before baptism) for leading a sober and morally upright life that would befit a Christian. Dionysius, in his highly condensed description of the 'mystery of illumination', strongly suggests that the sponsor ought to convince himself of the suitability of the would-be Christian's manner of living; he does not, however, mention the scrutiny - a more formal process whereby the candidate for baptism is examined and questioned by clergy.27 Even so, the strong presumption is evident that the candidates would not only learn theological formulae and moral precepts, but would also make progress in virtuous living, even before baptism. The necessity of integrated belief and practice is a standard implication of the catechist's message, as indeed it is of Christian thought during this period in general.

Mystical transformation, moral reformation

The assumptions of moral rectitude and increased understanding do not imply an optimistic view (or anything else, for that matter) about unaided human ability: it will be recalled that the catechumens already occupy a designated place within the church, albeit one more removed than that of, say, the communicating faithful. In other words, catechumens already enjoy a certain relationship to Christ inasmuch as they are catechumens. And yet, even though catechumens already have a part in the Christian community, their baptism brings about a radical change in their status. As Chrysostom puts it, 'Instead of the man who descended into the water, a different man comes forth, one who has wiped away all the filth of his sins, who has put off the old garment of skin [cf. Genesis 3.21] and has put on the royal robe.'28 Descriptions ofbaptism as a cleansing, or change, of the surface are common enough; it is a ritual washing, after all.29 But this must not mislead us into thinking that the change

27 Dionysius, Eccl. Hier. 2.2.2 (PTS 36:70). For the 'scrutinies', see Egeria, Travels 45.3-4 (SC 296: 306); John the Deacon, Epistola ad Senarium §4 (ed. Wilmart, 173); A. Dondeyne, 'La discipline des scrutins dans l'église latine avant Charlemagne'. Perhaps Dionysius discreetly omitted the scrutiny because of his belief that the clergy, like God, ought to bestow their gifts liberally: Eccl. hier. 2.2.3 (PTS 36: 71).

28 Chrysostom, Baptismal homilies 2.25 (SC 50:147; trans. ACW 31: 52).

29 For instance, one recurring image is baptism making an Ethiopian white - an image presumably inspired by Philip baptising Queen Candace's eunuch, which cleverly subverts an old dictum about Ethiopians changing their skin colour (cf. Acts 8.26-39; Jeremiah 13.23), even though it retains the racist overtones. See Gregory of Nyssa, On Songof Songs 7 (GNO 6: 205); cf. Ephrem, Hymns on the faith 83.4-5, 'On the pearl' (CSCO 154: 255): 'Eunuchum ex Aethiopia in curru sedentem/ vidit Philippus. Occurrit nigro/ agnus lucis ex lineis/ cum legeret/ Baptizatus est Aethiops/ et induit lucem et splenduit et abiit.//Instruxitet docuit. Exnigris/fecit albos et Aethiopes/nigraemargaritae/factae sunt Filio. Obtulit Patri suo/ coronam splendentem margaritis.' For a general overview of St Ephrem's teaching, see E. Beck, 'Le baptême chez Saint Ephrem'.

0 0

Post a comment