Monday, February 27, 2012

Because water washes, baptism forgives sins


1st Sunday of Lent, I Peter 3:18-22
[The Flood] prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
During the season of Lent the Church militant joins with those to be baptized at the Easter Vigil in contemplating the mystery of the sacrament of baptism. Lent is a time for a renewal of our baptismal vows and a rekindling of the grace that was given us in the sacrament.
Thus, we must consider what it is that happened in our own baptism. To this end, the Church gives us to read from the First Letter of St. Peter, in which the waters of baptism are compared to the waters of the flood. Further, the Vicar of Christ speaks of the bodily washing effected through water, and the spiritual washing brought about through baptism.

The sign-value of sacraments
A sacrament is commonly defined as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” What is particularly note-worthy is that sacraments are signs. The Fathers of the Church as well as the great medieval Doctors describe sacraments as “symbols”, “mystical signs”, and “sacred signs”.
But sacraments are not mere symbols or signs, for they effect the grace they signify. Sacraments are causes, they transmit grace to the soul. And how does it happen that they bestow grace?
“Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1127) They bestow that grace of which they are an outward sign. Hence, a sacrament gives grace precisely because it is a sign and symbol (though, not a mere symbol) of grace.
Thus, because bread feeds, the Eucharist gives spiritual nourishment. Because bread remains a long time without corrupting (as opposed to meat, for example), Christ’s substantial presence persists in the Eucharist even after the celebration of Mass has concluded. Because the laying on of hands is a sign of election, the sacrament Holy Order makes a man to be a priest. Because perfumed oil anoints a man a king, Confirmation seals a man in Christ. And so forth.
If sacraments did not signify some grace, they could not confer that grace. If sacraments were not symbols, then neither would they be something more than symbols.
Baptism: Rebirth and washing
Baptism has (at least) a two-fold signification, which is also presented by St. Peter in the Scripture quote which began our meditation: Death and rebirth, and washing.
The ancient practice of submersion into the waters was a sign of death and burial in Christ, while the coming forth from the waters was a sign of rising to new life. Even today, this is partially maintained in the practice of pouring water over the head – though, for validity, such is not strictly required.
This ancient practice of submersion respects the very meaning of the word “baptism” which is “immerse” or “plunge”, i.e. into water.
We will focus, however, on the aspect of washing: Because water cleanses the body, baptism washes the soul of original and actual sin (if there be any actual sin).
Only water can be used for baptism
The Church defines that only natural water can be used for the sacrament of baptism.
The Council of Trent teaches: “If any one saith, that true and natural water is not of necessity for baptism, and, on that account, wrests, to some sort of metaphor, those words of our Lord Jesus Christ; Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost; let him be anathema.” (Session VII, Canon 2 on Baptism)
Now, pure water is the proper mater of the sacrament, however (for some just reason) other water may be used as well. Thus, it is possible, that salt-water be used, for it is still water. Likewise, water in which meat or some other substance has been boiled, so long as it is still water. Indeed, it was the practice of the Church (and still is, in the Extraordinary Form) to mix sacred Chrism with the water of baptism.
However, if such a change occur as to effect the very nature of the water, such that it be no longer water at all, then such a substance cannot be used for baptism. Thus, coffee, or beer, or wine, or other such liquids – as also mud or oatmeal, etc. – cannot be used for baptism. The sacrament is not simply illicit, but invalid.
Still, there are certain cases of doubt, as when wine is so diluted as to no longer really be diluted wine but only spoilt water. Similarly with coffee and beer. Further, in the case of dirty water which is still truly water and not mud, there is real doubt such that the sacrament may be administered with this substance in an emergency when no other water is available.
Why only water?
I do not here intend to state that there is only one reason why water may be used in baptism, but rather to give one reason why only water may be used. Thus, there are surely many other reasons besides.
Only water is used in baptism because water washes and this washing confers the grace of the spiritual cleansing (from all sin, original and actual) which it signifies.
Coffee and beer, as well as mud and wine, do not wash; rather, they stain. Hence, such substances cannot possibly be used in baptism. Because a sacrament is nothing if not a sign and symbol (though, indeed, as a symbol it becomes more than a mere symbol), if a substance does not wash, then it cannot be used for baptism. Therefore, it is clear that the Church has no power to change her practice: Wine and mud and beer and coffee, and the rest, cannot ever be valid matter for the sacrament of baptism.
On the other hand, dirty water (e.g. water mixed with some small amount of wine or dirt or beer) may be used in case of emergency, because dirty water is still essentially water. Water cleans, and even dirty water is water; therefore, the washing of the body with dirty water in baptism still confers the spiritual cleansing of sin.
Indeed, it is not strictly necessary that any significant bodily washing be effected through the water used in baptism, it is the sacramental symbolism and signification which is necessary. Therefore, if even a bit of water is used, or if only a small amount of even dirty water is uses, this is a sufficient sign and symbol to confer the cleansing grace of baptism.
On the other hand, there are many other liquids besides water which wash, and yet these cannot be used in baptism. There are many reasons for this, but our point here is not to give all the reasons why only water can be used, but to give one reason why the Church must use water.
Allow the words of our Savior to suffice: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5) By which words, the Lord conveyed to us that water alone is the proper matter of the sacrament of baptism.
The “washing” of baptism
Finally, we point out that – while the Church does recognize the validity of baptism by sprinkling – for the sacrament to be administered validly, the water must “wash” the body by running across it. That is to say, it is not sufficient that a drop of water simply fall upon the head (or other bodily member) and remain stationary.
Hence, St. Thomas Aquinas is right to point out that the matter of baptism is not merely water, but the ablution of the body with water. Thus he agrees with Peter Lombard stating, “Baptism is the outward washing of the body done together with the prescribed form of words.” (ST III, q.66, a.1; cf. Sentences IV, 3)
There is some danger in baptism by sprinkling, for fear that the water sprinkled by simply rest upon the body rather than run as an ablution across the skin. It is for this reason that the Latin Church does not permit (as a matter of liceity) baptism through sprinkling. (CIC 854: “Baptism is to be conferred either by immersion or by pouring.”)
Here we see just how important the sacramental sign is! It is not only necessary to use water, but to wash with that water; else the validity of the sacrament is compromised.
This outward sign of bodily washing is not a removal of dirt from the body (as St. Peter says, meaning it is not a mere cleansing from dirt), but confers an invisible grace which is the spiritual washing for a clear conscience through the absolution of sin by the power of our Savior’s death and resurrection.

9 comments:

A Sinner said...

I like the argument from the Summa that since, when the Apostles laid on hands to confirm, actual tongues of flame came down on the recipients, the chrism now used represents "potential fire" in the form of the oil.

Seraphim said...

"However, if such a change occur as to effect the very nature of the water, such that it be no longer water at all, then such a substance cannot be used for baptism. Thus, coffee, or beer, or wine, or other such liquids – as also mud or oatmeal, etc. – cannot be used for baptism. The sacrament is not simply illicit, but invalid.
Still, there are certain cases of doubt, as when wine is so diluted as to no longer really be diluted wine but only spoilt water. Similarly with coffee and beer."

Unfortunately Father that is really ambiguous. "Nature" is not a hard-and-fast, rigorously defined concept - just a vague description, regardless as to how often Scholasticism treats it as being a clear term. I really do not think we can make a mechanistic, magical distinction between the validity and invalidity of the Sacrament based on "matter" alone; the more wholistic Eastern approach is more true to reality than the Western one in this respect.

If we could mechanize the Sacraments this much, then Bud Light would be valid matter for baptism, since for real beer drinkers such as myself there is no discernable distinction between it and water.

Seraphim said...

@A Sinner:

What in the world is "potential fire"? This is the sort of verbalistic nonsense that turns people off from Scholasticism and gave fodder to a Voltaire and Moliere.

A Rose By Any Other Name said...

The Catholic Encyclopedia says "As to a mixture of water and some other material, it is held as proper matter, provided the water certainly predominates and the mixture would still be called water." Obviously, what "would still be called water" is subjective opinion, semantics, linguistics, culture, what have you. Thus what you might call "coffee" and say cannot be used for baptism, someone else might use it for baptism because he'd call it "coffee-water" or some such, just as some might use "lemon water" or "rose water". Whether it's "coffee-water" (aka "coffee"), "lemon water" or "rose water" (aka "rose hydrosol"), the "water certainly predominates and the mixture would still be called water" by whoever calls it that.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Seraphim,
Regarding the comment from "A Sinner" and the explanation of St. Thomas ... this is a perfect example of the close union between literal and spiritual exegesis ... I am shocked that you would dismiss it as "verbalistic nonsense".
Or ... do you really not get it that oil is "potential fire", i.e. it is flammable?

@A Sinner ... that is one of my favorite explanations of Pentecost as well! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Rose...,
It's not so complicated as you try to make it ... after all, the medievals knew about "rose water" ... reading your comment, one might think that the worlds was shrouded in darkness until recently.

Rose water is not natural water ... so, of course, it cannot be valid matter.

On the other hand, highly diluted coffee, which is closer to water than to coffee, would be doubtful matter ... and a baptism with such would be doubtful -- in case of emergency we would use it, but then we would perform a conditional baptism with pure natural water as soon as possible.

If you really think that all this about what is and isn't water it is purely a matter of subjective opinion and linguistics, you should go spend some time with children.
Even a 2 year old can tell you that lemonade isn't water, after all.

A Rose By Any Other Name said...

Fr. Ryan, perhaps you did not understand. Rose-water is produced by steaming beautiful roses with the steam of "natural water". The steam then cools and condenses back to its natural watery form, retaining some aromatic qualities of the rose. It certainly is "a mixture of water and some other material" where "the water certainly predominates and the mixture would still be called water", as specified by the Catholic Encyclopedia for valid matter.

Standard coffee-water (which you simply call "coffee") is a chemical mixture of approximately 99.6 parts water and 0.4 parts roasted coffee bean extract. I checked it in the lab to be sure. As such, it's already "highly diluted". It contains far more water by percentage than does seawater / salt-water which is generally about 3.1% to 3.8% salt content, although salt-water from the Dead Sea is around 31.5% salt content. And though you call coffee-water "coffee", we also call salt-water "brine" or "saline solution". Does that mean a baby can be baptized with "salt-water" but not with "brine" or "saline solution", even though it is the same substance just by a different name?

And you offered no comment about "lemon-water". When I ask for water, I'm often served lemon-water. Like rose-water, coffee-water and salt-water, it's also "a mixture of water and some other material" where "the water certainly predominates and the mixture would still be called water". Can it be used for baptism? Or do you say that it is "not natural water... so, of course, it cannot be valid matter"?

Could you please explain so that a chemist may understand what is "valid matter" for a baptism?

Your comment about "you should go spend some time with children. Even a 2 year old can tell you that lemonade isn't water, after all" is not helpful. A 2-year old child, if he could speak at all, would tell me what he's been taught to say like a parrot, without much use of logic. It would not establish the truth any better than gossip and baby talk. Having spent much time around children, it's obvious to me that if children were served lemonade and taught/socialized to call it "water" that the children would call it "water" and ask for it by asking for "water". Like I said, I routinely ask for water and am served lemon-water, which among some peoples may be called "clear" lemonade. In many western European countries, the term limonade, from which the term "lemonade" is derived, originally applied to unsweetened water or carbonated soda water with lemon juice added.

I also enjoy water which has been in contact with sprigs of mint. Some people might call it cold mint tea, but again, when I ask for water, this is sometimes what I'm served. Apparently, people are calling it water, and I gladly drink it with little doubt that it is water.

Seriously, why is it permissible to use water to which a teaspoon of salt has been added but not a teaspoon of lemon juice or a sprig of mint which has been strained out? I know for sure that if I asked for a glass of "water" but were served a glass of water with a teaspoon of salt added that I would reject it and say that is not what I asked for. And I suspect many a child would do likewise. Why then may it be used in baptism?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Rose...,
A child can tell you that salt water is water ... and that water with a lemon in it is water ... but that tea is not water, and that coffee is not water.

Personally, I don't think that the words you quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia are particularly helpful ... and this is probably part of why you are confused ... because it is better to say that natural water (including also impure water) is the valid mater of baptism.

You asked me to explain "so that a chemist may understand" ... and this shows the root of your problem.
This is a philosophical distinction which does not really touch upon molecules etc. (at least, not in the way that a chemist would think of it).

Take another case ... bread used at Mass ... the bread is one "substance", even though a chemist might not see it that way.
But even a child can tell you that a piece of bread is one piece and not many.

Well, take a look at St. Thomas' explanation -- ST III, q.66, a.4 -- http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4066.htm#article4

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Rose,
I'm sorry, but your last (attempted) comments were almost as long as the original post.
[and I have asked that comments be short, less than 100 words]

I'm not going to defend the fact that there is such a substance as "water" and that such common place terms as "water" and "coffee" have meaning.
You should write about this subject on your own blog, perhaps some would be interested ... but it is far beyond the scope of this post, which is about the fact that water washes and baptism forgives sins.

I'm sorry if it seems rude, but I'm not going to go any further on these issues here ... I just don't have the time or patience for (what I consider to be) nonsense.

Peace. +

Post a Comment

All comments are closed, as NTM is no longer functioning as of December 2014.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.