McDonnell, Kilian & Montague, George T. "Chapter Nineteen: Philoxenus: 'Our Baptism is the Holy Spirit.'" Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 266-287.
McDonnell considers the fact that there may well have been a significant non-Greek gospel tradition in early Christianity. While Aramaic is often neglected as a world language, it certainly served as an international language between 500 and 200 B.C. Additionally, "Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, or, more precisely, is Lat Aramaic" (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 267). Though the Syriac New Testament was translated from Greek, the early Syrian Christian authors wrote and thought in a direct linguistic line descended from synagogue culture. Jewish Christianity remained alive and well in Syria (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 268). Hellenization was relatively late, according to McDonnell, not gaining ascendancy until the seventh century, after a slow start late in the fourth century and through the fifth (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 269).
McDonnell considers Philoxenus of Mabbug (c. 440-523) as an important character in these changes (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 269). Philoxenus, who had extensive training in translation of texts from Greek to Syriac, in his commentary on the Prologue of John, proposed that a new translation of the Bible should be made, due to imprecision in Syriac renderings of precise Greek passages. McDonnell sees this as part of a larger tendency on his part to prefer Greek to Syriac (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 270). Philoxenus became involved in monophysite beliefs, and also considered the ascetic movement to be an important form of discipleship (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 271).
McDonnell finds Philoxenus as describing Jesus as the one whose life changed, at his baptism, to a life characterized by ascetic, solitary, fellowship with God (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 272-273). Philoxenus' understanding is that the baptism Christians receive is also the event which moves the Christian into an ascetic, solitary, fellowship with God. The faith and the work of the Holy Spirit delivered through catechesis and baptism, respectively, grow so as to create a sort of Christian sensation, which should eventually replace our earthly and fleshly sensations (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 274). There is a strong emphasis on growing in grace, evidenced by our manner of life. Philoxenus gravitates toward the image of the birth of a baby in his process of growing to maturity (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 275). Just as a newborn is not mature in perceptions about the world, so the newly baptized person may well be deficient in his Christian walk. Through a series of disciplined responses to life situations, the Christian gains maturity and has adequate sensation of the world (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 277).
McDonnell also finds in Philoxenus a logical argument that we may have three births and two baptisms (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 279). The first birth is our natural, physical birth. The second, and the first baptism, is when we are baptized through the sacramental rite. The third birth and second baptism takes place when we give way to an ascetic life, the life of the Spirit.
McDonnell sees in Philoxenus a high level of continuity with Jewish thought. The Christians are on a journey analogous to Israel's Exodus. They pass through water and yet have to receive God's law before choosing to enter into God's land of promise (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 282). Jesus, in moving from his baptism to his temptation in the wilderness, repeats the Exodus. Philoxenus sees the Christian life as a self-conscious imitation of this Exodus pattern (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 283).
In sum, McDonnell finds Philoxenus to be a challenging figure, in large part because he had such a vivid perception of the way the Holy Spirit would work in the Christian. Though this was not unique to Philoxenus, it does create a challenge. Schismatic people and groups held very similarly vivid views (McDonnell & Montague 1991, 284).