Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Baptism of the Lord


 The Baptism of Christ
El Greco, 1608-14
Hospital of San Juan Bautista de Afuera, Toldedo
The painting was completed after the artist's death by his son Jorge Manuel

Image: sunsite:icm.edu.pl

Today is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and the end of most of the Christmastide celebrations, barring its final conclusion at Candlemas on February 2nd.

As it is marked in the Novus Ordo the Feast, on the Sunday after Epiphany (or after the Sunday of Epiphany) dates from 1970. In the Vetus Ordo it is assigned to January 13th, the old Octave day of Epiphany, by both the 1955 and 1962 Missals, and indeed as a separate feast from the traditional threefold celebration of the manifestation of Christ at Epiphany ("Three wonders mark this day...") is a creation of Pope Pius XII in 1955. For that reason he re-used the Epiphany propers for the feast he developed from it, and such a development seems to me to fall within the range of things which can and should be legitimately added to the liturgy. This is the proper development of liturgy analogous to the proper development of doctrine.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the Great Theophany is celebrated as one commemoration, but the Eastern Fathers had much more to say, it would appear on the basis of the magisterial and exuberant texts in the Office of Readings for this week, about the Baptism than their Western counterparts. So establishing a feast of the Baptism to point out its enormous significance and drawing direct attention to it rather than the visit of the Magi on January 6th seems right and fitting, and in so doing the abolition of the Octave, by Pope Pius, is in part undone by Pope Paul.

There is a history of the feast day here.

The painting by El Greco conveys much of the exultation of Orthodox writers about the Baptism and its significance which the artist conveyed to the Catholic Counter-Reformation world in his unique vision of things heavenly and earthly bound inextricably together.

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