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The Historical Development of the Sacrament of Confirmation Scott A. Haynes, S.J.C. I. Introduction Perhaps we do not find much written specifically about Confirmation in the early Church because, when the early Christian authors examined the New Testament Scriptures to write about Baptism, they saw unity between the water bath and the anointing, what we would call Baptism and Confirmation. The Sacraments of Christian Initiation plunge the catechumen into the life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ; this plunge is so deep and transforming that we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”.1 As the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church states: “Then, when the sacraments of Christian Initiation have freed them from the power of darkness, having died with Christ, been buried with Him and risen with Him [Baptism], they receive the Spirit who makes them adopted sons [Confirmation] and celebrate the remembrance of the Lord’s death and resurrection together with the whole People of God [Eucharist]” (Ad Gentes, 14). II. Confirmation in the New Testament The New Testament tells us that Christ’s salvific mission, wrought during his earthly life from his incarnation to his ascension, was to cast the transforming fire of the Spirit upon mankind, and surely, the role of the Spirit in the New Testament is to bring about in God’s people the “new man” by a spiritual birth into icons of Christ. As we read about the laying on of hands in Acts: 8:14-17, especially important are Scriptural passages that tell of the sealing2 and anointing.3 The seal of the Spirit may be seen as a symbol of the chrismated person and as the authoritative mark of God over the Christian. The seal of the 1 Romans 13:14 2 “Grieve not the Holy Ghost of God in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) 3 “The anointing which you received of him abides in you.” (1 John 2:27) Antiphon 15.3 (2011): 249-261 250 Scott A. Haynes, S.J.C. baptized and confirmed Christian marks his consecration before God as an adopted child of Christ Jesus, “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world,”4 and so, a Christian’s consecration assists him in participating in the life of the Holy Spirit. III. Confirmation and the Fathers of the Church In passing from Holy Scriptures of the New Testament to the Fathers of the Church we may hope to find more definite answers to the various questions regarding this Sacrament. The Fathers believed that Christ instituted the Rites of Initiation,5 but they did not enter into any minute discussion as to the time, place, and manner of the institution of these rites. From both their practice and their teaching, we learn that the Church made use of rites that consisted in the imposition of hands, anointing, and accompanying words. Patristic sources reveal an understanding that this initiation ritual both conferred the Holy Ghost anew upon those already enjoying the indwelling of the Trinity by Baptism, and impressed upon their souls an indelible mark, or seal. In the West, the Bishop presided over this ritual, but in the East, the priest typically conferred the rite. We should note that the word “Confirmation”6 is not used to designate this Sacrament during the first four centuries; instead, we encounter other terms that quite clearly refer to it. It is, rather, named the “imposition of hands” (manuum impositio, cheirothesia), “unction”, “chrism”, “sealing”, etc. The Fathers do not make any explicit mention of Confirmation as distinct from Baptism before the time of Tertullian. Why the silence about this Sacrament? Perhaps, it is because the Sacraments of Initiation were conferred with such intimate unity and immediacy. The Didache7 prescribed a very simple ceremony for Christian Initiation. In the course of time, however, more elaborate ceremonies 4 John 10:36 5 Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist 6 The actual term “Confirmation” seems to have been used first by two French Councils, Riez in 439 and Orange in 441.These councils used the term for the ceremony of laying on of hands after the baptism. They stated that...


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