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Bede remarks that "the Lord went into a mountain to pray and to be transfigured, to show them who expect the fruit of the Resurrection, and who desire to see the King in His beauty, that they must dwell above in mind, and must be occupied in continual prayer." So also S. Bernard, "Wherefore did He ascend to be transfigured, but to teach us to ascend in thought to the future glory which shall be revealed Ascend with heart elate, and God will exalt you. For here is the mountain in which Christ is transfigured. Ascend, and ye shall know how the Lord hath glorified His Holy One. Lighten your hearts, I beseech you, from the weight of earthly thoughts, that ye may see the Lord transfigured'."
Thus too, regarding the choice of the Apostles, S. Damasus, the renowned Bishop of Rome, in the 4th century, observes that S. Peter had received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and was to be the future chief governor of the Church; S. James was the first of the Apostolic company to die for Christ; and S. John was the most pure organ of Divine doctrine, to whom was afterwards committed the care of the Blessed Mother of God. "He took with Him the three heads of the Apostles," says Theophylact; "Peter, as confessing and loving Him; John, as beloved by Him; and James, as the high-voiced teacher of Divine learning."
Of the sight which their eyes beheld on the mountain of Transfiguration none may venture to speak more than the Holy Spirit has revealed. All ancient writers agree in carefully maintaining that no change
1 Serm. IV. de Ascens. Domini.
of substance passed upon our Divine Lord; but that such as He shall appear at the Judgment, He then showed Himself to the Apostles. He laid aside nothing of His true and natural body, but only withdrew the veil which concealed its supernal glory.
Many mystical reasons are given by early writers for the appearance of Moses and Elias. As, for instance, that in the Gospel, the Law and the Prophets have their fulfilment; or that it signified the power which the Lord has over the quick and dead; or represented the saints whom, at His second Advent, He shall find in the flesh, as well as those whom He shall revive from the sleep of death. For Elias had not yet tasted death. There is a very ancient tradition in the Church, that the two witnesses whom S. John saw in the Apocalypse' are Enoch and Elias, who shall once again appear on earth, and preach the Gospel to the Jews, and at last be put to death by Antichrist.
The heavenly vision so ravished the heart of S. Peter, that he would have remained for ever in its enjoyment. But better things are in store for all the faithful servants of the Lord. When the conflict and the trial are past, there shall be the eternal vision of the blessed Godhead, in the society, not of Moses and Elias only, but of the whole company of the redeemed, and of the angelic choirs. "As for me," says the prophet, "I shall behold Thy presence
1 xi. 3-7. See the testimony of some of the greatest of the early doctors of the Church on this subject, quoted in a note on S. Matt. ii. 20, in the Oxford translation of the Catena Aurea.
in righteousness; and when I awake up after Thy likeness I shall be satisfied with it."
But while he spake, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and, as S. Luke relates, "they feared, as they entered into the cloud." And the voice of the Father was a second time heard on earth, proclaiming, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." 66 This may well be termed the mystery of the second Regeneration," says an ancient author, "which shall take place in the Resurrection, when the flesh shall be revived, as baptism is the mystery of the first, in which the soul is reanimated. In the Baptism of Christ also, the operation of the whole Trinity was shown. For there was the Incarnate Son, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, and the Father was declared to be present in the voice. And so in the Transfiguration, which is the Sacrament of the second Regeneration, the whole Trinity appeared. The Father, in the voice; the Son, in humanity; and the Holy Ghost in the cloud. Is it asked why the Holy Spirit appeared there in the dove, here in the cloud?-Thus He is wont by His modes of appearance to declare His gifts. For in baptism He gives innocency, which is figured by the bird of simplicity. But in the Resurrection He will give clarity and refreshment; and therefore in the cloud is signified refreshment, and in its brightness, the clarity of the rising bodies'."
But the weak bodies of men cannot endure so near an approach to the heavenly world. The extremity of bliss is as insupportable as the greatest
1 Catena Aurea in S. Matt. xvii.
fear. Blessed are they who, like the Apostles on the lake of Gennesaret and on the mountain of Tabor, in sorrow and in joy, ever hear the benign voice of Jesus, saying, "Be not afraid." Many wonderful histories are related of ancient saints, in whom was partly fulfilled, even in this world, the beatitude of the pure in heart. They saw God in clearer vision than is ordinarily granted to man; and on their bodies marvellous effects were visible. "It was during such intervals," says the author of the Mores Catholici, "that the transcendant prodigies with which all holy history rings were effected. Then did they enjoy those gifts which so visibly bespeak the joys of a world unlike ours,-the gift of tears, streaming delicious tears, tears that were a wonder, and rightly denominated a gift from heaven, such a bliss spread through the soul as soon as they flowed forth, like the waters of a river, sweeping away black sorrow, and disquietude, and trembling doubts; then came there the gift of jubilation ineffable, inconceivable, producing insensibility to all material objects around, -the gift of utterance too of words that surpass human intelligence, of tones unearthly, as if all that the soul had ever learned here below were already blotted out and forgotten; and so in truth they were, at least while that high triumph lasted, for in that heavenly banqueting, 'the soul,' as Dante saith, ' outgrows herself, and in the transport lost, held now remembrance none of what she was '.' But I dare not venture further upon this mystic ground, whose confines few may pass unharmed.
S. Peter, in his second Catholic epistle, recals
'Book viii. 16.
the scene of the Transfiguration to the memory of the faithful, in words which are sung in the Epistle of this day in the Latin Church. "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts'."
In the words of the collect in the Office of Sarum, let us sum up our contemplations of this ineffable mystery : "O God, Who didst on this day reveal from heaven to the fathers of either Testament Thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured; grant to us, we beseech Thee, to arrive at the eternal contemplation of His glory, with Whom Thou hast testified that Thou art ever well pleased. Through the same."
This festival was observed in Rome in the middle of the fifth century, as we learn from a homily of S. Leo delivered upon it. Pope Calixtus III. made it more universal and solemn by a bull dated in 1457. It is kept on this day, not because the Transfiguration took place upon it, for it happened earlier in the year, "but because," as Durandus remarks, 66 at this time it was first published by the Apostles who
1 2 S. Pet. i. 16-19.