Feet washing in early Christian contexts

Discussion in 'Baptist History' started by rlvaughn, Dec 18, 2005.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    I am starting this topic in reference to discussion of the subject of feet washing on the Why only two ordinances? thread.

    This will undertake to compile some references to feet washing in early Christian contexts. All references do not point to an exact type of practice in all cases, nor do I claim true Christian status for all sources. This is simply historical investigation.

    I will start the references in the next post. Perhaps when I have more time, I can add quotes from some of the references. Until then, at least the sources will be available. Perhaps others can and will add more sources/references for this historical study.

    A few of them are based on my findings several years ago, but most must be credited to the research of John Christopher Thomas presented in his book, Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community.
     
  2. rlvaughn

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    References in somewhat chronological order:

    Tertullian (ca. 155–230) in De Cornona (written circa 211) mentions feet washing as part of Christian worship. [Ante-Nice Fathers, III, Roberts & Donaldson, p. 98 (Eerdmans, 1951)]

    The Canons of Athanasius of Alexandria (ca. 370) [translated by Riedeland and Crum, 1904, pp. 43 & 131]

    Ambrose (340-397) in Of the Holy Spirit [translated by Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, X. p. 95] See also Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, p. 148.

    Saint John Chrysostom: Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist [translated by T. A. Goggin, 1960, p. 261] (Chrysostom lived ca. 347-407)

    Augustine (354-430) [Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, VII. p. 306] See also Strong and McClintock's Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. III, p. 616.

    John Cassian (360-435) in Institute of the Coenobia [Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second series, XI, pp. 224-25]

    Apostolic Constitutions (ca. 400) mentions it in relation to deacons [Roberts & Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, VII, p. 432]

    Pachomias writing in 404 says that visiting monks & clerics should be received with footwashing [Rules, translated by A. Veillux, Pachomian Koinonia, II, (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), p.153]

    Caesarias of Arles (ca. 470-542) [Saint Caesarias of Arles: Sermons, translated by M. M. Mueller, III, pp. 65-66 (Washington, DC: Catholic Univ of Amer. Press, 1973)] See also Vol. II, p. 29.
     
  3. rlvaughn

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    Most of the above references, with the exception of Tertullian, are from the 300s & 400s A.D.

    Even Thomas finds few very early references, though he makes a good argument on pp. 146-47 that the absence of such references are not proof that it was not practiced.

    In one case he finds a possible allusion to feet washing in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written in 156. He cites it according to the translation of C. C. Richardson in Early Christian Fathers, p. 154 (New York: MacMillan Press, 1970).

    I also have a note in my feet washing vertical file from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. IV, p. 339 that "the post-apostolic age understood the example thus given to be mandatory." The context was feet washing. Unfortunately, that's all I copied and don't have the book to put it in more detailed context.

    [ December 18, 2005, 06:14 PM: Message edited by: rlvaughn ]
     
  4. rsr

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    An additional reference:

    Council of Elvira, c. 300, the substance of which sheds little light upon the practice, except to discourage it.

    To expand on the reference by Augustine (in a letter to Januarius, A.D. 400):

    "As to the feet-washing, since the Lord recommended this because of its being an example of that humility which He came to teach, as He Himself afterwards explained, the question has arisen at what time it is best, by literal performance of this work, to give public instruction in the important duty which it illustrates, and this time [of Lent] was suggested in order that the lesson taught by it might make a deeper and more serious impression. Many, however, have not accepted this as a custom, lest it should be thought to belong to the ordinance of baptism; and some have not hesitated to deny it any place among our ceremonies. Some, however, in order to connect its observance with the more sacred associations of this solemn season, and at the same time to prevent its being confounded with baptism in any way, have selected for this ceremony either the eighth day itself, or that on which the third eighth day occurs, because of the great significance of the number three in many holy mysteries."

    Saint Benedict (480-543) in enjoins washing, but as a rule of hospitality, not a sacrament. (Rather similar to the Pachomias reference, I suspect.)

    An analysis of the Anabaptists' use of the ceremony is at:

    http://www.bibleviews.com/feetwash.html
     
  5. rsr

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    I have run across references to an article by Martin Connell, "Nisi Pedes, Except for the Feet," in Worship No. 70, 1996, which is said to be "an important recent study of the role of foot-washing in early Christian initiation." Unfortunately, it's not available online.
     
  6. rlvaughn

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    Though I failed to, Thomas mentions the Council of Elvira, writing, "the Synod disavows such a practice" but "the denunciation itself is additional evidence that early in the fourth century footwashing was being practiced."

    Another he mentions that I failed to is Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History (written circa 440), which refers to it in the home of Bishop Spyridon, but evidently in the context of hospitality. [translated by Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, II. p. 247]
     
  7. rlvaughn

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    I found the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge online.

    Click the link below for page 339. After getting to the site, use the next page button to finish reading the article.

    Religious Knowledge, p. 339
     
  8. rsr

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    No Reformed bias there, I see ...
     
  9. gb93433

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    (Off-topic post removed.)

    [ December 19, 2005, 01:42 PM: Message edited by: rsr ]
     
  10. rlvaughn

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    I'll list now some of the above references that I've been able to ferret out online.

    The Martyrdom of Polycarp. 13:2 (Roberts-Donaldson Translation)

    This above is definitely not a clear reference. Thomas points to the possibility of an allusion to footwashing based on the description of laying aside of garments, the mention of not removing the shoes in relation to touching his skin, that apsetai (translated touch) in some contexts means to wash, and tradition of Polycarp's connection with the Apostle John. Probably a long shot.

    Tertullian, De Corona, Chapter 8 (Roberts-Donaldson Translation)

    Tertullian, To His Wife, Chapter 5 (Of the Hindrances which an Unbelieving Husband puts in His Wife's Way) (Roberts-Donaldson Translation)

    Ambrose, Of the Holy Spirit, 1:15
     
  11. rsr

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    If feet washing has a limited (and disputed) documentary record in early Christianity, how did the practice enter into Baptist life?
     
  12. genesis12

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    What does tradition have to do with inspired doctrine? [​IMG]
     
  13. rlvaughn

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    genesis12, welcome to the BaptistBoard. Let me explain a little about our format. This forum is a discussion of history and history-related topics. It does not establish or refute inspired doctrine (i.e. the Bible). History deals what has happened in the past. If anyone would like to discuss feet washing in a doctrinal way (or other doctrines, Bible verses, etc.) - yea or nay, right or wrong, - you or anyone else can start a thread on it in one of the other forums.
     
  14. genesis12

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    OK, how did it enter into Baptist life, and of what import is its discussion? How will discussing footwashing add to our understanding of what it means to be a Baptist? I know of no congregation in the SBC that endorses the practice. Let's suppose we establish that there is one, somewhere. How will it, or some other historical perspective, enhance our understanding of Baptist thought? How much of our Christian activity should involve discussions of footwashing?
     
  15. rlvaughn

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    genesis12, I'll try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. Maybe others will offer their perspectives as well.

    That is part of the purpose of historical inquiry. I don't want to get this into a Baptist origins debate, for there are several theories. But, some see Baptists as originating in the early 1600s in England. Feet washing can be shown to have varying degrees of presence in Baptist life from the present back to sometime in the 1600s. For the earliest dates, I'd have to do some looking. Some see Baptists as originating with the Continental Anabaptists. Feet washing among them is well documented. Others see Baptists, or at least Baptist principles, as harking back to the New Testament. Those (and others who believe in feet washing as well) would trace the origin to John 13.

    Two things here. (1) Though not many, there are a few Southern Baptist churches that practice feet washing. (2) This is not a Southern Baptist discussion board, so there is broader interest here than just what Southern Baptists do or do not do. Primitive Baptists, General Baptists, Free Will Baptists, United Baptists, Separate Baptists, Old Regular Baptists, some Missionary Baptists, and probably others I have forgotten, practice feet washing either as an ordinance or as an example.

    Since feet washing is and has been part of Baptist thought, it should enhance our understanding. How much may be up to the reader. It has been discussed pro & con off and on through several centuries.

    I have no idea. As far as this board is concerned, one is free to discuss it or not discuss it. If we compare how many threads on the Baptist Board are devoted to subjects such as Bible inerrancy, salvation, etc. vs. feet washing, I'd say we don't spend an inordinate amount of time on it - very little in fact.

    Hope this helps.
     
  16. rsr

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    This is a history forum, and we talk about history. If you don't want to talk about history, feel free not to do so.
     
  17. rlvaughn

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    Sorry, I guess I glossed over this question.

    I suppose you already know that theologically I believe that it entered Baptist life when Jesus washed His disciples' feet. But I also think historically it enters and re-enters Baptist life through revival of interest in re-creating New Testament practices. I think our Separate Baptists are a good example of this. Now feet washing among Baptists in America did not start with them. There are a few records of discussion of the subject at the Philadelphia Association. Morgan Edwards (who served as both moderator and clerk at times) believed it should be practiced. But when you look at the Separate Baptists, you see a group born out of the Great Awakening. Many of these had been paedobaptists but became Baptists. In this new atmosphere they searched the Scriptures to see what all they had missed, and in doing so added practices that the Regular Baptists had either dropped, were ambivalent towards, or had never practiced (e.g. laying of of hands, feet washing).

    IMO, wherever there is interest in apostolic practice as normative and/or a desire to "find/recreate" the New Testament church (and not necessarily among Baptists), one will find consideration of such topics as feet washing.

    Stephen, this is rambling and hurriedly typed up, so I hope it makes sense.
     
  18. genesis12

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    Thanks. ;)
     
  19. rsr

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    Yes, it does.

    Movements that reject the magesterium are prone to adopt rituals that they find in Scripture but not commonly observed. This is true of the Moravian Brethren, for example, and many of the Anabaptists and some Holiness groups.

    But this does not address the entire question of ordinances among Baptists. The revered John Gill, for example, was thoroughly Puritan yet considered laying on of hands an ordinance.
     
  20. rlvaughn

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    I agree. Cases such as Gill are a little harder to explain. Of course, we could take the simple solution - that he followed the course of what he thought the Scriptures taught and wound up at that point. But that sort of begs the question I suppose.

    For an even more extreme example, take Morgan Edwards. Edwards was a student of John Gill. He was educated at Bristol Academy and later continued his studies with Gill, Samuel Stennett, and Thomas Llewelyn. Seems an unlikely candidate to hold to 9 (or maybe 13) ordinances.

    [P.S. - Stephen I once had a thread with quotes by Edwards, Philadelphia Assn, et al. or subjects like feet washing. I couldn't find it and it may be deleted. Thought since you're a moderator you might be able to turn it up somewhere. I did find (offsite) his "Materials Toward a History of the Baptists in Rhode Island"]

    http://www.21tnt.com/morganedwards/
     

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