Luther on Godparents
Last year I posted some comments about the renewal of the role of godparents in baptism in connection with my article in the print edition of Lutheran Forum, “Joyful Exchanges, Part I” (Summer 2010). So I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover Luther’s comments on the duties of godparents in his “Baptismal Booklet” appended to the Small Catechism. They are well worth repeating here...
Last year I posted some comments about the renewal of the role of godparents in baptism in connection with my article in the print edition of Lutheran Forum, “Joyful Exchanges, Part I” (Summer 2010). So I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover Luther’s comments on the duties of godparents in his “Baptismal Booklet” appended to the Small Catechism. They are well worth repeating here.
“Because daily I see and hear with what carelessness and lack of solemnity—to say nothing of out-and-out levity—people treat the high, holy, and comforting sacrament of baptism for infants, in part caused, I believe, by the fact that those present understand nothing of what is being said and done, I have decided that it is not only helpful but also necessary to conduct the service in the German language. For this reason I have translated those portions that used to be said in Latin in order to begin baptizing in German, so that the sponsors and others present may be all the more aroused to faith and earnest devotion and so that the priests who baptize have to show more diligence for the sake of the listeners.
“Out of a sense of Christian commitment, I appeal to all those who baptize, sponsor infants, or witness a baptism to take to heart the tremendous work and great solemnity present here. For here in the words of these prayers you hear how plaintively and earnestly the Christian church brings the infant to God, confesses before him with such unchanging, undoubting words that the infant is possessed by the devil and a child of sin and wrath, and so diligently asks for help and grace through baptism, that the infant may become a child of God.
“Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all…
“Instead, see to it that you are present there in true faith, that you listen to God’s Word, and that you pray along earnestly. For wherever the priest says, ‘Let us pray,’ he is exhorting you to pray with him. Moreover, all sponsors and the others present ought to speak along with him the words of his prayer in their hearts to God. For this reason, the priest should speak these prayers very clearly and slowly, so that the sponsors can hear and understand them and can also pray with the priest with one mind in their hearts, carrying before God the need of the little child with all earnestness, on the child’s behalf setting themselves against the devil with all their strength, and demonstrating that they take seriously what is no joke to the devil.
“For this reason it is right and proper not to allow drunken and boorish priests to baptize nor to select good-for-nothings as godparents. Instead fine, moral, serious, upright priests and godparents ought to be chosen, who can be expected to treat the matter with seriousness and true faith, les this high sacrament be abandoned to the devil’s mockery and dishonor God, who in this sacrament showers forth upon us the vast and boundless riches of his grace. He himself calls it a ‘new birth,’ through which we, being freed from the devil’s tyranny and loosed from sin, death, and hell, become children of life, heirs of all God’s possessions, God’s own children, and brothers and sisters of Christ.
“Ah, dear Christians, let us not value or treat this unspeakable gift so half-heartedly. For baptism is our only comfort and the doorway to all God’s possessions and to the communion of saints. To this end may God help us. Amen.”
Quoted from “The Small Catechism: Baptismal Booklet,” in The Book of Concord, eds. Timothy J. Wengert and Robert Kolb (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2000), 371-3.