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The Holy Theophany of Our Lord

Patristic Commentary:

13. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
    & #160;  14. But John forbad Him, saying, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" [p. 108]
    & #160;  15. And Jesus answering said unto him, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he suffered Him.

Gloss., non occ.: Christ having been proclaimed to the world by the preaching of His forerunner, now after long obscurity will manifest Himself to men.

Remig.: In this verse is contained person, place, time, and office. Time, in the word, "Then."

Rabanus: That is, when He was thirty years old, shewing that none should be ordained priest, or even to preach till He be of full age. Joseph at thirty years was made governor of Egypt; David began to reign, and Ezekiel his prophesying at the same age.

Chrys., Hom. 10, 1: Because after his baptism Christ was to put an end to the Law, He therefore came to be baptized at this age, that having so kept the Law, it might not be said that He cancelled it, because He could not observe it.

Pseudo-Chrys.: "Then," that is when John preached, that He might confirm his preaching, and Himself receive his witness. But as when the morning-star has risen, the sun does not wait for that star to set, but rising as it goes forward, gradually obscures its brightness; so Christ waited not for John to finish his course, but appeared while he yet taught.

Remig.: The Persons are described in the words, "came Jesus to John;" that is, God to man, the Lord to His servant, the King to His soldier, the Light to the lamp. The Place, "from Galilee to Jordan." Galilee means 'transmigration.' Whoso then will be baptized, must pass from vice to virtue, and humble himself in coming to baptism, for Jordan means, 'descent.'

Ambrose, Ambrosiaster. Serm. x. 5: Scripture tells of many wonders wrought at various times in this river; as that, among others, in the Psalms, "Jordan was driven backwards;" [Ps 114:3] before the water was driven back, now sins are turned back in its current; as Elijah divided the waters of old, so Christ the Lord wrought in the same Jordan the separation of sin.

Remig.: The office to be performed; "that He might be baptized of him;" not baptism to the remission of sins, but to leave the water sanctified for those after to be baptized.

Aug., non occ., cf. Ambrosiaster, Serm. 12. 4: The Saviour willed to be baptized not that He might [p. 109] Himself be cleansed, but to cleanse the water for us. [ed. note: This is the doctrine of S. Austin, in Joan. iv. 14. Op. Imp. contr. Julian iv. 63. Ambros. in Luke ii, 83, &c. &c. vid. Pusey on Baptism, p. 279. ed. 2]

From the time that Himself was dipped in the water, from that time has He washed away all our sins in water. And let none wonder that water, itself corporeal substance, is said to be effectual to the purification of the soul; it is so effectual, reaching to and searching out the hidden recesses of the conscience. Subtle and penetrating in its own nature, made yet more so by Christ's blessing, it touches the hidden springs of life, the secret places of the soul, by virtue of its all-pervading dew. The course of blessing is even yet more penetrating than the flow of waters. Thus the blessing which like a spiritual river flows on from the Saviour's baptism, hath filled the basins of all pools, and the courses of all fountains.

Pseudo-Chrys.: He comes to baptism, that He who has taken upon Him human nature, may be found to have fulfilled the whole mystery of that nature; not that He is Himself a sinner, but He has taken on Him a nature that is sinful. And therefore though He needed not baptism Himself, yet the carnal nature in others needed it.

Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Serm. 12. 1: Also like a wise master inculcating His doctrines as much by His own practice, as by word of mouth, He did that which He commanded all His disciples to do.

Aug., in Joann. Tract. v. 2: He deigned to be baptized of John that the servants might see with what readiness they ought to run to the baptism of the Lord, when He did not refuse to be baptized of His servant.

Jerome: Also that by being Himself baptized, He might sanction the baptism of John.

Chrys., Hom. 12: But since John's baptism was to repentance, and therefore shewed the presence of sin, that none might suppose Christ's coming to the Jordan to have been on this account, John cried to Him, "I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?"

As if he had said,
Pseudo-Chrys.: That Thou shouldest baptize me there is good cause, that I may be made righteous and worthy of heaven; but that I should baptize Thee, what cause is there? Every good gift comes down from heaven upon earth, not ascends from earth to heaven.

Hilary: John reject Him from baptism as God; He teaches him, [p. 110] that it ought to be performed on Him as man.

Jerome: Beautifully said is that "now," to shew that as Christ was baptized with water by John, so John must be baptized by Christ with the Spirit.

Or, suffer now that I who have taken the form of a servant should fulfil all that low estate; otherwise know that in the day of judgment thou must be baptized with my baptism.

Or, the Lord says, 'Suffer this now; I have also another baptism wherewithal I must be baptized; thou baptizest Me with water, that I may baptize thee for Me with thy own blood.'

Pseudo-Chrys.: In this he shews that Christ after this baptized John; which is expressly told in some apocryphal books. [ed. note: Apocryphis ap. Aquin. in secretioribus libris, in the present text of Pseudo-Chrysost. The same opinion is imputed to S. Gregory Naz. S. Austin, &c. but apparently without reason, vid. Tillemont Memoirs St. Joan. B. note 7. It was an objection familiar with the heretics whether the Apostles were baptized, vid. Tertull. in Bapt. 12]

Suffer now that I fulfil the righteousness of baptism in deed, and not only in word; first submitting to it, and then preaching it; for "so it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." Not that by being baptized He fulfils all righteousness, but "so," in the same manner, that is, as He first fulfilled the righteousness of baptism by His deeds, and after preached it, so He might all other righteousness, according to that of the Acts, "All things that Jesus began both to do and to teach." [Acts 1:1]

Or thus, "all righteousness," according to the ordinance of human nature; as He had before fulfilled the righteousness of birth, growth, and the like.

Hilary: For by Him must all righteousness have been fulfilled, by whom alone the Law could be fulfilled.

Jerome: "Righteousness;" but he adds neither 'of the Law;' nor 'of nature,' that we may understand it of both.

Remig.: Or thus; "It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness," that is, to give an example of perfect justification in baptism, without which the gate of the kingdom of heaven is not opened. Hence let the proud take an example of humility, and not scorn to be baptized by My humble members when they see Me baptized by John My servant. That is true humility which obedience accompanies; as it continues, "then he suffered Him," that is, at last consented to baptize Him.

16. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.

Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Serm. 12. 4: For, as we have said, when the Saviour was washed, then the water was cleansed for our baptism, that a laver might be ministered to the people who were to come. Moreover, it behoved that in Christ's baptism should be signified those things which the faithful obtain by baptism.

Pseudo-Chrys.: This action of Christ's has a figurative meaning pertaining to all who were after Him to be baptized; and therefore he says, "straightway He ascended," and not simply "He ascended," for all who are worthily baptized in Christ, straightway ascend from the water; that is, make progress in virtues, and are carried on towards a heavenly dignity. They who had gone down to the water carnal and sinful sons of Adam, straightway ascend from the water spiritual sons of God. But if some by their own faults make no progress after baptism, what is that to the baptism?

Rabanus: As by the immersion of His body He dedicated the laver of baptism, He has shewn that to us also, after baptism received, the entrance to heaven is open and the Holy Spirit is given, as it follows, "and the heavens were opened."

Jerome: Not by an actual cleaving of the visible element, but to the spiritual eye, as Ezekiel also in the beginning of his book relates that he saw them.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For had the actual creation of the heavens been opened, he would not have said, "were opened to Him," for a physical opening would have been open to all.

But some one will say, What, are the heavens then closed to the eye of the Son of God, who even when on earth is present in heaven? But it must be known, that as He was baptized according to the ordinance of humanity that He had taken on Him, so the heavens were opened to His sight as to His human nature, though as to His divine He was in heaven.

Remig.: But was this then the first time that the heavens were opened to Him according to His human nature? The faith of the Church both believes and holds that the heavens were no less open to him before than after. [p. 112] It is therefore said here, that the heavens were opened, because to all them who are born again the door of the kingdom of heaven is opened.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Perhaps there were before some unseen obstacles which hindered the souls of the dead from entering the skies. I suppose that since Adam's sin no soul had mounted the skies, but the heavens were continually closed. When, lo! on Christ's baptism they were again opened; after He had overcome by the Cross the great tyrant death, henceforward the heaven, never more to be closed, needed not gates, so that the Angels say not, 'Open ye gates,' for they were open, but "take away the gates." [Ps 24:7]

Or the heavens are opened to the baptized, and they see those things which are in heaven, not by seeing them with the bodily eye, but by believing with the spiritual eye of faith.

Or thus; The heavens are the divine Scriptures, which all read but all do not understand, except they who have been so baptized as to receive the Holy Spirit. Thus the Scriptures of the Prophets were at the first sealed to the Apostles, but after they had received the Holy Spirit, all Scripture was opened to them.

However, in whatever way we interpret, the heavens were opened to Him, that is to all, on His account; as if the Emperor were to say to any one preferring a petition for another, This boon I grant not to him but to you; that is, to him, for your sake.

Gloss. non occ.: Or, so bright a glory shone round about Christ, that the blue concave seemed to be actually cloven.

Chrys.: But though you see it not, be not therefore unbelieving, for in the beginnings of spiritual matters sensible visions are always offered, for their sakes who can form no idea of things that have no body; which if they occur not in later times, yet faith may be established by those wonders once wrought.

Remig.: As to all those who by baptism are born again, the door of the kingdom of heaven is opened, so all in baptism receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Aug., App. Serm. 135. 1: Chris after He had been once born among men, is born a second time in the sacraments, that as we adore Him then born of a pure mother, so we may now receive Him immersed in pure water. His mother brought forth her Son, and is yet virgin; the wave washed Christ, and is holy. Lastly, that Holy Spirit which was present to Him in the [p. 113] womb, now shone round Him in the water, He who then made Mary pure, now sanctifies the waters.

Pseudo-Chrys.: The Holy Ghost took the likeness of a dove, as being more than other animals susceptible of love. All other forms of righteousness which the servants of God have in truth and verity, the servants of the Devil have in spurious imitation; the love of the Holy Spirit alone an unclean spirit cannot imitate. And the Holy Ghost has therefore reserved to Himself this special manifestation of love, because by no testimony is it so clearly seen where He dwells as by the grace of love.

Rabanus, ap. Anselm: Seven excellencies in the baptized are figured by the dove. The dove has her abode near the rivers, that when the hawk is seen, she may dive under water and escape; she chooses the better grains of corn; she feeds the young of other birds; she does not tear with her beak; she lacks a gall; she has her rest in the caverns of the rocks; for her song she has a plaint.

Thus the saints dwell beside the streams of Divine Scripture, that they may escape the assaults of the Devil; they choose wholesome doctrine, and not heretical for their food; they nourish by teaching and example, men who have been the children of the Devil, i.e. the imitators; they do not pervert good doctrine by tearing it to pieces as the heretics do; they are without hate irreconcileable; they build their nest in the wounds of Christ's death, which is to them a firm rock, that is their refuge and hope; as others delight in song, so do they in groaning for their sin.

Chrys.: It is moreover an allusion to ancient history; for in the deluge this creature appeared bearing an olive branch, and tidings of rest to the world. All which things were a type of things to come. For now also a dove appears pointing out to us our liberator, and for an olive branch bringing the adoption of the human race.

Aug., de Trin., ii, 5: It is easy to understand how the Holy Ghost should be said to be sent, when as it were a dove in visible shape descended on the Lord; that is, there was created a certain appearance for the time in which the Holy Spirit might be visibly shewn. And this operation thus made visible and offered to mortal view, is called the mission of the Holy Spirit, not that His invisible substance was seen, but that the hearts of men might be roused by the external appearance to contemplate [p. 114] the unseen eternity.

Yet this creature in the shape of which the Spirit appeared, was not taken into unity of person, as was that human shape taken of the Virgin. For neither did the Spirit bless the dove, nor unite it with Himself for all eternity, in unity of person. Further, though that dove is called the Spirit, so far as to shew that in this dove was a manifestation of the Spirit, yet can we not say of the Holy Spirit that He is God and dove, as we say of the Son that He is God and man; and yet it is not as we say of the Son that He is "the Lamb of God," as not only has John Baptist declared, but as John the Evangelist saw the vision of the Lamb slain in the Apocalypse. For this was a prophetic vision, not put before the bodily eyes in bodily shape, but seen in the Spirit in spiritual images.

But concerning this dove none ever doubted that is was seen with the bodily eye; not that we say the Spirit is a dove as we say Christ is a Rock; (for "that Rock was Christ.) [1 Cor 10:4] For that Rock already existed as a creature, and from the resemblance of its operation was called by the name of Christ, (whom it figured;) not so this dove, which was created at the moment for this single purpose.

It seems to me to be more like the flame which appeared to Moses in the bush, or that which the people followed in the wilderness, or to the thunderings and lightnings which were when the Law was given from the mount. For all these were visible objects intended to signify something, and then to pass away. For that such forms have been from time to time seen, the Holy Spirit is said to have been sent; but these bodily forms appeared for the time to shew what was required, and then ceased to be.

Jerome: It sat on the head of Jesus, that none might suppose the voice of the Father spoken to John, and not to the Lord.

17. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Aug., non occ.: Not as before by Moses and the Prophets, neither in type or figure did the Father teach that the Son should come, but openly shewed Him to be already come, "This is my Son."

Hilary: Or, that from these things thus fulfilled upon Christ, we might learn that after the washing of water [p. 115] the Holy Spirit also descends on us from the heavenly gates, on us also is shed an unction of heavenly glory, and an adoption to be the sons of God, pronounced by the Father's voice.

Jerome: The mystery of the Trinity is shewn in this baptism. the Lord is baptized; the Spirit descends in the shape of a dove; the voice of the Father is heard giving testimony to the Son.

Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Serm. 10. 1: And no wonder that the mystery of the Trinity is not wanting to the Lord's laver, when even our laver contains the sacrament of the Trinity. The Lord willed to shew in His own case what He was after to ordain for men.

Pseudo-Aug., Fulgent. de Fide ad Petrum. c. 9: Though Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one nature, yet do thou hold most firmly that They be Three Persons; that it is the Father alone who said, "this is my beloved Son;" the Son alone over whom that voice of the Father was heard; and the Holy Ghost alone who in the likeness of a dove descended on Christ at His baptism.

Aug., de Trin. 4. 21: Here are deeds of the whole Trinity. In their own substance indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One without interval of either place or time; but in my mouth they are three separate words, and cannot be pronounced at the same time, and in written letters they fill each their several places. By this comparison may be understood how the Trinity in Itself indivisible may be manifested dividedly in the likeness of a visible creation. That the voice is that of the Father only is manifest from the words, "This is my Son."

Hilary, de Trin. iii. 11: He witnesses that He is His Son not in name merely, but in very kindred. Sons of God are we many of us; but not as He is a Son, a proper and true Son, in verity, not in estimation, by birth, not adoption.

Aug., in Joann. tr. 14. 11: The Father loves the Son, but as a father should, not as a master may love a servant; and that as an own Son, not an adopted; therefore He adds, "in whom I am well-pleased."

Remig.: Or if it be referred to the human nature of Christ, the sense is, I am pleased in Him, whom alone I have found without sin. Or according to another reading, "It hath pleased me" to appoint Him, by whom to perform those things I would perform, i.e. the redemption of the human race.

Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 14: These words Mark and Luke give in the same way; in the words of the voice that came from Heaven, their expression varies though the sense is the [p. 116] same. For both the words as Matthew gives them, "This is my beloved Son," and as the other two, "Thou art my beloved Son," express the same sense in the speaker; (and the heavenly voice, no doubt, uttered one of these,) but one shews an intention of addressing the testimony thus borne to the Son to those who stood by; the other of addressing it to Himself, as if speaking to Christ He had said, "This is my Son." Not that Christ was taught what He knew before, but they who stood by heard it, for whose sake the voice came.

Again, when one says, "in whom I am well-pleased;" another, "in thee it hath pleased me," if you ask which of these was actually pronounced by that voice; take which you will, only remembering that those who have not related the same words as were spoken have related the same sense. That God is well-pleased with His Son is signified in the first; that the Father is by the Son pleased with men is conveyed in the second form, "in thee it hath well-pleased me."

Or you may understand this to have been the one meaning of all the Evangelists, In Thee have I put My good pleasure, i.e. to fulfil all My purpose.


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