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The Sponsor's warrant to undertake for the Child seems to rest on the same promises which encourage the Parent: the one being the natural, the other the spiritual Parent, the Godfather. And thus King Edward the Sixth's Catechism equally accepts the profession of either. “ For the young babes, their Parents' or the church's profession sufficeth.” 1 The Sponsor therefore undertakes his duty in faith of the promise, and, according to his opportunities, provides for the spiritual education of the Child. He pleads the promises; he bears his charge upon his heart in prayer ; and it is his desire to acquit himself to the Church of the trust she has reposed in his spiritual vigilance, and parental superintendence in Christ.
The institution of Sponsors for the Infant baptised seems to be coeval with Infant-Baptism. It is mentioned by Tertullian one hundred years
1 Fathers of the English Church, ii. 369.
from the Apostles' times incidentally, as though it were the ordinary practice of the Church.' And both the existence and manner of Sponsor ship, as practised in the primitive times, are thús detailed by Augustine. “But I would not have you mistake so as to think that the bond of guilt derived from Adam may not be broken, unless the children be offered for receiving the grace of Christ by their own Parents. For so you speak in your letter, " that as the Parents were authors of the punishment, so they may also by the faith of their Parents be justified.” Whereas you see that a great many are offered not by their Parents, but by any other persons. As the infant slaves are sometimes offered by their masters : and sometimes when the Parents are dead, the infants are baptised, being offered by any that can afford to shew this compassion on them. And sometimes infants whom their Parents have cruelly exposed to be brought up by those that light on them, are now and then taken up by the holy virgins, and offered to baptism by them who have no children of their own, nor design to have any. And in all this there is nothing else done than what is written in the Gospel, when our Lord asked who was neighbour to him that was wounded by thieves, and left half dead in the road? And it was answered, “ He that shewed mercy on him.”2
1 Wall i. 43.
3 Ibid. i. 195.
It seems clear from the above extract, not only, as Wall remarks, that both Augustine, and Boniface, to whom he writes, “ take it for granted that Infants are to be baptised,” and " that the ordinary use then was for the Parents to answer for their Children;" but that any person, who undertook the charitable work of bringing up the destitute Child, whether the masters of slaves, the friends of orphans adopted, or the holy virgins who educated the exposed Children as their own, in performing an act of charity to the body, performed a still greater act of charity to the soul, by presenting such Infants for the seal of the covenant mercies of the Church in Baptism, of whose pious education they undertook the responsibility. The Church, at that time, committing the spiritual care of the Infant to the person who engaged to be his natural Parent.
And is it an improbable suggestion, that the present requisition of the Church-that the spiritual friends of the family should be received as Sponsors, in preference, or rather in addition, to the natural Parents of the Child-arose from this custom of receiving the natural guardian of the Child as its Sponsor in Baptism? It is in effect the same, whether the Parent appears by himself in person, or by the Sponsor deputed by him. The act of the Sponsor, in presenting the Child, is assumed by the Church as having the sanction of the Parent; and on this assumption
she acts in confirming the choice of the Parent, by committing the spiritual interests of the Child to the Sponsor approved by him. The entrusting the Child to the spiritual care of the Sponsor, is, in fact, the work of the Church, who says to every Sponsor as Pharaoh's daughter did to the mother of Moses, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me.” 1
The Church considers the character of the Parent as represented by the Sponsor : his character, as interpreted by his profession, and the office which he voluntarily undertakes before the congregation, is her security, under God, for the spiritual education of the Infant. To him she commits her charge; he voluntarily accepts the responsibility ; and that she may not be disappointed in her hope by the death or default of the parties, she appoints three Sponsors to every Child she receives.
And now, let prudence interpret this usage of the Church in the appointment of Sponsors. The Parents, who presented their Infants for Baptism in primitive times, were such as the Church might safely entrust with the superintendence of the young of the flock. Persecution then sifted character, and the hazard of a Christian profession was then a security for its reality. But in process of time, when a Christian profession was established by fashion, as at the pre
1 Exodus ii. 9.
sent day, it was prudent, as doubtless it was necessary, for the Church to require an additional security: and as the Parent, if truly Christian, would necessarily train up the Child to the consistent enjoyment of the covenant mercies sealed by his Baptism, and to the discharge of the corresponding duties incumbent on him to perform ; so in the defect of the real holiness of the Parent, the Church kindly provided for the spiritual welfare of the Infant, by requiring holy Sponsors to undertake the charge, which according to their opportunities they were expected to fulfil.
And next, let charity interpret this usage of the Church in the appointment of Sponsors to her Infants. First in giving the promise its largest interpretation, and assuming that it is made to her and every Infant she receives into her communion; so that not only does each Parent undertake for his baptised Child, not only every particular Sponsor, but every individual of that communion of saints into which the Child is received, is its spiritual Parent also : and any interpretation of the
promise short of this, does not fully invest the Child with the interests and privileges of the spiritual communion into which it is admitted ; nor does it give to that communion of saints the full interest of that affectionate relation in which it stands towards the Child it has adopted. Thus the Child is the child of the Church, and the