The most common Old English term for ‘baptism’, fullwiht, does not go back to the Greek-Latin linguistic tradition, and has no parallels in other Old Germanic languages. Its innovative character has often been noted. However, there is as yet no agreed explanation as to the conceptual origin of fullwiht (lit. ‘complete consecration/sacralisation’).
As is known, in Anglo-Saxon England there were some divergences between Roman and non-Roman liturgical customs in the performance of the baptismal rite. A distinctive feature of the Roman liturgy was confirmatio, which consisted in the laying on of hands and in the second post-baptismal anointing performed by the bishop, and was regarded as the conclusive part of the ceremony. The aim of this paper is to put forward the hypothesis that in the first stage of its use OE fullwiht indicated not only the ‘rite of purification through water’, i.e. ‘baptism’ in narrow sense, but ‘baptism and confirmatio’, i.e. the ‘complete baptismal rite’. Fullwiht would be – in my opinion – a term used by Roman missionaries to underline the completeness of their ceremony of initiation compared to non-Roman rites, which very likely lacked the episcopal confirmatio.