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Baptism: Sacramental Ark of Holiness and Salvation

The Articles of Religion of the Church of England state in article XXV that sacraments are “not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession” but that they are “sure witnesses,” “effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us.” Further, sacraments work “invisibly” in humanity and “not only quicken but also strengthen and confirm” humanity’s faith in Jesus. It is within these bounds that Lancelot Andrewes preaches his sermon on the Holy Spirit on Pentecost — Whit-Sunday — in 1625. In a sermon ostensibly about the Holy Spirit, Andrewes presents a strong scriptural and theological case for baptismal regeneration — baptism with actual effects — and salvation through adoption. Andrewes accomplishes this while maintaining space for faith — the Reformation’s sola fide —, ensuring God’s initiative, and resisting ex opere operato understandings of sacraments. In his sermon, Andrewes presents baptism as an act whereby God creates the ark that makes his adopted children holy and leads them to salvation in Jesus Christ.

I. Trinam Baptismus

Andrewes sees baptism as more than a single event. Inside of the visible water ritual, Andrewes sees a trinitarian event where each person of God initiates a baptism event that, united, makes a single whole of baptism — “full baptism” — for humanity.

The first event of baptism is the water ritual, the baptismus fluminis.1 The water-baptism of John the Baptizer is a ritual of repentance before God. In the ritual of water-baptism, God initiates a reconciling relationship with sinners. People entering the water of baptism recognize the depth of their sins and that “even their righteousness” is as Isaiah 64:6 proclaims a “pannus menstruatus” before the eyes of God.2 Baptismus fluminis, however, is not sufficient to wash away the stains of sin. For Andrewes, water-baptism alone is not a baptismus lavacri.3 “All Jordan is little enough to find water” sufficient to wash away humanity’s sin fully.4 God establishes a relationship with humanity in water-baptism, but something additional to baptismus fluminis is needed to “help it scour."5

Andrewes identifies that Jesus has “trinam mersionem” in blood after his water-baptism by John.6 In Gethsemane, he sweat blood as he prayed to the Father. Before his crucifixion, he bled as he was beaten and a crown of thorns was placed upon his head. Finally, through the nails and the spear, water and blood poured from his body hanging on the cross. Jesus' three-part baptismus sanguinis completed upon the cross is, for Andrewes, the key to trinitarian baptism’s ability to eradicate sin’s stain. On the cross, water, and the blood of the Messiah together pour out of the side of God, uniting the salvific death of Jesus with water.7 Jesus entering into John’s baptism gave “virtue […] to the waters” and initiated a sacrament.8 On the cross, Jesus gave baptismus fluminis its real power and τέλος — to baptize humans into his death and, thus, his death’s salvation. Baptism into Jesus' death his baptismus sanguinis — is, for Andrewes, the second event of baptism.

John the Baptizer proclaimed that he baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. After Jesus was baptized with water by John, the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove. The Spirit initiates baptismus Flaminis, the third event of baptism. The Holy Spirit, united with God the Father and God the Son, penetrates humanity where water alone cannot. Baptismus Flaminis washes humanity’s very soul “with the blood of Christ."9 The water of the Jordan in the hands of John is “but a naked, a poor, and a dead element” without the “hand of the Holy Ghost” applying the blood of Christ.10 For Andrewes, the Holy Spirit seals and completes trinitarian baptism.

“In the mouth of all three all is made sure” in baptism.11 God the Father stands ready for a restored relationship in the baptismus fluminis. God the Son washes away the stain of sin with his very blood spilt upon the cross in the baptismus sanguinis. God the Spirit penetrates and cleanses the very soul of humanity in the baptismus Flaminis. In baptism “is the whole Trinity in person."12 For Andrewes, “full baptism” is more than a water ritual. As a sacrament, it involves each person of the Trinity and is only effectual through faith.

II. Regeneration & Holiness

The three-part event of baptism is the start rather than the end of the Christian journey, for Andrews. The Holy Spirit was present at the genesis of all creation where he moved “upon the face of the water” and was an active agent in God’s creative act.13 Water is at the genesis of the generations and is the element “wherewith all were destroyed” in the generation of Noah.14 It fits then, Andrewes notes, that the waters of baptism — sealed by the Holy Spirit — should become “the saving ark” of humanity.15

The sealing of baptism in the baptismus Flaminus has the effect of a spiritual new birth or regeneration, a second genesis upon the recipient.16 Baptism is not a mere outward sign or symbol, but a regenerative act of the new birth — a “better birth” — and the initiating moment of a life of holiness. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit penetrates the baptized’s very being and “not only take[s] out the stains of it and make[s] it clean, but further, give[s] it tincture, lustre [sic], or gloss."17 Baptism for Andrewes was not a “bare washing only” but the start of a new life of participation in God’s eternal love — sanctification.18

It is no surprise to Andrewes that the first appearance of a dove in Scripture is in the account of the flood. Noah’s dove returns finally delivering the news of dry land with the sign of the olive branch in its mouth. The olive branch is a sign of peace which connected with the saving ark points to the virtues imparted by the Holy Spirit into the life of the believer, the virtutes baptismales. The believer truly living into the regeneration born of the baptismus Flaminus shows the virtues of “peace, sincerity, patience, and innocency” in his or her life.19 These, for Andrewes, are the “sure witnesses” of “God's good will towards us” in baptism.20 The virtutes baptismales are the “humidum radicale” of baptism. Without the “wetness” of the fruits of the Spirit, the waters of baptism are soon dried up in the life of the Christian.21 Baptism, then, is an ongoing event.

In his robust pneumatology, Andrewes resists a view of baptism as a mere ordinance of obedience to Jesus. Baptism, indeed, is done in obedience, but like Noah’s ark is a vessel of salvation to a more holy place. The waters of baptism are, for the baptized, as a second womb. Out of the waters, one is newly born and endued with the virtutes baptismales by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, humans are justified by Christ for an eternal life of sanctification in the Holy Spirit. From baptism to final death, the believer lives in the humidum radicale and more and more takes the form of the dove, God’s own Spirit, in her or his daily life.

III. Adoption & Salvation

Jesus' baptism event as recorded in the synoptic gospels is more than an event involving John the Baptizer, the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus. Andrewes takes note that Jesus was baptized “with the people."22 The context and setting of Jesus' baptism plays a significant role in Andrewes understanding of exactly how baptism affects humanity’s salvation.

At the Jordan, Jesus was not only “cum populo," but “pro populo."23 Jesus came to John as an answer to the people’s desire for a restored relationship with God. Jesus came to the water knowing the baptismus sanguinis awaiting him at Calvary. As he entered the waters of John’s baptism “nobiscum," he enacted a great work “pro nobis” in the institution of the sacrament of baptism.24

As the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove descends upon Jesus after his baptism, the heavens open and God the Father says “you are my beloved Son.” In “these very adopting words” Andrewes sees an “act of adoption actually executed” by God the Father.25Tu super Quem Spiritus, Tu es Filius.” That is, because humanity is born again from above in the Holy Spirit in baptism, God takes humanity as his children.26 Jesus’s baptism is pro nobis. It is “not so much His as ours."27

No longer enemies, strangers, or foreigners, the baptized are now God’s adopted children through water, blood, and Spirit. The baptized are part of the domestic Dei.28 “By creation and generation” humanity is God’s “servant” and therefore “still under the law."29 Through baptism, humanity is “regenerate and translated” “into the state of ‘sons’” “being ‘new creatures’ in Christ."30 As with the original creation the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of baptism in the new creation of baptism. Those exiting the water have entered the death of Jesus and arise into the new life of holiness brought forth in his resurrection. The Spirit descends upon all that is holy and draws the holy to God in love. In love, through the merits of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit, the baptized are adopted by God as his children and are saved from the wrath of the law.

Lancelot Andrewes' understanding of salvation bridges the gap between Reformation and Counter-Reformation understandings of sacrament and salvation. Though often overlooked for his more reformed Anglican contemporaries, Andrewes brings an understanding of baptism and salvation in the true via media of the Anglican tradition. Salvation is not a work of the church, but with and for the church. It is baptism that calls the ark of the church into being and God who sustains his adopted children in the ark to the resurrection. Baptism is the salvific ark towards God’s holy, new creation.

Andrewes, Lancelot. Ninety-Six Sermons by the Right Honourable and Revered Father in God, Lacelot Andrewes, Sometime Lord Bishop of Winchester. Vol. III. Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1875.

Church of England. The Articles of Religion: Agreed upon by the Archbishops, Bishops, and the whole clergy of the Provinces of Canterbury and York. London, 1562.

  1. Ninety-Six Sermons, 246. ↩︎

  2. Ibid., 247. ↩︎

  3. Ibid., 248. ↩︎

  4. Ibid., 252. ↩︎

  5. Ibid., 251. ↩︎

  6. Ibid., 251. ↩︎

  7. Ibid., 251. ↩︎

  8. Ibid., 250. ↩︎

  9. Ibid., 252. ↩︎

  10. Ibid., 253. ↩︎

  11. Ibid., 252. ↩︎

  12. Ibid., 246. ↩︎

  13. Ibid., 246. ↩︎

  14. Ibid., 254. ↩︎

  15. Ibid., 254. ↩︎

  16. Ibid., 246. ↩︎

  17. Ibid., 253. ↩︎

  18. Ibid., 254. ↩︎

  19. Ibid., 257. ↩︎

  20. Articles of Religion, XXV. ↩︎

  21. Ninety-Six Sermons, 257. ↩︎

  22. Ibid., 248. ↩︎

  23. Ibid., 252. ↩︎

  24. Ibid., 250. ↩︎

  25. Ibid., 263. ↩︎

  26. Ibid., 261. ↩︎

  27. Ibid., 261. ↩︎

  28. Ibid., 262. ↩︎

  29. Ibid., 262. ↩︎

  30. Ibid., 262. ↩︎