Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History of Initiation

Chapter i23 Christian Initiation during the Early Medieval Period [800-1199]

Preliminary Questions


Johnson Chapter 3

East and West

To Think About




Preliminary Questions

How did Confirmation become a separate sacrament? Is the Reformation a good thing or a bad thing? What needed to be reformed? What got reformed too much?

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Daniel B. Stevick, Made, Not Born, pp 99-117.

Peter J. Jagger. Clouded Witness: Initiation in the Church of England in the Mid-Victorian Period, 1850-1875. Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1982.

Pius XII, "On the Sacred Liturgy" Mediator Dei, November 20, 1947.

Daniel B. Stevick, Baptismal Moments; Baptismal Meanings, New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation [800 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017] 1987.

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., Obedience to Liturgical Law: A Historical Study of the theological Context of Roman Catholic Liturgical Law before and after the Second Vatican Council, (Doctoral Thesis, published as) Liturgical Law Today: New Style, New Spirit. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977.

Pope John XXIII. Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia. Washington D.C.: National Catholic Welfare Conference, February 22, 1962.

Nathan D. Mitchell. "Dissolution of the Rite of Christian initiation." Made, Not Born, pp 50-82.

R. Cabie. "The Evolution of Christian Initiation from the Sixth to the Twentieth Century," pp 18-83 in A. G. Martimort (editor). The Sacraments. Volume III of The Church at Prayer. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, new edition 1987. ISBN 0-8146-1365-9. [Updates of the lecture notes from my master's level courses at the Institut Catholique.]

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Johnson Chapter 3

Maxwell E. Johnson. Chapter 3:  Initiation in the Christian East During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries

Part 1:  The Syrian Traditions


Part 2:  The Apostolic Constitutions

John Chrysostom
Theodore of Mopsuestia
East Syria

Pay particular attention to the chart (Chapter 3.1)  which Johnson puts on page 122.  Note that the anointing which we have come to call confirmation is sometimes before and sometimes after the water rite.  Sometimes there is a second anointing which serves as an exorcism.  Sometimes there are two anointings after the water rite one by the deacon or presbyter and a second by the overseer (bishop). 

 A high infant mortality rate and the increased popularity of the quamprimum initiation of infants pushes the adult catechumenate to the brink of extinction.

Carolingian reform (9th century) made Roman rite normative in West but this was not universally implemented.

Peter Lombard composes his Sentences and defines the number of sacraments as seven.  Confirmation officially becomes one of the seven.

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East and West

I readily admit that the theology and liturgy of the Eastern Churches is not my prime area of expertise. When I was studying for the doctorate in Paris, one of our principal professors was Irenee Henri Dalmais, O.P. who, at that time, was one of the leading experts in this area. I also spent time during one of my sabbatical semesters studying the Syriac religions while living in Kerala India, and another sabbatical I spent in Cairo Egypt where I became familiar with the Coptic Church. With this background, and my own reading during the past 50 years, would lead me to answer the question posed in this week’s assignment as follows:

The principal differences in the theology and liturgical practice of Christian Initiation between the Eastern and the Western Christian Churches are the following:

33-400 CE

First of all, it is important to remember that East and West both start at the same place; they are both rooted in the post-resurrection experience of the faith community of Jesus and discipleship as found in St. Paul, the Gospels, and the other New Testament writings.

Evidently by the year 80 CE water baptism had become the normative means of Christian initiation.

St. Paul in his letters riles against Gentile converts who want to bring their philosophical traditions (Aristotle’s God, and a philosophical understanding of the human person in terms of body and soul, etc.) as he feels these are not compatible with Christian discipleship.

As the church grows and spreads, by the fourth century (and following) East and West develop separate traditions.

400-2015 CE

The East, in many ways, remains more traditional in that 1) the interpretation of the Christian message remains more lyrical and poetical (the human person is viewed as an integral unity of body / mind / and spirit) ; and 2) the rituals of initiation remain one unified experience.

The West abandons St. Paul in that it 1) adopts Greek philosophy and categories (e.g. body and soul) and also 2) becomes highly influenced by Roman legalism. [Due in part to a large influx of Roman lawyers into the community who then assumed leadership roles.]

Greek philosophy influences Western theologians to speak in terms of body and soul as two distinct entities; the soul being the “divine” and therefore the “important” entity.

Roman legalism influences Western theologians to think in terms of divine justice (rather than in terms of parental love). Western theology becomes concerned with sin and retribution. The concept of original sin enters Western thought.

Roman legalism encourages ecclesial ministers to seek the same legal protection and privileges (e.g. tax exemption) enjoyed by the Roman Order of Senators and they developed the Order of Overseers [episcopoi]. The concept of Holy Orders develops; the Body of Christ now becomes segregated into clergy and laity.

As the order of presbyters begins to assume part of the pastoral oversight once reserved to the order of bishops, the post baptismal anointing at Christian Initiation becomes reserved to the overseer (Bishop). The bishop is no longer seen as the original minister (a historical term) of all the sacraments and now is seen as the ordinary minister (a legal term) of the [new] Sacrament of Confirmation.

As the laity cease sharing in the bread and wine at the Eucharistic meal and just watch the priest elevate the host (ocular communion), the Eucharist ceases to be part of the initiation ceremony– for both adults and infants.


The East

1. Unified view of the human person: body, mind, spirit.
2. One sacrament of initiation: with water, oil, bread and wine.
3. The process is driven by rebirth in water and the Spirit to partake of divine life, theosis.
4. The celebration of rebirth gives emphasis to the anabatic (worship) upward movement.
5. Birth in water and the Holy Spirit gives emphasis to the role of the Holy Spirit.

The West

1. We have a body and a soul.
2. We have three sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist
3. The process is driven by the concept of sin, original and actual.
4. The focus on sin leads us to emphasize the katabatic (what we get) downward movement.
5. The focus on sin gives emphasis to the sufferings of Christ (with less emphasis on the Holy Spirit).

The East: anabatic; Trinitarian; no original sin, no confirmation.
The West: katabatic; Christo-centric; we have both original sin and Confirmation.

[Johnson, p 112: “In the East initiation rituals are oriented towards the reception of the Holy Spirit and in the West towards the expulsion of evil spirits”.]

And both cause lots of theological issues for the West: for example,
A) What happens to those who die with original sin?
B) What does confirmation mean? And when should it be received? Who is authorized to preside at the sacrament? Is confirmation necessary?

The East is spared these issues.

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To Think About

1. What led to the dissolution of the rites of initiation? When did this occur?

2. What developments in Christian ministry influence our understanding of Confirmation as a sacrament distinct from Baptism?

3. In what order should the sacraments of initiation be celebrated?  What is the history and present status of this pastoral problem?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 05/15/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at