Reading Time: 12 minutes
By Daniel Henriquez, University of Dallas
A relatively recent and little-known book titled The Wellspring of Worship, written by a Dominican brother of the community in Beirut, presents a beautiful theological meditation on the Christian liturgy as it springs from the Divine liturgy revealed in Sacred Scripture. When examining the significance of the sacramental epicleses, Father Jean Corbon claims that a possible misunderstanding of the baptismal epiclesis leads to “a practical depreciation of confirmation in some Churches.” The practical depreciation may be articulated in this way: if the neophyte receives the Spirit in Baptism, why does he need to receive the Spirit in Confirmation? Corbon then argues from the “practice of the Early Church…and the unbroken tradition of the Eastern Churches” that “baptism and the personal gift of the Spirit are distinct but inseparable, with the second completing the first.” Both this depreciation and Corbon’s attempt to dissolve it, touch on an important theological issue concerning when the Spirit is given to dwell within his disciples. If the Holy Spirit dwells within them as a result of Baptism, what significance does the sacrament of Confirmation hold? Or, if the personal gift of the Spirit is given exclusively in Confirmation, does this not depreciate the graces which flow from the baptismal font? In order to properly appreciate the graces bestowed by both sacraments, it is imperative to understand the nature of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the conferral of sanctifying grace in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to dwell within both the baptized and the confirmed; yet, as signified by the distinct sacramental characters, the Holy Spirit dwells within the confirmed in a new and special way in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Before arguing for and explaining the two separate yet non-exclusive missions of the Holy Spirit, it may prove beneficial to provide counterarguments to the contrary. The first counterargument demonstrates the position that the Holy Spirit is given exclusively in the sacrament of Baptism; the second demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is given exclusively in Confirmation. Thomas Marsh, in his essay on The Theology of Confirmation, argues for the exclusive gift of the Spirit in Baptism. He claims that, when later theologians tried to understand the separation of the rite of Confirmation from Baptism, they spoke of “two gifts of the Spirit based on the different concepts of life-giving and prophetic Spirit,” as distinguished in the Bible. However, Marsh argues that, even though the Bible distinguishes these gifts, there is only one gift of the Spirit: “as there is but one Spirit, there is but one gift of the Spirit involving these two aspects. If the gift of the Spirit is given in Baptism, it is totally given in Baptism, in so far as the action of ‘giving’ is concerned.” Therefore, since the Spirit is totally given in Baptism, it is not given in Confirmation.
A specific reading of Corbon may interpret that he is arguing for the exclusive gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. The argument may run in the following way. Corbon explains that from the moment of Pentecost, “the Spirit causes the body [of Christ] to grow by joining new members to it, and this birth takes place in baptism. But in that moment of birth, the Lord pours out his own fullness on these members, that is, he gives them his Spirit in a very personal way; this personal gift of the Spirit to the person of the neophyte is the sacramental synergy of confirmation.” Thus, in Baptism, the Spirit is sent only to join members to the Mystical Body of Christ, and in Confirmation, the Spirit is sent as a personal gift to the confirmand. Therefore, the Spirit is not sent in a personal way to the neophyte in Baptism.
Having examined the principal difficulties concerning this claim, let us now examine the Catholic doctrines which lay the groundwork for claiming that there are multiple non-exclusive missions of the Spirit. First, we must discuss the doctrine of sanctifying grace as it is given in the sacraments; second, we must explain the precise nature of the sacramental characters of Baptism and Confirmation; and third, we must articulate the dogmas of the Divine Mission and Indwelling. After considering this positive theological framework, I will propose a speculative position which I believe flows from Catholic dogma.
The Council of Trent teaches that by the most holy Sacraments “all true justice either begins, or being begun is increased, or being lost is restored.” By the term ‘all true justice,’ the Holy Council means sanctifying grace. The Council continues in the fourth canon: “If anyone shall say that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify…let him be anathema.” Therefore, since the Magisterial Office of the Church has declared that all sacraments contain sanctifying grace, it is infallibly certain that the principle effect signified by the sacraments is the bestowal of sanctifying grace. Moreover, the Council teaches that “justification,” the grace which flows from the Sacraments, “is not merely the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” Thus, the principal effect of all true justice bestowed in each Sacrament is the remission of sins and the sanctification of souls.
Furthermore, the ninth canon on the Sacraments in General declares that “if anyone shall say that in the three sacraments, namely, baptism, confirmation, and orders, there is not imprinted on the soul a sign, that is, a certain spiritual and indelible mark, on account of which they cannot be repeated: let him be anathema.” It is common teaching that the purpose of the sacramental character confers on the recipient full power for performing acts of Christian worship. The primary function of the sacramental character configures the person to Jesus Christ the High Priest, thus enabling them to properly worship God. From this function, three others follow. Each sacramental character “distinguishes the baptized from the non-baptized, the confirmed from the non-confirmed,” and the ordained from the non-ordained; each disposes them by empowering “the faithful in relation to certain acts of worship and indirectly disposes them for the reception of sanctifying and actual grace; and each obliges them “to carry out Christian worship, and demands the possession of sanctifying grace for its worthy performance.”
The Church also teaches in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that there are two processions that exist within the Divinity: the procession of “the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father” and the procession of the “Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” From this doctrine of the Divine processions, the Church, in the eleventh Council of Toledo, teaches that “we believe that this Holy Spirit was sent by both [the Father and the Son], as the Son was sent by the Father.” As the Spirit proceeds by way of spiration from the Father and the Son in the Divinity, so too the Spirit proceeds by way of mission from the Father and the Son in the Economy of Salvation. The Common Doctor develops the theological notion of the Divine mission: this notion includes a relation of “the one sent to the end whereto he is sent…is also shown, so that in some way he begins to be present there: either because in no way was he present before in the place whereto he is sent, or because he begins to be there in some way in which he was not there hitherto.” Thus, the notion of Divine mission implies that the Son and the Spirit become present within the world in a way in which they were not already present before.
In the following articles on the Divine missions in the Summa, Thomas further develops the notion. The words ‘mission’ and ‘giving’ “express the temporal term with relation to the principle, for a thing is sent that it may be in something else, and is given that it may be possessed; but that a divine person be possessed by any creature, or exist in it in a new mode, is temporal.” Thus, when a Divine Person is said to be ‘sent’ or ‘given,’ this does not signify that the Divine Person becomes related to time in a new way, for that would signify a change with God. Rather, it signifies that time takes on a new and real relation to the eternal procession of a Divine Person. This is why Thomas teaches the following: “that a divine person may newly exist in anyone, or be possessed by anyone in time, does not come from change of the divine person, but from change in the creature” Moreover, Thomas explains that these Divine missions occur visibly, as when God became man, or invisibly, as when God dwells in man, which occurs only according to the gift of sanctifying grace.
The definitive doctrinal statement of Council of Trent confesses that every sacrament of the New Covenant bestows sanctifying grace on those who receive them faithfully. The theologically certain teaching of Saint Thomas which flows consistently from the teaching of the Council of Toledo concludes that every invisible mission of indwelling occurs only in the gift of sanctifying grace. If the invisible mission of the Spirit occurs only in the gift of sanctifying grace, then the Holy Spirit is given to dwell with his disciples in every sacrament. Why? The principal effect of the sacraments is the bestowal of all true justice. The principal effect of justification, that is, sanctifying grace, is the remission of sins and the sanctification of the soul. Moreover, Thomas says “sanctifying grace disposes the soul to possess the divine person; and this is signified when it is said that the Holy Ghost is given according to the gift of grace.” Therefore, since justification disposes the soul to possess the Divine Person by removing from the soul all its sins and by sanctifying it, and since every sacrament justifies the recipient, it seems fitting to say that the Holy Spirit is given in every sacrament.
If the Holy Spirit is given in every sacrament, then the Gift of the Divine Indwelling does not distinguish the seven sacraments from each other. This follows directly from the fact that every sacrament signifies the same mystery—res tantum sacramenti—that is bestowed upon the recipient: sanctifying grace. If the bestowal of sanctifying grace is common to every sacrament, then the supernatural effect that is given only in sanctifying grace, namely, the gift of Divine Indwelling, must be common to every sacrament. If this is the case, what distinguishes the one sacrament from another? Each sacrament is distinguished from each other by the mediating sacramental mystery—sacramentum simul et res—that at the same time is signified by the outward sign—sacramentum tantum—and signifies the mystery—res tantum—of sanctifying grace. Since the Council of Trent has explicitly stated that in the sacraments of “baptism, confirmation, and orders, there…is imprinted on the soul, a sign, that is, a certain spiritual and indelible mark, on account of which they cannot be repeated,” respectable theologians have identified the mediating sacramental mysteries of Baptism and Confirmation with the particular characters which they imprint on the soul. This certainly follows from the fact that each sacramental character distinguishes between those who possess the indelible mark from those who do not.
If the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are primarily distinguished by the sacramental characters which they bestow, then it is necessary to understand the specific natures of each character in order to understand how they relate to the gifts of sanctifying grace and Divine Indwelling. The Church teaches that each character assimilates the recipient to the Christ the High Priest, distinguishes the recipient from those who do not possess the character, disposes them to certain acts of worship and reception of grace, and obliges them to carry out those acts of worship which are proper to their character. The Holy Catholic Church professes that the Sacrament of Baptism has three principal effects: justification, remission of the punishments of sin, and the bestowal of the baptismal character. If the character bestowed is the mediating sacramental mystery, then the graces conferred in Baptism are given in and through the grace of baptismal character. By receiving this baptismal character, the neophytes are justified—being born again of water and Spirit, and incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ—and are consequently given the “power to receive the other sacraments of the Church.” The principal effects of Confirmation are the conferral of Confirmation grace, which increases sanctifying grace and perfects the grace of Baptism, and the conferral of the Confirmation character. The Confirmation character, then, mediates the graces received in Confirmation, namely, the increase of sanctifying grace and the perfection of baptismal graces. Thus, as Baptism causes the soul to be born again in sanctifying grace, Confirmation causes the soul to be perfected by an increase of the graces already given in Baptism.
Since the relations of the sacramental characters to sanctifying grace distinguish Baptism and Confirmation from one another, these same relations distinguish the Gift of the Spirit at Baptism from the Gift of the Spirit at Confirmation. When a Divine Person is ‘sent’ into the world, the Person becomes present in the world in a new way. This new presence does not signify any change within the Person, but rather it signifies that the world is given a new real relation to the Person. The invisible mission of the Holy Spirit occurs only according to the gift of sanctifying grace, which is first given to every man in the Sacrament of Baptism. The character conferred in the Sacrament of Baptism signifies the birth of neophyte into the life of grace by incorporating him into the Church; concomitantly, this character also signifies his birth into the life of a child of God by the Gift of the Holy Spirit. This new presence of Uncreated Grace within the soul of the baptized did not exist before receiving the sacrament character in Baptism. Likewise, the character imprinted on the soul in Confirmation signifies the growth of the confirmand that occurs in the increase and perfection of baptismal grace; concomitantly, this character also signifies his growth as a child of God by the Gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell within the confirmed, the confirmed are given the power to receive the Spirit in a new and special way, as signified by the renewal and perfection of sanctifying grace. As one contemporary theologian articulates it: “since there can be no question of a new real relation on the part of the Holy Spirit to the confirmed, this new “mission” of the Spirit in confirmation seems rather to indicate a gift, a grace peculiar to the sacrament, of a new real relation on the part of the confirmed to the person of the Holy Spirit as dynamis—as dynamic and vital power.” Since the sacramental character is properly called a spiritual power, this character empowers or disposes the human subject to receive the Holy Spirit in a new and more profound way.
Since it is now evident that the Holy Spirit is given in both sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, it is untenable to hold that the Gift of Divine Indwelling is given exclusively, either in Baptism or Confirmation. In the first place, Marsh’s specific premise for his argument—“as there is but one Spirit, there is but one gift of the Spirit”—is not theologically sound. Over the course of salvation history, the Spirit is sent into the world at various times and in various ways. He is sent visibly both at Christ’s Baptism, in the form of a dove, and at Pentecost, in the tongues of fire. He is sent invisibly at every Baptism of every neophyte to dwell personally within their hearts. By these dogmatic facts, the Church believes and confesses that there are multiple gifts of the one Spirit. Thus, simply because there is one Spirit, it does not follow that there are not multiple gifts of the same Spirit. Moreover, even though the Spirit is already given in Baptism, this does not contradict that the Spirit may also be given in Confirmation; for, as Thomas teaches, when a Divine Person is sent somewhere, this implies either that he was not present there before or that he begins to exist there in a new way.
When reading Corbon’s position on the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, one should view his words in a charitable light. What Corbon affirms in the nature of the two sacraments is fundamentally correct, if not as theologically precise as it could be. In the Sacrament of Baptism, the Spirit truly does cause “the body to grow by joining new members to it” and in the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Spirit truly is given to the confirmed “in a very personal way.” Moreover, it is very important to avoid the practical depreciation of Confirmation. However, since the personal gift of the Holy Spirit does not by itself distinguish Confirmation from Baptism, one requires a more precise formulation of the distinction in order to appreciate the necessities appropriate to both Sacraments more firmly. As the Common Doctor states, there are two kinds of necessities, “one of which the end cannot be attained” and the other of which “the end cannot be attained so becomingly.” On the one hand, since salvation cannot be attained without Baptism, Baptism bestows a character that empowers the individual to be born into eternal life and dwell with the Spirit. On the other hand, since salvation cannot be attained so becomingly without Confirmation, Confirmation bestows a new character that empowers the individual to grow more perfectly and dwell more intimately with the Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit gives himself in both sacraments, but in Confirmation the Spirit creates in the soul of the confirmed a new power by which he pours out his love more abundantly into the depths of our hearts.
Bohen, Marian. The Mystery of Confirmation: a Theology of the Sacrament. New York: Herder and Herder, 1963.
Bright, Laurence. “THE SACRAMENTS: I—BAPTISM.” Life of the Spirit (1946-1964) 11, no. 124 (1956): 158-63.
Bright, Laurence. “THE SACRAMENTS: II—CONFIRMATION.” Life of the Spirit (1946-1964) 11, no. 128 (1957): 358-63.
Corbon, Jean. The Wellspring of Worship. Translated by Matthew J O’Connell. New York: Paulist Press, 1988.
Denzinger, Heinrich Joseph. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Translated by Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1957.
Marsh, Thomas. “The Theology of Confirmation.” The Furrow 27, no. 11 (1976): 606-16.
Neuheusser, Burkhard. Baptism and Confirmation. Translated by John Jay Hughes. New York: Herder and Herder, 1964.
Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Translated by Patrick Lynch. Edited by James Canon Bastible. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 1974.
Pepler, Conrad. “THE SACRAMENT OF FAITH.” Life of the Spirit (1946-1964) 11, no. 124 (1956): 163-72.
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica Volume I – Part I. Translated Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2001.
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica Volume IV – Part III, First Section. Translated Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2001.
Scheeben, Matthias. The Mysteries of Christianity. Translated by Cyril Vollert. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2006.
Van Slyke, Daniel G. “Confirmation: A Sacrament in Search of a Theology?” New Blackfriars 92, no. 1041 (2011): 521-551.
 Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship, trans. by Matthew J O’Connell, (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 112.
 Corbon, 113.
 Thomas Marsh, “The Theology of Confirmation,” The Furrow 27, no. 11 (1976), 613.
 Marsh, 613.
 Corbon, 113.
 Heinrich Joseph Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari, (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1957), DS 843a.
 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. by Patrick Lynch and ed. by James Canon Bastible, (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 1974), 332.
 DS 849.
 DS 799.
 DS 852.
 Ott, 335.
 Ott, 335.
 Ott, 335.
 DS 86.
 DS 277.
 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Volume I – Part I, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2001), q. 43, a. 1, c.
 S Th, I, q. 43, a. 2, c.
 S Th, I, q. 43, a. 2, ad. 2.
 S Th, I, q. 43, a. 2, c. Cf. I, q. 43, a. 3.
 S Th, I, q. 43, a. 3, ad. 2.
 Matthias Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, trans. Cyril Vollert, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2006), 572ff.
 Scheeben, 574-575.
 DS 852.
 Scheeben, 575.
 Ott, 335.
 Ott, 335.
 DS 792, 856. Cf. Ott 354-356.
 S Th, III, q. 63, a. 6, c.
 Cf. Ott, 365-367.
 Cf. S Th, I, q. 43.
 Marian Bohen, The Mystery of Confirmation: a Theology of the Sacrament, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1963) 42.
 Cf. S Th, I, q. 63, a. 2, c.
 Marsh, 613.
 S Th, I, q. 43, a. 1, c.
 Corbon, 113.
 S Th, III, q. 65, a. 4, c.