Saturday, August 06, 2005

St. John Chrysostom on the Transfiguration

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, I offer a quote from St. John Chrysostom, including some commentary by me. Take it for what it is, a small man peering out from the shadows of a greater theologian, though both, we pray, illuminated by the light of Christ.

St. John Chrysostom invites his reader, in his "Exhortation to Theodore After his Fall," to imagine the great glory of the Lord during the transfiguration. The glory is certainly great, but even there on that mountain, the glory of Christ is not revealed in its fullness:

"even then He did not display to us all the splendour of the world to come. For that the vision was accommodated to human eyes, and not an exact manifestation of the reality is plain from the very words of the Evangelist. For what did he say? "He did shine as the Sun." But the glory of incorruptible bodies does not emit the same kind of light as this body which is corruptible, nor is it of a kind to be tolerable to mortal eyes, but needs incorruptible and immortal eyes to contemplate it. But at that time on the mountain He disclosed to them as much as it was possible for them to see without injuring the sight of the beholders; and even so they could not endure it but fell upon their faces."

Our human and failing eyes were accommodated in this act of revelation, and Christ was revealed in a mode suited to the world we know, His glory revealed as the glory of the sun. We are given as much of this glory as we can possibly take, and it is overwhelming; we fall on our faces in awe of the greatness and in worship of Jesus.

But this glory is not just the glory of Christ. The transfiguration of Christ approximates for us, not only the glory of Jesus on the last day, but "all the splendour of the world to come." Why is the world also transfigured? Because more than just the body is implicated in the subjection of death. St. John writes that

"the whole creation partakes of corruption, it is subject to many things such as bodies of this kind naturally experience." Jesus' transfiguration does not show only the glory of Christ on the last day, but also the glory of the whole creation, "having divested itself of all [corruption], we shall see it display its beauty in an incorruptible form: for inasmuch as it is to receive incorruptible bodies, it will in future be itself also transfigured into the nobler condition."

All of this world has been caught up in corruption. But now, after the advent of Christ, even the creation is caught up in the glory of Christ shown in the transfiguration. The promise of the transfiguration is that creation too will shed its enslavement to corruption and death, as it will be receiveing glorious bodies. The transfiguration is not just an event in human history, but in the history of the whole cosmos.

Yet it reaches even farther than this world we know. In the time to come "all things relating to decay are utterly removed, and incorruptible glory reigns in every part," and when Chrysostom says "every part," he means even the heavenly places. The transfiguration points to a time of

"perpetual enjoyment of intercourse with Christ in the company of angels, and archangels, and the higher powers. Behold now the sky, and pass through it in thought to the region beyond the sky, and consider the transfiguration to take place in the whole creation; for it will not continue to be such as it is now, but will be far more brilliant and beautiful."

The transfiguration is an event that shows us not just the transformation of one body into glory, but the transformation of the whole world from death into life. The beauty of this transfigured man will creep through the world, even into the regions beyond the sky. Because of this the beauty of heaven will be completed, but only after all of what God has made, the human person and the world we live in, comes into friendship with Christ and the angels.

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