Life and Light in the Word

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). By saying that there is life in plants, we mean that they grow and send forth leaves, buds, and fruit. How crude is this life, and how dead. We say that animals live because they see, taste, and go here and there as they are moved by their senses. How mute is this life. We also say that life is to understand, to know, to know oneself, to know God and to desire him, to love him, and to wish to be happy in him. This is the true life. Yet what is its source? Who is it that knows himself, loves himself, and enjoys himself, unless it is the Word? In him, therefore, is life.

Yet whence does it come, if not from his eternal and living generation? He is come forth alive from a Father who is alive, about whom he himself pronounced: “As the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). He did not give him life as drawn forth from nothingness; he gave him life from his own life and proper substance, and as he is the source of life, he has given his Son to be a source of life. And so this life of understanding is “the light that enlightens every man” (John 1:9). From the life and light of the Word come forth all understanding and light.

From Meditations for Advent. Click image to preview/order.

This light of life shone in heaven, in the splendor of the saints, on the mountains, on exalted spirits, on the angels, but it also wished to shine among men, who had withdrawn from it. The light came near to them and, in order to enlighten them, set a torch before their very eyes by preaching the gospel. So it was that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (cf. John 1:5). “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned” (Matt. 4:16).

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Proud souls have not understood the humility of Jesus Christ. Souls blinded by their passions have not understood Jesus Christ, who intended noth­ing but the will of his Father. Curious souls, who wish to see for the pleasure of it and not to rule their habits and mortify their concupiscence, have understood nothing of Jesus Christ, who began by doing and then afterward taught (cf. Acts 1:1). They were miserable, those mortals who “wished to rejoice in his light” but not to let their hearts be embraced by “the fire” that Jesus Christ had come to ignite (John 5:35; Luke 12:49).

Those with pre­occupied souls, entirely withdrawn into themselves, have not understood Jesus Christ, nor the heavenly precept of self-renunciation. The light is come, and the darkness did not comprehend it. But what of the light? Did the light comprehend the light? Those who said “we see” (cf. John 9:41) and who blinded themselves by their presumption: have they better comprehended Jesus Christ? No, the priests did not comprehend him. The Pharisees did not comprehend him. The doctors of the law did not com­prehend him. Jesus Christ was an enigma to them. They could not suffer the truth, for it humiliated, corrected, and condemned them. And they in their turn humili­ated, tormented, contradicted, and crucified truth itself.

Do we comprehend it, we who call ourselves his dis­ciples, but who nonetheless wish to please men and our­selves? Let us humble ourselves and say: the light still shines in the darkness every day by faith and the gos­pel, but the darkness has not comprehended it, and Jesus Christ finds hardly anyone willing to imitate him.

“The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” and dwelt among us, but without hav­ing been noticed. “He was in the world,” the one who was the light, “and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came into his own home, and his own people received him not” (John 1:9-11). His own people did not receive him, but, in another sense, his own people did receive him. Those who were touched by a certain instinct of grace did receive him. The sin­ners whom he called left everything to follow him. A tax collector followed him at his first word. All the humble followed him, and these were truly his own people. The proud, the falsely wise, the Pharisees were also his people, for he had made them, and he had made this faithless world that did not wish to know him.

O Jesus! I would be like them if you had not converted me. Complete the work. Pull me away from the world that you have made, but whose corruption you did not make. Everything in it is curiosity, greed, the concupiscence of the eyes, impurity, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life, a pride with which all of life is infected (1 John 2:16). O Jesus! Send to me one of your heavenly fishermen who will pull me out of this sea of corruption and catch me in the net of your word.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Bp. Bossuet’s Meditations for Advent, which is available from Sophia Institute Press

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

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Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) was a theologian and French bishop. With a great knowledge of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he devoted himself to writing in a way that was approachable to every person. Though lionized by the great English converts such as Waugh, Belloc, and Knox, his writing has only recently been made available in English. His Meditations for Advent is available from Sophia Institute Press.

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