|William Hunt (1827-1910)|
The Light of the World
"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." First Letter of John 1:5 (KJV)
"Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light!Shine in your church gathered today." Refrain, Christ Be Our Light, Bernadette Farrell
And they made new holy vessels, and brought in the candlestick, and the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. And they put incense upon the altar, and lighted up the lamps that were upon the candlestick, and they gave light in the temple." 1 Maccabees 4:48-50 (KJV)
"All these fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no nearer to the answer to the question, 'What are light quanta?' Nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he knows it, but he is mistaken." Albert Einstein, in 'The Born-Einstein Letters', by Max Born
ADDENDUM (added 7th January, 2017, Epiphany)
ABOUT CHANUKKAH (HANUKKAH)*
|President George H.W. Bush celebrating Channukah|
from Wikimedia Commons
I will concede that there is no great theological significance here.
Classical physics treated light as an electromagnetic wave, a linked oscillation of electric and magnetic fields. In the early 20th century Einstein's explanation of the photo-electric effect gave light a second personality, that of a particle. This light particle, a photon, has no mass and travels at the speed of light (which is unremarkable, given that it is light).
Time-dilation enters here: special relativity says that time goes more slowly (stretches out, so-to-speak) as the speed of objects approach the speed of light. This is the basis of the so-called twin paradox: time will go more slowly for a twin traveling close to the speed of light than for his twin on stationary earth, so that when he return from his voyage, the paradox will have it that he has aged less than his twin, as illustrated below:
French translation: In the reference frame ("point of view") for the stationary (earth-bound) twin;
Time goes more slowly in the spaceship than on earth;
You are younger than I!
From Wikimedia Commons
Now there are objections to this simple minded picture. For example, suppose one regards the spaceship as stationary and the earth as moving away and returning--then the twin on earth would be younger when reunion occurs (see here for the analogous illustration.) There are number of other effects that complicate the analysis--time dilation on acceleration and de-acceleration (see here for a detailed account.) Time dilation is a real effect, manifested in longer decay times of energetic cosmic ray particles, in the very slight slowing down of atomic clocks in orbiting satellites (that has to be taken into account in GPS tracking).
From all the above the first thought might be that time does not pass for a photon. However, we can't say that time can be measured for a photon in a reference frame moving at the speed of light. Why? A fundamental assumption of special relativity is that measurements are ultimately made by the agency of light signals: light is the measuring agent and light can't measure itself. So it's more appropriate to think that a photon does not, in its own frame of reference, experience time. If a photon could be aware, its moment of creation (by emission of light--say an electron falling from a high energy level to a lower) to its annihilation (by absorption of light--say, an electron jumping from a low energy level to a higher) would be simultaneous.
Are there any theological implications in no-time for photons, for light? Well, here's an off-the-wall thought: we say that there is no time for God,
"But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." --2 Peter 3:8So the idea that God is light implies also that all times co-exist for God.
THE THEOLOGY OF LIGHT?
"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." Gen 1:3 (KJV)
"Thy word [is] a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Psalm 119 Nun (KJV)
"Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12 (KJV)
"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when [thine eye] is evil, thy body also [is] full of darkness." Luke 11:34 (KJV)And there are many more.
Now let's turn to John 1:1
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (KJV)The Greek word in the New Testament that was translated as "Word" is "λόγος" ("logos"). In addition to the meaning "word", other general meanings are "principle", "reason", "logic." Let's think about the relation between "light" and "logos". What do we mean when we say "I see the light!"? We see the reason, the truth, the rationale, the principle in what is said. So light, reason, the Word are connected. And when John wrote "in the beginning was the Word" and in Genesis we read "And God said 'let there be light' " we have an equivalence.
Your comments and criticisms are invited. (By the way, Ahura Mazda, the God, was embodied in light in Zoroastrianism--so I hope in this reflection I haven't made a heretical comparison to that early religion.)
*The two different spellings reflect the guttural Ch sound for Chanukkah in Yiddish, and the Anglicized H sound.
**This year the night before Chanukkah, my wife, a cradle Catholic and more versed in Jewish tradition and cooking than was my mother, made latkes that would be a prize winner on Chopped.
***For a more complete explanation of the dual nature of light, and the historical development of this physics that gave this picture, see The Quantum Catholic.