Confirmation – memories and more…

What happens then is spiritual sealing … for after the baptism with water takes place the completion when the Holy Spirit is poured out by the prayer of the bishop
St. Ambrose

I came across them by pure chance. As it turned out, I put them into a book about the history of Christian mysticism. It seems that I used them once as a bookmark and then forgot all about them. Two photographs taken after my confirmation, kindly scanned for me
by the mother of American boys who were confirmed together with me in St. Anne and St. Mary Old Catholic Cathedral in Haarlem, which is also used by the local Anglican parish, on March 5th 2006. In them, the three of us stand holding burning candles accompanied by the suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, the Rt. Rev. David Hamid, who confirmed us, and Fr. Brian Richards, the then priest-in-charge of the Haarlem Anglican congregation. I sometimes speak of Brian as the person who “turned me” from a liberal Protestant into an (Anglo-)Catholic, and also from an ordained minister in the Remonstrant Church to a lay Anglican, whom I consider myself until today, notwithstanding moving under the Old Catholic jurisdiction (about one and a half year afterwards).

Such unexpected findings always awaken something in a person. Above all, they bring memories. How slim was I these six years ago; I’m curious if I still would fit in that jacket – one of a few, by the way, in which even I like the way I look 😉 The blue shirt doesn’t seem to me today the most fortunate choice; perhaps I should have chosen a classic white one instead. I recall that weekend very well. On Saturday the Bishop arrived and in the afternoon I was invited for a conversation. I remember that he asked me, among other things, why I had chosen Anglicanism, and not some high church Protestant congregation, for instance, and I – by the book and in a Catholic manner – stammered something in my lousy English about the Apostolic Succession and the threefold church ministry (after all, I was already studying at the Old Catholic Theological Seminary and my head was full of such ready-made formulas, and the influence of Brian shouldn’t be underestimated either). We talked also about my desire to serve as a priest in the Anglican church. It didn’t cross my mind then that six years later it would still be only a desire; but what can you do – such things happen in life. I should add, however, that all this time I have remembered the words spoken then by Bishop David: If it is God’s will, it will happen. Amen…

But looking at these “pics” brought something else. The question WHAT DID ACTUALLY HAPPEN THEN, WHAT WAS MY CONFIRMATION FOR ME? Our Facebook friend from Texas, the Rev. Dr. Greg Neal, a minister of the United Methodist Church, writes in his book – excellent, by the way – Grace Upon Grace:

But what does confirmation do? It is our Affirmation of Faith, our response to grace, our saying “yes” to grace, our saying “yes” to God’s love. In confirmation, the baptized are saying, for the first time before a congregation, that they claim for themselves the grace which was proclaimed for them in their baptisms. Confirmation, hence, completes the Sacrament of Baptism.

Baptism may be understood as reflecting prevenient grace;
confirmation can be understood as reflecting justifying grace. In confirmation, the believer affirms their faith in Jesus Christ and enters into full membership within the Body of Christ. In baptism, God claims us as his very own Children; in confirmation we proclaim God as our Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Greg presents here the Arminian variant of the classic Protestant approach, outlined for the first time systematically be Luther’s coworker, Philipp Melanchthon, in his Loci Communes from 1536. According to it the confirmation is the affirmation and the act of acceptance of Baptism (the baptismal vows). Doubtlessly it is a very important aspect of that act, but is it the most important (or even the only) one? Protestant Pietists understood it a bit differently (and that is why I have to admit my surprise at the fact that this aspect of confirmation was omitted by a Methodist theologian; after all Methodism originated from Pietism!) The integral part of confirmation in Pietist congregations was the laying on of hands combined with the call  Nimm hin den Heiligen Geist… (Take the Holy Spirit into yourself). This call instantly reminds me of the formula accompanying the lying on of hands during the Confirmation according to the 1979 BCP:

Strengthen, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life. Amen.

An Old Catholic theologian, the Most Rev. Andreas Rinkel (1889-1979), the canonical Archbishop of Utrecht and the spiritual leader of the Union of Utrecht in the years 1937-1970, affirms in his Dogmatische theologie (lectures given in the Seminary in Amersfoort, part IV, p. 48, 1956) the aspect which Protestants accentuate, writing:

The confirmation fulfills, affirms and activates the work of Baptism in us

Immediately to add, however, that

It does it by giving us the Holy Spirit. He, to whom we belong, becomes our possession, our instrument, our weapon. He marks us, seals us (sphragizein, signare) as baptized,…

“The gift of the Spirit” is at the same time the fulfillment, immersion (poisthenai), anointment (chriein, chrisma) with the imperishable, life-giving, holy life of God himself, who, as the Holy Spirit, finds in our spirit, which is the image of God, an anchor-point and his chance to conquer, penetrate, enliven and fill us.

The confirmation is not above all (or even only) about us AFFIRMING as adults (or adolescents) what happened in our Baptism, but ACCEPTING THE AFFIRMATION AND CONFIRMATION FROM GOD’S HANDS. To be honest, I have always wondered that Protestantism, putting as much emphasis of God’s grace, God’s acts, God’s work as it does, with regard to the confirmation underlines above all the human activity, human decision (without a doubt also very important!). Catholicism, on the other hand, perceived by many
Protestants as putting too much emphasis on (human) works, with regard to the confirmation underlines the aspect of the gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit. Despite the fact that almost a quarter of a century went by, I perfectly remember my confirmation in the Reformed Church in Poland (which couldn’t be recognized as such in the Anglican Church because it was not done by a bishop). Its integral part was the laying on of hands coupled with a blessing. It was not – strictly speaking – an act of passing on of the gift of the Holy Spirit, but in any case a blessing that you RECEIVE. I remember also, however, that during the preparation for confirmation the emphasis was not on this act but on the public confession of faith and making the vows that were made for us during Baptism, so still on our own activity. In the Dutch Reformed tradition it is expressed even in the name of the ceremony. There is no mention of confirmation but of “confession” (belijdenis) which you make (belijdenis doen).

When I look at these photographs from six years ago and the certificate I received then, I realize once again that BOTH THE ASPECTS were important for me then. After seven years of functioning in a church which, however not rejecting officially the historic Creeds, didn’t require its members to “sign” them but rather encouraged them to prepare their own, personal ones, I felt the need of a public confession of faith that has been confessed by Christians for centuries and to declare by that my belonging to the church of all ages. At the same time, however, realizing that I was standing at the threshold of a new period in my life and facing new challenges (which, by the way, turned out – at least in part – to be different and incomparably more difficult than I could have suspected), I desired above all sustenance. Without a doubt I was affirming something, but above all I myself was in need of affirmation and confirmation. And, judging it years later, I conclude that I received it, even if sometimes in a completely unexpected manner and from a completely unexpected direction. So it is with this Spirit that “blows wherever it pleases”…

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