FOOT-WASHING: A religious ceremony practised at various times in different branches of the Church. The use of sandals among the Eastern natives required frequent washing of the feet, and to perform this office for others was considered a mark of hospitality. At the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John xiii. 5-10) to indicate that he who was not purified by him had no part with him. The postapostolic age understood the example thus given to be mandatory. Augustine (Epist. ad Januarium) testifies that it was followed on Maundy Thursday by the Church of his day. St. Bernard in his sermon De cœna Domini recommends foot-washing as "a daily sacrament for the remission of sins." In the Greek Church also it was regarded as a "mystery." Yet it nowhere became a general, public, solemn, ecclesiastical act. It is still, however, solemnly performed in certain places as by the pope, the emperors of Austria and Russia, the kings of Spain, Portugal, and Bavaria, and a number of bishops and monastic superiors, the subjects being twelve poor old men invited for the purpose, or twelve priests. Many minor Baptist bodies also observe the custom (see ADVENTISTS, 2; BAPTISTS, II., 4, d, g, h; DUNKERS, II, § 3).
The Reformers, especially Luther (cf. his Maundy Thursday sermon concerning foot-washing in the Hauspostille), opposed "that hypocritical foot-washing, in which one stoops to wash the feet of his inferior, but expects still more humility in return." The Evangelical Church has endeavored, therefore, to impress the meaning of Christ's act on the hearts of men by diligently proclaiming his Gospel. At Schwabisch Hall (in Württemberg), on Wednesday before Easter every year, a special Fusswaschungspredigt is still delivered in St. Catherine's Church. The Church of England at first carried out the letter of the command; but the practise afterward fell into disuse. The Anabaptists declared most decidedly in favor of foot-washing, appealing to John xiii. 14, and also to I Tim. v. 10, considering it as a sacrament instituted by Christ himself, "whereby our being washed by the blood of Christ and his example of deep humiliation is to be impressed upon us" (Confession of the United Baptists or Mennonites, 1660). The Moravians with the love-feasts revived also the foot-washing, yet without strictly enforcing it or confining it to Maundy Thursday. It was performed not only by the leaders toward their followers, but also by the latter among themselves, during the singing of a hymn explanatory of the symbol. This practise was finally abolished by the Moravian Synod in 1818. In the Lutheran Church, during the period of orthodoxy, foot-washing was considered as "an abominable papal corruption." In the year 1718 the Upper Consistory at Dresden condemned twelve Lutheran citizens of Weida to public penance for having permitted Duke Maurice William (at that time still a Roman Catholic) to wash their feet.