Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV.: The Rites of Baptism and Confirmation - On the Mysteries and the Treatise on the Sacraments
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IV.: The Rites of Baptism and Confirmation - Ambrose, On the Mysteries and the Treatise on the Sacraments [387 AD]
On the Mysteries and the Treatise on the Sacraments by an Unknown Author, trans. T. Thompson, ed. with Introduction and Notes by J.H. Strawley (New York: Macmillan, 1919).
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The Rites of Baptism and Confirmation
Both treatises contain much valuable information as to the baptismal rites current in the Churches from which they proceed, though of the period before baptism they say little. Reference has already been made to the preparatory instruction and the rites by which it was accompanied. (See Introd. § I.) For a general comparison and discussion of the various Western rites see T. Thompson, Offices of Baptism and Confirmation. Though the two treatises proceed from different Churches, they present, with some slight divergences, the same general type of rite, which exhibits many points of contact with the later Milanese rite, though the latter has been much transformed and rearranged (see Thompson, op. cit., p. 133 f.).
The order and contents of the rite represented in de Mysteriis and de Sacramentis may be summarised as follows—
1. The Effeta or “opening of the ears” took place, as at Rome, on Easter Eve. It was performed by touching the ears and nostrils (there is no mention of the use of saliva or oil), and was based upon the action of our Lord recorded in Mk. vii. 34. It was intended to symbolise the opening of the faculties to the fruitful reception of the Sacraments (de Myst. i. 3, 4; de Sacram. i. 1. 2). Later on, at Rome, this ceremony was connected with the “delivery of the Gospels,” a rite which is not found at Milan.
2. Unction at the font by priest and deacon (de Sacram. i. 2. 4; not mentioned in de Myst.). This, too, is found in the Roman rite, but is not in the later Milanese forms. As it is not mentioned by Ambrose, it is perhaps a feature which the Church of the author of de Sacramentis had derived from Rome. It is found in the Bobbio Missal, which also shows Roman influences. The author of de Sacram. describes it as the anointing of the Christian athlete for “the contest of the world.” At Rome the unction was made on the back and the breast.
3. The renunciations (de Myst. ii. 5-7; iii. 8; de Sacram. i. 2. 5). The account of de Sacram. is fuller and more exact, and shows that the renunciations were twofold, i.e. “Dost thou renounce the devil and his works?”, “Dost thou renounce the world and its pleasures?”, to each of which questions the answer was given “I renounce.” Then follows the admonition “Be mindful of thy words, and never let the contents of thy bond pass from thy memory”—which reappears as a formula in substantially the same words in the later Milanese books (see note). At Rome the renunciations were threefold; in the Gallican books a single renunciation is found. In this respect the later Milanese books remain faithful to the practice exhibited in de Sacramentis.
If we follow the reading suggested by Dom Morin in de Myst. ii. 7 (see note) the renunciation of the devil was accompanied at Milan by the dramatic ceremony of “spitting in his face,” a practice which is found in some Eastern rites, though the evidence for the custom is of much later date than Ambrose.
4. The consecration of the font by the bishop (de Myst. iii. 8, 14; cf. iv. 20; de Sacram. i. 5. 18; ii. 5. 14). According to de Myst. this appears to have followed the renunciations, as Ambrose asserts that the bishop himself put the questions at the renunciation, though de Sacram. implies that this was done by the presbyter.1 Our information as to the details of the consecration is derived almost entirely from de Sacram., which speaks of an exorcism (as in the later Milanese and Gallican forms), and an invocation of the name of the Father and of the presence of the Son and the Holy Spirit (ii. 5. 14). To this latter feature there are no parallels in later forms. In de Myst. (iii. 14) there is added to these details the signing of the water with the Cross. There is no mention of the pouring of chrism into the font, as in the later Milanese and other Western rites.
5. The descent into the font; the baptismal profession and immersions (de Myst. ii. 7, iv. 21, v. 28; de Sacram. ii. 7. 20). From de Myst. ii. 7 we learn that the candidate turned to the east for the baptismal profession. The form of the creed is given very fully in de Sacram. It consisted of three questions, “Dost thou believe in God the Father almighty?”, “Dost thou believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Cross?”, “Dost thou believe also in the Holy Spirit?” To each question the candidate replied, “I believe,” and an immersion followed each of the three responses. The immersion after each question is a feature found in many early rites; but the addition of the words “and His Cross” to the second of the two questions is peculiar to these treatises. In the later Milanese books it has been replaced by the Roman form “who was born and suffered.”
6. Unction of the head with chrism (de Myst. vi. 29, 30; de Sacram. ii. 7. 24). This, too, was performed by the bishop (sacerdos is used by both writers. See note de Myst. ii. 6, de Sacram. i. 1. 2). From de Sacram. iii. 1. 1 we learn that this was performed with chrism (μύρον). The same author quotes the prayer used by the bishop, which resembles fairly closely the prayer found in the Gelasian Sacramentary in connexion with the post-baptismal unction at Rome, where, however, the minister was the presbyter, not, as here, the bishop (see Wilson, Gel. Sacr. p. 86). This unction of the head is interpreted in de Sacram. (iii. 1. 1) as the enrichment ofman’s faculties by divine grace, whereas Ambrose (de Myst. vi. 30) sees in it a consecration of the newly baptized to their place in the priestly body of the Church.
7. The washing of the feet (de Myst. vi. 31-33; de Sacram. iii. 1. 4-7). From de Sacram. it appears that the washing was begun by the bishop and completed by the presbyters. The author is aware that the rite was not practised by the Roman Church. It was current, however, in Africa, Spain, Gaul, and Ireland. It is mentioned in a canon of the Council of Elvira (c. 48) at the beginning of the fourth century, and is found in the service books of Gallican and Irish origin (Missale Gothicum, Miss. Gallicanum vetus, Bobbio and Stowe Missals), as well as in the later Ambrosian rite, represented in the Manuale Ambrosianum and Beroldus.
To this ceremony Ambrose (de Myst. vi. 32) appears to assign the same sacramental efficacy with regard to inherited sin as he assigns to baptism with regard to actual sin. The author of de Sacramentis silently corrects this teaching by affirming that all sins are washed away in baptism. He sees, however, in the rite a means of sanctification and a lesson in humility. Augustine (Ep. lv. (ad Januar.) 33) was faced with the danger of attaching to the rite an exaggerated value, and replied that the ceremony was a type of humility, but formed no part of the sacrament of baptism.
8. The vesting with white robes (de Myst. vii. 34; alluded to in de Sacram. iv. 2. 5-6; v. 3. 14 familia candidata). This custom is found both in East and West during the fourth century. It appears in the earlier Roman rite (John the Deacon), in Spain in the Liber Ordinum (which contains much ancient material), in the Missale Gothicum and the Bobbio Missal. The memory of the custom survives in the Roman books in the titles of some of the prayers for Easter week and its octave (e.g. totius albae orationes (Gelasian Sacr., Wilson, p. 91); feria ii. in albas, die dominico post albas (Gregorian Sacr., Wilson (H. B. S.), pp. 60, 65)).
9. The “spiritual seal” (de Myst. vii. 41-42; de Sacram. iii. 2. 8-10; vi. 2. 6-8). To this rite de Sacram. also gives the title perfectio, as being the “completion” of baptism. Both writers speak of it as “a signing,”1 and connect with it the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. The evidence of de Myst. alone might lead us to suppose that the “spiritual seal” is identical with the unction of vi. 29, and that Ambrose is led to speak of it as “the spiritual seal”because of the order in which the “seal” is mentioned in the Song of Songs which he is expounding (see vii. 41); but the evidence of de Sacramentis shows that the two are plainly distinct. While the significance of the rite is plainly the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit (and hence it may be said to correspond to the rite of “Confirmation”) the connexion of the rite with the preceding unction after baptism is not clearly indicated, nor is its outward form described. One view is that the unction after baptism marked the beginning of the rite of confirmation, which was completed by the subsequent “signing” or “seal” (cf. Dom de Puniet, art. “Confirmation” in Cabrol, Dict. d’arch.et de lit. chrét., col. 2532). On the other hand, the author of de Sacram. (iii. 1. 1) after referring to the unction and explaining its significance, concludes: “This is called regeneration,” thus seeming to connect it with the preceding rite of baptism.
As to the outward form of the rite, there is no mention of unction or the laying on of hands, but only of a “signing.” Nor is Ambrose more explicit in de Spir. s. i. 6. 72, where, referring to the “spiritual seal,” he says, “though we are signed on the body outwardly, in reality we are signed in heart.” At Rome, in the time of Pope Innocent I. (about a.d. 416), the rite took the form of an unction on the forehead made with chrism by the bishop, while the previous unction after baptism was assigned to the priest. The Ambrosian sacramentaries of the ninth and tenth centuries exhibit only one unction after baptism (for the later history at Milan see Thompson, op. cit. p. 137). As both de Myst. and de Sacram. rehearse in full the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit when speaking of the rite, it might be inferred that a prayer was used resembling that in the Roman order of confirmation (Wilson, Gelasian Sacramentary, p. 87), but there is no allusion to such a prayer in the later Manuale Ambrosianum nor in Beroldus (cf. Thompson, op. cit. p. 138).
10. The procession to the altar followed upon the completion of the rites described above (de Myst. viii. 43; de Sacram. iii. 2. 13; iv. 2. 5, 7; iv. 3. 8). Both writers refer in this connexion to Psalms xliii. and xxiii., which may have been sung as introductory chants (though the use of Psalm xliii. in the preparatory portion of the Roman Mass (and of the Ambrosian) is of later origin).1 From Ambrose (in Psalm cxviii. prol. 2) it would appear that, though the newly-baptized communicated along with the faithful, they did not take part in the people’s offering of bread and wine before the octave of Easter.
During Easter week the instructions on the sacraments were given. In the later Ambrosian books mention is made of missae pro baptizatis, which were celebrated during the week-days of Easter week, and were distinct from the missae attended by the general body of the faithful. These latter were celebrated in a different church and at a later hour. But beyond references to the lessons read at the services at which the instructions were given, the present treatises throw no light on the character of the services in Easter week.
[1 ]For the order see de Myst. iii. 8. “What sawest thou? . . . the high priest questioning and consecrating.” In de Sacram. i. 2. 4 (the unction before baptism) the only ministers mentioned are “levite” and “presbyter.” The next section begins, without any reference to a change of subject, “When he asked thee Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works?” . . etc.
[1 ]The words used of it in de Myst. vii. 42 are: “God the Father hath sealed thee, Christ the Lord hath confirmed thee, and hath given the earnest of the Spirit in thy heart.” This is based on 2 Cor. i. 21, 22.
[1 ]The treatise de Lapsu Virginis, which, though not probably the work of Ambrose, has been thought by Dom Morin to be based on addresses by Ambrose (Revue bénéd. (1897) xiv. 196) speaks of lights borne by the neophytes (v. 19).