St. Thomas Aquinas
Question 45. Of Christ's Transfiguration
We now consider Christ's transfiguration;
and here there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether it was
fitting that Christ should be transfigured?
(2) Whether the
clarity of the transfiguration was the clarity of glory?
(3) Of the
witnesses of the transfiguration;
(4) Of the
testimony of the Father's voice.
Whether it was fitting that Christ should be transfigured?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was not
fitting that Christ should be transfigured. For it is not fitting for a true
body to be changed into various shapes [figuras], but only for an imaginary
body. Now Christ's body was not imaginary, but real, as stated above (Q,
A). Therefore it seems that it should not have been transfigured.
Objection 2: Further, figure is in the fourth
species of quality, whereas clarity is in the third, since it is a sensible
quality. Therefore Christ's assuming clarity should not be called a
Objection 3: Further, a glorified body has four
gifts, as we shall state farther on (XP,
Q), viz. impassibility, agility, subtlety, and clarity. Therefore
His transfiguration should not have consisted in an assumption of clarity
rather than of the other gifts.
On the contrary, It is written (Mat.
17:2) that Jesus "was transfigured" in the presence of three of His
I answer that, Our Lord, after foretelling His
Passion to His disciples, had exhorted them to follow the path of His
16:21,24). Now in order that anyone go straight along a road, he must
have some knowledge of the end: thus an archer will not shoot the arrow
straight unless he first see the target. Hence Thomas said (Jn.
14:5): "Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the
way?" Above all is this necessary when hard and rough is the road, heavy the
going, but delightful the end. Now by His Passion Christ achieved glory, not
only of His soul, not only of His soul, which He had from the first moment
of His conception, but also of His body; according to Luke (24:26): "Christ
ought [Vulg.: 'ought not Christ'] to have suffered these things, and so to
enter into His glory (?)." To which glory He brings those who follow the
footsteps of His Passion, according to
Acts 14:21: "Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of
God." Therefore it was fitting that He should show His disciples the glory
of His clarity (which is to be transfigured), to which He will configure
those who are His; according to
Phil. 3:21: "(Who) will reform the body of our lowness configured [Douay:
'made like'] to the body of His glory." Hence Bede says on
Mk. 8:39: "By His loving foresight He allowed them to taste for a short
time the contemplation of eternal joy, so that they might bear persecution
Reply to Objection 1: As Jerome says on
Mat. 17:2: "Let no one suppose that Christ," through being said to be
transfigured, "laid aside His natural shape and countenance, or substituted
an imaginary or aerial body for His real body. The Evangelist describes the
manner of His transfiguration when he says: 'His face did shine as the sun,
and His garments became white as snow.' Brightness of face and whiteness of
garments argue not a change of substance, but a putting on of glory."
Reply to Objection 2: Figure is seen in the
outline of a body, for it is "that which is enclosed by one or more
boundaries" [*Euclid, bk i, def. xiv]. Therefore whatever has to do with the
outline of a body seems to pertain to the figure. Now the clarity, just as
the color, of a non-transparent body is seen on its surface, and
consequently the assumption of clarity is called transfiguration.
Reply to Objection 3: Of those four gifts,
clarity alone is a quality of the very person in himself; whereas the other
three are not perceptible, save in some action or movement, or in some
passion. Christ, then, did show in Himself certain indications of those
three gifts---of agility, for instance, when He walked on the waves of the
sea; of subtlety, when He came forth from the closed womb of the Virgin; of
impassibility, when He escaped unhurt from the hands of the Jews who wished
to hurl Him down or to stone Him. And yet He is not said, on account of
this, to be transfigured, but only on account of clarity, which pertains to
the aspect of His Person.
clarity was the clarity of glory?
Objection 1: It would seem that this clarity was
not the clarity of glory. For a gloss of Bede on
Mat. 17:2, "He was transfigured before them," says: "In His mortal body
He shows forth, not the state of immortality, but clarity like to that of
future immortality." But the clarity of glory is the clarity of immortality.
Therefore the clarity which Christ showed to His disciples was not the
clarity of glory.
Objection 2: Further, on
Lk. 9:27 "(That) shall not taste death unless [Vulg.: 'till'] they see
the kingdom of God," Bede's gloss says: "That is, the glorification of the
body in an imaginary vision of future beatitude." But the image of a thing
is not the thing itself. Therefore this was not the clarity of beatitude.
Objection 3: Further, the clarity of glory is
only in a human body. But this clarity of the transfiguration was seen not
only in Christ's body, but also in His garments, and in "the bright cloud"
which "overshaded" the disciples. Therefore it seems that this was not the
clarity of glory.
On the contrary, Jerome says on the words "He
was transfigured before them" (Mat.
17:2): "He appeared to the Apostles such as He will appear on the day of
judgment." And on
Mat. 16:28, "Till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,"
Chrysostom says: "Wishing to show with what kind of glory He is afterwards
to come, so far as it was possible for them to learn it, He showed it to
them in their present life, that they might not grieve even over the death
of their Lord."
I answer that, The clarity which Christ assumed
in His transfiguration was the clarity of glory as to its essence, but not
as to its mode of being. For the clarity of the glorified body is derived
from that of the soul, as Augustine says (Ep. ad Diosc. cxviii). And in like
manner the clarity of Christ's body in His transfiguration was derived from
His God. head, as Damascene says (Orat. de Transfig.) and from the glory of
His soul. That the glory of His soul did not overflow into His body from the
first moment of Christ's conception was due to a certain Divine
dispensation, that, as stated above (Q,
A, ad 2), He might fulfil the mysteries of our redemption in a
passible body. This did not, however, deprive Christ of His power of
outpouring the glory of His soul into His body. And this He did, as to
clarity, in His transfiguration, but otherwise than in a glorified body. For
the clarity of the soul overflows into a glorified body, by way of a
permanent quality affecting the body. Hence bodily refulgence is not
miraculous in a glorified body. But in Christ's transfiguration clarity
overflowed from His Godhead and from His soul into His body, not as an
immanent quality affecting His very body, but rather after the manner of a
transient passion, as when the air is lit up by the sun. Consequently the
refulgence, which appeared in Christ's body then, was miraculous: just as
was the fact of His walking on the waves of the sea. Hence Dionysius says (Ep.
ad Cai. iv): "Christ excelled man in doing that which is proper to man: this
is shown in His supernatural conception of a virgin and in the unstable
waters bearing the weight of material and earthly feet."
Wherefore we must not say, as Hugh of St. Victor
[*Innocent III, De Myst. Miss. iv] said, that Christ assumed the gift of
clarity in the transfiguration, of agility in walking on the sea, and of
subtlety in coming forth from the Virgin's closed womb: because the gifts
are immanent qualities of a glorified body. On the contrary, whatever
pertained to the gifts, that He had miraculously. The same is to be said, as
to the soul, of the vision in which Paul saw God in a rapture, as we have
stated in the
SS, Q, A, ad 2.
Reply to Objection 1: The words quoted prove,
not that the clarity of Christ was not that of glory, but that it was not
the clarity of a glorified body, since Christ's body was not as yet
immortal. And just as it was by dispensation that in Christ the glory of the
soul should not overflow into the body so was it possible that by
dispensation it might overflow as to the gift of clarity and not as to that
Reply to Objection 2: This clarity is said to
have been imaginary, not as though it were not really the clarity of glory,
but because it was a kind of image representing that perfection of glory, in
virtue of which the body will be glorious.
Reply to Objection 3: Just as the clarity which
was in Christ's body was a representation of His body's future clarity, so
the clarity which was in His garments signified the future clarity of the
saints, which will be surpassed by that of Christ, just as the brightness of
the snow is surpassed by that of the sun. Hence Gregory says (Moral. xxxii)
that Christ's garments became resplendent, "because in the height of
heavenly clarity all the saints will cling to Him in the refulgence of
righteousness. For His garments signify the righteous, because He will unite
them to Himself," according to
Is. 49:18: "Thou shalt be clothed with all these as with an ornament."
The bright cloud signifies the glory of the Holy Ghost
or the "power of the Father," as Origen says (Tract. iii in Matth.), by
which in the glory to come the saints will be covered. Or, again, it may be
said fittingly that it signifies the clarity of the world redeemed, which
clarity will cover the saints as a tent. Hence when Peter proposed to make
tents, "a bright cloud overshaded" the disciples.
witnesses of the transfiguration were fittingly chosen?
Objection 1: It would seem that the witnesses of
the transfiguration were unfittingly chosen. For everyone is a better
witness of things that he knows. But at the time of Christ's transfiguration
no one but the angels had as yet any knowledge from experience of the glory
to come. Therefore the witnesses of the transfiguration should have been
angels rather than men.
Objection 2: Further, truth, not fiction, is
becoming in a witness of the truth. Now, Moses and Elias were there, not
really, but only in appearance; for a gloss on
Lk. 9:30, "They were Moses and Elias," says: "It must be observed that
Moses and Elias were there neither in body nor in soul"; but that those
bodies were formed "of some available matter. It is also credible that this
was the result of the angelic ministries, through the angels impersonating
them." Therefore it seems that they were unsuitable witnesses.
Objection 3: Further, it is said (Acts
10:43) that "all the prophets give testimony" to Christ. Therefore not
only Moses and Elias, but also all the prophets, should have been present as
Objection 4: Further, Christ's glory is promised
as a reward to all the faithful (2
Phil. 3:21), in whom He wished by His transfiguration to enkindle a
desire of that glory. Therefore He should have taken not only Peter, James,
and John, but all His disciples, to be witnesses of His transfiguration.
On the contrary is the authority of the Gospel.
I answer that, Christ wished to be transfigured
in order to show men His glory, and to arouse men to a desire of it, as
(A). Now men are brought to the glory of eternal beatitude by
Christ---not only those who lived after Him, but also those who preceded
Him; therefore, when He was approaching His Passion, both "the multitude
that followed" and that "which went before, cried saying: 'Hosanna,'" as
Mat. 21:9, beseeching Him, as it were, to save them. Consequently it was
fitting that witnesses should be present from among those who preceded
Him---namely, Moses and Elias---and from those who followed after
Him---namely, Peter, James, and John---that "in the mouth of two or three
witnesses" this word might stand.
Reply to Objection 1: By His transfiguration
Christ manifested to His disciples the glory of His body, which belongs to
men only. It was therefore fitting that He should choose men and not angels
Reply to Objection 2: This gloss is said to be
taken from a book entitled On the Marvels of Holy Scripture. It is not an
authentic work, but is wrongly ascribed to St. Augustine; consequently we
need not stand by it. For Jerome says on
Mat. 17:3: "Observe that when the Scribes and Pharisees asked for a sign
from heaven, He refused to give one; whereas here in order to increase the
apostles' faith, He gives a sign from heaven, Elias coming down thence,
whither he had ascended, and Moses arising from the nether world." This is
not to be understood as though the soul of Moses was reunited to his body,
but that his soul appeared through some assumed body, just as the angels do.
But Elias appeared in his own body, not that he was brought down from the
empyrean heaven, but from some place on high whither he was taken up in the
Reply to Objection 3: As Chrysostom says on
Mat. 17:3: "Moses and Elias are brought forward for many reasons." And,
first of all, "because the multitude said He was Elias or Jeremias or one of
the prophets, He brings the leaders of the prophets with Him; that hereby at
least they might see the difference between the servants and their Lord."
Another reason was " . . . that Moses gave the Law . . . while Elias . . .
was jealous for the glory of God." Therefore by appearing together with
Christ, they show how falsely the Jews "accused Him of transgressing the
Law, and of blasphemously appropriating to Himself the glory of God." A
third reason was "to show that He has power of death and life, and that He
is the judge of the dead and the living; by bringing with Him Moses who had
died, and Elias who still lived." A fourth reason was because, as Luke says
(9:31), "they spoke" with Him "of His decease that He should accomplish in
Jerusalem," i.e. of His Passion and death. Therefore, "in order to
strengthen the hearts of His disciples with a view to this," He sets before
them those who had exposed themselves to death for God's sake: since Moses
braved death in opposing Pharaoh, and Elias in opposing Achab. A fifth
reason was that "He wished His disciples to imitate the meekness of Moses
and the zeal of Elias." Hilary adds a sixth reason---namely, in order to
signify that He had been foretold by the Law, which Moses gave them, and by
the prophets, of whom Elias was the principal.
Reply to Objection 4: Lofty mysteries should
not be immediately explained to everyone, but should be handed down through
superiors to others in their proper turn. Consequently, as Chrysostom says
Mat. 17:3), "He took these three as being superior to the rest." For
"Peter excelled in the love" he bore to Christ and in the power bestowed on
him; John in the privilege of Christ's love for him on account of his
virginity, and, again, on account of his being privileged to be an
Evangelist; James on account of the privilege of martyrdom. Nevertheless He
did not wish them to tell others what they had seen before His Resurrection;
"lest," as Jerome says on
Mat. 17:19, "such a wonderful thing should seem incredible to them; and
lest, after hearing of so great glory, they should be scandalized at the
Cross" that followed; or, again, "lest [the Cross] should be entirely
hindered by the people" [*Bede, Hom. xviii; cf. Catena Aurea]; and "in order
that they might then be witnesses of spiritual things when they should be
filled with the Holy Ghost" [*Hilary, in Matth. xvii].
testimony of the Father's voice, saying,
"This is My
beloved Son," was fittingly added?
Objection 1: It would seem that the testimony of
the Father's voice, saying, "This is My beloved Son," was not fittingly
added; for, as it is written (Job
33:14), "God speaketh once, and repeateth not the selfsame thing the
second time." But the Father's voice had testified to this at the time of
(Christ's) baptism. Therefore it was not fitting that He should bear witness
to it a second time.
Objection 2: Further, at the baptism the Holy
Ghost appeared under the form of a dove at the same time as the Father's
voice was heard. But this did not happen at the transfiguration. Therefore
it seems that the testimony of the Father was made in an unfitting manner.
Objection 3: Further, Christ began to teach
after His baptism. Nevertheless, the Father's voice did not then command men
to hear him. Therefore neither should it have so commanded at the
Objection 4: Further, things should not be said
to those who cannot bear them, according to
Jn. 16:12: "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear
them now." But the disciples could not bear the Father's voice; for it is
17:6) that "the disciples hearing, fell upon their face, and were very
much afraid." Therefore the Father's voice should not have been addressed to
On the contrary is the authority of the Gospel.
I answer that, The adoption of the sons of God
is through a certain conformity of image to the natural Son of God. Now this
takes place in two ways: first, by the grace of the wayfarer, which is
imperfect conformity; secondly, by glory, which is perfect conformity,
1 Jn. 3:2: "We are now the sons of God, and it hath not yet appeared
what we shall be: we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to
Him, because we shall see Him as He is." Since, therefore, it is in baptism
that we acquire grace, while the clarity of the glory to come was
foreshadowed in the transfiguration, therefore both in His baptism and in
His transfiguration the natural sonship of Christ was fittingly made known
by the testimony of the Father: because He alone with the Son and Holy Ghost
is perfectly conscious of that perfect generation.
Reply to Objection 1: The words quoted are to be
understood of God's eternal speaking, by which God the Father uttered the
only-begotten and co-eternal Word. Nevertheless, it can be said that God
uttered the same thing twice in a bodily voice, yet not for the same
purpose, but in order to show the divers modes in which men can be partakers
of the likeness of the eternal Sonship.
Reply to Objection 2: Just as in the Baptism,
where the mystery of the first regeneration was proclaimed, the operation of
the whole Trinity was made manifest, because the Son Incarnate was there,
the Holy Ghost appeared under the form of a dove, and the Father made
Himself known in the voice; so also in the transfiguration, which is the
mystery of the second regeneration, the whole Trinity appears---the Father
in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud; for
just as in baptism He confers innocence, signified by the simplicity of the
dove, so in the resurrection will He give His elect the clarity of glory and
refreshment from all sorts of evil, which are signified by the bright cloud.
Reply to Objection 3: Christ came to give grace
actually, and to promise glory by His words. Therefore it was fitting at the
time of His transfiguration, and not at the time of His baptism, that men
should be commanded to hear Him.
Reply to Objection 4: It was fitting that the
disciples should be afraid and fall down on hearing the voice of the Father,
to show that the glory which was then being revealed surpasses in excellence
the sense and faculty of all mortal beings; according to
Ex. 33:20: "Man shall not see Me and live." This is what Jerome says on
Mat. 17:6: "Such is human frailty that it cannot bear to gaze on such
great glory." But men are healed of this frailty by Christ when He brings
them into glory. And this is signified by what He says to them: "Arise, and