The Light of Christ

Truths that touch on how we should live are experienced in two ways. Sometimes, they affirm what we believe and how we are living. We might read an article or listen to a speech that articulates exactly what we think and affirms how we are living, or develops some acceptable truth latent in what we already believe. These sorts of truths are pleasant, stirring, and make us want to rush out and share them. On the other hand, we can also be hit by truths that affirm what we believe but critique how we are living. These sorts of truths are unpleasant, constricting, and crush us in on ourselves. We cast about in anger or sullenness, or looking for some rationalization, or seeking out  some opportunity to forget what we’ve heard, whether through sleep, the cares of everyday life, depressants, self-medicating, distractions, etc.

Truths that affirm how we are living give us an energy to act while the other truths dampen and constrict action. The constriction of action paralyses us under a burden and so is a restriction of the most fundamental kind of freedom. But even though some truths give us the energy to act, they only do so because they presuppose freedom as already given. And so one sort of truth presupposes freedom, another restricts it, but in neither case does the truth make one free. It is this third sort of truth – particularly in its power to transform a community – that is the most distinctive note of the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ can also, of course, affirm and critique how we live, but it shares this characteristic with any truth we can know that touches upon how we live (although the truth of Scripture or the lives of the saints have a particular power to critique our life, which is why we tend to alternately kill the saints or – what might be worse – to admire them in such a way as to leave the holiness to them.)

The light that the Scriptures speak of is distinctive in in that it not only manifests truth but that it also imparts the psychodynamic energy to accomplish the goods it makes known. This energy is not always, and not even typically, released in the high-energy burst of a Hollywood conversion story; and even dramatic conversions (Augustine in the Garden, Saul on the road to Damascus) would be in vain if they weren’t followed by the quiet, continuous, and much more efficacious  energy of long-term daily reform. The truths of art and philosophy, whatever else one might say about them, all lack the totality of this light and energy. When people complain about philosophy or reason being unable to change life or persuade people, the only truth I can see in what they are saying is that philosophy is not the light of Christ (it should be pointed out that art, tradition, or culture also are not the light of Christ – it’s not as if there is any sense to singling out rationality.)


  1. thenyssan said,

    March 30, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Wow. This powerfully affirms what I believe and I am living. It articulates exactly what I think and affirms how I am living…or at least it develops a truth latent in what we already believe. Pleasant, stirring…makes me want to rush out and share it.

    (Couldn’t resist) 🙂

  2. thenyssan said,

    March 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Now for a non-obnoxious comment. Playing my transcendentals card here, is this another way of articulating the difference between being and a being? THIS being can’t persuade me, THIS being either constricts me or affirms me, but only being itself makes me free. Because only being itself makes me? I don’t know, lost it a bit there trying to walk two paths at once.

    Cool post.

  3. Frank Attanucci said,

    March 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    If the Scriptures display the power/energy of which you speak (“The light that the Scriptures speak of is distinctive in in that it not only manifests truth but that it also imparts the psychodynamic energy to accomplish the goods it makes known.”), this is owing to the working of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the reader. Without the Spirit, the Scriptures are “a dead letter.” This is not unlike the communicants’ range of experience when receiving the Sacrament: Do we not receive our Lord (or, with much less certainty, see Him received by others) with the same or similar range of psychological states of those who saw Jesus in the flesh?

    Sometimes (and, of course, I only speak for myself), nothing special is “felt”; my reception is best described as resulting from the inertia of a prior act of faith, trusting that the Lord is there–even if His Presence is not felt. Obedience comes to the fore.

    On the other hand, there are those times when, as I approach our Lord in the Eucharist, I am moved to pray, “But who am I, that the Son of God should come to me?” (In those moments I suppose that our Lord has, for reasons know to Him alone, deigned to touch my heart in a special way.)

    Have a blessed Easter!

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