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'I "HE Order ot Confirmation stands out pre-eminently in England as the most visible and striking characteristic of the Church, when compared with the various classes of Dissenters around her. It is the only one of her solemn services which they do not imitate.
Retained as it was, at first, in the hands of the Apostles, and in post-Apostolic times administered throughout the Western Church by Bishops only, those who by separation from the Church lost the episcopate, have not assumed for their ministers the right to lay hands upon the newly-baptized for the communication of the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Confirmation, again, is the one episcopal act in which the Bishop, as such, is brought, ordinarily, into direct contact with the great body of the faithful. In this holy rite he appears as a spiritual father among his children, and laying upon them one by one his paternal hand, invokes the abundant blessings of the great Father of all.
For this reason it is much to be desired that there should be a substantial agreement on the question of the nature and efficacy of this Apostolic ordinance,—the place which it holds in the order of the Church's services,—its relation to Baptism, which precedes, and the Holy Eucharist which follows it. And equally important is the spirit in which the candidates should approach the holy rite, arid consequently the manner in which they should be prepared to receive it.
Yet it only needs to take up at random a few Manuals of Confirmation, to see how vague and uncertain are the views of many of the authors as to the essence of Confirmation, and the relative value of the several portions of the English service.
That which may be fitly called the Preface to the Confirmation Service, is frequently spoken of as its essential feature: and a question and answer, unknown in our Prayerbook until the last revision, has, unhappily, too often overshadowed and eclipsed the glory of the seven-fold gifts, communicated in answer to the Bishop's prayer, with the laying on of his hands.
It is therefore no mere technical deficiency that needs to be supplied by a History of Confirmation, but it is a matter of grave practical importance, that a full statement of the true meaning and efficacy of Confirmation (as understood in the Church universal for fifteen centuries) should be easily accessible to theological students, and to those of the clergy who have neither the leisure nor the opportunity to make the investigation for themselves.
In the Roman communion there are not only several "Histories of the Sacraments," of which Confirmation is counted one; but there are separate treatises either on the whole subject of Confirmation, or on some of its special features. Among our own theological works, the author has found few professed treatises, and nothing that can be called a History of Confirmation.
Bingham deals with the early centuries only. Bishop Hall's Xfipodfa-la is extremely concise, and is rather a practical exhortation to the more frequent and careful administration of Confirmation than a full review of the estimation in which it was held by our forefathers in the Church. Frere, in "The Doctrine of Imposition of Hands," 1845, is mainly polemical. The rest, so far as known to the author, are simple Manuals for Catechumens.
The following pages, whatever may be thought of their intrinsic value, are the fruits of long-continued and careful research; involving not only the study of numerous treatises on Confirmation, but also a careful collection of incidental notices of the subject in the works of Fathers, Schoolmen, and modern Divines, and a comparison of the Services of the Church Universal in all ages.
The course proposed is,—
1st . To treat of The institution, or the origin of Confirmation, involving the obligation under which the Church is bound to retain it in all its essential features.
2nd, The grace imparted to the faithful in Confirmation, upon the reality and virtue of which the whole importance of the enquiry depends.
3rd, The rites essential or accessory to its due celebration, (a.) imposition of hands, (0.) chrismation, with the sign of the Cross.
4th, The minister, whether (a.) Bishops only, or (6.) Presbyters also, and if so, under what conditions or limitations.
5th, The titles of Confirmation, and their bearing on the question whether Confirmation is a Sacrament.
And 6th, Confirmation in its Relation to Baptism, &c.
The Appendix will contain a collection of Confirmation Services, at some time in use in the Churches, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern.