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St. Thomas Aquinas
Explanation of the Sacraments

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The spiritual and the physical life: an analogy
 
The spiritual life conforms to the physical life. In the physical life man 
is perfected in three chief ways: first, by generation, in that he is born 
into this world; secondly, by growth, through which he is brought up into 
stature and perfect strength; thirdly, by food which sustains man's life 
and powers. This would suffice were it not that man is attacked by 
illnesses, and hence, fourthly, he needs something which will bring him 
back to health.
 
This also holds true in the spiritual life. First, man needs regeneration 
or re-birth which is brought through the Sacrament of Baptism: "Unless a 
man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the 
kingdom of God."4 Secondly, it is necessary that man develop perfect 
strength, which is, as it were, a spiritual growth, and this indeed comes 
to him in the Sacrament of Confirmation. This is like the strengthening 
which the Apostles received when the Holy Ghost came upon them and 
confirmed them. The Lord had said to them: "But stay you in the city of 
Jerusalem till you be endued with power from on high."5 The third 
similarity is that man must be fed with spiritual food: "Unless you eat the 
flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in 
you."6 Fourthly, man must be healed spiritually through the Sacrament of 
Penance: "Heal, O Lord, my soul, for I have sinned against Thee."7 Lastly, 
one is healed both in soul and in body in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction: 
"Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and 
let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And 
the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him 
up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him."8 Two of the 
Sacraments, Orders and Matrimony, are instituted for the common good of the 
Church. Through the Sacrament of Orders the Church is ruled and is 
spiritually multiplied; and through Matrimony it is increased physically in 
numbers.9
 



4
. John, iii. 5.
 


5
. Luke, xxiv. 49.
 


6
. John, vi. 54.
 


7
. Ps. xl. 5.
 


8
. James, v. 14.
 


9
. "Why there are neither more nor less [than seven Sacraments] may be 
shown at least with some degree of probability from the analogy that exists 
between the spiritual and the physical life" ("Roman Catechism," "loc. 
cit.," 20).
 





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