Keene’s Review: Confirm, O Lord by Martin Davie

Defend, O Lord

Confirmation according to the Book of Common Prayer

Martin Davie

Latimer Trust, 2022 (ISBN: 9781906327743, 116pp, £6.50)

Confirmation is a vital spiritual coming-of-age rite in churches which practice paedobaptism, giving those for whom promises were made as infants the opportunity to publicly affirm the faith for themselves on entering inro ‘years of discretion’. The service is much abused where viewed as a ritualistic formulaic procedure, to be undertaken en masse with little thought for individual enthusiasm. Thankfully, this approach has become much less widespread and the mood of the age is, in this case beneficially, more attuned to individual initiative. 

The focus of this book is on the confirmation service found in the permanent authorised liturgy, the normative liturgical source of church doctrine. Alongside the confessional and ordinative sources, the prayer book continues to provide the reference point for all other authorised and commended liturgies, including initiation services. Thus although little used now for confirmations, there is continued need for exposition and understanding of the 1662 rite. 

A preface from Bishop Wallace Benn provides a warm vision for the positive pastoral uses of confirmation. Disdain among evangelicals for the service has typically gone hand-in-hand with alienation from the local episcopate; if out of step with the prelate, why hold a service at which only he/she can preside? Davie avoids exploring this and other associated practical dynamics, instead concentrating on the text of the liturgy.

The development of the service is traced briefly through the patristic and medieval periods. A sermon by Bishop Faustus of Riez preached around 480 A.D. is identified as a key authority for the distinct rite of confirmation, standing apart from communion. The medieval period saw various corruptions creep in and the rite was, inevitably, reformed by Cranmer. The first prayer book removed chrismation. Bishop Jewel of Salisbury’s delightful comment on this was that ‘oil is for the belly, and for necessary uses of life. It is no fit instrument…to work salvation.’ The second prayer book of King Edward went further, removing the signing with the cross and introducing instead the classic confirmation prayer from which the book draws its title. New prefaces and prayers were added at the Restoration but the 1662 is substantively unchanged from 1552. 

Davie goes on to consider the elements of the service as it stands, justifying and commending them as faithful means both for candidates to confirm their mature adult belief and for the bishop to pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen the declarants in that belief. A final section makes useful comments on some differences found in the much more widely used Common Worship service and suggests as an alternative the liturgy in An English Prayer Book. It also comments on the conception of confirmation as a baptism in the spirit, preparation for confirmation, and communion before confirmation. 

The book exhibits Davie’s usual style of long quotations from source material and systematic consideration of the texts. He has been under-served by proof readers, who have left quite a few typos in the text (‘saying power of oil’ in place of saving power, ‘his chapter’ rather than this chapter, etc). Readers will nonetheless benefit greatly from this distinctive reformed evangelical commentary on an under-appreciated corner of our ecclesial patrimony. It will be particularly useful reading for clergy preparing to lead their first confirmation class and for freshly consecrated bishops buffing up on their pontifical. 


Edward Keene, Little Shelford