I was at a religious do the other day when St John the Baptist was consistently referred to as John the Baptiser.
‘Hmmm,’ thought I, ‘I don’t like that.’ But why?
I have had to think long and hard why I don’t like ‘John and Baptiser’ as opposed to ‘John the Baptist’. I’m not entirely sure if I my thought is fully developed on this, but I have to describe first the difference between ‘the Baptiser’ and ‘the Baptist’. Only then can I say why I prefer one over the other and give a reason why.
So what is the difference between the two? I think it might be something along these lines. There were many people at the time of Christ who were preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, there were whole groups of people who threaded ritual bathing into their spiritual life. So just having someone preaching a baptism of repentance is nothing new. John the baptiser, then, is different from other individuals by who he is… John the baptiser, as opposed to Frank the baptiser or Jeremy the baptiser.
But the baptism of John is a different thing. Indeed it is a completely different thing. We know that it is different from that of Our Lord, for the Holy Spirit did not come down with St John’s baptism, but also is was different from the other people who were ‘doing’ ritual bathing or baptism. This is not just a ritual purification, this is the baptism. Before it was just purification, but with St John it changed into something else, it became something which touched the soul. It became baptism as we know it because it was John’s baptism of Christ which was the foundation of the Sacrament.
Thus he is not just one among many, he is the Baptist. What makes him different from others is not who he is, John as opposed to Frank or Jeremy, but his title: the Baptist. It is not who he is, but what he has done. It is not the man, but the act.
Yet again St John the Baptist points away from himself and points not only to Christ, but also to the action which gives him his name, his identity. By contrast St John the baptiser points too much to John.
Well that might be right.
Or perhaps I just don’t like things changing for no discernibly good reason.