Ritual performance and christian belonging: signing foreheads with the cross in the writings of Augustine of Hippo

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This article shows how the practice of signing foreheads with the cross, a major marker of religious belonging for Christians and a powerful rite of protection, was used by Augustine of Hippo to include catechumens – members of the Christian community that were not fully initiated – in his pastoral care and to develop normative views on Christian membership and behaviour. Investigating Augustine’s frequent references to the rite, most often in preached texts, this article first provides a presentation of the concrete practice of signing foreheads and then explores in detail how the rite is interpreted. It particularly highlights that Augustine resorted to the rite to promote a more assertive and exclusive belonging to Christianity against the more accommodating attitude of his audience, and that for this end he provisionally erased the distinction between baptised and unbaptised Christians. Augustine spoke against a sense of shame of the cross shared by his audience towards non-Christians, connected the performance of the rite and its efficacy to fitting Christian behaviour, and rejected any alternative means of protection. This study sheds light more broadly on the nature of Christian belonging in late Antiquity and the role played by catechumens, demonstrating the significance of rites of incorporation besides baptism for the process of community formation.
Translated title of the contributionL'appartenance chrétienne au-delà du baptême: la signation du front avec la croix dans les écrits d'Augustin d'Hippone
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-143
Number of pages33
JournalSacris Erudiri
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

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