Sermon by St. Augustine the Bishop
John knew Jesus even before he came to be baptized of him in Jordan, as we perceive by the words: I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? Behold, let us see how he came to know that Jesus was the Lord, even the Son of God. How do we prove that John knew Jesus to be the one who should baptize with the Holy Ghost? Before the Lord came to the river, when many betook themselves to John to be baptized of him, the Baptist said: I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. This, then, he already knew also.
But John also saith: I knew him not. Now, how are we to explain this without calling John a liar? And God forbid that we should ever even think anything of the kind. Was it not that when the Dove descended on Christ, John then for the first time knew him to have a certain peculiar attribute, namely, that, whosoever should baptize with the Baptism of Jesus, whether they were themselves just or unjust, the virtue of the Sacrament should proceed, not from them, but from him on whom abode the Dove; so that he is the real Baptizer in every Christian Baptism until the end of time. And it is in this sense that it is said of him: The Same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. Whether it be Peter, or Paul, or Judas, that performeth the ceremony, the real Baptizer and effectual worker is Christ. For if the holiness of the Baptism depended on the holiness of the particular offíciator, no two Baptisms would be exactly alike, and every one would be supposed to be more or less regenerated according as the minister who baptized him was more or less of Saint.
Now, my brethren, understand me. The Saints themselves, those good men who appertain to the Dove, those good men whose portion is in Jerusalem, those good men in the Church, of whom the Apostle saith: The Lord knoweth them are his: those good men differ one from another by diversities of graces, and are not all of the same worthiness. Some are holier than others. Supposing then (for the sake of argument) that A is baptized by B, a righteous and holy man; and C is baptized by D who is a man less worthy in the sight of God, and hath attained only a lower degree in godliness, and is not so chaste, and whose life is not so good as B's; yet A and C receive just the same thing. And how is this, unless it be that it is Christ himself who is the effectual Baptizer?