Monday, May 03, 2010

Born Again

It is that season when, deo volente, baptisms are a frequent event in parishes. Any priest will tell you that it is a joy when the extent of clergy worries are whether this babe in arms is a "crier", a "yeller", or well...there are more colorful variants we needn't share.

Just two weeks ago, I held baby Gabriel in my arms for the Holy Baptism. He was a "sleeper", having dozed blissfully through the whole event, awakening only at the end to smile sagely at his new family members in the Church, the body of Christ. An early vocation, perhaps?

So it was that I was meditating upon the gift of Baptism and remembered a snippet from Christian and Catholic by one of my favorite authors, churchmen and surely a "blessed"-the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton. It is wisdom to be remembered and recovered. It is wisdom for today.

As related to the present time; by baptism we are born again, or "born from above." This implies two things, our being begotten anew by heavenly power, and our being born out of a natural region of darkness into one of light. We are begotten anew by the Holy Spirit, which, blowing where it listeth, works the soul's conversion; and also in baptism (the Holy Spirit accomplishing that whereunto it is sent), we receive a new nature by our incorporation into Christ. "For as many of you as were baptized unto Christ did put on Christ."

We discern here a distinction between our relation to God by nature and that formed by baptism. By the act of creation we are God's creatures; by baptism we are the sons of God as members of Christ. Thus baptism is not like the coronation of a king to which it is sometimes compared, for the king is one by right of his descent before he is crowned. Baptism, however, is not an acknowledgment of what we previously were, but an instrument by which we are made members of Christ and so children of God.

Next as to the future. Having been, by baptism, born into the kingdom of light, a prospect is opened before us of attaining to the further light of the beatific vision of God. We are made children of the light. We are incorporated into this new kingdom as living stones of a living temple. And so we are not merely born into and immersed in it, but it is also in us. The incipient virtues of faith, hope, and charity are imparted by baptism. These gifts received may be neglected and lie dormant, but as we respond, more and more clear becomes the heavenly vision, and we receive strength to attain it.

The effect of the loss of baptism is painfully seen in America, in the increased power of evil spirits, and the ease with which Satan deludes persons with false religions, and by teachers who come in their own name.

The baptismal faith is decisively expressed in our baptismal offices. None can be found more full of Scriptural and Catholic tradition. We utter it in the words of our Church's hymnal in praise and devotion:

"Arise and be baptized,
And wash thy sins away;
Thy league with God be solemnized,
Thy faith avouched to-day.
No more thine own, but Christ's;
With all the saints of old,
Apostles, seers, evangelists,
And martyr throngs enrolled."


Canon Tallis said...

Excellent article, Canon. Yet i do have two caveats the first of which is that I believe Charles Grafton to be a bit more than a "Blessed." In the same vein as the parish at Mill Hill was named for John Keble, I would not be at all shocked at a Charles Grafton Anglican Church.

Secondly, given my own families experience, I would watch that child, Gabriel. We have always believed that the ones who yelled very loudly when the waters of baptism were poured over them did so because the devil and his cohorts were leaving. I hope we are wrong on Gabriel. We need all the vocations we can find. When do you have him scheduled for acolyte duty?

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent essay. While the concept of regeneration or new birth occurs but a few times in the NT (John 3, Titus 3:5. 1 Peter 1:3 & 23, with three different Greek words), it is a critical concept. In two of the three it is plainly and clearly related to water or washing,

The Johannine occurrence is the one where we find the adverb "anwthen." This word has a wealth of meanings. Spacially, it means "from above." Temporally, it means "again, or anew." But also, it means "from the beginning," or "for a long time." In all occurences it is associated with eternal life, not a temporary gift.

It would be a mistake to look over the various meanings of this or any Greek word and say, cafeteria style, "I think I will pick this one, as it best suits my presuppositions." ALL the meanings were incuded in the semantic range which the inspired writer worked from.

Summarily I would say that regeneration is (1) the inital gift of new life, (2) incorporation into the New Creation, and (3) the down-payment or pledge of our final resurrection.

If I were to tweak Fr Nall's article at any point, it would be to emphasize the dire necessity of the New Birth into the New Creation since the old creation was spoiled by the Fall. The Prayer Book (in its unmutilated version) expressed the tragic and desperate human condition in the words, "forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin, and our Saviour Christ saith, none can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate, and born anew of Water and the Holy Ghost, I beseech you to call upon God the Father, though our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteous mercy he will grant to this Child that thing which by nature he cannot have...."


RSC+ said...

Fr. Wells,

Keep reading the passage. A bit further down, in verse 31, we find ἄνωθεν again, which, I think, informs the most appropriate meaning for its usage earlier. It's a parallel episode where John is explaining about Jesus.

Just prior to verse 31, he says, "He must increase, but I must decrease," and then he continues, "The one coming from above (ἄνωθεν) is above all. The one (who is) from the earth is from the earth and speaks from the earth; the one coming from heaven is above all."

Put simply, in the context of the second usage of ἄνωθεν, "from above" is the only usage that makes sense; an immediate contrast from earth and heaven follows. It seems to me here that John is not a sloppy writer, and the meaning of ἄνωθεν here further clarifies the meaning of ἄνωθεν earlier and further draws into distinction Nicodemus' misunderstanding of it.

(Disclosure: I wrote an exegetical paper on this very chapter in my New Testament course. Wee.)

Anonymous said...

In your research on John, did you consult Oscar Cullman's invaluable "Early Chrustian Worship?" This is (in spite of the title) a study of the numerous sacramental passages in John's Gospel. He notes John's frequent use of double'entendres and word plays. This passage is his first example.

If you are correct in your apparent restriction of "anwthen" to only one meaning "from above," then you have isolated this text from the parallel (so everyone thought) passages in Titus and I Peter. The terms there have prefixes (palin, ana) which clearly mean "again."

I have never seen a commentary which did not note that "anwthen" has the meaning "from above." That is an exegetical commonplace. But since this supernatural birth follows the natural birth, it obviously is a second birth as well.

F.F.Bruce notes another subtlety here, which Nicodemus did not react to. Rebirth was the common metaphor for proselytes (Gentiles!) who had to undergo ritual baths. Bruce writes, "The proselyte, it was said is like a new born child. Such a person might fittingly be described as 'born from above' or 'born anew.' " So Our Lord was saying to this "teacher in Israel" that his spiritual condition was no better than a dirty gentile. Go to the mikvah, Nicodemus! Go take a bath!

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The "from above" has a literary or manuscript implication that is reflected in the English phrase used by musicians, "take it from the top." It implies that we start all over again.