St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today I continue my presentation of this work, as I plan each Sunday, which now brings us to Chapter 11, On the holy sacrament of Confirmation! Certainly a great deal more attention to be given to Confirmation, which is not often enough recalled!
St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)
CHAPTER XI. ON CONFIRMATION.
AFTER baptism follows the sacrament of Confirmation, from which may we draw motives to live well, no less powerful than those deducible from baptism; for although baptism be a sacrament more necessary than Confirmation, yet the latter is more noble than the former. This is evident from the minister, the matter and the effect.
The ordinary minister of baptism is a priest, and in case of necessity anyone; the ordinary minister of
Confirmation is a Bishop, and by the dispensation of the Pope, only a priest. The matter of baptism is common water, that of Confirmation holy oil mixed with balsam, consecrated by the Bishop. The effect of baptism is grace and a character, such are required to create a spiritual child; according to the words of St. Peter, “As new-born infants desire the rational milk without guile." (1st of St. Peter, xi.)
The effect of Confirmation is also grace and a character, and such are requisite to make a Christian soldier fight against his invisible enemies; according to what St. Paul saith: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” “Quia non est nobis conluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem sed adversus principes et potestates adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum contra spiritalia nequitiae in caelestibus” (Ephesians vi. 12.) In fine, in baptism a little salt is put into the infant’s mouth; in Confirmation a slight blow is given to us, that so the Christian soldier may learn to fight, not by striking, but by enduring.
But that we may the more easily understand what is the duty of one anointed with chrism, that is, of a Christian soldier, we must consider what the Apostles received at their Confirmation on Whit- Sunday. They were not confirmed by the chrism, but they received from Christ, our chief high priest, the effect of the sacrament without the sacrament. They received three gifts, wisdom, eloquence, and charity, in the highest degree, and likewise the gift of miracles, which were most useful in converting infidel nations to the true faith. These gifts were signified by the "fiery tongues” which appeared on the day of Pentecost, whilst a sound as of a mighty wind was heard at the same time. The light of the fire signified wisdom, its heat charity, the form of the tongues eloquence, and the sound the gift of miracles.
The sacrament of our Confirmation does not bestow the gift of tongues nor the gift of miracles, since these were necessary, not for the advantage and perfection of the, Apostles themselves, but for the conversion of the infidels. But it bestows the gifts of spiritual wisdom and of charity, which is
“patient and kind;" and as a sign of this most rare and yet most precious virtue of patience, the Bishop gives the person about to be confirmed a slight blow, that he may remember he now becomes a soldier of Christ, not to strike, but to endure; not to do injuries to others, but to bear them. In the Christian warfare, he fights not against visible but invisible enemies; for thus did Christ our great commander fight and conquer, who being nailed to the cross, conquered the infernal powers; thus did the Apostles fight, only just confirmed, for being severely scourged in the council of the Jews, they went forth " rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus."
The grace of Confirmation then effects this, that when a man is unjustly injured, he should not think of revenge, but rejoice that he suffered reproach unjustly.
Let him then who has been confirmed enter into the chamber of his heart, and diligently inquire whether he has kept in his heart the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and especially wisdom and fortitude. Let him examine, I repeat, whether he possess the wisdom of the saints who esteemed eternal goods, and despised earthly ones; whether he has the fortitude of soldiers of Christ, who bear injuries more willingly than they do them. And lest he should possibly be deceived, let him descend to practice and examine his conscience. If he shall find that he is always truly ready to bestow alms, not to heap up riches; and if when injured he thinks not on revenge, but very readily .and willingly pardons the injury: he may justly exult in his heart as having in his soul a pledge of the adoption of the sons of God.
But if, after having received Confirmation, he perceives himself to be no less covetous, avaricious, passionate, and impatient, and if he with difficulty allows any money to be distributed for the relief of the poor; but, on the contrary, if he sees that he is ready to seize every opportunity of lucre, that he is quickly excited, prone to revenge, and when requested by his friends to forgive an offence is inexorable what is the conclusion, but that he has received indeed the sacrament, but not the grace of the sacrament ?
What I have said is intended for those who are adults, when they approach the sacrament; for they who receive it at an age incapable of sin, receive, it is to be believed, all its gifts and graces. But these must stand in fear, lest by sin creeping upon them gradually, and deferring to do penance for a long time, they extinguish the spirit received that is, lose the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus is to be understood what the Apostle saith: "Extinguish not the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians v. 19.) He extinguishes the Holy Spirit, as for as lies in him, who destroys in himself the grace of God.
He, therefore, that desireth to live well, and thus to die well, must highly esteem the grace of the sacraments, which are vessels of heavenly treasures: and especially should he esteem those sacraments, which, when once lost, cannot be recovered again such as the sacrament of Confirmation, in which we receive an incomparable treasure of good things. For, although the character of this sacrament cannot be obliterated, yet a character without the gift of grace will not bring any comfort, but only increase our punishment and confusion.
I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here: http://goodcatholicbooks.org/pdf/bellarmine_art-of-dying-well.pdf