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Feet washing

From Academic Kids

Feet washing is a religious rite observed as an ordinance by several Christian denominations. The name, and even the spelling, of this practice is not consistently established, being variously known as feet washing, foot washing, feetwashing, footwashing, washing the saints' feet, washing of feet, pedilavium, and mandatum.

Contents

Background

The root of this practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear. A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, serve the guests by washing their feet, or even provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests. This is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament of the Bible (e.g. Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; I Samuel 25:41; et al.), as well as other religious and historical documents. A typical Eastern host might bow, greet, and kiss his guest, then offer water to wash his feet. Though the wearing of sandals might necessitate washing the feet, the water was also offered as a courtesy even when shoes were worn.

Biblical reference

Christian denominations that observe feet washing do so on the basis of what they believe is the authoritative example and command of Jesus as found in the Gospel of John 13:1-15:

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Washing the saints' feet is also mentioned in I Timothy 5:10.

History

The rite of feet washing appears to have been practiced in the early centuries of Christianity, though the evidence is scant. For example, Tertullian (145-220) mentions the practice in his De Corona, but gives no details as to who practiced it or how it was practiced. It was practiced by the church at Milan (ca. A.D. 380), is mentioned by the Council of Elvira (A.D. 300), and is even referenced by Augustine (ca. A.D. 400). Observance of feet washing at the time of baptism was maintained in Africa, Gaul, Germany, Milan, northern Italy, and Ireland. According to the Mennonite Encyclopedia, "St. Benedict's Rule (A.D. 529) for the Benedictine Order prescribed hospitality feetwashing in addition to a communal feetwashing for humility." It apparently was established in the Roman church, though not in connection with baptism, by the 8th century. The Albigenses observed feetwashing in connection with communion, and the Waldenses' custom was to wash the feet of visiting ministers. There is some evidence that it was observed by the early Hussites. The practice was a meaningful part of the 16th century radical reformation. Feet washing was often "rediscovered" or "restored" in revivals of religion in which the participants tried to recreate the faith and practice of the apostolic era.

Protestant practice

Feet washing is observed by numerous Protestant and proto-Protestant groups, including Pentecostal and Pietistic groups, most Anabaptists, and some Baptists. Though history shows that feet washing has at times been practiced in connection with baptism, and at times as a separate occasion, by far its most common practice has been in connection with the Lord's supper service.

The observance of washing the saints' feet is quite varied, but a typical service follows the partaking of unleavened bread and wine. Deacons (in many cases) place pans of water in front of pews that have been arranged for the service. The men and women participate in separate groups, men washing men's feet and women washing women's feet. Each member of the congregation takes a turn washing the feet of another member. Each foot is placed one at a time into the basin of water, is washed by cupping the hand and pouring water over the foot, and is dried with a long towel girded around the waist of the member performing the washing. Most of these services appear to be quite moving to the participants.

Among groups that do not observe feet washing as an ordinance or rite, the example of Jesus is usually held to be symbolic and didatic. Among these groups, feet washing is nevertheless sometimes literally practiced. First, some reserve it to be a practice of hospitality or a work of necessity. Secondly, some present it as a dramatic lesson acted out in front of the congregation.

A few Baptists (and perhaps others) that literally observe the washing of feet scruple to call it a third ordinance and rather refer to it only as an example.

Catholic practice

In Roman Catholic practice, the washing of feet is usually referred to as pedilavium, or sometimes mandatum. "In the latter half of the twelfth century the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner. The Caeremoniale episcoporum directs that the bishop is to wash the feet either of thirteen poor men or of thirteen of his canons." (Catholic Encyclopedia). The pedilavium, or washing of the feet, is a regular part of the Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) church services. This ceremony features the priest washing the feet of twelve people to commemorate Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples.

Similar foot-washing rites are observed in some Anglican/Episcopal,Lutheran and Methodist churches.

External links

  • see also entries such as "Maundy Thursday" in the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/)

References

  • Historical and Informational
    • Appalachian Mountain Religion: a History, by Deborah Vansau MacCauley
    • Catholic Encyclopedia, Charles G. Herbermann, Edward A. Pace, Condé B. Pallen, Thomas J. Shahan, and John J. Wynne, editors
    • Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity, Tim Dowley, et al., editors
    • Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, Samuel S. Hill, editor
    • Foxfire 7, Paul F. Gillespie, editor
    • Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, by Fred H. Wight
    • Mennonite Encyclopedia (Vol. 2), Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, et al., editors
  • Historical and Theological (con)
    • Footwashing by the Master and by the Saints, by Elam J. Daniels
    • Manual of Church Order (ch. 6), by J. L. Dagg
  • Historical and Theological (pro)
    • Baptist Doctrine: the Doctrine of Foot Washing, by R. L. Vaughn
    • Washing the Saints' Feet shown to be an Ordinance of Christ, by Joseph Sorsbyde:Fußwaschung
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