Friday, August 6, 2010

Was the Transfiguration a miracle?

St. Thomas claimed that the Transfiguration was a miracle; but the renowned biblical scholar Cornelius a’ Lapide (d. 1637) holds that it was not a miracle, but rather the cessation of a constant miracle – i.e. the miracle was that Christ did not always shine with the brilliance of his glory. First the two claims:

According to the Angelic Doctor

In the Transfiguration, the glory of the beatific vision (which Christ possessed in his soul since his conception) overflowed into Our Savior’s body not as an immanent quality but after the manner of a transient passion – in other words, the change was only temporary. Moreover, the glory shone in Christ’s body only according to the quality of “clarity” or “brightness” and not according to the other qualities (e.g. subtlety, agility, etc.).

This overflowing of glory was a foretaste of the Resurrection and was miraculous, since the glory of the Resurrection was to be merited by the Cross and it was only by a special divine dispensation that this glory should be experienced in part at the Transfiguration. Thus, the Transfiguration is properly a miracle as a clarity was given to the body of Christ in a most extraordinary manner before his glorification (ST III, q. 45, a. 2).

According to Cornelius a’ Lapide

In his commentary on Matthew, Lapide states that “this splendor, as well as the other gifts of a glorified body, appertained to the body of Christ throughout the whole time of His life, from the very moment of His Conception. Nevertheless, in order that Christ might suffer and have His conversation among men, this glory and all the other gifts which I have spoken of were held back, as it were, in the beatified soul of Christ, so that it did not infuse them into His body by means of a physical emanation. Otherwise they would have shone through His body, like light through a lantern. This repression, therefore, was a miracle. And the cessation of this repression in the Transfiguration, and emanation of the interior splendor into the body of Christ was the cessation of a miracle. But to men it seemed to be a miracle, because it was new, and they were ignorant of the cause.” Thus, he maintains that the Transfiguration was not a miracle, but the “cessation of a miracle,” i.e. the temporary relaxing of a constant miracle by which Christ held back the glory of his soul from his body.

The Transfiguration was a miracle

Lapide’s opinion, however, seems improbable. First, we must recognize that miracles are said to be of three types (ST I-II, q.113, a.10): the first sense of a miracle refers to those acts which can only be performed by God and which inspire wonder and awe in men, because their cause lies hidden (this is the broadest definition and would even include the creation of the world)—and in this sense, the Transfiguration was indeed a miracle and not the cessation of a constant miracle. In a second way, a miracle is said to be when a form is introduced to a body which is beyond the natural capacity of that body (e.g. the resurrection of the body or changing water to wine), in this sense the Transfiguration does not seem to be a miracle, since it is within the body is capable of glory without the addition of a new form. Finally, an event may be called miraculous when it occurs outside the usual order of things (e.g. ecstatic visions, healings, etc.) and in this sense the Transfiguration was miracle.

Moreover, it is in this final sense of “miracle” (an event which occurs outside the usual order of reality) in which an event is most properly called miraculous. Thus, it seems that the Transfiguration of our Lord was not the temporary cessation of a constant miracle, but was itself a miraculous event – this is especially true, considering that Our Savior had not yet merited the glory of his Resurrection through the sufferings of his Passion.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

This discussion can be helpful in understanding many other mysteries of the faith: the resurrection, bilocation, the angels, etc.

Seraphim said...

Aquinas' position may not be incompatible with Lapide's, imho.

Aquinas is focusing on the phenomenology of the Taboric Light - the quality of "clarity" it displayed and its manifestation through his BODY. Before the Resurrection His body and ours would not have properly been glorified bodies, and therefore neither His nor ours should naturally manifest the divinity they contain (His by nature, ours by participation or theosis). From this perspective the Transfiguration was a miracle, or a foreshadowing of glory to come.

Lapide seems to be looking more at the substance (rather than accidental qualities) of what the Taboric Light is. He notes correctly that it is a revelation of the glory of divinity. The Eastern Church (my Faith) has always clung to the doctrine that the Taboric Light is in its substance nothing other than the uncreated energies of God ("energies" in the untranslatable Greek sense of the term - "glory" would seem to work best here in this context though the term "energy" is broader than that). Divinity in the East is considered an energy of God (why, following the dogmatic definition of the Synod of Constantinople/Blachernae in 1351, we hold that though the hypostatic origin of the Spirit is from the Father alone, He still receives his divinity eternally from the Son - that's a distinction Western theology traditionally hasn't made, hence the filioque). Therefore as God Christ could never have been without the Taboric Light. The only miracle is that His disciples were able to see it - a miracle repeated every time one of Christ's saints is sanctified/divinized through grace.

Seeing this light is a miracle often granted to saints in the East, though less often to saints in the West because it is less a part of their spirituality (Blessed Osanna of Mantua being an exception, according to Edward Ingram Watkin's neglected book entitled "Neglected Saints").

Where I am going to disagree with you is that "Our Savior had not yet merited the glory of His Resurrection through the sufferings of His Passion". Our Savior did not earn or merit divinity (something you certainly do not mean to imply), and there is nothing He can "earn" as He is already God by nature and as such immovable. The Incarnation occurred "not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the assumption of the Manhood into God." The glory of His Resurrection is nothing "earned", but simply the glory of His divinity which we are able to perceive after the Resurrection because of the deification of our humanity, not because any change occurred to the Divine Person of Jesus (I hope you'll pardon the miaphysite leanings of my Christology).

Not that I would wish to imply that William Blake ever experience theosis or that the rest of his system is necessarily orthodox, but I think the Taboric Light can be very well explained by his famous phrase: "If only the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is - infinite." The infinite glory of the energies of God (whether present through the essence of Christ in His Person or in the Blessed Sacrament, or present in the natural universe through the acts of creation and sanctification) are there whether our heart is pure enough to see them or not.

Here's a link to the Hagioretic Tome, giving the Eastern Catholic (and, of course, Eastern Orthodox) doctrine of the Taboric Light, for reference:

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I agree that, on one level, Thomas and Cornelius a Lapide can be reconciled -- though there is another level in which they disagree (and Lapide knew he was disagreeing with Thomas).

One point -- you state: "Therefore as God Christ could never have been without the Taboric Light. The only miracle is that His disciples were able to see it."
The problem I have with that comment is that it reduces the Transfiguration to a change in the vision of the apostles, rather than a change in Christ.
Is it the eyes of Peter, James and John that are Transfigured, or is it Christ's Body? "He was transfigured before them."

Thus, while I agree that Christ had the beatific vision through his whole life, this only entered into his Body completely at the Resurrection -- it shown momentarily on Tabor.
Thus, I may agree that Christ always had the "Taboric Light" (as you call it) in his Soul, but this was not always in his Body.

Peace to you in Christ our Savior! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Also, Serpahim, If you are interested in the Transfiguration ... I would recommend checking NTM again on Friday afternoon -- I will be posting another commentary on the Transfiguration (as it is the Gospel for this Sunday in the West).

Peace to you!

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