This Sunday, August 6, is the feast of the Transfiguration. The custom in the Church is that when solemn feasts of Jesus fall on a Sunday, the prayers and readings of the feast are celebrated in place of the Sunday prayers and readings. Thus, the Gospel for today is the account of the Transfiguration found in Matthew’s Gospel, (Matthew 17:1-9).
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, finds it significant that Jesus took three disciples “up on a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1). For Thomas, “One is not led into contemplation unless He ascends into a mountain” (Commentary on Matthew). Contemplation is prayer that is focused and needs a quiet atmosphere.
The Gospel declares “And He was transfigured” (Mt 17:2). Christ appeared to the disciples “in a different form that that in which He normally appeared since His body was not luminous but it received brilliance” (Commentary on Matthew).
Thomas asserts that the brilliance that shown on His face was not from His body in itself but the love within His soul became apparent: “The brilliance was not from the essence of His body but from the interior brilliance of His soul, full of charity” (Commentary on Matthew). Although throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ love is manifest, the actual brilliance of it was not usually visible.
Thomas maintains: “Christ’s soul had a brilliance above any other brilliance from the first moment of His conception” (Commentary on Matthew). John’s Gospel declares: ‘We saw His glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
Thomas believes that the brilliance was not in Jesus’ human power because His humanity was similar to ours but in His divine power: “… that He walked upon the sea, that He shone with light, all this was by His Divine power because a gift of glory is unsuited to a wayfarer (we humans on our way) but He had some likeness to these gifts” (Commentary on Matthew).
Thomas finds a number of reasons why Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, for instance, “There were two things in Himself that He wanted to show forth in these two men, namely meekness, which He showed in Moses (Num 12:3), and an example of zeal for God, which He showed in Elijah, concerning whom it is said, ‘Elijah the prophet stood up as a fire and his word burnt like a torch’ (Sirach 48:1)” (Commentary on Matthew).
Thomas also offers the more generally held reason: “… the whole Law and the Prophets bore testimony to Christ… ‘All things must be fulfilled that are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets’ (Lk 24:44)” (Commentary on Matthew).
Peter announced: “Lord it is good for us to be here” (Mt 17:4). Thomas observes: “Due to his exceedingly great fervor at seeing Christ’s glory, he had been so affected that he wished never to be separated from Him, if God so-willed” (Commentary on Matthew).
Peter wanted to build three booths: “If You will, let us make here three tabernacles” (Mt 17:4). Thomas says that Peter spoke well, in saying “If You will,” “for we ought to submit our will to the divine will, as was said, ‘Thy will be done’ (Mt 6:10)” (Commentary on Matthew).
However, Thomas thinks that Peter also spoke badly, thinking glory can be had without death: ‘For we know, if our earthly house be dissolved, we have a building of God, not made with hands, eternal in heaven’ (1 Cor 5:1) and ‘Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in heaven’ (Mt 5:12)” (Commentary on Matthew).
The Gospel relates: “Suddenly, a bright cloud overshadowed them” (Mt 17:5).
Thomas remarks that, on occasion, a dark cloud appears, as in Exodus 19:17: “… here a shining cloud appeared, because it signifies the consolation of glory; ‘God will wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more. Nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away’ (Rev 21:4)” (Commentary on Matthew).
The Father, in “a voice from the cloud,” declares: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 17:5).
Thomas explains: “Christ’s dignity is indicated by the singularity of His sonship, the perfection of His love and by the conformity of His actions” (Commentary on Matthew).
By announcing, “This is …,” the Father asserts that Jesus is His only Son, although others are His children by adoption”, ‘I said, you are gods, and you are all sons of the most High’ (Psalm 82:6)” (Commentary on Matthew).
Thomas reflects: “This one is the true Son, clearly singular, as First John 5:20 states, ‘The Son of God came and gave perception to us, that we might know the true God’ (Commentary on Matthew).
This Son is beloved by the Father. Thomas makes an interesting comparison between our love and God’s love:
“Our love arises from the goodness of the creature. Some thing is not good because I love it. Rather, because it is a good thing, I love it. But the love of God is the cause of the goodness of things. And so God poured out goodness into creatures through creation” (Commentary on Matthew). Good comes from God who pours goodness into creation.
The Son comes forth from the Father and comes forth with all goodness: “So, He poured out goodness into the Son through generation, because He communicates all goodness to the Son” (Commentary on Matthew).
Our goodness as creatures is given to us through the Son: “Creatures are blessed by means of participation, but the Father gave all goodness to the Son: ‘The Father loves the Son and has put all things into His hands’ (John 3:35). Therefore, love itself proceeds from the Father loving the Son, and from the Son loving the Father” (Commentary on Matthew).
This principle is very important: “love” itself comes from the Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father.
The Son responds completely to the Father’s love: ‘But it might be that a thing may be given to someone and he does not use well those things given to him, and does not please the giver. But God gave the fullness to His Son and He has used them well, and so He says, ‘In whom I am well pleased’” … (Commentary on Matthew).
Because the Son is so fully one with the Father, the Father instructs the disciples: “Listen to Him” (Mt 17:5). Thomas reflects: “The Father indicates that He is given as the teacher of all people” (Commentary on Matthew). Moses told the Israelites: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet for the nations, listen to Him, just as you listened to me” (Deut 18:15).
The Gospel tells us, “When they heard this the disciples fell forward on the ground, overcome with fear” (Mt 17:6).
Jesus strengthens them: “And Jesus came toward them and laying Hid hand on them, said: ‘Get up! Do not be afraid’” (Mt 17:7).
Thomas comments on the way that Jesus strengthened them:
“He strengthens them by deed against their fear and fall: He strengthens them against their fear by His presence, because ‘Jesus came’; ‘I fear no evils, for You are with me’ (Ps 23:4); ‘It is I, do not be afraid’ (Mt 14:27)” (Commentary on Matthew).
He strengthens them by His touch, because ‘He gives strength to the weary’ (Is 40:29)… ’He touched them.’ He strengthens them as to their fall; hence ‘He said to them; ‘Arise’ … He strengthened them against fear saying, ‘Fear not.’ That fear was pusillanimity [being small- souled], and they who rise from sin, put away fear, because ‘perfect charity casts out fear’ (1 Jn 4:18)” (Commentary on Matthew).
The Gospel announces: “When they looked up they did not see anyone but Jesus” (Mt 17:8).
Thomas states: “Having been strengthened by Christ, they see nothing but Jesus, nor do they rejoice or are strengthened by anything except by Him, ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Phil 1:21)” (Commentary on Matthew).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew are taken from the translation of Fr. Paul M. Kimball, published by Dolorosa Press in 2012, pp. 578-588.