Early Protestant Modal Practices

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
As part of one of my ongoing intellectual hobbies, over the last several years I have been looking into the history of the mode of baptism as practiced amongst various church traditions. At this point I probably enjoy doing the research itself as much as anything that comes of it. Still, it has produced some interesting results (at least for me…) that I thought I’d share. If there is any interest I’ll probably post a periodic series of synoptic installments, organized along the lines of various Protestant traditions, particularly in locations having the greatest historical influence.


Lutheran: Wittenberg
Martin Luther (1483–1546) is of course widely known as the father of the Protestant Reformation. Just two years after posting his revolutionary 95 Theses in Wittenberg, the legendary former monk wrote a Treatise on Baptism (first published in November, 1519), in the vernacular German, which opened with these forthright statements:
To begin, baptism is called in the Greek language baptismos, in Latin mersio, which means to plunge [tauchet] something entirely into the water, so that the water closes over it. And although in many places it is the custom no longer to thrust and plunge [stossen und tauchen] children into the font of baptism, but only to pour [getaufft] the baptismal water upon them out of the font, nevertheless the former is what should be done;​
And it would be right, according to the meaning of the word Tauffe, that the child, or whoever is baptized, should be sunk entirely into the water, and then drawn out again; for even in the German tongue the word Tauffe comes undoubtedly from the word tyeff, and means that what is baptized is sunk deep into the water.​
This usage is also demanded by the significance of baptism, for baptism signifies that the old man and the sinful birth of flesh and blood are to be wholly drowned by the grace of God, as we shall hear. We should, therefore, do justice to its meaning and make baptism a true and complete sign of the thing it signifies.​
[Henry Eyster Jacobs, Adolph Spaeth, eds., Works of Martin Luther with Introductions and Notes, (Philadelphia: Holman Company, 1915), 1:56f]​

A year later Luther released one of his signature works, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), which was written in Latin to accommodate its wider dissemination. As it revolved around his belief that rather than the seven sacraments claimed by Rome, there were only two (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)—or, as he wondered at this time, perhaps three (Penance)—the issue of baptismal mode again received considerable attention:

The second part of baptism is the sign, the sacrament, which is that immersion in water [mersio in aquam] from which it derives its name, for the Greek baptizo means ‘I immerse,’ and baptisma means ‘immersion.’ For, as has been said, along with the divine promises signs have also been given to picture that which the words signify, or as they now say, that which the sacrament ‘effectively signifies.’​
...Baptism, then, signifies two things—death and resurrection; that is, full and complete justification. The minister's immersing [immergit] the child in the water signifies death; his drawing it forth again signifies life. Thus Paul expounds it in Romans 6, ‘We are buried together with Christ by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.’​
...Hence it is indeed correct to say that baptism is a washing from sins, but that expression is too weak and mild to bring out the full significance of baptism, which is rather a symbol of death and resurrection. For this reason I would have the candidates for baptism completely immersed in the water [in aquam immergi], as the word says and as the sacrament signifies. Not that I deem this necessary, but it were well to give to so perfect and complete a thing a perfect and complete sign; thus it was also doubtless instituted by Christ.​
[Ibid., 2:26]​

In early 1523, Luther published the first Protestant baptismal liturgy, which appears to have been largely adapted from the Latin liturgy then in use by the nearby Roman Catholic diocese of Magdeburg*, the latter of which stated:

Then for the dipping [intingat], the priest shall first immerse [mergendo] the males and then the females, with their head turned toward the east, saying, “(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”​
[Liturgie-wissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen, (Münster: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuch, 1968), 47:114]​

In line with this inherited modal practice, Luther’s inaugural liturgy issued a simplified prescription for immersion.

The priest takes the child, and dips [tauche] him for the baptism...​
[Johann Konrad Irmischer, ed., Dr. Martin Luther’s Sämmtliche Werke, (Erlangen: Verlag von Carl Heyder, 1833), 22–23:163]​

Yet even with the substantial reasons Luther gave for preferring immersion, there is clear evidence that in actual practice he was amenable and even inclined toward the use of pouring. Just months later, in 1523, Luther issued this reply to a cleric who had asked how baptism should be performed:

The baptizer pours [geusst] the water, and says, ‘Ego baptizo te in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti.’ In German that is: Ich tauf dich im Namen des Vaters und des Sohns und des heiligen Geistes.​
[Ibid., 22-23, 168]​

In a letter addressed to a minister from Ichtershausen (dated July 9th, 1530), who had asked how a female Jewish convert should be baptized, Luther responded:

I think it would be appropriate if she were to stand in a large vat full of water, modestly covered in a bathing gown, and then have the water poured over her [perfunderetur]; or, she might sit in the water up to her neck (again, clothed in a gown), and then have her head immersed in three submersions [trina immersione immergeretur].​
[Wilhelm M. L. De Wette, Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, (Berlin: B. Reimer, 1827), 4:81]​

One wonders if in this particular prescription Luther may have taken into account that the convert was Jewish, and as such would likely have been familiar with Jewish proselyte baptism, which was always by immersion.

A basic principle underlying Luther’s ultimate leniency concerning the mode of baptism is perhaps revealed in an appendix that he had attached to his early baptismal liturgy (1523):

I have not yet wanted to change anything in particular in the little book of baptism. ...To spare weak consciences, I let it stay almost as it is, so that they do not complain that I want to bring in a new baptism and find fault with those who have been baptized up to now, as though they were not properly baptized.​
[Irmischer, Luther's sämmtliche Werke, 22–23:166]​

Luther’s close friend and colleague Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558) was active in helping organize early Lutheranism throughout northern Germany and Scandinavia. In carrying out his duties Bugenhagen oversaw the implementation of a number of regional liturgies. This included one for the church in Hamburg (1528), which had recently committed to Protestantism, wherein he attached these informative comments:

In some places the children are dipped [getauft] in baptism, which in the Decretal [Decretum Gratiani – the version of canon law then in effect for the Roman Catholic Church] is called immersio, from which it is clear that it used to be normal, when not an emergency, to baptize in that manner. In some cases the submersion [untertauchen] is done once in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; in other cases, three times in the same name.​
All this is good and suitable, as stated in the Decretal (Part 3, On Consecration; distinction 4). But in virtually all of Germany, as here in our own region, in Lübeck and elsewhere, the children are baptized naked by three times pouring from above [übergiesst] handfuls of water over the head and back...​
[Carl Mönckeberg, ed., Bugenhagens Hamburgische Kirchenordnung, (Hamburg: Gustav Eduard Nolte, 1861), 46f.]​

There is evidence that Luther did draw a line when it came to sprinkling. In Wittenberg’s revised church constitution of 1542—in which Luther would surely have had a hand—one reads:

And the abuse [misbrauch] wherein some children are not dipped in the water [ins wasser tauchen], nor have it poured over them [noch sie damit begiessen], but merely have droplets [tröpflein] put on the body or the forehead, should be done away with.​
[Constitution und artikel des geistlichen consistorii zu Wittembergk [etc.]...Anno Domini M.D.XLII; (Berlin: Georgius Buchholzer Prepositus, 1563), in section entitled, Von der tauffe.]​

This same issue had apparently been an impetus for Bugenhagen’s initiation of the revised liturgy in Hamburg (as noted above), where he had observed a baptism only on the head of a clothed infant (thought to have been by sprinkling), instead of having the water poured three times over its head and naked torso. Bugenhagen likewise deemed this procedure an “abuse” (misbrauch), and upon consultation Luther is said to have agreed. However, Luther also cautioned that while the practice should be changed, the matter needed to be handled with discretion so as not to create undue doubt concerning those who had received baptism in the former manner.**

* For further reading on the connection between these liturgies, see: Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007), 322; J. D. C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: The Reformation Period: Some Early Reformed Rites of Baptism and Confirmation and Other Contemporary Documents, (Chicago: Hillenbrand, 2007), 8ff; Bryan D. Spinks, Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From Luther to Contemporary Practices, (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 10.

** See: Johannem Bugenhagen Pomern, D., Von den ungeborn kindern, und von den kindern, die wir nicht teuffen können, (Wittenberg: Joseph Klug, 1551), in section entitled, Von dem, das die tauff; also: Moritz Meurer, Johann Bugenhagen's Leben, (Leipzig: Naumann, 1862), 48ff; Susan C. Karant-Nunn, The Reformation of Ritual: An Interpretation of Early Modern Germany, (London: Routledge, 1997), 57.
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior

Continental Reformed: Zürich

By 1518, the reformational energy unleashed by Luther just one year earlier in Germany had begun spreading into Switzerland, which then birthed the Reformed branch of Protestantism. The first Swiss leader to stand out as a reformer was Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), a spirited pastor in Zürich.

A new baptismal liturgy was created for the city’s fledgling Protestant congregation in Zwingli’s home church, the famed Grossmünster, just a few weeks after Luther’s (1523). It appears to have been jointly derived from the new Wittenberg service and, as was common practice in many areas as they first turned to Protestantism, the local Latin liturgy already in place. Written in the local Swiss-German dialect, it was apparently scripted by one of Zwingli’s closest lieutenants, Leo Jud (1482–1542). With regard to the mode of baptism, and in notable contrast to the existing local liturgy,* immersion was prescribed:

Then the priest names the child, and dips it in the water [duncke es in das wasser], saying, ‘(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’​
[Emil Egli, ed., Huldreich Zwinglis sämtliche Werke, (Munich: Kraus, 1981), 4:713]​

Similar to Luther, Zwingli also penned a lengthy treatise On Baptism (1525). His main purpose was to counter various issues posed by the earliest Anabaptists, who also had their origins in Zürich. Throughout this discourse Zwingli speaks of baptism interchangeably as a pouring (geistes; angiessend) and dipping (tunckend). However, Zwingli does assert that John’s baptism was by immersion (wasserdunckens) and that Jesus’ disciples baptized in the same manner as John. Accordingly, he went to considerable lengths to prove the pedagogical purpose of Romans 6:4 in relation to the apostolic practice of immersion, insisting that an intended portrayal was still visible in the way baptism was performed.

It is as though he [Paul] was saying, ‘Do you not know that when a man is immersed [gedunkt] in the water (as a visible entrance into unification with Christ), he is immersed [gedunkt] into the death of Christ?’—that is, he is plunged [gestossen] into the death of Christ. This is clearly seen in the very ceremony of baptism itself.​
[Egli, Huldreich Zwinglis sämtliche Werke, 4:224]​

Following Zwingli’s untimely battlefield death in 1531 (whilst performing the duties of a chaplain), leadership of the Protestant churches in the canton was assumed by Heinrich Bullinger (1504–75), who had just recently returned to Zürich as a refugee, and now possessed a stellar Reformed resumé. As the local antistes (who had a role similar to a traditional bishop), he presided over the regional church synod. The following year a revised liturgy was approved by the church council, in which the specified mode of baptism was changed to pouring.

Then the minister takes the child and pours the water over them from above [übergüsst], and says...​
[Leo Weisz, ed., Zwingliana; Heinrich Bullinger und seine Zeit, (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1954), 10:19]​

In his widely disseminated and influential Decades, which was based on a systematic series of fifty sermons delivered during the late 1540’s, Bullinger further addressed the mode of baptism, with the practice of sprinkling having gained prominence in the discussion:

There is also contention about whether the one who is baptized ought to be dipped or sprinkled [mergendus aut aspergendus] with water once, or three times. Truly, the apostles have not commanded anything particular in this cause; so that it is free either to sprinkle or to dip [aspergere vel immergere]. ...And it is the choice of the one who administers baptism, to sprinkle either once or three times [semel vel ter aspergat], according to the custom of the church of which he is minister.​
[Thomas Harding, ed., The Decades of Henry Bullinger, (Cambridge: The University Press, 1852), 5:364)​

The Decades quickly became the most influential Reformed systematic theology in England, undergoing no fewer than 137 editions in English (retitled the House Book) between 1550 and 1560. (By comparison, during that same time two editions of Calvin’s Institutes were released in England.)

In 1559, one of Bullinger’s sons-in-law, Ludwig Lavater (1527–86), published the latest version of the liturgy and other church decretals then in force in Zürich. In terms of baptism, a triple sprinkling was now ordered. Despite Bullinger’s characteristic liberality on the matter as expressed in the Decades, the liturgy now also expressly stated that immersion was not to be used.

Next, the minister takes the child and sprinkles water on them three times [ter aqua aspergit] (not immersing) [non immergit], saying, “Name, I baptize you in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” No oil, salt, or spittle is to be used, nor an exorcism performed.​
[Ludwig Lavater, De Ritibus Et Institutis Ecclesiae Tigurinae opesculum, (Zurich: [s.n.], 1559), folio 11]​

This was evidently the first Christian liturgy or baptismal service of any stripe to unequivocally disallow immersion.** There is much evidence that the 16th century was a particularly active time of transition in the modal practices of many churches, both Catholic and the newly Protestant.


The following subject-matter is simply too fascinating not to make note of here...

It is alleged in more than a few church histories that the infamous sentence of drowning passed by the Zürich city council on the Anabaptist leader Felix Manz (in 1526), was in accordance with a pithy Latin pun that was coined and urged upon them by Zwingli: “qui iterum mergit, mergitur” (he who immerses again, shall be immersed). If true, such language would seem to confirm that baptism by immersion was then and there the normal practice. However, it is impossible to sufficiently validate this rather extraordinary claim.

The factuality of the gruesome sentence condemning Manz to drowning in the Limmat is certain enough, having been attested by none other than Bullinger:

He [Manz] shall be delivered to the executioner, who shall tie his hands, put him into a boat, take him to the lower fishing hut, there stretch his bound hands down over his knees, place a stick between his knees and arms, and thus drag him into the water [in das wasser solt zogen warden]. And so let him perish in the water, and thereby atone to the law and justice.​
[Heinrich Bullinger, Heinrich Thomann, ed., Kopienband zur zürcherischen Kirchen - und Reformationsgeschichte, (Zürich: [s.n.], 1605), folio 285]​

The occasion of Manz’s drowning is actually depicted in the above compilation of Bullinger’s historical recordings.

[ For some reason the picture will not load, but it can be viewed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ertraenkung_felix_manz.jpg ]

It does bear mentioning that the charges against Manz were many and varied, stemming from his role as a leader of the upstart Anabaptists, and he had obstinately defied repeated orders from the city council to cease and desist or to leave the area. So while Zwingli’s alleged punitive four-word slogan may imply to the casual reader that re-baptizing converts to Anabaptism was Manz’s main or only transgression, that was not quite the case. At the same time, some of the charges as registered against Manz were undoubtedly aggrandized in a way to paint him in the worst possible light. Alas, real history is often not as tidy and one-sided as one might wish...

Returning to the credibility of Zwingli’s supposed macabre utterance: The accusatory assertion of it was first publicized by the Dutch Remonstrant church historian Gerard Brandt (1626-85), in his massive History of the Reformation...in and about the low Countries. First published in Low-Dutch in 1668-74, an English translation of this very interesting work was also produced (London: T. Wood, 1720 - with the account in question appearing in Vol. 1., p.57).

Brandt in turn gives his source as the cryptic J. H. V. P. N., simply described as “an old writer of the Swiss Baptists,” but whom Brandt indeed treats as a uniquely qualified and credible source on the matter. The reference is said to be in a manuscript written by the author-with-five-initials, entitled, The Beginning of the Schism among the Baptists. It was apparently dated 1615, with the creator indicating he was then 73 years old (so born in 1542, some 16 years after Manz’s execution). Ultimately, given the general vagueness of the account, the singularity of the report, and the anachronistic dating of the primary source, the story itself must be deemed highly questionable.


* In this case, Zürich was in the Diocese of Konstanz, and so historically was subject to their rituals. The Constantine rubric in effect on the eve of the Reformation (1510) prescribed a three-fold pouring.

Then the priest reaches his hand into the font, and pours water three times [trina fundat] over the child’s head, in such a manner that the water touches both the head and shoulders. [The priest is to say,] ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father,’ while pouring from his hand [fundat manu] the first time, ‘and the Son,’ pouring [fundat] a second time, ‘and the Holy Spirit,’ pouring [fundat] a third time. The words are spoken once while the three applications are made.​
[Obsequiale sive benedictionale secundum ecclesiam Constantiensem, (Augsburg: Ernhard Radolt, 1510), folio 8]​

**In 1551, the Roman Catholic bishop of Mainz (Germany), Sebastian of Heusenstamm (1508–55), did mandate the general disuse of immersion throughout his expansive diocese, yet exceptions were granted for places where immersion was still customary. Of course an implication in this is that while the latest liturgy prescribed pouring water three times over the head (superfundat ter), such had not yet become the actual practice in some places or circumstances.

In cases where the priest is old and feeble, or has unsteady hands, or when the temperature is very cold, or when the infant is gravely ill, or there is an adult of great age, these cannot conveniently be immersed [commode immersi non possunt], and it is most expedient to pour the water, and to not use immersion [per infusionem aque fiat, et non per immersionem]. ...And for the sake of not having one method for healthy infants and another for those sick, or using different modes for children and adults, it is best to have one consistent practice, namely, for the minister of the sacrament to baptize using a cautious mode, by pouring the water over the recipient three times [superinfundendo ter], (unless there is a custom to the contrary) [nili consuetudo contrarium habeat].​
[Sebastianus, Agenda Ecclesiae Moguntinensis, (Moguntiae: Excudebat Fransiscus, 1551), folio 23f.]​
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Continental Reformed: Strasbourg

Located on the border between Germany and France, Strasbourg had a sizable Lutheran presence in the early 1500’s. In time, however, the city’s leadership came to favor more Reformed doctrinal distinctives. Nonetheless, the strong reconciliatory spirit of one of Strasbourg’s principle early reformers, Martin Bucer (1491–1551), did much to promote a local Protestant ecumenism.

Once again, in keeping with most other early Protestant communities, Strasbourg’s first reformed liturgy was a modified version of a regional Latin rite. In this case the existing baptismal service was part of the 1513 version of the Agenda Ecclesiae Argentinensis (the latter term being the old Latin designation for the city). In terms of the mode of baptism, the Agenda instructed:

Then the priest either washes with water or immerses [vel abluat cum aqua vel immergat] the children, together with the invocation of the Holy Trinity.​
[Friedrich Hubert, Die Strassburger Liturgischen Ordnungen im Zeitalter der Reformation, (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1900), 35]​

The term abluat/wash is somewhat generic, and when compared to other writings of the period that provide additional insight into this contextual use, either pouring or sprinkling, or both, may have been intended.

In 1524, the Protestant church in Strasbourg amended their prescribed prayers and services, with the task being assigned to a relatively obscure reformer named Diebold Schwartz (c.1485–1561). Now written in the vernacular German, in the area of the sacraments Schwartz’s work does show some influence from Luther’s recently released service book (1523). However, when it came to the mode of baptism, and in contrast to the dipping denoted in Luther’s early liturgy, the dual allowance found in the Agenda was discontinued in favor of pouring.

Then the priest shall take the child, and pour water in the form of a cross over the child [gyess dreymal creutzweyss wasser uber das kind], while saying, ‘(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’​
[Hughes Oliphant Old, The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), 252]​

This was the first Protestant liturgy to solely designate pouring.* Just one year later (1525), the baptismal service was further revised to say:
Then the minister takes the child and declares, ‘Name the child!’ [And the parent or godparent] answers with the name. Then the minister speaks while pouring out the water [uffgiessung des wassers], ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.’​
[F. Hubert, Die Strassburger Liturgischen, 43]​

In a Psalter published for use in the Strasbourg church, in 1537, one finds this description:

[The minister] inquires as to what the child is to be called, and speaks the name. He then introduces the water by pouring it [begeusset es dreystet mit wasser], and says…”​
[F. Hubert, Die Strassburger Liturgischen, 51]​

In historical terms, Martin Bucer appears to have been the first Protestant theologian to assert that modes other than immersion were sometimes used in the apostolic church, by citing the baptism of the 3000 converts in Acts 2. Bucer also seems to have been the lone first-generation reformer to have made such an argument.

This particular claim was in agreement with a view first expressed in the early 13th century by some Parisian scholastics, and later taken up by the likes of Aquinas and Bonaventure. The following remarks were written in 1546, during an ongoing disputation Bucer had with the Roman Catholic controversialist Bartholomew Latomus (c.1485–1570). In essence, Latomus had complained that Protestants violated their stated principle of Sola Scriptura by not continuing to use immersion, to which Bucer replied:

[In baptizein] the Lord did employ the word immersion [verbomergendi] in the command for baptism, and the ancients did in fact perform baptism by immersion [mergendo]—albeit in the early church this manner of baptizing was carried out provided one’s body was healthy enough to endure it—so as to teach baptism into the death and burial of Christ.​
It is also true that when the means for immersion in water were lacking [si defuisset mergendi in aqua commoditas], or one‘s health prevented enduring an immersion [mersionis], they affirmed that pouring [perfusionis] was perfectly agreeable to baptism, as a representation of washing [ablutionis] would still be present.​
So the word baptizein evidently takes on the meaning [usurpari ad significandum] of any washing, sprinkling, and dipping [ablutionem, aspersionem, et tinctionem]. Accordingly, it is believed the three thousand people that the apostles persuaded to be baptized through the mouth of Peter, upon which they also received the Holy Spirit, were baptized by the sprinkling of water, and not by immersion [aspersione aquae esse baptizatos, non mersione].​
[Nicholas Thompson, ed., Martin Bucer: Opera Latina, (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014), 6:101]​

It is also notable that following his initial expulsion from Geneva, John Calvin spent several years (1538–41) working and worshipping in the burgeoning Protestant city of Strasbourg. During this time he served as the pastor for a congregation of French-speaking Protestant refugees. It was in this capacity that Calvin created his first liturgy (1540 or 1541). With regard to baptism, it simply stated:

Afterwards the minister will baptize, putting [mettant] pure and clean water on their head [de l’eaue pure et nette sur la teste], saying, ‘In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’​
[La manyère de faire prières aux églises françoyses, tant devant la prédication comme après, (Imprimé à Rome par le commandement du Pape par Théodore Brüss, son imprimeur ordinaire), 1542), 140] **

Calvin in his primary Genevan context will be the subject of our next survey.


*The earliest known liturgy to prescribe pouring without at least mentioning immersion as an abiding option is from around the turn of the 15th century. This is according to the extensive research carried out by the French Catholic liturgist and church historian Edmond Martène (1654–1739), who, originally writing in 1690, stated:

It is a fact that all of the liturgical orders and official church documents I have seen—and I have seen many—whether ancient or more recent, prescribe immersion [praescribitur immersio]. I must except a single one, however, used in the Church of St. Madeleine of Beaulieu [central France], the composition of which, by all appearance, would not exceed three hundred years [so, c.1390]:​
“Then the priest shall take water from the laver, and having asked the infant’s name, pour it over their head three times [mittat—discharge—ter super caput], while saying, ‘(Name), if you are not already baptized [sic], then I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’”​
[Edmundi Martène, De Antiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus Libri, (Rotomagi: Guillelmi Behourt, 1700), 1:128]; also see: Giuseppe Catalani, Rituale Romanum Benedictti Papae XIV, (Patavii: Joannem Manfre, 1760), 1:107​

I have not found evidence contrary to Martène’s determination. Also, in saying the writings he examined all “prescribe immersion,” Martène obviously meant that particular mode was given primacy, or at least equal fare with pouring or sprinkling.

Beginning in the early 14th century or so, one does find examples in Roman Catholic liturgies (primarily French and German) where allowance for non-immersion is sometimes specified for certain circumstances. In addition, while not sanctioned as part of an official church liturgy, there is evidence of immersion actually being disused as the normal practice in a few places as early as the 9th century—albeit this is indicated in official reprimands of the neglect. The Didache specifically indicates the use of pouring in exceptional circumstances as early as the 2nd century.

**This extract appears in a Psalter that Calvin had created, in a section entitled, “The manner of making prayers in the French churches, both before the sermon and after.” Believed to first have been printed in Strasbourg in 1540 or 1541 (of which no copies are known to exist), Calvin then carried this second edition of his Psalter with him upon his return to Geneva, for use in the church there. To help avoid problems getting it across the interveneing Roman Catholic frontier, the book bore the false imprint: “Printed in Rome by command of the Pope by Theodore Brüss, his regular printer, 1542.” [See: H. Old, The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite, 172 n.81] And now you know the rest of the story...
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
In light of the apparent lack of interest, I’ll not press this series further. I will, however, share what I think is one particularly interesting historical possibility concerning John Calvin’s liberal attitude on the topic that may not be common knowledge.


Calvin had a lot to say about baptism, and he advanced the theme of modal tolerance a number of times, both in his published writings and his unpublished sermons. This would seem to indicate he may have personally had, or been aware of specific problems in that area.

Whether or not such factored into Calvin’s thinking on the matter, it is a notable fact that one issue brought up in the saga of his initial expulsion from Geneva, in May of 1538, was the proposed use of baptisteries in the city (sometimes called stones). To try and force conformity in liturgical matter, the senate of Bern, which exerted considerable political and religious influence over its smaller neighbor, had insisted that Geneva install them. In that particular matter Calvin had actually assented, but his refusal to conform to the Bernese demand that he also serve unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. 1

However, a dispute over baptisteries began to develop and spread. In October of 1538, Calvin’s reforming colleague William Farel reported back to Calvin that the issue had become very contentious in nearby Lausanne, where “...such was the scorn of the stone, that they were immersed in aversion, and now it is strictly forbidden to dip anyone there [tanta saeri lapidis fuit vilipensio, ut aversi intingerent, nunc cautum est severissime ne quis aversus intingat]...” 2

The controversy seems to have simmered for many years, as it bubbled up to the surface yet again in 1555. In that case Calvin was obliged to vigorously defend himself against various charges, including “...having made defamatory remarks against the baptisteries... [avoir seme propos diffamatoires contre les baptistères]...” 3

Concerning baptism, we keep the form as it was before I had come to Geneva. When we were driven out, the baptisteries were erected. On my return, I believe that I could easily have had them removed. To the contrary, I suffered many reproaches, because I wanted them to remain in their existing state. And of that I ask no better testimony than our brother, Master Pierre Viret.​
But you must be informed that in the Great Temple [aka St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva’s central and Calvin’s adopted home church] they baptized by the pulpit, even during the time of my absence. And in fact the baptistery was in such a place, that it was to put the sacrament in contempt and derision (because we baptize at the end of the sermon), and it was in the place through which the people passed, so that there was only shouting and commotion. As long as the form we keep is as it was from the beginning, then there is no reason to be offended by it, and even less to take it out on me. 4​

None of this is to suppose that Calvin ever used immersion for baptism. Rather, his remark that prior to his return baptism had been, and then continued to be performed “by the pulpit” instead of the baptistery (seemingly installed between 1538 and 1541, and located somewhere in the entrance or in the back of the nave), suggests the use of pouring involving a brought pitcher of water, as described by eye-witnesses like the English pilgrim William Huycke. 5



1 See, G. Baum, Ionnes Calvini Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia, 1886; Letters; 10:182, 184, 185f., 190; also, Theodore Beza, The Life of John Calvin, 1909,
21ff.; Bruce Gordon, Calvin, 2009, 82ff.

2 Baum, 10:264.

3 Baum, 15:527

4 Baum, 15:538f.

5 Wylliam Huicke, The Form of Common Prayers used in the Churches of Geneva: The Administration of the Sacraments [etc.], (Geneva: [s.n.], 1550), folio 179

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
[There being more interest than I realized, we resume...]

Continental Reformed: Geneva – Part 1

The French reformer John Calvin (1509–64) is probably the best-known, and arguably the single-most influential leader within the greater, historical Reformed tradition. Calvin’s first call to ministry came in 1536, when the pioneering French-Swiss reformer William Feral (1489–1565) asked him to help structure and lead the newly Protestant church in Geneva. After Feral threatened him with God’s vengeful wrath if he refused, a “terrified” Calvin reluctantly accepted. Nevertheless, in 1537 the two reformers were unceremoniously expelled from the city for their determined but often unwelcome efforts. After residing for a short time in Bern, in 1538 Calvin took up residence in Strasbourg. As noted in a previous installment, it was there that Calvin wrote his first baptismal liturgy, in French (1541 or 1542).

However, Calvin’s earliest exposition on baptism is contained in his theological magnum opus, the acclaimed Institutes of the Christian Religion. Initially written in Latin and published in 1536, a second Latin edition (1539) was first translated into French in 1541. [1] Most relevant to the intended symbolism and mode of baptism, Calvin wrote:

Now that the end to which the Lord had regard in the institution of baptism has been explained, it is easy to judge in what way we ought to use and receive it. For inasmuch as it is appointed to elevate, nourish, and confirm our faith, we are to receive it as from the hand of its author, being firmly persuaded that it is himself who speaks to us by means of the sign; that it is himself who washes and purifies us [Lat. purgat, abluit <> Fr. purge…nettoyé], and effaces the remembrance of our faults; that it is himself who makes us the partakers of his death, destroys the kingdom of Satan, subdues the power of concupiscence [lust], nay, makes us one with himself, that being clothed with him we may be accounted the children of God.​
These things I say, we ought to feel as truly and certainly in our mind as we see our body washed, immersed, and surrounded [ablui, submergi, circumdari <> lavé, submergé et circuy] with water. For this analogy or similitude furnishes the surest rule in the sacraments, viz., that in corporeal things we are to see spiritual, just as if they were actually exhibited to our eye, since the Lord has been pleased to represent them by such figures.​
[…] Whether the person baptized should be wholly immersed [caeterum mergaturne totius qui tingatur [2] <> si on baptise en plongeant du tout], and whether once or thrice, whether he is only to be sprinkled [au infusa tantum aqua aspergatur <> respandant seulement de l'eau sur luy], is not of the least consequence: churches should be at liberty to adopt either, according to the diversity of climates [3], although it is evident that the term ‘baptize’ means to immerse [ipsum baptizandi verbum mergere significat <> combien que le mot mesm de Baptizer, signifie du tout plonger], and it is clear that the rite of immersion [et mergendi ritum <> la coustume d'ainsi totalement plonger] was observed in the primitive church. [4]​
The above translation is that of Henry Beveridge (1799–1863), a Scottish lawyer, translator and historian, first published in 1845. It is by far the most accessible and widely-cited English version. Notably, however, Beveridge’s rendering, “whether he is only to be sprinkled,” appears to follow the French translation at this particular point, [5] rather than the original Latin.

The meaning of the complete Latin phrase, au infusa tantum aqua aspergatur, is well captured in the translation of Thomas Norton (1532–84; Episcopal Puritan), who published the first English edition of the Institutes (1561): [6] “...whether he be but sprinkled with water only poured upon him...” [7] Norton’s translation also has value in terms of showing how a churchman contemporary to Calvin understood the Latin phraseology in question.

It may also be useful to help understand the concept seemingly in view by comparing the following phraseology, used in an analogy of receiving the sacraments, which Calvin employed a little earlier in the Institutes: [8]

…Just as wine and oil, or any other liquid, however large the quantity which you pour out [infundas <> la jettera—Norton: pour on largely] ...when the vessel is not open, though it may be sprinkled all over [undique perfusum <> estant mouillé dehors—Norton: be wet round about], it will nevertheless remain entirely empty. [9]​
We next encounter Calvin’s thinking on baptismal mode in the various sacramental liturgies he created. For historical background, the baptismal service in use just prior to Calvin assuming his permanent role in Geneva, was a liturgy the aforementioned William Farel had written, known as the French Evangelical Service Book (1533):

The attendant says: ‘Name them.’ ‘(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.’ Then, he puts [mis] pure and clean water on their head with his hand [sur la teste avec la main deaue pure et nette], not using any salt or spittle... [10]​
Upon returning to Geneva, in 1542, Calvin’s Strasbourg Psalter, which included his sacramental liturgy, [11] was likely put into immediate use. As seen, the wording in the service for baptism actually shows considerable influence from Farel’s. However, within a few months Calvin created a slightly revised Genevan Psalter, to which he again attached services for the Sacraments. The instructions for performing baptism now simply read:

After the promise is made, the name of the infant is given; whereupon the minister baptizes them [le Ministre la baptise], ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ [12]​
In 1545, the Genevan Psalter was itself revised. One change was that the relatively generic instruction contained in Calvin’s Strasbourg Psalter, that “[the minster] shall put pure and clean water on his head [mettant de l'eaue pure et nette sur la teste],” was reinstated in place of the less descriptive “shall baptize/la baptise.” [13]

Notably, however, in a Latin version of the 1545 baptismal service (published the same year), which Calvin personally dedicated to, “the faithful ministers of Christ throughout East Friesland” (in northern Germany), the act of pouring (effundit) was specified:

After the promise is made, the name of the child is given; then the minister of baptism pours the water upon him [tum in eum aquam Baptismi Minister effundit], saying, ‘(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ [14]​
During the reign of “Bloody Mary” (1553–58), a most zealous Roman Catholic queen, Geneva became home to a considerable number of English Protestants seeking sanctuary from royal persecution. Various Scottish Protestants had also taken up voluntary exile in Geneva during this time, including the fiery John Knox (1514–72). In 1556, with Calvin’s express blessing, a group of leaders from among this diversity of refugees created an English adaptation of Geneva’s liturgy for their own use while they lived there.

When they have prayed in this sort, the Minister requireth the child’s name, which known, he saith. ‘N. I Baptise thee in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ And as he speaketh these words, he taketh water in his hand and layeth it upon the child’s forehead: which done, he giveth thanks, as followeth... [15]​
In 1564, this liturgy was incorporated verbatim into the Scottish Book of Common Order. [16] Interestingly, a rather obscure Latin edition of this English/Scottish-church-in-Geneva service was also created (1556). It again indicated a pouring (perfundit), and included some additional wording that seems further descriptive of that act:

Following the prayer, the minister is informed of the child’s name, which is repeated; he then takes the water and gently pours it over the forehead from above [simulque frontem, eius aut vertice molliter perfundit], while saying these words... [17]​
A rare, and in fact the earliest account in English of the Genevan baptismal service was written in 1550, by an English pilgrim named William Huycke. Notably, Huycke provided a slightly expanded description, with the added details apparently having been based on his personal observations, as an accompanying introduction would indicate:

There is also contayned in thys boke, ye common prayers, used in the congregacion of Geneva, and the maner of the mynistracion of the Sacramentes there. All these were by master Wylliam Huicke...translated out of the frenche whyle he was at Geneva, whereat he heared and sawe, the same putte in use. [18a]​

This more descriptive account runs thus:

After this promise made by the father, or godfather, the preacher requireth the infant’s name, and that done he Baptizeth the child, saying. ‘N. I baptize thee, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ And as he speaketh these words, one or other poureth water out of an ewer [a pitcher] into the preacher’s hand, which he layeth on the forehead of the child. [18b]​
The two relevant English works present a final matter for consideration: what is meant by the now archaic term, “lay on water.” As facts would have it, there is some grammatical indication as to the meaning of this expression in an early English rendition (1583) of one of Calvin’s sermons, which was translated from the original French:

And at this day in Baptism, when the water is poured upon the head of a little child [met (a form of mettre) l’eau sur la teste de l’enfant]...​
...Therefore let us mark well when the Minister layeth the water on the child’s head [mise (a form of mettre) sur la teste d’vn petit enfant], therein he representeth the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. [19]​
In this case it can be observed that in two proximate renderings of the same French word for “put/place” (mettre) [20], a contemporaneous English translator synonymously used the terms “poured upon” and “layeth on.” [21]

In addition, the following remarks made by Edward Leigh (1602–1671; English Presbyterian), a prominent Puritan and lay-assessor at the Westminster Assembly, appear to draw a distinction between the “laying on of water” and the acts of immersion and sprinkling:

Zanchius [Jerome; 1516-90; Italian Reformed] and Mr. Perkins [William; 1558-1602; English episcopal Puritan] prefer (in persons of age and in hot countries wherein it may be safe) the ceremony of immersion under the water, before that of sprinkling, or laying on the water, as holding more analogy to that of Paul, Romans 6.4. [22]​

In the next installment, some additional things Calvin had to say concerning the intended symbolism, apostolic practice, and acceptable mode of baptism, will be examined.


[1] Altogether five progressively expanded Latin editions of the Institutes were released during Calvin’s lifetime—1536; 1539; 1543 (republished 1545); 1550 (1554); 1559. The given statements pertaining to baptismal mode were part of Calvin’s original version of 1536.
While the Institute’s sections were extensively reorganized and enlarged, these paragraphs remained grammatically unaltered in subsequent editions.
See: G. Baum, E. Cunitz, E. Reuss, eds., Ionnes Calvini Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia, (Brunswick & Berlin: Carl August Schwetschke, 1866), 1:114f.; Ford Lewis Battles, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1536 Edition, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), 99, 122

[2] Calvin’s use of the Latin term tingatur (imbued; dipped) to designate the one “baptized” (baptise, in his French renditions), is rather unusual in theological parlance.

[3] The translation “climates” is notional, with simply “region” being most literal (Lat. regionum; Fr. regions). Norton and Battles both read, “diversity of countries.”

[4] Institutes, 4.15.14, 4.15.19; Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion: by Jon Calvin; a New Translation, (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 2:520, 523f.
Latin and French are from, G. Baum, E Ionnes Calvini Opera, vols. 1, 2 & 4, in loc cit.

[5] “Whether he is only to be sprinkled” corresponds with the French, respandant seulement de l'eau sur luy. It is also the case that respandant may be variously translated, spread, spilled, sprinkled, or diffused, yet in light of the original Latinling sprinkled does seem a reasonable choice.

[6] The translation of Ford Lewis Battles (1915–79; American Reformed), who undertook one of the latest translations of the Institutes, is very similar to Norton’s: “...whether he should only be sprinkled with poured water...” (Calvin; Institutes of the Christian Religion, [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960], 2:1320)
These translations account for Calvin’s use of both the Latin verb aspergatur (sprinkled, or, spattered), and the participle infusa (in this case a verb used as an adjective), which as a derivative of infundo ordinarily means poured.

[7] Thomas Norton, The Institution of Christian Religion, Written in Latin by Master John Calvin, and Translated into English According to the Author’s Last Edition, (London: R. Wolfe, 1561), Pt. 4, folio 106.

[8] Elsewhere in the course of the Institutes' treatment of baptism, Calvin intermittently uses Latin and French terms that are most relative to immersion (4.15.20, aqua tingi <> plongez en l’eau; 4.15.22, aqua mergi <> n’ont recue le Baptesme; 4.19.11, frontem aqua tingi <> le front est mouille d’eau), and in one instance, sprinkling (4.16.2, externae aspersionis <> ordonnee ceste aspersion d’eau).

[9] Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:504 [4.14.17]

[10] Jean-Guillaume Braun, La manière et fasson quon tient es lieux que Dieu de sa grâce a visités: première liturgie des Églises réformées de France de l'an 1533, (Strasbourg: Treuttel et Wurtz, 1859), 25.

[11] For the wording of this liturgy, see the end of the preceding segment on Strasbourg.

[12] G. Baum, Ionnes Calvini Opera, 6:190f.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hermann A. Niemeyer, ed., Collectio Confessionum in Ecclesiis Reformatis Publicatarum, (Leipzig: Julii Klinkhardti, 1840), 183.

[15] The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, Etc., Used in the English Congregation at Geneva: and Approved, by the Famous and Godly Learned Man, John Calvin, (Geneva: John Crespin, 1556), 69.

[16] The Liturgy of John Knox: Received by the Church of Scotland in 1564, (Glasgow: The University Press, 1886), 167.

[17] Ratio et Forma Publice Orandideum, atque Administrandi di Sacramenta, et caet, in Anglorum Ecclesiam, quae Genevae Colligitur, Recepta: cum Iudicio & Comprobatione D. Iohannis Calvini, (Geneva: Ioannem Crispinum, 1556), 44.

[18] Wylliam Huicke, The Form of Common Prayers used in the Churches of Geneva: The Administration of the Sacraments, of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: The Visitation of the Sick: And the Catechism of Geneva: Made by Master John Calvin, (Geneva: [s.n.], 1550), folio 179.

[19] Arther Golding, trans., The Sermons of M. Iohn Calvin upon the fifth booke of Moses called Deuteronomy, (London: Henry Middleton for Thomas Woodcocke, 1583), 1055

{20] Calvin’s two early French liturgies also use a conjugated form of mettre (mettant), as does Farel’s (mis).

[21] It is notable that this correspondence in meaning is complimentary to the relationship observed between Calvin’s relatively generic French liturgy and its English adaptation, and their Latin versions, both of which denote pouring.

[22] Edward Leigh, A System, or Body of Divinity, (London: A. M., 1654), 665.
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Continental Reformed: Geneva – Part 2

As one would expect, John Calvin remarked on the intended symbolism of baptism in his Genevan Catechism, which was yet another document published in 1545:

[Q. 324] That the meaning of both [the two sacraments] may be more clear to us, let us treat of them separately. First, what is the meaning of Baptism?
It consists of two parts. For, first, Forgiveness of sins; and, secondly, Spiritual regeneration is figured by it [spiritualis regeneration figuratur <> et puis nostre regeneration, ou renouvellement spirituel]. (Eph. 5:26; Rom. 6:4).​
[Q. 325] What resemblance has water with these things, so as to represent them?
Forgiveness of sins is a kind of washing, by which our souls are cleansed from their defilements, just as bodily stains are washed away by water [aqua abluunter corporis sordes <> corps sont nettoyées par l'eaue].​
[Q. 326] What do you say of Regeneration?
Since the mortification of our nature is its beginning, and our becoming’ new creatures its end, a figure of death is set before us when the water is poured upon the head [quod capita aqua iniicitur <> l'eaue donc nous est mise sur la teste], and the figure of a new life when instead of remaining immersed under water [manemus sub aqua demersi <> et non pas pour nous noyer en l'eaue], we only enter it for a moment as a kind of grave, out of which we instantly emerge. [1]​

Here Calvin again employed the French word he invariably used to denote the act of applying the water in baptism (mise [mettre] – put/place). The use of the Latin iniicitur, however, is not so typical, with that term generally meaning to throw, cast, thrust, or impose. Nonetheless, as the above translation shows, Beveridge treated it as being indicative of pouring. This is also in line with the earliest English rendering of the Catechism by William Huycke (1550), where, translating out of the French, pouring is also understood to be in mind:

...Therefore the water is poured upon the head to signify that we are dead and buried, that in such sort that our rising again into a new conversation of life is therewithal figured, in that the pouring of the water is but a thing of very short continuance, and not ordained that we should be drowned thereby. [2]​

It may be recalled that Huycke was an eye-witness to how baptism was performed in Geneva, and that in his expanded account of Calvin’s liturgy he denoted the same action (mettre) as “laying” the water on the child’s forehead.

We find one of the fullest explanations of why Calvin believed it was acceptable to use a mode of baptism different from what had been observed in the New Testament church, in his Commentary on Acts 8:38 (1552):

‘They went down into the water.’ Here we see how the rite of baptism was carried out by the men of long ago: they immersed the whole body in the water [totum enim corpus in aquam mergebant]. The practice that has now become dominant [nunc invaluit usus] is for the minister only to sprinkle the body or the head [ut minister corpus vel caput tantum aspergat]. But the trifling difference in the ceremony ought not mean so much to us that we split the church because of it, or throw it into confusion with disputes. Indeed we ought to fight even to the death a hundred times for the ceremony of baptism itself, since it has been delivered to us by Christ, rather than allow it to be taken away from us.​
But since we have evidence in the symbol of water of new life as well as our washing [in aquae symbolo testimonium habemos tam ablutionis]; since Christ represents His blood to us in the water, as in a mirror, so that we may seek cleansing for ourselves from it; since He teaches that we are recreated by His Spirit, so that we, being dead to sin, may live to righteousness, it is certain that we have everything which makes for the substance of baptism.​
That is why, this substance apart, the Church allowed itself freedom from the beginning to have slightly different rites [Quare ab initio libere sibi permisit Ecclisia, extra hanc substantium ritus habere paululum dissimiles]. For some used to immerse three times, while others did it only once [Nom alii ter alii autem semel tantum mergebant]. Accordingly there is no call for us to be too particular about things that are not so necessary, provided that adventitious ceremonials do not contaminate the simple institution of Christ. [3]​

In view of the collective evidence, it would be incongruent to conclude from Calvin’s statement concerning the overall dominance of sprinkling that such was his own practice. Considering Calvin’s previous twofold description of the recipient of baptism being “sprinkled with water poured upon them” (Institutes, 4.15.19), it is also possible the term sprinkled in this context has a similar connotation. It is also notable that the normal difference in early practice that Clavin rightly pointed out had to do with the number of times the candidate was immersed.

Elsewhere in his Commentaries Calvin made briefer mention of the apostolic practice vs. what he believed was most important in baptism (on John 3:22; 1553).

The Evangelist says that there was much ‘water’ there, and Judea was not so well supplied with rivers. Geographers tell us that these two towns of Aenon and Salim were not far from where the Jabbok ran into the Jordan; and they put Scythopolis near them.​
Moreover, from these words we may infer that John and Christ administered Baptism by total immersion [fuisse celebration a Johanne et Christo totius corporis submersione], though we must not worry overmuch about the outward rite so long as it accords with the spiritual truth and the Lord’s institution and rule. [4]​

Calvin had relatively little to say concerning the New Testament’s quite considerable use of the term baptism/baptize in its metaphorical sense. Perhaps the most notable example of where Calvin did so, is found in his Commentary on Luke 12:50 (1555):

He [Jesus] compares death (as elsewhere [5]) with baptism, for after submersion of the flesh [quia carnis interitu submersi], for a time, in death, the children of God shall rise soon to life again, so that death should be no more than passing through the midst of the waters [per medias aquas transitus]. [6]​

Calvin published the final installment of his Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels in 1555. Four years later, he commenced preaching a series of sermons on the same topic. This expositional epic would occupy the majority of Calvin’s Lord’s Day mornings from then until his death, in 1564. In one of these sermons Calvin briefly revisited most of the principal points regarding apostolic practice, symbolism, and mode that he collectively makes in his Institutes, Catechism and various Commentaries. Preached in Geneva in 1560—of course, in the vernacular French—this particular oration was among a group of sermons that was actually published while Calvin was still living (1562). As this discourse was taken from a live transcription of a spoken sermon, it is relatively, and rather pleasantly informal. [7]

But that he [John the Baptist] had not completely removed himself from the company of men, appears by what is added, [Mark 1:5] ‘and people came from all the country of Judea, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan [et que la on estoit baptize au Iordain].’ It is thusly spoken of the Jordan, because the way they baptized was to totally immerse in the water [de baptizer estoit d'estre du tout plongé en l'eau]. And the word [baptize] also carries that meaning [et le mot aussi emporte cela]. It is true that today we do not immerse in the water those who are baptized [ne plongera point en l'eau ceux qu'on baptize], but one must not carry-on about something that does not much matter, nor quarrel over such a thing.​
The natural use of Baptism, therefore, as regards the figure, was that one was immersed in the water [plongé en l'eau]. And that represented the complete washing [representoit le lavement total] that must be done in man. For, as we have said, we do not just need to be regenerated in part to be reformed to the obedience of God, rather, we must be wholly recast and renewed from the crown of our head down to the soles of our feet, on account of there being nothing in ourselves but what is filth and stench to God.​
In addition, baptism is to show us that we must die to ourselves and to the world, and that we must be resurrected, in a manner of speaking, so that God may live in us, although this was better expressed when persons were completely immersed in the water [or cela estoit mieux exprimé, quand les personnes estoyent du tout plongées en l'eau]. This is also why it is said that John the Baptist [8] withdrew to this area, where there was a lot of water [beaucoup d'eaux], so that baptism could be better administered there [en sorte que le Baptesme s'y pouvoit mieux administrer]. But, again, it is not necessary for us to be so devoted to what is of little importance, that we make a fuss over it.​
It is sufficient that baptism is administered, as required, and that above all it is shown to us that from the womb of our mother we bring only disease, and that we are abominable before God until he properly cleanses us [nous ait bien nettoyez]. We must know where our washing comes from, and how it proceeds to us, namely, from the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must also know that we must die (and this is also why the water is put on the head [et voyla pourquoy aussi l'eau est mise sur la teste], as if the child being baptized were put at the bottom of a river to die [comme si l'enfant qu'on baptize estoit mis au fond d'une riviere pour mourir]), and we must know how this is done, and how God communicates his grace to us, which is by the Holy Spirit. When all these things are declared to us, let us be content, for that is what is required at Baptism. [9]​

In conclusion, all of the available evidence indicates that Calvin believed immersion was the apostolic practice, and that such had intentional and rich spiritual symbolism. While Calvin consistently expounded on a dual symbolism in baptism, a practical aspect of primacy was put on the portrayal of washing, or cleansing. The co-symbolism of regeneration/death-resurrection was deemed to be adequately portrayed even when the recipient was simply “under” the water while it was poured over them.

In principle, it is clear that Calvin was wholly amenable to immersion, pouring, and sprinkling as acceptable modes of baptism. In terms of the particular practice in Geneva, the great preponderance of evidence points to pouring. [10]


[1] Henry Beveridge, Tracts Containing Treatises on the Sacraments, (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1849), 2:86; G. Baum, Ionnes Calvini Opera, 6:117f.

[2] William Huicke, The Form of Common Prayers used in the Churches of Geneva: The Administration of the Sacraments, of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: The Visitation of the Sick: And the Catechism of Geneva: Made by Master John Calvin, ([s.n.], 1550), folio 179.
This translation of the Catechism was also made part of the Scottish Book of Common Order (1564).

[3] D. W. Torrance, T. F. Torrance, eds., J. W. Fraser, W. J. G. McDonald, trans., Calvin’s Commentaries; The Acts of the Apostles, 1–13, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 254; G. Baum, Ionnes Calvini Opera, 48:197f.

[4] D. W. Torrance, T. F. Torrance, eds., T. H. L. Parker, trans., Calvin’s Commentaries; The Gospel According to St. John, 1–10, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), 78; G. Baum, Ionnes Calvini Opera, 47:69.

[5] Some English translations parenthetically insert “Romans 6:4” at this point. While this is a natural, and thus probable assumption, Calvin did not cite any specific scripture references in the original Latin.

[6] W. Torrance, T. F. Torrance, eds., A. W. Morrison, trans., Calvin’s Commentaries; The Gospel According to Matthew, Mark & Luke; and James & Jude, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans P Publishing Co., 1972), 109; G. Baum,Ionnes Calvini Opera, 45:682.

[7] Most of these sermons, including this one, have never been translated into English. (Banner of Truth has published several in, Sermons on the Beatitudes: Five Sermons from the Gospel Harmony, Delivered in Geneva in 1560; 2006.) Altogether, sixty-five of the Gospel Harmony sermons were originally transcribed by Denys Ragueneau (alias Haguenier), a stenographer and colleague of Calvin’s in Geneva. Ragueneau also witnessed and set to writing many of Calvin’s other expository sermons, including his acclaimed series on Deuteronomy and Job.

[8] The French text here reads Iesus Christ, which is clearly an error in speech or transcription.

[9] Sermons sue l'harmonie des trois evangelistes; S. Matthieu, S. Luc et S. Marc.; (sermon 42, on Matt. 3:4-6, Mark 1:4-6, Luke 3:3-6); G. Baum, Ionnes Calvini Opera, 46:520f.

[10] This understanding has not been universal, however. For example, the liturgical scholar Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old (1933–2016; American high-Reformed) decides that sprinkling was the mode used in Geneva. (The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1992], 265.) In his volume Old very usefully gives the liturgies and historical practices of many early Reformed churches very comprehensive treatment. In the case of Geneva, however, Old only considers Farel’s 1533 and Calvin’s 1542/45, French liturgies, which are relatively non-descript. This curious deficiency of sources seems to have led to a dubious conclusion.
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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
@Phil D., are you writing all this yourself? It seems like something that might be worthy of a monograph. Do you have plans of this nature?

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
are you writing all this yourself? It seems like something that might be worthy of a monograph. Do you have plans of this nature?

I am compiling the sources and writing the commentary and summarizations myself. But for it to have much value as an academic resource, or the like, it would need to be peer reviewed and my translations double-checked by someone with more formal training in the original languages than myself. That does not seem likely to happen... so it's simply posted here for others to consider and use for what it's worth.
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
I was able to fix the formatting on the Geneva Part 1 installment - but talk about some bizarre goings-on! In some places I was able to re-paste small segments at a time, which then permitted the indent feature for quotations. However, I had to completely retype other portions in place - except in those instances it would not allow me to type the word "where" without totally fritzing out! I thought it may have had something to do with BB coding, not that I know much about that, but I tried clearing the coding multiple times with the same no-go result. So in the quotes associated with footnotes 18a and 22, the word "where" had to be altered to read "whereat" and "wherein" just to allow the revisions to take. Crazy..! A lot of time and trouble, but my Type-A feels much better now... and I'm still not sure if there's a conspiracy angle to all this or not...
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Britain – Pt.1: The Pre-Reformation Period

There is an exceptional abundance of historical material on our subject with respect to the British Isles. To effectively present some of the most relevant and interesting selections from this mass of information, some changes in our method of organization will be beneficial. Rather than considering individual geographical locations, we will instead look collectively at both English and Scottish historical sources relative to their chronology. Before delving into the specific province of Protestant practice, it is also useful to first consider some broader, introductory material.


There is evidence that some Christian communities were present in the British Isles as early as the 2nd century. [1] The oldest references to how baptism was performed in this northernmost outpost of early Christendom come from various primitive Celtic documents relating to St. Patrick of Ireland (c.387–460).

The ordinary baptismal rite is constantly referred to. Patrick himself was baptized in a well [‘a pool fed by a spring’ 2] and in a well he baptized the pregnant Fedilm... That the immersion was trine appears from two glosses in the Würzburg Codex Paulinus... cesu thréde in tummul (gl. unum babtisma) ‘though the dipping be a triad’ [—it is still one baptism], and... teora tonna torunni ‘three waves over us.’ [3]​

Beginning in the mid–6th century Christianity was established on a larger scale across various parts of Great Britain, primarily through the intrepid efforts of missionaries such as Columba (521–597), Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604), and Paulinus (d. 644). Notable conversions in England during this period included King Ethelbert of Kent and King Edwin of Northumbria, along with many of their subjects. The Northumbrian cleric and church historian Bede (‘the Venerable’—c.672–735) gave this description of how baptism was then performed.

The person being baptized is seen to descend into the font [in fontem descendere], and he is seen to be dipped in the waters [aquis intingi], and he is seen to ascend up from the waters [de aquis ascendere]. But the effect this washing of regeneration works in him is not so easily seen. [4]​

Alcuin of York (c.735–804) was another Northumbrian churchman who recorded one of the earliest English liturgies for baptism.

Then the priest baptizes him with three immersions [trina mersione], while invoking the holy Trinity only once, saying: ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father,’ and he immerses him once [et mergat semel], ‘and of the Son,’ and he immerses him again [et mergat iterum], ‘and of the Holy Spirit,’ and he immerses him a third time [et mergat tertio]. [5]​

Evidence that early medieval English churches continued to prescribe immersion—while by the same token showing that deviations from that mode were indeed occurring—is found in a baptismal order issued by the second Council of Celchyth (modern Chelsea, in greater London). Convened in 816 by order of King Coenwulf of Mercia (d. 821), and presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Wulfred (d. 832), Canon 11 of this council decreed:

Let the presbyters know that when they administer holy baptism, they are not to pour the sacred water over the heads of the infants [non effundant aquam sanctam super capita infantium]. Rather, the infants must always be immersed in the laver [sed semper mergantur in lavacro]. For the Son of God furnished an example in His own person for every believer, when He was thrice dipped in the waves of the Jordan [esset ter mersus in undis Jordanis]. Therefore it is necessary for baptism to be retained and observed according to this rule. [6]​

By far the most important and influential medieval British liturgy was that of the English cathedral in Salisbury. Adapted from the common Roman Ritual in c.1080, by that church’s famed Bishop, Osmund (d. 1099), it is generally referred to as The Use of Sarum or the Sarum Rite. The Salisbury service soon became used, or formed the basis of nearly all Roman Catholic liturgies throughout England and Wales, as well as much of Scotland and Ireland, lasting for the entire period of the 12th to mid-16th centuries. In terms of baptism a triple immersion was specified, with the directional orientation of the infant even being meticulously prescribed. Yet, it also established an allowance for a single immersion or even sprinkling in cases of emergency.

Then let the priest take the child by its sides in his hands, and having asked their name, let him immerse them three times [eum trina immersione], while invoking the Holy Trinity, as follows: ‘(Name), I baptize you in the name of the Father,’ and let him immerse them once [et mergat eum semel] with their head towards the east and their face towards the north, ‘and of the Son,’ and let him immerse them once again [iterum mergat semel] with their face towards the south, ‘and of the Holy Ghost, Amen,’ and let him immerse them a third time [mergat tertio] with their face straight towards the water [recta facie versus aquam].​
[...] If the need arises [ut si necessitas emergat]...the water may be sprinkled [or, ‘spilled’] over the little one [aquam super parvulum spargendo], or in place of three immersions in water [vel in aquam mergendo ter], let such be done at least once. [7]​

In the year 1287, the Bishop of Exeter, Peter Quinel (d.1291), held a diocesan synod which clarified the procedures that were to be followed for baptism in unusual circumstances. In this case it was tenaciously held that even emergency home baptisms were to be done by immersion. [8]

We strictly enjoin the priests to whom pertains the care of souls, that they are to instruct their parishioners more frequently in the vulgar tongue concerning the form of baptism. And this is to be done as follows: They are to teach them that they are to have water ready whenever a child is born, in which, if it be necessary, they have the means to baptize them by immersion [si oportuerit baptizandum immergant], while saying: ‘I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’​
[...] When it happens that a child has been baptized at home due to the danger of dying, if he afterwards recovers, he is to be brought to the church, so that if he was properly baptized the subsequent parts of the rite, but not the immersion itself [non ipsa submersio] or the preceding rites, may be appropriately performed by the priest. [9]​

In 1383 the august Christian reformer and father of the Bible in the English language, John Wycliffe (c.1325–84), expressed his belief that immersion, whether done once or thrice, and pouring were all sacramentally valid.

How necessary this sacrament is to the believer may be seen by the words of Christ to Nicodemus, John 3 [v.5], ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ And such, accordingly, is the authority from Scripture, on which believers are customarily baptized.​
The church requires for baptism, pure water—no other liquid: nor is it of moment whether the baptized be immersed once, or thrice [immergantur semel vel ter], or whether the water be poured on the head [sive aqua super capita sua effundatur]; but the ceremony must be performed according to the usage of the place. ...For herein it is a fundamental article of belief, that whenever a man is duly baptized, baptism destroys whatever sin [i.e., ‘original or actual’] was found in the man. [10]​

With regard to how Wycliffe’s statements should perhaps be understood, the prodigious baptismal historian William Wall (1647–1718; Anglican) cautioned:

Some do prove from Wicliffe, that it was held indifferent in England in his time, whether dipping or pouring were used. ...But we ought to take the whole context as it lies in his book. He had been speaking of the necessity of baptism to salvation, from that text, John 3:5. ...Such words do not suppose any other way than dipping used ordinarily—but only in a juncture of necessity, or fear of the infant’s death. [11]​

The writings of another eminent, reform-minded churchman, John Colet (1467–1519), support the assessment that on the eve of the Protestant Reformation normative baptism in Britain continued to be by immersion:

...Christ was ‘delivered for our offences’ [Romans 4:25]; that in dying He might kill our death, by the surpassing power of His own: and rose again for our justification, that we may rise again to oneness of life with Him. This is the reason why in baptism we are dipped, and come forth again from the water [hinc in baptismo mersi emergimus]. And in the statutes of the Church it is directed that a person should be dipped, and come forth again: otherwise he is not baptized [est ut mersus emergat: alioquin non est baptizatus]. [12]​

William Wall also noted some historical particulars relevant to the mode of baptism in Britain:

The offices or liturgies for public baptism in the Church of England did all along, so far as I can learn, enjoin dipping, without any mention of pouring or sprinkling...[until] the Manuele ad usum Sarum [c.1080]...​
[...] One would have thought that the cold countries should have been the first that should have changed the custom from dipping to affusion, because in cold climates the bathing of the body in water may seem much more unnatural and dangerous to the health than in hot ones. ...But by history it appears that the cold climates held the custom of dipping as long as any; for England, which is one of the coldest, was one of the latest that admitted this alteration of the ordinary way. [13]​


[1] In c.195 AD the early church father Tertullian wrote, ...“even as the place of the Britons was inaccessible to the Romans, it was subjugated to Christ [Britannorum inaccessa Romanis loca, Christo vero subdita].” [An Answer to the Jews, 7.4; David Wilkins, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, (London: MacMillan & Co., 1873), 2:1.104.]

[2] “Middle English, from Old English…a pool fed by a spring.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2003).

[3] Whitley Stokes, ed., The Tripartite Life of Patrick: With Other Documents Relating to that Saint, (London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1887), 1:clxxxviii.

[4] J. Allen Giles, The Complete Works of Venerable Bede: Homilies, (London, Whitaker & Co., 1843), 5:111.

[5] Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina [PL], (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1841–64), 101:1219.

[6] William Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882), 1:143.

[7] Thomas M. Fallow, The Order of Baptism, Both Public and Private, According to the Use of the United Church of England and Ireland: Illustrated from the ‘Use of Salisbury,’ (London: James Burns, 1838), 19, 21.

[8] Similar arrangements are seen in Scotland. In 1296, the powerful diocese of Aberdeen instructed its priests that in cases of in-home emergency baptisms, when able, the baptismal rites were to be later performed at the church, “excepting the immersion and blessing of the water [sine immersione et aque benediction].”
[Concilia Scotiae: ecclesiae scoticanae statuta tam provincilia quam synodalia quae supersunt, MCCXXV-MDLIX, (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1866), 2:31]

[9] David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, (London: R. Gosling, F. Gyles, T. Woodward, C. Davis, 1737), 2:131.

[10] Robert Vaughan, ed., Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe, D.D., (London: Blackburn & Pardon, 1845), 156f.; Gotthardus Lechler, Joannis Wiclif; Trialogus, (Oxford: E. Typographeo Clarendoniano, 1869), 28.

[11] Henry Cotton, ed., The History of Infant Baptism by William Wall...Together with Mr. Gale’s Reflections and Dr. Wall’s Defense, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1835), 2:396.

[12] Joseph Hurst Lupton, ed., John Colet; Letters to Radulphus [etc.]…Together with other Treatises, (London: George Bell & Sons, 1876), 148, 269.

[13] H. Cotton, The History of Infant Baptism by William Wall, 2:391f.
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Fascinating. I always thought dipping babies three times was exclusively an Eastern Orthodox practice.
From what I can tell, with a few exceptions it was the dominant practice for normative baptism both in Greek and Latin churches, from the 4th to 15th centuries.

I must say my first thought when I saw you had replied to my post was, "...uh-oh, a Latin expert has something to say about one of my translations..." :scholar:
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
The proliferation of the printing industry in the 16th Century, combined with the ideals of the Reformation, prompted a surge in the number of ecclesial writings that were published in various vernacular languages. This timely convention was certainly evident in Britain. So in this installment I have retained the original old English spellings in applicable extracts. Feedback is welcome on whether this type of authenticity adds an element of interest, as I find it, or rather poses a distraction or difficulty…

Britain - Pt. 2: Early Reformation Period (1517-1560)

By the time the Protestant Reformation began, baptism by pouring or sprinkling had become increasingly common on the European Continent. However, immersion continued to be normative in England. This difference in practice was expressly noted by the well-traveled Roman Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536).

With us [on the Continent] the water is poured on [those baptized]; in England they are immersed [perfunduntur apud nos, merguntur apud Anglos]. [1]​

In 1528, William Tyndale (1494–1536), an early Protestant martyr and father of the modern English Bible, alluded to the normality of immersion in early 16th century England. Yet in trying to put the outward aspect of baptism in proper perspective, he implicitly defended the validity of circumstantial pouring.

[In baptim] the plunginge in to the water signifieth that we dye, and are buryed with Christ, as cooncerninge the olde lyfe of synne, which is Adam. And the pullinge out agayne, signifieth that we rise agayne with Christe, in a new lyfe, full of the Holy Goost, which shall teach us, and gyde us, and worke the will of God in us, as thou seist Roma. vi.​
[…] Aske the people what they understande by their baptism, or washinge. And thou shalt se, that they beleve how that the very plunginge in to the water saveth them. ...Behold how narowly the people loke on the ceremony. Yf ought be left out, or if the chyld be not al together dipt in the water, or if, because the chylde is sycke, the prest dare not plunge him into the water, but powre water on his heed, how tremble they! how quake they! how saye ye, sir Jhon, saye they, is this child christened ynough? hath it his ful christendom? They beleve verely that the chylde is not christened. [2]​

The first published treatise in English specifically dedicated to the topic of baptism, was by the early Protestant preacher John Frith (1503–33). A friend of Tyndale, Frith wrote this dissertation from prison during the final months of his tragically short life, knowing well that his evangelical ideals were certain to “purchase me most cruel death.” Shortly thereafter he was indeed burned at the stake by zealous officials of the yet still Roman Catholic church in England. Several mentions of how baptism was performed appear in this discourse, one by way of a rather whimsical and, by the same token, unmistakable analogy.

The signification of baptisme is described by Paule in the 6. of the Romans, that we are plunged bodily into the water. Even so we are deade and buried with Christ from sinne: and as we are lifted againe oute of the water, even so we rise with Christ from oure sinnes, that we mighte heereafter walke in a newe conversation of lyfe. So that these two things, that is to be plunged in the water, and lifted up againe, doe signifie and represent the pith [essence] and effect of baptisme, that is, the mortification of our olde Adam & the rising up of our new man.​
...In so much that a Christen mannes lyfe is nothing els save a continuall baptisme, begon when we are dipped in the water, and is put in continuall use and exercise, as long as the infection of sinne remaineth in oure bodyes.​
...Now have we expounded the signification of Baptisme, which signification we may obtaine onely by fayth, for if thou be baptized a thousande times with water and have no fayth, it avayleth thee no more towardes God then it doth a Gose when she ducketh her selfe under the water. [3]​

During the latter part of King Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign (1509–1547), and throughout that of his young heir Edward VI (1547–1553), the Church of England was headed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556). Cranmer’s growing Protestant convictions led him to incrementally adopt many of the evangelical ideals of the Reformation. In 1548 Cranmer released an English translation of a catechism that had first been published in Latin by the Lutheran theologian Justus Jonas (1493–1555), which also had A Sermon of Baptism attached.

Ye shall also dylygently labour good children, to kepe and perfourme those promises, which you made to God in your baptisme, and which baptisme doth betoken. For baptisme and the dyppyng into the water [baptismus enim et illa immersio], doth betoken, that the olde Adam...ought to be drowned and kylled...and that, by renewyng of the Holy Gost, we ought to ryse with Christ from the death of synne, and to walke in a new lyfe...as sancte Paule teacheth... (Rom. 6:4). [4]​

The Church of England’s break from Rome also led to the creation of a new liturgy, of which Cranmer was the chief contributor and editor. The new devotionals and sacramental services were codified as the Book of Common Prayer, with the first edition appearing in 1549. The liturgy for baptism officially replaced the Sarum Rite, which had retained dominance in English churches for nearly five centuries. Still, Cranmer largely followed the Sarum’s prescript when it came to the mode of baptism.
Then the prieste shall take the childe in his handes, and aske the name. And naming the childe, shall dyppe it in the water thryse. First dypping the ryght syde: Seconde the left syde: The thryd tyme dippyng the face towards the fonte: So it be discretly and warely done, saying: N. I Baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Sonne, and of the Holy Gost. Amen. And if the childe be weake, it shall suffice to powre water upon it, saying the foresayed woordes. [5]​

In 1552 the Book of Common Prayer underwent some further refinement, wherein the order for normative baptism was greatly simplified.

Then the Priest shal take the childe in his handes, and aske the name, and naming the chyld, shall dyppe it in the water, so it be discretely and warely done... [6]​

In 1553, a comprehensive early-Protestant catechism was published, in English, by an evangelical Bishop of Rochester, named John Poynet (or, Ponet; c.1516–56). As it was in fact commissioned by leaders in the Edwardian state church, it is commonly known as The Catechism of Edward VI. Its wording with regard to baptism appears to accommodate both the prescribed dipping and the circumstantial allowance for pouring found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Hym that beleveth in Christ: professeth the Articles of the Christian religion: & myndeth to be baptised (I speake nowe of then that be groween to ripe yeres of discretion: sith for the yong babes, theyr parentes or the churches profession sufficeth) the minister dyppeth in, or washeth with pure & cleane water onlye, in the name of the Father, and of the Sonne, and of the Holy Ghost. …Baptisime is also a fygure of our burial in Christ and that we shall be raysed up agayne wyth hym, in a newe lyfe. [7]​

In Scotland at this time, and similar to what the situation on the European continent had become, there is evidence that the Roman Catholic Church was in practice becoming amenable to baptizing by means other than immersion, regardless of any attendant circumstances. For example, in 1552, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, John Hamilton (c.1511–71), wrote a catechism in the vernacular Scots language, in which it was noted:

In sum contrei thai use to dippe the barne thrise in the wattir of the font and in sum contrei thai laive or pouris wattir on the barne thrise, quhilk of thir usis be done, it rakkis kocht, for Baptyme is gebin bayth the wais. And ye barne is twichit with the wattir of Baptyme thrise. [8]​
{In some countries the use is to dip the child three times in the water of the font, and in some countries they lave or pour water on the child three times; which of these uses is done, it matters not, for Baptism is given both these ways. And the child is touched with the water of Baptism three times.}​
It was also at this time that the Church of England’s growing assimilation into Protestantism was briefly but violently interrupted by the reign of the devout Roman Catholic, Mary I, who ruled from 1553 to 1558. Mary’s reign saw the return of Roman Catholic services and liturgies, and the Book of Common Prayer and Protestant catechisms abolished. [9]

In 1554, the newly restored Catholic Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner (c.1500–69), issued a list of problems that Protestantism was alleged to have ignored or facilitated within his diocese. These he determined to investigate, and if found to be factual, forcefully remedy. It inquired of one abuse thought to be spreading among the laity with respect to baptism.

Item: whether there be any, that wyll not suffer the priest to dyppe the chylde three tymes in the fonte, beynge yet stronge, and able to abyde and suffer it in the iudgement and opinion of discrete and experte persons, but wyll nedes have the chylde in the clothes, and onlye to be sprynckled wyth a fewe droppes of water. [10]​

In commenting on how the underlying circumstance of having “the child in the clothes” came to play an increasing role in the mode actually used for baptism, the historian William Wall wrote:

[The BCP includes this] maxim; that it is most fitting to dip children that are ‘well able to bear it.’ But they leave it wholly to the judgment of the godfathers and those that bring the child, whether the child may well endure dipping, or not; as they are indeed the most proper judges of that.​
...But in the practice, the godfathers take so much advantage of the reference that is made to their judgment, that they never do certify the priest ‘that the child may well endure it:’ and the priests do now seldom ask that question. And indeed it is needless, because they do always bring the child so dressed in clothes, as to make it plain that they do not intend it shall be dipped. When dipping in the font was in fashion, they brought the child wrapped up in such a sort of clothing as could presently and without trouble be taken off, and put on again. [11]​

In early 1558, Thomas Watson (1515–84;—no, not that one...), an influential Roman Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, made what would turn out to be one of the last statements on mode published by a Marian church official.

Than are we (as saint Paule saith) buried with Christ by baptisme into death, that as he rose from death by the glory of the father, so wee shoulde likewise walke in a new lyfe. Wherby we understande, that lyke as Christe dyed, and rose againe the thirde day, and lyveth evermore: so every man when he renounceth the devyll he dyeth to synne, and kylleth the woorkes of the fleshe in him self, and when he is dipped and put under the water, than is he buried to sinne as Christe was putte within the earth in the sepulchre, and when he is thrise putte under the water, he representeth the three dayes of Christes buryall.​
[…] And although the old and auncient tradition of the Churche hathe bene from the beginninge, to dippe the childe three tymes in the water, as Christe laye three dayes in his grave: yet that is not of suche necessitie but that if he bee butte once dipped in the water, it is sufficyente, yea, and in tyme of greate perylle and necessytie, if the water be but powred upon his head, it wyll suffyse. [12]​


[1] Des. Erasmum Roterod., Divi Caecilii Cypriani Episcopi Carthaginensis Et Martyris opera, (Basileae: Froben., 1530), 132 [marginal note].

[2] [William Tyndale], The obedience of a Christen man and how Christen rulers ought to governe..., (Marlborow in the lande of Hesse [i.e. Antwerp]: Hans Luft, 1528), [no pagination; sections on Baptim, and Anoylynge]

[3] [John Frith], A Myrroure or lokynge glass wherin you may beholde the Sacrament of Baptisme described; The whole Workes of W. Tyndale, John Frith and Dr. Barnes, (London: John Daye, 1573), Pt. 2. 93f.

[4] Catechismus, that is to say, a shorte instruction into Christian religion for the synguler commoditie and profyte of children and yong people. Set forth by the mooste reverende father in God Thomas Archbyshop of Canterbury, primate of all England and Metropolitane, (London: Nycolas Hyll, 1548), folio 213f;
A Short Instruction Into Christian Religion: Being a Catechism Set Forth by Archbishop Cranmer in 1548, Together with the Same in Latin, (Oxford: University Press, 1828), 2.162.

[5] The Booke of the Common Prayer and the administration of the Sacramentes…, (London: [s.n.], 1549), [no pagination, section on Publike Baptisme]

[6] The Booke of the Common Prayer and the administration of the Sacramentes…, (London: [s.n.], 1552), [no pagination, section on Publike Baptisme]

[7] A short catechisme, or playne instruction, conteynynge the summe of Christian learning, sett fourth by the kings maiesties authoritie, for all scholemaisters to teache, (London: Iohn Day, 1553), folio 48f.

[8] [John Hamilton], The catechisme : that is to say, ane commone and catholik instructioun of the christin people in materis of our catholik faith and religioun, (St. Andrewes: [s.n.], 1552), folio 132.

[9] See: Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400-c.1580, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2005), 526f.

[10] Articles to be enquired of in the generall visitation of Edmonde Bisshoppe of London exercised by him the yeare of oure Lorde 1554, (London: Iohannes Cawodi, 1554), [no pagination; section on, Articles concernynge the Laytye]

[11] H. Cotton, The History of Infant Baptism by William Wall, 2:404f.

[12] [Thomas Watson], Holsome and catholyke doctryne concerninge the seven Sacramentes of Chrystes Church expedient to be knowen of all men, (London: Robert Caly, 1558), folio 22f.
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