Missionary baptisms

Daily Reading for June 5 • Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, Missionary to Germany and Martyr, 754

In comparing the eighth-century Ordo XI with the earlier Gelasian Sacramentary that reflects sixth-century liturgical practice, a conflicting tendency is apparent. On the one hand, the eighth-century liturgical revisers show their reluctance to discard venerable rituals and prayers, which terminates in ritual conflation and elaboration. On the other hand, the revised [baptismal] ceremonies, instead of taking place over an extended period of time, are abridged so as to be performed in rapid succession. . . . A question arises about its feasibility in rural settings of Francia and Germania. Ritual simplification is not only conceivable, but necessary, particularly in light of reports from Saint Boniface during his four decades of missionary work.

The English bishop Boniface, evangelizer of the Saxons, was particularly troubled by the lack of a proper ritual of baptism. It is safe to say that the elaborate scrutinies as mentioned in Ordo XI were not a part of missionary baptisms. Regarding the water rite itself, Boniface, writing to Pope Gregory II in 726, asks whether a baptism is valid if the priest omits the traditional questions about the creed. The pope assures him that it was, as long as the baptismal formula was trinitarian in form. In 739, Boniface writes to Pope Gregory III because one of his priests pronounced the baptismal formula in the vernacular. The pope assured Boniface that a vernacular baptismal formula did not invalidate the sacrament. Then in 746 Boniface writes to Pope Zachary to inquire about the case of a priest who baptized “in the name of the fatherland, the daughter and the Holy Spirit” (in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sanciti). The pope responded that as long as the priest intended to baptize as the church desires and did not mean any heresy or error, then the baptism is valid, notwithstanding the ignorance of Latin on the part of the priest.

From “The Conversion of the Nations” by Michael S. Driscoll, in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, edited by Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (Oxford, 2006).

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