D.August 6th has been the official holiday of the Transfiguration of Christ in the Catholic Church since 1457. The story that is remembered can be read in three of the four Gospels: One day Jesus went with Peter, John and James to a mountain, where his clothes suddenly shone bright white and he himself began to shine from within. In addition, two prophets known from the Old Testament appeared – Moses and Elias. While Jesus was talking to them, a cloud fell on the mountain top, and the voice of God declared that the shining young man was his son. But Jesus soon resumed his familiar form, and after he had impressed his three companions not to speak to anyone about the incident for the time being, they went down to join the other disciples, who had in the meantime tried unsuccessfully to cure an epileptic boy .
Martin Luther referred to this event in his translation of the Bible as the “transfiguration of Christ”. In contrast, in ancient Greece (and still today in the Orthodox churches of the East) the expression “metamorphosis” is used. The Latin Vulgate speaks of a “transfiguratio”, and this term is used in the Romance languages and in English up to the present day. Unlike these two expressions, which emphasize the aspect of metamorphosis, the German word “Verklerung” is related to the word “klar”.
Earthly suffering and divine glory
During his transfiguration, Jesus does not change into something else; on the contrary, he only shows himself very clearly as what he already is. He is God’s Son, and you can tell that, even before confirmation by voice, from his appearance as a supernatural figure of light. For Luther, who generally placed more trust in the word than in the visible phenomenon, this “clarification” of the divine nature of Jesus of Nazareth was at the same time a “transfiguration”, because Jesus was not only true God, but also true man, and as he suffered no less such at his crucifixion than anyone else.
However, earthly suffering is not only inseparable from divine glory in the person of Christ; the two are also connected in the hope of those who consider Christ to be the Son of God. For them, the short-term transfiguration of Jesus is a guarantee that they, like him, will rise again after the tribulations of earthly life and their death at the Last Judgment and will go to heaven. In the hereafter, therefore, all Christians receive a permanent and irrevocable transfiguration. Accordingly, Markus Kleinert differentiates between two ways of using the term in his “Attempt on the Transfiguration in Art, Religion and Philosophy”. There is not just the “temporary transfiguration” that occurred only once two thousand years ago and which affects Christ all alone. There is also the “final transfiguration” that all Christians can expect in an as yet unknown future after their death.