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And after six days , &c. There seems to be here a discrepancy with Luke 9:28 , who says, it came to pass about an eight days after these things. S. Jerome answers, "The solution is simple, because in S. Matthew the intervening days are given; in S. Luke there is an addition of the first and the last day." Matthew then and Mark do not count the first day, in which Christ spoke what we have heard, and gave the promise of His Transfiguration; nor yet the last and eighth, because Christ was transfigured on the morning of it. Luke indeed only counts the entire days, and therefore says, about . Christ put off His promised Transfiguration for six days that, as S. Chrysostom says, the rest of the disciples might not feel any movement of envy. The second reason for delay was because Christ wished to be transfigured on Mount Tabor, which is distant from Cæsarea Philippi twenty leagues. Christ therefore journeying slowly according to His custom, occupied six days in preaching in the villages and country intervening. Rabanus gives a third and mystical reason that it might be signified that the resurrection, of which the Transfiguration was a type, should take place after the six ages of the world. Origen gives a fourth reason, that it might be signified, that he alone, who transcends all worldly things (for the world was made in six days) is able to ascend above the mount on high and to behold the W ORD of God.
Peter, James, and John : "He took up these three," says S. Chrysostom "because they were greater than the rest." Christ selected these three Apostles, and manifested His glory to them, because He willed to show the same His weakness and agony in the garden, lest they should be offended at it, and that they might know that Christ thereby was proceeding to the glory which had been shown to them. For from this glory, and from the Father's words This is My Son , they might know assuredly that Christ was very God; but that He was hiding His Deity beneath the veil of the flesh; and that although he suffered and died upon the cross, His Deity neither suffered nor died. And He who could communicate so great a glory to His body, was indeed able to rescue that body from death if He so willed. Hear Damascene ( Orat. de Transfig .): "He took Peter wishing to show him that the testimony which he had borne was confirmed by the testimony of the Father; and because he was about to become the president of the whole Church. He took James because he was about to die for Christ. John, because he was, as it were, the most pure instrument of theology, that beholding the glory of the Son of God, which is not subject to time, he might declare, In the beginning was the Word ."
James , &c. This was James the Greater, who was the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom. S. Augustine ( in cap . 2. ad Galat .) seems by a slip of memory to have thought that this was the Lord's brother.
Mystically. These three denote that those whom God prefers above others to behold the vision and glory of Himself are of a threefold order. Peter denotes the fervent in charity; John, a virgin, signifies virgins; James, the first martyr among the Apostles, denotes those who suffer, and martyrs. Wouldst thou then see God? Be thou a Peter, i.e ., firm in virtue; be thou a John in chastity; be thou a James by mortifying thy vices.
Into a high mountain , &c. This mountain, by its loftiness, represents the height of the empyrean and of the celestial glory; and to teach, tropologically , says Remigius, "that it is necessary for all who desire to contemplate God, that they must not wallow in grovelling pleasures, but by love of things above must be lifted up to heaven. Moreover they are led up by themselves apart, because holy men are separated from the wicked in their minds, and by the intention of their faith, and shall be wholly separated in the world to come." For, as Bede says, they who expect the fruit of the resurrection ought to dwell in their mind in high places, and give themselves up to constant prayer.
You will ask what mountain this was? The common opinion is that it was Mount Tabor. This is the opinion of the Fathers and of the faithful, so that it appears to be a tradition of the Church; and therefore Mount Tabor is accounted by Christians to be holy. It was made famous by pilgrimages, as S. Jerome testifies ( Epist. 27.). For all who make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visit Tabor equally with Bethlehem, Mount Calvary, and Olivet. Thus S. Paula, twelve hundred years ago, when visiting the holy places, visited Tabor. For as S. Jerome says eloquently in her epitaph, "She climbed Mount Tabor, on which Christ was transfigured."
That Christ was transfigured on Tabor is taught expressly by S. Cyril of Jerusalem ( Catech. 12), Damascene ( Serm. de Transfig .), Bede and Euthymius, Abulensis, Maldonatus, Jansen, Adrichomius ( Descript. terræ sanct .) and others, passim. Damascene confirms this from the words in Psalm lxxxix, 12, "Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy Name." For Hermon rejoiced when it heard the Father's voice at the Baptism of Christ; Tabor, when it saw Christ transfigured upon it. Then Tabor contended with the empyrean, being as it were the image and the theatre of celestial glory. For as the p248 blessed behold the glory of God in heaven, so the Apostles beheld the glory of Christ on Tabor. Bede says, that in memory of Christ's transfiguration in the presence of Moses and Elias three tabernacles were built on Mount Tabor, according to Peter's wish, Let us make here three tabernacles. Nicephorus ( lib . 8, cap. 30.) adds that S. Helena erected a splendid church on Tabor in memory of the Transfiguration. To this temple were afterwards joined two monasteries, one dedicated to Elias, the other to Moses.
Christ chose Tabor for the manifestation of His glory, 1. because it was near to Nazareth, where He was conceived, and the W ORD was made Flesh. 2. Because Tabor is nigh to Sharon, concerning which Isaiah sings ( Isa 35:2 ): "The glory of Lebanon is given unto it, the beauty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God." 3. Because Tabor is an exceeding high mountain. Josephus ( lib. 4, de bello , c. 2) says it Isaiah 30:0 stadia in height, or nearly four Italian miles. 4. Because as Bede says, Tabor is in the middle of the Galilean plain, three miles to the north of Gennesaret. It is round on all sides, rising with a gentle elevation from the plain; it is covered with grass and flowers, and is exceedingly pleasant; it is a sort of paradise. Adrichomius adds that the climate of Tabor is exceedingly salubrious; it is planted all over with vines, olives, and various sorts of fruit and other trees. It is verdant with constant dews, with the foliage of trees and green grass; and is always fragrant with the odour of all kinds of flowers. There is there a vast concourse of birds, who make delicious melody with their songs. On the exact spot of the Lord's Transfiguration there is at present a garden, planted with trees and irrigated by fountains and surrounded by a wall. The people who live at the foot of the mountain do not allow anyone to approach this spot out of reverence and devotion.
Symbolically : Tabor in Hebrew is the same as bed of purity and light . תא , ta means bed , and אור or, light, and the beth in the middle signifies in . Thus it is, the bed in light. S. Jerome ( Hos 5:1 ) gives another meaning. Tabor, he says, means the coming light. Again, Tabor may be translated, ta , i.e ., a bed and bor, i.e ., a cistern or sepulchre ; because on Tabor Moses and Elias spake of the decease of Christ. For by this way Christ must needs go to His glory and to Heaven, and we must go by the same way. Luke adds, Christ went up into the mountain to pray; and it came to pass whilst He was praying the fashion of His countenance was altered , that He might show us the fruit of prayer namely, that in prayer we are suffused with heavenly light, and are, as it were, transfigured; and instead of earthly are made celestial and divine; and instead of men become angels. Moses was a type of this when he talked with God upon Mount Sinai, and the glory of the Lord appeared unto him, and there were horns ( i.e ., rays of light) on his face. But this splendour of Moses came from without; but the glory of Christ from within, i.e ., from His soul and Deity.
And was transfigured , &c. Greek, μετεμορφώθη , i.e ., was transformed . So also the Syriac. The Arabic is, He showed His glory in their presence.
You will inquire after what manner Christ was transfigured? I take it for granted that nothing was done here in a fanciful or fantastic manner, or in the way of illusion. There could be nothing of this sort in Christ.
I say, then, in the first place Christ did not transfigure Himself before His three Apostles to manifest His Divinity to them, as He does to the saints in Heaven; for it cannot be beheld by any means with eyes of flesh. So the Fathers, passim. Wherefore Tertullian, SS. Chrysostom, Leo, and Damascene (who seem to speak otherwise) only mean to say that Christ showed His Apostles the external glory of His body, which was an index of His Divinity; that by it, as through a chink, they might in some sort behold the glory and majesty of His Godhead, even though veiled by the body.
2. Christ in His transfiguration did not change the essential form, fashion, colour, or other qualities of His countenance, but as Euthymius rightly observes He assumed a marvellous and, as it were, Divine splendour, so that He shone like the sun, yea with even greater and more august glory. Wherefore Matthew, explaining the expression He was transfigured , subjoins and his face did shine like the sun. And Luke, The fashion of His countenance was altered, i.e ., was bright and luminous. ( See S. Thomas 3, p. q. 45 .) By transfiguration, therefore, is meant that Christ transformed the external appearance of His face into a more glorious and august one. For Christ did not upon this occasion assume the other endowments of a glorified body such as impassibility, swiftness, and so on but of glory only.
Here observe, in the first place, that this glory of Christ pertained not only to His face, but to His hands also and His whole body, as S. Jerome clearly teaches ( Epist . 61, ad Pammach .). For although Abulensis and others think that only the face of Christ shone, since Matthew and Mark make mention only of it, it is better to understand that the entire Body of Christ was resplendent, because it was a full and perfect transfiguration. Whence the glory passed to His raiment. So S. Ephrem ( Orat. de Transfig. ): "His raiment became white. Verily the Evangelist shows that the glory emanated from His whole body, and rays of glory shone from all His members." S. Augustine ( lib. 3 de Mirabil. S. Script. c. 10) says: "As the Divinity shone outwardly through the flesh, so also the flesh, being illuminated by the Divinity, was radiant through His garments." This is the opinion also of S. Ambrose ( in Symb. c. 22), Origen ( in cap . ix. Levit .), Barradi, Suarez, and others; some of whom think that this splendour penetrated Christ's whole body and rendered it translucent. But others, with greater probability, think that the glory pertained only to the superficies of His Body; and that that is the meaning of the word Transfiguration that is, a change of the figure , which has to do with what is external. This splendour was celestial, yea more than celestial; it was divine and beatific, such as belongs to glorified bodies. Wherefore it was golden and glorious, like the sun; but yet it gave refreshment to the eyes, and did not take away the sight of Christ from His Apostles. In this it was different from the light of the sun.
Note, secondly, that this splendour, as well as the other gifts of a glorified body, appertained to the body of Christ throughout the whole time of His life, from the very moment of His Conception. Nevertheless, in order that Christ might suffer and have His conversation among men, this glory and all the other gifts which I have spoken of were held back, as it were, in the beatified soul of Christ, so that it did not infuse them into His body by means of a physical emanation. Otherwise they would have shone through His body, like light through a lantern. This repression, therefore, was a miracle. And the cessation of this repression in the transfiguration, and emanation of the interior splendour into the body of Christ was the cessation of a miracle. But to men it seemed to be a miracle, because it was new, and they were ignorant of the cause. Wherefore Christ possessed this glory of His body by a double right, namely, in right of the Hypostatic Union, and also by the title of merit. For by so many sufferings and labours He merited this glory of His body, and at His resurrection He received it in perpetuity, as theologians teach, passim. Wherefore what some persons have thought that Christ always possessed this glory and these gifts in His body, but that they were not visible to men on account of the infirmity of human sight; even as some say the glory of the bodies of the blessed would be invisible to the eyes of mortals, unless some new power of sight were given them this opinion, I say, is not probable because that light of the glorified body is corporeal, and therefore, in a higher degree, visible to the eyes of all.
Lastly the Transfiguration happened on the 6th of August, on which day the Church commemorates it. Ammonius, Baronius, Jansen, Suarez, and others, agree that it took place in the thirty-third year of Christ's life, which was the third and last of His preaching.
You will ask in the second place, why Christ was transfigured? I answer: 1, that by means of this glory and brightness, and by the testimony of Elias and Moses He might prove His Divinity to His Apostles. 2. That he might forewarn His disciples not to lose confidence, when they should behold Him nailed to the cross. 3. That He might indicate that He shall come after this manner with great power and majesty to judge the world. So S. Ephrem, Cyril, and Damascene, S. Basil ( in Psalms 45:0; Psalms 45:0 ), and others. Wherefore also Elias appeared, who will be the precursor of Christ when He comes to judgment. 4. That He might animate the faith and hope and courage and zeal of the Apostles and the rest of the faithful bravely to undergo all crosses for the sake of the Gospel through the hope of obtaining the like glory at the resurrection. Thus S. Leo says, "The Lord was transfigured, that He might take away the scandal of the cross from the hearts of His disciples." And S. Chrysostom adds, that the least of the blessed in Heaven has greater brightness and glory than Christ had at His Transfiguration; because Christ attempered His glory to feeble eyes and the capacity of the, as yet, mortal Apostles. They whom the truth of the celestial glory irradiates count as utterly worthless all the pomps and vanities of this world. Wherefore S. Francis was wont to say, "So great is the glory which I expect, that every kind of affliction is delightful to me.
Symbolically: This Transfiguration represents the varied and wonderful transformations of the W ORD incarnate, as it were a Divine Proteus. For Christ was four times transfigured. First in His Incarnation, when the W ORD being made flesh, shone in it as a light in a lantern. 2. On the Cross, on which He was so deformed with stripes and nails and spitting, that as Isaiah says, "He hath no form nor comeliness, and when we saw Him, He had no beauty." (c. liii.) 3. In the Resurrection, when He was crowned with glory and honour. 4. In the Eucharist, where he lies hid under the forms of bread and wine, and seems to be, as it were, transfigured into them. For transubstantiation is a sort of transfiguration of the accidents.
Anagogically: Christ here wished to give a representation of our resurrection glory, when He will re-fashion our bodies to be like unto the body of His glory.
Tropologically: Christ wished, in the first place, to give a type of the transfiguration of a soul dark with sins into that light of grace by which we are made like unto Christ. For our transfiguration standeth in likeness, or configuration unto Christ; that we should be conformed unto Christ in all humility, charity and obedience; that we should be living images of the life and holiness of Christ; that we should think, speak, and act with such piety, gravity, and zeal as Christ did; that whosoever sees us should think that he beholds Christ in us. Again Christ here gives a representation of the transfiguration by which a soul passes from a lower degree of holiness to a higher degree. For Christ who was already holy was transfigured. This transfiguration is more infrequent and more difficult than the former. For Saints often flatter themselves on account of their sanctity, and as it were rest in it, and do not aspire to higher sanctity, as sinners and penitents aspire to righteousness. It is less frequently, says a Father, that any one is transfigured from less to greater sanctity, than from sin to holiness. It can only take place in the mountain, and by going aside with Christ, that is to say, by frequent and fervent prayer and meditation. For in them the mind is illuminated by God, and draws as through a pipe celestial light, by means of which it conceives fresh ardour to reform its ways, yea to be transformed into Christ, that with S. Paul it may say, "The world is crucified unto me. I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." And with S. Francis, it would imprint the five wounds of Christ, if not in its body, yet in the inmost recesses of its soul.
Prayer, then, is the transfiguration of the soul. 1. Because in it the soul receives light from God, that she may know Him and herself and all things more clearly.
2. By it the soul seeks and obtains grace to blot out the stains and vices by which she is deformed. In it she receives consolation for desolation; out of weakness she is made strong; from slothful she becomes fervent; for perplexity, she hath understanding, for sadness, gladness; and for cowardice, courage.
3. She is raised above herself, and is lifted up to God in heaven, where she learns and sees that all the things of earth are fragile and worthless, so that from her lofty height she looks down upon them as fit only for children. She perceives that the true riches, honours and pleasures are nowhere but in heaven.
4. In prayer she unites herself to God. For, "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (1 Corinthians 6:17 .) Hence S. Francis, when he prayed, was lifted up on high, and could speak, think of and love nothing else save God. "My God and all," he was wont to say, "Grant me, 0 Lord, to die for love of Thy love, Thou who didst deign to die for love of my love!" This is what S. Paul says, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:18 .)
Lastly, Mark intimates that Christ was not sitting, nor kneeling, but standing, when He was transfigured: When they awoke, they beheld His glory, and two men standing with Him who was standing likewise. Hence it follows that Christ was not lifted up into the air, as some painters represent Him, but was transfigured as He stood upon His feet.
His raiment became white some read, as the light : thus the Greek, ώς τὸ φω̃ς . Thus also the Syriac and the Arabic. The Egyptian has, His face shone gloriously like the sun ; His raiment also was resplendent after the fashion of the sun. The Ethiopic has, His garments were like crystal. But the Vulg. reads with the Persian ώς Χιών , like snow. This is the reading of some Gr. MSS. in this place, and of all in Mark ix. 3. For snow is properly said to be white, and light, shining : although snow not only is white, but also shines. Abulensis ( quest . 42 et seq .) is of opinion that this brightness of Christ's raiment was a true and real property: and that therefore the colour of His garments was changed, in such manner that if they were previously black, they were made white, and if they were previously white, they became whiter still: and that when the transfiguration was over they returned to their former condition.
S. Mark's words seem in favour of this opinion, And His raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them.
Christ's garments therefore had two properties; namely a snow-like whiteness like a fuller's, and a supernatural splendour bestowed upon them by God. The far more general opinion is that the whiteness was identical with the brightness. For brightness is white, but it adds splendour to the whiteness. And this refulgence, by the operation of God, flowed forth as it were from the flesh of Christ into His garments, and thus prevailed over, and as it were swallowed up their natural colour, if it were not white originally. Wherefore this glory in the face and the body of Christ was golden and shining, as in the sun. And when it was transfused to His clothes, it became white, as the moon appears to be white, when illuminated by the sun's rays. And the sun itself appears white, when it shines through clouds. Thus Tertullian (lib. iv. cont. Marc. c. 22.) So S. Ephrem, and many others. We shall get a full and adequate meaning by uniting both opinions, and say that the garments of Christ were indeed made white, through that snowlike whiteness which God now bestowed upon them, and that they were likewise resplendent through the brightness infused into them by means of the radiant face and flesh of Christ. For this is what Luke means when he says, His raiment was white and glistening . Gr. ε̉ξαστράπτων , ie ., like lightning, darting rays like lightning. Whence it is plain that there was in the garments of Christ not only whiteness like snow, but a brightness like lightning. For white is the most perfect colour; and light, or splendour is the most noble of all sensible qualities; and lightning has the nature of fire, and is the most penetrating of all things,
Trpologically : the garments of Christ are the Saints. They adorn Him like clothes: and like snow they are chaste and shine through their purity.
And behold there appeared , &c. You will ask why these two appeared, rather than any of the other prophets? Maldonatus answers, because these two shall precede Christ's second Advent to Judgment, when He shall come in His glorious Majesty, of which the Transfiguration was a type. This is true with respect to Elias, but wrong with regard to Moses, as I have shown on Revelation 11:3-4 , where I have proved that Enoch, not Moses shall come with Elias against Antichrist.
I say then, that the reason was because Moses was the legislator of the Old Law, and Elias was the prince of the Prophets. Wherefore he represents the whole choir of the Prophets. These two appeared then, that they might show that Christ was the true Messiah, the Saviour of the world promised by the Law and the Prophets. By Moses the Law is shown to end in Christ, and prophecy by Elias; and that both had accomplished their work, and had given place to Christ as the new Lawgiver and Prophet sent from God, and promised by all the Prophets, but especially by Moses, in those words, "A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up from the midst of your brethren, like unto me: and I will put My words in His mouth." (Deut. xviii. 18.) Thus SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose. S. Jerome adds that Moses and Elias were blessed with this vision, because like Christ they had fasted forty days and forty nights. Hence Tertullian, Origen, Nazianzen and others think this vision of Christ's Humanity in the transfiguration was represented and promised to Elias when God manifested Himself to him by the breath of a gentle gale (1 Kings xix. 12 and to Moses, when he asked to see God's face, and God said to him, "Thou shalt see My back parts, but My Face thou canst not see." (Exodus xxxiii. 23.) This cannot be true in a literal, but only in a symbolical sense.
S. Thomas (3 p. quæst. 45, art. 3, ad 2) gives six other reasons: 1. Because the multitudes said that He was EIias, or Jeremias, or one of the Prophets, He took the chief of the Prophets with Him, that he might declare the difference between the Master and the servants. 2. Because Moses gave the Law, and Elias was jealous for the glory of the Lord: since therefore they appeared with Christ, they excluded the calumny of the Jews, that Christ was a blasphemer of the Law, and that He usurped to Himself the glory of God. 3. He showed that He had the power of life and death, and is the judge of quick and dead, because He had with Him Moses who was dead and Elias who was yet alive. 4. Because, as Luke says, they spake of his decease , that is, of His Passion and Death. Therefore that He might, in reference to this, strengthen the minds of His disciples, He brings before them those who had exposed themselves to death for God's sake. For Moses presented himself before Pharaoh at the peril of his life, as Elias did before Ahab. 5. Because He wished His disciples to imitate the meekness of Moses and the zeal of Ecclesiastes 6:0 . Because He would show that He was preached both by the Law and the Prophets.
You will ask how and in what manner did Moses and Elias appear? It is agreed by all that it was Elias himself who appeared in his own body. For Elias was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire, and is still alive, that he may come again and contend with Antichrist. From Paradise, therefore, or from the place to which he was translated, he was suddenly transferred by an angel to Mount Tabor, that he might converse with Christ in His Transfiguration. With respect to Moses there are various opinions which I have reviewed on the last chapter of Deuteronomy. It is certain, as I have there shown, that Moses is dead, and has not as yet risen again. Some think that this was not Moses who really appeared, but an angel in the form of Moses. But this is certainly an error, says Suarez, because Moses is introduced as a witness of Christ; and a witness must bear testimony in his own person. None therefore of the expositors say that this was not Moses but an angel, except the Gloss on Luke ix. 30, which S. Thomas thinks is taken from the author of The Miracles of Scripture ( lib . 3, caps. 10 & 13). Jansen thinks it more probable that this Gloss is derived from S. Augustine ( lib. de cura pro mortuis ), where S. Augustine expresses himself as doubtful whether the apparitions of the departed take place by themselves appearing, or by means of angels; or rather, as he says, in both ways. But he expresses no doubt as to the appearance of Moses in this place. Yea, even Calvin, although he says it is probable that this was the spectre of Moses, adds that it is more probable that it was the real soul of Moses. The soul then of Moses was translated from Limbus by an angel to the earth. And when Moses was arrived thither, he came to Tabor to Christ, and assumed a body, either formed by an angel out of air, as Lyra, Salmeron, and S. Thomas think, or else resumed his own body, so that he rose again. And thus the soul of Moses was led by an angel to his sepulchre, and there his ashes were collected by the angel and formed into a body, to which the power of God re-united his soul. And thus it was the true and living Moses, whom the angel transferred from his sepulchre to Mount Tabor. For it was meet that in witnessing to Christ, everything should be real and solid, and that Christ by thus raising up Moses should show that He is both the Lord and the judge of the quick and the dead. This is the opinion of Tertullian, Origen, Irenæus, and others; whom Suarez cites and follows (3 p. q. 45, disp. 22, sect. 2). If you follow this opinion, and suppose that Moses rose again, you must suppose that he again died, and that he again rose with others after the Resurrection of Christ. For Christ was the first of all who arose unto the life immortal.
Observe, Christ communicated His glory and splendour to Moses and Elias. Wherefore Luke says, Moses and Elias were seen in glory.
Talking with Him: Luke adds, and spake of His decease . The Greek for decease is not έκστασις (as though the ecstatic love of Christ, which drove Him to the cross, were signified, as some pious people have thought), but έξοδος , i.e., going forth namely, from Jerusalem, and from this life, by the death of the cross on Mount Calvary. This Moses and Elias here foretold to Christ in the hearing of the Apostles, that they might take away, both from them and us, the offence of the cross. Thus it is that some with S. Chrysostom instead of έξοδον read δόξαν, i.e ., glory; for on the cross Christ chiefly manifested His power and glory. Wherefore at that time the sun was darkened, the rocks rent, the earth quaked.
Peter answered . . . it is good (that is, pleasant, sweet, and blessed ), &c. Peter here exulting in the glory and, as it were, intoxicated desired to abide in it, and enjoy it always; whence the Arabic translates, it is good that we should remain here. Damascene well observes, "It is not good for thee, 0 Peter, that Christ should tarry there: if He did, thou wouldst not obtain the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, nor would death have been abolished. Seek not felicity before the time, as Adam sought to be a god."
Theophylact remarks, We must not say with Peter, it is good for us to be here , since we ought ever to be going forward, and not remain in one degree of virtue and contemplation, but we ought to pass on to others.
You will ask how Peter knew that the two persons who were talking with Jesus were Moses and Elias? I answer, first, that he might have recognised them from what they said. For Moses seems to have said to Christ Hail, Messiah, our Saviour! Thou art He Whose Passion I prefigured by so many sacrifices, especially by the slain Lamb and the Passover. Elias may have said, Thou art He Whose resurrection I set forth by the widow's son whom I recalled to life, and Whose ascension I prefigured when I was caught up to Heaven in a chariot of fire. It may be also, that Christ addressed them by their names.
2. Peter might have recognised them by their appearance and dress, as they were described in Scripture and the tradition of the elders. Thus, Elias might be known by his leathern girdle and sheepskin, wherewith he was wont to be clothed. Moses might be known by his horned face. Indeed, if we can believe Origen, Moses appeared with the tables of the Law, Elias with a chariot of fire.
3, and most probably, Peter knew them by Divine inspiration. You will ask why Peter desired that these three tabernacles should be made, since the blessed do not need tabernacles? I reply, Peter said this towards the close of the Transfiguration, when Moses and Elias were about to depart, in order that he might detain them. For Luke says, And it came to pass as they were departing from Him, Peter said , &c.; as though he said, "0 how sweet and delectable it is to abide in this vision! Wherefore, 0 Christ, suffer not Moses and Elias to go away; and that we may keep them, let us make them a habitation, a tabernacle for each, in which they may abide." It was for them, not for himself and James and John, he wished the tabernacles to be made. Mark adds, for he knew not what he said. It was as though Peter being inebriated with the sweetness of this vision, in order that he might prolong it, spoke, as if bereft of reason, things incongruous. He was in a sort of delirium. And that, first, because he thought Christ in His glory, as well as Moses and Elias, needed tabernacles, and three of them, as though one would not have sufficed. Again, he put Moses and Elias on an equality with Christ. 2. Because he wished Christ to remain on Tabor, and to shut up Him who is the good of the universe on this mountain 3. Because, being as yet subject to death and suffering, he desired to enjoy with James and John alone that blessedness to which God, through Christ, designed to bring an innumerable multitude after this life. 4. Because he wished to have glory before labour, a crown before the battle, joy before the cross, when it behoved Christ and Christians first to suffer, and so to enter into their glory. For the cross is the way and the ladder to happiness. 5. Because he placed his happiness in the sight of the glorified Humanity of Christ, not in the vision of the Godhead. If, therefore, Peter had beheld the glory of the Divinity and the abyss of all joy and all goodness, what would he have said? For this vision and pleasure of Peter were sensible and corporeal, and were only like a single crumb or drop in comparison with the joy and pleasure, which the blessed experience in beholding God, when they immerse themselves in Him as in a sea of delight, and are swallowed up in it, according to those words of the thirty-sixth Psalm: "They shall be inebriated from the fatness of Thine house, and Thou shalt give them to drink of the torrent of pleasure." Moreover, this vision of the glory of Christ, of Moses, and of Elias raised in the disciples not only vast pleasure, but wonder and reverence likewise, and a kind of sacred dread. Where- fore Mark says, they were sore afraid.
While he was yet speaking . Observe Luke has, while he was yet speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered into the cloud . Which Toletus explains thus: Whilst Peter is saying Let us make here three tabernacles , the cloud (contradicting him) interposed between Christ, Moses, and Elias on the one part, and the disciples on the other, and thus overshadowed them that is to say, the disciples; and the glory of Christ, dazzling the eyes of the disciples, was tempered by the intervention of this cloud, so that He could be more easily seen by them. And they i.e ., the disciples feared when they entered into the cloud ; i.e ., when they beheld the cloud embracing Christ and Moses and Elias, and themselves shut off from them by the cloud. They feared , I say, because they saw that they were on the outside of the cloud, and because they were alone, and there was no one to defend them in case any evil should befall them. Or else they feared lest Christ and Moses and Elias should go somewhere else, or lest He should be carried away from them into Heaven, as Elias had been carried away in his chariot of fire.
2. Barradi thinks that the cloud came after the departure of Moses and Elias, for Luke had previously said concerning them ( Luk 9:33 ), And it came to pass as they departed from them , Peter said , &c. After that, the cloud overshadowed them , i.e ., Christ and the disciples, who were left alone. And they feared , because they saw themselves entering into the cloud , girt round about with it, and they did not know what was about to happen to them.
Instead of, as they entered into the cloud ( Luk 9:34 ), the Syriac translates, when they saw Moses and Elias , who were entering into the cloud . And instead of, as they departed from Him , the Arabic has, and when they wished to go away from Him.
You will ask, from whence, and why was this cloud? The answer is, it was made by God through the instrumentality of an angel, by the condensation of air and vapour, that by it he might correct Peter's wish concerning the three tabernacles, by showing that Christ had no need of such things, forasmuch as His throne is a light and glorious cloud. Wherefore it is more probable that, as Franc. Lucas thinks, Peter, James, and John were within, not on the outside of this cloud: for the disciples were near to Christ and were His house and family. And for this very reason were these three Apostles brought up to the top of Tabor, that they might be sure witnesses to the rest of the Apostles and to the faithful what things were done in the cloud round about Christ; and especially might bear testimony to God the Father's voice, This is my Son. Therefore it was meet that they should see and hear all those things plainly and visibly, without a veil, or cloud, so that they might be eye and ear witnesses, above all suspicion of possibility of having been deceived, or mistaken. Moreover, the cloud is not only the veil, but the symbol of the glory of God. Hence of old time God was wont to manifest His incomprehensible majesty to the Hebrews, as is plain from Exod. xix. 9, and other passages. Wherefore the cloud is called the Ascention, or the chariot of God ( Psa 104:3 ): also His tabernacle, His throne, and the seat not only of His majesty, but of the omnipotence of God, and the supreme power of His working. For from the clouds He hurls against His enemies hailstones and whirlwinds, thunderings and lightnings. (Psalms 18:12 , &c.) Hence also when Christ shall come to judge the world, He will come in the clouds of Heaven. This cloud therefore was as it were an instrument for the voice of God the Father; an ornament and grace for Jesus Christ: and for the Apostles a covert.
Moreover with reference to this cloud, Toletus is of opinion that Christ was transfigured in the night, during the time of sleep. And this was why, as Luke says, the eyes of the Apostles were heavy : therefore too Christ's transfiguration appeared the more wonderful. For so great splendour is more marvellous by night than it would be by day. But others, with greater probability, think Christ was transfigured at the dawning of the day. They assign two reasons: first that what was done might not seem to be the work of magic or nocturnal spectres. Secondly, because Christ came for works of light: and the eyes of the Apostles were heavy on account of fatigue. Lastly, the dawn is on the confines between light and darkness. It is a delightful hour, and so the symbol of glory.
The cloud was bright, 1. As an indication of the glory of Christ. Whence Cajetan thinks that this cloud derived its brightness from the light and glory of the body of Christ; or better, because by it was represented the glory and majesty of the Father whose voice was heard. Whence Peter calls this cloud (2 Peter 1:17 ) the excellent glory of the Father, Who spake out of it; and Who by means of it increased the glory of the transfiguration of Christ. This cloud therefore was full of majesty and glory.
2. For the signification of the difference between the Old Law and the New. In the Old Law, God appeared to the Jews in a black cloud, because that Law was full of shadows and terrors. In the New Law, He appears in a bright cloud, because the New Law brings truth, glory and love. So S. Chrysostom, Theophylact and Damascene On the Transfiguration.
And behold a Voice , &c. The Voice, namely, of God the Father to Christ. Observe, 1., with S. Chrysostom, Ambrose, Toletus, and others, that it is plain from Luk 9:34 et seq. that this voice sounded from a cloud high above the earth. Wherefore S. Peter in his Epistle speaks of it as coming from heaven. It must have come after the departure of Moses and Elias. And with this object, that it might be perfectly clear and certain to the Apostles that this voice was addressed to Christ alone, and not to Moses, or Elias, who had now gone away, inasmuch as this voice was a work, ad extra , to use the expression employed by theologians, it proceeded from the whole Trinity. The voice was formed by an angel, since God makes use of His angels for these exterior works.
Observe. 2. That in this transfiguration, equally as in the Baptism of Christ, the Trinity was symbolically represented. The Holy Ghost was represented by the cloud, the Father by the voice, the Son by the Divine glory and brightness, by which likewise was set forth the Incarnation of the W ORD . For Christ was seen as man, and by the splendour and the voice of God the Father it was signified that He was also God. The Holy Ghost was adumbrated by the cloud, because He, like a bright cloud, enlightens man, protects him, and makes him fruitful to every good work. He also blesses and glorifies. Hence in the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, because in Baptism He gives innocence. But in the Transfiguration, which is a type of the resurrection, He came under the appearance of a cloud, because He gave then, and will give in the resurrection security from all evils.
This is My beloved Son : "Two pleasant words," says S. Cyprian ( de Baptismo ), " Son and Beloved, coming from the mouth of God, are impressed upon our senses, that the association of names may unite us in the community of gifts, and such great names of sweetness may soften our minds, and kindle the ardour of devotion." Moreover, " God the Father said not, 'in this is My Son,' lest One from Another being placed apart, they should be supposed to be divided: but that according to the dispensation of Their union They should be simply taken to be One and the same," says the Council of Ephesus ( ex prosphonet. Cyril Imperator )
Beloved , Syriac, most Beloved. There is an allusion to Psalms 24:4 . "The Voice of the Lord is in magnificence, &c., and beloved as a son of the unicorns." I have explained the various analogies between Christ and a unicorn on 2 Peter 1:17 .
Hear him , not Moses, who has gone away, but Christ, as the new legislator of the New Law. These words, hear Him were not said of Christ at His Baptism, because He was then for the first time shown to the world; but now He is set forth as a Teacher and Lawgiver. Therefore (as Tertullian, S. Leo, Damascene, and others maintain) these words denote the abrogation of the Old Law, and the inauguration of the New.
And when the disciples heard , &c. 1. Because this cloud seemed to them to portend something new, strange, and Divine. 2. Because (as the Syriac has) they beheld Moses and Elias going away and entering into the cloud, and through it vanishing from their sight. 3. They were afraid when they heard the voice, because (as Abulensis says) it was as loud as thunder; and though it was a sweet voice, yet its echoing reverberation terrified them. Thus, too, S. Ephrem says: "At the sound of this voice the Apostles fell flat upon the earth; for terrible was the thunder, and the voice shook the earth." And S. Jerome says: "Human weakness cannot sustain to bear the sight of this great glory; trembling both in mind and body, it falls to the ground." Origen, S. Chrysostom, and Euthymius add that being struck with fear they fell upon their faces, that they might worship God, and make supplication unto Him that the thunder and lightning might not strike them.
When they lifted up their eyes , &c. This signified symbolically that the Law and the Prophets had disappeared now that Christ was present, and that He Who brought to men the true light of the Gospel alone remained. Again: this glory and delight of the Transfiguration quickly passed away, but Christ would show that all things in this world even those that are lofty and divine-are transient, but that in Heaven they will be eternal, so that we may pant after it; for on earth all things are measured by time, but in Heaven they possess an enduring eternity.
Note: SS. Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate the history of the Transfiguration differently; but the following is a series and order of circumstances, which will reconcile the Evangelists one with another. 1. Christ prayed. In the meantime the disciples, being heavy with sleep, from the fatigue of ascending the mountain and the length of Christ's prayer, whilst they were sleeping, He was transfigured. 2. Moses and Elias came, and talked with Christ concerning His death upon the cross, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. 3. The Apostles, being roused from sleep by the brightness and the talking, beheld the glory of Christ, and Moses and Elias conversing with Him. 4. When their conversation was ended, and they made as though they were going away, Peter being (as it were) inebriated with pleasure and grieving at their departure, sought to make three tabernacles. 5. There came the cloud, obscuring Moses and Elias; and then the voice speaking to Christ, This is My beloved Son , when the Apostles, being affrighted, fell to the earth; and were presently comforted and raised up by Christ; and, lifting up their eyes, saw Jesus alone.
And as they were coming down , &c. to no one. Not only to the people, as S. Jerome says, but not even to the other Apostles; that they might not give them an occasion of sorrow or envy because they were not present with Peter and James and John at the Transfiguration. So Damascene: "lest the madness of envy should drive the traitor to fury." Whence Mark says, they kept the matter close between themselves. The reason why Christ enjoined upon them this silence was, because there would a fitting time come for the revelation of this mystery; and because the Apostles would understand and believe it when after His Passion and death, in which they would be scandalized and troubled they were about to behold Him rising again in glory, of which this Transfiguration was a type. For by Christ's resurrection they were about to understand of a surety that Christ underwent the death of the cross for us not because He was compelled, but voluntarily, out of His exceeding love; and that now being endowed with glory He will come to judgment at the end of the world, and will crown with the same glory those who (after His example and precept) have denied themselves, have borne the cross, and in following Him have lost their lives for the sake of His love.
And the disciples asked Him , &c. The reason of this question was because these three Apostles had seen Elias in the Transfiguration, and had beheld him going away. They marvel, therefore, that he did not remain and become the forerunner of Christ and His glorious kingdom, according to the prophecy of Malachi ( Mal 4:5 ) a prophecy quoted and enforced by the Scribes. But they erred, by confusing the times. They did not fully distinguish between Christ's first coming in the flesh and His second Advent in glory. Of this latter Elias will be the precursor, as John the Baptist was of the former. But although the Apostles in some manner distinguished between Christ's first Advent and His second (for the first they had seen, but had not yet seen the second), nevertheless they expected that the latter was nigh at hand. For they had heard Christ speak of His approaching resurrection, a type whereof they had beheld in His Transfiguration; and they thought, although erroneously, that after it Christ would immediately reign gloriously, inaugurating that kingdom of glory which He shall establish at His second Advent. This was why they wondered, and asked why Elias did not remain that he might go before Christ.
Restore all things : that is, convert the Jews to Christ as the Messiah promised to themselves and their forefathers. As Malachi says: "He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." See what I have there said. Matthew (as is usual with him) follows the LXX, which instead of turn , or convert , has α̉ποκα ταστήσει , i.e ., shall restore. Hence the Arabic translates, shall teach you all things.
But I say unto you , &c. Christ passes at once from the literal to the mystical Elias, i.e ., John the Baptist: for concerning John, the angel Gabriel had foretold to his father Zacharias, in S. Luke: "And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17 .)
Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias viz., in verses 11 and 12 to mean John the Baptist. For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ ( Mal 4:5 ), is John the Baptist, and that there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ's second Advent. I have refuted this error at length on Malachi 4:5 .
For it was Christ's intention in this place only to explain that saying of the scribes, derived from Malachi, "Elias shall come, and shall show you Christ," that what Malachi had spoken of Christ's second Advent might be applied mystically to His first. For the Scribes did not distinguish between the two Advents of Christ, even as the Jews fail to do so still. For they deny that Christ has come, and are expecting Him as still about to come, because Elias has not yet appeared to point Him out. Christ therefore, that He might, in His condescension, give a full explanation to the Scribes, concedes that an Elias would be a precursor of both His Advents; but that in the first it would be the typical, in the second the literal and real Elias. And He means to say that it was not because Elias had not yet come that the Jews persisted in not believing Him to be the Messiah, but because they were perverse and obstinate in their wickedness. For that Elias, who had, been promised before Christ's first Advent, namely John the Baptist, had already come, and had already pointed out Christ to the Scribes, that He was the Messiah; and they would not believe him. Therefore Christ adds, and they knew him not , i.e ., they refused to recognize him, as the precursor of Christ. And they did unto him whatsoever they listed, i.e ., when he reproved their vices, they hated and persecuted him, and delivered him up to Herod, who sought his life.
Then understood , &c. Viz., that John the Baptist was the mystical Elias, and the forerunner of Christ.
And when He was come , &c. Luke adds, and it came to pass on the following day, when He was coming down from the mount , &c. From this it is plain that this lunatic was cured on the day following the Transfiguration.
A lunatic , Gr. σεληνίαζεται , that is at the changes of the moon, at new and full moon he suffers from epilepsy, not from any natural cause, but because he is beset by a devil. The Arabic has, he is grievously vexed at the time of the new moon. Whence Mark has (ix. 17): "And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit: And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth and pineth away," as is common in epilepsy. And Luke (ix. 39): "I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him." Hence Origen, SS. Chrysostom and Jerome teach that the ordinary epilepsy is not to be ascribed so much to the moon and the state of the humours of the body, as to the devil, who makes use of the changes of the moon and vicious secretions. Mahomet, who suffered from epilepsy, pretended that he was seized and influenced by the Holy Ghost, when he was really possessed by Satan. For this reason too the Turks venerate persons suffering from epilepsy, as though they were under the influence of the Holy Ghost, and were prophets. When the moon is new and at the full, she increases and agitates the humours, especially the melancholic and phlegmatic humours of the brain, over which she has power. And she so acts upon them that they disturb the brain, and cause noises, spittings, and agitation of the whole body. For they who are afflicted with mania and epilepsy, are especially troubled with black bile, that is melancholy, at the time of full moon, because then the moon brings more light and heat, though weaker than those of the sun. But the sun sets free, and puts into motion the black bile, though it does not consume it. The black bile when set in motion, will produce these foamings, and noises, and gnashing of the teeth. And epileptic patients, on account of the phlegm and crude humours, are afflicted when the moon is waning, but especially at the new moon, because then the moon has less light and heat. And phlegm and phlegmatic humours are intensified by cold, especially when it becomes excessive.
I brought him , &c. After the manner of men, he ascribes to the Apostles what was the fault of his own want of faith.
0 faithless generation , &c. Origen thinks these words were addressed to the nine Apostles who remained below, when Christ took the other three with Him to the top of Tabor. He thinks that, as far as these nine were concerned, faith was weak. As S. Hilary says, "Whilst Christ had gone up upon the mountain with three of the Apostles, a kind of torpor of faith crept over the remaining nine, who were left with the people, both because they heard from the father of the lunatic, and saw with their own eyes the magnitude of the evil, and the violence and raging madness of the demon within him." But, with greater probability, SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, and Theophylact think these words were spoken to the father of the lunatic, and to the Jews and Scribes. For in them was greater incredulity, and by consequence they were more to blame that the devil was not cast out, than the disciples were. This may be gathered from Mark 9:24 , when the father, being asked by Christ if he believed in Him, answered. Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief. Nevertheless, Christ privately rebukes the Apostles (V. 20, Mat 17:19-20 ), because they had less faith than there was need of in so great a work. To the Jews, therefore, Christ said, 0 faithless and perverse generation. And Christ goes on to tell them that the reason why His disciples could not heal the child was not any want of power either on His part or on theirs. It was as though He said to the father of the child, "I have given them power to cast out devils, but the obstacle is thine own unbelief and that of the Jews, which oppose the grace of God; because thou dost not believe, but doubtest whether I and they are able to heal him." Thus S. Cyril. "The words of Christ," says S. Jerome, "are like those of a physician, who should see a patient acting contrary to his orders. He would say, 'How long shall I keep coming to your house? How long shall I have my trouble for nothing, whilst I order one thing and you do the contrary?' But it was not so much that He was angry with the man, as with his fault, and that in the person of one man He reproved the Jews for their unbelief, since he added immediately, ' bring him to Me .'"
Bring him , &c. Mark adds (9:20), "And they brought him unto Him: and when he saw Him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed roaming." "After the demon perceived the Lord, he convulses the child," says Titus of Bosra, "because, being angry at the presence of Jesus, and fearing Him, lest he should be driven out, he began to rage, and horribly to vex and torment the lunatic." Mark proceeds, "And He asked his father how long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, 'Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if Thou canst do anything' [ If Thou canst . See the incredulity which Christ reproved, for he doubted Christ's power], 'have compassion on us, and help us.' Jesus said unto him, 'If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.'" By believing in Me thou mayest obtain the healing of thy child. Suitably did Christ require that he should have faith in Him. It was not fitting that he should heal those who did not believe in Him, or that He should thrust His benefits upon those who turned away from Him. Mark proceeds, "And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.'" That is, I believe , but I am weak in faith, do Thou increase and strengthen it that whatsoever there is in me of doubt and unbelief may be taken away. We cannot doubt that Christ did hear such humble and such fervent prayers, and did take away from him all unbelief; for by and bye He healed the child, as the child of one believing.
And Jesus rebuked the devil , &c. Mark adds: "When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit. I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose." From all this we see how very powerful and malignant this devil was, who had made the child deaf and dumb, and who dared so to resist Christ, and to bring the lunatic to the very point of death. From hence it seems probable that this demon had belonged originally to one of the superior orders of angels. For they too invade and possess men. This was why Christ's disciples could not cast him out, but his expulsion was reserved for Christ Himself, Who by His mighty power and command drove him forth. This is the meaning of the Greek ε̉πετίμησε , i.e., He rebuked , and with threats commaded the devil, saying, I command thee, Come out of him ; and if thou dost not obey, I will punish thee severely. This, too, was why Christ said to His Apostles, when they asked Him why they could not cast him out, this kind goeth out by nothing save by prayer and fasting.
Jesus said , &c. The Arabic has, on account of the smallness of your faith. The Apostles had faith, but to cast out so powerful and fierce a devil greater faith was required than the Apostles possessed: whence the Syriac renders the next verse as follows if there had been in you faith , &c.
Verily I say unto you , &c.; this mountain viz., Tabor, from which I am coming down. This is miraculous faith, which is not different from justifying faith, as the heretics maintain, but the same; for there is only one faith ( Eph 4:5 ). This faith, however, is united with a sure confidence in God's assistance to perform the miracle which is aimed at. This confidence arises, first from the liberty of a holy conscience, which is familiar with God, which makes use of God as a friend, and penetrates into the treasures of His grace, that it may enjoy them; according to those words of S. John ( 1Jo 3:21 ): "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him."
2. From an interior instigation of God, as it were animating men, and stirring them up to such a miraculous work, and tacitly promising them His help to effect it. Vide Franc. Saurez, Tract. de Fide disp. 8, sect. 1, where he teaches that the faith of miracles, as regards its substance and essence, is an act of the Catholic faith by which we believe that God is omnipotent and faithful to His promises, and which is so drawn out and applied to the particular action, that it is able to beget the confidence which is necessary for working the miracle. From whence you may gather, that as this faith and confidence are in our own will and power, with the grace of God which He is wont to give, so also there is to some extent in our power the faculty of working miracles; and the more any one increases in faith and confidence, the more does he increase in this faculty. The more familiar any one is with God, the more gifts does he obtain from Him, and Christ here signifies this; and the same is plan from the lives and actions of the saints. Thus S. Bernard teaches, that we may gain the gift of prophecy, so that we may know the secret things of God, if in truth we cause ourselves to enter into most intimate friendship with God. For of this Christ speaks (John xv.15): "I have called you friends, for all things which I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you."
Faith, as a grain of mustard seed, i.e., faith small in appearance, but of great virtue and efficacy; humble faith, which boasteth not itself, and therefore small in man's judgment, but verily quick, perfect burning like mustard seed. For when such faith is united to humility, it takes away every shadow of unbelief. It works miracles and removes mountains. This faith shone brightly in S. Gregory, Bishop of Neocæsarea; for he, when a mountain stood in the way of his building a church, by his prayers removed it to another place. (See Nyssen in his Life : and Eusebius, H. E. 7, 25.) He performed many other miracles, from which he received the name of Thaumaturgus, i.e ., wonder-worker. In like manner, a mountain in Tartary was removed by Christians, when a tyrant required such a miracle of them in accordance with this promise of Christ. (See Marco Polo, On Tartary ) S. Jerome gives a similar instance in his Life of S. Hilarion. For he, when the sea, through an earthquake, raised vast masses of waters upon the shore which threatened the city of Epidaurus with destruction
aith, as a grain of mustard seed, i.e., faith small in appearance, but of great virtue and efficacy; humble faith, which boasteth not itself, and therefore small in man's judgment, but verily quick, perfect burning like mustard seed. For when such faith is united to humility, it takes away every shadow of unbelief. It works miracles and removes mountains. This faith shone brightly in S. Gregory, Bishop of Neocæsarea; for he, when a mountain stood in the way of his building a church, by his prayers removed it to another place. (See Nyssen in his Life : and Eusebius, H. E. 7, 25.) He performed many other miracles, from which he received the name of Thaumaturgus, i.e ., wonder-worker. In like manner, a mountain in Tartary was removed by Christians, when a tyrant required such a miracle of them in accordance with this promise of Christ. (See Marco Polo, On Tartary ) S. Jerome gives a similar instance in his Life of S. Hilarion. For he, when the sea, through an earthquake, raised vast masses of waters upon the shore which threatened the city of Epidaurus with destruction was placed by its citizens upon the shore as a bulwark against the waves. "He drew three figures of the cross on the sand, and stretched forth his hands against the sea when it was swelling to a vast height before him, when it stood still; and roaring for a long time, and (as it were) being angry with the bulwark, by degrees it sunk down to its ordinary level. Verily that which was said to the Apostles, If ye believe, ye shall say to this mountain, Be thou cast into the sea, and it shall be done , may be fulfilled even to the letter. For what difference is there between a mountain going down into the sea, and immense mountains of waters being suddenly arrested at the feet of an old man?"
Mystically : a mountain is severe temptation, especially to ambition and pride, as S. Jerome teaches. Such a temptation is best overcome by faith and hope. Wherefore S. Francis, being troubled by a dreadful temptation in spirit, betaking himself to prayer, with tears, heard a voice from Heaven, saying, "Francis, if thou shalt have faith as a grain of mustard seed, thou shalt command this mountain to pass away, and it shall pass away." He, not knowing what was the meaning of the oracle, cried out, "Lord, what is this mountain?" The answer came, "The mountain is temptation." Then Francis added, with many tears, "0 Lord, be it unto me according to thy word." And immediately all the temptation was removed, and he obtained perfect tranquillity. (Wadding, in Annal. Minor. A.D. 1218, Numbers 2:0; Numbers 2:0 .)
This kind , &c. Observe first, this kind does not mean every kind of demons, as S. Chrysostom thinks, but those of a higher order, which are most powerful, obstinate and malicious, like this one whom Christ here cast out.
Observe secondly. This sort of demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting; because these two things lift men up from the flesh to God. As S. Chrysostom says, "Fasting is the chief work of the higher philosophy, and places men on a level with angels, and vanquishes the incorporeal powers."
Observe thirdly. Christ does not require prayer and fasting in both the person who works the miracle and in him for whose benefit the miracle is wrought, as S. Chrysostom supposes, but in him only who works the miracle, as Origen has observed. Yet there can be no doubt that faith and prayer on the part of the recipient greatly aid in the working of the miracle.
You may say, that it is not said of Christ, when He cast out this devil, that He prayed or fasted. I answer, that He had prayed and fasted a little while before, when He was transfigured on Mount Tabor. Besides, prayer and fasting are required in mere men, not in Christ, who was God, and as God, was able by His word alone to put the devils to flight, yea to annihilate them. So Abulensis.
While they abode , &c. Christ reiterates His prophecy concerning His Cross and Passion, which He uttered first at Cæsarea Philippi (xvi. 22), that the disciples might not be affrighted, nor scandalized when the time came, nor fall from faith in Him as the Messiah, because He suffered such a shameful death. For the Cross was an offence to the Apostles, so that they all forsook Him and fled. The Cross therefore needed to be again and again preached to them, and impressed upon them, so that they might know that Christ did not suffer it because He was compelled, but of His own will , and in obedience to the Father's will; that He might redeem mankind. Moreover He reiterated this preaching of the Cross in Galilee, after He had healed the lunatic when He came down from Tabor, and the Galileans on account of that miracle had given Him great praise and honour, as we may learn from SS. Mark and Luke, in order that He might repress any vain-glorious thoughts which were likely to arise in the minds of the Apostles, by putting them in mind of His Cross and Passion.
And shall kill Him , &c. When the Apostles heard speak of Christ being put to death, because they were unwilling that He should die, and that they should be separated from Him by death, He alleviates this their sorrow by adding, And the third day He shall rise again . But they did not understand these words of Christ. They were not able to receive them. Whence they were, for a long time, doubtful concerning His resurrection. And this was why Christ by many apparitions and miracles was obliged to convince them that He had really risen again, so that He might root out all doubt from their minds
And when they were come , &c. . . . tribute , the Syriac adds, poll tax , as paid by each individual. Pay tribute , the Arabic has, pay what is due. The collectors do not make an assertion, but ask a question, because these tax-gatherers were newly in office, or at least had fresh servants, who did not know, or did not remember that in the year which was past, Christ had paid the tribute at Capernaum, as other people did.
Tribute money : The Gr. and the Vulg. have didrachma, that is, a half shekel, equal in value to two Spanish reals. The shekel weighed four didrachma. See what I have said on Exodus 30:13 . Baronius and others are of opinion that this didrachma was the sacred half shekel, which was required by the Divine law to be paid to the temple. (Exodus 30:13 .)
There God ordained that every Israelite male of twenty years old and upward should pay a half shekel for the service of the Sanctuary. This was when a census was taken. But subsequently, the Jews of their own accord, out of devotion, and that they might more entirely fulfil the law, decreed that all should pay this half shekel every year for the sustentation of the Priests and Levites, for repairing the temple, for furnishing victims for the sacrifices, and many other similar purposes. All this is plain from 2 Chronicles 24:5-7 : also from Josephus, who shows that the Jews who lived at a distance from the Holy Land were accustomed to collect this sacred didrachma, and send it to the temple at Jerusalem. (Jos. Ant. xviii. 12).
But the tribute here spoken of was a civil tax, and payable either to the Romans, or to Herod Antipas. This is seen from Christ's words to Peter of whom do the kings of the earth take custom, or tribute ? This then was royal tribute, and payable either to a king or an emperor. The same thing is plain from xxii. 21, where the Herodians ask Christ, "whether it were lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar or not?" The origin of this tribute being levied was a little before the time of Christ, when, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, the grandsons of Simon Maccabæus were contending which should have the high priesthood. Pompey, being called in to arbitrate between them, adjudged it to Hyrcanus: but the people of Jerusalem, who favoured the other candidate, restored it to Aristobulus. After that Pompey took Jerusalem, and reduced Judea to subjection to Rome, and exacted an annual tribute. Moreover because the Jews were accustomed to pay a didrachma to the temple, they were also ordered by the Romans to pay the same sum to them, until after the rebellion, when Jerusalem was besieged and captured by Vespasian, and the temple destroyed, he ordered them to pay that didrachma to the Roman capitol. The Jews greatly disliked paying this tribute to the Romans. They said that they were the people of God, and therefore free; and that they ought to pay tribute to Him, not to Cæsar. This feeling it was which gave rise, about the time of Christ, to the sect of the Galilæans, whose leader was Judas of Galilee, who refused all payment of tribute to Cæsar, and all acknowledgment of his authority. Christ and His Apostles were suspected of belonging to this sect, because they were Galilæans, and were preachers of the new, heavenly kingdom. In order therefore that Christ might show the groundlessness of this imputation, He, on the present occasion, paid the didrachma. So S. Jerome, Bede, Jansen, and others. The collectors of the tribute did not venture to ask Christ Himself for it, on account of the fame of His sanctity and miracles; but they said to Peter, in private, is not your Master accustomed to pay the didrachma?
He said, yea : Peter asserted that it was Christ's custom, as he had seen in previous years, always to pay this tribute.
When He was come into the house, hired by Christ at Capernaum, as I have said, iv. 13.
And He said , &c. Christ being conscious in His spirit of the conversation which had passed between Peter and the tax collectors, prevented him, i.e., first asked him about the matter, and showed that He was not under obligation to pay this tribute. The kings of the earth , &c. It is an argument from the less to the greater, as S. Chrysostom teaches: in this way, the children of kings, of common right, are free from the tribute paid to kings. Much more therefore am I, together with My Apostles, who are My family; I, I say, who am king of kings, and the true and only begotten Son of God Himself, free from every kind of tribute which the kings of the earth impose upon their subjects. So S. Jerome and others.
Wherefore certain Canonists are wrong in gathering from this reasoning of Christ that the clergy, by Divine right, are exempt from all taxes. For by parity of reasoning it might be concluded that all Christians are exempted from payment of taxes, as the Anabaptists assert. For Christians are the adopted children of God, born again in baptism. The falsehood of this idea is shown by the Apostle ( Rom 13:7 ) and the whole Church: for this adoption pertains to a higher order of inheritance, even a Heavenly one. Properly, however, in accordance with these words of Christ, kings and princes have exempted ecclesiastics, who are of the household and family of Christ, from the payment of taxes. And this is all which is meant by S. Jerome and the Canons when they say that the clergy are exempt from taxes, not only by human but Divine right; because, in truth, Divine right intimates that this exemption ought to be conceded. (See Lessius de Justitia, l. 2, c. 33, dub. 4, where he shows that the exemption of the clergy from paying taxes is not of Divine but of human right.)
Nevertheless , &c. It is as though He said, lest the collectors should be offended, and think we despise Tiberius Cæsar, as a Gentile, and reject his authority, like Judas of Galilee. Piece of money, Greek and Vulgate stater : this is the same as the Hebrew shekel, namely a pound. For formerly money not stamped was paid by weight. The shekel weighed four drachmæ, which were equivalent to four Spanish reals, or a florin of Brabant. Observe, Christ here afforded an example of justice, humility and obedience, and taught that Christianity is not opposed to civil government, but is rather an aid and advantage to it.
For Me and thee. You will ask why Christ only paid this tribute for Himself and Peter? I answer, He did not pay for the rest of the disciples, either because, as Lyra thinks, only the heads of families were bound to pay this tribute, or because the disciples of Christ were poor men. Wherefore Christ tacitly desired that they should be excused by the tax gatherers on account of their poverty or because they belonged to other places, and had already paid the tribute in those cities. Lastly, Abulensis thinks that for all the Apostles, who had wives and children, and therefore were heads ot families, this didrachma was paid out of the common coffer which Judas carried; and that Matthew only related the payment of Christ's didrachma because of the miracle of its being found in the mouth of the fish, that He might show that He was not under an obligation to pay it, nor was subject to Cæsar. For Peter, however, Christ paid, both because Peter was the instrument of the exaction, as well as of the payment, as also because Peter had a house and family at Capernaum. It was also honoris causa , to intimate that Peter was the vicar of his Church and household, and destined by him to be the head and prince of the rest of the Apostles. So SS. Chrysostom, Jerome, Origen, and others.
Moraliter : Learn from hence Christ's zeal for poverty, that He had not at home so much as one shekel to pay the tribute, but obtained it miraculously from a fish that he might teach that God by means of fishes and the rest of the creatures provides necessary things for the poor in spirit, as He provided food for Elias by the ministry of ravens.
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Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on Matthew 17". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29