The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, part 3: When there was no Confirmation in northern Italy, north Africa and Spain

Another installationi of the Weird and Wacky History of Confirmation that was originally posted over on Pr. Surburg’s blog:


confirmation3In the previous post in this series, The weird and wacky history of Confirmation:When there was not Confirmation in Rome it was observed that at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Confirmation involved: 1) the use of chrism 2) by the bishop 3) in a second post-baptismal anointing usually done at a time removed from baptism 4) to bestow the Spirit in a new and additional way that brought an added benefit to the believer for living the Christian life.

However, consideration of the evidence from Rome clearly reveals that prior to 800 AD there was no Confirmation in Rome.  The unique feature in Roman baptismal practice was a post-baptismal episcopal invocation of the Spirit and second anointing (where the first anointing was performed by a priest).  Yet during this period Confirmation did not exist in Rome at the terminological level.  There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used in Rome during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  It did not exist at a conceptual level. Like the pre-Nicaea material, in Rome there was simply the single rite of Holy Baptism through which a Christian received rebirth and the gift of the Spirit.  The unique arrangement of the various title churches and the suffragan bishops in the city of Rome, allowed the entire baptismal rite to take place, with both anointings, at one time.  It was only in larger outlying areas that a separation of the second anointing from baptism was beginning to take place. The second anointing is the primary factor that would generate Confirmation, but it had not yet done so.

In this post I will consider the evidence from northern Italy (with a focus upon Milan), north Africa and Spain. These different geographical regions of the Church yield the same picture.  In these lands there was no second episcopal anointing, and so no claim can be made about the existence of Confirmation as it was known in the sixteenth century.  In fact, we will see that in Milan the attempt was made to force Roman practice upon the church there, and that ultimately this was rejected.

I. Milan and northern Italy

The starting point for considering northern Italy is the evidence found in Ambrose’s writings.  Milan was a highly influential church center during the fourth and fifth centuries. [endnote 1]  We have two accounts of Ambrose’s mystagogical instruction that took place in the time after baptism had been received. [endnote 2] From these we learn that the ritual of baptism in fourth century Milan consisted of: 1) baptism by threefold question and immersion [endnote 3] 2) post-baptismal anointing 3) foot washing 4) “spiritual sealing”/invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Ambrose describes what takes place immediately after baptism in the following manner: “So you were immersed, and you came to the bishop. What did he say to you? God the Father Almighty, he said, who has brought you to a new birth through water and the Holy Spirit and has forgiven your sins, himself anoints you into eternal life” (de Sacramentiis, 2.24). [endnote 4]  There is explicit evidence in the next book that this was accompanied by the ritual act of anointing with chrism: “You also receive the myron, that is, the chrism, over your heads” (de Sacramentiis, 3.1). [endnote 5]

Like so many in the western Church, Ambrose interprets this anointing using 1 Peter 2:9. He says, “Understand why this is done, because the wise man’s eyes are in his head[Eccles. 2.14].  It flowed down into the beard – that is, unto the grace of youth – even unto Aaron’s beard, for this purpose, that you may become a chosen generation, priestly,precious [1 Pet. 2.9]; for we are all anointed with spiritual grace unto the kingdom of  God and the priesthood” (de Mysteriis, 30). [endnote 6]

Next Ambrose explains that after baptism and anointing, the Milanese baptismal rite includes a foot washing.  He acknowledges that this practice is not found in Rome, but then immediately affirms that in all other respects Milan’s practice is the same as Rome. He says, “We are aware that the Roman Church does not follow this custom, although we take her as our prototype, and follow her rite in everything.  But she does not have this rite of the washing of the feet” (3.5). Ambrose clarifies that he is not condemning anyone who does not have the foot washing, but that instead where a difference of rite has merit, there is no sense in abandoning it just because it is different. He goes on to say, “I wish to follow the Roman Church in everything: but we too are not devoid of common sense. When a better custom is kept elsewhere, we are right to keep it here also” (3.5). [endnote 7]

Then Ambrose adds: “The spiritual sealing (spiritale signaculum) follows.  You have heard about this in the reading today.  For after the ceremonies of the font, it still remains for the perfecting (perfectio) to take place. This happens when the Holy Spirit is infused at the bishop’s (sacerdos) invocation: ‘the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and piety, the Spirit of holy fear’.  These might be called the seven ‘virtues’ of the Spirit … They are the seven virtues when you are sealed (quando consignaris)” (de Sacramentiis, 3.8) [endnote 8]

Ambrose’s “spiritual seal” is one of the great conundrums of liturgical scholarship.  The quotation of Isa 11:2 and the parallels with the prayer at this moment in the Gelasian Sacramentary strongly indicate that there was a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit. [endnote 9]  It is unclear whether the “spiritual seal” refers to imposition of the hand, anointing, signing with the cross, some combination of these or, that there was in fact no accompanying ritual action. [endnote 10]  Johnson believes that if there was an action, it was an imposition of the hand. [endnote 11]  However Mitchell provides a strong argument that it was instead a signing with the cross, and Fisher arrives at the same conclusion. [endnote 12] Probability favors this evaluation, but that is the most that can be said.

What is clear is that Ambrose believed the Holy Spirit was given through this part of the baptismal rite.  In a parallel passage, he writes in de Mysteriis, 42: “Wherefore, recollect the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, the spirit of holy fear, and preserve what you received. God the Father has sealed (signavit) you. Christ the Lord has confirmed (confirmavit) you, and has given the pledge of the Spirit in your heart, as you learned from the Apostolic lesson.” [endnote 13]

Mitchell notes the language in de Sacramentiis and de Mysteriis and concludes, “From these descriptions there can be little doubt that St. Ambrose identified the spiritale signaculum  with the bestowal of the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost.  He was willing to us the verbs consignaresignare, and confirmare, and the noun perfectio to describe it. He uses infundere to describe the pouring out of the Spirit, and says specifically that it occurs at the invocation of the sacerdos.” [endnote 14]

Ambrose’s “spiritual seal” could, perhaps, be understood as in some way corresponding to the second Roman post-baptismal anointing.  However, the available evidence immediately raises three very interesting facts.  First, we find that the north Italian contemporaries of Ambrose, Maximus of Turn and Zeno of Verona, do not demonstrate any knowledge of Amborse’s “spiritual seal” in the rite of baptism used in their church.   Bradshaw comments, “What is most significant here is that neither Maximus nor Zeno demonstrate any familiarity with a postbaptismal rite equivalent to the location of Ambrose’s “spiritual seal” … Outside of Rome, then, the rites of Christian initiation within North Italy appear to be rites that never knew or contained anything similar to the episcopal postbaptismal ceremonies of handlaying and (second) chrismation defended and advocated by Innocent I and Gelasius I within the Roman tradition.” [endnote 15]

On this point we also find that, Maxentius of Aquileia wrote to Charlemagne at the end of the eighth century and alluded to the rites of the baptismal rite used in Aquileia when he stated: “Then translated into the bosom of mother Church through the laver of regeneration, made the sons of adoption, written in the book of life of  Christ our Lord, from whose holy Name the chrism took its name, anointed also by the holy anointing with the chrism of salvation, that is, with the fullest infusion of the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus our Lord unto eternal life, clothed in white robes, that is, wedding garments, they come to the table of the heavenly kingdom …” (Ep. Ad Carolum, 3). [endnote 16]

Fisher concludes regarding this evidence:

Between the baptism and the eucharist, to which the allusion is sufficiently evident, mention is not made of episcopal hand-laying or consignation of the forehead, but only of an unction with the chrism of salvation unto eternal life, a clear reference to the formula which in the Gelasianum accompanies the first unction after baptism by the presbyter, and was now evidently used in the rite of Aquileia.  Furthermore a point of great importance here is that according to Maxentius this one unction conveys the fullest infusion of the Holy Spirit.  That is to say, it performs the role of the Roman hand-laying and chrismation by the bishop; and the rite of Aquileia, apparently defective by Roman standards, is complete as it stands, in that there is no question of the candidates failing to have the Holy Spirit imparted to them.  Moreover the fact that Aquileia lay in the same liturgical area as Milan strengthens the case for believing that the ‘spiritual seal’ of Ambrose had by this time disappeared from the initiatory rite used in all the Churches of northern Italy, Milan included. [endnote 17]

The second and even more intriguing fact is that the later evidence we possess from Milan does not contain Ambrose’s “spiritual seal.”  We have the tenth century Ambrosian Manual which is a ritual for the cathedral at Milan, and twelfth century Ordo of Berolduswhich describes the liturgical ceremonies of the bishop in Milan. [endnote 18]  Neither document makes any mention of an invocation of the Spirit or a second a second anointing performed by the bishop. Instead the Ambrosian Manual says of the rites after baptism:

 Then the presbyter makes a cross with chrism on the infant’s head, and says this prayer: Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has regenerated you by water and the Holy Spirit, and who have given you remission of all your sins, himself anoints you with the chrism of salvation, in Christ Jesus our Lord   unto eternal life. Amen.

Here shall the Bishop wash the feet of the infants after baptism. [endnote 19]

While the foot washing noted by Ambrose continues to be present, there is nothing that follows it.  There is no “spiritual seal,” episcopal invocation of the Spirit or second anointing.

Finally, there is Odilbert’s letter to Charlemagne.  Odilbert was bishop of Milan during the period 805 to 813.  During this time Charlemagne was attempting to bring the churches of his kingdom into conformity with the Roman baptismal rite.  Around 812 Charlemagne sent out a circular letter, asking the bishops to describe the baptismal practice in their church. [endnote 20]  Oldibert indicates that in Milan there is baptism, anointing with chrism, communion and then imposition of the bishop’s hand. The presence of the hand layingafter communion is striking.  As Fisher comments, “Then Odilbert’s rite shows the missing hand-laying added in order to bring a seemingly defective rite into conformity with the Roman rite, and appended at the end since that which went before had been considered in Milan as a perfect unity without it.” [endnote 21]

While this Romanizing trend was present in the ninth century, by the tenth it had disappeared since it is not found in the Ambrosian Manual (or the later twelfth centuryOrdo of Beroldus).  Fisher observes, “Finally we may note that Charlemagne’s attempt to enforce the use of the Roman rite throughout his empire met with only temporary success in Milan.” [endnote 22]  In the Ambrosian Manual the footwashing, that was not a Roman custom and is not mentioned by Odilbert, returns and the laying on of hand after communion disappears.  The attempt was made to bring Milan into closer conformity with Roman practice, but it had been rejected.  Fisher concludes: “In fact the  Church of Milan with is distinguished history and its association with the great doctor, Ambrose, was able to maintain its own traditions, long resisting the movement towards a strict liturgical uniformity with the Roman Church….” [endnote 23]

Thus there is no evidence of Confirmation in northern Italy prior to the Carolingian era. There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used in northern Italy during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  There was no second anointing, and the imposition of the hand only existed for a brief period as it was added, under Charlamagne’s influence.  When it was added to the rite of baptism in Milan, it was actually added after the baptized had received communion.

II. North Africa

In the first post in this series it was seen that during the second and third centuries the rite of baptism in northAfrica involved three elements: 1) baptism in water 2) anointing 3) imposition of the hand.  Like Tertullian, Cyprian attributed the gift of the Spirit to the imposition of the hand: “They who are baptized in the church are brought to the prelates of the church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of the hand obtain the Holy Spirit, and are perfected with the Lord’s seal [signaculo dominico]” (Letter 73 to Jubaianus, 9). [endnote 24] In this section of the letter, Cyprian is the first writer to cite Acts 8 as justification for this practice. [endnote 25]

Neither author denied that the Holy Spirit was at work in the water of baptism. [endnote 26]  Fisher is justified when he says, “In conclusion, then, Cyprian’s doctrine of initiation, virtually identical with that of Tertullian, requires a liturgical practice where baptism, anointing, consignation and hand-laying with prayer are seen to be an organic whole. There is no ground for disagreement as to the spiritual blessings conferred by the whole rite; the difficulty arises when the attempt, unavoidable in the circumstances of today in the West, is made to distribute the blessings among the particular moments in the rite.” [endnote 27]

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

The heaven is open. When God anoints him the spiritual oil at once comes down under the form of the a dove and sits upon his head and pour over him; the oil is spread asunder; whence he began to be called Christ, for he was anointed by God the Father; and lest he should seem to lack the imposition of the hand, the voice of God was heard from the cloud, saying ….” (Contra Parmenianum Donatistam, 4.7). [endnote 28]

Mitchell observes about this statement, “We find here the same rite described by Tertullian and St. Cyprian. The baptism, anointing, and laying on of hands are considered to be three co-ordinate elements (tria mysteria), and all must be found in the baptism of Christ, which is the model of Christian baptism.” [endnote 29]

The same ritual structure is found in the writings of St. Augustine.  After baptism in water there was an anointing with chrism.  Augustine wrote, “And by this ointment you wish the sacrament of chrism to be understood, which is indeed holy as among the class of visible signs, like baptism itself…” (Contra littreras Petiliani 2.104.237). [endnote 30]  Like Tertullian before him, Augustine interpreted this anointing in terms of 1 Peter 2:9.  He said of Christians, “just as we call all Christians ‘Christs’ in virtue of their sacramental anointing, so we call them all ‘priests’ because they are members of the one Priest” (De civitate Dei 17.4.9). [endnote 31]

Mitchell judges that Augustine discussed the anointing after baptism “at much greater length than his predecessors.” [endnote 32]  He spoke in ways that attributed the giving of the Spirit to the anointing. Augustine wrote that, “The spiritual unction is the Holy Spirit himself, whose sacrament is the visible anointing” (Tract. in I Ep., Ioan. 3.5). [endnote 33]  He said in sermon 227 that, “The oil indeed is the sacrament of the fire of our Holy Spirit” (Sermon 227 ad infants). [endnote 34]  In a very interesting move he distinguishes between the work of the Spirit in the incarnation and the coming of the Spirit at Jesus baptism, and by analogy applies this distinction to baptism and the post-baptismal anointing.  He writes, “It is one thing to be born of the Holy Spirit, another to be nourished by the Spirit” (Sermo 71 12.19). [endnote 35] And so Augustine can write that: “The Holy Spirit is signified whether through the water for cleansing and washing, or through the oil for exultation and inflaming of charity; nor indeed, although the signs are different, does he differ from himself” (Enarratio in Psalmum 108.26). [endnote 36]

Augustine’s language about sign and sacrament is very complex.  Harmless cautions that Augustine “tended to describe each element – whether actions (exorcism, signing with the cross, bathing, anointing, hand laying), objects (the font, oil), even time periods (Easter, the Octave) – as distinct ‘sacraments’ in his sense of the term; ‘visible words,’ ‘sacred signs,’ of ‘the invisible.’” [endnote 37]  However the manner in which Augustine emphasized the link between the anointing and the gift of the Spirit was important. In the judgment of Joseph Coppens, Augustine “contributed greatly to the acceptance of a new interpretation of the post-baptismal unction, and this was the grouping henceforth of the chrismation and the imposition of hands … the unction soon became the principal rite and the only one of which the sacramental value was upheld in the controversies with the Donatists.” [endnote 38]

While Augustine in new ways tied the giving of the Spirit to the anointing, he continued in the tradition of Tertullian and Cyprian by explicitly stating the Spirit was given through the imposition of the hand.  He wrote, “For none of his disciples gave the Holy Spirit. They would pray that he would come to those upon whom they would lay the hand, they themselves used not to give him.  This custom the church preserves through its prelates” (de Trin. 15.46). [endnote 39]

It seems very probable that this was accompanied by an invocation of the Spirit using a prayer based on Isa 11:2 which was very similar to that found in Gelesaian Sacramentary and the one used in Milan.  Augustine said, “The Spirit himself is invoked upon the baptized that God would give them, according to the prophet, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…. (Sermo 249.) [endnote 40]

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

With regard to those who presided at the initiation rites in North Africa, it is significant that Augustine refers elsewhere to presbyters as ministers of the complete rite. Similarly, according to Canons 32 and 36 of the Third Council of Carthage not only were they doing so, but also that they were understood to be the ministers of the entire rite. Hence, there is no evidence to support the notion that postbaptismal rites like anointing or handlaying were ever reserved to bishops alone in North Africa.  And there certainly is no evidence to suggest the existence of anything other than one postbaptismal anointing followed by handlaying, rites integrally connected to baptism itself and associated both with  participation in Chrsit and the gift of the Holy Spirit. [endnote 41]

Just as in northern Italy, there is no evidence of Confirmation in north Africa. [endnote 42]  There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  There was no second anointing, and a presybter could peform the entire rite.

III. Spain

Spain’s unique history had a strong impact on the liturgical development of the church there.  During the fifth century, the Arian Visigoths had conquered the Iberian peninsula and imposed their customs on the area.  This process continued even into the sixth century as in 563 the Council of Braga adopted the Roman order of baptism which Profuturus had received from Rome for use in Galicia. However, it was suppressed twenty years later when the Visigoths took control of the region. [endnote 43]  In 589 king Recared converted to the Catholic faith, and this offered the opportunity for Roman influence. However the Arab invasion of 712 then cut off the Spanish churches once again and they developed in independent ways.  The period 589 to 712 was a time when Roman influence was possible, and texts available from this time appear to demonstrate this. [endnote 44]

The earliest evidence from Spain are the canons of the Council of Elvira that met in 305. There we find:

Canon 38. That in cases of necessity, even the faithful may baptize [It was agreed] that a faithful man, who has held fast to his baptism and is not bigamous may baptize a sick catechumen at sea, or where there is no church at hand: provided that if he survives he shall bring him to a bishop so that he may be perfected (perfici) through the laying on of a hand. [endnote 45]

Canon 77. Concerning baptized people who die before they have been confirmed It was agreed that when a deacon who has charge of faithful people (regens plebem) baptizes some of them in the absence of a bishop or presbyter, it shall be the duty of the bishop to perfect (perficere) them: but if any depart life before confirmation, he will be justified by virtue of the faith in which he has believed. [endnote 46]

Similar statements by church councils will be seen when we look at Gaul.  As Johnson points out, these are both considered exceptional circumstances, rather than the normal ritual pattern. It is quite likely that this “perfecting” of a baptism performed by someone other than a bishop or priest occurred through a blessing, with perhaps, the imposition of the hand.  Johnson concludes, “Hence, it is quite possible these fourth and firth century councils were directing bishops to ‘perfect,’ ‘complete,’ or ‘confirm’ baptisms done by presbyters or deacons as a matter of pastoral oversight rather than regular sacramental ministry.” [endnote 47]

The fourth century bishop, St. Pacian of Barcelona draws a link to the apostles and maintains that from the “power of the washing and chrism” (lavacri et chrismatis potestas) has come down to bishops.  He draws a parallel between the power to give the Spirit (Spiritum sanctum dare) and the power of the chrism (chrismatis potestas) and so Mitchell reports that, “In both cases the phrase is conjoined to the mention of baptism, and we have here our earliest evidence for the baptismal anointing in the Spanish Church, together with an explanation of its meaning as ‘to give the Holy Spirit.’” [endnote 48]

Additional evidence of this is found in a sermon of Pacian in which he says, “These things cannot be accomplished except by the sacrament of washing (lavacri), chrism, and the high priest (antistitis): by washing sins are cleansed; by chrism the Holy Ghost is poured upon him; and both of these things are effected by the hand and mouth of the high priest; and thus the whole man is reborn and renew in Christ.” [endnote 49]  The same picture of is found in Prudentius who wrote, “Worshipper, of God, remember that thou has been washed in holy water and marked with holy oil.” [endnote 50]  It does not appear that there was any hand laying  known to these authors, for as Fisher notes, “If these writers know of a post-baptismal hand-laying, it is hard to see why they failed to allude to it.” [endnote 51]  Instead, as we saw in Augustine, the chrism itself is viewed as the means by which the Holy spirit is given.

The emphasis on the importance of chrism in the baptismal rite and the link it provided to the bishop is found in the First Council of Toledo in 398.  It states in Canon 20:

Although the custom is almost everywhere preserved, that none but the bishop blesses, yet because in some places or provinces the presbyters are said to bless chrism, it was agreed that none but the bishop shall henceforth bless chrism: and he shall send it into his diocese in such fashion that deacons and sub-deacons shall be sent from each church to the bishop before Easter, so that the chrism which the bishop has blessed shall arrive in time for Easter.  While the bishops have the undoubted right to bless chrism at any time, presbyters may do nothing without the knowledge of the bishop: it is decreed that the deacon may not give chrism but the presbyter may do so in the absence of the bishop, or in his presence if he commands. [endnote 52]

This canon indicates several significant points.  First, generally speaking church bodies only command or forbid actions in cases where the opposite is currently the case. [endnote 53]  It is quite clear, therefore, that presbyters were blessing chrism and that deacons wereadministering it. The canon seeks to centralize the authority to bless chrism in the office of the bishop.  Second, the text explicitly states that presbyters were permitted to baptize and apply chrism as long as this was done under the bishop’s supervision and using the chrism he had blessed.  Third, there is only a single anointing that takes place in the Spanish rite of baptism.  This stands in marked contrast to the Roman practice we saw in the previous post (a practice in which only a bishop could perform a second anointing).

The same situation is found in the sixth century in the letter of St. Braulion, Bishop of Saragossa to Eugene, Bishop of Toledo. Braulion wrote to answer Eugene’s questions and stated:

Your prudence certainly knows that the traditions of the canons had been established that a presbyter should not dare to chrismate. But we know that all of Italy and the East keep doing it to this day. Later, however, it was agreed that presbyters might chrismate, but with chrism blessed by bishops. In this way it did not seem that this was the right of presbyters when they consecrate the people of God from that holy oil, but the right of bishops, with whose blessing and permission they may thus perform the offices of this kind, as it were by the hand of the bishop. [endnote 54]

Braulion says that in the normal order of things, presbyters baptize using chrism blessed by the bishop, and that by doing so they become an extension of the bishop’s ministry.

Further evidence for this arrangement is found in the work of Martin of Braga. Martin came from Tours to Braga during the sixth century at the request of Suevic king. [endnote 55]  He organized two councils in Braga in 561 and 572. [endnote 56]  These councils make clear that, “The gift of the Spirit is associated with the chrism, whether administered by presbyter or bishop – although the bishop certainly ‘confects’ the chrism.” [endnote 57]

The available evidence indicates that prior to the seventh century, baptisms in Spain consisted of: 1) baptism in water [endnote 58] and 2) anointing with chrism.  Baptisms could be performed by presbyters using chrism blessed by the bishop, and the chrism was believed to be the means by which the Holy Spirit was given. The emphasis on the chrism necessitated later warnings against selling the chrism blessed by the bishop. [endnote 59] In his unpublished dissertation, Baptism in Visigothic Spain, McConnell has concluded that there is no evidence for the imposition of the hand until the seventh century. [endnote 60]

Isidore of Seville’s episcopate (599-636) took place after king Recared’s conversion to the Catholic faith in 589. [endnote 61]  The Spanish church was able to come into close contact with the church at Rome and we find the influence of Roman baptismal practice.  Isidore drew deeply upon the fathers of the Church before him.  He therefore shows the same diversity found in north Africa when it comes to how the Holy Spirit is present and at work in the rite of baptism.  Like Cyprian, Isidore can associate the Spirit with the water itself. He wrote, “The Holy Spirit is identified in the gospel with the water when the Lord says, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’” [endnote 62]  Isidore draws heavily upon Augustine, and so he also associates the giving of the Spirit with both the chrism and the imposition of the hand. At the same time, he also interprets the chrism with the royal priestly interpretation based on 1 Peter2:9.

This latter interpretation is found in his De Ecclesiasticis Officiis when he explains the chrism.  There he writes:

But now, after our Lord, true king and eternal priest, was anointed by God the Father with a heavenly and mystical anointing, not only bishops and kings but the entire church is consecrated by the anointing with chrism, because of the fact that the church is a limb of the eternal king and priest.  Therefore, because we are a priestly and royal people, after the washing of baptism we are anointed so that we might be called by the name Christ (26.2). [endnote 63]

At the same time, Isidore’s own language sets up an analogy between the Holy Spirit poured out on Christ and the chrism placed on the one baptized.  And so it is not surprising to find that like Augustine, and the tradition we have already seen in Spain, Isidore says elsewhere that the Spirit is given through the chrism:

The sacraments are baptism and chrism, and the body and blood. . . . For as in baptism the forgiveness of sins is given, so through the anointing the sanctification of the Spirit is added. This comes from an ancient tradition in which people used to be anointed in the priesthood and royalty of which Aaron was anointed also by Moses. While the anointing happens physically, it profits spiritually—as in the very grace of baptism, the action is visible (that we are immersed in water), but the effect is spiritual (that we are cleaned from sins). [endnote 64]

In De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, after dealing with the chrism Isidore then proceeds to discuss “The Imposition of Hands or Confirmation.” He writes, “Because after baptism the Holy Spirit is given through the bishop with the imposition of hands, we remember that the apostles had done this in the Acts of the Apostles” (27.1). [endnote 65]  Isidore cites the examples of Paul in Acts 19, and Peter and John in Acts 8. Then in a very telling statement, he goes on to add:

Let me add, however, by whom this is done most especially, as holy Pope Innocent wrote.  He stated that it is permitted by a bishop and not by any another. For presbyters, although they are priests, nevertheless do not have the summit of the episcopacy.  It is obligatory that only bishops do the sealing and hand on the Holy Spirit.  Not only does ecclesiastical custom demonstrate this, but so also the above-cited reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which asserts that Peter and John were those who were directed to hand on the Holy Spirit to the already baptized.  Although it is permitted to priests either without a bishop, or with a bishop present, to anoint the baptized with chrism when they baptize, they may do so only with chrism that has been consecrated by the bishop.  Nevertheless, they are not to sign the forehead with that oil, because that ought to be done only by bishops when they hand on the Holy Spirit (27.3-4). [endnote 66]

Isidore’s writings are often encyclopedic in nature as he seeks to draw upon all of the Catholic tradition that had proceeded him.  Akeley notes, “Isidore’s motives, as pastoral as intellectual, seem to have led him to deliberate ambiguity, witnessing to, as well as allowing for, varied traditions.” [endnote 67]  And so when it came to baptism, “he clearly could not reconcile all the variant traditions to which he himself was heir, and rather than discardany of them he allows himself to sound self-contradictory.” [endnote 68] Isidore refers to Innocent I’s letter to Decentius that was considered in the previous post dealing with Rome.  There Innocent had written:

Regarding the signing of infants (De consignandis vero infantibus), this clearly cannot be done validly by anyone other than the Bishop. For even though presbyters are priests, none of them holds the office of pontiff (pontificatus). For not only is it ecclesiastical custom  that shows this (consuetude ecclesiastica demonstrate) should be done only by pontiffs (pontificibus) – in other words, that they alone would sign or give the comforting Spirit (ut vel consignent, vel paracletum Spiritum tradant) – but there is also that reading in the Acts of the Apostles that describe Peter and John being ordered to give the Holy Spirit to those who had already been baptized. For whether the Bishop is present or not, presbyters are allowed to anoint the baptized with chrism (chrisimate baptizatos unguere licet).  But they are not allowed to sign the forehead with the same oil consecrated by the Bishop (sed quod ab episcopo fuerit consecratum, non tamen frontem ex eodem oleo signare), for that is used by the bishops only when they give the Spirit, the Paraclete (quod solis debetur episcopis cum tradunt Spiritum paracletum).  I cannot reveal the words themselves, lest I seem to betray more than is needed to respond to your inquiry. [endnote 69]

As we have seen, Innocent describes the expectation that: 1) the bishop alone 2) will do the second anointing 3) on the forehead.  He uses the text from Acts 8 that describes the giving of the Spirit through the imposition of the hand in order to justify the fact that thesecond anointing by the bishop gives the Spirit in the baptismal rite. However in Spain at the beginning of the seventh century 1) presbyters performed theentire baptismal rite; 2) there was only one anointing; 3) and there is no evidence that any distinction had ever been made regarding what part of the head the presbyter was allowed to anoint. And returning to Isidore’s explanation, there is also no evidence that there had even been an imposition of the hand in the Spanish rite. Instead it was believed that presbyters bestowed the Spirit through the use of chrism consecrated by the bishop.

Isidore’s description was formally enacted at the Second Council of Seville in 619, at which he presided. Canon 7 states:

Nor indeed is it allowed for presbyters to consecrate a church or an altar, to bestow the paraclete Spirit through the imposition of a hand on the baptized faithful or on converts from heresy, to make chrism, to sign the forehead of the baptized with chrism, and not to publicly reconcile any penitent in the dismissal, nor to send composed epistles to anyone. All these things are illicit for presbyters because they do not have the perfection of the episcopacy, which is decreed by the authority of the canons to be due to bishops alone. . . . It is not permitted to presbyters in the presence of the bishop to enter the baptistry nor to baptize or sign infants in the presence of the bishop. [endnote 70]

It becomes clear, therefore, that Isidore is not describing Spanish practice as it existed but instead was trying to bring it closer in line with that of Rome.  Fisher concludes regarding this evidence:

When, however, the Second Council of Seville (619), presided over by Isidore himself, forbade presbyters to consecrate chrism or to sign with chrism the foreheads of the baptized – a clear indication that they had been doing so – a deliberate attempt was being made to bring the Spanish rite into closer conformity with that of Rome, by introducing the episcopal consignation of the forehead and hand-laying, and by removing from presbyters the right to impart the Holy Spirit. [endnote 71]

In considering Isidore’s statements about baptismal practice and the canon from the Second Council of Seville, it is important to recognize the diversity that continued to exist during this period of the Spanish liturgy.  Regional variation was the norm, and the mechanism for bringing about large scale liturgical change was simply not in place, especially since liturgical works had to be produced  by hand at scriptoria (institutions that themselves were inclined to preserve the liturgy of their own location).  Akeley cautions: “It has often been suggested that a complete regularisation of liturgy has been the effect of Toledo iv’s [633] extensive liturgical legislation.  We have earlier suggested that this is extremely unlikely; and it will do no harm to point out that councils two generations after Isidore will still be taking notice of liturgical variety and urging at least provincial uniformity, at least in the major morning and evening offices.” [endnote 72]

About this period, he further observes:

We find ourselves in fact in a period of important doctrinal transition and development.  As in the case of Galicia and the rest of the peninsula, so all over the Mediterranean world doctrines and practices were undergoing, about AD 600, new juxtapositions and confrontations.  The comparative understandings of initiation and the Holy Spirit, of the presbyterate and the episcopate, having undergone somewhat different development in different places, had not in every Church evolved to the same extent, and ad hoc decisions were made at this time in Spain for reasons, primarily, of practical discipline. [endnote 73]

The other major source of evidence for this period is Ildefonsus, bishop of Toledo from 657 to 667. [endnote 74]  Ildefonsus drew heavily upon the writings of Isidore and presents the same basic view.  Like Isidore, Ildefonsus provides an interpretation of the post-baptismal anointing that is based on 1 Peter 2:9.  He says in De Cognitione Baptismi, “not only priests and kings but the whole Church is consecrated with the anointing of holy chrism, because it is the most holy member of the eternal king and priest” (c. 123). [endnote 75]  However, like Isidore and the Spanish tradition in general, he clearly states the Holy Spirit is given through the chrism: “After the washing at the font, after the renewal of life, after the unction of the Spirit, the person is taught to pray with the words of truth” (c. 132). [endnote 76]  In fact, Fisher judges that he does so “even more clearly than Isidore.” [endnote 77]

Yet like Isidore, Ildefonsus also attributes the giving of the Spirit to the imposition of the hand.  He writes, “After baptism the Holy Spirit is aptly given with the imposition of the hands.  For this the Apostle is shown to have done in the Acts of the Apostles” asthe proceeds to cite the examples of Acts chapters 19 and 8 (c. 129). [endnote 78]  However, at the same time he also describes the hand laying as a kind of blessing that recalls Jesus’ blessing of the children: “It is therefore wholesome that after the example of Christ a hand in blessing is placed upon the faithful by the priest” (c. 127). [endnote 79]  As Mitchell notes:

Certainly there is some confusion in Ild. about the meaning of the laying on of hands.  It seems almost as if he is giving two alternative interpretations of the rite. In the first the unction is identified with the royal and priestly calling of Christians  and the Spirit is given by the laying on of the priest’s hand.  The secondinterpretation speaks of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and of the hand of   blessing laid on the faithful by the priest, following the example of Christ,said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ [endnote 80]

Ildefonsus also cites Innoncent I’s letter: “But this anointing may become most powerful in this way, as the holy Pope Innocent witnesses; thus he says it is not permitted to be done by anyone other than a bishop” (c. 136). [endnote 81] Yet Akeley points out that it is quoted without comment and he concludes, “I cannot think that the latter was operative, save in cathedrals on the Paschal Vigil, For, as we have seen, there is too much evidence for common presbyterial baptisms, evidently sufficient unto themselves, to take the papal letter in any other sense.” [endnote 82]  In Ildefonsus we see more of the Roman influence.  Yet because they are changes to a rite already considered to be complete and whole, the picture is now confused. [endnote 83]

The final piece of evidence to consider is the Liber Ordinum which is known from a manuscript of 1052 and is almost a pontifical as it provides the liturgy for the bishop. [endnote 84] As in Isidore and Ildefonsus the giving of the Spirit is linked to both the imposition of the hand and the anointing.  In the blessing of the water before baptism the prayer is spoken: “Grant that those who take from this laver a new life and set aside the record of the old and are accorded the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands may both put away their present faults and lay hold of eternal gifts, happy in your continual and everlasting succour.” [endnote 85]

After the baptism the priest anoints with chrism on the forehead making the sign of the cross and says, “The sign of eternal life which  God the Father Almighty has given through Jesus Christ his  Son to them that believe unto salvation.” [endnote 86] Then the priestlays his hand on the one baptized and speaks a lengthy prayer that confers the Holy Spirit:

          O God, who in this sacrament wherein men are reborn send your Holy Spirit upon         water, in such fashion that the Creator commands his creature and by its office                      cleanses those who are washed thereby, whom you would perfect [confirmaret]           with your bountiful gift; you who by water would take away the stain of sin and  by your own self would complete the grace of the sacrament, and therefore has commanded that the unction of chrism shall follow the ministration of baptism:  we therefore pray and ask you, O Lord, following your commandments according as we are able, to pour your Holy Spirit upon these your servants. Amen.

          The spirit of wisdom and understanding. Amen
          The spirit of counsel and might. Amen.
          The spirit of knowledge and godliness. Amen.

Fill them, both men and women, with the spirit of your fear [Isa. 11.2], whoinspires      men to follow your saving commandment and breathe upon them a  heavenly gift. And so grant that being strengthened in the Name of the Trinity, they may by this chrism be accounted worthy to become Christs, and by the power of Christ to become Christians. [endnote 87]

The Liber Ordinum dates from the time when the Arab invasion had again cut off Spain from Rome, and so it bears witness to independent development.  The prayer is “unparalleled anywhere” and is unique in the way it holds together the twin emphases of the Spirit through chrism and the Spirit through imposition of the hand, for while prayer about he Spirit occurs during the imposition of the hand “it is to the chrism alreadyadministered the that prayer repeatedly refers.” [endnote 88]

The Liber Ordinum follows the same order as Ildefonsus.  However it is explicit in saying that a presbyter can use this rite at any time.  We see this in the fact that the:

Liber Ordinum also includes an Order of Baptism which is to be used by the Paschal vigil, and in which a bishop, accompanied by presbyters and deacons, take part. Hence as late as the eleventh century, to which the MS. of the Liber Ordinum belongs, a bishop still presided over the Paschal initiation of the church. But this order of initiation was no longer considered the norm, because it breaks off after the bishop has said two prayers at the font, the reader being referred back to the first rite, used at any time, for all that follows. [endnote 89]

The fact that the Liber Ordinum allows presbyters to perform the whole rite leads us to doubt “whether the second Council of Seville (619), in insisting that only a bishop might lay his hand upon the forehead, met with more than a very limited success.” [endnote 90]  Instead bishops “customarily delegated presbyters to act for them using chrism consecrated by them for the anointing, and, as long as the minister was a sacerdos, they considered that they were complying with the ancient and apostolic custom.” [endnote 91]

The eleventh century marked the end of Spanish isolation as Moorish control lessened. In 1074 Gregory VII wrote to Alphonso of Castille and urged him “to accept the Roman use instead of that of Toledo or any other Church, and Alphonso, influenced by his French wife, imposed on his kingdom Roman law and Roman customs.” [endnote 92]

The evidence from Spain indicates that there was no Confirmation in Rome prior to the eleventh century when it came back within the Roman sphere of influence. There is no evidence that the language “confirm/confirmation” was being used during this period in a way that reflects the later meaning of Confirmation.  There was no second anointing, and a presbyter commonly performed the entire rite as he used chrism blessed by the bishop.

Prior to 800 AD Confirmation did not exist anywhere in the western Church.  However, in Gaul the geography and nomenclature existed that, when combined with the requirements of Roman baptismal practice, would serve generate Confirmation.  It would create a pastoral situation that demanded a theological explanation.  Practice would generate new theology based on spurious sources.

 Previously in this series:

The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 1: When there was no Confirmation – the western Church before Nicaea

The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 2: When there was no Confirmation in Rome

Next in this series:

The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, Part 4: Gaul – the birthplace of Confirmation


For endnotes, see the original article.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


The weird and wacky history of Confirmation, part 3: When there was no Confirmation in northern Italy, north Africa and Spain — 1 Comment

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