Some think that to be a Muslim, it is sufficient simply to be born, or to be born to a Muslim father. Likewise, some think that to be a Jew, it is sufficient to be born to a Jewish mother. But to be a Christian, it is not sufficient simply to be born, or to have one or even two Christian parents. One must be born again, and from above. Thus, baptism expresses the supernatural character of Christianity. To be baptized is to go beyond nature—to go beyond the ordinary cycle of procreation. Not that Christianity is anti-nature. How could the Creator be against his creation? Grace does not destroy nature; grace restores nature and leads it to perfection. When someone is baptized, he does not cease to be the child of his parents. His earthly provenance does not change. Rather, his identity is deepened: he becomes, in a new way, a child of God, so that his truest home is in heaven.
This double origin of Christians is prefigured in Jesus. People were distressed by the lofty claims he made for himself, because they thought that they knew where he came from. They assumed that his ordinary origins precluded an extraordinary mission: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46) They did not know the mystery expressed in the nativity scene: that, while he took his humanity from the Blessed Virgin, his conception took place outside the natural course. They did not know that, while he came from Bethlehem and Nazareth, he also came from above.
Thus, the birth at Bethlehem is a kind of prefiguration of the birth at the baptismal font. And each of these is an expression of a third birth, or, rather, a begetting: the eternal generation of the Son from the Father. In the Nicene Creed, we say that the Son is begotten, not made. This is to distinguish the procession of the Son from the Father from the procession of creatures from God. The procession of creatures is outside of God, as it were, while the procession of the Son is internal to God. So, the Son is no less divine than the Father. Even if God had never created, the Son would still proceed from the Father.
Through baptism, mere human beings are mysteriously associated with this eternal generation of the Son from the Father. By the power of the Holy Spirit, baptized people come to share in the life of the Trinity: “you received the Spirit of sonship, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:15) The Christian is made to share in the divine nature. He is, so to speak, divinized, deified, according to the ancient formula: “God became man that man might become god.”
Image: Baptism. Copyright © 2008 Province of Saint Joseph.