This article has been written in the belief that the best way to understand the sacraments is to understand the liturgy, and the best way to understand Baptism is to understand the Paschal Vigil because the whole ritual was built around Baptism. In the "Exultet", which is sung at the very beginning of the Vigil, Baptism is placed in its proper context, which is Salvation History. It is as though the whole of the history of our salvation is concentrated for each person in the process of Baptism, Confirmation and Communion. The sin of Adam is looked at with joy through the prism of the Resurrection, "Oh happy fault!" which has brought us such a redemption. Here, right before you in the here and now, redemption is unfolding in the lives of those who are being baptized.
In my post "The Meaning of Baptism", we looked at the readings from Scripture as they were when St Ambrose was Bishop of Milan ( ). They have hardly changed since then. This is what I wrote:
St Ambrose presents us with several Old Testament texts which tell us something about baptism. The first is the Holy Spirit hovering over the primeval waters (), the cosmic soup, drawing order out of chaos. This tells us that baptism is of cosmic importance, an event at a cosmic level. The next scenario from the Old Testament is Noah and the Flood. This tells us that baptism is an event that concerns the whole human race. God is doing something of historic importance for the whole of humanity when he baptizes one individual. The third scenario is the crossing of the Red Sea and the rescue of the People of God, Israel, from the hands of Pharoah. This teaches us that baptism is important for the People of God which is the Church. Finally, there is the curing of Naaman the Syrian from leprosy. Elishah told Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan, which he did and was cured. This tells us that baptism about the salvation of the individual. Let us take a look at each of these levels.are key moments in the past that help us to understand Baptism
Of course, there are more readings, but we shall concentrate on these to show something of the richness of the liturgy. The Spirit hovering over the cosmic soup and drawing order out of chaos, and the Spirit hovering like a dove over Jesus at his Baptism are key moments in the past that help us to understand Baptism. Scientists tell us that everything is the product of the "Big Bang" and there is star dust among the ingredients that make up our bodies. For the universe, our importance lies, not in our size, our deeds or the length of our lives, but in what begins to happen when we are baptized. It is said that the small droplet of energy that blew up at the Big Bang was so small before the explosion that it is said to have had no dimensions. We are not much better ourselves; but in Baptism we pass through the death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord into the presence of the Father, without losing connection with all the links that bind us to the universe. What happens to us will eventually happen to the whole universe in the "new heaven and earth" because of the links forged in the Church between heaven and earth in such events as these baptisms. For the rest of our lives in this world we shall participate in the liturgy of heaven while our feet remain firmly on the earth; and, according to our openness to Christ, our lives will become instruments of the Spirit who will reach out to all that exists through us.
If this appears too ambitious for the moment, then, at least we can see that we are baptized as members of the human race and these baptisms should be a cause of rejoicing to all human beings who who want to do what is right, even if they do not recognize this, because, in baptizing people into the Church, God is building the pathway that the rest must take in order to reach salvation. In the myth of Noah, the whole future of the human race depended on his obedience; but it involved the destruction of all other humans but him and his family. In Christ, where myth becomes reality, at C.S. Lewis would say, the salvation of the human race and its transformation into son and daughter of God, also depends on one man, Jesus; but God is not content with the destruction of all human beings apart from Jesus and his disciples. He is the Good Shepherd who is ready to leave the ninety nine safe in the sheepfold, and to go looking for the one that is lost; and the goal of the whole drama of Christ's death and resurrection is that, "As in Adam, all men died, so in Christ, all men are made alive."
In Exodus, Israel was subjected to two baptisms, the crossing of the Red Sea when escaping from Egypt at the beginning of their sojourn in the desert, and the crossing of the Jordan into the promised land at the end. Jesus too had two baptisms, the baptism in the Jordan at the beginning of his public life and his dying on the cross at the end; and he called his passion "baptism" when he asked James and John if they could undergo the baptism that he was going to undergo. In our baptism, we die and rise with Christ, thus being conformed to his "second" baptism and become sons and daughters of the Father, sharing in his divine sonship which is proclaimed in his Baptism proper. In baptism we are introduced to a life accompanied by God, as the Jews were accompanied by him during their forty years in the desert; and we become citizens of heaven, sharing through the liturgy in the liturgy of heaven, j ust as the Jews entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan. Just as a mixed group of refugees were formed and moulded to become Israel, the Chosen People, by their experience in the desert, so the New Israel, the New People of God is formed, from one generation to the next in a process that begins with baptism.
We have seen that baptism is a moment in a cosmic process, is good news for the human race, and is the means by which the Church is formed from one generation to another. Finally, Baptism is looked at from the point of view of the individual and his needs. This is treated through the story of Elishah who tells Naaman, a leper, to wash seven times in the Jordan. Because of his obedience, God cures Naaman of his leprosy and Naaman recognizes God to be the One and Only God. Thus Baptism is for the forgiveness of sin and for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit by which we enter into the body of Christ, and thus share in the very divine-human life of Christ.
The climax of the liturgy of the Word is the Easter proclamation. It begins with the proclamation of the Easter Alleluia which is absolutely wonderful in Latin, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum quod est 'Alleluia'!" and doesn't sound nearly as good in English, "I announce to you a great joy which is 'Alleluia!'" In this context of great joy the Easter Gospel is proclaimed. If Christ is not risen, our faith and our baptisms are in vain. Through resurrection, Christ's death as total self-giving to the Father is drawn out of time into eternity and becomes a dimension of his resurrected life; death is swallowed up in victory; the cross is turn from an instrument of execution into a sign of salvation; and, by this sign, Christians have conquered down the ages, devils have been put to flight, people, things and whole nations have been blessed. It is the key to understanding Christianity and the reason for the world. Most of all, it is by means of the resurrection that people are baptized and introduced into the divine-human life of Christ
We have now reached the baptismal liturgy. In the early Church and in the modern baptism of adults, there has been a a time of preparation, of learning about the Faith; and this is divided into various stages with a ritual that marks the ending of a stage and a step towards the sacrament of baptism. The baptismal liturgy in the Paschal Vigil begins with the blessing of the water.
THE BLESSING OF WATER
The Church's understanding of the sacraments of initiation is best discovered in the ceremonies of Holy Week where water and oil are blessed and in the liturgies in which they are celebrated.. The dogmatic teaching of the extraordinary magisterium must be interpreted within that context. Perhaps the clearest statement of the meaning of Baptism is found in the solemn blessing of baptismal water in the Easter Vigil. Following the classical Jewish pattern, the blessing begins with anamnesis, remembering the mighty deeds of God, starting with the Spirit breathing on the cosmic waters before creation, and thus making them the wellspring of all holiness, and ending with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus on the cross. Then comes the epiclesis, in which God the Father is asked to send his Spirit on the water so that the person can be cleansed from sin and rise to a new life of innocence by the power of the Holy Spirit. We have seen in a previous article that the liturgy is the fruit of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Churc h. This is nowhere clearer than in this epiclesis at the very heart of this blessing.
After the singing of the Litany of the Saints to indicate that the whole Church, both in heaven and on earth, is involved in this baptism, the bishop or presiding priest faces the water that is to become baptismal water and sings the epiclesis. :
By the power of the Holy Spirit give to this water the grace of your Son, so that in the sacrament of baptism all those whom you have created in your likeness may be cleansed from sin and rise to a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit.
Here, if this can be done conveniently, the celebrant lowers the Easter Candle into the water once or three times, and then holds it there until the acclamation at the end of the blessing.
We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this font. May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
If the Easter candle has been held in the water, the celebrant then raises it and the people sing the following or another suitable acclamation:
Springs of water, bless the Lord.Give him glory and praise for ever.
Hence the teaching of the liturgy on how baptism works is that, at the request of the Church, through Jesus Christ, the Father sends the Holy Spirit on the water which becomes, by this blessing, an instrument of the Holy Spirit. When this water is poured on the catechumen,: the Church acts in synergy with the Spirit and thus the person is baptized "in water and the Holy Spirit."
The theology of Orthodox baptism is the same. As my readers are probably less familiar with the Orthodox rite I shall quote more of it:
We confess Your Grace; we proclaim Your beneficence; we do not hide Your Mercy; You have set at liberty the generations of our nature; You did hallow the virginal Womb by Your Birth; all creation praises You, Who did manifest Yourself, for You were seen upon the earth, and did sojourn with men. You hallowed the streams of Jordan, sending down from the Heavens Your Holy Spirit, and crushed the heads of dragons that lurked therein. DO YOU YOURSELF, O LOVING KING, BE PRESENT NOW ALSO THROUGH THE DESCENT OF YOUR HOLY SPIRIT AND HALLOW THIS WATER (3). And give to it the Grace of Redemption, the Blessing of Jordan. Make it a fountain of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a loosing of sins, a healing of sicknesses, a destruction of demons, unapproachable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might; and let them that take counsel together against Your creature flee there from, for I have called upon Your Name, O Lord, which is wonderful, and glorious, and terrible unto adversaries.And he signs the water thrice, dipping his fingers in it; and breathing upon it, he says:LET ALL ADVERSE POWERS BE CRUSHED BENEATH THE SIGNING OF YOUR MOST PRECIOUS CROSS (3).
The prayer of blessing in the Apostolic Constitutions gives us the same teaching:
Sanctify the water, that those who are baptized in it may be crucified with Christ, die with him, be buried with him, and rise again through adoption. (Apostolic Constitutions 7, 43)
In both Catholic West and Orthodox East, the teaching of the liturgy is the same, that the Holy Spirit hallows the baptismal water in such a way that it becomes a "fountain of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a loosing of sins, a destruction of demons, unapproachable by hostile powers etc". By being blessed the water receives the "blessing of Jordan" and becomes an instrument of the Holy Spirit, so that, when a person is immersed in it, the baptism is "of water and the Holy Spirit". The words that express the purpose of baptism are to be found in the Blessing of the Water. hence neither St Ambrose in fourth century Milan nor St Cyril in Jerusalem felt the need to use a formula that included "I baptize you..". Instead, the person being baptized was required to acclaim his belief in each member of the Blessed Trinity. However, this was a three-fold confession of faith, not just a mere assent to a theory about God: it is a whole-hearted commitment to Father, Son and Holy Spirit in whose name the baptism is taking place and in whose life the baptised are being inserted. This is what St Ambrose calls being "baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
St Ambrose wrote:You were asked, "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?" You answered, I believe." , and you were immersed in the water, that is, buried.A second time you were asked, "Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in his cross?" You answered, "I believe" and you were immersed in the water and thereby you were buried with Christ." A third time you were asked, "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?" and you were immersed a third time, in order that the three-fold confession might destroy your repeated falls in the past. (Ambrose. "de Sacramentis", III, 7, 20)
St Cyril of Jerusalem has an identical liturgical practice
4. After these things, you were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of theHoly Ghost, and you made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. For as our Saviour passed three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so you also in your first ascent out of the water, represented the first day of Christ in the earth, and by your descent, the night; for as he who is in the night, no longer sees, but he who is in the day, remains in the light, so in the descent, as in the night, you saw nothing, but in ascending again you were as in the day. And at the self-same moment you were both dying and being born; and that Water of salvation was at once your grave and your mother. And what Solomon spoke of others willsuit you also; for he said, in that case, There is a time to bear and a time to die Ecclesiastes 3:2; but to you, in the reverse order, there was a time to die and a time to be born; and one and the same time effected both of these, and your birth went hand in hand with your death.
Scholastic theology defined sacraments in terms of "matter and form", separating the symbol and its formula from the liturgy in order to explain it; and this had the unintended consequence of rendering parts of the liturgy superfluous and of restricting our understanding of some aspects of the sacraments while concentrating on others. Thus, the emphasis on the formula "This is my body...This is the chalice of my blood", as the form of the Eucharist gained in clarity; but it rendered superfluous the offertory and the rest of the eucharistic prayer, made it appear to be a kind of incantation over bread and wine rather than part of a prayer to the Father, led to an under-emphasis of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Mass and prepared the way for the Protestant heresy about the Eucharist. Moreover it cannot be sustained as universally applicable because many early eucharistic prayers did not have the "words of institution", and one of them is still in use, the Anaphora of SS Addai and Mari which remains in its original Aramaic. Thus, liturgists have taught the dogmatic theologians that the whole Eucharistic prayer consecrates, but the "moment of consecration" in the Latin Rite is at the words of institution, even though this cannot be automatically applied to other rites. Unless we restore the significance of the blessings of water and oil on Maundy Thursday, we will continue to forget the cosmic and ecclesial dimensions of the sacraments we celebrate and concentrate entirely on their effects in the individual soul in a way that is alien to the spirit of the liturgy. Father Alexander Schmemann, speaking from an Orthodox point of view but expounding Catholic Tradition, writes about baptism interpreted only from the point of view of the individual:
This doctrine of the sacraments is alien to the Orthodox because in the Orthodox ecclesial experience and tradition a sacrament is understood primarily as a revelation of the genuine nature of creation, of the world, which, however much it has fallen as “this world,” will remain God’s world, awaiting salvation, redemption, healing and transfiguration in a new earth and a new heaven. In other words, in the Orthodox experience a sacrament is primarily a revelation of the sacramentality of creation itself, for the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life. If in baptism water can become a “laver of regeneration,” if our earthly food—bread and wine—can be transformed into partaking of the body and blood of Christ, if, to put it briefly, everything in the world can be identified, manifested and understood as a gift of God and participation in the new life, it is because all of creation was originally summoned and destined for the fulfilment of the divine economy—”then God will be all in all.
The essential characteristic of Catholic liturgy is that it is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church. If this is not so, then it is not liturgy. It is the principal expression of Tradition which it is the pope's and bishops' job to serve and protect. They can adapt it, regulate its use, even add to it if what they add is in continuity with what has gone before; but it would go against the very nature of the papacy and the episcopate to abolish some forms of the liturgy in favour of others. That is what the Anglicans did at the Reformation, and it unchurched them, and what Pope Benedict refused to do with regard to the old Latin form of Mass If that is so, I am not trying to place the theology of one century against the theology of another. I am trying to make sure that we reap an advantage from both.
Scholastic theology must allow itself to be criticized and modified by the liturgy which is the supreme manifestation of the "ordinary magisterium"; and the ordinary magisterium, although it needs the extraordinary magisterium, is of greater importance because it is the level at which revelation actually "works" for the salvation of mankind, anticipating in the sacraments the transformation of the universe.. In other words, something happens to the water when it is blessed in so far as its relationship to God and the Church has been changed. It has become for the Church a means by which the action of the Spirit is both revealed and carried out and ths fulfills the prpose for which God created the world.
Surely, this is not Catholic teaching! Is it not true that an emergency baptism is done without blessed water? Surely, the Church's teaching is that it is only essential for a valid baptism to have the pouring of water, any water, with the words, "I baptize you ...etc. Yes, but if emergency baptism becomes the norm by which we explain what is essential to baptism, two things happen which must be considered unacceptable. Firstly, in emergency baptism, it can be done, even by a non-Christian he intends to do what the Church does, even if he doesn't believe in it. However, all sacraments are actions of the whole Church which is the basic sacrament. If the emergency practice becomes the norm, the connection between the sacrament and the Church will be destroyed, at least in the minds of those who understand baptism in this way. Likewise, if the practice of baptizing with water that has not been previously blessed becomes the norm by which we explain the principles of baptism, then the cosmic dimension of baptism and the connection between baptism as explained above and the dimension of the local Church become obscured or forgotten.
On the other hand, if we take the Easter Vigil as the fullest expression of what baptism is, then emergency baptism must be explained in relation to the Easter Vigil, and not the other way round. The Church, in its desire to make baptism as available as possible, teaches that anyone can baptize. However, there must be some basis in sacramental ontology for this to happen. The sacraments are not just legal acts, otherwise women could become priests by a mere change of rules of the Church. No, sacraments are symbolic actions in which what is signified happens through the power of the Holy Spirit acting in synergy with the Church. The norm for baptism is that it is celebrated by the bishop or priest within the context of the local community: only then will the meaning of baptism be clearly expressed. In what way can the non-Christian represent the bishop or priest when he is not in any way a member of the Church. On one hand there is the natre of the sacrament as an act of the Church, and on the other is the Church's practice. The Holy Spirit is involved in both. I think we mst say that the Church is what it is as a direct result of the Incarnation, and the Incarnation is God the Son taking to himself our human nature. Hence, this practice implies that there is a connection between the Church and non-believers, based on our sharing in a common human nature, even if we do not know with clarity what it is, but enough to allow the Church to delegate this ministry in an emergency. We must also conclude that the blessing of the water, its new role within the context of Christ's salvation as an anticipation of the New Heaven and New Earth, is implicit in an emergency baptism and explicit in baptism as normally celebrated. This is possible because, in the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, as the Fathers taught, all water became, at least potencially, baptismal water. The blessing of water by the Church simply makes actual what is a constant though hidden potential of all water since the Baptism of Christ. In the Eastern Church, the Blessing of the Water on the feast of the Epiphany is, again, meant to bless all water everywhere. The blessing of baptismal water makes explicit the effect of Christ's power on all water. Here is a video on the Blessing of Water by an Orthodox bishop in Alaska.
The Great Blessing of Water in Bristol Bay from Renewable Resources Foundation on Vimeo.
The Great Blessing of Water in Bristol Bay from Renewable Resources Foundation on Vimeo.
PROFESSION OF FAITH
To understand the profession of faith we must remember that the catechumen is being baptized into a Church whose central act is the Eucharist. Each Christian community gathered together in the celebration of the Eucharist has, at one and the same time, an historical dimension, in that it takes place in space and time and within an historical cntext, and an eschatological dimension because it is a celebration of and participation in the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as we are brought into the presence f the Father in heaven. The eschatological dimension is the work of the Holy Spirit working in the ecclesial community, while the historical dimension is the human contribution acting in harmony with the Spirit. These two dimensions are distinct but never separate, without which the Church would not be the body of Christ.
Just as a ciborium can be full of consecrated hosts, each one of which is the body of Christ and all of which make up the same body, so each Mass is the work of the whole Church, each eucharistic community is the whole Church of all times and places made visible in a particular place; the one who presides over the local eucharistic assembly is presiding over an act of the whole universal Church and all who are attending the Mass are organically united by the Spirit as participants in all other Masses wherever they are celebrated. As each local church is the body of Christ, it shares in the mind of Christ, the understanding of Christ and therefore, in principle, has the same faith and understanding as have all other churches. As all this is the direct result of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, it arises from the eschatological dimension of the Church.
In the historical dimension each church is a part of larger whole and is heir to the Apostolic preaching. Tradition is the handing down, from one generation to the next, the truth of Christianity as the Church received it from the Apostles. The constant reading of the Scripture in the liturgy and in private, the preaching of bishops, the homilies and writings of the Fathers, the testimony of the saints, the understanding of the faithful that arises from living and praying the Christian life, the understanding of the deliberations of general councils, always when this is done in harmony with the Holy Spirit, contribute to the process we call Tradition. The principal expression of Tradition, with its treasures coming from the time of the Apostles to the present day is the liturgy.
Historically, the Apostolic Tradition was filtred through several missionary centres. Most important were Antioch, Alexandria and Rome and, later, Jerusalem and Constantinople; and there were smaller centres like Armenia. This led to the formation of a number of liturgical-spiritual families we call rites, each with its own Christian culture, vocabulary, artistic expression etc. Just as there are four gospels but only one Gospel, so there is only one Tradition that has taken form in several traditions, each one manifesting through the Eucharist and its liturgical life the fullness of Catholicism which is Christ himself; but each doing it in its own way that reflects its own history..
If there is development, there is also forgetting; even if the constant presence and activity of the Holy Spirit and our participation in the Christian Mystery guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church, the devil has not given up trying. Ordinary human limitations, when not compensated for by Christian love which reflects the universal love of Christ, can mislead even saints who are still in formation. Worse are the effects of sin, of spiritual myopia, of politics, nationalism and worldly ambition, or when anti-Christian ideas are mistakenly adopted by Christians. Perhaps the worst example was when East and West forgot each other when forming an idea of their own identity, and schism followed as night follows day. In spite of this, the devil does not prevail; and all this human limitation only obscures but does not destroy the unity of Tradition.
St Irenaeus of Lyons in the 2nd century wrote about Tradition. Here is how Pope Benedict summerises the characteristics of the Tradition according to the teaching of St Irenaeus:
a) The Apostolic Tradition is "public," not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know "the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men": tradition and faith that "have reached us through the succession of bishops" ("Adv. Haer." 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.
b) The Apostolic Tradition is "one." While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church's Tradition is one in its fundamental contents, which -- as we have seen -- Irenaeus calls "regula fidei" or "veritatis." And given that it is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content like that of truth, despite different languages and cultures.
There is a beautiful expression that Irenaeus uses in the book "Against Heresies": "The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world."
We can already see at this time -- we are in the year 200 -- the universality of the Church, its catholicity and the unifying force of truth, which unites these so-very-different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.
c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, "pneumatic," that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is "pneuma." It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.
This is the "life" of the Church, that which makes the Church always young, that is, fruitful with many charisms. Church and Spirit are inseparable for Irenaeus. This faith, we read in the third book of "Against Heresies," "which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. … For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace" (3,24,1).
The summaries of Tradition that were used in the "Profession of Faith" at Baptism were the first creeds; and the Nicene Creed originated in the Baptismal liturgy before it was ever adopted by an ecumenical council. It enjoyed the authority of being a liturgical text, the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, before iit became blessed by the infallibility of the extraordinary magisterium St Irenaeus wrote about the importance of understanding the Scriptures through the Church's Rule of Faith. Pope Benedict gives us a summary of his teaching. He said,
The question of the "rule of faith" and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the "rule of faith" coincides in practice with the Apostles' Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself. In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.
St Irenaeus gives us a summary of the Rule of Faith:
this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race
The first thing that hits you is its timelessness. It could replace the profession of faith we use today or that of any of other liturgical families of the same Apostolic Tradition, crossing barriers of time and culture, without any problem. It is the personal profession of faith of the catechumen precisely because he is being accepted by baptism into the faith of the universal Church.
Here is the summary used in the modern Baptismal Liturgy in the Roman Rite.
Bishop/priest: N. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?Catechumen : I do.Bishop/priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?Catechumen)I do.
Bishop/priest: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting? Catechumen: I do.
You may have noticed that I made, in passing, what will be for some, a highly provocative remark that the ordinary magisterium is more important than the extraordinary magisterium. People who believe that the unity of the Church is constructed from a system or network of God-given laws of belief and behaviour based on the universal jurisdiction of the Pope. the authority of doctrinal statements can be judged by their nearness to the Pope; and the highest authority is accorded to dogmas proclaimed by popes or councils. Hence there is an urge by some to turn Marian doctrines into papal dogmas However, those with a fundamentally liturgical, sacramental and eucharistic theology of the Church, the liturgy in general and the Mass in particular are the source of all the Church's powers and abilities and the goal of all its activity. The infallibility of the Church has its basis in the Father's response to the invocation of the Church in a eucharistic setting to send the Holy Spirit to unify the Church. For this reason, right belief, right worship and ecclesial charity cannot be separated for long, and damage done to one can harm the other two. Papal infallibility comes from the unity of the episcopate that is so close that one can speak for all without imposing his beliefs on them from the outside, because they too have the Holy Spirit and share with him the same faith. This unity of the episcopate is based, in its turn, on the unity of the Eucharist which is identical in all times and places, and on each local church being a manifestation
of the whole in a particular place.
Hence, the person about to be baptized first rejects Satan and all his works and pomps, one of which is division. In the ancient Church, he would have faced west for this act of rejection and then would have faced east to proclaim the faith of the universal Church as his faith.. In doing this, he shows he is ready to be integrated into the community of right belief and right worship that is held together by ecclesial charity which is in harmony with the Holy Spirit who is the mutual Love of Father and Son.
The following is taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia on Baptism:
The positive document: "The Decree for the Armenians""The Decree for the Armenians", in the Bull "Exultate Deo" of Pope Eugene IV, is often referred to as a decree of theCouncil of Florence. While it is not necessary to hold this decree to be a dogmatic definition of the matter and form andminister of the sacraments, it is undoubtedly a practical instruction, emanating from the Holy See, and as such, has fullauthenticity in a canonical sense. That is, it is authoritative. The decree speaks thus of Baptism:Holy Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church. And since through the first man death entered into all, unless we be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, we can not enter into the kingdom of Heaven, as Truth Himself has told us. The matter of this sacrament is true and natural water; and it is indifferent whether it be cold or hot. The form is: I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Sonand of the Holy Ghost. We do not, however, deny that the words: Let this servant of Christ be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; or: This person is baptized by my hands in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, constitute true baptism; because since the principal cause from which baptism has its efficacy is the Holy Trinity, and the instrumental cause is theminister who confers the sacrament exteriorly, then if the act exercised by the minister be expressed, together with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, the sacrament is perfected. The minister of this sacramentis the priest, to whom it belongs to baptize, by reason of his office. In case of necessity, however, not only a priest or deacon, but even a layman or woman, nay, even a pagan or heretic can baptize, provided he observes the form used by the Church, and intends to perform what the Church performs. The effect of thissacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due for sin. As a consequence, no satisfaction for past sins is enjoined upon those who are baptized; and if they die before they commit any sin, they attain immediately to the kingdom of heaven and the vision of God.
We have seen that in Milan and Jerusalem in the fourth century, the intention to baptize was expressed in the blessing of the water, the fact that they were actually baptizing was clear from the ritual context in which the person went into the water, and the Persons of the Holy Trinity were presented as a object of belief rather than as the baptising act of the bishop or priest. We notice that this is not one of the options permitted in the Decree to the Armenians. What can we say about this?
The important thing is that baptism, like all sacraments, is a symbolic act of the Church acting in concert (synergy) with the Holy Spirit who makes it an act of Christ who is both divine and human. In both cases, the ritual is decided by the Church acting on what has been handed down by Tradition. It is not surprising that there will be differences, some solutions to the question how to adequately symbolize what is happening in baptism may eventually be rejected in favour of others; but it remains true that in all solutions it is the same Church and the same Spirit involved. What we must learn from the ancient practice in Milan and Jerusalem is the importance of the water that is used in baptism. Either explicitly by a blessing in ordinary baptisms or implicitly in emergency baptisms, the water is blessed in being used for baptism because it is achieving what God intended for all water, that it that it should be a means of manifesting God's love for mankind.
ANOINTING AFTER BAPTISM
This is an anointing with chrism after baptism which is distinct from Confirmation and really acts as a manifestation of one of the effect of baptism. What baptism is meant to clearly symbolize is the our dying and rising with Christ to becomes sharers in his resurrected life. What the anointing stresses is that all who are baptized as members of Christ also share in his roles as priest, prophet and king. The use of consecrated chrism and the prayer indicate that the Holy Spirit, acting in synergy with the Church, reinforces this aspect of baptism so that, always with the baptized person's cooperation, there may be confidence that he may be able to fulfill these roles in the future. The difference between this anointing and Confirmation is that here it is a more general comment about baptized people and does not bring about an actual and specific relationship with the bishop.
PRESENTATION OF A LIGHTED CANDLE
The Paschal Vigil began with the lighting of the Easter fire and then of the Paschal candle and the singing of the Exultet in honour of the redemption symbolized by the light of Christ. Now, at the end of the Baptismal liturgy, after having received their baptismal garments, the newly baptized receive from their godparents a lighted candle, with the flame taken from the Paschal candle. The liturgy is saying that the whole of the baptismal ceremony is about bathing the new Christians in the paschal light of Christ's resurrection. They are now fully equipped to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and Holy Communion which is the climax of the Christian life. This light is also an intimation of the light of contemplation which, according to St Symeon the New Theologian, would normally accompany Communion in Christ's body and blood if all things were normal, but which we who are sinners must wait and hope for to be given in God's good time.
See the following posts: