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BAPTISM


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BAPTISM


meaning of the term "baptism", we now turn our attention to the various rites which were its fore- runners before the New Dispensation. Types of this sacrament are to be founii among the Jews and Gentiles. Its place in the sacramental system of the Old Law was taken by circumcision, which is called by some of the Fathers "the laver of blood" to dis- tinguish it from " the laver of water". By the rite of circumcision, the recipient was incorporated into the people of God and made a partaker in the Messianic promises; a name was bestowed upon him and he was reckoned among the children of .Abraham, the father of all believers. Other forerunners of baptism were the numerous purifications prescribed in the Mosaic dispensation for legal imcleannesses. Tlie symbolism of an outward washing to cleanse an invisible blemish was made very familiar to the Jews by their sacred ceremonies. But in addition to these more direct types, both the New Testament writers and the Fathers of the Church find many mysterious fore- shadowings of baptism. Thus St. Paul (I Cor., x) adduces the passage of Israel through the Red Sea, and St. Peter (I Pet., iii) the Deluge, as types of the purification to be found in Christian baptism. Other foreshadowings of the sacrament are found by the Fathers in the bathing of Naaman in the Jordan, in the brooding of the Spirit of God over the waters, in the rivers of Paradise, in the blood of the Paschal Lamb, during Old Testament times, and in the pool of Bethsaida, and in the healing of the dumb and blind in the New Testament.

How natural and expressive the symbolism of ex- terior washing to indicate interior purification was recognized to be, is plain from the practice also of the heathen systems of religion. The use of lustral water is found among the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Hindus, and others. A closer resemblance to Christian baptism is found in a form of Jewish baptism, to be bestowed on prose- lytes, given in the Babylonian Talmud (DoUinger, First Age of the Church). But above all must be considered the baptism of St. John the Precursor. John baptized with water (Mark, i) and it was a bap- tism of penance for the remission of sins (Luke, iii). While, then, the symbohsm of the sacrament insti- tuted by Christ was not new, the efficacy which He joined to the rite is that which differentiates it from all its types. Jolin's baptism did not produce grace, as he himself testifies (Matt., iii) when he declares that he is not the Messias whose baptism is to confer the Holy Ghost. Moreover, it was not John's baptism that remitted sin, but the penance that accompanied it; and hence St. Augustine calls it (De Bapt. contra Donat., V) "a remission of sins in hope". As to the nature of the Precursor's baptism, St. Thomas (III, Q. xxxviii, a. 1) declares: " The baptism of Jolm was not a sacrament of itself, but a certain sacramen- tal as it were, preparing the way (disponens) for the baptism of Christ. " Durandus calls it a sacrament, indeed, but of the Old Law, and St. Bonaventure places it as a medium between the Old and New Dis- pensations. It is of Catholic faith that the Pre- cursor's baptism was essentially different in its ef- fects from the baptism of Christ. It is also to be noted that those who had pre\'iously received John's baptism had to receive later the Christian baptism (Acts, xix).

V. Institotion of the S.\cr.\ment. — That Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism is unquestion- able. Rationalists, hke Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, I, 68), dispute it, only by arbitrarily ruhng out the texts which prove it. Christ not only commands His Disciples (Matt., xxviii, 19) to baptize and gives them the form to be used, but He also declares explicitly the absolute necessity of baptism (John, iii): "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God. " More-


over, from the general doctrine of the Church on the sacraments, we know that the efficacy attached to them is derivable only from the institution of the Redeemer. When, however, we come to the question as to when precisely Christ instituted baptism, we find that ecclesiastical writers are not agreed. The Scriptures themselves are silent upon the subject. Various occasions have been pointed out as the prob- able time of institution, as when Christ was Himself baptized in the Jordan, when He declared the neces- sity of the rebirth to Nicodemus, when He sent His Apostles and Disciples to preach and baptize. The first opinion was quite a favourite with many of the Fathers and Schoolmen, and they are fond of referring to the sanctificatiou of the baptismal water by con- tact with the flesh of the God-man. Others, as St. Jerome and St. Maximus, appear to assume that Christ baptized Jolm on this occasion and thus in- stituted the sacrament. There is nothing, however, in the Gospels to indicate that Christ baptized the Pre- cursor at the time of His own baptism. As to the opinion that it was in the colloquy with Nicodemus that the sacrament was instituted, it is not sur- prising that it has found few adherents. Christ's words indeed declare the necessity of such an insti- tution, but no more. It seems also very unhkely that Christ woukl have instituted the sacrament iu a secret conference with one who was not to be a herald of its institution.

The more probable opinion seems to be that bap- tism, as a sacrament, had its origin when Christ com- missioned His Apostles to baptize, as narrated in John, iii and iv. There is nothing directly in the text as to the institution, but as the Disciples acted evi- dently under the instruction of Christ, He must have taught them at the very outset the matter and form of the sacrament which they were to dispense. It is true that St. John Chrysostom (Horn., xxviii in Joan.), Theophylactiis (in cap. iii, Joan.), and Ter- tulhan (De Bapt., c. ii) declare that the baptism given by the Disciples of Christ as narrated in these chap- ters of St. Jolm was a baptism of water only and not of the Holy Ghost; but their reason is that the Holy Gliost was not given until after the Resurrection As theologians have pointed out, this is a confusion between the visible and the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The authority of St. Leo (Ep. xvi ad Episc. Sicil.) is also invoked for the same opinion, inasmuch as he seems to hold that Christ instituted the sacrament when, after His rising from the dead. He gave the command (Matt., xxviii): "Go and teach . . . baptizing"; but St. Leo's words can easily be explained otherwise, and in another part of the same epistle he refers to the sanction of re- generation given by Christ when the water of baptism flowed from His side on the Cross; consequently, before the Resurrection. All authorities agree that Matt., xxviii, contains the solemn promulgation of this sacrament, and St. Leo does not seem to intend more than this. We need not delay on the arguments of those who declare baptism to have been necessarily established after Christ's death, because the efficacy of the sacraments is derived from His Passion. This would prove also that the Holy Eucharist was not instituted before His death, which is untenable. .A.5 to the frequent statement of the Fathers that the sacraments flowed from the side of Christ upon the Cross, it is enough to say that beyond the symbolism found therein, their words can be explained as re- ferring to the death of Christ, as the meritorious causf or perfection of the sacraments, but not necessarilj as their time of institution.

All things considered, we can safely state, therefore that Christ most probably institutetl baptism befon His Passion. For in the first place, as is evident fron John, iii and iv, Christ certainly conferred baptism at least by the hands of His Disciples, before Hii