O Propheticum lavacrum: Baptism as Symbolic Act of Eschatological Salvation.
Liam Bergin's doctoral thesis in the faculty of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University received the Bellarmine Award 1998 and has been published in the Analecta Gregoriana series. He contributes to the theology of baptism a comparison to the action of Old Testament prophets, heralding the sacrament as a symbolic act of eschatological salvation. A survey of thomistic theology, scriptural exegesis, and twentieth-century theologians builds his case. The work is amply researched and intelligently presented.
As Bergin summarizes early in his work, "The central thesis of this research project is that the New Testament sacramental rites derive from the prophetic actions of Jesus Christ. By examining the concept of `˘t found in the Hebrew scriptures one can forge a link between remembrance and anticipation in ritual celebration. Further, in the light of this semitic category, baptism is not a timeless encounter with the Eternal One. Rather, through the ritual action of the Church, the eschatological favour of God bursts into the concrete historical experience of the believer" (p. 59).
Bergin relies on the work of exegete Samuel Amsler, who presented the notion of prophetic act. Typically, God orders the prophet to some action, the prophet executes it, and an explanation is given. This produces a reaction among those for whom the action was done. Finally, God's purpose may be discerned. Although one might casually surmise that the prophetic action leads to a certain effect, the reverse is also true: The purpose or effect is already in God's mind and leads to the prophetic action.
Bergin uses this backdrop to examine baptism as a sacrament that already has its effect in mind before the sign is given. This insight holds up through a survey of works by Amsler, Heinz SchŘrmann, Karl Rahner, and Edward Schillebeeckx.
The title derives from an antiphon the author creates to imitate one on the eucharist by Thomas Aquinas. Where Aquinas wrote, "O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, memoria passionis eius recolitur, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur," Bergin submits, "O propheticum lavacrum, quo Christi ecclesiae quis incorporatur, vita venturi saeculi praefiguratur, passionis eius recolitur memoria, et peccati gratis nobis remissio datur."
Peeves are small and few. The opening treatment of thomism accepts its arguments uncritically. Some words and phrases are used overmuch, like the tautologous "proleptically anticipates." Small matters. The weight of the research and the uniqueness of subject more than make up for these.
Although Bergin's work stands strong as a contribution to the genre of dissertation, it may also assist those seeking further theological reflection on the implications of baptism as prophetic act. One longs for a treatment of how the baptized exercise this prophetic ministry.
This review first appeared in *Worship* 75/5, (September 2001), pp. 479-480.