The Church and the Sacraments, Views During the Third Period (750-1517 A.D.), The Seven Sacraments, Confirmation

We will now continue our quotation on CONFIRMATION as recorded in the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia as follows :

Meanwhile in certain districts in Hesse and Strasburg a rite had been introduced, instituted by Butzer, who was acquainted with the Moravian laying on of hands (the Kirchenordnung of Cassel, 1539). The same liturgical manual contains the formula still in use: “Receive the Holy Ghost, safeguard and shelter against all malice, strength and help toward all good, from the gracious hand of God the Father.” But this rite gained ground in only a few districts of the Lutheran jurisdiction, since during the transitional negotiations this modified confirmatio fell under suspicion of being an unjustified concession to the Church of Rome, and was on that account rejected by the opposers of the Interim. Hence for a long time the rite was not instituted in some of the Lutheran districts, though it readily gained admission with the Calvinists. Among the Lutherans it was customary to observe only the so-called private confirmation; the catechumen, in his later boyhood, was brought by his sponsors before the qualified minister, by him examined, and thereupon if found competent, admitted to communion. The general adoption of public confirmation was expedited by the desire to enhance the effect of catechetical instruction by a ceremonial conclusion; by the endeavor to counteract the inroads of the Roman propaganda, and by the effort to implant religion in the child’s receptive nature. Since, however, the introduction of public confirmation coincided in part with a time when the existing liturgies were no longer binding, the rite was frequently shaped according to the preference of individual ministers. 

Now that confirmation has become in the Lutheran churches a generally solemnized ecclesiastical rite, and also a church rite which even the outer world notices with deference to family ties and friendship, theologians have naturally attempted to account for its nature and meaning. It has been regarded as supplementary to baptism (Schleiermacher), or as an act of reception into the confessional church (Weg-Schneider, Bretschneider); as a testimonial of majority in the case of those baptized as children (Nitzsch, Dorner); as reception into the congregation of adults, as a means of constituting a more limited congregation upon which devolves the direction of the life of the Church, but which also alone enjoys the privilege of communion (J.C.C. van Hoflnann); as a consummation of the state of a baptized catechumen and as a renewal of the baptismal bond on the subjective side; as a lay ordination and reception into the communing congregation (Zezschwitz); as a charismal communication of the Spirit through the laying on of hands (Vilmar). To all these explanations there are weighty objections. The theory of modern times, that confirmation in so far as it bestows the right to communion should be deferred, is subject to the objection that a potential participation in the Eucharist is compatible with such penitent and faithful reception as may be presupposed in the case of baptized and instructed children. So it is best to bestow the right to commune upon baptized and instructed children, by solemn confirmation or laying on of hands before the assembled congregation. 

In the Anglican Church there has been a widespread popular tendency to look upon the rite in the light of a formal admission to communion, the rubric in the Prayer book reading: “And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed.” But the latter alternative shows that no essential connection exists between the two; and, as a matter of fact, there is no practical difference between the teaching of at least the High-church party and that of the Roman Catholic Church on this subject. The definition in Article XXV, which includes confirmation as among “those five commonly called sacraments,” but “not to be counted for sacraments of the Gospel,” seems to place it with the things “have grown of the corrupt following of the Apostles”—as regards, that is, the medieval form. Omitting the chrism, and emphasizing the laying on of hands, the Anglican Church goes back to the New Testament record; but it is contended by Roman Catholic theologians that the contact with the bishop’s hand in the act of unction, to say nothing of the blow upon the cheek (intended to symbolize the conferring of the character of a soldier of Christ, who must be ready to “endure hardness”), is quite sufficient to cover this point.”—thus far our quotation from the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia. 

PENANCE 

On the sacrament of penance the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, in its fourteenth session, Nov. 25, 1551, expressed itself as follows:

CHAPTER I 

On the necessity, and on the institution of the Sacrament of Penance.

If such, in all the regenerate, were their gratitude toward God, as that they constantly preserved the justice received in baptism by this bounty and grace, there would not have been need for another sacrament, besides that of baptism itself, to be instituted for the remission of sins. But because God,rich in mercy, knows our frame, he hath bestowed a remedy of life even on those who may, after baptism, have delivered themselves up to the servitude of sin and the power of the devil,—the sacrament to wit of Penance, by which the benefit of the death of Christ is applied to those who have fallen after baptism. Penitence was indeed at all times necessary, in order to attain to grace and justice, for all men who had-defiled themselves by any mortal sin, even for those who begged to be washed by the sacrament of Baptism; that so, their perverseness renounced and amended, they might, with a hatred of sin and godly sorrow of mind, detest so great an offense of God. Wherefore the prophet says: Be converted and do penance for all your iniquities, and iniquity shall not be your ruin.” (Notice that the Roman Catholic Church, very arbitrarily, translates this text in Ezekiel 18:30 as: “be converted and do penance for all your iniquities.” Ezekiel 18:30 reads as follows: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” And it is plain that what the Romish Church translates as “do penance for all your iniquities,” should be translated as “turn yourselves.” The original Hebrew here does not permit the Romish translation.—H.V.) The Lord also said: Except you do penance, you shall also likewise perish (the text in Luke 13:5 reads: “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”—H.V.): and Peter, the prince of the apostles, recommending penitence to sinners who were about to be initiated by baptism, said: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you (Acts 2:38). Nevertheless, neither before the coming of Christ was penitence a sacrament, nor is it such since his coming, to any previously to baptism. But the Lord then principally instituted the sacrament of penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon his disciples, saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. By which action so signal, and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power offorgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the apostles and their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after baptism. And the Catholic Church with great reason repudiated and condemned as heretics the Novatians, who of old obstinately denied that power of forgiving. Wherefore, this holy Synod, approving of and receiving as most true this meaning of those words of our Lord, condemns the fanciful interpretations of those who, in opposition to the institution of this sacrament, falsely wrest those words to the power of preaching the Word of God, and of announcing the Gospel of Christ. 

CHAPTER II 

On the Difference between the Sacrament of Penance and that of Baptism

For the rest, this sacrament is clearly seen to be different from baptism in many respects: for besides that it is very widely different indeed in matter and form, which constitute the essence of a sacrament, it is beyond doubt certain that the minister of baptism need not be a judge, seeing that the Church exercises judgment on no one who has not entered therein through the gate of baptism. For, what have I, saith the apostle, to do to judge them that are without? It is otherwise with those who are of the household of faith, whom Christ our Lord has once, by laver of baptism, made the members of his own body; for such, if they should afterwards have defiled themselves by any crime, he would no longer have them cleansed by a repetition of baptism—that being nowise lawful in the Catholic Church—but be placed as criminals before this tribunal; that, by the sentence of the priests, they might be freed, not once, but as often as, being penitent, they should, from their sins committed, flee thereunto. Furthermore, one is the fruit of baptism, and another that of penance. For, by baptism putting on Christ, we are made therein entirely a new creature, obtaining a full and entire remission of all sins; unto which newness and entireness, however, we are no ways able to arrive by the sacrament of Penance, without many tears and great labors on our parts, the divine justice demanding this; so that penance has justly been called by holy Fathers a laborious kind of baptism. And this sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation; as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated. 

CHAPTER III 

On the Parts and on the Fruit of this Sacrament 

The Holy Synod doth furthermore teach, that the form of the sacrament of Penance, wherein its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister: I absolve thee, etc.; to which words indeed certain prayers are, according to the custom of holy Church, laudably joined, which nevertheless by no means regard the essence of that form, neither are they necessary for administration of the sacrament itself. But the acts of the penitent himself, to wit, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, are as it were the matter of this sacrament. Which acts, inasmuch as they are, by God’s institution, required in the penitent for the integrity of the sacrament, and for the full and perfect remission of sins, are for this reason called the parts of penance. But the thing signified indeed, and the effect of this sacrament, as far as regards its force and efficacy, is reconciliation with God, which sometimes, in persons who are pious and who receive this sacrament with devotion, is wont to be followed by peace and serenity of conscience, with exceeding consolation of spirit. The holy Synod, whilst delivering these things touching the parts and the effect of this sacrament, condemns at the same time the opinions of those who contend that the terrors which agitate the conscience, and faith, are the parts of penance. 

—H.V.