Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics

Greg Miller
3 min readMar 7, 2021

Unit 4: Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity

Imagine that you are introducing a family to a theology of baptism as they prepare for initiation into the Church. What imagery would you use, based on Jensen’s book during your catechesis?

I really enjoyed the book by Jensen. Until this reading I believed that the rite of Baptism had really remained unchanged since its inception; at least an indoor baptism. I generally find the baptisms I have attended to be a very nice family event, but fairly dull with regard to symbolism and overall excitement. If you really consider what is happening at this event one should find this to be not only meaningful, but also filled with excitement and hope for a new life.

The first imagery I would use is when the baptismal candidate enters the font their clothing should be representative of the life they are leaving behind. Certainly of the stripping of clothes would be significant and important (page 40, 210), but based today’s culture would be inappropriate. Entering the font wearing a dark tunic representing the old self would be meaningful in that it would symbolize the current state of darkness as a person without the potential for everlasting life. Once the ceremony is complete the newly born Christian would upon leaving the font cover themselves with a white robe (page 134) or tunic representing cleansing of sin and purity (page 50).

I would also use the imagery of entering the font from the West with one’s back to the setting sun. After completion the candidate would leave the font facing to the East, representing the rising sun and the new way and life. At the exit of the font I would place torches or candles (page 128). This extraordinary imagery would represent praise for God, and God being the light for the world.

I would also incorporate the symbolism of sealing the baptism with the kiss of peace (page 88). I believe this kiss should be given by someone extraordinarily close in your family versus a member of the clergy; perhaps a spouse or a mother and father. When coming out of the water and prior to the kiss I would mark the occasion with the sign of the cross on the forehead. This symbolism reflects the mark of Jesus’ brand on the recipient’s body (page 86)

Perhaps the symbolism that was most unfamiliar and striking to me from a symbolic perspective was the newly baptized receiving a serving of milk and honey (page 126). I appreciated the symbolism of us being reborn again as being children and infants (page 124). As Jensen quotes Paul, Corinthians 3:1–2 (page 124) “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.” And “long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation” (2.2). Jensen also quotes John the Deacon (page 126) comparing our first birth “nourished with the milk of corruption” to our second, baptismal birth where we “might taste the sweetness of honey in the Church’s womb.” Additionally, there are more obvious connections to the Old Testament’s description of the promised land flowing with milk and honey. For all these reasons I found this baptismal imagery of been given spiritual milk and honey to be very appealing for baptism.