1st Edition

Infant Baptism in Reformation Geneva The Shaping of a Community, 1536–1564

By Karen E. Spierling Copyright 2005

    This book examines the beliefs, practices and arguments surrounding the ritual of infant baptism and the raising of children in Geneva during the period of John Calvin's tenure as leader of the Reformed Church, 1536-1564. It focuses particularly on the years from 1541 onward, after Calvin's return to Geneva and the formation of the Consistory. The work is based on sources housed primarily in the Genevan State Archives, including the registers of the Consistory and the City Council. While the time period of the study may be limited, the approach is broad, encompassing issues of theology, church ritual and practices, the histories of family and children, and the power struggles involved in transforming not simply a church institution but the entire community surrounding it. The overarching argument presented is that the ordinances and practices surrounding baptism present a framework for relations among child, parents, godparents, church and city. The design of the baptismal ceremony, including liturgy, participants and location, provided a blueprint of the reformers' vision of a well ordered community. To comprehend fully the development and spread of Calvinism, it is necessary to understand the context of its origins and how the ideas of Calvin and his Reformed colleagues were received in Geneva before they were disseminated throughout Europe and the world. In a broad sense this project explores the tensions among church leaders, city authorities, parents, relatives and neighbours regarding the upbringing of children in Reformed Geneva. More specifically, it studies the practice of infant baptism as manifested in the baptism ceremony in Geneva, the ongoing practices of Catholic baptism in neighbouring areas, and the similarities and tensions between these two rituals.

    Contents: Introduction: infant baptism and the definition of community; Infant baptism in the 16th century: doctrine and liturgy; Catholic baptismal traditions in reformed Geneva; Godparents: a tradition reformed; Baptising illegitimate children; Raising children in reformed Geneva; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.


    Dr Karen E. Spierling is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Europe in the Department of History, University of Louisville, USA.

    'This is an excellent study for anyone interested in the development of Reformed Protestant theology in a practical setting.' The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 'This is an excellent study for anyone interested in the impact of practical issues of society, culture and politics on the formation not only of theological views but also on the implementation of that theology in practice.' History 'This work should be read by students of Early Modern history and the theology of the time.' Colloquium ’In Infant Baptism in Reformation Geneva, Karen Spierling successfully negotiates the boundaries of a number of historiographical traditions and concerns, and presents a handsomely produced volume... Generally, this is a reliable and valuable study providing a good analysis of a number of archival data regarding baptismal issues and infractions that presented a not trivial challenge to the consolidation of Reformation Geneva.’ Sixteenth Century Journal ’This is fascinating study that adds greatly to the understanding of the practice of infant baptism in Calvin's Geneva...’ Calvin Theological Journal