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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

27 - Baptism

from Part IV - The Religious Question


John Calvin, like all Protestant reformers of the 1520s and 1530s, was born into a Roman Catholic society and baptized as an infant, according to Catholic practice. When Calvin began to work with Guillaume Farel to lead the Reformation in Geneva, they were interacting with a community of individuals who had all received Catholic baptisms, whether at a baptismal font by an ordained priest, or in the birthing room by a midwife. Those late medieval rites of baptism reflected a number of theological concerns and assumptions, including the teachings that the sacrament of baptism was essential to salvation and that infants who died without baptism would be consigned to limbo. At the same time, traditional baptismal practices also embodied a series of social and familial priorities, including the importance of godparents in building and solidifying social networks and the desire to honor those godparents in the name of a child. As a result, Calvin’s understanding of baptism challenged core beliefs and social traditions with which both he and his Genevan followers (both enthusiastic and reluctant) had been raised, complicating the implementation of his ideas and shaping the development of his teachings across the mid-sixteenth century and well beyond Geneva.

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