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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… Confirmation: From The Standpoint Of Tradition

January 21, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 12

We have studied the Sacrament of Confirmation from the point of view of Sacred Scripture. Now it is time to investigate it from the point of view of Tradition — that, is, the oral teachings from the apostles that were handed down through the early centuries of Christian history.
Non-Catholics of all sorts deny the validity of the apostolic Tradition, and doing so becomes their own undoing, since not everything our Lord taught the apostles was consigned to writing. In fact, St. John the Evangelist, at the end of his Gospel, candidly stated: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).
The Bible acquired its present format in the year 347 at the Council of Carthage, when the Catholic bishops sifted the authentic inspired books from the non-inspired ones. Shortly thereafter, the great biblical scholar St. Augustine (d. 430) wrote that Confirmation was exactly as it is today: “The Sacrament of Chrism,” he said, “is one of the visible signs and, like Baptism itself, is most holy.”
But his fourth-century testimony about the truthfulness of Confirmation is not the earliest one.
Here I quote a few of those writings from the Early Church Fathers, to demonstrate that from apostolic times, Confirmation was administered to Christians sometimes after Baptism, sometimes together with Baptism.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), in his Catechetical Instructions, devoted a special catechesis to the praise of Confirmation, saying, “As the bread of the Eucharist . . . is no longer mere bread but the Body of Christ, so this holy ointment, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is no longer plain ointment . . . but the chrism of Christ, which, by the presence of the Godhead, causes in us the Holy Spirit. This symbolically anoints your forehead, . . . but the soul is sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.”
Confirmation and Chrism are synonymous names for the same sacrament.
St. Ephraim of Syria (c. 350) wrote in his Commentaries on Sacred Scripture (On Joel 2:24):
“ ‘And your floors shall be filled with wheat, and the presses shall overflow equally with wine and oil’ — This has been fulfilled mystically by Christ, who gave to the people whom He had redeemed, that is, to His Church, wheat and wine and oil in a mystic manner. For the wheat is the mystery of His Sacred Body; and the wine is Saving Blood; and again, the oil is the sweet unguent with which those who are baptized are signed, being clothed in the armaments of the Holy Spirit.”
More than a whole century before St. Cyril, St. Cyprian (d. 258), commented on the passage from Acts about the Samaritans who had already been baptized by the Deacon Philip, and Confirmation was added to them.
He said: “The Samaritans who had already obtained legitimate ecclesiastical Baptism did not require any further Baptism. Peter and John merely supplied what was wanting, namely that by prayer and the imposition of hands the Holy Spirit should be poured forth on them. This is also the practice with us: those who are baptized in the Church are presented to the bishops, and, through our prayer and the laying on of hands, they receive the Holy Spirit and are made perfect by the seal of the Lord.”
This is pretty much the same language used by the Catechism we have today.
Half a century before St. Cyprian, Tertullian, writing in c. 210, said: “The body is anointed, that the soul may be made holy; the body is marked with a sign, that the soul may be protected; the body is overshadowed by the laying on of hands, that the soul may be enlightened by the Holy Spirit.”
Referring to the necessity of the imposition of hands and the anointed to receive the Holy Spirit, he wrote: “The flesh is anointed, so that the soul may be dedicated to holiness. The flesh is signed, so that the soul too may be fortified. The flesh is shaded by the imposition of hands, so that the soul too may be illuminated by the Spirit.”
In his Letter to the Bishops of Africa, he taught that “it is necessary for him that has been baptized also to be anointed, so that by his having received chrism, that is, the anointing, he can be the anointed of God and have in himself the grace of Christ.”
St. Theophilus of Antioch linked the anointing of the “oil of God” with being a Christian. He wrote in his To Autolycus, the only one of his works of apologetics that has survived: “Are you unwilling to be anointed? It is on this account that we are called Christians. Because we are anointed with the oil of God.”
We also find writings of non-Catholic witnesses that confirm the apostolic origin of the Sacrament of Confirmation. The ancient Oriental Churches and the Byzantine Orthodox Churches of today all have the Sacrament of Confirmation. Even the Gnostic heretics as far back as the first half of the second century practiced the rite of anointing and the laying on of hands. These alone would suffice to establish decisively the tradition of the Church.

The Belt Of Truth

St. Paul the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Ephesians (6:10-18), emphasizes the Sacrament of Confirmation, which makes us soldiers of Christ, with a beautiful description of the armor of God. He wrote:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
We can see how important is to provide a proper understanding to young people about the Sacrament of Confirmation!
Next article: The Holy Eucharist — God with us!

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. He is a militant pro-life writer and apologist, addressing live audiences and delivering talks on television, radio, and online. To date he has given over 2,500 presentations in 38 countries of the six continents. He is available to speak at Catholic events, both large and small, anywhere in the Free World, in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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