Questions Answered – July 2021

Why Jesus Is Called the “New Adam”

Question: I am a bit troubled by so many people calling Jesus the new Adam. I think to do so gives the Jehovah’s Witnesses an advantage they can easily take, that is to prove Jesus is a creature and not the Creator. I did look at St. Paul’s reference to Jesus as the “last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15:45. I do not find anything other than a symbolic meaning in the words of St. Paul. It is easy to see how these words could be used to support the idea that Jesus is only a creature. What is a good response for such misreading?

Answer: Your concern for the misunderstanding which could result from a given title of Our Lord is admirable. Nonetheless, the phrase “last Adam” is extremely rich theologically and it is no accident that God revealed this idea to St. Paul.

To understand this point, the explanation of Thomas Aquinas is helpful. He explains that Christ in his human nature is the head of the whole human race. This means Christ touches every expression of human nature. From the state of Original Justice, he takes infused knowledge, loving obedience, and freedom from moral weakness in the passions. From the state of Original Sin, he takes suffering and death. From the state of Glorified Nature in heaven, he takes the Beatific Vision which he enjoyed from the first moment of his conception in the womb of his mother.

The context of the quote you invoke by St. Paul is the nature of the resurrection in relation to the original creation of man. The first Adam was a living soul. He is also a man of dust, and he was sown in corruption because his material nature, his body, could corrupt and die. This is contrasted with the last Adam, the new Adam who is a life-giving spirit from heaven, a man of heaven and spiritual. St. Thomas interprets this: “There are two principles of human generation; one according to natural life, namely Adam; the other according to the life of grace, namely Christ.” (Aquinas, In I Cor. 15:45, n. 991) St. Thomas says that: “Christ is called the last Adam because Adam introduced one state, namely of guilt; Christ, the state of true glory and life.” (Aquinas, In I Cor. 15:45, n. 992)

It is obvious that, given this interpretation of both the text of St. Paul and the term itself, there is no way it can be used to justify an adoptionist Christology. The term addresses not Christ as the person of the word assuming a nature but the character of that nature assumed. St. Paul uses it to show what the final consummation of human nature is. It is not death or even just the relationship of an immortal soul to a corruptible body, but rather the reflection in the body of the soul experiencing the glory of heaven. Whereas it is a real human body composed of flesh, it has a whole different relationship to the soul from the relationship of the body to the soul in the original creation of man. Yet this is human destiny.

This is not only a truth of faith but it is also accessible to reason. If, as Aristotle and other philosophers thought, the soul is immortal, then the body should be too. However, Aristotle and everyone else knows that the body corrupts. Plato solved this difficulty by stating that the body was a prison into which the soul was cast, and is probably evil, and the destiny of man demands that it be left behind.

Aristotle found this conclusion unreasonable based on his experience of man. The body is an intimate part of human nature and is as necessary to human perfection as the soul. It should live forever. The fact that it does not was something obvious to his experience as well as everyone else in the world. Yet he could not answer this dilemma because a soul living forever without a body would be an unnatural condition and Aristotle has a principle that an unnatural condition cannot endure forever. In other words, there is no solution to the necessity of resurrection by reason.

When Christ, the New and last Adam, rises from the dead, revelation gives the perfect solution to a problem of human anthropology which reason can propose but not answer. We are made to experience union with God in the Beatific Vision in both soul and body. A body which participates in this union is true flesh but has special characteristics after the manner of the soul: light, agile, full of light. It can pass through walls as Jesus did when he appeared to the Apostles in the Upper Room and yet has the marks of the nails in it and is so corporeal that Jesus could eat a piece of fish.

What Makes a Baptism Valid

Question: I was worried at the Easter Vigil because one of the baptized had the water poured in such a way that it only seemed to touch their hair and not their skin. Is such a baptism valid? Need the person be rebaptized?

Answer: This is a complicated question and canonists are continuing to discuss it. There is some light given through examining what constitutes valid baptism in the 1917 Code as opposed to the present Code of Canon Law.

The basic theology of baptism is very simple. Anyone, even a pagan, can baptize someone if they perform the rite correctly and intend to do what the Church intends. This would mean that said minister needs to pour real water over the baptized and say the proper words: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. These words must be exact. They cannot, for example, be: the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier. The reason is that these are not proper names to distinguish the persons of the Trinity.

The 1917 Code recognized three valid methods of performing baptism: immersion in which all or part of the body is immersed in a pool, pouring the water over the head of a person, and sprinkling with water either using the hand, a liturgical tool which sprinkles or a branch of hyssop, for example. In the first two, the water obviously would touch not only the hair but the skin unless the pouring was very limited. Sprinkling, however, might not involve the actual touching of the skin. The 1917 Code recognized this as “probably valid.” This is not the case with the present Code (1983). This says: “Baptism is to be conferred either by immersion or by pouring; the prescripts of the conference of bishops are to be observed.” (Canon 854) One author (Canon Law made Easy) maintains that the reason the 1983 Code dropped sprinkling was because baptism constitutes a washing and it was difficult to discern with merely the sprinkling of water.

However, it is important to note that the former teaching was never abrogated by the new Code, so if sprinkling was valid before, it would still be valid. Of course, since the law no longer recognizes it, it would now make such a method illicit.

It would seem that this fact can explain the case you present in a clearer light. With sprinkling the water does not necessarily touch skin as such. It could just touch the hair. Since the hair is a part of the body at the time, it would seem that it would touch the body so that the baptism would be valid but not licit. The conscience of the person in question could certainly be quieted by pointing out that fact and rebaptism, even a conditional one, would not seem necessary.

Of course, if the person was very scrupulous, one could perform a rebaptism just to salve the conscience. This would not be a question of the heresy of Donatism. The Donatist heresy maintained that rebaptism was necessary for Christians who had lapsed during persecution into offering worship to idols or the emperor. Such is not the case here. The purpose of the conditional rebaptism is not to state that one is needed even though the first one was valid because of an apostasy, but merely to quiet the conscience of the person about some possible defect in the original rite.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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