The Sacred, the Profane, and Sacrament
Sacred is a concept that identifies the association of an object or phenomenon as pertinent to divinity. As such, sanctity is present in the majority of the world religions and is usually characterized by either partial or complete absence of its manifestation from the material world, which means humans have limited possibilities of perceiving sacred with their senses. Profane, on the other hand, can be best characterized as physical in its essence and therefore can be experienced and comprehended through senses only (Hausner 112). Therefore, the religions traditionally distinguish between the sacred (which is significant to religious worship) and profane, which is not. It should be pointed out that most religions allow for a transition between the two states in both directions with certain rituals ad events. Many religious practices are focused on unifying the two.
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A sacrament is an object or process of the material world that both signifies and contains the sacred element. A sacrament needs to have a real-world manifestation, must bear a resemblance to the sacred element it conveys, and should present efficacy and institution through which it is asserted to confer the benefits to the involved subjects (McGrath 110). An icon is a common example of a sacrament: it is a painting (a connection to a material world) that portrays a holy figure (the likeness to the thing it signifies, i.e., a divine being) and allows for receiving God’s grace through it (the efficacy). The Eucharist is another example recognized by most Christian groups as a sacrament since it has a physical element to it (bread and wine) that resembles the signified counterpart (Christ’s blood) and is expected to convey grace to everyone who receives it (efficacy). The institution in both cases is determined by the authorization by the Church. Thus, both sacraments satisfy all four criteria.
Role of Free Will
The views of St. Augustine and Luther on free will are interconnected, with the latter being influenced by the former. However, the degree of human agency is different from one approach to the other.
From Luther’s viewpoint, human free will is ultimately overruled by the will of God. While some lesser decisions, such as the use of earthly possessions, can be made by humans independently, the matters of salvation and damnation (i.e., the question of faith) reside within the will of God and Satan. Therefore, from the Lutheran standpoint, humans have no will, and the possibility to make lesser decisions can only be falsely interpreted as such. Such an approach can be challenged by the assertions made throughout the Bible, such as “Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Bible, Authorized King James Version, Ezek. 14.6). This line clearly suggests the participation of humans in deciding upon the object of worship, which visibly resides outside the human area of competencies, according to Luther.
From St. Augustine’s standpoint, the actions and decisions of human beings are guided by divine principle for as long as the faith of the person remains steadfast. Therefore, free will is overridden by God’s will under the condition of maintained holiness. Clearly, such conditions allow for certain freedom (e.g., the wrong choice of idol worship followed by the possibility to revert back to the true faith). Such a view arguably offers more responsibility to human beings since, depending on the matter of faith, the same physical action can be interpreted as either sinful or non-sinful, while from Lutheran viewpoint effectively eliminates the difference completely.
Matter of Election
According to Calvin, God’s choice of individuals bound for Salvation is unconditional. In other words, there is no order or principle by which the amount of faith and aptitude for repentance is allocated to individuals. God allows for a certain specific probability of each individual to be saved, but the resources that make it possible are determined solely by God’s sovereign will. Thus, since no effort or inherent qualities are needed to reach salvation, it can be considered a result of the divine choice rather than the cause behind it. The fact that a person chooses Christ cannot be considered a personal achievement but rather an outcome predetermined by God.
According to Wesley, God is able to predict the predisposition of individuals towards accepting Him in order to reach Salvation. An individual’s ability to accept Christ and demonstrate the strength of faith in future life prompts God to assist the individual and ensure the positive outcome by giving him or her the qualities necessary for reaching it. This concept is known as conditional election and addresses several key shortcomings of the Calvinist approach. According to Wesley, God does not predetermine the fact of Salvation but instead gives people the possibility to achieve it. However, how they use it depends entirely on them. Essentially, faith and repentance are granted to those who can (but not necessarily will) choose Christ, which necessitates a deliberate action from an individual. The unconditional election, on the other hand, implies the futility of effort on the part of the human since the outcome cannot be altered after God’s decision. The former can be viewed as prompt to action, while the latter effectively discourages it and portrays it as a matter of predestination.
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Relationship to Christ
According to John Wesley, the Bible is a fundamental doctrine sufficient for obtaining the religious truth. However, his approach to Christianity contains subjective elements in that it challenges the absence of a free will (Kerr 192). Christianity, according to Wesley, must be perceived with simplicity and as little emphasis on depravity as possible to maximize the chances of reaching salvation. Such an approach, however, contains one important point: in order to comprehend the teachings of Christ, one needs to resort to reason in interpreting the doctrine. In other words, human agency is both possible and expected to relate to Christ.
From Kierkegaard’s point of view, existence is fundamentally ambiguous and riddled with paradoxes. One of the core premises of Existentialism is the rejection of the possibility to locate the fundamental truth or determine the absolute value. In this regard, the love and compassion offered by Christ are superior to systematic laws imposed by humans (Kerr 266). From this point of view, being a Christian is not achieved through the fulfillment of arbitrary laws and conditions such as birth and upbringing in the right environment or demonstration of specific qualities such as tolerance and graciousness, but through becoming contemporary with Christ and thus comprehend his feelings and attain sanctity (Kerr 267). This transcendent union with God through Christ is possible due to the paradoxical nature of the latter (consistent with the existentialist approach) and supersedes other rules and norms pertaining to society.
Thus, it can be said that Wesley’s views lean towards objectivity through reason, while Kierkegaard holds that such approach is flawed and the relationship with Christ can only be established through subjective association and transcendence.
The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 2005.
Hausner, Sondra L., editor. Durkheim in Dialogue: A Centenary Celebration of the Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Berghahn Books, 2013.
Kerr, Hugh T. Readings in Christian Thought. Abingdon Press, 2010.
McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.