Archive for the ‘Fr. Jean Corbon’ Category


The Transfiguration – Fr. Jean Corbon O.P.

November 25, 2011

An Apostle From the Transfiguration, Matthias Grünewald,1511

Christians are still too likely to misunderstand the Transfiguration and look upon it as just one miracle among others, a kind of apologetic proof. The feast celebrating it has likewise become indistinct to them, perhaps because it is the only one not to have a place in the chronological sequence of the Lord’s feasts. It is a commemoration of an event that occurred during his mortal life, but it is celebrated after Pentecost and in the bright light of summer (August 6). Yet this event, which upsets the logic that we see as governing time, is precisely the one that best brings home to us the eschatological condition of the body of Christ; it is an apocalyptic vision at the center of the Gospel.

The Synoptic writers deliberately make this “strange sight” the high point of the ministry of Jesus. [Mark 9:2-10; Matthew  17:1-9; Luke 9:28-36] The astonishment felt and the questions roused by the preceding theophanies “Who can this be?” “Who do you say I am?” — lead to this summit, and it is from here that the journey to the final Passover in Jerusalem begins. The miracles were anticipations of the energies of the risen Christ; the transfiguration is the theophany that reveals their meaning or, better, that already brings to pass what these energies will accomplish in our mortal flesh: our divinization.

The transfiguration is the historical and literary center of the Gospel by reason of its mysterious realism: the humanity of Jesus is the vital place where men become God. Christ is truly a man! But to be a man does not mean “being in a body”, as all the unrepentant dualisms imagine; according to biblical revelation, it means “being a body”, an organic and coherent whole. Because men are their bodies, they are also, like their God, related to other persons, the cosmos, time, and him who is communion in its fullest possible form.

Moreover, ever since the Word took flesh he has a “human” relationship, with all its dimensions, to the Father and to all other men: the fire of his light sets the entire bush aflame; the whole of his humanity is “anointed” with it; “in him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness” (Colossians 2:9), and to this Paul adds, “and in him you too find your own fulfillment” (Colossians 2:10).

What was it, then, that took place in this unexpected event? Why did the Incomprehensible One allow his “elusive beauty” to be glimpsed for a moment in the body of the Word? Two certainties can serve us as guides.

  1. First, the change, or, to transliterate the Greek word, the “metamorphosis”, was not a change in Jesus. The Gospel text and the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers are clear: Christ “was transfigured, not by acquiring what he was not but by manifesting to his disciples what he in fact was; he opened their eyes and gave these blind men sight.” [Saint John Damascene, Second Homily on the Transfiguration (PG 96:564C)] The change is on the side of the disciples.
  2. The second certainty confirms this point: the purpose of the transfiguration, like everything else in the economy that is revealed in the Bible, is the salvation of man. As in the burning bush, so here the Word “allows” the light of his divinity “to be seen” in his body, in order to communicate  not knowledge but life and salvation; he reveals himself by giving himself, and he gives himself in order to transform us into himself.

But if it be permissible to take off the sandals of curiosity and inquisitive gnosis and draw near to the mystery, we may ask: Why did Jesus choose this particular moment, these two witnesses, and these three apostles? What was he, the Son — so passionately in love with the Father and so passionately concerned for us — experiencing in his heart? A few days before Peter had already been given an interior enlightenment and had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God. Jesus had then begun to lift the veil from the not far distant ending of his life: he had to suffer, be put to death, and be raised from the dead. It is between this first prediction and the second that he undertakes to ascend the mountain.

The reason for the transfiguration can be glimpsed, therefore, in what the evangelists do not say: having finished the instruction preparatory to his own Pasch, Jesus is determined to advance to its accomplishment. With the whole of his being, the whole of his “body”, he is committed to the loving will of the Father; he accepts that will without reservation. From now on, everything, up to and including the final struggle at which the same three disciples will be invited to be present, will be an expression of his unconditional “Yes” to the Father’s love.

We must certainly enter into this mystery of committed love if we are to understand that the transfiguration is not an impossible unveiling of the light of the Word to the eyes of the apostles, but rather a moment of intensity in which the entire being of Jesus is utterly united with the compassion of the Father. During these decisive days of his life he becomes transparent to the light of the love of the One who gives himself to men for their salvation. If, then, Jesus is transfigured, the reason is that the Father causes his own joy to flame out in him. The radiance of the light in the suffering body of Jesus is, as it were, the thrill experienced by the Father in response to the total self-giving of his only Son. This explains the voice that pierces through the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).

We can also understand the profound feelings of Moses and Elijah, for these two men who had sensed the closeness of the divine glory that was impatient to save man are now contemplating it in the body of the Son of Man. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people…. I have heard them crying for help…. I am well aware of their sufferings, and I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:7-8); “Answer me, Yahweh, answer me…. I am full of jealous zeal for Yahweh Sabaoth, because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant” (1 Kings 18:37; 19:10).

All this is expressed now not by divine words or human words but by the Word himself in his humanity. No longer is there only promise and expectation, for the event has occurred; there is now present “the reality … the body of Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Moses and Elijah can leave the cave on Sinai without hiding their faces, for they have contemplated the source of light in the body of the Word.

The three disciples, for their part, are flooded for a few moments by that which it will be granted to them to receive, understand, and experience from Pentecost on, namely, the divinizing light that emanates from the body of Christ, the multiform energies of the Spirit who gives life. The thing that overwhelms them here is that “this man” is not only “God with men” but God-man; nothing can pass from God to man or from man to God except through his body.

Peter will bear witness in his Letters, as John does in all his writings, to the second of the two certainties I mentioned earlier: that participation in the life of the Father that pours out from the body of Christ is measured by the faith of the human recipient. The new element in the transfiguration consists in this light of faith that has given their bodily eyes the power to see. Thanks to this light, they “touch the Word of life” when they draw near to the body of Jesus.

Henceforth there is no longer any distance between matter and divinity, for in the body of Christ our flesh is in communion (without confusion or separation) with the Prince of life. The transfiguration of the Word gives a glimpse of the fullness of what the Word inaugurated in his Incarnation and manifested after his baptism by his miracles: namely, the truth that the body of the Lord Jesus is the sacrament that gives the life of God to men.

When our humanity consents without reserve to be united to the humanity of Jesus, it will share the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4); it will be divinized. Since the whole meaning of the economy of salvation is concentrated here, it is understandable that the liturgy should be the fulfillment of the economy. The divinization of men will come through sharing in the body of Christ.


The Burning Bush And The Divine Body of Christ – Fr. Jean Corbon

November 24, 2011

Moses at the Burning Bush REMBRANDT (1606 – 1669)

The reason that the divine compassion can lay hold of our death and communicate its love to us is only by taking flesh among us. It is always in his body that the Word “comes” to save men: not only at his first coming in the flesh and at his Second Coming in glory but also in the time of kenosis in which we are now living.

The eternal liturgy, which Jesus celebrates at his Ascension and which takes form in his Church, permeates our world of death and gives it life; but the locus of this encounter and the path its light takes are always the body of Christ. How can this adorable body that lives now with the Father “come” into our mortal condition and become a wellspring of life for us?

Moses glimpsed the mystery of this “coming” in the theophany that inaugurated the prefigurative event of Passover (Exodus 3:1-6). The name of the holy Lord Jesus was first stammered here as it was entrusted to this man who “saw God” [This is how the Byzantine tradition speaks of Moses on his feast, which is celebrated on September 4.]. It was made known to him not by a course in theology or by an ecstasy that took him outside the flesh but in a very simple sign: a bush on fire.

There are thousands of bushes on the hills of this half-desert landscape, and even a bush that is on fire is not uncommon near camps. The surprising thing about the bush Moses sees is that it is not burned up. He says, “I must go across and see this strange sight and why the bush is not being burned up.” It is then that the overwhelming revelation takes place. He draws near to see and he hears Someone speaking. Through the sign that he sees, the mystery of the living God is made known to him: the Wholly Other who flames at the heart of the vision is the divine compassion that shares the distress of his people.

There is here neither pantheism nor a simple process of sacralization, for this presence is the presence of a person. The Holy One does not destroy but penetrates with his fire everything that is. Men are his holy land, and the divine glory permeates it all the more profoundly as the divine salvation draws closer. But the flame that burns us without consuming is not to be comprehended at first glance, no matter how penetrating this may be; it reveals itself by giving itself and becomes known by being received.

It is not our flesh that stands in the way of our seeing, as the ancient dualisms claim, but our lack of selfless generosity and love or, in other words, our death. Here everything is given gratuitously, both in the fire that reveals itself and in the heart that receives it. Here everything is full of life. The same mysterious flame burns both in the event and in the heart of the person present here; only in the heart that receives it does the fire become light.

When, in the fullness of time, the light enters the world in person, he who spoke to Moses takes a body and dwells among us. The Virgin conceived, formed, and gave birth to this “body of the Word” [Prayerbook (euchologion) of Saint Serapion, bishop of Thmuis (in Egypt, fourth century)] by the power of the Holy Spirit; John revealed it as the Lamb of God, the true Passover, and the suffering Servant. But men like ourselves also drew near to it. The “strange sight” on Sinai became what the Synoptic Gospels call a “miracle” and the fourth Gospel a “sign”, for the incarnate Word is the true burning bush. “Power came out of him that cured them all.” [Luke 6:19; see Mark 5:30] This energy of the Word amid our noise, of the light amid our darkness, of life amid our death, is henceforth the fire that leaps from the bush.

Those who draw near to him touch his body, but “his flesh is divine”; those who look upon him see a mortal man like themselves, but his face is “the face of life”.[Two expressions used by Saint Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of Moses] He is truly a man; he is truly God. The flame of his divinity does not consume his humanity but illumines it from within and shows through it.

His “astounding” actions, that is, his miracles, already bear witness in his mortal condition to the energies that will radiate from his incorruptible body when he rises from the dead. By his miracles Jesus shows himself to be the great and unique sacrament of God for man and of man for God. [When the first Christian community subsequently wrote down these miracles, it was "reminded" by the Spirit of their fleshly and historical coherence, but it was also guided by the Spirit to "the complete truth" about their abiding meaning, for it is in this way that the risen Lord continues to live among us in the last times. Understanding of the "spiritual meaning" of Scripture does not come through sophisticated thinking; rather the wholly simple energy of the Spirit reveals it by making Christians experience it. This is precisely one of the fruits of the liturgy.]

For example, one day Jesus gets into the boat with his disciples (Mark 4:35-41); they put out into open water, and, as they sail, he falls asleep. He is not pretending; he is truly a man who has grown tired both because of his human effort and because of the mysterious divine weariness of which the prophets speak (Isaiah 7: i 3). A squall roars down on the lake, and the waves crash over the boat and soon fill it. Then, like Moses, the disciples “draw near”: “Master, do you not care? We are lost!” How could he himself be anxious? In the midst of the storm he is, even in his humanity, the One in whom all things have their being and who holds all things in his hand. Nonetheless, in a movement that acquires its full meaning in the light of his Resurrection, he “awakes” and “arises”. With his bodily lips the Word who at every instant calls all things from nothingness into being says to the sea: “Quiet now! Be calm!”

The wind drops, the waves quiet, and there is a great calm. In this storm we are no longer at the dawn of creation but in the tragic time of human salvation; the divine energy no longer acts alone but, in the body of Christ, acts in synergy with a man; that is why Jesus is the great sacrament. For when the love of our God acts in our behalf, it calls for our cooperation, that is, our faith. But that faith, still very timid indeed, was present in the worried hearts of the disciples. They were afraid, these men of little faith; if Jesus nonetheless asks them, “Have you still no faith?” it is in order to liberate that faith from fear and to make it grow. Then they are overwhelmed by the awe that allows faith to expand and open itself to the divine presence: “Who can this be?”

The external setting at that time was a storm on Lake Tiberias; today it is new and different at every moment, but that changes nothing essential; the important thing is the event that is experienced, now as then, by the Word together with men, and this event always takes place in his body. Whether in the fullness of time or now in the last times, the body of the Lord Jesus is the sacrament that gives life to men. To convince ourselves of this, we must once more ascend a mountain, where the theophany of the burning bush finds its counterpart and fulfillment.



The Fullness of Time – Fr. Jean Corbon O.P.

November 18, 2011

Christ,Andrei-Rublev, c1425. Andrei Rublev was born circa 1360 (presumably). According to the anonymous author of the The Lives of Russian Saints, a book compiled in the early eighteenth century, Andrei Rublev died on January 29, 1430, and was buried at the Andronikov Monastery in Moscow. Rublev's name has long become legend. Already in the fifteenth century icons painted by Rublev were considered worth their weight in gold and were much-coveted collectors' items. So great was Rublev's fame, that the Church Council, held in Moscow in 1551, thus prescribed in its statutes the official canon for the correct representation of the Trinity: "... to paint from ancient models, as painted by the Greek painters and as painted by Andrei Rublev..."

This is a reading selection from Fr. Corbon’s classic The Wellspring of Worship.  The first time I ever came across it was in a seminary class on spiritual liturgy. It anchored all the readings we had that semester. I have encountered a lot of spiritual writing the past five or six years but have never encountered anyone quite like Fr. Corbon. His vision is so unique, so powerful and mesmerizing, you find yourself wondering how you could have ever comprehended the New Testament without it. It is one of those little books (I think of Fr. Romano Guardini’s The Lord) that comes off the shelf from time to time, and functions both as a touchstone and solace.

Since the beginning of time the river of the mystery has watered the earth to make it inhabitable and to prepare a “home among men” (Revelations 21:3; Ezekiel 37:27). It carried Abraham to the place of meeting with the promise; it has “uncovered the whole way of knowledge” [Baruch 3:37, where the reference is to wisdom as embodied in the law.] and makes its way through the ongoing course of time. But it could not be given a name as long as “his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11 ); the inexhaustible gift would be recognized only when it was accepted. The river would acquire a name only when it flowed up out of a new fountain. Then the name would ring out like an echo: there would be as it were an encounter of two thirsts that slake each other by giving themselves a name.

The Word Becomes Flesh: The Kenosis of the Son
We are now in the third phase of the “tradition” of the mystery. The mighty energy of the gift that is offered finally encounters the other fountain that has been dug and purified through centuries of expectation, the fountain of acceptance, the Daughter of Zion, namely, Mary.

Ezekiel, the prophet of the restoration, had foreseen that “in those days” water would flow from beneath the temple (47:1). But its source is hidden. The time of the promise brings hither its gift: the patience of the just and their faith amid the night, the psalms of praise and lamentation, the suffering and fidelity of the poor, a people of hope that is fed by the word, a sinful people constantly made new by pure mercy.

The entire energy of the gift patiently poured out at the heart of Jerusalem, ends here in a fountain whose entire vital energy takes the form of acceptance. Mary has carried the Word long before conceiving him and has learned the self-giving of him whose whole being is consent to the Father. She has been fashioned by the Spirit and sees without realizing it that the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be “able to receive” God. Now the humble maidservant can respond to the message with all her being and in the very words that her Lord used at the beginning of time: “Let it be!” (Luke 1:38 and Genesis 1:3).

Mary says “Yes”, and the Spirit who unites the Word and the Yes, divine energy and human energy, gift and acceptance, comes upon her. The Spirit of the Father is the one who crafts this Covenant, fulfilled at last, between the Word and flesh. In the first creation all that exists is “called from nothingness to being”. [Anaphora of Saint John Chrysostom]

In the new creation that is beginning here, he who is eternally begotten of the Father is fashioned out of living earth, namely, the entire being of his mother. “But how shall this come about?” (Luke 1:34): Mary’s question, which is a prelude to all the “whys” of the New Covenant, is given its answer by the Holy Spirit on this first, hidden Pentecost at Nazareth.

He who is to be born of the Daughter of Zion has been conceived not by any “will of man” or by any set of determining causes [John 1:13; "flesh and blood" here is a Semitic way of expressing the determinisms at work in the present world.] but by the power of the Holy Spirit. The latter, who is the outpouring of the Father’s love, makes his own the energy of acceptance that is operative in the Virgin Mary and renders it fruitful.

The age of the mysterious “synergy”["Synergy" (literally: joint activity, combined energies) is a classical term in patristic theology. It represents a faith-inspired effort to go beyond the rational categories of causality (whether coordinate or subordinate) and to account for the utter newness in the union of God and man in Christ and in the Christian life. For those who live in Christ, every action of the Holy Spirit is in synergy with the action of man.] between the river of life and the world of the flesh has begun; in the new creation every conception will henceforth be virginal. In the Incarnation of the Word Mary is not simply an inert locus of the event; rather, her entire being as a person is offered, given, handed over to the Holy Spirit.

Again, the Father does not stand far off and send his Spirit to carry out his redemptive plan; he gives himself by giving his only Son in his Spirit, who is Love. After the synergy of this first Pentecost, everything is unmerited and personal, everything a manifestation of the Spirit’s power. Those who are not caught up in this mystery of the virginal conception of the Word are incapable of receiving the revelation of “what is now to take place very soon” (Revelations1:1), for henceforth it is always in this manner that the river of life enters into our flesh.

Henceforth, everything fleshly is permeated by the energy of love. When the river of life joins the energy of acceptance, it acquires a name; at last there is a name in which the Father utters himself and utters his beloved Son: JESUS. Now indeed joy erupts! The source is here, still hidden in the kenosis, but it has come to birth. [See Luke 2:10-14]

The coming of the eternal mystery shakes our death-marked time and causes it to gape open; the power of the gift of the Spirit of love and the power of its acceptance by “the poor woman of Yahweh” will fill the void. The emptiness will be filled by him in whom “in bodily form lives divinity in all its fullness”. [Colossians 2:9. See The New Jerusalem Bible, p. 1947, n. e.]

For we are now in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4): the fulfillment of the expectation that marked the time of promises, the entrance of the presence of God into “the land of oblivion” (Psalms 88: 12), the breakthrough of day into the darkness of our night, the coming of the river of life into the desert of our death. And this fullness is Jesus: no longer simply words of the Word but the Word of the Father in person; no longer a law exterior to man but the grace that comes to birth in our humanity through her who is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28).

“Then Jesus Appeared”: The Manifestation
The economy of salvation is marked by a law whose operation we can still verify in our own lives: the “theophanies”, or manifestations of the mystery, are measured by the kenosis of love; the more our God gives himself, the more he reveals himself. In his Incarnation, the Word “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as men are.” [Philemon 2:7] How, then, will the Spirit make him known?

“Then Jesus appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John” (Matthew 3:13). He comes to the human in order to be “immersed” in it, [To be baptized, that is, literally to be "immersed"] with a baptism that extends even to his death. When Jesus appears, the mystery of love that has taken human form in him permeates the sign in which it expresses itself the river of life, “kept hidden through all the ages”, becomes one with the river Jordan.

The lowliest and most derisory among the rivers of the world at that tirne [The Jordan descends from the southern slopes of Mt. Lebanon into the trough of the Arabah (which is 300 meters below sea level near Jericho) and empties into the Dead Sea] becomes a sign that carries the mystery within itself. Jesus is baptized in the water — that is the sign; the reality manifested is that henceforth the flesh and time, man and the world, are permeated by the Word of life, who has clad himself in them forever.

The fleshly manifestation of the fullness of grace is a mystery of anointing, namely, the Christ. [In Hebrew and in Greek the name "Christ" means "anointed"] In Jesus the entire energy of love impregnates human energy with an “anointing” that makes this human energy its own and gives it life. In Jesus the Father gives himself wholly, and the Son accepts him. In him everything human is offered up, and at the same time the Father fills him. Jesus is the supreme embodiment of the synergy that will give life to everything, for in him there is no longer a divine action on the one side and a human on the other, but the single action of the one Christ; let us call it a “Christic” action in order to bring home to ourselves the astounding realism of the word “Christian”.

Union without confusion, distinction without separation: that is how the great Christological Council of Chalcedon was to put it four centuries later. In the least action of Christ God lives humanly and man lives divinely, not in a modal union but in the union that is a single person. Throughout his mortal life everything will show forth this marvelous anointing.

When Christ speaks, his listeners hear the man Jesus, and at the same time the Father utters himself in his incarnate Word. Even when faith has not yet penetrated this mystery of unity between Jesus and the Father, the simplest folk cannot but be amazed: “No one has ever spoken like this man” (John 7:46). When Jesus acts, even the least and most human of his reactions, and not only his “astonishing” deeds, express some reflection of the mystery of the Father. If Jesus is humble, it is not a “pretense” or an effort to make us comfortable with his holiness; no, it is authentic, with a truth that is not only human but divine, for our Father is humble beyond anything we can possibly grasp.

When Jesus weeps, the mysterious suffering of this most loving Father has truly entered into our flesh. The entire Gospel needs to be reread from this theophanic point of view: for each aspect of the kenosis of the Word, that is, our entire authentic human condition, manifests the Holy One of God, who has immersed himself in it. Through the baptism of the Son into our humanity all flesh — every person and community, all of time and the world, all suffering and joy, all death and life — is permeated with the presence of the Wholly Other. Time is irreversibly anointed with his fullness.

Even before our response and participation the river of life has reversed the direction of history. [Hymnology and iconography often interpret Psalms 1 14(1 13A):3, "The Jordan turned back", in the sense that is realistic at the level of symbol: when Jesus is baptized, the Jordan (the sign) returns to its source (the river of life, which it signifies). The symbol thus returns to its origin.]

The Father himself puts the seal of his own testimony on this coming: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on him” (Matthew 3:17). “This man”? Yes, this man whom we see and whom we believe to be the son of Joseph [Luke 3:23, at the beginning of the genealogy that follows upon the account of the baptism.] is in fact the reflection of the Father’s glory. [This accounts for a variant, regarded as apocryphal, in two manuscripts of the Vetus Latina: "And while he was being baptized a great light came out of the water"; see The Jerusalem Bible, New Testament, p. 19, n. k (omitted in The New Jerusalem Bible).]

Because of him every one of God’s scattered children will have the power to become the Father’s joy and his longed-for dwelling place. [The dove as theophanic symbol of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3:16 refers back to the end of the story of the Flood: the failure of the dove to return signifies that the land is once again habitable (Genesis 8:12). The dove at the baptism also signals the beginning of the new creation (see Genesis 1:2).]

The voice from heaven does not announce a promise; it proclaims a wondering exultation at an event that has been awaited for age upon age: the deformed man who had hidden himself far from the Father’s face is now discovered again by the Father in his own beloved Son!

This Son is indeed present among men as one unknown to them (see John 1:26), but he is nonetheless in their midst. This mysterious marriage, which only the friend of the bridegroom can recognize, [John 3:29. The reference is to John the Precursor and Baptizer] is experienced by Jesus in the depths of his heart. Who could possibly have any inkling of the testings and sufferings he had to undergo in order to seal this covenant in the truth of his human heart?

For it was in this heart that the drama of the river of life was henceforth played out, and this at every moment of his mortal days. To be inseparably God and man was unceasingly to accept the new life from his Father and at the same time to be heir, through his virginal mother, to all the earthiness of our humanity. It was to be the place where two pursuits, two thirsts, meet, the place where two worlds, of grace and the flesh, intermingle. It was to be the meeting point of two loves and the focus of their covenant; the place where two piercing nostalgias met, but also the source of their satisfaction. “Who has given credence to what we have heard? [Isaiah 53:1 cited in John 12:38, just before the Passion of Jesus]

The fountain is there, and it is the heart of the Savior: place of the Passion of God and the passion of man, place of the corn-passion. There God is born in man and man in God: a place of birth and connatural knowledge, a threshold that death is forbidden to cross, a silence filled with outpouring joy. Finally, it is in this heart, where kenosis has achieved its utmost, that the river will arise, and the glory of the Father will be revealed. Then “all flesh will see it” (Isaiah 40:5): that will be the hour of Jesus, the hour when the mystery becomes event.


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