In ecclesiology, a catechumen is a person receiving instruction from a catechist in the principles of the Christian religion with a view to baptism. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: "As the acceptance of Christianity involved belief in a body of doctrine and the observance of the Divine law , it is clear that some sort of preliminary instruction must have been given to the converts." See also Council of Jerusalem. One practice permitted them to remain in the first part of the mass, but even in the earliest centuries dismissed them before the Eucharist. Their desire for baptism was held to be sufficient guarantee of their salvation, if they died before the reception. In the fourth century, a widespread practice arose of enrolling as a catechumen and deferring baptism for years, often until shortly before death, and when so ill that the normal practice of immersion was impossible, so that aspersion or affusion—the baptism of the sick—was necessary. Augustine was among those enrolled as a catechumen as an infant, and did not receive baptism until he was in his thirties.
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