Thursday, December 16, 2010

Confirmation and Salvation

Q - I was thinking about the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285 quote ‘Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace’. I’m not sure how else to read this unless one is to say that our baptismal grace isn’t complete until confirmation; but that does lead to a conclusion that some how our baptism is not enough.

Also on a related note is CCC 1129 ‘the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation’. Note the plural of sacraments. What other sacrament than Baptism brings salvation?

A – Great Questions! Thanks for asking.

First off, why don’t we begin by exploring what the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are and aren’t.

Baptism is the first of the Sacraments of Initiation, that is, a Sacrament which cleanses our souls of the guilt (not the stain) of original sin, makes us partakers of the Divine Nature, brings us into the family of God (the Church), makes us sons and daughters of the Father and brothers and sisters of Christ, and it gives us sanctifying and actual grace. It is not complete in the sense that it doesn’t give us every grace we need to have a mature Christian faith. It is the gateway into the Sacramental life.

The Catechism describes Baptism in this way:
1213 “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”
Baptism is not intended by Christ to do everything for us in the spiritual life, but to start the process of living a life bound to Him and the Church.

Confirmation is the strengthening process of the graces we already received in baptism. It is NOT just an affirmation of the person getting confirmed, as if it is about what we do – but more about what Christ does for us. Most Catholics believe it to be the other way around. They incorrectly view Confirmation as our “choosing Christ” and about our desire to be Catholic.

In reality, the traditional ordering of the Sacraments is Baptism – Confirmation – Eucharist. Only in the last 100 years or so has the process changed to have Confirmation come after Eucharist. But, there is a trend, in some areas of the Church, to reverse this.

In Vatican II, the Church taught the following:
“They are more perfectly bound to the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ” (LG, 11)
This teaching about how we become evangelists, full of the Holy Spirit, who go out into the world to preach and live the Gospel comes straight from the Bible:
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 8: 14 – 17

We see here that Baptism isn’t complete and all there is. The laying on of hands (Confirmation) was needed for the completion of the Sacrament and the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what happens in Confirmation. It is the same thing that happened to the Apostles at Pentecost. Once they received the Holy Spirit they immediately went out and preached.
The Catechism states:
CCC, 1303 “From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
- it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, "Abba! Father!";
- it unites us more firmly to Christ;
- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:”

So, in the sense that our Baptism isn’t enough to complete (but rather begin) our initiation into Christ, you are correct – it isn’t enough. In the sense that Baptism does what Christ intended it to do (begin the life of grace) – it is enough.

As for your second question – in the sense that the Sacraments are the means by which the grace of the Cross of Christ is given to the members of the Church, the Sacraments are truly necessary for man’s salvation.
Vatican II taught, about Baptism, this necessity:
“[Jesus] Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it” (LG, 14)
Building on this the Catechism states:
“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments.” (CCC, 1257)
This means that while Catholics are obligated to receive the Sacraments for Salvation, God can save outside of the Sacramental economy in ways known only to Him (baptism of blood, baptism of desire, etc.).
So, in the sense that a Catholic would knowingly and purposefully refuse to receive the Sacraments when they were bound to do so, they would be endangering themselves spiritually and thus we can say they are necessary for salvation.

St. Thomas answers this question in the Summa Theologica:
Whether all the sacraments are necessary for salvation?
Objection 1: It seems that all the sacraments are necessary for salvation. For what is not necessary seems to be superfluous. But no sacrament is superfluous, because "God does nothing without a purpose" (De Coelo et Mundo i). Therefore all the sacraments are necessary for salvation.
Objection 2: Further, just as it is said of Baptism (Jn. 3:5): "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter in to the kingdom of God," so of the Eucharist is it said (Jn. 6:54): "Except you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink of His blood, you shall not have life in you." Therefore, just as Baptism is a necessary sacrament, so is the Eucharist.
Objection 3: Further, a man can be saved without the sacrament of Baptism, provided that some unavoidable obstacle, and not his contempt for religion, debar him from the sacrament, as we shall state further on (Question [68], Article [2]). But contempt of religion in any sacrament is a hindrance to salvation. Therefore, in like manner, all the sacraments are necessary for salvation.
On the contrary, Children are saved by Baptism alone without the other sacraments.
I answer that, Necessity of end, of which we speak now, is twofold. First, a thing may be necessary so that without it the end cannot be attained; thus food is necessary for human life. And this is simple necessity of end. Secondly, a thing is said to be necessary, if, without it, the end cannot be attained so becomingly: thus a horse is necessary for a journey. But this is not simple necessity of end.
In the first way, three sacraments are necessary for salvation. Two of them are necessary to the individual; Baptism, simply and absolutely; Penance, in the case of mortal sin committed after Baptism; while the sacrament of order is necessary to the Church, since "where there is no governor the people shall fall" (Prov. 11:14).
But in the second way the other sacraments are necessary. For in a sense Confirmation perfects Baptism; Extreme Unction perfects Penance; while Matrimony, by multiplying them, preserves the numbers in the Church.
Reply to Objection 1: For a thing not to be superfluous it is enough if it be necessary either in the first or the second way. It is thus that the sacraments are necessary, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 2: These words of our Lord are to be understood of spiritual, and not of merely sacramental, eating, as Augustine explains (Tract. xxvi super Joan.).
Reply to Objection 3: Although contempt of any of the sacraments is a hindrance to salvation, yet it does not amount to contempt of the sacrament, if anyone does not trouble to receive a sacrament that is not necessary for salvation. Else those who do not receive orders, and those who do not contract Matrimony, would be guilty of contempt of those sacraments.
I hope this helps.