Upon the Waters

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This edition of my Church Fathers paraphrases comes from Hippolytus. Little to nothing is known of his early life, although it seems that he was a disciple of the famous bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus. Hippolytus may have been his disciple in either Lyons or Rome, but he later became a presbyter in Rome. There are conflicting accounts concerning his episcopal office- Jerome and Eusebius say he was simply a bishop somewhere, and later Greek historians say he was either a bishop in Rome or Porto. He died around AD 236.

Like Tertullian from the last paraphrase, Hippolytus did not see eye-to-eye with the bishops of Rome. His initial conflict was with Pope Zephyrinus– Hippolytus had been engaging in polemics against the Sabellians and the Patripassians and wished for Zephyrinus to rule against his adversaries. However, it seems that Hippolytus’ own theology leaned somewhat towards Di-theism, and Zephyrinus seemed to feel that the errors against which Hippolytus was railing were not clear enough, and thus refrained from ruling specifically against them. This raised Hippolytus’ ire, and when Zephyrinus’ papal successor Callistus began his tenure as pope, Hippolytus almost immediately broke communion with the Church, becoming a sort of anti-pope in Rome with a small band of followers. In a similar manner as Tertullian, Hippolytus was a very rigid and demanding man, and when Callistus allowed the lapsed to re-enter communion with the church following a period of penance, it was too much for him.

However, unlike Tertullian, Hippolytus eventually came back into union with the Church. Despite his schism, he was well respected as a theologian and was held in high honor afterwards. It is reported that he died as a martyr around AD 236, being dragged to death by horses much like his mythological namesake.

This selection is from his Discourse on the Holy Theophany. In it he seeks to describe the gospel accounts of Christ’s baptism, the reasons for it and its effects. The following comes from the latter part of the discourse in which he compares baptism to the experience of Noah and the Ark. (In the interests of brevity, I did not include another portion where he compares the dove hovering over the waters of baptism to the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters of creation. As such, I would highly suggest reading the entirety of the discourse.)

*One note- for those not familiar with patristic theology, the terminology of ‘man becoming God’ (St. Athanasius being the most famous example of this) does not intend to indicate that the ontological distinction between creation and God is obliterated; rather, it involves the idea of theosis (divinization in the West) which is far too complex to describe here. A somewhat helpful (though quite limited) introduction can be found here, while a more in depth treatment (from an Eastern Orthodox perspective) can be found here.

Upon the Waters

To truly be loved is to love in return, for love cannot help but return the embrace.

The light of the world that awakened our eyes to God burst forth from the primeval and unbearable brightness of light divine.

“This is my beloved Son.” This is the one who came to walk the same dirt as us, who nevertheless was always face to face with the Father, closer than skin to bone. He was here in all of who he was, yet he didn’t blaze upon the world in the glory of a god or with the pomp and circumstance of divinity. For this disclosure is different, and when he was baptized, John the Baptist seemed greater than him, as only a king can make a knight. But you can’t trust everything you see, and thus the Holy Spirit was sent from the Father upon the Son in the waters of baptism.

Love is stretchy, and not just over miles, but also over years. God’s love stretches on forever- He showed his love once before to Noah in the ark in the form of a dove, bearing a branch of life over the endless waters. God is up to his old tricks, (loving us, that is) and so the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove upon the waters, bringing life from the heavens.

But why? Why would God do this?

So we wouldn’t forget that God is faithful. His words are trustworthy, and the prophets’ words long forgotten are finally vindicated- “The voice of the Lord is on the waters, the God of glory thundered; the Lord is upon many waters.” This same voice spoke to the Son: “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

He was called the son of Joseph, but that title is only skin deep- in his divine being he has always been the only-begotten of the Father.

“This is my Beloved Son.”

This is the One who was hungry, but feeds thousands; was tired, but gives rest to the worn-out; without a home or possession, but holds up the universe in his hand; suffers intensely, yet brings the sweetness of relief; was struck down, yet sets us free; was pierced in the side, and yet heals the side of humanity.

Listen to me!

I want to find that spring of life, that fountain that flows with life and health. The God of ageless days sent the immortal Son and Word to our world; he not only came to our world but came to us to wash us in the water and in the Spirit. The Word brings us to life a second time- a new birth- and when we come out of the womb of the water we lose the stink and decay of body and soul that we had before. The same breath that was breathed into us at the dawn of creation fills our lungs again, and now all of eternity is ours. If we come to partake of eternity in this way, we have become God. And if we are made God by water and the Spirit, we share in Christ’s inheritance, the promise of our resurrection.

Thus, I cannot help but proclaim this- no matter where you come from, no matter who you are, come to water, come to immortality! If you are still stumbling in the darkness, I will tell you about the light of life. Get rid of your chains and find true liberty in a kingdom without a tyrant… for if you come down into the waters of regeneration, if you forsake the evil one and his ways, if you join yourself to Christ and make sin your enemy, if you declare that the beloved Son is God, you will likewise become a son, and you will be free. You will arise from baptism flashing in brightness like the sun, your righteousness streaking in brilliance across the sky. But the most important thing is that you will be a child of God, and share in the inheritance of Christ, to whom is glory and power together with the Spirit who brings us back to life, forever and ever, unto days without end.

Amen.

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  • *This is the One who was hungry, but feeds thousands; was tired, but gives rest to the worn-out; without a home or possession, but holds up the universe in his hand; suffers intensely, yet brings the sweetness of relief; was struck down, yet sets us free; was pierced in the side, and yet heals the side of humanity.* A telling statement worded nicely for all to understand. Jesus – the Human and yet, Christ the divine.

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Jason Watson

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