"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 23 January 2016




This article has been written in the belief that the best way to understand the sacraments is to understand the liturgy, and the best way to understand Baptism is to understand the Paschal Vigil because the whole ritual was built around Baptism.   In the "Exultet", which is sung at the very beginning of the Vigil,  Baptism is placed in its proper context, which is Salvation History.   It is as though the whole of the history of our salvation is concentrated for each person in the process of Baptism, Confirmation and Communion.   The sin of Adam is looked at with joy through the prism of the Resurrection, "Oh happy fault!" which has brought us such a redemption.  Here, right before you in the here and now, redemption is unfolding in the lives of those who are being baptized.
Image result for st ambrose of milan
When St Ambrose was Bishop of Milan (  ), he had readings for Baptism which have hardly changed.  St Ambrose presents us with several Old Testament texts through which he gives us the meaning of baptism and places it within the context of Salvation History.   
  • The first reading  is of the Holy Spirit hovering over the primaeval waters, the cosmic soup, drawing order out of chaos.   This tells us that baptism is of cosmic importance, an event at a cosmic level.   
  • The next scenario from the Old Testament is of Noah and the Flood.   This tells us that baptism is an event that concerns the whole human race.   God is doing something of historic importance for the whole of humanity when he baptizes one individual.   
  • The third scenario is the crossing of the Red Sea and the rescue of the People of God, Israel, from the hands of Pharoah.  This teaches us that baptism is important for the People of God which is the Church.   
  • Finally, there is the curing of Naaman the Syrian from leprosy.   Elishah told Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan, which he did and was cured.   This tells us that baptism about the salvation of the individual.   

Let us take a look at each of these levels which are about key moments in salvation history that help us to understand Baptism. Of course, there are more readings, but we shall concentrate on these to show something of the richness of the liturgy. 
The Spirit hovering over the cosmic soup and drawing order out of chaos, and the Spirit hovering like a dove over Jesus at his Baptism  are key moments in the past that help us to understand Baptism.   Scientists tell us that everything is the product of the "Big Bang" and there is star dust among the ingredients that make up our bodies.  For the universe, our importance lies, not in our size, our deeds or the length of our lives, but in what begins to happen when we are baptized.   It is said that the small droplet of energy that blew up at the Big Bang was so small before the explosion that it is said to have had no dimensions.  We are not much better ourselves; but in Baptism we pass through the death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord into the presence of the Father, without losing connection with all the links that bind us to the universe.   What happens to us will eventually happen to the whole universe in the "new heaven and earth" because of the links forged in the Church between heaven and earth in such events as these baptisms.   For the rest of our lives in this world we shall participate in the liturgy of heaven while our feet remain firmly on the earth; and, according to our openness to Christ, our lives will become instruments of the Spirit who will reach out to all that exists through us.

If this appears too ambitious for the moment, then, at least we can see that we are baptized as members of the human race and these baptisms should be a cause of rejoicing to all human beings who who want to do what is right, even if they do not recognize this, because, in baptizing people into the Church, God is building the pathway that the rest must take in order to reach salvation.   In the myth of Noah, the whole future of the human race depended on his obedience; but it involved the destruction of all other humans but him and his family.   In Christ, where myth becomes reality, at C.S. Lewis would say, the salvation of the human race and its transformation into sons and daughters of God, also depends on one man, Jesus; but God does not intend  the destruction of all human beings apart from Jesus and his disciples.   He is the Good Shepherd who is ready to leave the ninety nine safe in the sheepfold, and to go looking for the one that is lost; and the goal of the whole drama of Christ's death and resurrection is that, "As in Adam, all men died, so in Christ, all men are made alive."  By his obedience, Noah ensured the survival of the human race in the future: by the Holy Spirit, the whole human race of all times and places was united to Christ's obedience unto death and would be saved to the extent that it makes his obedience its own.   Crucial in this process is the role of the baptised.

In Exodus, Israel was subjected to two baptisms, the crossing of the Red Sea when escaping from Egypt at the beginning of their sojourn in the desert, and the crossing of the Jordan into the promised land at the end.   Jesus too had two baptisms, the baptism in the Jordan  at the beginning of his public life and his dying on the cross at the end; and he called his passion  "baptism" when he asked James and John if they could undergo the baptism that he was going to undergo.  In our baptism, we die and rise with Christ, thus being conformed to his "second" baptism and become sons and daughters of the Father, sharing in his divine sonship which is proclaimed in his Baptism proper.   In baptism we are introduced to a life accompanied by God, as the Jews were accompanied by him during their forty years in the desert; and we become citizens of heaven, sharing through the liturgy in the liturgy of heaven,    just as the Jews entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan.   Just as a mixed group of refugees were formed and moulded to become Israel, the Chosen People, by their experience in the desert, so the New Israel, the New People of God is formed, from one generation to the next in a process that begins with baptism.

We have seen that baptism is a moment in a cosmic process, is good news for the human race, and is the means by which the Church is formed from one generation to another.  Finally, Baptism is looked at from the point of view of the individual and his needs.  This is treated through the story of Elishah who tells Naaman, a leper, to wash seven times in the Jordan.   Because of his obedience, God cures Naaman of his leprosy and Naaman recognizes God to be the One and Only God.   Thus Baptism is for the forgiveness of sin and for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit by which we enter into the body of Christ, and thus share in the very divine-human life of Christ.

The climax of the liturgy of the Word is the Easter proclamation.   It begins with the proclamation of the Easter Alleluia which is absolutely wonderful in Latin, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum quod est 'Alleluia'!" and doesn't sound nearly as good in English, "I announce to you a great joy which is 'Alleluia!'"   In this context of great joy the Easter Gospel is proclaimed.   If Christ is not risen, our faith and our baptisms are in vain.   Through resurrection, Christ's death as total self-giving to the Father is drawn out of time into eternity and becomes a dimension of  his resurrected life; death is swallowed up in victory; the cross is turn from an instrument of execution into a sign of salvation; and, by this sign, Christians have conquered down the ages, devils have been put to flight, people, things and whole nations have been blessed.    It is the key to understanding Christianity and the reason for the creation of the world.   Most of all, it is by means of the resurrection that people are baptized and introduced into the divine-human life of Christ

We have now reached the baptismal liturgy.   In the early Church and in the modern baptism of adults, there has been a a time of preparation, of learning about the Faith; and  this is divided into various stages with a ritual that marks the ending of a stage and a step towards the sacrament of baptism.   The baptismal liturgy in the Paschal Vigil begins with the blessing of the water.

The Blessing of the Water

The Church's understanding of the sacraments of initiation is best discovered in the ceremonies of Holy Week where water and oil are blessed and in the liturgies in which they are celebrated..   The dogmatic teaching of   the extraordinary magisterium must be interpreted within that context.  Perhaps the clearest statement of the meaning of Baptism is found in the solemn blessing of baptismal water in the Easter Vigil.   Following the classical Jewish pattern, the blessing begins with anamnesis, remembering the mighty deeds of God, starting with the Spirit breathing on the cosmic waters before creation, and thus making them the wellspring of all holiness, and ending with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross.   Then comes the epiclesis, in which God the Father is asked to send his Spirit on the water so that the person can be cleansed from sin and rise to a new life of innocence by the power of the Holy Spirit.     We have seen in a previous article that the liturgy is the fruit of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Churc h.     This is nowhere clearer than in this epiclesis at the very heart of this blessing.

After the singing of the Litany of the Saints to indicate that the whole Church, both in heaven and on earth, is involved in this baptism,  the bishop or presiding priest faces the water that is to become baptismal water and sings the epiclesis :

By the power of the Holy Spirit give to this water the grace of your Son, so that in the sacrament of baptism all those whom you have created in your likeness may be cleansed from sin and rise to a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit.
Here, if this can be done conveniently, the celebrant lowers the Easter Candle into the water once or three times, and then holds it there until the acclamation at the end of the blessing.
We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this font.   May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life. We ask this through Christ our Lord.   All: Amen.

 If the Easter candle has been held in the water, the celebrant then raises it and the people sing the following or another suitable acclamation:

Springs of water, bless the Lord.Give him glory and praise for ever.

Hence the teaching of the liturgy on how baptism works is that, at the request of the Church, through Jesus Christ, the Father sends the Holy Spirit on the water which becomes, by this blessing, an instrument of the Holy Spirit.    When this water is poured on the catechumen,: the Church acts in synergy with the Spirit and thus the person is baptized "in water and the Holy Spirit."

The theology of Orthodox baptism is the same.  As my readers are probably less familiar with the Orthodox rite I shall quote more of it:
We confess Your Grace; we proclaim Your beneficence; we do not hide Your Mercy; You have set at liberty the generations of our nature; You did hallow the virginal Womb by Your Birth; all creation praises You, Who did manifest Yourself, for You were seen upon the earth, and did sojourn with men. You hallowed the streams of Jordan, sending down from the Heavens Your Holy Spirit, and crushed the heads of dragons that lurked therein. DO YOU YOURSELF, O LOVING KING, BE PRESENT NOW ALSO THROUGH THE DESCENT OF YOUR HOLY SPIRIT AND HALLOW THIS WATER (3). And give to it the Grace of Redemption, the Blessing of Jordan. Make it a fountain of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a loosing of sins, a healing of sicknesses, a destruction of demons, unapproachable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might; and let them that take counsel together against Your creature flee there from, for I have called upon Your Name, O Lord, which is wonderful, and glorious, and terrible unto adversaries.And he signs the water thrice, dipping his fingers in it; and breathing upon it, he says:LET ALL ADVERSE POWERS BE CRUSHED BENEATH THE SIGNING OF YOUR MOST PRECIOUS CROSS (3).
The prayer of blessing in the Apostolic Constitutions gives us the same teaching:
Sanctify the water, that those who are baptized in it may be crucified with Christ, die with him, be buried with him, and rise again through adoption.   (Apostolic Constitutions 7, 43)
In both Catholic West and Orthodox East, the teaching of the liturgy is the same, that the Holy Spirit hallows the baptismal water in such a way that it becomes a "fountain of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a loosing of sins, a destruction of demons, unapproachable by hostile powers etc".   By being blessed the water   receives the "blessing of Jordan" and becomes an instrument of the Holy Spirit, so that, when a person is immersed in it, the baptism is "of water and the Holy Spirit".  The words that express the purpose of baptism are to be found in the Blessing of the Water. hence neither St Ambrose  in fourth century Milan nor St Cyril in Jerusalem felt the need to use a formula that included "I baptize you..".   Instead, the  person being baptized was required to acclaim his belief in each member of the Blessed Trinity.   However, this was a three-fold confession of  faith, not  just a mere assent to a theory about God: it is a whole-hearted commitment to Father, Son and Holy Spirit in whose name the baptism is taking place and  in whose life the baptised are being inserted.   This is what St Ambrose calls being "baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
   St Ambrose wrote:
You were asked, "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?" You answered, I believe." , and you were immersed in the water, that is, buried.A second time you were asked, "Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in his cross?"  You answered, "I believe" and you were immersed  in the water and thereby you were buried with Christ."   A third time you were asked, "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?"   and you were immersed a third time, in order that the three-fold confession might destroy your repeated falls in the past. (Ambrose.  "de Sacramentis", III, 7, 20)
St Cyril of Jerusalem has an identical liturgical practice:

4. After these things, you were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of theHoly Ghost, and you made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. For as our Saviour passed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so you also in your first ascent out of the water, represented the first day of Christ in the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is in the night, no longer sees, but he who is in the day, remains in the light, so in the descent, as in the night, you saw nothing, but in ascending again you were as in the day. And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother. And what Solomon spoke of others will suit you also; for he said, in that case, There is a time to bear and a time to die Ecclesiastes 3:2; but to you, in the reverse order, there was a time to die and a time to be born; and one and the same time effected both of these, and your birth went hand in hand with your death.

Scholastic theology defined sacraments in terms of "matter and form", separating the symbol and its formula from the liturgy in order to explain it; and this had the unintended consequence of rendering parts of the liturgy superfluous and of restricting our understanding of some aspects of the sacraments while concentrating on others.   Thus, the emphasis on the formula "This is my body...This is the chalice of my blood", as the form of the Eucharist gained in clarity; but it rendered superfluous the offertory and the rest of the eucharistic prayer, made it appear to be a kind of incantation over bread and wine rather than part of a prayer to the Father, led to an under-emphasis of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Mass and prepared the way for the Protestant heresy about the Eucharist.   Moreover it cannot be sustained as universally applicable because many early eucharistic prayers did not have the "words of institution", and one of them is still in use, the Anaphora of SS Addai and Mari which remains in its original Aramaic.    Thus, liturgists have taught the dogmatic theologians that the whole Eucharistic prayer consecrates, but the "moment of consecration" in the Latin Rite is at the words of institution, even though this cannot be automatically applied to other rites.   

Unless we restore the significance of the blessings of water and oil on Maundy Thursday, we will continue to forget the cosmic and ecclesial dimensions of the sacraments we celebrate and concentrate entirely on their effects in the individual soul in a way that is alien to the spirit of the liturgy.   Father Alexander Schmemann, speaking from an Orthodox point of view but expounding Catholic Tradition, writes about baptism interpreted only from the point of view of the individual:

This doctrine of the sacraments is alien to the Orthodox because in the Orthodox ecclesial experience and tradition a sacrament is understood primarily as a revelation of the genuine nature of creation, of the world, which, however much it has fallen as “this world,” will remain God’s world, awaiting salvation, redemption, healing and transfiguration in a new earth and a new heaven. In other words, in the Orthodox experience a sacrament is primarily a revelation of the sacramentality of creation itself, for the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life. If in baptism water can become a “laver of regeneration,” if our earthly food—bread and wine—can be transformed into partaking of the body and blood of Christ, if, to put it briefly, everything in the world can be identified, manifested and understood as a gift of God and participation in the new life, it is because all of creation was originally summoned and destined for the fulfilment of the divine economy—”then God will be all in all.

The essential characteristic of Catholic liturgy is that it is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church.   If this is not so, then it is not liturgy.   It is the principal expression of Tradition which it is the pope's and bishops' job to serve and protect.   They can adapt it, regulate its use, even add to it if what they add is in continuity with what has gone before; but it would go against the very nature of the papacy and the episcopate to abolish some forms of the liturgy in favour of others.   That is what the Anglicans did at the Reformation, and it unchurched them, and what Pope Benedict refused to do with regard to the old Latin form of Mass  If that is so, I am not trying to place the theology of one century against the theology of another.   I am trying to make sure that we reap an advantage from both.  In the 4th century, as in the 21st, it is the same Holy Spirit and the same church that are acting in synergy; and, hence, no moment of Tradition has preference over another.  However, if we wish to have the fullest understanding of the sacraments, we need to look at Tradition in all its forms; and, of course, a practice in one century or part of the world can always be used in another.

    Scholastic theology must allow itself to be criticized and modified by the liturgy which is the supreme manifestation of the "ordinary magisterium"; and the ordinary magisterium, although it needs the extraordinary magisterium, is of greater importance because it is the level at which revelation actually "works" for the salvation of mankind, anticipating in the sacraments the transformation of the universe..  In other words, something happens to the water when it is blessed in so far as its relationship to God and the Church has been changed.   It has become for the Church a means by which the action of the Spirit is both revealed and carried out and thus fulfills the purpose for which God created the world.

Surely, this is not Catholic teaching!   Is it not true that an emergency baptism is done without blessed water?   Surely, the Church's teaching is that it is only essential for a valid baptism to have the pouring of water, any water, with the words, "I baptize you ...etc."   Yes, but if emergency baptism becomes the norm by which we explain what is essential to baptism, two things happen which must be considered unacceptable.   Firstly, in emergency baptism, it can be done, even by a non-Christian he intends to do what the Church does, even if he doesn't believe in it.   However, all sacraments are actions of the whole Church which is the basic sacrament.   If the emergency practice becomes the norm, the connection between the sacrament and the Church will be destroyed, at least in the minds of those who understand baptism in this way.   Likewise, if the practice of baptizing with water that has not been previously blessed becomes the norm by which we explain the principles of baptism, then the cosmic dimension of baptism and the connection between baptism as explained above and the dimension of the local Church become obscured or forgotten.

On the other hand, if we take the Easter Vigil as the fullest expression of what baptism is, then emergency baptism must be explained in relation to the Easter Vigil, and not the other way round. The Church, in its desire to make baptism as available as possible, teaches that anyone can baptize.   However, there must be some basis in sacramental ontology for this to happen.  The sacraments are not just legal acts, otherwise women could become priests by a mere change of rules of the Church.    No, sacraments are symbolic actions in which what is signified happens through the power of the Holy Spirit acting in synergy with the Church.   The norm for baptism is that it is celebrated by the bishop or priest within the context of the local community: only then will the meaning of baptism be clearly expressed.   In what way can the non-Christian represent the bishop or priest when he is not in any way a member of the Church?  On one hand there is the nature of the sacrament as an act of the Church, and on the other is the Church's practice.  The Holy Spirit is involved in both.   I think we must say that the Church is what it is as a direct result of the Incarnation, and the Incarnation is God the Son taking to himself our human nature.   Hence, this practice implies that there is a connection between the Church and non-believers, based on our sharing in a common human nature, even if we do not know with clarity what it is, but  enough to allow the Church to delegate this ministry in an emergency.     We must also conclude that the blessing of the water, its new role within the context of Christ's salvation as an anticipation of the New Heaven and New Earth, is implicit in an emergency baptism and explicit in baptism as normally celebrated.  This is possible because, in the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, as the Fathers taught, all water became, at least potencially, baptismal water.   The blessing of water by the Church simply makes actual what is a constant though hidden potential of all water since the Baptism of Christ.   In the Eastern Church, the Blessing of the Water on the feast of the Epiphany is, again, meant to bless all water everywhere.  The blessing of baptismal water makes explicit the effect of Christ's power on all water.  Here is a video on the Blessing of Water.

Profession of Faith

a) Unity in diversity

To understand the profession of faith we must remember that the catechumen is being baptized into  a Church whose central act is the Eucharist.  Each Christian community gathered together in the celebration of the Eucharist has, at one and the same time, an eschatological dimension because it is a celebration of and participation in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as we are brought into the presence of the Father in heaven, and this is the foundation of the Church's unity, and an historical dimension, in that it takes place in space and time and within an historical context, which is the cause of diversity in the Church.   

The eschatological dimension is the work of the Holy Spirit working in the ecclesial community, while the historical dimension is the human contribution acting in harmony with the Spirit.   These two dimensions are distinct but never separate: if one of these dimensions were missing  the Church would not be the body of Christ.

The Unity of the Church in Christ

Just as a ciborium can be full of consecrated hosts, each one of which is the body of Christ and all of which make up the same body, so each Mass is the work of the whole Church, each eucharistic community is the whole Church of all times and places made visible in a particular place; the one who presides over the local eucharistic assembly is presiding over an act of the whole universal Church and all who are attending the Mass are organically united by the Spirit as participants in all other Masses wherever they are celebrated.   As each local church is the body of Christ, it shares in the mind of Christ, the understanding of Christ and therefore, in principle, has the same faith and understanding as have all other churches.  As all this is the direct result of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, it arises from the eschatological dimension of the Church.

The Diversity of the Church in History United by the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In the historical dimension each church is a part of larger whole and is heir to the Apostolic preaching.   Tradition is the handing down, from one generation to the next, the truth of Christianity as the Church received it from the Apostles.   The constant reading of the Scripture in the liturgy and in private, the preaching of bishops, the homilies and writings of the Fathers, the testimony of the saints, the understanding of the faithful that arises from living and praying the Christian life, the understanding of the deliberations of general councils,  always when this is done in harmony with the Holy Spirit, contribute to the process we call Tradition.  The principal expression of Tradition, with its treasures coming from the time of the Apostles to the present day is the liturgy.

  Historically, the Apostolic Tradition was filtred through several missionary centres.  Most important were Antioch, Alexandria and Rome and, later, Jerusalem and Constantinople; and there were smaller centres like Armenia.   This led to the formation of a number of liturgical-spiritual families we call rites, each with its own Christian culture, vocabulary, artistic expression etc.   Just as there are four gospels but only one Gospel, so there is only one Tradition that has taken form in several traditions, each one manifesting through the Eucharist and its liturgical life the fullness of Catholicism which is Christ himself; but each doing it in its own way that reflects its own history..

If there is development, there is also forgetting; even if the constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit and our participation in the Christian Mystery guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church, the devil has not given up trying.

    Ordinary human limitations, when not compensated for by Christian love which reflects the universal love of Christ, can mislead even saints who are still in formation. Worse are the effects of sin, of spiritual myopia, of politics, nationalism and worldly ambition, or when anti-Christian ideas are mistakenly adopted by Christians.

   Perhaps the worst example was when East and West forgot each other when forming an idea of their own identity, and schism followed as night follows day.  In spite of this, the devil does not prevail; and all this human limitation only obscures but does not destroy the unity of Tradition, because it cannot destroy the unity of the Eucharist which both sides celebrate.

The Unity of Tradition

 St Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century wrote about Tradition.  Here is how Pope Benedict summerises the characteristics of the Tradition according to the teaching of St Irenaeus:
a) The Apostolic Tradition is "public," not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know "the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men": tradition and faith that "have reached us through the succession of bishops" ("Adv. Haer." 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.b) The Apostolic Tradition is "one." While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church's Tradition is one in its fundamental content although expressed in different ways.  The key to discover this unity Irenaeus calls "regula fidei" or "regula veritatis," which coincides with the baptismal Creed.  Given that the Church is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content despite different languages and cultures.There is a beautiful expression that Irenaeus uses in the book "Against Heresies":

"The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."
 We can already see at this time -- we are in the year 200 -- the universality of the Church, its catholicity and the         unifying force of truth, which unites these so-very-different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

 c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, "pneumatic," that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is "pneuma." It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.

This is the "life" of the Church, that which makes the Church always young, that is, fruitful with many charisms. Church and Spirit are inseparable for Irenaeus. This faith, we read in the third book of "Against Heresies," "which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. … For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (3,24,1).

He recognises  that this one truth is expressed in a number of languages, vocabularies, customs etc due to the unavoidable diverisity in the Church.  It is this diversity, also fruit of the Spirit on individual apostles and church fathers, in different languages, on different cultures, circumstances and histories, that, in St Irenaeus' words, is drawn up by the Spirit into "the Symphony of Salvation" which expresses the common message.

He intervenes in a bitter dispute between Pope Vincent and another group of Christians who held Easter at a different time from Rome.   St Irenaeus urges the acceptance of diversity, telling Pope Vincent that, "The difference in practice confirms the unity in faith."  The fact that the unity of Catholic faith, of Tradition, shines through all the particular traditions in churches in different parts of the world confirms that Tradition. 

The summaries of Tradition that were used in the "Profession of Faith" at Baptism were the first creeds; and the Nicene Creed originated in the Baptismal liturgy  before it was ever adopted by an ecumenical council.   It enjoyed the authority of being a liturgical text, expressing the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, before it became blessed by the infallibility of the extraordinary magisterium.  St Irenaeus wrote about the importance of understanding the Scriptures through the Church's Rule of Faith.   Pope Benedict gives us a summary of his teaching.   He said,
The question of the "rule of faith" and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the "rule of faith" coincides in practice with the Apostles' Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself. In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles. 
St Irenaeus gives us a summary of the Rule of Faith:
 this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race.
The first thing that hits you is its timelessness.   It could replace the profession of faith we use today or that of any of other liturgical families of the same Apostolic Tradition, crossing barriers of time and culture, without any problem.   It is the personal profession of faith of the catechumen precisely because he is being accepted by baptism into the faith of the universal Church, and not just a local Christian community.

Here is the summary used in the modern Baptismal Liturgy in the Roman Rite.

Bishop/priest:  N.  Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?Catechumen  : I do.Bishop/priest:  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified,and and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?Catechumen)I do.Bishop/priest: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,   the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting? 
Catechumen: I do.
The Creed was placed in the Mass as an expression of worldwide unity in faith that springs out of the unity of the Church in its transcendental dimension, sharing in the same death, resurrection, ascension of Christ into the Father's presence (Hb    ) in spite of a legitimate diversity in the ways the Gospel is lived and celebrated throughout the world.  In Baptism there was the same stress, that all in the local church commit themselves to and celebrate the same Catholic faith, as communities and as individual members.

Problems arose when, at the urging of the Franks, the popes tried to impose a regional variant of the Nicene Creed, the "filioque", on the universal Church. There is no room in the creeds for regional variants: their whole value lies in that they express the universal truth behind the variants; so they are permitted everywhere else except in the Creed.  The tragedy is that, by linking papal authority to a liturgical mistake, the popes paved the way to a complete rejection of their authority.  The whole purpose of the Creed was to lay bare and joyously proclaim the basic agreement in truth underlying the diversity of practice.  However, to be fair, it must be accepted that the East was just as anxious to impose Eastern practices on the West.  Even to this day, Orthodox point out differences between us and assume that the Catholic version expresses or hides some dark heresy.  We in the West have stopped playing that game.

Anointing with Chrism

"The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin and brought you to new life through water and the Holy Spirit. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation, so that, united with his people, you may remain for ever a member of Christ who is Priest, Prophet and King."
This is an anointing with chrism that is not Confirmation, what the East calls "Chrismation".  It is emphasising what had not yet been pointed out with sufficient force, an important point about Baptism.  It does not belong to the matter and form of the sacrament; and, therefore, to those accustomed to scholatsic theology, it could be overlooked.   However, in the internal logical of liturgy itself, the whole ritual is brought about by the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Hence, Christ is not only active in the actual baptising: he is also active in the emphasising.  Thus the prayer not only attributes the act of baptising to the Father by the power of the Spirit: it is also he who does the anointing.   We are still in the a sacramental context, even though the symbolic ritual is only drawing out what has already been done in the Baptism.  Such is the hidden energy within all liturgy.


Preliminary Remarks

There is a lot of confusion about the sacrament of Confirmation, due to the fact that, in the early Christian centuries, both baptism and confirmation were part of a single sequence which culminated in Communion.  All three sacraments, when celebrated together, were called ‘baptism’.   Hence, the Fathers of the Church had no need to differentiate clearly and consistently between baptism and confirmation and were content to say that the Holy Spirit is given with the laying on of hands or by the unction with chrism and felt no need to ask why this is needed when the Spirit has already been given in baptism.     Only when the bishops of the Latin West reserved this part of the rite to themselves did the differences between Baptism and Confirmation become important; but the picture was too confused to give us a clear idea about the nature of confirmation by itself, and as theologians had come to prefer what authoritative sources have said about the sacraments to evidence from the liturgy itself, they failed to notice much that would have helped them to arrive at a more satisfactory theology.   While popes and councils have their place, the liturgy is the primary source of our understanding the sacraments.

Trying to cope with the confusion, and being faced with the necessity to prepare young people for the sacrament here and now, some people find answers based on the concrete situation in western Christianity.   They say something like, “You were baptised as infants when you could not be consciously involved and were not able to make a decision to be a Christian.  In Confirmation, you confirm your faith as an adult in front of the bishop.  It is an entry into Christian adulthood.  This sacrament completes your baptism and you receive the Holy Spirit who strengthens your faith and gives you the capacity to live as an adult Christian.”   This seems to be the theology expressed in the Anglican rite of Confirmation.   The bishop asks the candidates:   “Do you here, in the presence of God and of this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that was made in your name at your baptism; ratifying and confirming the same in your own persons, and acknowledging yourselves bound to believe and to do all those things which your sponsors then undertook for you?”    He lays hands on each candidate with these words, “Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace, that he may continue thine forever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thine everlasting kingdom.”   John Macquarrie, in his Guide to the Sacraments, SCM Press, 1997, says that “Confirmation (as the word implies) is simply a strengthening or ratification of the gifts received in baptism….These words (of the bishop over each candidate) seem to justify my choice of the term “perseverance” to designate the special grace associated with confirmation.”

But this explanation is too dependent on the western tradition and the pastoral situation it has produced.  It is also too focused on the individual alone, rather than on the liturgical process by which an individual enters into ecclesial communion as a Christian person, which is the main theme of the whole initiation celebration.     Also, the Anglican rite speaks of the young person ‘confirming’ his faith; but it is the bishop or his substitute who confirms, not the candidate.   Also, this view of confirmation hardly fits the facts on the ground.  I have heard of Anglican confirmation described as a passing out parade, because so many do not go to church again once the ceremony is over; and it is not much better in the Catholic Church in many places!   Also, if the chief function of confirmation is to give the candidate a spiritual maturity, why cannot confirmation be repeated when, for some reason or other, the sacrament clearly failed to work the first time?   What is unrepeatable about confirming our faith, and why is becoming a mature Christian a single, unrepeatable act rather than a process?   Also, if spiritual maturity is so different from ordinary maturity that it can be given to an eight week old Greek or Russian child, should it be called ‘maturity’ at all?
Orthodox child receiving the sacrament
of Confirmation after baptism
To arrive at a satisfactory understanding of confirmation we must also ask ourselves what the confirmation rites in East and West have in common, and look for the meaning of the sacrament there, because liturgical celebration is the principle expression of Catholic Tradition at its most authentic, both in the Catholic West and the Orthodox East, and it is the place where every other dimension or aspect of Church life comes together in a unity forged by the Holy Spirit.   A true theological investigation must pay adequate attention to confirmation when it is given to an eight week old child, as is done in the Byzantine Rite.  It must also ask what western Christians wanted to preserve which was so important as to justify breaking up the classical sequence of baptism, confirmation and communion in order to have the bishop as the ordinary minister of confirmation.    If what they wanted to preserve is also important in Eastern liturgical practice, then it is most likely to be a key element in our understanding of confirmation.

Confirmation, to be a sacrament, needs....To justify its claim to be a sacrament, Confirmation needs to be a symbolic action by which the Church realises itself in the individual in a distinctive way, without calling into question the sufficiency of baptism.  If we follow the more classic pattern of celebrating Christian initiation, it is related to the baptism that preceded it and the communion that follows it.   It is distinct but not separate from those two sacraments, and membership of the Church is what each sacrament and the whole sequence are about.      We may well ask, using our own vocabulary rather than that of long ago, why did the early Church see the need to put another sacrament between the reception of Baptism and the reception of Communion?  Or again, what did Baptism not symbolise with sufficient clarity, but which the early Church wished to emphasise, something that is a necessary pre-requisite to become a member of the Eucharistic Community?

The answer must not call to question the sufficiency of baptism.   Whatever confirmation gives to the recipient, it must be already implicitly given in baptism.  In spite of this, there must be a strong reason for the universal but spontaneous   practice of giving this dimension of Christian initiation a separate sacramental sign which conveys a sacramental character of its own. 

There are precedents for this in other areas of the Christian life because all are particular manifestations of the one Christian Mystery.     It could be said that the doctrine of Christ’s Ascension is already implicit in the Resurrection.  After all, where was the risen Christ during those forty days when he was not appearing to the disciples?   The Ascension receives very little mention in St Mark’s Gospel (16, 19), and is not mentioned in the Gospel of St Matthew at all;  it is charged with immense symbolic and doctrinal importance, so that St Luke had to make it the subject of a separate verbal icon, and this has been followed in the traditional iconography of the Church ever since.     A similar process may have taken place in the early history of baptism, in which a dimension of being a Christian that is only implied in baptism was seen to need its own separate emphasis, its own sacramental sign.

 There may be also a parallel between the relationship of conversion to baptism and the relationship of an invisible but real effect of baptism to confirmation.  A person who is converted and is truly able to say “Jesus is Lord” has already been united to Christ and the Church by the Holy Spirit through his faith; but, because the Church on earth is a visible, sacramental reality, this conversion needs a visible, sacramental expression in baptism.   In this way, Christ continues to form the Church as a visible organism of those who share the baptismal sacramental ‘character’.   However, there is more to the Church than baptism; and, perhaps, there are dimensions of church membership which the person has received in baptism which, nevertheless, require visible, sacramental expression; and the very nature of the Church may require a further sacrament that imprints   a character that helps build up and form the visible Church as a Eucharistic community.

Confirmation in the Catechism Even though the Catechism does give the ordinary Catholic teaching on Confirmation, it fails to put it all together to show us clearly the distinct nature of Confirmation, largely, I believe, because it does not relate in a coherent way the many things that have been said by theologians, councils and popes, because it is not grounded in the liturgy.   It quotes Pope Paul VIth in saying that Confirmation, “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (1288); but doesn’t say in what way.    Confirmation is “the gift of the Holy Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism” (1288); but it does not explain in what way the grace of Baptism needs completion.  “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace”(1303); but so do all other sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is the climax of the process of initiation and has every claim to be considered the Pentecost that makes the Church the body of Christ.   Moreover, what does “an increase and deepening” really mean, and does the valid transmission of this sacrament depend on this “increase and deepening” taking place?   “It gives a special grace of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross.” (1303).  (How?  Better than a good sermon?)  Is the direct effect of the sacraments to change our attitudes and emotions, strengthen our willpower or our way of thinking?   Again, “Like Baptism which it completes (how?) Confirmation is given only once.(1304)”  (Why?)  .  

Apart from saying somewhat vaguely that Confirmation “completes” Baptism, no good reasons are given why Confirmation is a sacrament in its own right, distinct from other sacraments, and why it is given only once.   I have no doubt that these statements are all true, but there is something missing which, if it were present, would make clear what they all mean; and that ‘something’ is the liturgy.

What The Sign Language Tells Us

When we look at the liturgy, the contrast between Baptism and Confirmation is very clear.  The most impressive differences are a) the strong connection with the bishop in Confirmation, and b) the use of oil with the emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  With this in mind, let us try to formulate the beginnings of a definition.

In the West, the bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation, though he can give permission for a priest to confirm for a grave reason; and the priest celebrates the sacrament as the bishop’s deputy.   If chrism is used without the proper blessing by a bishop, or if a priest celebrates Confirmation without permission, then there is no valid Confirmation.   In the East they have kept the original pattern of Baptism – Chrismation or Confirmation- Communion, which means that the priest has to confirm whenever there is a baptism; but he cannot confirm with oil unblessed by the bishop or patriarch.  A priest can baptise with water which has not been blessed by the bishop, but he cannot celebrate a valid confirmation without being delegated; and universally, he must use oil blessed by the bishop. All this leads me to propose that the connection with the bishop contributes something essential to the outward sign of Confirmation and is a key to what is signified by the sacrament. 

Moreover, the chrism is not just any olive oil, and the blessing is not just any kind of blessing: it is oil blessed by the bishop in a context of prayer offered by the whole local Church represented by the concelebrating priests and by the congregation of lay people, on the one day of the year when it can be said that the whole diocese celebrates the Eucharist together, on Maundy Thursday in the Chrism Mass.   That Mass is the supreme expression and celebration of the diocese as a sacramental organism, a manifestation in its own right of the whole Catholic Church in one place.   The use of this oil associates the recipient of the sacrament with the diocese, and the invocation (epiclesis) of the bishop over the oil associates those who will be anointed with the whole Catholic hierarchy.   If, in the East, it is consecrated by the patriarch, then the emphasis is on the recipient’s relationship with the hierarchy and the visible Church structure.

It must be remembered that, while the Church is body of Christ and we are baptised into this body so that Christ lives in us to the extent that we die to our own egotism and live in union with him, it is the Holy Spirit who moulds the Church, unites its members to each other and to Christ, and gives to each member his or her distinctive role in the body.  The unity between the bishop and his Church and the relationships between its members are brought about by the Holy Spirit who makes the Church a sacramental organism, the body of Christ, centred on the Eucharist; and this is true whether we are talking of the local diocese or the Church throughout the world.     This is the teaching of both St Paul and the Fathers.   St Augustine is particularly insistent on the teaching that the Church is united by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pope John Paul II wrote about this aspect of St Augustine’s teaching:

Another fundamental theme is that of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Mystical Body: “what the soul is to the body of a man, the Holy Spirit is for the body of Christ, which is the Church.”[135] The Holy Spirit is also the principle of community, by which the faithful are united to one another and to the Trinity itself. “By means of what is common to the Father and the Son, they willed that we should have communion both among ourselves and with them. They willed to gather us together, through that gift, into that one thing which both have in common; that is, by means of God the Holy Spirit and the gift of God.”[136].   He therefore says in the same text: “the fellowship of unity of the Church of God, outside of which there is no remission of sins, is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, of course with the cooperation of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Spirit himself is in a certain manner the fellowship of the Father and the Son.”[137].

In the early Church as now, integration into the local church and communion with the bishop were not an optional extra but an essential dimension of the Christian life, and it was the means by which a church member was related to the Church throughout the world.   This is a main theme of the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century.   He wrote:

“Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup unto unity of His blood, one altar, as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery, and deacons, my fellow-servants, so that whatever you do, you may do it according to God.” (Ign. Phil. 4; also to be interpreted in the light of this passage: Eph. 20; Mag. 7; Tral. 7; Phil. sal.)

For him unity with the bishop and obedience to him as God’s representative is absolutely crucial for preserving this unity in faith and love.  Unity with the bishop and unity with one another because we share the same bread and the same cup are two dimensions of the same reality, the reality called salvation.  In a passage which is important for understanding Confirmation he writes:

I congratulate you who have become one with him (the bishop), as the Church is one with Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ is one with the Father, so that all things may be in harmony.  Let no man be deceived.   If a person is not inside the sanctuary he is deprived of the Bread.   For if the prayer of one or two men has so much force, how much greater is that of the bishop and the whole Church.   Anyone, therefore, who fails to assemble with the others has already shown his pride and set himself apart. … Let us be careful, therefore, not to oppose the bishop, so that we may be obedient to God. (Eph. 1)

I received your whole community in the person of Onesimos, your bishop, in the flesh, a man whose charity is beyond all power to say.” (Eph).

St Cyprian is in complete agreement with St Ignatius. He wrote,

“The Church is the people in union with their bishop. .. Thus you must know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop.”

St Cyprian went further: this harmony should exist, not only within each church, but in the relationship of churches with each other.  The Church is like the seamless tunic of Christ in each local church but also as a “universal brotherhood” (On the Unity of The Church ch 12)    The Episcopate is one as is the universal Church, and unity with one bishop is unity with all others who are in communion with him:

This unity (of the Church) we ought to hold firmly and defend, especially we bishops who watch over the Church, that we may prove that also the episcopate itself is one and undivided. .. The episcopate is one, the parts of which are held together by the individual bishops.   The Church is one which with increasing fecundity extends far and wide into the multitude.(ch 5)

It is still Catholic teaching that the baptised person lives his Christianity within the universal Church only by participating in the local Church.   In the concluding document published by the CELAM Conference of South American Bishops which was held in Aparecida, Brazil, May 13 -31 in 2007, it is stated:
We affirm that faith in Jesus Christ reached us through the ecclesial community and she “gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church.   The faith liberates us from the isolation of the ego, because it brings us into communion.   This means that a constitutive dimension of the Christian reality is belonging to a concrete community, in which we can live the permanent experience of discipleship and communion with the successors of the Apostles and with the Pope.  ( 5,56)  

This membership of a concrete community and the unity with its bishop and, through him, with the hierarchical structure of the universal Church, is implied in baptism where we are made members of the Church, but it is in confirmation that this ‘constitutive dimension of the Christian reality’  is given the importance it deserves by being signified in a sacrament.   The bishop forges a link with the newly baptised Christian by sealing him with ‘the Gift of the Holy Spirit’ which, all in one package, unites him to a concrete Church community with the bishop at its head, and gives him or her, those charismata, or gifts of the Spirit, that are necessary for anyone whose task is to bear witness to Christ and thus share in the mission of the Church as a whole.  Furthermore, the sacramental character, being permanent, leaves the door open for the confirmed person to receive any other charismata that he or she may need to fulfil his or her particular vocation. Hence, this is the way in which Confirmation perfects Baptism; and, as the connection with the hierarchical Church is for life and continues after death, Confirmation does not have to be repeated.

St Paul, writing about his own relationship with the Corinthian Church, argued that, because we have the Spirit, relationships within the Church should take on certain characteristics of Christ’s relationship with the Church, one being his whole-hearted dedication, his sacrificial love.   Thus, because Jesus was never “Yes and No” but always a wholehearted “Yes”, St Paul’s dedication to them is also wholehearted.  He wrote:

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No”.   For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus, Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes”.  For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes”.   For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen” to the glory of God.   But it is God who establishes (confirms) us with you in Christ and has anointed us by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first instalment.   (2 Cor. 21, 22).

Hence, when the bishop, as Christ’s representative, confirms us, anointing us and sealing us with the “Gift of the Holy Spirit”, he is telling us that the same Spirit who binds the Father and Son together in love also binds us to him and to the visible Church with its hierarchy; and he implies that, if we are open to the Spirit, then we will be bound to him as the Church is bound to Christ and Christ is bound to the Father; and this is the doctrine of the Fathers.   We shall become wholeheartedly dedicated to the Church authorities that he represents and also to one another in Christ, just as the Church authorities will be bound to us and our spiritual good; and this will show that, together, we have truly received the gift of the Spirit.

   Confirmation is a sacrament for the sanctification of the individual like all sacraments, and it sanctifies by ending the person’s egoistic individuality that can only end in death; and bringing him to share the divine life of the Holy Trinity, so that he or she becomes a Christian person in communion with the persons of the Trinity and with all others who share with Christ eternal life.  Confirmation is also for the building up of the Church, a sacrament, along with baptism, orders and marriage, that gives shape to the Church on earth, in this case by externalizing the spiritual relationship between the episcopate and the faithful and relating to it the gift of the Holy Spirit that each Christian receives as member  of the Church.  There can be no opposition between the charismatic dimension of the Church and its hierarchical structure, because, at the very moment when the connection between the baptised person and the bishop is confirmed, and by the very same sacrament, the baptized person is made an instrument of the Holy Spirit and a recipient of those charismatic gifts the Holy Spirit wishes to give him.   Confirmation shows us that these gifts must be exercised in union with the bishop “for the building up and knitting together of the body”, and never apart from him.    This is the way confirmation completes baptism and why it is only given once.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this important dimension of the effect of being “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” very succinctly:

“The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1292).

My only criticism is that what the Latin liturgy “clearly expresses” is not in the very centre of the section on Confirmation, because the author gives more weight to statements about Confirmation, even if they lack clarity, than he does to the ritual that celebrates it.   For the same reason, he underestimates the importance of the blessing of the oil by bishop or patriarch in the Eastern rites which also emphasizes the absolutely necessary communion with the bishop. A person anointed by this oil is included in the invocation (epiclesis) of the Church voiced by the patriarch or bishop and benefits from the divine response to that petition, the consecrated oil being a symbol both of the Church’s petition that the Father send the Spirit on the oil and of the divine positive response.  In ritual, who is involved, what is done, even simple gestures, have their own theological meaning which can be mistakenly passed over by a theologian who only concentrates on written statements from authorities rather than on the liturgy itself.

   The Apostolic Constitutions (latter half of 4th Century) speak of the practical consequences for the Christian of being confirmed by the bishop:

“How dare any man speak against his bishop, by whom the Lord gave the Holy Spirit among you upon the laying on of his hands, by whom you have learned the sacred doctrines, and have known God, and have believed in Christ, by whom you were known of God, by whom you were sealed with the oil of gladness and the ointment of understanding, by whom you were declared to be the children of light, by whom the Lord in your illumination testified by the imposition of the bishop’s hands” (Apostolic Constitutions 2:4:32)

That this connection with the hierarchic Church is a dimension of what is signified by Confirmation is supported by the fact that it is the traditional means of reconciling to the Church a person who has been baptized outside its communion.   Hence, St Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:

It has been asked among the brethren what course ought specially to be adopted towards the persons of those who . . . baptized in heresy . . . and subsequently departing from their heresy, and fleeing as supplicants to the Church of God, should repent with their whole hearts, and only now perceiving the condemnation of their error, implore from the Church the help of salvation. . . . According to the most ancient custom and ecclesiastical tradition, it would suffice, after that baptism which they have received outside the Church . . . that only hands should be laid upon them by the bishop for their reception of the Holy Spirit, and this imposition of hands would afford them the renewed and perfected seal of faith” (Treatise on Re-Baptism 1 [A.D. 256]).

This was also the practice in the West.   St Cyprian of Carthage had a controversy with Pope Stephen in the middle of the 3rd Century over the re-baptism of heretics and schismatics, but Pope Stephen’s upholding of Roman tradition won the day, so that an African council in the fifth century could declare that:

“The former council . . . decreed, as your unanimity remembers as well as I do, that those who as children were baptized by the Donatists, and not yet being able to know the pernicious character of their error, and afterward when they had come to the use of reason, had received the knowledge of the truth, abhorred their former error, and were received in accordance with the ancient order by the imposition of the hand, into the Catholic Church of God spread throughout the world” (Canon 57[61] [A.D. 419])

Even now, Confirmation is the way the Orthodox churches receive a layperson into communion who has been baptized outside Orthodoxy.   They are then able to receive communion.   This seems to me to be very sound, because, according to the mind of the Fathers, our relationship with the visible Church is sacramental in nature and only secondarily juridical, and our union with our bishop is a work of the Holy Spirit before it is the result of jurisdiction being exercised and accepted. 

I believe that we have discovered the way Conformation completes Baptism, by explicitly linking the baptism and its sanctifying role with the relationship all baptised should have with the local church and the bishop. 


 For those with a fundamentally liturgical, sacramental and eucharistic theology of the Church, the liturgy in general and the Eucharistic community in particular are the source of all the Church's powers and abilities and the goal of all its activity. That means that Tradition is discovered in the traditions of local churches and local churches are formed by their sacramental life.  

According to both Saint Augustine and Saint Basil, when the bishop entered to preside over the local church, he was met with such enthusiasm that it was difficult to begin the Mass.   Before he arrived, they were just a group of Christians: when he arrived among them, they were the Church, united among themselves and interconnected with Christians and churches throughout the world, to become the whole Church-made-visible in one place, to celebrate the Eucharist on behalf of all.  Thus we have the Catholic Church, made up of its many parts, each one with the Eucharist, and, hence, the fullness of Catholicism. 

 As we have already stated, the church has two dimensions: it shares in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and thus has a transcendental unity by the power of the Holy Spirit; and it is also an historical existence in a particular place and time, which is the source of its diversity.  The priest who presides in a local church represents Christ in .dimensions, "en persona Christi" in the transcendental unity, and bishop or parish priest etc  at a historical level.  He and the people form one sacramental organism into which all entered by the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation.

On Unity and Diversity and St Irenaeus on this subject, please listen to the lecture by Father John Behr below.   An excellent lecture, you may substitute the word "Catholicism" for "Orthodoxy" without any distortion of meaning:

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