Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Lydia Schumacher: The Light of Divine Illumination

Lydia Schumacher: The Light of Divine Illumination

"I get wisdom day and night/ turning darkness into light..."
Rembrandt, The Raising of Lazarus, 1632

Dear Friends,

I am so excited to share this week’s episode in my series on You are a Tree: and other metaphors to nourish life, thought, and prayer. In this week’s episode, I speak with one of the scholars whose work informed my writing: Lydia Schumacher, Professor of Historical and Philosophical Theology at King’s College London.

This week’s conversation can be paired with the chapter Wisdom is (not) Light.” People sometimes ask me which chapter was my favourite to write, and upon reflection it is this chapter. It was, to borrow the metaphor, illuminating to meditate on how often our language of wisdom draws on metaphors of light: a young student is bright, a particular author is lucid, when we have an idea its like a lightbulb going on. And on the opposite end of that, we speak of people being a bit dim or of keeping people in the dark, as though ignorance or foolishness is darkness. Writing this chapter invited me to meditate on the experience of light and darkness, and also to trace the rich history of this metaphor poetry and theology.

Divine Illumination: The History and Future of Augustine's Theory of  Knowledge eBook : Schumacher, Lydia: Kindle Store

That’s why I was so delighted to be joined by Lydia Schumacher to discuss the idea of divine illumination in in Augustine and through the ages. We discussed some of the ideas in her book Divine Illumination; The History and Future of Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge, which I consulted in writing this chapter. This book looks at St Augustine’s ideas of the involvement of divine illumination in human knowledge, how it was received down the ages in philosophy and theology, and how it is relevant even today. Lydia is a deeply knowledgeable scholar but also warm and poetic in her capacity to express herself, showing the relevance of illumination in spiritual life. It was such a pleasure to speak with her. I hope you enjoy listening to the conversation as much as I enjoyed having it!

Rembrandt, The Descent from the Cross, 1633

As is my custom, I asked Lydia if there were any works of art she would commend to readers who wanted to meditate on the metaphor of light as wisdom. She recommended Rembrandt’s etchings —one of which is on the cover of her book! I hadn’t spent much time with Rembrandt’s etchings, but Lydia noted how beautifully they use light and darkness to engage the viewers. I particularly loved the one below, The Student at a Table by Candlelight (1642). It reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s wonderful translation of “Pangur Ban,” an old Irish poem about a cat and a scholar hard at their various work (catching mice and finding wisdom):

Practice every day has made 
 Pangur perfect in his trade; 
 I get wisdom day and night 
 Turning darkness into light
Rembrandt, The Student at a Table by Candlelight, 1642

One final artistic recommendation (and a bit self serving) is this choral setting of a collect from Compline by my brother Joel. Self serving because we actually recorded it together (all the parts!) during the covid lockdown. I am not a natural soprano, but it was really lovely to get to create this together. (Though, of course, 95% of the credit goes to Joel who composed the thing!). Here are the words:

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord;
and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Well, friends! That’s all for today. I hope you enjoy the conversation with Professor Schumacher, the art, and that you will notice the light in your life today.


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Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Conversations with Joy Clarkson about religion, culture, and art.