Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 3: Milan and northern Italy

(Baptismal font in Aquileia)
In the previous post in this series, The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 2:  Rome it was observed that at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Confirmation involved: 1) the use of chrism 2) by the bishop 3) in a second post-baptismal anointing usually done at a time removed from baptism 4) to bestow the Spirit in a new and additional way that brought an added benefit to the believer for living the Christian life.

However, consideration of the evidence from Rome clearly reveals that prior to 800 AD there was no Confirmation in Rome.  The unique feature in Roman baptismal practice was a post-baptismal episcopal invocation of the Spirit and second anointing (where the first anointing was performed by a priest).  Yet during this period Confirmation did not exist in Rome at the terminological level.  There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used in Rome during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  It did not exist at a conceptual level. Like the pre-Nicaea material, in Rome there was simply the single rite of Holy Baptism through which a Christian received rebirth and the gift of the Spirit.  The unique arrangement of the various title churches and the suffragan bishops in the city of Rome, allowed the entire baptismal rite to take place, with both anointings, at one time.  It was only in larger outlying areas that a separation of the second anointing from baptism was beginning to take place. The second anointing is the primary factor that would generate Confirmation, but it had not yet done so.

In this post I will consider the evidence from northern Italy (with a focus upon Milan). This region of the Church yields the same picture.  There was no second episcopal anointing, and so no claim can be made about the existence of Confirmation as it was known in the sixteenth century.  In fact, we will see that in Milan the attempt was made to force Roman practice upon the church there, and that ultimately this was rejected.

I. Ambrose and Milan
The starting point for considering northern Italy is the evidence found in Ambrose’s writings.  Milan was a highly influential church center during the fourth and fifth centuries.[1]  We have two accounts of Ambrose’s mystagogical instruction that took place in the time after baptism had been received.[2] From these we learn that the ritual of baptism in fourth century Milan consisted of: 1) baptism by threefold question and immersion[3] 2) post-baptismal anointing 3) foot washing 4) “spiritual sealing”/invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Ambrose describes what takes place immediately after baptism in the following manner: “So you were immersed, and you came to the bishop. What did he say to you? God the Father Almighty, he said, who has brought you to a new birth through water and the Holy Spirit and has forgiven your sins, himself anoints you into eternal life” (de Sacramentiis, 2.24).[4]  There is explicit evidence in the next book that this was accompanied by the ritual act of anointing with chrism: “You also receive the myron, that is, the chrism, over your heads” (de Sacramentiis, 3.1).[5]

Like so many in the western Church, Ambrose interprets this anointing using 1 Peter 2:9. He says, “Understand why this is done, because the wise man’s eyes are in his head [Eccles. 2.14].  It flowed down into the beard – that is, unto the grace of youth – even unto Aaron’s beard, for this purpose, that you may become a chosen generation, priestly, precious [1 Pet. 2.9]; for we are all anointed with spiritual grace unto the kingdom of  God and the priesthood” (de Mysteriis, 30).[6]

Next Ambrose explains that after baptism and anointing, the Milanese baptismal rite includes a foot washing.  He acknowledges that this practice is not found in Rome, but then immediately affirms that in all other respects Milan’s practice is the same as Rome.  He says, “We are aware that the Roman Church does not follow this custom, although we take her as our prototype, and follow her rite in everything.  But she does not have this rite of the washing of the feet” (3.5). Ambrose clarifies that he is not condemning anyone who does not have the foot washing, but that instead where a difference of rite has merit, there is no sense in abandoning it just because it is different. He goes on to say, “I wish to follow the Roman Church in everything: but we too are not devoid of common sense.  When a better custom is kept elsewhere, we are right to keep it here also” (3.5).[7]

Then Ambrose adds: “The spiritual sealing (spiritale signaculum) follows.  You have heard about this in the reading today.  For after the ceremonies of the font, it still remains for the perfecting (perfectio) to take place. This happens when the Holy Spirit is infused at the bishop’s (sacerdos) invocation: ‘the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and piety, the Spirit of holy fear’.  These might be called the seven ‘virtues’ of the Spirit … They are the seven virtues when you are sealed (quando consignaris)” (de Sacramentiis, 3.8)[8]

Ambrose’s “spiritual seal” is one of the great conundrums of liturgical scholarship.  The quotation of Isa 11:2 and the parallels with the prayer at this moment in the Gelasian Sacramentary strongly indicate that there was a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit.[9]  It is unclear whether the “spiritual seal” refers to imposition of the hand, anointing, signing with the cross, some combination of these or, that there was in fact no accompanying ritual action.[10]  Johnson believes that if there was an action, it was an imposition of the hand.[11]  However Mitchell provides a strong argument that it was instead a signing with the cross, and Fisher arrives at the same conclusion.[12] Probability favors this evaluation, but that is the most that can be said.

What is clear is that Ambrose believed the Holy Spirit was given through this part of the baptismal rite.  In a parallel passage, he writes in de Mysteriis, 42: “Wherefore, recollect the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, the spirit of holy fear, and preserve what you received. God the Father has sealed (signavit) you. Christ the Lord has confirmed (confirmavit) you, and has given the pledge of the Spirit in your heart, as you learned from the Apostolic lesson.”[13]

Mitchell notes the language in de Sacramentiis and de Mysteriis and concludes, “From these descriptions there can be little doubt that St. Ambrose identified the spiritale signaculum  with the bestowal of the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost.  He was willing to us the verbs consignare, signare, and confirmare, and the noun perfectio to describe it.  He uses infundere to describe the pouring out of the Spirit, and says specifically that it occurs at the invocation of the sacerdos.”[14]

II. Maximus of Turin and Zeno of Verona
Ambrose’s “spiritual seal” could, perhaps, be understood as in some way corresponding to the second Roman post-baptismal anointing.  However, the available evidence immediately raises three very interesting facts.  First, we find that the north Italian contemporaries of Ambrose, Maximus of Turin and Zeno of Verona, do not demonstrate any knowledge of Amborse’s “spiritual seal” in the rite of baptism used in their church.    Bradshaw comments, “What is most significant here is that neither Maximus nor Zeno demonstrate any familiarity with a postbaptismal rite equivalent to the location of Ambrose’s “spiritual seal” … Outside of Rome, then, the rites of Christian initiation within North Italy appear to be rites that never knew or contained anything similar to the episcopal postbaptismal ceremonies of handlaying and (second) chrismation defended and advocated by Innocent I and Gelasius I within the Roman tradition.”[15]

III. Maxentius of Aquileia
On this point we also find that, Maxentius of Aquileia wrote to Charlemagne at the beginning of the ninth century and alluded to the rites of the baptismal rite used in Aquileia when he stated: “Then translated into the bosom of mother Church through the laver of regeneration, made the sons of adoption, written in the book of life of  Christ our Lord, from whose holy Name the chrism took its name, anointed also by the holy anointing with the chrism of salvation, that is, with the fullest infusion of the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus our Lord unto eternal life, clothed in white robes, that is, wedding garments, they come to the table of the heavenly kingdom …” (Ep. Ad Carolum, 3).[16]

Fisher concludes regarding this evidence:

Between the baptism and the eucharist, to which the allusion is sufficiently evident, mention is not made of episcopal hand-laying or consignation of the forehead, but only of an unction with the chrism of salvation unto eternal life, a clear reference to the formula which in the Gelasianum accompanies the first unction after baptism by the presbyter, and was now evidently used in the rite of Aquileia.  Furthermore a point of great importance here is that according to Maxentius this one unction conveys the fullest infusion of the Holy Spirit.  That is to say, it performs the role of the Roman hand-laying and chrismation by the bishop; and the rite of Aquileia, apparently defective by Roman standards, is complete as it stands, in that there is no question of the candidates failing to have the Holy Spirit imparted to them.  Moreover the fact that Aquileia lay in the same liturgical area as Milan strengthens the case for believing that the ‘spiritual seal’ of Ambrose had by this time disappeared from the initiatory rite used in all the Churches of northern Italy, Milan included.[17]

IV. Ambrosian Manual and Ordo of Beroldus
The second and even more intriguing fact is that the later evidence we possess from Milan does not contain Ambrose’s “spiritual seal.”  We have the tenth century Ambrosian Manual which is a ritual for the cathedral at Milan, and the twelfth century Ordo of Beroldus which describes the liturgical ceremonies of the bishop in Milan.[18]  Neither document makes any mention of an invocation of the Spirit or a second anointing performed by the bishop. Instead the Ambrosian Manual says of the rites after baptism:

Then the presbyter makes a cross with chrism on the infant’s head, and says this prayer: Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has regenerated you by water and the Holy Spirit, and who have given you remission of all your sins, himself anoints you with the chrism of salvation, in Christ Jesus our Lord unto eternal life. Amen.
          Here shall the Bishop wash the feet of the infants after baptism.[19]

While the foot washing noted by Ambrose continues to be present, there is nothing that follows it.  There is no “spiritual seal,” episcopal invocation of the Spirit or second anointing.

V. Odilbert's letter to Charlemagne
Finally, there is Odilbert’s letter to Charlemagne.  Odilbert was bishop of Milan during the period 805 to 813.  During this time Charlemagne was attempting to bring the churches of his kingdom into conformity with the Roman baptismal rite (though we will see in a later post that "conformity" had a much looser meaning than many have thought).  Around 812 Charlemagne sent out a circular letter, asking the bishops to describe the baptismal practice in their church.[20]  Oldibert indicates that in Milan there is baptism, anointing with chrism, communion and then imposition of the bishop’s hand. The presence of the hand laying after communion is striking.  As Fisher comments, “Then Odilbert’s rite shows the missing hand-laying added in order to bring a seemingly defective rite into conformity with the Roman rite, and appended at the end since that which went before had been considered in Milan as a perfect unity without it.”[21]

While this Romanizing trend was present in the ninth century, by the tenth it had disappeared since it is not found in the Ambrosian Manual (or the later twelfth century Ordo of Beroldus).  Fisher observes, “Finally we may note that Charlemagne’s attempt to enforce the use of the Roman rite throughout his empire met with only temporary success in Milan.”[22]  In the Ambrosian Manual the footwashing, that was not a Roman custom and is not mentioned by Odilbert, returns and the laying on of hand after communion disappears.  The attempt was made to bring Milan into closer conformity with Roman practice, but it had been rejected.  Fisher concludes: “In fact the  Church of Milan with is distinguished history and its association with the great doctor, Ambrose, was able to maintain its own traditions, long resisting the movement towards a strict liturgical uniformity with the Roman Church….”[23]

VI. Conclusion
Thus there is no evidence of Confirmation in northern Italy prior to the Carolingian era.  There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used in northern Italy during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  There was no second anointing, and the imposition of the hand only existed for a brief period when it was added under Charlamagne’s influence.  During the time that the hand laying was added to the rite of baptism in Milan, it was actually added after the baptized had received communion.

 Previously in this series:

Next in this series:

[1] See the discussion in Cesare Alzati, Ambrosianum Mysterium: The Church of Milan and its liturgical tradition Vol. 1 (tr. George Guiver; Cambridge: Grove Books, 1999), 3-7.
[2] Mystagogy was catechesis that occurred after baptism.  It sought to provide a theological explanation of the rites that had made up the liturgical celebration.  On the setting of the catechumenate and the content of this post-baptismal teaching see: Edward Yarnold, The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation: The Origins of the R.C.I.A. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1994).  On mystagogy in the early Church, see: Enrico Mazza, Mystagogy: A Theology of Liturgy in the Patristic Age (tr. Matthew J. O’Connell; New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1989).  On Ambrose’s mystagogical preaching see: Craig Alan Satterlee, Ambrose of Milan’s Method of Mystagogical Preaching (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002).
[3] Ambrose writes in de Sacramentiis: “You were asked ‘Do you believe in God the Father almighty?’ You replied: ‘I believe’, and you were immersed: this is, buried.  You were asked for a second time: ‘Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in his cross?’  You replied: ‘I believe’ and you were immersed: which means that you were buried with Christ. For one who is buried with Christ rises again with Christ.  You were asked a third time: ‘Do you believe also in the Holy Spirit?’  You replied: ‘I believe’, and you were immersed a third time, so that the threefold confession might absolve the manifold lapses of the past” (E.C. Whitaker, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy (rev. and ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 179 (hereafter DBL).  Baptism by threefold question and immersion was the practice in Rome at this time as well, and we have no clear evidence for administration of baptism using the Trinitarian formula until Pope Zacharias I in 744 (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], 14).  The tenth century Ambrosian Manual indicates that the Trinitarian formula was being used in Milan by this time (DBL 197).
[4] DBL 179 (modified).  Although DBL has “priest,” Mitchell points out that “The minister is called sacerdos, which unquestionably means the bishop since he has previously referred to the presbyter and levita” (Leonel L. Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966], 86).
[5] DBL 180.
[6] DBL 182.
[7] DBL 180.
[8] DBL 181 (modified).
[9] The Gelasian Sacramentary describes Roman practice in the seventh/eighth century (or perhaps slightly earlier) (Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation [rev. and exp.; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007], 222). Whitaker/Johnson says that the original of Vat. Regin. 316  “is an edition of a rite which in its original Roman form was first drawn up in the early sixth century” (DBL 212).  It states: “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has made your servants to be regenerated of water and the Holy Spirit, and has given them remission of all their sins, Lord, send upon them your Holy Spirit the Paraclete, and give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, and fill them with the spirit of fear of God, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ with whom you live and reign ever God with the Holy Spirit, throughout all ages of ages. Amen” (DBL 235).
[10] See the discussion in Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 170-175.
[11] Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 175.
[12] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 87-90; J.D.C. Fisher Christian Initiation: Confirmation Then and Now (Chicago: HillenbrandBooks, 1978), 57.
[13] DBL 183.
[14] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 88; so also Fisher, who points to several other statements in the two works that support this conclusion (Fisher Christian Initiation: Confirmation Then and Now, 57).
[15] Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 175.
[16] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 40.
[17] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 40-41.
[18] Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 239.
[19] DBL 192; see also 198.
[20] For more on this see: Glenn C.J. Beyer, Charlemagne and Baptism: A Study of Responses to the Circular Letter of 811/812 (San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1999); Susan A. Keefe, Water and the Word: Baptism and Education of the Clergy in the Carolingian Empire, Vol. 1 A Study of Texts and Manuscripts (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002).
[21] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 42.
[22] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 47.
[23] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 47.

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