Confirmation a rite by which, in some Christian churches, baptized persons are fully admitted into the Church by the imposition of hands and prayer. The Churches which practice this ceremony profess to do it in imitation of apostolic example recorded in the New Testament.
(1.) It appears from the Acts that the apostles laid hands only on baptized persons, as in the case of the converted Samaritans, Ac 8:12-17, and the disciples at Ephesus, Ac 19:5-6. It is, however, evident that in those passages, allusion is made to the miraculous gifts imparted by the apostles. It is said that "when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands he may receive the Holy Ghost." Nothing is said of the laying on of hands in the baptism of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:38-42). Nor does the ceremony appear to have taken place at the baptism of Lydia and her household, Ac 16:15; or the Philippian jailer and his family, Ac 16:31-33. In Heb 6:2, mention is made of "the doctrine of the laying on of hands" immediately after that of "the doctrine of baptisms," but there is no intimation that the two transactions were connected. The journey of St. Paul through Syria and Cilicia to confirm the churches does not necessarily imply the rite of confirmation as practiced by the Church of England. These churches had been probably planted by himself at an earlier period. and he now gives them such regulations as are necessary for their welfare, ordaining elders, imparting miraculous gifts, so important to the instruction of converts, and to the furnishing convincing evidences of the truth and power of the Gospel. The unction, or chrism, referred to in 1Jo 2:27, and 2Co 1:21, has been supposed by some to refer to the ceremony of confirmation; it seems rather to relate to a spiritual anointing, to the royal and priestly dignity of Christians, or to the communication of extraordinary and miraculous gifts.
(2.) As the practice cannot be traced to New-Testament authority, so neither do the earliest records of ecclesiastical antiquity contain any clear and certain testimony concerning it. Passages supposed to refer to this rite have been pointed out in the writings of Dionysius, in the Apostolical Constitutions, in Clement, and in Eusebius; but they rather relate to the sacrament of baptism. Confirmaition in connection with baptism may be traced to the time of Tertullian, who informs us that the ceremonies of unction and the imposition of hands followed immediately after baptism. Cyprian refers to the subject of confirmation, and applies to it the word sacranentum; but it is evident, from the use of the term at the time in which he wrote, and from the scope of the passages in which it occurs, that sacramentum was not used in its strictly theological meaning, but simply in the sense of ceremony. Numerous references to later writers might be made to show the connection of baptism and confirmation. The baptism of adults being regarded as a solemn compact or covenant, confirmation followed as the seal by which the contract was ratified; and hence confirmation was administered, not by the person officiating, but by the bishop. At the stated baptismal seasons, the bishop was chiefly occupied with the rite of confirmation; but he sometimes commenced the whole solemnity by the baptism of a few individuals with his own hands. When baptism was administered in the absence of the bishop, confirmation was solemnized at some convenient season afterwards, either by the bishop or by his representative. Hence it followed that confirmation was often deferred until several years after baptism, especially in those dioceses which were seldom visited, either on account of their great extent, or the negligence or ignorance of the bishop. Even after the general introduction of infant baptism, confirmation immediately succeeded. In the Oriental churches, baptism, confirmation, and the Lord's Supper are administered in immediate succession; a probable evidence that such was the ancient custom.
(3.) The permanent separation of confirmation from baptism is generally traced to the 13th century. The bishop was, for the most part, the ordinary minister. Several canons deny to the other orders of the clergy the right of confirming; but presbyters appear to have conferred imposition of hands, (a) in the absence of the bishop; or, (b) in the presence of the bishop, only by his express orders; or, (c) on the conversion of a reputed heretic, if such a one, desirous of being received into the church, was at the point of death while the bishop was absent. Deacons were on an equality with presbyters in this respect, until they were absolutely forbidden to administer this rite by the Council of Toledo, A.D. 400.
In the Latin Church, after the separation of confirmation from baptism, a series of preliminary religious exercises was requisite for this rite, similar to those which had been previously required for baptism. Names given in baptism were sometimes changed in confirmation. Sponsors were also required; and a separate edifice in some instances provided, called
consignatorium, albatorium, and chrismarium. After the disuse of baptisteries, both baptism and confirmation were administered in the church (Farrar; Bingham, Orig. Eccles. bk. 12, ch. 1, 2; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1:316).
Confirmation is a sacrament in the Romish and Greek churches. In the Greek Church confirmation is administered at the same time with, or as soon as possible after, baptism, even in the case of infants, it being considered perilous to die without it; and in the Latin Church also it is often administered to young children — the Church of Rome not considering a person a "complete Christian" till he has partaken of this "sacrament." To reconcile this opinion with the salvation of children who die after baptism but before confirmation, or "committing actual sin," the Church of Rome has decided that they are confirmed by death, as they cannot sin afterwards. In England. five centuries ago, children were usually confirmed at the age of five years. The Council of Trent appointed from the age of seven to twelve; and a synod of Milan, in 1565, prohibited confirmation under seven years of age. The canon law fixes no time, but says "of perfect age," which may be interpreted strictly or laxly. The earlier German Reformers rejected it even as a ceremony; but it was restored through the influence of Spener in the 17th century, and is now in use, as a renewal of the baptismal covenant, in the Reformed and Lutheran Churches. In the Church of England, and in the Protestant Episcopal Church, it is a formal rite, administered by the bishop. These churches direct that the child shall be confirmed "so soon as he can say the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments in the vulgar tongue, and is further instructed in the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose." Bishop Gibson, to elucidate the words "years of discretion," in the Ac 13; Ac 14, Car. II, refers to Lyndwood's Gloss upon Archbishop Walter's Constitutions, which makes the proper age to be above seven and under fourteen. The ritualists and canonists of the English Church generally incline to a tender age. Thus, in reply to Bucer, who "finds fault with our Church for administering confirmation too soon," and says that none ought to be confirmed "who have not had opportunity of giving sufficient testimonies of their faith and desire of living to God by their life and conversation," Wheatly argues that confirmation is administered "to assist them in manifesting their faith and practice, and is not to be deferred till these are already manifested." The rite, he says, is to guard them against sin, before they are exposed to temptation, "that so the Holy Spirit may take early possession of their youthful hearts, and prevent those sins to which, without his assistance, the very tenderness of their age would be apt to expose them." All that the Church demands, he adds, is "that they should understand the nature and advantages of the rite, and the obligations it lays upon them." The High and Low Church differ as to the essence of confirmation, the latter regarding it as being essentially a personal renewal of the promises made in the name of the subject by others at baptism, while the High-Churchmen look upon it as a kind of sacramental rite for conveying the strengthening power of the Holy Ghost. Some High-Churchmen have therefore maintained that the Roman doctrine of the sacramental character of confirmation (as well as of all the other sacraments of the Church of Rome) may, in some sense, be accepted by the Anglican Church. It is connected with this difference of views as to the sacramental character of confirmation that the High-Churchmen generally urge an earlier (about five or six years) and the LowChurchmen a later age (from fourteen to sixteen), for the performance of the rite. Their difference of opinion became the subject of an animated conference when, a few years ago, bishop Baring, of Durham, refused to confirm any children less than fourteen years of age. See Coleman, Ancient Christianity, ch. 20; Bangs, Original Church, p. 319 (N. Y. 12mo); Burnet, Hist. of Engl. Reformation, 1:466, 583; Wilson, Bampton Lecture, p. 260; Whately, Infant Baptism, p. 36; Schaff, Apostolic Church; Palmer, On the Church; Procter, On Common Prayer; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism. See a list of treatises on catechumens and confirmation in Volbeding's Index Dissertationum, p. 144,145.