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The Administration of Baptism and Penance, from Selected statutes of Aberdeen Diocese, c 1240-1250.

On Baptism.

[56] Seeing as baptism is ‘the first plank after shipwreck’, and great is the virtue and effectiveness of this sacrament, since it was instituted by God and adorned with His blood: we direct that this sacrament be celebrated with honor and reverence and great care, especially in the pronunciation of the words, in which lie the whole power of this sacrament and the salvation of children. Now the form of baptism is this: I BAPTIZE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: AMEN. Let the priests frequently teach the laity that they both can and ought to baptize children in emergencies in this form in either the Latin or even the English language. And let the father and mother baptize their child in an emergency when there is no-one else around, and without regard to whether or not they are married. [1] Baptismal fonts are to be kept closed and locked. Chrism and holy oil and the Eucharist are to be kept under key. Truly, if those whose job it is to keep these things negligently abandon them, they shall be suspended from office for three months, and if through their carelessness anything foul should occur, they shall lie close to greater punishment. In each baptismal church, let a suitable baptistery of wood or stone be had, one that shall be decently covered and reverently kept, and not converted to other uses. Let not the water in which a child was baptized be kept in the font for more than seven days. Truly, if a child is baptized at home by a layman, let the water, on account of reverence for baptism, be cast into the fire or brought to the church and put in the font. Let the vessel in which he was baptized either be burned in the fire or assigned to the use of the church. Now if a layman, in an emergency, has baptized the child, let the priest afterwards inquire diligently after what was said and done by him, and if he should find that the layman has baptized discreetly and in the form of the church, in whatever language, let him approve the deed. Otherwise, let the priest baptized the child thus, saying: N: I DO NOT BAPTIZE YOU [IF YOU ARE ALREADY BAPTIZED], BUT IF YOU ARE NOT BAPTIZED, I BAPTIZE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: AMEN. Children are to be baptized under this form if there is doubt whether they were baptized. If an infant has been baptized by a layman, let him afterwards be brought to the church door, and let the priest supply anything that is lacking, such as a little bit of salt dabbed on the ears and nose with saliva, and also saying the exorcism; and let all the things be done to the child at the font that are customary, except the immersion and the holy water. Moreover, when a child to be baptized is one about whom it is uncertain whether he has been baptized, let all the things be done by the priest right up to the immersion, saying the foresaid words I DO NOT BAPTIZE YOU [ETC.]. At the lifting up of the child to the font in baptism, let at most three persons be admitted [as godparents]: let two men and one woman undertake a boy, and let a girl be undertaken by two women and one man. Additional people may be had for various reasons, but they may be had as witnesses only, not as godparents. Chrismal cloths may not be converted for uses other than ornaments for the church, nor let those brought once to the church be taken away when other children are to be baptized, for prayer [i.e. by request] or payment. Likewise, let other ornaments of the church that have received the bishop’s blessing in no way be converted to secular uses. Let women be admonished that they should nurse their children carefully and not lie next to them at night, lest they should smother them; nor should they leave them alone in a house where there is a fire, or leave them alone next to the water. And let this be said on every Sunday.

[1] ‘sine prejudicium matrimonie’ might also mean that the baptizing parents would become the child’s godparents, and they might be worried that, under canon law, this would prevent them from ever getting married if they were not already married. The phrase would then mean ‘without prejudicing their future matrimony’.

On the sacrament of penance.

[58] Seeing as the forgiveness of sins follows upon true contrition, we direct that priests, in assigning penances, should diligently consider the nature of the person and the number of the sins; the place, time, cause and manner in which the sin was committed, and other circumstances of the sin; likewise, let [the priest] diligently attend to the devotion of the penitent and the signs of contrition. In hearing confessions, let the priest have a humble face, eyes downcast to the ground, nor let him indiscreetly look up too often into the face of penitents, especially women. Let him patiently hear whatever is said, and in a spirit of leniency uphold [the penitent] and, insofar as he is able, persuade in many ways that he should repent and confess wholly and of all his sins: otherwise, truly it is not a true confession. Let him inquire about the usual sins one by one, but not the uncommon ones except if he should eventually come to them through [asking about] the circumstances: thus the experienced will be given matter for confessing and the inexperienced will not be given opportunities for sinning.[2] [The priest] must not ask the names of the persons with whom [the penitent] has committed sin, but in hearing the confession he is able to inquire whether it was a layman or a cleric, a priest or a deacon or a monk. Let the laity be advised to confess at the beginning of Lent, and quickly after any lapse. We direct [the priest’s] parishioners that, upon coming to the age of discretion, they are to confess all their sins once per year to their own priest, or to another with his permission; and let them reverently receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least at Easter, unless perhaps they are led to abstain from receiving at that time by the counsel of their own parish priest for some reasonable cause. Otherwise, let him both be shut out of the church in life and be denied Christian burial in death. Let the priest beware altogether lest he reveal a sin by word or sign or any other means; and if he needs the counsel of a more prudent [priest], let him ask carefully, without any hint as to who the person is. In doubt, let him always consult the bishop or men of discretion whose advice is certified [i.e., who have been licensed by the bishop for this purpose], that he may more securely absolve and bind.

[2] In other words, there is a risk in asking “Did you…” if it is something that the penitent never considered: the priest could be giving out bad ideas that people could go out and try. This advice crops up in confessors’ manuals most often under sexual sins.

Source: Selected statutes of Aberdeen Diocese, about 1240-1250?, Translated by William H. Campbell. Original Latin text from Joseph Robertson, ed., Concilia Scotiae : Ecclesiae Scoticanae Statuta tam Provincialia quat Synodalia quae supersunt MCCXXV – MDLIX (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club, 1866). On IHSP 31 Jan 2023.

The Robertson text may be found at .

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall, January 2023

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