Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Resurrection of the Naked Christ

The earliest instructions for Christian baptism stipulate two conditions, invocation of the trinity and naked baptism. At beginning of the fifth century Cyril of Jerusalem explained to the newly baptized what they had recently experienced:

Immediately, upon entering [the baptistry], you removed your tunics . . . Having stripped, you were naked. Marvellous! You were naked in the sight of all and were not ashamed! Truly you bore the image of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden and was "not ashamed." (Mystagogical Lectures)

Similar instructions and descriptions came from Syria, Alexandria, and Antioch. Naked baptism may have been baptized on the baptism of proselytes in post-Biblical Judaism, or on Roman mystery religions' initiations. It also symbolized Christians' belief that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ required the explicit acknowledgment of bodies as the site of religious commitment.

Both Jews and Christians prohibited nakedness in other contexts. Christian leaders repeatedly cautioned against the Roman custom of mixed nude bathing at public baths. However, behavior forbidden in a secular context was required in a ritual context. Although every extant baptismal instruction specified naked baptism, diverse theological rationales were given, from the example of Adam and Eve in the garden "naked and unashamed" to participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus [Margaret Ruth Miles The Word Made Flesh: a History of Christian Thought p. 79, 80]
Perhaps not the death and resurrection of Jesus so much as the Alexandrian 'mystic' gospel's death and resurrection of Christ - viz. the beloved youth.

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