We read in Mark’s Gospel (1:9-11) “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
I was recently asked the question: What is Baptism in the Spirit? I am going to reflect on this question with a series of blogs. This is personal to me because my priesthood was forever changed by receiving the Baptism in the Spirit on May 20, 1996 at St. Charles in Clarendon, VA. I will give more details of that experience in future blogs.
A recent experience with my car illustrates something of the Baptism in the Spirit. On Saturday, my car would not start. I learned that it was the battery. I know almost nothing about cars except that they need gas and oil. Well, my friend changed the battery and now the car works great. I have often described Baptism in the Spirit as having an extra battery in me. I have another source of energy. Baptism in the Spirit is another battery and this battery has an eternal guarantee.
The Baptism of Jesus must be important because all four gospels mention it. Before Jesus enters into His pubic ministry, He is baptized in the Jordan by John. Now an early debate arose regarding whether or not Jesus needed to be baptized. I remember when I was thinking about becoming a seminarian, I asked a priest this question and he said no.
The answer of this priest was the answer formulated in the Western Church: that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. Jesus was God, He had the Holy Spirit. Jesus was baptized to make holy the water for us. Jesus’ baptism is important for us but not for Him. This tradition can be summarized by this quote from St. Athanasius, who was the greatest opponent of Arinaism, “The Baptism of Jesus was for our benefit because He bore our body and did not happen to make the word perfect but to make us holy.” He writes later, “Jesus was baptized not for His sake but to sanctify the waters.” Basically, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized because He was God.
This is not the line of reasoning used by the fathers of the Eastern Church. St. Basil writes, “Jesus did not need the Holy Spirit in so far as He was God but he could receive the Holy Spirit in so far as He was man.” The main reason that the fathers of the Western Church developed this line of reasoning that Jesus didn’t need to receive the Holy Spirit in baptism was because of the heresy of Arianism. Arianism taught that Jesus was only a man and not God. This makes me think of the observation of Belloc “that a heresy is a truth that is made the whole.” Jesus’ humanity was stressed at the expense of His divinity.
Because Arianism was in the air, the Church in the west had to stress the divinity of Jesus. So if Jesus needed anything, then he must not be God. Jesus’ divinity needed to be stressed at the expense of His humanity. It did not help that Greek philosophy was in the air also. In Greek thought, God is perfect and if something is perfect then it does not need anything. If Jesus was God then He didn’t need the Holy Spirit. This is a classic example of how Greek philosophy was used often at the expense of understanding the Biblical text.
In the Eastern Church they did not battle Arianism and so they were freer to take this event in the life of Jesus at face value, that Jesus did receive a new anointing of the Holy Spirit at His baptism. St. Ireneus wrote, “The Spirit of God descended upon Jesus and anointed Him, as He promised to the prophets, so that we might draw on the fullness of His anointing.”
I often ask at baptism, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” And someone responds, “To be a follower of Christ.” I say, “No, to be a Christian is to be anointed with the same Holy Spirit that anointed Jesus.” Cantalamessa writes, The mystery of the anointing was so important that the very name of Christian was derived from it. This is why we are called Christians because we were anointed with the oil of God. Christian is not so much a follower of Christ but rather shares in Christ’s anointing.”
Why is it that all four of the Gospels relate the story of Jesus’ Baptism? It was because Jesus needed to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We read in the Acts of the Apostles when Peter is referring to Jesus, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”
Jesus needed to receive this Holy Spirit for His public ministry. Jesus was showing us that as He needed the Holy Spirit, we too need the Holy Spirit. Jesus began His public ministry with His Baptism in the Jordan.
As the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit fell on the Apostles at Pentecost. The Apostles needed Pentecost. Cantalamessa writes, “At Pentecost and before that, Jesus poured out on the Church, the Spirit which He received at His baptism.”
Vatican II says that at Pentecost “The Lord Jesus has made the whole mystical body share in the anointing by the Spirit with which He Himself has been anointed.” The same Holy Spirit that flowed through Jesus flows through us.
Eternal Father, Anoint us with the Spirit of Christ!
God Bless, Fr. Stefan