There is a great continuity throughout excellent things, that is easily noticed to the mind that desires to see, to the mind that can see. Enlightenment is a wonderful term, though it has taken on a dubious and inconstant meaning. For the common person the term enlightenment might bring with it notions of the Eastern religions of Hinduism, or Buddhism in all its forms. For a more eurocentric mind the term enlightenment might bring to mind 'The Enlightenment,' or positivism and Darwinism. However, these things do not possess or predicate enlightenment. Enlightenment was not birthed from loins of the religious, nor of intellectuals. It is not an accident of their beliefs, their thoughts and ideas. Enlightenment is something that happens; to be enlightened is to be illuminated with the truth.
So, we must naturally wonder what the purpose of enlightenment is. Why does it happen, and what if it does not happen? What are we to do once we have been enlightened? The light itself is pure, but it comes to us in variation. Whoever sees the light sees the same thing. Let me show however, if I may, a reason for the vicissitude and variability of enlightenment. For, not all who are enlightened are enlightened in the same way or to the same extent, neither do they agree on all things. Imagine that you, being turned away from the sun look into a pane of glass and seeing the sun. Is it truly the sun you see? Are you not rather looking and seeing the sun's reflection? Or imagine those who fixate on sun dogs. If they don't know what they are looking at, is it not possible that they might be confused? Further, if we look upon the sun itself at it's zenith, do we truly see the sun? Or is it not more correct to say that we see the sun's rays? And those who look upon the sun at dawn are likely to see a different sight than those who look upon the sun at noonday or dusk. All the while, the great light itself, the sun, remains unchanged and constant. And while it seems to changes place through the sky throughout the day and the seasons, it never leaves it's perfect place at the center.
Is it any wonder then, that if we should be so prudent as to liken the Truth to the sun, and understand the variance we seem to see in the sky, that we quickly and innately begin to understand why the enlightened do not always agree, and that they are not all enlightened to the same extent? Therefore, let us continue to use this picture for a while. Now, knowing that they all look upon the sun, someone imprudent might say," They are all just different views of the same thing!" In a way they are right, but they leave off the greater portion of knowledge when they make that declaration. Will we not all agree that the one who has seen the sun best is the one who has seen it on the clearest day at a perfect zenith in the center of the sky, when it is at its highest point in the year? Of course we will all agree very quickly. We will say so, even in spite of the man who has seen the sun many times larger as it rises over the ocean or the desert, because we acknowledge that its light is diminished, and for that he sees the sun larger, but because he sees through far more atmosphere which has dimmed and magnified it.
So, who is that man? Who is the man who has seen the sun at it's zenith on the longest day? That man is the one we can trust above all others. We are certain to find him in agreement with the others, because what they know in part, he knows in it's entirety; and because they only know in part, they cannot agree with him entirely. These other men, they might have the knowledge that the sun is round, and bright, but some of them who have seen it on the shortest day are likely to say that it is not overly hot, and at that point they would be incorrect. So, it's very important not to say," They are all just different views of the same thing!" and leave it there. Not if we are to be in perfect possession of the truth. It is paramount that we find that man.
How can we know who is most enlightened? Is it possible to know, while we are yet in darkness? I say it is, and that the way to know is reason. But it all must begin with the sure faith that the enlightening object exists. "Faith seeking understanding." Now, reason is not reasonable if it is not altruistic. To understand that, we must first understand what it really means to be altruistic, by getting a good, fundamental understanding of virtue. Understanding justice would be the beginning of that. By understanding justice, much of the harshness that one sees as gratuitous and cruel in nature, is revealed in fact to be justice. The understanding of the other virtues leads one to see how justice is kept on their side. Finally, there is a revelation of contingent mercy, the greatest altruism.
By focusing on these things carefully and frequently, and letting them flower in the mind, the human intellect builds a framework of conscience, a schematic for what 'the good,' the enlightening factor, might look like. The mind and the heart will, or ought to, recognize the most enlightened religion, the most enlightened philosophy at its first appearance. Such a person will not recoil from them once they've found them due to the presence of mystery, and not because he is imprudent and over happy. Rather, he will be reassured by the mystery that he availed himself properly to those whom he ought. Look at it like this, if we can once more use the sun as a type of 'God.' The man who sees the sun best looks at an orb, but sees a disk; what he sees is not circular, but spherical. Similarly, the enlightened one looks upon one God, but it is a Trinity of persons. This is not only a great mystery, it is the greatest mystery! The man who has truly found it, will be assured by this greatest of mysteries, because he will know that if he can comprehend it, then it is not God. Just as the man who has seen the sun the clearest knows that if you can gaze upon it indefinitely, then you have not seen it clearly.
As soon as that one is enlightened, he will remember those who are still in darkness. He will be driven by the desire to enlighten them. They are likely to hate him for it, just as a person in the dark immediately exposed to brilliant light will hate the person who threw open the door or pulled off their hoods. And if that man gets into the habit of running around yanking the hoods off of the many, they will catch him and punish him for enlightening them. They have always been this way, the both of them, because the good and enlightened man would rather suffer any torture and even death than to let his kin and countrymen stumble around in the darkness trapped in a miserable existence, comforted and crippled at once by the pleasures of the senses. And they would rather kill him, than let him bring them all to suffering, all at once. That is why they killed Christ and Socrates, and all the martyrs since the beginning.
Whoever becomes enlightened and does this work that his mind and his heart and his goodness which he has gained from God implores him to do is a Prometheus, a better friend to mankind than Prometheus. But we can learn from Prometheus, if we notice that he started out with a little flame. St. Francis of Assisi said," It is better to make a little light, than to curse the darkness." How true! If we can but show them a little light, a flame, we might find them willing to share fire. And if we are patient and pass the night with them, they may even consent to the dawn. That's the gracious way, the patient way, the way for most who are enlightened to share the light. By showing them the light, you show them the whole world, and they can discover wonderful things, wonderful things to do in the light, things that were not possible in darkness, things they did not, could not have imagined. The enlightenment and salvation of the human race is the task of the Church given to it by the Father of Lights through the 'Light of the World,' who is Christ, in the Spirit of Truth. "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... the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world." (John 1:4-5,9) And it has come to pass, and you know that, that Light is the life of men. So, you also ought to know that He came not to condemn, but so that mankind might have life and life more abundantly. You must go to make sure that they have it, working in whichever ways are best.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~