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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, is given an account of our Lord’s glorious Transfiguration on Mount Thabor, of which Peter, James, and John, were chosen to be witnesses (1–8). After cautioning these privileged Apostles against divulging this glorious event till after His resurrection, He, in reply to their question, suggested by their seeing Elias, as well as Moses with Him, distinguishes between His first and second coming. The former has its Elias, too, viz., John the Baptist, whose ministry, already discharged, in reference to our Lord’s first coming, was perfectly similar to that which Elias the Thesbite, is to discharge when he precedes His second and glorious coming (9–13). On reaching the rest of the Apostles and the multitude on the following day, after He came down from the mountain, He found they were unable to cure a lunatic, possessed by a devil of more than ordinary strength. Our Lord cures him, and assigns the reason of the failure of the Apostles, viz., want of the requisite faith, and their omitting to have recourse to prayer and fasting, which are necessary, in order to expel certain kinds of demons (14–20). He again predicts His Passion and Resurrection (21–22). On the requisition of the tax-gatherers, He commissions Peter to pay for both of them, having miraculously provided him with the means of doing so. He instructs him to proceed to the sea, and to take the required sum out of the first fish that came to hand.

1. “And after six days,” St. Mark reckons the same number (9:1); St. Luke (9:28) says, “about eight days after these words,” Both Evangelists are thus reconciled, if reconciled they need be; St. Matthew, in his narrative, does not include the the day on which the preceding words were spoken, nor the last day on which the occurrence he is about narrating took place. Whereas, St. Luke includes not only the six intermediate days referred to by St. Matthew, but also two partial days besides, viz., the first and last. However, in any case, there is no contradiction; for, St. Luke says, “about eight days,” not mentioning the precise number.

Taketh unto Him Peter, James, and John,” whom, as His most attached and confidential friends, and most highly favoured among the twelve, He frequently admitted to more familiar intercourse—Peter, the head of the Apostolic College; James, the greater, put to death by Herod, and the first to seal his testimony with his blood; and John, the beloved disciple, who was to outlive all the rest. These three He took with Him as the number of witnesses required for legal proof, according to the Jewish law, “in ore duorum vel trium testiam stet omne verbum,” and also to correspond with the threefold witnesses on earth, “tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra,” as the Heavenly Father, Moses, and Elias, corresponded with the three witnesses in heaven, “tres sunt qui testimonium dant in cœlo,” &c. He confined the manifestation of His glory to these three; because, He desired that the glory of His Transfiguration should not be divulged till after His resurrection.

Into a high mountain apart.” This is commonly supposed to be Mount Thabor, situated in the centre of Galilee, not far from Nazareth. It is in favour of this opinion, that this event would seem to have occurred in Galilee (v. 21), in the centre of which Thabor is situated. Others say, it was Mount Libanus. This opinion derives some probability from the fact, that it was at Cæsarea Philippi, situated at the foot of Mount Libanus, our Redeemer conferred the Primacy on St. Peter; and it would not seem He departed as yet from that district. St. Luke says, He ascended the mountain (9:28) “to pray,” which was quite in accordance with His custom, and that it was “whilst He prayed,” (v. 29) His Transfiguration took place.

2. “And He was transfigured before them.” This word here does not imply any change of substance, but only a change in His external appearance. He did not assume an ærial spiritual body, but only changed the appearance of, and added brightness to, the body He really had. This is clearly conveyed by St. Luke, “the appearance of His is countenance was altered,” &c. (9:29); and St. Matthew here explains it, “His face did shine as the sun: and His garments,” &c. He superadded splendour and glory to His former appearance, the substance remaining the same. He exhibited that glory with which He shall appear in His heavenly kingdom, and when He shall come one day to judge the world. He did not show His Divinity as He shows Himself to the saints in heaven. This, mortal eyes could not endure. He only showed the external glory of His body, which represented, in a certain way, the glory of the Divine Majesty.

And His face,” over which external splendour was diffused. Most probably, this extended to His entire body. “Did shine as the sun;” in this way was the gift of clarity, arising from the glory of the Divinity and the beatitude of the soul of Christ, shown to the Apostles. The other gifts of impassibility, agility, spirituality, were not exhibited. And, although from the moment of His Incarnation, these gifts of a glorified body, were due to the body of Christ, owing to its union with the Divinity; still, by Divine dispensation, and by a continuous miracle, they were concealed; their manifestation was repressed in His body, and prevented from taking effect. Even this gift of clarity showed itself only in a passing way, for the present occasion, but not to be perpetually manifested, as it is now manifested, in His glorified state; and shall be in the glorified bodies of the just after the General Resurrection. It was by a continuous miracle and Divine dispensation, that the body of our Lord did not exhibit the qualities of glorification from His Incarnation; and that He enjoyed the beatitude of the soul without showing itself in the glory of His body; and it was equally a miracle, that it was gifted with clarity only in a transient way, not manifested as a perpetual gift. Others say, our Lord’s glorious Transfiguration, and the passing manifestation of the gift of clarity, far from being a miracle—for, this clarity naturally arose from the beatified soul of Christ—was rather a cessation of the perpetual miracle by which were repressed the qualities of glorification.

And His garments became white as snow.” Most of the Greek readings have, “white as light.” But, the Vulgate reading is the more probable, and the comparison more natural. Moreover, all copies of St. Mark (9:2) have, “exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can make white.” Whether this snowy whiteness and shining brightness were so really impressed on the garments of our Lord, that they assumed these qualities, really and supernaturally on the occasion; and then after the Transfiguration, reassumed their former colour; or, were merely reflected on the garments from the glorified and bright Body of our Redeemer, reflecting its brightness on everything around it, is not easily determined, and forms the subject of dispute among commentators.

There can be no question whatever of the reality of this glorious Transfiguration, no grounds for regarding it as an imaginary scene. For, although the Apostles were before, “heavy with sleep” (Luke 9:32), it was after awaking, they were favoured with the sight of His glory.

Our Redeemer’s object in this glorious manifestation would seem to be, by exhibiting His glory, and by adducing the testimony of Moses and Elias, to prepare His disciples for the scandal of the cross, and to animate them to undergo torments and death, by the prospects of the glory which awaited them in the Resurrection, similar to that witnessed by them on this occasion. The difference between the glory of our Redeemer and that of Moses is, that the glorious effulgence was imparted to Moses from without, from his converse with God; it was, moreover, confined to His face, the effulgence of which, owing to its being veiled, was concealed; whereas, that of our Redeemer was from within, from the glory of the Divinity and the beatitude of His soul, which, by a kind of continuous miracle, was kept from imparting the properties of glorification to His body. And, moreover, it extended to the entire body, to the entire sacred person, of our Redeemer.

3. “And behold,” &c. “And,” denotes, that immediately on His being transfigured, they saw “Moses and Elias talking with Him.” St. Luke (9:32) says, they “stood with Him.” Hence, it was in a standing posture, and not while elevated from the earth, this Transfiguration took place. St. Luke (9:31) tells us, the subject on which they were speaking was, concerning “His death which He was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Our Redeemer wished to have Moses and Elias as witnesses of His Transfiguration; the former, the promulgator and representative of the Law; the latter, the representative of all the Prophets, of whom he was the greatest; to show, that far from being opposed to the Law and the Prophets, as the Jews calumniously charged Him, the Law and the Prophets bore testimony to Him, and to His death, the great source of scandal to His followers, about which they were conversing. He, moreover, wished to show, He was the Lord of Moses and all the Prophets; and not himself either Elias or any other of the Prophets, as the multitude falsely imagined. St. Luke says, “Moses and Elias appeared in majesty.” Our Lord, by thus wishing that His attendants on this glorious occasion should be robed like Himself, in glorious apparel, meant to show, that He will one day communicate His glory to His chosen servants in heaven. The presence of these glorified witnesses would servo to heighten His glory; and their testimony would add still greater force to His words in the minds of His Apostles.

Talking with Him.” The subject of their conversation, as we are informed by St. Luke (9:31), regarded His “decease, which He was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” The Greek word (εξοδον) shows, there is question of His exit or departure out of this world, which is rendered “excessum ejus,” by the Vulgate. It regards His future Passion. Some spiritual writers dwell on the words, “excessum ejus,” to point out the excessive love for man manifested by our Blessed Lord in His Passion and unparalleled sufferings. This is, no doubt, a pious and edifying exposition, and is included in the words; but the other, as the Greek clearly shows, is the literal meaning.

St. Luke informs us, that whilst our Redeemer was praying, Peter and his companions, “were heavy with sleep.” While they were thus asleep, it would seem our Redeemer was transfigured; and awaking, they saw Him in this state of majesty, and Moses and Elias speaking with Him regarding His future Passion. It was not before they fell asleep, but after awaking, they witnessed His Transfiguration, as St. Luke informs us. From this, it is inferred by some, that the Transfiguration occurred in the night time. In corroboration of this it is said (Luke 9:37), that our Redeemer came down from the mountain on the following day. Others, with St. Chrysostom, say, it took place in the day time. The fact, that a bright cloud overshadowed them, which most likely occurred in the day, favours this opinion, although this might occur on a calm, bright night also.

4. “Then Peter, answering, said.” “Answering,” by a Hebrew idiom, signifies, to commence speaking, without supposing any previous question asked. “Then.” St. Luke tells us, that St. Peter spoke when Moses and Elias were about to depart. Then Peter, transported with joy and almost inebriated with delight, mingled at the same time, with a kind of fear, or rather reverential awe, at the presence of such an unusual exhibition of glory—“For, they were struck with fear” (Mark 9:5)—anxious that this felicity should be perpetual and unalterable, exclaimed, “Lord, it is good (καλον, delightful, very pleasing) for us to be here.” Therefore, do not permit Moses and Elias to depart. “If Thou wilt”—if Thou allow it, with your permission—“let us make here three tabernacles,” i.e., three tents, composed of branches of trees, such as were hastily raised, by travellers, for temporary purposes, and such as were raised on the Feast of Tabernacles. St. Peter wished to raise these as places where our Lord, Moses, and Elias might dwell. St. Mark (9:5), says, “he knew not what he said,” or, as the Greek has it, “he knew not what to say;” and St. Luke (9:34), “not knowing what he said.” Like the sons of Zebedee, who know not the consequences nor conditions of what they asked, “nescitis quid petatis.” Peter spoke inconsiderately, not actually attending to the import of his words, nor how inconsistent and irreconcilable what he desired was, with what he saw and witnessed. Our Redeemer had sharply rebuked him, for trying to dissuade Him from suffering death. He heard two glorious witnesses speaking of His future death, in Jerusalem; and yet, Peter tries to detain them on the mountain, and leave the work of redemption unaccomplished. Moreover, it showed inconsiderateness in Peter, to imagine that glorified saints needed tents to protect them. It was thoughtless in him, to wish to have that glory confined to a few, on the mountain, which was destined for countless numbers, by the sovereign liberality of God; and to prefer the glimpse of glory, which He saw emanating from the glorified humanity and divinity of Jesus, to that effulgent, overwhelming, and dazzling glory, which from the sight of the Divinity, “face to face,” shall be exhibited to the saints for all eternity. “Satiabor cum apparuerit gloria tua” (Psa. 16:15).

5. While Peter was speaking thus incoherently, the Heavenly Father interrupted his discourse. “Behold”—to call attention to it as a matter of wonder—“a bright cloud overshadowed them,” that is, enveloped them, diffusing itself around our Redeemer, Moses, Elias, and the Apostles who were near to where our Redeemer was conversing with Moses and Elias. “A bright cloud.” The Almighty is said, frequently in Scripture, to display His Majesty in a cloud (Exodus 16:10; 19:9; 24:15). Hence, the Psalmist says, “qui ponis nubem ascensum tuum,” &c. (Psa. 103) This cloud, which was an indication of the Divine presence, a visible type of the “excellent glory,” as St. Peter terms it (2 Ep. 1:17), showed that our Redeemer needed no tabernacle, made with hands. It served to temper the brightness of the majesty which struck the Apostles with fear. By it, God partly fulfilled the desires of Peter, by showing, He was Himself the pavilion, under whose shade the blessed shall repose for ever; and by it, He was pleased to sanction the public confession of Peter, regarding the Divinity of His eternal Son, by such a public and explicit declaration, and by a command to others, to hear Him. It is said to be a bright cloud, while that in which He appeared, when giving the Law to Moses, was a “very thick one” (Exod. 19:16), to show the difference between the New Law—the covenant of love—and the Old—the covenant of terror. St. Luke (9:34), says, “they were afraid, when they entered the cloud.” Who entered the cloud is disputed. The most common opinion is, that all entered the cloud, and that the cloud became more dense around Moses and Elias. Seeing them, as if vanishing from their sight, the disciples feared much. The very appearance of the cloud, together with the voice, which immediately after issued from it, was calculated to terrify them. Others say, the cloud enveloped only Moses and Elias, when they were on the point of departing. This bright cloud indicated the presence of the Divine Majesty.

And, behold,” as a thing still more strange and wonderful, “a voice out of the cloud.” Not only were the eyes of the Apostles favoured with the most convincing proof of the Divinity of our Blessed Lord, but through the organ of hearing, a most conclusive proof was afforded them. “This is My beloved Son,” &c. These words are the same in the Greek, as those uttered on the occasion of our Blessed Lord’s baptism. The article is prefixed to “Son” (ὅ νιος), and to “beloved” (ὅ αγαπητος), to show that He was His natural, only begotten Son, to distinguish Him from His adopted sons, who are many in number, angels and men. The words, literally rendered from the Greek, would run thus: hic est ille filius meus, ille dilectus—this is the Son of mine, the beloved. The word “beloved” (αγαπητος), is frequently used for (μονογενης), only-begotten, because an only-begotten son is singularly beloved. Thus it is used in Genesis (22:2). The Septuagint interpreters render the Hebrew word, αγαπητος and μονογενης (Jer. 6:26, &c.; Amos 8:10, &c.), and it is used in this sense by Pagan authors also. Homer (II. vi. 401); Hesiod, referred to by Pollux (Lib. iii. c. 2). The word, αγαπητος, used in connexion with ὕιος, is, in every part of the New Testament, used to designate the eternal Son of God, and used to distinguish Him from those, who are sons by the several titles of creation, redemption, adoption, viz., men and angels.

In whom I am well pleased.” The beloved object of My eternal complacency and love, “in whom,” and on account of whom, created objects please Me; “in whom,” I am reconciled to a sinful world; who, alone, singularly pleases Me, and in whom nothing else displeases Me. The Aorist form (ευδοκησα), conveys the idea of continuous pleasure, past, present, and future. These words point to our Lord, as the reconciler of God with a sinful world.

Hear ye Him.” St. Chrysostom observes, that it was only after the departure of Moses and Elias (Luke 9:36), this voice was heard, that it might appear beyond all cavil or doubt, that it was to Christ, and Him only, the words referred. “Hear ye Him”—that is, believe in Him, obey His precepts, embrace His law, no longer hear Moses and the Prophets. They have discharged the duty of bearing witness to Him, the Divine Legate. He is now come, the Legislator of the New Law. Their office has now ceased. Their departure need not be regretted. He, alone, is sufficient for you. By obeying Him, you will merit and secure, for yourselves, a share in the heavenly glory, a glimpse of which has been exhibited to you on the mountain. The words, “Hear ye Him,” are, probably, allusive to the prophecy of Moses, regarding Christ (Deut. 18:15), “A Prophet of thy nation … Him thou shalt hear” (see 3:17).

6. “And the disciples hearing,” the terrible voice of God, which some of the holy Fathers say, resembled loud peals of thunder, “Vox Domini in virtute. Vox Domini in magnificentia.” (Psa. 28)

Fell upon their face,” probably, for the purpose of adoring the Divine Majesty, and of imploring Him to spare them. “And (that is, ‘for’), they were very much afraid.” For, “what is all flesh, that it should hear the voice of the living God?” (Deut. 5:26.) As they were seized with fear on beholding the glory of the Transfiguration, and on entering into the cloud, so they were terrified still more on hearing the tremendous voice of God. “Human weakness could not bear such refulgent beams of glory, and trembling in every limb, they fell prostrate on the ground” (St. Jerome). It may be, they feared that Moses, on departing, would send forth from the clouds, thunder and lightning, as happened at the giving of the Law (Exod. 19:16), and that Elias would send forth fires from the clouds as formerly (4 Kings 1:10). The Apostles, however, were not so terrified, as not to clearly perceive what occurred (2 Peter 1:18).

7. The heavenly benignity of our Redeemer, raises them up. With a gentle touch He dispels the fear with which the thundering voice and majesty of God had prostrated them to the earth. As Mediator, He interposes between the tremendous majesty of God and human infirmity. “Arise, and fear not,” intimating to them that this was the voice, not of an angry God, but of a Father, who meant to confirm them in the faith, and to point out the glory in store for His adopted sons, destined to be co-heirs of His well-beloved Son, to whom they were hereafter to bear testimony.

8. Moses and Elias had disappeared, so had the cloud, and Jesus Himself had laid aside the glory which had dazzled them. He, alone, was visible, in His former humble state of mortality. This shows that it was to Him, and to Him only, the voice of His Father was addressed. The disappearance of Moses and Elias pointed out the temporary and transient glory of the Law and the Prophets, and showed that the Gospel alone was permanent, and destined to continue to the end of ages. The history of the Transfiguration, although differently narrated by the Evangelists, may be thus briefly summed up. While our Redeemer prayed on the mountain, the Apostles, probably, tired by the ascent, and owing to the prolonged prayer, fell asleep, during which sleep our Lord was transfigured. Next, Moses and Elias came, and discoursed with our Redeemer, regarding His death in Jerusalem. The Apostles, roused from sleep by this conversation, and by the glory which surrounded them, saw our Lord thus transfigured, and heard Moses and Elias conversing with Him. When these gave signs of departing, Peter, overwhelmed with joy, wished to detain them, and to construct three tabernacles. Next, came the cloud, enveloping Moses and Elias, and the voice, “hic est filius,” &c., which terrified the Apostles, and cast them on the ground. Afterwards, comforted by our Redeemer, they rose up, and saw only our Lord, Moses having returned to Limbo, and Elias to where he is sojourning, till the Day of Judgment.

9. “Tell the vision,” that is, what they had been after witnessing, the glory of the Transfiguration, “to no one,” including, probably, their fellow Apostles, and all others, “until the Son of man be risen again,” &c. St. Luke says (9:36), “they told no man in those days any of these things which they had seen.” The time subsequent to the Resurrection was deemed to be the only fit time for divulging this vision. Several conjectural reasons are assigned for this. Among the rest, it might be, our Redeemer feared, as regarded the other Apostles, that they might be saddened at their not being favoured with this vision, as well as Peter, James, and John; and, as regards the people, He might have feared, they would regard the event as incredible, and seeing afterwards His weakness in His Passion, those who would be induced to believe in Him, might altogether abandon the faith, and thus it would be more difficult to bring them back again. It was only after His resurrection; it was only after He displayed, not only his omniscience, in its prediction, with all its circumstances, but also His Divine power displayed in His own resuscitation—the great proof of His Divinity furnished everywhere in the New Testament—that this vision would not be questioned, and the minds of men would be prepared to believe it. Then it would seem as a confirmatory proof of His Divinity. No danger of scandal from any subsequent manifestation of weakness, and the Apostles would be better able to proclaim it after the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them (see 16:20).

10. “And His disciples asked Him,” that is, Peter, James, and John, on coming down from the mountain, and before they reached the other Apostles, or the crowd (v. 14). “Why then do the Scribes,” that is, those versed in the law, who expounded to the people the contents of the law. St. Mark has (9:10), “why then do the Scribes and the Pharisees say that Elias must come first?” What their motive in putting this question was, is not easily seen, and is variously accounted for by commentators. Some, with St. Jerome, suppose, that the Apostles regarded our Lord’s Transfiguration as the commencement of His glorious reign; and having heard Him refer to His resurrection as not far distant, after which, His glorious reign was, in their minds, to go on without interruption; and having been informed by those who were the authorized expositors of the Word of God, that Elias was to come beforehand, they ask, how it was that Elias did not precede that reign. Instead of preceding, he only appeared together with Him in glory, and suddenly disappeared. Others, with St. Chrysostom, suppose, that the Apostles, having been now convinced, beyond a doubt, of the Divinity of their Master, could not conceive how the words of the Scribes, assuring them, from the prophecy of Malachias, that Elias should have preceded His coming, could be true. The circumstance of their having seen Elias on Mount Thabor, reminded them of this teaching of the Scribes regarding Him. The Scribes did not sufficiently distinguish, or, perhaps, maliciously confounded, the twofold coming of our Redeemer; and, probably, adduced, as an argument against our Redeemer’s Divinity, that Elias had not preceded Him, as the prophet Malachias (4:6) had foretold. It is strongly in favour of the former interpretation, that the question would seem to arise out of, and be suggested by, his words, “until the Son of man be risen from the dead.” For, from St. Mark (9:9), it would seem they were in doubt what these words meant, and asked no questions of our Redeemer regarding it, probably, for fear of hearing some disclosures respecting His death, which would not be altogether palatable to them; or, for fear of drawing on them the rebuke lately administered to Peter in connexion with the same subject. But, whatever might have been their doubts, in other respects, regarding the full import and consequences of the words, there was one idea it seemed to suggest, viz., that His glorious coming was then to be manifested, and that Elias should precede that coming.

11. Our Redeemer, entering into an explanation of the prophecy of Malachias, distinguishes His twofold coming. First, he says, referring to the second coming of Elias, when he is to precede the second and glorious coming of the Son of God in majesty, to judge the world, “Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things.” Mark (9:11) has, “Elias when he shall come first, shall restore all things.” These latter words are commonly understood of his converting the remnant of the Jews (Eccles. 48:10), just as it is commonly believed regarding Henoch, that he shall be instrumental in bringing the stray Gentiles into the bosom of the Church (Eccles. 44:16). The words of Malachias (4:5, 6,) refer to Elias in person; for, according to the Septuagint (Mal. 4:5), he is called “Elias the Thesbite,” and it is to him in person our Lord refers in this verse, in connexion with His second glorious coming, to which alone the words of Malachias (4:5) could apply, “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Regarding this Elias in person, St. Mark (9:11), says, “and how it is written of the Son of man,” that is, as it is written of the Son of man, “that He must suffer many things,” &c. So shall Elias also suffer at the end of the world.—Ven. Bede. (See Mark 9:11, Commentary).

12. “But I say to you,” &c. As the Scribes and Pharisees would seem to attach great weight to the non-appearance of Elias, as an argument against our Lord’s Divinity; hence, distinguishing between His first and second coming, our Redeemer says, that the Scribes, even on their own showing, are inexcusable; because, His first coming had its Elias, or precursor, also, in the person of one who acted as precursor, by exhibiting the spirit and power of Elias, and discharging his exalted functions of “converting the hearts of the fathers to the children”—the duty assigned to Elias in person, before the second coming of the Son of God (Mal. 4:6).

And they knew him not,” they would not recognise or acknowledge him. “But they have done to him whatever they had a mind.” From this it is inferred that the Scribes and Pharisees had a hand in advising the death of John the Baptist.

St. Mark (9:12), says of John, “Elias also is come (and they have done to him whatsoever they would) as it is written of him.” As there is no vestige of any prophecy regarding John’s death, it is not easily seen how the words, “as it is written of him,” are verified. Hence, some including the words (“and they have done to him,” &c.), within a parenthesis, as it is found in the corrected editions of the Bible, connect the words, “as it is written of him” (Isaias 40, “vox clamantis,” &c.), immediately with, “Elias also is come.” Others say, the sufferings of John, were mystically referred to in the account left us of the future sufferings of Elias, by whom he was prefigured. For, as Elias was persecuted by Jezabel, so was John by Herodias, not to speak of other points of resemblance. Others say, the sufferings of John were predicted in some prophetical book now lost (see Mark 4:12).

So also the Son of man shall suffer from them,” that is, from the impious and wicked in general.

13. The disciples understood Him to refer to John the Baptist, who was to come in the spirit and power of Elias, to exhort men to repentance (see 11:14).

14. “And when He was come to the multitude,” &c. St. Luke (9:37) says, this happened “the following day when they had come down from the mountain.” On the day after the Transfiguration—our Redeemer having most likely devoted the night to prayer on the mountain—when they came down from the mountain, He saw a great crowd about His disciples, whom He left at the foot of the mountain, among the rest, “the Scribes disputing with them” (Mark 9:13). The subject about which the Scribes, or those learned in the law, were disputing, probably regarded the unsuccessful attempts of the disciples to expel the demon; and, most likely, the Scribes, in the absence of our Divine Redeemer, availed themselves of this circumstance to lessen their credit, as well as that of their Divine Master, with the crowd, and to charge them with acting on former occasions when they expelled demons, not from Divine, but diabolical agency. We are also informed by St. Mark (ibidem), that the people on seeing our Lord, “were astonished and seized with fear.” probably, either because they regarded His timely and unexpected appearance as extraordinary, as if He knew the embarrassment His disciples were in, and came to their rescue; or, because the brightness of majesty might have been still apparent on His countenance after the Transfiguration, as happened Moses after his long converse with God on Mount Sinai (2 Cor. 3:7).

Running, they saluted Him,” and reverently welcomed Him. We are told by St. Mark, that our Redeemer asked what the subject of their questioning or controversy was. This He knew already, but He proposed the question with a view of, rescuing His disciples from their embarrassment, that thus He might create an occasion for performing the miracle. Neither party reply, the disciples being, probably, confounded at their unsuccessful attempts at expelling the devil; and the Scribes being afraid to expose their malice to the severe reproaches of our Redeemer; and, moreover, the father of the child whose cure was, probably, the subject of dispute, anticipated every reply, by at once rushing forward, and, casting himself on his knees, besought Him to have pity on his son, “his only son” (Luke 9:38), “who was a lunatic, and suffers much.” Mark (9:16), says, “he hath a dumb devil;” and our Redeemer, in casting him out (Mark 9:24), calls him “a deaf and dumb spirit.” St. Matthew calls him “a lunatic.” Very probably, the evil spirit, knowing the times men are afflicted with lunacy, acted on this boy at those times, with a view of inducing the belief, that the moon was the cause of the sorrows and sufferings of the men thus affected, that he might cause them to blaspheme this great luminary, this remarkable creature of God. From the account given of him by St. Mark (9:17), his illness would seem to be like epilepsy, or the falling sickness. These effects were produced by the devil. The effects mentioned by St. Mark, in v. 17, are, for brevity’ sake, expressed by St. Matthew, “and he suffereth much.”

For, he falleth often into the fire,” &c. These words were, most probably, used by the father of the boy, in reply to our Redeemer’s question, regarding the length of time he had been thus afflicted (Mark 9:20, 21); and then the father says, “the devil oftentimes cast him into the fire and into waters;” but these circumstances are, for brevity’ sake, mentioned here, by anticipation, by St. Matthew.

15. “And I brought him to Thy disciples,” &c. This, probably, suggested the questioning among the Scribes, respecting the nature and origin of the power successfully exercised by the Apostles, on former occasions, in the expulsion of demons.

16. This has reference to the incredulous Jewish nation, to whose incredulity our Redeemer, in the first instance, and in public, attributes the unsuccessful efforts of His Apostles. Their failure was owing to the incredulity of the Jews, and to their own want of faith, as appears from the following: our Redeemer takes occasion to tax, in the first instance, and in public, the father of the boy, and the Jewish people, in general, with their incredulity. This is prominently referred to here, although, no doubt, the want of faith in the Apostles is also taxed indirectly by Him.

O unbelieving and perverse,” that is, incorrigible, “generation,” people and nation, “how long shall I be with you?” &c. This simply denotes the indignation of our Redeemer at the incredulity of the Jews; and conveys that He is losing His time and labour, in working so many prodigies among them, to confirm His doctrine, and bring them to the faith; just as a physician, who would find, that all his prescriptions were neglected, by a languishing patient, would exclaim: “How long shall I be coming to this house, this sick bed, when all my labour, and pains, and skill, are lost, undervalued, and become useless?” Others say, these words express a desire of dying, of leaving the Jews, and transferring His graces to the Gentiles.

Bring him to Me.” Even in His anger, He remembers mercy; whilst He reproves their infidelity, He pities the poor sufferer.

17. St. Mark tells us (9:19), that when brought before our Lord, the spirit troubled him, and rolling on the ground, he foamed; and that our Redeemer questioned the father how long he was thus suffering. The father said that he had been so from his infancy, and that the devil cast him into the fire and water which is expressed by St. Matthew (v. 14), that “he falleth into the fire,” &c. And our Redeemer having called upon the father to believe, thereby insinuating that it was to his want of faith, the unsuccessful efforts of the disciples, of which he complained, were partly attributable, he exclaimed, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief,” i.e., my weak, imperfect faith. Then, our Redeemer threatened the unclean spirit, which is expressed here by St. Matthew, “Jesus rebuked him,” as is more circumstantially expressed by St. Mark, “He threatened the unclean spirit, saying to him: Thou deaf and dumb spirit, I command thee go out of him, and enter no more into him” (Mark 9:24).

And the devil went out of him.” St. Mark (9:25) describes it thus: “And crying out, and greatly tearing him, he went out of him, and he became as one dead,” &c.

And the child was cured from that hour.” From this, it is quite clear that St. Matthew regarded, as the effect of diabolical possession and agency, what the father of the boy calls, “lunacy.” And, indeed, in the account left us by St. Mark (9:17–21), the father himself attributes the convulsive spasms to the evil spirit that possessed him from his infancy.

18. The Apostles, fearing lest they might have incurred the displeasure of their Divine Master, and lest, also, the power of miracles formerly conferred on them might have been withdrawn, in punishment of their sins, “come to Him secretly;” or, as St. Mark more fully expresses it, “when He was come into the house, and ask Him, Why we could not cast him out?” They did not wish to ask in public, lest they should be redargued before the multitude; and, on the other hand, our Blessed Lord did not wish to put to shame in public, those who were destined to be the future teachers of the earth, and the foundations of His Church. He wished to consult for their authority, by not publicly reproaching them before the multitude, who might afterwards undervalue their teaching.

19. He attributes this failure to two causes—the imbecility of their faith, and want of prayer and fasting. “Because of your unbelief.” Their faith was weaker than it should be, considering the length of time they spent in the school of Christ, and the Apostolic office conferred on them.

As a grain of mustard seed.” This was a proverbial phrase in vogue among the Jews, to designate the smallest quantity; as, on the other hand, the removing of a mountain was an hyperbolical phrase, designating a thing almost impossible of accomplishment. The words may then mean: If the Apostles had possessed the least portion of that active, lively, energetic faith of miracles which they ought to have, and which, although small, relative to them, was in itself very great, they might perform the most arduous and stupendous wonders. The lively, active properties of the faith referred to is clearly expressed by the well-known properties of the mustard seed. This faith of miracles includes theological or Divine faith in the omnipotent power and goodness of God, together with the firmest, unbounded confidence, that He will grant the fruit of our petitions. This faith of miracles could not be regarded, in itself, as very small, since St. Paul calls it, omnem fidem—“all faith” (1 Cor. 13:2); but, whilst very great as regards the rest of the faithful, it might be regarded as very small, comparatively, and in regard to the Apostles. Had they possessed this active, energetic faith of miracles in the smallest degree, relative to them, not only could they have expelled the demon, who resisted them, and whose fierce resistance probably caused them such diffidence; but they would be able to perform the most stupendous wonders. The allusion to the “grain of mustard seed,” regards not alone the smallness of a thing, but also its active, energetic properties. It conveys a reproach to the Apostles for not possessing this faith in the present instance.

You shall say to this mountain.” Mount Thabor, at the foot of which they were staying. St. Jerome takes the word in a mystical sense, to designate the devil, this fallen angel of pride. Elsewhere allusion is made to this faith of miracles (21:21).

Of course it is supposed that the glory of God, and our own or neighbour’s good, require the exercise of this great power, and that its exercise would not proceed from vain curiosity or presumption; because, if so, it would not proceed from “faith.” We have not read of the Apostles having transferred mountains. Most likely, no occasion or necessity occurred for their doing so. But, we read of them performing more wonderful and arduous things, such as the raising of the dead to life; and in latter times, we read of this miracle having been performed by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (Eusebius, Histor. Lib. vii. c. 25). No doubt, the Apostles would have removed mountains if the necessity or some justifying cause for their doing so had arisen; moreover, they may have done so, as all the miracles of the saints are not recorded.

And nothing shall be impossible to you,” acting under the influence of this faith, whenever the glory of God and the salvation of men shall demand it; but not when it is sought to gratify curiosity, or please men. Hence, our Redeemer refused to work miracles in the presence of Herod, demanding him to do so, from motives of curiosity and vain glory.

20. Besides the want of faith—and faith is a general condition required for working all miracles—a second cause of their failure is here assigned, peculiar to this and like cases. “This kind,” is understood by St. Chrysostom to refer to devils in general, to the whole genus of demons. This, however, is improbable, as we find that the Apostles expelled some evil spirits by the simple invocation of the name of Christ (Luke 10:17), without having recourse to prayer and fasting. Hence, the words refer to a certain description of obstinate and ferocious, powerful devils, whose expulsion requires, not only that the person who undertakes it be gifted with the ordinary faith of miracles, sufficient for the expulsion of ordinary demons; but also that this faith be increased and intensified by fervent “prayer,” extraordinary confidence in God, “and fasting,” which, by subjecting the flesh to the Spirit, by elevating and uniting the soul to God, better fits him for wrestling with the demons, who dread a man of “faith,” of prayer and fasting, as they do the good angels of God. This description of ferocious demons, sometimes for a long time, possess men, so that their possession becomes a kind of second nature for the unfortunate man possessed. Hence, our Redeemer asked (Mark 9:20), “How long is it that this happened to him?”

Fasting wonderfully assists us in rendering our prayers more fervent; in causing our minds to be disengaged from earthly desires, and raising up our thoughts to Heaven. “Qui corporali jejunio, vitia comprimis, mentem elevas, virtutem largiris et præmia” (Preface of the Mass for Lent). Faith expels the demon by believing; prayer, by petitioning; fasting, by tormenting and starving him; as an enemy is driven out of a fortress, not only by force, but by starving him out (Maldonatus). Hence, the merit of fasting, so much decried by the enemies of religion and God’s Church. Can that be true religion that affects to undervalue, and scorns what our Blessed Redeemer recommends? It is on account of the words of our Blessed Lord here, the Church, in her exorcisms, employs, besides the invocation of the name of Christ, much prayer and fasting. As there are certain orders of angels naturally more powerful than others; and, as the demons fell from the several orders of angelic spirits, and, as is commonly believed, are not shorn by their fall, of their natural strength; hence, there are certain demons more powerful than others, in wrestling with whom greater strength and power are required, as in the present instance. The fasting here recommended is, by no means, opposed to what our Redeemer says of not fasting while the Bridegroom was on earth amongst His disciples, as this latter refers to immoderate fasting, such as the disciples of John were practising, and such as they charged the disciples of our Lord, at the instigation of the Pharisees, with not practising. Our Redeemer Himself assigns other reasons (9:14–17). He fasted forty days and forty nights, and it was in imitation of His forty days fast, which had been long before prefigured in the Law and in the Prophets by the forty days’ fast of Moses (Exod. 34:28) and Elias (3 Kings 19:8), these glorious witnesses of His manifestation in Thabor, that the Church instituted and continued from the earliest Apostolic age, the forty days’ fast of Lent, “which has been regarded by the entire Church throughout the globe, among the chief points of Ecclesiastical discipline, consecrated in some measure by Jesus Christ Himself, handed down by the Apostles, prescribed by the sacred canons, retained and observed by the Church from the very beginning. It is the watchword of our warfare, whereby we are distinguished from the enemies of the Cross of Christ, and avert the scourges of Divine vengeance,” &c. (Benedict XIV. Brief, non ambigimus.)

21. “Abode in Galilee.” The Greek will admit of its being rendered, “travelling through Galilee” (Αναστρεφομενων), and this is perfectly in accordance with the words of St. Mark (9:29): “and they departed from thence, and passed through Galilee.” Our Redeemer left the neighbourhood of Thabor, where, after His Transfiguration, He cured the sick boy; and as this miracle had gained for Him the applause of the multitude (Luke 9:44), He called the attention of His disciples to the prediction He was about to make a second time, as He had formerly done at Cæsarea Philippi, regarding His cross and Passion. This He did with the view of counteracting any feeling of vain glory the Apostles might conceive from the praises bestowed by the crowd. It was to show how voluntarily He suffered, that He uttered this prophecy, on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem; and He wished His journey to be kept secret (Mark 9:29), most likely, lest the people of Galilee, by whom he was revered, should place any obstacle to His proceeding on His journey to Jerusalem.

The Son of man shall be betrayed” &c. He was delivered up by His Father, who gave Him over to their power; He was delivered up by Himself, who voluntarily underwent death; by Judas, who handed Him over to the Scribes and Chief Priests; these delivered Him to Pilate; and Pilate, to the soldiers.

22. “And they were troubled exceedingly,” at the tidings of His death, and at their being bereaved of one whom they loved so tenderly. SS. Luke and Mark say, “they did not understand the word.” How, then, be grieved? They clearly understood that He was to be put to death, and hence, their grief; but they could not understand how He, whom they believed and professed to be the Son of God, immortal and impassible, could be subjected to death; or, how such a thing could be reconciled with His glorious reign, which they expected.

23. After quitting Thabor, and leaving the small village at its foot, called by some, Cheseleth-Thabor, our Redeemer had all His thoughts directed to another mountain, on which the justice of His Father was waiting for Him for the long period of four thousand years, the bloody Mount of Calvary, whereon He was to undergo another Transfiguration, quite the opposite of that exhibited on Thabor. Thither He was now directing His steps. He reached Capharnaum, where He had fixed His abode for some time, probably, with a view of arranging affairs connected with His abode there, as this was His last visit to that place. On His arrival, those charged with the collection of the tax, referred to here, out of feelings of respect, refrained from personal application to Him, and addressed themselves to Peter, either, because he may have been the only one with Him, or, because, he was supposed to be most intimate with his Divine Master.

They ask him, “Doth not your Master pay the didrachmas?” What this tax refers to, is a subject of much controversy with commentators. Dismissing, for brevity’ sake, the improbable conjectures or opinions hazarded on this subject, it may be said, with truth, that the probable opinions are reduced to two. By some, it is maintained, after St. Jerome, Ven. Bede, &c., that the tribute in question was a sort of capitation tax, imposed on the Jews, either by Pompey, after he took Jerusalem, and made it tributary to the Romans; or, by Cæsar Augustus, after the census taken under Cyrinus (Luke 2), and on the plan, or after the model, of the tribute which each person among the Jews, after having reached his twentieth year and upwards, was bound to pay, for the repairs and service of the Tabernacle, as a price for his soul and to avert a scourge, whenever a census or numbering of the people was made (Exod. 30:13, 14). This tribute, at the earliest period, was to be paid as often as the census of the people would be made, whether by the order of God, or on account of some public necessity. It appears that afterwards, the wants of the Tabernacle or Temple, at any time, were considered a sufficient reason for demanding this tribute (2 Paralip. 24:5–9). After their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Jews voluntarily submitted to an annual tribute of one-third of a sicle for the support of the Temple (2 Esdras 10:32). Afterwards, the enactment of Moses (Exod. 30), was regarded by the Jews as of perpetual annual obligation, binding on all Jews, whether residing in Judea, or in foreign countries. Hence, the two drachmæ (equivalent to half a sicle), referred to here. This ancient religious tax was, according to St. Jerome, the model of the Roman tax referred to here. (See Dixon’s “Introduction,” vol. ii., p. 75, &c.)

Others, with St. Hilary, &c., maintain, that there is question here, not of a tax paid unto, or imposed by the Romans, or any civil authorities whatsoever, but of the very tax which the Jews religiously paid, as self imposed, for the repairs and service of the temple, sacrifices, support of priests, and religious ministers, and that it was for this tax application was made here.

Père Mauduit devotes a lengthy and able dissertation, to prove this latter opinion, and to refute that of St. Jerome. He shows, that the words of our Redeemer to St. Peter, “The kings of the earth, of whom do they take tribute?” &c., and the reasoning which they involve, are quite clear and cogent in this latter opinion, since, the tax being paid to God, and for the use of His house, His eternal and consubstantial Son was, according to the usages of the world, naturally exempted from paying the tribute given to His Heavenly Father. Whereas, such reasoning is hardly applicable in the former opinion; for, although our Redeemer was the Son of the King of kings, to whom “belongs the earth and its fulness,” still, by His own free act, He rendered Himself the subject of earthly princes; and not being the son of Augustus, or of any other temporal ruler, He owed it to His condition, as a subject, to pay tribute to the ruling powers, to which every subject is bound (Rom. 13), as He owed it to the nature He voluntarily assumed, to submit to its infirmities (sin and ignorance excepted). He suffered hunger, thirst, lassitude, &c. Mauduit refutes another reason adduced in favour of St. Jerome’s opinion, grounded on the use of the word, κηνσος (census), by St. Matthew, which the advocates of St. Jerome’s opinion assert, refers to a tax imposed by secular authority. According to him, this proves nothing; because, our Lord’s question to St. Peter was very general, comprising all sorts of imposts and tributes levied by sovereigns on their subjects, “tributum vel censum;” all kinds of imposts, from which the children of sovereigns had a claim for exemption by title of birth. Moreover, this tribute was fixed, whilst a tax on property varies, which Augustus had, probably, in view, in ordering the census in Judea, under Quirinus. Mauduit, therefore, concludes, that there is question here of the tribute referred to, (Exod. 30:13, &c.) According to the ordinance therein contained, whenever the wants of the temple demanded it, there was a numbering, from time to time, of the children of Israel, who reached their twentieth year and upwards, and all who were registered of this age paid two drachmæ, or half a sicle. But, in course of time, this tribute, which first was only paid occasionally, became annual, owing to the great demands on the temple, in sacrifices and its various services. Collectors for that purpose were established in the several cities and towns of Judea, who conveyed their contributions to Jerusalem each year, on the occasion of the Paschal solemnity; and, as our Redeemer had fixed His abode, at Capharnaum, He was applied to for this tribute. The words addressed to St. Peter, “Doth not your Master pay the didrachmas?” insinuate, that many either refused, or evaded the payment of this tribute, which is greatly in favour of the opinion of Mauduit, as this would not be allowed, if it were a tax imposed by the Romans.

After the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews, Vespasian commanded all the Jews, wherever they happened to reside, to pay into the imperial exchequer, the tribute they formerly paid for the exigencies of the Temple of Jerusalem.

The word, “didrachma,” means, “two drachmæ,” the value of which is supposed to be about 1s. and 3d. (15d.) of our money. The drachma was an Attic coin, one-eighth of an ounce in weight. The “stater,” also (v. 26), was an Attic coin, equal to four drachmas; weight, half an ounce. St. Jerome tells us (Ezechiel 4), that a “stater,” is equal in value to a “sicle,” and that the didrachma, to half a stater or sicle. Josephus (Lib. iii. de Antiq. c. 12), explaining the Law of Exodus, regarding the “half sicle,” which each Jew, who was numbered at the age of twenty or upwards, was obliged to pay, tells us that a sicle was a Hebrew coin, equivalent to four Attic drachmæ.

24. Peter, answering in the affirmative, says, his Master was wont to pay the tribute in question. This he said, either because he saw Him pay it before; or because he knew, from our Redeemer’s doctrine and teaching, how disposed He was to obey legitimate authority, and every just law enacted by such authority.

When he was come into the house,” and about to consult His Divine Master on the matter, our Redeemer “prevented him,” anticipated him, thus showing that He knew his most secret thoughts; and, therefore, as the Searcher of hearts, and diviner of thoughts, He showed, by this very act, that He was not strictly bound to pay the tribute. He still more shows this by reasoning, and by words.

Of whom do the kings of the earth take tribute or custom?” That is, what is the rule observed, and the usage universally followed in paying tribute or taxes to earthly kings? Do they receive tribute from their own children, or from strangers, that is, from the rest of their subjects, who are not their children, or belong not to their household?

25. St. Peter’s reply is, that kings of the earth do not receive tribute from their own children, since it is partly to provide, in some way, for their children, and their household, they receive tribute, but only from “strangers,” who belong not to their house or family.

Then the children are free,” as if He said, the rule and usage observed among earthly sovereigns—a rule founded on natural equity and propriety—in regard to the taxing of the children and the members of their family, ought also to be applicable to the King of heaven, the great source and foundation of justice and rectitude among men. Hence, as earthly sovereigns exempt from tribute, their children, for whom they ought to provide and lay up stores (2 Cor. 12:14), I, who am the eternal Son of the King of heaven, may justly claim exemption from the tribute paid to Him for His temple. This reasoning might also apply, in a certain sense, though not so clearly or directly, if we follow the opinion of St. Jerome. If the kings of the earth exempt their children, it is but just that I, who am the Son of the King of kings, should participate in these privileges enjoyed by their children, and be exempt from paying tribute to any man. The force of our Redeemer’s reasoning seems clear, in the opinion of St. Jerome; and the comparison instituted between the kings of the earth, and the King of heaven, and the treatment received by their children from them, and that which the Son of the heavenly King is supposed to receive from Him, viz., exemption from the tribute paid to them, greatly favours this latter opinion. In this opinion, there is no ground for the false teaching, that Christians are not bound to pay tribute to princes, which is so directly at variance with the doctrine of the Apostle—“Let every soul be subject to higher powers,” and this subjection partly consists in paying “tribute to whom tribute is due” (Rom. 13:7).

26. “Scandalize them,” by leading them to suppose or judge, that we are indifferent to the service of the temple, and thus undervalue our ministry, or (if there be question of taxes imposed by the civil authority), that we are opposed to civil authority, and thus incite them to insubordination and rebellion. There is clearly question of “scandalum datum” which would be given, if he, whom the tax gatherer did not recognise as the Son of God—which our Lord did not wish yet publicly to proclaim—would refuse the tribute. Our Redeemer’s mode of acting points out to us our obligation to forego our rights sometimes, when, by enforcing or insisting on them, our neighbour would be scandalized.

Go to the sea and cast in a hook,” &c. Our Redeemer thus shows He possessed nothing in this world. He also displays His power and majesty, His dominion not only over the land, but (what no earthly power can control), over the sea and its inhabitants. He tells him to take the required sum out of the first fish he would catch. By this miracle, He showed His Apostle, that He was free from paying the tribute. He paid it, solely from the motive of avoiding scandal. He also guards against weakening his faith, or scandalizing him; this He does, by the singular exhibition and manifestation of His prescience and sovereign power.

You shall find a stater,” in value equal to a sicle, equivalent to four drachmas, that is, about 2s. 6d. of our money.

For Me and thee.” Why not for the other disciples as well? Various reasons are assigned. Some say, Peter alone was with our Redeemer then. Others, with St. Jerome, say, that Peter was the head of the Apostles, and the representative of Christ and His Church, in whom, as chief, the rest were comprised. It appears, most likely, it was done with a view of specially honouring Peter by this new mark of distinction, and to reward his faith and humility, by appointing him as the medium of executing this commission, with which a miracle was connected.








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