Enlightened By It

From Homilies on the First Epistle of John 1.4 (416)

“And this is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you” (1 John 1:5) What is this? Those who speak have seen and handled with their hands the Word of life. He was from the beginning, and for a time was made visible and palpable, the Only begotten Son of God.

For what thing did he come, or what new thing did he tell us? What was it his will to teach? Why did act as he did, that the Word should be made flesh, that God over all things should suffer indignities from men, that he should allow himself to be smitten upon the face by the hands which himself had made? What would he teach? What would he show? What would he declare? Let us hear; for without understanding the reason the hearing of the story — how Christ was born, and how Christ suffered — is a mere pastime for the mind, not a strengthening of it.

What great thing do you hear? … Listen. “That God is light,” he says, “and there is no darkness in him at all.” Previously he has indeed mentioned the light, but the words are dark: good is it for us that the very light which he has named should enlighten our hearts, and we should see what he has said.

“This it is that we declare, that God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all.” Who would dare to say that there is darkness in God? Or what is the light? Or what darkness? Unless perhaps he speaks of such things as can be seen with to these eyes of ours.

“God is light.” Says some man, “The sun also is light, and the moon also is light, and a candle is light.” It ought to be something far greater than these, far more excellent, and far more surpassing. How much God is distant from the creature, how much the Maker from the making, how much Wisdom from that which is made by Wisdom, far beyond all things this light must be. And perhaps we shall be near to it, if we get to know what this light is, and apply ourselves unto it, that by it we may be enlightened; because in ourselves we are darkness, and only when enlightened by it can we become light, and not be put to confusion by it, being put to confusion by ourselves.

Who is he that is put to confusion by himself? He that knows himself to be a sinner. Who is he that by it is not put to confusion? He who by it is enlightened. What is it to be enlightened by it? He that now sees himself to be darkened by sins, and desires to be enlightened by it, draws near to it. Thus the Psalm says, “Draw near unto Him, and be ye enlightened; and your faces shall not be ashamed.” But you shall not be shamed by it, if, when it shall show you to yourself that you are foul, your own foulness shall displease you, that you may perceive its beauty. This it is that He would teach.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. His Homilies on the First Epistle of John are based on homilies he preached in his cathedral at Hippo. His feast day is August 26.


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