Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good. God then separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. (Nicene Creed)
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)
Are you seeking a Son without a Father? Give me a light without brightness. (Augustine)
Light. We define it as a transverse electromagnetic wave, a photon, pure energy having no mass. It is radiant energy that when striking matter can be reflected and reradiated in another direction or can be absorbed, typically transformed into heat energy. As a symbol, light represents goodness, wisdom, or the one true God. Jesus describes himself as the light of the world. The Nicene Creed describes Jesus as “Light from Light.” Jesus like God the Father is the source of light, the source of goodness, Truth itself.
We creatures are not the source of this light, but we can reflect and absorb the light of Christ. When acting according to God’s will we are reflecting his light, and in doing so others can see God through us. By removing the sin in our life, refining and polishing our soul as a refiner with gold, we become a mirror reflecting God’s Love. Furthering this analogy, we also absorb God’s goodness and light. Consider the related symbol of fire. God’s love is described as a fire that burns in our heart, warming us to the Good; or in the heart of a soul that rejects God, this fire of God’s love literally becomes the tormenting fires of hell.
The moon, as a body that reflects light but is not its source, becomes a good symbol for the Church and has been used since at least the middle ages as symbol for both the Church and Mary, Mother of God. It needs to be pointed out that the moon is also a symbol of fertility, the cycle of life and death, a woman’s menstrual cycle, and many pagan goddesses. Many anti-Catholic sources use this to conclude that this was the Catholic Church incorporating pagan worship by tying these images to Mary. But the opposite conclusion is more credible. The woman in the book of Revelation with the moon at her feet (representing the Church or Mary or both) is a symbol of the triumph of Christianity over paganism. The image of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the historic conversion from paganism to Christianity as a result of it is a good example of this.
Our world though is both similar and very different from the pre-Christian world of the past. The “spiritual but not religious” crowd often borrow from Gnosticism of the past. Being tolerant of all beliefs sounds a lot like Pilate’s “What is Truth.” But the difference in todays post-Christian era seems to lie in the notion that Christianity has been tried and failed so now it’s time to move on. Recent polling shows a significant increase in the percentages of people responding “none” when asked for religious affiliation. This “Church of the Nones”, if it were a denomination, would be a dominant one. How can we as Christians called to bring Christ to the world evangelize this new cohort inoculated as it were from the Word of God by hearing it, and hearing it explained away?
I propose then that the image of a crescent moon can be useful as an image of the post Christian world which we unfortunately are now living in. The reflection of Christ is still present in ideologies and belief systems that do not accept Christ but are still derived from a Christian culture. Like the crescent moon, the light is dim and barely illuminates the sky, but there is still some truth, and Christ still shines. This then presents the opposite danger. Why even evangelize if Christ is in all? Like a fine surgeon with a sharp scalpel we need to cut out the malignant errors while not killing the host truth. It is important to recognize truth wherever we find it, however dim and hidden, so that we can best bring others to be open to seeing truth in its fullness.