Five Loaves, Two Fish: The Seven Sacraments and Heresy?

In Catholicism, there are those big-time verses that the Church has dogmatically defined as dealing with central questions of doctrine.

Some examples are:

Matthew 16:18 -- Peter as rock of the Church -- The Infallible Papacy.

John 20 -- "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them..." -- Confession

The Last Supper -- "This is my Body, this is My Blood" -- the Eucharist

Romans -- "Through one man came sin and death" -- Original Sin

I have always pondered that, nevertheless, there is no cut and dry passage or passages in Scripture that sum up the Seven Sacraments all at once, like these above verses spell out their respective doctrines. For, clearly, although the Seven Sacraments are of supreme significance in the Catholic Faith, being monstrous pillars of faith--without which Catholicism would not be Catholicism, having such paramount essentiality to the faith that an entire fourth of the Catholic Catechism (along with the Creed, Moral Life and Prayer) is devoted to them--nevertheless, there is no single part of Scripture that, in a clean cut way, implies there are seven and only seven sacraments. Rather, each of the seven sacraments are only fished out in various places. No central place seems to shout "there are seven and only seven Sacraments"!

But shouldn't it be appropriate that with such monumental significance, God the Father would have left us with a mysterious Revelation of the Sacraments in Scripture? Well, I believe He has! In fact, I believe that it is in one of the most obvious places, and, were that not enough, that such passages also reveal another essential component of the Sacraments, how they are related to Ecclesiology, that is, the nature of division in the Body of Christ.

And what are these passages? How about none other than the Loaves and Fishes stories, one of which we just read this past feast of Corpus Christi, the Eucharist!

Toward that end, let us work it out.

Firstly, although Catholicism already sees the Eucharist in these passages--since, as Christ fed the multitudes literally, so also does He feed us grace, His very self in the Holy Eucharist--should we not also consider that any time Christ gives us sanctifying grace in general, He is feeding us spiritually? For what is sanctifying grace except a spiritual "feeding" of God to us with His very life and love from the Trinity? Moreover, is it not a reality in our Catholic Faith that the Sacraments are the supreme source of sanctifying grace? Therefore, what better metaphor for the Sacraments than physical food (loaves and fishes)?

So now, let us move on to deeper considerations. If the Seven Sacraments can be seen in the loaves and the fishes, how will one interpret the way they are partitioned or numbered, as in 7 loaves and a few fish, or 5 loaves and 2 fish. Well, certainly, there are ways to partition the Sacraments according to types, as in the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), the Sacraments of healing (Confession, Anointing), or the Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage and Holy Orders). However, these do not immediately match the division. My suggestion is rather to see, as hinted at above, the partitioning of the Sacraments to be correlated to a much more important reality, the way that the Sacramental life is affected by Christian division.

That is, of all ways to understand the Sacramental life, the union of Christians is a central issue and mystery of the efficacy of the Gospel. More specifically, Christ prayed, as does the Church in every Eucharist prayer, for the unity of the faithful, in order that the world may believe on the Son. For, to the degree that Christians are united, the world can have faith, and to the degree they are not, the world shall have trouble believing.

Considering this paramount issue, we remember, again, that rifts in the Body of Christ affect the sacramental nature that the separated Churches and communities retain.

As we probe the implications, we shall see that this theology will perfectly explain the presumed partitioning of the Loaves and Fishes. Toward that end, let us first review how Catholicism understands the rifts in Christ’s Body. Well, from Catholic doctrine, we already know that there are really only two forms of rift in the Body of Christ:


Now, to understand these forms of rift, we must recall that they are related to sources of truth in Christianity that the separated parties dispute in their respective conditions, namely:

Apostolic Succession in general (Bishops and Oral Tradition)
The Special Apostolic Successor, Peter (the Pope)

The two forms of separation from Christ are then related to the two sources above in that the separating party either rejects only the Special Successor [Peter] (only the one source) , or all of the Successors (both sources).

This first form of rift is Schism, to retain general Apostolic Succession but to lack Peter. This is mainly the Orthodox.

The other form, the much worse one, is Heresy, to reject all Apostolic Succession. This is mainly the Protestants.

So now, in view of the forms of rift, we again state that the sources of truth above are certainly intimately connected to the sacramental life. This would make sense if only because, whereas the Sacraments feed our wills with grace, so our intellects are fed by truth. Hence, we could obviously expect that when one's truth is diminished, so could grace, at least to some degree. Therefore, it is surely no coincidence that the degree of sacramental grace available to Christians is intimately connected to the degree of truth that they have.

Now, to return to miraculous feedings, we have seen that there were only two occasions in Christ's ministry that He miraculously fed large crowds with the multiplication of loaves and fishes. This is the same number as the forms of rift in the Christ's disciples. Specifically, we saw that on the one occasion (recounted four times in the Gospels), Christ fed 5,000 persons with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and that on the other occasion (recounted two times in the Gospels), Christ fed 4,000 persons with 7 loaves and a "few" fish.

Now, again, the sacraments feed us sanctifying grace, hence, the loaves and fishes can prefigure the sacraments, especially since there are seven, like the explicit numbers or their conglomerate in the loaves and fishes (7, or 5 and 2).

In addition, we can observe that loaves are made from barely, which is grown in the earth, a place of relative stability, whereas fish come from the sea, a place of chaos or lack of stability.

Consequently, since the sea and earth are contrasted in the degree of stability, feeding on loaves could symbolize stability of doctrine and feeding on fish could symbolize instability of doctrine. For example, Peter and Jesus are the rock of truth (Matt. 16:18), the Church is the pillar and "ground" of the truth (1Tim 3:15), but heretics are tossed "to and fro by every wave of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14 and James 1:6).

Now, what is the source of stability of truth in Christendom? It is none other than, first, Apostolic Succession in general and then, in supreme form, Peter. Why? Because from that formal authoritative Succession comes the Sacred Oral Tradition, or the Oral Word of God, which provides the stability for the proper interpretation of the Written Word, Scripture, a more sure foundation to discern the true doctrines of the Apostles. Without them, there is only the “waves of chaos” in attempting to ascertain Scripture apart from Tradition, the lot of Protestants, who are all over the map doctrinally.

Therefore, the earth is a good metaphor for general Apostolic Succession, Peter is already the Rock in Matthew 16:18, and the sea is a good metaphor for sola Scriptura, the doctrine of Scripture alone without Tradition.

Is it any wonder, then, that Heretics, who lack the very stability of doctrine, the “earth” of Apostolic Succession, lose the 5 sacraments that require the “earth”, that is, 5 loaves--Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick--and retain only 2 sacraments, Baptism and Marriage--2 fish, seeing as they can only “fish” in their instability of doctrine.

Then, similarly, the Schismatics (Orthodox), who do have Apostolic Succession in general, or the “earth”, have all 7 sacraments (7 loaves), but they are a little unstable in doctrine because they lack Peter, the ultimate foundation of truth (they have a “few fish”).

And now, consider a deeper implication in looking at the number in the respective crowds, the 5,000 and the 4,000. In actual history, the Apostles only left 5 Apostolic Sees, first, Peter, the Supreme See in Rome, or the West, and 4 more, those that are now in schism, the Sees of the Orthodox Churches, or the East.

Note also that since Peter himself has the special charism of infallibility, being the head of the One Completely True Church, the fullness of Apostolicity resides in him, even apart from the other four Sees. Hence, we can say that in a certain sense 5 is a good symbol of Peter, so that the multitudes of his children in the West are 5,000. Similarly, the other 4 Sees, as it were, of the Orthodox, symbolize almost full apostolicity, but not quite, just short of the fullness. Therefore, 4,000 is a good symbol of the East, the Schismatic Orthodox.

In other words, these two sides of Christianity, the “4,000” and the “5,000”, are divided according to two Poles, or Kingdoms, the East and the West. That is, in the West, Peter, the fullness of Apostolicity (5,000, the fullness of all 5 Apostolic Sees), reigns, whereas in the East, the 4 Apostolic Sees reign (the 4,000).

Consequently, the two feeding instances can be seen as the two primary Kingdoms in Christendom, the East and the West. The imagery fits the history perfectly, since, in the East, the kingdom of 4,000, the primary division of Christians has been Schism--Catholics divided against Orthodox, 7 loaves and a few fish--whereas in the West, the primary division has been Heresy--Catholics divided against Protestants, 5 loaves and 2 fish.

As an addendum, note also that just as our New Testament Kingdom is split between East and West--the East being the one in Schism and taking most of the Apostolic Kings, four out of five, and yet the West retaining the true ultimate kingship in Peter--so the Kingdom of OT was split between North and South, the North being in Schism and taking 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, which are types of the 12 apostles, and yet the true kingship of the Jews remaining in the Remnant South, Judah. This is interesting if only because the Christ has said, “it shall all be fulfilled!”

To conclude, whereas it is not entirely certain that God intended this allegory to be present here, one has to admit that the coincidences are astounding. Hence, perhaps some day, the Church will use these passages to provide dogmatic basis to the Seven Sacraments and how they relate to the Ecclesiology!