Apropos Gilson: mysterium lunae in Novo Millennio

Apropos Gilson: mysterium lunae in Novo Millennio

Gilson spoke about the turning of the mind to the higher things and about the recognition of grace in the life of the mind. John Paul inserts an interesting short section in Novo Millennio on the receptivity of the mind to the light from above:

A new century, a new millennium are opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light. Ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its “reflection”. This is the mysterium lunae, which was so much a part of the contemplation of the Fathers of the Church, who employed this image to show the Church’s dependence on Christ, the Sun whose light she reflects.[Thus, for example, Saint Augustine: “Luna intellegitur Ecclesia, quod suum lumen non habeat, sed ab Unigenito Dei Filio, qui multis locis in Sanctis Scripturis allegorice sol appellatus est” The Church is called the moon because she does not have light from herself but from the Only-begotten Son of God, who is allegorically referred to as the Sun. from Enarrationes in Psalmos, 10, 3] It was a way of expressing what Christ himself said when he called himself the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12) and asked his disciples to be “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).

This is a daunting task if we consider our human weakness, which so often renders us opaque and full of shadows. But it is a task which we can accomplish if we turn to the light of Christ and open ourselves to the grace which makes us a new creation.§54

The philosopher, and any scholar who has placed his intelligence in service of Christ the King, acknowledges that the light is not from himself, but from another. This holds for truths of reason no less than for truths of revelation. Pope Benedict in Caritas in veritate §34 also turns to Augustine to explain how truth itself is a reflection of something higher, indeed there is a gift like character of truth:

Gift by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance. It takes first place in our souls as a sign of God’s presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us. Truth — which is itself gift, in the same way as charity — is greater than we are, as Saint Augustine teaches.  (De libero arbitrio, II, 3, 8ff.). . . . [Augustine says that] Reason, realizing its transient and fallible nature, admits the existence of something eternal, higher than itself,something absolutely true and certain. The name that Saint Augustine gives to this interiortruth is at times the name of God (Confessions X, 24, 35; XII, 25, 35; De libero arbitrio II, 3, 8), more often that of Christ (De magistro 11:38; Confessions VII, 18, 24; XI, 2, 4).

Likewise the truth of ourselves, of our personal conscience, is first of all given to us. In every cognitive process, truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better, received. Truth, like love, “is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings” Deus Caritas Est, §3

We should note that Pope John Paul II stresses throughout Novo millennio ineunte that prior to all planning for new initiatives we must acknowledge our receptivity to the truth and love of God, especially in prayer. “It is important however that what we propose, with the help of God, should be profoundly rooted in contemplation and prayer.” §15

Christian philosophy is the sign and great aid in understanding the mysterium lunae. Why Christian philosophy? Maritain said that Christianity purifies the subjectivity of the knower, rendering the mind more limpid in its vision of the real. “One does not have to be a Christian to be convinced that our nature is weak or that the mere fact that wisdom is an arduous attainment is enough to account for the very high incidence of error in this area. But the Christian believes that grace changes man’s state by elevating his nature to the supernatural plane and by divulging to him things which unaided reason would be unable to grasp. He also believes that if reason is to attain without admixture of error the highest truths that are naturally within its ken it requires assistance, either from within in the form of inner strengthening or from without in the form of an offering of objective data; and he believes that such assistance has in fact become so much an established part of things under the New Law that it has ushered in a new regimen for human intelligence.” An Essay on Christian Philosophy

Pope John Paul II lays upon us the daunting task of being the light of the world, a task for the new millennium that especially calls for Christian philosophy along the lines envisioned by Gilson and Maritain. But John Paul expected to see all Catholics receive formation in the truth of their faith appropriate to their state in life.


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