April 11, 2019

Samuel Saywell’s “Holy Rite of Confirmation” (1745), now online

Samuel Saywell, The Holy Rite of Confirmation (1745)

This powerful treatise on the importance, power and prominence of the Rite of Confirmation in the Christian life is an Anglican classic, and we are happy to be able to reprint it here. The Rev. Samuel Saywell produces here a meticulous study of the teaching on Confirmation out of the Scriptures, with a panoply of Scriptural citations and evidences which do not get sufficient attention. Adding the patristic evidence of the practice and experience of Confirmation in the early Church provides another evidence for just how closely the Church Fathers had followed the Scriptures, as Saywell encourages for us to do as well.

The holy rite of Confirmation has been neglected in the wider Christian tradition, as Saywell rightly observes way back in the 18th century. This neglect he contrasts with the preservation and celebration of the Rite of Communion in the Church of England, a surviving trace of the apostolic church which has not been corrupted as in the Church of Rome, or jettisoned altogether as among the dissenters. Nor is it a mere human convention, for he passionately connects Confirmation with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In recent times there have been a lot of “pretenders to the Holy Spirit” as Saywell calls them, and was already beginning to happen in his time, among all kinds of dissenters, non-conformists, Quakers and such. People who mistake their emotional feelings for the workings of the Third Person of the Trinity, and seek to maximize or manipulate their emotions (and those of others) under the misapprehension that they are engaging with the Holy Ghost. Saywell redoubtedly challenges their pretensions to the Holy Spirit right in the opening lines (arguing they have none), and goes on to provide a meticulous study of what the gifts of the Spirit actually are, and what the Scriptures teach about them.

Finally he concludes with warm directions for those who would receive the Gift of Confirmation, providing instructions for personal preparation, spiritual formation, explaining what they are about to receive, and a litany of prayers before and after this sacred Rite. Altogether this is a masterpiece, and should not be missed.