Andrew McGowan: A missing sacrament? Footwashing in ancient Christianity

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
ISM Great Hall See map

A Missing Sacrament? Footwashing in Ancient Christianity

Although the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13) includes an injunction to continued performance just as clear as those attached in the Gospels to the Eucharist and Baptism, ancient Christians in general did not develop a tradition of communal foot-washing such as those found in later rituals for Holy Thursday or by pietist protestant groups in modern times. Some suggest an implied but short-lived communal ritual in the Johannine community, but there is no (other) evidence for this. Scholars have however paid little attention to evidence for actual Christian foot-washing, often practiced by women, particularly in prisons and similar settings of extreme need rather than in Christian assemblies. These acts which were ritual and practical but not communal did not persist as a general practice beyond the third century or so - apparently not able to be assimilated to the emergent forms of Christian worship with its public and gendered implications - but a form could be said to survive in foot washings practiced by monastic communities.

Event time: 
Monday, September 28, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
ISM Great Hall 
409 Prospect St.
New Haven, CT 06511

Andrew McGowan is Dean of Berkeley Divinity School and Professor of Anglican Studies at YDS. He is author of Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals (Oxford, 1999) and Ancient Christian Worship (Baker Academic, 2014).

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