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Visions of Glory: Baptism

William Sykes brings profound thoughts on the subject of baptism.

Baptism—religious rite of immersing (person) in, or sprinkling
with, water in sign of purification and (with Christians) of admission to the Church, generally accompanied by name-giving
Two things have helped me to understand baptism. The first is the practice of the early Church. The person to be baptized (let us say, a woman) would be led to the bank of a river. She would enter the waters, and be totally submerged. This was the outward and visible sign of leaving behind her former manner of life, and symbolized death to this by drowning. The inner and spiritual grace was cleansing and purification.

She would then be raised from the depths of the waters, symbolizing resurrection. The inner and spiritual grace was rebirth to newness of life—in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. She would then cross the river and be welcomed by a group of Christians who would help her to grow as a Christian from then onwards.

The second is the familiar Genesis story of the creation of man. At the beginning of a baptism service I usually draw attention to this story and mention the divine inbreathing. I point out the person to be baptized has already an enormous source of life in the depths of their being—something of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as qualities such as life, light, joy, truth and love. In this sacrament these are brought to birth, and godparents (suitably named) then have the task of nurturing and stimulating this divine life. Seen from these perspectives, what an important sacrament baptism is.

And thus you shall do to them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of expiation upon them.
Numbers 8:7

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
Psalm 51:2

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Matthew 3:11

He has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
2 Corinthians 1:22

To be baptised, then, is to be bom according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature, having previously been nothing.
Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, translated by Carmino J. deCatanzaro, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974,
page 66

Baptismal grace, the presence within us of the Holy Spirit—inalienable and personal to each one of us—is the foundation of all Christian life.
Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, James Clarke & Co., 1957, page 171

... the all-important matter was not how or when water was applied, but the reception of Christ's real baptism, an inner baptism, a baptism of spirit and power, by which the believing soul, the inner man, is clarified, strengthened, and made pure.
Rufus M.Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 11th Centuries, Macmillan and Co., 1914, page 80

... our baptism in the Spirit is that aspect of our life in Christ, in which the Holy Spirit breaks through into our experience, so that we know ourselves to be empowered and gifted to be his witnesses, given a love and a power that do not come from ourselves, but which give us a new appreciation of what it means to belong to Christ and his Body, and new hope and resources to engage in the service to men to which we are called.
Thomas A. Small, Reflected Glory, Hodder and Stoughton, 1975, page 145

Commonly, baptism was by total immersion, and that practice lent itself to a symbolism which sprinkling does not so readily lend itself to. When a man descended into the water, and the water closed over his head, it was like being buried in a grave. When he emerged from the water, it was like rising from the grave. Baptism was symbolically like dying and rising again. The man died to one kind of life and rose to another kind of life. He died to the old life of sin and rose to the new life of grace. He went down into the water a man of the world and rose a man in Christ.
William Barclay, The letter to the Romans, The Saint Andrew Press, 1969, page 84

What the Christian sacrament of baptism purports to do is of the greatest importance for the psychic development of mankind. Baptism endows the human being with a unique soul. I do not mean, of course, the baptismal rite in itself as a magical act that is effective at one performance. I mean that the idea of baptism lifts a man out of his archaic identifica-tion with the world and changes him into a being who stands above it. The fact that mankind has risen to the level of this idea is baptism in the deepest sense, for it means the birth of spiritual man who transcends nature.
C.G. Jung, Psychological Reflections, selected and edited by Jolande Jacobi, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953, page 325

Christ's baptism is with power from above, and He cleanses from sin not with water but with the Holy Ghost and the burning fire of love. As soon as the spiritual man possesses 'the key of David,' and has entered upon 'the true Sabbath of his soul,' he holds lightly all forms and ceremonies which are outward and which can be gone through with in a mechanical fashion without creating the essential attitude of worship and of inner harmony with the will of God: 'When the Kingdom of God with its joy and love has come in us we do not much care for those things which can only happen outside us.'
Rufus M.Jones, The Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and nth Centuries, Macmillan & Co., 1914, page 39

Sanctity may be defined as: 'a divine life, communicated and received'. This life is communicated from above, by God, by Christ. It is received by man, from the moment of his baptism. This sacrament confers the grace of adoption and thus sanctifies the soul; it brings to it, as it were, the dawn of the divine life, but this brightness is intended to increase steadily to the glory of a noon that will not fade. Baptismal or sanctifying grace implants in the soul a capacity to share in the very nature of God, by knowledge, by love, and by the possession of the divinity in an intuitive manner which is natural to God alone. This divine gift establishes in man a wonderful and supernatural participation in the divine life.
D. Columba Marmion, Christ—the Ideal of the Priest, Sands & Co., 1952, page 36

'The Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, the Glance and Brightness and Power of Eternal Light must become man and be born in you, otherwise you are in the dark stable
and go about groping.' 'If thou art born of God, then within the circle of thy own life is the whole undivided Heart of God.' It is a transforming event by which one swings over from life in the outer to life in the inner world, from life in the dark world to life in the light world, and is born into the kingdom, or principle, which Christ revealed in His triumphant spiritual Life. The human spirit, by this innermost Birth, reaches the principle of Life by which Christ lived, and the gate into heaven is opened and paradise is in the soul.
Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Macmillan and Co., 1914, page 196

It is owned on all hands that we are baptized into a renovation of some divine birth that we had lost. And that we may not be at a loss to know what that divine birth is, the form in baptism openly declares to us that it is to regain that first birth of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in our souls, which at the first made us to be truly and really images of the nature of the Holy Trinity in unity. The form in baptism is but very imperfectly apprehended, till it is understood to have this great meaning in it. And it must be owned that the Scriptures tend wholly to guide us to this understanding of it. For since they teach us a birth of God, a birth of the Spirit, that we must obtain, and that baptism, the appointed sacrament of this new birth, is to be done into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, can there be any doubt that this sacrament is to signify the renovation of the birth of the Holy Trinity in our souls?
William Law, in Stephen Hobhouse, editor, Selected Mystical Writings of William Law, Rockliff, 1948, page 12

May not God say to us what He once said by the voice of His prophet: 'I passed by thee and saw thee: and behold thy time was the time of lovers, and I spread my garment over thee and I entered into a covenant with thee and thou became mine' (Ezekiel 16:8). Yes, we have become His by Baptism, which is what St Paul means by the words: 'He called them,' called them to receive the seal of the Blessed Trinity. By baptism we were made, in St Peter's words (2 Peter 1:4), 'partakers of the divine nature' and received 'the principle by which we are grounded in Him'. Then 'He justified us', by His sacraments, by His direct touches when we were recollected in the depths of our soul. He has also 'justified us by faith' (Romans 5:1) and according to the measure of our faith in the redemption acquired for us by Jesus Christ. Lastly He wills 'to glorify us', and therefore, says St Paul, He has 'made us fit to share the light which saints inherit' (Colossians 1:12). But we shall be glorified in the measure in which we have been 'moulded into the image of His Son'.
Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, Spiritual Writings, Geoffrey Chapman, 1962, page 147

God loves infinitely an infinite goodness; the Son loves it in the Father whence it comes, the Father loves it in the Son in whom he places it, and upon whom he pours it out: 'This is my Son, my only beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.'
The Father's unqualified delight, his outpouring of his Holy Spirit, comes down with Christ from heaven to earth...
When St. John came to write the story of Christ's baptism, he connected it with Jacob's dream of the ladder from heaven to earth, on which the angels of God ascended and descended (John 1:32,51; Gen. 28:12). And certainly the Baptism has so many levels of meaning in it, that without ever going outside it we can ran up as though by steps from earth to heaven and down again. At the height of it is the bliss of the Trinity above all worlds; in the midst is the sonship of Jesus to his Heavenly Father; at the foot of it (and here it touches us) is the baptism of any Christian...
We cannot be baptized without being baptized into his baptism; and the unity we have with him both in receiving baptism and afterwards in standing by it, brings down on us the very blessing and the very Spirit he received. In so far as we are in Christ, we are filled with Holy Ghost, and the Father's good pleasure rests upon us; infinite Love delights in us.
Austin Farrer, The Triple Victory, The Faith Press, 1965, page 32


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