This engraving was by the well-known French Protestant artist Abraham Bosse (1604-1676). This engraving is interesting because it gives a view into the practice of baptism in Geneva during the Reformation. It was common practice, among both Catholics and Protestants, for mothers not to attend the baptism of their children since they were recovering from giving birth. The ones who generally brought their children to the baptism were the fathers and godparents.
In Geneva it was required for the father to attend the baptism where he would promise to bring the child up in the Christian faith. Godparents who would attend with the father could only be those who were faithful Christians and Reformed, since others could not promise to teach the children the Christian faith. This was against the Roman Catholic church’s practice that only allowed the godparents to bring the baby to baptism.
In one account, two people from Dardagny in November of 1545 were called before the Consistory and reprimanded for their superstitions that a father should not attend his children’s baptism. More should be said on this and I hope will at a later time.
Calvin wrote many letters answering questions for many people on how to practice baptism. What if a Reformed pastor wasn’t available, was a Catholic priest appropriate? We note here that Calvin rejected this (Catholic priest) as an option though Catholic baptisms were considered valid. Or how about baptisms that were not done as part of a worship service but in private? This also was rejected because there were no Christians to witness and hear to the promises made. It is the answer that Calvin gave to Mr. Jean Paule in 1554 which Karin Magg writes about, in “Lifting Hearts to the Lord“, that I find interesting.
“…one should note that since this sacrament is the solemn entry into the Church of God, or a testimony of the heavenly citizenship in which all those whom God adopts as his children are enrolled, one can only administer baptism in the presence of the faithful.”
The emphasis, for Calvin, is that a body of believers must be present for the sacrament of baptism to be in accord with the words of Jesus and the practice of the Apostles. Agree or disagree I think we can conclude one thing when contrasting the contemporary practice of baptism with the practice of Geneva. When we look at the contemporary practice of baptism in evangelical churches and evangelical believers, perhaps more questions should be asked before simply acting. We may disagree with some of the practices that took place in Geneva and we may have some legitimate serious questions, but one thing is evident, they took baptism and God’s mind toward the children of believers seriously and that’s noteworthy.