Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity



                                                                                    Trinity 18
                                                                                    Mt 22:34-46
                                                                                    10/19/14

            I started using Facebook in the summer of 2009.  I was a little late to the game, as I tend to be on many technology issues.  I am never going to be the on the cutting edge with the latest things, but instead as they begin to establish themselves and prove to be useful I take them up.
            Now my relatively conservative approach should not be confused with disinterest.  I just don’t find that I am drawn to fooling around with tech things the way some people are, like my brother for instance.  There are so many things that I already know that I really like and want to do, and so I don’t want to waste time on things that don’t pan out.
            By the summer of 2009 it was pretty clear that description did not fit Facebook, and so I started using it.  While I was slow to take it up, once I started using it I enthusiastically embraced it.  Not too long after this, I got my first iPhone – I realized how easy and fun it was to post pictures and I have never looked back.
            However, it was been a process as I have learned what you can do with Facebook and what you can’t – or shouldn’t.  Initially it was just fun to use Facebook to reconnect with people from high school, college and the seminary.  Next I realized that it was a way to share information – both news and also things I had written.
            As I began using Facebook, I also thought that here was a way to interact with people and discuss things.  Here was a way you could engage in conversation about serious things without having to be part of a university or seminary community, or without being at some conference.  I could be here in Marion and still have the opportunity to interact with people all over the country, and even the world.
            It took me awhile to recognize the fact that this was simply not the case.  First, off, writing back and forth on the internet is not conversation.  You can’t see the non-verbal signals or hear the tone of the voice.  There is an impersonal character to the interaction that makes it easier to say things in ways that you would not in person.  And because -unless you delete it – there is a record of the conversation that people can read, you really don’t want to admit that you are wrong on some point or misunderstood.  Instead, people end up trying to have the last word. 
            All of this is a recipe for some very unpleasant outcomes, especially when you add in one other factor, namely that you often end up disagreeing with more than one person at once.  The conversation turns into a free for all in which multiple people may take you on.  In an adversarial setting, you can find yourself responding to person after person – one after another.  The truth is that Facebook is a great place to share things, but not to talk about anything of real substance.
            Our Lord Jesus is having that same kind of adversarial experience in our text this morning.  In the previous chapter he had entered Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week.  During the time leading up to Maundy Thursday he engages in a running dispute with the Jewish religious leaders. 
            First century Judaism was by no means a monolithic entity.  While basic beliefs were shared, there was a great deal of variety.  And so Jesus finds that he is challenged by different groups – one after another.  Like a Facebook discussion he bounces back and forth as he responds to different groups. First it was the chief priest and the elders.  Next it was the Pharisees.  Then it was the Sadducees.  And now our text begins with the words, “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.”
            The Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t like each other- and that’s probably putting it mildly.  The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, while the Pharisees did.  The Sadducees had just asked Jesus a question about the resurrection as they tried to trip him up.  The Pharisees would have enjoyed seeing Jesus defeat the Sadducees as he defended the resurrection.  But while they didn’t like the Sadducees – they disliked Jesus even more. And so they gather together in order to come at him again.
            We hear in our text, “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  Now we know that Jews engaged in discussions about this very question.  The Pharisee obviously thought that Jesus might give an answer that could be considered wrong – an answer that could be used against Jesus.
            Our Lord responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 
            Jesus said the answer was easy.  The first, the greatest commandment, was love God with all that you are – Deuteronomy chapter 6.  The second, the corresponding commandment, was love your neighbor as yourself – Leviticus chapter 19.  Jesus says that on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. He says that the instructions given in the whole Old Testament come down to this.
            The answer is simple.  However things get a little more complicated when it comes time to do them because we have a basic problem that we never really outgrow.  Anyone who has been around a baby or a toddler knows that as far as they are concerned, the world revolves around them.  The young child is concerned about only one person: “Me.”  Now as we get older we get better at hiding this fact.  We aren’t nearly as overt, and we do show the ability to be concerned about others.  But ultimately, things don’t really change.  We are going to put ourselves before everyone else – including God.  We are not going to fear, love and trust in God above all things because that would mean putting our wants and desires on hold.  We are not going to love our neighbor as ourselves, because do you have any idea how much love we would then have to direct towards other people?
            Left to ourselves this is who we are. And the results are not pretty.  It is a life that cuts us off from God.  It is a life that inflicts harm upon others, and in turn harms us because of the damage it does to the relationships in our family, in our church, in our school and at work.
            The Pharisee asked Jesus this question about the law because he was testing him.  He obviously thought he could use it to catch Jesus in something.  He probably thought this way because Jesus often took a very different approach to the law.  He said things like, “You have heard that it was said …, but I say to you….”  He rejected common interpretations of his day that made the law easier to keep. 
            Yet in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Our Lord said that he came to fulfill the saving purpose of the Law and the Prophets – of the Old Testament as a whole. And this he did by loving God with all that he was, and loving his neighbor more than himself.
            At his baptism, the incarnate Son of God showed that he loved God the Father with all that he was by stepping into the role of the suffering Servant.  Obedient to the Father’s will he did not make use of his powers to help himself as he faced temptation by the devil.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faced not just physical suffering and death, but damnation by God himself he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And on the cross he loved us more than himself when he gave himself as the sacrifice for sin. As Jesus said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            By loving God with all that he was, and by loving us more than himself, Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.  And then in the resurrection on Easter, Jesus showed that by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets he had begun something new.  He had defeated death and begun the resurrection of the Last Day.  He had begun the new creation.
            On Pentecost the risen and ascended Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit who moved upon the waters in the beginning at God’s act of creation, not moves to give us rebirth through the water of Holy Baptism.  Through the work of the Spirit we are made a new creation in Christ.  We are washed, sanctified and justified.
            And because this is so we begin to make a new start.  True, it will not be fully completed until our Lord returns.  But we now seek to love God and put him first.  We are in Christ and so we seek to fulfill the law through love.  Our freedom becomes a freedom to serve because of Jesus.  As Paul told the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
            Freed by Christ from sin, we are now free to love God.  And because we have been loved by God, we seek to love our neighbor.  We love our neighbor just as Jesus has loved by his death.  We follow the One who has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets for us. 
           
           
           
           

Friday, October 17, 2014

Commemoration of Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr


Today we remember and give thanks for Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr.  Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church.

Collect of the  Day:
Almighty God, we praise Your name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice.  Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 10 - The practice and problem of medieval Confirmation



In the previous two posts I have examined how the bishop was separated from baptism during the medieval period, and how scholastic theology defined Confirmation in very specific ways.  These two subjects had a great impact during the period 800-1500 on the way that Confirmation was practiced in the western Church.

I. The age for Confirmation
We have seen that Confirmation was created when the imposition of the hand and second chrismation performed by the bishop were separated from baptism itself.  This produced ongoing theological reflection about the nature and character of these actions performed by the bishop.  Initially, the bishop’s action took place whenever he was present.  In circumstances when he wasn’t, they were then to be received at a later date when he was available.

Because during the medieval period baptisms were increasingly done shortly after birth in a parish church setting, the vast majority of Christians needed to receive Confirmation at a later time.  However the large territory involved, lazy bishops, and parental negligence (a subject we will examine below) all meant that this often occurred after years had passed and the individual was no longer a child.

From an early period, this was a source of concern for church leaders and theologians. During the tenth century Ruotger wrote that parents should bring their children to confirmation before they knew how to sin:
Infants should not delay to be confirmed. We also desire that presbyters     announce to everyone that they should bring their infants to confirmation . . .   before they know how to sin. We know that through this gift the perfection of   Christianity is received, and without it, it is most dangerous to depart from this         light (Collection of Canons 33).[1]
Turner reports that “this appears to be the earliest attempt to set an upper age limit for confirmation.”[2] The attempt to set a maximum age by which parents were to have a son or daughter confirmed would become a common feature as the medieval period progressed. 

Initially the occasion for Confirmation was provided by the availability of the bishop.  However a specific age would increasingly become a determining factor.  The circumstances of later Confirmation (the delay in receiving it due to the factors mentioned above) and theological reflection on Confirmation mutually reinforced one another.  We have seen that the dominate way of interpreting Confirmation was that it provided “strengthening.”  Writing about the period 965-1214, Turner concludes:
As theologians interpreted confirmation as strengthening, they justified its celebration at an age later than baptism, even at adolescence: More and more theologians interpreted confirmation as strengthening for the moral fight of the Christan life.  During this period the first suggestion was made that confirmation should be received in adolescence, an opinion that would gain wider acceptance many centuries later.[3]
Thus Otto of Bamberg rejected delay of Confirmation to old age, but instead argued that is should be received in adolescence:
Confirmation is the second sacrament, that is the anointing of chrism on the forehead. This sacrament is necessary for those who will survive, that is, so that they may be strengthened by the support of the Holy Spirit, if, summoned to fight, they are armed against all temptations and evils of life. However, it should not be deferred to old age, as some people think, but it should be received in the fervor of adolescence itself, because that age is more subject to temptations. . . .   (Sermon to the Pomeranians).[4]
The circumstances of later Confirmation made such theological interpretations of Confirmation seem very natural, and in turn, the theological interpretations increasingly justified the practice.

However, it is not as if Confirmation of infants disappeared.  Fisher points out that Robert Pulley (d. 1146), Peter of Poitiers (d. 1205), the Constitutions  of Richard Poore (c. 1217), and the Councils of Worcester (1240), Durham (1249), and Exeter (1287) make statements about the confirmation of infants or very young chldren.[5] William of Melitona (d. 1245) “argued that, although the grace of confirmation was not needed during infancy, it could be received then, and could not be lost except through sin.”[6]  The Constitutions of Edmund of Canterbury (1236) and the Council of Oxford (1242) both presumed that at least some of those confirmed would be infants.[7]

Turner judges that, “The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) served as a watershed for the history of the age of the candidate and the sequence of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.”[8]   It declared:
All the faithful of either sex, after they have arrived at the years of discretion, should at least once a year faithfully confess all their sins alone to their own priest. They should strive with all their might to fulfill the penance enjoined on them, reverently taking the sacrament of the Eucharist at least in Easter, unless perhaps by the advice of their own priest they are directed that they must abstain from its reception for a time because of some reasonable cause. Otherwise they may be kept from the entrance of the church while they are alive, and be denied a Christian burial when they die (Council of Lateran IV 21).[9]
Specifically the council stated that all Christians who had reached the “age of discretion” were to confess their sins once a year, fulfill their penance and receive the Sacrament of the Altar during the season of Easter.  It is important to recognize with Turner that, “The council did not require the deferral of Communion to the age of discretion or confession before every Communion, but it set up the rhythm that allowed those applications.”[10]

The Fourth Lateran Council did not define what was the “age of discretion,” and it was probably left vague in order to encompass a variety of practice depending on judgments about human development.  Many theologians equated “years of discretion” with “a capacity for deceit” and Turner reports that, “Those expressions pertained the ability to commit sin responsibly, and hence the need for confession.  The Church did not define the age more precisely, probably because of the variations in human development.  Theological opinion generally placed the age between seven and fourteen.”[11]

Theological reflection about the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar was focused by disputes during the ninth century (Radbertus and Ratramnus) and the eleventh century (Berengarius and Lanfranc).[12]  Concerns about accidents with Christ’s blood in distribution were magnified.  The teaching of concomitance provided a theological justification for withdrawing the chalice from the laity.  Mitchell notes that this trend began during the ninth century.[13] He goes on to add,
Now, in the late twelfth century, this custom was provided with a theological rationale. Since Christ’s blood is concomitantly present in the consecrated bread, the cup is unnecessary: lay persons receive the whole Christ, body and blood, when they receive in the species of bread alone.  It is not surprising, therefore, that in the thirteen century giving the cup to the laity decline ever further.[14]
These circumstances prompted the thirteen century to be a new era when “the cult of the sacrament outside the Mass blossomed fully.”[15]

When Turner looks at the Fourth Lateran Council’s decision he concludes:
The Fourth Lateran Council did not forbid giving Communion to infants before the years of discretion, but the practice virtually ceased after the council.  Since an annual Communion was not required before the years of discretion, people stopped offering it before then.  Furthermore, since the faithful were confessing their sins before receiving Communion (a practice made more possible by the infrequency of reception) the Church began to expect confession even before First Communion.[16]
The council’s decision interacted with developments in the theology and practice of the Sacrament Altar just mentioned. The primary means for giving the Sacrament of the Altar to infants was by giving them the wine.[17]  With the chalice increasingly withheld from the laity, the communing of infants also ceased. The Fourth Lateran’s “years of discretion” made this seem entirely reasonable. 

The Fourth Lateran Council’s decision did not directly impact Confirmation.  However the focus on the age of discretion in the reception of communion also enhanced the trend toward later reception of Confirmation.  Turner concludes that during the period 1215-1519 “the age of confirmation began to become an issue.”[18]

We have already seen in the evidence of infant confirmation that some believed Confirmation should be received at a very early age.[19]  Others thought that Confirmation should be received in early childhood.  Albert the Great wrote:
It is better and safer that one be confirmed early. . . . Arms are prepared and given to the confirmed so that they may have what enables them to fight when the time comes. And it is good to be prepared. . . . Semen begins to form in the second seven years of life and the ways of concupiscence begin to be opened (Sentences 4:7,2,1).[20]
Bonaventure maintained that it should be given during childrhood and before the age of discretion:
It seems that confirmation is necessary at any age, and most especially for childhood, since one property of a discreet leader is to arm his soldiers before the fight and before the attack. But fights and attacks and blows begin immediately in the years of discretion. Therefore it is fitting that the sacrament of confirmation be given before the years of discretion.

. . . [However,] children are not armed for battle because of the state of their age, so that they should fight then, but that afterwards they will fight. This is not inappropriate because those arms are not oppressive but freeing. They are not just defensive, but preventative. And it is better to equip people before injury than after (Commentary on the Sentences 4:7,3,1).[21]
The Synod of Cologne (1280) declared that confirmation should be received when a child was seven years or older: “Presbyters should exhort the parents of those baptized but not yet confirmed that they should bring those seven years of age or older to the bishop, who alone can confirm” (Synod of Cologne 5).[22]  This statement is significant since it is the first to identify the age of seven for Confirmation.  During the sixteenth century it became common for Roman Catholic councils to identify seven as the minimum age.[23] So for example, the Council of Milan (1565) under Charles Borromeo declared: “The sacrament of confirmation may be offered to no one under seven years old” (Council of Milan 2:3).[24]  During the period of the thirteenth to sixteenth century the shift to a later age of confirmation continued to be supported by the theology of Confirmation.  Fisher concludes that the change “was facilitated by the unanimity with which theologians of the later middle ages interpreted the grace of confirmation in terms of strength to bear witness to the faith.”[25]  

II. Confirmation ignored Confirmation was born during the Carolingian period, and from the start there was an emphasis on the necessity of receiving Confirmation.  Church legislation and falsely attributed statements began to appear that emphasized this requirement. Thus the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle (836) stated, “After sacred baptism has been received, one should not go on without the imposition of the bishop’s hand, and then be trained to know the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed” (2b:5).[26]  A similar statement was included in the False Decretals and attributed to Pope Urban I: “For after baptism, all the faithful ought to receive the Holy Spirit through the imposition of the hand of bishops, so that they may fully become Christians” (Pseudo-Isidore Decretals, Urban I).[27]  We have seen that that statement falsely attributed to Urban I was passed on in the medieval theological tradition as an authoritative teaching about Confirmation.

Turner reports that, “The False Decretals also emended a passage from the Clementine Recognitions. The original merely encouraged everyone to be baptized. The ninth-century version urged all to be baptized, but also consigned by the bishop. The Decretals attributed the entire statement to Pope Clement I.”[28]  It stated:
All therefore must hasten without delay to be reborn by God and then consigned by the bishop, that is to receive the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit, because the end of each one’s life is unknown. But after they were reborn through water, they were confirmed by the bishop with the grace of the sevenfold Spirit, as it will be recalled. Otherwise they will in no way be able to be perfect Christians, nor have a seat among the perfect, if they remain [unconfirmed] not by necessity but through carelessness or choice. We have received this from the blessed apostle Peter, as the other holy apostles taught by the Lord’s command. Finally, they show in themselves by their good works the likeness of the Father who gave      them birth (Pseudo-Isidore Decretals, Letter of Pope Clement).[29]
In spite of this emphasis, the available evidence indicates that many parents were not having their children confirmed.  Turner concludes:
Many people were never confirmed, probably due to inconvenience. Pastors were encouraged to have their people receive confirmation, to do so only once, and to be prepared for it.  Such directives imply that many people were choosing not to be confirmed at all, probably due to the irregular visits of the bishop and the inconvenience of participating in the ceremony whenever and wherever it was held. Consequently, concerning the sequence of rites at this period, some who were baptized were not confirmed at all and some probably did not receive communion.[30]
As we have seen, Ruotger directed that infants should be brought to Confirmation and that it was dangerous to die without it:
Infants should not delay to be confirmed. We also desire that presbyters     announce to everyone that they should bring their infants to confirmation . . .   before they know how to sin. We know that through this gift the perfection of   Christianity is received, and without it, it is most dangerous to depart from this light (Collection of Canons 33).[31]
Bernard of Saints provided the same instruction:  “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” (Decrees 1).[32] Hugh of St. Victor warned that those who did not receive the imposition of the hand by the bishop due to negligence might be condemned: “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).[33]

Roberty Pulleyn warned that parents could be charged with negligence if a child died before receiving Confirmation: “Children therefore ought to be confirmed in their childhood. For this reason the charge of negligence may be determined whenever this sacrament is deferred through idleness for those who may die in the meantime” (Eight Books of Sentences 5:22f.).[34] 

The Church instructed priests to exhort parents to bring their children to Confirmation.  Odo Sully declared in the Syndal Constitutions:
Priests should frequently exhort the people toward the confirmation of children.
After baptism the sacrament of confirmation should be received.
If the one needing confirmation is an adult, he or she should confess first, and then be confirmed.
Let it be said often to the laity that they not await a long time for the coming of the bishop to confirm children, but bring them to him, unless they hear he is near (Heading 4).[35]
Ecclesiastical legislation of this type becomes even more pronounced in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Its frequency and tone supports Austin’s assessment:
All this is not to imply that confirmation was a burning issue during this period; it could be more rightfully called the “neglected sacrament.”  Repeated medieval legislation about its importance confirms the fact that no one was taking it too seriously, neither clergy nor parents.  Otherwise such repeated legislation would not have been called for.[36]
Church councils and leaders repeatedly ordered priests to exhort parents to bring their children to Confirmation:
Presbyters should exhort the parents of those baptized but not yet confirmed that they should bring those seven years of age or older to the bishop, who alone can confirm (Synod of Cologne [1280] 5).[37]
The priest should frequently exhort the people to confirmation, which must be done only by a bishop. For after baptism the sacrament of confirmation should be received. This sacrament delivers an increase of grace. Through it the Holy Spirit is poured out on the baptized. By this sacrament the Christian is armed and prepared for the struggles of this world and against the devil (Synod of Constance [1300] 7).[38]
Priests should frequently exhort the people toward the confirmation of the prelates, for after baptism the sacrament of confirmation should be received. If those to be confirmed are adults, they should be told by the priest of the place that they should confess first and afterwards be confirmed. Let the adults to be confirmed come to the church with the youth. Let it be said often to the laity that they should not wait a long time for the coming of the bishop for confirmation, but they should bring the children to him where they have heard he is near, as quickly as they are able, and they should bring the appropriate bands or  bandages with them, sufficiently long and wide. In addition, no child should be  sponsored for confirmation by the father or mother, step-father or step-mother. This should often be prohibited publicly in the churches by the priests (Council of   Oxford [1222)]“Confirmation”).[39]
Priests should exhort the people under them to attend confirmation, because the Holy Spirit is given in this sacrament for the strengthening of the faith through the holy Trinity. Grown children coming for confirmation should confess simply first (Council of Trier [1227] 2).[40]
 Priests should frequently exhort the people toward the confirmation of children, for after baptism the sacrament of confirmation should be received. If those to be confirmed are adults, they should be told by the priest of the place that they should confess first and afterwards be confirmed. Furthermore, let it be said often to the laity that they should not wait a long time for the coming of the bishop for the sake of confirmation, but they should bring the children to him, unless they have heard he is near, as quickly as they are able, and they should bring the appropriate bandages with them, sufficiently long and wide (Edmund Provincial Constitutions 39).[41]
Concerning confirmation on the forehead, when it is done by bishops, we command that priests exhort the people to confirmation, because after baptism they ought to receive the sacrament of confirmation. Adults and older ones needing to be confirmed should confess and afterwards be confirmed, because in the sacrament of confirmation is conferred strength and grace so that the enemy may be weakened inwardly. And let it be said to the laity, that they should not long await the coming of the bishop for confirmation. Rather children should be brought to him, or they may go where they hear he is near (Council of   Valencia [1255] “Confirmation”).[42]
Priests knowing about the arrival of the bishop to preach in some particular place  should diligently exhort the people around six or nine miles away, as they are better able, that all, who conveniently can, gather before the bishop to hear the sermon, especially those who need the guidance of the bishop. The priests themselves should come with the people with the cross leading the way (Council of Bayeux [1300] 5).[43]
Priests should frequently exhort the people toward the confirmation of children, for after baptism the sacrament of confirmation should be received. If those to be confirmed are adults, they should be told by the priest of the place that they should confess first and afterwards be confirmed. An adult to be confirmed should come fasting.[44]
Furthermore, let it be said often to the laity that they should not wait a long time for the coming of the bishop for confirmation, but they should bring the children to him where they have heard he is near, as quickly as they are able, and they should bring the appropriate bandages with them, sufficiently long and wide (Walter Reynolds Constitutions “Confirmation”).[45]
In England there are a whole series of texts that not only speak of exhorting parents, but also prescribed penalties for those who fail to have their children confirmed. Many also threatened priests with punishment who allowed this to happen:
Since the sacrament of confirmation is given to children for strength, priests should frequently exhort the people toward the confirmation of children. For after baptism the sacrament of confirmation ought to be received and offered publicly in the church. If a child of five (or seven) years or more has not been confirmed through the negligence and carelessness of parents, let both the father and the mother be kept from the entrance of the church during that time, until the child is confirmed. The priest who appears negligent about this matter will be subject to similar penalty (Richard Poore Constitutions 24).[46]
For the baptized, as neophytes, that is as new soldiers of Christ, a manifold fight arises against the prince of darkness, of whom we read in Job, that “there is no power upon the earth which may be compared to him.” Therefore the sacrament    of confirmation, which the church has appointed for bestowing strength on the faithful, is necessary for them. For this reason we order that parish priests carefully and frequently exhort those under them that they should have their children confirmed. Their fathers and mothers should know that after a year has been counted from the birth of a child, they are kept from the entrance to the church—if within the year, while they nonetheless had access to the bishop, or if the passage of the bishop through the places in which they live had beenannounced, they did not present those needing to be confirmed to him (Council  of Worcester [1240)] 6 “Confirmation”).[47]
If confirmations are doubtful, people should be confirmed. Parents should be charged to present their children needing to be confirmed within a year, with clean and respectable bands. If they do not do this within a year they should be punished (Richard of Chichester Synodal Statutes [1246] “Confirmation”).[48]
If a child of seven years or more has not been confirmed through the negligence and carelessness of parents, let both the father and the mother be kept from the entrance of the church during that time, until the child is confirmed. The priest who appears negligent about this matter will be subject to a similar penalty (Council of Durham [1249] “The Sacrament of Confirmation”).[49]
We strictly order parish priests that they should frequently exhort their parishioners to see to it that those children who it is determined have already been baptized be confirmed as quickly as possible. And, lest it befall them to  persist a long time without confirmation because of the negligence of parents, we decree that children should receive the sacrament of confirmation within three years from the time of their birth, providing, of course, that access may be had to their own or to another bishop. Otherwise, on Fridays, parents everywhere    should fast from that time on bread and water until the children are confirmed (Synod of Exeter [1287] 3).[50]
We very strictly command that parish priests should very often exhort and direct their subjects as soon as possible, that they see that their children be confirmed as soon as possible. If these same children have not been confirmed within three years from the time of their birth—provided of course, that access is had to their own or to another bishop—their fathers and mothers should be compelled to fast throughout one day on bread and water (Synod of Winchester [1308] “Confirmation).[51]
Such threats were not limited to England. The Constitutions of the Church of Lucca (1351) in Italy declared:
People are not perfectly called Christians who, when they are able, do not   receive on the forehead through the hands of the bishop the sacrament which arms for struggles and prepares for battles against invisible enemies. We have found in the city and diocese of Lucca many men and women, not just adults but also elderly and those of a feeble age who have not yet received this holy sacrament. In this regard we wish to completely root out the corruption of this kind. Therefore, under pain of excommunication, we command by ordering all and individual prelates and rectors of the churches of our city and diocese, that at  least once a month they should exhort the people entrusted to them to receive  this sacrament and have it received by their sons and daughters, children as well as adults who have not otherwise received the aforesaid sacrament (14).[52]
Fisher concludes regarding this evidence, “That it was deemed necessary to go to such length in order to induce people to be confirmed is an indication of the low esteem into which confirmation had now fallen.”[53] Thus at the dawn of the Reformation substantial theological claims were made about Confirmation.  At the same time it was often neglected by parents and many Christians were never confirmed. Fisher summarizes the situation well:
Since, therefore, there was this uncertainty whether confirmation in fact possessed any dominical authority at all, or indeed could be found in the New Testament, and since nobody believed that it was indispensible to salvation, it is hardly surprising that the clergy did not always make every effort to see that all children in there parishes were confirmed, and that many parents, however mistakenly, should think that they had done all that was necessary for their children’s spiritual future welfare when they presented them at the font for    baptism, and, since it was not so easily obtainable, should overlook confirmation. [54]
III. Confirmation and first reception of the Sacrament of the Altar
Those who have grown up in the Lutheran Church commonly assume that Confirmation precedes first reception of the Sacrament of the Altar.  It is surprising, therefore, to learn that prior to the sixteenth century Confirmation had almost no relationship to first reception of the Sacrament.  Based on his extensive work with the data, Turner reports about the period 965-1214:
Throughout this period, when the sequence of confirmation and the first reception of Communion began to vary more considerably, the Church expressed no preference for one sequence over the other.  Most of the faithful experienced confirmation not as an initiation rite, but as a ceremony during the visit of the bishop. Its relation to the first reception of Communion never appeared in the discussion.[55]
The same thing is true in the period 1215-1519 apart from a few isolated exceptions. Turner reports:
Prior to this period, the Church showed little interest in the sequence of confirmation and the first reception of Communion, since it perceived no relationship between the two sacraments.  It was more important that the bishop serve as minister of confirmation than that a particular sequence be observed. However, in isolated instances during this period local churches recommended that confirmation precede sharing in the Eucharist, probably because it would encourage the reception of confirmation.[56]
Turner has produced two texts that take this approach.  In the first from John Peckham, the explicit purpose is to prompt people to be confirmed:
Above all, many people rashly neglect the sacrament of confirmation, perhaps because people who encourage such attentiveness are few. As a result, many, indeed, numberless people who have not yet received the grace of confirmation have long endured hard times. To avoid this reprehensible negligence, we decree that no one may be admitted to the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, outside the danger of death, unless he or she has been confirmed or reasonably prevented from the reception of confirmation (John Peckham  “Constitutions of the Council of Lambeth: The Sacrament of Confirmation”).[57]
 . . . Furthermore no one should be admitted to the sacrament of the body and  blood of Jesus Christ outside the critical danger of death, unless he or she has been confirmed or was reasonably impeded from the reception of the sacrament    of confirmation (York Manual “Order of Baptizing in Necessity”).[58]
IV. Lutherans and Confirmation
A study of the history of Confirmation reveals that it developed in a haphazard fashion. The interaction of two key theological beliefs with the circumstances of the Church’s development in Europe created Confirmation.  First, Acts 8 established the belief that the Spirit must be given through the Church’s minister (the bishop or priest depending on area) in a way that was additional to the water of Holy Baptism.  Though the biblical narrative involved the laying on of the hand, the use of chrism soon also received prominence as the means by which this was done.

Second, the Church developed the belief that the bishop alone could provide the Holy Spirit in a specific way.  Initially this was understood as the need for him to be involved in the process of baptism in order for it to be legitimate.  Eventually the uniquely Roman form of this belief that required the laying on of hands and chrismation by the bishop himself (and not a priest using chrism blessed by the bishop such as was done in Spain and the eastern Church) gained ascendancy during the Carolingian period.  This in turn produced the idea that the bishop alone could provide Confirmation. 

When we consider the theological presuppositions and history of Confirmation, it seems very surprising that Lutherans ever adopted Confirmation in any form for three reasons.
First, Lutherans emphasized the dominical institution and mandate for Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.  Confirmation could claim no such direct institution – in fact Aquinas openly admitted this. The first presupposition mentioned above based on Acts 8 tied the giving of the Spirit to work of a minister by the laying on of hands, or later, by the use of chrism.  Such an emphasis contradicted the Lutheran requirement of dominical institution and promise. Article XIII of  the Apology of the Augsburg Confession bears the title, “The Number and Use of Sacraments” and states, “If we define the sacraments as rites, which have the command of God and to which promise the grace has been added, it is easy to determine what the sacraments are, properly speaking (quae sint proprie sacramenta)” (XIII.3).[59]  Since these are easy to determine, the Apology goes ahead and does this when it states, “Therefore, the sacraments are actually (vere) baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution (the sacrament of penance)” (XIII.4). 

Second, the second presupposition about the unique ability of the bishop to provide the Spirit contradicts what the Lutherans confess in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.  There they assert that “distinction of rank between bishop and pastor is not by divine right” (Tr. 65) and that when it comes to ministry all bishops and pastors equally bestow the Spirit through the Means of Grace since, “The gospel bestows upon those who preside over the churches the commission to proclaim the gospel, forgive sins, and administer the sacraments” (Tr. 60).

It would seem that this background would have made Confirmation an unlikely candidate for adoption and transformation by Lutherans.  After all, the entire foundation of Confirmation is antithetical to the Lutheran confession.  But this becomes even more surprising for a third reason.  The available evidence does not indicate that Confirmation was a beloved and dear practice in the Church for the laity (and some priests).  It was not something that Lutherans would have felt pressure to retain in a new form. Instead it was often ignored in spite of the significant theological claims that medieval theology increasingly made about it.  It was also not something that had a deep and significant connection with admission to the Sacrament of the Altar. There is little evidence that such a connection was ever drawn.

In spite of this, the Lutheran Church did eventually take up and transform Confirmation.  But in doing so it created a great paradox.  Although the Lutheran Church makes no real theological claims about the content of Confirmation, Lutherans place far more emphasis on Confirmation than medieval Christians whose Church made very significant theological claims about it.  No district or synodical convention is going to pass a resolution exhorting parents to bring their sons and daughters to Confirmation. They don’t have to because this is one thing parents are willing to do, even when regular attendance at the Divine Service is not part of their life. Confirmation is valued by contemporary Lutheran laity in way that outstrips many medieval Christians. The reasons for this and the implications it has for the life of the Lutheran Church is something that requires careful and renewed consideration.

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




 

 





[1] Paul Turner, Ages of Initiation: The First Two Christian Millenia (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000), CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[2] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[3] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 26.
[4] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.8 Confirmatoin: Age and Meaning.
[5] 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),135.
[6] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 135.
[7] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 136.
[8] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 29.
[9] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.5 Years of Discretion.
[10] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 30.
[11] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 30.
[12] See the discussion in Hermann Sasse, This is My Body XXXXX and Nathan Mitchell, Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside the Mass (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co.; 1982), 73-86, 137-150.
[13] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy, 90-92.
[14] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy,159.
[15] Mitchell, Cult and Controversy 159-160.
[16] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 29.
[17] XXXXXXXXXXXX
[18] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 32
[19] Turner makes the same point: “Some argued for a very early age. Richard Poore assumed that a child should be confirmed by age five or seven. The Council of Worcester (1240) required confirmation within the first year of birth, as did Richard of Chichester (1246). The Council of Durham (1249) thought children should be confirmed by age seven. The Council of Arles (1260) relaxed the requirements of fasting before confirmation for suckling infants. The Synod of Exeter (1287) asked parents to have their children confirmed by their third birthdays. John of Li├Ęge preferred children under the age of seven, but made provision for those twelve or older. The Synod of Winchester (1308) required confirmation by age three” (Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning).
[20] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[21] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[22] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[23] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 9.6 Confirmation: Age and Catechesis.
[24] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 9.6 Confirmation: Age and Catechesis.
[25] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West 147.
[26] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[27] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[28] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[29] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[30]  Turner, Ages of Initiation, 27.
[31] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 6.10 No Confirmation.
[32] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.10 No Confirmation.
[33] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.10 No Confirmation.
[34]  Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.10 No Confirmation.
[35] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 7.10 No Confirmation
[36] Gerard Austin, The Rite of Confirmation: The use of Oil and Chrism (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1985), 20.
[37] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[38] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[39] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[40] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[41] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[42] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[43] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[44] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[45] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[46] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[47] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[48] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[49] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[50] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[51] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.11 Confirmation: Age and Meaning.
[52] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.12 No Confirmation.
[53] Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 139.
[54] Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 145.
[55] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 27.
[56] Turner, Ages of Initiation, 33.
[57] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.13 Sequence.
[58] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, 8.13 Sequence.
[59] All translations of the Book of Concord are taken from Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).