Catholic Encyclopedia: Baptismal Vows
The name popularly given to the renunciations required of an adult candidate for
baptism just before the sacrament is conferred. In the case of infant baptism, they are
made in the name of the child by the sponsors. It is obvious that these promises have
not the theological import of vows properly so called. According to the Roman Ritual,
at present in use, three questions are to be addressed to the person to be baptized, as
follows: "Dost thou renounce Satan? and all his works? and all his pomps?" To each of
these interrogation the person, or the sponsor in his name, replies: "I do renounce". The
practice of demanding and making this formal renunciation seems to go back to the
very beginnings of organized Christian worship. Tertullian among the Latins and St.
Basil among the Greeks are at one in reckoning it as a usage which, although not
explicitly warranted in the Scriptures, is nevertheless consecrated by a venerable
tradition. St. Basil says this tradition ascends from the Apostles. Tertullian, in his "De
Corona", appears to hint at a twofold renunciation as common in his time, one which
was made at the moment of baptism and another made sometime before, and publicly
in the church, in the presence of the bishop. The form of this renunciation a found in
the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 4) has a quaint interest. It is as follows: "Let therefore
the candidate for baptism declare thus in his renunciation: 'I renounce Satan and his
works and his pomps and his worship and his angels and his inventions and all things
that are under him'. And after his renunciation let him in his consociation say: 'And I
associate myself to Christ and believe and am baptized into one unbegotten being'", etc.
Where there was a baptistery the renunciations were made in the ,
the vestibule or ante-room, as distinguished from the , the inner room
where the baptism itself was administered. The catechumen, standing with his face to
the West, which symbolized the abode of darkness, and stretching out his hand, or
sometimes spitting out in defiance and abhorrence of the devil, was wont to make this
abjuration. It was also customary after this for the candidate for baptism to make an
explicit promise of obedience to Christ. This was called by the Greeks , the giving of oneself over to the control of Christ. St. Justin Martyr testifies
that baptism was only administered by those who, together with their profession of
faith, made a promise or vow that they would live in conformity with the Christian
code. Hence the generally employed formula: , "I surrender
myself to thee, O Christ, to be ruled by thy precepts". This took place directly over the
or renunciation of the devil, and was variously described by the Latins as
. During this declaration of attachment to Jesus
Christ the person to be baptized turned towards the East as towards the region of light.
The practice of renewing the baptismal promises is more or less widespread. This is
done under circumstances of special solemnity such as at the closing exercises of a
mission, after the administration of First Communion to children, or the conferring of
the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is thus intended as a way of reaffirming one's loyalty
to the obligations taken over by membership in the Christian Church.
JOSEPH F. DELANY
Transcribed by Janet Grayson
Taken from the New Advent Web Page (www.knight.org/advent).
This article is part of the Catholic Encyclopedia Project, an effort aimed at placing the
entire Catholic Encyclopedia on the World Wide Web. The coordinator is Kevin Knight,
editor of the New Advent Catholic Website. If you would like to contribute to this
worthwhile project, you can contact him by e-mail at (firstname.lastname@example.org). For
more information please download the file cathen.txt/.zip.