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Monday, May 11, 2015


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I recommend Toews' recent book on original sin.


Let me grant for the sake of the argument the Original Sin and the Fall of Man (both of which I adamantly oppose, as you know). Also, let me grant the divine nature of Jesus, Incarnation, Resurrection, Redemption, and Atonement. I still find the fundamental nature of Baptism troublesome.

The following two passages from your post are the basis of my concerns:

(a) “…,God the Son secures the redemption of man for those who believe in him.”
(b) "Yes, Christ did the heavy lifting, but each of us must accept Christ as savior by faith. Baptism is the faithful acceptance whereby the individual joins the Mystical Body of Christ wherein he reaps the salvific benefits of Christ's passion."

1. The creation of man in God’s image and likeness (first creation) and God’s bestowing upon man his own spirit (second creation) forged an indissoluble covenant between man and God. Henceforth man is the only creature that contains in their inner being the spirit, likeness, and image of God. Hence, this covenant bestowed upon man both an axiological as well as an ontic uniqueness as well as an exceptional relationship with God. This covenant, I claim, is the logos that governs all subsequent relationship between God and man and it binds both. This covenant is the most salient aspect of all future circumstances between God and man. And since this indissoluble covenant permeates all subsequent human history including the Original Sin, the Fall, and the emergence of Jesus Christ, it follows that none of these later events can alter the fundamental law-governing terms (logos) of this covenant.

2. Even if we accept the doctrine of the Original Sin (which I do not), we need (and can) only admit that it created an axiological rupture between God and man; but it did not, and cannot, change the fundamental ontic nature of the relationship, since the later is determined by the covenant (logos) of creation.

3. Therefore, the spiritual aspect of man that is governed by the creation covenant can be the only ontic redeemer of man in the eyes of God. Jesus can be seen as a redeemer of the axiological rupture and even that he must be viewed as doing on behalf of all humankind without exception. Therefore, it is contrary to the creation covenant to hold that Jesus “secures the redemption of man” only “for those who believe in him”, as you say in your reply.

4. You claim on behalf of the Christian creed that Baptism is “an outward sign of an inward (spiritual) transformation. The physical rite is of course an act of man, but the inner transformation is due to divine agency.” So you agree that the physical ritual of Baptism is an act of man. Corresponding to outer Baptismal act of man, there is the “inward (spiritual) transformation.” And you add that “the inner transformation is due to divine agency.”

5. I will grant every statement quoted above. But now let us pull all of them together, proceeding from your last statement to the first, in light of what I said above. The “inner transformation” is made possible by the “divine agency” because the divine agency bestowed upon man his own spirit in the creation covenant. Therefore, the “inner transformation”; the “inward (spiritual) transformation” you speak of must originate from, and set in motion by, the spirit bestowed by the creation covenant. And this spirit resides in all men and it is fully governed by the logos of the creation covenant. If so, then in what way is Baptism a *necessary* “outward sign” of such inner transformation? At most, it can be consistently viewed as a *sufficient* “outward sign” (waving for now issues you yourself raise regarding the status of infants and so on), provided we grant that other “outward signs” may do just as well.


From the perspective of Catholic theology, number 2, above, is where you go wrong: the inherited "original sin" (as opposed to the historical event) is descriptive of an ontic deficiency in the soul, namely the absence of sanctifying grace from each soul as it is created by God.

Sanctifying grace is, in analytic terms, a property of the soul that is gratuitously caused to inhere in the soul by God, and is the sine qua non of being "in right relation to God" (and, among any number of other salutary effects, being able to share in the beatific vision.)

Baptism is necessary insofar as it is, where the rubber hits the road, expressive of the at least inchoate desire and preparedness of the individual rational soul for receipt of sanctifying grace from God. Leaving aside questions of desire and faith in infants, this is why the Church has traditionally held that the spiritual regeneration of baptism can be effected in cases where it is not possible to receive the formal sacrament (i.e. baptism of desire and baptism of blood.)

Or so, at any rate, the Catholic Church teaches.

I agree with Peter's 5th point and I think it also reveals an important limit to the explanatory power of baptism as the soteriological "fix" or "cure" for something. For undergirding baptism's efficaciousness is faith. Consider the candidate who dies before undergoing baptism. Is the candidate's inner transformation unrealized? Some in the history of the Church have thought so, and repugnant teachings ensued, such as the belief that the unbaptized infant is damned.

The problem with the language of *necessity* that Bill uses is that it makes baptism a causal affair: the grace received in the sacrament is the proximate effect of the external rite. But this creates a problem for both the human and divine agency. For the man must be disposed to receive the promises offered by baptism and God is not a grace-dispensing vending machine.

Peter cites the indissoluble covenant between humans and God secured in the creation. From the earliest years of Christianity, baptism has also been conceived of as a covenant. As more Gentiles joined the earliest churches, especially those outside the Holy Land, apostolic teaching associated baptism as a rite of the new covenant, specifically, a new circumcision (equivalent to the circumcision of the heart referred to in the Torah (Deuteronomy) and by the prophet Jeremiah). Seen this way, it is a membership rite, an initiation into a particular social relationship between God and God's people.

The case of the Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip meets on the road to Gaza is an interesting case. Philip expounds the passage the eunuch was reading from the prophet Isaiah through the lens of the gospel of Jesus. The eunuch's response is curious: "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" It seems reasonable to conclude at least two things. (1) The eunuch was already familiar with the practice of baptism as a rite of repentance/identity, and that it was an (or the) appropriate response to a spiritual conversion. (2) The inner transformation of the eunuch had already occurred (or was well underway) having heard and responded to the gospel. It is worth noting that a eunuch was excluded from God's people ("He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD." as rendered in the King James Version - both graphic and poetic!). Three chapters further on from where the eunuch was reading, Isaiah wrote that eunuchs specifically would be included in the Messianic kingdom. That would require a new covenant.

Baptism and the Eucharist or Mass are probably the most controversial doctrines within Christianity and have led to much intramural strife and division, not to mention abuse of the the unbaptized. A question that clarifies the heart of these differences seems to me this one: When the words of baptism are spoken during the rite, who is doing the speaking? For those who answer "the minister/priest," then baptism is primarily an act of obedience (an "ordinance," it's what you're supposed to do) and a public profession of one's individual faith. For those who answer "God," then baptism is primarily the reception of a gift given by God, the trusting of promises announced by Jesus himself and reenacted by the participants trans-temporally.

>>1. The creation of man in God’s image and likeness (first creation) and God’s bestowing upon man his own spirit (second creation) forged an indissoluble covenant between man and God.<<

What is this first creation v. second creation distinction? I wouldn't make that distinction: it's a distinction without a difference. Where are you getting this? Is this from Soloveitchik?

Do you want to understand the Christian doctrine of baptism, or do you want to question it using Judaic principles? That's OK, but you will have to explain the latter, or else these muddy waters will become muddier.


1st. Creation: Genesis. I: 26, 27.
2nd. Creation: Genesis. II: 7.

There is a big difference between the language of the two creation stories. This language suggests interesting differences in interpretation and intended meaning. While I knew about the two different creation stories for a long time, the significance of the difference between them was inspired by Soloveitchik. However, I do not agree with everything that Soloveitchick claims regarding Genesis, particularly Chapter III.

I do want to understand the Christian doctrine of Baptism; and critical scrutiny is part of this road towards understanding. I do not rely primarily upon Judaic principles; nothing in my post relies specifically upon any Judaic doctrine. I think that clearly understanding the connection between the covenant of creation and the conditions for salvation is of utmost importance, whether or not one accepts the doctrine of the Original Sin. Particularly, I wish to understand the relationship between the covenant of creation, salvation, and the specific condition(s) different monotheistic religions impose upon salvation. For this tells me the fundamental vision of each such religion regarding what they take to be the most fundamental meaning of human life.

My puzzle, and therefore questions, rely on understanding the connection between: (a) a human ritualistic act; (b) its transcendental (spiritual) significance; and (c) given the nature of the connection between (a) and (b), what is the justification for its exclusionary character?

(c) in turn is motivated in my mind by the following proposition: If salvation is at all possible and if salvation is a metaphysical transformation of man, then in principle it should be available to every single human being that is created in God's image and likeness and contains God's spirit of life in them regardless of historical, causal, or ceremonial conventions or institutional rituals. If the above proposition is right, then Baptism can be at most an *enabling condition* and not a necessary one.

I should mention that given the universal nature of the creation covenant, which all monotheistic religions accept in one form or another, I find it utterly baffling how each of the monotheistic religions attempt to justify the imposition, in one form or another, of an exclusionary condition upon the accessibility to salvation. If God wished to impose such an exclusionary condition, God would have made this divine will clear, obvious, and unmistakable. No such divine mandate is available and I suspect for a good reason: the creation covenant, I claim, rules any such mandate out.

Incidentally, the references to the two creation stories are from The King James Version (Quatercentenary Edition).


Thank you for your insightful comments.

I am willing to defend #2 on the following grounds. Even if one were to accept the Original Sin interpretation of the Biblical story of Adam & Eve (which I do not), the nature of the “sin” cannot be “descriptive of an ontic deficiency in the soul” and particularly it cannot cause “the absence of sanctifying grace from each soul”, as you claim. The reason is that creation #2 conveys how God bestowed upon Adam his own breath or spirit thereby sharing his own divine soul with humanity. This divine soul in each created human is therefore incorruptible. Hence, it cannot become deficient or become absent “sanctifying grace”, regardless of subsequent historical events or deeds. Therefore, even the original sin cannot corrupt God’s spirit in us. This is what I call the “original creation covenant” which establishes the logos of the ontic relationship between God and all of humanity, come what may. These terms of the “original creation covenant” are non-negotiable to any monotheism whose roots are firmly planted in the creation story as told in Genesis. Since the “original creation covenant” precedes all subsequent historical events, both human and divine, its terms have precedence and therefore determine the fundamental ontic relationship between God and humanity at large. No subsequent events can alter or in any way cancel the original creation covenant. In particular, the original sin, the Fall, or the arrival of Jesus, however this event is construed, can trump the terms of the original creation covenant.

In short, I maintain that the divine spirit cannot be corrupted by any act, human or otherwise. Therefore, since we share in this divine spirit, by creation #2, it cannot be corrupted, by original sin or any other sin. Hence, the ontic relationship between God and humanity is firmly established due to sharing in the divine spirit. I maintain that anyone who accepts Genesis, must accept the above. So far as I can see, the following two options are available to you:

1. You may maintain, contrary to the above, that the divine spirit is corruptible; this is not a very palatable option, for if divine spirit is corruptible in us, then it is corruptible in God as well, since both God and humanity share in the same spirit.

2. Second, you may argue that the original sin stripped us of our divine spirit altogether. But then salvation becomes impossible.

I look forward to your thoughts.


John may weigh in for himself, but I have a question for you. We agree that creation #2 involves the infusion of the divine life (breath) into Adam, by which he becomes "a living soul." You hold that the "original creation covenant" is just this ontic relationship between God and humanity, and that it is inviolable. I think I have two disagreements with you. The first is a simple one: I think what you've described in citing the creation #2 of Adam is not a *covenant* per se (at least as we see covenants unfold later in the Tanach). The second disagreement concerns the properties of the divine spirit imparted to Adam. You say it is incorruptible, and in no way deficient at any time or for any reason.

But what of the warning in creation #2? "‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’" It seems that one of the articles of the creation covenant was that Adam was free to commit self-deicide, or at least to mar his originally created and imperishable state. For both he and Eve did eat of the fruit and neither dropped dead--they went on to "enjoy" long lives together. Either he died in some other way on that day, or God did not enforce the condition he had established. The latter disjunct I rule out on the grounds of God's truthfulness. So if Adam was quickened with the divine spirit, and creation #2 allows for Adam's free action to result in his death, then his divine spirit must be something other than your conception, a conception which, by the way, reminds me more of a Platonic Form than of Mosaic anthropology and theology.

So I'd bite on option #1. I don't think it follows that a possibly corruptible divine spirit imparted to created humans entails that the source of this divine spirit, the very being of God, is corruptible. And here we return to Bill's recent topic of God's being. If the divine spirit is not like you've described, then option #2 is also in play, and we can welcome the doctrines of regeneration and resurrection to the soteriological party.


Thank you for your insightful comments. You introduce several difficult questions that are part of the issues that prompted me in the first place to focus on Baptism, or for that matter any ritual, as part of salvation theory. This is an instance of a more general concern I have regarding the relationship between ritualistic, ceremonial, or sacramental practices; doxastic attitudes (e.g., belief, faith, commitment, etc.,); and divine transcendence. I suspect that the relationship between all these three elements is highly problematical.

Bill’s language indicates that the rite of Baptism is a “sign” of an “inner transformation.” If so, then it is a representational symbol without “causal efficacy”; i.e., it signals that the inner transformation already took place and, therefore, it is not its cause. On the other hand, you point out that Bill’s language of *necessity* requires Baptism to be the cause of the inner transformation. As such, it becomes an exclusionary practice which leaves those who fail to undergo the ritual, for whatever reason, without the opportunity for the inner transformation. Moreover, your colorful and beautifully suggestive phrase “God is not a grace-dispensing vending machine” in this context raises another fundamental problem. For the metaphor of a “grace dispensing vending-machine” paints God to dispense grace as an exchange for the “right type” of currency offering; where the “right type” is determined by contingent conditions (which occasion the occurrence of the ritual, Baptism or any other).

These considerations bring to light the severe difficulties we face in explaining the relationship between human practices, doxastic attitudes, and divine transcendence. Baptism is an excellent place to test our understanding of the interrelationship between these three elements that are fundamental to the very idea of religiosity.


I'm not sure I understand some of your terminology:

1) When you say that there is a "divine soul in each created human", are you suggesting that each human being possesses TWO souls: one human, and one divine?

2) Whether one or two souls, when you say that the divine soul is incorruptible in each human, is it your contention that there is nothing that any human being can do - no sin that can be committed - that can affect the relationship between the sinner and God?

3) In what way does the second creation narrative describe a covenant? It certainly seems to involve the establishment of no contractual relationship between God and the newly created humans.

4) What, exactly, is the "logos of the ontic relationship between God and all of humanity"?

On the one hand, you seem to be saying that, ontologically speaking, each human soul is incapable of being altered in any way, including by the free choices of each such soul (e.g. by sinful acts); but on the other, you seem to be implying that the language of the second creation story entails a promise by God never to allow any variation in what you're calling the "ontic relationship" between Himself and human beings.

What I can say - again, from the perspective of Catholic theology - is that human souls ARE incorruptible, in that each human soul is essentially intellective and volitional, and cannot cease to possess those properties. But each soul is NOT essentially capable of enjoying the beatific vision, which is a non-essential ability or capacity that must be acquired by the free choice of each human being, and which can subsequently be similarly lost: by freely abandoning it.

But much of this discussion is less pure philosophy than it is philosophical theology, and will depend for its conclusions almost entirely on what starting theological (and exegetical and soteriological and...) assumptions you are making.


Thank you again for some penetrating and challenging questions.

1. Covenant: You argue that the original creation covenant as told in creation #2 “is not a *covenant* per se (at least as we see covenants unfold later in the Tanach).” I beg to differ. A covenant, I maintain, is not a mere contract or agreement: it is first and foremost an intimate *sharing* of an ultimate and precious value. For instance, the marriage covenant is above all the ultimate and intimate sharing of one’s life with another. It is a commitment to shed the boundaries between I and thou. Therefore, it is introducing a new ontic relationship. A divine covenant, therefore, is first and foremost partaking in and sharing of the divine spirit. The Mount Sinai covenant between God and the tribe of Israel, for instance, is another ontic relationship whereby God shares with the tribe of Israel a moral covenant by sharing with them God’s moral perfection. I suggest that all divine covenants involve such sharing and entail an ontic status.

2. The Incorruptibility of the Divine Spirit in Adam: I maintain that the divine spirit imparted upon Adam, and hence humanity, is incorruptible. You object that (a) The original covenant involved free will; (b) The language of God’s prohibition and the threat of death upon violation of the prohibition; and (c) The violation of the prohibition by Adam, but the non-enforcement of the threat of death, together entail that something of fundamental importance must have changed. And the only such fundamental change possible, you maintain, is that the spirit imparted upon Adam by God at the original creation covenant was corrupted by the violation of the prohibition, contrary to my thesis. (Does this state your objection correctly?)

This is a very powerful objection. Let me prefix my response by reiterating once again that I reject the original-sin interpretation of Chapter III of Genesis. So my challenge is to explain something within a conception that I reject. Let me try.

What “died” in Adam upon violating the prohibition? Not his spirit, for then Adam would not exist, at least not as a moral agent. I suggest that what died in Adam that day is *His* innocence: i.e., violating the prohibition, I suggest, is tantamount to him partaking in the knowledge of corporeal pleasures (and pains). By violating the prohibition Adam incorporated into himself corporeal impulses and forces which will henceforth have to be balanced against his divine spirit. Adam now becomes subject to the conflicts, struggles, and paradoxes of being a moral agent that must for the rest of his life reconcile his corporeal nature with his divine spirit. Adam, now, is a being subject to the challenges and tribulations typified by the human condition.

If the above is correct, then I can still maintain that the divine spirit in Adam is not corrupted by his violation of the prohibition. Rather this incorruptible spirit in him now faces a competing force that is as powerful and potent; namely, corporeal knowledge. The two forces are often at odds and Adam, we, must always reconcile them to the best of our abilities. But even when we misguidedly opt for the corporeal force on this or that occasion, the divine spirit in us is not itself corrupted; instead we hinder the potential of our whole being to flourish to the extent it could have. Hence, it is *we* as a whole being that is affected by the path we take, not the divine spirit in us.

I should note that the above should not be taken as suggesting that the corporeal must always be subdued. I suggest nothing of the sort. But this is a whole other “muddy” topic.


Thanks for your additional comments. Numbered responses match your numbered comments.

1. No, I am not suggesting that there are two souls.

2. There is nothing, no sin, a human can do to corrupt the divine spirit in us. Therefore, nothing can alter the original creation covenant which entails an ontic relationship. However, some things humans do (or God, for that matter) may alter the relationship.

3. A covenant, in my view, is not merely a contract. See my response to Joel (Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 07:27 AM)

4. What I meant by the ‘logos’ is that the ontic bond is governed by a law.

Comment subsequent 4: I do not see a tension you seem to see when you state “on the one hand”, “but on the other.”

In the next paragraph you seem to agree that the spirit of God in us is incorruptible. But, “each soul is NOT essentially capable of enjoying the beatific vision, which is a non-essential ability or capacity that must be acquired by the free choice of each human being, and which can subsequently be similarly lost: by freely abandoning it.”

I, of course, disagree with the claim that a soul is “NOT essentially capable of enjoying the beatific vision”, since the “beatific vision” just is joining God’s spirit; and since souls are *essentially* part of this spirit, it follows that each soul MUST BE “essentially capable of enjoying the beatific vision”, unless it has been inherently so corrupted that it no longer, as it were, “fits” to rejoin God’s spirit. But we agreed that the “unless clause” is impossible.

You may now wonder what, according to me, is the price of sin? I give hints towards such an answer in my reply to Joel (cited above), #2. Assuming that we are clear about what constitutes a “sin”, a sinful act is one which is in clear opposition to God’s spirit in us. Such an act, therefore, inhibits this spirit from inspiring our attitudes, our dispositions, our character, our overall being. The more we sin, the less our mind is inspired by the spirit. Hence, our mind becomes more and more alienated from God’s spirit in us and, hence, from God; therefore, we are more and more alienated from our own spirit and God. As a result we become splintered, lack internal harmony, and, when we are aware of this state, without the possibility of joy in life.

Finally, I am aware that this line of thinking is not in step with Catholic teachings. Bill’s admonition above made that clear. However, I began this by asking questions about Baptism as an important example of a much broader problem.

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