Friday, 17 May 2019
Matthieu Pignot: Baptismal exorcism and the Pelagian controversy in the early medieval West
In the wake of the Pelagian controversy, Augustine of Hippo repeatedly referred to liturgical practices as arguments to promote his views on original sin. A particularly prominent argument in his polemical writings, repeated with great insistence in his controversy against Julian of Aeclanum, is that the rites of exorcising and blowing at infants at baptism would provide proof of the necessity of cleansing them from original sin. This paper traces the destiny of this argument after Augustine’s death, demonstrating how it was first reused by Prosper of Aquitaine in his Auctoritates (which were later borrowed and copied in a number of Western sources), then in renewed debates against allegedly Pelagian views in the works of pope Gelasius I, and finally in a synthesis on the catechumenate written by the deacon John in a letter sent to the aristocrat Senarius. This paper sheds light on Augustine’s legacy and leads us to reflect on the continuity of debates on infant baptism and original sin long after the official condemnation of Pelagianism.