Baptism by Beer – A 13th Century Practice Condemned by Pope Gregory IX

Imagine being a 13th century Norwegian parent who had to bring her baby back to the church for another baptism. Your friends ask, “Why are you having the baby baptized again?” You answer, “Well, the first time our little baby Olaf was baptized with beer. The Pope said it was no good. Apparently baptism by beer is invalid.”

Ratzinger with Beer

Pope Benedict Backs Up Pope Gregory IX: Beer is for Drinking Not for Baptizing

This really did happen!Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century decreed that baptisms by beer were invalid. Apparently this had happened in a region of Norway where water had not been available. The Holy Father had to write to the Archbishop of Trondhjem in Norway to settle this matter – literally to settle the sacramental matter.Pope Gregory IX decreed: “Since according to the Gospel teaching, a man must be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, those are not to be considered validly baptized who have been baptized with beer {cervisia}.”

We all know that the seven sacraments have “form and matter.” This is a principle drawing on the metaphysical principles of Aristotle. Let’s take a look at three sacraments as examples:

  1. The sacrament of baptism consists of matter (water) and form (“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”)
  2. With the Holy Eucharist there is matter (wheat bread and grape wine) and the form (“This is my body” and “This is the chalice of my blood”).
  3. With Confirmation, the matter is chrism with the laying on hands and the form is “I seal you with the sign of the Cross and I confirm you with the Chrism of salvation in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Here we see that the sacraments have “words” and “stuff.” If you poured beer (wrong matter) on a baby and said the right words (the right form), the baptism would be invalid. Similarly, if you used a rice cake or apple wine in the Mass, it would be invalid. No transubstantiation.So next time you’re at a cocktail party with some fellow Catholics and you need something interesting to share, you may think about giving your friends a little lesson about the intersection of church history and alcohol history. Just remember, it was Pope Gregory IX and it was the 13th century.

Even more importantly, if someone collapses during a cocktail party and asks for emergency baptism, first put down your martini and only then find a glass of water! You don’t want to confuse yourself.

Let’s open the comments: This is a reminder that the Catholic Church has complicated matters in every age. As a former Protestant, I can say that the great thing about being a Catholic is that we have a living magisterium with a Pope to settle matters. What do you think are the pressing issues of our day that need settling or clarification?

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