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Leo the Great and Augustine on the Transfiguration

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For the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy presents for our contemplation the Transfiguration of Christ. Sts. Leo the Great and Augustine of Hippo will be our guides for understanding the Gospel reading. Leo the Great (391/400-461) takes the opportunity to explain the creedal belief of the Son’s equality with the Father with the words “This is My Beloved Son”. He explains the mission of the Son using “Listen to Him” as a launch pad. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) helps his parish of fishermen and market vendors to understand how Christ is the Word of God that in times past spoke through the Law and the Prophets but is now revealed fully and definitely in the Son.


The Transfiguration, the Manifestation of the Beloved Son
For the apostles, who really needed to be strengthened in faith and initiated into a knowledge of every thing, from that miracle comes another lesson. In fact, Moses and Elijah — the Law and the Prophets — appeared hobnobbing with the Lord. This happened so as to perfectly accomplish through the presence of five people what is written: “Every word is confirmed, if delivered in the presence of two or threewitnesses “(Deut. 19.15 Mt 18:16). To proclaim it, the two trumpets of the Old and New Testament resound in full agreement and everything needed to witness to it in ancient times is reunited with the teaching of the Gospel! The pages of both of Testaments, in fact, confirm each other, and he who was promised by the ancient symbols under the veil of mystery is now manifested by the blaze of his glory. It is He – as St. John would say: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came to us through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1.17), in whom has been fulfilled not only the promises by the prophetic figures, but also the meaning of the precepts of the Law , because, by his presence, he teaches the truth of prophecy, and by His grace, makes possible the practice of the commandments.

 

Inspired by the revelation of the mysteries and taken up by contempt and disgust for earthly things, the apostle Peter was in ecstasy at the desire of eternal things, and, filled with the joy of all this vision, wanted to live with Jesus, there where His glory was manifested. That’s why he said: “Lord, it is good for us to be here if you want, we here three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17.4). But the Lord did not reply to this suggestion, certainly not to show that this desire was bad, but to signify that it was out of place. The world could not be saved without the death of Christ, you see. Thus, the Lord’s example calls on the faith of believers to understand that, no doubt against the promise of happiness, we must nevertheless, in the trials of this life, ask for patience before glory; the happiness of the kingdom can not, in fact, precede the time of suffering.

 

And so, while he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him” (Mt 17.5). The Father, no doubt, was present in the Son, and in that light that the Lord had measured out to the disciples, the essence of Him who generates is not separated from the generated Only Begotten, but to highlight the proper characteristics of each Person, the Voice coming out of the cloud announced the Father to human ears, just as the splendor coming forth from the body revealed the Son to human eyes. When they heard the voice, the disciples fell face down, very frightened, trembling not only before the majesty of the Father, but also before that of the Son: through the motion of a deeper understanding in fact, they understood that the Divinity of both was unique. And since there was no hesitation in faith there was discretion in fear. That divine testimony was so wide and varied, and the power of words made them realize more than the sound of the voice can express. In fact, when the Father says: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to him,” one should not perhaps understand clearly: “This is my Son,” for which to be “from me” and to be “with me” is a reality that is not time-bound? Neither is He who Generates prior to Him who is Generated; nor is the one Generated posterior to the One who Generates.”

“This is my Son,” who does not take away from me my Divinity, nor does He divide power, nor eternity. 

“This is my Son,” — He is not adopted, but really, not indeed created, but generated from me, no different in nature and made similar unto me. But He is of my very being and was born equal to me. 

“This is my Son”, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made” (Jn 1.3): all that I do he also does it (Jn 5.19) and as I work, he works with me without a difference. In fact, the Father is in the Son just as the Son is in the Father (Jn 10:38), and our unity never separates. And though I the one who generates is different from the one generated, it is not however allowed to have a different opinion about him that one can have of me. 

“This is my Son,” who did not count equality of with me something to be grasped at (Phil. 2.6), or to usurp, appropriating it for himself; rather, while remaining in the condition of his glory, he, to complete the design of the restoration of mankind, brought to humility the immutable Divinity to the condition of a servant.

To Him, therefore, in whom is all my pleasure, and whose teachings I manifest, whose humility glorifies me — listen to him without hesitation, for he is truth and life (Jn 14.6), he is my strength and my wisdom (1 Cor 1.24). 

“Listen to Him,” he whom the Mysteries of the Law announced; whom the voice of the prophets sang about. 

“Listen to Him,” he who has redeemed the world with his blood, who has chained the devil and who has snatched away the spoil(Matt. 12:29), who has torn up the document of our debts (Col. 2:14), and the covenant that oppressed us. 

“Listen to Him,” he who opens the way to heaven, and with the agony of the cross, prepares there the stairs leading up to the Kingdom. Why are you afraid of being redeemed? Why are you afraid of being dissolved from your chains? Let it happen that, what I wish, Christ also wills. Throw away that carnal fear and arm yourself with the constancy that inspires faith. It is unworthy of you, in fact, to be afraid of what in the Lord’s passion you would not fear in death, with his help.

These things, beloved, were said not only for the good of those who heard it then with their ears. Rather, in the person of the three apostles, it is the whole Church which learns what they saw with their eyes and perceived with their ears. May it strengthen the faith of all according to the preaching of the holy Gospel, and let no one ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which the world has been redeemed. Consequently, let no one be afraid of suffering for righteousness (1P 3.14), nor hesitate to receive the promised reward, because it is through labor that we are led rest, and life through death. In fact, he took upon himself the weakness of our own lowliness; and — if we stay with Him (Jn 15.9) in his confession and his love — we are winners of what he has won and will receive what he promised.

Whether it is then to perform the commandments or whether to endure the hardships of life, the voice of the Father which has sounded forth must always resound in our ears: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him”; for He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Leo the Great, Sermon 38, 4

The Transfiguration, The Gospel, the Law and the Prophets
We heard, as the Gospel was read, the story of the great vision in which the Lord showed himself to three disciples, Peter and John and James. “His face shone like the sun” – this means the splendor of the Gospel. “His clothes became as white as snow” – that is to say, the purification of the Church, about which the Prophet said: “Though your sins be red like crimson, I will make them white as snow” (Isaiah 1.18 ). Moses and Elijah were talking with him, for the grace of the Gospel receives the witness of the Law and the Prophets. For Moses, one understoods the Law; for Elijah, the Prophets are meant. Peter suggested that they build three tents, one for Moses and one for Elijah, one for Christ. He liked the solitude of the mountain; he was  bored of the tumult of human affairs. But why did he wish to make three tents? Did he not know that the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel come from the same origin? In fact he was corrected by the cloud. “As he said this a bright cloud overshadowed them.” So the cloud made one tent, so why would you want three? And a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son: heed him” (Mt17.1 to 8). Elijah speaks, but “listen to him.” Moses speaks, “but listen to him.” Prophets speak, the Law speaks, but “heed him”, the voice of the Law and the tongue of the Prophets. It was he who spoke through them, and then he spoke by himself, when he deigned to be manifested. “Hear him,” listen to him. When the Gospel spoke, know who was the voice of the cloud; from there, it came to us. We hear him; do what he tells us. Let us hope what he promises.

Augustine, Sermo 791

Originally posted 2012-03-03 10:10:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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