The Transfiguration by Raphael
One of my parishioners, now gone to the Lord, taught himself at least eight languages. This served Vernon A. Walters well in various important diplomatic roles and as a translator for presidents. Charles de Gaulle said, “Nixon, you gave a magnificent speech, but your interpreter was eloquent.”
In a higher realm, something similar might be said of Sylvanus, sometimes called Silas (1 Peter 5:12). What Peter dictated was of the Holy Spirit, but Silvanus gave it a fine grammatical touch, and so we have some expressions as eloquent as they are immortal, like the “precious promises” by which “you might be partakers of the divine nature . . .” (2 Peter 1:4).
These words have to be understood carefully, lest they be twisted into some sort of Buddhist or Mormon confusion about humanity and divinity. “Deification” is a grant by God’s will. Saint Maximos (d. 662) said, “All that God is, except for an identity of being, one becomes when one is deified by grace.” Peter, along with James and John, was dozing as the Master prayed to his Father in his Agony: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22-23). Yet Peter had already seen this glory with the same sons of Zebedee on the mountain of the Transfiguration, which feast we celebrate this coming Saturday. Christ had to explain to Peter the meaning of the divine light that had bewildered him.
That glorious occasion was followed immediately by chaotic scenes at the base of the mountain: a sick boy thrashing about, and fierce words from Jesus about Satan. It is an instruction to us about life in the Church, for glimpses of glory are often followed if not overshadowed, by suffering and sin. In my book He Spoke to Us there is a chapter called “The Transfiguration of the Church” because the Transfiguration of Christ is a lesson in the drama of the Church throughout history: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are in tension, but they never blend into a mess. That is as true here in Hell’s Kitchen in New York and any neighborhood as it was in Galilee.
In the temporal life of the Church are some of the saddest disappointments precisely because the same Church is the home of the world’s hope; and scandals and human failings are made more lurid in contrast to the sublime radiance which is the Church’s bright gift to a dark world that otherwise would accept evil as the norm. No syntax of Silvanus could make more elegant the essence of the humble Fisherman’s astonishment: “We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18).
– Father George W. Rutler