Thomas Aquinas’ sacramental theology is found both in his theological writings and in his liturgical compositions. In his Summa Theologiae he offers a definition of a sacrament which is derived from Augustine –
“a sign of a sacred reality in as much as it has the property of sanctifying human being”.
In the line of Paul and Augustine, he interprets the “res” (reality) that is signified by the Eucharist. “The apostle says ‘For we being many are one bread, one body, all we who share in one bread and one cup’. This text shows clearly that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church’s unity”. Main Points of his teaching are:
Eucharist is the excellent sacrament; one sacrament; it has various names; instituted by Christ himself; bread and wine are the matter and form of this sacrament.
He makes use of spiritual language to describe the manner of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic elements. “The Sacraments of the Church are ordained to save the spiritual life of human beings…. is spiritual food… is our spiritual refreshment”. He also speaks of the sacraments as causes of grace, as in his time the value of “sign” has been weakened in common usage so that within the Eucharist it seemed to suggest that elements are mere signs that do not convey reality that they signify (ST IIIq 62 a.5).
As per the real presence Aquinas is very particular to avoid the idea of a material, physical, local presence of Christ in the Eucharist. “It is clear that the body of Christ does not begin to exist in this Sacrament by being brought in locally….. because it would thereby cease to be in heaven…. The body of Christ is not in this sacrament in the way a body is in place… Christ’s body is here in a special way that is proper to this sacrament. For this reason we say that the body of Christ is on different altars, not as in different ways…..” (A Tour of the Summa, p. 380).
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