Fiat Lux

St. Lucia’s day is a yearly reminder that this world is very full of darkness. Although the Saint’s life and name suggest the opposite, the darkening days, the long nights, and the bleak landscape not yet graced with snow, all consistently remind us that light may shine, but for the light to shine, there must also be darkness. 

At first, this principle seems bizarre and erroneous. We are taught that darkness is merely the absence of light, and so there can be light without darkness. Nonetheless, it is the case that the mere existence of light implies its contrary. Not everything in the world is perfectly illuminated. Night follows upon day, and as we often realize around the beginning of Advent, the bleakness of Winter follows upon the crisp brightness of Autumn. This follows from light’s very nature; it must have a source, and its emanations must only reflect the perfect brightness of that source.

 For the Christian, an analogy can be drawn between light and Creation. The very principle of Creatio Ex Nihilo implies a Creator who surpasses His Creation in Goodness. If this were not so, then, this Creator, this uncaused, immutable perfection would Himself be replicable. He would not be God. 

Creation must then lack the completeness of its Creator. Its perfections must only reflect that fullness of being which gave it existence and life. The very mutability of Creation attests to this. Because it once was not and now is, Creation is changeable. And since it is able to change, it is able to not be. The creature remains, not in virtue of itself, but because God, the necessary and immobile Cause, continues to will its existence. Without this gift of existence, this exitus, the creature retains nothing proper to it except the very absence of this gift: nonbeing, privation, lack.

But again, this lack in the creature is something inherent to it, constituting an integral, albeit accidental, principle of its being. And once again, the creature’s mutability constitutes a clear example of this. For every change implies three principles: what allows something to be (matter), what something becomes (form), and what allows something to be otherwise (privation). Without some kind of privation in a subject, its underlying matter would not be receptive to new forms; without empty space, there is no room to move, and God is the only thing that needs not move. 

Through the gift of actus essendi, both the act of form and the potency of matter come from God. Thus, Creation imposes the entirety of the creature’s being, as it were, upon nothingness. And the creature is, necessarily, nothingness, without God’s gift. This brings us back to the image of light, and emanation. Being, like light, radiates upon creation and gives it life. Although darkness, a privation, is nothingness compared to its corollary fulfillment, the diffusion of light always implies a darkness to diffuse across, which never fully reflects the brightness of its source. 

To separate oneself from this source of being, to try and shine on one’s own, is to come to nothing. Lucifer, the “light-bearer,” was the first embodiment of Creation’s capacity for privation. Lucifer chose to reject God, and in doing so, banished himself as completely from being as was possible for a creature of his nature. He fell, and his power and dominion were similarly reduced to nothingness and nonbeing, for he was separated with God. The king of darkness, rightly understood, rules over nothing.

To be in darkness, to be separate from God, implies pain and suffering, emptiness and barrenness. Since every creature’s nature desires its proper end in union with God’s purpose, to reject God is to rebel and fight against everything one is and could be— nothing could be more painful, and more empty.

This leads to the uncomfortable question: why did God create at all? Our fallen and troubled world teems with evidence of the great deceiver, who has labored to reduce much of creation to darkness. If such darkness is, in some sense, inevitable for that which is not God, then what does Creation have to add? If Creation is in this sense deprived of God, subjected to darkness and pain, then why would a Good God allow it to be?The answer, we come to find out, is because God is more Good than we first realize. God gave of Himself to nothingness, not only to share His goodness, but to make a conquest of that which was not God.

This plan reaches its crucial climax in the incarnation. The long-awaited coming of Christ bridges the gap between Creator and creature. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection sees God himself make pain, make abandonment his own. Knowing this, Christ rightly quotes the psalm: “Oh God my God, why have you abandoned me?” Such holy travails make possible the sanctification of all that a creature must suffer as creature. God, in taking on the form a creature, allows Creation become like God, and justly dispatches that which wishes not to. Christ’s salvific mission is a conquest even of nonbeing, and renders the not-God, God, in a perfect reditus. His abundant diffusiveness, sanctifying and bringing to Himself even His own absence, is a fitting consolation on a bleak December day admitting of both light and darkness. For the reality of Advent makes clear that there is no such thing as true darkness for the Christian; instead, the seemingly bleak and black world becomes an abyss of light.

Photo By Claudia Gründer – Claudia Gründer, CC BY-SA 3.0

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