Today’s reading: Ephesians 4
More poignant words from St. Paul today on the nature of faith, the Church, and the Body of Christ. He starts Chapter 4 with the following:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, EAGER TO MAINTAIN THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the bond of peace.
Paul is telling his readers and by extension us, that the Christian is to live in a manner worthy of their conversion and the new creation they have become. There is a specific reason for this. It is because the Christian should be EAGER TO MAINTAIN THE UNITY of the spirit. We know from Paul’s other letters that disunity was something that happened and Paul fought against. (Remember when people were arguing who had a higher honor because of who had baptized them). Paul is saying that a Christian should never act to bring disunity but should work to maintain unity.
Then Paul says this:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
The obvious point is that there is only one body, one spirit, and one faith. It follows that by definition that which is not of the one original body, one spirit, and one faith is of the disunity Paul just told everyone to avoid.
However, a second point strikes me as slightly odd and worthy of investigation. Look at what Paul lists as there is only one of:
One God and Father of all
Which one of these things is not like the others?
All the things on the list save us. Certainly, the Spirit, the Lord, God the Father, and faith all save us. In the Catholic way of looking at things the “body” is the extension of Christ into this world, but even you ascribe to the “body” as only a “mystical body of believers”, the body is still made up of those other believers that bring us the Christian message and help convert us. Therefore, in a manner, they save us too.
And among these things Paul lists … Baptism. Thus, Paul considers Baptism on par with the other things he lists. This makes sense in that we know Peter says,
Baptism, which corresponds to this, NOW SAVES YOU, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:21-22
How are we to make sense of such bold ideas for Paul and Peter? Again, the Catholic understanding helps to reconcile the underlying principles involved. Peter says that baptism is, “an appeal to God for a good conscience, THROUGH THE RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ.” Baptism, as a simple rinsing with water, doesn’t have any inherent power of its own. Its power comes from the Resurrection and the command of the resurrected Lord to Baptize in his name. Thus, Baptism, as a sacrament, has real power to cleanse you of your sins. It works in this manner, baptism follows conversion and it is the first act of obedience to the commands of the Lord. Since it is done through the resurrection it is an appeal through Christ to the father for a clean conscience (or soul). This appeal is of course always granted because of the successful work of the Son who was obedient unto death. The new obedience of the convert warrants that the fruits of the resurrection be applied to them. Catholics believe that at Baptism the Holy Spirit enters the body of the baptized in a new and profound way, making them adopted children of the Father. As such you are a new creation and have been joined to the Body of Christ. Thus, in this way, Paul can list baptism among the things that save you.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 5