Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mark's thoughts: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 8 - The bishop is separated from baptism

(Fifteenth century font in St. John's, Badingham)

In the previous post we saw that the eighth and ninth centuries were a critical time in the development of the Sacrament of Confirmation which existed at the time of the Reformation.  The language of “confirmation” in Gaul that was associated with the legitimizing work of the bishop encountered the post-baptismal rites from Rome that were limited to the bishop alone.  A setting that already believed the Spirit was at work in the water of baptism and that the Spirit was given through chrismation by the presbyter now added a second chrismation administered by the bishop that bestowed the sevenfold gift of the Spirit.

The ritual now required a theological explanation and prompted theological reflection about itself.  This trend was accentuated by the fact that increasingly, the post-baptismal actions by the bishop were separated in time from the baptism itself.  This was seen already in the baptismal rite used by Rabanus Maurus in which the actions by the bishop occurred eight days after baptism on the Octave of Easter.[1]  During the centuries that followed this separation increased.

I. The ideal practice
The Supplement created by Benedict of Aniane for the Gregorian Hadrianum states:
As the infants come up from the font the presbyter makes the sign of the cross out of chrism with his thumb on the crown of their head, saying this prayer:

God the almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you rebirth by   water and the Holy Spirit and who gave you forgiveness of all your sins, himself   anoints you with the chrism of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord for eternal life.          
R. Amen.

And the infants are dressed in their garments.
But if a bishop is present, they must be confirmed at once, and afterwards receive Communion.

And if the bishop is not there, let them be given Communion by the presbyter, saying thus,

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ protect you for eternal life. Amen
(Gregorian Sacramentary “Aniane” 1086-9).[2]
This describes what is to be done when the bishop is present at the baptism: he is to confirm the individual at once with post-baptismal action of the imposition of the hand and the second chrismation.  It is important to recognize where and when this would be the case. The bishop would be present at the cathedral when baptisms look place at the two times designated for baptism in the western Church: Easter and Pentecost. Apart from this, baptism would follow the pattern in which after baptism the individual was communed and then would need to be “confirmed” by the bishop at a later date. Johnson notes that, “This direction, through Benedict of Aniane’s Supplement to the Roman papal Sacramentary sent by Pope Hadrian I to Charlemagne (called the Gregorian Hadrianum), would soon become the normal practice in the non-Roman West.”[3] 

II. Original sin and the timing of baptism
Fisher reports that, “Until the twelfth century Canon Law continued to prescribe two seasons in the year for initiation.  Thus Regino of Prum (d. 915), Burchard of Worms (d. 1023), Ivo of Chartres (d. 117), and Gratian (d. 1160) each included in his corpus of canons and pronouncements by earlier authorities confining initiation to the Paschal and Pentecostal vigils, except when there was danger of death.”[4]  So, for example, the Council of Worms (868) declared:
Each one of the faithful should know that the sacrament of holy baptism must not be offered except on the paschal festival and on Pentecost, except for those whom one must assist with such remedies when the danger of death is pressing, lest they perish forever (Council of Worms 1).[5]
The exception provided for illness and the threat of death occurs repeatedly.  The doctrine of original sin meant that baptism was necessary for salvation.  A child could not be allowed to die apart from receiving baptism and therefore instructions were given that in emergencies a layperson should baptize.

Honorius of Autun (ca. 1153) wrote about this:
Baptism takes place canonically twice in the year, on Easter and Pentecost, because on Easter Christ died, in whose death one is baptized. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given, through whom is given the forgiveness of sins. . . . Since any time in necessity of sickness, or persecution, or siege, or shipwreck. And if a presbyter or some other member of the clergy is not present, the child may be baptized by a faithful layperson in the name of the Trinity in simple water. If the   child lives, he or she should be instructed by the priest, oil may be poured, the child should be chrismated, not baptized again, but confirmed by the bishop (The Jewel of the Soul (116).[6]
The Synod of Winchester (1308) prescribed that water should be kept on hand in case an emergency baptism had to be performed:
Lest some unforeseen accident of some kind rob someone, we decree that at the time when a woman labors in delivery, water always be kept at hand, so that if necessity should strike, the child may be baptized in the form which we have anticipated (“The Sacraments: First, Baptism).[7]
Priests were to instruct lay people so that they would know what to do in such an emergency: “Furthermore, the priests should frequently teach men and women the form and words of baptizing in their own language, so they may be able to baptize in necessity” (John of Li├Ęge, Synodal Statutes [1287)] 2:4).[8]

In an era of high infant mortality, the Church began to treat every newborn as though he or she was threatened by death.  What Canon Law treated as an exception became the norm in baptismal practice and was justified by theologians:
In the canons it has been decreed that no one be baptized except on the vigils of Easter and Pentecost—except in case of sickness. But this was decreed for adults. For in the early Church, adults were converting who, if they were sick,  could talk about their sickness, and if it was necessary, they were baptized. Since more were being baptized at that time, the glory of the Christian name was  greater. But infant children are not in this injunction, for who is more sick than infants who cannot talk about their sickness? Therefore their baptism should not be delayed, for they may die of whatever light reason (School of Anselm of Laon 359).[9]
This began to receive official recognition in the Church.  In 1072 the Council of Rouen “while insisting that general baptism should be given only on the Eves of Easter and Pentecost, ruled that the laver of regeneration should not be denied to infants at any time, and on whatever day they requested it, making no reference to a restriction of this privilege to those in danger of death.”[10] 

During the thirteenth century the Councils of Cognac (1259) and Bourges (1255) indicated that baptism was allowed to infants at any time.[11]  John Peckham, the archbishop of Canterbruy, provides an interesting attempt to balance pastoral needs with the established occasions for baptism.  He wrote in his 1279 Constitutions that those born within eight days of Easter or Pentecost should, if possible, wait to receive baptism at the feast:
Concerning children to be baptized, it is advised in the present constitution that they should be kept back for the general baptism of Easter and Pentecost for the reverence of that statute which seems to have been neglected up to now. We thus direct that this should be declared or established: that children born from their mother’s womb throughout the eight days before Easter and for just so many days before Pentecost, if they are able to be kept back without danger, should be kept back up to those occasions of baptizing. In the meantime, between the birth of the children and a baptism of this kind, they should receive the complete catechumenate, and only the required immersion remains on the days of baptism. However, those who are born at other seasons of the year are baptized either as soon as they are born or afterwards, as it pleased the parents—either because of the danger of death which often threatens children unforeseen, or because of the simplicity of the parents who will easily err concerning the form of baptism according to the ancient custom, without any sign  of offense (Constitutions: Baptizing Children),[12]
In the fourteenth century there begin to appear official statements that infants were to be baptized promptly, even as soon as within eight days of birth. For example, the Constitutions of Padua (1339) declare: “We strictly command under pain of excommunication that everyone take care that their children be brought to church within eight days after they have been born and have them baptized by the parish priests” (15).  Fisher notes:
Diebold cites synods at Beziers (1342), Chartres (1355), and Avignon (1337), which ordered the baptism of newborn infants “without delay,” “as soon as possible,” and within twenty-four hours of birth respectively.  Later councils which deemed it necessary to insist that infants must be baptized within a week of birth include those held at Tortosa in Spain (1429), Milan (1565), Genoa (1574), Beneventum (1599), and Narbonne (1609).  In England a rubric in the Sarum Manual repeats archbishop Peckham’s decision that only children born within one week of Easter or Pentecost may be reserved for the solemn initiations.”[13]
Martin Luther is a classic example of this practice. Born shortly before midnight on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, he was baptized on November 11 in the church of Sts. Peter and Paul and received the name of the saint of the day, St. Martin.[14]

III. The location of baptism
These baptisms by local presbyters could take place very soon after birth, because early on the number of places where baptism could be performed multiplied.  Fisher observes:
At first, it seems, one baptismal church sufficed for the needs of a diocese; but as the Church penetrated the countryside, the need for additional baptismal churches began to make itself felt in the larger dioceses, and especially in northern Europe, where candidates were faced with the difficulty of making long  journeys when initiation was obtainable only in the bishop’s church.[15]
Fisher surveys the available data and reports:
Although the evidence on this subject is neither plentiful nor precise, it seems that by the seventh century many dioceses in Gaul possessed more – possibly many more – than one baptismal church.  Thus the council of Auxerre (578) had ordered parents to bring their children to baptism “in our churches.”  The Council of Verno Palatio (755) decided that there should not be a public baptistery in every parish, but only where the diocesan appointed. The fact that the possibility of having a baptistery in every parish could even be contemplated shows that by now baptismal churches were fairly numerous.  Walafridus Strabo, abbot of Reichnau, writing in 842, says that the centarii, secular officers who held a position of authority one in each pagus, could be compared with the presbyters who were in charge of baptismal churches and were in authority over minor presbyters. From this it would appear that in every township there was a    baptismal church in the care of a presbyterus plebis, also known as  archipresbyter, and that in surrounding villages and hamlets there were daughter churches without fonts and in the care of presbyteri minors, who were themselves under the jurisdiction of the presbyteri plebis.[16]
Since most baptisms were performed shortly after birth in a local baptismal church, the bishop was not present and had no direct involvement at all. The statement in the Supplement to the Gregorian Hadrianum which described “But if a bishop is present,” was almost never the case. Instead the bishop’s act of “confirming” would take place at a later time and place.

IV. Confirmation ministry of bishops
Since bishops were almost never present at baptisms, it now became part of their pastoral ministry to travel through the diocese and provide the confirmation – what originally had been the bishop’s post-baptismal acts of imposition of the hand and the second chrismation.  In an era when travel could be difficult, it is not surprising that not all bishops were faithful in doing this.  Church legislation often reproached bishops who failed to do so.  For example the Council of Meaux-Paris (845) stated:
Bishops should not forsake their own cities, withdrawing to more remote places   for the sake of their rest, and neglecting their ministry. Rather they should either go around their parishes with the purpose of their office, or they should spend time canonically with religion in their cities with their children. . . .

Certain bishops either rarely or never personally themselves visit the people        entrusted to them according to the evangelical and apostolic and ecclesiastical order. This reprehensible, even damnable, custom should be fully corrected      (28ff.)[17]

Even when bishops did make the journey, not all performed the confirmation with the same reverence.  In a work about the miracles of Thomas Becket (1118-70) written around 1177, we find the description:
That place in which the cross stands is holy ground, full of graces, and most famous in the glory of miracles. For when St. Thomas [Becket] went to London, having been called back from exile, he got off his horse at Niwenton, and while he imposed hands on children and prayed that the fullness of grace would come to the confirmed in chrism, he stood in the same place. For it was not his custom, as it was for many, indeed for almost all the bishops, to enact the ministry of confirmation on horseback; but to dismount the horse out of reverence for the sacrament, and impose hands on children while standing (Miracles of St.Thomas).[18]
A similar perspective is found in a description of Hugh of Lincoln (1140-1200) written by his contemporary, Adam of Eynsham:
Sometimes people made a journey, asking to be confirmed through the imposition of Hugh’s hand, or offering their children to him to receive that sacrament. Whenever they appeared, he fulfilled what pertained to that ritual with scrupulous devotion as he was accustomed, immediately dismounting his horse, standing up in a fitting place, in whatever diocese this happened. No fatigue or sickness whatever, no hurry to move on, no rough road or inclement weather could persuade him to deliver so great a sacrament while sitting on a horse.

 Not without embarrassment and a certain sorrow of mind, we later saw a certain bishop, young in age, outstanding among men, in a place and even at a time sufficiently agreeable, hindered by no need to hurry, who, from his high horse, sprinkled children with the most sacred chrism (The Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln 13ff).[19]
Local presbyters were expected to make known when the bishop would be present.  In his Decrees Bernard of Saintes prescribed: “We decree that priest chaplains should bring those needing to be chrismated to us where we are. For one is not fully a Christian who has not been chrismated, and it is dangerous to die without chrismation” (1).[20]  Hugh of St. Victor warned that, “Those who through negligence miss the arrival of the bishop and do not receive the imposition of the hand should therefore be afraid. They may perhaps be condemned by it, because they were obliged to hasten while they were able” (The Sacraments 2:7,3).[21]

These last two statements indicate a situation that faced the Church during the later medieval period.  As we will see, many people did not bring those baptized for confirmation and it was often the “neglected sacrament.”

V. Conclusion
The development of baptismal practice in the western Church meant that the bishop was separated from baptism.  As this happened, the post-baptismal acts of the bishop that “confirmed” the baptism became an independent entity that stood on its own.  This independent status drove ongoing theological reflection about the nature and character of Confirmation.

Previously in this series: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 7 - Confirmation is born in Gaul

Next in this series: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 9 - Medieval scholastic theology defines Confirmation

[1] Nathan D. Mitchell, “Dissolution of the Rite of Christian Initiation” in Made, Not Born: New Perspectives on Christian Initiation and the Catechumenate (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1976) 50-82, 56.
[2] Paul Turner, Ages of Initiation: The First Two Christian Millenia (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000), CD-ROM source excerpts, 5.7 Baptism and Eucharist before Confirmation.
[3] Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (rev. and exp.; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 251.
[4] J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West – A Study in the Disintegration of the Primitive Rite of Initiation (Chicago: HillenbrandBooks, 2004), 123-124.
[5] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.2 Other Occasions for Baptism.
[6] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.3 Other Occasions for Baptism.
[7] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.3 Other Occasions for Baptism.
[8] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.3 Other Occasions for Baptism.
[9] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.3 Other Occasions for Baptism.
[10] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 124.
[11] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 124.
[12] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.3 Other Occasions for Baptism
[13] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 125.
[14] Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483-1521 (tr. James L Schaaf; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 1.
[15] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 75.
[16] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 75-76.
[17] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6,8 Ministry of Bishops.
[18] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.7 The Confirmation Ministry of Bishops.
[19] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.7 The Confirmation Ministry of Bishops.
[20] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.10 No Confirmation.
[21] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.10 No Confirmation.

No comments:

Post a Comment