Sunday, June 10, 2012

Anglican Myths 2: "Anglicans Don't Define 'The Real Presence'"

The teaching of the Church of England and her daughter Churches has been slowly muddied by several toxic wastes over the past two centuries. The first being the Tractarian Movement, a movement which sought to reintroduce Roman teachings and ceremonial into the English Church and the second being the modern Liberal movement, which has sought to eliminate any association of the Lord's Supper with the atoning work of Christ which in turn results from a fear of Atonement theology among liberals. These muddied waters cut to the core of the "Anglican problem" -- that being a (nearly) complete identity crisis. These toxins can come in varying forms and in varying degrees. Often times, the theology of the formularies is plainly denied and an alternative theology is presented instead. This is a problem, clearly, yet it is slightly favorable to the other option, that being that an alien doctrine is presented as if it were authentically Anglican doctrine (this is termed "neo-Tractarianism or neo-liberalism").

The plain denial of Anglican teaching in addition with varying forms of "neo" theologies present a series of problems relating to the core of Anglican identity. First, faulty Eucharistic theology was at the heart of the Reformation and we need not forget that the English Reformers lost their lives for denying the teaching of Rome and promoting the true Gospel teaching on this subject. Secondly, there exists a certain tendency to read the theology present in the Articles in such a manner to deny that it actually presents a coherent doctrine therein, this is equally wrong because the Articles and Prayer Book do present a clear teaching on this matter. Thirdly, the talk of "Real Presence" is purposefully vague and was a term avoided by the Reformers and most Anglican divines. The key is to avoid theological muddiness, which has somehow come to be a "virtue" in Anglicanism.

I intend to lay out Anglican Eucharistic in an easy to follow manner, following the structure of the Article touching on this subject. I see the Article divided up into four sections.  The first defines what the Sacrament is, the second defines what it is not, the third defines how the Sacrament is what it is, and the fourth describes various abuses related to the beliefs tied to section two.  My sources will be the Prayer Book, the Articles of Religion, and the Homilies.
The first question which needs to be addressed is, what is the Sacrament?  What happens in the Lord's Supper?  The Article addresses this,

"The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ."

The Article address many important points.  First, it acknowledges that the Sacrament is a sign of unity among Christians but it is also much more than that.  It is also a sign or sacrament, the latter meaning an effectual sign, i.e. carrying about what it signifies yet remaining separate in nature, of our Redemption.  This is further specified to mean a partaking of Christ's body and blood by those who receive worthily, in faith.  The latter points will be discussed in further detail below.  The question that remains after revealing what the Sacrament is, is, how are Christ's body and blood present in relation to the bread and wine?  

The Article continues by first explaining what does not happen in the Lord's Supper,

"Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."

The Sacrament is a partaking in the body and blood of Christ but it is also a sign of these things, meaning that the bread and the wine are not overturned by the consecration.  Earlier statements in the formularies reveal what a sacrament is and the nature of transubstantiation denies that the sacrament can be an effectual sign because the distinction between the sign and the thing signified is broken.  Transubstantiation and memorialism are actually two sides of the same coin.  The former overthrows the nature of a sacrament by conflating the sign and thing signified; the latter overthrows the nature of a sacrament by completely divorcing the sign and the thing signified.  

Having described what does not happen in the Sacrament, the Article describes what does happen,

"The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith."

This statement is crucial in relation to the assertion made by historical revisionists.  First, this statement denies any local presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  In this manner, this statement could be grouped with the former in that it denies a further error in relation to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, that being the Lutheran understanding of sacramental union, in a localized sense.  The body and blood of Christ are not contained in, with, or under the bread and wine.  This error stems from a different source than transubstantiation or memorialism.  The former stem from a faulty sacramental theology, this error stems from a poor understanding of Christology because it denies Christ a proper, human body, in the sense that his body is denied a true, local presence at the right hand of God.  This issue is found in the "Black Rubric',

"Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgement of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved; It is hereby declared, that thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be 'at one time in more places than one.”

This rubric actually addresses a few different points.  First, it was intended to answer the question as to why Anglicans kneel to receive the Sacrament, which some thought implied an adoration of the elements.  The rubric denies that any adoration is given and explains why it is wrong to adore the Eucharistic elements.  The reason for not adoring the elements is that no change of substance occurs in the sacrament and the bread and wine remain such in their natural substances, set apart for holy use, but no change in them has occurred, nonetheless and to adore the elements would be idolatry, since adoration is only due to God alone.  Further, the natural body and blood of Christ are not "here" meaning at the table.  Christ's natural body and blood are in heaven, at the right hand of God.  

The statement affirms what is called the "spiritual presence" (although I am not fond of that term).  This means that the manner in which we receive Christ's body and blood is "heavenly and spiritual" only.  In contrast to the Lutheran idea of "oral manducation" or taking Christ's body and blood into our mouths, the Article clearly explains that the means by which we receive the body and blood is faith.  This means we do not take Christ into our digestive system, which is a gross and distorted theology of the Eucharist.  This ties to the first statement made in the Article which defines that in order to receive the thing signified, or the body and blood, the elements must be received in faith, or worthily, by the recipient.  This begs the question as to what happens if the elements are not received in faith.  Luckily, the formularies also define what happens in this instance, in Article 29,

"The wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing."

This means that unbelievers or those who do not receive worthily, do not receive Christ's body and blood, only the elements.  

Lastly, after correcting these faulty understandings of the nature of the presence of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament, the Article addresses some abuses which had (and still do) arise due to bad theology,

"The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped."

If the Sacrament is a sign of Christ's body and blood, it is idolatrous to worship, adore, or intend any such veneration of the signs themselves.  This last statement speaks against such practices such as elevating the host at either the consecration or at any other point during the Liturgy, for adoration.  It speaks against the reservation of the Sacrament, which implies a localized presence of Christ's body and blood in the elements.  In modern terms, it condemns the following "popular" practices: reserving the Sacrament for the sick, reserving the Sacrament for worship services or prayer "with the Blessed Sacrament", Corpus Christi festivals, Elevation of the Host during the Liturgy, etc.  

These errors relating to the Lord's Supper are truly dangerous errors to be made.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

TEC and ACNA Statistics (Updated)

Updated with most recent statistics from ACNA and PECUSA with figures from 2011 numbers, pending 2012 numbers.

I present the "inflated" ACNA number including Ministry Partners.  This will be edited again as PECUSA statistics become available.

As PECUSA reports both domestic and non-domestic diocesan statistics, I also present both (Revising 2010 numbers for accuracy -- October 2013).


Domestic: 6,794
Non-Domestic: 489
Total: 7,283

ACNA 2010

Domestic: 6,736
Non-Domestic: 483
Total: 7,219

ACNA 2011
ACNA: 896
Ministry Partner: 82
Total: 984

Infant/children Baptisms


ACNA 2010

Domestic: 28,201 
Non-Domestic: 3,183 
Total: 31,384 

ACNA 2011
ACNA: 1,376 

Youth/Adult Baptisms

 3,746 [2010]; 

Domestic: 3,939 
Non-Domestic: 1,332
Total: 5,271

ACNA 2011ACNA: 448



ACNA 2010
ACNA: 2,197

Domestic (Children): 9,190 
Non-Domestic: 1,953
Total: 11,133 
Domestic (Adults): 11,762 
Non-Domestic: 1,999
Total: 13,761

ACNA 2011(no 2011 confirmation numbers that I can find)



ACNA 2010

Domestic: 6,174 
Non-Domestic: 921
Total: 7,095

ACNA 2011ACNA: 895 ("conversions")

Average Sunday Attendance

657,831 [2010]

Domestic: 657,887 
Non-Domestic: 40,489
Total: 698,376

ACNA 2011ACNA: 44,029 (1)

Total Membership


Domestic: 1,923,046 
Non-Domestic: 173,343
Total: 2,096,389 

ACNA 2011ACNA: 70,087 (2)

Additional PECUSA Statistics

PECUSA Marriages 2010

PECUSA Marriages 2011
Domestic: 10,950
Non-Domestic: 622
Total: 11,572

PECUSA Burials 2010

PECUSA Burials 2011
Domestic: 29,813
Non-Domestic: 894
Total: 30,707



1. ACNA "projects" an ASA of 62,470 (88,852 including Ministry Partners)
2. ACNA "projects" a membership base of 99,442 (141,438 with Ministry Partners)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Anglican Myths: Hooker's "Three-Legged Stool"

If you've read any on contemporary Anglicanism, I'm sure you've come across the term "three-legged stool" in relation to Richard Hooker.  This concept is meant to describe how Anglicans approach religious authority.  The idea presented is that Hooker described the "Anglican" approach to authority in religion with a "three-legged stool" of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.  The logic being that we approach Scripture first and what remains unclear in Scripture is then supplanted by what Tradition has told us throughout the centuries.  Beyond that if things remain unclear, the "Anglican" is to use human reason to approach the situation and particular hermeneutic problem in order to arrive at a safe destination.  This three-legged stool is said to demonstrate the "balance" in the "Anglican" approach to Scripture and Tradition, thus contrasting it with the Roman Catholic understanding and the more Protestant sola scriptura.

The problem with this paradigm is that it betrays both the classical Anglican understanding of Scripture and Richard Hooker's theology on the matter.  In fact, it's quite erroneous to presume that Hooker had any "three-legged stool" in mind at all.  The concept is never mentioned in his work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.  The only instance where Hooker treats on anything resembling this stool paradigm occurs one time in his writings:

“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience are due; the next whereunto, is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after this, the voice of the church succeedeth.”

This statement was meant to counter two arguments.  First, it was meant to counter the Roman Catholic claim that the Bible did not contain everything necessary to salvation, and thus further revelation, as contained in Tradition was further required for man to discern how to be saved.  Hooker contends that all that is necessary for salvation is contained within the pages of Holy Scripture.  Likewise, Hooker is contrasting the Anglican position with the Puritans, who denied any human role in interpreting Scripture by saying that all that is required for Christian life is contained in Scripture.  Hooker claims that some things are not contained in Scripture and require human reason.

Perhaps you noticed but the order of the "stool" as presented by modern Episcopal apologists is a bit off from the original idea.  The modern paradigm presents: Scripture, tradition, and then reason, while Hooker presents: Scripture, reason, and then tradition.  This is an important distinction and perhaps reflects the Tractarian understanding of Tradition that led to the adaption of this order.

The modern paradigm assumes a competition between the three "sources" while Hooker presents the classical Anglican position, in accordance with the Articles of Religion, which presumes that Scripture is the sole authority for the means of salvation.  What Hooker presents can better be described of as a chain of command rather than a three-legged stool.  Scripture is primary and where it is unclear on things which are adiaphora, that being not necessary for salvation, human reason can be consulted to arrive at a conclusion, with reference to the tradition of the Church.  A word about this reason, this is not just ordinary reason but Gospel-centered and holy reason, informed by Scripture and a living relationship with Almighty God.  Reason cannot be held captive to the opinions of the age or else it will result in a faulty conclusion.  

To turn to the Formularies to present the doctrine of the Church, first:

Article VI
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

But not only is our Church's doctrine contained therein but in other statements in the Articles.  For instance, the Creeds are not to be received on merit of being primitive but, rather, "for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."  Likewise, the authority of the Church is limited by the teaching of Scripture whereby the Church may not, "ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another."  General or Ecumenical Councils, likewise, have no authority to declare any article of faith as necessary for salvation except if it be found in Scripture, "Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture."  

This teaching of a "three-legged stool" is so far from Anglican teaching, I'm surprised that such a falsehood has ever gained such credence in our midst.

Further Reading

"What Three-Legged Stool?"

"Rethinking the "Three-Legged Stool""

"Scripture, tradition, and reason: Hooker's Supposed Three-Legged Stool"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Anglican Myths: A New Hub Series

I'm beginning a new series called Anglican Myths, these are typically things you might here in an "intro to Anglicanism" class at your parish church, or something like that.  I've gathered some of my favorite Anglican Myths to disprove, right here on this blog.

Here's a list of some popular myths I will put to rest:

  1. Hooker's "Three-Legged Stool"
  2. Three Streams -- One Muddy River
  3. Henry and His Wives
  4. The Via Media -- Road to Nowhere?
  5. The Democratic Party, er, I mean, "Baptismal" Covenant
  6. Anglicanism... A Gateway Drug to Rome?  (Bridge church and other fallacies)
  7. Silly Episcobabble -- "You don't have to check your brain out at the door" and other stupid things liberals say.
  8. The Camp That's not for Everyone (Big Tent)
If you think of another myth that should be covered but isn't on the list, send me an idea!  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Question of Terms

If you've read any of the pieces on this site, you'll soon discover that I have a high regard for the old High Church tradition in Anglicanism.  I haven't wavered from that appreciation nor from the theological principles therein.  The problem I continue to face in my interaction with contemporary Anglicanism is a question of terms.  The task of describing my theological outlook becomes increasingly difficult.  The problem that I encounter is that "high church" has become a ritual/ceremonial term (I'm not surprised by this -- nor am I just now discovering this).  The problem seems that either the ceremonial implications of this term have overshadowed the theological tenets underneath to the point that they are forgotten or, perhaps, the ceremonial connotation has taken over the theological meaning.  I always remind people that these terms (low, broad, and high) were originally theological terms, describing one's understanding of the Church.  But even that is over-simplifying things.  Originally, these terms were actually a question of emphasis, when the Protestant credentials of Anglicanism were not questioned.  Over time, the Protestant nature of the Church was doubted, questioned, and eventually denied.  I think at that point, these terms began to lose their force in ability to describe the various understandings within Anglicanism.  

I have begun to slip in a new system of terms into the articles I write here.  It's an underdeveloped system but I think it describes better the contemporary situation, or at least as I see it.  What for me was the Old High Church tradition, of men such as Laud, Taylor, Cosin, Waterland, Van Mildert, Seabury, Hopkins, Hobart, etc. I refer to as "centrist" because if you compare the theology of men claiming to be "high church" nowadays, you'll discover that the older generation never held to the things that these newer men claim they did.  For instance, all of these of the older generation were firmly Reformed (and I mean by this Calvinist) in their understanding of the Lord's Supper.  Newer "high churchmen" espouse a view approaching that of Rome or Wittenberg.  I use the term "advanced" to describe those of a Non-Juror or Scottish Episcopal flavor.  The key I use to denote this position is the "esse' position of the episcopacy and the virtualist understanding of the Lord's Supper.  Those I label as "recusants" are those who espouse views which are outside of the bounds of historical Anglican theology, such as Tractarians.  They hold to views that can only be described as Roman or Eastern, which our Church disavows.  On the other end of the spectrum are people who I label as "reformists".  Theologically, they would hold to things such as a pure memorialism in the Sacrament, thus denying that the bread and wine are efficacious signs of Christ's body and blood.  In opposition to the former groups, this group would be less "advanced" than the centrist understanding, this distinction is explored further below.  Another group is a group that I style "expansionists", they seek to expand the boundaries of the Church, usually to accommodate the Church to current societal norms.  They also hold to a memorialist understanding of the Sacrament, yet assign it a "communal" significance, which would seek to eliminate the historic limits of our theological understanding.  

A key element in my own thinking is that there is an allowable comprehension within our Church and there is a point at which a particular belief goes outside that limit.  The point of our comprehensiveness is to include a broad, spectrum of Protestant thought, not to include Protestant and Roman together.  The foundational documents for this spectrum are found in the Book of Common Prayer, Articles of Religion, Ordinal, and the Book of Homilies.  At one end of the spectrum are those who believe that the Church has reformed itself too much, and thus seek to remove the reforms of the formularies.  An example of this is the inclusion of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament or Corpus Christi processions, both excluded by our formularies, but recusants would hold that these are central to the ritual expression of their faith and therefore seek to undo the reforms of the Church in this matter.  Others believe that the Church has not sufficiently reformed itself enough, these would seek to remove things that they do not view as sufficiently reformed (usually referred to as "puritans" in other literature -- I avoid this term for the contemporary setting).  A key feature of this group is the abandonment of the liturgy.  The other end of the spectrum in this respect is the group I call "expansionist" who seek to expand the boundaries of our theology by including new limits in our understanding of the Gospel.  To give a brief correspondence between the groups, the "reformist" group is known as "low", the expansionist group "broad", the centrist "central", and the advanced "high", the recusant group could best be referred to as "Anglo-Papist" in other paradigms of outlining these things.  

This is not to say that I don't still consider myself a High Churchman but, rather, that I think to help clarify what I mean I provide these terms which I have been informally slipping into the pieces of this blog. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Confirmation in the Anglican Tradition

This post is intended to set the stage for a further discussion of Christian initiation in the Episcopal Church.  It builds on previous posts dealing with Confirmation such as "A Theological Portrait of the Old High Churchmen".

I rely heavily on a study conducted by Robert Cornwall about the practice of Confirmation in the eighteenth century for the source material in this piece.  
Confirmation in the Anglican Tradition
Confirmation is one of those rites maintained by the Church of England at the Reformation that "confirms" our intent to maintain our catholic heritage, by maintaining those rites and ceremonies which do not contradict the Word of God.  However, much like episcopacy, there has never been a coherent, Anglican understanding of what confirmation is and its relationship to baptism; this can also apply to confirmation, in general, as it has often been termed "a rite in search of a theology."  I wish to explore here, briefly, the historical practice of confirmation in the Church of England, as well as historical approaches to understanding the theological nature of the rite.  In addition, I will explore the rite in the historic Prayer Books to a certain degree.  

To begin the discussion, let us approach the manner in which the historic prayer books have dealt with the rite of Confirmation.  In the category of "historic prayer books" I include the 1549, 1552, 1559, 1662, and the 1928 Prayer Book, although the latter is a later development in the Prayer Book tradition, I felt that a representation of American Anglicanism was necessary.  
Consider the title of the rite in the various books:

"Confirmacion, Wherin is Conteined a Catechisme for Children" (1549 & 1552)

"The Order of Confirmation, or laying on of hands upon children baptised, and able to render an account of their Faith, according to the Catechisme following" (1559)

"The Order of Confirmation, Or Laying on of Hands upon Those That Are Baptized and Come to Years of Discretion" (1662 & 1928)

The tension in understanding about confirmation in Anglicanism has polarized between a logocentric and sacramentalist approach.  Briefly (to be explore below in the "theology" section in detail), the logocentric approach centers on the role of catechism in the rite to prepare children (and converts) for the reception of the Lord's Supper.  This involves completion and mastery of the Catechism and Articles of Faith, such as the Creed, Lord's Prayer, and Commandments.  The rite itself is merely a public recognition of the internal, spiritual maturity of the child.  The other approach is the sacramentalist approach, which assigns some spiritual value to the act of laying on of hands in the rite, which can occur in two forms.  The centrist or moderate form acknowledges a strengthening of the Spirit while the more advanced form acknowledges that the Holy Ghost is received completely in Confirmation as opposed to Baptism.  

The title of the rite in the various books gives an indication as to how the rite is treated in said volume.  In the 1549-1559 books, a logocentric, catechetical rite is assumed, explicitly in 1559 by linking the rite to the Catechism in the title.  Later rites, tend to imply a more sacramentalist understanding by including a reference to the laying on of hands in the title.

The structure of the rite has also changed over the years.  The 1549 rite retained the sign of the cross associated with the medieval rite, which was later removed in the 1552 rite (and never returned).  The later rites utilize the laying on of hands, a more primitive and biblical practice.  The introductory section is shortened in 1662 and a lesson from Acts 8 is added to the 1928 American version, a text long associated with confirmation, which also strengthens the sacramentalist understanding to the 1928 Book, although it is not explicitly outlined as such.

Another important aspect of the place of confirmation in the historical Prayer Books is its connection with the Lord's Supper.  Historically, Anglicanism has required confirmation as a pre-requisite to the reception of Holy Communion.  However, this is an over-generalization, as we shall see later.  Moreover, the rubrics for this have changed since 1549:

"And there shal none be admitted to the holye communion: until suche time as he be confirmed." (1549)

" And there shal none be admitted to the holy Communion, until suche tyme as he can saye the Catechisme, and bee confirmed." (1552)

"And there shall none be admitted to the holy communion; until suche tyme as he can saye the Catechisme and be confirmed." (1559)

"And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed." (1662 & 1928).

Obviously, you can see the progressing laxity in the relation between Confirmation and Holy Communion, beginning with an absolute rubric and ending up with a "loophole" of being "ready and desirous" as substituting for the rite itself.  It is interesting that the 1552 and 1559 tie the Catechism to the reception of Communion, while the 1549, 1662, and 1928 books do not.  
Confirmation in the REC
I wanted to include a brief mention of the practice of the Reformed Episcopal Church, formed in 1873 in response to the rising Anglo-Catholicism in the Protestant Episcopal Church.  In the Catechism contained in their 1930 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, there are contained the following questions and answers related to Confirmation:

What is confirmation?
Confirmation is not a Sacrament, but an ancient rite of the Church, derived from the custom of the Apostles of the laying of hands on those who had been baptized.

Why is this rite called Confirmation?
Because therein the Candidates ratify and confirm the vows made on their behalf by those who brought them in infancy to be baptized; and, Secondly, because it affords opportunity to those who have been baptized in riper years to renew and confirm the vows they themselves made at their Baptism.

What is the further significance of Confirmation?
That therein the persons, in open confession before men, avow Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as their Lord and Saviour.  

The REC, at least in earlier Prayer Books, was committed to a non-sacramentalist understanding of the rite, assigning it a role as a public and mature commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior.

Practice of Confirmation 

After (briefly) examining the confirmation material in the historical prayer books, I wish to address (again, briefly) the actual practice of confirmation in the historical Church of England.  Even though the Prayer Book required, to some extent, confirmation before receiving Holy Communion, in actuality, many Englishmen lived their lives unconfirmed.  Cornwall describes the practice of the rite in his book, pointing out that many bishops, who would otherwise be zealous in performing Confirmations, but due to geographic and time limitations were not able to tour their dioceses to perform Confirmations.  "Perhaps the most important obstacle was the small number of bishops charged with ministering to an expansive English church. Twenty-six bishops were expected to minister to a church of almost ten thousand parishes. Some dioceses, such as Lincoln, had more than one thousand parishes. Canon law required bishops to make triennial visits to each parish in their diocese. Parliamentary duties and the size of many dioceses, however, often kept them from fulfilling this requirement. Even the most diligent bishops found this duty difficult to fulfill." (Cornwall, 361)  In addition to huge dioceses, Cornwall also points out that English bishops had parliamentary duties, because the twenty-six bishops of the Church of England served in the House of Lords as lords spiritual of the realm.  This additional, political, duty, limited English bishops from performing the rite of confirmation.  In addition to difficulty in finding time to perform the rite, bishops also faced difficulties when they had managed to perform it, "The disparity between the number of parishes and dioceses meant that when the bishops did administer confirmation they dealt with numerous candidates. During one three-month period in 1709, William Wake, then bishop of Lincoln, confirmed 12,800 candidates in twenty-four centers. Three years later he confirmed more than eighteen thousand people in twenty-eight centers during a period that lasted approximately two months. The sheer size of the crowds presented the bishops with many problems, including the presence of what S. C. Carpenter has called "gate crashers," people who presented them-selves for confirmation without the authority of the parish priests. Another problem the bishops encountered was the habit of some to be confirmed more than once".  (Cornwall, 361)  Although bishops made infrequent tours to confirm, many bishops agreed that the rite was essential and should be performed more frequently by the bishops, "There seems to have been common agreement, however, that this was not proper. White Kennett, a latitudinarian bishop, called on his clergy to assist him in fulfilling his duty to confirm and noted his intention to hold frequent confirmations. He even suggested that at times between visits, members of the congregations could come to the cathedral and receive confirmation. He hoped that there would be no impediment to one's ability to receive confirmation and that everyone would have the opportunity to be confirmed. Charles Wheatly, a High Churchman, echoed this sentiment, suggesting that since bishops alone could confirm, the church enjoined "frequent administration of it by these reverend fathers." Wheatly pointed out that although canon law required confirmations to be done at the triennial visitations, the Reformatio Legum "seems to appoint, that Confirmation be administered every year." (371)

Theology of Confirmation 

Roman Catholicism held confirmation to be one of seven sacraments; the Church of England, along with other Protestant churches, limited the number of sacraments to two, consequently denying Confirmation as a Sacrament.  However, the rite was essential for Anglican life, as it was the normative means to gain access to Holy Communion.  It was also a "badge" of catholicity for the Church of England, because it was an act reserved for bishops.  A few extreme High Church-men, including Nonjurors such as Thomas Deacon and Henry Dodwell, broadened their understanding of sacrament further and included confirmation, but they were not representative of the whole of High Church theology. Thomas Deacon, taught that confirmation was a sacrament that could be administered to infants following their baptisms. Henry Dodwell gave confirmation a role on par with baptism, describing baptism as a preliminary rite, one that was beneath the dignity of an apostle to administer. Therefore, a second rite was required, a higher baptism that would seal with oil instead of water to secure eternal life for the recipient.  These latter positions were well beyond the limits of the Church of England, according to her formularies.  More representative of the view of the Established Church were the views expressed by Zacheus Isham in a sermon preached at Coleshill during the visitation of the bishop of Coventry and Litchfield.  Isham wrote: "[W]e neither make it a sacrament; nor retain the chrism, or anointing, which came in after the time of the Apostles."  Others noted that the Church of England had removed all "popish superstition" from the rite and denied it sacramental status (362).

Various explanations were given as to exactly what happened to the believer in the rite.  The more logocentric model affirmed that the rite was a manner in which the believer could publicly express their intent to follow Christ.  In this manner, Confirmation was, "looked upon as a solemn form of prayer (as St. Austin calls it) for youth, who being beyond childhood made a profession of their faith, and thereupon were thus blessed"(365).  Stress was laid upon the need to renew the vows made at baptism on behalf of the infant.  The necessity of doing so revealed that the person was a Christian by choice and not solely relying upon the faith of their parents and godparents.  This paradigm would have been affirmed by Low Churchmen and all those churchmen of a more reformed stripe.

High Churchmen assigned further significance to the rite, generally adopting the sacramentalist approach.  The more advanced of this opinion affirmed that Confirmation was the means whereby God conferred his Holy Spirit upon believers, thus "completing" their baptism.  Reflecting on the gifts of the Spriit, Nathaniel Ellison says, "the common and saving graces of the Spirit for those on whom they laid their hands, so we have reason to believe that our bishops (who are the Apostles Successors) have now the like power and privilege to derive to us the ordinary graces of God's Spirit, in the same way that the Apostles communicated the extra-ordinary operations."  Thomas Wilson adds, "sent down his Holy Spirit to be communicated by the laying on of hands (Acts 8: 17), to all such as are disposed to receive him."  The passage from Acts 8 has a strong connection with the rite of Confirmation and was added to the 1928 liturgy due to this connotation.  

Kennett, the latitudinarian, and Wheatly, the High Churchman, agreed that confirmation should precede admission to the Eucharist and that confirmation allowed those baptized as infants to confess their faith. High Churchmen, however, went further with their defini-tions. They insisted that confirmation be also the place where God conferred the Holy Spirit on the believer. Nathaniel Ellison, looking back to the apostles' experience with the Samaritan believers, raised the issue of miraculous gifts. Like most Anglicans of his age, he insisted that the gifts attending the conferral of the Spirit had ceased with the death of the apostles. Yet, even as the apostles had been given the authority to impart "the common and saving graces of the Spirit for those on whom they laid their hands, so we have reason to believe that our bishops (who are the Apostles Successors) have now the like power and privilege to derive to us the ordinary graces of God's Spirit, in the same way that the Apostles communicated the extra-ordinary operations."26 Thomas Wilson wrote that Jesus had "sent down his Holy Spirit to be communicated by the laying on of hands (Acts 8: 17), to all such as are disposed to receive him." This endowment of the Spirit would enable recipients to subdue their enemies, including lust, and have their souls purified, so that "when you die, you will be fit to be carried to the quiet and happy regions of paradise, where the souls of the faithful enjoy perpetual rest and happiness."  Wheatly summarizes this sacramentalist position, "[B]aptism conveys the Holy Ghost only as the spirit or principle of life; it is by Confirmation that he becomes to us the Spirit of strength, and enables us to stir and move ourselves."

As explored above, Confirmation was seen as the necessary prerequisite to receiving Holy Communion in the Church of England, even when difficulties made it impossible for the bishops to provide Confirmation regularly to their dioceses.


Cornwall, Robert, "The Rite of Confirmation in Anglican Thought during the Eighteenth Century."  Church History, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 359-372