Glory be to Jesus Christ and a prayer for you, Father Angelo.
I would like to ask you if Baptism with water was instituted by Saint John the Baptist or if it was an already existing rite.
I used to think that this rite was introduced by him, but I was told I’m wrong.
Thank you very much for your answer.
The answer from father Angelo
1. The image of purifying water was frequently used both by the prophets and in the psalms.
For example, think of this passages from Psalm 51, where God is invoked with these words: “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51, 4) and “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51, 9).
2. The Israelites have always known the rite of religious ablutions, as it can be read in the Book of Numbers: “This is what the law, as prescribed by the Lord to Moses, ordains: whatever can stand fire (…) you shall put into the fire, that it may become clean; however, it must also be purified with lustral water. But whatever cannot stand fire you shall put into the water. On the seventh day you shall wash your clothes, and then you will again be clean. After that you may enter the camp” (Numbers 31, 21-24).
This can be also deduced from the story of Naaman the Syrian, to whom Elisha gave this command: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean” (2 Kings 5, 10).
3. As the Christian era was approaching, those who converted from Paganism to the Judaic religion, no matter if young or adults, had to participate in a ceremony that among other things involved a purifying bath. In other words, some sort of baptism.
The sect of the Essenes practiced something similar as well.
Therefore the practice operated by Saint John wasn’t unknown, indeed.
4. However, the baptism of Saint John had something different: it was a baptism of repentance that prepared for the close coming of the Messiah: “He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1, 4).
Nonetheless, it was just symbolic: it expressed repentance for sins but it didn’t produce the interior and sacramental transformation which is proper to the Baptism instituted by Jesus Christ.
This can be deduced from many passages in the New Testament where it is underlined that Saint John baptized with water, while Christ would have baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3, 11).
5. Jesus was baptized by Saint John.
With this, He didn’t want to suggest that He was a sinner: He rather wanted to share His solidarity with all the sinful humanity, for the redemption of whom He came on Earth.
He mainly did it for the manifestation of the Father that indicated Him as His beloved Son. Here is the passage from the Scripture: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
After Jesus was baptized, He came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3, 13-17).
I bless you and I will remember you in my prayer, with the hope that you shall live wholly the new life given to you through the Baptism of Jesus Christ.