Light and Transcendence
Posted On July 14, 2017
If you glance through the liturgy of the hours and the divine office, you will notice the frequency that the word light is used. Of course, it is in the context of prayer, and it is an attribute of Jesus Christ and of all the persons of the Holy Trinity. It is not by accident. Light in the physical world is the closest analogy to the spiritual that is found. Aristotle recognized that sight is the most liberated of the senses and the one that is closest to the nature of the human mind, especially what he called the Agent Intellect and Plato called the light of Being that illumines our minds and allows us to search out and then gaze out upon the world of being that is behind and beyond the world of appearances. St. Augustine also picks up on on this light and expands it from the light of being to the light of conscience, the light of faith, and the light of glory. Light is at the very essence of the human soul. St. Theresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) picks up on this in her book The Science of the Cross, and recognizes that this inner light is the essence of the human soul, and it is the inner region of the soul where God dwells, and unfortunately, the place from which we as human beings tend to be exiled. Which means we are exiled from our selves. But Christ wants us home, to return to abide with Him forever. God is light. And so are we.
In terms of the transcendental notions then, these are the differentiate lights that Lonergan has articulated in an explanatory manner. As long as we exist, that can be actuated. But they can also remain merely as a capacity for self-transcendence. When the interior question for understanding arises with regard to an experience, then this light has awakened. It is the same quest in which an insight emerges, and this can then be described as an illumination or an ah-ha experience. Notice how this parallels physical light. When light shines off into space with nothing to illumine, it seems dark. But as soon as something comes into its realm, like a moon, then it illumines the object, and suddenly our eyes have something to see. The same with the quest for understand. And insight (act of understanding) allows the eye of the mind (as Augustine frequently uses the term), and eye intrinsic to the quest (a question is intrinsically conscious and intentional) to see (intend) something. Furthermore, once seen, then we can speak it, and this parallels the need to conceive of the insight.
Once the insight is conceived, then a new transcendental notion can be actuated in our capacity for self-transcendence. There are two sequences of actuated quests here. The first regards the correctness of the insight. Is my insight into a representative democracy correct? The second is whether we have a factual object understood by the insight. Is our country a representative democracy? The first has to be answer correctly before the second can be answered factually. Both arise in the quest for truth or being. To answer this quest for truth, first one needs to gather evidence and then reach a kind of insight into whether the evidence is sufficient. Lonergan calls this a reflective insight, which traditionally is named a grasp of sufficient evidence. Such an insight then allows one to answer the quest and pronounce a judgment. Yes, that is the meaning of democracy. Or yes, we live in a representative democracy. Or maybe I realize that I do not understand the nature of a democracy, or that we do not live in one. These too are judgments, answers the that quest “Is it so?”
As the mind rises into the world of truth and being through judgment, then the possibility of a new light or transcendental notion emerges. Judgments of fact attune us to the world that is. Judgments on the correctness of insight not only make possible a grasp of judgments of fact, but also these open up to us worlds of possibility and even probability. We can then wonder about doing something in light of the possibilities that could become factual. There is as Lonergan articulates a scale of feeling that intentionally awakens to objects of fact and objects of possibility. Naturally, these response to the greater possibility (the greater intelligibilities and factualities) with more vibrancy or more commonly, with more energy. This can become vastly disordered of course. But nonetheless, our entire souls awaken within this light of goodness, of value, to the possibilities of our creative free participation in the coming to be of this world, and even facets of our own existence. Appreciation, thankfulness, and love respond to this world of intelligible facts that are good. Free decision is the possible response to intelligible possibilities and probabilities that then brings about factual goods. This light is that of conscience. It is the full realization of the transcendental notion of value. As the landscape of intelligibility grows, the landscape of possibility, probability, and factuality grows. That is the growth into an entire scale and horizon of the good.
Ultimately it also is the expansion of the actuation of the entire capacity for self-transcendence that then awaken to the question about unrestricted answers to the potentially unrestricted quests. That is as Lonergan articulates in chapter 4 of Method in Theology, the emergence of the question of God. If one has been appropriating one’s own interiority, one realizes as well that this is also an awakening to the very inner essence of one’s own soul, to the capacity for self-transcendence. As that capacity becomes actuated, its full actuation, the full actuation of the transcendental notions, which is aptly described as an unspeakable illumination through God’s outpouring love who gives himself as a Triune self to the subject, is then a state of being in love without conditions.
I want to bring this back to the liturgy of the hours and divine office now. This unfolding of this liturgy throughout the year cultivates the human subject, and through it, God tills the landscape of one’s horizon at all levels of conscious intentionality, from experience up through moral acts to purify the totality of one’s soul so that it is more and more permeated by the transcendental notions. Then one becomes more and more a light in this world.
The liturgy of the hours and divine office however as liturgical however revolve around an even more potent set of lights. Those lights correctly understood and entered are the sacraments. The sacraments are gifts from God that literally started in the motor sensory world that if rightly received permeate the entire human subject from the lowest to the highest levels of conscious intentionality, and these do so by actuating the capacity for self-transcendence in its state of being in love without restriction. This state as long as it lasts and as much as it is lived from then increases the realization of each transcendental notion as it awakens along the paths of emerging conscious intentionality, and it transforms the entire landscape of conscious intentionality. The Eucharist is the supreme realization of all of this. One literally is moving into the inner reaches of the Holy Trinity. This is why it is described as an eternal banquet. At a mass, one’s motor-sensory being literally participates in a physical encounter with that which has been transubstantiated into the ascended incarnate Son of God who opened the doors for humanity to enter the inner life of the Holy Trinity. We are literally able to move closer in space and time to this reality. This reality though emerges into all levels of conscious intentionality through acts of faith and gifts of grace. The Father sends His Son into us through their Holy Spirit, literally and spiritually. Is this necessary? No. It is a gift and promise. God makes it possible for us to receive him into our beings in a manner similar to how Mary when Gabriel came to her and she proclaimed her fiat. The Son was then literally conceived in her. When we sit in the physical presence of the Holy Eucharist, the body-soul-humanity-divinity of the Son, God promises to enter us if we are rightly ordered, receptive, and pure. It reaches its height when we say and Amen to Him, and we are feed physically and if rightly purified, spiritually with Him. As incarnate beings, this way of being given the Son then illumines the totality of our conscious intentionality in a manner like nothing else. We can then understand what someone like John Henry Newman meant when he said that our presence in and reception of the Holy Eucharist is the closest we get to heaven while on earth. It is heaven, the eternal banquet. Now that is a light.
Just some thoughts.