Baptism as Exorcism

I mentioned yesterday that the book we are using for our study on baptism is Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity by Robin Jenson. As you can tell from the title, the book isn't just a survey of the biblical material about baptism, most of the book is a focus on early Christian rituals and art associated with baptism.

Because of Reviving Old Scratch, I was particularly struck by the discussion of how baptism was seen by the early church as a form of exorcism. I was aware that the early Christians would renounce the devil at baptism, as some traditions still do today, but I was unaware that the baptismal act itself was viewed a form of casting out the devil. And if not baptism itself, there were prebaptismal rites of exorcism.

Two interesting rituals associated with this practice were the giving of salt and exsufflation.

Symbolizing purification, some early Christians gave catechumens salt to eat. Those to be baptized were "signed with salt."

Exsufflation involve blowing on the catechumens, symbolizing or literally blowing the demons out of the person. At baptism the one officiating would gently blow or breathe on the catechumens, exorcising them of any evil spirits. Exsufflation was associated with the Christian practice of hissing at images of the emperor, which was also considered to be an exorcistic act.

All that to say, I'm going to ask my church to start blowing on people about to be baptized. This practice has to be revived.

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