GODFATHER and GODMOTHER (also, in infant baptism, called sponsors), the persons who, by presenting a child for the sacrament of baptism and taking upon them selves the vows of faith and obedience, as proxies for the child and in the name of the child, are reputed to contract toward the newly baptized the relation of spiritual parentage. In the Roman Catholic Church this spiritual re lationship is regarded as a species of kindred (whence the name gossip or God-sib, "spiritu ally akin"), and constitutes an impediment of marriage between the sponsors upon the one hand and the baptized and the parents of the baptized on the other. Anciently, this impedi ment arose between the sponsors themselves; and it still extends much further in the Eastern than in the Western Church, although in the former it can arise only from baptism, whereas in the Roman Church the candidate for con firmation also is presented by a sponsor, though usually one of the same sex.
In the Church of England, by whose rule two godfathers and a godmother are required at the baptism of a male, and two godmothers and a godfather at that of a female, no impediment of marriage arises from the relation of the sponsors to the baptized. The parents of the baptized are not permitted to act as sponsors in the Roman Catholic Church, one of the objects of the institution being to provide in structors in case of the death of parents; but the rubric of the American Prayer-book does so allow.
The institution of sponsors was very ancient, and Tertullian (192 A.n.) speaks of the promises made by sponsors in baptism. In the early Church no more than one sponsor was required, a man for a man and a woman for a woman. In adult baptism, the godfathers and god mothers are not sponsors, hut only °chosen wit nesses," as the person to be baptized takes the vows himself and in his own name.