As mentioned in the previous post, our third son’s baptism got me thinking about Baptism in general. I’d like to share some loose thoughts on this today.
Recently someone propose the following exercise: describe Baptism using only three words. While most of the answers heard were “original sin” and “washing” and “creation”, yet the words “death” and “resurrection” did not feature much. What happens at Baptism? Is it just an outward washing that effects an interior purification, a “cleaning of the stain of original sin”, or is it something much more? And are we looking at the Scriptures – especially Genesis – to find out what it is that we believe?
Let us look at what the Liturgy has to tell us. I have previously written about the blessing of the baptismal font during the Paschal Vigil. The blessing mentions the Spirit hovering over the water; the admixture of the Holy Oils emphasize visually the presence of the Holy Spirit within the waters (oil being a symbol for the selfsame Spirit); the prayer mentions over and over regeneration. If we are paying attention to all this, and if we have a decent foundation in the Scriptures, we should realize that Baptism is pointing us back to Genesis, back to the very beginning of Creation. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Spirit hovers over the primordial waters and brings life from them. In fact, throughout the Scriptures we see this motif of death/water-new creation/life repeated several times, most notably in the story of Noah, as well as in the Exodus. So, in Baptism, we are not just being washed of our sin – we are being made anew. The image and likeness of God, marred by the Old Adam’s sin, is regenerated in us thanks to our participation in the Death and glorious Resurrection of the New Adam. The New Adam is the obedient son, sent to fulfill the Father’s plan for Creation that the Old Adam, in his disobedience, caused to go wrong.
I find it necessary to speak of Adam time and time again because it seems that many Christians no longer believe that he actually existed, and that it was due to his negligence that Christ came into the world to redeem his fallen seed [us] and the whole of creation along with us. Adam was God’s son, made in His image and likeness; he had dominion over the the earth [symbolized by his naming the animals]; he was the cosmic priest, the mediator between the world and God [in the Hebrew, the words used when God commands Adam to “dress and keep” the Garden are the same as those used in the rest of the Old Testament for priestly activity within the Temple].
At times I have been posed the question of how I can believe that Adam actually existed. To this, my reply is simple: I believe that Adam existed because first I believe in Christ. To so many nowadays Christ is nothing more than a guru, a spiritual leader among many; in fine, someone who came to teach us how to make the world a better place. This can only be the fruit of a lack of biblical foundations for one’s faith, of looking at Christ out of context. Christ did not come to teach a new ethical system or to make the world a better place; He came so as to give Life to the dead. One can never say this enough.
I was surprised to notice that even in a parish where the traditional Latin liturgy is offered baptisms are still considered a somewhat private, family affair, and that people will only stay for it if they are invited to do so. In my home country, even though baptisms take place within the context of the Mass [Novus Ordo], even there it too is seen as a family affair. What has brought about this lamentable situation? When did we stop seeing Baptism for the terrible (in the etymological sense of the word) miracle that it is? When did we, as communities, stop caring about the regeneration of a new “son in the Son”? After all, it is only through Baptism that one can truly be called a child of God (a much misused and abused expression). I wonder at times if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to restrict baptisms back to the traditional periods for reception of the sacrament in the Roman church (Pascha and Pentecost); would that help to reimbue us with the proper awe and reverence for the sacrament?
The Genesis story is recapitulated at every baptism. Adam was brought forth from the separating of the waters [Baptism], received the breath/Spirit of God [Chrismation], and was eventually to eat of the Tree of Life [Eucharist]. We would do well to dwell on these thoughts the next time we see a child/catechumen going to be plunged into the waters.