Confirmation is the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands.
The chief Scriptural authority for it is found in Acts 8.17, 19:2, and Heb.6.2.
These passages with others show that:
It was in early times, as in all the Eastern churches to the present day,
combined with baptism and administered at the same time.
The SUBJECT of confirmation is a baptized person
who has not been already confirmed.
An unbaptized person cannot be confirmed.
If any one has by error been confirmed without having been baptized,
he must be baptized and then receive confirmation,
for his former confirmation is invalid.
No one can receive valid confirmation more than once.
Ordination includes confirmation.
A candidate for ordination ought first to have been confirmed;
but if he has been ordained without being confirmed,
he need not be confirmed (see p. 388).
The MATTER of confirmation is the laying on of
but as this is not of Divine command, the Church has the power to change it.
The Orthodox and other Eastern Communions,
and the Roman Communion [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, iii. 72, 2.
But some regard the outstretched hands of the bishop or the (comparatively modern) slap on the cheek as equivalent to the Laying on of Hands.],
have made anointing with chrism the matter of confirmation.
(CHRISM is an ointment made from oil and balsam, not to be confused with the oil used in unction of the sick.)
The Anglican Communion has returned to the New Testament practice of confirmation by laying-on of hands, which is also used by some Lutherans.
The FORM of confirmation is a prayer for the gifts
of the Spirit (Acts 8.15).
The MINISTER of confirmation is a bishop, directly or indirectly.
In the Anglican Communion the bishop alone may give confirmation.
In the Eastern Communions ordinarily, and in the Roman Communion by dispensation, a priest may confirm with chrism blessed by the bishop.
(In the Orthodox Communion the blessing of chrism is the privilege of a patriarch, and the right to bless the chrism is the sign that a church has become completely self-governing.)
The INTERNAL EFFECT of confirmation is the seven-fold
gift of the Holy Ghost.
The seven gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, spiritual strength, true godliness, and holy fear (Isa.11.2, in the ancient Greek translation;
in our Bible, translated from the original Hebrew text, there are only six gifts).
By the right use of these gifts the Christian is enabled to prepare himself to receive the communion and also to meet the dangers of adolescent and adult life.
The EXTERNAL EFFECT of confirmation is admission
into the full membership of the Church, and ordination to the priesthood
of the laity.
Baptism is not complete without it.
It is only the confirmed who are ordinarily admitted to communion (though those who are ready and willing to be confirmed may be admitted for urgent reasons); for it is by communicating that we join most fully in offering the sacrifice of Christ which we are not entitled to do till we have been ordained to the lay priesthood.
But all baptized persons have a right to be present at the offering of the Eucharist.
According to A. J. Mason and F. W. Puller, the Holy Ghost is given in confirmation and not in baptism;
but the usual view is that the Holy Ghost is given both in baptism and in confirmation, but for different purposes.
Evidence from the early church is not easy to obtain
because baptism and confirmation formed a single service.
It is a universal rule of the Church that no one may ordinarily be admitted
to communion who has not been confirmed.
It was universal in ancient times.
In the Middle Ages confirmation was much neglected because the dioceses were so large and the bishops so busy with secular offices, but the rule remained in force.
The Church of England allows an unconfirmed person to receive communion only if "ready and desirous to be confirmed", which merely continues the pre-Reformation rule.
It is of the utmost importance that this rule should be rigidly observed because the baptism of infants is often so indiscriminately administered that we cannot treat it as always conferring real membership.
The rule that only the confirmed are admitted to communion is almost the only rule of discipline in the English Church that is generally observed.
It is also the only means of excluding persons
who are not in communion with the Church.
Strictly speaking such persons are not to be admitted to communion even if they have been confirmed;
but this is difficult to enforce because it is not explicitly laid down in the Anglican formularies.
Those who have been brought up in the Calvinist belief that the Church is invisible cannot see why they should not be admitted to communion anywhere.
It is useless to point out to them that those who wish for the privileges of a society must submit to its rules, because they have never been taught that the Church is a society, or that communion is the privilege of members of the visible Church, not of Christians as individuals.
The written formularies of the English Church were drawn up in an age when everyone was a member of the Church, and therefore do not forbid the communion of non-members (though the canons of 1604 declare those who separate from the Church to be excommunicated). But they do forbid the communion of those who are neither confirmed nor willing to be confirmed.
In the Roman Communion where these difficulties do not arise,
first communion is often given before confirmation,
but it is a modern abuse and was condemned by Pope Leo I in 1897,
approving of a decision of the Diocesan Synod of Marseilles (A. C. Hall, Confirmation, p. 94).
The age at which confirmation is given has differed widely in different
ages and countries.
The ancient custom still continued in the Eastern churches was to administer it to infants.
In the West it became usual in the Middle Ages to postpone it to the age or reason that is, seven years old.
The English Prayer Book requires all children to have learned the Catechism before confirmation which is to be given when the child reaches years of discretion that is, when he is able to distinguish right from wrong. [Not when he becomes "discreet"; in that case many would never be confirmed!]
Queen Elizabeth I was confirmed by Archbishop Cranmer when she was a week
This was probably deliberate archaism.
John Wesley was confirmed at eight (1711).
This was usual at that time.
The modern custom of postponing confirmation till the sixteenth year is due to Lutheran influence.
In practice no rigid rule can be laid down because the development and the
circumstances of different children differ so much.
It is now generally agreed by those who know what confirmation is and have studied the psychology of children that when the home is thoroughly Christian, confirmation should be given before adolescence begins that is, not later than the thirteenth year provided that it is followed up with careful instruction for some years.
In some cases it may be given at eight or nine.
But where the atmosphere of the home is not sympathetic, it may be better to postpone confirmation to about eighteen when the boy or girl is old enough to stand up against the indifference or opposition of his or her parents.
The renewal of the baptismal vows, which is part of the Anglican confirmation
service, is in no way necessary to confirmation and can be done more than
once. The unfortunate phrase "ratify and confirm"
applied to the vows since 1552 (but altered in the 1928 revision to "ratify
and confess") has led to the common error that confirmation is
merely the renewal of baptismal vows. (If it were, there would be no
need for the presence of a bishop.) When confirmation is given early,
candidates may be asked to make a fresh renewal of vows when they approach
adult life at about eighteen.
The rite called confirmation by the Lutherans is a different thing from
the Catholic sacrament.
In German they are expressed by two different words
[Catholic Confirmation is Firmung; Evangelical Confirmation is Konfirmation.].
Luther held that the laying on of hands by the apostles conferred miraculous gifts only and ceased with the Apostolic Age.
This opinion is contrary to the teaching of the Church in all ages as well as to the New Testament evidence.
Lutheran confirmation is a public profession of faith prepared for by long and careful instruction.
This profession of faith is made to the parish priest or pastor in the presence of all the candidate's friends and neighbours in the church, and is accompanied by prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
After it the candidate is admitted to his first communion.
Laying-on of hands is, however, practiced in some Lutheran countries.
In Sweden and Finland where it is not officially authorized, it is spreading rapidly.
There is a historical case of a Swedish bishop who, at the request of Bishop Blomfield of London and with the consent of the King of Sweden and the Swedish Synod, confirmed some Anglican candidates living in Sweden in the Anglican manner.
The Continental Reformed Churches have a rite of confirmation similar to
that of the Lutherans, and so have the Presbyterians (according to the Book
of Common Order, published by the authority of the Scottish General Assembly).
It is definitely not sacramental.