The Light of Christ illuminating True Humanity

“In the Old Testament, to see God was to die; in the New Testament to meet God is to live.” Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of blessed memory, in his Meditations on a Theme.

Having come from a Presbyterian and Evangelical background, one of the repeated refrains was that the high point of the Old Testament (the locus of the metanarrative) was the exodus and the giving of the law. I have heard this repeated again and again by Evo scholars, and so central a place is it in Reformed Theology, that the system of Covenant Theology would break down without it. I won’t get into why here, it is beside the point. I bring this up because this was not the view of the Fathers, nor the view of Orthodox Church (and I would dare say you would be hard pressed to find it among Roman Catholics, e.g., see Fr. Aidan Nichols’ Lovely Like Jerusalem). No, the pinnacle of the Old Testament, the metanarrative to use our modern hermeneuticalists’ lingo, is Christ. Of course it is obvious that Christ cannot be a metanarrative. What the Old Testament gives us is Deus absconditus (Thou art a God who hides himself Is. 45:15), and a God of darkness (And the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was Ex. 20:21). This absence of God, so much a focus in Met. Anthony’s book Learning to Pray, is an existential problem for everyone, but in the Old Testament it was also a ritual and thus an ontological one. What does all that mean? For we Christians now, the presence of God is something sought, something longed for (or at least should be), something desired and at times fulfilled. If it is not, it is a commentary on our existence (our existential reality), that God, for really good reasons, has stood apart from us. In the Old Testament, while the desire was there, the fulfillment was not. There was something wrong with who and what the people of God were, that there was no way they could be united to God in that time, in that Christ had not taken flesh yet from our flesh. This can be most clearly seen in II Cor. 3 where St. Paul talks about how the glory of the old covenant was ephemeral, and that the blinding light that radiated from Moses’s face was a temporary glory, and actually spoke of the absence of God, and not His presence. If there is anything climatic about Sinai, it is God’s revelation of Himself to Moses, when Moses was hid in the cleft of the rock, and allowed to see but the back of God’s glory. So overwhelming was this that the Israelites had to veil Moses’s face. This veil is analogous, of course to the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. God was separate, hidden, whose face to see was to die.

This all changes with Christ. The full revelation of Christ as God is made complete with His death, for it is there and then that God has ended the separation, ritual and ontological, which kept us from Him. As we sing on the feast of the Transfiguration, Christ revealed Himself to the Peter, James, and John so that they would know that His death was voluntary. He has power over life and death, and the power to lay His own life down is part of the revelation of His divinity. No one could take it from Him. Note that He had hung upon the cross for but six hours. The soldiers and Pilate are surprised He’s dead (men had hung upon crosses for days). Further, He cried not with a whimper, but a loud voice “Consummatum est!” And so the revelation of God on Sinai finds its antitype in Mt. Tabor and the transfiguration. This Paul clearly has in mind when he ends II Cor 3 with the declaration that we are being transfigured into the same image, from glory to glory. The King James simply used the word “changed” and almost all modern versions use the world “transformed,” but all of this seems to skirt what St. Paul is clearly alluding to here, which is the Transfiguration of Christ, for he uses the same word, metamorphosis, that the Evangelists use of the transfiguration of Christ. And this is made explicit when St. Paul, talking about how the “god of this world” has blinded the minds (he uses the word noema, a cognate of nous, designating intellectual activity) of the unbelieving – – a blindness analogous to the blindness of Jews – – informs us that “God . . . hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The light of Christ then, is the full revelation of God. We have now seen the Face of God, for we see Christ. There are no shadows in icons, for the light within an icon shines from the central figure, thus dispelling the darkness. So with us, the light Christ that illumines us should be dispelling the darkness. We as Christians, illuminated and feasting on the heavenly life, should be resplendent before the world. The very power that transfigured Christ on Mt. Tabor is no transfiguring us. (I am of two minds whether this light is something given to us new, part of our union with God effected by the Incarnation and Christ’s vanquishing death, or is something in us from our creation, having been created in Christ’s image, but something that lays dormant and smoldering awaiting the divine Wind to blow it into a flame, but that is another post.) With this the case, we await the Light of Christ to illuminate what we are, what we should be. No longer are we confined to merely seeing the back of God reflected in the face of Moses, but we see the very glory of God in the face of Christ, the Light of Light!


About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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7 Responses to The Light of Christ illuminating True Humanity

  1. David A. Fraser says:

    Not quite sure I follow that the OT’s high point (locus of metanarrative) is Christ. Had you said the metanarrative of the Bible is Christ, I would might have followed. Certainly, the Jews would not say that, as though the Hebrew Bible does not have its own meaning without noting its Christological connections. They would say the Exodus is the dominant metaphor of their story just as Christians say the Cross is the dominant metaphor of theirs. Rabbi Michael Goldberg’s Jews and Christians-Getting our Stories Straight: the Exodus and the Passion-Resurrection seems to me to offer a better account of this than reading so much out of II Corinthians 3.

    Perhaps I have ingested too much of Karl Barth (the great Reformed theologian of the 20th century) — and so don’t recognize either my evangelicalism or my reformed theology as herein characterized. There is much I like in what you have suggested — but not the characterization of the OT = deus absconditus and a God of darkness. That narrows the OT down to only one of its themes. Perhaps I see more the note of Hebrews 1:1-2 where we have continuity: God spoke and speaks (deus dixit). He did not stutter in the OT and only speak clearly in the NT. He speaks definitively in Christ but that does not diminish His speaking through the prophets. The Great light does not extinguish the little lights. There was light before the Great light came. We need not play the one off against the other. Both Paul and Hebrews do make the case for the superiority of the One over the other. But even Paul acknowledges that we gentiles are grafted into Israel and our salvation is of the Jews! As Barth puts it: the True (wahrheit) Human is Jesus Christ. We are invited to become a part of his story and to live in his light.

    Writing as I do less than a mile from Ephesus in Turkey, I am keenly aware that the presence of God was keenly sought by the OT Jews, not just by the early Christians — though nominalism and misguided directions were taken by both. I can see the small remnant of the great Temple of Artemis and see it also as testimony to the great longing of humanity for authentic life in the midst of the struggles of existence, even while looking in the wrong place in the wrong way.

  2. Cyril says:

    David, thank you so much for your reply. I hope all is well with you. First, I am in quite agreement with Barth about Christ as the first real man (from at least St. Irenaeus (c. 180) on the Fathers identify Christ as the first human), and thus to know Christ is to know what humanity really is. This is the larger point I was getting at. The other point though must follow from this: what Moses and the Prophets said of God was true, but incomplete. They knew God just as truly as a child knows her father, or, as St. Paul mights say, a servant knows her mistress. Further, they realized this, and that something (someone) greater was coming. As the Venerable Bede noted about the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and the second temple, in that they are gone, their significance could not have rested in what they were, nor in what they historically embraced. The four-fold sense of scripture that Bede embraced was to him as much a Christological matter as a hermeneutical one. Thus Christ becomes the true measure of what the tabernacle, first temple and second temple meant. I am not trying to diss the OT (we both know there is enough of that about). I would commend to you the writings of Margaret Barker. Some of her stuff seems absolute arcane, if not near balmy. But there is also an immense amount of wonderful scholarship about the OT and Christ.

    As for God not stuttering, well, of course not. When you get a chance to look at any Byzantine mosaics or icons of Christ, note that in the aureole about our Savior’s head is a cross with the letters omicron omega/nu in the three bars of the cross. Why? For the Fathers it was Christ who appeared to Moses (and thus Christ whom Moses saw in Sinai). I am not intending at all to slight or marginalize other themes in the OT, but am saying that since Christ, as you admit, is the metanarrative of the Bible, he is thus the metanarrative of the OT. He is the unity of the two testaments. (And also, I don’t think of Christ as metanarrative, but instead as the Image of God, and we are made in that image, and after the image, and from Him we draw our meaning, whether I am some overly self-important professor, or the father of the faithful, Abraham.)

    Pease to both you and Elouise!

  3. Karen says:

    This discussion also makes me think of what Christ said to the Pharisees in John 5:39-40:

    “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; *and these are they which testify of Me.* But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

  4. Benjamin says:

    @”(I am of two minds whether this light is something given to us new, part of our union with God effected by the Incarnation and Christ’s vanquishing death, or is something in us from our creation, having been created in Christ’s image, but something that lays dormant and smoldering awaiting the divine Wind to blow it into a flame, but that is another post.)”

    Professor, I eagerly await that post, as I have recently wondered the same thing–whether the resurrectedness of Resurrected Man is a new thing or an age-old thing. I can’t make up my mind either, and haven’t found any answer anywhere else. If I had to put my money somewhere, it would be on the latter option, as it seems to me that it might fit well into a sacramental world such as our own. (But as soon as I type that my mind says “Might not the other as well?”)

    I hope your semester is going well. And thanks for the new blog!

  5. Davd Fraser says:

    One last comment: I would more comfortably say the metanarrative of the Bible is the story of God. Genesis 1 tells us Elohim created all things that are. Genesis 2 informs us that the Creator God is the Covenant God, Yahweh of Israel, whose Spirit is at work on earth. Matthew 1 then recites via a genealogy the narrative history of Israel from Abraham, leading to Christ who will save his people (Luke 3 goes in the opposite direction, from Christ to Adam, the son of God). The New Testament then tells us: Jesus is the beloved and unique Son of God, the incarnate One, and goes on to tell the initial story of the giving of the Spirit by Jesus to the new Covenant people of God, binding Jew and Gentile into one body (Jn 20:22; Acts 2) and the initial years of the outworking of that gift of the Spirit. That is a story of God, the God and Father of Jesus Christ, the giver of the Spirit, three in one, blessed forever, together with the world, its creatures and the humans who have been given the missio dei of being imagers of God.

  6. Cyril says:

    Well, David, I think that approximates it. We know no God apart from the Persons of the Trinity, no God beyond God, as Meister Eckhart put it. Since it is through His Logos that God made the world, the fullest revelation of the Father is in the Son. For the Orthodox, the term God first refers to the Father, but it is also the relative term of deity, and not the absolute term – – this “Father” is, as unbegotten, for as Gregory of Nazianzen said, in defending the divinity of the Son, He is the God of everyone, but the begotten of no one – – and so I think what you have said is correct. After all, as the Creed says, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty . . . . And in one Lord Jesus Christ.”

  7. Pingback: Informed Prayer (Thoughts on Prayer: III) | Lux Christi

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