Friday, January 11, 2013

Why were the heavens opened to Jesus at his baptism?

Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, Luke 3:15-16,21-22
After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
By baptism, men are made to be true sons of God, washed from original (and any actual) sin, infused with the virtues and gifts, built into a true temple of the Holy Trinity, and joined to the mystical Body of Christ which is the Church.
Through baptism, heaven is opened to us. However, heaven was ever open to Christ. Even from the moment of his conception he was the Son of God (by nature), he had no sin, he was filled with the perfection of all the gifts and virtues (as well as of all knowledge), his human soul was indeed that place where the fullness of Godhead deigned to dwell.
Jesus obviously could not increase in grace, being perfect from the moment of his conception – what then is the meaning of the opening of the heavens?

Why Christ observed certain rituals
We must recall that our Lord observed many rituals of his day although he was in no way needful of such rites. Thus, for example, he was redeemed by the offering of a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons – however, he most certainly did not need to be redeemed by any ritual sacrifice, being wholly pure and undefiled in himself.
Earlier, our Savior was circumcised, but he certainly had not need of circumcision.
Further, we can consider how he offered his life, not for his salvation, but for our own.
Thus too, we ought not to be in any way surprised to notice that his baptism was not for his own sake, or for an increase in grace in himself, but (like everything in his life) it was offered for our benefit, and for the glory of his Father through the salvation of men.
That Jesus did not increase in grace
Now, upon reflection, it is obvious that Jesus could not have increased in grace at any time. Indeed, the end of grace is the union of God with man – but this union was effected perfectly in Christ through the hypostatic union of the divine essence with his true human nature. Thus, because there is simply and absolutely no union between God and man which could be greater than the union of humanity and divinity in the single person of our Savior, it is quite obvious that there could be no absolute increase in grace in our Lord from the first moment of his conception.
Rather, because the grace of union was perfect in Christ from the moment of his conception (since he was true God and true man from the first moment of the Incarnation) there can be no doubt that grace (considered in itself and absolutely) did not and could not increase in Christ. He was perfected in grace from the first.
Furthermore, because our Lord enjoyed the beatific vision from the first moment of his conception – and this is necessary, if indeed he is our Savior from the beginning and not merely from some later point; for he cannot be our Savior if he is not yet even “saved” himself – and because the beatific vision is the greatest grace which a man may enjoy, from this it is obvious that our Lord could not increase in grace but was perfected in all grace from the beginning of his existence as man.
Any who would claim that our Lord increased in grace at his baptism – or who would say that he only became the Son of God at his baptism, or only became a priest at his baptism, or only received the Spirit at his baptism, or only gained the beatific vision at his baptism – all of these are falling into the adoptionist heresy.
Three reasons the heavens were opened
If, then, our Lord was always perfect in grace and did not grow into closer union with God but was always in perfect union with the divinity, and if the heavens were always opened to our Savior; why, then, did the heavens open to him at his baptism?
If the heavens were already opened to him, how could they be opened to him anew? The heavens were opened as a sign for our benefit, for the baptism of Christ is a cause of grace in us.
Aquinas (that is, the Angelic Thomas) gives three reasons:
1) To show that it is a heavenly power which sanctifies baptism and effects the grace of baptism in all those who are baptized.
2) Baptism is the “door of faith”, by which faith we gaze upon the things of heaven.
3) Finally, heaven is closed to us before we are baptized. Thus, because baptism is the opening for us to the way to heaven, the heavens were opened as a sign for us at the baptism of our Savior.
St. Luke specifies that Jesus was praying when the heavens opened
The Doctor from Aquino continues (ST III, q.39, a.5):
Now after baptism man needs to pray continually, in order to enter heaven: for though sins are remitted through baptism, there still remain the fomes of sin assailing us from within, and the world and the devils assailing us from without. And therefore it is said pointedly (Luke 3:21) that Jesus being baptized and praying, heaven was opened: because, to wit, the faithful after baptism stand in need of prayer. Or else, that we may be led to understand that the very fact that through baptism heaven is opened to believers is in virtue of the prayer of Christ. Hence it is said pointedly (Matthew 3:16) that heaven was opened to Him--that is, "to all for His sake." Thus, for example, the Emperor might say to one asking a favor for another: "Behold, I grant this favor, not to him, but to thee"--that is, "to him for thy sake," as Chrysostom says (Hom. iv in Matth. [From the supposititious Opus Imperfectum]).


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Excellent, Fr. I also love the idea that Jesus' Baptism in the water of Jordan sanctified the water which is the laver of our salvation

Anonymous said...

The fullness of grace in Jesus was in proportion to his age; there was always fullness, but a fullness which increased as he grew in age. The same can be said of the wisdom which Christ had from the beginning in the fullness proper to the period of childhood. As he advanced in age, this fullness grew in him to a proportionate degree.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

That is a heresy.
The fullness of grace was always manifest in a way that was appropriate to his age, and in this sense it "grew" ... but, inherently, he was always perfected in grace.

It is absurd to think that the infant Christ had less grace than the adolescent.
You would end up thinking that the baby Jesus was not yet our Savior.

Anonymous said...

According to Luke's text, there was also a spiritual growth in Jesus.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Who'n'the heck do you think you are to contravene the authoritative exegesis of Johannes? :)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I don't know who you are reading ... but he is not giving a catholic interpretation ... the Church has never interpreted Luke 2:40 in that way.

This "spiritual growth" can only be understood as a greater manifestation of his already perfect spiritual state.

From Haydock's Catholic Commentary: "The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom, and (ver. 52) increased in wisdom and age. The Arians from this, pretend to prove that Christ was not truly God, who cannot advance or increase in wisdom. The true meaning is, that Jesus, as he advanced in age as man, gave greater marks of his divine wisdom, and discovered himself full of knowledge, wisdom, &c. "

And, even better, a few excerpts from the Church Fathers (via the Catena Aurea):
"THEOPHYL. For if while yet a little child, He had displayed His wisdom, He would have seemed a miracle, but together with the advance of age He gradually showed Himself, so as to fill the whole world. For not as receiving wisdom is He said to be strengthened in spirit. For that which is most perfect in the beginning, how can that become any more perfect. Hence it follows, Filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was in him."

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
Indeed, these modernists read the Bible as though no Church Fathers or Catholic theologians had ever read it before them!!!

Anonymous said...

No, "Father", you're commiting sin by calling Johannes a heretic. Scriptures do talk of Yeshua being taught, growing in His spiritual and physical life. Blindness would suggest otherwise. - Also, those two doves or pigeons was Mary's admitting of herself, not Jesus, being a sinner.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The doves/pigeons are not offered for her purification ... you don't even know the Scriptural text itself: "Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord"

Further, Mary was not a sinner, having been conceived immaculate.
To say that she was a sinner is a heresy.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

When the words of a theologian are quoted out of context, it can change the meaning or sense of those words.

Thus, if a man states that: "The Holy Spirit instilled the fullness of grace in Christ, for the personal union of the human nature with the Word of God, for the extreme nobility of his soul and for his sanctifying and salvific mission for the whole human race."
and you fail to quote this but only selectively quote words written a few lines earlier, "there was also a spiritual growth in Jesus" ... you misrepresent the man.

How much worse this is when the man you are quoting is Blessed John Paul II!
For there is clearly no question that John Paul II held that our Savior was always perfected in grace and that this "increase" was not a substantial increase in grace (this would lead to a heresy) but was rather an increase in the way in which the Holy Spirit worked in Christ's humanity and manifested the mission of the Savior.

Hence, to give context to his words, the Great John Paul II states: "The grace which, again according to Luke, was "upon" Jesus and in which he "grew," seems to indicate the mysterious presence and action of the Holy Spirit in which, according to the Baptist's proclamation reported by the four Gospels, Jesus would be baptized (cf. Mt 3:11; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33)."

It is clear that the Venerable Pontiff does not refer to "increase in grace" in the strict theological sense of the term. You do him a great dis-service.

I had a similar thing happen to me when a certain individual quoted me as saying "In his humanity, Christ is not our salvation" ... when I had really said, "Though his humanity is not our salvation in and of itself, it is nevertheless the instrument of our salvation and through it we come into a real and living communion with God."

Leaving out the context greatly distorts the meaning of quote.

Father Canu said...

In this Year of Faith, may we Christians deepen our knowledge of the mystery of Christ, true God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and true man, with all the limitations which God put into human nature. Trying to explain away the mystery leads to heresies denying either His divine or His human nature.

Anonymous said...

Except for the first reason, I am not convinced. I think there is much that we don't really know.

Anonymous said...

Ryan, read Leviticus 12:8. "Will make atonement for her" sounds a lot like it was for Mary.


Anonymous said...

"...and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove."

The verb here hence the action is "descended".

Verbs contain tense and we ask what is the tense of the above action ? Present, past, or future ?

The suffix "ed" in the above quote deems the action verb "descended" 'past'.

If we look to Luke himself namely the Author of The Sacred Inspired Gospel and ask how did he actually indicate this action we see "aorist infinitive active".

Namely: Aorist, a verb tense orig. used in classical Greek that usually denotes past action without indicating -completion, continuation, or repitition of this action, and...
whenever the aorist tense is used in any mood other than indicative the verb does not have any temporal significance as it only refers o the reality of the action not the time when it took place.

I think the word "descended" denotes a completion here and so is misleading.

How can we understand this verse as Luke truly scribed ?

Maybe, 'descending' like "and the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove.

The idea is the the people witnessed an eternal reality, the unity of Trinity in this particular moment.


chris said...

Fr Ryan,
The doves/pigeons are not offered for her purification ...
Could you give a little more commentary on that because it is commonly cited in Catholic sources as the traditional reason for the offering. What was the deeper reason or purpose for the dove offering then?

I am working on an image that includes this symbolism and am most interested in an accurate interpretation.

Howard said...

Several things are being confused here. First of all, the firstborn male was not redeemed by the offering of a lamb (or pigeon) and pigeon, he was redeemed by the payment of 5 shekels. Secondly, the redemption of the firstborn male had nothing to do with sin; it was because all firstborn male animals were sacred to the Lord, but human sacrifice is an abomination. In the same way, the firstborn male of a donkey had to be redeemed with a sheep or lamb, because it also could not be sacrificed. Thirdly, only one of the pigeons was sacrificed for sin, the other was a holocaust. Finally, there is nothing in the Douay Rheims of Leviticus 12 (or, as far as I can tell, in the Latin either) to indicate that the sin offering is either for the mother or for the child. One might guess that it is, and no doubt in most cases it was, but let's not pretend it's in the text. If we can offer up prayers and mortifications in reparation for the sins of others, is it even remotely surprising that this offering, which at any rate avoided giving scandal, could be given for the sins of others, too?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The practice of the offering in the first century had developed quite a lot since Leviticus 12 ... thus, as Howard rightly indicates, it is not easy to draw any conclusion.

One thing is certain, there is no indication in Luke's Gospel that our Lady was a sinner.
Further, your comment really adds nothing to the matter being discussed in this post.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please take a look at this earlier article ... I'm sure you will find it helpful! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the very well reasoned comment ... I think you have added a bit of balance to my own comment, and I happily rescind my previous words about the pigeons and adopt what you have said.

Blessings! +

Anonymous said...

Ryan, YOU mentioned the two pigeons/doves. So how could my comment have nothing to do with the post?


Anonymous said...

Ryan and Howard, how could you read Leviticus 12:8 and not see the sin offering was for the woman?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are taking us down a tangent ... if you want to discuss whether or not our Lady needed purification, or whether she was sinless, go find another blog post ... we are here discussing the Savior.

Yes, the pigeons are offered for the woman's purification -- you are correct there, and I had said this in another blog post to which I make reference in a comment to Chris above -- but whether the woman has sin is the point ... and the text does not indicate that Mary was a sinner.
But the whole argument adds nothing whatsoever to the discussion at hand -- whether you call me Father or not, you are wasting our time.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Because a certain impetuous fool ("Johannes") has abused the quotes of the Blessed John Paul II and has made it seem that the Pontiff asserted that this "growth" was a substantial increase in grace in our Savior ... having made reference to a papal address of the same Venerable Pontiff (27 June 1990) but taking the quotes out of context ...

because this same individual goes further and claims that John Paul did not mean that this "growth" is a greater manifestation, but a real growth from less holiness to more and a real increase in graces (such that our Savior would have lacked certain spiritual gifts and graces until he grew in human age)

... I think it will be helpful to point out that the said audience was really part of a series of audiences which the Great John Paul gave ... and in an earlier audience (6 June 1990), his Holiness states very clearly:

"Luke the evangelist, perhaps echoing private conversations with Mary, tells us that, as the Son of Man, "Jesus grew in wisdom, age and favor before God and man (Lk 2:52; cf. Lk 2:40). In an analogous way one can also speak of "growth" in holiness in the sense of an ever more complete manifestation and fulfillment of that fundamental fullness of holiness with which Jesus came into the world. The moment in which the consecration of the Son in the Holy Spirit was made known in a special way, at the level of mission, was at the start of the messianic activity of Jesus of Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: because he has anointed me; he has sent me" (Lk 4:18)."

Repeat: "In an analogous way one can also speak of "growth" in holiness in the sense of an ever more complete manifestation and fulfillment of that fundamental fullness of holiness with which Jesus came into the world."

Now, since we certainly must not think that the Holy Father was contradicting himself in these two audience, we must assert that the Blessed Pontiff did not claim that there was a substantial growth of holiness in Christ, but maintained what the Church has always believed regarding that "fundamental fullness of holiness with which Jesus came into the world".

These two audiences can be found at the following links:

6 June 1990 (Christ is Totally Holy) -

27 June 1990 (The Spirit and the Child Jesus) -

Clinton R. said...


Please address the author of this blog as either Father Ryan or Father Erlenbush. You are free to disagree with Father's exegesis, but please have respect for him as one of the priests of the Holy Church. +JMJ+

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Thank you for your elegant exposition of the question: Why were the heavens opened to Jesus at His baptism? We are so fortunate to have your kind and wise guidance in order to grow in knowledge of our Catholic Faith. You prove the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders, Father, in your teaching office. Thanks again for protecting us from heresy, which is so easy to fall into. Let us pray for those of our separated brethren who do not just yet appreciate the Father's gift of the Catholic Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Happy Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!


Anonymous said...

Based on what I am hearing, here's what I understand thus far.

Jesus is fully human and fully Divine and possesses two wills (dyothelitism) - the will of the Word and the will of the human soul and a human soul with all attendant faculties (dyophysitism). Because Jesus is eternally the Word in a human body, He always possessed the Beatific Vision. At the same time, He always experienced the Beatific Vision via His human soul - that is, as we humans will experience God's holy light in our own souls. Jesus grew up in wisdom - learning in the normal way so He could be said to always possess the Beatific Vision but not as if linguistically - that is, growing "analogously" as you said.

Human babies are not born with language. A human child may be said to experience an orange but do not understand it to be "orange" intellectually - as in understanding all the properties of the fruit. In the same sense, the young Jesus might be said to experience the Beatific Vision eternally within His human soul. At the same time, he would grow in understanding as to what exactly He was experiencing - though He knew intuitively Whom as a child knows its parents by instinct - as He developed language to classify it.

God Bless.

Alcuin of New York

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.