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Baptism foreshadowed in Old Testament

By Brian Pizzalato

 

A man in the desert cannot wait for even the smallest sip of water. This is rightly so because he needs it to sustain his life. When he finally receives water, there is a sense of relief and joy, and he wants to drink more. What is true of the natural level is also true on the supernatural level.

 

We all thirst, whether we are conscious of it or not, for peace, joy, happiness and love. We realize that this thirst cannot be quenched by anything in our everyday life. We have an infinitely deep well that can only be filled by he who is infinite and eternal love. Jesus says to the Samaritan women, “…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

 

Adam and Eve lost the gift of divine life they were created with. Christ came to make it possible once again for us to, “share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, cf. “Catechism of the Catholic Church” number 460). Jesus also came to save from sin. He came to make it possible for us to share in his own divine life and sonship. This new life in Christ begins in the sacrament of baptism. However, God the Father, who knows how to teach, prepared us to understand baptism through foreshadowing and prophecy in the Old Testament. As the Fathers of the church taught, the figures of baptism in the Old Testament were given to authorize and explain baptism. The Father does not abolish the Old but gives it definitive fulfillment in the Son, and through the Spirit. In the next column, I will write about the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.

 

When God created, his Spirit moved over the face of the waters, and then he spoke his Word (cf. Genesis 1:1-2, John 1:1-5). So, in the beginning we have a link between the Trinity and water. This first creation foreshadows the new creation. Here we see the Holy Spirit associated with the sanctifying of water. “Since the beginning of the world, water, so humble and wonderful a creature, has been the source of life and fruitfulness” (CCC 1218). Tertullian once said, “Once the elements of the world were set in order, when it was to be given inhabitants, it was the primordial waters which were commanded to produce living creatures. The primordial waters brought forth life, so that no one should be astonished that in Baptism the waters are able to give life.”

 

The first letter of Peter mentions the event of the flood, “…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...” (3:20-21). During these events, sinners are washed away, and Noah and his family are saved. Water brings both death and life. It brings forth the destruction of something old and re-creates something new. In the deluge, we find many types of things to come. We have water and wood, baptism and the cross; Noah the just, Christ; the dove, the Holy Spirit; the ark, the Church; eight, the day of the Lord’s resurrection; the ark coming to rest, the Church resting on the Lord’s day.

 

The catechism identifies the crossing of the Red Sea as a type of baptism, “…literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism” (1221).Once again we see water bringing forth death, for those who brought about slavery; and life, for those who were in slavery. St. Paul teaches, “…our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Origen says, “That which the Jews consider to be the crossing of the Sea, St. Paul calls Baptism. That which they believed to be a cloud proves to be the Holy Spirit.” The exodus was their salvation from slavery; they were saved through water; and the cloud was the sign of God’s presence with them as they wandered through the desert.

 

Another typological prefiguration of baptism is found in the event of the crossing of the Jordan river by the people of God, led by Joshua, as they enter the promised land. Joshua, leading the people into the promised land, is a type of Christ, who is baptized in the Jordan, leading us to our heavenly homeland through baptism. Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Joshua. Jesus, the new Joshua, tells Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God, without being born of water and Spirit (John 3:5). St. Gregory of Nyssa draws further connections: “The Hebrew people did not receive the land of promise before they had crossed the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua. And also Joshua, in setting up the twelve stones in the stream, clearly prefigures, the twelve apostles, the ministers of Baptism.”

 

Last, we hear from the prophet Ezekiel how God will put the Holy Spirit back into us. He prophesies, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities…I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you…I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (36:25-26a). Through the instrumentality of water, God will give us once again the gift of divine life, by which it will be possible for us to live in the land promised to our fathers, which is nothing less than living in the midst of the eternal exchange of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Printed with permission from the Northern Cross, Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.

 

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth. He is also a faculty member of the Theology and Philosophy departments of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England. He writes a monthly catechetical article for The Northern Cross, of the Diocese of Duluth, and is a contributing author to the Association for Catechumenal Ministry's R.C.I.A. Participants Book. Brian is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute and is also in the process of writing the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition program at the Maryvale Institute.

 

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

 

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July 25, 2014

Saint James, Apostle

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