Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries

By Everett Ferguson | Go to book overview

42. Spain

Information about baptism before the Middle Ages is sparser for Spain than some other regions, but there are indications of distinctive features, in some respects perhaps preserving earlier practices that were superseded elsewhere. In the period covered by our study single immersion was the normal practice; chrismation and blessing of oil was done by presbyters; and the rise of infant baptism took longer than at many places.1


Council of Elvira

Bishops and presbyters from Spain met at Elvira (vicinity of Granada) in the first decade of the fourth century. They took a strict approach to the problems posed by a superficial Christianization of converts. The eighty-one canons they adopted deal with disciplinary matters, and a few are relevant to baptismal practices.2

The canons throughout concern adolescents or adults. Catechumens (catechumeni) who had served as pagan priests (flamines) but without performing sacrifices could be admitted to baptism (baptismum) after a period of three years (can. 4).

When at sea or where a church was not near, a believer who had held fast to his baptism (lavacrum) and had not married a second time could baptize (baptizare) a catechumen in case of necessity caused by illness (infirmitatis). If the neophyte sur-

1. These are the conclusions of Christian David McConnell, “Baptism in Visigothic Spain: Origins, Development, and Interpretation” (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 2005), p. 1; for single immersion, pp. 209–219; chrismation, pp. 197–209; infant baptism, pp. 191–197; my summary at the end of this chapter. He covers the period from the fourth century to 711.

2. The canons pertaining to baptism are found in André Benoit and Charles Munier, Le baptême dans l’Église ancienne, Traditio Christiana 9 (Bern: Peter Lang, 1994), pp. 250–253, and in English in E. C. Whitaker and Maxwell E. Johnson, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy, rev. ed. (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2003), pp. 154–155.

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