The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 17:1-9

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 22, 2017

Mt 17:1 And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart:

And after six days.] 3. Peter’s presence at the transfiguration. In this section we consider first the transfiguration proper, vv. 1–3; secondly, the words spoken during the transfiguration, vv. 4–6; thirdly, the occurrences after the transfiguration, vv. 7–13. a. The transfiguration proper. The connection of this event with the preceding passage consists in the manifestation of the glory that will follow the suffering of Jesus, and the self-denial and cross of the disciples. “After six days” according to the first and the second gospel [Mk. 9:1] is parallel to “about eight days” of the third [Lk. 9:28]; St. Matthew and St. Mark count only the intermediate days, while St. Luke adds the first and last also [cf. Augustine, de cons. ev. ii. 56, 113; Chrysostom, Euthymius, Hilary, Thomas Aquinas etc.]; or St. Luke gives “about” the number; or again counts parts of days as whole days [Jansenius]. “Jesus taketh unto him Peter,” the head of the apostles, “and James,” the first martyr among the apostles, “and John his brother,” the virgin among his brethren; we find these same disciples privileged at the resuscitation of the dead child [Mk. 5:37; Lk. 8:51] and in the garden of Gethsemani [Mt. 26:37]. “And bringeth them up into a high mountain apart,” in order to pray [Lk. 9:28]; since they descended the following day [Lk. 9:37], the transfiguration must have happened during the night, so that the disciples are naturally represented as overcome with sleep [Lk. 9:32]. The mountain was Hermon or Thabor [Origen in cat. ad. Ps. 88:13; Euseb. cæsar. ibid.], or Hermon [Stanley, Sin. and Palest, p. 399; Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 231], or one of the mountains bordering the lake [Alford], or Thabor [Cyril of Jerusal. cat. xii. 16; Jerome, ep. xlvi. 12; cviii. 13; Damasc. de transfig.; Bede, Maldonado, Barradas Lapide, Arnoldi Holzammer, Mislin, Sepp. das. heil. Land, ii. 114; Grimm, etc.].

Reasons for the last opinion: First, Josephus [B. J. II. xx. 6; VI. i. 8; Vit. n. 37] shows that the top of Thabor was bare at the time of Christ, whatever may have stood upon it at the time of Antiochus the Great [b. c. 218; cf. Polybius. v. 70, 6]; secondly, Thabor is about a journey of twenty hours away from Cesarea Philippi, so that it could be easily reached in six days by Jesus and the disciples; thirdly, on descending from the mountain Jesus encounters the multitudes and the scribes, together with his nine disciples, who had attempted an exorcism [cf. Mk. 9:13], all of which would have been impossible in the vicinity of Cesarea, where the scribes were very few, and where the disciples had been forbidden to exercise their miraculous powers [Mt. 10:6]; fourthly, immediately after the transfiguration Jesus and his disciples journey in Galilee [5:21; Mk. 9:29]; fifthly, Thabor is a “high” mountain, measuring 1, 748 or 1, 755 or 1, 868 feet in height; it is also repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament [cf. Judg. 4:6; 8:18; Ps. 89:13; Jer 46:18; Hos. 5:1].

Mt 17:2 And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow.
Mt 17:3 And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.

“And he was transfigured,” not in the figure or form of his body [cf. Cyril Euthymius], but “his face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as snow,” so that he manifested a few dim rays of the glory connaturally due to his. body on account of the hypostatic union [cf. Hilary, St Bruno, Cajetan, Paschasius, Gregory the Great, moral, xxxii. 6]. The impression produced on the apostles may be inferred from the words of Peter and John written many years after the event [2 Pet. 1:16–18; Jn. 1:14; 1 Jn. 1:1 f.]. “And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias”: the latter had never died, and appeared therefore in his own body, while Moses either rose from the dead [cf. Jerome, auct. de mirabil. S. Script, iii. 10; Barradas, Sylveira Suarez, in 3am. qu. 45, disp. 32, sect. 2, n. 7; Tol. in c. ix. Luc. annot. 61], or his soul assumed an apparent body as happens in apparitions of angels [cf. Thomas Aquinas, 3 p. qu. 45, a. 3, ad 2; Tost. in c. xvii. qu. 54]. The disciples recognized the two Old Testament persons by revelation [Maldonado], or from the words in which Jesus addressed them [Theophylact, Jansenius, Suarez l. c. n. 10; Sylveira], or again from their description in the Old Testament [Grimm, iv. p. 39; Schanz], or finally from the traditional Jewish description of their persons [Euthymius]. Moses and Elias appeared at the transfiguration, first, because that event was to prefigure the future coming of Jesus in his glory, and this latter will be preceded [Apoc. 11:3–6] by the advent of Moses and Elias [Jansenius Maldonado; but the two witnesses of Apoc. 11:3–6 are more commonly identified with Enoch and Elias; cf. Suarez, l. c. disp. 55, sect. 3, n. 2]; secondly, Moses and Elias represent the law and the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as the living and the dead, so that they testify to Christ’s power over life and death [cf. Jerome, Hilary, Rabbanus Paschasius, Dionysius Jansenius, Maldonado], and to the fulfilment of law and prophecy in his person [Chrysostom]. Luke [9:31] tells us the subject of the patriarchs’ conversation with our Lord; it was a new confirmation for the apostles of the coming suffering and death of the Master.

Mt 17:4 And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
Mt 17:5 And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.
Mt 17:6 And the disciples hearing fell upon their face, and were very much afraid.

And Peter answering, said.] b. Words at the transfiguration. Lk. 9:32 renders it clear that Peter began to speak [“answering,” cf. 9:25] when Moses and Elias were about to withdraw. Chrysostom thinks that the apostle invited Jesus to remain forever on Thabor, being overcome with heavenly delight [Orig.], and not fully realizing his own words [Lk. 9:33; Mk. 9:5]; Rabbanus infers from Peter’s words the delight awaiting us in our future life, when we shall see Jesus in his full glory. God himself furnished a better tabernacle than Peter’s could have been, by “a great cloud” overshading them [cf. Origen, Theophylact]. The manifestation of God’s presence in a cloud is too well known to need comment [cf. Ex. 16:10; 19:9; 24:15; 33:9; 1 Kings 8:10; Ps. 104:3; etc. Maldonado, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact St Bruno, Jansenius, etc.]. “Overshaded them,” not the disciples, but Jesus and his two visitors [Jansenius, Knabenbauer], because the “voice” came “out of the cloud.” The testimony “this is my beloved Son” confirms Peter’s testimony [16:16]; the words have been considered in 3:17. The clause “hear ye him,” alluding to Deut. 18:15, confirms our Lord’s previous prediction of his own suffering as well as his instruction on the self-denial of his disciples. “The disciples … were very much afraid,” an incident fully agreeing with the feeling of several saints of the Old and New Testament in the presence of God’s special manifestation [cf. Is. 6:5; Ez. 2:1; Dan. 7:15; 10:8; Apoc. 1:13, 17; etc.].

Mt 17:7 And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them: Arise, and fear not.
Mt 17:8 And they lifting up their eyes, saw no one, but only Jesus.
Mt 17:9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead.

7. And Jesus came and touched them.] c. After the transfiguration. The touch of Jesus brought about the fearlessness enjoined by his words [cf. Jerome]. “Tell the vision [cf. Acts 7:31; Sir 43:1] to no man,” a prohibition given not for fear of scandal at the following suffering and death [cf. Jerome, Chryssostom, Euthymius, Bede, etc.], nor on account of the apostles’ weakness, who needed the special infusion of the Holy Ghost in order to preach Christ’s glory [cf. Hilary, Thoma Aquinas], nor to avoid offence on the part of those disciples that had not been present on Thabor [Damasc. Corder. cat. Luc. p. 257], nor finally to teach humility [cf. Alb. Dionusius]; but the prohibition was based on the same necessity of not arousing the people’s expectations of a glorious Messias which we found in 16:20 [Schanz, Knabenbauer. etc.]. The question “why then do the scribes say that Elias must come first” does not show doubt on the part of the questioners concerning the truth of the Pharisaic doctrine [cf. Meyer]; nor does it prove that the apostles had come to the knowledge of our Lord’s Messiasship only on Thabor [cf. Origen, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Jansenius]; nor does it show that the disciples identified the apparition of Elias during the transfiguration with his promised coming before the advent of the Messias [cf. Weiss; Mal. 4:5, 6]; nor did the questioners believe that Christ had already come in his glory [cf. Jerome]; nor were they in doubt whether John the Baptist [cf. 11:14] was the promised Elias, since they must have understood the words of the scribes in their literal sense [cf. 16:6 ff.]; but since Jesus had just then mentioned his resurrection [“till the Son of man be risen from the dead”], the disciples thought that his advent in glory was near at hand, and therefore inquired about the coming of Elias according to the teaching of the scribes [cf. Jansenius, Knabenbauer, Lightfoot, Wünsche, Weber, System der altsynag. paläst. Theol. p. 337 f.].

As Mal. 3:1; 4:5, 6 distinguishes two advents of the Messias and two precursors, so does Jesus in his answer distinguish the two precursors; first, he speaks about Elias: “Elias indeed shall come,” before the second advent, “and restore all things,” preparing all hearts for the coming of the Lord [cf. Rom. 11:25 ff.; Justin, Origen, Victorinus, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and all later Catholic writers of weight]; secondly, “Elias is already come,” before my first advent, in the person of the Baptist [cf. 11:14 ff.], “and they knew him not” cf. 11:16 ff.], “but have done unto him whatsoever they had a mind” [cf. 4:12; 11:18; Jn. 4:1]. The Baptist’s sufferings prefigure those of the Lord, for “so also the Son of man shall suffer from them” [cf. 14:1 ff.], so that the Baptist was the precursor of the Messias in death as well as in life. “Then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist,” identifying him with the Elias that had already come, not with the Elias that was to come before the second advent.

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