Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Hippolytus of Rome
“As soon as he had been baptized, Jesus came out of the water. The heavens were opened to him and the Spirit of God in the form of a dove came down and rested on him. Then a voice from heaven said: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
If the Lord had yielded to John’s persuasion and had not been baptized, do you realize what great blessings and how many we should have been deprived of?
Heaven was closed until then; our homeland on high was inaccessible. Once we had descended into the depths we were incapable of rising again to such lofty heights. The Lord was not only baptized himself; he also renewed our fallen nature and restored to us our status as God’s children.
At once “the heavens were opened to him.” The world we see was reconciled with the world that lies beyond our vision; the angels were filled with joy; earthly disorders were remedied; mysteries were revealed; enemies were made friends.
“The heavens were opened to him,” you have heard the evangelist say. This happened for three wonderful reasons.
The heavenly bridal chamber had to open its shining gates to Christ at his baptism because he was the bridegroom.
The gates of heaven had also to be lifted up to allow the Holy Spirit to descend in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice to resound far and wide.
The heavens were opened to him and a voice said: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
This is my beloved Son who appeared on earth without leaving his Father’s side. He both appeared and did not appear, for he was not what he seemed.
As far as appearance goes the one who confers baptism is superior to the one who receives it. This is why the Father sent the Holy Spirit down on him from heaven.
As in Noah’s ark a dove revealed God’s love for the human race, so now it was in the form of a dove, as though with an olive branch in its beak, that the Spirit descended and rested on him to whom the Father would bear witness.
He did so to make sure that the Father’s voice would be recognized and the ancient prophecy believed. Which prophecy?
The one that says: “The Lord’s voice resounded over the waters. The God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders across many waters. And what does he say? This is my beloved Son in whom lam well pleased.”
Pay close attention now, I beg you, for I want to return to the fountain of life and contemplate its healing waters at their source.
The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world; he came to us to cleanse us with water and the Spirit. To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the Spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility.
Therefore in a herald’s voice I cry:
Peoples of every nation, come and receive the immortality given in baptism. To you who have spent all your days in the darkness of ignorance I bring the good news of life. Leave your slavery for freedom, the tyrant’s yoke for a kingdom, corruptibility for eternal life.
Do you wish to know how to do this? By water and the Holy Spirit. This is to say, by the water through which we are born again and given life, and by the Spirit who is the Comforter sent for your sake to make you a child of God.
Sermon on the Holy Manifestation 6-9: PG 10, 858-859
St. Hippolytus of Rome “Martyr, presbyter and antipope; date of birth unknown; d. about 236. Until the publication in 1851 of the recently discovered 'Philosophumena', it was impossible to obtain any definite authentic facts concerning Hippolytus of Rome and his life from the conflicting statements about him.” (Cathoilc Encyclopedia)
Edith Barnecut, OSB
**From Saint Louis University