A METAPHYSICAL SYNTHESIS OF CREDO- AND PAEDO-BAPTISM

I fear I am going to regret entering this debate, but this was too beautiful of an epiphany to pass up. This particular debate has its roots in the reformation and my relation to it lies in the fact that I was brought up credobaptist, as all Charismatics and Pentecostals are. But here, following my foray into traditionalist perennialist metaphysics and its relevance for my transition into the more “liturgical traditions”, I want to see how I can make sense of paedobaptism in synthesis with credobaptism using Frithjof Schuon’s understanding of “human state”[1], and with the help of some of Margaret Barker’s insights into the role of baptism in the early church[2].

Barker links baptism with the coronation verses in the Old Testament, such as Psalm 2. The coronation rituals of the Old Temple seemed to involve some water or stand in for water, in her words:

The rest of the obscure (obscured?) verse yields the following: ‘I have begotten you, from the womb, the Morning Star, dew to you’. The dew probably refers to resurrection; ‘the dew of light’ brings resurrection (Isa. 26.19) and the dew was the means of resurrection in later texts. When Israel was overcome by the divine presence at Sinai, for example, the Lord brought down ‘the dew that resurrects the dead’ and revived them (b. Shabbat 88b). The process of making the Melchizedek high priest was described in the first century CE as resurrection (Heb. 7.11)[3]

I am guessing this association of symbols is why paedobaptism was not an issue in the early church, because baptism is itself a symbol and an effecting of resurrection before death. In fact, for the early Christians, they were already resurrected, and this was represented by the changing of garments seen in antique baptisms. The newly baptised puts on white. This is the resurrection body, which was a spirit body, not in the sense of disembodiment, but redeemed embodiment. And we have to take note here. The resurrection is not into a “physical body”, not a “psychic-physical body”, to translate Paul’s words, but a “Celestial” or “Spiritual body”[4]. It was “material” in a sense, but not physical. The ancients were not Cartesians. You read in certain Neoplatonists the idea of “souls” as “bodies” for spirits that descend, and it may be weird to us because we conceive “souls” as disembodied, but, and this is where we transition to metaphysics:

“Body” and “Soul” is first and foremost a symbolic relationship representing “Periphery” (Body) and “centre” (Soul). This is seen in talk about the “Soul of the Soul”, what we call “Spirit”. The body is to the soul what the soul is to the spirit. Soul is material, a “body” with respect to the Spirit. Compared to Spirit it is composite and limited. Most importantly, everything is “material” with respect to God, and so in the supra-cosmic perspective of the New Testament, spirits are embodied, but with invincible bodies. This body is “in” a person and will be revealed after death, whether in a general resurrection or whatever. The deepest meaning of “resurrection” in New Testament cosmology is “exaltation”. When one is “exalted”, one is transformed and deified. Deification is eternal, but it is still revealed temporally, hence Christ is the eternal son of God, but is still adopted, deified and resurrected in baptism as well as death and the Easter resurrection.

This link with the coronation Psalms and the “dew” should put to rest, in my opinion, the arguments adjacent to the credo and paedobaptism debates concerning baptism by immersion or by sprinkling. Both are valid, since both symbolize resurrection. One might even say Jesus was “baptized” at his birth, with the myrrh he was anointed with, since the dew itself is linked to anointing, and myrrh is also associated with death. But this is not the synthesis of the two baptism positions, just a sketch of the validity of both, limited in their own way. The synthesis lies in the answer to why a baby receives a sacrament for Priests, a sacrament that should be given to “adults”, to those glorified to the throne of the “Ancient of days”. The answer lies in the truth about the “human state”.

The metaphysical cosmos is a hierarchy, and man in this cosmos is no different. The emanation of forms to their manifestations plays out in the emanation of the form of man to the many individual men in the world, and it is quite important that this hierarchy itself play out between individual humans, in whatever manifestation it is conceived. The “form of man” manifests in a religion through the central figure of that religion, in this case, Christ. Everyone under the prophet, priest and king must conform themselves to the image of the prophet, priest, and king. The central figure is considered the “normal” person, the ideal of the community, and hence they are his “body”. The central figure is the “form” to the community as “matter”, and hence a community as a whole is as much one human being as it is many human beings. The community as “one person” is what we call the “angel” or “principality” of the community. The “principality” is not just an abstraction from the many people acting as one. A true “traditionalist” — in the non-pejorative sense, which includes the Platonist, vedantist, etc. — sees the matter in quite the opposite way. The gods create their communities, and this is quite literal. The shape of the world is dictated by conditions that are transcendent of it, and yet is manifest and embodied in it. This includes society. It is built around “ideals”, which are not mere abstractions but real spiritual forces, but again, not just forces, but a manifestation of divine persons. Perhaps the chief sin of many modern ideologies is the rupturing the ideal from personhood, particularly transcendent personhood. Whereas ancients saw ideals as first the manifestation of Gods whose person are beyond the ideals and the eternal forms themselves, many moderns see only impersonal ideals, and treat them as gods. The ideal manifests the person, and this is why they worshipped gods through ideals, and why even when the gods manifested it was through persons; kings, prophets, priests, demi-gods.

These gods are embodied in their communities, quite literally. It was the world Paul lived in, where gods manifested through their communities. This is why the fate of the community’s “angel” is tied to the fate of the city. It is precisely the same principle that ensures that the fate of the soul is tied to that of the body. The “angel” is the “Soul” of the community seen as distinct from it (and see here an application to guardian angels). The angel is most embodied in the leader of the community. You could say the angel is “incarnate” in the community and especially its leader. This is why both the “corrupt priest” and “corrupt angel” interpretations of Genesis 6 (Nephilim and the flood) are correct (and apply this to the “angel” of the churches in the book of revelation).

How does this detour apply to our baptism debate? Well, Barker says something about the resurrection/baptism/coronation/ascension passages that is interesting:

Israel as a people was also described as the son of God. They were to be restored as ‘Sons of the living God’ (Hos. 1.10), and had been called from Egypt as a son of the Holy One (Hos. 11.1,9). All the other references come from writings compiled during the exile, and reflect the democratization of the royal covenant. What had formerly been believed of the kings was then interpreted to apply to the whole people. Thus Israel, instead of the king, was the firstborn son (Exod. 4.22).[5] (Pg 9)

If ‘branch’ can be used to describe a Davidic prince as well as the King of Babylon, and if the fall of the sons of Elyon also underlies Ps. 82, it is possible that the other aspects of this myth were applied to the Davidic kings. Did they, like the kings of Babylon and Tyre, have a divine counterpart, their star, their son of Elyon on the mountain of God? If so, it would explain the curious line in Matt. 2.2: ‘Where is he who is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star…” The Second Isaiah democratized this royal theology, and applied it to the people as a whole. He used this same imagery of casting down when he applied the royal titles to Israel: ‘You are my Servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off (Isa. 41.9), and this suggests, as does Ps. 2, that the king was raised upon to the holy mountain, perhaps in a mystical ascent, and certainly in the royal mythology which supported the monarchy.[6] (Pg 41)

Scripture clearly shares the same understanding of humanity as a “layered person”. There are individuals as persons, then the community as a “higher person”, with the king as the link between both levels of personhood. Applied to baptism, the synthesis is as follows:

Christ as a baby was anointed with myrrh, in a sort of baptism before baptism. This, along with the other signs (the star, the angels, etc) mark him out as the future Davidic Priest-King-Prophet of Israel, after the order of Melchizedek, but this truth did not reach its fullness until his baptism, where he, following in the footsteps of the Enochic myths — which presumably follow the ancient king-making rituals — is ritually resurrected and exalted as God’s Son, his chosen King and the deity made manifest on earth. This is the Christocentric core of Credobaptism, only the worthy are resurrected. But, Credobaptism alone reinforces an individualism that is not exactly good for the New Israel that is the Church. The antidote is a thorough “Christocentric” Credobaptism. Christ is the one who perfectly embodies the one who is worthy. He is the worthy one. His is the perfect assent that saves, and it is his faith that we have. In embodying the ideal man for us and the God, he is our “form of man”, and indeed we are his body. If we are his body as a whole, Children included, and if it is his body as a whole — and not just as an individual — which ascends to the ancient of days and to the Father, as Isaiah implies in his “democratization of the royal ascent”, and if this man, who is the community as one, is Christ, then everyone must partake of the same baptism, babies included. In the Easter resurrection, the baptism in the Jordan and the anointing with myrrh meet. The Church is Christ’s Parousia, and all must be acknowledged a part of his body, not just because they assented in an “age of accountability”, although that is valid, but because by virtue of being born in the church, from the members, they should be part of the church, the body which is fully Christ as a whole. This is the metaphysics behind Schuon’s “human state”:

The baptism of newborn infants has the objective — aside from its intrinsic purpose — of saving them from this disgrace, and it has de facto the effect of keeping them, in the event of death, in the human state, which in their case will be a paradisal state, so that in practical terms this outcome — which the “nationalism of the human state” has in view — coincides with the celestial end that the sacrament has in view for adults; and it is with the same motive that Moslems pronounce the Testimony of Faith into the ear of the newborn, which, all told, evokes the whole mystery of the sacramental power of the Mantra.[7]

A central part of being human is participating in humanity, in a community of humans that manifest the transcendent humanity most embodied in their leaders and their God(s). It is not enough to be born a human, one must stay human, and that involves participation in humanity. Baptism is a way to do this. In baptism, one joins the humanity of Christ, and so one cannot, even in hell, leave him. My universalist bias is showing already, but this is the point: By intentionally and communally acknowledging the humanity of the child, one ties the child’s fate to theirs. It is a “mechanism” of Christ’s grace. Christ, through the community and its actions, claims the child for himself, in his body. Whatever Chrismation occurs later in life confirms and manifests the particular possibility granted the child at its infant baptism. This is why baptism is once and for all. This point is important because it undercuts a lot of our ideas about personhood. Personhood is communal. Your status as a person is in part determined by the community, and this applies ontologically as well, even if this community is non-human. The individual that credobaptists would want to assent in the future is itself partly created by the community. As all that is in the effect is in the cause, but superior, so the person of the infant is in the community, as the community, and so the community chooses the child and in so doing, the child has chosen Christ in principle, in the community, and this choice is real, for this identity is (ideally) grown into. I would say that there is a sense in which a credobaptist community still has this initiation into personhood, but I would also say that the traditional Christian of doing this was baptism. Anyone not baptized (or whatever equivalent in other non-christian traditions) has been abandoned to the infra-human forces and such a fate, which is hell, would be cruel to leave anyone to, and to be clear, Hell for man is nothing more than the forfeiture of human nature. The person will still be saved, whether in life through grace, or whether in death, also through grace (I am still a universalist), but it is safe to speculate that it would be much harder in the absence of guidance, except they were, somehow, supernaturally guided, or except, in the case of the unfortunate case of the death of a child, the subject is incapable of any such moral decisions. The afterlife is complicated, to say the least. Anyway, you would be hard pressed to find the absolutely isolated human, and so grace is abundant for our failures in this regard.

Thus, infant baptism might contradict the pattern of Christ’s baptism on the plane of letters, but it fulfils the spirit of that baptism, and what it means for the world. The strongest objection I have seen against paedobaptism is that which claims that the world is already under the New Covenant, and so baptism is not supposed to confirm what is already manifest. It is supposed to be for the “Sons of God”, in Margaret Barker’s terms, the “first resurrected” who rule in the new age, which is both now and to come. And, in a sense, this is true, but, the term “first resurrected” still applies to the present church as one manifest body and person, and the metaphysics applies anyway. That whole person and body, manifest limitedly in the church in time, is the first resurrected, and everyone must be signified as part of the body. The whole church, as one, has confessed Christ, and must do so as baptized. The body must be baptized as one and as individuals. It is on earth as in heaven, and together, with even the cry of babies, we proclaim to our King as his subjects, Come, Lord Jesus, and as his body, still with even the cry of babies, we proclaim his words: Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!

[1] Frithjof Schuon, ‘Universal Eschatology’, 6–14.

[2] Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1) (T&T Clark, 2000).

[3] Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1).

[4] David Bentley Hart, ‘The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients’, Church Life Journal, 2018 <https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-material-for-the-ancients/> [accessed 20 July 2020].

[5] Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, Names, 1992.

[6] Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God.

[7] Schuon.

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Jedi Scribe

I'm just a fiction loving theology amateur with a background in Physics, who loves to integrate the fragmented parts of his life into a Christocentric whole