Repository logo

Womb of the Spirit: the liturgical implications of the doctrine of the Spirit for the Syrian baptismal tradition



Change log


Jones, Simon Matthew 


This thesis investigates the role of the Holy Spirit within the Syrian baptismal tradition and, in particular, assesses its effect upon the liturgical and theological development of initiation in East and West Syria. Primary material includes the Odes of Solomon, Didascalia Apostolorum and Acts of Judas Thomas; the writings of Aphrahat, Ephrem, Narsai, Jacob of Serugh, Philoxenus and Severus of Antioch; as well as the East Syrian and two West Syrian baptismal ordines.

This study provides evidence against any notion of an original Syrian baptismal pattern in which a single anointing precedes immersion, and demonstrates that the tradition witnesses to the existence of a variety of practices at an early stage. At the same time, it argues that the Syrian rite was not originally modelled upon the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, nor did its theology undergo an identifiable shift from Johannine to Pauline imagery.

Against this background, the incarnational image of the font as womb is identified as the principal characteristic which runs througout the development of the tradition, functioning as the primary symbolic focus for the activity of the Holy Spirit and thereby interpreting the pre-immersion anointing(s) as a ritual preparation for baptismal regeneration by water and the Spirit.

The Spirit is seen as active throughout the process of initiation. It is the Spirit who identifies the candidate as belonging to Christ; it is the Spirit who prepares and brings to new birth with Christ in the womb of the Jordan; and, not least, it is the Spirit whom the candidate receives as the eschatological pledge of the final birth with the First-born, from death to eternal life.






Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
British Academy