Friday, June 29, 2007

The Transfiguration and Moses: St. Matthew 17

St. Cyril of Alexandria expended a great amount of effort to defend the Divinity of Christ. In doing so, St. Cyril simply wanted it rightly understood that the two natures of Christ, though distinct, were in unity in the one Jesus Christ. His ardent opponent, Nestorius the heretic, believed that Jesus laid aside His deity when He became man.

St. Cyril, who lived in the 400s AD, saw this as a soteriological problem (a problem in man's salvation). If Jesus, upon becoming man, laid aside His deity, then only a man died on the cross at Golgotha and that which is creaturely was used to ransom man from sin. This would have the ill effect of putting creature above God, something that is cosmologically impossible. To bring this in to the discussion, though, does not do this whole issue between Cyril and Nestorius justice, for there was much more at stake. Nestorius' views, had they been true, would have come at a cost--the loss of the very Gospel itself.

I am no Cyrilline scholar myself, but I bring his name into this discussion because just as the two natures of Christ enjoy a unity, likewise the Old Testament and the New Testament enjoy a unity.

It is often the thought among students of the scriptures that, while the New Testament is very "user friendly" the Old Testament is like a nagging step-mother who constantly reminds the step-child that he is only a half-breed. The Old Testament often keeps us from concluding that we understand all that we are as Christians. It sometimes leaves us feeling as though we are "sub-par" Christians, not fully "getting it."

I know we are well past the Festival of the Transfiguration, but this has been on my mind, so let us delve into the scriptures in order that we may understand the unity of the Scriptures to the chagrin of Marcion the heretic.

Moses, prophet exemplar, went up the mount (Mt. Sinai). Exodus 34 gives us the account. Moses went up the mountain and in verse 5 the Lord descends in a cloud. We are told that God stood there in the cloud and "proclaimed the name of the Lord." And God proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..."(Ex. 34:6-7). It is significant that Moses, we are told, made haste and bowed face down to worship the Lord(proskuneo).

What happens after this is crucial in the grand scheme of the scriptures and of Jesus Christ. Not only is Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. He is also told, "Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth...for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you"(Exodus 34:10). This is the establishment of the prophetic office. The Christological road is set as the prophetic office begins on the top of a mountain in a cloud with God.

What a chapter! At the end of chapter 34 we see something unfold. Verse 29 says, "Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses hand when he came down from the mountain), taht Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him [God]. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him"(verse 30). We are told that when Moses would go in to talk with God his face would shine. Moses would speak to the people this way and then put on the veil until the next prophetic utterance.

The image and the message the church is to receive from all of this is really quite simple. Moses, a man, a sinner, one who is "slow of speech and slow of tongue"(Exodus 4:10) comes down the mountain as "God to the people." Do not take this to the illogical conclusion that this is a statement of Moses' essence. He represents God, He is a shaliach, to use the Hebrew. To say that Moses is "God to the people is not an unhealthy step, considering Exodus 4:16 says, "So he [Aaron] shall be your spokesman to the people. Andn he himself shall be as a mouth for you, *and you shall be to him as God." There it is. Moses is as God to Aaron and Aaron is his mouth. Hence, Moses is as God to the people. Revolutionary? Unheard of? So is the incarnation to Pharisees.

In St. Matthew 17 we hear of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a mountain. Jesus is transfigured and shines in His glory. His face shone, and Moses and Elijah appear in a cloud that descended upon the mountain. Peter is thinking St. Peter wants to make tabernacles for Moses, Jesus, and Elijah. Read Exodus 33:9. St. Peter sees a connection between what he witnesses and the holy Scriptures of Exodus.

God speaks in this cloud as He did on Mount Sinai, but with a change. Rather than talking about mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness, the voice of the Lord proclaims Jesus, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"(St. Matthew 17:5). Jesus is the very essence of mercy, longsuffering and forgiveness. The disciples fall face down on the ground like Moses. It all ends by the disciples looking up and only seeing Jesus. The scene ends by Jesus walking down the mountain with the disciples. His face is *not* shining.

Mark the contrast: Moses--a man, a sinner, comes down the mountain his face shining with the glory of God. He holds the Ten Commandments in his hands. Holy words inscribed, but he comes down the mountain with holy oracles which condemn (2nd use of the law). Moses comes down as "God to the people." (Herein lies the notion of Shaliach--"presbuteros" "Ambassador or representative").

On the flip side: Jesus--God, without sin and Divine in essence shines on the mountain and in the cloud (This shows His Divinity). Jesus comes down the mountain not in His glory but He comes down "as man for the people." Moses comes down as God for the people. Jesus comes down as man for the people. What a strange twist, but why?

Because Christ's proper work entails Him walking down to the depths as the definitive man--true man who dies as a man and in the "likeness of sinful flesh" having kept that law of Moses. God comes down the mountain to be one of us and die for His people. Jesus comes not shining but wearing flesh.

Nestorius the heretic might have liked this emphasis of Jesus coming down the mountain as a flesh and blood man but he would miss the point. It is total irony. Just as Moses should have been coming down the mountain wearing the face of a sinner, Jesus should have come down wearing the face of divinity. Instead, Moses comes down with his face shining, and Jesus comes down with the face of a sinner.

Moses' sinful side would get the better of him when he fails to do as God instructed him in regards to producing water for the people to drink. This would keep him out of the promised land of Israel. On the flip side, Christ's divinity would come forth as God dies for the sins of the world.

It is a lot to ponder, but I think St. Cyril would like it. In the Transfiguration, we see the Divine nature and the human nature of Jesus Christ working together as the unity of Christ.

+Fr. Chadius

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Listening to Moses and the Prophets

The Holy Scriptures, as St. Paul declares to Timothy, are all "God-breathed" (Theopneustos) and profitable for instruction (Didaskalion), for rebuking, for correction, and for instruction into righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Throughout the history of the church catholic, there has always been the debate as to how we interpret the Holy Scriptures. This goes back to the very beginnings of the church and even had an influence in the forming of the canon, the canon being the accepted books of the Bible as the inspired word of God. This debate continued on and is divided in church history by two geographic regions. One method of interpretation is dubbed "The School of Alexandria." This school was very fond of the use of allegory.

The other school of intepretation, "The School of Antioch," is centered around an interpretation of the Scriptures that has tightly formed hermeneutical rules which govern one's understanding of the scriptural text. To say that the school of Antioch took on a literalistic approach is not correct, however. They, too, had layers of meaning in the text. The difference was that the Antiochene school worked by their hermeneutical "interpretive" rules. The Alexandrian school tended to be more loose in its intepretation of the different layers. To the Antiochene school, the Alexandrians loose methods were dangerous and left up to the interpreter. The Antiochene school believed that the the methods and guidelines of interpretation belonged to the church. This latter school did, of course, use typology and spiritual interpretations.

The church finds its source and method of interpretation within the scriptures themselves. We find many examples in the New Testament, where the apostles through their preaching and administration of the church demonstrate for us how to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. We learn how to understand the Regula Fidei "Rule of Faith," the gospel itself.

A good example of how the church is to interpret the scriptures is found in Christ's own words through a story meant for the Pharisees to hear. St. Luke 16:19-31 treats of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is the whole dialogue between the rich man who, being dead, is in Hades, and Father Abraham who holds Lazarus in his arms in heaven.

What is important for the purposes of this article is found at the end of the chapter. The rich man doesn't want his brothers to suffer the same conclusion. So, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers in order to warn them on how to live (ie. the life of faith).

How does Abraham respond? "They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them"(St. Luke 16:29). The Greek demonsrates urgency in the rich man's response, "(Ouxi) No! Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead were to journey to them, they will repent." Abraham responds with a statement that grants us great hermeneutical (interpretive) insight into the Old Testament and Christ. "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone were to rise from the dead"(St. Luke 16:31).

What a note on which to end! If the hearer or interpreter of the scriptures does not pay close enough attention, then one may miss this intepretive benchmark from Jesus Himself. "They have Moses and the Prophets." What does Abraham mean by "Moses and the Prophets?" Moses represents the 5 books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). The Prophets means the rest of the Old Testament. Moses was a prophet, but his being singled out highlights his importance in the whole scheme of the Old Testament salvation history. First, this means that the Old Testament has been given to bring life to its hearers. Even the Old Testament saves those who listen (upakouw). Second, we see that the Old Testament is equated to the proclamation of one rising from the dead. "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead."

If the hearts are hardened and the veil goes over their hearts when Moses is read (2 Cor. 3:15), then Jesus rising from the dead will do them no good, either. One wouldn't think this would be the case. One rising from the dead would be much more of a "wake up call" than just hearing holy words proclaimed in one's midst. The point lies in the message of the Old Testament. Is it simply a dead letter or does it proclaim something life-giving?

What Abraham is saying is this: The Old Testament preaches and proclaims the death and resurrection of the Messiah, though it is somewhat veiled. The proclamation of this message in the temple will bear this out. They are to go and listen. These words proclaimed, being "God-breathed" scripture has the power to change hearts and bring life. These words preach the resurrection of one man--the Messiah. We know that Abraham's exhortation to the Old Testament is not a flippant response. Jesus, we are told, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them using all the writings concerning Himself"(St. Luke 24:27).

This whole account of the Rich Man and Lazarus should remind the church of, both, the necessity of missions as well as the realization that church programs will not convert the heart of a person. If they will not listen to the Holy Scriptures, and if they do not find "one rising from the dead" in and amongst the scriptures, then the word is like a dead letter to them. It will only kill and slay.

It is only when one hears of the one dying and rising from the dead, and believes that He is God and Man, that life can be obtained. Only then can one's soul be ransomed from Hades.

It is the task of the church to preach Jesus Christ crucified, died, and resurrected because this alone frees the soul from the captivity of Satan. It is in the gospel that the church can then breathe a breath of fresh air, the aroma of Christ and find the only peace it can really know. It is this gospel that enables the church to gather around the sacrament and rejoice in it. The Old Testament, therefore, is a preaching of this very gospel. We find in it typology--images and hints at baptism, the Eucharist, Confession/Absolution, the church, and the pattern and life-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this way, the church carries on and finds the peace that surpasses all understanding from Old Testament to New Testament, the "God-breathed" holy Scriptures which brings life.

+Fr. Chadius