Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
And after six days. St. Matthew reckons neither the day of the promise, nor the day of the transfiguration; St. Luke, including both, calls the interval about eight days, Greek: osei emerai okto. (St. John Chrysostom) --- He took Peter, as head of the apostolic college; James, as first to shed his blood for the faith; and John, as he was survive all the rest, and to transmit to posterity the circumstances of this glorious mystery; or, according to St. John Chrysostom on account of their more excellent love, zeal, courage, sufferings and predilection. The mountain is generally believed to be Thabor, and as such is considered by Christians as holy, and was much frequented by pilgrims, as St. Jerome testifies. Ven. Bede tells us that three churches were built upon it; and Mr. Maundrell, in his Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, p. 112, says there are still three grottoes, made to represent the three tabernacles proposed by St. Peter. According to Le Brun, Thabor is situated about 12 miles from the sea of Galilee, and eight from Nazareth. Others, however, do not think the transfiguration took place on Mount Thabor, which was in the middle of Lower Galilee, because St. Mark (ix. 29,) says, that Christ and his apostles, departing thence, passed through Galilee, and not out of Galilee, and suppose it might be Libanus, because it was near Cæsarea Philippi; in the borders of which Christ appears at this time to have been, at least the promise of the transfiguration was made there, and this place is distant about 60 miles from Mount Thabor. (Matthew xvi. 13.) --- Mount Lebanus is the highest in Palestine, according to St. Jerome; and of it Isaias prophesied: "the glory of Libanus is given to it, the beauty of Carmel and Saron; they shall see the glory of our God," xxxv. 2. (Tirinus) --- But, as we said above, Thabor is very generally supposed to have been the mountain.
Transfigured. Let no one think that he changed his natural form, laying aside his corporeal, and assuming a spiritual form; but when the evangelist says his countenance shone like the sun, and describes the whiteness of his garments, he shews in what the transfiguration consisted. He added to his former appearance splendour and glory, but laid not aside his substance. ... The Lord was transfigured into that glory with which he will appear again at the day of judgment, and in his kingdom. (St. Jerome) --- Calvin translates Greek: metamorphousthai, transformed, but contrary to the sentiment of the holy fathers. He did not shew them his divinity, which cannot be seen by the eyes of the body, but a certain glimpse or sign of the same: hence the hymn:Quicunque Christum quæritis,
Oculos in altum tollite;
Illic licebit visere
Signum perennis gloriæ.
Moses and Elias. Jesus Christ had been taken by the people for Elias, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He therefore chose the chief of all the prophets to be present, that he might shew his great superiority over them, and verify the illustrious confession of Peter. The Jews had accused Christ of blasphemy, and of breaking the sabbath; the presence of Moses and Elias refuted the calumny; for the founder of the Jewish laws would never have sanctioned him who was a transgressor of those laws; and Elias, so full of zeal for the glory of God, would never have paid homage to one who made himself equal to God, had he not really been the Son of the Most High. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lvii.) --- St. Hilary thinks that Moses and Elias (who represent the law and the prophets, and who here bear witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ,) will be the precursors of his second coming, alluded to in Revelations, chap. xi, though the general opinion of the Fathers is, that the two witnesses there mentioned are Enoch and Elias. (Jansenius) --- It is hence evident, that the saints departed can and do, with the permission of God, take an interest in the affairs of the living. (St. Augustine, de cura pro mort. chap. xv. 16.) --- For as angels elsewhere, so here the saints also, served our Saviour; and as angels, both in the Old and New Testament, were frequently present at the affairs of men, so may saints. (Bristow) --- All interpreters agree that Elias appeared in his own body, but various are their opinions with regard to the apparition of Moses. (Haydock)
And were very much afraid. There were two causes that might produce this fear in the apostles, the cloud that overshadowed them, or the voice of God the Father, which they heard. Their human weakness could not bear such refulgent beams of glory, and trembling in every limb, they fall prostrate on the ground. (St. Jerome) --- The Almighty, it seems, was pleased to fulfil the wish of Peter, thereby to shew that Himself is the tent or pavilion, under the shade of which the blessed shall live for ever, and to sanction the public and explicit confession of Peter relative to the divinity of Jesus Christ, by his own no less public and explicit confession, joined with an express command to hear and obey him. St. John Chrysostom very justly remarks, that this voice was not heard till after the departure of Moses and Elias, that no possible doubt might exist to whom it was referred, and that it was to Christ only and to no other. --- Hear ye Him: i.e. as the law and the prophets are fulfilled and verified in Jesus Christ, your new legislator and prophet, you are to hear and obey Him in preference to either Moses or Elias, or any other teacher. (Haydock)
And Jesus came and touched. The terrified disciples were still prostrate on the ground, and unable to rise, when Jesus, with his usual benevolence, approaches, touches them, expels their fear, and restores them to the use of their limbs. (St. Jerome)
Tell the vision to no man, till the miracle of his resurrection has prepared the minds of men for the belief of this. Expose not an event so wonderful to the rash censure of the envious Pharisees, who calumniate and misrepresent my most evident miracles. Jesus Christ also gave a lesson here to his followers to observe the closest secrecy in all spiritual graces and favors.
Elias must come first. The prophet Elias will come again in person before my second coming to judgment, and will re-establish all things, by the conversion of the Jews to the Christian faith, according to the common opinion. But John the Baptist who was Elias in spirit, is already come. See Matthew xi. 14. (Witham) --- This was a vulgar error spread by the Scribes among the Jewish people. It proceeded from an erroneous interpretation of Scripture. They confounded the two comings of our Saviour. The Baptist was the precursor of Christ at his first coming, and was styled by our Lord Elias, because he performed the office of Elias; and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias. (Luke i. 17.) --- But this prophet in person will be the precursor of the second coming of Christ. Whereby Malachias, predicting this coming of Christ, says: I will send to you Elias the Thesbite; thus evidently distinguishing him from the Baptist, who was also Elias in spirit and in the dignity of his office. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lviii.) --- Jesus Christ here confirms the literal sense of the prophecy; (Malachias iv. 5,) but in the next verse, he shews a prior, though less perfect accomplishment of the same in the person of John the Baptist, who was raised by God to prepare the ways of the Lord.
Shall ... restore all things. According to St. John Chrysostom, Theophylactus, and others, these words signify that Elias shall restore all the Jews to the one true faith towards the end of the world; or, according to St. Augustine, he shall strengthen those that shall be found wavering in the persecution of Antichrist.
So also shall the Son of man. Jesus in a most beautiful manner takes advantage of this conversation, to remind them of his future passion, and from the recollection of the sufferings of John, affords them comfort in his own. (St. John Chrysostom)
And when he was come. Peter, by wishing to remain on the holy mount, preferred his own gratification to the good of many. But true charity seeketh not its own advantage only; what therefore appeared good to Peter, did not appear so to Christ, who descends from the mountain, as from his high throne in heaven, to visit man. (Origen)
I brought him to thy disciples. By these words the man here mentioned privately accuses the apostles, though the impossibility of the cure is not always to be attributed to the weakness of God's servants, but sometimes to the want of faith in the afflicted. (St. Jerome) --- Stand astonished at the folly of this man! how he accuses the apostles before Jesus! But Christ frees them from this inculpation, imputing the fault entirely to the man himself. For it is evident, from many circumstances, that he was weak in faith. Our Saviour does not inveigh against this man alone, not to wound his feelings too sensibly, but against the whole people of the Jews. We may infer, that many of the bystanders entertained false notions of his disciples, from these words of deserved reproach: O! unbelieving and incredulous generation, how long shall I be with you? In which words, he shews us how much he wished for his passion, and his departure hence. (St. John Chrysostom) --- We must not imagine that our Saviour, who was meekness and mildness itself, uttered on this occasion words of anger and intemperance. Not unlike a feeling and tender physician, observing his patient totally disregarding his prescriptions, he says, How long shall I visit you; how long shall I order one thing, and you do the contrary? Thus Jesus is not angry with the man, but with the vices of the man; and in him he upbraids the Jews, in general, for their incredulity and perversity. (St. Jerome) --- The general sentiment is, that these reproaches are limited to the people; some extend them to the apostles. See below, ver. 19. (Bible de Vence)
Why could not we? The disciples began to apprehend that they had incurred their Master's displeasure, and had thereby lost their power of working miracles. They come therefore secretly to Jesus Christ, to learn why they could not cast out devils. He answered them, that it was their want of faith, which probably failed them on this occasion, on account of the difficulty of the cure, little reflecting that the virtue of the Lord, which worked in them, was superior to every possible evil of both mind and body. --- St. Hilary is of opinion, that during the absence of Christ on the mountain, the fervour of the apostles had begun to abate. (Jansenius)
If you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed. Christ insinuates to his apostles, as if they had not yet faith enough to work great miracles, which require a firm faith joined with a lively confidence in God. The mustard-seed is brought in with an allusion to its hot and active qualities. (Witham) --- That is, a perfect faith; which, in its properties and its fruits, resembles the grain of mustard-seed in the parable. (Chap. xii. 31.) (Challoner) --- By faith is here understood, not that virtue by which we assent to all things that are to be believed of Christ, the first, of the theological virtues, in which the apostles were not deficient, but that confidence in the power and goodness of God, that he will on such an occasion exert these, his attributes, in favour of the supplicant. To have a true faith of this kind, and free from all presumption, is a great and high privilege, which the Holy Ghost breathes into such only as he pleases. (Jansenius) --- Examples of this efficacious faith are given by St. Paul. (Hebrews chap. ii.) St. Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea is also related, by Eusebius and Ven. Bede, to have removed by the efficacy of his faith a rock, which obstructed the building of a church; thus literally fulfilling the promise of Jesus Christ. (Tirinus) --- The faith of the apostles, especially of those that had not been present at the transfiguration, was not perfect and complete in all its parts, till after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost. (Haydock) --- St. Jerome understands by mountains, things the most difficult to be effected.
Mat 17:20 here the efficacy of prayer and fasting! What the apostles could not do, prayer accompanied with fasting can effect. How then can that be genuine religion, which makes fasting an object of ridicule? We see also here that the true Church in her exorcisms follows Scripture, when she uses besides the name of Jesus, many prayers and much fasting to drive out the devils, because these, as well as faith, are here required. (Bristow)
Mat 17:21 then taking the road to Jerusalem with his disciples, and whilst they were in Galilee, which they had to pass through, he spake to them of his suffering, death, and resurrection. (Bible de Vence)
They were troubled exceedingly, not being able to comprehend the mystery of Christ's sufferings and death, which were so opposite to the nations they had of the glorious kingdom of the Messias. (Witham) --- This grief was the consequence of their attachment to their divine Master. They were ignorant, as St. Mark and St. Luke notice, of the word that was spoken. They full well understood that he would be put to death, but did not sufficiently comprehend the shortness of his rest in the grave, the nature of his triumphant resurrection, nor the inestimable benefits which his death would bring on the world. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lix.)
They that received the didrachmas, (Greek: ta didrachma) in value about fifteen-pence of our money. (Witham) --- A tax, according to some, laid on every person who was twenty years of age, for the service of the temple. See Exodus xxx. St. John Chrysostom thinks it was paid for the first-born only, whom the Lord would have redeemed for the first-born of the Egyptians, whom he slew. Others think it was a tribute paid to the Romans, as Christ, in ver. 24, seems to insinuate, by mentioning the kings of the earth; and the Jews were tributary to them at this time. In ver. 24, the evangelist uses the word Greek: Kensos, taken from the Latin census, or tax.
Then the children. From these words and the following, that we may not scandalize them, some argue that Christians are exempt from taxes. The fallacy of this deduction is victoriously demonstrated from the express words of St. Paul, (Romans xiii.) commanding us to be subject to the higher powers, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake: Render tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom, &c. The word children then does not mean subjects, but must be understood in its natural limited sense. (Jansenius) --- Jesus Christ argues a minori ad majus thus, if the kings of the earth exact money from their subjects only, and exempt their own children, how much more ought I to be exempt, who do not claim my descent from a temporal prince only, but from the supreme King of heaven. This example our Saviour would never have adduced, says St. John Chrysostom had he not really been the Son of God. (hom. lix.) Our Saviour uniformly waved his right to exemptions in temporal things: he declares every where that temporal princes have nothing to fear from him, or his doctrines, since his kingdom is not of this world. (Haydock)
But that we may not. Jesus Christ pays the tribute, not as one subject to the law, but as consulting the infirmity of the people; but he first shews himself exempt from the above example, lest his disciples might take occasion of scandal therefrom. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. lix.) --- For me and thee. A great mystery this: Jesus Christ paid not only for himself, but for the future representative of Him and his Church, in whom, as chief, the rest were comprised. (St. Augustine, q. ex Nov. Tes. q. lxxv. tom. 4.) Jesus Christ here, as well as on many other occasions, pointedly marks the precedence of Peter, which might give rise to the strife and contention of the disciples, in the commencement of the ensuing chapter, on the subject of superiority. Thus St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, Tirinus, &c.