A homily of St Leo on Matthew 17:1-9
The lesson from the Gospel, dearly beloved, which has reached the inner hearing of our minds through our bodily ears, bids us to the understanding of a great mystery. To this we shall more readily attain, if, by the grace of God, we take into consideration the events that have been narrated a little above. For the Saviour of mankind, Jesus Christ, in establishing that faith whereby the wicked are called back to justice and the dead to life, instructed his disciples by the doctrines he taught them, and by the miracles he wrought, to believe in him as Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, and the Son of man. For one of these truths without the other would not have helped them to salvation; it would have been equally dangerous to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was God alone and not man, as that he was man alone and not God. Both truths alike, then, had to be confessed; for just as the true manhood was present in the Godhead, so was the true Divinity present in the manhood.
In order, then, to confirm their knowledge of this faith, so necessary to salvation, the Lord asked his disciples what, among the various opinions of other men, they did themselves believe concerning him, or what they thought of the matter. Whereupon, Peter the Apostle, by the revelation of the most high Father, rising above bodily things and passing beyond human things saw, with the eyes of his mind, the Son of the living God, and confessed the glory of the Godhead; for he looked beyond the substance of flesh and blood: and so pleasing did he become by this sublime faith, that he received the fullness of blessing, and was given the holy firmness of an unbreakable rock; on which the Church should be built and prevail over the gates of hell and the laws of death. Moreover, when anything is to be bound or loosed, no sentence should be ratified in heaven other than that which was established by the judgment of Peter.
But, dearly beloved, the sublimity of Peter’s recognition, which the Lord had praised, need instruction concerning the mystery of the lower nature: lest the faith of the apostle raised on high to confess the glory of the Godhead in Christ, should deem it unworthy and unfitting for the impassable God to assume our weakness, and thus should believe that the human nature in Christ was then so glorified, that it could neither suffer pain nor be dissolved by death. And, therefore, when the Lord said that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and the chief priests, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again: then blessed Peter, who had been illumined by the light from on high, burned in his ardent confession of the Son of God, and with, as he thought, a religious and generous hatred, he spurned the notion that the Lord should suffer the shame of such a mocking and the disgrace of so cruel a death. But when corrected by Jesus with a kindly rebuke, he was filled with the desire of sharing even his passion.
– From: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964