Once upon a time, some people were baptized using beer.

Let’s start with basics. As Christians, how are we joined to Christ, that we might be justified by His infinite merit? By baptism and the Eucharist, say the Sacred Scriptures:

“For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Unfortunately, the Scriptures don’t interpret themselves (see 2 Peter 3:16). Thus, some time in the 13th century, someone slightly misinterpreted the Biblical teaching on being reborn of water and the Spirit. Therefore the Pope was forced to lay down the law:

“Since as we have learned from your report, it sometimes happens because of the scarcity of water, that infants of your lands are baptized in beer [!], we reply to you in the tenor of those present that, since according to evangelical doctrine it is necessary “to be reborn from water and the Holy Spirit” [John 3:5] they are not to be considered rightly baptized who are baptized in beer.”

(From the letter Cum, sicut ex of Pope Gregory IX [in office 1227-1241] to Archbishop Sigurd of Nidaros, July 8, 1241, in Denzinger 447*. Boldface mine.)

Which makes me wonder why it even had to be said by the Pope in office; and which makes me wish I knew the Latin word for ‘duh’. RME. But for the sake of those poor children, I thank Christ our Lord that He gave us the Church to stand for truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and the rock of St. Peter (Matthew 16:18) to confirm our faith (Luke 22:32)… even in the small things.

(Yet I am also tempted to say, “too bad”; and to add, in paraphrase of St. Augustine, “Lord, grant me temperance and self-control, but not yet!”**)


*N.B., The Denzinger citation follows the old numbering of Sources of Catholic Dogma (documents up to 1950), which is available at Catechetics Online (cf. Wikipedia). For more links to legally free Catholic ebooks, you may visit our index at the Catholic eBooks Project.

**St. Augustine’s “prayer” is one of the most memorable in history. The original went, Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo (Confessionum Libri Tededim, VIII, vii, 17). In English, “Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet” (Confessions, Book VIII, chap. vii, paragraph 17)