Confirmation is the completion of Baptism. It involves the anointing of oil on the forehead.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to Saint Titus, “God … saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration (Baptism) and renewal in the Holy Spirit (Confirmation)” (Titus 3:4-5).
Likewise, his Letter to the Hebrews lists the imposition of hands, immediately after Baptism, as one of six essential Christian doctrines (6:1-2).
In Baptism, one is reborn in the Spirit, sins are washed away, and supernatural gifts are bestowed, but the individual remains, spiritually immature, a “babe in Christ” not yet ready for “solid food,” as Paul put it in his First Letter to the Corinthians, 3:1-2.
Once a Christian’s faith has matured, he is ready for Confirmation, in which he is sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What was begun in Baptism is completed, empowering the Christian to go into the world and win souls for the Lord.1
The Apostles fortified believers in the Spirit through anointing with oil and the imposition of hands. Saint John, for example, writes, “You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know (the truth). … The anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.” See John’s First Letter (2:20, 27) Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (1:21-22) or Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (1:13).
In the Acts of the Apostles (8:14), Peter and John lay hands upon converts in Samaria to confer on them the gift of the Spirit. The Apostles are sent to the Samaritans because the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16). This does not mean the Samaritans’ Baptism was deficient, for, in the language of the New Testament, Baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus” was simply a way of designating Christian Baptism from other kinds.
Their issue was not that they had been baptized improperly, but that “they had only been baptized,” or, in other words, that they had not yet been confirmed. So, the fact that the Spirit “had not yet fallen on them” means they stood in need of the greater outpouring of the Spirit that comes from the apostolic imposition of hands in Confirmation.Saint Philip, being only a deacon, had the authority to baptize the Samaritans but not to confirm them. Only the Apostles, whom Paul calls in his First Letter to the Corinthians (4:1) “stewards of the mysteries of God” had this authority. In another episode from The Acts, Paul comes to the disciples of Saint John the Baptist, who, in contrast to the Samaritans, lacked Christian Baptism (19:2). In this case, Paul first rebaptizes them, “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and then confirms them through the laying on of hands.
In the early Christian historical writings, Saint Theophilus of Antioch, in year 181, mentions the necessity for Christians to be “anointed with the oil of God” (To Autolycus 1:12). At about the same time, Tertullian writes, “After coming from the place of washing (i.e., Baptism) we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction … . After this, the hand is imposed for a blessing, invoking and inviting the Holy Spirit” (Baptism 7:1; 8:1).
In about 215, Saint Hippolytus of Rome says the Confirmation rite begins with the bishop imposing his hand on the newly baptized and saying, “O Lord God, who made them worthy of the remission of sins through the Holy Spirit’s washing unto rebirth, send into them your grace so that they may serve you according to your will.” The Saint goes on to explain how the bishop signed the head of the baptized with holy oil (The Apostolic Tradition 22). Pope Saint Cornelius states in 251 that it is necessary for a baptized Christian to be “sealed by the bishop,” otherwise, “how could he have the Holy Spirit?” (Letter to Fabius of Antioch 6:43:15). Likewise, his contemporary, Saint Cyprian of Carthage states, “It is necessary for him that has been baptized also to be anointed, so that by his having received the chrism, that is, the anointing, he can be the anointed of God and have in himself the grace of Christ” (Letter to Januarius and Seventeen Other Bishops of Numidia 70:2).
- Some Christians, who tend to see salvation as a one-time event rather than a process, may have difficulty understanding why God would need to perfect the gift of the Spirit beyond its initial reception. As the Bible explains, salvation involves steady spiritual growth over the course of a lifetime. See Matthew (24:13), Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (3:1-3), or his Letter to the Phillipeans (2:12,). Confirmation especially fosters this growth process. ↩