GOD is intelligible light.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
Recently, one of my children asked me who my favorite author is.
For someone who likes to read, that should be any easy question, but I puzzled over it. Who do I like to read?
I have a Buechner shelf at home. It flows into a Robert Farrar Capon. Elie Wiesel is on the shelf above, right next to local history. Go figure.
C.S. Lewis didn’t get his own section. He is scattered. So is Wendell Berry.
I have hundreds of children’s books. They aren’t arranged by author. They are on the shelf partly based on size of the book and partly on where I saw a place where I could wedge it in.
If I go to the used bookstore — one of my favorite places in the whole world — what am I looking for? Generally, not Buechner, Capon, Wiesel, Lewis, or Berry.
I go to the religious section. There I look for old worn books. Small ones, that I can put in my bag or on my bedside table.
The biggest selling point for a book, though, isn’t the author. It’s when it falls open to certain pages and has sections underlined or things written in the margins. Dog-eared pages are a plus, especially when it looks like that dog-eared page has been revisited time after time after time.
I found just such a book on a recent trip: The New Christian Year, chosen by Charles Williams, 1941, Oxford University Press.
Based on the strong recommendation of Mr. Kenneth White — who received the book in the summer of 1941, and who used it for years, the latest dates scrawled on a flyleaf being 3/25/56; who underlined and asterisked sections; who wrote page numbers in long lists inside the front cover and the back cover, with key words beside the numbers; who broke the binding — I purchased the book and could barely wait for the Christian Year to begin.
It began today — the first Sunday of Advent.
Every day contains usually two or three short passages from a variety of great Christian thinkers. However, the reading for the first day was six quotes. Quotes from Aquinas, Kierkegaard, St. Ignatius, Thomas a Kempis, Pascal, and Leonardo da Vinci.
I got stuck on Thomas Aquinas. “God is intelligible light.”
I looked up the word “intelligible” — and settled on this definition: “able to be understood only by the intellect and not by the senses.”
Still I struggled.
So I read the quote in context, in Summa Theologica. The magic of the internet offers such luxuries.
Aquinas was answering the question, “How is God known by us?” and in this particular quote, he is specifically addressing “whether the created intellect needs any created light in order to see the essence of God.”
It was then that I realized that I could spend all of Advent on this one quote, or this one work, but that would defeat the purpose of my little book and Mr. White’s underlinings.
From this quote and my mini-investigation into it, I can easily state, though, that the more I understand about God, the less I understand about God and the more I want to study Him.
And isn’t that the point of Advent — preparing for Him. Inching closer to the manger like a lowly shepherd. Trying to understand this thing which cannot be understood.
Day One of Advent.
I’m excited for what is to come.