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.