Greek Myths and Christian Mystery

By Hugo S. J. Rahner | Go to book overview
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III
THE MYSTERY OF BAPTISM

Felix sacramentum aquae nostrae

O HAPPY mystery of this water of ours!" These are the words with which Tertullian begins his work on baptism,1 and they are almost identical with those used a century earlier in the joyous outburst of the Epistle of Barnabas: "Blessed are they who, hoping on the cross, descend into the water."2 The mystery of baptism can only be understood in the light of the mystery of the cross; the water of life gushes forth at the foot of the tree of life, and life was only given to that water through God's atoning death upon the cross, "so that he might sanctify the water through his sufferings". Thus said Ignatius of Antioch.3

The practice of looking at the two mysteries together goes right back to the theology of Paul. "Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized into his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life" ( Rom. 6.3-4). The bath of baptism therefore achieves two things: it redeems us from our sins and it gives us a new Christ-like life, and the only thing that enables it to do this is Christ's death upon the cross.

Thus baptism is the basic mystery of Christianity, the real initiation into our sharing in the divine life of Christ, dead and risen again; it is also the consummating mystery, the μυστήϱιου τῆς τελ͛ιώσεως as it was later called.4 It is not surprising that comparative religion should have concerned itself so energetically with

____________________
1
De Baptismo, 1 ( CSEL, 20, p. 201, I. 3).
2
Epist. Barnabae, II, 8 ( Funk I, p. 72, II. 24f.).
3
Ad Ephesios, 18, 2 ( Funk, I, p. 228, I. I).
4
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 40, 28 ( PG, 36, 400 B).

-69-

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