Showing posts with label Baptism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baptism. Show all posts

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why did blood & water flow from Christ's side?

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
Like much of Scripture, the above Johannine verse is fraught with various levels of meaning. Why did blood and water flow from Christ's side? Below are a few meanings as derived from the Church's historical interpretations of the text.

To fulfill prophecyJohn offers an explanation in the immediate context of the verse. In verse 37, he writes: "And again another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced.'" This is a quotation from Zechariah 12:10, a lengthy verse which reads:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zechariah 12:10)
John is thus identifying Jesus as the prophesied one. He fits the characteristics of the Zechariah verse: He was pierced, He was from the lineage of David, and He was a firstborn, only child. Zechariah even went on a few verses later, describing the day that this man was pierced as the day
there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanliness." (Zech. 13:1)
John's description of the blood and water pouring out Christ's side remind us of the cleansing fountain that would be opened when the victim was pierced.

By identifying Christ as the anticipated Savior, John includes in his otherwise tragic account the good news that life in the form of freedom from sin had come.

To highlight his death/suffering
There is a literal, physical dimension to the idea of blood and water flowing from a dead man's side. Studious theologians and medical professionals alike have offered varying opinions. The Navarre Bible Commentary suggests the mixture of water with the blood could indicate "an accumulation of liquid in the lungs due to Jesus' intense sufferings."1 Understanding this can have tremendous theological depth. It also identifies Christ as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. And it can help us cope with suffering if, even without full understanding, we see our leader and divine Savior innocently accept tremendous suffering.

Many physicians such as those at the Mayo Clinic posit that the water was the fluid located in the pericardial sac surrounding the heart:
Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. (On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ by William D. Edwards, MD, et al)
A diagram of the pericardial wall, sac, and heart, shows a possible point of penetration into the heart that would result in an outpouring of blood and pericardial fluid that John described as water.

If the spear pierced through the outer pericardium wall and into the heart, then the watery fluid and blood could have poured out through the wound. It emphasizes the reality of Christ's death and His very humanity. The idea of the Resurrection was very important to the early Christian community. Paul specifically wrote: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:17) Christ truly died and therefore those who saw Him walking about after that saw the Resurrected Christ.

John earlier quoted Jesus eluding to the very idea of the piercing of his heart with an outpouring of water: "He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38) John also sees in this outpouring prophecy a foreshadowing of the outpouring of the Spirit: "Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive." (7:39) And again in his epistle, he says that the blood and water give the same witness as the Spirit: "There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree." (1 John 5:8)

To signify the waters of Baptism
On John 19:34, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:
Another reason why this happened was to show that by the passion of Christ we acquire a complete cleansing from our sins and stains. We are cleansed from our sins by his blood, which is the price of our redemption: "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things, such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Pet 1:18). And we are cleansed from our stains by the water, which is the bath of our rebirth: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses" (Ez 36:25); "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness" (Zech 13:1). And so it is these two things which are especially associated with two sacraments: water with the sacrament of baptism, and blood with the Eucharist. (St. Thomas Aquinas, commenting on John 19)
You see how St. Thomas understands both blood and water as agents of cleanliness. Though he does not mention it in the immediate paragraph above, the idea of blood as a means of cleansing is very Biblical and very Johannine. For instance, John, who also wrote Revelation says: "[T]hey have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:14) and John again: "[T]he blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)

And of course, water reminds us of cleansing more obviously: "Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet." (John 13:5)

St. Thomas, writing in the 13th century, follows other Early Church Fathers on the baptismal (and Eucharistic) character of John 19:34. For example:
A suggestive word was made use of by the evangelist, in not saying pierced, or wounded His side, or anything else, but opened; that thereby, in a sense, the gate of life might be thrown open, from whence have flowed forth the sacraments of the Church, without which there is no entrance to the life which is the true life. That blood was shed for the remission of sins; that water it is that makes up the health-giving cup, and supplies at once the laver of baptism and water for drinking.2 (St. Augustine, Tractates on John 120.2, ca. 406 A.D.)

For there came forth water and blood. Not without a purpose, or by chance, did those founts come forth, but because by means of these two together the Church consists. And the initiated know it, being by water indeed regenerate, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Hence the Mysteries take their beginning; that when you approach to that awful cup, you may so approach, as drinking from the very side. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on the Gospel of John, ca. 395 A.D.)
These understandings all reflect the confluence of revelation on the flow of water from Christ's side. Going back to the Zechariah prophecy, we are told of the fountain that would wash away sins. St. John Chrysostom speaks of the cleansing of sins as a regeneration. In concert with this understanding of the early Church, the theology of the Apostle Paul identifies regeneration with baptism:
Titus 3:5-6 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
The Greek term there translated as regeneration by the RSV-CE is paliggenesiav. Strong's Concordance defines this as a new birth, regeneration, or renewal. In Paul's understanding, a person is "born again" at baptism, for he says:
Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
If we read Romans 6:4 and Titus 3:5-6 in light of our study of John 19:34, we see many parallels. Paul speaks of this washing "poured out" through Christ just as was the blood and water from the Cross. He also refers to our union with Christ's death at baptism. And we have studied how the outpouring of water from the Cross is signal of Christ's death. Thus, to receive the life-giving waters of baptism is to receive from Christ.

To signify the Eucharist
You see St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and St. John Chysostom all reference the blood as a reference to the Eucharist. The most obvious tie-in to this comes from the Gospel accounts. For instance:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28)

And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." (Mark 14:24)

And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:20)
Paul likewise recognizes the blood of Christ as that which is in the Eucharistic cup:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
And incidentally, when a priest prepares the wine during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he pours water into the cup as well reflecting the same mixture flowing from Christ's side! (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #142)

To signify the birth of the ChurchThe idea that life and salvation poured out from Christ's side in the form of blood and water also communicates the birth of Christ's Church. This truth can be seen when we focus on the location of the outpouring––Christ's side.

In the Old Testament, life was often derived from the "side" of a type of Christ. For instance:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22)
Paul teaches us explicitly that Adam is a type of Christ. (cf. Rom. 5:14) So you see the significance of the "sleeping man" (also an ancient figure of someone deceased, e.g. Matt. 27:52) whose side was opened, and how life came from it. From Adam's side came Eve. And from Christ's side came life for all the Church.

Another example is Noah's Ark.
Genesis 6:16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.
The ark itself was a "vessel of salvation" from the flood. All the creatures and Noah's family entered and exited by this portal in the ark's "side." When we view the ark as a type of Christ, we can even more clearly see how the Church is availed of the true "vessel of salvation" by participating in Christ's side––which again is the blood and water representing the Eucharist and the Baptism.

The Apostle Peter explicitly ties the episode of Noah's ark to baptism:
1 Peter 3:20-21 God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
St. Thomas Aquinas identifies these same figures in Scripture. We see his identification of the Church in John 19:34 if we expand his earlier quote:
That blood was shed for the remission of sins; that water it is that makes up the health-giving cup, and supplies at once the laver of baptism and water for drinking. This was announced beforehand, when Noah was commanded to make a door in the side of the ark, Genesis 6:16 whereby the animals might enter which were not destined to perish in the flood, and by which the Church was prefigured. Because of this, the first woman was formed from the side of the man when asleep, Genesis 2:22 and was called Life, and the mother of all living. Genesis 3:20 Truly it pointed to a great good, prior to the great evil of the transgression (in the guise of one thus lying asleep). This second Adam bowed His head and fell asleep on the cross, that a spouse might be formed for Him from that which flowed from the sleeper's side.
And so we see that in death there is birth. Through John's mention of the "blood and water" we are able to understand so much of what was foretold, and how we, too, participate in Christ's death so that we might be "cleansed from sin."

1The Navarre Bible: St. John, Four Courts Press, Dublin; Scepter Publishers, New York, 2005, p. 190.
2The "laver of baptism" is more accurately a "bath" which is one of the "sacraments" Augustine describes here. A very literal translation of the Latin in the last sentence is: "He tempers (duly mingles) the cup with the saving water; this affords both a bath, and a drink."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sacrawhat? Misconceptions about Sacraments

On the morning of Tuesday, February 1, 2011, I heard Pastor John MacArthur (whose misconceptions about Catholicism I have previously addressed) state the following during his radio-aired sermon titled "The Responsibilities of the Church: Preaching":
As you look back over the history of the Church, look back over the epochs that have thrown themselves as it were against the Church, a number of things come to mind immediately. First of all, let's start with the dangerous epochs at the time when Christianity became the religion of the Holy Roman Empire. So you have not long after that what is commonly known as the Dark Ages that runs from the time of the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire clear through to 1500. Over 1000 years of Dark Ages they're called. And the dominating danger to the Church at that time was sacramentalism. Sacramentalism. And that's the word that you will identify in your mind with this first epoch. Sacramentalism means that the Church was dominated by sacraments, by mechanisms, by external mechanical means--dominated by attempting to know God through some kind of automatic action. Whether it was lighting a candle or genuflecting or it was bowing down, whether it was going through beads, or whether it was inflicting some pain upon yourself physically, whatever it might have been, these were mechanical means supposedly to give people salvation. Sacramentalism was a severe danger to the Church. ... You attached yourself to the Church externally. ... [S]acramentalism came and stayed, and it's still with us.
There are several misconceptions in this discourse. And although MacArthur never uses the word "Catholic" in this particular sermon, he has argued against sacraments in Catholicism elsewhere in nearly identical language.1

Misconception #1: Sacraments are "external means" that involve "automatic action" involving only "external" attachment to the Church.

MacArthur believes sacraments involve only external actions that have some "automatic" result. This is not the case. All seven sacraments in the Catholic Church are signal of interior realities as well.

Consider the Catholic concept of how Jesus Incarnate was sacramental according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
CCC#515 His humanity appeared as "sacrament", that is, the sign and instrument, of his divinity and of the salvation he brings: what was visible in his earthly life leads to the invisible mystery of his divine sonship and redemptive mission.
Notice the terms describing sacrament: sign, instrument, visible, invisible. Just as Christ's physical death lead to the outpouring of grace, so too do His sacraments. Look how the Church views the sacrament of marriage:
CCC#1617 Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.
The point in quoting these two paragraphs is to show that the definition of a sacrament goes beyond the external. Remember, MacArthur argued that Catholics believe the way to attach to the Church is simply externally. But Catholics do not believe this. It is possible MacArthur is unaware of what a sacrament is. Openness to Christ is mandatory for the sacraments to have effect. They are not merely mechanical as MacArthur asserted that Catholics believe.
If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto...let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, 7.VI)

The sacraments always give grace if we receive them with the right dispositions. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. (I Corinthians 11:27) (Baltimore Catechism #309)
He who knowingly receives a sacrament of the living in mortal sin commits a mortal sin of sacrilege, because he treats a sacred thing with grave irreverence. (Baltimore Catechism #312)
To receive the salvific remedy of the sacrament of penance, a member of the Christian faithful must be disposed in such a way that, rejecting sins committed and having a purpose of amendment, the person is turned back to God. (Code of Canon Law, #987)
You see the sacraments are not "automatic" as MacArthur claimed Catholics believe. According to Catholic teaching, a skeptic who received the waters of baptism would not receive the graces bestowed in baptism because he posited an obstacle. The recipient resisted what the sacrament conferred. Necessarily, interior conversion must accompany the recipient,2 whether it be during baptism, confession, reception of the Eucharist, etc...

There are a number of Catholic resources that defend the reality that sacraments really confer grace. A few examples from Scripture include the teaching that in baptism we die and rise with Christ (Rom. 6:4), are saved by baptism (1 Pet. 3:21), and that baptism results in the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 3:28). Partakers in the Eucharist are given life (John 6:47-68), and participate in Christ's sacrifice as well as commune with other members of the Church (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Etc... Sacraments are not substitutes for salvation by Christ. They are rather instruments established by Christ for us to receive His grace. No one can truthfully say Catholics believe salvation is through sacraments instead of Christ.

Christ Himself juxtaposed outward signs with inward realities so that we would believe in that which we could not see. The story of the paralytic is an example of this. Jesus healed the paralytic and asked the crowd, "Which is easier, to say stand up and rise or that your sins are forgiven"? (Luke 5:17-26). What Jesus was demonstrating, is that what He showed visibly was the same thing that happened spiritually. The onlookers therefore were prompted to have faith in what they could not see (that the man's sins were healed) because of what they could see with their eyes (that the man was physically healed). So too, the sacraments bear a visible and invisible character,3 not just something external as MacArthur incorrectly understands.

Misconception #2: Sacraments came to the Church only after "Christianity became the religion of the Holy Roman Empire."

It is unclear when precisely MacArthur believes this to have taken place. He does state that by 1500, sacraments had been in the Church for "over 1,000 years." That places the beginning at least prior to 500. For the purpose of this post, I am going to give all benefit of the doubt to MacArthur and say he believes sacraments began in 311/313 with the Edict of Tolerance and Edict of Milan by Roman emperors Galerius and Constantine. Although these imperial decrees did not yet make Christianity the official religion of the state, they did make Christianity legal to practice. (It is often said the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 was the beginning of Christianity as the official state religion of Rome).

So going with the earliest date of 311, we take a look earlier to see if what MacArthur suggested was true. Did the Church only become sacramental after 311? For learned Catholics, the answer seems obvious: of course not. To those unfamiliar with the writings of the earliest Christians, the following may prove enlightening.
A.D. 75
Epistle of Barnabas - Concerning [baptism], indeed, it is written that the Israelites should not receive baptism that leads to the remission of sins... [W]e descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up bearing fruit in our heart...

A.D. 80
Shepherd of Hermas - And I said, "I heard, sir, some teachers say that there is no other repentance than what takes place when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins." He said to me, "That was sound doctrine you heard; for that is really the case."

A.D. 110
Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, 7 - I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

A.D. 151
Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61 - Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 - And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone.

A.D. 181
Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 2.16 - On the fifth day the living creatures which proceed from the waters were produced, through which also is revealed the manifold wisdom of God in these things; for who could count their multitude and very various kinds? Moreover, the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also might be a sign of men’s being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration,—as many as come to the truth, and are born again, and receive blessing from God.

A.D. 203
Tertullian, On Baptism, 7 - After this, when we have issued from the font, we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction,— (a practice derived) from the old discipline, wherein on entering the priesthood, men were wont to be anointed with oil from a horn, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses. Whence Aaron is called Christ, from the chrism, which is the unction; which, when made spiritual, furnished an appropriate name to the Lord, because He was anointed with the Spirit by God the Father; as written in the Acts: For truly they were gathered together in this city against Your Holy Son whom You have anointed. Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs carnally, (i.e. on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins.

A.D. 246
Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 1.3-4 [A] man quickened to a new life in the layer of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been. ... [B]y the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years had been washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, had been infused into my reconciled heart—after that, by the agency of the Spirit breathed from heaven, a second birth had restored me to a new man.
These are merely samples from an abundance of early Christian texts demonstrating the prominent belief in the reality of sacraments. MacArthur's claim that sacraments were a later corruption of Christianity is simply false.

Misconception #3 - Lighting a candle, genuflecting, bowing down, going through beads, and "inflicting some pain upon yourself" are sacraments.

To state the obvious: none of these are sacraments.

Nor are any of these things contrary to the Christian faith. Even Scripture has examples of bowing or kneeling in prayer. Inflicting "pain," if done prudently such as in the form of fasting, which is also Biblical, facilitates our own life of living in Christian obedience and charity. Candles mirror the lampstands of the book of Revelation. Going through beads (if MacArthur is referring to the Rosary or other prayer meditations) accompanies prayer and can help us meditate on holy words in the tradition of Scripture like Psalm 136. In this third misconception, MacArthur again neglects to recognize or acknowledge the interior disposition accompanying the outward action, and so he falls into error.

1MacArthur stated in his sermon A Biblical Response to the Catholic-Evangelical Accord: "[T]he primary reason why people in the Catholic system are not Christians is because the system becomes a surrogate Christ and salvation is a mechanical thing by being attached to the Church. And you're attached to the Church by means of rituals and sacraments and ceremonies and all of that. ... And pray for these people that are involved in this. I find it very difficult. I know them personally, of course, and find it extremely difficult to understand how they can be drawn into this. Love your Catholic friends, love them enough to recognize that they probably don't know Jesus Christ. Don't attack them unkindly, but point out the issue is not external, it's internal." And by rejecting sacraments, MacArthur as well rejects the Orthodox Church which also has an ancient pedigree.

2This is even the case with the baptism of infants: "The fact that infants cannot yet profess personal faith does not prevent the Church from conferring this sacrament on them, since in reality it is in her own faith that she baptizes them. ... [T]he child who is baptized believes not on its own account, by a personal act, but through others, 'through the Church's faith communicated to it.'" (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Infant Baptism, 1980, #14)

3The 19th-20th century Catholic priest and theology and philosophy professor Rev. Daniel Kennedy described a Catholic perspective on the visible and invisible dimensions of sacraments:
  • Taking the word "sacrament" in its broadest sense, as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is "mystery"), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity. "The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands" (Psalm 18:2). The invisible things of him [i.e. God], from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity" (Romans 1:20).
  • The redemption of man was not accomplished in an invisible manner. God renewed, through the Patriarchs and the Prophets, the promise of salvation made to the first man; external symbols were used to express faith in the promised Redeemer: "all these things happened to them [the Israelites] in figure" (1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 10:1). "So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman" (Galatians 4:3-4). The Incarnation took place because God dealt with men in the manner that was best suited to their nature.
  • The Church established by the Saviour was to be a visible organization (see CHURCH: The Visibility of the Church): consequently it should have external ceremonies and symbols of things sacred.
  • The principal reason for a sacramental system is found in man. It is the nature of man, writes St. Thomas (III:61:1), to be led by things corporeal and sense-perceptible to things spiritual and intelligible; now Divine Providence provides for everything in accordance with its nature (secundum modum suae conditionis); therefore it is fitting that Divine Wisdom should provide means of salvation for men in the form of certain corporeal and sensible signs which are called sacraments. (For other reasons see Catech. Conc. Trid., II, n.14.)