In church registers we often come across terms and concepts which are unfamiliar. It’s important to remember theology creates records. In this case, finding terminology in an older alphabetical listing can be frustrating if there is no cross reference. I want to present key baptismal terms in the Anglican Communion as the concepts behind the terms affects our understanding of the records themselves.
The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia
This dictionary is based upon William James Miller’s The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1901) which is available for download online. Although this work is a product of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, as expected, there is a heavy historical United Kingdom emphasis. This makes this dictionary useful for not only your American immigrant research, but also for other places where the Irish settled or simply for your Church of Ireland research.
One feature which makes this dictionary so fascinating is that if you read carefully what the author is saying, you become aware of an Episcopal identity or perhaps identity crisis in 1901. This was a church in a very pluralist society being only one of many without the British identity preserved as it was in the United Kingdom and in the Commonwealth.
Dictionary of Episcopal Baptismal Terms
In the case of baptism, not only was the Episcopal Church confronted with the revivalism of evangelicalism, but with a theology of salvation by faith alone. Also, in Mid-West and South, the Episcopal Church was confronted with the Stone-Campbell Restoration theology where the only form of baptism was by immersion for the remission of sins. This is no better examined than by studying how the author treated “Adult Baptism” and “Joining the Church.”
Wherever possible, I have kept intact the italics, flowery language, run on sentences and tediously long paragraphs. This will provide you with some extra insight as to what your ancestor was hearing and reading.
Adult Baptism: The rule of the Church is Infant Baptism. She brings children even in their tenderest years within her Fold and there trains them up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” But when in England the Puritans and Anabaptists arose and prevailed, then there grew up a generation that reached maturity without having been baptized, and then it was that there arose the necessity for “The Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years and able to answer for themselves.” To meet such cased the present service in the Prayer Book for the Baptism of Adults was prepared and set forth in A.D. 1661. That the Church of England had no form for the Baptism of Adults previous to the year 1661 is not only an interesting fact, but it is also one of those historic side-lights which brings into bold relief what was the custom of the Church from time immemorial.
Affusion: The pouring (which the word means) of water on the recipient of Baptism, when the Baptism is not by immersion. Questions have arisen from the very earliest ages as to the matter and form with which this Sacrament is to be administered. The original mode was undoubtedly by the descent of the person to be baptized into a stream or pool of water. The practice of immersion was not, however, regarded as an essential feature of Baptism. There can be little doubt that affusion was practiced instead of immersion, at the discretion of the Priest, in ancient as well as in modern times. The Prayer Book provides for either mode. The method is a matter of indifference, the essential point being that the candidate for Baptism come into actual contact with water while the word, “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” are spoken.
Baptism, Holy: One of the two great Sacraments ordained by Christ as generally (universally) necessary to salvation. Holy Baptism is the initiatory rite by which we are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s Religion, admitted into His Church. Baptism is a covenant made between God and man; of this covenant the Christian name, which was then given us, is the reminder; reminding us of our new relationship with God. The grace conferred in Holy Baptism is threefold, (1) Regeneration, or the New Birth; (2) Admission into the Spiritual Kingdom, or the Holy Catholic Church, and (3) The forgiveness of all our sins, for in the Nicene Creed we confess, “I acknowledge one Baptism for the Remission of sins.” The vows of Holy Baptism are three in number, (1) To Renounce, (2) to Believe and (3) to Obey. These cover “the Whole Duty of Man,” and it is by the use of the Means of Grace with diligent Prayer that he is enabled to keep them and to grow into the likeness of Christ, whose member he is because incorporated into Him by Holy Baptism. The outward, visible sign or form in Baptism is water, with the unfailing use of the words, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This effects a valid Baptism.
Baptism, Conditional: As Holy Baptism can take place only once in any individual life, the Church has always been most careful that it should not be repeated. But it sometimes happens that grave doubts arise as to the validity of one’s Baptism, or the fact of Baptism is only a matter of conjecture. In such cases the Church has provided for conditional, or hypothetical Baptism. The form is, “If thou are not already baptized, (name) I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” In such a case if the Baptism has already taken place and was valid, the hypothetical Baptism passes for naught, but if it were no valid or had not taken place, the hypothetical Baptism is effective.
Baptism, Private: The proper place for the administration of Holy Baptism is in the church, and the Church warns her people “that without great and reasonable cause and necessity, they procure not their children to be baptized at home in their houses.” But when need shall compel them so to do, she provides for the emergency by the service entitled, “The Ministration of Private Baptism of Children in Houses,” as set forth in the Prayer Book. In this office no provision is made for Sponsors. The child is to be brought afterwards into the Church to the intent that the congregation may be certified of the true Form of Baptism privately before used. Then it is publicly received and the Sponsors answer for the child and become responsible for its Christian training, publicly before the congregation.
Baptismal Shell: A scallop shell, either real or made of precious metal, used by the Priest for pouring the water on the head of the candidate in Holy Baptism.
Baptistry: A portion of a church set apart for the administration of Holy Baptism. Sometimes the Baptistry was erected as a separate building or attached to a church or cathedral, specially adapted for Baptism by immersion.
Candidate: The name commonly given to one who is preparing for Holy Baptism or Confirmation. The name is also applied to one who seeks admission to the Sacred Ministry, and is therefore enrolled as a “Candidate for Holy Orders.”
Elements: The bread and the wine in the Holy Communion, and the water in Holy Baptism are so-called.
Generally Necessary: In the definition given in the Church Catechism of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, these Sacraments are declared to be “generally necessary to salvation.” From the way many persons postpone their own Baptism, neglect the Baptism of their children and ignore the Holy Communion, it would seem that they think the word “generally” in the above clause, means “usually,” but not essential to religious life. This is a mistake. The word “generally” as used when the Catechism was set forth is simply the Anglicized form of the Latin word geeraliter, meaning universally, always, absolutely necessary for everyone who would be saved, and therefore, imperative where the Sacraments may be held.
Immersion: The dipping into the water of recipients of Holy Baptism.
Infant Baptism: If the Church were simply a voluntary society founded on the Bible, as is commonly supposed, there would be no special reason why Infants should be baptized, except as a matter of sentiment. If, on the other hand, the Church is a Divine Institution, founded on Christ and His Apostles, and is declared in Holy Scripture to be the Mystical Body of Christ, in which we are united to Him, admitted into covenant with God and so brought into a new relationship with God, then Infant Baptism is not only one of the most reasonable, but one of the most urgent doctrines of the Christian Religion, because it is in Holy Baptism that all these blessings are vouchsafed to us. By this Sacrament the youngest infant is lifted up, so to speak, out of the world of nature and transplanted into Christ’s spiritual kingdom. It becomes thus a child of grace. Its little life is made right with God. The old evil of our race has been rectified. It is henceforth not only a child of Adam, but also a child, or member of the second Adam, Jesus our Lord. By its new Birth in Holy Baptism, the child becomes as fully incorporated into the new and spiritual race of which Christ is the Head, as ever it was incorporated into the race of mankind by its natural birth. It may not be conscious of this, any more than it was conscious of its natural birth, but it has, nevertheless, made a right beginning through the thoughtful care of others. It has, by this ministration, been grafted into the Body of Christ. It has been put in the way of true spiritual growth and training. Henceforth it may be brought up as “the child of God” and not as an alien. To this end the church gives it spiritual caretakers, whose duty it is to see that this child is virtuously brought up to lead a Godly and a Christian life according to this beginning. This is the meaning of Infant Baptism; and the Church has always regarded such Baptism as a reasonable and benevolent work, as is exemplified by her universal practice from the beginning. The “Mercy to Babes” in the Old Dispensation has not been lost out of the New, the Dispensation of the Spirit of love, which brings to all, even to the infant, as well as to its parents, God’s mercy which “He promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever.”
Joining the Church: This is a phrase that has been brought over from the usage and phraseology of the various denominations. Its use among Church people has been productive of the greatest harm. In the first place, it is hardly a correct phrase for a Churchman to use. We may “join” an Odd Fellows’ lodge or a debating society, but we do not join a family or household which God’s Church is. We are born or adopted into a family, and so we are adopted into God’s family; incorporated, grafted into the Body of Christ, His Church, and not simply “join” it as we would a debating society or a political club.
In the next place, harm has been done by the use of this phrase by Church people, because as popularly understood it is in direct contradiction to the belief and practice of the Church. According to this phraseology Holy Baptism counts for nothing, and yet the Bible teaches that it is in Holy Baptism that we are made members of the church, and that all future blessings are dependent on this spiritual fact. When then, Church people take up this mode of speech and use it in reference to Confirmation as is so often done, they practically ignore the significance of Holy Baptism and the Church’s method and appointed order.
The effect of this becomes apparent in the lives of many of the church’s baptized children. Because, in whatever religious teaching they receive, their Baptism is never referred to, and they are never reminded that they are now God’s children by adoption and grace because baptized, it comes to pass that, when these same children are asked to be confirmed, they think and act as if they were invited to “join the Church.” And as they are more influenced by the speech and methods of the various religious bodies which prevail in their community than they are by the Church’s teaching, they imagine that something extraordinary is required; they feel as if they must somehow “have got” religion; or they do not feel prepared to “experience religion”; or else they don’t know whether they will or will not “join the Episcopal Church.” In all this we see the result of the application and use of “other systems” rather than that of the Church. Thus many an earnest and loving young heart has been lost to the Church, notwithstanding it was given to God in its tenderest years to be trained up for Him. Confirmation is not “joining the Church.” If we are baptized, we have been “received into Christ’s Holy Church and made a living member of the same.” And because this is true, the church has a further Blessing in store for her children. This she would bestow by the ministration of her chief Pastors in the Laying on of Hands by the Bishop; and to this our young people might go naturally and easily and at the same time soberly and reverently, if they were properly instructed and lovingly led. There is no reason why any young baptized person might not thus go to his or her Confirmation, claiming this Blessing as their right and privilege as children of God and citizens of His Kingdom.
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