Archive for the ‘Transfiguration’ Category
One of the more psychologically interesting and insufficiently studied passages found in the Gospels is:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
~ Matthew 7:3–5 (KJV)
The reference to the beam in ones eye is an extremely powerful image. It’s a figure of speech, of course, since a roof beam (Greek word δοκός or dokos1, also translated ‘plank’, ‘log’ or ‘timber’) obviously cannot fit in an eye. The power of the statement comes by comparing it to a mote, a small speck of dust, which may be in another’s eye and impairing the other’s vision. Jesus is saying: “Why worry about some small way in which another person’s views are limited. Worry about the huge ways in which your own views are distorted.” That’s how I take it, at any rate, and it seems like a reasonable interpretation.
This is one of those extremely canny sayings of Jesus Christ recorded in the Gospels. If someone were to ask me what reasons there are for believing that Christianity is a divinely inspired religion, I would include on the list these canny sayings of Jesus. They are incisive, cutting through layers of artifice and illusion to get to the heart of the things that really concern us as human beings. Nothing else in the literature of the West can compare to them — not in Plato or the Greek tragedians, not even in the Old Testament do we find such an abundance of these sayings.2 There is something extraordinary, otherworldly about them. One may recall the words of the Pharisees’ officers, sent to arrest Jesus but returning bewildered and empty-handed: “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:46; KJV)
This remarkable level of insight and honesty is evident in the passage above. It speaks with extraordinary directness to a very real aspect of our experience. Examining the meaning of words, and relating them to certain principles of modern psychology, we can appreciate even better the importance and relevance of the beam in the eye.
Perceptual and Cognitive Schematizing
This word-square and others like it, recently circulated around the internet. The idea is that when you look at the square, one word, out of the dozens it contains, will leap out and present itself to awareness. These squares have been presented in a casual way — as little more than a parlor game — to analyze ones personality or “what you want in life”. However there are some serious psychological principles at work here.
If you experiment with one of these squares, you will find that your current state of mind affects what word leaps out at you. If your mind is on work, or on a romantic relationship, or on philosophy, or on your faith — in each case a different word will appear. This illustrates most strikingly the truth that ones intentions determine ones perceptions. What your heart is set on at the moment, what you are most concerned about, what you desire — that will determine which word you see.
This principle of intention precedes perception is, of course, a general one in operation all the time. It affects how you visually process information when walking outside, for example. What strikes your attention — people, trees, buildings, whatever — will vary. A boy with his mind on girls will walk on a city street and notice womens’ hemlines and the contours of blouses. An angry and combative man will walk down the same street and notice the physique and demeanor of other men, subconsciously sizing them up, as though to judge whether he could defeat them in a fight. A guilty person may notice the expressions on other people’s faces, looking for signs of disapproval, or may notice policeman and guards. There is nothing speculative about this. You can verify the phenomenon yourself any day by taking a walk. What you see reflects the intentions you have at any time.
A corollary of this principle is that the stronger, more urgent, and more pronounced ones intentions are, the more that attention will selectively focus on certain kinds of objects.
It similarly follows that this principle must also affect our inward perceptions: those features of our interior mental life which we notice at any given time, and those we do not notice, depend on our intentions and desires.
Not only do intentions determine what ones sees, but what one doesn’t see. If attention is on one thing, it cannot be on another. And the more exaggerated ones intentions and desires are, the more one will filter out unrelated perceptions. If one is driven by appetite, covetousness, fear, or anger, one may pass by dozens of smiling, friendly people without realizing it. In a foul mood one does not see the flowers in bloom or notice the lovely countryside; these things might as well not exist.
This I believe is the meaning of the beam in the eye. When ones intentions are disordered, ones perceptions are in chaos. Instead of seeing the entire world as a harmonious whole, one perceives it fragmented and disjointed. One notices small pieces of the perceptual field which relate to sex or fear or anger or whatever — and disregards the rest.
To the degree one is in such a disordered mental state, one is not really living in the world at all — not the world as it is. Instead one is living in a kind of distorted caricature of the world. It’s the world of the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave; not a vibrant world of life, spirit, meaning, happiness, and satisfaction.
What, then, is the alternative to the beam in the eye? Naturally we have intentions, and these change depending on time and situation. But it stands to reason that, ideally, these intentions should be harmonious, one intention in balance with the others. Moreover, as religious people — whether, Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Hindus — we believe in God’s superintending providence. God guides all at once — the world, events in our lives, our intentions, and our emotions — to coincide and harmonize. We do have free will, however, and must use this free will to moderate and purify our intentions, so as to keep them in balance. We must keep our appetites within the bounds of what our nature requires at the present time. This precludes letting any intention become unnaturally strong and dominant.2
This moderation of appetites and passions is not necessarily an easy thing to accomplish, but it is an attainable skill. It comes from experience and practice, from self-insight, from the intellectual development supplied by philosophy, and by the moral growth produced by religion.
If we can learn this great virtue of moderation (which the Greeks called sophrosyne, a virtue that doesn’t operate in isolation, but rather interacts in myriad ways with other virtues like courage, justice, wisdom, patience, piety, and humility) then we can remove the beam in the eye.
The resulting condition, I believe, corresponds to what the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1970) called “B-cognition” or “Being cognition.” One description of this state is one “in which the whole of the cosmos is perceived and everything in it is seen in relationship with everything else, including the perceiver” (Maslow, 1971, pp. 252–253).
I also believe that this is at least part of what Jesus means in the Gospels when he refers to the Kingdom of Heaven. Upon saying this, I must be careful to point out that some ‘modern’ psychologists have said similar things but with a substantially different meaning. That is, some have suggested that by the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus meant only a certain kind of happy human life; and from this they go on to claim that Jesus was not concerned with spiritual matters at all, and was saying nothing about an after-life; he was merely a social philosopher. That is definitely not what I’m suggesting. The Kingdom of Heaven in the sense I mean is not achieved by disconnecting our experience on earth from spiritual concerns, but precisely the opposite: by connecting it with spirituality. A critical part of producing a state of harmonized intentions, by which we see the world fully and completely — in clear and rich detail, with full depth and meaning — is by ‘tuning in’ to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
1. dokos can also mean an opinion, so there may be a play on words here. In Plato’s dialogues one of Socrates’ main missions is to alert us to how severely our souls are distorted by a habitual mistaking of false opinions for true knowledge.
2. Another such saying, one which seems thematically related to Matt. 7:3, is the light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light (Matt. 6:22). Indeed all of Matthew 6:19–34 appears relevant to the present theme.
3. We should keep in mind the possibility that exaggerated appetites come not from the body itself, but from a tendency of the mind to falsely interpret appetitive impulses.
Maslow, Abraham H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking, 1971.
Pollock, Robert C. ‘The Single Vision‘. In: Harold C. Gardiner (editor), American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal, New York: Scribner, 1958 (pp. 15–58). Reprinted as and in Arthur S. Lothstein, Michael Brodrick (eds.), New Morning: Emerson in the Twenty-First Century, SUNY Press, 2008 (pp. 9–48). Originally published as ‘A Reappraisal of Emerson’ in Thought, 32(1), 1957, pp. 86–132.
White, Rhea A. ‘Maslow’s Two Forms of Cognition and Exceptional Human Experiences.’ 1997. < http://www.ehe.org/display/ehe-page2f56.html?ID=23 > Accessed 15 November 2013.
Metamorphosis: the Transfiguration in Byzantine theology and iconography
St Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) Press, 2005
ISBN: 0881412953, 9780881412956
“This book taps the vein of the blending of theology and art in the Middle Ages, in particular, the evolution of the imagery and theology surrounding the Transfiguration Of Christ. In this well-researched volume, Andreas Andreopoulos discusses in detail every philosophical and ritual application of the Transfiguration icon – the mountain, the cloud, the mandorla, the positioning of the apostles, the Old Testament prophets, and the image of Christ himself – taking the reader through an illustrated historical journey. The author simplifies the complex relationship between the dogma of the church fathers and Byzantine art and makes it understandable to a non-specialist audience. Nevertheless, theologians, historians, and art historians alike will appreciate the interdisciplinary value of this clearly presented documentation. Andreopoulos’s expert use of patristic texts and Jewish sources, as well as the New Testament and apocryphal writings and pagan sources, elucidates the development of art and doctrine that surround this scriptural epiphany.”
– Book jacket
“This book is a valuable addition to the literature on this subject. No one has treated it in depth before, and the work is a substantial contribution to the understanding of the evolution of the theology and visual representation of the Transfiguration.”
– Sheila Campbell, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies
On the Transfiguration
For an explanation of the present Feast and understanding of its truth,it is necessary for us to turn to the very start of today’s reading from the Gospel: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).
First of all we must ask, from whence does the Evangelist Matthew begin to reckon with six days? From what sort of day be it? What does the preceding turn of speech indicate, where the Savior, in teaching His disciples, said to them: “For the Son of Man shall come with his angels in the glory of His Father,” and further: “Amen I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:27-28)? That is to say, it is the Light of His own forthcoming Transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.
The Evangelist Luke points this out and reveals this more clearly saying: “Now it came to pass about eight days after these words, that He took Peter and John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And as He prayed, His countenance was altered, and His raiment became a radiant white” (Lk 9:28-29). But how can the two be reconciled, when one of them speaks definitively about the interval of time as being eight days between the sayings and the manifestation, whereas the other (says): “after six days?”
There were eight on the mountain, but only six were visible. Three, Peter, James and John, had come up with Jesus, and they saw Moses and Elias standing there and conversing with Him, so altogether there were six of them. However, the Father and the Holy Spirit were invisibly with the Lord: the Father, with His Voice testifying that this was His Beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit shining forth with Him in the radiant cloud. Thus, the six are actually eight, and there is no contradiction regarding the eight. Similarly, there is no contradiction with the Evangelists when one says “after six days,” and the other says “eight days after these words.”
But these twofold sayings as it were present us a certain format set in mystery, and together with it that of those actually present upon the Mount. It stands to reason, and everyone rationally studying in accordance with Scripture knows that the Evangelists are in agreement one with another. Luke spoke of eight days without contradicting Matthew, who declared “after six days.” There is not another day added on to represent the day on which these sayings were uttered, nor is the day on which the Lord was transfigured added on (which a rational person might reasonably imagine to be added to the days of Matthew).
The Evangelist Luke does not say “after eight days” (like the Evangelist Matthew says “after six days”), but rather “it came to pass eight days after these words.” But where the Evangelists seem to contradict one another, they actually point out to us something great and mysterious. In actual fact, why did the one say “after six days,” but the other, in ignoring the seventh day, have in mind the eighth day? It is because the great vision of the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is the mystery of the Eighth Day, i.e., of the future age, coming to be revealed after the passing away of the world created in six days.
About the power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom the Kingdom of God is to be revealed, the Lord predicted: “There are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Everywhere and in every way the King will be present, and everywhere will be His Kingdom, since the advent of His Kingdom does not signify the passing over from one place to another, but rather the revelation of its power of the Divine Spirit. That is why it is said: “come in power.” And this power is not manifest to simply ordinary people, but to those standing with the Lord, that is to say, those who have affirmed their faith in Him like Peter, James and John, and especially those who are free of our natural abasement. Therefore, and precisely because of this, God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit.
Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, (the disciples) of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light.
Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level (i.e., as something “created”) not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:9-10).
So, with the onset of the Eighth Day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves, as for example when with five loaves and two fish He fed the five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:19-23). Or, taking with Him those who excelled others, as at the approach of His Saving Passion, when He said to the other disciples: “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt 26:36). Then He took with Him Peter, James and John. But in our instance right here and now, having taken only these same three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes.
“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Chrysostomos). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Lk 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His face shone as the sun” (Mt 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses (let us put aside the blindness of mind of those who can conceive of nothing higher than what is known through the senses). Rather, it is to show that Christ God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts.
That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when (the Lord) was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face.
Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God? But he (Moses) did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself. In this regard, actually, He did not need prayer for His flesh to radiate with the Divine Light; it was but to show from whence that Light descends upon the saints of God, and how to contemplate it. For it is written that even the saints “will shine forth like the sun” (Mt 13:43), which is to say, entirely permeated by Divine Light as they gaze upon Christ, divinely and inexpressibly shining forth His Radiance, issuing from His Divine Nature. On Mount Tabor it was manifest also in His Flesh, by reason of the Hypostatic Union (i.e., the union of the two perfect natures, divine and human, within the divine Person [Hypostasis] of Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity). The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon defined this Hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, as “without mingling, without change, without division, without separation.”
We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess. Rather, it was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light?
Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.
So also she who miraculously conceived and gave birth recognized that the One born of her is God Incarnate. So it was also for Simeon, who only received this Infant into his arms, and the aged Anna, coming out [from the Jerusalem Temple] for the Meeting, since the Divine Power illumined, as through a glass windowpane, giving light for those having pure eyes of heart.
And why did the Lord, before the beginning of the Transfiguration, choose the foremost of the Apostles and lead them up onto the Mount with Him? Certainly, it was to show them something great and mysterious. What is particularly great or mysterious in showing a sensory light, which not only the foremost, but all the other Apostles already abundantly possessed? Why would they need a transforming of their eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit for a contemplation of this Light, if it were merely sensory and created? How could the Glory and the Kingdom of the Father and the Holy Spirit project forth in some sort of sensory light? Indeed, in what sort of Glory and Kingdom would Christ the Lord come at the end of the ages, when there would not be necessary anything in the air, nor in expanse, nor anything similar, but when, in the words of the Apostle, “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15: 28)? That is to say, will He alter everything for all? If so, then it follows that light is included.
Hence it is clear that the Light of Tabor was a Divine Light. And the Evangelist John, inspired by Divine Revelation, says clearly that the future eternal and enduring city “has no need of the sun or moon to shine upon it. For the Glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb will be its lamp” (Rev 21:23). Is it not clear, that he points out here that this [Lamb] is Jesus, Who is divinely transfigured now upon Tabor, and the flesh of Whom shines, is the lamp manifesting the Glory of divinity for those ascending the mountain with Him?
John the Theologian also says about the inhabitants of this city: “they will not need light from lamps, nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shed light upon them, and night shall be no more” (Rev 22:5). But how, we might ask, is there this other light, in which “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (Jas 1:17)? What light is there that is constant and unsetting, unless it be the Light of God? Moreover, could Moses and Elias (and particularly the former, who clearly was present only in spirit, and not in flesh [Elias having ascended bodily to Heaven on the fiery chariot]) be shining with any sort of sensory light, and be seen and known? Especially since it was written of them: “they appeared in glory, and spoke of his death, which he was about to fulfill at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31). And how otherwise could the Apostles recognize those whom they had never seen before, unless through the mysterious power of the Divine Light, opening their mental eyes?
But let us not tire our attention with the furthermost interpretations of the words of the Gospel. We shall believe thus, as those same ones have taught us, who themselves were enlightened by the Lord Himself, insofar as they alone know this well: the Mysteries of God, in the words of a prophet, are known to God alone and His perpetual proximity. Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord in accord with their teaching, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul and lead to the fire of Gehenna and everlasting darkness. Let us be freed from these by the illumination and knowledge of the incorporeal and ever-existing Light of our Savior transfigured on Tabor, in His Glory, and of His Father from all eternity, and His Life-Creating Spirit, Whom are One Radiance, One Godhead, and Glory, and Kingdom, and Power now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.