White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

On the Sacrament of Baptism: An Inquiry

Index: On the Sacrament of Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism: An Inquiry

Scriptural Prelude

No one can enter the kingdom of God
without being born of water and Spirit ...
What is born of spirit is spirit.
Jn 3:5-6

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, ...
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
1 Cor 12:13

Those who, through no fault of their own,
do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church,
but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart,
and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will
as they know it through the dictates of their conscience̬
those too may achieve eternal salvation.
Lumen Gentium, n. 16

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Peace be with you.

We are offering you, the reader, a general framework from within which to appreciate the Sacrament of Baptism. The following information is just information. We might label the following simply as instruction. We do not say the information is right or wrong (although we have intended the information to be correct in stating what it does state). We tend to be non-dogmatic, so please do not take the following in any way to reflect the last word about Baptism from the Catholic viewpoint. The information herein serves as the backdrop for the Rite of Baptism we celebrate. If you have any questions or need for clarifications, please contact your priest or deacon. Thank you.

Peace and Joy!

The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

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What is a Sacrament?

The sacraments are signs of God's love and desire to form a lasting relationship. Baptism is both a sacrament of initiation of that relationship but also a daily reminder of who we are. To discuss this sacrament we must view it from our own understanding of who we are now and how we have understood ourselves in the past.
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Awakening to Christ, Awakening to Ourselves: An Evolutionary Event

Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner's Christology is cast in evolutionary terms and is a function of his basic theological method of transcendence. The whole world is moving in evolution toward becoming something higher than it is now. It is called to self-transcendence.1 Through self-transcendence, a person lives and loves through the illusions, delusions, and allusions that s/he creates about their own life and life itself.

Our own human unfolding validates Rahner's theological conception. In the days of Ptolemy (2nd C AD), we believed in a geocentric universe „ the Earth was the center of everything. Metaphorically, we might say in terms of our human development that this phase designates our own egocentricity. We are the center of our own universe. Everything and everyone else revolves around us and serves us in some way.

We held this Earth-centered view for about 1500 years. Copernicus revolutionized our thinking about our universe, specifically Earth. Earth no longer was the center of things. It, with other planets, revolves around our Sun. Now the Sun is the center of the universe. We moved from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe. Again metaphorically, some of us move from an ego centered way of living to a family centered mode. Our own family becomes the center of our concern.

About a 100 years later, things changed again. Galileo taught us that our Sun was not the center of the universe. It was one of many. The Earth and its Solar System was one of many within numerous galaxies or clusters of stars. It was possible that some of these galaxies contained planets like our own. Similarly, some of us expand our concern from our own family to the Human Family as we conceive of our self.

And then again, change occurred about 400 years later. Einstein brought to our attention that the universe itself is not as we had thought it was. Newton's Laws of Physics, although somewhat valid for the macrocosm become irrelevant for the microcosm. Energy pervades all things. Even the most solid of metals when viewed under an electron microscope evidences a lot of emptiness within its supposed hard structure. Everything is pulsating as energy fields within fields. Here, we come to appreciate not only our membership in our own families and within the Human Family, but also our interconnectedness with all being. The energy that is all is light energy, photonic. We come to know ourselves as light, we are children of light (Eph 5:8, 1 Thes 5:15) for God is light (1 Jn 1:5).

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Awakening to the Kingdom of God, Awakening to our World

Hence, The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Light. Christ is the light of the world (Jn 8:12) As Rahner would have it, The Kingdom of God, therefore, has to do with the fulfillment of our humanity, of human history, and of the whole cosmos. In that sense, (as another theologican Hans Kung says salvation is humanization, and humanization occurs through liberation.2

Furthermore, the permanent beginning and absolute guarantee of (our) self-transcendence is the 'hypostatic union', where matter and spirit are climactically united in the union of Word and Flesh in Jesus Christ. Ever since that union, 'history is in its final phase'.

Consequently, the world becomes conscious of itself through humankind, which alone unites matter and spirit in itself. The world moves forward toward its goal, 'the Kingdom of God', insofar as we actualize our capacity for self-transcendence. Thereby we become more than we are, and more than we could ever be if we were matter alone.
3 We become the children of light that we are.
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Baptism, A Gate to the Kingdom and Ourself

Christ is the sacrament of our encounter with God. It is through Baptism that we solemnly enter the Kingdom of Light and formally wash away our darkness, entering solemnly the Light. We recognize that which we always have been and are: Light.

Through holy baptism we are made members of the one Body of Christ. As members of that Body, we are intimately related, members of one another in his Mystical Body. (Eph 4:1ff; 4:25).
4 Such formal solemnity on the surface requires a conscious understanding and appreciation of one's own humanhood.
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Infant Baptism, The People of God Speaks for the Infant

Regarding infant baptism: an infant surely cannot engage any rational act. The Church, the collective whole, The People of God, maintains and awakens faith in the name of the infant. Moreover, the Church requests, as condition for permitting the baptism, an assurance that the parents will raise the child to appreciate his or her own humanity in Love and Compassion. Christ in the Church calls the child to the response of Love and Compassion. The Church in her own solemn and sacred formulas pronounces Love and Compassion in the name of the infant. The Church, specifically parents and Godparents, assume the responsibility in appropriate moments, for making the child aware of the graces and duties committed to him or her in the sacraments, Baptism, specifically. The child consciously awakens to itself as Love and Compassion, as a child of light, as Light.5
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A Brief History of Baptism

From Catholicism by Fr. Richard P. McBrien (San Francisco: Harper, 1994. ISBN 0-06-065405-8, pp. 802-822) we find the following:

Baptism: Pre-Christian Ablutions and Baptism

"There were already many different kinds of ritual acts in Judaism, including those practiced by the Qumran sect, or Essenes. There were purification rites associated with food preparation and diet, and there were initiatory rites associated with water. This practice of "proselyte baptism (by which Gentiles became Jews) seems to have developed with the expansion of Judaism outside Palestine.

It had three phrases: instruction concerning Judaism's persecuted condition and the commandments of the Law, circumcision for males, and a water bath for all. The central element of its ritual process was circumcision, by which solidarity was established with the holy nation of kings and priests (Ex 19:6). Gradually, the water bath began to absorb the initiatory aspects of circumcision, and finally displaced it altogether. By the Christian era, therefore, proselyte baptism had assumed an increasingly initiatory rather than purification character.

This is not to suggest that Christian baptism was derived from proselyte baptism. What evidence there is leads us to conclude, on the contrary, that Christian baptism was patterned after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptism in the Jordan river. There is no hint of a death-resurrection theme, no initiatory motif, no notion of admission to a new community. The emphasis is instead upon repentance as a preparation for messianic work. John's baptism was also a baptism in water. It would give way to another baptism in water and the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16). John himself regarded his baptism as a temporary rite. In submitting to it, Jesus established his solidarity with those who were objects of John's preaching, the faithful remnant of Israel.

Baptism in Transition: From Judaism to Christianity

The Gospel of St. John says at one point that Jesus himself baptized, and at another that he did not but authorized his disciples to do so (Jn 3:22-23; 4:1-4). In any case, baptism continued to be practiced outside Jesus' circle, and it eventually widened the rift between his disciples and the followers of John. The pre-paschal baptisms were no longer Jewish, but neither were they, as yet, fully Christian. Not until the gathering at Pentecost is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit associated with baptism (Acts 2:1-39).

There can be little doubt that the Pentecost occurrence influenced the ways in which the evangelists later interpreted the baptism of Jesus by John and the subsequent initiatory practice of the Church. Both water baptism and the outpouring of the Spirit are necessary as a follow-up to the proclamation of Jesus' resurrection and exaltation. Thus, the normal sequence: proclamation of the Gospel, conversion in faith, water bath, and post baptismal teaching, fellowship in the Spirit, breaking of the bread, and prayers (Acts 2:42).

Baptism in the New Testament Churches

The relatively sparse data from the Synoptics, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Fourth Gospel are summarized in the preceding paragraph. More detail is provided by the non-canonical writings (i.e., writings which were written at the same time as the New Testament but which were not subsequently included on the list, nor cannon, of inspired books): in the Didache (literally, "The Teaching," composed about the year 100), in the Apology of Justin, and later in Tertullian and the Apostolic Tradition (c.200) of Hippolytus (d. c. 236).

The last describes a demanding system, normally lasting three years, of evangelization, moral formation, and gradual insertion of the candidates into the liturgical life of the community. After a final period of examination and intense prayer and fasting, the catechumens were initiated with the oil of exorcism, the profession of faith, water baptism by immersion, a post baptismal imposition of hands, and anointing by the bishop. With the large influx of converts in the fourth century, however, the catechumenal process was not always able to prepare candidates in the same demanding fashion.

The theology of Baptism is developed later, in the Pauline corpus, in 1 John and in 1 Peter. Baptism incorporates us into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Col 2:12; Eph 2:1-6; Phil 3:10-11), and into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-14,27). The baptismal event and the Christ-event are, for all practical purposes, identical. It is a baptism of repentance (Acts 2:38) and an expression of belief in the Good News (Acts 8:37). Baptism purifies (Eph 5:26), cleansing our hearts from an evil conscience (Heb 10:22). We become "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Rom 6:11)

And what does it require of us? We must lead a wholly different kind of life, "not under law but under grace" (Rom 6:12-23). Indeed, the Christian moral life is a living out of the paschal mystery that our baptism celebrates (2 Cor 4:10). For Paul, therefore, the initiation event is a process of total identification with Christ."

Therefore Only those who are baptized can identify with Christ?

Most definitly, No! In the Roman Church's Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, n. 16 we read:

"Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways. There is, first, that people (The Jewish People) to which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was born according to the flesh (cf. Rom 9:4-5): in view of the divine choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentance (cf. Rom 11:29-29).

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, (human)kind's judge on the last day.

Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all (people) life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills all (people) to be saved (cf. 1 Tim 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life." (Italics by Ed.)

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We conclude with some contemporary considerations: 

God's Children are in His Kingdom

In THE RITE OF BAPTISMprinted by the Liturgical Press (ISBN 0-8146-0568-0) we read, Baptism is our birth as Christians, our birth as 'other Christs.' Through Baptism we solemnly realize that we are children of God, heirs of heaven. We appreciate that we are saved from death for we do not die. As energy, we simply transform according to the Laws of Transformation and Energy. Furthermore, we acknowledge that there is no heaven "out there" as a Ptolemaic, Copernican, Galilean structure of the universe might suggest. We realize that the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and (that) no one will announce, 'Look, here it is' or, 'There it is.' For (we) behold, the kingdom of God is among (us now). (Lk 17:20-21)
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Christ's Commandants

Through and in Baptism, we solemnly recognize, acknowledge, and affirm that as Jesus is the sacrament of God's universal love for all human beings, ... we human beings are, in turn, the sacrament of Jesus' presence among us. Thus, love of God and love of neighbor (Christ's only two commandments Mt 22: 35-40) are inextricably connected.6 Hence we, being other Christs, continually unfold to realize ourselves as the light of the world (Mt 5:14).
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Through Baptism we solemnly open the door to Compassionate Presence. Engendering compassion*, in The Jerusalem Bible, we find the word "compassion" translated as "compassion" only once in the Gospels, specifically in Lk 10:33. Here a Samaritan traveler who came upon a man who had been robbed was moved with compassion when he saw him.... We also find the word compassion translated as quot;compassion" only once in the Epistles, specifically 1 Pt 3:8: you shall all agree among yourselves and be sympathetic, love your brother, have compassion and be self-effacing, that is, transcend yourself, listen through your illusions, delusions, and allusions.
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In Baptism we remember that Whoever says s/he is in the light, yet hates one's brother or sister, is still in darkness. Whoever loves one's sister or brother remains in the light, and there is nothing to cause a fall. (1 Jn 1:9-10) We remember the admonition: let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. (1 Jn 4:7)

In essence, we come to know ourselves as light, we are children of light (Eph 5:8, 1 Thes 5:15) for God is light (1 Jn 1:5) as God is love. (1 Jn 4: 16)

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*Notes on the word compassion:

We understand that we seldom find the word compassion in contemporary translations of New Testament Scriptures. Contemporary translators provide a more precise linguistic rendering of earliest scripture texts we possess of the originals. Compassion has the following renditions in scripture from the Greek:

a. oikteiro "to have pity, a feeling of distress through the ills of others," is used of God's "compassion," Rom 9:15.

b. splanchnizomai "to be moved as to one's inwards (splanchna), to be moved with compassion, to yearn with compassion," is frequently recorded of Christ towards the multitude and towards individual sufferers, Mt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22 (of the appeal of a father for a demon-possessed son); Lk 7:13; 10:33; of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Lk 15:20.

c. sumpatheo "to suffer with another (sum, 'with,' pascho, 'to suffer'), to be affected similarly, " to have "compassion" upon, Heb 10:34, of "compassionating" those in prison, is translated "be touched with" in Heb 4:15, of Christ as the High Priest.

d. eleeo "to have mercy (eleos, 'mercy'), to show kindness, by beneficence, or assistance," is translated "have compassion" in Mt 18:33 (AV); Mk 5:19; Jd 1:22.

e. metriopatheo is rendered "have compassion," in Heb 5:2,

f. oiktirmos used with splanchna (see below), "the viscera, the inward parts," as the seat of emotion, the "heart," Phil 2:1; Col 3:12, "a heart of compassion" (AV, "bowels of mercies"). In Heb 10:28 it is used with choris, "without," (lit., "without compassions"). It is translated "mercies" in Rom 12:1; 2 Cor 1:3.

g. splanchnon always used in the plural, is suitably rendered "compassion" in the RV of Col 3:12; 1 Jn 3:17; "compassions" in Phil 2:1, Cp. A, No. 2.

h. sumpathes denotes suffering with, "compassionate," 1 Pet 3:8, RV (AV, "having compassion"). See A, No. 3.

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  1. Catholicism. Rev. Richard P. McBrien. New York: Harper-Collins, 1994, p. 533.
  2. Ibid., p. 532.
  3. Ibid., p. 533.
  4. The Law of Christ: Moral Theology for Priests and Laity, Vol. II. Rev. Bernard Haring, C.SS.R. Westminister, MD: The New Press, 1967, p. 357.
  5. Law of Christ, p. 162.
  6. Catholicism, p. 532.
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