Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mark's thoughts: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 4 - North Africa

(St. Augustine)
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 this post I will consider the evidence from North Africa in the time after Nicea.  This region of the Church yields the same picture as was found in the previous post that looked at northern Italy.  In North Africa 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 the first post in this series it was seen that during the second and third centuries the rite of baptism in North Africa involved three elements: 1) baptism in water 2) anointing 3) imposition of the hand.  Like Tertullian, Cyprian attributed the gift of the Spirit to the imposition of the hand: “They who are baptized in the church are brought to the prelates of the church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of the hand obtain the Holy Spirit, and are perfected with the Lord’s seal [signaculo dominico]” (Letter 73 to Jubaianus, 9).[1] In this section of the letter, Cyprian is the first writer to cite Acts 8 as justification for this practice.[2] 

Neither author denied that the Holy Spirit was at work in the water of baptism.[3]  Fisher is justified when he says, “In conclusion, then, Cyprian’s doctrine of initiation, virtually identical with that of Tertullian, requires a liturgical practice where baptism, anointing, consignation and hand-laying with prayer are seen to be an organic whole. There is no ground for disagreement as to the spiritual blessings conferred by the whole rite; the difficulty arises when the attempt, unavoidable in the circumstances of today in the West, is made to distribute the blessings among the particular moments in the rite.”[4]

I. Optatus of Milevis
The same structure of 1) baptism in water 2) anointing 3) imposition of the hand is found in Optatus of Milevis who wrote around 370.  Optatus speaks about three mysteries, and he places along with baptism the “sacrament of oil” (sacramentum olei) and the “sacrament of the imposition of hands” (sacramentum impositionis manuum).  He writes about the baptism of Christ:

The heaven is open. When God anoints him the spiritual oil at once comes down under the form of a dove and sits upon his head and pours over him; the oil is spread asunder; whence he began to be called Christ, for he was anointed by God the Father; and lest he should seem to lack the imposition of the hand, the voice of God was heard from the cloud, saying ….” (Contra Parmenianum Donatistam, 4.7).[5]

Mitchell observes about this statement, “We find here the same rite described by Tertullian and St. Cyprian. The baptism, anointing, and laying on of hands are considered to be three co-ordinate elements (tria mysteria), and all must be found in the baptism of  Christ, which is the model of Christian baptism.”[6]

II. St. Augustine
The same ritual structure is found in the writings of St. Augustine.  After baptism in water there was an anointing with chrism.  Augustine wrote, “And by this ointment you wish the sacrament of chrism to be understood, which is indeed holy as among the class of visible signs, like baptism itself…” (Contra littreras Petiliani 2.104.237).[7]  Like Tertullian before him, Augustine interpreted this anointing in terms of 1 Peter 2:9.  He said of Christians, “just as we call all Christians ‘Christs’ in virtue of their sacramental anointing, so we call them all ‘priests’ because they are members of the one Priest” (De civitate Dei 17.4.9).[8] 

Mitchell judges that Augustine discussed the anointing after baptism “at much greater length than his predecessors.”[9]  He spoke in ways that attributed the giving of the Spirit to the anointing. Augustine wrote that, “The spiritual unction is the Holy Spirit himself, whose sacrament is the visible anointing” (Tract. in I Ep., Ioan. 3.5).[10]  He said in sermon 227 that, “The oil indeed is the sacrament of the fire of our Holy Spirit” (Sermon 227 ad infants).[11]  In a very interesting move he distinguishes between the work of the Spirit in the incarnation and the coming of the Spirit at Jesus baptism, and by analogy applies this distinction to baptism and the post-baptismal anointing.  He writes, “It is one thing to be born of the Holy Spirit, another to be nourished by the Spirit” (Sermo 71 12.19).[12] And so Augustine can write that: “The Holy Spirit is signified whether through the water for cleansing and washing, or through the oil for exultation and inflaming of charity; nor indeed, although the signs are different, does he differ from himself” (Enarratio in Psalmum 108.26).[13]

Augustine’s language about sign and sacrament is very complex.  Harmless cautions that Augustine “tended to describe each element – whether actions (exorcism, signing with the cross, bathing, anointing, hand laying), objects (the font, oil), even time periods (Easter, the Octave) – as distinct ‘sacraments’ in his sense of the term; ‘visible words,’ ‘sacred signs,’ of ‘the invisible.’”[14]  However the manner in which Augustine emphasized the link between the anointing and the gift of the Spirit was important. In the judgment of Joseph Coppens, Augustine “contributed greatly to the acceptance of a new interpretation of the post-baptismal unction, and this was the grouping henceforth of the chrismation and the imposition of hands … the unction soon became the principal rite and the only one of which the sacramental value was upheld in the controversies with the  Donatists.”[15]

While Augustine in new ways tied the giving of the Spirit to the anointing, he continued in the tradition of Tertullian and Cyprian by explicitly stating the Spirit was given through the imposition of the hand.  He wrote, “For none of his disciples gave the Holy Spirit. They would pray that he would come to those upon whom they would lay the hand, they themselves used not to give him.  This custom the church preserves through its prelates” (de Trin. 15.46).[16]

It seems very probable that this was accompanied by an invocation of the Spirit using a prayer based on Isa 11:2 which was very similar to that found in Gelesaian Sacramentary and the one used in Milan.  Augustine said, “The Spirit himself is invoked upon the baptized that God would give them, according to the prophet, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…. (Sermo 249.)[17] 

There is strong evidence that the one post-baptismal anointing and the imposition of the hand were performed by presbyters, and not just by bishops.  Johnson observes:

With regard to those who presided at the initiation rites in North Africa, it is significant that Augustine refers elsewhere to presbyters as ministers of the   complete rite. Similarly, according to Canons 32 and 36 of the Third Council of Carthage not only were they doing so, but also that they were understood to be the ministers of the entire rite. Hence, there is no evidence to support the notion that postbaptismal rites like anointing or handlaying were  ever reserved to bishops alone in North Africa.  And there certainly is no  evidence to suggest the existence of anything other than one postbaptismal  anointing followed by handlaying, rites integrally connected to baptism itself and associated both with participation in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.[18]

III. Conclusion
Just as in northern Italy, there is no evidence of Confirmation in North Africa.[19]  There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  There was no second anointing, and a presybter could perform the entire rite.

Previously in this series: The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 3 - Milan and northern Italy

[1] E.C. Whitaker, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy (rev. and ed. Maxwell E. Johnson; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 13 (hereafter DBL).
[2] Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (rev. and exp.; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press), 91.
[3] While Tertullian can write, “Not that in the waters we obtain the Holy Spirit; but in the water, under (the witness of) the angel, we are cleansed, and prepared for the Holy Spirit” (On Baptism 6) (Ante-Nicene Fathers 3.692 [hereafter ANF]), in his writings he can also speak about how the soul is “renewed in its second birth by water and the power from above” (Treatise on the Soul 41) (ANF 3.221).  Likewise Cyprian clearly believed that the Spirit was active in the water of baptism as it gives forgiveness of sins and spiritual birth.  For example, he writes in Letter 74.5, “Furthermore a person is not born again through the imposition of the hand when he receives the Holy Spirit, but in baptism so that having first been born he may receive the Spirit” (J.D.C. Fisher Christian Initiation: Confirmation Then and Now [Chicago: HillenbrandBooks, 1978)], 41).
[4] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 47.
[5] Leonel L. Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), 82.
[6] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 82.
[7] NPNF1 4:592.
[8] William Harmless, Augustine and the Catechumenate (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995), 311.
[9] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 83.
[10] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 84.
[11] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 84.
[12] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 84.
[13] Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 84.
[14] Harmless, Augustine and the Catechumenate, 311.
[15] L’Imposition des Mains et les Rites Connexes, 302 cited by Mitchell, Baptismal Anointing, 84.
[16] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 49-50.
[17] Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 58.  Fisher goes on to say based on this evidence, “That would strongly suggest that the Gelasian prayer was in use in Africa at least as far back as the early fifth century” (Fisher, Confirmation Then and Now, 58).
[18] Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation, 189.
[19] The Vandal (who were Arians) invasion of the fifth century and the Muslim invasion of the seventh century largely destroyed the Church in north Africa and brought to an end any development in the rite of baptism.

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