Fortress Press

Christ the Light: The Theology of Light and Illumination in Thomas Aquinas

Christ the Light

The Theology of Light and Illumination in Thomas Aquinas

David L. Whidden III (Author)


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Light is one of the most ancient and significant metaphors adopted by Christianity by which to understand the significance of Jesus Christ. The Easter liturgy, for instance, is marked by beautiful and powerful rituals proclaiming Christ as the light of the world in his death and resurrection. That understanding developed over subsequent centuries into a larger doctrine of illumination—how Christians come to understand and know God through Christ the Light. In this work, David Whidden takes up that theme in contesting a standard paradigm of interpretation that asserts that Aquinas eliminated the doctrine of illumination in his theology.
In Christ the Light, Whidden argues that illumination is a critical systematic motif in Aquinas’ theology, one that involves the nature of truth, knowledge, and God; at the root, Aquinas’ theology of light, or illumination, is christological, grounding human knowledge of God and eschatological beatitude. This volume establishes the theological network formed by the crucial motif of light/illumination in Aquinas, from how theology operates to the systematic, sacramental, and moral coordinates in Aquinas’ theology. Christ the Light thus provides a much needed and illuminating retrieval of the one of the most important and creative theologians in the western Christian tradition.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451470130
  • eBook ISBN 9781451472325
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 224
  • Emerging Scholars category Theology
  • Publication Date July 1, 2014


"In this careful and profound work of theology, David Whidden explores a major theme in Aquinas' work, one that has been too often neglected, despite its centrality to Catholic theology. This careful analysis—both historical and systematic—helps us to recover a balanced understanding of the Thomist doctrine of illumination, both natural and supernatural."
—Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP
The Thomistic Institute, Washington, DC 

"Contesting the assumption that the doctrine of illumination has little to no place in the thought of Thomas Aquinas—even though it played an important role in the thought of many of his patristic and medieval predecessors and contemporaries—this work skillfully demonstrates the functions illumination performs in key aspects of Aquinas’ theology, paying special attention to its christological dimension. In carefully considering not only Aquinas’ magisterial Summa but also the little-studied Scriptural commentaries, this work makes an important contribution to the study of these texts even as it brings a fundamental but neglected facet of Aquinas’ thought into relief."
Lydia Schumacher
Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford
"In old history books, one finds the Dark Ages giving way to the Renaissance and then, before too long, to the Enlightenment. Readers of this book, however, will find themselves awash in light: physical light, divine illumination, light as a metaphor and an analogy, God as pure light, the light of reason and virtue, and the light of Christ. Aquinas here is shown to be a preeminent theologian of light, a light that washes upon us from God and Christ. We are in David Whidden's debt for so eloquently portraying what post-Enlightenment thinkers all too easily overlook: the divine light shining upon us and within us and calling us to Himself."
Matthew Levering
Mundelein Seminary
"This marvelous book shows how expansive is the notion—the guidance—of light in Thomas Aquinas's thought, almost every portion of which invokes some form of light in order to be seen, to be understood. David Whidden's book shows us the range of light in Aquinas and will spawn further research into distinct topics of light in Aquinas's theology. A promising book from a promising scholar."
Mark Johnson
Marquette University

"Christ the Light is an important study of a crucial theme of Thomas Aquinas's theology. By drawing especially upon Aquinas’s biblical commentaries, in addition to the Summa theologiae, David Whidden shows persuasively that 'illumination' is a pivotal motif that suffuses the whole of Aquinas's theology. Whidden's carefully researched and robustly argued study throws the contours of 'Thomas the theologian' into fresh relief. The book is a most welcome contribution to the present rediscovery of Thomas Aquinas’s Christocentric theology—and last but not least it is a delight to read."
Reinhard Hütter
Duke Divinity School


Hear David L. Whidden III discuss his new book, Christ the Light, on WPYR 1380AM Catholic Community Radio!