An Introduction to Sacraments of Initiation

103993346 Rev. Dr. Thomas Poovathanikunnel

The liturgical seasons Lent and Resurrection in the Syro-Malabar Church of St. Thomas Christians are intimately related by the mysteries commemorated and celebrated during this period namely the paschal mysteries of passion, death and resurrection. The eve of the end of the lent and the beginning of resurrection is marked by the celebration of sacrament of baptism. The sacrament of baptism is the entrance into these salvific mysteries. The baptized is dying with Jesus and rising in the glory of Christ; dying for the sins and living for Christ. The lent is the period for catechumens for the immediate preparation for baptism. Therefore it is right time for study on baptism.

Catechism of the Catholic church teaches: “The sacraments of Christian initiation –Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist- lay the foundations of every Christian life. The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ, bears a certain likeness to the origin, development and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Chrismation and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity.”[i]

According to Syriac sources the mysteries of Christian initiation consists of anointing (Rušma), baptism of water and the communion of Eucharist. Towards the 6th c a post baptismal anointing was introduced in the Syriac tradition. This order of sacraments of initiation is confined to Syriac churches and it goes back at least to the 3rdc and probably even earlier. This Syriac tradition has its roots in the apostolic past and could claim apostolic authority.[ii]

0.1. Christian initiation deals with the beginning of faith. It is an act of acceptance and communion with Christ and the beginning of a new style of life patterned on that of Christ. The relationship, which God establishes with us in Christ, begins to grow into a gamut of relationships in ever widening circles, until we can establish that universal brotherhood culminating in our communion with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

0.2. The role of these sacraments is illustrated by St. Augustine: “Remember, you did not exist, and you were created; you were carried to the Lord’s threshing floor….When you were set aside as catechumens you were stored in his barn. You gave in your names; you began to be ground with fasting and exorcism. After that you came to the water, were moistened and made one. You were cooked then, when the ardour of the Holy Spirit came near, and now have been made the Lord’s bread”.[iii]

In the early Syriac sources the beginning of the mysteries of initiation is the invocation of the Holy Spirit: the Sprit is invoked at the consecration of the oil and the Spirit of holiness is conveyed to the individual through Rušma. The Spirit cleanses him from all sins and separates him for Christ and leads him to the baptism of water. Through baptism a person participates in the death and resurrection of Christ. He becomes a full member of the church and receives the body and blood of Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the baptized person makes him to share the very life of the Trinity. Cooperating with the Spirit he grows in this life, especially by means of Eucharist, and finally the fullness of this life will be realized in the eschatological reign.

1. The effects of the sacraments of initiation could be stated as the following: through Baptism, the Christian acquires the organism of Christ, the new Adam; through Chrismation, the Christian organism becomes operative by the power of the Holy Spirit; through Eucharist, the Christian manifests the new life, as a life of love and sharing. Christian initiation is an entrance into 1) the world of the Risen Christ 2) the community of faith which goes beyond flesh and blood 3) the Trinitarian community.

1.1. Entrance into the world of the Risen Christ[iv]: Sacraments of initiation make us Christ-like. This leads persons from a life according to flesh to a life according to the Spirit. Christ’s life from incarnation to resurrection could be seen as a gradual transition from this world (life according to flesh) to the Father (life according to the Spirit).[v] Every individual goes through this process when they receive these sacraments.

Baptism inserts one into the death and resurrection of Christ;[vi] it is the sacrament (sign) of their acceptance of Christ in faith. By Chrismation we receive special anointing by the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ who strengthens and activates Christian life for witnessing. By celebrating the Eucharist one proclaims his identity as the disciple of the Lord.

1.2. Entrance into the community of faith which goes beyond flesh and blood: Through the sacraments of initiation people pass from the allegiance to the Old Adam to the new Adam and become full members of the church, the community of faith in Christ. According to Fathers the church is community born from the side of Christ.[vii]

Mar Ephrem explains John 19:34: “There came forth blood and water: that, his church, which is build on his ‘side’, just as in the case of Adam, his wife was taken from his side, Adam’s rib issued death, from our Lord’s rib life”.[viii]  John Chrisostom in his Sermon to the Neophytes writes “When Christ was dead but still on the cross, the soldier came and pierced his side with a lance, and straightaway there came out water and blood. The one was a symbol of baptism, and the other of mysteries.”

In the baptism the mystery of coming forth of new eve from the new Adam is renewed in the case of every Christian. Baptism associates the Christians with the Paschal Mystery of Christ and thus introduces them into the new life, which Christ inaugurated with his death and resurrection.

The community becomes a Spirit-filled community at Pentecost. This happens today in the case of baptized community in the sacrament of Chrismation. Spirit-filled community gathers together and celebrates the Eucharist, the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ, as we see in the first Christian community.[ix] The Eucharistic community is the real Christian community, for there they reveal their identity as Disciples of Christ entrusted with his mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the world.

1) These sacraments initiate the people in to a living, organic community and not a well-ordered juridical society. The initiated people become members of the living body of Christ in which the members are united organically and not merely through some legal bonds. 2) They initiate the people into a community of new and perennial covenantal relationship with God and with one another. Love and sharing are the terms of this covenant. 3) They initiate the people into a community, the church, which is the instrument of salvation for the world.

1.3. Entrance into the Trinitarian community: These sacraments by uniting the Christians with Christ make them share in the life of the Holy Trinity. They participate through baptism in the eternal generation of the Son. They are given the grace of Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father at Chrismation and they come together in love at the Eucharist and live in love after the Eucharist, reproducing the Trinitarian life. The experience of the Trinitarian life is not something that will take place only after death. Through the sacraments of initiation one is initiated into the Trinitarian life that would be fulfilled and perfectly experienced in the life after.

2. Etymology: the name baptism is derived from the verb baptein/baptizein which means to plunge or immerse. Baptism means immersion or a washing or plunging. Baptizo = baptize; baptisma =baptism;[x] baptismos = washing;[xi] bapto = dip, immerse.

Bapto is used in literal sense of the term in Jn 13:26 and Rev19:13. In Mk 1:2-6 we see different use of this term. The term appears in the New Testament to denote the Jewish cultic washing; baptism signifies death in figurative use.[xii] The Syriac name which is used in Syro-Malabar Church of St. Thomas Christians, mamoditha comes from the root g’mad which means to dive, plunge, to dip in etc.

3. Different names

3.1 baptism/mamoditha: this is so named because the central rite in this sacrament is to immerse into the water. This symbolizes the catechumen’s burial into Christ’s death, from which they rise up by resurrection with him, as a new creature.

3.2 This sacrament is called “the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit’, for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one can enter the kingdom of God”. It is a rebirth. In the Gen 1 we see that the life begins from the water.

3.3 Enlightenment: This bath is called enlightenment because those who receive this (catechetical) instruction are enlightened in their understanding. The true light that enlightens every man enlightens the baptized. St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes that it is enlightenment because it radiates light; bath because it washes seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship, baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed.[xiii]

4. Types in the Old Testament

4.1 Creation prefigures becoming a new creature in baptism. Narsai uses this image in his homilies.

4.2 Noah’s ark is a prefiguring of salvation by baptism.[xiv] Water springing up from earth symbolizes life. The water of the sea is a symbol of death and so represents the mystery of cross. The water of the Deluge is a figure of the water of Baptism according to Justine the Martyr. The sinful world is annihilated and the just people are saved: Noah, the just man in the Deluge, Christ, in the descent into hell and the Christian, in baptism. Baptism is a sacramental imitation of the descent into hell, prefigured by the Deluge and by the Deluge was accomplished the mystery of the salvation of men.[xv]

4.3 Circumcision is a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants. St. Justin writes: “The precept of circumcision, commanding that children should be circumcised on the eight day is the type of the true circumcision which circumcised you from error and from sin by him who rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Jesus Christ our Lord”.[xvi]

4.4 Crossing of Red Sea prefigure the liberation wrought by Baptism.[xvii] Narsai writes that in baptism by the staff of word strikes on the darkness of ignorance and removes the sins and the seal of life is imprinted on us.

4.5 Crossing of the Jordan River by which the people of God received the gift of the Promised Land signify the eternal life inherited through Baptism. Origen, in his homilies on Joshua, interpreted the crossing of Jordan as a symbol of baptism with the implication that baptism was only a stage in gradual process; the wilderness had been crossed, but the conquest of Canaan was still to come.[xviii] Here according to Origen, Joshua is the figure of Christ, the Ark is type of the Gospel, the desert represents sin, the Jordan is a figure of Baptism and the fall of Jericho is the destruction of sin.[xix]

6 Bathing in the Jordan by Naaman according to Origen is a type of baptism. We are cleansed from the most abominable leprosy, and receive a double portion of gifts, and are prepared to receive the Holy Spirit, since the dove of the Spirit has not flown to another river.[xx]

5. Baptism in the Bible

5.1. Ritual ablution in the extra-biblical world: Water is a sign of life and fruitfulness. It washes, purifies and vivifies; e.g. the water of the Ganges, Euphrates, Nile. Here water is seen as purifying, vivifying and deifying (the rivers in the paradise are a symbol of prosperity, life and graced situation etc. Sacred baths were practised in the mystery religions; in the cult of Isis, of Mithra, the mystery of Eleusis. In Hinduism too we see different ritual baths. By the ritual baths the faithful had the experience of passing to a superior stage of life than the actual one.

5.2. Ritual ablutions in the Old Testament: According to the Old Testament, the rites of purity do not absolve one from sin i.e. from moral fault voluntary or involuntary committed. Human being is infinitely distant from God. The rites of water assure man of the possibility to pass from a profane domain to the sacred world. They are not meant to elevate man to a ‘divine milieu’ but to give him an authentic access to God.

In Lev 14:6; 15:13 the running water is a symbol of living water that cleanses one. Ex 30:17-21 – washing of Aaron to purify as a preparation to offer sacrifice. There are laws of purity 1) to men of to make them equipped for the divine cult (Ex 29:4; 40:12; Lev 8:6, 21). The priest has to wash themselves before entering into the temple (2Ch 4:2-6; 30:17-20). On the Day of Atonement the high priest also has to do the same (Lev 16:4, 24). David did wash himself before going to the Temple (2Sam 12:20). The people of God in the Dessert washed themselves and wore white garments before receiving the Torah (Ex 19: 10-14). These rituals of water were necessary for the authentic cult which included also the expiation of sins. In some cases they appear like rites which re-integrate the people to the cultic community (Lev 14:8-9; 15:2-30; 21:2; 22:5-7; Nub 19:11). For these purifications the water is from running water, of hyssop or of ashes of the red heifer (Num 19:1-10).

There are two important instances: Judith before prayer washed herself in the water of a spring to purify herself from the pagan environment (Jd 12’ 7). Prophet Elisha, Naaman the leper dipped himself in the river Jordan and he was made pure.

5.3. Rites of initiation in Old Testament: Baptism is not having a Christian origin. It is to be understood in the light of Jewish rites of initiation.

5.3.1. Circumcision: this is common among many ancient people. It is a ritual of admitting a male of puberty into the adult community. In certain cultures the term is applied to women too with comparable ritual. The Jews refer to Gen 17:10-14; Ex 12:43-48; L3v 12:3 for this practice. Most likely it was a ritual the Jews adopted from the practices of the neighbouring people, the Canaanites of Palestine or the Egyptians. It might have been a puberty rite. As it acquired wider religious meaning, it began to be administered on infants too. The male child had to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. It was performed at home. It was also a naming ceremony and making someone a member of the community of Israel. It was carried out by a mohel (circumciser).

5.3.2. Proselyte baptism: Though Old Testament is silent on any ritual that could be compared to the Jewish proselyte baptism, there are indications for purificatory washings. Torah prescribed baths for the removal of various kinds of impurities. Jewish entrance into the community was marked by circumcision and there was a need to have an initiatory ritual for the Jewish proselyte as the Jewish community expanded outside Palestine. The rite of proselyte baptism is believed to have three phases: 1) instruction on Israel’s history and the commandments of the Law: the commandments and the Torah were recited to the proselytes as they stood in the water. 2) Circumcision for males 3) water bath for all: it was explained that the proselytes, unlike born Jews, had never crossed the waters of the Jordan into the freedom of the Promised Land in their ancestors, and so had to do it in symbol.

There are shifts in the emphasis of these phases in different periods in Jewish history. The rite of initiation is described thus: “candidates were questioned about their motives, told some of the laws they have to observe, and if they consented were circumcised immediately. When healed, they immersed themselves naked, while two learned men instructed them further in the laws. In the case of women other women put them in the water, while the sages taught the laws from a distance….. a sacrifice had after to be offered” (Jones, 44-45). Proselyte baptism was given only for the first generation. Earliest baptism meant complete immersion under water. Running water was prescribed, though immersion was not universal (Lev 14:5-7; 15:13; Num 8:7, 19, Ez 36). Women deaconesses administer the immersion of the women, while the male clergy pronounce the ritual formula.

Proselyte baptism was basically a purificatory rite. By the time of Jesus it became more an initiatory ritual. It was spiritualized to denote forgiveness of sins and rebirth, besides ceremonial cleansing. This practice gave conversion to Judaism, a meaning of a new birth, a new life, a dying and rising again. These concepts are contained in the Talmud.

5.3.3. Baptism by Essenes/Qumran communities: Jews had different cleansing rituals and it got supreme prominence in the Essenes or Qumran communities. They gave emphasis on purificatory washings in their social and cultic life. This has a considerable influence on the early Christianity. Jn 3: 22-26; Heb 6: 2 and Heb 10: 22 indicate Christian baptism as categorized with Jewish cleansing ceremonies.

Purificatory washings and a common, religious meal formed the main cultic exercises of daily life of Qumran community. First one was immersion baths and symbolized sorrow for sins. Purification was a necessary condition for partaking of common meal. There was a preliminary year of observation after which the candidate was admitted to the common meals and to the purification of the group. Here one surrenders his property to a common treasury.

6. Water in the Old Testament: In the prophetic usage water gets a spiritual meaning. They use them as signs of inner purification (Is 1:16; 4:4; Pss 51:9; 26:6; 73:13). A complete purification will be realized by the coming of the Messiah (Zech 13:1).

Is 32:15; 44:3: The spirit is poured upon like water; Joel 2: 28-29 I will pour out my spirit on all; Ez 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. By this purification Israel is elevated from the profanation by the gentiles to the sacred milieu of God. The prophets use the ritual water only as a sign of purification, a sign also of moral purification.

7. Ritual ablutions in the inter-testamentary period (ca 2 c. B.C to 1 c. A.D): Ritual using water became prevalent among the Pharisees and Essenians. 1) In the Palestine of this period the synagogues had a water pond. Sometimes synagogues were built near running water. It was also same in the case of houses of prayer in Diaspora.[xxi]

2) Testimonies from the literature a) The Book of Jubilees 21, 16: keep your body pure; before going to the altar to place your offering on it, was yourself with water; wash your hands and feet before approaching the altar. And once have performed your sacrifice wash again your hands and feet. b) Philon: Quod Deus sit Immutabilis, 8. “The body shall not approach (the sanctuaries) with out having passed through ablutions and purificatory rites. If so for greater reason the soul also has to be pure and full of repentance.”  c) Flavius Joseph, Contra Apionem 2, 198-202: recall the obligation of baths after having assisted the funerals, sexual relationships and other occasion and he says that it will be fastidious to write about it all.

3) The practice of the Pharisees: the Sadducees in general practised only the rituals of water prescribed the Torah. They give importance to ablutions and immersion in their actual practice. As a part of propagating the Jewish religion Jews were asked to obey the laws of priestly purity. Thus they had to wash before the Meals, to enter the synagogue or the temple. For the feast of the Tents (Sukkot) during the solemn procession water was carried from Silo’e to the temple. The water purification was prepared under the supervision of the Pharisees. The high priest before the Yom Kippur purified himself for one week. There were schools which taught the rules of purity for thirty days.

In short, Biblical tradition testifies ablutions of water for external purity and to prepare the people to approach the sacred. Moral purification and spiritual renewals also were intended by these rites especially in the preaching of the prophets.

8 New Testament Baptisms

The different forms of the word baptism are used in the New Testament more than hundred times. It has different meaning in the passages. There is the baptism of John which denotes the remission of sins the conversion. Those who received his baptism were proclaiming the Lord’s justice (Lk 7:29) and those who denied it denied the plan of God about them (Lk 7:30). In the New Testament we find three types of baptisms: baptism of St. John the Baptist, Baptism of Jesus, Baptism of the Christians. Lk 12:50 refer baptism as the suffering towards which Jesus was approaching. In Mk 10:38 baptism has the meaning of martyrdom.

8.1. Johannine Baptism: John the Baptist came from the desert of Judea to prepare the way for the Lord, proclaiming repentance or radical conversion as a means to escape from the imminent judgement. As an expression of this conversion and readiness to receive the Messiah he administered a rite of baptism to all who were willing to receive the Messiah who was expected to come and change their life. It was a rite of dipping or immersion performed by him in the flowing water of Jordan. He baptized on the eastern side of river Jordan in Perea over against Jericho, where once Israelites under the leadership of Joshua crossed the Jordan (Josh 3&4) and once the prophet Elijah crossed the river with dry feet (2 Kg 2:1-18). It symbolically presents that by undergoing baptism in the waters of Jordan the people had, once again, to cross the river Jordan into the Promised Land. It is according to him a baptism that anticipates the final judgment and promises salvation.

With this baptism he insisted on an ethical life orientated to the law with emphasis on justice and love (Lk 3:10-14). His baptism was different from the ablutions of the Qumran sect, since it was not a repeating baptism but a once-for-all rite. It differed from Proselyte baptism because John himself administered the baptism and it was not a self-baptism. It was distinct from the proselyte baptism as it was not to introduce the gentiles into the Jewish religion. It was rather a renewal rite. It was a baptism of repentance to escape from the coming judgment of God. Jewish ritual ablutions expressed only their repentance and desire to be freed from sin. They were looking forward to future or eschatological purification, which would completely liberate them from sin (Ez 36:25 Cf Zech 13:1). Though his baptism was for the forgiveness of sin John did not understood it as the fulfilment of this eschatological promise, but as the pointer to it. He contrasted with the baptism of one who is to come to baptize with fire and Holy Spirit.

8.2. Baptism of Jesus: All the gospels refer to the baptism of Jesus and they all present the baptism of Jesus as the context of anointing of the Holy Spirit. Synoptic presentation of the baptism of Jesus differs in some details of its descriptions which show different perspectives of the evangelists.

Baptism of Jesus is charged with the pneumatological vision of Luke in his gospel. According to Luke Jesus did not receive the baptism of John. John’s baptism was for the repentant sinners to prepare themselves to receive the Messiah. It may be why he avoids the geographical details and the person who baptized Jesus etc. Luke presented John as imprisoned in the 3rd chapter, however he sends his disciple to Jesus in the 7th chapter, in between baptism of Jesus is presented. Reason for Jesus’ baptism is to receive Holy Spirit.

Jesus receives baptism amidst the people who receives baptism but He alone receives the Holy Spirit. This distinguishes His baptism from that of the people. It inaugurated the Spirit-giving baptism which John foretold (Mt 3:11). If we accept the authentic text “Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee”, it tells that through this heavenly voice Jesus is anointed and manifested as the royal Messiah (Lk 3:6). If the text is “thou art my Son in whom I am well pleased” the reference is to Is 42:1: ’’Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.’’

Here Jesus is compared to the suffering servant of YWHW who takes upon him the sufferings of the people. Jesus is declared as the suffering servant of the New Testament who atones for the sins of the world. This reference is also an allusion to Jesus’ anointing as prophet. Exegetes like E. Cothenet and M.Quesnel have the opinion that Lucan narrative is presenting the roles of Jesus’ mission as prophet, servant and royal Messiah. It is by being the messiah that Jesus is prophet and servant.

The three element of theophany namely, the heavens opened; the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove; the voice from heaven, are the manifestation of YWHW the creator of Old Testament as the Trinitarian God – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It is manifested that Jesus is the Son of God and through him entrance to the heaven is possible. The possibility of fellowship with Father and the Holy Spirit is also revealed in the event. The paradise that was closed against the humanity due to the sin (Gen 3:24) is opened by Messiah, the fulfilment of divine promise (Gen 3:15). It was the inauguration of the public life of Jesus and it revealed what is going to happen in the world through the life of Jesus.

St. Mark

The most simple

Jesus came from Nazareth to Galilee to be baptized.

John baptized Jesus

Jesus received baptism in the Jordan

The theophany occurred when Jesus came out of the water i.e. after the water baptism

Theophany had three elements: the heavens opened; the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove; the voice from heaven

The difference between baptism of John and the baptism received by Jesus is not much clear in Mark.

St. Mathew

Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan

He come to John to be baptized by him

The dialogue between John and Jesus in order to bring out the fact that Jesus had no need of the baptism of John

Jesus’ answer: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness”. This shows that Jesus is indentifying himself with the sinful humankind.

As in Mark after baptism Jesus went up from the water

The three elements of the theophany are the same as those in Mark

Baptism served as an occasion to receive the Holy Spirit and the approbation of the heavenly voice. It a continuation of his incarnational identification with the sinful humankind

St. Luke

No reference to the place of baptism and the person who baptized (John is imprisoned just before the baptism (3:19-20)

Naturally no dialogue between Jesus and John

Jesus’ baptism is accompanied by that of all the people

Jesus was praying during baptism

 The baptism of the people, the baptism of Jesus and the prayer of Jesus are reported as concomitant events

The holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. The detail of bodily form of dove is typical of Luke

The heavenly voice is a variant “Thou art my Son today I have begotten thee”

8.3. Christian Baptism:

Christian baptism is different from the baptism of John and the baptism Jesus received. It is presented in the Scriptures that the apostles baptised on the command of Jesus in Mathew 28:19: ’’Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’’. All the baptismal narratives in the Acts of the Apostles the descent of the Holy Spirit is related the baptism by water.

Acts 2:38: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Here baptism is proposed for the repentant people for the remission of sins and to receive the gift of the Spirit.

Acts 8:14-17 is a proof-text for the sacrament of confirmation, separate from baptism in the western tradition. Here baptism in the name of Jesus is not associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It may be that the Samaritans even after baptism did not manifest any gifts of the Spirit which were common to the first Christians. The apostles were convinced that the Samaritans did not receive Holy Spirit and that is way they sent Peter and John to Samaria. It could be argued that what they found as irregular is corrected by sending the apostles to them. That means the gift of the Spirit was thought to be always accompanying baptism by water.

Acts 10: 44-48 is the first narration of the baptism of gentiles. Here the gift of the Spirit preceded the baptism. The proof for the gift is that they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Peter observes that baptism is a rite that should go with the gift of the Holy Spirit. His question suggests that something extraordinary has happened in the case of Cornelius and his family. They have received the gift of the Spirit even before baptism and therefore they have every right to receive the baptism also.

Acts 19:1-7: Ephesians who were baptized in to John’s baptism were professing the faith in Jesus Christ. They received the word of God and to that extent they were disciples or Christians. To them Paul asked “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” A modern missionary would ask, “Did you receive baptism when you believed?” Ephesians said that they have not even heard about Holy Spirit. And Paul asked “into what then were you baptized?” This is a clear text that shows Christian baptism is baptism into the Spirit. Accordingly they were given the baptism in the name of Jesus and at the laying on of hands upon them the Holy Spirit came on them.

Acts 9:17-19: In the case of Saul too the Spirit was preceded the baptism. Paul was baptized immediately after the reception of the Spirit.

Acts 8:36-39: (baptism of the eunuch) Baptism is administered by Philip at the request of the eunuch. There is no mention of Holy Spirit. The statement that he went on his way rejoicing may be counted as a sign of the presence of the Spirit in him. The strange element in this incident is that “the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip”- instead of recipient it is the minister who received the gift of the Spirit. This is an exceptional narrative.

Conclusions from the above narratives:

1) The gift of the Spirit is a concomitant reality of New Testament baptism. There are three traditions in the Bible: a) The gift of the Spirit precedes the baptism. God sends the Spirit on man and thereby indicates that he has chosen them and led them toward baptism.[xxii] This priority of the Spirit seems to be implied in Rom 5:5; Gal 3:2-3; 4:6; 1 Jn 5:8. b) The gift of the Spirit comes after the baptism. Acts 2:38 where Peter exhorts the Jews: repent and be baptized… you will receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Acts 19:1-7 say about the 12 men of Ephesus. They were baptized and when Paul had laid his hands on them the Holy Spirit came upon them. c) Acts 8:4-17 – Philip’s evangelization in Samaria. In this case the converts are baptized and news of this having reached Jerusalem the apostle sent Peter and John to them. They laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

2) All baptisms except that of Saul and the Ethiopian eunuch take place in a communitarian context. Paul’s baptism is in view of the responsibilities that he is going to take up for the Christian community.

3) In all these we see the context either of the proclamation of the word of God or of prayer.

4) In some instances the gift of the Spirit is elicited by the imposition of hands of the apostles (in the case of Saul it is Ananias who impose the hands)

5) Whenever the gift of the Spirit preceded the baptism by water, the apostles or the community took care to administer the baptism immediately. In the case of the Samaritans the order of events is just the opposite.


Christian baptism is the baptism by water and Spirit as promised by John the Baptist. It is a continuation and perfected form of the OT baptism. It differed essentially from the baptism of John because of its pneumatic significance. Christian baptism is for the remission of sins and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Christian baptism is the baptism of “water and Spirit”. These two were often associated together in Bible. Water, which is the symbol of chaos, destruction and death[xxiii] is also described by the prophets as the symbol of renewal, fruitfulness and new life. The Spirit of God brings renewal, fruitfulness and life from the water of chaos, destruction and death. Baptized in the name of Jesus means to be plunged into the waters, to die with Jesus and to be raised to new life with him through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit acts upon the water of baptism in the name of Jesus to cleanse, purify, renew and regenerate. Baptism in the name of Jesus becomes inseparable from the Spirit. To receive this baptism means to be born again, to become heir to the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5).

The Spirit Christian baptism is ‘in the name of Jesus’. This can mean ‘under the commission of Jesus’, ‘in the power of Jesus’, ‘through the name of Jesus’ or ‘on account of his name’. The decisive factor is the fundamental and essential relation to the person of Jesus and his meaning for salvation. This relation involves the self-entrusting of oneself to the crucified and risen Lord. The baptism in the name of Jesus marked it out from the baptism of John and gave it a unique character. The baptism of John is filled with a new content, i.e. the reality of Jesus Christ, the reality of his life, death and resurrection, the reality of the presence of his Spirit in the community. Thus the sign of baptism of John is raised to be the Christian baptism.

[i] CCC 1212

[ii] Acts 10: 44-48; 9:17-18

[iii] Sermo Denis 6,1

[iv] Gal 2:19-20

[v] Rom 1:3-4

[vi] Rom 6:1-11

[vii] SC 5

[viii] Diatessaron, 21:10

[ix] Acts 2:2, 17, 46

[x] 1Pt 3:21

[xi] Mk 7:4

[xii] Mk 7:4;Lk 12:50; Rev.19:13

[xiii] Gen 1:1f; Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 40: 3-4; CCC 1214-1216

[xiv] Gen 6-7; 1 Pt 3:20-21

[xv] Dial 138:2-3

[xvi] Dial 41:4; Gen 17:1f.

[xvii] Ex 14; 1Cor 10:1-4

[xviii] Homiliae in Josu Nave, 1.1; Josh 3

[xix] Homiliae in Josu Nave, 6.4

[xx] Com Jn 6;25; 2Kg 5

[xxi] Cf. Flavius Joseph, Jewish Antiquities 14, 258

[xxii] Acts 10, 44-48; 9, 17-18

[xxiii] Gen 1:2; chap 7



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Kaniyamparampil, E.,       The Spirit of Life, a study of the Holy spirit in the early Syriac Tradition, Kottayam, OIRSI, 2003.

Paikatt, M.,                     Life Glory and Salvation in the Writings of Mar Aprem of Nisibis, Kottayam, OIRSi, 2001.

Poovathanikunnel, T.,     The Sacraments: the Mystery Revealed, Kottayam, OIRSI, 1998.

Puthanangady, P.,                    Baptism and Confirmation, Bangalore, TPI, 2006.

Vellaringatt, C.,               Sthairyalepanam Oru Padanam, Baharangangam, Jeevan Books, 2004.

Walsh, Liam G.,               The Sacraments of Initiation, London, Geoffrey, 1988.

Commentaries of Fathers of the Church

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