The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Was it fitting and necessary for Jesus to be baptized?

On the Readings for Sunday, January 9, 2022, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Detail from "The Baptism of Christ" (1515) by Joachim Patinir [WikiArt]

• is 42:1-4, 6-7
• Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10
• Acts 10:34-38
• Mt 3:13-17

Was it fitting and necessary for Jesus to be baptized? It is an important question the answer says much about the person and mission of Jesus. It has, therefore, been taken up by theologians and Doctors of the Church over the centuries.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica (see ST 3, 39, 1-8), listed a number of objections, including, “It would seem that it was not fitting for Christ to be baptized. For to be baptized is to be washed. But it was not fitting for Christ to be washed, since there was no uncleanness in Him. Therefore it seems unfitting for Christ to be baptized.” His answer draws upon both Scripture and the Church Fathers: “I answer that, It was fitting for Christ to be baptized. First, because, as Ambrose says on Luke 3:21: ‘Our Lord was baptized because He wished, not to be cleansed, but to cleanse the waters, that, being purified by the flesh of Christ that knew no sin, they might have the virtue of baptism’.”

He also quoted St. Gregory Nazianzen, who had written, “Christ was baptized that He might plunge the old Adam entirely in the water.” He further noted that Jesus, in being baptized, was setting an example for everyone who would follow him and take up the cross of discipleship. After all, if the sinless Son of God would willingly enter the waters of baptism, how much more urgent is it that we sinners are washed in the waters of regeneration?

There are other reasons given, including one implicit in the sermon of St. Peter to the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, heard in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “You know the word that [God] sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.”

Here the emphasis is on the anointing; the Greek word is echrisen (ἔχρισεν) and the root word is chrió, from which comes the word “Christ”. And the title “Christ” is itself the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “Messiah”, which means “anointed”. The Catechism explains that this is “the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that ‘Christ’ signifies. In effect, in Israel those consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This was the case for kings, for priests and, in rare instances, for prophets. This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively” (par. 436). Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and presented as uniquely fulfilling the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king.

The term “Messiah” occurs some five hundred thirty times in the Old Testament, and the importance of the title would be difficult to overstate. For example, Psalm 45, one of the messianic psalms, states this of the anticipated Messiah: “Your throne, O god, stands forever; your royal scepter is a scepter for justice. You love justice and hate wrongdoing; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellow kings” (Ps 45:7-8). Jesus, however, was not anointed as Messiah by oil; instead, the Spirit of God descended “like a dove” and the Father spoke his words of blessing, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Thus, wrote St. Irenaeus, the one “who anointed is the Father, the one who was anointed is the Son, and he was anointed with the Spirit who is the anointing” (see CCC, 438). He further noted that this same anointing of the Holy Spirit is given to all those baptized into Jesus the Christ. Entering the waters prepared by Christ, the baptized emerge cleansed by the Holy Spirit, filled with divine life, made children of the Father.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the January 9, 2011, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1233 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. As priest and Victim, yes. A most significant question posed by Carl Olson discussed variously, and quizzically since the day. Perhaps I may offer a somewhat different slant. Justice.
    Jesus tells John who hesitates, Do so now that justice be fulfilled. His complete human nature was necessary, it’s universally agreed for our salvation. Although the nuance of mystery is deeper. He became sin as Paul says that we might become free of sin. Elsewhere in scripture, let us go with Him outside the camp [to Golgotha] and suffer with him. The sinless lamb free of all sin in his human nature assumes sinfulness, insofar as this writer understands, figuratively for human comprehension [a commentator raised the question recently whether God rejected his Son as alleged by Mother Teresa] although beyond our comprehension of the mystery, the depths of divine love, our redemption.
    As sin Jesus is the prefigured bronze serpent raised by Moses. Why the serpent is readily understood in context of his assuming our sinfulness in his flesh and blood. Bishop Sheen frequently noted that sin can only be forgiven by the shedding of blood. Both in the old and in the new testament. Blood, the stream of life is denied this feature by sin, the punishment unending death. As sin is forgiven figuratively by the blood of animals it is forgiven actually by its pouring out of the Son of Man.
    An oblation. A curse. A reviled blasphemer impaled on the Cross. I’m not equipped to add more and acknowledge my mind’s limit and the awe this love invokes.
    A final note is the willingness to suffer false accusation in imitation of Christ, the perfect route to sanctity commended by Therese of Lisieux. Although acknowledged by John Paul II, he adds there are instances when Justice demands we offer defense, as when other relationship is at stake.

  2. “…the one ‘who was anointed is the Son and he was anointed with the Spirit who is the anointing.” – lovely quote.
    The three Deities all equal always work together in threesome-unity-one-God-Almighty. The Father could never reject the Son that would mean rejection of the Father Himself as the Father and the Son are holy perfection equals adored by the angels in heaven. The sacred humanity of Jesus is totally united to the Son of God. In the Garden of Olives the Prince of God took on all sin of humanity that is why He almost died until the angel brought the divine chalice to drink. I am in no way qualified to discuss the mysteries of God but through my many mystical experiences I have received the awe of the triune God, tasting and adoring His holy might, beauty and loving mercy. You could not make this up: He is a Dream-God, holy and mighty, stunning beauty and glory, holy goodness and unspeakable tender love and mercy for His wayward creatures. About the mystery of the Baptism of Jesus I am at ease that He sanctified the waters and that He points us to the rebirth of holy Baptism.

    • Edith, you’re perfectly correct. If God were to reject his Son, he would reject himself, because the Trinity of Persons is One Godhead. Your use of the term “divinities” is incorrect, since it identifies three gods rather than one. Use the term Person, since each Person of the trinity is one God. As to the question of rejection, there is the reality that God, who is impassive [he cannot suffer] used his human nature as the “instrument”. “Although Christ did not suffer as God, nevertheless His flesh is the instrument of the Godhead; and hence it is that His Passion has a kind of Divine Power of casting out sin” (ST 3a Question 49. The effects of Christ’s Passion Article 1 Ad 1. Reply to Objection 1). As the instrument of atonement, Jesus [in his human nature], incorporates Mankind’s sins, receiving the just sentence of God. That’s indicated in Jesus crying out, My God, My God, Why have you forsaken [rejected] me? He completes our salvation with an act of humility, and complete trust in God, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. ¿Por qué se bautizó Jesús? - cristianismo
  2. Was it fitting and necessary for Jesus to be baptized? - Catholic Feed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.