Foot-washing in the Christian Church

Foot-Washing In The Christian Church.

The use of sandals among the Eastern nations instead of shoes, as well as the heat of the climate, gave rise to frequent ablutions, and especially of the feet. It became a duty of hospitality, and a mark of respect towards strangers. Abraham offered water to the three angels (Ge 18:4) to wash their feet; Lot did the same to the two angels who visited him (Ge 19:2); Abigail to the messengers of David (1Sa 25:41). The Pharisee Simon gave Jesus no water for his feet (Lu 7:44), and Mary Magdalene therefore washed his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. At the last supper Christ washed the feet of his disciples (Joh 13:4). This was at once a symbol and an ex ample: a symbol, as it was meant to teach them (1) that those only whose sins were washed away by him, the Lamb of God, could have part with him hereafter; and (2) that such as had once been thus purified in the blood of the Lamb " needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit" (Joh 13:10). The act thus performed by Christ at the institution of the Supper suggests to believers at every communion this lesson of humility. It is also an example of humility, patience, forbearance, and charity, and particularly of assistance in helping each other to purification from sin.

In the early post-apostolic times, the command "ye also ought to wash one another's feet" came to be observed not only after the spirit, but also after the letter. Augustine speaks (Ep. 118, ad Januarium) of this practice, as also of the doubts entertained in his times as to the proper day when the ceremony ought to be performed. The Synod of Toledo, 694 (ch. iii) stated that it should take place on the anniversary of the day when Christ performed it — the Thursday, 14th of Nisan. In the Greek Church, foot- washing came to be even considered as a sacrament. In the Roman Catholic Church, Bernard de Clairvaux strongly recommends it as sacramentum, remissionis peccatorum quotidianorum. Yet it did not become a general public practice in either Church. It was mostly observed at the installation of princes and bishops in the Middle Ages. In the Greek convents, however, and at the Russian court, it is yet observed with great solemnity (Leo Allat. De dom. et hebd. graec. 21). In the papal court, in those of Vienna, Munich, Madrid, Lisbon, and in the cathedrals and convents of the Roman Catholic Church, the command is also literally carried out to this day, the pope, emperor, kings, etc., washing the feet of twelve persons, generally poor old men, who receive a small gratuity on the occasion. In Rome, the twelve representatives of the apostles are seated in the Clementine Chapel, dressed in tunics of white woollen cloth, and the pope, attired in the same plain manner, sprinkles a few drops on the right foot of each, then wipes and kisses it. At the beginning of the ceremony the antiphony Mandatum novum do vobis is sung, from whence the ceremony of the Pedilavium is also called Mandatum. After this a repast takes place, at which the pope, assisted by his cabinet, serve the twelve (thirteen) apostles, who, at the close, are permitted to take away the white tunics, the towels with which their feet have been wiped, and a small piece of money.

Luther opposed "this hypocritical foot-washing," in which the superior washes the feet of his inferior, who, the ceremony over, will have to act all the more humbly towards him, while Christ had made it an emblem of true humility and abnegation, and raised thereby the position of those whose feet he washed. "We have nothing to do," said he, "with feet-washing with water, otherwise it is not only the feet of the twelve, but those of everybody we should wash. People would be much more benefited if a general bath were at once ordered, and the whole body washed. If you wish to wash your neighbor's feet, see that your heart is really humble, and help every one in becoming better." The Church of England at first carried out the letter of the command; but, instead of it, there are now assembled in Whitehall every year as many poor men and women as the sovereign has reigned years; to each of these are given clothes, food, and as many pieces of money as the sovereign counts years. The Anabaptists continued the practice of foot-washing, which, in consideration of the passages Joh 13:14; 1Ti 5:10, they considered as a sacrament instituted and recommended by Christ (see the Confessio of the United Baptists, or Mennonites, of 1660). The Lutheran Upper Consistory of Dresden condemned in 1718 twelve Lutheran citizens of Weida to public penance for having permitted duke Moritz Wilhelm to wash their feet. As the Moravians revived the old love-feasts, they also revived the practice, yet without strictly enforcing it. It used to be performed not only by the leaders towards their followers, but also by the latter among themselves, while they sang a hymn explanatory of the symbol, in which it was called " the lesser baptism." The. Mennonites (q.v.) and the River Brethren (q.v.) still practice foot-washing. The Church of God (q.v.) regards foot-washing as a positive ordinance of perpetual standing in the Church, the same as baptism and the Lord's Supper. — Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 4:630.

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