Baptism, Belonging, and Christian Community


Baptism served as an important rite of initiation into the church, the Christian community, and the local congregation at least as far back as the fourteenth century. Conversely, all those denied a Christian baptism (Jews, Muslims, “heathens,” etc.) were thus excluded from the church and the Christian community. Baptism was considered a “rebirth” or second birth in the Christian faith; as a result, the Christian—according to Christian understanding—was cleansed of his/her sinful nature and a covenant with God was established. Additionally, the baptized person was given a name as part of his/her baptism, and a bond to a family or denomination was thereby established. This applied not only to infant baptism, but also to adult baptism, which was linked to a conversion to the Christian faith. Baptism was often accompanied by instruction in the Christian faith. The rite also involved the newly baptized person being assigned a godfather or godmother, who could also be the name-giver. Early Modern reports about the baptism of Jews, Muslims, and “heathens” provide insight into the rite and its context. Baptism and conversion sometimes promised new opportunities for those who underwent these processes, often under threat of force. To what extent was the ritual of baptism intended as a means of integrating “foreigners” into the Christian (German-speaking) majority society? To what extent could it succeed? These questions remain up for debate.


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