“Swear to God” Scott Hahn Review

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments” is my first Scott Hahn book, and it will not be the last.  In this book, Hahn’s goal is to re-ignite the fire of the sacraments in the life of the Catholic, and demonstrate that the sacraments reflect the Biblical and historical model of God’s interactions with His peoples.  The sacraments are not simply empty ceremonies that we participate in, but symbolic  actions that enter us into real covenants with God, and convey grace to the participant, allowing us to participate more fully in the life of Christ.

Hahn begins by reflecting on his life at an Evangelical seminary, where he first encountered the role of sacraments.  Although Protestants do not recognize the seven sacraments of Catholicism and Orthodoxy (though it should be noted that Orthodoxy is not limited to seven), they do acknowledge the importance of two, baptism and communion.  Hahn’s “boredom” with the sacraments began its transformation towards wonder after he read “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments” by Ronald S. Wallace.  Of course, his change in sacramental outlook did not reach fruition until his conversation to Catholicism.

Hahn defines “sacrament” using the Baltimore Catechism: “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace…The sacraments receive their power to give grace from God, through the merits of Jesus Christ”.  The importance of “signs” is emphasized throughout this book.  As signs, sacraments express an inward or invisible reality.  However it is in the symbology of the sacramental signs that we see many Biblical truths revealed.  Hahn’s example of baptism is worth noting here: “Baptism evokes many scenes from the Bible, not least the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11).  The blessing of the water signifies the Spirit moving over the waters at the moment of creation (Gen 1:2).  The washing is a sign of the cleansing waters of the great flood (Gen 7-9); the passing of Israel through the Red Sea (Ex 14:21-22); the river flowing through the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 22:1); and much more”. We must remember, the sacraments hold much symbology, however they are not pretend.  The sacraments really do convey grace and enter us into covenants with God.  But they are not magic.  As covenants, they require not only the participation of God, but our participation.  The sacraments convey grace, but if we are not open to that grace, they are not entering us into that covenant.  Hahn grounds the sacraments in Scripture, and traces the evolution of God’s covenants and interactions with His people from Genesis on, culminating in Jesus Christ.

The recent delineation of sacraments into three groups is also noted: the “sacraments of initiation”-baptism, confirmation/chrismation, and Eucharist-“make a person a Christian-[they] initiate someone into the Body of Christ”; the “sacraments of healing”-penance and the anointing of the sick-“repair what is broken in the body and soul”; and the “sacraments in service of communion”-marriage and holy orders-“these sacraments build up the Church, in numbers and in strength; they are directed toward the good of others rather than oneself”.

Hahn spends a large portion of this book emphasizing the role of covenant in Biblical history, connecting that to the role of covenant in the sacraments.  Covenants are not just promises, but oaths that enter us into a special relationship with God.  Covenants are not only sworn by words, according to Hahn, but also by signs.  “Jesus Himself equated the sign of His covenant with the covenant that it sealed: ‘This cup…is the new covenant in My blood’ (Lk 22:20).  And so the cup is the covenant”. In Catholicism, the highest covenant act that we participate in is the Eucharist.  It is in the Eucharist that Jesus Christ is truly present in a special way, making it explicit that our participation in the sacraments is a covenant relationship, where God is truly present.  Through the sacraments, we experience God in a way that is not possible through other means. Every action in the sacraments, down to the candles and our positioning (stand/sit/kneel) means something, conveying the underlying reality of the sacramental oath and our life in Christ.

One of the final paragraphs of this book is a good way to end this entry: “Jesus was baptized, and so we are baptized.  Jesus broke bread and blessed a cup of wine, commanding His followers to “do this” in His memory-and so we do.  Jesus gave His Spirit to His disciples to confirm them in faith, and so does the true Church of Christ in our time.  Jesus ordained his apostles to celebrate Mass and forgive sins; and so does the Church today.  Jesus forgave and healed people in sacramental ways, and so does the Catholic Church.  Jesus blessed marriage, and so we, too, count our marriages as blessed and sacramental.  He swore an oath; He made a covenant.  And He gave us the sacraments so that we might follow Him, swearing the oath, renewing the covenant forever.”

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~ by onecatholic on September 10, 2009.

7 Responses to ““Swear to God” Scott Hahn Review”

  1. I am a Scott Hahn major fan. I converted into the Church and it was because of his books that I understood what was going on in the Church. I would have been sooooooooo lost without his books and I tell all “converts” to get his books.

    I have all of them I think that he has written unless there are some I do not know about. The very best one I have ever read is: “A Father Who Keeps His Promises.” That book is so excellent you would not believe the knowledge he has.

    He is great and God has truly blessed him with a gift for explaining what we do and why. His story of his conversion is Rome Sweet Home.

    If you find any new one’s out there let me know. You should be able to click on my name to get to blog. Yes, he is great.

    God Bless, Sandy

  2. I forgot, he also has a show on EWTN but I do not know what day. It used to be called “Lord Have Mercy” which is another one of his books. Just some FYI. Sandy

  3. I have become a major Scott Hahn fan as well! His books do seem to get rave reviews, and I always hear that they’re popular with converts.

    And surprise, I’m actually reading “A Father Who Keeps His Promises” next! I bought that one and “Swear to God” at the same time. I’ve heard great things about that one, I’m excited to read it.

    Hahn recently came out with “Kingship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises”, and in November, he’s coming out with “40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots”. I’ll definitely look into those.

    Thanks for the comment, and welcome home!

  4. Thanks for the Kingship by Covenant info. Next time in bookstore will be sure to buy it.

  5. Well just have to know if you have started the book yet and how is it going? Have a good weekend, hopefully am planning to go to bookstore this weekend to to get Kingship by Covenant. Sandy

    • I haven’t started the book yet, I’m planning on starting this Sunday. I’ll let you know how it goes, and let me know about your book. Apparently it was Hahn’s thesis, and it’s 600 pages or so.

  6. 600 pages hmmmmm………. I will be reading for awhile am really a slow reader, so you will probably be there and gone by the time I get through it:>) Like I said, am planning to go tomorrow to bookstore. Have a great weekend. Sandy

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