Letters to Peregrinus #47 - On "Vere Latitat"

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)[2] Jesus among the Doctors (1506)
regarding Luke 2:41-52, but especially at: 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47 and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.[3]
Dear Peregrinus (6th Sunday of Ordinary Time):

You asked me recently to explain why I esteemed the movie Frozen[4]. What caught my attention was how Princess Elsa, born with a magnificent power, a gift for beauty, was compelled by her own parents to hide it, to cover it, and who ordered her to keep news of it from the one person who loved her most steadfastly – her sister Princess Anna. This directed my thoughts towards what has been called the “hidden life” of Christ (from age 12 to 30 – 18 years!),[5] seeking to understand why He put Himself into hiding for so long, keeping from view His magnificent Gift – 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If [only] you knew the gift of God [right in front of you!], and who is saying to you,…[6]

But then for Jesus to “hide” Himself inside an ordinary life opens an insight about what “an ordinary life” means. Ordinary people all possess God-sourced gifts that allow them to make supernatural their ordinary, natural lives.[7] But ordinarily those gifts are hidden, at least to our self-blinded eyes.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he [or she] is your Christian neighbour he [or she] is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat[8] - the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.[9]
As far as we know, the first time that the pre-teen Jesus risked letting something of His beautiful inner life show itself publicly was when he was 12-years old, during a Passover visit to the Temple at Jerusalem.
O, the joy that Jesus must have felt to be among people who actually wanted to explore the depth and ways of God! He had come home.[10] And He found Himself thoroughly able among these elders.[11] But He had questions needing answers, answers that needed to ring true. The text reads: 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, 47 and all who heard him were astounded[12] at his understanding[13] and his answers.[14]
That verb “to astound” names an intense emotional reaction – “to shock with alarm”. And when people have so strong an emotional jolt, they must come to a conclusion about it. Most often, people do not like to be jolted, and they react in fear to what astounds them, and fear distorts their understanding of who caused the jolt as well as their judgment about the motivation of him or her who astounds them.
Many people do not like seeing such divine glory in a person; they do not like it, at all.
I believe that something painful happened to Jesus that day in the Temple, an experience that compelled Him to take Himself out of the public eye, to conceal His gift … for eighteen years. [15] Perhaps even His parents counseled Him to do this. Some part of Him froze – “A frozen heart worth mining”[16] – hardening itself against such unexpected hostility from people whom He assumed would have been especially able to rejoice with Him. He chose that day, I believe, to hide that special and central part of His truth[17] until He had learned how better to handle the way that people reacted to Him.
But learning is not the same as wisdom. Wisdom takes a commitment more substantial than mere learning, and it includes suffering and personal sacrifice.
A shade of sorrow passed over Taliesin’s face. “There are those,” he said gently, “who must first learn loss, despair, and grief. Of all paths to wisdom, this is the cruelest and longest. Are you one who must follow such a way? This even I cannot know. If you are, take heart, nonetheless. Those who reach the end do more than gain wisdom. As rough wool becomes cloth, and crude clay a vessel, so do they change and fashion wisdom for others, and what they give back is greater than what they won.”[18]
How much was lost to the world when for so many years a divine gift was hidden from us!

The Faces in the Painting

The remarkable Albrecht Dürer contemplates perceptively “Jesus among the Teachers” (Luke 2:46-47), helping us see each of them react to what Jesus let them see of Himself, that which already at age twelve burned bright and fiercely within Him. Take a look at those faces, Peregrinus! I have seen all such faces in my own life. You? (I already know your answer.)
Face #1 (bottom front right): It is the face of wisdom; the face of a person deeply pondering what he is hearing, but trained in the habit of “testing” what he hears – 1 Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.[19] His face suggests a profound consolation, because he is hearing God speaking in the words of men. Finally, a credible voice. His heart’s longing has finally come to rest, in contrast to the next person in whom longing still seeks.

Face #2 (bottom front left): See those eyes of pure longing in conversation with the eyes of Jesus looking at him! His book-marked book is closed. He is hearing what has taken him beyond the words; books are for him no longer sufficient. Think of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP, who at the end of his life had a vision of God so profound and so affecting that he ceased to write ever again: “When his secretary and friend, Reginald, tried to encourage him to do more writing, he said ‘Reginald, I can do no more. The end of my labors has come. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.’ Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical [second] Council of Lyons (in 1274).”[20]
So far; so good. But now the faces reveal persons much more complicated, and dangerous.
Face #3 (middle left): This is the face of a self-important scholar, a self-affirming expert, who will always insist that God do what the library books say that He is supposed to do, even when the God-Man is right there in front of Him doing as He pleases. Notice how Dürer paints the expert as self-blinded (eyes closed!). We know that the famous woman of Samaria reacted much better to Jesus than this scholar did: 25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”[21]

Face #4 (top left and behind): This is the face of a kind of leader who perceives to his irritation that this unknown Nazarene youth is getting much more attention than he is getting, that he is owed. We can see the arrogance and hardness in that entitled face. That leader scowls even at us, at us who are looking in from the 21st century, as if he chooses to be eternally offended by any who find Jesus far more interesting than he is. The threat in that face still affects us even after all of these centuries! See by contrast the difference in the face and bearing of Jesus, who even at 12-years old already is the Leader – the philanthropos (the “friend of humanity”)[22].
Face #5 (Jesus): Jesus’ face is difficult to read; His hands are more expressive. Though we notice that He Who is “from above” (as John’s Gospel emphasizes) pays attention to us below. His high (-est) standing above all human beings shows its divine source in his habit of sincerely desiring/seeking to know us who are so small of heart and of vision and who are increasingly alienated from the knowledge and practice of mercy.[23] Those upon whom Jesus gazes feel “elevated”, feel to their surprise that they are actually important to Him, valued, and - can it possibly be true? - beloved. The text reads: and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.[24]

Face #6 (top center-right). This is the face of a false religious man, who has the title of “priest” or “doctor of the holy Law”, but who despises the transformation of self that the holy Path demands of him, of any person. Notice the crudeness in his emotionally dangerous face – its voracious appetites. And see those beefy hands seeking to interfere with the expressiveness of Jesus’ gestures. What interests him about this boy is his innocence, his attractiveness, but, most of all, the boy’s power to draw people to Himself - 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.[25] He lusts to possess such power (unlike the one standing behind him in the shadows, who is powerful), and so he seeks to make Jesus want him, to need him - The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.”[26] These disordered desires working unfettered in this man leave their mark on his ravenous, ugly face.

Face #7 (top right). This is the most chilling face of all, because that shadow-man is so self-possessed in his malignancy. He wants control, not relationship (the latter is far more difficult to achieve). He knows exactly who this youth must be, the kind of majesty that he reveals, and the open threat that such grace and truth is to his world of control and manipulation – that dark face with hyper-vigilant eyes. Recall what Jesus said to Nicodemus: 19 And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.[27] That cunning man in the dark comes from the Darkness and would force all to submit to him alone (pun intended).[28]
Jesus had not yet learned how dangerous it was to let people really see Him, to behold Him without the veil,[29] to experience the radiance[30] of God burning brightly within His soul.[31] He among the Teachers was sharing Himself – the greatest gift that He could give them - so that they all might feel the joy that hiddenly He felt all the time.[32] They reacted, we guess, with ambivalence.[33]
Exodus 34: 29 As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant* while he spoke with the Lord. 30 When Aaron, then, and the other Israelites saw Moses and noticed how radiant the skin of his face had become, they were afraid to come near him. [34]

Well, Peregrinus, you can see my thoughts, which are not settled ones but heuristic;[35] that is, they are points in a pattern of thoughts that help me find what for some years now I have sought to be shown by Jesus: Why did He hide Himself, and what was going on in His passage to wisdom during those hidden eighteen years of his life?
When change-winds swirl through our lives, especially at midlife, they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey: that of confronting the lost and counterfeit places within us and releasing[36] our deeper, innermost self - our true self. They call us to come home to ourselves, to become who we really are.[37]
I am your old friend in Christ on the pilgrim’s road,


[1] A reference here to the quotation from C.S. Lewis’ famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” a few lines of which I quote below. See note #8 below.
[2] The Benezit Dictionary of Artists (Oxford Art Online): “Dürer counted among his friends many of the major figures of his time, including Martin Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Philipp Melanchthon. The latter said of Dürer that ‘the least of Albrecht’s merits was his talent as an artist’. Raphael, who had many of Dürer’s most important prints on the walls of his studio, was a close friend, and the two artists had exchanged portraits. Dürer has long been recognised as one of the most influential artists of the European Renaissance. He played a major role in bringing the developments of Italian art to northern Europe and contributed to the study of perspective and human proportion. Perhaps most important, he was a highly innovative, prolific, and masterful printmaker. He revolutionised the woodcut and book illustration and made some of the finest engravings in the history of art. The ubiquity of his prints in the 16th century, as well as his large circle of students and followers, ensured Dürer’s influence throughout Europe.”
[3] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 2:46–47.

[4] See IMDb - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2294629/ - Frozen (2013). Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; Screenplay by Jennifer Lee but inspired by “The Snow Queen”, a story by Hans Christian Andersen, concerning which Wikipedia notes: "The Snow Queen" (Danish: Snedronningen) is an original fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published 21 December 1844 in New Fairy Tales. First Volume. Second Collection. 1845. (Danish: Nye Eventyr. Første Bind. Anden Samling. 1845.) The story centres on the struggle between good and evil as experienced by Gerda (girl) and her friend, Kai (boy)…. The story is one of Andersen’s longest and most highly acclaimed stories.”

[5] It appears likely that the biblical people lived between 20 and 60 years old. Jesus was then into his mid-life by the time he finally went public with his life and ministry. As to the exceptional age attributed to the Patriarchs, there is this: “In actuality, archaeological analysis of ancient bone fragments indicates that life expectancy was relatively short due to disease, accidents, and war. [J. Gordon Harris, “Aging,” ed. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006–2009), 70.]
[6] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 4:10.

[7] I began to see something last week that seems important to me to think about more. It is this: our goal in life is not to make our lives extraordinary (that is a goal of the false self!) but to make our lives supernatural through the growing impact on our behaviors and attitudes and actions of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love. To become Christ-like is not to become extraordinary but to become supernatural – the famous “grace building on nature” idea found, for example, in St. Thomas Aquinas, OP.

[8] The Latin vere latitat means “truly he/she/it hides.” The Latin verb latesco, latescere, latui (3rd conjugation verb) means “in the process of hiding oneself.” The verb Lewis uses here is latito, latitare, latitavi, latitatum (1st conjugation verb) meaning “to be hid, concealed, to lie hid.”
[9] The closing lines of the famous sermon preached by C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”, 8 June 1942 in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford.

[10] Recall how young people, as they begin to enter into the drama of their teen years, often experience “home” as not where they belong (where their parents and siblings are), but that they belong somewhere else, a place that they have not yet found.

[11] “The image is not of a classroom with a teacher, but of a learned assembly of wise men. Regardless of whether Jewish rabbis ever met in such a manner, Luke employs the image of all the seated scholars, among whom Jesus is accepted with equal rank. He is not sitting like a disciple at the feet of these teachers (cf. Acts 22:3). His position is rather that of a teacher. The teachers’ acceptance of him in this manner testifies to Jesus’ wisdom, though this wisdom expresses itself in listening and questioning.” [François Bovon and Helmut Koester, Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), 112.]

[12] The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “astound” (c. 1600) – “To shock with alarm, surprise, or wonder; to strike with amazement.”

[13] “Σύνεσις (“understanding”) is the intellectual capacity to see connections and make judgments; it can be translated with “understanding,” “judgment,” “discernment,” or “insight.” In the LXX and especially in wisdom literature, the word frequently means the insight nourished by religious faith, often nearly synonymous with σοφία (“wisdom”). In biblical tradition, people possess this quality not in their worldly autonomy but in their union with God’s will. But Hellenistic Judaism still presents itself more as a world of teaching and wisdom than as a world of revelation and prophecy, and this influences the later wisdom books in the LXX. Despite this, σύνεσις remains a religious and inspired power of insight, which is also true for Luke. Later in the Gospel, Jesus will appear as Messiah and miracle-worker. Here he is, even as a child, the model of pious wisdom.” [François Bovon and Helmut Koester, Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), 112.]

[14] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 2:46–47.

[15] There are non-canonical books (i.e., not considered helpful towards a true understanding of Jesus Christ) that contain stories about the “magical” powers of the boy Jesus, that claim to give us what we have sought to know about those hidden years. They purportedly narrate stories about Jesus that happened when he was growing up in Nazareth, before He began His public life (e.g., the Wedding Feast at Cana or the Reading of the Scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth). They are charming tales but wholly unconvincing in their claim to be telling us something true about Jesus.

[16] A line from the essential interpretative opening song of the movie Frozen. A great deal of the movie has its hermeneutic key in this song – “Frozen Heart.” In the movie, Princess Elsa of Arendell is born with an extraordinary gift – a gift to be able to create beauty … out of ice. But she did not know what to do with this gift, a gift that her parents, not knowing what to do with it either, compelled her to hide, forcing her within herself, and within their castle, and never to come out. As it is with God’s ways with human beings, Elsa’s extraordinary gift required its explanation in a gift not given to her, Elsa, but to her sister, Anna: the gift of unconditional love, for enduring friendship. A true gift of power needs to be understood and disciplined by a true gift of love.

[17] Something that I find particularly diabolical going on in our American society now is revealed in the assumption that what people hide is what is wrong about them – “Tell the truth!” we bellow at each other. It seems more and more difficult for people to remember that what people hide most often, and to our great damaging as a people, is what is really good and beautiful and important in them. Why do they do this? They hide this because they recognize, as Jesus did, that people growingly prefer darkness to light. St. John Paul II wrote about us living in “a culture of death.” If we risk showing what is truly good within us, then we can be sure that many will not believe it, or they will resent its presence in us. So, people hide.

[18] Alexander, Lloyd. The High King: The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 5 (Chronicles of Prydain), chapter 10, (p. 114). Henry Holt and Co. (BYR). Kindle Edition.

[19] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 1 Jn 4:1.

[20] See, for example, at https://www.holytrinity.net/st-thomas-aquinas-all-i-have-written-seems-like-straw/. At the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, the ODCC notes: “Among its better-known members were St Albert the Great, St Bonaventure, St Philip Benizi, General of the Servites, Humbert of Romans, and Peter of Tarentaise, the future Pope Innocent V. St Thomas Aquinas died on the way to the Council.” [F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1018.]

[21] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 4:25–26.
[22] 5364. φιλανθρώπως philanthrṓpōs; adv. from philánthrōpos (n.f.), loving man or mankind. Humanely, philanthropically, with mercy or benevolence (Acts 27:3). Also, from philánthrōpos (n.f.): philanthrōpía (5363), philanthropy. [Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).]

[23] Our growing alienation from (divine) mercy reveals itself in our increasingly Roman (as in Roman Republic and Empire) conviction about mercy as meaning “letting someone get away with something.” One of the things that was especially troubling about Christians to the classic Roman was the Christians’ habit of extending mercy, of letting people get away with stuff. Our American culture – political, socio-economic, religious – is growingly offended by (divine) mercy, because we just don’t get it, and we refuse to be taught by God. Notice, then, the enormous significance of a Pope – Pope Francis I – who has made the teaching about the divine mercy a central project of his papacy … and of his way of leadership.

[24] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 1:14.

[25] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 12:32.

[26] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 4:6.

[27] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 3:19–20.

[28] Such men are alone, must be, because they live in a world of control, not of relationship, of friendship.

[29] The famous image of Moses “veiling” his face after he had come down from his days on the Mountain speaking with God. See Exodus 34:27-35.

[30] The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective “radiant” (c. 1450) – “Of the eyes, a look, etc.: bright or beaming (as with joy or love). Of a person, esp. a young woman or bride: giving off an aura of joyfulness or health; glowingly happy.”

[31] Recall that He had still not learned this many years later when He let Himself be seen that day in the synagogue in Nazareth, among those of His hometown and faith community. He showed Himself; they were all astonished; but then there was the rage – “Who the hell does this young man think he is?!” They sought to kill Him (esp. Luke 4:28-30). Recall the fury and viciousness unleashed again the greatest Saints when those closest to them really saw the beauty and power of God’s life in them: St. John of the Cross was imprisoned for nine months in solitary confinement in a storeroom inside his own Religious community: mocked, starved, publicly beaten during the Sunday main meal; St. Teresa of Avila unrelentingly hounded by her fellow Carmelite Sisters; St. Margaret Mary Alocoque judged a show-off or a mental case by her own Religious Sisters (thank God for the arrival of St. Claude de la Colombiere, SJ into her life!).

[32] 1 John 1: We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

[33] The Oxford English Dictionary at “ambivalent” – “Of, pertaining to, or characterized by ambivalence; having either or both of two contrary or parallel values, qualities or meanings; entertaining contradictory emotions (as love and hatred) towards the same person or thing; acting on or arguing for sometimes one and sometimes the other of two opposites; equivocal.”

* Radiant: the Hebrew word translated “radiant” is spelled like the term for “horns.” Thus, the artistic tradition of portraying Moses with horns.

[34] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ex 34:29–30.

[35] The Oxford English Dictionary at “heuristic” – “A heuristic process or method for problem-solving, decision-making, or discovery; a rule or piece of information used in such a process.”

[36] This word “releasing” corresponds to the word “frozen” in this Letter. A person “bound” or “frozen” is unable to bring about by his or her own powers “release” or “thawing”. Notice how often Elsa in the movie Frozen insists that she only knows how to freeze things, not how to thaw what she has frozen. But the soul – the true self – does have within it the power to “release”, to “thaw”, but we must learn its powers and how they operate. The medieval theological and spiritual traditions speak of “the three Powers of Soul”.

[37] Kidd, Sue Monk. When the Heart Waits (Plus) (p. 4). HarperOne. Kindle Edition. This is a substantial and luminous book. Kidd is first a novelist, which disposes her, a person of faith, to receive and then to develop the gift of contemplation and discernment.

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