I’m testing some theories about early house churches with my friends from Oxford. We went last Saturday morning to the excavations under San Pudentiana on the Esquiline HIll in Rome near the church of Saint Mary Major.
The excavations aren’t complete, but it seems there was a large house of someone prominent from republican times. Some say it’s the house of Pudens, a Roman senator who welcomed Peter and Paul when they came to Rome.
They have uncovered a private bath in the house and that got me thinking. If it were a Christian house church at one time, did baptisms take place here?.A private bath also exists in the house under Saints John and Paul. Were these houses chosen because they offered a place for baptism?
We weren’t able to stay long under S.Pudentiana because the lights went out. Total darkness underground in Rome is an interesting experience, but thank God for cell phones and the little search lights they put in them.
It would be interesting to check on other house churches to see if the same situation applies in them. Could baptisms take place in them? My friends know someone who may help me find out.
I find it interesting too, that Constantine’s first gift of a building to the Christians after he conquered the city was a baptistery at the Lateran, which still stands.
Were their numbers growing so much that this was a primary need? Was this also a way to express a common faith that existed among them all?
We have some wonderful early texts that describe baptismal preparation in the early church. The Old Roman creed, substantially our Apostles’ Creed is a summary of baptismal teaching.
You didn’t just walk in off the street and become part of a house church community. Like the congregation I was with yesterday at St. Lawrence, which recited the creed with strong voices at the celebration of Mass, you had to be a believer. Young and old, they were saying the same thing.
These early communities were not just burial societies to make sure you got buried and your dependents were taken care of. They weren’t just social centers where you came to play Bingo.
They were places where believers met to nourish their faith and hopefully share it with others.