Should Superman Be Baptized? A Thomistic Disputation

By Fr. Victor Feltes

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) is often considered the Middle Ages’ greatest theologian. His most famous work, the Summa Theologica or “Summary of Theology”, tackles more than five hundred theological questions, such as “Does God exist?”, “Can the good or bad angels work miracles?”, and “Whether it is lawful to kill a man in self-defense?”. Aquinas responds using the disputational format popular in his day: first, strong objections are raised, next the author presents his own stance, then each prior objection is answered in turn. In fun commemoration of the March 7th anniversary of St. Thomas’ departure from this life for heaven, here is a question he died too soon to address presented in his classic style:

Question: Whether Clark Kent (assuming he existed) ought to be baptized?

Objection 1: It seems that Clark Kent should not be baptized. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can even fly—like a bird, like a plane! These seem to be preternatural gifts characteristic of an unfallen creature who has no need for baptism.

Objection 2: The Protoevangelium (or “First Gospel”) announced in the Garden of Eden promised a Savior for Adam and Eve and their descendants: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Clark Kent, however, is not descended from mankind’s first parents; therefore, Christ’s saving baptism is not meant for him.

Objection 3: The Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed a human nature in order to save humanity. But Clark Kent’s Kryptonian nature is that of an alien race. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 A.D.) wrote, “What was not assumed [by Christ], was not healed.” Therefore, Clark Kent’s nature is incompatible for baptism.

On the contrary,You shall not oppress an alien.” (Exodus 23:9)

I answer that Clark Kent is a created, fallen, and rational animal; a sinful man capable of receiving the gospel message in faith. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and Jesus told his Apostles, “Proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (1 Timothy 1:15, Mark 16:15-16) Provided he is properly disposed to receive the sacrament, there is no reason why Clark Kent should not be baptized—apart from him being fictional.

Reply to Objection 1 (that he’s unfallen): If Clark were unfallen, his mature reason would grasp, for instance, that sexual activity outside of marriage is contrary to the natural law. His transgressions (portrayed on both page and screen) reveal that his nature has been wounded by sin and fallen short of the glory of God, requiring Christ’s redemption. (Romans 3:23)

Reply to Objection 2 (that he’s not a descendant): Of the Savior, Scripture says, “Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham,” and St. Paul the Apostle teaches, “It is those who have faith who are children of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:16, Galatians 3:7) Therefore, Jesus came to save those who have faith. St. John the Baptist said, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9) Nothing prevents God from granting the faith necessary for baptism to the Man of Steel.

Reply to Objection 3 (that his nature’s incompatible): The philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) said, “the higher includes the lower.” The title “Superman” implies that Clark Kent’s nature includes that which constitutes man. Though he can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel with his bare hands, with just a quick change of clothes and a pair of glasses Clark Kent is entirely inconspicuous living mild-manneredly among humanity. He shares in every meaningful aspect of the human condition: joy and sorrow, strength and vulnerability, birth and even death. Our Savior himself exhibits powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary men; walking on water, calming storms, and more. Nothing found in Superman is beyond what Jesus can image and redeem, so nothing in Clark Kent’s Kryponian nature is incompatible for union with the Body of Christ through baptism.

6 Responses to “Should Superman Be Baptized? A Thomistic Disputation”

  1. JoyceU Says:

    So we have to take space aliens on a case by case basis as well? :) Would it hurt to just baptize them all and “let God sort them out?”

  2. suburbanbanshee Says:

    Traditionally, in the Middle Ages, the Church tended to consider all rational beings that had material bodies and souls as being humans. It wasn’t exactly clear how this worked, if one was human and not a biological descendant of Adam and Eve. It could be argued that Adam’s dominion extended to the entire physical universe, or that it only counted on Earth. It could be argued that creatures on other planets could be unfallen (although yes, the Superman of the comics is not perfect and sinless, so obviously he’s a fallen creature).

    Creatures that looked very different, like the dog-headed men, were sometimes legendarily changed by Baptism into humans of normal appearance. Basically because their weird physiologies were supposedly from some kind of demonic curse or divine punishment, from which Baptism set them free.

    (This legend trope could have derived from the physical transformation of Asenath in the apocryphal story of Joseph and Asenath, in which Asenath’s conversion to Judaism and mikvah bath result in a physical transformation of her body (and yes, this was taken by Christians as a legendary foreshadowing of Christian baptism).)

    If all the aliens in the universe were actually pagan humans kidnapped by demons and weirdly genetically engineered, or supernaturally magicked, into alien forms, obviously it would be a big surprise to them to start looking different after Baptism.

  3. Christian Renaissance Movement Says:

    It’s objection 2 that seems to have an issue – the sacramental economy turns on the sin of Adam, from whom original sin is derived/inherited. Humani Generis goes out of its way to talk about this issue, albeit it is concerned with earthly polygenism. Different descent, different debt to pay/atone for – if God wants to atone for it. (Then there is the issue of “pure nature” – where there was no fall but no original justice either.)

    The clearer solutions seems to be that the Son takes on the flesh of the other human race (thus having multiple incarnations, which St. Thomas clarifies is theoretically possible) and mirrors our own redemption.

  4. AbunaSayf Says:

    You wrote this 15 years ago…wow!

  5. Martin Arbagi Says:

    As a student at Georgetown University in the late 1950s, I heard from one faculty member (not a theologian) that in the early 1950s, a secret task force had been convened by the Vatican on just this subject: if humans come into contact with intelligent aliens from other worlds, should we try to convert them? After some debate, the panel of experts concluded that Jesus had come into the world to save humanity, not space aliens. Ergo, Superman ought not be baptized. But no definitive papal pronouncement has ever been made on the matter.

  6. Howard Says:

    If you enjoy this kind of idle speculation, here’s one for you: suppose you, a Catholic priest, fall through at time warp to the time of King David. Could you validly say Mass? Would you be obliged to keep kosher and obey all of the law of Moses?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: