sponsors parents baptism
SPONSOR. The presence of some suitable sponsor or sponsors to give the answers required and undertake the vows involved would seem to be almost essential to the right administration of the sacrament of baptism, in the case of infants at least. In this aspect, however, as in many others, the early history of the development of the rite of baptism remains obscure. The Greek word for the person undertaking this function is o!vciSoxos, to which the Latin susceptor is equivalent. The word " sponsor " in this ecclesiastical sense occurs for the first time, but incidentally only, and as if it were already long familiar, in Tertullian's treatise De Baptismo (c. 18), where, arguing that in certain circumstances baptism may conveniently be postponed, especially in the case of little children, he asks, " For why is it necessary that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger, who both themselves by reason of mortality may fail to fulfil their promises, and may also be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition [in those for whom they become sponsors]'1 " There is nothing to make it unlikely that the sponsors here alluded to may have been in many cases the actual parents, and even in the 5th century it was not felt to be inappropriate that they should be so ; Augustine, indeed, in one passage appears to speak of it as a matter of course that parents should bring their children and answer for them " tanquam fidejussores " (Epist. . . . ad Bonif., 98). The comparatively early appearance, however, of such names as compatres, coninzatres, propatres, promatres, patrini, matrinn is of itself sufficient evidence, not only that the sponsorial relationship had come to be regarded as a very close one, but also that it was not usually assumed by the natural parents. How very close it was held to be is shown by the Justinianian prohibition of marriage between godparents and godchildren. On the other hand, the anciently allowable practice of parents becoming sponsors for their own children seems to have lingered until the 9th century, when it was at last formally prohibited by the council of Mainz (813). For a long time there was no fixed rule as to the necessary or allowable number of sponsors, and sometimes the number actually assumed was large. By the council of Trent, however, it was decreed that one only, or at most two, these not being of the same sex, should be permitted. The rubric of the Church of England according to which "there shall be for every male child to be baptized two godfathers and one godmother, and for every female one godfather and two godmothers," is not older than 1561 ; in the Catechism the child is taught to say that he received his name from his "godfathers and godmothers." At the Reformation the Lutheran churches retained godfathers and godmothers, but the Reformed churches reverted to what they believed to be the more primitive rule, that in ordinary circumstances this function should be undertaken by a child's proper parents. All churches, it may be added, of course demand of sponsors that they be in full communion. In the Church of Rome priests, monks, and nuns are disqualified from being sponsors, either "because it might involve their entanglement in worldly affairs," or more probably because every relationship of fatherhood or motherhood is felt to be in their case inappropriate.