From Fr Robert Barron

At the Transfiguration, Moses was there representing the law and Elijah was there representing the prophets. But why were Peter, James, and John present? And what does this event mean to us today?

St. Thomas Aquinas devotes an entire section in his Summa theologiae to this event. His treatment sums up much of the wisdom of the Fathers, so looking at his reflections may give us some answers.

Aquinas says that it was fitting that Christ be manifested in his glory because those who are walking an arduous path need a clear sense of the goal of their journey. The arduous path is this life, with all of its attendant sufferings, failures, setbacks, disappointments, and injustices, and its goal is heavenly glory, fullness of life with God, the transformation of our bodies.

As he makes his way toward the cross, Jesus accordingly allows, for a brief time, his glory to shine through, the radiance of his divinity to appear. We are not meant finally for this world. This event is meant to awaken our sense of wonder at the world to come.

Next, Aquinas asks about the “light” or the “glory” that envelops Christ during the Transfiguration. It “shines.” Why have people, trans-historically and trans-culturally, associated holiness with light? Well, light is that by which we see, that which illumines and clarifies. But at bottom it is the fact that light is beautiful. Beautiful things shine. Aquinas says that Jesus, at the Transfiguration, began to shine with the radiance of heaven so as to entrance us with the prospect of our own transfiguration.

Finally, Aquinas talks about the witnesses to the Transfiguration, namely Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah. Moses stands for the Law. Jesus recapitulates, perfects, and illumines the Mosaic law: “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Christ is the new Moses, the new Lawgiver.

Similarly, Elijah stands for the prophets; he was the greatest of the prophets. The prophets spoke the words of God; Jesus is the Word of God. Therefore, the prophetic books are read in his light.

But why is Peter there? Because, says Aquinas, he loved the Lord the most. Why is John there? Because the Lord loved him the most. Why is James there? Because he was the first of the Apostles to die for his faith.

Who gets access to the glory of Jesus? Those who are tied to him through love.

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  1. Roger says:

    God’s works are timeless and have depths beyond Man’s comprehension. The depths of God’s revelation is opened up over time, for example the Immaculate Conception, The Assumption. The Transfiguration is simply complex and profound beyond Our comprehension.
    When we look at the Word made Flesh (Man God) we are also looking at His mystical Body the Church. The Church as the Fathers of the Church understood recreates the Life of Christ. So the Passion of the Church in its members. The Fathers understood that the Faith would have a period of Triumph and that there would be One Faith on the Earth. Fatima and the Triumph Of the Immaculate Heart Of Mary (Immaculate Dogma only declared in 19th Century). The Church then is also seen in this Transfiguration.
    Moses and the Mosaic Church (which we call Jewish) carried with it the promise of the Woman (Virgin) and the Messiah. Our Lord and Our Lady fulfilled the Mosaic Rites before these became made a new by Our Lord. St Peter is Our Lords Vicar and will be handed the keys by Our Lord. So both Moses and St Peter can be seen with the Man God AND His mystical Body.
    St James is and remains the Bishop Of Jerusalem and this is an as yet deep mystery. St John and Moses? Well here is the Author of the First Books of the Bible and the Last Book. The Alpha and the Omega present with Moses and St John.
    That brings us to Elias. Well Elias is founder of Carmel. Carmel and the promise that give to the Scapular (cloth of Elias?) and the Rosary and the Salvation of the world. Elias is NOT DEAD, He never Died. What is Elias role in Life of the Church to be? Is the Transfiguration of the mystical Body connected to Elias (Carmel) ?
    So the there are great depths and mysteries here that this article simply skimps over!

  2. Ken Miller says:

    I would love to know who painted the image at the top of this page. It is really wonderful.

    Thank you!

  3. mary salmond says:

    There are several abbeys around the US who are iconographers. Not sure which one this is, since they use the same methods of modern form. But I do like this one also – I’ve not seen an icon with the Transfiguration. The clarity is good on what happened that day.

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