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Monday, June 24, 2024

The Sacrament of the Warriors: Confirmation

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The Sacrament of the Warriors: Confirmation

Much has been written about the differences between the Gregorian Roman Catholic liturgy and the “Novus Ordo” liturgy of Pope Paul VI, as well as about the “mutation” undergone by post-conciliar Catholic theology. Additionally, a significant barometer of the major changes suffered by the traditional theological perspective, transformed through a complete rewriting by progressive theologians, is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I say this because, as expected, there are major differences between the Roman Catechism developed and published in 1566 with the participation of some theological giants like Saint Charles Borromeo (1538–1584), and the Catechism promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Some of these differences – usually of a doctrinal nature – are specific. I will address them in other articles. Other such differences reflect a major change in the ethos of Catholic formation. The missionary function of the Church aimed at converting non-Catholics has been marginalized to the point of exclusion, while ecumenism and dialogue have become the driving forces of the new theological discourse. The consequences for Catholic identity are catastrophic. The vast majority of Catholics today – whether members of the sacred orders or laypeople – no longer consider that they must make constant efforts to convert others. This has deep roots, situated even in the basic and essential formation of Catholics received during the administration of the sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is one of those mysteries of Christian life that has undergone significant “adjustments.” Reading the two catechisms side by side, I was immediately struck by the absence in John Paul II’s Catechism of a crucial dimension of the Sacrament of Confirmation found in the Roman Catechism. What is this about? From the outset, the latter catechism shows us that when the Bishop anoints a baptized person “with the sacred chrism,” he “becomes stronger with the strength of a new power, and thus begins to be a perfect soldier of Christ.”[i] The development of the doctrine concerning this sacred anointing also provides a complete answer to the fundamental question, “Why is there a need for another sacrament of this kind after Baptism?”

If Baptism rebirths him “of water and the Holy Spirit,” transforming him into a newborn human being cleansed of original sin, Confirmation transforms the Christian into that “perfect man” spoken of by Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (4:13). In short, Baptism and Confirmation correspond to the two stages—childhood and maturity—of the spiritual dynamics of any Christian.

To fully understand the answers given, we must keep in mind the image from the Catholic epistles of the New Testament (especially those of Saint Paul) regarding the spiritual growth of the Christian. If Baptism rebirths him “of water and the Holy Spirit,” transforming him into a newborn human being cleansed of original sin, Confirmation transforms the Christian into that “perfect man” spoken of by Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (4:13). In short, Baptism and Confirmation correspond to the two stages—childhood and maturity—of the spiritual dynamics of any Christian. They complement each other perfectly, relating harmoniously, just as the periods of childhood and maturity are parts of the evolution of the same person.

While through Baptism the mind receives the entirety of supernatural faith, through Confirmation the already baptized person receives “a different grace, to the end that they (i.e., those who are confirmed) be deterred by no danger, or fear of pains, tortures or death, from the confession of the true faith.” It is evident, therefore, that Confirmation provides us with all the divine strength necessary to confess the faith before non-Christians without any fear. This explains the victories of the numerous martyrs in the history of the Church, the perseverance of missionaries and the sometimes severe asceticism of the great saints. The Holy Spirit, working through His gifts in the souls of those who have received Confirmation, enables them to withstand the most terrible trials. All this with one main purpose: the testimony of faith and the conversion of unbelievers.

Such an understanding pertains to that unseen spiritual wrestling which “is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Christians are true fighters against the spirits of wickedness, the demons. When they campaign against abortion or any immoral behavior or any heretical ideas that oppose supernatural faith, they are, in fact, confronting not so much those who transmit them but the unseen spirits that animate them. In support of this vision of the nature and purpose of the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Roman Catechism offers a very eloquent quote from the sermons of Pope Melchiades (or Miltiades; ?–314), which you can read below:

“In Baptism man is enlisted into the service, in Confirmation he is equipped for battle; at the baptismal font the Holy Ghost imparts fullness to accomplish innocence, but in Confirmation he ministers perfection to grace; in Baptism we are regenerated unto life, after Baptism we are fortified for the combat; in Baptism we are cleansed, after Baptism we are strengthened; regeneration of itself saves those who receive Baptism in time of peace, Confirmation arms and makes ready for conflicts.”

If we consider, for example, the insurrection in the Vendée and legendary leaders such as François Athanase de Charette de la Contrie (1763–1796) and Jacques Cathelineau (1759–1793), their struggle was a visible reflection of the fight for faith that always takes place in the unseen realm.

The passage is clear. The Christian is called to be not a physical warrior, like those in the armies of the past or present, but a spiritual warrior, permanently engaged during this fleeting life in the fight against errors and behaviors that separate people from God. The teaching of the Council of Trent is absolutely clear. If we consider, for example, the insurrection in the Vendée and legendary leaders such as François Athanase de Charette de la Contrie (1763–1796) and Jacques Cathelineau (1759–1793), their struggle was a visible reflection of the fight for faith that always takes place in the unseen realm. While direct, physical resistance to the assault of evil occurs at times in history, the unseen war never ceases. The only chance to withstand this confrontation is through the Sacrament of Confirmation, which transforms us into warriors of the Holy Spirit. This is the traditional, simple, and clear teaching of the Church. Unfortunately, such teaching has practically disappeared from the formation of today’s Catholics. This is another reason why the constant effort made by Michael J. Matt to remind us of such living examples like the heroes of Vendée is particularly important for all of us.

I am convinced that you will not be surprised if I tell you that in Pope John Paul II’s Catechism, such teaching has completely disappeared. Only in article 1295 is it mentioned, in passing, that the symbolism of anointing reminds us that “soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal and slaves with their master’s.”[ii] That is all what is said and nothing more. Not a word mentions the fact that this sacrament gives Christians who receive it the spiritual power to fight both for the transmission and defense of supernatural faith. The idea of ​​direct confrontation proper to those disciplines of traditional theology called “heresiology” (i.e., the study of heresies with the aim of combating them) and “apologetics” (i.e., the defense and argumentation of faith with the aim of converting non-Catholics) has been replaced by “dialogue” (whether ecumenical, inter-religious, or whatever). In practice, all those who follow such doctrines represent rather the image of an army that has laid down its arms and surrendered without a fight, than that of fighters who strive to overcome, through the Holy Spirit, evil.

“Confirmation has the effect of impressing a character” which is that of a “soldier in Christ.” All those who have received it together constitute the “militant church” which fights against sin and the powers of darkness that oppose the light of eternal life.

One of the most serious symptoms of this mutation is the confusion of terms. Not only has Christian apologetics and heresiology been abandoned, but they have come to be called, with a pejorative term, “proselytism.” Specifically, any attempt by a Catholic to convince those who have not received the supernatural lights of the Christian Revelation can be disregarded and excluded under the accusation of “proselytism.” This is nothing but another way of keeping silent about the divine Truth contained in the Gospels. Certainly, we should not accept such accusations as that of “proselytism” when we strive to spread the Christian faith to unbelievers. Moreover, we must not cease to transmit the revealed teachings for the purpose of converting the unbelievers.

It must also be emphasized that the graces received through a sacrament always require sustained efforts on the part of a Christian to make them powerfully active in his life. God’s graces do not make us saints “mechanically,” like some sort of supernatural magic through which we are suddenly transformed into superheroes like those from the Superman movies. Even if we have received them, we are the ones who, through prayer, fasting, and penance, must make them active, actualizing all their potentials and making them effective. This is why meritorious deeds play such an important role in Christian theology.

Beyond all these aspects, what we must remember is the teaching of the Roman Catechism, which clearly states that upon the baptized, “Confirmation has (...) the effect of impressing a character” which is that of a “soldier in Christ.” All those who have received it together constitute the “militant church” (Lat. ecclesia militans) which fights against sin and the powers of darkness that oppose the light of eternal life.

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[i] In the whole article I quote the following translation of the Roman Catechism: Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests Issued by Order of Pope Pius V, Translated into English with Notes by John A. McHugh, O.P., and Charles J. Challan, O.P., Tenth Printing, 1947, New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., London: B. Herder.

[ii] The full text can be read here: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P3R.HTM [Accessed: 06 June 2024].

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Last modified on Monday, June 24, 2024
Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

A Catholic father of seven and a grandfather of two, Robert Lazu Kmita is a writer with a PhD in Philosophy. His first novel, The Island without Seasons, was published by Os Justi Press in 2023.