God.The principal reason for a sacramental system is found in man. Thomas (III:61:1), to be led by things corporeal and sense-perceptible to things spiritual and intelligible; now Divine Providence provides for everything in accordance with its nature (); therefore it is fitting that Divine Wisdom should provide means of salvation for men in the form of certain corporeal and sensible signs which are called sacraments. For this reason the majority of theologians hold that no sacraments would have been instituted even if that state had lasted for a long time. Apart from what was or might have been in that extraordinary state, the use of sacred symbols is universal. Augustine says that every religion, true or false, has its visible signs or sacraments.
The ceremonies of purification from legal contamination, i.e.
(a) for the people, various expiations, (b) for the priests, the washing of hands and feet, the shaving of the head, etc. Augustine says the sacraments of the Old Law were abolished because they had been fulfilled (cf.
Matthew ), and others have been instituted which are more efficacious, more useful, easier to administer and to receive, fewer in number ("virtute majora, utilitate meliora, actu faciliora, numero pauciora", XIX.13). The Decree for the Armenians, published by order of the Council of Florence, says that the sacraments of the Old Law did not confer grace, but only prefigured the grace which was to be given by the Passion of Christ.
Martin Luther's Catechism, the Augsburg, and later the Westminster, Confessions are strongly sacramental in their tone, putting to shame the degenerate followers of those who compiled them" (ibid., p.
7, 8) The reasons underlying a sacramental system are as follows: Taking the word "sacrament" in its broadest sense, as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is "mystery"), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity.