Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Σφραγὶς δωρεᾶς Πνεύματος Ἁγίου

In the Byzantine Rite, the words at the anointing of the confirmandi with chrism are "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Sphragis dōreas Pneumatos Hagiou).  By an ancient tradition, when the Apostles could no longer confirm in person by the laying on of hands, they instead consecrated the first chrism, or perfumed olive oil (myron, as the Greeks call it by metonymy, after one of the odorific additives, myrrh), and distributed this to the bishops and priests they appointed in every place, that henceforth confirmation be by anointing with chrism.  Thus far the Holy Eastern Church...

According to the Beloved Disciple, we all receive an anointing (chrisma) from the Holy One (I John ii, 20), and very fittingly, since as Christians we are in sober truth christs, very members of Christ, Who lives in us, and by His Spirit gives us true life.  The application of the sacred unction symbolizes and reminds us of this, which is the fulfilment in us, in Christ, of all the Old Testament types and prophecies made concerning the Lord's Anointed.

Amusingly, while the word "chrism" has this high and pure connotation, the word itself is cognate with a native English word of precisely opposite nature: grime!  We who are besmirched and besmeared with the muck of this world, the scum of sinners, fallen sons of the man of earth, are chrismated to become perfect men in Christ.  We are confirmed, anointed, and sealed (sphragisamenos) - cf.  II Cor. i, 20f.

Confirmation is a perfecting and completing of baptimal grace, a strengthening, a setting fast, a making sure: it seals us and marks us with an indelible character; it is effected by the laying on of hands and chrismation, accompanied by the words of prayer.  In the not inconsequential phrase of old, it establishes us Christians as soldiers of Christ, to fight the good fight of the faith against the world, the flesh and the devil.  It is the gift of the Gift, a most special imprint of the Holy Ghost.

Confirmation, however, is at present for some a stumbling block set in the path of those wavering between hope and fear, those at Tiber's bank wondering whether to cross...

As a consequence of the Church's well-known doubts as to the validity of Anglican orders in general, as well as for the very good reason that Anglicans do not in general anoint at their rite of confirmation, but only lay on hands, Anglican laymen who come into full communion with the Catholic Church are directed to be confirmed as part of their reception. Their previous Anglican confirmation is adjudged insufficient, not merely by reason of concern about the orders of those who carried out that rite, but since that rite usually did not include an anointing with any chrism at all, let alone some duly consecrated in solemn rites, since any shadow of doubt in the matter of the sacraments must be treated as a most serious concern.

Whatever of the undoubted fact that, in the Apostolic age, confirmation was at first carried out by the laying on of hands by the Apostles, very early on - Tertullian is among the first to explicitly testify to this - the anointing of candidates with oil became the central rite of confirmation, or chrismation as the East terms it.  Certainly, by the time of the unhappy break of England with Rome, the Western Church had for a millennium and more used chrism for confirmation.  While to this day theologians are divided as to the absolute necessity of chrismation as part of the sacrament, and the Church has made no final decision on the subject, it is certain that in all recognized churches, retaining Apostolic orders, anointing is the central ceremony of confirmation, and has been for well over a thousand years.  The Orthodox are if anything more insistent upon this point, it is well to note.

Therefore, whatever of the original simple ritual of the Primitive Church, Cranmer and his associated Reformers had no power whatsoever to break with the age-old consensus of the Fathers, of the whole Church, and to cast away anointing with chrism at confirmation.  It is to be feared that, in doing so, they consciously attempted to strip it of all sacramental significance.  The Church having determined to chrismate, to break with this is to introduce a most serious doubt as to the efficacy of the rite, even if, for the sake of argument, Anglican orders were unquestionably valid.

As the Ecumenical Council of Trent, lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, decreed in its 7th Session, in 1547, when treating of the sacraments:
CANON XIII.  If any one saith, that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, wont to be used in the solemn administration of the sacraments, may be contemned, or without sin be omitted at pleasure by the ministers, or be changed, by every pastor of the churches, into other new ones; let him be anathema.
Therefore, for Cranmer et al. to change the "received and approved rites... used in the solemn administration of the sacraments" - as by removing the use of chrism from confirmation - was a most gravely sinful act; to say that such proud pastors had the power to do so, in defiance of the wider Church, would throw all the sacraments and their essential rites into complete uncertainty.  They had no such authority.

The fact that the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, followed by all its successors, did away with chrismation as the essential sacramental rite of confirmation, proves that Anglican confirmation is radically defective, and in the eyes of the Catholic Church inherently suspect of invalidity, whatever of the status of the orders of a particular Anglican bishop.

The spiritual forefathers of Continuing Anglicans, the Nonjurors of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, early attempted to restore the use of chrism in confirmation, since these devoted students of Christian antiquity saw that chrismation is an essential element of the rite, as the Preface of their liturgical compilation of 1718 attests:
...the Chrism [is] restored in the Confirmation-Office.  ...as for Chrism, it is an Emblem of Spiritual Unction, of Grace conferr'd by the Holy Ghost; and with this Reference and Allusion it has been practis'd by the Primitive and Universal Church.
 To this end, they added to the rite in the Prayer Book, not only restoring certain forms included in 1549, but deleted in 1552, but most significantly restoring (from the Sarum Pontifical) the chrismation, with rubricks directing that the Bishop
shall anoint every one of them with the Chrism or Ointment, making the sign of the Cross upon their forehead, and saying,
N., I sign thee with the sign of the Cross, I anoint thee with Holy Ointment,
Then the Bishop shall lay his hand upon the head of the Person he is confirming, and say,
And I lay my hand upon thee: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.
(The Sarum formula, identical with the traditional Roman form, was N., Signo te signo crucis et confirmo te chrismate salutis, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti – "N., I sign thee with the sign of the Cross and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost".  It is evident that the Nonjurors adjusted and reinserted the words relative to the chrism into the 1549 rendering of the rest of the formula.)

The same small book goes on to supply a form for consecrating the chrism, noting that it is compounded of "sweet Oil of Olives, and precious Balsam commonly called Balm of Gilead"; the short prayer appointed aptly summarizes the purposes of confirmation:
The Lord be with you.
And with thy spirit.
Let us pray.

O Lord of mercies, and Father of lights, from whom every good and perfect gift proceedeth; Send down, we beseech thee, thine Holy Spirit to sanctify this Ointment: And grant, that all those who after Baptism shall be anointed therewith, may be cleansed and purified both in body and soul, be confirmed in godliness, and obtain the blessings of the Holy Ghost; who, with the Father and the Son, liveth and reigneth ever one God, world without end.  Amen.
(Source: A Communion Office, Taken Partly from Primitive Liturgies, And Partly from the First English Reformed Common-Prayer-Book: Together with Offices for Confirmation, and the Visitation of the Sick.  London: 1718.)

While this rite died with the Nonjurors as they successively split, faded, failed and died out, the fact that those pious men of old time were moved to restore chrismation as part of their ceremony of confirmation is highly instructive.

In the case of modern-day Anglicans seriously considering taking up Pope Benedict's most generous offer of welcoming them into the unity of the Catholic Church, I would urge them, in all honesty and concern for their spiritual well-being, not to be angered, driven away nor scandalized at the Roman insistence upon reception into full communion by confirmation.  The fact that most if not all of them will not have been confirmed in a rite using consecrated chrism, but by a laying on of hands alone, should give them pause: such a confirmation, wanting a most central and important rite - a rite viewed as essential by the Orthodox even more so than by the Papacy - is unfortunately questionable.

If one received but the laying on of hands alone, and yet the churches of East and West have for many ages required one to be anointed with holy chrism, ought not one then prudently accept chrismation?

Since the deletion of anointing with chrism was a most serious and unparalleled omission made by the Reformers in defiance of Apostolic order, it is only prudent to assume that the Anglican rite of confirmation is, sadly, imperfect; and the only prudent course therefore is to submit to confirmation, with true chrism, at the hands of an undoubtedly consecrated bishop in the Apostolic succession, or of a priest as his licensed delegate.

I recall what Bishop Elliott once told us, of how he had been most carefully prepared for his confirmation by his father, an Anglo-Catholic priest holding to a high doctrine of confirmation as a true sacrament.  Great was his father's wrath when the bishop who administered confirmation to young Peter - an ultra-low-church creature, "lower than a snake's belly" - went out of his way to deny that confirmation was a sacrament at all!  Having had such an unpleasant and confusing Anglican  experience, I daresay he was only too glad, when received into the Catholic Church, to be confirmed properly and without ambiguity.

What of those who, like Elliott, taught by pious men of Anglo-Catholic churchmanship, still shrink honestly from the prospect of being confirmed "again"?  The experience, by no means unusual, of the good bishop ought give them pause for thought.

They would have been taught, and rightly so - if only their actual confirmation had been unquestionably valid! - that confirmation is unrepeatable, and that it were a sacrilege to be confirmed again.  But this is the crux of the whole issue: the Catholic Church, on the twofold grounds of lack of anointing with chrism in the ceremony, and lack of certain orders on the part of the minister of Anglican confirmation, cannot affirm that such rite is a valid sacrament.  Therefore, concerned and rightly so for the good of the souls of those who would enter into full communion, she would they were confirmed absolutely, for the avoidance of all danger.

The uncertainty of spotty Anglican practice - apparently involving, in some continuing jurisdictions, even the use of anointing, I am informed, but also including such resolute denials of the sacrament as that just mentioned, by those who never chrismate - compounded with concerns over the doubtfulness of Anglican orders (their "apocryphal" or cryptic, uncertain nature), makes all too understandable the wise provision of the Catholic Church in appointing confirmation as part of the rite of reception of incomers into full communion.

It is horrible to think, placing myself for the moment in the position of a good Anglo-Catholic, that what I so carefully prepared for and so valued - my confirmation in the Anglican communion - is not considered at all safe and sure by the Catholic Church, and that in joining her fellowship and communion, I will perforce be confirmed "again".  This is indeed a stumbling block.

But this does not mean that such a person is viewed as lacking the Holy Spirit, nor as the dupe of a false offer of grace!  God ever pours forth His Holy Spirit and grace, and indeed were it not for such supernatural elevation no Anglican would be moved in his heart to seek for Christian unity, fleeing what he once thought to be the true church, but now revealed in its doctrinal and moral confusion to be anything but.  There is pain and tragedy in this; there is greater joy and hope in the surer promise, founded on the rock of Peter's faith.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!  How magnificent, not only to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church, fulfilling the hopes of generations of Anglo-Catholics, but at that reception to be guaranteed, in the prudent ministration of confirmation, the anointing of the Holy One, the seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.


Schütz said...

While to this day theologians are divided as to the absolute necessity of chrismation as part of the sacrament, and the Church has made no final decision on the subject,

Not quite certain about that, old chap. Paul VI in his constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation (http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/admin/Uploads/media/35/ApostolicConstitutionOnConfirmation.pdf) declared:

"Therefore, in order that the revision of the rite of confirmation may, as is fitting, include
even the essence of the sacramental rite, by our supreme apostolic authority we decree
and lay down that in the Latin Church the following are to be observed for the future.

I think too that there is some other way to salve the consciences of our dear separated brethren on this matter.

Throughout the history of the Catholic and Orthodox Church, confirmation has been connected with the bishop - either by the fact that he is the one who administers it or by the fact that chrism which he has consecrated is used. It is thus in a very real sense a "sacrament of communion" with the bishop and, through the bishop, with the universal Church.

I was, of course, confirmed as a Catholic when received into the Catholic Church. I had, again "of course", been confirmed as a Lutheran years ago. I had myself while a Lutheran pastor received many adults into the membership of the Lutheran Church through the rite of confirmation. Though I used oil for this rite, it was not required, and certainly it wasn't blessed by my District President.

The point however is this. Not only Lutherans, but Anglicans, Uniting, and a host of other communities receive people into their communion by a rite which includes the laying on of hands and often a confession of baptismal faith. Often they call this rite "confirmation". So, now I really am getting to the point, there is a sense in which Confirmation can be seen as a "sacrament of communion" - it not only completes baptismal grace, but it strengthens and makes clear the bonds of communion that arise from that grace. In the case of Catholic confirmation, it connects one with the local bishop and thus with every Catholic Church in the world.

Anglicans receive valid "Anglican Confirmation", but this rite was not the same thing as valid "Catholic Confirmation". They are two different things, because the point of reference is the Bishop who is the Ordinary Minister of this sacrament.

It is worth thinking about.

Joshua said...

Thanks, David.

I ought clarify - note that Paul VI said "we decree
and lay down that in the Latin Church the following [as the matter and form of the sacrament] are to be observed for the future."

In other words, he was determining the matter and form for the Roman Rite only, and for the future.

He said nothing about the matter and form of confirmation in the Roman Rite prior to 1971 or whenever; nor about the matter and form in other rites, such as the Byzantine, the Coptic, etc.

The Anglican question is this: assuming per impossibile that their Orders are irreproachable for the moment, can their rite of confirmation be valid if it does not include the use of chrism?

As their rite was drawn up by persons rebelling against the legitimate authority of the Western Church, which had long settled the ritual requirements of confirmation, and which at Trent in 1547, only two years prior to the first BCP, had anathematized those pastors who felt able to change the rites and ceremonies of the sacraments, it seems to me very dubious indeed for Anglicans to claim that, assuming their Orders to be alright, they could furthermore dump chrismation from the sacrament of confirmation and determine a new "matter and form" of the laying on of hands plus a new form of words (itself changed even more in 1552).

Joshua said...

(David, as this piece of mine about confirmation has been reposted over at The Anglo-Catholic, I'll copy your comments and mine across to there also.)