Lucifer the light-bringer

Satan in his Original Glory: Thou wast Perfect till Iniquity was Found in Thee
William Blake, c.1805

A short “thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation 

(Click on this link to hear a recorded version of the following piece)


I was interested to read that last year in the UK a total of 15 babies were named “Lucifer.” 

In one sense I’m not vexed or offended by this because, as any passably competent student of Jewish and Christian texts has long known, the name “Lucifer” simply means “light-bringer” and for millennia it has been used as the name of the planet Venus in its morning aspect because its rising preceded the welcome rising of the Sun. 

But some eyebrows have been raised by the news because, in the Christian tradition, the name “Lucifer” early on became the primordial name of Satan, aka the Devil. This came about because in the Book of Isaiah (14:12) the king of Babylon is condemned in a prophetic vision in which he is called “Helel ben Shachar”, meaning “shining one, son of the morning.” In the Christian Latin Vulgate translation of Isaiah, the name “Helel” is, not surprisingly, rendered as “Lucifer”, the Latin word simply meaning “morning star.” However, Christian writers quickly began to link this with Luke 10:18 which reads in the Authorised Version: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” and they interpreted the passage in Isaiah as an allegory of Satan’s fall from heaven and, thus, Lucifer became Satan, the Devil. Consequently, in our culture, you were simply never going to name a baby “Lucifer”  because this would, quite literally, serve to draw the child into participating in the work of the Devil. 

One way of putting this is to say that the name “Lucifer” was a “handle” that, when it was used — that is to say “turned” — moved a lot of theological and philosophical machinery behind the scenes and for many hundreds of years the name was really doing some seriously dark work.

But that was then. Today the situation is very different and none of what I have just spoken about is either widely-known or of any interest to most people and the name “Lucifer” may well now simply be a nice-sounding name. Well, perhaps that’s right and that the handle “Lucifer” really is now no longer turning any machinery in our culture even as it is being used more and more.

The question this thought makes me ask is what other names or words are being used more and more in our culture without any longer being attached to any real machinery and are, therefore, really getting nothing done except sounding nice? 

Words that spring instantly to my mind are: freedom, democracy, decency, honesty, wisdom, kindness, integrity, competence, care, service.

Anyway, it seems to me insufficient, and not a little pointless, to name a baby “Lucifer” simply because it sounds nice. Name a baby “Lucifer” because it’s a powerful name capable of doing some real work, real good work. Gift the name to a child because it’s a handle which, when turned, can genuinely encourage the child to become a “light-bringer” whose life’s work might help shed new light in our world and restore meaning to words such as freedom, democracy, decency, honesty, wisdom, kindness, integrity, competence, care and service.

Speaking personally, I’d be very happy to work alongside one such Lucifer.