What can we learn from early Christian imagery about the theological meaning of baptism? Robin Jensen, a leading scholar of early Christian art and worship, examines multiple dimensions of the early Christian baptismal rite. She explores five models for understanding baptism--as cleansing from sin, sickness, and Satan; as incorporation into the community; as sanctifying and illuminative; as death and regeneration; and as the beginning of the new creation--showing how visual images, poetic language, architectural space, and symbolic actions signify and convey the theological meaning of this ritual practice. Considering image and action together, Jensen offers a holistic and integrated understanding of the power of baptism. The book is illustrated with photos.
Robin M. Jensen (PhD, Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary) is Patrick O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. She previously taught at Vanderbilt University. She has authored several books, including Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity and Understanding Early Christian Art.
This volume illumines the multiple biblical metaphors that evoke the meaning of baptism, offers a lucid and richly attested account of early church baptismal practices, and awakens the imagination of readers to engage in contemporary celebrations of baptism with renewed vitality. The book demonstrates that metaphor, architecture, visualization, and liturgy are not mere applications of theology but rather help constitute theology, and it does so in a way that is both accessible to students and instructive for veteran pastors and theological educators.
-John D. Witvliet,
Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary
Robin Jensen brings her scholarly acumen and aesthetic sensibility to the interpretation of the principal motifs of the early Christian baptismal ritual. Adding to her impressive writings on the subject of baptism, Jensen addresses this book to a more popular audience but with solid scholarly support. These thematic studies elucidate the effects and meaning of the baptismal liturgy as a sensory, symbolic, and spiritual experience for its recipients.
Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Abilene Christian University
To examine how early Christians enacted, experienced, and reflected upon baptism, Jensen utilizes an array of sources for her work: ritual texts, theological treatises, various genres of ancient literature, and most importantly for this study the visual arts and the design and decoration of the ritual space. By drawing together the different types of textual and nontextual evidence, Jensen offers the reader a fuller picture of the sacrament's complexity, particularly as considered through the theological motifs of cleansing, initiation, enlightenment, death and resurrection, and the eschatological restoration of creation. This richly illustrated volume, with many of the images photographed by the author herself, advances our understandings of Christian baptism in antiquity and of the role played by the visual image in expressing and transmitting the meanings of the sacrament.
-Karen B. Westerfield Tucker,
professor of worship, Boston University
Those who are designing baptisteries and fonts and those involved in preparing the elect for baptism will be grateful for this book. It is a brilliant synchronization of rich resources: Scripture, early Christian documents, poetry, and initiatory customs. Its many illustrations show how the languages of art, architecture, and ritual behavior complement and sustain one other. The people who may have experienced these ancient places and liturgies come to life. The book will kindle your senses.
-Richard S. Vosko,
designer and consultant for sacred spaces
Through her engaging exploration of the images, language, and symbols of early Christian baptismal rites, Robin Jensen invites readers to consider anew the theological meaning and power of baptism for contemporary worshipers. Jensen's clarity of expression and the striking photos bring to life ancient ritual practices as well as illuminate some of the intriguing peculiarities of early Christian art and worship. Jensen states early in the book her desire to appeal to the reader's imagination. She does just that even as her presentation of baptism through five core motifs offers historical and theological insights about baptism that are valuable for historians and theologians as well as ministry students and pastoral leaders.
associate professor of ministry studies, Wake Forest Divinity School
Robin Jensen's attention to art and architecture is an important addition to existing scholarship that focuses primarily on texts. This fresh approach to the topic is carefully researched and amply illustrated. Christians concerned with a renewal of baptismal practice today will find a rich trove of biblical stories and metaphors that inspired and informed early Christian communities.
-Ruth A. Meyers,
Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics, Church Divinity School of the Pacific
True to our social-human natures, we Christians have an insatiable desire to dig into the treasures of our past to discover the world of ancient beliefs and practices behind the images, names, texts, and symbols comprising the biblical-traditional faith we practice today. Robin Jensen has taken the vast and varied array of treasures comprising early Christian baptism and organized them into a theologically enlightening exhibit, leading the reader through a series of 'rooms' through which one may marvel at the rich and varied elements comprising the sacramental whole.
-Bruce T. Morrill, SJ,
professor of theological studies, Vanderbilt University
What a gift Robin Jensen has given us in this book, a gift she is uniquely qualified to give. A scholar of Christian liturgy, doctrine, and art, Jensen presents the history of early Christian initiation the way it was experienced--as a unified whole. Integrating image with practice and interpretation, Jensen offers a deep and insightful look into early Christian baptism. Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity is so clear and direct it can easily serve as a solid introductory text; at the same time it is so thoroughly researched it will serve scholars of early Christian history, liturgy, and art for years to come. This much-welcome and much-needed volume is not to be missed.
-Todd Johnson, William K. and Delores S. Brehm Associate Professor of Worship, Theology, and the Arts, Fuller Theological Seminary
This new study of baptism may be unique in exploring the early history of Christian initiation not through authors or ideas but symbols. Drawing material and literary evidence together in a deft and unprecedented way, Jensen reveals how early Christians themselves experienced their rite of initiation. The book, like the rite, is rich and diverse; it demonstrates the variety of baptismal images and understandings that could coexist and catalyze one another. Washing, community membership, illumination, rebirth, and new creation are all vividly drawn in word and image. This array of fundamental images and their ritualization provides new insight not only into baptism but also into the ways Christian identity itself was created and expressed.
Trinity College, The University of Melbourne