St Gregory on the Ascension (Readings for the previous Octave Day 5)

Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

From a Homily by Pope St Gregory the Great:

"So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." We learn in the Old Testament, that Elijah was taken up into heaven. But this word "heaven" may mean either the terrestrial atmosphere, or the space external to the sphere of this planet. Of these the atmosphere closely surrounds the earth, and we call the birds "the fowls of the heaven," because we see them fly therein. It was only up into this that Elijah was taken, that he might be carried off suddenly into some part of the earth, to us unknown, and there live in profound peace of body and soul, until the end of the world, when he will return and pay the debt of nature. For him, therefore, death waiteth, but is not escaped. But our Redeemer made it not to wait for Him, but conquered it, and by rising again shattered it, and by His Ascension showed forth the glory of His Again-rising.

We must mark also, how that Elijah was taken up in a chariot, as though to show plainly that for a mere man some outward help was needful. This help was given to him by Angels, as plainly appeareth, since it was impossible for one whom a weak nature yet weighed down earthward, to fly up even into the atmosphere. But of our Redeemer we read not that He was borne up in a chariot, or by Angels, since He by Whom all things were made, clearly rose above all things by His Own Power. He returned unto Him with Whom He was, and whither He returned, there He abode, for albeit as touching His Manhood He ascended up into heaven, yet, as touching His Godhead, He still comprehended both heaven and earth.

But as the sale of Joseph by his brethren was a type of the sale of Christ, so were the translations of Enoch and Elijah types of His Ascension. The Lord therefore had had forerunners and witnesses of His Ascension, the one before the Law, the other under the Law, that Himself might one day come, Who was able indeed to pass into the heavens. Hence also there is some difference to be observed in the manner wherein each was translated. Enoch was seen no more, for God took him Elijah was carried up by a whirlwind into heaven He That came after them was not taken up, nor carried up, but went up through space by His Own Power.

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