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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 93. Confirmation.


Comp. the Literature of Baptism, especially Höfling, and Zezschwitz: Der Katechumenat (first vol. of his System der Katechetik). Leipzig, 1863.


Confirmation, in the first centuries, was closely connected with the act of baptism as the completion of that act, especially in adults. After the cessation of proselyte baptism and the increase of infant baptism, it gradually came to be regarded as an independent sacrament. Even by Augustine, Leo I., and others, it is expressly called sacramentum.988988   Aug. Contra liter. Petil. l. ii. c. 104 (tom. ix. p. 199); Leo, Epist. 156, c. 5. Confirmation is called confirmatio from its nature; sigillum or consignatio, from its design; chrisma orunctio, from its matter; and impositio manuum, from its form. This independence was promoted by the hierarchical interest, especially in the Latin church, where the performance of this rite is an episcopal function.

The catholic theory of confirmation is, that it seals and completes the grace of baptism, and at the same time forms in some sense a subjective complement to infant baptism, in which the baptized person, now grown to years of discretion, renews the vows made by his parents or sponsors in his name at his baptism, and makes himself personally responsible for them. The latter, however, is more properly a later Protestant (Lutheran and Anglican) view. Baptism, according to the doctrine of the ancient church, admits the man into the rank of the soldiers of Christ; confirmation endows him with strength and courage for the spiritual warfare.

The outward form of confirmation consists in the anointing of the forehead, the nose, the ear, and the breast with the consecrated oil, or a mixture of balsam,989989   Χρίσμα. This was afterward, in the Latin church, the second anointing, in distinction from that which took place at baptism. The Greek church, however, which always conjoins confirmation with baptism, stopped with one anointing. Comp. Hahn, l.c. p. 91 f. which symbolizes the consecration of the whole man to the spiritual priesthood; and in the laying on of the hands of the clergyman,990990   Impositio manuum. This, however, subsequently became less prominent than the anointing; hence confirmation is also called simply chrisma, or sacramentum chrismatis, unctionis. which signifies and effects the communication of the Holy Ghost for the general Christian calling.991991   The formula now used in the Roman church in the act of confirmation, which is not older, however, than the twelfth century, runs: “Signo te signo crucis et confirmo te chrismate salutis, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” The anointing takes precedence of the imposition of hands, in agreement with the Old Testament sacerdotal view; while in the Protestant church, wherever confirmation continues, it is entirely abandoned, and only the imposition of hands is retained.

In other respects considerable diversity prevailed in the different parts of the ancient church in regard to the usage of confirmation and the time of performing it.

In the Greek church every priest may administer confirmation or holy unction, and that immediately after baptism; but in the Latin church after the time of Jerome (as now in the Anglican) this function, like the power of ordination, was considered a prerogative of the bishops, who made periodical tours in their dioceses to confirm the baptized. Thus the two acts were often far apart in time.



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