QUESTION 38: OF THE BAPTISM OF JOHN
We now proceed to consider the baptism wherewith Christ was baptized.
And since Christ was baptized with the baptism of John, we shall consider
(1) the baptism of John in general; (2) the baptizing of Christ. In
regard to the former there are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether it was fitting that John should baptize?
(2) Whether that baptism was from God?
(3) Whether it conferred grace?
(4) Whether others besides Christ should have received that baptism?
(5) Whether that baptism should have ceased when Christ was baptized?
(6) Whether those who received John's baptism had afterwards to receive Christ's baptism?
Article 1: Whether it was fitting that John should baptize?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was not fitting that John should baptize.
For every sacramental rite belongs to some law. But John did not
introduce a new law. Therefore it was not fitting that he should
introduce the new rite of baptism.
Objection 2: Further, John "was sent by God . . . for a witness" (Jn. 1:6,7)
as a prophet; according to Lk. 1:76: "Thou, child, shalt be called the
prophet of the Highest." But the prophets who lived before Christ did not
introduce any new rite, but persuaded men to observe the rites of the
Law. as is clearly stated Malachi 4:4: "Remember the law of Moses My
servant." Therefore neither should John have introduced a new rite of
Objection 3: Further, when there is too much of anything, nothing should be
added to it. But the Jews observed a superfluity of baptisms; for it is
written (Mk. 7:3,4) that "the Pharisees and all the Jews eat not without
often washing their hands . . . and when they come from the market,
unless they be washed, they eat not; and many other things there are that
have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots,
and of brazen vessels, and of beds." Therefore it was unfitting that John
On the contrary is the authority of Scripture (Mt. 3:5,6), which, after
stating the holiness of John, adds many went out to him, "and were
baptized in the Jordan."
I answer that, It was fitting for John to baptize, for four reasons:
first, it was necessary for Christ to be baptized by John, in order that
He might sanctify baptism; as Augustine observes, super Joan. (Tract.
xiii in Joan.).
Secondly, that Christ might be manifested. Whence John himself says (Jn. 1:31): "That He," i.e. Christ, "may be made manifest in Israel, therefore
am I come baptizing with water." For he announced Christ to the crowds
that gathered around him; which was thus done much more easily than if he
had gone in search of each individual, as Chrysostom observes, commenting
on St. John (Hom. x in Matth.).
Thirdly, that by his baptism he might accustom men to the baptism of
Christ; wherefore Gregory says in a homily (Hom. vii in Evang.) that
therefore did John baptize, "that, being consistent with his office of
precursor, as he had preceded our Lord in birth, so he might also by
baptizing precede Him who was about to baptize."
Fourthly, that by persuading men to do penance, he might prepare men to
receive worthily the baptism of Christ. Wherefore Bede [*Cf. Scot. Erig.
in Joan. iii, 24] says that "the baptism of John was as profitable before
the baptism of Christ, as instruction in the faith profits the
catechumens not yet baptized. For just as he preached penance, and
foretold the baptism of Christ, and drew men to the knowledge of the
Truth that hath appeared to the world, so do the ministers of the Church,
after instructing men, chide them for their sins, and lastly promise them
forgiveness in the baptism of Christ."
Reply to Objection 1: The baptism of John was not a sacrament properly so called
[per se], but a kind of sacramental, preparatory to the baptism of
Christ. Consequently, in a way, it belonged to the law of Christ, but not
to the law of Moses.
Reply to Objection 2: John was not only a prophet, but "more than a prophet," as
stated Mt. 11:9: for he was the term of the Law and the beginning of the
Gospel. Therefore it was in his province to lead men, both by word and
deed, to the law of Christ rather than to the observance of the Old Law.
Reply to Objection 3: Those baptisms of the Pharisees were vain, being ordered
merely unto carnal cleanliness. But the baptism of John was ordered unto
spiritual cleanliness, since it led men to do penance, as stated above.
Article 2: Whether the baptism of John was from God?
Objection 1: It would seem that the baptism of John was not from God. For
nothing sacramental that is from God is named after a mere man: thus the
baptism of the New Law is not named after Peter or Paul, but after
Christ. But that baptism is named after John, according to Mt. 21:25:
"The baptism of John . . . was it from heaven or from men?" Therefore the
baptism of John was not from God.
Objection 2: Further, every doctrine that proceeds from God anew is confirmed
by some signs: thus the Lord (Ex. 4) gave Moses the power of working
signs; and it is written (Heb. 2:3,4) that our faith "having begun to be
declared by the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him, God
also bearing them witness by signs and wonders." But it is written of
John the Baptist (Jn. 10:41) that "John did no sign." Therefore it seems
that the baptism wherewith he baptized was not from God.
Objection 3: Further, those sacraments which are instituted by God are
contained in certain precepts of Holy Scripture. But there is no precept
of Holy Writ commanding the baptism of John. Therefore it seems that it
was not from God.
On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 1:33): "He who sent me to baptize
with water said to me: 'He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit,'" etc.
I answer that, Two things may be considered in the baptism of
John---namely, the rite of baptism and the effect of baptism. The rite of
baptism was not from men, but from God, who by an interior revelation of
the Holy Ghost sent John to baptize. But the effect of that baptism was
from man, because it effected nothing that man could not accomplish.
Wherefore it was not from God alone, except in as far as God works in man.
Reply to Objection 1: By the baptism of the New Law men are baptized inwardly by
the Holy Ghost, and this is accomplished by God alone. But by the baptism
of John the body alone was cleansed by the water. Wherefore it is written
(Mt. 3:11): "I baptize you in water; but . . . He shall baptize you in
the Holy Ghost." For this reason the baptism of John was named after him,
because it effected nothing that he did not accomplish. But the baptism
of the New Law is not named after the minister thereof, because he does
not accomplish its principal effect, which is the inward cleansing.
Reply to Objection 2: The whole teaching and work of John was ordered unto
Christ, who, by many miracles confirmed both His own teaching and that of
John. But if John had worked signs, men would have paid equal attention
to John and to Christ. Wherefore, in order that men might pay greater
attention to Christ, it was not given to John to work a sign. Yet when
the Jews asked him why he baptized, he confirmed his office by the
authority of Scripture, saying: "I am the voice of one crying in the
wilderness," etc. as related, Jn. 1:23 (cf. Is. 40:3). Moreover, the very
austerity of his life was a commendation of his office, because, as
Chrysostom says, commenting on Matthew (Hom. x in Matth.), "it was
wonderful to witness such endurance in a human body."
Reply to Objection 3: The baptism of John was intended by God to last only for a
short time, for the reasons given above (Article ). Therefore it was not the
subject of a general commandment set down in Sacred Writ, but of a
certain interior revelation of the Holy Ghost, as stated above.
Article 3: Whether grace was given in the baptism of John?
Objection 1: It would seem that grace was given in the baptism of John. For it
is written (Mk. 1:4): "John was in the desert baptizing and preaching the
baptism of penance unto remission of sins." But penance and remission of
sins are the effect of grace. Therefore the baptism of John conferred
Objection 2: Further, those who were about to be baptized by John "confessed
their sins," as related Mt. 3:6 and Mk. 1:5. But the confession of sins
is ordered to their remission, which is effected by grace. Therefore
grace was conferred in the baptism of John.
Objection 3: Further, the baptism of John was more akin than circumcision to
the baptism of Christ. But original sin was remitted through
circumcision: because, as Bede says (Hom. x in Circumcis.), "under the
Law, circumcision brought the same saving aid to heal the wound of
original sin as baptism is wont to bring now that grace is revealed."
Much more, therefore, did the baptism of John effect the remission of
sins, which cannot be accomplished without grace.
On the contrary, It is written (Mt. 3:11): "I indeed baptize you in
water unto penance." Which words Gregory thus expounds in a certain
homily (Hom. vii in Evang.): "John baptized, not in the Spirit, but in
water: because he could not forgive sins." But grace is given by the Holy
Ghost, and by means thereof sins are taken away. Therefore the baptism of
John did not confer grace.
I answer that, As stated above (Article , ad 2), the whole teaching and work
of John was in preparation for Christ: just as it is the duty of the
servant and of the under-craftsman to prepare the matter for the form
which is accomplished by the head-craftsman. Now grace was to be
conferred on men through Christ, according to Jn. 1:17: "Grace and truth
came through Jesus Christ." Therefore the baptism of John did not confer
grace, but only prepared the way for grace; and this in three ways:
first, by John's teaching, which led men to faith in Christ; secondly, by
accustoming men to the rite of Christ's baptism; thirdly, by penance,
preparing men to receive the effect of Christ's baptism.
Reply to Objection 1: In these words, as Bede says (on Mk. 1:4), a twofold
baptism of penance may be understood. one is that which John conferred by
baptizing, which is called "a baptism of penance," etc., by reason of its
inducing men to do penance, and of its being a kind of protestation by
which men avowed their purpose of doing penance. The other is the baptism
of Christ, by which sins are remitted, and which John could not give, but
only preach, saying: "He will baptize you in the Holy Ghost."
Or it may be said that he preached the "baptism of penance," i.e. which
induced men to do penance, which penance leads men on to "the remission
Or again, it may be said with Jerome [*Another author on Mk. 1 (inter
op. Hier.)] that "by the baptism of Christ grace is given, by which sins
are remitted gratis; and that what is accomplished by the bridegroom is
begun by the bridesman," i.e. by John. Consequently it is said that "he
baptized and preached the baptism of penance unto remission of sins," not
as though he accomplished this himself, but because he began it by
preparing the way for it.
Reply to Objection 2: That confession of sins was not made unto the remission of
sins, to be realized immediately through the baptism of John, but to be
obtained through subsequent penance and through the baptism of Christ,
for which that penance was a preparation.
Reply to Objection 3: Circumcision was instituted as a remedy for original sin.
Whereas the baptism of John was not instituted for this purpose, but was
merely in preparation for the baptism of Christ, as stated above; whereas
the sacraments attain their effect through the force of their institution.
Article 4: Whether Christ alone should have been baptized with the baptism of John?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ alone should have been baptized with
the baptism of John. For, as stated above (Article ), "the reason why John
baptized was that Christ might receive baptism," as Augustine says (Super
Joan., Tract. xiii). But what is proper to Christ should not be
applicable to others. Therefore no others should have received that
Objection 2: Further, whoever is baptized either receives something from the
baptism or confers something on the baptism. But no one could receive
anything from the baptism of John, because thereby grace was not
conferred, as stated above (Article ). On the other hand, no one could confer
anything on baptism save Christ, who "sanctified the waters by the touch
of His most pure flesh" [*Mag. Sent. iv, 3]. Therefore it seems that
Christ alone should have been baptized with the baptism of John.
Objection 3: Further, if others were baptized with that baptism, this was only
in order that they might be prepared for the baptism of Christ: and thus
it would seem fitting that the baptism of John should be conferred on
all, old and young, Gentile and Jew, just as the baptism of Christ. But
we do not read that either children or Gentiles were baptized by the
latter; for it is written (Mk. 1:5) that "there went out to him . . . all
they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him." Therefore it seems that
Christ alone should have been baptized by John.
On the contrary, It is written (Lk. 3:21): "It came to pass, when all
the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying,
heaven was opened."
I answer that, For two reasons it behooved others besides Christ to be
baptized with the baptism of John. First, as Augustine says (Super Joan.,
Tract. iv, v), "if Christ alone had been baptized with the baptism of
John, some would have said that John's baptism, with which Christ was
baptized, was more excellent than that of Christ, with which others are
Secondly, because, as above stated, it behooved others to be prepared by
John's baptism for the baptism of Christ.
Reply to Objection 1: The baptism of John was instituted not only that Christ
might be baptized, but also for other reasons, as stated above (Article ).
And yet, even if it were instituted merely in order that Christ might be
baptized therewith, it was still necessary for others to receive this
baptism, in order to avoid the objection mentioned above.
Reply to Objection 2: Others who approached to be baptized by John could not,
indeed, confer anything on his baptism: yet neither did they receive
anything therefrom, save only the sign of penance.
Reply to Objection 3: This was the baptism of "penance," for which children were
not suited; wherefore they were not baptized therewith. But to bring the
nations into the way of salvation was reserved to Christ alone, who is
the "expectation of the nations," as we read Gn. 49:10. Indeed, Christ
forbade the apostles to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles before His
Passion and Resurrection. Much less fitting, therefore, was it for the
Gentiles to be baptized by John.
Article 5: Whether John's baptism should have ceased after Christ was baptized?
Objection 1: It would seem that John's baptism should have ceased after Christ
was baptized. For it is written (Jn. 1:31): "That He may be made manifest
in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing in water." But when Christ had
been baptized, He was made sufficiently manifest, both by the testimony
of John and by the dove coming down upon Him, and again by the voice of
the Father bearing witness to Him. Therefore it seems that John's baptism
should not have endured thereafter.
Objection 2: Further, Augustine says (Super Joan., Tract. iv): "Christ was
baptized, and John's baptism ceased to avail." Therefore it seems that,
after Christ's baptism, John should not have continued to baptize.
Objection 3: Further, John's baptism prepared the way for Christ's. But
Christ's baptism began as soon as He had been baptized; because "by the
touch of His most pure flesh He endowed the waters with a regenerating
virtue," as Bede asserts (Mag. Sent. iv, 3). Therefore it seems that
John's baptism ceased when Christ had been baptized.
On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 3:22,23): "Jesus . . . came into the
land of Judea . . . and baptized: and John also was baptizing." But
Christ did not baptize before being baptized. Therefore it seems that
John continued to baptize after Christ had been baptized.
I answer that, It was not fitting for the baptism of John to cease when
Christ had been baptized. First, because, as Chrysostom says (Hom. xxix
in Joan.), "if John had ceased to baptize" when Christ had been baptized,
"men would think that he was moved by jealousy or anger." Secondly, if he
had ceased to baptize when Christ baptized, "he would have given His
disciples a motive for yet greater envy." Thirdly, because, by continuing
to baptize, "he sent his hearers to Christ" (Hom. xxix in Joan.).
Fourthly, because, as Bede [*Scot. Erig. Comment. in Joan.] says, "there
still remained a shadow of the Old Law: nor should the forerunner
withdraw until the truth be made manifest."
Reply to Objection 1: When Christ was baptized, He was not as yet fully manifested: consequently there was still need for John to continue baptizing.
Reply to Objection 2: The baptism of John ceased after Christ had been baptized,
not immediately, but when the former was cast into prison. Thus
Chrysostom says (Hom. xxix in Joan.): "I consider that John's death was
allowed to take place, and that Christ's preaching began in a great
measure after John had died, so that the undivided allegiance of the
multitude was transferred to Christ, and there was no further motive for
the divergence of opinions concerning both of them."
Reply to Objection 3: John's baptism prepared the way not only for Christ to be
baptized, but also for others to approach to Christ's baptism: and this
did not take place as soon as Christ was baptized.
Article 6: Whether those who had been baptized with John's baptism had to be baptized with the baptism of Christ?
Objection 1: It would seem that those who had been baptized with John's
baptism had not to be baptized with the baptism of Christ. For John was
not less than the apostles, since of him is it written (Mt. 11:11):
"There hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than
John the Baptist." But those who were baptized by the apostles were not
baptized again, but only received the imposition of hands; for it is
written (Acts 8:16,17) that some were "only baptized" by Philip "in the
name of the Lord Jesus": then the apostles---namely, Peter and
John---"laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost."
Therefore it seems that those who had been baptized by John had not to be
baptized with the baptism of Christ.
Objection 2: Further, the apostles were baptized with John's baptism, since
some of them were his disciples, as is clear from Jn. 1:37. But the
apostles do not seem to have been baptized with the baptism of Christ:
for it is written (Jn. 4:2) that "Jesus did not baptize, but His
disciples." Therefore it seems that those who had been baptized with
John's baptism had not to be baptized with the baptism of Christ.
Objection 3: Further, he who is baptized is less than he who baptizes. But we
are not told that John himself was baptized with the baptism of Christ.
Therefore much less did those who had been baptized by John need to
receive the baptism of Christ.
Objection 4: Further, it is written (Acts 19:1-5) that "Paul . . . found
certain disciples; and he said to them: Have you received the Holy Ghost
since ye believed? But they said to him: We have not so much as heard
whether there be a Holy Ghost. And he said: In what then were you
baptized? Who said: In John's baptism." Wherefore "they were" again
"baptized in the name of our [Vulg.: 'the'] Lord Jesus Christ." Hence it
seems that they needed to be baptized again, because they did not know of
the Holy Ghost: as Jerome says on Joel 2:28 and in an epistle (lxix De
Viro unius uxoris), and likewise Ambrose (De Spiritu Sancto). But some
were baptized with John's baptism who had full knowledge of the Trinity.
Therefore these had no need to be baptized again with Christ's baptism.
Objection 5: Further, on Rm. 10:8, "This is the word of faith, which we
preach," the gloss of Augustine says: "Whence this virtue in the water,
that it touches the body and cleanses the heart, save by the efficacy of
the word, not because it is uttered, but because it is believed?" Whence
it is clear that the virtue of baptism depends on faith. But the form of
John's baptism signified the faith in which we are baptized; for Paul
says (Acts 19:4): "John baptized the people with the baptism of penance,
saying: That they should believe in Him who was to come after him---that
is to say, in Jesus." Therefore it seems that those who had been baptized
with John's baptism had no need to be baptized again with the baptism of
On the contrary, Augustine says (Super Joan., Tract. v): "Those who were
baptized with John's baptism needed to be baptized with the baptism of
I answer that, According to the opinion of the Master (Sent. iv, D, 2),
"those who had been baptized by John without knowing of the existence of
the Holy Ghost, and who based their hopes on his baptism, were afterwards
baptized with the baptism of Christ: but those who did not base their
hope on John's baptism, and who believed in the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost, were not baptized afterwards, but received the Holy Ghost by the
imposition of hands made over them by the apostles."
And this, indeed, is true as to the first part, and is confirmed by many
authorities. But as to the second part, the assertion is altogether
unreasonable. First, because John's baptism neither conferred grace nor
imprinted a character, but was merely "in water," as he says himself (Mt. 3:11). Wherefore the faith or hope which the person baptized had in
Christ could not supply this defect. Secondly, because, when in a
sacrament, that is omitted which belongs of necessity to the sacrament,
not only must the omission be supplied, but the whole must be entirely
renewed. Now, it belongs of necessity to Christ's baptism that it be
given not only in water, but also in the Holy Ghost, according to Jn.
3:5: "Unless a man be born of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter
into the kingdom of God." Wherefore in the case of those who had been
baptized with John's baptism in water only, not merely had the omission
to be supplied by giving them the Holy Ghost by the imposition of hands,
but they had to be baptized wholly anew "in water and the Holy Ghost."
Reply to Objection 1: As Augustine says (Super Joan., Tract. v): "After John,
baptism was administered, and the reason why was because he gave not
Christ's baptism, but his own . . . That which Peter gave . . . and if
any were given by Judas, that was Christ's. And therefore if Judas
baptized anyone, yet were they not rebaptized . . . For the baptism
corresponds with him by whose authority it is given, not with him by
whose ministry it is given." For the same reason those who were baptized
by the deacon Philip, who gave the baptism of Christ, were not baptized
again, but received the imposition of hands by the apostles, just as
those who are baptized by priests are confirmed by bishops.
Reply to Objection 2: As Augustine says to Seleucianus (Ep. cclxv), "we deem that
Christ's disciples were baptized either with John's baptism, as some
maintain, or with Christ's baptism, which is more probable. For He would
not fail to administer baptism so as to have baptized servants through
whom He baptized others, since He did not fail in His humble service to
wash their feet."
Reply to Objection 3: As Chrysostom says (Hom. iv in Matth. [*From the
supposititious Opus Imperfectum]): "Since, when John said, 'I ought to be
baptized by Thee,' Christ answered, 'Suffer it to be so now': it follows
that afterwards Christ did baptize John." Moreover, he asserts that "this
is distinctly set down in some of the apocryphal books." At any rate, it
is certain, as Jerome says on Mt. 3:13, that, "as Christ was baptized in
water by John, so had John to be baptized in the Spirit by Christ."
Reply to Objection 4: The reason why these persons were baptized after being
baptized by John was not only because they knew not of the Holy Ghost,
but also because they had not received the baptism of Christ.
Reply to Objection 5: As Augustine says (Contra Faust. xix), our sacraments are
signs of present grace, whereas the sacraments of the Old Law were signs
of future grace. Wherefore the very fact that John baptized in the name
of one who was to come, shows that he did not give the baptism of Christ,
which is a sacrament of the New Law.