Carthusian Thoughts on the Transfiguration  

Posted by Joe Rawls

In western Christianity the Carthusian monastic order best maintains the lifestyle of the original Desert Fathers.  The monks live as hermits in strictly enclosed "charterhouses" with no outside ministries, spending most of their time in their cells engaged in meditation and personal prayer. 

The order was founded in 1084 by St Bruno of Cologne, and survives today in 25 charterhouses sheltering about 350 monastics, including nuns.  It has largely adhered to its original rule, despite the extreme rigor of the Carthusian life--only about 10 percent of the monks die in vows.  There is a small body of  Carthusian writing,  usually anonymous.  a sample of this is found in The Wound of Love:  a Carthusian miscellany (Cistercian Publications 1994).  A sermon on today's feast of the Transfiguration, excerpted below, is found on pp 35-39.


In the Transfiguration, we are dealing with exceptional prayer.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus.  As at his baptism, he must enter into a solemn moment of his return to the Father.  The Transfiguration is a pinnacle of his existence, yet it is much more a point of departure.  Jesus enters thus into the mystery of his 'exodus', as St Luke says in reference to the conversation between the Saviour and Moses and Elijah.  The Paschal Mystery is already beginning and is played out in light, just as in Gethsemane it will be played out in darkness.  Jesus is at the summit of a new Horeb, flooded by the Spirit; he is in the process of concluding the new alliance which will soon be sealed in his blood.  The light in which he is bathed reveals his full right of access to the Father.  It inaugurates already his entrance into glory. 

However, this meeting of the humanity of the Son with the Father does not take the form of a crushing presence on the part of an impersonal God.  It appears rather as communion with Moses and Elijah.  His two predecessors on the holy mountain are there to welcome him and to show that the New Covenant is a work of love.  There is not only the communion of the Father and the Son in the Spirit; there is its permanent and visible sign:  the encounter between human beings of flesh and blood, who, when transformed by light, continue to possess a heart that thirsts to give itself. 

[The apostles] are to become sharers in the glory which suffuses Jesus.  What occurred in the depths of his soul is made known to them by the Father's voice.  He reveals once again that Jesus is his Son, the Beloved, the Chosen One of whom the prophets spoke.  The occasions on which the Father himself proclaims his intimacy with the Son in the Spirit so directly are extremely rare in the Gospel.  The baptism of Jesus was the first time; Peter at Caesarea Philippi had spoken in the same way under the direct inspiration of the Father; now today, on the mountain top, the Father again intervenes to make the disciples penetrate more profoundly into the mystery of the Son, the Son who enters into the Paschal Mystery so as to return to his Father.

From now on, the disciples will be bearers of a momentous secret.  They had followed Jesus into a mountain solitude in order to pray near him; now they are introduced into a solitude still greater:  the solitude of mystery.  They were told by the Father to  listen to Jesus, but he has nothing to say to them for the moment other than to keep quiet.  Solitude in the company of Jesus has introduced them to silence.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 6, 2012 at Monday, August 06, 2012 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


It's never easy to find silence in this modern life, yet I'm often told this is the only face one can truly find communion with God.

August 6, 2012 at 3:37 AM

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