Friday, December 21, 2012

O Dayspring

O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Enlightenment is a funny concept.  The images it conjures up for me are radically contradictory.  On the one hand, the eastern sage - the cliche of films without number - who is possessed of a supernatural calm and a deep spiritual awareness of his one-ness with the Universe; on the other hand, Immanuel Kant - the spokesman par excellence for the European cultural movement known self-consciously as 'the Enlightenment' - daring to know, having the courage to think for himself, mastering the universe through understanding.

These two figures have two things in common.  One is that they are driven by autonomy.  The spiritual figure, for all his sense of one-ness with all that is, seeks and finds that one-ness within himself.  It is not so much that he is part of a larger whole, as that he is the whole, and vice versa.  The more rationalist figure, committed to the throwing off of authority, deems his own mind to be the source and criterion of truth.  Both figures claim to have light, but neither can really claim to be enlightened; on neither of them does light fall from without.

The other similarity is that neither of them perceives the world to be a place of darkness.  It is not that they are oblivious to the presence of evil or suffering, but fundamentally evil and suffering are treated as soluble problems, issues waiting to disappear.  Perhaps they will be shown to be imaginary, or perhaps they will be shown to be really good once we see or feel the big picture.  Or perhaps we will just see them as problems to which we can set our intellects; hurdles to be overcome.  Fundamentally, the world is a place of light, and that of course stems from the fact that fundamentally both figures see themselves as having light within themselves.

How different the perspective of Scripture - the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned.  Indeed, we must not seek to walk by lights we have kindled ourselves.  Christ alone enlightens, as a light entering a dark place,

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