Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Know First With Your Mind, Then Your Heart

A pious Orthodox scholar of modern times constantly stressed that worldly knowledge is of no consequence to the spiritual man. But equally strongly he resisted ignorance and those who teach that man need not use his intellect. “The intellect,” he said, “must serve the spiritual. The correct and humble use of our minds in spiritual pursuits is commended by the Fathers.”

He often related that some of the desert Fathers had come to believe that God, man having been created in His image, was like a human being: “Even Abba Serapion, an old and deeply pious ascetic, we read in the ‘Conferences’ of Saint John Cassian, believed in an anthropomorphic vision of God. Only when a learned monk from Cappadocia convinced him that both Scripture and the Orthodox Church support the view that God is ‘immeasurable’ and ‘incomprehensible,’ and ‘cannot be limited by a human frame or likeness,’ did Serapion repent of his misbelief.

“When the great desert holy man, Abba Isaak, was asked how such a pious ascetic as Serapion could have been seduced by demons to believe wrongly, he answered: ‘This error is not, as you think, a modern delusion from the demons, but an inheritance from the ignorance of the ancient heathens.’ We learn here that piety and simplicity do not excuse ignorance or prevent its erroneous consequences. We must all begin our spiritual lives knowing properly with our intellects what the Church teaches of God. Otherwise, we might all cry with the repentant Serapion: ‘Woe is me! They have taken my God from me and I have none to grasp.’ If we know of God first with our minds and then with our hearts, He can never be taken away. Knowledge and humility, not ignorance, are our goals.”


Blogger xofezura said...

I don't know about that, Atgnatus.

I remember some monks called a Desert Father out of his cell to discuss Melchizedek and he said: "woe is me, for I have left my cell and the work I was supposed to be doing to discuss matters I do not understand and that are of no concern to me."

Also, Saint Anthony asked God "why are some rich and some poor? Why do the good die young while the evil live to a ripe old age?" and was told in a vision "this matters of God are none of your business, Anthony, concern yourself with yourself." Or somesuch (recalled from memory).

So, yes, we need to be familiar with the catechism of our Church.

I posted a comment on the Deus Volent blog yesterday on a discussion of evil. The blog owner had posited that God caused the tsunami because it was a physical evil, not a moral evil. Because God is the prime mover, he has to directly cause the physical evil (or so said the author), because only in the cases of moral evil is human capacity for evil possible.

However, I went to the Catholic Encyclopedia (because his argument sounded wrong to me) and I observed there is a third category of evil: metaphysical evil. Metaphysical evil is "we live in fallen world, so sometimes shit happens" ie, the mechanism could be God (teaching us a lesson), could be demons (a la Job). I think in the case of the tsunami we can rule out human free will.

But ... at the end of the day, how does my intellectual knowledge of the categories of evil help? Do I know rightly? Do I know wrongly? Am I responsible to know now that I bothered to look it up?

What was great about the old Baltimore Catechism in the Catholic Church is that it basically answered everything, you could learn it by rote, and then you were done.

The Catholic Church (probably wisely) decided human beings could not be let off the hook so easily, so ...

9:04 PM  
Blogger xofezura said...

now we have an 800 page paperweight that nobody reads.

I agree with you that people need to know the basics (ie, God is not a man with a white beard). Beyond that, I wonder ...

9:05 PM  
Blogger atgnatus said...

I think we are in agreement. We use our intellect to learn the teachings of the Church. We use it to draw us closer to God. For example, our discovery of the Desert Fathers and the Jesus Prayer and our application of the Jesus Prayer.

Our mind is like a grappling hook which we vainly attempt to use to attach our heart and soul to God.

But discussing the source of Tsunamis and other "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin"-like questions is not the purpose.

12:34 PM  
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