From the Revd W. N. Brook
Sir, - Reading the report of the debate in the General Synod
about the proposed alternative wording of the baptism service (General Synod, 18
July), I was taken back to the 1980s, when we had the
Alternative Service Book. So I got hold of my copy, and read again
the text of the baptism service there.
The words - not too many - say all that is necessary, and, with
a warm welcome and a little comment and explanation, the service
served us well.
In those days, I had a parish where we baptised between 80 and
90 children a year; so I had plenty of experience of it.
It was, of course, before the digital age, with its profusion of
texts, which has brought us the Common Worship
Dare I suggest that we are getting drowned in a sea of words,
and that we might benefit from being washed up on a laconic
W. N. BROOK
27 Middleton Drive, Eastbourne
East Sussex BN23 6HD
From the Revd David Perry
Sir, - In the debate in the General Synod on the additional
texts in accessible language, Sister Rosemary CHN asked how the
"Decision" section should be interpreted. "Am I", she said, "asking
the baby to respond, or the parents?" Her question deserves an
The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c.250)
has this rubric: "They shall baptise the little children first. And
if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they
cannot, let the parents answer or someone from their family."
In the Prayer Book, it is clearly the infant's decision as the
candidate, but the infant relies on the godparents to speak for him
or her. "Wherefore . . . this Infant must also faithfully
. . . promise by you that are his sureties . . . that
he will renounce the devil and all his works . . . and
constantly believe God's holy Word, and obediently keep his
"Minister. Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?
Answer. That is my desire. Minister. Wilt thou
then obediently keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in
the same all the days of thy life? Answer. I will."
It is the baby's future faith and morals that the parents and
godparents are pledging, not theirs.
The compilers of the ASB 1980 adopted a both/and approach:
"Those who bring children to be baptised must affirm their
allegiance to Christ and their rejection of all that is evil. . .
Therefore I ask these questions which you must answer for
yourselves and for these children."
Note how "their allegiance" is exquisitely ambiguous. Does it
refer to the infant about to be baptised, or to the parents and
godparents? "You must answer for yourselves" turns the Decision
into an integrity test of the parents and godparents, and ignores
the fact that the Decision, like the baptism itself, is that of the
candidate, not that of the parents or godparents.
In Common Worship: Christian Initiation, the rubric at
the Decision restores the historic doctrine enshrined in the Prayer
Book: "The president addresses the candidates directly or through
their parents, godparents, and sponsors."
In the age of the martyrs, candidates undertook a demanding
programme of spiritual exercises, culminating in the Easter
baptisms. As times changed, and infant baptism became the norm,
there was no attempt to rewrite the baptismal liturgy to take
account of the intellectual limitations of the infant mind.
Instead, the solution was to carry on using the same rubric as
the one in the Apostolic Tradition: "But if they cannot,
let the parents answer or someone from their family." CW:
Christian Initiation simply reaffirms that tradition, and so
keeps our continuity with apostolic times.
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