Name popularly given to the renunciations required of an adult candidate for baptism just before the sacrament is conferred
Baptismal Vows, the name popularly given to the renunciations required of an adult candidate for baptism just before the sacrament is conferred. In the case of infant baptism they are made in the name of the child by the sponsors. It is obvious that these promises have not the theological import of vows properly so called. According to the Roman Ritual, at present in use, three questions are to be addressed to the person to be baptized, as follows: “Dost thou renounce Satan? and all his works? and all his pomps?” To each of these interrogations the person, or the sponsor in his name, replies: “I do renounce”. The practice of demanding and making this formal renunciation seems to go back to the very beginnings of organized Christian worship. Tertullian among the Latins and St. Basil among the Greeks are at one in reckoning it as a usage which, although not explicitly warranted in the Scriptures, is nevertheless consecrated by a venerable tradition. St. Basil says this tradition descends from the Apostles. Tertullian, in his “De Corona”, appears to hint at a twofold renunciation as common in his time, one which was made at the moment of baptism and another made sometime before, and publicly in the church, in the presence of the bishop. The form of this renunciation as found in the Apostolic Constitutions (VII, 4) has a quaint interest. It is as follows: “Let therefore the candidate for baptism declare thus in his renunciation: `I renounce Satan and his works and his pomps and his worship and his angels and his inventions and all things that are under him’. And after his renunciation let him in his consociation say: `And I associate myself to Christ and believe and am baptized into one unbegotten being'”, etc.
Where there was a baptistery the renunciations were made in the proaulion oikon, the vestibule or ante-room, as distinguished from the esoteron oikon, the inner room where the baptism itself was administered. The catechumen, standing with his face to the West, which symbolized the abode of darkness, and stretching out his hand, or sometimes spitting out in defiance and abhorrence of the devil, was wont to make this abjuration. It was also customary after this for the candidate for baptism to make an explicit promise of obedience to Christ. This was called by the Greeks suntassesthai Christo, the giving of oneself over to the control of Christ. St. Justin Martyr testifies that baptism was only administered to those who, together with their profession of faith, made a promise or vow that they would live in conformity with the Christian code. Hence the generally employed formula: subtassomai soi, Christe, “I surrender myself to thee, O Christ, to be ruled by thy precepts”. This took place directly after the apotazis, or renunciation of the devil, and was variously described by the Latins as promissum, pactum, and votum. During this declaration of attachment to Jesus Christ the person to be baptized turned towards the East as towards the region of light.
The practice of renewing the baptismal promises is more or less widespread. This is done under circumstances of special solemnity such as at the closing exercises of a mission, after the administration of First Communion to children, or the conferring of the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is thus intended as a way of reaffirming one’s loyalty to the obligations taken over by membership in the Christian Church.
JOSEPH F. DELANY