Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Jesus was baptized

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Below is the text of a homily given by a priest friend of mine last Sunday.
The Baptism of the Lord, a second Epiphany
Today is the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord; yes, I say it is the feast of the Lord’s Epiphany! For indeed, the Epiphany is not only the commemoration of the adoration of the Magi, but it includes also two other mysteries: Our Lord’s baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana. And so, today’s feast of Christ’s baptism is a second Epiphany – for this reason, from ancient times, the Baptism of the Lord has been celebrated on the octave of the Epiphany.
The very word Epiphany means “manifestation”; Epiphany is the manifestation of Christ to the world. In Bethlehem, shortly after our Lord’s birth, there was the first Epiphany, a hidden Epiphany – for none but the Magi (and the shepherds before them) recognized the Child as the Christ and true Lord of all. This first manifestation was part of the hidden life of Christ, hence it is a private Epiphany.
Today, however, we have the second Epiphany which is a public Epiphany – for it is with his baptism that the Lord begins his public ministry. Now, at the age of thirty, our Savior manifests himself publicly and before all.
And what is the Epiphany which we celebrate at the Lord’s baptism? What about Christ was made manifest to the world today? Behold, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended and the voice of the Father was heard – This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This is the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ: He is revealed to all as the true Son of God, and God himself!

Christ was not baptized for his own sake
And yet, there is a difficulty which arises as we consider the baptism of the Lord. For indeed, the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. How then can it be that Christ the Lord should come to be baptized? He is without sin, he is Messiah and Lord – why should he submit himself to the baptism of John?
This was what troubled St. John the Baptist – he recognizes the dignity of the Lord and he tries to prevent Christ from coming to be baptized. It is only at our Savior’s persistence that John is willing to baptize him.
And so we ask: Why was Christ baptized by John? What is the meaning of this event?
Let us be very clear – Christ had no need of John’s baptism, it was not for his sake that he was baptized. The Savior already was filled with the Holy Spirit and, from the very moment of his conception, the heavens were opened to him. He already knew with certainty that he is the Son of God the Father. The miraculous events surrounding Christ’s baptism were not for him – he already knew who he was, he already knew himself to be true God and the Christ.
Three reasons why Christ was baptized
No, it was not for his own sake that Christ was baptized; rather, he was baptized for us. Jesus submitted himself to the baptism of John for us and for our salvation. There are many reasons why Christ was baptized, but it will be enough for us to consider three.
First, Christ was baptized in order to confirm John in his ministry. By his baptism, the Lord testifies to St. John’s life and work. Normally, we think of John as witnessing to Christ, as pointing to Christ, as giving testimony to Christ – and that is good and true, as far as it goes. But, on an even more fundamental level, it is Christ who gives testimony to John; for our Savior has no need of human testimony, his words and his saving works give testimony themselves.
In submitting himself to John’s baptism, the Lord testifies that John has indeed been sent by God. Jesus says to John, “You have prepared the way for me, well done my good and faithful servant.” And so, we are admonished by Christ to follow the indication of the Baptist, to heed his words, to prepare the way of the Lord, and to look to the Lord as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Second, the Lord was baptized in order to begin the institution of the sacrament of baptism in the life of the Church. In submitting himself to John’s baptism of water, Christ prepares the waters for the sacramental baptism in water and the Holy Spirit which he would soon give the Church.
Here we have a great mystery – the reality we witness is turned on its head. For, as Christ is submerged in the waters, it is not the waters which cleanse Christ, but Christ cleanses the waters. It is not the waters which purify Christ, but Christ purifies the waters. It is not the waters which sanctify Christ, but Christ sanctifies the waters. Through the waters of baptism, Christ will cleanse and sanctify the human race.
[It is interesting to note that there is much diversity of theological opinion regarding when Christ instituted the sacrament of baptism. St. Thomas holds that the matter was instituted here, but that the sacrament was only fully instituted after the Resurrection. Cornelius a’ Lapide (following the most learned Suarez) holds that we must look only to the post-Resurrection command to “baptize all nations,” maintaining that baptism is only foreshadowed in the Lord’s baptism by John. In any case, it is clear that the baptism Christ received was the non-sacramental baptism of John; a baptism which was mid-way between the ritual of baptism in the Old Testament and the sacramental baptism of the New Testament.]
Finally, our Savior was baptized to give an example of humility to all who would follow him. The Lord was without sin and yet he was willing to receive the baptism of John. Jesus is true God and yet he submitted himself to the baptism of the Forerunner.
If Christ, who was sinless, received the baptism of John; how much more must we who are sinners receive the baptism of Christ? The humility of our Savior is an example to us, that we might all run to the sacrament of baptism and there find true forgiveness of our sins.
And this is a point of some confusion today – for there are many, and even some in the Church, who speak and act as though baptism were not necessary. They will make it seem as though baptism were nothing more than a cute and sentimental event, a good excuse to get the family together. This type of thinking is contrary to the Gospel!
We have great need of the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is necessary for salvation, it is for this reason that Christ gave the sacrament to the Church.

Through the sacrament of baptism was are cleansed of all sin, both original sin and any actual sin; we are elevated by grace and filled with the Holy Spirit; we are incorporated into the Church, the true Body of Christ. Indeed, in this sacrament we are united to Christ in such a way that the words which almighty God spoke to our Lord at his baptism are applied also to us – we hear the Father say to each of us individually: “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.”


Dismas said...

I have a couple of questions I hope you can help clarify regarding this event. First, was this an epiphany or theophany and what is the difference? Second, can only priests baptize, did this make John the Baptist the first priest or can the lay faithful baptize as well?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Dismas, Good questions!
1) This is both a theophany and an epiphany. Insofar as we consider the revelation of the Trinity (especially the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit), this is a theophany (the manifestation of God).
Insofar as we consider the revelation of the Person of Christ both as God and (especially) as man -- "This is my beloved Son" -- it is a second Epiphany.
Of course, part of the Epiphany is recognizing that Jesus is God (the Son of the Father) and that he is Man (i.e. the new Adam, the Christ).

2) No, John was not a priest (though he is from the priestly line). Remember that the baptism of John is not a sacrament, it is not the baptism of Christ which we have now in the Church. Rather, John was a prophet, and more than a prophet, he was the precursor of the Lord -- the "Elijah" who preceded the first Coming of Christ.

Regarding whether only priests can baptize -- in cases of emergency, anyone can baptize (Christians have an obligation to baptize).
Outside of emergency, it is proper only for priests or deacons to baptize -- nevertheless the validity of the sacrament remains intact even if a lay person baptizes.

Moreover, even a heretic can baptize. Indeed, even an atheist can baptize.
Though it is not good (except in extreme emergency), anyone can baptize -- but it is more fitting for a priest (and, in his absence, a deacon).

I hope this helps.
Later this week, I will be posting another article on baptism -- specifically on the question of who baptizes.

Blessings to you!

Nick said...

I don't know why but, reading up on heresies, it seems the human imagination, or possibly demonic influence, has its limits. I just read so many accounts of the Holy Spirit being Michael the Archangel. It's like, can't they come up with something new? I know I shouldn't wish for new heresy, but it's amazing to me how much heresies repeat the same errors.

I think the Baptism is like a mini-tableau of Divine Revelation. You got the Trinity; God's love for man and man's love for God; foreshadowing of the Paschal Mysteries; the fulfillment of God's promises - crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, the coming and mission of the Messiah, descent of the Holy Spirit; and foreshadowing of the birth of the Holy Church - New Israel, Body of Christ, Sacrament of Salvation.

Papa Puttss said...

Good stuff. You don't have to post this if it against editorial policy, but let me share with you my reflection on the Baptism of Jesus:|201101

Areruu Bobai Baati said...

Great reflection and answer for the manifestation of Jesus Fr. Reginaldus. "Epiphany" is one of the questions that shocks me a little when a protestant asked me recently. I explained him some of my brainstone understanding but doubt about it. When he kept on questioning I stopped him and suggested if I could have a time before answering him. I did this because I don't want to be heretical in a sense that I answer without any foundation of the teachings of the Church. Only two general questions, out of many questions he had asked. 1) When was the feast "Epiphany" start? 2)Who was the Pope who authorize it to be the feast in the Church? Apology to you all if these questions must not raised here.
Kind regards

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Epiphany began in the East and was celebrated by some even during the reign of Pope Clement (c. AD 90). It was not originally accepted by the Church, and especially by the West.

It was not accepted more generally in the East until the 300's.
In the West, it was received only shortly afterwards. Originally the feast of Epiphany was a sort of "second Christmas", but little by little it came to focus on the Magi, then also on the Baptism and the wedding at Cana -- in the East, the focus on the Lord's Baptism came fairly early. Also, in the West, there has long been an emphasis on the wedding at Cana (from the 4th century).

I don't know which Pope gave the feast. It was before Damasus (d. 384).


Areruu Bobai Baati said...

I believe, and always, in Jesus and in His Mother whom I lay my life and all intentions through her, with the hope that one day they will answer me!
Thank you so much all contributors of a NTM. In a special way to you Fr. Reginaldus for replying my question. I do trust your website and doubt to visit you all for the need I would have later on. As a Missionary and lay person, I like to be more confirmed in my faith so that I could help others who know and do not know our faith. Keep a blessing mission Fathers of New Theological Movement (NTM).

Areruu Bobai Baati said...

Apology! apology! for the mistyping when I wrote "...and doubt..." Missing word is "NO". I'm so sorry to you all brothers and sisters.
Kind regards

Marco da Vinha said...

I have a question: how can a heretic or an atheist baptize? I know that there needs to be an intention to do what the Church does, but if you do not believe as the Church does, can you still try to do as she does?

I ask this because the priest who baptized my godson sounded more like a Baptist minister than a Catholic, and apparently doesn't believe in Original Sin.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

See my article "What John did not know about Jesus" --

There I explain that the baptism of a heretic is valid, because it is always Christ who baptizes.

Hence, do not fear, your godson is validly baptized.

Anonymous said...

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
"Why did Jesus receive from John the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3)?
To inaugurate his public life and to anticipate the “Baptism” of his death, he who was without sin accepted to be numbered among sinners. He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Father proclaimed him to be “his beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17) and the Spirit descended upon him. The baptism of Jesus is a prefiguring of our baptism."

Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“The baptism of Jesus

Jesus' public life begins with his baptism by John in the Jordan. John preaches "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Lk 3:3). A crowd of sinners - tax collectors and soldiers, Pharisees and Sadducees, and prostitutes - come to be baptized by him. "Then Jesus appears." the Baptist hesitates, but Jesus insists and receives baptism. Then the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims, "This is my beloved Son." This is the manifestation ("Epiphany") of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God.

The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God's suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". Already he is anticipating the "baptism" of his bloody death. Already he is coming to "fulfil all righteousness", that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father's will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. The Father's voice responds to the Son's acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son. The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to "rest on him". Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism "the heavens were opened" - the heavens that Adam's sin had closed - and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation.

Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. the Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father's beloved son in the Son and "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4.):

“Let us be buried with Christ by Baptism to rise with him; let us go down with him to be raised with him; and let us rise with him to be glorified with him.” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus)

“Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father's voice, we become sons of God.” (St. Hilary of Poitiers)

IN BRIEF: From the beginning of his public life, at his baptism, Jesus is the "Servant", wholly consecrated to the redemptive work that he will accomplish by the "baptism" of his Passion.”

Anonymous said...

But an Arian baptism is not valid, because then there is no intention to baptise as the Church does: in the name of the Trinity. Without correct intention, the baptism is not valid.
Emperor Consantine I is "baptised" by an Arian bishop at his deathbed, so his baptism cannot be valid, so he cannot be a saint!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are getting close to donatism, Anonymous (3:49pm)... I am not so sure that a baptism performed by an Arian would be invalid ... Arius has a higher Christology than most modern 'catholic' theologians, after all...

Also, please us some 'tag' or 'id' at least at the end of your comments...

Anonymous said...

The sacrament is valid when the priest have heretic personal views, but he has a right intention: to do what and as the Church do. But when he has not the right intention, the sacrament will not be valid. An Arian has no intention to baptise in the name of the Trinity, so his baptism is not valid. This is not Donatism, but the dogmatically defined view about the validity of sacraments in the Tridentine theology. Three condition:

- Right form
- Right intention (will)
- Right material

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If you want to continue this conversation you must leave some sort of name, id, tag, pseudonym at the end of you comments...

In any case, I agree, required intention is required -- for this reason Mormon baptsisms are invalid. However, even an atheist can baptize...if he does so with the intention of doing what the Church does...

Thus, it is not very easy to say when a given baptism invalid...and the Church has never (not to my knowledge) rejected Arian baptisms...
Moreover, in the East, Constantine is venerated as a saint...

Arius did say that the Son was "as God compared to other creatures"....

Jerin Rajan said...

Inorder to be saved both baptism and crucification is equally important. Through baptism Jesus took upon him all sins, and was then sacrificed. Just like in old testament, the priest laid his hands on the lamb to transfer all the sins, then sacrificed it.

Here Jesus is the Lamb, John is from the family of high priests, the one eligible to lay hands on the lamb(Jesus).

Jesus forgave all our sins.

Unknown said...

Iwill also ask that was the baptism of Christ a fulfillment of destiny?

Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.