The title of today’s feast, “Jesus Christ the King of the Universe” might overwhelm us since we might think of ourselves as insignificant pieces of the universe. The second reading, from the Letter to the Colossians (Col 1:12-20), assures us that we aren’t lost in Jesus’ kingdom but rather important in the eyes of Christ.
The letter speaks of “light” and “darkness.” Each one of us has experienced times of “darkness,” when we had a sense of being lost or when we followed our ideas and they brought us to “darkness” rather than “light,” followed by discouragement.
The Letter to the Colossians announces that Jesus brings us into “light” and out of the darkness. This passage begins by thanking God for “light,” “… giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col 1:12).
When we get stuck in our personal darkness, we may think that we can never break out of it. God reaches into our darkness and draws us out of it. Such a breakthrough is a gift, a “grace.” Colossians states: “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13).
Did we do something that earns us such a breakthrough? Thomas Aquinas describes a commonly-held idea that “… the gifts of grace are given because of a person’s merit, and that God gives grace to those who are worthy, and does not give grace to those who are unworthy.”
Thomas insists that this is not so: “This view is rejected by the Apostle, because whatever worth and grace we have is given to us by God, and so also are the effects of grace” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).
Thomas speaks about our “worth,” that is our value as human persons, which is given to us by God. Our “darkness” can be connected with not believing in our “worth.”
The various ways that God moves in our lives are “graces.” The Latin word for “grace,” gratia, also means a “gift.” God’s graces to us and the effects of those graces are gifts as well. Thomas recalls Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
Because Christians believe in original sin and in personal responsibility for sins, people might expect that Christians take a dim view of human nature. Thomas affirms the basic goodness of human nature: “All people are good in their very nature; consequently, they somehow partake of God” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 24).
While we are created good, we also have the capacity to choose other things than God, as Thomas acknowledges, “… it is done by choosing, as when a person selects this and another one that” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 25).
If we make God a priority of our lives, it is our choice, yet we are also being touched by grace, as Jesus tells His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16).
When we chose sin, we think we are experiencing freedom. Rather than being free, Thomas believes that without grace, we are “slaves of sin.” Jesus declared, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34). When “sin” has a power over us, we live “in the power of darkness.” We are caught in the web of our negative habits.
God takes us out of our personal darkness “into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” According to Colossians, when we “share the lot of the saint in light” (Col 1:13), light enables us to see clearly. Thomas observes: “From it there follows the effect of grace, i.e., our transference from darkness to light” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 25).
We receive this transformation because of Jesus, the “beloved Son”: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand” (Jn 3:35).
According to Isaiah, we think that God disregards us, but, in fact, our sins block us from seeing or hearing God: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear” (Is 59:2). Rather than God hiding His face from us: we block it.
Christ, by His giving of Himself, breaks through the effects of our sins, what blocks us from seeing God’s loving face. Thomas explains that the Son, in His humanity, offered Himself for us to the Father and in His divinity brought us forgiveness.
Thomas says, “As man, He became a sacrifice for us and redeemed us in his blood; and so Paul says: ‘You were bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20); and from Christ, as God, we have the forgiveness of sins, because He took away our debt of punishment.” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 28).
Our “punishment” is often enough living with the darkness, the effects that come from blocking God out of our lives.
We don’t see God directly: “God is said to be invisible because He exceeds the capacity of vision of any created intellect, so that no created intellect, by its natural knowledge, can attain His essence” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 30).
We do “see” God in the Son because, as Colossians declares, the Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Thomas points out, “The Son is like the Father, and the Father is like the Son. But because the Son has this likeness from the Father, and not the Father from the Son, we, properly speaking, say that the Son is the image of the Father … for this likeness is drawn and derived from the Father” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 31).
Thomas offers us a human example as a way of imagining how the Word comes forth from the Father, although it is only a way of imagining. When we conceive a word in our mind of something the word in our mind has a likeness to the actual thing. It is an “image of the thing. Thomas recognizes that the eternal coming forth of the Word is only “faintly, represented by our mental word” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 31).
The Word of God is called the image of God. The Letter to the Hebrews declares: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1:3).
The Letter to the Colossians states: “In Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible – all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16).
Thomas ties the Son’s role in creation with His being the “Word”: “The Son is seen as a word representing every creature, and He is the principle of every creature” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 35).
Thomas explains that an artisan creates a thing according to the idea that he has in his mind, which is his/her “wisdom”: “This is the way God is said to make all things in his wisdom, because the wisdom of God is related to his created works just as the art of the builder is to the house he has made. Now this form and wisdom is the Word; and thus in Him all things were created, as in an exemplar” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 37).
Thomas recalls the words of Genesis: “He spoke and they were made” (Gen 1). Thomas reflects: “He created all things to come into existence in His eternal Word” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 37). The Letter to the Hebrews states: “By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made” (Heb 11:3).
The Gospel of John affirms: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3). Thomas understands that the Son is the “efficient cause” by which creation came into being and the “exemplary cause,” the model of created things (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 42).
The Letter to the Colossians asserts: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Thomas comments: “For God is to things as the sun is to the moon, which loses its light when the sun leaves. And so, if God took his power away from us, all things would immediately cease to exist” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 44). Thomas recalls the Letter to the Hebrews, which said that God was, “Upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3).
Colossians declares: “He is the head of the body, the Church” (Col 1:18). Thomas explains that the Church is like a human body because it has distinct members: “And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelist, some pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). The members care for each other in different ways: “The members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25); “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
The body has a soul, which is the Spirit: “The Church is one because the Spirit is one: “There is one body and one Spirit” (Eph 4:4); “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).
Christ is the “head”: “He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead” Thomas teaches that the Church exists in the “state of grace in the present time, and the state of glory in the future.” Thomas adds: “It is the same Church, and Christ is its head in both states, because He is the first in grace and the first in glory” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 48).
Christ is not only the first in grace in His humanity but others are justified by faith in Him: “By one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Christ is “pre-eminent in the gifts of grace, because He is the beginning; and pre-eminent in the gifts of glory, because He is the first-born” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 49).
Colossians states: “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). Thomas comments: “Christ had all graces; and so he says, that in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 50). John says that Christ was “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14),
Colossians announces: “And through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His Cross” (Col 1:20). Thomas reflects that “Christ is the head of the Church because of an inflow from Him… It pleased God not only that this fulness exist in Christ, but that it also flow from Christ to us; and so he says, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19) (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 51-52).
Thomas explains that people are reconciled when they agree after having conflicting wills: “Wills that were before in conflict are made to harmonize in Christ. This harmony was accomplished by the blood of His cross… Christ destroyed sin by His cross and fulfilled the law; and thus He took away the causes of discord” (Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, 53).
Thomas recalls that when Christ was born the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14). After His Resurrection, Christ announced to His disciples: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). The Letter to the Ephesians declares: “For He is our peace, who has made us both one” (Eph 2:14).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/