25. Illumination


Illumination, illuminatio, is that act of grace whereby the Holy Ghost through the Law convicts man of sin and through the Gospel imparts to him knowledge of the way of salvation. This act of grace belongs especially to the converting activity of the Holy Ghost, but is nevertheless continued through the state of sanctification, since the life of a Christian is characterized by daily repentance.

HOLLAZIUS has the following definition: “Illuminatio is that act of applying grace whereby the Holy Ghost, through the ministry of the Word, instructs the sinner who is called to the Church, and imparts to him more and more knowledge for the earnest purpose of removing the darkness of ignorance and error, imbuing him with the knowledge of the Word of God, and instilling in him through the Law the knowledge of sin, and through the Gospel the knowledge of divine mercy, founded upon the merit of Christ.”


The following division is common and in part necessary: 1) Illuminatio imperfecta, literalis et paedagogica, or the more literal and pedagogical illumination or instruction. Gratia assistens is active in this connection. The object of this external illumination is the preparation of the sinner for the spiritual illumination. As to its object this pedagogical illumination is vere salutaris and as to its character supernaturalis. We quote the following Scripture passages: “And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1: 19); “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things” (Eph. 3: 8, 9). 2) Perfecta, spiritualis et complete salutaris, or the complete, spiritual and saving illumination, which implies not only the impartation of external knowledge, but by means of this a living knowledge, so that the Holy Ghost through gratia ingrediens et operans works conversion and regeneration and afterwards continues the work of illumination through gratia inhabitans. Among Scripture passages we quote the following: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened” (Eph. 1: 17, 18); “Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 6; cf . 1 Thess. 1: 5; 2 Thess. 3: 15, 16). 3) Legalis, or illumination through the Law. The word of the Law enlightens the conscience of man like the lightning, so that he becomes terrified because of sin and fears the wrath of God. Through the content of the Law he is given further instruction concerning sin. Many Scripture passages could be quoted, but we cite only one: “Howbeit, I had not known sin, except through the law: for I had not known coveting, except the law had said. Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7: 7ff.). 4) Evangelica, or illumination through the Gospel, which is like unto the sun which dispels the darkness and illumines the Christ. Compare the following passages: “The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 4; 3: 6–11; Luke 1: 77, 78; 4: 18; 7:22).


The ordinary means of illumination are the means of grace, especially the Word of God. In Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed we read that the Holy Ghost enlightens us with His gifts. Opinions are divided with regard to the meaning of these words. Some say that these gifts are the Law and the Gospel. VON ZESCHWITZ does not consider that the Law can be implied, and scarcely the Gospel, since the Gospel is especially mentioned in connection with the call. On the other hand, he sets forth Baptism, the Holy Spirit and the gracious gifts of the Spirit. But inasmuch as the Holy Spirit bestows the gifts, we must necessarily distinguish between Him and the gifts through which He enlightens. Some have presented the effects, such as penitence and faith, but this constitutes an inconsistency. GEZ. VON SSCHEELE says in this connection: “What these gifts are depends on the character of the particular means of grace through which they are imparted to us. Inasmuch as the Word, apart from Baptism, constitutes this means, and since the Word is divided as to its contents into the Law and the Gospel, therefore the term ‘gifts’ must denote more particularly the knowledge of sin brought about by the Law together with the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ Jesus imparted through the Gospel.” Through the Law and the Gospel the awakened sinner receives the light that is necessary in order to reach the goal of salvation. Although this light is necessary for the whole life of the Christian, yet the effect of this illumination is especially striking during the states of awakening and conversion. In the case of the person who has been baptized in infancy and through the Sacrament has become a child of God, but afterwards has fallen from the baptismal grace, the Sacrament itself is a gift of grace that points the way back home. The old Church Fathers also called Baptism ϕώτισμα. And when a prodigal son, in returning to the Father’s house, visits the temple of the Lord, where the congregation celebrates the Holy Supper, this Sacrament in turn becomes a light that bears witness of the true home. In the ears of the soul awakened out of the state of sin the words of the Sacraments become both a penitential sermon and an evangel. The Word of God, therefore, is the means through which the Holy Spirit enlightens. We have not received the promise of any immediate illumination, for which reason we reject the doctrines of the Mystics and others bearing on this matter. The Holy Spirit illumines mediately. Among Scripture passages the following may be cited: “So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10: 17).

Adminicula, or auxiliaries, are oratio, meditatio et tentatio. The Lord has especially promised to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. Cf. Luke 11: 13. Concerning the searching of the Scriptures, compare John 5: 39. With regard to trials we read in Ps. 119: 71: ”It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may learn thy statutes.” Cf . 1 Peter 1: 6, 7. Periods of quiet and rest are necessary: Compare Mark 6: 31: “He said unto them. Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.” With regard to the doctrine of the Mystics concerning silentium verborum, cogitationum et desideriorum and concerning internum animae sabbathum, we approve of silentium verborum in the sense that silence and rest are necessary, inasmuch as they render more effectual the reading of the Word with its attendant effects. An internal Sabbath rest is useful in promoting earnest meditation and prayer. But we cannot accept the doctrine concerning silentium cogitationum et desideriorum through which man is supposed to receive a special divine revelation and illumination. God illumines us sufficiently through the Word of God, but quiet meditation is necessary. The same is true with regard to the hearing of the Word. Compare Eccles. 5:1: “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.” Worldly conversation before or after the service often has a disturbing effect.


The point of departure in illumination is the naturally darkened understanding of man. Compare Eph. 4: 18. The activity of illumination is first directed to the intellectus or the understanding, so that the seeker after salvation receives knowledge through which the activity is directed to the voluntas or will, since the object is such an influencing of the will as will lead to conversion. Compare Eph. 1: 18; 2 Cor. 4: 6 and Titus 2: 11, 12.

Finis, or the object, is divided as follows: 1) finis proximus is conversion; 2) finis ultimus is the immediate illumination in heaven. The reaching of the goal takes place gradually. Beginning with the call the light of the Word of God penetrates into the darkness of the sinner’s heart so that he is aroused. In case there is no wilful opposition to the influence of the Word, then his eyes are opened more and more and the awakening becomes deeper and more thorough. The sinner then becomes conscious of a profound need of the spiritual light. He reads and hearkens to the Word of God. In this manner he learns to know himself and God. The experiences that he passes through are both bitter and delightful in character, and if the activity of the Holy Spirit is permitted to continue without hindrance, man turns more and more from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. The illumination grows during conversion, but never becomes complete in this life, for here we know only in part. However, the degree of our illumination is dependent on the diligent and prayerful use of the Word of God.