Basil the Great, On holy baptism – now online in English

A correspondent writes to say that he has discovered a forgotten translation of Basil the Great’s Sermon 13: On holy baptism (In Sanctum Baptismum).

He found it as an appendix in an 1843 American volume of Catholic anti-protestant polemic on the subject, issued by a certain Francis Patrick Kenrick who was later to become Archbishop of Baltimore.

I’ve scanned the text: it is here.

The translator went a bit mental part way through and started spouting cod-Jacobean English.  I have removed such excrescences from the text, but otherwise left it alone.

The use made of the work by Kenrick is perhaps the opposite of that intended by Basil.  It is pretty plain, reading the sermon, that Basil is dealing with people who are Christians mainly in observance and socially, with a real component of nominalism.  His task, an unpleasant one, is to stop them playing games with the church and either commit or not.  The point of commitment – for them – is baptism.

By contrast Kenrick is dealing with 19th century baptists.  In the main these were people fully committed to Christ, but with a genuine scruple about blasphemy in applying baptism to people who didn’t believe.  It is quite unlikely that Basil would have preached such a sermon to them.  I fear that Mr Kenrick’s work probably fell on rather deaf ears, therefore.  It does very little good to anyone to make St Basil – or any of the fathers – into a proponent of superstition, when he was in fact engaged in trying to overthrow it.

Nevertheless we all benefit from that forgotten work, because Kenrick stopped to translate Basil for us all.  Thank you, sir: and thank you also Ted Janiszewski for finding it for us.


7 thoughts on “Basil the Great, On holy baptism – now online in English

  1. In 1843, Bishop Kendrick was already the Catholic bishop of Philadelphia, and it was the middle of the worst period of anti-Catholic nativism and the Know-Nothing Party. At that time, King James Bibles were widely used as reading books in the city schools, and there was Protestant religious instruction mandatory for all. Kendrick requested that Catholic kids be allowed to bring and use Douay Bibles, and that they be allowed to skip the Protestant religion classes. (This was also to apply to any kids whose parents had conscientious objections.) The school board granted the petition.

    And that’s when the nativist riots of 1844 happened, and tons of Catholic houses and churches were burned down….

    Anyhow, Kendrick did well enough at a tough time that he got sent to be Archbishop of Baltimore, which was pretty much the Canterbury of the US, being the mother see of everybody except St. Augustine in Florida (Spanish colony) and New Orleans (French). His successor, recommended by him, was St. John Neumann, who started the entire US Catholic parochial school system, and thus did an end run around the public school problem. (Not that nativists were any happier about Catholics staying out of tax-funded schools than they were about them being in them.)

  2. Oops. I meant “Kenrick,” although apparently “Kendrick” is also commonly used for the same guy.

  3. Re: the Baptists in Bardstown KY when he was a missionary and worked in the seminary there as a theology prof —

    The thing you have to understand about the frontier in the early 1800’s was that pioneer farming people really enjoyed hearing a nice long lecture about religion or history or some other deep subject. They particularly liked getting some kind of classical learning or deep abstruse reasoning, because it made them feel like they’d gotten the best value for a long walk or ride, and because they could think about it and discuss it later.

    They also liked being admonished. A sermon should either be encouraging or admonishing, and either way, full of gusto.

    So if a bunch of Bardstown hardshell Baptists could hear about some patristic bishop’s doings, this would probably have suited them fine. Clergy from all kinds of different denominations were often invited to come visit and speak, because people were hungry for any kind of mental stimulation. And there actually were a fair amount of Catholic conversions out in backwoods settlements, which is why you’ll see Catholic parishes dotted around in odd spots.

    Nativism was much more common in the cities and later in time, as they got crowded by immigrants and as competition for jobs and political power ensued, and because there was just a lot more stress. A small wide-open city like Dayton with jobs for all had people say snarky remarks as the extent of its nativism; a big city like Philadelphia or Cincinnati was much more likely to be popping at the seams and having riots of various kinds, including nativist ones.

  4. Oh, and Kenrick did a revised translation and annotation of the Douay-Rheims which came out in 6 volumes, from 1849 to 1862. It’s pretty much forgotten because of Challoner, but it was important at the time.

    Sorry… I find this stuff fascinating, but it was out of fashion to learn US Catholic history when I was in school, even though a lot of important things happened here in Ohio. (We did learn world Catholic history.)

  5. Thank you for these (and I have corrected “Kendrick” – the perils of rushing to get things done at the end of the week!).

    I agree; this sort of history is invaluable. In many ways we learn much more about the real state of any nation from these histories of a minority, and much of it is inevitably far more edifying than the broad-brush, sometimes fanciful histories of the nation as a whole. All history is about ordinary men, and it’s as well to remember it.

  6. If any one is interested, I found a translation of St.Basil’s commentary on Isaiah. You can download it at the translation is by Nikolai Lipatov. Darren

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