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Date sent: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 16:04:37 -0500
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Subject: Delayed Baptism
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On October 11 the calendar of feast days on Medieval-Religion included St.
Nectarius, who succeeded Gergory Nazianzen as archbishop of Constantinople in
397. We are told he was unbaptized when chosen for this important episopal
This week I happened to be reading the biographical article in New Cath.
Ency. on St. Caesarius of Nazianzus, the brother of Gregory Nazianzen.
According to this brief article Caesarius was a physician at court, who
narrowly escaped death in an earthquake. At this point he decided to "follow
the ascetical life" and to be baptized. He died suddenly after being
baptized. Not only was his brother a saint, but his father, mother, and
sister are regarded as saints. He became honored as a saint shortly after
One relates these two saints who delayed baptism until late in their lives to
St. Ambrose and to Constantine, both also fourth century Christians. One
suspects that Nectarius was related to the court in some way prior to being
made a bishop, and if so all four would have had that in common.
One also thinks of King Wamba of Spain, who in 680 fell ill and was baptized
in the expectation that he would die. He however recovered, perciptating a
constitutional crisis which had to be settled by a council, at which the
bishops reaffirmed the Church's tradition that baptized persons could not
wear the "militare cingulum," thus preventing Wamba from regaining the
throne. (See J.N.Hillgarth's introduction to vol. 115 of CCSL).
This is an area in which my own expertise is only that of a generalist. Do
any of the many experts on the list have any insight on this phenomenon? If
so it will be gratefully received.
Ivan J. Kauffman
Surely it was not Wamba's baptism but the fact that he was a penitent which
prevented him from resuming use of the cingulum militare? (On Carolingian canon
law surrounding this point cf. K. Leyser, 'Early medieval canon law and the
beginnings of knighthood' in his Communications and Power in Medieval Europe:
the Carolingian and Ottonian Centuries, ed. T. Reuter (London and Rio Grande,
1994). (The only stuff about Wamba I have to hand is R. Collins, Early Medieval
This story reflects the fact that in the late antique and early medieval period
penance was a one-off action, and was therefore often put off until late in life
or until a sinner became gravely ill.
University of Nottingham