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Once upon a time, some people in a distant diocese were baptized using beer.

Let’s start with the basics. As Christians, how are we joined to Christ our Lord, that we might become heirs to heaven by adoption? Mainly, by baptism and the Eucharist, say the Sacred Scriptures:

“For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free: and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

“I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world. (St. John 6:51-52)

Unfortunately, the Scriptures don’t interpret themselves (see Acts 8:30-31; 2 Peter 3:16). Consequently, some time in the 13th century, some clerics misinterpreted the Biblical teaching on baptismal rebirth through water and the Spirit. Therefore the Pope was forced to lay down the law:

“Since as we have learned from your report, it sometimes happens because of the scarcity of water, that infants of your lands are baptized in beer [!], we reply to you in the tenor of those present that, since according to evangelical doctrine it is necessary “to be reborn from water and the Holy Spirit” [John 3:5] they are not to be considered rightly baptized who are baptized in beer.” (From the letter Cum, sicut ex of Pope Gregory IX [in office 1227-1241] to Archbishop Sigurd of Nidaros, July 8, 1241, in Denzinger 447*. Boldface ours.)

Which makes one wonder why it even had to be said by the Pope in office, But for the sake of those poor children, let us thank Christ our Lord that He gave us the Church to stand for truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and the rock of St. Peter (Matthew 16:18) to confirm our faith (Luke 22:32)… even in the small things.

(Yet it is tempting to say, “too bad”; and to add, in paraphrase of St. Augustine, “Lord, grant me temperance and self-control, but not yet!”**)

*N.B., The Denzinger citation follows the old numbering of Sources of Catholic Dogma (documents up to 1950), which is available at Patristica. For other texts and ebooks, you may access the List of Free eBooks (Arranged by Title), the List of Free eBooks (Grouped by Subject), the List of Worth-It Catholic Books & eBooks, and the main page of the Catholic eBooks Project.

**St. Augustine’s “prayer” is one of the most memorable in history. Its original goes, Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo (Confessionum Libri Tedecim, VIII, vii, 17); or, in English, “Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet” (Confessions, Book VIII, chap. vii, paragraph 17).