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The Holy Theophany of Our Lord

Patristic overview:

 

Jesus freely accepted John's baptism in order that he might fulfill in all humility the justice of the law, that by his baptism he might validate John's ministry of baptism and that by sanctifying the waters he might show the Holy Spirit's advent in the baptism of believers (jerome). Hence by being baptized himself, Jesus set apart for sacramental use the waters of our baptism. Yet since he committed no sin, there was no personal need for him to be baptized (hilary, theodore of mopsuestia). The faith­ful are symbolically transferred from this present life by baptism and given that life which is to come. Jesus saw to it that this observance should be fulfilled first of all in himself (the­odore of mopsuestia). When people saw the Son being baptized as if he might be a sinner, the question arose as to the innocence to which the Baptist gave witness (anonymous).John did not want anyone to draw the conclusion that Jesus also came to the Jordan to repent of his

sins, so he immediately set this point straight by calling him both Lamb and Redeemer of all the sin that is in the world (CHRYSOSTOM).John tried to excuse himself from doing what Jesus directed him to do, because he could not con­ceive that baptism was necessary for the One whom he knew had come to blot out the sins of the world (chromatius).

Jesus came to do away with the curse that is appointed for the transgression of the law. So he first of all had to fulfill all the law, to bring its curse to an end (chrysostom). He who was per­fect according to the law (theodore of heraclea) in baptism identified himself with all that belongs to human nature (anonymous). Jesus freely identified himself with the people; other­wise he would not have come with the people for John's baptism. Hence, when Jesus was bap­tized, a voice with the Spirit clearly proclaimed his identity as the only begotten Son (chrysos-tom). The Lord was not baptized for his own sake but for ours, in order to fulfill all righteous­ness (chromatius).John's baptism was perfect according to the precept of the law but imperfect in that it did not supply remission of sins yet to come. It merely made people fit for receiving the perfect one (theodore of mopsuestia). The dove signifies meekness and reconciliation (origen), affection and steady allegiance (the­odore of mopsuestia). The dove and the voice manifested the Son's identity both by eye and ear (hilary). The triune teaching is concisely embedded in the voice of the Father concerning the Son through the descent of the Holy Spirit (augustine).

THE waters OF BAPT1SM SANCTIFIED:

hilary: In Jesus Christ we behold a complete man. Thus in obedience to the Holy Spirit the body he assumed fulfilled in him every sacra­ment of our salvation. He came therefore to John, born of a woman, bound to the law and made flesh through the Word. Therefore there was no need for him to be baptized, because it was said of him: "He committed no sin." And where there is no sin, the remission of it is superfluous. It was not because Christ had a need that he took a body and a name from our creation. He had no need for baptism. Rather, through him the cleansing act was sanctified to become the waters of our immersion. on mat­thew 2.5.

whether THE baptizer Is greater thanthe baptized. origen: By this act Jesus showed himself to be "meek and lowly in heart," coming to those inferior to him, doing all that followed in order to humble himself and become obedient "unto death." It is not always the case that the one who baptizes is greater than the one who is baptized. Ananias was not

greater than Paul.And while Philip baptized," Peter gave the Spirit through the laying on of hands, fragment 52.

why jesus accepted john's baptism je­rome: For three reasons the Savior accepted baptism from John. First, because he was born a man, that he might fulfill all justice and humil­ity of the law. Second, that by his baptism he might confirm John's baptism. And third, that by sanctifying the waters of the Jordan through the descent of the dove, he might show the Holy Spirit's advent in the baptism of believers. com­mentary on matthew 1.3.13,"

why he was baptized. theodore OF mopsuestia: Many raise the question, What in fact was the nature of this baptism with which the Lord was baptized? What did it amount to, the baptism of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who, for the sake of the salvation of all, became human? As such he was to show himself to be the beginning of a certain paradoxical life on account of which he is called Adam, since for Adam's sake and for the rest of those who have arisen from Adam he becomes the beginning of everlasting life, in the same way that Adam was the original of this temporary and mortal life. This Jesus, I say, recapitulated in himself everything that per­tains to our salvation. For just as he both died and rose again, we also shall do so, in the same way. Since necessarily we were to be symbolically transferred from this present life by baptism and settled in that life which is to come, he saw to it that this baptism should be fulfilled first of all in himself. In his providential dispensation of things, he had received, before all others, this baptism should be fulfilled first of all in himself. In his providential dispensation of things, he had received, before all others, this baptism of adoption which is by water and the Spirit. He thereby showed this baptism to be great and honorable, in that he himself, first of all, truly accepted it. Moreover, he himself identi­fied himself with that part of society outside the law of grace, in which we also take part. For it was fitting that the Lord, in humility of spirit, should become subject both to the prophet and Baptist,

like a common person from among the people. He was baptized that he might hallow the waters and bestow upon us, through the basin, regeneration and adoption and remission of sins and all the other blessings that came to us through baptism, prefiguring them in himself. As God, however, he is the One "who takes away the sin of the world,"and as such he has no need of baptism. fragment 14.

3:l4 John Questions Jesus' Request

jesus not there for repentance. chrysostom: John's baptism was looking toward repentance. Its purpose was to bring hearers to the point of experiencing conviction for their offenses. John, however, did not want anyone to draw the conclusion that Jesus himself also came to the Jordan to repent of his sins. So he sets this point straight from the outset by calling him both Lamb and Redeemer of all the sin that is in the world. He who is able to take away the sins of the whole world was himself without sin. the gospel of matthew, homily 12.1.

why john tried TO prevent him. chromatius:

Jesus therefore descended to fulfill all the observances of the law, and in this context he was baptized by John in Galilee at the Jordan. But John, recognizing the Lord as his God through the Holy Spirit, declared that he was unworthy to bear his sandals. He excused him­self from doing what he was directed to do, because he could not conceive that baptism was necessary for the One whom he knew had come to blot out the sins of the world. He rather pled that he himself ought to be baptized by Christ, saying, "It is I who should be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" It is as if he were say­ing, "I am a man. You are God. I am a sinner because I am a man. You are sinless because you are God. Why do you want to he baptized by me? I do not refuse the respect you pay me, but I am ignorant of the mystery. I baptize sinners in repentance. But you have no taint of sin. So why do you want to be baptized? Why do you want to be baptized as a sinner, who came to forgive sins?" This is what John in effect was saying to the Lord. tractate on matthew 12.1.

 

3;15 Fulfilling All Righteousness

jesus was baptized FOR Us. chromatius:

The Lord here is testing the faithful deference of service on the part of his servant, but he reveals the mystery of his dispensation by saying, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness," showing this to be true right­eousness, that he the Lord and Master should fulfill in himself every sacrament of our salva­tion. Therefore the Lord did not want to be bap­tized for his own sake but for ours, in order to fulfill all righteousness. Indeed, »t is only right that whatever someone instructs another to do, he should first do himself. Since the Lord and Master of the human race had come, he wanted to teach by his example what must be done for disciples to follow their Master and for servants their Lord. tractate on matthew 13.2-3.

the law's curse made void. chrysostom:

To this Jesus did not merely reply "Let it be so," but he added pointedly, "now." The implication:

It will not be so forever. You will not always see the One for whom the prophets have longed. But for the present, permit this. And then he shows how this baptism is fitting. Why? "For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteous­ness." The whole law is fulfilled by "all right­eousness," by which all the commandments are performed. He is in effect saying, "Since then we have performed all the rest of the command­ments, this baptism alone remains. I have come to do away with the curse that is appointed for the transgression of the law. So I must therefore first fulfill it all and, having delivered you from its condemnation, bring it to an end. It is fitting for me therefore to fulfill the whole law by the same rule by which it is fitting for me to do away with the curse that is written against you in the law. This is the very purpose of my assuming flesh and coming to you." the gospel of mat­thew, homily 12.1.

 

perfect IN THE law. theodore OF heraclea: When he who is perfect according to the law was baptized with the baptism of John, he became the first to achieve the perfection of the law. For this reason even Christ, who was per­fect in the law, was baptized with the baptism of John. For this reason he says, "For thus it is fit­ting for us to fulfill all righteousness." frag­ment 21.

making Us fit TO receive THE perfect one. theodore of mopsuestia: The bap­tism of John was at one and the same time per­fect and imperfect. It was perfect according to the precept of the law, but it was imperfect in that it did not supply remission of sins but merely made people fit for receiving the perfect one. For this reason, even Christ, since he was perfect with regard to the law, was baptized with this baptism, that is, the baptism of John. And he makes this clear, saying, "For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." frag­ment 13.

3:16 The Spirit Descends When Jesus Is Baptized

not baptized AS one repenting. cyril OF alexandria: In the times before Christ's com­ing, those being baptized were held down in the water a longer time for the confession of sin. But Christ, being sinless, "came up immediately." For Christ was not baptized as one repenting but as one cleansing sins and sanctifying the waters. fragment 29.

 

the meekness OF THE dove. origen:

Christ was baptized for our sake, in order to sanctify the waters. The Spirit descended in the form of a dove, since wherever there is reconcili­ation with God there is a dove, as in the case of Noah's ark ... announcing God's mercy to the world and at the same time making clear that what is spiritual should be meek and without wickedness, simple and without guile. frag­ment 56.

 

the steady allegiance OF THE dove. the­odore of mopsuestia: The Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, being kindly, affectionate and a lover of humanity. Although frequently pushed aside, the dove nevertheless comes again to be possessed by us and does us good according to its own goodness. For the dove is an affectionate creature, a friend of humanity, who, even though mistreated by people who snatch away and eat its nestlings, does not depart from chose it is accustomed to live with but remains no matter what. fragment 15.

3:17 A Voice from Heaven

an angelic voice? apollinaris: Some say that the "voice saying, 'This is my beloved Son'" was either an angelic voice serving to represent the person of the Father or else some other voice fashioned on the spot. fragment 9."

 

by hearing and by sight. hilary: A voice from heaven thus spoke: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." God's Son is manifested both by hearing and by sight. Both the witnesses of contemplation and the spoken word are sent from the Lord to an unfaithful people who disregard the prophets. At the same time, we knew from those who were immersed in Christ that after baptism with water the Holy Spirit would descend to us from the heavenly gates. Then we would be filled with the anoint­ing of heavenly glory and become God's children through the adoption the Father's voice announced. Truth prefigured the image of the sac­rament through these very happenings. on matthew 2.6.

my beloved son. chrysostom: Jesus freely identified himself with the people. For if he were not one of the people, he would not have come with the people for John's baptism. Yet this caused some to imagine that John was greater than Jesus. In order that this opinion not be entertained, when Jesus was baptized the Spirit came down, and a voice with the Spirit pro­claimed the identity of the Only Begotten. The voice said, "This is my beloved Son." The voice was not identifying John but Jesus. The voice did not say this one who is baptized, but simply "this." The Spirit came in the form of a dove, drawing the voice toward Jesus and making it evident to all that "this" was not spoken of John who baptized, but of Jesus who was baptized. the gospel of matthew, homily 12.2.

the father's voice, THE son's humanity, the spirit's descent. augustine: Here then we have the Trinity presented in a clear way: the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Spirit in the dove. This only needs to be barely mentioned, for it is so obvious for any­one to see. Here the recognition of the Trinity is conveyed to us so plainly that it hardly leaves any room for doubt or hesitation. The Lord Christ himself, who comes in the form of a ser­vant to John, is undoubtedly the Son, for here no one can mistake him for either the Father or the Holy Spirit. It is the Son who comes. And who could have any doubt about the identity of the dove? The Gospel itself most plainly testi­fies: "The Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove." So also there can be no doubt whose voice it is who speaks so person­ally: "You are my beloved Son." So we have the Trinity distinguished.... Here are the three persons of the Trinity distinguished: When Jesus came to the river, he came from one place to another. The dove descended from heaven to earth, from one place to another. The very voice of the Father sounded neither from the earth nor from the water but from heaven. These three are as it were distinguished in places, in offices and in works. But one may say to me, "Show me instead the inseparability of the tri­une God. Remember you who are speaking are a Catholic, and to Catholics are you speaking." For thus does our faith teach, that is, the true, the right Catholic faith, gathered not by the opinion of private judgment but by the witness of the Scriptures, not subject to the fluctuations of heretical rashness but grounded in apostolic truth. This we know, this we believe. This, though we do not see it with our eyes nor as yet with the heart, so long as we are being purified by faith, yet by this faith we most firmly and rightly maintain the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a Trinity – inseparably one God, not three gods. But yet one God in such a way that the Son is not the Father, and the Father is not the Son, and the holy Spirit is neither the father nor the Son, This ineffable Divinity, abiding ever in itself, making all things new, creating, creating anew, sending, recalling, judging, delivering, this trinity, I say, we know to be at once indescribable and inseparable. SERMON 2.1-2.


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