Light of Glory

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The term used in theology to describe the help given the intellect whereby it is enabled to see God face to face. The necessity of this help is a dogma of the Catholic faith, defined in the Council of Vienne against the beguines and Beghards, who held that "the soul does not need the light of glory to elevate it to see God and to enjoy God in blessedness" (Enchiridion symbolorum, 895). This definition is based on Scripture passages such as Rv 21.23, which depicts God as a light illuminating the blessed in the heavenly Jerusalem, which has the glory of God (v. 11) "and has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God lights it up" (v. 23).

Fathers. The teaching of tradition on the light of glory is found principally in the commentaries of the Fathers on Ps 35 (36).10: "and in your light we see light." Although there is no clear-cut and definite teaching that can be said to be the mind of the Fathers, two affirmations recur in their writings. On the one hand, God Himself is represented as the light that illumines the elect. In addition, the Greek Fathers frequently add that the Holy Spirit will make us capable of seeing God in the Word. Even though this points in the direction of the light of glory being identified with God, a tendency that some scholastics espoused, it is not difficult to find indications in the Fathers, even in texts describing this uncreated light, that this illumination produces a true elevation of the intellectual powers of the elect. It would be pointless, however, to seek passages in the Fathers where they speak of this elevation as due to a principle intrinsically perfecting the intellect; they were content to enunciate the dogma that the blessed must be elevated to see God, without theologizing upon the means whereby this is accomplished.

Theological Speculation. Elaborating on the nature of the light of glory, theological speculation has specified it as a supernatural habit permanently perfecting the intellect of the blessed and elevating it to enable them to see God. It is considered a habit because it must be permanently possessed by the elect, and a dynamic habit because it enables intellectual creatures to exercise their highest faculty perfectly with respect to its most perfect object.

The necessity of the light of glory is proved from two sources. First, the natural faculty must be elevated to the supernatural operation of the beatific vision, which totally surpasses the ability of the unaided intellect. Second, the beatific vision presumes an immediate union between the created intellect and the uncreated light, the principle and term of this vision. This union, far from rendering the light of glory superfluous, cannot be explained without it, for two things that are not one cannot be associated with one another unless at least one of them undergoes a change. Since the object seen cannot change, the created intellect must be strengthened for the vision, which strengthening is the light of glory.

Thus the light of glory has a threefold function. It elevates the created intellect to the order of the beatific vision and makes it physically capable of attaining the divine essence; it disposes the intellect to the immediate union with the divine essence necessary for the vision; it concurs actively with the intellect in producing the act of vision itself.

In the Orthodox Churches there is a difference in teaching on the light of glory that goes back to the time of the Palamites (see hesychasm), who distinguished between the divine essence and an uncreated light, proceeding from it and distinct from it, although not inseparable from it. God is absolutely unknowable and incommunicable in the divine essence, but is knowable and communicable in His operations or energies, chief of which is this uncreated light. Vladimir Lossky says: "This uncreated, eternal, divine, and deifying light is grace, for the word grace belongs to the divine energies in as far as they are given to us and operate the work of our deification.This illumination or divine and deifying grace is not the essence but the energy of God" (95). Thus the light of glory for them, far from being a created habit infused into the intellect, is something in God that is seen in the beatific vision, a concept that seems to contradict the divine simplicity and the dogma that the divine essence itself is the object of the vision.

See Also: heaven (theology of); palamas, gregory.

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 7.2:237077. r. schnackenburg and k. forster, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 1:583591. r. garrigoulagrange, The One God, tr. b. rose (St. Louis 1943) 364372. v. lossky, "La Théologie de la lumière chez st. Grégoire de Thessalonique," Dieu vivant 1 (1945).

[r. j. bastian]