07 October 2012

From the Vault: The Life of the Baptized

Last year, I needed to complete a "synthesis" project, subject to an oral exam upon its completion, about "What Christians Believe."  I title my project "The Life of the Baptized: A Christian Portrait."

The introduction follows.


But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit is poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…

The Letter of Paul to Titus, 3:4-6

Through Baptism we are formed in the likeness of Christ: "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”  In this sacred rite a oneness with Christ's death and resurrection is both symbolized and brought about: "For we were buried with Him by means of Baptism into death"; and if "we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, we shall be so in the likeness of His resurrection also.”

Lumen Gentium, §7

More clearly at Alexandria than in the Western tradition, this conviction rests on the Pauline-Johannine belief that the real frontier runs not between earthly life and not-life, but between being with Christ, on the one hand, and, on the other, being without him or against him.  The decisive step is taken in baptism: while the fundamental option of the baptismal candidate becomes definitively established with death, its full development and purification may have to await a moment beyond death, when we make our way through the judging fire of Christ's intimate presence in the companionable embrace of the family of the Church.

Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, p. 227

Baptism: The Heart of Christian Life
Christian belief cannot be consigned to the written word.  At its core it is neither a philosophy nor a moral code.  Rather, two millennia of its existence has borne out the reality that Christian belief is located in a person: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  Christian life itself begins and continues in baptism whereby one comes to share in the life of the Risen Christ.  For the Christian, the beginning of his or her life project – a life lived in Christ – finds its starting point, sustaining nourishment and culmination in the waters of baptism.  The Book of Revelation calls Christ the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8).  Christians correctly call the Alpha point of Christ’s convergence upon the Christian baptism and the culmination of this same baptism as the desired end, or Omega. 
Christian figures as early as Saint Paul testified to the importance of baptism.  The Gospels themselves note the significance of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John.  The testimony offered by John suggests that the baptism to be provided by his successor, ostensibly Jesus, will be more efficacious because it is not a baptism that only drives away sin, but also imparts the very Spirit of God (Mt. 3:11).  This baptism imparts an ontological mark.  Such a change in being (ontos) possesses objective and subjective significance.  Objectively, baptism is said to leave an indelible mark upon the baptized, setting him apart as having mystically (yet really) participated in Christ’s Pasch.[1]  Baptism also signals a shift in relational ontology, through which the subject is symbolically (in all the depths of this term!) changed in his ability to relate, minister and worship with other baptized (Hanneberg). After baptism, the Christian turns his face to the world in a new way.  The baptized is to go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the same way that he has been previously baptized (Mt. 28:19). 
Through baptism one is plunged into the life and death of Christ and created anew.  Christians turn to no other than Paul to explain this.  The Apostle writes, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  This brief verse encapsulates the Christian theology of baptism.  This “laver of regeneration” plunges one into the Paschal Mystery with Christ and brings the baptized to the same resurrection as Christ (Council of Trent, 5th Session).  Baptism also invokes the Trinity, the very dynamism of the inner life of God.  In a practical way, baptism also initiates one into the Christian community and commissions one for participation in this community, establishing membership in the already present, yet not fully realized Kingdom of God.  Indeed, baptism propels the baptized to “newness of life.”  These four consequences of baptism, what may be short handedly called initiation into Christ, birth of life in the Trinity, Christian membership and formation for the Kingdom will serve as the outline for the following reflections.  All four of these characteristics originate in baptism, but culminate in the celebration of the Eucharist – the Lord’s Paschal Mystery itself.  Christians re-present the very mystery in which they possess ultimate, eschatological hope.

[1] As a matter of style, the masculine pronoun will be used in some cases.  This represents a shortcoming of the English language: all uses of the word “he” when used in reference to humans should be thought of as inclusive.

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