Monday, July 26, 2010

Greater and Lesser Lights

As a rule, the presence of a greater light will cause lesser lights to dim. As the old hymn goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.... and the things of this world will grow strangely dim.” St. Thomas writes, “The greater light dims the lesser light of another luminous body;” and “at the presence of the sun the light of the stars is put out.” (Summa 3.5.4)

But in the real world, we observe that sometimes a greater light is dimmed by a lesser light. Many of the stars are actually greater lights than the sun. And when the sun’s light is not present, the stars may be dimmed by an even lesser light. A man living in a city cannot see the stars in the night sky; a thousand voluminous bodies are dimmed by a few street lights.

From the perspective of the individual, a greater light dims a lesser light when all things are equal. But if, from the man’s perspective, the greater light is already weakened by some obstacle, e.g. the distance from him to the stars, then the lesser light may dim the greater light, not absolutely, but according to his perspective.

This is an analogy to worldly attachment. Heavenly things represent the greater light and earthly things represent the lesser. Just as a man living in the city fails to see the majestic star-scape on account of being surrounded by street lights, so the worldly man cannot see the more noble things such as wisdom and virtue on account of being surrounded by temporal pleasures. He has drawn near to the lesser light and in doing so, away from the greater light. From a man’s perspective, the beauty of higher things fades behind lesser beauty because of his distance from the higher things.

The further we go from God, the lesser of a light it will take to distract us. If you want to have an idea of how far away from God you are, consider how small are the things that distract you from Him.

How pitiful of a state we are in! There is no other light except God. The trivial things that distract us from Him are only distant reflections of His own light!

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