Early Christians are those who were the followers of Christ during and after His ascension. In those days, there was no evidence of a second rite of initiation distinct from water baptism. That is to say that what we call confirmation today was not specially observed by the early Christians.
Perhaps, it’s on this note that BecCollins Okwesili and Ohanele Stephen who in our previous edition argued that baptism assumed the roles of confirmation can be said to be right. But apparently towards the end of the second century, post-baptismal rites, which generally implied Confirmation, were observed and became more evident in the third century. These rites comprised laying on the hands, anointing and corresponding words of prayer, by which the Holy Spirit was called down on those already baptized. These rites were administered in one continuous ceremony with baptism and so, were not called confirmation. Now let us do a brief historical review.
In the words of Tertulian of the late 2nd century AD, we clearly observed the ceremony of Christian initiation as three distinct moments of a unitary whole. According to him, “The flesh is washed that the soul may be sinless” (Baptism). The flesh is anointed (Ungitur) that the soul may be consecrated. The flesh is sealed (|signatur) that the soul may be fortified. The flesh is overshadowed by the imposition of hands that the soul may be illumined by the spirit (confirmation). The flesh is fed by the body and blood of Christ that the soul may be fattened of God (Holy Eucharist).
Lending credence to Tertulian distinctions, we could observe that more apodictic and unambiguous testimonies of these Sacraments are found in the fourth and fifth centuries. St. Hilary for instance speaks of the Sacrament of Baptism and of the Spirit. For St. Ephraem Syrus, double Sacraments are obvious in Christian initiation. In St. Ambrose of Milan, the use of the term “Confirm” in reference to post-baptismal rites started to make itself noticeable.
Nevertheless, the process of initiation showed tremendous evolution in the fifth century. Already in the council of Elvira at the turn of the fourth century (306), it was decreed “that those who had been baptized privately in case of necessity should afterwards be taken to the bishop to be made perfect by the imposition of hands. Meanwhile, through the papal intervention of Pope Innocent 1, in his letter to Decentius, Bishop of Gubbio, Bishops were exclusively meant to be ministers for the post-baptismal ceremony of imparting the Holy Spirit especially in the West. According to the pope, “presbyters may annoint the baptized with chrism but they are not to sign the brow with oil, for that is reserved to bishops alone when they deliver the Spirit, the paraclete.” This is how the rites of initiation were separated in the West except during Easter vigil (when the priest can confirm). But the Eastern churches laid much more premium on keeping the rites united. Indications therefore emerge that in the East, the priest who baptizes confer confirmation on the condition that he uses the Myron consecrated by a bishop. Therefore, the Eastern churches would see the presence of the bishop in the chrism consecrated by him. Thus, in the West, the integral unity of the catechumenate, baptismal and post-baptismal rites suffered bangs that eventually led to their disintegration. In our next edition, we shall discuss some theological reasons for this separation of confirmation from baptism