De Sacramentis 1.1.8

1.1.8 “On the mystery of light; why it was made first.” Hugh asks why God made light first, referring to this as the “mystery of light.” His answer: God “made light first, that afterwards he might make all things in light.” In proof of this he cites Jesus’s statement to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John that the one who does the truth “cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God” (John 3:21). We have already seen how, for Hugh, God created the world in such a way as to set an “example” for his rational creatures, particularly when he created matter first and added form later, thereby anticipating the pattern to be followed in the work of restoration, when man who was “first made unformed in a certain mode of its own, [would] afterwards … be formed through conversion to its Creator” (1.1.3).  In a similar vein, we find Hugh reasoning here from the premise of man’s “relation to light,” as it were, in the work of redemption and, in particular, as expressed in the gospels, to the order of creation itself: if redeemed man is one who comes to and performs his works in the light, then it is fitting that God himself should have set an example for this in conducting his own work of disposition “in the light.” As Hugh is careful to clarify, however, God “did not make light that He Himself might see by light, but that He might make His works manifest by light, because they were done in God.” God did not need the light to see what he was doing, in other words, but so that others might see what he was doing. The irony, of course, is that there was as yet no one present to whom God’s works might be made manifest through this light (angels, being incorporeal, for Hugh would not have needed light to see). The not insignificant fact remains, however, that had human beings been present from the start, by God creating light first, his work of disposition would have been manifest to them. In that fashion, at least, one might say that human beings were present, if not in person, then at least in and through this divine accommodation and solicitude.

But this discussion may lead us to a further, more complex but no less significant respect in which human beings were, and in a sense even now are or can be present when God first created light, and that respect, of course, is through the revelation of Scripture itself. When Genesis reveals to us the way in which God made the world, after all, it is making that act of creation in a very real sense present to us. In making the creation event present to us, however, it is also making us present in and to it. When God made the world, after all, he made it in such a way as to be the subject of thus susceptible to a future revelation, a fact that was just as true in the past when God first made the world as it is now when we read that revelation in the present. What this means is that Genesis is a very peculiar kind of account, one that reveals not only a particular and purported historical content, but in doing so, implicitly reveals the manner in which that content is able to give rise to its own account. Put differently, in reading Genesis, we are not only reading about God’s act of creation, or rather, precisely because we are reading about God’s act of creation, we are on that account also reading about the establishment of the very conditions for the possibility of its future revelation. Thus, when God reveals to us how he made the world, he is necessarily putting on display more than the act of creation itself, but also that act of creation as revealable, which, I am suggesting here, is a remarkable revelation in its own right. Put more succinctly still, the world was not only made and then revealed, but more precisely, was made to be revealed. This may also be seen to put a different perspective on many of our contemporary debates over how properly to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis, and reveals as grossly inadequate any interpretation that would seek to marginalize the text by treating it as merely poetic or literary account. For on the above reckoning, Genesis is not only about God’s act of creation, but in a very real sense is the point of creation: God created the world, at least in part, in order that Genesis might record that creation. This finally, is what I suggest is implied in Hugh of St. Victor’s argument that God created light first, if not exactly to manifest his works, then at least that his works might be made manifest.

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