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Religious action or symbol in which spiritual power is believed to be transmitted through material elements or the performance of ritual. The concept is ancient; prehistoric people believed that they could advantageously influence events in the natural world, such as weather patterns, through the performance of ritual. The word sacramentum was used in Roman law and later became an oath of allegiance soldiers swore in a sacred place. The sacrament is primarily associated with Christianity, and Christian theologians as early as St. Augustine focused on the proper definition of sacrament. Among Christians, sacraments are said to derive from practices instituted by Jesus, such as baptism, the washing of the feet, and the casting out of demons. There are seven sacraments of Roman Catholicism, as codified by St. Thomas Aquinas and promulgated by the Council of Trent: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, ordination, and matrimony. The Eastern Orthodox church generally accepts seven sacraments, even though no council accepted by the Orthodox church ever defined the number of sacraments. In most Protestant churches, however, only baptism and the Lord's Supper are recognized as sacraments, as the understanding of sacrament differs from that of the Roman Catholic church. See alsosamskara.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sacrament, visit Britannica.com.