A Sermon to the Sodomites on the Dark Things of God’s Light by Fr. John Tauler
May the love of the triune God, who called us from the darkness of Sodom with the bright countenance of His angels, bless you and keep you in all your ways. May you be a light for your brothers and a mirror for their brightness, that our communities may overflow with love and learning and be guided by God into the unknown future and ultimately into the last days he has planned from world without end.
Today I wish to meditate on the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” We have all experienced it. As long as God was merely a lord of light, a shining beacon of Good, Truth and Beauty, His power over our hearts was limited. There were other, dark powers in ourselves and in this world, that we could neither deny nor attribute to him. Thus, against our true wills, we engaged in idolatry, performed apotropaic rites to appease the dark things of this world, sought to negotiate and bargain with them, draw lines of how far we were willing to go and how far they could cross. But the forces of darkness are not to be trifled with. They deceive those who would negotiate with them, blind those who adore them, control us when we surrender to their gifts. Thus, as long as we saw God solely as the maker of peace, our faith was not complete and our heart wandered.
How great and majestic it was, when we understood that God is not only the lightgiver, but also the shadowcaster, who hides his face and withdraws his breath and leaves us gasping and choking as the waters once again rise to flood the earth and extinguish our hearths. Then did we accept God first of all as God and not as good, He who is who He is, and we accepted the dark things of his covenant: the sacrifice of Isaac, the brimstone of Gomorra, the cleansing of the promised land, the blessing of bondage, the selection of the elect. Only a God who makes both evil and good can receive complete worship, only He has the concreteness of our real life.
This is the great and terrible beginning of Wisdom. But no beginning is a place of rest. If the dark things remain in darkness and the Word of God proceeds from them like thunder from black clouds, then we ultimately despair before this inhuman might and beseech that another go in our place. If we allow piety to crush reason, reason will rebel like Satan. He did not recognize that the divine light within was the same as the light without and rose up against the Incarnation, summoned by pride and envy. And this call of reason can seem a call to return to the spectral God of our first years, the God of Beauty, who shuns the darkness. And as long as this is the case, we know that this is the voice of the deceiver.
Reason must grow in the cover and shelter of the night. Dawn must break through, to undo evening would be to rush back to the primal chaos. We must not simply throw overboard the dark things, but treasure them all the more, deep within our hearts. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female in Christ” – today, in our egalitarian times, this is a relatively luminous saying. “Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ” – this is to us a dark saying. Matters were once precisely the opposite to our forefathers. The equality of the children of God was obscured by the acceptance of the trade of soul, yet the authority of God made itself manifest in social hierarchy. It was because both were treasured by the Church, that what was dark worked on the collective body of the Church leading her into the truth, so that today we can understand that slavery is an intrinsic evil. But how shall we today model the authority of God?
What the spirit gives us, is less an education, than it is an initiation. It has not taught all at once and for all. It teaches us things that were hidden to our fathers. Our children will contemplate truths still concealed. Slowly the Church is led through the halls of divine wisdom, seeing only what is before it, holding on to the memory of what has gone before. To hold fast to what our consciences can recognize as true is not to do away with the darkness, but to proceed within it, guided by the hand of God. As reason illuminates different parts of scripture and tradition, other parts become dark, as the Sun can only illuminate one face of the Earth at a time. But this merely calls the sun forth to bring a new day to the nightside. If only we hold on to the totality as a mystery, then we can be confident to proceed within God’s halls. That we may always have the grace to hold on and treasure what our Lord has revealed, let us pray.
Header image credit: Frontispiece to Volume 1 of Athanasius Kirchner's Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652)