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Christ the Light

The Theology of Light and Illumination in Thomas Aquinas

by David L. Whidden III

Publication Year: 2014

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’s theology, one that involves the nature of truth, knowledge, and God; at the root, Aquinas’s 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.

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers

Series: Emerging Scholars

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book had its material origin in my doctoral dissertation, completed at Southern Methodist University under the direction of Bruce Marshall. At the same time, its origin extends further than the dissertation, as I had been thinking about Christ the light since my undergraduate days, in one form or another. When I was a master’s...

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pp. 1-12

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 the Lucernarium, a liturgical exploration of light. The liturgy begins with the people in the dark, holding unlit candles. A priest then lights...

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1. The Gift of Illumination

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pp. 13-46

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...

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2. The Physics of Light

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pp. 47-68

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...

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3. Light and Language

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pp. 69-94

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...

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4. God is Light

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pp. 95-134

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...

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5. Creation and the Light of God

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pp. 135-172

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...

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6. Light and Morality

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pp. 173-198

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...

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7. Christ the Light

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pp. 199-222

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...


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pp. 223-242


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pp. 243-248

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781451472325
E-ISBN-10: 1451472323
Print-ISBN-13: 9781451470130
Print-ISBN-10: 1451470134

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Emerging Scholars