Magdalene with the Smoking Mirror, Georges De La Tour, 1640

“…it is better to enlighten than merely to shine.” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., Summa Theologica,  II-II, q. 188, a. 6.

That bit of wisdom from St. Thomas Aquinas caught my attention a few days ago, when I came across it in some reading and it stayed with me.

Is it possible to do both: enlighten and shine?

As usual, with my associative and dot-connecting mind, this perspective from Aquinas made me think of the telestai or phosters — the initiated adepts, teachers, and illuminators — of the ancient Mystery Schools.

Jadwiga Łuszczewska posing as Deotyma of Mantinea, 1855, by Jozef-Simmler. Public domain photo, WikiCommons.
Jadwiga Łuszczewska posing as Deotyma of Mantinea, 1855, by Jozef-Simmler. Public domain photo, WikiCommons.

The telestai, writes John Lamb Lash, “were considered to be the leading lights of ancient civilization, and the initiates, teachers and vocational trainers of the ancient world.”

Lash says that the telestai were, “.. bound by sacred duty to bring what they learned into the world at large, (but) were also bound by a vow of secrecy never to disclose exactly how they underwent accelerated learning through repeated intentional encounters with the Organic Light.”

Dominicans like Thomas Aquinas have a this mission: “To contemplate, and to give to others the fruit of that contemplation … constantly being formed and assisting in the formation of others.”**

This is an ethos not unlike the one shared by the telestai of the earlier Mystery Schools. And in the earliest monasticism, spiritual practice was actually seen as a form of inspired action.***

Our culture has long favored or biased action over contemplation, and perhaps the consequences or ‘fruits’ of that imbalance are very easily seen in the current state of affairs: in the majority of headlines for what passes as ‘news’, but also in the escalating percentages for depression, anxiety, incivility, narcissism, and so on.

I doubt there’s much of a likelihood of that the culture as a whole will suddenly become more reflective and thoughtful, with considered (and considerate) action (including thought and speech) flowing out of the sweet wells of contemplation.

The Light of the World (Detail), c. 1900-1904, in St. Paul's Cathedral, London. By William Holman Hunt.
The Light of the World (Detail), c. 1900-1904, in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. By William Holman Hunt.

That said, for each individual and group that is more contemplative and whose considered actions move out of the illumination and wisdom born of contemplation, it might be like a sort of energetic and psychic ‘remedy’ in the collective consciousness or field.

And then, the fruits of those Divine revealings, the meditations, and how such practices change us, get shared more overtly through writings, teachings, and role modelings of inspired, wise action, right speech, and the capacity for sacred relationship.

For those more aware of how energy flows, and that all is energy, perhaps it’s more fair now to say that “It is better to enlighten, as well as to shine,” assuming that we’re shining the light of the heart illuminated and not the ego-stroking, stage-hogging thing that’s more like p.r.-savvy, foil-wrapper glitter than actual shine.

That’s really what I think of when I hear the quote attributed to the Mahatma Gandhi, Be the change you wish to see in the world.

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

~ a Chinese proverb shared by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1962.

In this case, perhaps we can endeavor to be the lit-candle, yes?

The irony is something that the ancient (and contemporary) telestai knew, and Aquinas likely knew as well: that such light is born out of the transformative depths and the “dazzling darkness.”

Find more food for cultivating your shiny-heartedness and tending your Divine Spark in these Sophia’s Children musings:

Out of Fear-Spin and Into the Heart, Illuminated

Shining Heart: The Morning Star Rises

Big Love,


* Find more about John Lamb Lash at Metahistory and through his excellent book, Not In His Image. John and I also co-created a series of illuminating conversations on the Sophia Mysteries, which you can find in my Feminine Mojo Show archives.

** Lovely summary from “Dominican Spirituality,” Head and Heart Theology.

*** As shared in Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky