A few weeks ago we considered the words of Gaudentius of Brescia, who pondered the image of bread as a symbol for the Church (The Bread and the Wine and the Power of the Cross to Transform Them). Like individual grains of wheat, we are brought together by water (baptism), but flour and water are not truly bread until they are baked in fire (the Holy Spirit).
Last week in the Breviary, another Church Father, Didymus of Alexandria, combined the images of fire and water, comparing the Church to a vessel of clay:
Speaking quite literally, and also in harmony with the words of water and the Spirit, John the Baptist says of Christ: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Since we are only vessels of clay, we must first be cleansed in water and then hardened by spiritual fire—for God is a consuming fire. We need the Holy Spirit to perfect and renew us, for spiritual water can cleanse us, and spiritual fire can recast us as in a furnace and make us into new men(from the treatise “On the Trinity,” by Didymus of Alexandria (Lib. 2, 12: p. 39, 667-674)).
We can ponder this image both individually and collectively (or ecclesially).
Individually, we are like hardened clay to which the potter (God) adds water (baptism) to purify us and make us pliable. By His grace, the Lord molds us and fashions us to perfection. We might say that He causes us to be in good shape. The vessel is hardened and forever perfected by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
As an image for the Church, we, who are but individual specks of clay dust, are joined together by water (baptism) to become a single lump of clay. The Lord fashions and perfects the Church into the shape she should be. Once molded, the clay is placed in the kiln and subjected to the fire (the Holy Spirit) so that her perfection is forever fixed.
While the image of a pottery vessel takes place in two distinct phases, with us and the Church, both phases are occurring simultaneously. We need the purification of baptism and the hardening power of the Holy Spirit to fix us forever in the love and Kingdom of God.
Just a brief meditation on water and fire as we prepare for Pentecost