Sunday, April 26, 2009

Paedocommunion vs. Confirmation: Part 2

I just want to take a brief glance at the history of Paedocommunion in the Church. Venema apparently does this in his book and comes to the conclusion that some churches may have practiced it and others probably did not. I agree with this assessment. In fact some of my thoughts can be found in the comment thread on this post. You can find some arguments that Paedocommunion is the historical practice by Tommy Lee on the web.

The Reformers rejected the practice and Wolfgang Musculus is the only one with any sympathy toward it at all. But even he rejects it in the end. The Roman Catholic Church had long since rejected the practice and Eastern Orthodox Church kept the practice. If you read the articles in favor of Paedocommunion you will see that many scholars think the Roman Catholic Church did not practice infant communion in the first and second century. I will not undertake a refutation of their refutation at this point as that would be tedious. However, I simply want to point out the fact that scholars are not as agreed as they would have you think. But more importantly I want to draw attention to their reasoning as to why the Roman Church dropped the practice. Mr. Lee writes:

If paedocommunion was the common practice of the church in ancient days, then why do we not practice it today? Keidel asserts that infants and children were forbidden from the Lord's Supper because of "the doctrine of transubstantiation and the doctrine of concomitance (i.e., that Christ is present entirely under either kind)... The fear that infants and children might spill the wine and thereby profane the actual body and blood of the Lord appears to have been the primary reason for this discontinuance."49 Actually, it was not only the infants and children who ceased drinking the "transubstantiated" wine. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries all of the laity (in the West), adults included, began to back away from the cup. 50

Yet, I see this as a blatant attempt to spin the historical debate in their favor. If the only reason to forbid the Table to infants was a heresy, then we should give it back right? There are several things that make it obvious that this reason is not the best, if one at all. First, Transubstantiation was not official, but was the primary understanding as early as the beginning of the Eleventh century as Pope Leo X had condemned views opposing Transubstantiation by 1050. That is a few centuries earlier than most of these people admit that infants no longer took the Supper, and it seems likely that Transubstantiation must have been around prior to that in an accepted way for Leo to be able to make such a decision. Second, people withdrew from the cup at different times in the history of the church. Pinning down one reason is difficult. In footnote 49 Mr. Lee does admit a growing demand for intelligent reception. Then he also has this important toss away phrase.

Other contributing factors may include the separation of confirmation from the time of baptism (made necessary because Christianity grew rapidly while the number of bishops did not) which encouraged a break down in the three part rite of initiation into the church (baptism, confirmation, eucharist) and the development of the idea of childhood.

Note the dismissive italics. Yet, it is clear that this separation is important. Confirmation used to be handled right after baptism and then the Supper was placed in their mouth. All three signs of being a member of the church crammed into one ceremony. Interestingly you will note that the Eastern Orthodox Church still does all three at once, and the Roman Church does not. Do you think this has any bearing on the fact that the Eastern Orthodox still communes infants and the Romans do not? Probably. The rite of confirmation moved, and with it communion.

Confirmation has already moved by the time of Charlemagne as Ratramnus of Corbie defended the removal of Confirmation from baptism by declaring it the ordination of the laity. In other words they were called into true service of God now at Confirmation, declared of age to participate in the fight. It should be noted for the theory above that Ratramnus rejected Transubstantiation. Confirmation prepared people for the fight of Spiritual Warfare, which necessitated maturity. This language can be seen with regards to confirmation as early as the fifth century in France. We also see that Confirmation for the Welch in Great Britain was not done until they were seven as early as the 9th century. Egbert Archbishop of York in the early part of the 8th century makes it clear that in England (at that point still separate from the Welch) a seven year old is confirmed and then they receive Communion. The Council of Lambeth (1281) made it clear that no child should partake of Communion until after Confirmation. They were not introducing a new idea, but strengthening the neglected rite of Confirmation. Pope Leo XIII in 1897 stated that the practice of the ancient church was to confirm children before their first communion, and that practice should be maintained. I will just assume the Pope has access to more ancient documents than I do, but I do realize that trusting a pope is not a good idea.

The point being here is that Confirmation has always played an important role. Even in the churches that did give the bread and wine to infants, they were almost always confirmed first. Now, I am clearly not arguing for a Roman Catholic doctrine of Confirmation, but I am saying that it is something that cannot be left out of the discussion.

And in fact when the Reformers re-examined everything they of course did not believe Confirmation a sacrament, but they did find it a useful rite of the church. One based now on catechism, instruction, and knowledge. And it served as a wonderful way to make sure children were ready to take the Lord’s Supper. Bucer introduced catechism based Confirmation into the churches of Germany and the churches of England. This of course rubbed off on the German speaking Swiss cantons. The French speaking cantons followed the lead of Calvin, who also performed catechism based Confirmation usually at about age 10. The historic Reformed position then is pretty clear. It is not just allowing people with a profession of faith to the Table at a certain age, it is allowing people to the Table after Confirmation, which involves instruction from the church.

And that in the end, is what I am arguing for. I am not arguing for some random age. I am arguing for participation in the Lord’s Supper to be after a church based examination that involves more than just a profession of faith, but an actual in-depth time of study and knowledge before being allowed to the Table. I shall call it Confirmation Based Communion. I think it is biblical, historical, and the proper thing to do. I hope to expand some basic Exegetical arguments in the next posts.