Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mark's thoughts: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 6: The stage is set in Gaul for Confirmation

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.  In the previous five posts we have seen that during the first eight hundred years of the Church, Confirmation did not exist in Rome, northern Italy, North Africa and Spain.  The same situation is found when the pre-Carolingian evidence from Gaul is considered.  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.  However in Gaul we encounter new factors that will be tremendously important and will provide the setting for the Rite of Confirmation to be born in Gaul during the Carolingian period.  

I. The term “confirmation”
In our examination of Spain in the previous post, we noted this evidence from the canons of the Council of Elvira that met in 305 A.D.: 

            Canon 38. That in cases of necessity, even the faithful may baptize
[It was agreed] that a faithful man, who has held fast to his baptism and is not bigamous may baptize a sick catechumen at sea, or where there is no church at hand: provided that if he survives he shall bring him to a bishop so that he may be perfected (perfici) through the laying on of a hand.[1]

Canon 77. Concerning baptized people who die before they have been confirmed
It was agreed that when a deacon who has charge of faithful people (regens plebem) baptizes some of them in the absence of a bishop or presbyter, it shall be the duty of the bishop to perfect (perficere) them: but if any depart life before confirmation, he will be justified by virtue of the faith in which he has believed.[2]

Gaul shared many liturgical similarities with Spain, and the term “confirmation” is also applied here to the post-baptismal action of the bishop.  Canon 2 “That the blessing with [of] chrism must not be repeated” of the First Council of Orange (441 A.D.) states:

No minister who has the office of baptizing shall begin without chrism: for that it was agreed among us that there shall be one chrismation [in baptism].  When anyone for any reason does not receive chrism in baptism, the bishop [sacerdos] shall be advised of this at the confirmation [in confirmatione].  For chrism can only confer its blessing once: and we say this not to any one’s prejudice, but that the repetition of chrismation should not be thought necessary.[3]

“Confirmation” here does not refer to what would later become the Rite of Confirmation and its concomitant theology.  Instead, as Winkler describes, it is juridical in nature and has to do with pastoral oversight of the office of bishop.[4]  Quinn concludes that:

As a technical term confirmatio first appears in the fifth century, in documents reporting practice in southeast Gaul.  As with perfectio and consummatio, confirmatio did not refer directly to a particular rite or to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.  Instead it referred to the personal intervention of the bishop in baptismal initiation, especially when the bishop had not been present at the baptism itself.[5]   

Austin, Kavanagh and Johnson also concur in this assessment.[6]

There are two important observations to be made about Canon 2.  First, the text is explicit in saying that there is to be only one chrismation.  The canon speaks against any application of a second chrismation.  Second, the text indicates that ministers other than the bishop were agents who carried out baptism.  If they had chrism for the baptism, then all was in order.  Thus Canon 2 directly contradicts the Roman rite in which a second chrismation was done by the bishop.

The term “confirmation” and the pastoral assumptions in southern Gaul that it summarized would prove to be immensely important in the development of the Rite of Confirmation.  Winkler concludes:

It is with the Gallican councils of Riez, Orange and Arles that we observe the onset of a problematic evolution focused on the ministers of initiation.  At the origins of this unfortunate development we find the perception that the validity of initiation depends on the personal intervention of the bishop, who had to “confirm” or “ratify” the baptismal rite of the presbyters on the occasion of his visitation of rural parishes. Nowhere do we find the slightest clue which would allow us to conclude that the term confirmare had any reference to the gift of the Spirit as such.  Considerations about the outpouring of the Spirit contributed in no way to the growing usage of such terminology.  It was adopted for reasons strictly juridical in nature, not as a result of theological reflection on the essence of the rite.[7]

We will see that once this line of thought was begun, the insertion of the Roman second episcopal chrismation generated theological reflection about confirmation itself which gave birth to Confirmation as it existed in the sixteenth century.

II. Reception of heretics and imposition of the hand

When considering the early material from Rome, we noted that Leo I wrote about the reception of heretics: “Those who received baptism from heretics, when they had not been previously baptized, must be confirmed with the explicit invocation of the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, because they received only the form of baptism without the strength of sanctification” (Letter 159.7).[8] The imposition of the hand and its basis in Acts 8 found similar application here as it did in baptism.
Austin observes about this:

While he probably was not using the term ‘confirmation’ in a technical sense, nevertheless the idea is that reconciliation bestows the Holy Spirit on those entering into the church, since the Spirit cannot work outside the church … All this is not to imply that the postbaptismal rites of initiation were the same thing. One could be distinguished from the other, but they followed the same lines of development since they both conferred the Holy Spirit.”[9]

He goes on to add:

As to lines of influence, it would seem that the rite of reconciliation of schismatics and heretics was influenced by the primary example of the bestowal of the Spirit – the postbaptismal rites – and not the other way around, because the very need for reconcillation grew out of the fear that the original initiation in heresy had failed to convey the Holy Spirit.[10]

The same connection is found in early southern Gaul.  Canon 8 of the First Council of Arles (314 A.D.), “Concerning the baptism of those who are converted from heresy” states:

Concerning Africans, since they have their own regulations requiring rebaptism, it was agreed that if anyone came from heresy to the church, they shall put to him the symbol questions: and if they see clearly that he has been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it shall be sufficient to lay hand on him that he may receive the Holy Spirit. But if when he is questioned he does not affirm this Trinity, he must be baptized.[11]

It will not be surprising then, to find that there is evidence in early southern Gaul of an (episcopal) hand laying that confers the Spirit.

III. Hilary of Poitiers (fourth century A.D.)
Commenting on how Jesus lay his hands on the children, Hilary spoke about the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles “through the imposition of hand and prayers” (Commenta in Matt. 19.3).[12]  He also compares the baptism of Jesus to Christian baptism and writes that, “after the washing with water, the Holy Ghost came down upon us from the gates of heaven, we were anointed with the unction of the heavenly glory, and by the adoption of the voice of the Father we became sons of God” (Commenta in Matt 2.6).[13]  The evidence here is allusive, but it suggests that there may have been both an imposition of the hand and an anointing associated with the Spirit.

IV. Gennadius of Marseilles (late fifth century A.D.)
Clearer evidence is available from Gennadius of Marseilles.  After he has just spoken about the reception of the adult converts with the imposition of the hand he then says about children received from heresy, “let those who present them answer for them as is the custom at baptism, and thus fortified (communiti) by the imposition of the hand and chrism, let them be admitted to the mysteries of the eucharist” (de Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus, 52).[14]  This seems to indicate, as Mason has observed, that “Imposition of the Hand” and “the Chrism” were becoming two names for the same rite since they were done together.[15] The parallel he supplies with baptism likely suggests that the chrism and imposition of the hand were used in baptism as well.[16] Gennadius explicitly states that the baptized Christian “receives the Holy Spirit by the imposition of the hand of the bishop” (de Ecclesiasticis Dogmatibus, 47).[17] This evidence indicates that southern Gaul did have an episcopal imposition of the hand that bestowed the Spirit, and probably also an anointing associated with it.  Nathan Mitchell concludes, “Judging from late fifth century evidence, as we have it from Gennadius of Marseilles, some parts of Gaul did include such post-baptismal ceremonies as the episcopal laying on of hands and anointing with chrism.”[18]

V. “Faustus of Riez” (fifth century A.D.?)
Another possible witness to fifth century Gaul is found in a Pentecost sermon included in the Eusebius Gallicanus collection.  This collection of seventy six sermons was gathered together in the seventh century under the pseudonym “Eusebius.”  The sermon in question has been attributed to Faustus of Riez, who was an influential bishop in southern Gaul during the fifth century. While orthodox in his Christology (he was strongly opposed to Arianism), Faustus was a Semi-Pelgian.[19] 

The sermon states:

What the imposition of the hand bestows in confirming individual neophytes, the descent of the Holy Spirit gave people then in the world of believers … the Holy Spirit, who descends upon the waters of baptism by a salvific falling, bestows on the font a fullness toward innocence, and presents in confirmation an increase for grace.  And because in this world we who will be prevailing must walk in every age between invisible enemies and dangers, we are reborn in baptism for life, and we confirmed after baptism for the strife.  In baptism we are washed; after baptism we are strengthened.  And although the benefits of rebirth suffice immediately for those about to die, nevertheless the helps of confirmation are necessary for those who will prevail. Rebirth in itself saves those needing to be received in the peace of the blessed age.  Confirmation arms and supplies those needing to be preserved for the struggles and battles of this world.  But the one who arrives at death after baptism, unstained with acquired innocence, is confirmed by death because one can no long sin after death.[20] 

This text clearly distinguishes baptism from confirmation.  The Spirit is at work through water of baptism as the individual is reborn, washed and saved.  However in confirmation the believer receives something new and additional through the work of the Spirit. There is an increase for grace as the believer is strengthened so that they can prevail in the strife of living in this world. 

The theological connection made between confirmation and the work of the Spirit is an advance over anything seen before.  Turner notes, “The word ‘confirm’ originally carried a legislative sense: the bishop confirmed the neophytes who had been baptized by another minister. Now the same word carried a theological sense: the sacrament confirmed or strengthened the Christian with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[21]

Earlier scholarship attributed the sermon to the fifth century Faustus of Riez.[22]  However, more recent scholarship has questioned this.  Winkler writes:

While I am persuaded that the homily is probably Gallican in provenance, I have reservations about accepting Faustus as its author.  Compared with the authentic works of Faustus, the homily seems to reflect significant development in theological reflection about initiation. The author could have used the works of Faustus as a source.  Perhaps he was personally acquainted with him.  This would account for some of the similarities of vocabulary. Thus, although I grant the Gallican provenance of the homily, I do not think it can be dated as early as the middle of the fifth century.[23]

Johnson concurs with Winkler’s assessment:

Because there is a clear separation between baptism and “confirmation” in the text, I would agree with Winkler that it actually appears to be justifying the Carolingian import and imposition of the Romans rites of initiation into the liturgy of Gaul in the early Middle Ages, and hence should not be located within the time period of the mid-fifth century.[24]

For the same reasons, Turner also thinks it is from a date slightly later than the time of Faustus.[25]

Arguments based on perceived theological development are notoriously subjective.  There is no way to know when the sermon was written. What is not in doubt is the immense influence this text had in the development of confirmation. We will consider this more carefully in the next post, but Austin’s brief statement summarizes things well:

Faustus’s words have great influence.  They find their way into the False Decretals, compiled in the mid-ninth century, and were attributed by Pseudo-Isidore to a certain Pople Melchiades who in fact never existed. This error was passed on in a chain: to Gratian’s Decretum to Peter Lombard’s Sentences to Aquinas’s Summa Theologicae to scholastic and conciliar teachings, and finally on to popular understanding.[26]

VI. Eight century Gallican Missals
Another reason scholars doubt that the fifth century Faustus wrote the sermon is because the available Gallic missals from eighth century do not have any imposition of the hand (something that would also be added when the Roman rite and its second anointing were introduced into Gaul).  Three liturgical documents provide evidence for practice in Gaul during the eighth century: the Missale Gallicanum Vetus (“Old Gallican Missal”); the Missale Gothicum (“Gothic Missal”); and the Bobbio Missal.  These texts date to the eighth century and all come form northern/northeastern Gaul or from the region of the Alps.  None come from southern Gaul.[27]
Like other liturgical texts of this period in Gaul, these are not purely Gallic.  Fisher observes:

In each of these works we see the Gallican rite after it had been subjected to a certain amount of Roman influence.  This was partly due to private initiative, inasmuch as clerics and monks, who went on pilgrimages to Rome and saw the Roman rites of Holy Week and Easter, brought the knowledge of what they had seen back with them, and wished to see their own Church conform more closely to Roman practice.[28]

It must be recognized that in many places, Roman practices were not something that needed to be forced upon the clergy.

In these missals we find four important facts for understanding baptismal practice in eighth century Gaul.[29]  First, there is no post-baptismal handlaying.  Second, there is only one post-baptismal anointing. Third, the anointing can be performed by either a bishop or presbyter. Fourth, the one anointing performed by a presbyter was considered to be a complete initiation.[30]

This practice obviously differs from what was seen in Rome and is not confirmation as it was understood in the sixteenth century.  The interesting thing about the rites themselves is that the language that accompanies the anointing does not clearly speak about the giving of the Spirit. For example, in the Missale Gothicum we find:

While you touch him with chrism you say:
I anoint you with the chrism of holiness, the garment of immortality, which our Lord Jesus Christ first received from the Father, that you may bear it entire and spotless before the judgment seat of Christ and live unto all eternity.[31]

The Bobbio Missal has only:

Pour your chrism over his brow, saying:
May God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has regenerated you by water and the Holy Spirit, and who had given you remission of sins through the laver of regeneration and of blood, himself anoint you with his holy chrism unto eternal life.[32]

At the same time, a reading of the prayers in the rite as a whole leaves no doubt “that it was regarded by those who used it as conferring the Holy Spirit.”[33]  This is confirmed by numerous Gallic writers.[34] So, for example, Jesse of Amiens (c. 800) states: “The presbyter makes upon the baptized the sign of the cross with chrism with his thumb on the top of the head. For as in baptism remission of sins is given, so through the unction the sanctification of the Spirit is conferred” (Ep. de Baptismo; P.L. 105, 790).[35]

Two explanations for this have been offered.  Earlier scholarship noted the southern Gallic material mentioned above, and concluded that prior elements in the initiation had dropped out.[36]  More recent scholarship has followed Winkler in the conclusion that there never was anything to drop out in the first place.[37] She has emphasized Syrian parallels and argues:

When one takes account of the fact that the rite of footwashing as well as the pneumatic character of the anointings point to Syrian influence, one must seriously doubt whether the initiation rites represented by these documents ever included any postbaptismal rite other than the one anointing, performed either by a bishop or presbyter. There probably never was a separate laying on of the hand combined with a second anointing reserved to the bishop.[38]

Levesque has independently arrived at the same conclusion on the basis of his careful analysis of the prayers in these rites. He writes:

The study of the Gallican postbaptismal rites of the seventh and eighth centuries, especially as found in the Gothicum, asks this author to recommend for consideration that these rites were equivalent to the effects of episcopal consignation.  That is, theologically, these rites present themselves as complete and integral, not even demanding the episcopal consignation.[39]

VII. The factors in place

As Charlemagne was becoming King of the Franks in 768, four factors were in place in Gaul that would together provide the setting in which the rite of Confirmation and its concomitant theology would be created.  First, there was an established terminology of “confirmation” that was associated with the assumption that the validity of Christian initiation depends upon the involvement of the bishop. Second, Gaul was a geographically large area in which it would be impossible for bishops to be present for major occasions of baptism in all places (not to mention the emergency baptism of infants that was a pressing concern of the Church in an era of high infant mortality). Third, there was a developed belief that not only was the Hoy Spirit at work in the water baptism, but also that the Spirit was given through the chrismation performed by a presbyter.  Fourth, the text of the Pentecost sermon in the Eusebius Gallicanus collection existed (or would exist before the Carolingian period was over) which provided a theological explanation linking confirmation and the Spirit. 

When Charlemagne sought to have Gallic baptismal rites conform to the Roman pattern, it introduced a second chrismation performed by the bishop alone.  The terminology and assumptions about confirmation would combine with the geographical realities to separate the second chrismation from the time of the baptism itself. This separation, along with the fact that in Gaul it was already a belief that the chrismation by a presbyter provided the Spirit, would demand an explanation of what happened in the chrismation by the bishop and how this differed from what happened at baptism in the water and when the presbyter performed a chrismation.  The Pentecost sermon would provide a key theological means of explaining this, especially as it was cloaked in pseudo-papal authorship and placed in the writings of pseudo-authoritative collection.

[1] E.C. Whitaker, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy (rev. and ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 154 (hereafter DBL). 
[2] DBL 155.
[3] DBL 256.  Winkler provides the Latin text along with a careful analysis (Gabriele Winkler, “Confirmation or Chrismation? A Study in Comparative Liturgy” in Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation [ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995] 202-218, 210-214).
[4] Winkler, “Confirmation or Chrismation?.” 213, 217.
[5] Frank C. Quinn, “Confirmation Reconsidered: Rite and Meaning” in Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation (ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995) 219-237, 226-227.
[6] Gerald Austin, The Rite of Confirmation: Anointing with the Spirit (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1985), 13; Aidan Kavanagh, Confirmation: Origins and Reform (New York: Pueblo Publishing Co., 1988), 66-67; Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (rev. and exp.; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), 182-183.
[7] Winker, “Confirmation or Chrismation?,” 217-218.
[8] Paul Turner, Ages of Initiation: The First Two Christian Millenia (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000), CD-ROM source excerpts Ch 3, 12. Confirmation.
[9] Austin, The Rite of Confirmation, 16.
[10] Austin, The Rite of Confirmation, 16-17.
[11] DBL 255. 
[12] Leonel L. Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), 122-123; 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), 60.
[13] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 123; Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 60. Fisher thinks the imposition of the hand is more likely (Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 60) while Mitchell things the emphasis falls on the anointing, if in fact there was imposition of the hand (Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 123).
[14] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 124.
[15] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 124.
[16] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 59.
[17] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 124.
[18] 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, 55.
[19] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, Ch4, 9. Confirmation; Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 184-185; DBL 257; Turner, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 154, nt. 33.
[20] DBL 257-258.
[21] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, Ch4, 9. Confirmation.
[22] Turner, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 139; 154, nt. 33.
[23] Winkler, “Confirmation or Chrismation?,” 214-215.
[24] Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 184, ftnt. 48.
[25] Turner, Ages of Initiation, CD-ROM source excerpts, Ch4, 9. Confirmation.
[26] Austin, The Rite of Confirmation, 14-15.
[27] Winkler, “Confirmation or Christmation?,” 203.
[28] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 53.
[29] Levesque provides a the relevant Latin texts in parallel and provides a detailed analysis (Joseph L. Levesque, “The Theology of the Postbaptismal Rites in the Seventh and Eighth Century Gallican Church” in Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation (ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995) 159-201.
[30] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 125; Austin, Rite of Confirmation, 17; Winkler, “Confirmation or Chrismation?,” 207-208; Levesque, “The Theology of the Postbaptismal Rites,” 201.
[31] DBL 261.
[32] DBL 273.
[33] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 126. So also Levesque, “The Theology of the Postbaptismal Rites,” 187-188, 201; Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 60-61.
[34] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 61-62; Levesque, “The Theology of the Postbaptismal Rites,” 197-198.
[35] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 61; 82, nt. 69.
[36] Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West, 60-61; Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 121-124.
[37] Winkler, “Confirmation or Christmation?,” 207-208; Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 244;
[38] Winkler, “Confirmation or Christmation?,” 203.
[39] Levesque, “The Theology of the Postbaptismal Rites,” 201.


  1. Again, thank you for your fantastic work, Pr. Surburg. This series will be very helpful as we experiment with the Catechumenate at Grace Tulsa and for my DMIN dissertation on this topic. The Lord's blessings from Tulsa!

  2. Thanks! It was my hope that the material would prove helpful to others.