Thomas Aquinas “Better to illuminate than merely to shine….” meaning

The quote “Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate” from Thomas Aquinas touches upon the idea that knowledge and wisdom are most valuable when they are shared with others, rather than being hoarded for personal gratification or status. Aquinas, a Christian theologian and philosopher who lived in the 13th century, was heavily influenced by Aristotle and was a major figure in Scholasticism, which aimed to reconcile Christian theology with classical philosophy.

In this statement, “to shine” could refer to possessing knowledge or skills. You can be the most enlightened person in the world, but if you keep that light to yourself, its benefits are limited. To “illuminate,” on the other hand, means to use your knowledge and understanding to enlighten others, to make a positive impact on the world, and to perhaps make complex truths accessible to people who may not have otherwise encountered or understood them.

“Merely to contemplate” could be interpreted as the act of understanding or internalizing a truth but not acting upon it or sharing it with others. It suggests a form of intellectual or spiritual selfishness. On the other hand, “to deliver to others contemplated truths” indicates the dissemination of wisdom or knowledge to other people, potentially enlightening them or aiding them in some significant way.

This perspective is consistent with many of the ethical teachings in both classical philosophy and Christian doctrine, which often emphasize the social and moral responsibilities that come with knowledge and wisdom. By sharing insights (“illuminating”), you’re not just enriching yourself; you’re enriching others, thereby contributing to the common good.

So in essence, Aquinas is stressing the importance of active wisdom and shared understanding over passive knowledge. It’s a call to those who have the capability not merely to understand for themselves but to teach, share, and uplift others with their knowledge and wisdom.

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