A Christmas present

December 25, 2010

Earlier this year, I began making available on this blog digital recordings of the New Testament, read chapter by chapter in the original Greek (links to them are found on the page titled The New Testament read in Greek.) As of today, Christmas Day 2010, these recordings are finished; I added the Gospel of John to the page early this morning. Those who wish may now download, gratis, a complete recording of the Greek New Testament.

Wishing all readers of this blog a Merry Christmas.

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις Θεῷ!

It is getting towards the end of the semester, and, as might be expected, books sit poised in precarious piles on my kitchen table, and there is a stack of students’ papers that needs to be attended to, though my aging body tells me to sleep. When I am able to summon up the willpower, I do attend to them. Not surprisingly, those papers that are most poorly written take the longest to read, and are the hardest to evaluate — for example, although it seems clear that so-and-so actually found an essay written by someone else in another language and applied Google Translate to it and handed me the results as though it were her own work, and, even so, didn’t really follow the assignment, nevertheless, I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt and give her a C for this paper; particularly since her grade for the semester is already close to failing, and I don’t feel like pushing her over the edge.

Today’s class was a particularly difficult one to teach, but I think I got through it okay. We are at the point of talking about Islam. It is a subject upon which I have very mixed feelings. Having spent last Wednesday talking about Muhammad and his personal history, I spent today talking about the origins of the caliphate, and the phenomenal early growth of the Islamic empire that, within a century of the death of Muhammad, spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus Valley. The question was inevitably raised, whether Islam is a religion of the sword. The textbook we are using, Mary Pat Fisher’s Living Religions, states categorically that it is not. I tried to point out that the question is not so simple, that there are different passages in the Koran that lead different Muslims to interpret their own religion in different ways; one passage (Sura 2:256) states: “There is no compulsion in religion”; another, later passage (Sura 9:29) commands Muslims to fight against the Peoples of the Book (i.e., Jews and Christians) “until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled,” that is, become “Dhimmi.” Pagan Arabs are given the simple choice of death or conversion. (“Slay the polytheists wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, let them go their way; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate”) (Sura 9:5). So, I said, it seemed to me that different Muslim scholars, by laying emphasis upon one or another of these passages, arrive at different interpretations of Islam’s relationship to the non-Muslim world; some do see it as essentially militant, others do not. There are a couple of Muslims in my class; I asked them if they thought I was misrepresenting the religion; one of them said no, the other answered as though I were asking about religion in general, and protested that people ought simply to be nice to one another and not make religion an excuse for their differences. The first student then added that religious violence is not an exclusively Islamic problem, and I agreed with that. But by this time many students in the class were showing signs of feeling uncomfortable, and, as I am sensitive to the limitations of their patience and attention spans, I moved on as best I could to speak about other things.

Were I an ideal professor, I might provide my students with answers to all questions: to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to thirteen centuries of Christian-Muslim antagonism, etc. But I am not an ideal professor, and I do not know the answers to all questions. I know that, as a Christian, I cannot accept the claim that God does not have a Son, or that Jesus did not really die upon the cross, claims which are taught by the Koran and which plainly conflict with the teaching of the New Testament. But also, as a Christian, I cannot simply watch fellow human beings be treated as subhuman. St. John, in his first epistle, says that the one who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist (1 John 2:22). I take that warning seriously. But I do not think it gives me, or anyone else, a license to hate.

Today is my 51st birthday. In celebration thereof, I am giving readers of this blog a present, of sorts; recordings of the New Testament, read aloud in the original language. You will find this present on the sidebar, under the title The New Testament read in Greek.

Cristian Ciopron is a Romanian physician who writes the blog Din viaţã. For about a year now, I have corresponded with him by e-mail. The following essay is a revision of a recent post to his blog; I asked him to send me an English version of it, and have edited it with a view to improving the English grammar, but not to changing its content.

The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in the Synoptic Gospels. It is an event narrated only by the Synoptics, as it belongs to their logic and to their line of discourse about who Jesus of Nazareth is. These Gospels narrate the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor as a sequence of events, the first of them being a visible manifestation of Christ’s identity, something which must be interpreted in conjunction with the other signs. I presume that the Gospels are speaking about a visible light, a visible reality, not about a metaphorical light, such as the light of knowledge or understanding; in fact, each synoptic author tries to convey the exact impression made by the Lord’s transfigured luminosity, and seems to indicate a visible light, something to be seen, in the proper sense of the word. I believe that the Gospels speak about a light pertaining to the domain of visibility, not to that of knowledge.

According to a certain fashionable reading of the Transfiguration narrative, the core of the episode is to be found in the visible signs of Christ’s glory—making the other events more or less redundant, mere restatements of what was already shown in the first step. In my view, it would be more true to say that the progression of events on Mt. Tabor shows a patent crescendo, from the radiance of Christ’s face to, secondly, the testimony of the Old Testament prophets, and then to the real climax of the story, the Father’s concise utterance. The three elements join together, pointing to a conclusion. All of this has a very synoptic ring to it, and the event was indeed one which all the Synoptic Evangelists thought deserved a quite detailed narration and found to be useful for their purposes.

The three signs of Jesus’ filial quality (visible radiance; the prophets’ testimony; God’s voice) lead to one another, and do not merely repeat the same message, but the first two are completed and given their deepest meaning only in the third. The Father’s declaration provides the key to what the Apostles have witnessed. The radiance of Jesus’ face stemmed from his prayer (cf. St. Luke 9: 28-29) and led to, or prepared, the Father’s declaration.

The Transfiguration, as an event narrated in its threefold, synoptic form, is one of the Gospels centering upon Christ’s identity—linked not only with the Caesarea Philippi event, which it follows, but also with the Baptism theophany. It illustrates what Stephen Williams has called the “theology (and language) of sonship deployed in the Synoptics.” [1]

The Transfiguration completes the itinerary begun at Caesarea Philippi, but it mirrors Christ’s first public consecration—his Baptism in the waters of the Jordan. The testimony of St. John the Baptist is mirrored by the testimony brought by the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament. St. Basil (in his work On Baptism) notes that the baptismal water is “the likeness of the cross, and of death, and of the grave, and of resurrection from the dead”; and, in the same writing, St. Basil repeats that baptism by water is “the likeness of the cross and of death.” On this large scale, both of these events in the life of Jesus, both his Baptism and his Transfiguration, point to Jesus’ mission and to his redemptive death.

St. Basil understands and interprets the baptism of Christians by Jesus’ Cross and redemptive death. In this view, not only does the Transfiguration correspond to Christ’s Baptism, but his very Baptism announces and foretells the Passion, the baptismal water being the symbol St. Basil says it is. (In baptism, Christians are “planted together with Christ in the likeness of his death.”)

At the Jordan, Jesus was shown to the world; on Mt. Tabor, he is shown to three chosen disciples, and they are required to keep secret what they have witnessed. So what is disclosed here is of a secret nature, and this secret is temporary; they are not to make it public until he conquers death—“till the Son of man is risen from the dead,” writes St. Mark.

To whom does the Father address his words on Mt. Tabor? He speaks, presumably, to the frightened disciples.

The “synoptic look” of the Tabor episode is striking—it is very much something that a synoptic writer would narrate. The Transfiguration belongs very much in a synoptic frame, in the intention of a Christology “from below.” Equally obvious is that the evangelists describe, in material terms, a physical, visible light, seen by the apostles with their bodily eyes. Each evangelist is striving to convey a sensorial impression of Christ’s appearance; they do not employ it as a metaphor for a higher knowledge, but as a description of what the three apostles physically saw.

The Transfiguration mirrors Christ’s Baptism, announces his Crucifixion, and has a pedagogic function: it shows the apostles an “image of the kingdom,” a “symbol of the future glory” (St. Theophylact), fulfilling the promise made. It foretells the Resurrection, the glory and the kingdom, before the Crucifixion. The Fathers call this vision a symbol of the glory, an image of the kingdom: more a foretaste than the unveiling of a camouflaged reality. (St. Gregory the Dialogist doesn’t share this interpretation; he believes that the kingdom which Jesus had promised that some of those standing there would see is the Church.) The Transfiguration is linked with the Baptism, with the Crucifixion, and with the Resurrection.

St. Luke’s narration is very precise; he writes that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray, and was transfigured during his prayer. St. Luke is also the only evangelist to indicate the content of Jesus’ conversation with the two prophets.

The Gospels give precise attestation to the visual-sensible nature of the experience on Tabor. The luminousness is not, for the synoptic authors, a metaphor, but a visual characteristic. The data pertain to the seen, bodily nature of the experience. The Taboric episode has to be understood in terms of its connections, in its relation to the Holy Spirit’s descent at the Baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22, John 1:32-34)—both events prefiguring the Christian sacraments of anointment, chrismation and consecration—and to the Crucifixion. The error made by some consists in insolating this mystagogical event, which leads to its de-signification. In isolation, it can no longer be understood; it comes to mean nothing, or wrong meanings are arbitrarily assigned to it. The visual splendor is (only) the preparation for the Cross: it is Jesus’ strengthening, and the Apostles’ education. Here the Lord chose to instruct his disciples by glory, which some fathers call the glory of his resurrection, and, we hope, of our own as well, and which other fathers call the divine glory. The Transfiguration has a function in the economy of this redeeming passion. As a manifestation of Jesus’ power or hidden substance, the episode on Tabor is correlated with the notion of the economic passion; it places Christ’s mundane itinerary into a sovereign perspective, appearing as the specification of the Messiah’s place in the economy; the references are to redemption-history and to sonship, showing the unity of the Covenants in order to make fully evident the Nazarene’s dignity as Son. In the narratives of the Synoptic Gospels, the transfigured Jesus’ visible characteristics do not possess more significance than the prophets’ presence, the heavenly voice, the apostles’ confusion. With the transfigured face as overture, the account ascends towards its full meaning.

There is, in other words, something else going on in the Transfiguration, besides Jesus’ new radiance, which serves to designate him as Son. The Taboric episode belongs rather to a Christology “from below,” ascending. It is not by chance that only the Synoptics see the need to report it. The Tabor event belongs to the Messianic order; it doesn’t belong to a Christology of the Godhead, a Christology descending “from above”; rather, it belongs to a Christology of the glorified humanity, permeated by God, to a Christology of sonship, of the One chosen, manifested as Son. The Tabor event is exemplary for the New Testament’s Christology of sonship; a synoptic logic underlines it, an understanding “from below” motivates its presence and the Synoptics’ unanimity.

This enigmatic event forms, in fact, a counterpoise to the Spirit’s descent at Jesus’ baptism in Jordan; it is also one of the few passages where Jesus’ face and physical appearance have a role.

The disciples will again see a changed, transfigured Jesus: after his Resurrection. The resurrected Jesus is again a transfigured Jesus, one on whose face and body shine and radiate the deepest layers of reality; though none of the accounts of his appearances after the Resurrection mention a resemblance to his luminosity on Mt. Tabor.[2] Anyway, what happened on Mt. Tabor already points to Christ’s victory on the Cross, that joyful victory that resounds in St. Paul’s letters, in the Acts and in the Book of Revelation.

The Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor is one of the best-attested episodes in Jesus’ life, described by all three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew (17: 1-13), Mark (9: 2-9), and Luke (9: 28-36). Newer exegetes pretend not to see what correspondence all these synoptic accounts could have with historical fact. The accounts, are, though, remarkably at unison (with St. Luke’s being the most detailed).

Bede says that this glory was the glory of the resurrected flesh: “Our Savior then, when transfigured, did not lose the substance of real flesh, but showed forth the glory of his own or of our future resurrection; for such as he then appeared to the Apostles, he will after the judgment appear to all his elect.” The Fathers insist that Jesus’ Transfiguration is not a real transformation, a change of his shape, but only an adding of light, and that he did not change or modify his figure, that the Taboric event brings no modification in Jesus; this, probably, in order to prevent interpretations of an Adoptionist bent. But St. Thomas’s comments in the Catena for St. Matthew (XVII, vv 1—4) suggest why another misinterpretation has to be avoided as well: “He appeared to the eyes of the Apostles such as he will appear at the Judgment Day. Let us not imagine, though, that he left his first shape and his ordinary figure, and that he left the true body … to take a spiritual or aerial body.… Because the Evangelist (St. Matthew) describes the brightness of his face and the whiteness of his raiment, the substance was not, therefore, destroyed; only the brightness was changed. Doubtless the Lord was transformed in this glory which he will wear when he will come to establish his kingdom; but this transformation gave him a new brightness, without changing the features nor the nature of his face. Let us suppose that his body has become a spiritual body; was the nature of his raiment changed as well? It became so white, says another Evangelist (Mark), that no fuller on earth could give it a similar whiteness. Now objects of this kind have a bodily form, can be touched, and are not something spiritual and aerial.…”

Light, to be visible, has to be an electromagnetic wave within a certain range of wavelengths. Uncreated light, if taken in a sensorial sense, as in the Mt. Tabor event, would mean uncreated electromagnetic waves.

Yet, if exegetes do not believe that Christ’s substance was changed or transformed at the Transfiguration, their explanations tend nonetheless to imply that the change was in him, and that it was real, not that it was in the Apostles’ capacity to perceive what they couldn’t seize before. So, Christ does not change his substance on Mt Tabor; nor do his Apostles. There is, in exchange, a real, objective, physical transformation in Christ’s shining. (The mere fact that Jesus separates himself with his three disciples from the rest of the group suggests that the event is an objective one, accessible to witnesses, not an interior change in a few chosen who are thus made apt to see what they couldn’t see before.)

It is interesting that St. Thomas insists that Jesus kept the substance of his body and in this very Body he shone, and in this body he showed the eschatological luminosity of the resurrected. This implies that the Resurrection’s light is accessible to human beings, such as the Apostles, in their present condition, provided it is shown to them.

Besides, the Gospels and Church Fathers not only fail to mention any preliminary, preparatory mystical improvement in the Apostles’ spiritual condition, necessary for seeing what they couldn’t see before—but they insist on the Apostles’ fear (“for they were sore afraid,” St. Mark) and on St. Peter’s clumsiness and uninspired proposal (“for he wist not what to say”).

The accounts of the Transfiguration speak almost as much about the Apostles as about the Christ.

Hardly the condition of the elect when they will be deemed to see God in Heaven, and hardly a very exquisite condition of spiritual perfection. The Apostles behave as if they are still on this side of the fence—frightened, confused, clumsy, uninspired (and the interpreters speculate on St. Peter’s obtuseness and not very generous reasons in making such a proposal as he did). The Apostles’ behavior does not look like the apotheosis of the elect made fit to see God Himself in heaven. On the contrary, their encounter with the Kingdom leads to fear, confusion and lack of inspiration. St. Jerome gives a harsh reading to St. Peter’s uninspired intentions; so does Rabanus. Origen is more indulgent. St. Luke says the Apostles were sleepy. St. John of Damascus concludes that the disciples hadn’t yet received the fullness of the Holy Ghost.

The same Bede, quoted by St. Thomas in his Catena Aurea (on St. Mark), says that the Transfiguration is a new revealing of the mystery of the Holy Trinity—the Holy Spirit appears as a “bright cloud.” (Bede also says that, at the Resurrection, the elect will be sheltered “by the glorious rays of the Holy Spirit.”)

Some Fathers believe that the Transfiguration serves as an instruction about the life of the resurrected. In a gloss in his Catena for St. Matthew, St. Thomas observes that the Transfiguration mirrors Christ’s Baptism because, in fact, the Transfiguration mirrors the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the second regeneration, Baptism was the first. St. Thomas analyzes the relation of “the mystery of this second regeneration, which must take place at the Resurrection, when our body will rise again,” with “the mystery of the first (regeneration), which takes place in baptism, where the soul is reborn to new life.” So the Transfiguration stands in relationship with Baptism via the Resurrection. St. Thomas calls the Transfiguration “the mysterious symbol of the second regeneration,” and believes that the whole Trinity appears (the Holy Spirit appearing as the cloud). The Holy Spirit gives, in baptism, innocence; in the resurrection, shining and refreshment.

Christ’s transfiguration as an overabundant radiance announces God’s nearness; one is reminded of Exodus 34:29, where the skin of Moses’ face shone “because he had been talking with God.” Jesus’ new luminosity is the luminosity of one who stands before God, and also something higher. St. John of Damascus makes this comparison, but adds that the shining of glory came to Moses from an exterior principle, while for the Lord it was “the inborn splendor of the divine glory.” St. John of Damascus is the interpreter who gives the most “from above” reading: “the Word and human nature have one and the same glory,” the body shining with the glory of God. Yet, on a second look, St. John only expresses forcefully what all the other fathers grant: that Christ shines on Tabor with his glory, which is also the glory of his Resurrection, of the kingdom, and, to some degree, of the future resurrection of the elect. (And, with this, we have arrived at another issue, the theology of glory in the Exodus, 33: 19-20, where the holy Moses sees God’s glory, but not his face. In this sense, Jesus shows on Mt. Tabor what was shown to Moses: God’s glory.)

A threefold testimony: Christ’s shining, the prophets’ presence and conversation, and the Father’s voice. There is an obvious gradation: it begins with Christ in his own obvious excellence, it continues with the Old Testament’s testimony (and an irrefutable one, bringing the two most esteemed Old Testament prophets), showing him to be in accord with what has been given before, and it concludes with the Father himself. So Christ’s status is “proved” (a) by himself, (b) by the Law and Prophets, and (c) by the Father. This constitutes the threefold testimony about the Christ’s filial dignity.

Stephen Williams writes that “according to Matthew and Mark, the voice heard on the mount of transfiguration referred to ‘the Son whom I love’ (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7). In Luke, it is ‘my Son, whom I have chosen’ (9:35). ln all these cases, we are directed back to the baptism of Jesus Christ, and the words heard when Jesus was baptised are commonly taken to echo the words of Isaiah 42:1: ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight’ and Psalm 2:7: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’”[3]

Modern exegetes have taken note of the pedagogic interpretation given by the Fathers: the Transfiguration is understood more in terms of the benefit of the faithful, of its utility for the Apostles’ instruction, as something meant to instruct and edify the Apostles and then, in due time, the rest of the faithful, than in the dynamic of Christ’s own life.

The first text to propose such a reading of the Taboric event is 2 Peter 1:16-18. The testimony offered by the author also implicitly links Transfiguration with Baptism in the river Jordan. Both at 2 Peter 1:17 and at Matthew 3:17, the Father’s declaration is addressed to the bystanders (at the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, the Father’s words are addressed to Jesus himself). The two ends of Jesus’ public career are thus guarded and confirmed by similar events of an epiphanic nature, by two proclamations of sonship. St. Luke’s narrative account of this seems the one most freed from the common pattern, since it gives the only indices we possess about Jesus’ inner life during this event—Luke’s Gospel is the only one that mentions Jesus’ prayer and the topic of his conversation with the two exemplars of the Old Covenant. In Luke, we get a glimpse of the Transfiguration within the dynamic of the Messiah’s life: the event takes place while he is praying, and we are given some idea about Jesus’ interaction with the two prophets.

The Synoptics narrate the Baptism (St. John preserves the Forerunner’s testimony, John 1:32-33); they also, unlike John, narrate the Transfiguration. St. Luke suggests that the Transfiguration is Jesus’ preparation for his suffering to come, a strengthening, similar to the one in the garden of Gethsemane. Moses and Elijah are summoned to confirm that Jesus is the Master for whom they have worked. Jesus instructs his Apostles, not only by showing them the divine glory, but also by linking it with his own future destiny and that of the elect, the glory of the Resurrection and of the Kingdom. There are multiple aspects to be seen in this event: there is pedagogy, instruction for the Apostles and for future believers, and, in Jesus’ prayer and his conversation about the approaching Passion, one perceives what may be called, in the words of one Latin Father, “the glory of the Cross.”


[1] Cf. Stephen Williams, “The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ (Part 2) — Approaching Sonship,” Themelios 28.2 (Spring 2003), 16-27.

[2] On the resurrection appearances, cf. H. B. Swete, The Appearances of Our Lord after the Passion, 1908.

[3] Williams, op. cit.

H. B. Swete (1835-1917), a minister of the Church of England and, from 1890 to 1915, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, was one of the great English patristic and biblical scholars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; his books and articles still retain their value, and, in particular, I have long found his studies of the history of the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit to be among the most enlightening and dependable things written on that subject. Below is transcribed the final chapter, pp. 97-114, of his last book, published posthumously, The Life of the World to Come: Six Addresses given by the late Henry Barclay Swete (London and New York, 1917); it is a lenten sermon, delivered by him in the year 1917 to his parishioners in the village of Hitchin, halfway between London and Cambridge.

Eternal Life and Summary

“I believe in the life everlasting.” So ends the Apostles’ Creed, as we recite it at Mattins and Evensong. But in the Baptismal Office, the sponsor is asked, “Dost thou believe in everlasting life after death?

The old Roman Creed of the second century ended with “the resurrection of the flesh.” When “the life everlasting” first appears in a creed toward the middle of the third century, it takes the place of “the resurrection of the flesh,” and was probably regarded as an alternative for that article. Later on, it followed the Resurrection, as it does now. “The life everlasting” in our present creed is therefore no doubt the life after death, or rather, after the Resurrection. The Church will be raised again, that it may for ever live, in the glorified body, with Christ in the presence of God.

We thought last week of the body in which we shall rise if we are Christ’s. To-day we think of the life which we shall live in the risen body.

But first let us deal with a conception of eternal life which we find in S. John, and which regards it as something not future only, but present, a possession which the Christian man or woman has here and now. At first sight this seems to contradict our Creed, for the Creed, as we have seen, places eternal life after death and after the Resurrection, whereas, according to S. John, it is ours while we are still on earth. “He that believeth on the Son,” he says, “hath eternal life” (John 3: 36); and again, using Christ’s words, “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6: 54)—where the present gift of eternal life is clearly contrasted with the future gift of the Resurrection. The same identification of eternal life with the present life of faith appears in S. John’s first Epistle. “God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath the life” (1 John 5: 11, 12). He has it here and now, and does not only hope for it hereafter.

But what is eternal life, according to S. John? We have the answer in John xvii. 3, at the beginning of our Lord’s great high-priestly prayer. “This is life eternal, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Him whom Thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” The knowledge of God and of Christ which comes of faith, love, fellowship, is a life which death cannot touch. And this, in its beginnings, every sincere Christian has already. It will be realized more fully after death, and yet far more after resurrection; but it begins on earth; the resurrection of the body cannot begin it, where it has not been before, but will only perfect and complete it. Our knowledge of God here is, as S. Paul would say, the first-fruits, the earnest of our great inheritance, secured to us already by the gift of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ. There is therefore no disagreement between S. John’s teaching and the Creed; both are true, though they represent different aspects of the truth. S. John thinks of eternal life as already begun in the life of the Spirit which is ours on earth; the Creed speaks of the same life as perfected, after death and resurrection, in heaven. To-day we will take the Creed’s view of life eternal, and consider it in its future development, as it will be when our nature is perfected by the resurrection of the body.

1. In the life beyond the Resurrection eternal life will consist of the knowledge of God and of Christ. The partial knowledge which is ours here, S. Paul says (1 Cor 13: 8 ff.), shall be “done away.” We speak and think now of the great realities of our faith as children speak and think of the things that concern their elders. The strange conceptions that children form, the crude or naïve words in which they express their conceptions, fall away from them as they grow to maturity; the man puts away “childish things.” They were appropriate in childhood, but if they are retained by the adult, they mark him as of feeble mind. So, it may be, the terms and forms of our theology will pass from us; we shall need them no more. Creeds, exact definitions of our faith, dogmas, and articles of religion, are fitting and necessary now; to try to free ourselves from them is to behave like children who copy their seniors, and merely make themselves ridiculous. But the sons of the Resurrection will have reached maturity, and will no longer need the things of childhood. They will see “face to face”; they will see God in the person of Jesus Christ; they will know God in the same intimate way in which He now knows them. And as their knowledge of Him will be vastly greater than ours, so their spiritual life will be incomparably fuller. Now it is a life animated by faith and hope; then it will be a life of vision upon vision. Now we see as in a mirror, the metal mirror of ancient days, which gave a dim and broken reflection; things spiritual and heavenly are riddles at the meaning of which we can only guess. In the coming age the riddles of life will be cleared up and solved in the light of God. “What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13: 7); and that full, ever-growing knowledge will be eternal life matured.

2. Eternal life is perfect knowledge of God: quem nosse vivere—”in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life.” But it is more than knowledge; it is (secondly) possession. It is, again to quote S. John (2 Jn 9), to have Christ, and so to have God; to “have both the Father and the Son”: to possess God as our own.

Like so many other New Testament ideas, this thought runs back into the Old Testament. In the partition of the land of Canaan among the tribes, the Levites were passed over, and had no territory assigned to them, because their tribe had God Himself for its portion. The Psalmists take up this conception, and apply it to themselves. “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, and of my cup…. I have a goodly heritage” (Ps 16: 5, 6); “God is my portion for ever” (Ps 73: 25); “thou art my portion in the land of the living” (Ps 142: 5).

Jesus Christ, and God in Christ, is the portion of the Church. There is indeed a reverse to this truth, or rather a complementary truth, that the Church is Christ’s portion, His particular property, His purchased possession. “Ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s,” S. Paul writes to the Church at Corinth (1 Cor 3: 23). But if we are His, so also is He ours. His whole Person and work is ours; He is “made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1: 30). His life, His death, His Resurrection, are all ours; they are made over to us in the Sacraments; we appropriate them by faith; each of us can say, as Thomas did, when he saw and believed, “My Lord and my God.” But in Him we say “Our Father”; His God and Father is our God and Father also. And to have Christ for our own is to have Him who is the Life; it is “life indeed” (1 Tim 6: 19). Even here a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of his earthly possessions, but in the abundant supply of the supernatural life which flows from the Head of the Church into all its true members. But the risen saints will no longer live by faith, as the just do here on earth; they will see their great possession. They will no longer draw supplies of grace from Him through sacramental channels, but by immediate contact and fellowship with the Lord. They stand before the Lamb; they follow Him whithersoever He goeth, and He guides them to fountains of the water of life. He is theirs, and they are His; and the mutual relation, realized and enjoyed, is the deepest, the fullest life.

3. But eternal life is not privilege only, or enjoyment; it is service; it is work.

We make a great mistake if we connect with our conception of Heaven the thought of rest from work. Rest from toil, from weariness, from exhaustion—yes; rest from work, from productiveness, from service—no. That abundant and increasing vitality of spirit and of body which is poured into the saints from the glorified Christ, that life from the very source of life, is not to be spent in idle harping upon harps of gold, reclining on clouds, or wandering aimlessly through the paradise of God, clad in white robes and with crowned heads. These apocalyptic pictures are symbols of a bliss which passes words; but there is another side to the picture, which is too often forgotten in our anticipations of the life to come. “They rest not day and night” (Rev 4: 8); they “serve day and night” (Rev 7: 15); “His servants shall do Him service” (Rev 22: 3).

The activities of the heavenly life are beyond our knowledge, as they are at present beyond our powers. From Him that sits on the throne to the least of saints at His feet, all are at work. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” said our Lord (Jn 5: 17). It is the law of the Divine life. It is the law of all life which is worthy of the name. Here work is broken, necessarily—rightly broken—by intervals of rest. God has given us the night for sleep, as He has given the day for work. And there are longer intervals caused by sickness, or enforced abstinence from work, and the last, immeasurable interval of death. To each of us “the night cometh, when no man can work” (Jn 9: 4). But beyond, in the age to come, there lie illimitable fields of work. Work without weariness, without rest, because there is no need of rest, and no desire for it; work which is rest and joy, the keen delight of overflowing vitality, perfect health, unclouded brain, untiring strength, absolute devotion.

And all this work is service. “His servants shall serve Him.” It is one of the best features of our day that so much time and thought are given by men and women to the “service of man.” Christ served humanity: “the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mk 10: 45); not to be served, but to serve, and even to give His life for mankind. It is Christ-like to serve man. Yet to serve God, as they will serve Him in the world to come, is greater and nobler. But let us understand what we mean by this. “Divine Service,” as usually understood, means the public prayers of the Church. We inherit the phrase from monasticism, which spoke of the hours of prayer as the Opus or Servitium Dei, the “work” or “service” of God. But we are mistaken if we think of the life of heaven as worship only in our sense of the word. Worship, no doubt, it will be, all of it, because in that world all work will be worship, and every act will be brought into relation with God, will be a doing of His will, an offering of a free heart to Him, a priestly service acceptable to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We shall serve as priests and kings; for to serve God, as the old Collect says, is to reign. It is perfect freedom; it is royalty. To serve God without intermission in every thought and act is the highest glory, and the ultimate goal of human nature.

4. Will eternal service grow monotonous, as the ages advance? Many lives here are saddened by monotony. There is the same round of trivial duties to be discharged day by day, without any prospect of change or incident before the end. Men and women in this position become too often mere machines; their drab existence works itself out in unbroken dulness till the hour of death cuts it short. Imagine a deathless life of this kind, with immensely increased powers, to be employed eternally in the repetition of certain acts which at last become mechanical!

Not such is the eternal life to which we are called. It is not only a life of knowledge, of service, but a life of unceasing progress towards the infinite Wisdom and Goodness and Power.

There is in the world as we know it much progress which is hurtful and downward in its tendency. “Whosover goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ (so writes S. John in his second Epistle” hath not God.” Those are weighty words, worthy to be borne in mind in an age which attaches inordinate value to mere progressiveness. True progress is not found in breaking away from the old ways, but in abiding in the teaching of Christ and His Spirit in the Church. There is an apparent contradiction here, for how can we abide, and yet advance? It is a paradox, like much else in scripture; but Christian experience proves it true. Those make the best progress in religion who hold fast by the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and not those who drift away from their moorings, rudderless upon a sea of doubt.

For the saints in the world to come there can be no change in the object of their faith and hope and love. They have Christ, they have God, and they are satisfied. There can be no monotony in the contemplation and worship of the Infinite. Their great possession is unchangeable, but also inexhaustible; no change is possible where all is love and truth. The centre of the heavenly life is fixed and immovable, but the circumference may ever be advancing toward the centre; the saints may ever be drawing nearer and nearer to a goal which they can never reach. There may be progress in knowledge, progress in enjoyment, progress in service—a progress which at every point will open up new wonders, new opportunities, new outlooks into a greater future, and as that future unfolds itself, new and unsuspected scopes for the energies of redeemed men, new ways of fellowship with God in Christ, new companionships with the good and great of past generations, and with angelic beings who have watched and guarded us in life, and rejoiced over our repentance, and are ready to welcome us into the eternal mansions, and will share our worship and our work, our service and our joy, in the ages to come.

But may we carry the idea of time into the life beyond? And if not, how can there be progress? The true answer seems to be that which has been given by a great living philosopher (Bergson), that while what he calls “clock-time” is limited to the present life, “duration” continues in the world to come. That is, as I understand him to mean, although we cannot think of divisions of time, such as hours and days and years, as existing in a future life, there will be succession there, age following age, though no age, as it passes, takes away from the sum total of that deathless life. Certainly this is assumed everywhere in the Bible, where the next world is called “the ages of the ages” (e.g., Phil 4: 20), and even once by S. Paul “all the generations of the age of ages” (Eph 3: 21). As the ages roll by, only that other ages may succeed them, the happy saints will find themselves nearer to God and to Christ, not raised as on earth by a cross, but drawn toward the Throne by growing love and fellowship—of which there is no limit, and no end.

* * *

Let me spend the rest of our time to-day in gathering up the threads of these six instructions into one final view of the life of the world to come.

1. The immortality of the soul—i.e., its survival after the death of the body—is one of the oldest beliefs in the world. It was held in Egypt some 3,000 years before Christ, and in Babylonia, before Abraham went out of Ur to the land of Canaan. Israel inherited this belief, and in some of the Psalms it is expressed in noble words which Christians can make their own. In Greece and at Rome it was part of the popular faith, but by the Christian era this belief had gradually lost its hold upon the educated classes in the Gentile world, who were, as S. Paul says, practically without hope of a future life. The Gospel restored hope, and made it for the first time a living reality. Our Lord, but His teaching and His own Resurrection from the dead, threw a bright life on the life of the future. Immortality became, in His illuminating presence, far more than a survival of the soul after death; for Christians it means the sure and certain hope of the ultimate restoration both of soul and body to a blessed eternal life with God.

2. Of the life of the soul in the interval between death and resurrection we know comparatively little. But the dark exile of the Hebrew Sheol, the gloom and dreadfulness of the Greek Hades, have been robbed of their terrors by our Lord’s descent into the state of the departed. For His own faithful people He has converted Sheol and Hades into Abraham’s bosom, into the Garden of the Lord. He Himself remained in Hades or Paradise, in His human soul, but for a few hours, long enough, however, to welcome the spirit of the penitent robber and to proclaim the news of His victory to the spirits in prison. But though He is not now in Hades, but in Heaven, He vouchsafes His spiritual presence to the faithful departed after a manner of which we have but faint experience here; they are “at home with the Lord,” they are “with Christ, which is very far better” than life on earth can be. And to be with Him, in this fuller sense, must surely be to be purged from the remains of all earthly imperfections, and to grow more and more prepared for the final life of the Resurrection which they still await.

3. Of this great hope, the hope of the resurrection of the body, we have the guarantee in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That event is the keystone of the arch on which our Christianity depends; “if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain.”

The evidence for the historical truth of our Lord’s Resurrection comes to us (a) through the Gospels, (b) the witness of S. Paul in 1 Cor. xv. It turns on two point (1) the empty tomb, and (2) the appearances of the forty days.

This evidence does not compel assent; it might have been stronger. All we affirm is that it is as strong as we can reasonably expect, and sufficient, if we take into consideration the character and claim of the Person who rose. If Jesus Christ was what His character, teaching, and work declare Him to have been, it is not surprising, it is in accordance with the probabilities of the case, that He should conquer death. It was “not possible that He should be holden of it.”

But the Resurrection of our Lord is more than a fact. It is a moral force, of which all believers are conscious. They know the power of His Resurrection, and they, apart from the external evidence, have the witness in themselves.

4. On the question of a future resurrection of the dead the Jews were sharply divided; the Sadducean priesthood denied, the Pharisaic scribes affirmed it. Our Lord, while rebuking the unbelief of the Sadducees, could not make common cause with the Pharisees, and for the most part He seems to have said little on the subject. But three passages of S. John’s Gospel give us the essentially Christian view. They connect the future resurrection with Jesus Christ. It is His voice which will call forth all who are in the tombs. He is “the Resurrection and the Life,” and He will raise those who believe in Him to eternal life. He conveys His life to them through His Flesh and Blood, through His Incarnation and His Sacrifice, which He gives us to assimilate through sacramental channels, and by feeding upon which our souls and bodies are preserved and immortalized.

Thus far we are led by the teaching of our Lord in the fourth Gospel. The Spirit of Christ in S. Paul carries us further. We learn to connect our future resurrection with His. Christ is the first-fruits; the rest of us are the harvest. Christ is the last Adam, who came to repair the ruin caused by the first Adam’s sin; “as all in Adam, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” This much all humanity receives from the Incarnation. But they that are Christ’s, who are one with Him in faith and love and hope, who have not only a common nature with the Incarnate Son, but a common life, shall not only rise, but rise to the resurrection of life; following in their own order, rank after rank, in the great procession of the returning Christ, and entering with Him in His eternal joy.

5. But “with what body” are the risen saints to “come”? The Apostles’ Creed in its original form speaks of the resurrection of the flesh, and this phrase is still retained in the interrogative form which is put to sponsors at the baptism of an infant. It was meant to guard the Church against the mistake of supposing that the resurrection is merely moral or spiritual, and that it is in fact “past already,” taking effect at the font, and in the new life which ought to follow. The Church taught, in opposition to this error, that the flesh shall rise, that material organism of some kind will be restored to every human being at the coming of the Lord. But the word “flesh” in this connexion is open to grave misunderstanding, and in early Christian times the common belief was that the scattered dust will be brought together again and every limb and organ replaced.

It is not thus, however, that S. Paul answers the question with what body the risen are to come. “With a spiritual body,” he replies; not meaning by this a body made of spirit, but a body fitted to be the companion and servant of the spirit: a body “celestial,” adapted to the heavenly order, as contrasted with the “terrestrial,” earthly body of our present tabernacle, our present humiliation.

“Is this incredible to you?” S. Paul seems to ask. Then look at the yearly miracle of the spring: at the resurrection body which God gives to the seed that you yourself sow in field or garden. You sow a dusky grain; part of it decays and dies, and that which lives, the vital germ of the young plant, comes up a green blade, wholly different in appearance from the seed. So God in His field will bring incorruption out of corruption, glory out of dishonour, the spiritual from the animal, life from death. The last Adam is “a quickening spirit,” “the Lord from heaven.” “We have borne the image of the earthy,” of the first Adam; “let us bear the image of the heavenly”—in our spirits first, in hearts and lives lifted up to our ascended and glorified Head; and so when He returns we shall bear the image of His transfigured human form.

6. To that glorious risen life no death can come. A life in which God is all in all, which consists in the knowledge of God, the possession of God, the service of God, has no limit to its vitality, its progress, its joy. It is life indeed, life that answers fully to its name, life that satisfies all the cravings of the human spirit, which God has made for Himself. It is ours in Christ. May we all steadfastly believe this faith of the Resurrection life! May we embrace and ever hold fast this blessed hope!

Chains of St. Peter

January 16, 2010

The story of St. Peter’s deliverance from the prison in Jerusalem, where he was held bound with two chains between two soldiers, is told in the Book of Acts, ch. 12. It is said that an angel came by, whacked him on his side while he was sleeping, told him to be quiet and to follow him, and led him out of his cell, past the prison guards and through the prison gates; passing a corner, the angel left Peter alone; only then, when he was out on the street by himself, did he realize that all this was real and not a dream. He headed directly for the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where the disciples were gathered and were praying for him; there he stood and knocked on the outside gate. Every time I read this story I am reminded of the home that belonged to Fr. Martin Ritsi, now the director of the Orthodox Missions Center in St. Augustine, Florida, when he and his family lived in Tirana, Albania in the 1990’s, and I was an Orthodox missionary there; like all the homes in that dusty neighborhood, his small front yard was enclosed with a fence and metal gate, and, when visiting his home, one had to ring the doorbell at the gate and hope that someone inside would hear it. Since the doorbell, like most things in Albania in those days, did not always work properly, one had to be very persistent in pressing the button, and sometimes, abandoning technology, one had to bang loudly on the gate until someone inside would hear. I often think about that gate when I read about St. Peter and the little girl Rhoda, who was so thrilled to learn that Peter was standing out in the street that she forgot to open the door.

The time of Peter’s arrest can be determined fairly closely; it must be placed between the years 41 and 44 A.D.: that is, between the return of Herod Agrippa to Judaea from Rome following the death of the Emperor Caligula, and Herod’s own death a few years later. (Luke states that this arrest occurred in the days leading up to Passover; perhaps it would make sense to place this scene in February or March of the year 42.) The immediate political background to the persecution of the Church that took place during these years is succinctly described by W.H.C. Frend in his book The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia 1984), p. 90:

“In 41-42 other significant events occurred. While the Christians were expanding their influence, Palestine had experienced a series of incidents that foreshadowed the breakdown of relations between Jews and Romans that took place a quarter of a century later. During the winter of 39-40 the Jews in Jamnia destroyed an altar erected by the pagan Greek minority in the town. News of this event reached the emperor Caligula, and as a punishment he ordered that a gilded statue of himself should be set up in the Temple. Rome was moving away from the Jewish alliance, but for the Jews this step, reminiscent of a similar move by the Seleucid Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was intolerable. Very many (Philo suggests ‘thousands’) were prepared to commit suicide or allow themselves to be killed by the Romans rather than acquiesce in this ‘abomination of desolation.’ They found a sympathetic advocate in Publius Petronius, the legate of Syria, who managed to postpone carrying out the order at some personal risk. At Rome, Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod I, who in 37 had been appointed tetrarch of the dominions of Philip and Lysanias (Upper Galilee, Abilene, and parts of Lebanon) managed to get the order rescinded. Caligula’s murder on 24 January 41 prevented its renewal. Agrippa returned to Palestine determined to represent his people to the uttermost within the bounds of client-kingship. His territories had been enlarged to include Jerusalem and Judea and he had been granted the title of king. Jerusalem became his capital and the Sadducean high priesthood his allies. ‘No day passed for him without the prescribed sacrifice,’ commented Josephus. He appointed a new high priest, ordered those who had taken a Nazarite vow to display this by having their heads shorn, and turned on the Christians. ‘He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also’ (Acts 12:2-3). The first organized persecution of the church had broken out.”

In other words, as political tensions began to rise between Judea and Rome, and as the newly appointed governor of Judea, King Herod Agrippa, sought to win favor with his subjects, he encouraged religious uniformity; dissident groups like the Christians, who were critical of the Sadducean high priesthood, were an easy target for persecution.

I sometimes wonder why there is no traditional Orthodox icon commemorating St. Peter’s escape from prison, although the feast of the Chains of St. Peter is celebrated on January 16th, in the East as in the West. For that matter, traditional iconography seems to neglect a whole range of biblical material. The only scenes in the Book of Acts commonly represented in traditional Eastern Christian art are the ascension of Christ into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. (Perhaps occasionally one sees images of St. Paul being let down outside the walls of Damascus in a basket.) Even the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus is depicted only infrequently. And as for depictions of events in the Old Testament, they are even rarer. Why is this?

In the case of the feast of the Chains of St. Peter, I recall reading that it began to be celebrated in the Eastern Church in the sixth century, after the healing of the Acacian Schism in 519. It may simply be that the feast never had a very important place in the Byzantine calendar, whereas, in Rome, Peter’s chains are housed in a basilica (San Pietro in Vincoli, first built in the fifth century), so it is not surprising that the feast should have a more important place there.

This still does not explain, however, why other scenes from the lives of the apostles are not represented more often in Orthodox iconography. It makes me wonder: is it that they are simply too pedestrian? There is nothing terribly awe-inspiring about Peter standing out in a cold street in the small hours of the morning, waiting for a little girl to open the door; it is hard to envision such a scene in hieratic poses, against an atemporal background of uncreated light.

In other words, the icon is, perhaps, misunderstood if it is viewed as primarily a historical image. It is, one may say, primarily a theological image, something whose function is to teach a theological truth. But, does theological truth ignore history? If so, why not throw out most of the Acts of the Apostles and the Old Testament?

But perhaps my view of Byzantine art is skewed by the fact that I am looking at it from the vantage point of an American in the early twenty-first century; I am, perforce, given a certain idea of it by the things that I have seen in churches that I have been to and in books that I have read. If I were living in the eighth or tenth or fourteenth century, and had other icons or illuminated texts in front of me, perhaps I would have a significantly different picture of what Christians of those times saw as important and worth communicating by way of visual art.

A visit to Brooklyn

June 11, 2009

Near Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a place I have often visited, and which I visited again some weeks ago on my way back to New Jersey at the end of a brief trip to Long Island: the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Since my return to the Northeast in 2005 after seven years of teaching in New Mexico, I have probably spent more time at this garden than at any other place in New York City, with the possible exception of the New York Public Library; at one point I contemplated moving to Brooklyn and taking a job there, which I have not done and probably shall not do, chiefly because my horticultural skills are nonexistent. But this has not prevented me from enjoying the garden; and since it was a bright spring day, and my birthday was approaching, and I had not been to the garden in some time, I made a point of stopping there.

The scriptures, of course, speak of the first man as a gardener, someone whose original task was “to dress and keep” the garden in which he had been put (Gen 2:15) — more literally, “to work it and to keep it,” לעבדה ולשמרה, le-ovdha ve-le-shomrha, LXX ἐργάζεσθαι αὐτὸν καὶ φυλάσσειν. The same verb עבד occurs, for the first time in the Bible, at v. 5 of the same chapter, where it says that “there was not a man to till [to work, le-avod] the ground”; man is there presented as a being whose essential activity, as his name adam suggests, is to work the ground, ha-adamah, to get it to do the thing it is meant to do, i.e., produce beautiful and healthful plants. From the verb עבד is derived the feminine abstract noun עבודה avodah, “service,” which, in the Septuagint, usually gets translated by the Greek word λειτουργία, from which we get the English word “liturgy.” So it might be inferred that liturgical prayer is itself a form of gardening, a working of the ground of the heart, although, admittedly, such an inference would not hold up in a book of logic.

St. Gregory the Theologian, in his poem On the Soul, interprets man’s original employment as a gardener in a particular way. The poem speaks of God having created man to be a being partaking in both the material and the spiritual worlds, a being of a mixed constitution who, because of this dual nature, exhibits a longing directed towards both heaven and earth. Having given man this evenly balanced nature, God also gave him an internal law, and placed him “in the vales of an ever-verdant paradise, … observing which direction he’d incline” (Poem 1.1.8, De anima, vv. 101-103; PG 37, 454). As for the paradisiacal garden, Gregory says, “it is the heavenly life, it seems to me. So this is where he placed him, to be a farmer, cultivating his words,” λόγων δρηστῆρα γεωργόν (ibid., vv. 105-106). The word δρηστῆρα, in one sense, implies that Adam was placed in the garden to be a doer of God’s words, to live a life of practical virtue. But I have translated it as “cultivating” God’s words, his λόγοι, in keeping with what St. Gregory states in his Oration 38.12 (PG 36, 324B): Adam was placed in paradise “to till the immortal plants, by which is perhaps meant the Divine Conceptions (θείων ἐννοιῶν), both the simpler and the more perfect.” Man’s original, Edenic activity was, on St. Gregory’s view, to contemplate the divine reasons of things, and, by perceiving them, to catch a reflection of the glory of God.

Perhaps it was this original Adamic task that drew me to the garden in Brooklyn on that bright afternoon some weeks ago, although I confess that, in recent months, my ability to perceive the divine reasons of things has been very sporadic and limited. Perhaps I have had too many other things on my mind to fulfill that Adamic task in the proper way.

I stayed at the garden only about an hour and a half, having arrived there in the middle of the afternoon and not wanting to get caught in rush-hour traffic. In driving there, I passed by various examples of New York life and death: vast marble cemeteries; some Hispanic men playing baseball; a car with a bumper-sticker that read “Islam is the answer”; a Torah scholar, gaunt, black-clad, with a long black beard, looking strangely other-worldly, sitting on a park bench in front of a yeshiva.

At the garden, I bought three cheap books (two on recycling and one on composting), had lunch (a bowl of split-pea soup), and then walked around, observing the plants and the people. The boughs of a dark Canadian hemlock hung down over the walkway: a beautiful tree, but poisonous (remember Socrates). Two women in the rose garden wore hats that reminded me of those seen in photographs from my grandmother’s day. Mothers pushed their baby-carriages and talked on their cellphones. I stopped for awhile at the Japanese pond, one of the most beautiful spots in the garden, a place where people invariably take pictures and have their picture taken; a wooden, covered shelter there extends over the water, from which one can gaze down upon the goldfish swimming below, which gather when they see a tourist, knowing from experience that tourists frequently ignore the sign that tells them not to feed the fish. Some visitors there were speaking Modern Greek; a Spanish woman, who pronounced her “c”s as “th”s, was telling her young daughter, in Spanish, to behave.

I also took a walk through the “Shakespeare Garden,” a small enclosure that apparently contains specimens of all the flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. It was in that garden, some two decades ago, that I bumped into the elder sister of a friend of mine from college. Elaine Gluckman always impressed me as a kind and gentle person, a sort of Leah to her sister’s Rachel. She told me there, with evident joy, about her upcoming marriage. About a year later I learned that she had died in childbirth; her son survived, and has been raised by his father. Perhaps she was actually the Rachel (cf. Gen. 35:16-20).

There are many things I do not understand. Perhaps the greatest attraction of a botanical garden is that plants do not say anything. They challenge one’s assumption that all of life is susceptible to analysis and explanation. If one is to perceive the λόγοι of plants, their speech, in which they declare their nature and show the divine glory, one clearly has to go about it in a different way than is usually done in this world of instant information and constant self-assertion. One has to learn great patience, something I still lack.

God willing, at some point I will attain that necessary patience and humility, so as to perceive God’s reasons, and God’s glory, in plants and people. For the present, much of what I ought to understand seems strange and inexplicable.

A prayer of Moses

May 22, 2009

Psalm 90

 תפלה למשׁה אישׁ־האלהים א‍דני מעון אתה היית לנו בדר ודר׃
בטרם ׀ הרים ילדו ותחולל ארץ ותבל ומעולם עד־עולם אתה אל׃
תשׁב אנושׁ עד־דכא ותאמר שׁובו בני־אדם׃
כי אלף שׁנים בעיניך כיום אתמול כי יעבר ואשׁמורה בלילה׃
זרמתם שׁנה יהיו בבקר כחציר יחלף׃
בבקר יציץ וחלף לערב ימולל ויבשׁ׃
כי־כלינו באפך ובחמתך נבהלנו׃
[שׁת כ] (שׁתה ק) עונתינו לנגדך עלמנו למאור פניך׃
כי כל־ימינו פנו בעברתך כלינו שׁנינו כמו־הגה׃
ימי־שׁנותינו בהם שׁבעים שׁנה ואם בגבורת ׀ שׁמונים שׁנה ורהבם עמל ואון כי־גז חישׁ ונעפה׃
מי־יודע עז אפך וכיראתך עברתך׃
למנות ימינו כן הודע ונבא לבב חכמה׃
שׁובה יהוה עד־מתי והנחם על־עבדיך׃
שׂבענו בבקר חסדך ונרננה ונשׂמחה בכל־ימינו׃
שׂמחנו כימות עניתנו שׁנות ראינו רעה׃
יראה אל־עבדיך פעלך והדרך על־בניהם׃
ויהי ׀ נעם אדני אלהינו עלינו ומעשׂה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשׂה ידינו כוננהו׃

Προσευχὴ τοῦ Μωυσῆ ἀνθρώπου τοῦ θεοῦ

Κύριε, καταφυγὴ ἐγενήθης ἡμῖν ἐν γενεᾷ καὶ γενεᾷ·
πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι
καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ.
μὴ ἀποστρέψης ἄνθρωπον εἰς ταπείνωσιν·
καὶ εἶπας Ἐπιστρέψατε, υἱοὶ ἀνθρώπων.
ὅτι χίλια ἔτη ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς σου
ὡς ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ἐχθές, ἥτις διῆλθεν,
καὶ φυλακὴ ἐν νυκτί.
τὰ ἐξουδενώματα αὐτῶν ἔτη ἔσονται.
τὸ πρωὶ ὡσεὶ χλόη παρέλθοι,
τὸ πρωὶ ἀνθήσαι καὶ παρέλθοι.
τὸ ἑσπέρας ἀποπέσοι, σκληρυνθείη καὶ ξηρανθείη.
ὅτι ἐξελίπομεν ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ σου
καὶ ἐν τῷ θυμῷ σου ἐταράχθημεν.
ἔθου τὰς ἀνομίας ἡμῶν ἐνώπιόν σου·
ὁ αἰὼν ἡμῶν εἰς φωτισμὸν τοῦ προσώπου σου.
ὅτι πᾶσαι αἱ ἡμέραι ἡμῶν ἐξέλιπον,
καὶ ἐν τῇ ὀργῇ σου ἐξελίπομεν·
τὰ ἔτη ἡμῶν ὡς ἀράχνην ἐμελέτων.
αἱ ἡμέραι τῶν ἐτῶν ἡμῶν, ἐν αὐτοῖς ἑβδομήκοντα ἔτη,
ἐὰν δὲ ἐν δυναστείαις, ὀγδοήκοντα ἔτη,
καὶ τὸ πλεῖον αὐτῶν κόπος καὶ πόνος·
ὅτι ἐπῆλθεν πραΰτης ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς, καὶ παιδευθησόμεθα.
τίς γινώσκει τὸ κράτος τῆς ὀργῆς σου
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ φόβου σου τὸν θυμόν σου;
ἐξαριθμήσασθαι τὴν δεξιάν σου οὕτως γνώρισον
καὶ τοὺς πεπεδημένους τῇ καρδίᾳ ἐν σοφίᾳ.
ἐπίστρεψον, κύριε· ἕως πότε;
καὶ παρακλήθητι ἐπὶ τοῖς δούλοις σου.
ἐνεπλήσθημεν τὸ πρωὶ τοῦ ἐλέους σου
καὶ ἠγαλλιασάμεθα καὶ εὐφράνθημεν
ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν·
εὐφράνθημεν ἀνθ᾽ ὧν ἡμερῶν ἐταπείνωσας ἡμᾶς,
ἐτῶν, ὧν εἴδομεν κακά.
καὶ ἰδὲ ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους σου καὶ τὰ ἔργα σου
καὶ ὀδήγησον τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτῶν,
καὶ ἔστω ἡ λαμπρότης κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς,
καὶ τὰ ἔργα τῶν χειρῶν ἡμῶν κατεύθυνον ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς.

Oratio Moysi, hominis Dei.

Domine, refugium factus es nobis
A generatione in generationem.
Priusquam montes fierent,
Aut formaretur terra et orbis,
A saeculo et usque in saeculum tu es Deus.
Ne avertas hominem in humilitatem;
Et dixisti: Convertimini, filii hominum.
Quoniam mille anni ante oculos tuos
Tanquam dies hesterna quae praeteriit,
Et custodie in nocte;
Quae pro nihilo habentur eorum anni erunt.
Mane sicut herba transeat;
Mane floreat, et transeat;
Vespere decidat, induret, et arescat.
Quia defecimus in ira tua,
Et in furore tuo turbati sumus.
Posuisti iniquitates nostras in conspectu tuo,
Saeculum nostrum in illuminatione vultus tui.
Quoniam omnes dies nostri defecerunt;
Et in ira tua defecimus.
Anni nostri sicut aranea meditabuntur;
Dies annorum nostrorum in ipsis septuaginta anni.
Si autem in potentatibus octoginta anni,
Et amplius eorum labor et dolor;
Quoniam supervenit mansuetudo, et corripiemur.
Quis novit potestatem irae tuae,
Et prae timore tuo iram tuam dinumerare?
Dexteram tuam sic notam fac,
Et eruditos corde in sapientia.
Convertere, Domine; usquequo?
Et deprecabilis esto super servos tuos.
Repleti sumus mane misericordia tua;
Et exsultavimus, et delectati sumus omnibus diebus nostris.
Laetati sumus pro diebus quibus nos humiliasti,
Annis quibus vidimus mala.
Respice in servos tuos et in opera tua,
Et dirige filios eorum.
Et sit splendor Domini Dei nostri super nos;
Et opera manuum nostrarum dirige super nos,
Et opus manuum nostrarum dirige.

A Prayer of Moses the man of God.

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Thou turnest man to destruction;
And sayest, Return, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight
Are but as yesterday when it is past,
And as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep:
In the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up;
In the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
For we are consumed by thine anger,
And by thy wrath are we troubled.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee,
Our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
For all our days are passed away in thy wrath:
We spend our years as a tale that is told.
The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
Yet is their strength labour and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Who knoweth the power of thine anger?
Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Return, O Lord, how long?
And let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
O satisfy us early with thy mercy;
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us,
And the years wherein we have seen evil.
Let thy work appear unto thy servants,
And thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us:
And establish thou the work of our hands upon us;
Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

James chapter 3

May 15, 2009

Given some things I wrote today to Photios Jones on another post on this blog, I realize now, to my sorrow, that this is another text upon which I need to meditate, for my own good.

My brethren, be not many masters [i.e., don’t all of you try to be teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

The following passage from Didymus the Blind, a fourth-century Christian writer who lived and taught in Alexandria, is given as a follow-up to last week’s Apollinarius translation. Both texts, I think, read chapter 16 of the Gospel of John in a fairly consistent way; if anything, the Didymus passage is even more explicit on the point that what is communicated by the Son to the Holy Spirit is nothing other than the divine nature itself. Didymus wrote this work On the Holy Spirit during the decade of the 370s; it was used by St. Ambrose in writing his own treatise on the Holy Spirit (380), and, sometime after 385, it was translated by St. Jerome into Latin. Because the original Greek text has perished, Jerome’s Latin translation is the only version of it extant. St. Augustine evidently read the work, in Jerome’s Latin translation, at some point during the period when he was writing his own work De Trinitate (see Irénée Chevalier, Saint Augustin et la pensée grecque: les relations trinitaires [Fribourg-en-Suisse 1940], p. 154). It is hard not to think that he saw, in this Greek writing, a confirmation of his own views about the Holy Spirit’s origins.

Didymus the Blind, De Spiritu Sancto, §§34-37. Latin text in Louis Doutreleau, S.J., ed., Didyme l’Aveugle: Traité du Saint-Esprit (Paris 1992) [= Sources Chrétiennes nº 386], pp. 284-296; also in PG 39, 1063C – 1066A. Traditional numbering in bold print; Doutreleau’s numbering in brackets.

34 [153] … Consequently, in the things which follow, the Savior — who is the Truth — says concerning the Spirit of Truth who is sent by the Father and is the Paraclete: “For he shall not speak of himself” (Jn 16:13), that is, not without me and without the counsel of me and my Father, for he is inseparable from my and the Father’s will. For he is not from himself, but from the Father and me. For the very fact that he exists and speaks comes to him from the Father and from me. I speak the truth: that is, I inspire those things which he speaks, if indeed he is the Spirit of Truth. [154] But “to speak” and “to talk” should not be taken, in the case of the Trinity, according to the way in which we are accustomed to converse and talk with each other, but in keeping with the form of incorporeal natures and especially of the Trinity, who places his will in the heart of believers and those who are worthy to hear it; this is “to speak and to talk.” 34 [153] Dehinc in consequentibus de Spiritu ueritatis qui a Patre mittatur et sit Paracletus, Saluator — qui et ueritas — ait: «Non enim loquetur a semetipso», hoc est non sine me et sine meo et Patris arbitrio, quia inseparabilis a mea et Patris est uoluntate, quia non ex se est, sed ex Patre et me est: hoc enim ipsum quod subsistit et loquitur a Patre et a me illi est. Ego ueritatem loquor, id est inspiro quae loquitur, siquidem Spiritus ueritatis est. [154] Dicere autem et loqui in Trinitate, non secundum consuetudinem nostram qua ad nos inuicem sermocinamur et loquimur accipiendum, sed iuxta formam incorporalium naturarum et maxime Trinitatis, quae uoluntatem suam inserit in corde credentium et eorum qui eam audire sunt digni; hoc est ‘dicere et loqui.’
35 [155] In fact, when we human beings speak about something to another person, we first conceive in our mind, wordlessly, what we intend. Next, desiring to transmit this to another’s intellect, we move the organ of the tongue and, striking the teeth, as one would strike a string with a plectrum, we let loose a vocal sound. Then, in the same way as we strike palate and teeth with the tongue, measuring out diverse phrases with it, and producing a modulation of the air, so that we might communicate to others those things which are known to us, so also it is necessary for the hearer to have his ears open and not, because of some defect, keep them closed to those things which are said; in this way, he may know those things which are set forth, just as he who speaks them knows them. [156] But God, since he is simple and of an uncompounded, unique nature, has neither ears nor organs by which he emits a voice, but, being a solitary and incomprehensible substance, he is composed of no members or parts. And these things must similarly be granted as true concerning the Son and the Holy Spirit. 35 [155] Nos quippe homines quando de aliqua re ad alterum loquimur, primum quod uolumus mente concipimus absque sermone. Deinde in alterius sensum uolentes transferre, linguae organum commouemus et, quasi quoddam plectrum chordis dentium collidentes, uocalem sonum emittimus. Quomodo igitur nos linguam, quam palato dentibusque collidimus, et ictum aerem in diuersa eloquia temperamus ut nobis nota communicemus in alios, ita et auditorem necesse est patulas praebere aures et nullo uitio coartatas in ea quae dicuntur erigere, ut possit ita scire quae proferuntur quomodo ea nouit ille qui loquitur. [156] Porro Deus, simplex et incompositae specialisque naturae, neque aures neque organa quibus uox emittitur habet, sed solitaria incomprehensibilisque substantia nullis membris partibusque componitur. Quae quidem et de Filio et de Spiritu Sancto similiter accipienda.
36 [157] If ever, therefore, we read in Scripture, “The Lord said to my Lord” (Ps 110:1), and, elsewhere, “God said, Let there be light” (Gen 1:3), and any other things similar to these, we ought to take such things in a way that is worthy of God. [158] For it is not the case that the Father announces to the Son his will as though the Son, who is Wisdom and Truth, were ignorant, since everything which [the Father] speaks he possesses in wisdom and in substance, as he is wise and truly subsisting. For the Father, therefore, to speak, and for the Son to hear, or, vice versa, for the Son to speak to the Father, signifies the identity of nature and of volition that is in the Father and the Son. [159] And also the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Wisdom, cannot hear the Son speaking things which he does not already know, since he himself is that which is put forth from the Son, [that is, the Spirit of Truth proceeding from the Son, Paraclete coming forth from the Paraclete (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 Jn 2:1), God proceeding from God.*] [160] Finally, lest anyone should separate him from the will and communion of the Father and the Son, it is written, “For he shall not speak of himself, but, as he shall hear, so shall he speak” (Jn 16:13). And the Savior also says something similar to this about himself: “As I hear, so I judge” (Jn 5:30), and elsewhere, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but only that which he sees the Father doing” (Jn 5:19). [161] For if there is one Son of the Father, not according to the error of Sabellius who conflates Father and Son, but according to the inseparability of essence or substance, he can do nothing without the Father, since diverse works belong to things separated; but, when he sees the Father work, he himself works, and this, not as though he were working at a secondary level and afterwards. In fact, we will start to see some works belonging to the Father, others belonging to the Son, if they are not done [by them] equally. [162] For it is written: “For those things which he (doubtless, the Father) does, those same things the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19). So that if, when the Father and the Son work — not in an order of first and second, but in a simultaneity of working —, all those things which they make exist as identical and undifferentiated, and the Son cannot do anything of himself because he cannot be separated from the Father, so also the Holy Spirit, who is never separated from the Son in respect of his communion of will and of nature, is believed to speak, not of himself, but he speaks all that he speaks in line with the Word and Truth of God. [163] The Lord’s words that follow confirm this opinion, when he says, “He (i.e., the Paraclete) shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine” (Jn 16:14). Once more, this term, “to receive,” must be understood in a manner befitting the divine nature. 36 [157] Si quando ergo legimus in Scriptura: «Dixit Dominus Domino meo», et alibi: «Dixit Deus: Fiat lux», et si qua his similia, digne Deo accipere debemus. [158] Neque enim ignorante Filio qui sapientia et ueritas est, Pater suam nuntiat uoluntatem, cum omne quod loquitur, sapiens uerusque subsistens, in sapientia habeat et in substantia. Loqui ergo Patrem et audire Filium, uel e contrario Filio loquente Patrem, eiusdem naturae in Patre et Filio consensusque significatio est. [159] Spiritus quoque Sanctus, qui est Spiritus ueritatis Spiritusque sapientiae, non potest Filio loquente audire quae nescit, cum hoc ipsum sit quod profertur a Filio, [id est procedens a ueritate consolator manans de consolatore Deus de Deo Spiritus ueritatis procedens.*] [160] Denique ne quis illum a Patre et Filii uoluntate et societate discerneret, scriptum est: «Non enim a semetipso loquetur, sed sicut audiet loquetur.» Cui simile etiam de seipso Saluator ait: «Sicut audio, et iudico», et alibi: «Non potest Filius a se facere quicquam, nisi quod uideret Patrem facientem.» [161] Si enim unus est Patri Filius, non iuxta Sabellii uitium Patrem et Filium confundentis, sed iuxta indiscretionem essentiae siue substantiae, non potest quicquam absque Patre facere, quia separatorum diuersa sunt opera, sed uidens operantem Patrem, et ipse operatur, non in secundo gradu et post illum operans. Alia quippe Patris, alia Filii opera esse inciperent, si non aequaliter fierent. [162] Scriptum est autem: «Quae enim ille facit — haud dubium quin Pater —, hanc eadem Filius similiter facit.» Quod si operante Patre et Filio, non iuxta ordinem primi et secundi sed iuxta idem tempus operandi, eadem et indissimilia subsistunt uniuersa quae fiunt, et Filius non potest a semetipso quid facere quia a Patre non potest separari, sic et Spiritus Sanctus nequaquam separatus a Filio propter uoluntatis naturaeque consortium, non a semetipso creditur loqui, sed iuxta uerbum et ueritatem Dei loquitur uniuersa quae loquitur. [163] Hanc opinionem sequentia Domini uerba confirmant, dicentis: «Ille me clarificabit — id est Paracletus — quia de meo accipiet.» Rursum hic ‘accipere’ ut diuinae naturae conueniat intellegendum.
37 [164] For just as the Son, in giving, is not deprived of those things which he bestows, and does not confer upon others to his own loss, so likewise the Spirit does not receive what he did not have before. For if in fact he receives what he did not previously have, with the gift being transferred from one to another, then the giver is made empty, ceasing to have what he bestowed. [165] Accordingly, in the same manner as we understood earlier when discoursing of incorporeal natures, so also now we should acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s “receiving” from the Son to mean that which pertains to his nature, indicating, not one who gives, and one who receives, but the one substance. Since, indeed, the Son, too, is said to “receive” from the Father those same things, by which he exists. For neither is the Son anything apart from those things which are given to him by the Father, nor is there any other substance belonging to the Holy Spirit besides that which is given to him by the Son. 37 [164] Quomodo enim Filius dans non priuatur his quae tribuit neque cum damno suo impertit aliis, sic et Spiritus non accipit quod ante non habuit. Si enim prius quod non habebat accepit, translato in alium munere, uacuus largitor effectus est, cessans habere quod tribuit. [165] Quomodo igitur supra de naturis incorporalium disputantes intelleximus, sic et nunc Spiritum Sanctum a Filio accipere id quod suae naturae fuerat cognoscendum est, et non dantem et accipientem sed unam significare substantiam, siquidem et Filius eadem a Patre accipere dicitur quibus ipse subsistit. Neque enim quid aliud est Filius exceptis his quae ei dantur a Patre, neque alia substantia est Spiritus Sancti praeter id quod ei datur a Filio.

* The text bracketed in §159 appears in the Migne edition, but is consigned to the margin, as a variant reading, by the editor of the Sources Chrétiennes edition.