Sarah Foot

title.none: Lynch, Christianizing Kinship (Sarah Foot)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.011 04.01.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Sarah Foot, University of Sheffield,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Lynch, Joseph. Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England. New York: Cornell University Press, 1998. Pp. xiii, 272. $55.00. ISBN: 0-801-43527-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.11

Lynch, Joseph. Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England. New York: Cornell University Press, 1998. Pp. xiii, 272. $55.00. ISBN: 0-801-43527-7.

Reviewed by:

Sarah Foot
University of Sheffield

Joseph Lynch is well known to medieval historians as the author of an important book on sponsorship and godparentage in the early medieval West: Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986). That book focused primarily on baptismal sponsorship in Frankish Gaul and touched only tangentially on Anglo-Saxon England, since the English sources did not fit the patterns of development Lynch found in continental Christianity. In Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England Lynch has analyzed those sources separately, setting them in the context of contemporary continental materials, while explaining what was distinctive about the Anglo-Saxon appropriation of sponsorship and spiritual kinship. His study needs to be read in the light of shifts within the secondary literature over the past thirty years while Lynch says that he was reflecting on these ideas.

During this period, historians have become increasingly interested in the gradual process of the Christianization of Germanic societies, the means by which the beliefs and practices of the new religion were absorbed into Germanic social structures, and have thus dwelt rather less on the conversion of Germanic peoples, the moments when individuals, or more often groups, agreed to baptism as the outward and visible sign of their new faith. One of the consequences of this shift in emphasis has been the stress historians are coming to place on the Germanization of early medieval Christianity as seen, for example, in the book of that title by James C Russell published by Oxford University Press in 1994, or in Richard Fletcher's monumental study : The Conversion of Europe from Paganism to Christianity, 371-1386 AD, London, Harper Collins, 1997. Although Lynch does not cite either of these books, his own work reflects the same contemporary intellectual currents. He argues that "official conversion was only a first step in a process of profound political transformation" (2). Among the various institutions the new faith introduced to England, Lynch concentrates on "that of spiritual kinship arising out of sacramental sponsorship"; his central argument is that "in Anglo-Saxon society, sponsorship became a nodal point where liturgy and theology intersected with politics and personal relationships" (5).

The book is divided into twelve short chapters each of which offers clear signposts to the argument it contains. It will be an ideal course-text for undergraduate surveys of early medieval Christianity or Anglo-Saxon England, or indeed (perhaps more surprisingly) the Vikings in Europe, since Lynch has much to say about the sponsorship of defeated Danish leaders by Anglo-Saxon kings and about the Anglo- Saxon involvement in the conversion of Scandinavia. Although much of the argument, of necessity, develops out of analysis of the language of the contemporary sources (Latin and Old English), the significant nouns are carefully translated and all the extended quotations from primary sources are given in English, so students with weak linguistic skills will have no difficulties with comprehension. That undergraduates are Lynch's intended audience is further suggested by the fact that each chapter ends with a summary recapitulating its main points. But for all its apparent simplicity, this is a sophisticated argument with which specialist scholars will want to engage.

The first two chapters set the scene by explaining the nature of the "godparent complex" and the background to the introduction of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. The "godparent complex" (also described by anthropologists as "fictive kinship") is the new family-like relationship created by baptism which theologians and canon lawyers have called "spiritual kinship." A sponsor to a person being baptized becomes their godparent but is also made co-parent to the candidate's parents. Lynch's declared intention is to explore the nature, evolution, and impact of the godparent complex in Anglo-Saxon England. In the first chapter he briefly sketches the history of baptism in the western Church, the gradual shift from adult- to child- baptism and the implications of that change for the institution of the sponsor; "it was primarily out of infant sponsorship that spiritual kinship and the godparent complex arose, although sponsorship alone did not create a godparent complex. A theology of sponsorship was needed to transform liturgical actions into a pattern of social behaviour" (16). Chapter two, "The missionaries and baptism" looks at the earliest missions to Anglo-Saxon England and asks what liturgy of baptism the Roman, Frankish, and Celtic missionaries might have brought with them. It takes the reader skillfully through the complexities of the Roman liturgical sources setting the Frankish material beside it, although one of Lynch's central contentions is that the godparent complex evolved differently in England. England's peculiar circumstances are discussed in the third chapter, which explores baptism and sponsorship in England before 800; stress is laid on the missionary context of baptism in the early period and the ways in which the political situation shaped the process of conversion. Mass baptisms were not generally performed in the correct liturgical seasons, nor in those contexts was it possible for the instruction given to adult candidates to be anything other than "haphazard and truncated"(50). Even in the more settled conditions that prevailed after Theodore's time as archbishop of Canterbury (669-90), baptism and sponsorship were not practiced in England in precisely the same way as on the Continent (55).

The next three chapters explore the role of godparents at three distinct stages of Christian initiation: the catechumenate, baptism, and confirmation. Once infant baptism had become the norm, the catechumenate remained an identifiable separate stage of the process of initiation only within the conservative framework of the liturgy, although that part of the process was normally performed at the church door rather than inside the church, where the baptismal font was found. It is obvious from the Old English texts that a distinction was understood to exist between the catechumen and the baptized, although authors sometimes struggled to define where one ended and the other began. Lynch offers an interesting interpretation of the status of Cædwalla, king of the West Saxons 685-688. He was a generous patron of Bishop Wilfrid in his missionary activities in southern England, but was--according to Bede-- not yet reborn in Christ when he resigned his kingdom and went to Rome where Pope Sergius baptized him. Perhaps, Lynch suggests, "Cædwalla was a catechumen who put of baptism for personal or political reasons" (70). Since it was not apparently customary to delay an infant's baptism it is likely that an infant's sponsor at the catechumenate was usually also her sponsor at baptism; Lynch has found no explicit text that states that in Anglo-Saxon England sponsorship at the catechumenate created spiritual kinship. However, he was able to show that in Norway and in Iceland sponsorship at "primesigning" did create kinship with both sexual and social consequences. "Primesigning" was a formal ritual by which a pagan became a catechumen but thereafter remained in communion with both Christian and heathen men, for (to quote the thirteenth-century Egils Saga) "each kept to the faith which was most agreeable to him." Since Norway was Christianized in part by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, the comparison is pertinent. Chapter five explores the vocabulary of baptismal sponsorship and compares the process with that of adoption, stressing the way in which a sponsored child is brought within her godparents' family. Lynch teases out three overlapping meanings of sponsorship, that of rebirth, of adoption, and also a contractual element that saw the sponsor making a pact with God on the child's behalf. The next chapter looks at the social usefulness of sponsorship at confirmation, an occasion which provided the opportunity to create more spiritual parents and spiritual children and new bonds of patronage and support. It looks in some detail at Aldhelm's sponsorship of King Aldfrith of Northumbria (685-704), suggesting that it was at his confirmation, not at his baptism that Aldhelm had been sponsor.

The Anglo-Saxons were generally conservative in their handling of sponsorship, not multiplying the number of sponsors at any one ceremony, Lynch argues in chapter 7; they may however have created a fourth occasion for sponsorship, namely at the unbinding of the chrism, mentioned in sources that described the baptism of the Danish king Guthrum in 878. The remaining chapters of the book look more widely at the social bonds created by sponsorship. Chapter 8 explores the social consequences of co-parenthood which bound adults together in a sibling-like relationship quite distinct from the parent/child bond of godparenthood. The sexual and marital consequences of this could be significant and are analyzed in depth in chapter 9. Godparents had religious obligations to their godchildren (chapter 10) but sponsorship also created social bonds: godparents gave their godchildren gifts, protected them not just in infancy but for the remainder of their lives, and acted as their patrons at law; godchildren owed respect in return for this patronage (chapter 11). The final chapter offers a fascinating insight into sponsorship for diplomatic purposes providing a complete list of the recorded occasions of diplomatic sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon history from the possible sponsorship of King Edwin of Northumbria by Bishop Paulinus in 627 to the, equally putative, sponsorship of King Malcolm II of Scotland by King Cnut at some point between 1017 and 1035.

Lynch's study is located within a close-focused analysis of the language of the sources from Anglo-Saxon England (and to a lesser, but significant, extent from Christian Norway and Iceland) that relate to Christian initiation and its sponsorship. It is the vocabulary that has dictated the book's structure, for each chapter deals predominantly with the recorded uses of particular words and phrases. A wide selection of sources has been analyzed ranging far beyond the liturgical texts, homilies, and saints' lives that one might expect into the secular law-codes, vernacular poetry and in one passage (192-3) to the references to gift- giving by godparents in extant Anglo-Saxon wills. Comparison with the continental material is made throughout and Lynch succeeds admirably in demonstrating not just how but why the English articulation of the godparent complex differed from the Frankish. This admirable book offers a comprehensive analysis of the social, political, moral and theological consequences of Christian sponsorship that makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England.