The Real and the Individual: Byzantine concepts of the Resurrection, part 1

by Dirk Krausmüller

In the second half of the sixth century patriarch Anastasius I of Antioch delivered a sermon on the transfiguration in which he subjected the biblical account to an allegorical interpretation.1 When he discussed the presence of Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor, however, he interrupted the flow of his argument to add the following criticism: “That some ask whence and based on what signs the disciples recognized the prophets does not seem to me a subtle question nor one worth of being investigated.”2

Although Anastasius himself refers to his adversaries merely as “some people”, we are in the fortunate position to have another sermon on the transfiguration ascribed to a priest by the name of “Timothy of Antioch” in which exactly this view is expressed.3 Timothy first raises the question: “And whence did they (sc. the apostles) have the knowledge that it was Moses and Elijah?”, and then answers it with the exclamation: “From the signs!”, adding as an explanation: “For Elijah was there with the carriage and Moses carrying the tables.”4

Since Timothy has been dated to the 6th to 8th centuries he may well have been a contemporary of Anastasius and it is not impossible that the patriarch actually had this text in mind when he vented his criticism.5 Timothy’s problem arises from the fact that the biblical accounts simply state that the two attendant figures at the transfiguration were Moses and Elijah without giving further information as to how the apostles could have known about their identities.6

His solution was the object of the scorn of the patriarch who clearly thought that such a pedestrian approach was not up to the standard of theological discussion, and it is certainly true that we find nothing comparable in other sermons on the transfiguration. In order to understand why Timothy saw the need for an explanation here we must turn to the descriptions of visions in contemporary Saints’ Lives which provide us with the closest parallels.

In the Life of Euthymius by Cyril of Scythopolis the identification of figures appearing in dreams and visions unknown to the persons who see them is a major issue.7 In one episode a bewitched Saracene boy has a vision of “some grey-haired monk with a big beard” who tells him “I am Euthymius”, gives an exact description of where he lives, and asks him to come. The Saracene then travels to the monastery where he is healed by the saint.8 The description of Euthymius’ appearance is mentioned here to make the vision more credible to the readers who knew what the saint looked like. The Saracene himself, on the other hand, had never met Euthymius and therefore would not have known where to turn for help if the saint had not introduced himself by name.9 Such an impasse we find in an episode in the Life of Theodosius the Coenobiarch by Theodore of Petrae.10 We are told that a woman from Antioch comes to the monastery with her son. When the boy sees the saint he exclaims that this is the man who rescued him from a well. The mother explains this “recognition” by telling the story how her son fell into a well and was held above the water “by some monk”. Since the boy did not know who this monk was they had to go to all the monasteries of the area in search for him.11

Now we can reconstruct Timothy’s reasoning. Since the biblical accounts do not contain a self-identification like “I am Moses (or Elijah)” or identification by Christ like “This is Moses (or Elijah)” he concluded that there must have been visible signs by which they could be recognized and that these signs must have been of a kind that made their identification as individuals unambiguous. This led him to the carriage and the tables as characteristic attributes.

These visions, however, are not sufficient to explain Timothy’s position and Anastasius’ criticism of it because they take place in “ordinary” situations and are experienced by “ordinary” people whereas the transfiguration is a miraculous event in which Christ’s body and clothes become suffused with light and the appearing figures are surrounded by a luminous cloud. Therefore I shall now try to relate the authors’ statements to their interpretation of this phenomenon.

In either text the Leitmotiv of the author is that what was shown to the apostles on Mount Tabor “assured” them of the reality of the afterlife.12 As we shall see, however, their concepts of this afterlife are radically different and therefore lead them to different answers to the question of knowledge and identification.

For Anastasius the assurance is linked to a future event, i.e. the second coming of Christ of which the transfiguration is a foreshadowing.13 Christ will not come in an earthly body but in a spiritual and celestial one which he has had since his resurrection, and the same transformation will then be conferred on all human bodies.14

In Anastasius’ eschatology this “change” from one condition to the other is clearly the central aspect whereas the resurrection is just a means to this end.15 His thinking is based on a dichotomy between the carnal and the spiritual. The spiritual body will not only be incorruptible but also “less dense”, i.e. material than our current body.16 This has implications for how this body presents itself to those who perceive it, i.e. the apostles in the case of the transfiguration.

Anastasius first explains the impact of this change on Christ’s body when he interprets the biblical statement: “He was transformed in front of them”.17 Christ confers his divine qualities on his human nature so that these qualities become manifest on the outside: “having brightened up the figure of the serf with the divine idioms”.18

When Anastasius turns to Moses and Elijah he extends the spiritualisation of Christ’s body to them. Again he starts with a quotation from the bible: “And Moses and Elijah were seen by them conversing with him”.19 From this he draws the conclusion that they could only have conversed with the transfigured Christ if they themselves had undergone an analogous change: “If they were not co-transfigured, they would not con-verse.” 20

Anastasius then follows the biblical text in which the two figures appear as prophets who tell the apostles about the coming death of Christ in Jerusalem. He uses the concept of transfiguration to explain why the apostles now believed Moses and Elijah whereas they had not believed Christ before. Anastasius draws a parallel between their prophecy and Christ’s earlier announcement of his own death and resurrection.21 He stresses that in both cases the apostles heard exactly the same words but that they “did not understand” them before, whereas now they understand and believe.22 According to Anastasius their different reactions can only be explained if the speech of Moses and Elijah which is still considered audible by him has acquired an additional new quality which makes it different from our ordinary speech.23 Then he describes what this change implies: “When their words are transfigured and the shadows of the law are removed, then Moses the faithful servant, who wrote everything about Christ, will be believed and will clearly show from his own words which end Christ will fulfil in Jerusalem”.24 Obviously Anastasius thinks that the meaning of the words of the Old Testament will become manifest in them so that their status as prophecies about Christ will be self-evident and thus inspire instant faith.

Anastasius does not explicitly state what the transfiguration of the appearances of Moses and Elijah implies. Since the speeches come from their mouths, however, the visible figures and audible words are two related and parallel phenomena. This means that the transfigured bodies of Moses and Elijah relate to “dense” and carnal bodies in the same way as the transfigured words to the “shadows of the law”. And just like ordinary words their ordinary bodies would not have given an immediate knowledge of their identity whereas in the transfigured bodies this identity becomes manifest which, of course, makes a reading of outward signs superfluous.

This raises the question: What is the “carrier” of this identity that manifests itself in the spiritual body? An answer can be found in Anastasius’ description of the last judgement in the first part of his sermon. There he says that we shall all stand naked in front of Christ as judge.25 Then he evokes the biblical image of the books that will be opened and interprets them as a metaphor for the human conscience: “… which show through what is imprinted on the conscience whom each of us has followed …”.26 The whole story of one’s life can be found there which allows a judgement of the state the soul is in. So we can conclude that the apostles can read the “stories” of Moses and Elijah in their “consciences” and therefore do not need to infer them from their outward appearances.27

Anastasius’ concept of the “conscience” as the place where memories of individual thoughts and actions are imprinted as mental images is closely related to imagination. This can be elucidated by a comparison with a passage in Basil of Ancyra’s treatise On Virginity.28 Having stressed that one should care for one’s conscience Basil points out that each individual sinful thought is painted on the board of the soul and that on the day of the Last Judgement this painting will become visible to all.29 In non-metaphorical terms Basil calls it “imaginary and detailed thought in the soul”.30

The closeness of this concept to simple “subjective” imagination explains why Anastasius himself never explicitly refers to it in this context especially since a few lines above he devalues the material world as “dream-like phantasies”.31 Even Basil of Ancyra who speaks quite openly about imagination is somewhat uneasy since it has the connotation of not being quite real and therefore stresses that these images are in the soul not just as phantasies but as deeds.32

At this point we must return to the text to consider an aspect which we have left aside so far. For Anastasius direct access to the level of unequivocal meaning is not only possible because of the transfiguration of the perceived objects, but also because of a change in the perceptive powers of the apostles linked to their spiritual advancement.

Anastasius starts his interpretation of the biblical account by stating that Christ had already made the apostles “receptive” for the light coming from his transfigured body.33 And before he infers the co-transfiguration of Moses and Elijah, he uses the same quotation from the bible to explain how the apostles perceived them: “Having become more clear-sighted (literally: seeing-through) … the apostles finally got to know that Moses and Elijah then conversed with Christ”.34 His most elaborate statement, however, follows the passage in which Anastasius rejects the view held by Timothy. He asks: “For having arrived at such a height that they were thought worthy of such a sight which had been called kingdom of heaven by him who had revealed himself to them as being transfigured together with the prophets, how could they not have known the co-initiated?”35 And then he gives his answer: “Surely the apostles were prophets, too; and prophets meeting prophets have one and the same knowledge; above all, because Jesus was there and illuminated the governing part (sc. of the soul) and figurated the intellect according to his own divine figure.”36

By extending the concept of transfiguration to the change in the perceptive powers of the apostles, Anastasius achieves a perfect correspondence and thus a double proof for an immediate knowledge.37 This correspondence, however, is somewhat deceptive, for when Anastasius speaks about the subjective aspect he “forgets” about the transfiguration of the objects of perception. Otherwise “seeing through” would be meaningless since there would be nothing to be “seen through”. When Anastasius expands the biblical statement that the apostles “saw” Moses and Elijah to “having become more clear-sighted … they got to know” that it was they ,this only makes sense if he accepts Timothy’s point of departure that there is no introduction of the two figures by spoken word. Then, of course, the apostles could not simply have “seen” that the two men appearing on either side of Christ were in fact Moses and Elijah. So the biblical statement must have appeared elliptical to him and he proceeded to supply the missing elements: The apostles saw the two men but their perception did not stop at the surface of the carnal body but went right through it to the level we have identified as conscience.38

“Seeing through” is closely related to the concept of the “eye of the soul” which can also be used to describe imagination as opposed to seeing something real.39 Thus, as an instrument of perception it corresponds exactly to the “imaginary” level of the objects of perception represented by the conscience and one can conceive of its use to “see” not only the figments of one’s own imagination but also the “real” mental images of others.

We can conclude that for Anastasius the imagination is the place where the individuality of a human being is located and safeguarded.40 What is more difficult to establish is its relation to the spiritualized body after the resurrection. For Basil of Ancyra, the revelation of the conscience is not caused by a change of the carnal body, but by the shedding of this body as an outer shell.41 Anastasius, on the other hand, relates the manifestation to a transformation of the carnal bodies through the resurrection.42 Therefore, this transformation is most likely to be conceived of as a two-fold process in which the spiritualisation of the flesh is complemented by an “incarnation” of the “spiritual” imagination which moves it forward to the visible surface.43


1 Anastasius of Antioch, Oratio I in Transfigurationem (BHG 1993; CPG 6947), ed. PG 89, 1361-1376. G. Weiss who has made the most thorough analysis of this sermon to this date states in his Studia Anastasiana I. (MBM, 4). Muenchen, 1965, p. 94: “Abschließend ist zu bemerken, daß ich kein Gegenargument gegen die Zuweisung der 3 Predigten (i. e. the sermon on the transfiguration and two sermons on the annunciation) an den Patriarchen Anastasius finden konnte.”

2 PG 89, 1369B4 -7: to de punthanesthai tinas, pothen, e poos, kai ek tinoon semeioon epegnoosan hoi mathetai tous profetas ou moi dokei komson eperootema kai zeteseoos axion einai.

3 Timothy of Antioch, Sermo in Crucem et in Transfigurationem (BHG 434h; CPG 7406), ed. PG 86, 1, 256-265. An in-depth analysis of Timothy’s work was done by V. Capelle, Les homélies liturgiques du prétendu Timothée de Jérusalem. Ephemerides Liturgicae 63 (1949), pp. 5-26. After a stylistical analysis on pp. 10-20 Capelle concludes that four more sermons can be attributed to the same author, the Sermo in Symeonem et in S. Mariam Virginem (BHG 1958; CPG 7405), ed. PG 86,1, 237-252, which goes under the name of Timothy, Presbyter of Jerusalem, and three pseudepigrapha of Athanasius of Alexandria, In Nativitatem Praecursoris, in Elisabeth, et in Deiparam, PG 28, 905-913, Sermo de Descriptione Deiparae, PG 28, 944-957, In Caecum a Nativitate, PG 28, 1001-1024. Recently, M. Sachot has put forward the hypothesis that these sermons must be attributed to Leontius of Byzantium writing under various pen-names. Cf. M. Sachot, L’ homélie pseudo-chrysostomienne sur la Transfiguration CPG 4724, BHG 1975. Contextes liturgiques, restitution à Léonce, prêtre de Constantinople, édition critique et commentée, traduction et études connexes. Frankfurt a. M. & Bern 1981, and M. Sachot, Les homélies grecques sur la transfiguration. Tradition manuscrite. Paris 1987. Sachot’s hypothesis has been accepted by L. Perrone, “Art. Timothy of Jerusalem”, Encyclopedia of the early church, II (Cambridge 1992), p. 841, and by H. J. Sieben, “Art. Transfiguration du seigneur”, Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, 15 (1991), p. 1145. Although one cannot come to a final decision without a detailed discussion of style and contents of the sermons ascribed to either author there are some obvious discrepancies which cast doubts on Sachot’s conclusion. Pet phrases like akoue sunetoos found in almost all of Leontius’ genuine sermons are missing in the sermons ascribed to Timothy by Capelle. Nor do we find the same interest in identity and identification through signs as in almost all of Timothy’s homilies, cf. PG 86, 1, 244A, and PG 28, 909B, 953AB, 1004A-1005A. In Leontius’ corpus there is only one comparable passage where he discusses the identification of the infant Christ by the magi. Cf. Homilia XII in Nativitatem Christi (BHGa 7896), ed. C. Datema und Pauline Allen, Sermones. (Corpus Christianorum. Series graeca, 17). Brepols-Turnhout 1987, pp. 385/386.

4 PG 86,1, 261BC: kai pothen autois he gnosis hoti Mooses en kai Elias? ek toon tekmerioon; ho gar Elias sun tooi Harmati pareste kai ho Mooses tas plakas bastazoon.

5 For this dating cf. Capelle, Timothée, pp. 11/12, 20-23. Capelle points out that the oldest manuscripts date to the 9th century and that apart from the sermons on Christmas and on the Blind-born Timothy’s texts do not appear very often in the homiliaries which suggests a comparatively late date. He concludes: “À défaut des critères plus précis, on situera notre homéliste entre le VIe et le VIIIe siècle byzantin.”

6 In Luke 9, 30 quoted by Timothy in PG 86, 1, 260D4/5 we first find the statement that two men were seen: kai idou andres duo sunelaloun autooi, which is followed by the identification of these two men: oitines esan Mooses kai Elias, without any further comment. Afterwards we only hear that they spoke about Christ’s coming passion.

7 E. Schwartz, Kyrillos von Skythopolis. Leipzig 1939.

8 Life of Euthymius, ed. Schwartz, c. 23, p. 20, ll. 8-16: … tina monachon mixopolion echonta ton poogoona megan … egoo eimi Euthumios.

9 This vision is part of a dream, but we find the same structure in another vision which is not classified as a dream, cf. Life of Euthymius, ed. Schwartz, c. 57, p. 78, ll. 25-27.

10 H. Usener, Der heilige Theodosios. Schriften des Theodoros und Kyrillos. Reprinted Hildesheim 1975.

11 Life of Theodosius, ed. Usener, p. 77, l. 18 – p. 78, l. 24: …he tou paidos epignoosis pros ton dikaion …. hupo monachou tinos ….

12 For Timothy cf. PG 86, 1, 260B: ho kurios … pleroforei … hupodeiknus autois (sc. tois apostolois) … theoprepe tes anastaseoos dunamin ; and for Anastasius cf. PG 89, 1365A10/11: kai hina to afanes tes elpidos tautes echomen en bebaiooi bouletai kai nun hupodeixai tois egkritois toon mathetoon ten tote ginomenen alloioosin.

13 Cf. PG 89, 1365A11: ten tote ginomenen alloioosin. At one point, however, Anastasius seems to refer to a “real” transformation of Christ’s body already at the transfiguration i. e. before his resurrection, cf. 1368B8/9: nun de ten morfen tou doulou pros ten fusiken apokathistesin.

14 PG 89, 1365A6/7: to meta anastaseoos metastoicheioothen epi to pneumatikon kai epouranion. Anastasius returns to this theme at the end of his interpretation, cf. 1376B9-13.

15 PG 89, 1365A6: meta anastaseoos.

16 PG 89, 1365A5/6: to idion sooma metapoiesas eis aftharsian; cf. 1376C2: metaschematisei ta soomata hemon epi to … aftharton. Cf. 1376B11/12: apo toon pachuteroon (sc. soomatoon), and 1365C9: tou pachuterou kosmou. The opposite quality (which Anastasius does not mention here) would be leptoteron.

17 Matthew 17, 2: kai metemorfoothe emprosthen autoon, quoted PG 89, 1368B1.

18 PG 89, 1368B10/11: faidrunas de auten (sc. ten douliken ousian) tois theikois idioomasin. This statement is part of a passage in which Anastasius combines the transfiguration with the kenoosis-motif from Philippians 2, 6-8. The whole argument is very complex and therefore cannot be discussed in this article.

19 Matthew 17, 3: kai oofthesan autois Mooses kai Elias sullalountes autooi, quoted PG 89, 1368D11/12.

20 PG 89, 1369A1-5: ei gar me summetamorfoothosin ou sullalousin.

21 Matthew 16, 21-23.

22 Cf. PG 89, 1369A8: egnoesan pote lalountos.

23 Cf. PG 89, 1369A7: ekouon. Moreover, Anastasius paraphrases the biblical sullalousi with sumftheggontai, 1369A12, which points to articulate, audible speech.

24 PG 89, 1369A14-B4: Hotan metamorfoothosin autoon oi logoi kai kinethosin ai tou nomou skiai tote kai pisteuthesetai Mooses ho therapoon ho pistos peri Christou grapsas panta kai ten exodon autou parastesei telaugoos ek toon idioon logoon hen emelle pleroun en Hierousalem. The future tense probably indicates that Anastasius sees the transfiguration as a prefiguration of the second coming here.

25 PG 89, 1364D3-5: gumnoi de pantes … paristametha.

26 PG 89, 1364D6-8: bibloi anoigontai pros elegchon hemon delousai dia toon tei suneidesei tetupoomenoon tini mallon hekastos ekolouthese ….

27 It is worth noting, however, that in the case of the second coming Anastasius speaks of an “examination” of the imprints on the conscience before final judgement about the state of the soul is passed. But this is clearly more a taking-in of what is seen than an interpretation.

28 Basil of Ancyra, Liber de Vera Virginitatis Integritate, PG 30, 669-810.

29 Basil stresses that the individual and not the general will be presented and then describes vividly how every single detail will be seen by the others, cf. PG 30, 732D4-6: ou gar sugkechumenoos te kai katholou ta pragmata theooreitai all’ hoos hupozoografa kata meros ginoosketai hoos echei.

30 PG 30, 733A9: fantasioodes te kai diexodike ennoia en psuchei.

31 PG 89, 1364B1/2: ten psuchen … planoomenen peri ta tou biou mataia kai tas oneiroodeis autou fantasias.

32 PG 30, 733B14/15: me hoos fantasias haplos all’ hoos erga en psuchei ginomena. This makes sense when the sins of the thought are taken as seriously as those carried out in action.

33 PG 89, 1368B1/2: chooretikous autous poiesas (sc. ho Christos) toon huperballontoon autou ellampseoon.

34 PG 89, 1368D12-1369A2: dioratikooteroi gegonotes hoi apostoloi … molis egnoosan hoti Mooses kai Elias tote tooi Iesou sullalousi.

35 PG 89, 1369B7-11: kai gar pros tosouton hupsos chooresantes hooste theas axioothenai toiautes hen basileian ouranoon oonomasen ho apokalupsas autois heauton tois profetais summetamorfoumenon poos tous summustas eichon agnoesai?

36 PG 89, 1369B12-C1: pantoos profetai de esan kai hoi apostoloi; kai profetai profetais suggenomenoi mian kai ten auten echousin <epistemen> kai malista parontos Iesou kai footizontos to hegemonikon kai morfountos ton noun pros <ten> heautou theian morfen.

37 A similar combination of the two concepts we find e. g. in the Middle Byzantine Fourth Life of Pachomius, cf. Sancti Pachomii Vitae Graecae, edd. Hagiographi Bollandiani ex recensione F. Halkin (SH 19). Brüssel 1932, p. 409, ll. 14-17: He tes psuches galene kai to tes gnoomes euthu kai pros areten eufues ou metrioos diefaineto tois oxuteron dioran dunamenois kai tes psuches anichneuein ta aporreta kai kruptomena. Here the dioran of the onlookers corresponds to a diafainesthai of the soul of Pachomius.

38 Since the concept of mental penetration is not dependent on a correspondent transformation of the perceived object it is possible that this was the reason why Anastasius stressed the subjective aspect in his wish to prove his point against Timothy.

39 A good example for the use of the expression “eye of the mind” in this sense can be found in Pseudo-Methodian Sermo de Symeone et Anna (BHG 1961; CPG 1827), ed. PG 18, 361A1-7: prin e kateilefenai ton naon tois tes dianoias ofthalmois anapteroumenos hoos echoon ede to pothoumenon egegethei; agomenos de houtoo kai meteooroporoon tois diabemasi ookutatoos ton palai hieron katelambane sekon kai ou prosschon tooi hierooi tooi tou hierou prutanei tas hieras oolenas eefeploose. Here the imagined cradling of Christ is followed by the “real” one!

40 Turning once more to Basil of Ancyra we can see why it is the imagination and not the “pure” intellect which has this function in Anastasius’ thinking. For Basil the “intellect” is the active element which paints the images on the board of the “soul”, cf. PG 30, 733A11/12. Therefore it can be identified with the “person” which is itself not imagined but “real”. Without this “soul”, however, the intellect would be without history and therefore without individuality.

41 PG 30, 732C11-13: houtoo kai hemeis ekdusamenoi to prokalumma tes sarkos oute peristeilai tous en tei psuchei moomous oute apokrupsai poos dunesometha.

42 He makes this explicit in the case of Christ’s transfiguration, cf. PG 89, 732C11-13: ouk apothemenos men ten ousian ten douliken faidrunas de auten tois theikois idioomasin.

43 There remains, however, an ambiguity: At the time of the transfiguration Moses and Elijah were not yet resurrected (and Elijah had not even died yet but was assumed to heaven). It is possible that Anastasius thinks that they just gave the appearance of having transformed bodies (since the transfiguration is only a prefiguration of the real event). But one cannot exclude that he conceives of their figures as “naked” consciences in Basil’s sense here.