Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Baptism in Confessions - Part 2

The account of progress towards full membership of the Catholic Church continues. Augustine tells stories which help us to understand how baptism was viewed in general. At least two of these stories are about illness and 'emergency' baptism. In one of the stories Augustine himself is ill, but he expresses no desire for baptism.

In Book IV Augustine tells of a friend who fell ill, 'sick with fever'. The friend shared Augustine’s interests in 'superstitions and pernicious mythologies'. Augustine had encouraged him. When he was unconscious, close to death, the man was baptized without his knowledge or consent. This appears to have been acceptable in the North African Churches, if the unconscious sick person was a catechumen. Augustine assumed that his friend would find the baptism ridiculous and meaningless. However, during a brief period of recovery, the man did not share Augustine’s laughter at the situation. Augustine comments that 'he was snatched away from my lunacy, so that he might be preserved with you for my consolation.' According to Augustine’s later understanding the baptism secured the salvation of the man.

Augustine was not familiar with the sea. He can write about his trip to Rome, as God saving him from the waters of the sea, 'so as to bring me to the water of your grace.' This baptismal water was to wash him clean. (V.viii.15) It was the saving water of baptism. (VI.xiii.23) Monica’s hope and prayer was that in time Augustine would become a baptized Catholic believer. (VI.i.1) In general, there appears some distinction between being Christian and being a baptized believer. (c.f. VIII, paragraph 14)

In Book VIII, paragraph 3, Augustine alludes to the baptism of Victorinus in terms of new birth. On being baptized, the old man Victorinus was an infant born at Christ’s font. His baptism did not proceed without his receiving 'instructions in the first mysteries'. The baptismal ritual at Rome involved professing faith in a set liturgical form. Augustine notes that presbyters did offer shy people the chance to profess the creed in private.

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