Christ whose glory (2)
I was beating the Supple Breast and asking myself whether I had done wrong
to begin the exposition of a flagrantly post-medieval hymn on our beloved
list, consecrated as it is to all things medieval; when I happened to read,
earlier this morning, a portion of a letter from St Clare, companion of St
Francis and founder of the Poor Clares, to Blessed Agnes of Prague. It
contains this sentence: "For he [Christ] is the brightness of eternal
glory, the splendour of eternal light, the mirror without spot." These are
exactly the images used by Wesley, and they merit a little exegesis.
The idea informing Wesley's 'conceit' of Christ's glory filling the skies is
the simple but profound one that Christ reveals God. In the OT, God was
concealed in the pillar of cloud and of fire. The Israelites could not see
God; in that sense the cloud concealed him. But it was also the cloud
which revealed him. The "glory" shining from the cloud is visible, and it
offers at least a sort of vision of God.
There are many assertions in the NT that Christ is the glory of God. Thus
St Paul says, "He is the image of the invisible God" (Philippians 1:15).
Hebrews 1:3 says, "He reflects the glory of God." Saint John says, "We have
beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14);
and again, "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of
the Father, he has made him known." Jesus himself says in John's Gospel,
"Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who
has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"
"Christ the true, the only Light". Wesley continues with the image of
Christ the light of God. This phrase is taken directly from John's Gospel:
"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in
the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome* it. There was a man sent
from God, whose name was John [the Baptist]. He came for testimony, to bear
witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the
light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that
enlightens every man was coming into the world . . ." (John 1:4-9).
* A note on 'overcome'. The Greek word is 'katelaben' from 'katalambano'.
This has the sense both of 'understand' and 'put a stop to'. The world has
not understood the light, but neither has it been able to put it out. The
double meaning is captured best by the Revised Version, which has
'apprehended'. The world has neither apprehended the light, in the sense of
understanding its meaning, nor has it apprehended it in the sense that a
policeman apprehends a felon.
The Supple Doctor.