Christ the Light

Christ the Light: The Theology of Light and Illumination in Thomas Aquinas

Copyright Date: 2014
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd
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  • Book Info
    Christ the Light
    Book Description:

    Light is one of the most ancient and significant metaphors adopted by Christianity by which to understand the significance of Jesus Christ. The Easter liturgy, for instance, is marked by beautiful and powerful rituals proclaiming Christ as the light of the world in his death and resurrection. That understanding developed over subsequent centuries into a larger doctrine of illumination—how Christians come to understand and know God through Christ the Light. In this work, David Whidden takes up that theme in contesting a standard paradigm of interpretation that asserts that Aquinas eliminated the doctrine of illumination in his theology. In Christ the Light, Whidden argues that illumination is a critical systematic motif in Aquinas’ theology, one that involves the nature of truth, knowledge, and God; at the root, Aquinas’ theology of light, or illumination, is Christological, grounding human knowledge of God and eschatological beatitude. This volume establishes the theological network formed by the crucial motif of light/illumination in Aquinas, from how theology operates to the systematic, sacramental, and moral coordinates in Aquinas’ theology. Christ the Light thus provides a much needed and illuminating retrieval of the one of the most important and creative theologians in the western Christian tradition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-7232-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.2
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.3
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.4
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.5

    Every year, Christians around the world gather to mark the Easter Vigil, the liturgical expression of Christ’s death and resurrection. In Catholic parishes the liturgy begins with theLucernarium, a liturgical exploration of light. The liturgy begins with the people in the dark, holding unlit candles. A priest then lights a fire, blesses it, takes the paschal candle, and inscribes a cross on it. Once the priest has prepared the candle, he lights it from the fire and says, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”¹ The priest and deacons use...

  6. 1 The Gift of Illumination
    (pp. 13-46)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.6

    In the late spring of 1256, a young Dominican priest stepped in front of his colleagues at the University of Paris to give his inaugural lecture,Rigans Montes, as a Master in Theology. While his intellectual talents were already well known and some of his work had already been made available to his contemporaries, as the young Thomas Aquinas stepped to the lectern he was formally embarking upon a public career that would shape the theology of the church for the next eight centuries. In this first public lecture Aquinas would describe an understanding of theology and the task of...

  7. 2 The Physics of Light
    (pp. 47-68)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.7

    When Thomas Aquinas, or any of his medieval contemporaries, writes about light, we often import contemporary understandings of light into their discussions, but the fact is that Aquinas understood the nature of light very differently than we do. He completely rejected two of our understandings of light, since he believed that light could not travel as fast as it does and that it could not travel through a vacuum. When Aquinas writes about light, if we think that he understands it the same way we do we are at serious risk of misunderstanding him.

    The purpose of this chapter, then,...

  8. 3 Light and Language
    (pp. 69-94)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.8

    While we now have a better understanding of the physics of light according to Aquinas, his theological use of light language varies. Just as we may misunderstand Aquinas’s theology by misunderstanding his physics, so too we run the same risk by misunderstanding the variety of purposes for which he applies light language. In this chapter we will discuss some of the basic light terms he uses, including the often important distinction between the two Latin terms for light,luxandlumen, and then explore the three main uses of light language in Aquinas, those of metaphor, analogy, and model. We...

  9. 4 God is Light
    (pp. 95-134)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.9

    Having reviewed the physics and language of light and thus setting up a theoretical foundation for Aquinas’s use of light, we can now turn to his actual application of light language in his theology, some of which we have hinted at already. In the remaining chapters we will roughly follow Aquinas’s outline from theSumma, though we will do so in constant dialogue with his commentaries on scripture and other writings. We will begin, then, with God in both his essential attributes and in his Trinitarian relations, with the normal Thomistic apophatic disclaimers about the former and mysterious depths with...

  10. 5 Creation and the Light of God
    (pp. 135-172)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.10

    In the last chapter we investigated what it means for God to be understood as light, both as an essential attribute and as one that is appropriated to the different Persons, primarily the Son. This chapter will focus on the variety of ways in which God expresses his light in creation and how it is found most intimately in the form of intelligible light in angels and humans. For Aquinas, a God who is light in his essence will manifest that light in a multitude of ways. The nature of corporeal light is to diffuse itself over as much area...

  11. 6 Light and Morality
    (pp. 173-198)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.11

    Aquinas uses language of light and dark throughout his discussion of morality and sin, so much so that someone not acquainted with his thought might label him a dualist in the Manichean tradition. A world divided into light and dark would seem to lack an appreciation for the difficulty in making sharp judgments about the morality of our actions; surely, one might argue, this is just an old divisive mode of ethics that lacks subtlety and has too much confidence in its own moral reasoning. In fact, the whole metaphysical basis of Aquinas’s ethics is decidedly nondualistic. He is always...

  12. 7 Christ the Light
    (pp. 199-222)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.12

    Throughout this book we have incorporated Christological elements within each of the chapters, with the exception of the chapter on the nature of light. We have seen how Christ makes holy teaching possible through his illuminative teaching, how he expands our capacity to talk about God, how his splendor is a reflection of God’s glory, how he both creates and re-creates our intellectual capacities, and how he makes it possible for us to turn from the dark to the light in our moral acts. All of these outcomes are the result of what Aquinas sees as the effects of grace...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-242)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.13
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-248)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.14
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-249)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9m0tdd.15