Swimming the Tiber 27: The Types of Mary

This post will meander a bit, so let me put one of the major points here at the beginning, so I can return to it without sounding way off-base: the Catholic Church teaches that Mary was born without original sin. If you’ve ever heard of the Immaculate Conception, that refers to this doctrine (it does not refer to the conception of Jesus, which–though also immaculate–is unique in far more ways than just that). In order to wrap around to this point, I’m going to spend quite a bit of time talking about the types of Mary.

You may want to look back on my post about original sin. There’s also a brief refresher on types in my first post on the Eucharist. Here’s an even briefer overview of those highlights: (1) Types are inferior to the thing or person they prefigure, and (2) types are often both literal and allegorical (they were real, historical things/people, but they also serve to illuminate other things/people).

First, let’s talk about a few of the things that prefigure (i.e., are types of) Mary. Some of these I have hinted at before, but others will seem completely new.

The Garden

The first to show up is the Garden of Eden. Eden, after all, contains the Tree of Life (which we know is a type of Jesus and the Eucharist). If the Tree of Life is Jesus, then Eden must be his mother. Eden contains and nurtures the Tree of Life. The entire purpose of that garden is to guide the faithful family of God to eternal life through the tree, which is in the center of the garden.

In the same way, Mary contained and nurtured Jesus Christ, first in her womb and then in her home. Her entire purpose is to serve the Lord (the word in Luke 1:38 often translated “handmaid” literally means a female slave) and to point others to him (John 2:5).

Eden is inferior to Mary because it lacked any capacity to prevent the Fall. Eden could do nothing to stop our first ancestor from sinning, but Mary prays eternally for the faithful from her throne in heaven.

The Bush

The burning bush of Exodus 3 is another example. The bush contains the very presence of God, but it is not consumed by the blaze. Because of the presence of the Lord, this becomes holy ground, to be respected by Moses and all others. The bush also rouses Moses from his time in the wilderness and compels him to begin his ministry, his mission to save his people. (We also know that Moses is a type of Jesus, from being miraculously saved at birth from a vengeful king’s infanticide to being the man by whom the Word of God and the bread from heaven come.)

In the same way, Mary held the whole Godhead in her womb and in her arms, but was not consumed. She is the one to kick off Jesus’ ministry (see John 2 again), in spite of his objections.

The burning bush is inferior to Mary because, though it contains the presence of God, it does not contain him bodily. His presence there is temporary, even fleeting, but Mary brought forth the Word made flesh, who reigns forever at the right hand of the Father.

The Ark of the Covenant

In the same way that the burning bush contained the presence of God, the ark of the covenant does even more. We’ve already seen that the Ark prefigures the Eucharist, since it contains the presence of God, but it also prefigures Mary for the same reason. It, too, is holy and should only be touched by the worthy (see again 2 Samuel 6).

The Ark is inferior to Mary because the old covenant is inferior to the new (Hebrews 8:6). The Ark contained the old covenant (Exodus 25:16), Mary the new (Luke 22:20).

Now let’s look at the people that prefigure Mary; these aren’t in chronological order, but there’s a reason for that. As above, a couple of these should be familiar to you by now.


I mentioned Sarah last week as an example of a miraculous mother, one whose promised child it should not have been possible to conceive. This is one of the primary ways in which Sarah prefigures Mary, but there is another: as the mother of Israel. As much as Abraham is the father of a nation, Sarah is its mother, for it is through Sarah that the nation of Israel is promised (Genesis 17:15-21).

In the same way, Mary conceives Jesus impossibly, and she is the mother of the Church. Aside from the obvious–that the Church is Jesus’ body (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; etc.)–there is also John 19:25-27, where the apostle John, who throughout his Gospel has referred to himself as the “beloved disciple,” sets himself up as the generic believer in Christ and is given responsibility for Jesus’ own mother.1


I talked about Bathsheba two weeks ago as queen mother. In case you’ve forgotten, you can read that post again.

I mentioned it then, too, but I will repeat it: Bathsheba is inferior to Mary because Bathsheba is deceived by Adonijah, and because Solomon is inferior to Jesus.


You’re probably not familiar with the story of Judith, but you should recall that her story is canonical. The short version is this: a town of Israel (Bethulia) is under siege, and Judith is a wise and God-fearing widow who lives there (Judith 8). She steps up when all others live in fear (cf. 1 Samuel 17). She prays to God for aid (Judith 9) in a way that resembles Mary’s Magnificat (compare Judith 9:11-14 with Luke 1:46-55). She goes out to the Assyrian general Holofernes, astounds him with her beauty, beguiles him, tricks him, and beheads him (Judith 10:1-13:10). Upon her return to Bethulia, she is praised (Judith 13:18-20).

Aside from her assent to do the will of God, like the young David in 1 Samuel and Mary in Luke’s Gospel, and aside from the Magnificat, there is also the praise for Judith and for Mary: of Judith it is said that she is blessed above all women, and that praise for her will never cease; Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42, NRSVCE), and Mary says of herself, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (verse 48, NRSVCE). Mary is also wise and faithful, as is Judith, and Mary stands opposed to the Devil, who makes war with her children (Revelation 12:13-17). Judith’s defeat of Holofernes is reminiscent of Mary, too, in traditional depictions of Mary crushing the head of the serpent (since Mary is a descendant of Eve, Genesis 3:15 was often interpreted to refer to her as well as to Christ).

Judith is inferior to Mary because Mary’s wisdom, assent, and praise are greater than Judith’s. Mary did not beguile or deceive, but stood openly in devotion to God and to her beloved Son. And Mary’s assent brought about not mere temporal salvation (Israel fell to Assyria eventually anyway), but eternal (through Jesus Christ her Son).


Perhaps the most important type of Mary is Eve, our first mother. She is the first woman of Creation, the mother of all humanity, and it is through her that sin entered the world. Even considering this, we know that it is not Eve’s failing that led to this fall, but Adam’s–for it was Adam who was responsible for teaching her the rules of the Garden (God gives those commands to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17, then creates Eve; no other account of these commands is evident in the text). It was also Adam who stood by and said nothing while she dealt directly with the serpent (Genesis 3:6–“she gave some to her husband, who was with her”). And it was Adam who, knowing the law of God, stood idly by while the first sin was committed, and proceeded to participate in it himself. This is why Adam is the one responsible for original sin, but Eve was the route by which this sin entered the world.

Just as Jesus is the new Adam (Romans 5:12-21), Mary is the new Eve. She is the first woman of the new Creation, being given grace by God (Luke 1:28 might be better translated, “Greetings, graced one!”) and being the first of Jesus’ disciples.

Consider also the text of John 1-2. Even a casual reader will notice a similarity between John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1, but the similarities between the creation story of John and the creation story of Genesis continue. John notes the passage of days in his first chapter. Verses 19-28 mark the first day, 29-34 the second day, 35-42 the third, day, 43-51 the fourth day. John 2:1 begins with On the third day, which brings us to… seven days.

At this point, John tells the story of a wedding, just as Genesis 2 tells of the first wedding. But where the story of Genesis went wrong–the first man and the first woman, after their marriage, fell into sin–the story of John goes perfectly. In Genesis, the first woman (Eve) gave to the first man (Adam) sin, and in so doing, all Creation fell. In John, the first woman of the new Creation (Mary) gives to the first man of the new Creation (Jesus) faith and obedience (John 2:3-5). Where Adam failed and sinned, Jesus succeeded and prevailed, and here foreshadows his death (“My hour has not yet come,” compared with John 17:1; 19:27).

So it is that Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, brings salvation to the world (just as Adam brought death), but it is Mary, by her assent to the angel (Luke 1:38), who is the route by which salvation comes to us.

Jesus himself further solidifies this connection between Mary and Eve. In the midst of this creation narrative (John 1-2), he addresses her as “woman.” This is not, as some claim, derogatory or disrespectful (how can Jesus, who is without sin, disobey the commandments of God and disrespect his own mother?), but links Mary with Eve and the first prophecy of Christ in Genesis 3:15.

Eve’s inferiority to Mary is obvious–she brought forth sin through her assent to the serpent, where Mary brought forth salvation through her assent to the angel of God. But this leaves one peculiar area where Eve and Mary do not line up, according to the Protestant reading: Eve was created without original sin.

How can Eve, a type of Mary, be created without original sin, but Mary–in every way Eve’s superior–be subjected to it?

Consider, too, the other types of Mary I have mentioned. Eden is a place where man and woman walk with God daily, yet it is inferior to Mary, since it only prefigures her. The burning bush has made the very ground around it holy; how then can Mary be less holy? The ark of the covenant cannot even be touched by the unworthy (no matter how good their intentions); how then can Mary be defiled by original sin?

This doctrine has led to another, which I will discuss next week–the conclusion of this idea, grounded in the rich Tradition of the Church. Even more than any other topic so far, though, it will probably give you pause. Pray about these things as we move forward.

1 No doubt many will dispute this interpretation of John. Nevertheless, the literary effect of an anonymous author stands in such a way. Consider also the commentary of Origen, that we must become like St. John, accepting Mary as our mother, and in so doing stand at the foot of the cross in faith, being named by Christ not as a son of Mary, but as the Son of Mary, that is, Christ Himself (cf. Galatians 2:20).

Consider also that, all the times we see the beloved disciple, we may interpolate ourselves. In John 13:21-30, we are so beloved by God that we may rest near his heart (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4) and inquire of him directly (1 Timothy 2:5-6; see again Hebrews 8). In John 20:1-10, though we do not understand the mysteries of God, we may have faith and believe in his Word. In John 21:4-8, we may recognize our Lord even though those around us do not. In John 21:20-24, we the Church persist until Christ’s return (cf. Matthew 16:18) and we testify to the truth in Christ. It is therefore also appropriate that, in John 19:25-27, we take Jesus’ mother as our own and show her the respect and honor which Jesus shows his own mother.

Whether you take these passages as descriptive or prescriptive is up to you, I suppose, but either way, it seems obvious that Mary is the mother of the Church, especially in light of Revelation 12.

Swimming the Tiber 16: The Sacraments: The Eucharist (Part One)

Tell me the story again
Tell me the story again
A Child in a manger bed
See the Virgin smile, for she understood

Now grow up and break your bread
Pour your cup of wine
On a cross of wood
A cross of wood
A cross of wood

– Chris Rice, “Tell Me the Story Again”

The faithful, incorporated in the Church through baptism, are destined toward the cultivation of the Christian religion by its character and, regenerated into sons of God, they are bound to profess, in the presence of men, the faith that they accepted from God through the Church. By the sacrament of confirmation they are bound more perfectly to the Church; they are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit, and thus they are held more closely to the faith, which ought at the same time to be poured out and defended, as true witnesses of Christ in word and deed. Participating in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the wellspring and summit of the whole Christian life, they offer the divine Victim to God and their very selves along with It.

Lumen Gentium 11 (my translation)

The Eucharist is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. I am tempted to put qualifiers–“perhaps” it is the greatest mystery, or “maybe” it is–but no, I can say with confidence that the Eucharist is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. It is with no small amount of trepidation, then, that I undertake this task of explaining such a mystery in the sort of brief terms that my medium allows.

The first step, I think, is to lay out clearly what the Catholic Church really teaches. With most topics, I think, I try to build up to the teaching of the Church, or at least reveal it a step at a time, but there is so much confusion and misinformation about the Eucharist–even among Catholics, who ought to know better–that I think it important to state it up front.

The Eucharist, that is, the unleavened bread and wine offered at every Catholic Mass, is physically, really, actually, for all intents and purposes, the literal Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ’s presence in the species of bread and wine is called the Real Presence, not because his presence through prayer or Scripture isn’t real, but because, in the Eucharist, he is substantially present.

Here, species means something like vehicle. The bread and wine do not disappear, and indeed, the Eucharist still tastes like bread and wine, but they truly become Christ’s own Body and Blood. Every piece of the host (another term for the species) is the wholeness of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is why Catholics are so cautious about the whole deal. If you drop a crumb, you must pick it up immediately and, if it is clean, consume it; if it gets too dirty to eat, you must dissolve it with water and pour it directly into the earth; if it is taken by some nefarious person and sold or given to Satanists for their “black mass,” the profanation of our Savior’s Body is deplorable.

And when I say substantially present, I really mean present in substance. The Eucharist does not represent or symbolize the Body of Christ; it is the Body of Christ.

Okay, by now, I’m sure you’re flipping out. If you haven’t just closed the site in frustration, I appreciate your patience. Because while I’ve defined the Eucharist, I haven’t explained it. I haven’t justified a word of it yet. So let’s dig in a little bit and take a look at why the Catholic Church believes this.

The Simple Explanation

The so-called “simple explanation” is that the Eucharist is Christ’s Body and Blood because he said it is. It seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Just read Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. These are the moments of institution for this sacrament, when Christ laid out for us how to receive it, and he says quite plainly, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood.” He does not say that it symbolizes his Body, or represents his Blood, but he says that it is.

Too simple for you? Easily refuted, you say? Fair enough. Let’s step up our game.

The Johannine Explanation

The Gospel of John doesn’t actually include the institution of the Eucharist. Surely this must be some mistake, right? The “wellspring and summit of the whole Christian life” isn’t represented in one of the Gospels? Probably not that important, then, huh?

Well, John does include talk of the Eucharist–more, in fact, than the synoptic Gospels do. But he doesn’t include it via the Lord’s Supper, but rather through Christ’s teaching. Read John 6:25-65. Here we see Christ declare, in very clear terms, that eating his Body is necessary for salvation. Without it, he says, “you have no life in you” (NRSV). This is some of the strongest Eucharistic language in all of Scripture. “But-but-but!” you say, “What about John 6:63? It clearly says the flesh is useless, so he must mean something else.”

Well, I struggled with this for a little while, because it wasn’t quite clear, but as usual, St. Augustine provides us with an easy (if loquacious) answer.

What is it, then, that He adds? “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” Let us say to Him (for He permits us, not contradicting Him, but desiring to know), O Lord, good Master, in what way does the flesh profit nothing, while You have said, “Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him”? Or does life profit nothing? And why are we what we are, but that we may have eternal life, which Thou dost promise by Your flesh? Then what means “the flesh profits nothing”? It profits nothing, but only in the manner in which they understood it. They indeed understood the flesh, just as when cut to pieces in a carcass, or sold in the shambles; not as when it is quickened by the Spirit. Wherefore it is said that “the flesh profits nothing,” in the same manner as it is said that “knowledge puffs up.” Then, ought we at once to hate knowledge? Far from it! And what means “Knowledge puffs up”? Knowledge alone, without charity. Therefore he added, “but charity edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Therefore add to knowledge charity, and knowledge will be profitable, not by itself, but through charity. So also here, “the flesh profits nothing,” only when alone. Let the Spirit be added to the flesh, as charity is added to knowledge, and it profits very much. For if the flesh profited nothing, the Word would not be made flesh to dwell among us. If through the flesh Christ has greatly profited us, does the flesh profit nothing? But it is by the flesh that the Spirit has done somewhat for our salvation. Flesh was a vessel; consider what it held, not what it was. The apostles were sent forth; did their flesh profit us nothing? If the apostles’ flesh profited us, could it be that the Lord’s flesh should have profited us nothing? For how should the sound of the Word come to us except by the voice of the flesh? Whence should writing come to us? All these are operations of the flesh, but only when the spirit moves it, as if it were its organ. Therefore “it is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing,” as they understood the flesh, but not so do I give my flesh to be eaten.

– St. Augustine, Tractate 27 paragraph 5 (trans. John Gibb)

But perhaps you are unconvinced. Let’s carry on.

The Pauline Explanation

St. Paul reminds us that, just as there is only one Body of Christ, there is also only one bread, though we break it and share it and eat it. Read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 11:27-32. Combined with the institution narrative we saw earlier, this clearly indicates the sameness of the Body of Christ and the bread of the supper we share. See also Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4-6.

If you’re still unconvinced, let me run through one final explanation in the hopes that overwhelming evidence will sway you.

The Typological Explanation

We Catholics looooove typology. It comes from being intellectually descended of the school of Alexandria rather than exclusively that of Antioch. Being able to look at Scripture, especially the Old Testament, and find precursors of the New Testament–it’s a good feeling. God gave us these hints all along the way, and we couldn’t see them for what they were until he revealed the full truth later. So it is that we talk about Israel as a type of the Church, the parting of the Red Sea as a type of baptism, and Adam as a type of Christ.

Some important things to remember about types: (1) They’re always inferior to the thing they foreshadow. Adam fell, but Christ rose. The escaping Israelites almost immediately constructed a golden calf to return to their dead ways, but baptism grants an indelible mark of grace. Israel strayed time and again, but the Church clings to the teachings handed down to us by Christ and his Apostles. (2) They’re typically both literal and allegorical, meaning they had a real, historical existence that made sense in context, but they also prefigure a deeper reality. This also means that you can’t extend the metaphor too far; the type is only an incomplete representation.

So let’s sprint through a few types of the Eucharist, shall we?

Our first stop is the garden of Eden, where eating is extremely important. Obviously, the fruit of the tree of life is a precursor of Christ, whose Body hung on a tree, from which we eat his flesh and gain eternal life. But there is also the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; it’s a kind of reverse type, which we will see again in this series later. For by the consumption of one food (of death) we were condemned and died, so by the consumption of another (one of life) we are granted eternal life.

Next, we join Abram for his blessing by the priest-king Melchizedek (Genesis 14). Here, we see that Melchizedek brought out “bread and wine” (verse 18), and of course we know (from Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5-7) that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, but we know that he offered not bread and wine, but his own Body and Blood.

Then of course there is the Passover (Exodus 12). The parallels here are drawn when Christ uses this backdrop to institute the Eucharist. But not just the bread and wine are precursors here; so also the sacrificial lamb, which they killed and ate. And they spread its blood on the doorposts. (If you don’t see Christ crucified every time someone talks about blood on an upright wooden structure, you’ve been missing out.)

Quick, to the wilderness with the Israelites (Exodus 16)! Jesus himself draws this comparison in John 6, which I hope you’ve already read; Jesus is the bread from heaven, the true bread, which satisfies forever. Manna came from God, but only satisfied for a time; Jesus’ one sacrifice on the cross fills us for all eternity. Note also that a jar of this manna was placed in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 16:33-34; Hebrews 9:4), which was so called because it contained the covenant of God (Exodus 25:16) and it was there that God’s presence came forth to speak to the Israelites (Exodus 25:22). There’s also the Bread of the Presence (Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:7). And what contains or holds these breads (you might call it the vehicle) should not be touched by any unworthy person (2 Samuel 6:7-8; see again 1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

Let’s jump ahead to Elijah, who was fed bread by ravens (1 Kings 17) and cake by an angel (1 Kings 19). This latter kept him nourished for forty days, just as Christ fasted forty days in his own wilderness.

Then to Elisha, who fed a hundred men with twenty loaves of barley in 2 Kings 4. This reminds us instantly of Christ’s feeding of the multitudes, which were similar miracles, but all the more vast (five and seven loaves instead of twenty, thousands instead of a hundred), and were themselves a type of the Eucharist (a small body of bread, broken and shared among many).

Skip to the Prophets. Ezekiel ate a scroll (Ezekiel 3). That’s kinda weird, huh? At least until you think about how Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), and we consume his Body for our salvation.

But enough Old Testament. Let’s look at some New Testament types!

Paul tells us (1 Corinthians 15:20) that Jesus was the first fruits of those who died. On the one hand, we know that this means more will follow, but it also means we sacrifice him and eat his Body (Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Leviticus 2:14; 23; Deuteronomy 18:3-4; 26; Nehemiah 10:35; Judith 11:13; etc.).

I’ve already mentioned the miracles of feeding the multitudes, but they’re worth another shout-out (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-38; Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-8; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14).

And there are more, but this post grows long, and there’s just one more that I want to mention. In all God’s wisdom and authority, when he became man and dwelt among us, in his very first moments out in the light, breathing air alongside us, he could have been laid anywhere–but he was laid in a manger.1

Next week, I want to keep looking at the Eucharist–now that I have established, in some small way, what the Eucharist is, I still need to look at what it does in the Christian life. It will likely be a much shorter post than this one, but it covers some important topics that still need to be addressed.

1 The English word manger derives from French mangier (“to eat”), originally from Latin mandere (“to chew”). In English, it technically means the place where food for animals is placed (like a trough).

Swimming the Tiber 13: The Sacraments: Baptism (Part One)

There are, generally speaking, two primary points of contention regarding baptism: (1) when to do it, and (2) what it’s for. That may sound like just about everything, but at least I don’t have to argue that we should do it–that much should be obvious (Matthew 28:19-20).

I grew up in the Baptist tradition, which means that my answers to the above issues were (1) upon or beyond the age of accountability (or age of reason), usually five to eight years old (depending on the child), and when the person expressed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and (2) as a statement to the church community that a person had accepted the aforementioned faith.

As a Catholic, however, the answers are (1) as soon as possible, and (2) for the forgiveness of sins.

These are not close together at all, as you can see. So why the change? Well, let’s look at these one at a time–but just to mess with you, I’m going to tackle them in reverse.

Let’s first examine the Scriptures in favor of baptism as a sign of our faith, but nothing more.

And [he] said to them, “Having been conveyed unto quite the whole cosmos, herald the good news to all creation.1 The [one] having believed and having been baptized will be saved, but the [one] disbelieving will be condemned.”

– Mark 16:15-16 (my translation)

But Crispus, the synagogue-head, believed in the lord with his whole house, and many of the Corinthians, hearing, were believing and were being baptized.

– Acts 18:8 (my translation)

For Christ did not dispatch me to baptize but to evangelize, not in cleverness of reckoning, in order that the cross of Christ may not be emptied. For the reckoning, the [one] of the cross, is folly to the [ones] being destroyed, but to us, the [ones] being saved, [it] is the power of God.

– 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 (my translation)

1 Or every creature.

In the first passage, we see that believing is the real crux of the matter (no pun intended). If you believe (and get baptized), you will be saved, but disbelieving is the path to condemnation; so, it seems, the believing is the part that saves, not the baptizing. In the second place, we don’t even see mention of Crispus being baptized, so it must not have been important. And in the third passage, we read St. Paul telling us that he came to preach, not baptize, so of course, preaching is more important.

There are also other passages that do not suggest anything special about baptism, treating it almost as an afterthought–for example Acts 2:41; 8:35-38; 16:14-15, 31-34. At most, these passages suggest that baptism is a sort of statement, a declaration of intent, but nothing spiritually efficacious. So baptism is, in essence, a sign of faith. But is that the whole story? Is it only a sign of faith, or does it actually accomplish something as well?

Before we move on to other passages, let me first address the objections raised here. For the first passage, it seems that belief saves, and not baptism–but we already know this isn’t the whole story, of course, and it’s not quite so simple with baptism, either. As we shall see shortly, baptism is efficacious, and a lack of mention here is not the same thing as denying power to baptism altogether. For the second, the tense of the latter clause is important–we see that many Corinthians were believing and being baptized, so Crispus (and his whole house) is included in this group, which is juxtaposed with the response of the Jews in verse 6 of that chapter (they opposed Paul and reviled him).

The passage from 1 Corinthians is quoted often by opponents of baptism as a real sacrament with power to accomplish things in our lives. “If baptism is so important,” people say, “why did Paul say preaching was better?” Well, for one thing, St. Paul didn’t say that preaching was better, only that he came to Corinth to evangelize, not to baptize. The context here is that he is angry that the Corinthians have divided themselves and call themselves after Paul, after Cephas (Peter), after Apollos, after Christ, but there is only one Christ (a topic to which St. Paul returns in his letter to the Ephesians, as we shall see next week). Evangelism and baptism are not opposed, of course, but steps in a process; first, you are evangelized and converted by the power of the cross (not by eloquence or sophistry), then you are baptized, then you proceed in a lifelong pursuit of Christ through discipleship and faith. As St. Paul wrote later in this same letter (and as we saw a couple of weeks ago), “each [man] has his own grace from God, the [one] thus, the other thus.” Paul’s gift, and his task, was to evangelize; it fell to others to baptize. Or, as Jesus said, “One sows and another reaps” (John 4:37, NRSV).

Now, let’s look at a few more passages.

“I, on the one hand, baptize you in water unto repentance, but the [one] coming after1 me is stronger than me, whose sandals [I] am not competent to carry;2 [he] himself will baptize you in a holy spirit and [in/with] fire; whose winnowing-shovel in his hand both purges thoroughly his threshing-floor and gathers his grain into the storehouse, but the chaff-heap will burn down in unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus comes near from Galilee upon the Jordan to John in order to be baptized by him. But John was hindering him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” And having answered, Jesus said to him, “Let [it] go just now, for thus [it] is conspicuously fitting3 for us to fill all justice.” Then he let him go. And Jesus, having been baptized, went straight up from the water; and behold, the skies opened {to him}some manuscripts omit this word, and [he] saw {the} spirit of God descending just as a dove {and} comingsome manuscripts: coming; others omit upon him; and behold, [there was] a sound out of the skies saying, “This [man] is my son, the beloved [one], in whom [I] am well-pleased.”

– Matthew 3:11-17 (my translation)

And being gathered, [he] gave a command to them not to separate from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the father, which [you] heard from me, that John, on the one hand, baptized with water, but you will be baptized in a holy spirit after not many of these days.

– Acts 1:4-5 (my translation)

But having heard, [they] were stabbed [in] the heart and they said to Peter and the remaining apostles, “What should [we] do, men, brothers?” And Peter to them, “Change your minds(repent),” {[he] said}, “and be baptized, each of you, upon the name of Jesus Christ unto the acquittal of your errors and [you] will receive the gift of the holy spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all the [ones] up to a faraway [place], how many soever the lord God called of us.” And with more, other arguments [he] testified and [he] was calling to them, saying, “Be saved from this crooked generation.” The [ones], therefore, having accepted his argument were baptized and about three thousand lives were added in that day. And [they] were adhering firmly4 to the teaching of the apostles and to the communion, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

– Acts 2:37-42 (my translation)

With Peter still speaking these sayings, the spirit, the holy [one], fell upon all the [ones] hearing the argument. And the faithful [ones] out of the circumcision, as many as gathered with Peter, changed,5 that also upon the nations the gift of the holy spirit has been poured out; for [they] were hearing them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, “Does anyone have power to withhold the water from baptizing these [men], whosoever received the spirit, the holy [one], just as also we [did]?” And [he] ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then [they] asked him to stay for some days.

– Acts 10:44-48 (my translation)

Note: for comparison, see also Mark 1:4-11; Luke 3:16-22; John 1:26-34; and read Acts 11:15-18 for important context on the passage from chapter 10 above. Acts 22:16 mentions again the power of baptism.

1 The word here (ὀπίσω) literally means “behind” or “backwards”; this is an idiom in Greek for the future, which is unknown and unseen (therefore behind us), as opposed to the past, which is seen (and therefore ahead). We preserve this in English when we say that the future comes “after” us, even though we frequently think of ourselves marching forward into the future.
2 There may be several plays on words here. First, the verb “to carry” (βαστάσαι, from βαστάζω) resembles the verb “to baptize” (βαπτίζω), and we will see John shortly baptizing Jesus under protest that he is unworthy to do so. This verb also literally means to lift up or raise, which metaphorically means to exalt or glorify, which is one of the purposes of John’s ministry. A synonymous verb (ὑψόω) is also used by the Apostle John in John 3:14 to connect with Jesus’ crucifixion.
3 This is a periphrastic form. (See my note 6 on periphrastic forms from a couple of weeks ago.) Here, Jesus emphasizes the nature of the deed, rather than the effect (it is seemly, rather than it seems to so-and-so).
4 This is another periphrastic form. Here, the sense is focused on the converts’ state of mind, rather than the specific action (though of course the action is important, even more important is its reflection of who they became as a result of their conversion).
5 This is often translated as a passive, e.g., “They were astounded,” or, “They were amazed,” but the word is technically active. It literally means to displace, but in this case, perhaps it means something like changed [their minds]. (This should not be confused with the word translated “change your minds” in the above passage, which is frequently translated “repent”; the words are not related, but the theological sense–i.e., conversion to the truth–may be.)

There’s a lot to unravel here, but some of it is self-explanatory. I’ll try to be brief.

In the first passage, we hear John declare the purpose of baptism: repentance. Mark calls it a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (NRSV). This is the effect of baptism. But we immediately see Jesus baptized by John; surely he had no sins that needed to be forgiven. But Matthew tells us why Jesus’ baptism by John is different, but still appropriate: in the first place, it was appropriate that Jesus fulfill the law and do as he taught us to do (Matthew 5:17). Also, Jesus’ sins are not forgiven by baptism, because he has committed no sins to forgive, and he does not possess the stain of original sin, but the act does spark off his earthly ministry, complete with a theophany (the revelation of God to the people, by God’s declaration of his Son’s identity). This is the effect for Jesus, and the effect for us is similar: it cleanses us of original sin and of all our sinful deeds prior to baptism, so that, washed clean by the blood of Christ, God can declare of us a sonship. (See Romans 8:12-17; Galatians 3:25-29; 4:4-7.)

The second passage is an echo of John’s teaching in each of the Gospels: after the baptism with water comes a baptism with the Holy Spirit, a greater baptism, sent by Christ. At first glance, this sounds like an abandonment of the baptism by water in favor of the baptism by the Holy Spirit, but consider the third passage: no sooner had the apostles been baptized by the Holy Spirit than they preached to the gathered crowd and, upon their conversion, Peter and the apostles baptized them with water, according to the command of Christ (see Matthew 28 again).

In the fourth passage, the revelation of the Gospel to the Gentiles converts their hearts, and God bestows his Holy Spirit upon them–and immediately, Peter orders that they be baptized with water. Is this merely a formality? If they have the Holy Spirit already, what need have they of this other baptism? But this reinforces the truth: baptism is an essential part of the process, by which we are granted graces by God and gain entrance into Christ’s Body, the Church, and by which our sins are forgiven. Acts 22:16 reminds us of this important step; for who can deny that Saul, on the road to Emmaus by Christ himself, and again in Damascus by Ananias, was ordained to go unto the world as an apostle? But still he needed to be baptized, to be washed of his sins, before that ministry could begin in earnest.

In case you remain unconvinced even now, consider also the cleansing, healing, and saving power of being washed with water. In Genesis, we read of Noah and the great flood, washing away all the sins of the world–but as merely a type of baptism, imperfectly cleansing the world, for immediately Ham sins against his father and the cycle starts all over again. But 1 Peter 3:18-22, in some of the strongest support for baptism as a saving sacrament in all of Scripture, tells us that the great flood prefigured baptism, because in the flood, the sinful were washed away and eight people were saved for God’s kingdom.

Later, in Exodus, we read of the people of Israel fleeing Pharaoh’s armies through the Red Sea. Again, through water, the people were saved from evil. 1 Corinthians 10 reminds us that the people passed through the sea, were baptized into Moses, and were saved from Egypt–but only for a time, for soon they began to fall prey to idolatry. Again, we see the same symbols: water cleanses, but only for a time.

In 2 Kings 5, we come to the story of a man named Naaman, who had leprosy. By the command of Elisha, he washed in the Jordan seven times (the same Jordan where John the Baptist preached and baptized) and was cleansed of his leprosy. And Naaman believed, and worshiped God, but he, too, still had his shortcomings (fearing the wrath of his master for not worshiping in the house of Rimmon, for example).

Jesus himself gives us symbols of baptism. We see in John 9:1-7 that Jesus healed a man born blind, in no small part, by having him wash his eyes. The man does not know all the details, but he has been cleansed. (In verses 35-39, Jesus finds him again and tells him more, and he believes.) Later, “before the festival of the Passover,” Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Baptism is not the only message in this moment (John 13:1-11), but it should not be forgotten, especially in verse 8: “Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me'” (NRSV).

Consider, finally, the baptism with fire. Jesus spoke of undergoing this baptism himself (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50), of the pain and suffering he would endure. This is the “baptism into death,” to which we are joined in our own baptism, as St. Paul explains in Romans 6:3-4. This wraps baptism up in the crucifixion and the resurrection, laying us down to sleep in death, raising us up in newness of life. In this, baptism accomplishes what its analogue accomplished; it is but one step by which we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (see Colossians 1:24). Baptism puts to death the old self, crucified with Christ, and brings us forth anew, that we may live for God in Christ Jesus. In this way, too, by baptism we clothe ourselves with Christ himself (see again Galatians 3:27-29).

Can we really doubt that baptism is efficacious to forgive sins? And not just any sin, but the “old self,” the fallen nature–original sin. (You may recall that I talked about that topic in some detail last week.) It is by baptism that we put to death our original sin, our slavery unto death, and enter into a new life in Christ Jesus. This is the purpose and effect of baptism, not merely a declaration of our changed hearts, but the very method of marking our souls with an indelible mark, a mark which can never be removed.

This post grows long indeed, and I still have a great deal to cover about when baptism ought to occur. Look forward to that discussion next week!

Swimming the Tiber 7: The Church Is One

Ecclesia, however, ought to mean the holy Christian people, not only of the time of the apostles, who are long since dead, but clear to the end of the world, so that there is always living on earth a Christian, holy people in which Christ lives, works, and reigns per redemptionem, through grace and forgiveness of sins, the Holy Ghost per vivificationem et sanctificationem, through the daily purging out of sins and renewal of life, so that we do not remain in sin, but can and should lead a new life in good works of all kinds, such as the Ten Commandments, or Two Tables of Moses, require, and not in the old, wicked works: that is St. Paul’s teaching. But the pope and his followers have applied both the name and the picture of the Church to themselves alone and to his shameful, accursed crowd, under this blind word ecclesia, “church.”

– Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church (1539), trans. C. M. Jacobs

Looking again through Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, the terms he uses in the quote above for Catholics may be the nicest things he has to say about us. But the main point of this quote is to refer to his stance on the invisible Church, which has been adopted broadly by most modern Protestants. (Many modern Protestants also, generally speaking, hold to Zwingli’s view, in that the invisible Church includes not only all Christians from all ages, but also all saved heathen, such as those without access to the Gospel, those who die in infancy, and so on. Luther would have repudiated that list.)

Luther does not deny the existence of the visible Church, but he trivializes it. The visible Church may be seen in small church congregations or in megachurches, but it always includes hypocrites and the unsaved, and so no church (whether building or group) can be considered a microcosm of the “true” Church, the invisible Church. The Catholic Church, according to Luther, is not part of the “visible Church,” but rather the “false Church,” and by 1539, he is equating Catholics with demons, generally speaking. (He only became more combative and vilifying as he aged.)

I said in my introductory post that I would spend a lot of time referring back to St. Francis de Sales’ Catholic Controversy; this is one of those times. Francis dismantles the argument that the invisible Church is the only true Church and he does it so handily that one is left confused how one ever believed otherwise. He spends four chapters on the subject in the first part of the book (1.5 – 1.8), so I’m not going to quote all of it. But for those of you who don’t want to take the time to read it right now, I will try to quote some highlights. He introduces the section thus:

Our adversaries, clearly perceiving that by this touchstone their doctrine would be recognised as of base gold, try by all means to turn us from that invincible proof which we find in the marks of the true Church. And therefore they would maintain that the Church is invisible and unperceivable. I consider that this is the extreme of absurdity, and that immediately beyond this abide frenzy and madness. I speak of the militant Church of which the Scripture has left us testimony, not of that which men put forward. Now, in all the Scripture it will never be found that the Church is taken for an invisible assembly.

– Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy 1.5, trans. Fr. Mackey, OSB

(For what it’s worth, in contrast to Luther, these are probably the strongest words de Sales has to say about Protestant doctrine.) His reasons, in short, are these:

  1. In Scripture, the Church is assembled, taught, ruled, greeted, persecuted; to it we are told to come, by it we are to be received. These are not things that can be done invisibly. Cf. Matthew 18:16-17; Acts 8:1, 3; 14:22, 26; 15:4, 41; 20:17, 22, 28; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:15.
  2. In the Old Testament, the prophets describe the Church in visible terms–a glorious bride for the King (Psalm 45), the sun and moon and the witness of God’s promise (i.e., the rainbow–cf. Psalm 89:30-37), and a mountain (Isaiah 2).
  3. Likewise, that she is not only visible, but can be known. Cf. Song of Songs 6; Isaiah 8:8 (if even fools can find their way, must the Church not be plainly visible and knowable?).
  4. The pastors and teachers of the Church are visible, therefore the Church is visible. This is true of the Apostles, of the Papacy, of the priests, and also of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and your local pastor.
  5. The Church’s duties include preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, and these actions are visible.
  6. The patriarchs of Israel were visible, and the synagogue is a type, a precursor, for the Church. As I will discuss in some detail later, all types are inferior to the thing they prefigure. If Adam is human and visible, so also Christ is (at least!) human and visible; if Israel is visible, so also the Church.
  7. As the twelve patriarchs were visible and headed the Church in Israel, so also the Twelve Apostles were visible and headed the Church in Christ.
  8. As the Israelites lived visibly in the nation of God, so we live visibly in the Church of God. They had circumcision, we have baptism; they had the Levites and rabbis, we the elders and pastors; they had the paschal lamb and manna, we the Body of Christ; they were persecuted by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, we by pagans, heretics, and radical Islam.

Goodness of God!–and we are still to ask whether the Church is visible! But what is the Church? An assembly of men who have flesh and bones;–and are we to say that it is but a spirit or phantom, which seems to be visible and is so only by illusion?

– Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy 1.5, trans. Fr. Mackey, OSB

Cf. Luke 24:37-43.

But let it not be said that Catholics believe the Church is only visible; of course, the Church is invisible, but it is visible also. The Church is one Church, as Christ prayed for us (John 17), and, like Christ, who is both man and God, and like each of us, who are both body and spirit, the Church is both visible and invisible; it has both interior and exterior, as Francis writes. The interior is even more beautiful than the exterior–look again at Psalm 45:13.

But never let it be said that the Church is only interior or only spirit or only invisible. A man is not a soul; a man is a soul and a body. On this Catholics and Protestants agree: E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary, wrote, “A soul without a body is a ghost; a body without a soul is a corpse.” (The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person 40) For the Catholics, we read: “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that ‘then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.’ ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 362; cf. Genesis 2:7)

In the same way, the Church is not merely a spiritual gathering, but a visible one, a physical one. Thus, and only thus, can the Church really be a universal Church (a “catholic” Church) as God intended (cf. again John 17; Ephesians 2:11-22).

“But-but-but!” you may say, “Of course there’s a visible side of things, but that includes all the heretics and false teachers, and the true Church doesn’t have anyone but the saved!”

Doesn’t it? The large house of God, which St. Paul calls the “assembly (church) of a living God, a pillar and a support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, my translation)–certainly the true Church, yes?–the large house of God contains “not only gold and silver objects, but also wooden and earthen [ones], and on the one hand, the [things] unto honor, but on the other hand, the [things] unto dishonor” (2 Timothy 2:20, my translation). As I wrote in an earlier post, St. Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (surely the true Church), and thus he has the ability to loosen (remit, forgive) sins or bind (retain) them–so those in the Church, which the gates of Hell will not overcome, sin and have sinned, and some will retain their sins (cf. Matthew 16). And we can be sure that any judging done by St. Peter and the apostles is done on those in the Church, because–as St. Paul tells us–those outside are judged by God alone (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:13). Remember, too, that both the servant and the son abide in the house of God for a time (cf. John 8:35); so the damned, at least for now, are included in the true Church.

And Francis de Sales has many more arguments on this point, but I think I’ve made enough for my purposes. The Church, the true Church, the Body of Christ, the house of God, the kingdom of heaven, is necessarily both visible and invisible. It includes both sinner and saint.

Tune in next time for a discussion of one the implications of a visible true Church: how do works fit in? Most Protestants accuse Catholics of having “works righteousness” and “salvation by works”–what does that mean, and why isn’t it the whole story? Let’s find out when “Swimming the Tiber” returns.