Since I was not born Catholic, I actually remember my baptism. But when all of Europe had become Christian, there weren’t really converts for a while. Do you know what this did to Baptism? Check out these 5 quick facts about how Baptism has changed with the ages:
- The role of the “sponsor” was invented in the early Church as a counter-espionage tactic. Because it was illegal to be Christian, there was always a danger that someone would pretend to want Baptism just to get inside the Church and rat everyone out. The sponsor’s job was to vouch for the catechumen’s sincere intention and upright life.
- Back in the day, babies were only baptized on Easter. That’s how they did it when baptism was for adult converts, so that’s how they did it when only babies were entering the Church. Already in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great argued that babies shouldn’t wait so long. At least they didn’t make them wait three years, like catechumens! But this led to another change….
- Baptism and confirmation were not clearly distinct sacraments in the early Church. They separated when priests needed to baptize babies on Easter but the bishop could only get to all the parishes once in a long while. Then his anointing and laying on of hands couldn’t happen at the same time as the water dunking. Speaking of which….
- Baptism by full immersion came into vogue when only babies were being baptized. In the earliest Church, people would stand in the water while someone poured water over their heads. Babies can’t stand, so it was easier to dunk’em. Eventually, somebody discovered that it was even easier just to pour water on them.
- By the late middle ages, adults needed special liturgical exceptions to be baptized. Everything had adapted to babies! The rare convert from Islam or Judaism had to be exempted from the rubric saying he should be held in his sponsor’s arms.