History of Godfathers
The first step to understanding your duties as a godfather is to become familiar with the history of the position. The origin of godparents is distinctly religious. As infant baptism took hold in early Christianity, there was a need for someone to step in as a sponsor and provide the required confession of faith before baptism. In the beginning, biological parents often took on this role, but the Council of Munich in 813 required natural parents to pick other people to be godparents. In addition to sponsoring the child’s christening, the godfather was charged with the duty of overseeing the child’s spiritual instruction.
As with many Christian traditions, the role of godfathers went through some upheaval during the Reformation. Many Protestant sects continued with the practice but loosened up a bit on the pre-Reformation requirements. The Roman Catholic Church has pretty much maintained the status quo on godfathers up until the present day. In order to be godfather in Catholicism, a man must be a confirmed Catholic in good standing and not be the natural parent of the child.
The concept of godfatherhood isn’t exclusively Christian. In Judaism, parents often pick a man to be the sandek at their child’s bris. The sandek holds the baby boy on a pillow while he is circumcised by the mohel. According to Jewish custom, the role of sandek is given to a single Jewish male, usually a close family member or some other man who is a good example of the faith. Also tradition dictates that a man can not serve as a sandek more than once. Like the Christian godfather, sandeks also have a responsibility to help guide the child’s spiritual upbringing.
For many people today, the spiritual aspect of being a godfather is still very important. But as Western society has become more secular, many families have held on to the tradition of naming godparents for their children, but have expanded the responsibilities beyond taking part in religious ceremonies or in the child’s spiritual development. For example, some parents ask that the godfather be a special mentor for their child or to foster their kids if they die. Most parents pick a sibling or close cousin to be the godfather. But it’s now not uncommon for a good friend to be selected.
Whether your role as a godfather is the traditional religious one or a more secular one, being asked to be a godfather is a big honor. By asking you to be a godfather, the parents are showing that you’re a man they can trust to help raise their child. Let’s take a look at a few tips on how to be the kind of godfather a kid will feel lucky to have.
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