Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Boys on the Beach:
Children's Games and Baptismal Grace in the Middle Ages.
October 9 2015 
English Common Room 4406
CUNY Graduate Center

Professor Emerita, Department of History, Oberlin College 

While medieval Christians firmly agreed that baptism was a sacrament of necessity, there was considerable disagreement on what makes a baptism a valid sacrament.  One such debate was triggered by conflicting responses to a passage in Rufinus of Aquileia's Ecclesiastical History in which Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, validates the playful baptism of boys on the beach by the child Athanasius, his own protégé and successor.  Up through ca. 1300, thinkers who cited Rufinus, often in selective and garbled form, used him as a template for their appropriation of their other key  authority, Augustine's De baptismo, and framed their solutions in the light of a range of arguments on different issues.  They reached no consensus on the question itself, reflecting a larger medieval reality often lost sight of by proponents of the rise of a persecuting society in the Middle Ages:  the acceptability, within the medieval orthodox Christian consensus, of more than one position on a fundamental theological doctrine. 

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