Anyone for baptismal anthropology?
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth..." Song of Solomon 1.2
In De Isaac Ambrose, 4th century Bishop of Milan and mentor of St Augustine, addresses candidates for baptism. Interpreting the courtship of Isaac and Rebecca as an allegory for the union of Christ to both the church and the human soul, Ambrose develops his theme through further reflection on the wooing of bride and groom in the Song of Solomon. It all amounts to what British-American academic, Gerald Boersma, dubs his "baptismal anthropology" because it addresses the fundamental question: what is a human-being?
In common with his contemporaries, Ambrose contended that the fullest expression of humanity was to be found in union with God through Christ. Because Christians share that purpose with fellow believers this is both an individual and a shared quest. The major barrier facing both - individual and church - is sin, which tempts the body and corrupts the soul. If this sounds dualistic (body versus soul) it is only because The Fall has made it so, by driving a wedge between our outer appearance and our true identity. Ambrose teaches that the cleansing of baptism initiates our reintegration as whole people.
This is not something we can engineer on our own. It is a gift of grace, which is lavished upon us through the love of God. In Jesus, God pursues us with the ardour of the groom in Song of Solomon and he is prefigured in the life of Isaac, whose unusual birth, divine election and sacrificial service all point to Jesus. Through baptism the filthy rags of our fallen humanity are replaced by the garment of purity which is spun at such great cost by Jesus, through his suffering for our sakes - fitting attire for the bride of Christ, no less!