THE ORIGINS OF CONFIRMATION: AN ANALYSIS OF KAVANAGH'S HYPOTHESIS
Confirmation: Origins and Reform(*1) by Aidan Kavanagh may be the most important book on its topic in the last four hundred years. One would have to return to Martin Luther's 'De captivitate Babylonica'(*2) to find another work with such far-reaching consequences.
Scholars have long regarded the Apostolic Tradition (AT) of Hippolytus(*3) as the oldest liturgical document describing the ritual we have come to call "confirmation." Kavanagh proposes that the initiation rites of AT do not include "confirmation" at all, but rather a baptismal dismissal rite performed by the bishop. AT says the neophytes come to the presbyter who baptized them to receive an anointing, and then they proceed to the bishop who prays for them while imposing a hand. Kavanagh believes we are seeing a presbyteral anointing with a christic, not a pneumatological, meaning, and an episcopal handlaying in the style of a dismissal, not of conferring the Holy Spirit.(*4)
If Kavanagh is right, he has dethroned confirmation from its traditional pneumatic interpretation to one almost rubrical in origin. When displaced from its intercalary position between baptism and eucharist, it carries more weight than it was ever intended to bear, and its meaning becomes problematic, especially in its distinction from baptism.
To build this theory, he gathers rites of dismissing groups from the liturgy, and examines the similarity between them and AT's postbaptismal handlaying. The strength of this argument is that similarities exist; the weakness is that the patterns are incomplete.
This article intends to analyze the sources upon which
Kavanagh builds his argument and to test their impact upon his conclusion. The
sources are grouped into catechumenal missa texts, missae of the
West, the missae of the order of penitents, missae in the monastic
offices, and prayers of inclination. After these groups have been analyzed, the
critical passage from AT 22 will be examined. Each section gives 1) the context
of the cited source, 2) its application to Kavanagh's argument, and 3) a
(*1) (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1988). Kavanagh's thesis first appeared in Worship 58 (1984) in his article, "Confirmation: A Suggestion from Structure," pp. 386-395.
(*2) "De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium," D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesammtausgabe (Weimar: Herman Bohlau, 1883), vol. 6, pp. 497-573.
(*3) Sources Chrétiennes, intro. and trans. Bernard Botte, OSB (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1968), vol. 11 bis.
(*4) Kavanagh, pp. 69-72.
Catechumenal missa texts
Hippolytus describes the conclusion of a catechumenal session: "Let the catechumens pray by themselves, separated from the faithful. . . . After the prayer, when the teacher has laid a hand upon the catechumens, let him pray and dismiss them."(*5)
Structurally speaking, Kavanagh's assertion is that prayer and handlaying are elements belonging to the ritual genre of missae. Since Hippolytus is familiar with the structure, it is possible he will apply it to other circumstances--e.g., the rites following baptism.(*6)
Although prayer and handlaying are evident in this and other missae, they are elements of other liturgical rites as well. Observing these two elements together, one may be looking at a dismissal, an ordination, a reconciliation, or an exorcism. In addition, it will be noteworthy that the presider who imposes hands on, prays for, and dismisses the group at the conclusion of this catechumenal session may be a member of the laity.
Those to be baptized gather on Saturday before the vigil. "They shall all be told to pray and kneel. And laying his hand upon them, (the bishop) exorcizes all alien spirits, that they may flee from them and never return to them. . . . And when he has signed their forehead, ears, and nose, he shall raise them up. And they shall spend the whole night in vigil."(*7)
Kavanagh believes this is another example of a missa since prayer and handlaying are elements of this rite over which the bishop presides. There is no formal dismissal since those to be baptized will spend the night in prayer.(*8)
Although the rite contains what Kavanagh calls "dismissal elements" (prayer, handlaying, and episcopal presidency), what it obviously lacks is a dismissal: those to be baptized remain in place. It's clear this is an exorcism; it's less clear it's a dismissal.
The Canons of Laodicea, 19
Composed perhaps after 365, this canon describes the conclusion of the eucharistic Word service. "First, after the sermons of the bishops, the prayer of the catechumens is to be made apart; and after the catechumens have gone out, those who do their penance offer a prayer; and after these have approached the hand and departed, the prayers of the faithful should thus be offered three times."(*9)
(*5) Catechumeni orent seorsum, separati a fidelibus. . . . Cum doctor post precem imposuit manum super catechumenos, oret et dimittat eos." SC 11 bis, p. 76.
(*6) Kavanagh, pp. 5-8.
(*7) "Iubeatur illis omnibus ut orent et flectent genua. Et imponens manum suam super eos, exorcizet omnes spiritus alienos ut fugiant ex eis et non revertantur iam in eos. . . . Cum signaverit frontem, aures et nares eorum, suscitabit eos. Et agent totam noctem vigilantes." SC 11 bis, pp. 78-80.
(*8) Kavanagh, p. 6.
(*9) "Oportere seorsum primum, post episcoporum sermones, catechumenorum orationem peragi; & postquam exierint catechumeni, eorum qui poenitentiam agunt, fieri orationem; & cum ii sub manum accesserint, & secesserint, fidelium preces sic ter fieri." Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, ed. Joannes Dominicus Mansi (Graz: Akademische Druck-U. Verlagsanstalt, 1960), vol. 2, col. 567-568.
This text illustrates two dismissals. Kavanagh believes their structure is similar to the dismissals from the catechumenal session in AT 19 and the pre-vigil exorcism in AT 20.(*10)
The structure is similar, but the occasions are different: The dismissal at AT 19 concludes a catechetical session, presumably after the catechumens have already been dismissed from the assembly (a dismissal which Laodicea now describes). AT 20's dismissal is in the non-eucharistic context of a pre-vigil exorcism. Similarities are evident: prayer, handlaying, and dismissals while the assembly continues its prayer (except in AT 20). However, the text is silent on key points: It is unclear if the "hand" belongs to a bishop, and if catechumens in addition to penitents "approach" it. If the text argues that handlaying is part of the missa structure for penitents, it does so less clearly in the case of catechumens.
The Apostolic Constitutions 8, 6
This Antiochean church order compiled c. 370-380 outlines the rubrics for the eucharist of a newly ordained bishop. Several groups are dismissed from the liturgy: catechumens, energumens, illuminated, penitents, and finally the faithful. In the case of catechumens, the deacon invites them to pray. "And all the faithful pray attentively for them, saying, `Kyrie eleison."(*11) The deacon invites all to pray, then commands, "Arise, catechumens, ask the peace of God through his Christ."(*12) After the petitions, "while the catechumens bow their heads, let the ordained bishop bless them."(*13) Following his prayer, the deacon announces, "Leave, catechumens, in peace."(*14)
Kavanagh calls attention to this structure's similarity to Laodicea. He accordingly reconstructs the Apostolic Constitutions (AC) and suggests that groups were dismissed by group prayer, episcopal prayer, and handlaying by the bishop.(*15)
The similarity to Laodicea is that prayer precedes the dismissal. But handlaying in AC cannot be established. While it is true that AC dismisses various groups from the liturgy in a repeatable pattern and with a variable prayer, the unit concludes when the groups bow heads for the blessing, not with the bishop imposing hands. Granted, if individual handlaying had been customary in dismissals, it is possible that it had further evolved into a group blessing by this time. But AC does not specify handlaying for any of the five groups dismissed from the liturgy.
Egeria's Travels, 24.2 et al.
Egeria the pilgrim visited Jerusalem for Lent and Easter of 383 and recorded her impressions. Excerpts from her diary reveal frequent usage of the term missa. The bishop prays over and "blesses" the pilgrims (e.g., 16.7, 19.16-17, and
(*10) Kavanagh, pp. 8-10.
(*11) "Et omnes fideles pro illis cum attentione orent dicentes: Kyrie eleison." Didascalia et constitutiones apostolorum, ed. Francis Xavier Funk (Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1979), vol. I, p. 479.
(12) "Surgite, catechumeni: pacem Dei per Christum eius petite." Didascalia I, 481.
(*13) "Catechumenis autem capita inclinantibus episcopus ordinatus benedicat eis." Didascalia I, 481.
(*14) "Exite, catechumeni, in pace." Didascalia I, 481.
(*15) Kavanagh, pp. 10-12.
21.1), and at Lauds the following occurs: "But at the time when it begins to dawn, then they begin to sing the morning hymns. And then the bishop appears with the clergy, and he immediately enters within the cave, and from within the enclosure he first says the prayer for all; he also remembers the names of those he wishes, and thus blesses the catechumens. Similarly he says a prayer and blesses the faithful. And after this, when the bishop goes out from within the enclosure, all approach him to his hand, and while going out he blesses them one by one, and thus the dismissal happens presently at dawn."(*16) Other offices conclude in similar fashion.
Kavanagh sees here a pattern of episcopal prayer and handlaying which concludes a liturgical service, sometimes immediately before another service begins. This practice of dismissing from one liturgy into another will compare favorably with his thesis that the postbaptismal handlaying in AT concludes with a dismissal into another liturgical rite; viz., the eucharist. Kavanagh believes the structural evidence is similar to that found in Laodicea, AC, and AT.(*17)
Egeria's missae conclude different events. Called a "blessing" (24.11), the rite accompanies the departure of pilgrims from certain sites and the conclusion of certain liturgical services. The hand of the bishop is clearly and consistently in evidence. In describing the liturgy of baptism, Egeria is silent about a post-baptismal missa and even about an anointing. Compared with other sources, Egeria describes diverse occasions with the term missa, but she does describe handlaying in the ministry of the bishop more clearly than do Laodicea, AC, and AT.
Western evidence of dismissals is rare and maddeningly terse. Kavanagh gives several examples.
Augustine Sermon 49.8
In speaking about the virtue of forgiveness, Augustine reminds the faithful that after the catechumens are dismissed, they will ask God for forgiveness: "Then, after the sermon comes the dismissal for the catechumens. The faithful will remain. . . . What will we have said to God first? `Forgive us our sins.'"(18) Kavanagh simply cites this passage as evidence of dismissals in the West.(*19) Sadly, Augustine gives too few details to argue about the rite's structure.
Cassian, Institutes 11.16
Cassian relates the anecdote of an elder who visited a brother. Approaching the cell, the elder heard sounds from inside. Eavesdropping, he discovered the brother imagined he was delivering a sermon of exhortations for the people. "While standing outside the elder heard him finish the treatise and enact as a
(*16) "Iam autem ubi ceperit lucescere, tunc incipiunt matutinos ymnos dicere. Ecce et superuenit episcopus cum clero et statim ingreditur intro spelunca et de intro cancellos primum dicet orationem pro omnibus; commemorat etiam ipse nomina, quorum uult, sic benedicet catechuminos. Item dicet orationem et benedicet fideles. Et post hoc exeunte episcopo de intro cancellos omnes ad manum ei accedunt, et ille eos uno et uno benedicet exiens iam, ac sic fit missa iam luce." "Itinerarivm Egeriae," Corpvs Christianorvm, ed. Aet. Franceschini and R. Weber, Serie latina (Turnhout: Brepols, 1965), vol. 75, p. 67.
(*17) Kavanagh, pp. 12-14.
(*18) "Ecce post sermonem fit missa catechuminis. Manebunt fideles. . . . Quid prius deo dicturi sumus? Dimitte nobis debita nostra." CChr.SL 41, ed. Cyrill Lambot (1961), p. 620.
(*19) Kavanagh, p. 15.
deacon the dismissal for catechumens after the office had been changed again: then finally he knocked on the door."(*20)
Kavanagh's illustration is another reference to the practice of liturgical dismissals in the West.(*21) As far as it goes, the reference is sound. Once again, there is no clue to the elements of the dismissal.
The missae of
Kavanagh includes a selection of texts describing the dismissal of penitents from the liturgy. Although they form a separate category from catechumenal dismissals, they still reveal the structure Kavanagh is pursuing.
Augustine Letter 149, 16
At the turn of the fifth century Augustine writes about the blessing of penitents in the liturgy: "Intercessions. . . happen when the assembly is blessed, for then the bishops, as advocates, offer their constituency to the most merciful Power through the laying on of hands. When these things have been completed and so great a sacrament has been shared, thanksgiving concludes everything."(*22)
Kavanagh says Augustine complains about the long lines coming to him for the dismissal, inferring that it was customary for penitents to come individually under his hand.(*23)
Augustine refers neither to the length of the line nor the number of penitents. Nor does he specifically state that "offering" the constituency means dismissing them with the blessing. Still, he does imply that episcopal handlaying is part of the blessing of individual penitents.
Augustine Sermon 232, 8
Augustine complains about the line of penitents coming to him for the imposition of hands: "Penitents abound here: When the hand is laid on them the service becomes exceedingly long."(*24)
Again, Kavanagh sees this as evidence that individual handlaying was a part of the episcopal missa.(*25)
This passage implies that individual handlaying upon penitents
was part of the bishop's responsibilities.
(*20) "Cumque subsistens senex audisset eum finisse tractatum et mutato rursus officio celebrare uelut diaconum catechumenis missam, tum demum pulsauit ostium." SC 109 (1965), p. 442.
(*21) Kavanagh, p. 15.
(*22) "Interpellationes. . . fiunt, cum populus benedicitur; tunc enim antistites uelut aduocati susceptos suos per manus inpositionem misericordissimae offerunt potestati. quibus peractis et participato tanto sacramento gratiarum actio cuncta concludit." Epistvlae, Corpvs scriptorvm ecclesiasticorvm latinorvm, ed. Al. Goldbacher (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1904), vol. 44, p. 363.
(*23) Kavanagh, p. 15.
(*24) "Abundant hic poenitentes: quando illis imponitur manus, fit ordo longissimus." Patrologiae cursus completus, ed. Jacques-Paul Migne, Series latina (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1845), vol. 38, col. 1111.
(*25) Kavanagh, p. 15.
Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica 7, 16
Sozomen describes the prayer for penitents in Rome around 450: "Then the bishop himself, turning away with tears, likewise prostrates to the ground: and the entire multitude of the church, confessing similarly, pours forth with tears. But afterwards the bishop arises first and raises up those prostrate: and these things having been done, as it is fitting, he dismisses them with a prayer on behalf of those sinners doing penance."(*26)
Kavanagh maintains the same structural elements here support the missa structure.(*27) Although Sozomen reports the role of a praying bishop in the dismissal, he gives no indication here of handlaying.
Damasus, Epistle 5
Writing in the late fourth century, Pope Damasus forbids presbyters to reconcile penitents, a responsibility reserved for bishops: "None may publicly reconcile any penitent in missa."(*28)
Kavanagh sees in this text evidence that the missa structure--here used in reconciling penitents--was reserved for bishops.(*29) The line does not occur in Migne's edition of Letter 5.(*30)
Second Council of Carthage,
Convened in 390, the Second Council of Carthage reserved certain rites for bishops: "Let the making of chrism and the consecration of young women not be done by presbyters: and it pleases all not to permit a presbyter to reconcile anyone with a public dismissal."(*31)
The text demonstrates the prerogative of the bishop in the penitential missa.(*32) Although the reservation to the bishop is clear, the text is not conclusive about the presence of other missa elements. One may also surmise that the legislation appeared because presbyters had been performing these rites.
Third Council of Arles, 24
This Council (538) describes the blessing given to penitents: "Let no one presume to entrust the blessing of penance to young persons: certainly let no one dare give it to spouses, except by consent of the parties, and if their age is already mature."(*33)
(*26) "Tum episcopus cum lacrymis ex adverso occurrens, pariter ipse humi provolvitur: et universa Ecclesiae multitudo simul confitens, lacrymis perfunditur. Posthaec vero primus exsurgit episcopus, ac prostratos erigit :factaque, ut decet, precatione pro peccatoribus poenitentiam agentibus, eos dimittit." PG 67 (1864), col. 1462.
(*27) Kavanagh, p. 15.
(*28) Cited in Kavanagh, p. 15.
(*29) Kavanagh, p. 15.
(*30) PL 13 (1845), col. 365-369.
(*31) "Chrismatis confectio, & puellarum consecratio, a presbyteris non fiant: vel reconciliare quemquam publica missa presbytero non licere, hoc omnibus placet." Mansi 3 (1960), col. 693.
(*32) Thus, Kavanagh, pp. 15-16.
(*33) "Ut ne quis benedictionem poenitentiae juvenibus personis credere praesumat: certe conjugatis, nisi ex consensu partium, & aetate jam plena, eam dare non audeat." Mansi 9 (1960), col. 18.
Kavanagh believes that "blessing of penance" is dismissal under another title.(*34) Granting this, the text shows how plentiful references to penitential dismissals may be.
Vita S. Hilarii 13, 16
The Vita describes the prayers for penitents in general, and then relates this anecdote: "For a certain blind woman, while she was blessed by the laying on of Hilary's hand, proclaimed that she had received sight."(*35)
The text implies that the structural element of handlaying was part of the prayer for penitents.(*36)
It seems clear that episcopal handlaying was part of Hilary's ritual for penitents.
Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 74
At the turn of the sixth century, Caesarius complains that people are leaving church too early. "For the one who understands what is being done in church when the divine mysteries are celebrated realizes how much evil they do who without any great necessity leave from the church when Mass is not finished."(*37)
Kavanagh surmises that the complaint arose because too many people were leaving after the readings and the sermon, at the time catechumens and penitents were dismissed. This could have contributed toward the ultimate suppression of dismissals.(*38)
Caesarius never mentions the formal dismissals of catechumens or penitents in this sermon. Rather, he admits various occupations prevent people from staying: "for a sickness of the body holds some, public necessity holds others, a whim tempts others and binds them like captives."(*39) But he mentions neither catechumens nor penitents, nor that the premature departure of the faithful occurred at a regular point in the service, whether after the sermon or before communion. It is unclear whether or not his assembly was familiar with dismissals at all.
Still, the evidence from these sources is strong that episcopal handlaying was in many places part of the ritual for dismissing penitents.
Missae in the Monastic Office
There are several references to the conclusion of monastic offices with a formal dismissal.
(*34) Kavanagh, p. 16, n. 31.
(*35) "Nam mulier quaedam caeca, dum manus ejus impositione benedicitur, visum se recepisse proclamat." PL 50 (1865), col. 1233-1234.
(*36) Kavanagh, p. 16, n. 31.
(*37) "Qui enim intellegit quid in ecclesia agatur, quando divina mysteria celebrantur, agnoscit quantum male faciunt illi, qui de ecclesia non expletis missis sine aliqua grandi necessitate discedunt." Opera omnia, Sermones seu admonitiones, ed. D. Germanus Morin (Maredsous: 1937), vol. 1, p. 297.
(*38) Kavanagh, p. 19.
(*39) "Alios enim tenet corporis infirmitas, alios publica necessitas, alios ligat et quasi captivos trahit cupiditas." Sermones, vol. 1, p. 298.
Cassian mentions the occurrence of a missa in the monastic office when he covers the case of a monk arriving late for prayer: "But he who at tierce, sext, or none, will not have run to prayer before the first psalm is finished, does not dare to enter the oratory later, nor to admit himself to the singing of psalms, but standing outside the entrance he awaits the dismissal of the congregation."(*40)
This describes the custom of concluding a monastic office with a formal dismissal.
Cassiodorus: Expositio in Psalmis, 25
Cassiodorus uses missa as a term for the eucharist: "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth (Isa. vi, 3). After the psalmist has heard these things and recognized them with the greatest devotion, he tells the people all the marvels which even today the Church sings in the blessed celebration of the holy missae (eucharist)."(*41)
As time progressed, the term missa came to describe the entire ritual which it concluded--in this case, the eucharist.(*42)
The Rule of the Master
This sixth-century document details the life of a monastic community. It describes compline (37) as follows: "Three Compline psalms, a responsory, a reading of the apostle, a reading of the gospels--which the abbot always says when he is present--the prayer of God, and the concluding verse ought to be said."(*43)
Since this section of the rule patterns that of Benedict (see below), Kavanagh sees in its liturgical rubrics an argument for the presence of monastic missae.(*44)
Although its services end in prayer, the Rule of the Master never uses the term missa or describes the dismissal rite.
The Rule of Benedict
Another sixth-century monastic treasure, this Rule describes the conclusion of offices in more detail. Litanies conclude six offices, and after compline a "blessing" follows. But in each case, offices end with a missa; e.g., at compline, "after the psalms come the hymn of the same hour, a single reading, a verset, the kyrie eleison, and the dismissals with a blessing."(*45)
(*40) "Is uero, qui in tertia, sexta uel nona, priusquam coeptus finiatur psalmus, ad orationem non occurrerit, ulterius oratorium introire non audet nec semet ipsum admiscere psallentibus, sed congregationis missam stans pro foribus praestolatur." SC 109, p. 108.
(*41) "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth (Isa. vi,3). Quae cum audiret, et devotione maxima cognovisset, narraret populis universa mirabilia quae hodieque in sanctarum celebratione missarum beata canit Ecclesia." PL 70 (1865), col. 185.
(*42) Kavanagh, p. 20.
(*43) "Psalmi conpletorii tres dici debent, responsorium, lectionem apostoli, lectionem euangeliorum, quam semper praesens abbas dicat, rogus Dei et uersum clusoriae." SC 106 (1964), p. 194.
(*44) Kavanagh, pp. 20ff.
(*45) "Post quos (psalmos) hymnum eiusdem horae, lectionem unam, versu, Kyrie eleison, et benedictione missae fiant (17:10)." The Rule of St. Benedict, ed. Timothy Fry (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1981), p. 212.
Kavanagh hypothesizes that these missae combined a formal ritual of prayer and a coming of the monks individually to the abbot's hand. He admits the reconstruction cannot be absolutely certain.(*46)
What is missing here is a clear explanation from the Rule of Benedict about just what these missae are. The text itself gives no indication that the blessing, which one might expect to be given generally over the assembly, was given individually to the monks.
In short, the evidence of monastic missae never mentions handlaying.
Prayers of Inclination
Another ritual category with similarities to missae is the Eastern prayer of inclination.
Byzantine Liturgy of St. John
The Prayer of Inclination from the liturgy of Chrysostom seems to be a misplaced liturgical unit. Coming immediately before the distribution of communion, it asks protection for the people instead of preparing one for eucharist. "Look down from heaven above, O master, on those who have bowed their heads to you. . . . Smooth out for all of us, for (our own) good, according to each one's need, whatever lies before us."(*47)
Kavanagh follows Robert Taft's hypothesis that this prayer originally accompanied a dismissal of those faithful who were not receiving communion that day. This would lend order to a point in the service that had become increasingly chaotic. The prayer and blessing might then be a fourth or fifth century innovation based on a liturgical structure (the missa) to which the people were already accustomed.(*48) If Taft's thesis is acceptable, there is additional evidence that the bishop's blessing and dismissal of individual groups was a recognized liturgical form adapted to different circumstances.
Council of Agde, 47
This council in 506 forbade anyone to leave before the blessing of the bishop. "We advise that all dismissals from the Lord's Supper by the laity be held by a special regulation: so that the people may not presume to leave before the blessing of the priest. If they do, they may be publicly admonished by the bishop."(*49)
Kavanagh interprets this blessing not as a final dismissal, but as a Western prayer of inclination, further evidence of the practice of episcopal dismissals. In a footnote he indicates that the Councils of Orange and Orange III promulgated similar canons.(*50) The evidence does support the practice of episcopal dismissals, but textually this blessing may as well refer to the final dismissal. Orange and Orange III are pseudonymous counciliar texts dating from the Middle Ages.
(*46) Kavanagh, pp. 26-27.
(*47) Robert Taft, "The Inclination Prayer before Communion in the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: A Study in Comparative Liturgy," Ecclesia orans 3, no. 1 (1986): 31-32.
(*48) Kavanagh, pp. 29-30.
(*49) "Missas de dominico a saecularibus totas teneri speciali ordinatione praecipimus: ita ut ante benedictionem sacerdotis egredi populus non praesumat. Qui si fecerint, ab episcopo publice confundantur." Mansi 8 (1960), col. 332.
(*50) Kavanagh, p. 30, n. 66.
The Council of Milevis, 12
This early fifth-century council of northern Africa resolved, "that prayers or orations, or dismissals which have been approved in council, whether prefaces or commendations or handlayings, shall be used by all."(*51)
Kavanagh proposes that these dismissals may also have been for non-communicants -- similar to prayers of inclination.(*52)
It is difficult to know who is dismissing whom, and what is the occasion of the dismissals, but Kavanagh's interpretation is one possibility.
Gregory the Great, Dialogues 2, 23
Gregory writing at the turn of the seventh century indicates a similar dismissal by the deacon for those not receiving communion. He tells the story of two sanctimonious women" who privately led a not-so-pious life, but were buried nonetheless in the local church. "And when in the same church were celebrated the solemnities of the Mass, and the deacon proclaimed according to the custom: 'If anyone is not receiving communion, let him or her leave,' their nurse, who used to bring an offering to the Lord for them, saw them arise from their tombs and leave the church."(*53)
Kavanagh surmises that the deacon's instruction indicated another Western prayer of inclination.(*54) His argument is plausible, although the text is silent about the elements of the rite.
AT's Postbaptismal Handlaying
We may now analyze Hippolytus' postbaptismal handlaying to see if it fits the pattern of liturgical dismissals.
Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 21-22
At the conclusion of baptism at the Easter celebration, each neophyte
"is anointed from the oil which was consecrated (by the thanksgiving prayer of the bishop) by the presbyter saying: 'I anoint you with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ.' And thus, drying themselves, the individuals are vested, and afterwards are brought in the church. "But the bishop laying his hand on them prays, saying: 'Lord God, who made them worthy to merit the forgiveness of sins by the washing of rebirth of the Holy Spirit, send your grace onto them, that they may serve you according to your will; for to you is the glory, to the Father and to the Son with the Holy Spirit in the holy Church, both now and for ever. Amen.'
(*51) ". . . ut preces vel orationes seu missae quae probatae fuerint in concilio, sive praefationes, sive commendationes, seu manus impositiones, ab omnibus celebrentur." Mansi 4 (1960), col. 330.
(*52) Kavanagh, pp. 30-31.
(*53) "Cumque in eadem ecclesia missarum sollemnia celebrarentur, atque ex more diaconus clamaret: 'Si quis non communicat, det locum', nutrix earum, quae pro eis oblationem Domino deferre consueuerat, eas de sepulcris suis progredi et exire ecclesiam uidebat." SC 260 (1979), pp. 206-208.
(*54) Kavanagh, p. 31.
"Afterwards, pouring the consecrated oil from his hand and laying it on the (neophyte's) head, let him say: 'I anoint you with holy oil in the Lord, the Father Almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.'
"And sealing (the neophyte) on the forehead, let him offer the kiss and say: 'The Lord be with you.' And let him who has been sealed say: 'And with your spirit.' Let him do thus to the individuals."(*55)
This is commonly regarded as the ritual predecessor to confirmation. However, Kavanagh challenges this assumption by analyzing the earliest manuscript edition of AT, the eighth century Verona Urtext. This edition does not include the prayer for the Holy Spirit commonly associated with confirmation. Verona's text simply prays for God's grace, that the neophyte may serve according to God's will. Kavanagh believes the anointing has a christic, not a pneumatological meaning.(*56) He builds a convincing argument that later generations added the epicletic formula during an age which developed the theology of the Holy Spirit.(*57)
If the Verona manuscript, the earliest, is the most correct, and if the epicletic formula is a later accretion, one is left with a disturbing question: If AT 22 is not confirmation, what is it? Kavanagh's response is that it is a baptismal missa. He believes the bishop's action is the public conclusion of a rite begun privately. The rite of baptism, Kavanagh says, would conclude with the assembly's prayer in preparation for the Eucharist. The steps of prayer, handlaying, signing the forehead, and offering the kiss of peace, he maintains, are steps later sources call a missa.(*58)
Does the evidence cited above prove this hypothesis? Not really. That's why it remains a hypothesis. Patterns of episcopal missae are evident, but tantalizingly incomplete. Since the genre takes various forms it is tempting to apply it to the baptismal liturgy. But the thesis remains unprovable in the end, despite Kavanagh's forceful rhetoric.
There are other problems. A postbaptismal dismissal would be logistically awkward in AT 22: The neophytes have already left the place of baptism and entered the place of communion when the bishop imposes hands on them. Entrance is an unusual moment for a dismissal. And if there had been a dismissal from baptism, surely that would have occurred at the font, before coming to the bishop. One also wonders why baptism would be a separate liturgical unit requiring a dismissal. Other missae have marked the completion of an office, the end of the liturgy of the Word, or the blessing of pilgrims. When Egeria's pilgrims were dismissed into another service, they went from one complete liturgy to another; when catechumens,
(*55) ". . . ungueatur a praesbytero de illo oleo quod sanctificatum est dicente: Ungueo te oleo sancto in nomine Ie(s)u Chr(ist)i. Et ita singuli detergentes se induantur et postea in ecclesia ingrediantur.
"Episcopus uero manu(m) illis inponens inuocet dicens: D(omi)ne D(eu)s, qui dignos fecisti eos remissionem mereri peccatorum per lauacrum regenerationis sp(irit)u(s) s(an)c(t)i, inmitte in eos tuam gratiam, ut tibi seruiant secundum uoluntatem tuam; quoniam tibi est gloria, patri et filio cum sp(irit)u
s(an)c(t)o, in sancta ecclesia, et nunc et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
"Postea oleum sanctificatum infunde(n)s de manu et inponens in capite dicat: Ungueo te s(an)c(t)o oleo in d(omi)no patre omnipotente et Chr(ist)o Ie(s)u et sp(irit)u s(an)c(t)o.
"Et consignans in frontem offerat osculum et dicat : D(omi)n(u)s tecum. Et ille qui signatus est dicat : Et cum sp(irit)u tuo. Ita singulis faciat." SC 11 bis, pp. 86-90.
(*56) Kavanagh, pp. 39-52.
(*57) Kavanagh, pp. 52-72.
(*58) Kavanagh, p. 67.
energumens, illuminated, penitents, non-communicants, and the faithful are dismissed from the liturgy, they leave the place of assembly completely. The baptismal rites of AT seem integral to the liturgy. This would be the sole instance of a dismissal within a liturgical unit. In addition, the appearance of oil, which has been absent in other missae, remains unexplained.
Another difficulty concerns the content of the episcopal prayer. Among the three examples from AT which Kavanagh proposes may be missae, only this one presents the actual content of the prayer spoken on the occasion. By taking pains to iclude the prayer, Hippolytus may be indicating he has a special meaning for this ritual. In fact, among all the dismissal texts cited above, the presentation of the prayer's content is exceptionally rare.
Apart from these texts, the difficulty of chronology remains. AT is the earliest text under consideration. Other examples of missae postdate it sometimes by centuries. Contemporaneous evidence is scant. In fact, in Tertullian (155-220) the theological treatise on baptism recounts its ritual contrary to the way Kavanagh interprets the Verona Urtext of Hippolytus: After baptism and anointing, "the hand is imposed for a blessing, calling and inviting the Holy Spirit."(*59) Although Kavanagh dismisses this as "allusive evidence,"(*60) it gives witness to an epicletic handlaying as part of the baptismal ritual. The possibility of this rite being a dismissal remains open, but Tertullian has given it a pneumatological meaning.(*61)
One also has the very difficult passages from Acts of the Apostles to reckon with. Kavanagh is right that the application of the events in Acts to the postbaptismal handlaying comes fairly late, around the fifth century.(*62) But surely the coming of the Spirit in Acts, both at Pentecost and through the apostolic handlaying, remains in the background in early Christian initiation proceedings. The gift of the Spirit is what baptism is all about. It should not be surprising to find a pneumatic handlaying in early Christian initiation rites since it was part of apostolic testimony.
Thus the original problem returns: If the episcopal handlaying of AT 22 is not confirmation, what is it?
It seems there are two possibilities, depending on the reliability of the Verona Urtext. One is that Verona is incorrect, and that there really was an epiclesis in Hippolytus' prayer. The witness of Tertullian makes this possible. In this case, calling the rite "confirmation" is anachronistic, but it would remain a forerunner to what developed as confirmation later in the Church: a postbaptismal, episcopal, epicletic handlaying. It would be part of the "symbolic overflow" for baptism, to use Pamela Jackson's expression.(*63) The meaning of baptism is so rich that additional rites explore its wealth.
(*59) ". . .manus inponitur per benedictionem aduocans et inuitans spiritum sanctum." De baptismo 8, 1, CSEL, vol 1, pp. 282-283.
(*60) Kavanagh, p. 53.
(*61) A similar case may be made for Cyprian (200-258) in his Epistula ad Jubajanum, 9: "Quod nunc quoque apud nos geritur, ut qui in Ecclesia baptizantur, praepositis Ecclesiae offerantur, et per nostram orationem ac manus impositionem, Spiritum sanctum consequantur et signaculo Dominico consummentur." PL 3 (1865), col. 1160.
(*62) Kavanagh credits Innocent I with this innovation, p. 59. Actually, Jerome made the connection a few years earlier in Contra Luciferianos 6-9. See PL 23 (1865), col. 169-173.
(*63) "The Meaning of 'Spiritale Signaculum' in the Mystagogy of Ambrose of Milan," Ecclesia orans 7, no. 1 (1990): 90.
Another possibility is that Verona is correct, and there is no support to the epicletic nature of Hippolytus' postbaptismal prayer. In this instance, instead of asking why do the neophytes come back to the bishop, it may be as helpful to ask why did they first go away? The neophytes were baptized in private and then led back into the assembly where the bishop laid hands on them. Since baptism in the nude was a private matter, the handlaying may have been the first public gesture of ratification for the bishop and the faithful who did not witness the pouring of water. It could have been a neophytic version of the catechumenal exorcism: Instead of praying for protection from evil, the bishop now prays for the bestowal of grace.
As with any historical study of confirmation, one can only be amazed here at the journey confirmation has taken to arrive at its present status. What began as a fairly simple ritual embedded in grander initiation rites has mushroomed into a sacramental declaration of independence for teenagers. Whatever the origins of confirmation, it was never intended to overshadow baptism and eucharist. To pretend it is the completion of initiation(*64) is to cast doubt on one's faith in the communal dimension of the eucharist. If unconfirmed children receiving eucharist have not completed their initiation into the Church, just what is the nature of the common faith we express in the eucharistic banquet?
Kavanagh's book is important because it scrutinizes the meaning of confirmation from the point of view of a ritual scholar. By analyzing ritual texts, he proposes a ritual solution to what confirmation means. Martin Luther, by contrast, scrutinized the meaning of confirmation from the point of view of a biblical scholar. By analyzing biblical texts, he proposed a biblical solution to what confirmation means.(*65) There are those today who scrutinize confirmation as catechetical scholars. By analyzing the process of catechesis, they propose a catechetical solution to what confirmation means. To sacramental theologians who vainly strive to reclaim the modest beginnings of an overgrown rite, Kavanagh offers hope.
(*64) In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, for example, teenagers requesting the sacrament of confirmation send a letter to the ordinary which is to include this sentence: "At this time, I am formally requesting to become a full member of the Catholic faith by asking to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation." "Confirmation Letter to the Bishop," (undated).
One teen expanded on the notion: "Confirmation means to me that I'm sort of one of God's many deciples (sic) now, ofically (sic)." Another expressed a contrary theological opinion, that the sacrament has more to do with accomplishment than initiation: "I wish to be confirmed because I had worked my ass off trying to get my service projects (done and) getting to retreats." Various letters to the bishop, St. John Francis Regis Parish, 1990.
(*65) Paul Turner, The Meaning and Practice of Confirmation: Perspectives from a Sixteenth Century Controversy, American University Studies Series VII, Theology and Religion, vol. 31 (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), pp. 7-13.
This article first appeared in Worship 65/4
(July 1991):320-336. It has been reprinted in Living Water, Sealing Spirit:
Readings on Christian Initiation, ed. Maxwell E. Johnson (Collegeville: The
Liturgical Press , 1995):238-258. The
Liturgical Press ISBN number is: 0-8146-6140-8 if you wish to order the book.
Top of page