|Pope Sylvester Baptizes Constantine- Cristofro Roncalli|
Some may recognize this passage as the same that is read as the Epistle during the Easter Vigil liturgy. A fitting reminder for all those catechumens who are being baptized following the Liturgy of the Word. Moss, however, quickly dismisses this ancient Christian understanding of the sacrament of baptism, and then accuses the same Christians of still "doing it wrong" presently, no longer in line with the early Christians. So an "either/or" scenario is being posited here, instead of the fact that Catholic Christians understand that baptism signifies both a nuptial union with Christ and a death to sin (like Christ's) along with a rebirth (like Christ's Resurrection). I can't understand why so many people, in so many different scenarios and situations, think things must be "either/or" instead of said scenario or situation having several different facets."Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6: 3-11)
|St. Paul- Hans Bär|
"The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride. The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets and announced by John the Baptist. The Lord referred to himself as the 'bridegroom.' The Apostle speaks of the whole Church and of each of the faithful, members of his Body, as a bride 'betrothed' to Christ the Lord so as to become but one spirit with him. The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. 'Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.' He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body.
"This is the whole Christ, head and body, one formed from many . . . whether the head or members speak, it is Christ who speaks. He speaks in his role as the head (ex persona capitis) and in his role as body (ex persona corporis). What does this mean? 'The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.' And the Lord himself says in the Gospel: 'So they are no longer two, but one flesh.' They are, in fact, two different persons, yet they are one in the conjugal union, . . . as head, he calls himself the bridegroom, as body, he calls himself 'bride'." (CCC 796)
"The Church is the Bride of Christ: he loved her and handed himself over for her. He has purified her by his blood and made her the fruitful mother of all God's children." (CCC 808)But for those that actually know something about the Christian tradition, and know that symbols of marriage abound in Catholic theology (i.e., the banquet of the Eucharist), this shouldn't be as earth-shattering as the Beast article makes it out to be with it's eye-grabbing headline. Moss claims that "What this means is that baptism wasn’t always seen as death and rebirth" and notes that it was just seen as a marriage to Christ. Really? That's it? Again, it's both/and. Even Peppard himself dismisses such a shallow and one-dimensional conclusion... in his own work.
In the New York Times article linked above, Peppard says, with my emphases:
"Reidentifying this woman helps us to ponder anew the distinctive emphases of early Christians in Syria, who in this baptistery celebrated salvation through images of marriage, pregnancy and birth — as much or more than through participation in a ritualized death. This is not to undermine the power of Jesus’ passion and resurrection accounts, but rather to rebalance the perspective of modern Western viewers."Note that he doesn't say this idea of the woman's identity dismisses the death and rebirth which happens at baptism. It doesn't relegate it to an afterthought. It does nothing to undermine current Christian thought on the sacrament of baptism either, meaning we Christians surely aren't "doing baptism all wrong." Peppard goes on to mention this in the book the Beast supposedly covered:
"The image of dying with Christ has been widespread throughout Christian history... [and] it remains true, as I argued in chapter 1, that Christian rites and motifs of initiation exhibited great variety during the first few centuries of the Christian era...
"Kilian McDonnell makes the point sharply: 'What is a matter of surprise is that in the immediate post-biblical period, the second century, the Pauline paradigm of death and resurrection fell out of Christian consciousness so completely... [It] seemingly had fallen through a hole in the memory of the church.'
So we see here whatever claims Moss is making regarding a singular nature and outlook of baptism is directly refuted by Peppard himself. St. Paul taught that we share in Christ's death and Resurrection during baptism. Perhaps other Church Fathers did not comment on or emphasize this one facet of the mystery of baptism as explained above, but it was never something completely forgotten as we see that Origen spoke on it, and the post-Nicene Fathers surely didn't pull this aspect of the meaning of baptism out of thin air. Indeed, I think this very fact that it took a few centuries for both the aspects of nuptial bath and baptism in Christ's death, is a prime example of what Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of. Consider this written during the Second Vatican Council:
"These authors [Ignatius of Antioch, Clement, Irenaeus], for the most part, cite Romans in their writings- just not this passage [Romans 6], even when discussing baptism. In fact, Origen of Alexandria was the 'only Eastern theologian to refer to the text of Romans 6 in relationship to Christian baptism' before the mid-fourth century. And for Origen, like Paul before him, death-resurrection was just one of many meanings connected to the rite. As to why [this meaning] fell down a rabbit hole in the second and third centuries, only to be recovered in the late fourth century, historians can only conjecture... [A] compelling possibility is brought to mind, though, by the names of second century authors cited above: Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus. For second-century martyrs and those close to the developing culture of martyrdom, "dying with Christ" was not construed primarily in the realm of ritual and metaphor. The imitation of Christ through death... was a literal possibility during precisely those two centuries. Alastair Campbell summarizes this idea: during the era of possible martyrdom, "those being baptized hardly needed to be taught through the liturgy of the cost of their commitment. They knew it all too well. What they needed was the assurance of the presence of the Spirit, giving them strength to cope.'"
Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch- Anonymous
"The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her." (Dei Verbum 8)So over time, Catholic teaching becomes more nuanced, and more explicit and detailed. That's why the Catechism today talks of multiple aspects of baptism in very exact terms. Now I've mentioned the nuptial bath a few times already. What has the Church actually said regarding this view of baptism, and is it true that it has never fallen out of Christian consciousness and theology? Perhaps, down "a rabbit hole" as it were? First, let's look at the Catechism:
"The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath. which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant." (CCC 1617)
"Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the "imperishable seed" of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect." (CCC 1228)Second, the entire idea of baptism as a nuptial bath comes from the Letter to the Ephesians where St. Paul writes:
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5: 25-27)
|St. John Paul II|
It is known that the sacrament of baptism is received by an individual subject in the Church. However, beyond the individual subject of baptism the author of the letter sees the whole Church. The spousal love of Christ is applied to her, the Church, every time that a single person receives in her the fundamental purification by means of baptism. Whoever receives baptism becomes—by the virtue of the redemptive love of Christ—at the same time a participant in his spousal love for the Church. In our text "the washing of water with the word" is an expression of the spousal love in the sense that it prepares the Bride (Church) for the Bridegroom. It makes the Church the spouse of Christ, I would say, in actu primo. Some biblical scholars observe that in this text, the washing with water recalls the ritual ablution which preceded the wedding—something which constituted an important religious rite also among the Greeks. (TOB 91:7)The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen gets much more graphic as he builds on the "imperishable seed" mentioned in CCC 1228 and the words promulgated by Blessed Pope Paul VI in Lumen Gentium (LG). Let's first look at what Blessed Paul VI says regarding the effects of Christ's spousal love in the sacrament of baptism:
"The Church indeed... by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By her preaching she brings forth to a new and immortal life the sons who are born to her in baptism, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse. (LG 64)"Theologian and author Christopher West mentions that "since grace builds on nature, the natural way of conception and birth serves in some way as the model, the 'prototype' of supernatural conception and birth." It's not that we only are baptized into Christ's death, but that we are reborn with Him, remember? Now here is where the Venerable Sheen's striking comments come into play, quoted from a compilation of his works:
"How did the old humanity begin? With the nuptials. How will the new humanity begin? With the nuptials. If Eve became the mother of the living in the natural, is not this woman at the foot of the cross to become another mother? And so the bridegroom looks down at the bride. He looks at his beloved. Christ looks at his Church. There is here the birth of the Church. As St. Augustine puts it, and here I am quoting him verbatim, 'The heavenly bridegroom left the heavenly chambers, with the presage of the nuptials before him. He came to the marriage bed of the cross, a bed not of pleasure, but of pain, united himself with the woman, and consummated the union forever. As it were, the blood and water that came from the side of Christ was the spiritual seminal fluid.' And so from this nuptials 'Woman there's your son': the beginning of the Church."West, a true master at bringing the most out of St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body, has this to say in his book At the Heart of the Gospel regarding the presentation of the nuptial imagery that is seen in the sacrament of baptism, specifically in today's hyper-sexualized culture:
"We must certainly be sensitive in presenting the nuptial imagery of this rite [baptism], especially in today's cultural climate (I acknowledge that my early work lacked this at times). However, if our primary reaction to such imagery is discomfort or fear, perhaps the solution is not to reject the imagery. Perhaps the solution is to examine whether our own ideas about the body and sexuality may be preventing us from recognizing the holiness and beauty of the imagery...
Now that just a few examples that Catholic Christians, both today and yesterday, understand the nuptial significance behind baptism has been demonstrated, we can look at some of the other claims made in The Daily Beast article. Moss goes onto write "Peppard’s hypothesis certainly changes how we think about baptism. But baptismal controversy and adaptation is nothing new." Again, we've showed enough that Peppard's hypothesis on the woman's identity certainly does not change how we think of baptism. But what controversy and adaptation is being referred to here? The end of the article tries its best to cast doubt on the traditional Christian, specifically Catholic, understanding of the sacrament... but all this controversy that is spoken of doesn't stand up to scrutiny after actually investigating these "controversies". First, it's claimed that Christians in Corinth were taking part in baptisms of the dead, specifically seen in the First Letter to the Corinthians. Moss notes that Mormons still do this, but let's keep in mind that the Mormons don't even baptize in the Trinitarian formula, which leads most Christian churches to not recognize them as Christians. Now this all seems to be a common tactic of many vitriolic attacks against Christianity and the Bible and the supposed "contradictions" therein. In the same way people point to men having multiple wives in the Old Testament (in direct opposition to Christ's words in the New Testament), this claim regarding the people in Corinth makes it seem like they are orthodox Christians who just have a different idea on baptism from other orthodox Christians. This is simply not the case. Just because somebody or some group did something in the Bible (i.e., married multiple wives/had concubines, baptized the dead) does not mean that it was an approval from God. People constantly sin throughout the Bible. Not to mention, Moss gives no indication of what these "baptisms for the dead" might be, and just comments that "no one really knows" what St. Paul was referring too. By bringing the Mormons up, it's obvious close attention was not paid to the original Greek, as the Mormons defense of their "baptism of the dead" cannot be supported by 1 Corinthians. This tract from Catholic Answers (with an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, to boot) explains things well, especially this most relevant section, emphases mine:
"'The sacraments infuse holiness into the terrain of man's humanity: they penetrate the soul and the body, the femininity and masculinity of the personal subject, with the power of holiness. All of this is expressed in the language of the liturgy' (TOB 117b:2). The Church's liturgy, beginning with the 'nuptial bath' of Baptism, initiates us into the 'redemption of our bodies' and life 'according to the Spirit'... This is a specific grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, John Paul tells us, but it is by no means a grace limited to married people. For, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ invites all of us 'to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body' (Veritatis Splendor 15). The more we grow in this pure way of 'seeing,' the more spousal symbolism illuminates for us 'the entire Christian life', beginning with Baptism."
The marriage at Cana
"In Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth, he treats a number of subjects. This letter was written to counteract problems he saw developing in Corinth after he had established the church there. Corinth had its share of pagan religions, but there were also quasi-Christian groups that practiced variations of orthodox Christian doctrines. Enter baptism for the dead.
"Mormons cite a single biblical passage to support baptizing members on behalf of dead persons, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:29).
"Mormons infer that in 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks approvingly of living Christians receiving baptism on behalf of dead non-Christians; however, the context and construction of the verse indicate otherwise. The Greek phrase rendered by the King James Version as "for the dead" is huper ton nekron. This phrase is as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English. The preposition huper has a wide semantic range and can indicate "for the sake of," "on behalf of," "over," "beyond," or "more than." Like the English preposition "for," it does not have a single meaning and does not require the Mormon idea of being baptized in place of the dead. Such a reading would be unlikely given the more plausible interpretations available, and even if huper were taken to mean "in the place of," it doesn’t mean Paul endorses the practice.
"First Corinthians 15 is a key chapter for Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body. He makes no statement on baptism for dead persons except to note that some unnamed "they" practice it. While the rest of his teaching in chapter fifteen refers to "we," his Christian followers, "they" are not further identified. Who this group was may not be known with certitude today, but there are some reasonable interpretations:
"1. Some commentators assume this verse refers to the practice of giving newly baptized children the names of deceased non-Christian relatives, with the hope that the dead might somehow share in the Lord’s mercy...
"4. Others advance the possibility that Paul was referring to the practice of a heretical cult that existed in Corinth. On this theory, Paul was not endorsing the practice of the group, but merely citing it to emphasize the importance of the resurrection. Rather, his point was: If even heterodox Christians have a practice that makes no sense if there is no resurrection of the dead, how much more, then, should we orthodox Catholics believe in and hope for the resurrection of the dead...
"Although we have no way of knowing for sure who was engaging in this practice, it is certain that Paul was not referring to orthodox Christians baptizing the dead. Catholic and Protestant scholars agree on that.The rest can be read there, but it's clear that there were heterodox things going on in Corinth, and even if what St. Paul is referring to is something more along the lines of the first interpretation given above there is no controversy because the former is a legitimate baptismal practice and the latter a quasi-Christian practice borrowing an idea from pagan cults instead of what the Church had already established.
Next, a brief overview of the Didache's instructions on baptism is given. No problem there, until the mention of the sprinkling of water on the forehead in lieu of actual running water from a river. This "drizzling" is made to seem like a "concession [which] proved practical when, in the fourth century, Augustine made the case for baptizing infants as well as full-grown adults." With just this little blurb, Moss sounds like a Evangelical Christian trying to refute infant baptism by writing it off as an idea that only rose to popularity because of St. Augustine. The amount of information in opposition to such an idea is copious if we look at the Early Church Fathers' writings before St. Augustine, and there's a nice list found here. Here's just a few selections showing that St. Augustine was far from the first to posit that infants could be baptized alongside adults, including a couple not found in the preceding link:
"He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age" (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189])
"It shows no crease when infants put it on[ie the baptismal garment], it is not too scanty for young men, it fits women without alteration." (St. Optatus of Mileve, Against Parmenium 5:10 [A.D. 365])
"Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.' No one is expected: not the infant, not the one prevented by necessity." (St. Ambrose of Milan, Abraham, 2, 11:79 [A.D. 387], in JUR,2:169)
|Baptism of Jesus Christ- Giovanni Battista Crespi|
"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John... As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him." (Matthew 3: 13,17)
"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove." (Mark 1: 9-10).It's safe to say that the baptism of St. John the Baptist is very similar to Christian baptism, as we see St. John comment on the elements of baptism just a bit earlier in Mark's Gospel (verses 7-8) when he says "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” St. John makes a comparison between the two, and the one key difference is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the baptism that Jesus provides as a sacrament to all of Christianity. Jesus confirms these words of His cousin when He explicitly states what the specific matter is for a valid baptism: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
So here we have in the Gospels, Jesus explicitly telling us what the form and the matter are for Christian baptism. Moss may be disappointed there is no point-by-point instruction present in the Gospels, but perhaps she's forgotten that the Church is like a three-legged stool; we don't teeter on a single leg of Scripture. We also have Tradition and the Magisterium to guide us, in addition to Scripture. Even if Scripture doesn't give us very explicit instructions, we have the teaching authority of the Church to rely on as Catholic Christians. An authority just as valid as Scripture's... unless, of course, one is a Protestant and rejects that truth. Again, we see that the Didache's ideal description of baptism (in running water) is exactly what Jesus did in His baptism. And of course, Christ's baptism purifies the waters for our own baptism. The Apostles handed down this Tradition throughout the ages to their successors, as is recorded in the writings of the Church Fathers, and this is why we see them all having a uniform understanding on how baptism is to be done.
That's why I can only shake my head when Moss says "With so many different ideas about how and why to baptize, chances are you’re doing it at least partly wrong." First off, there really aren't that many "different ideas" on baptism as demonstrated above. There are many different facets to understanding baptism, but they are complimentary and not contradictory as the article in question would have you believe by its tone and innuendo. The nuptial meaning of baptism and the death and rebirth aspect of baptism coalesce perfectly, and once one sees that, it's apparent how rich the Church's understanding of this great sacrament is. We saw what St. Paul had to say on our death to sin and rebirth at baptism, but St. Cyril of Jerusalem puts the death and Resurrection of Christ and our own baptism in a beautiful juxtaposition:
"You made the confession that brings salvation, and submerged yourselves three times in the water and emerged: By this symbolic gesture you were secretly reenacting the burial of Christ three days in the tomb. For just as our Savior spent three days and nights in the hollow bosom of the earth, so you upon first emerging were representing Christ’s day in the earth, and by your immersion his first night…. In one and the same action you died and were born; the water of salvation became both tomb and mother for you."Even if the Christians of the second and third centuries had "amnesia" when it came to St. Paul's words in Romans 6 on the correlation of Christ's Passion and our baptism, we see here that it was never totally lost, as many other saints wrote on the subject like St. Cyril did. Which of course means that the Church is not doing baptism all wrong. It's disappointing that Moss couldn't include some of these Church documents listed above in her article, as the way its written leads the reader to (falsely) believe that the Catholic Church today has no understanding of these things mentioned in Peppard's book, and this failure to include such relevant information is truly disingenuous. Perhaps some Reformed or Evangelical traditions have lost sight of the great significance of the nuptial mystery in baptism, but Catholics, Orthodox, mainline Protestants and others have not forgotten. Once we explore everything in more detail, this all only serves to prove how many layers there are to our great Faith, and reminds us of how abundant the graces and charisms are that flow from the sacrament of baptism.