Friday, November 5, 2010

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on Intellectualism

The Arabic original can be found here.

The Baptism of Knowledge

There is knowledge and there is knowledge. There is knowledge about matters of the Kingdom of Heaven and there is the knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is knowledge about God and there is knowledge of God. The first kind of knowledge precedes the second kind. The first kind of knowledge is a map to God, and the second kind of knowledge is following the map in order to reach the face of God. We derive the map from tradition and tradition, in the truest meaning of the word, is the work of the Holy Spirit of the Lord in the saints, generation after generation. The map is the life story of these saints in their knowledge, their companionship, their being alone with God. And it is also in their teaching, that is their transmission of what they learned and experienced and saw, on the pattern of John the Beloved in his first epistle where he begins by saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life… we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1; 3-4).

The first kind of knowledge is necessary, and without it we will not attain the second kind of knowledge. Without a map, we do not know the path to the treasure. We acquire the first kind of knowledge with the mind, by reading, by hearing… However, there is valuable intellectual knowledge and there is worthless knowledge. The basis of this statement about intellectual knowledge of divine things is that the first and last importance in it is salvation, eternal life, the face of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, and otherwise it is just extraneous marks on the map that do no good. Naturally, a person can claim that his every effort toward the gates of intellectual knowledge of divine things is indirectly connected to the plan of salvation. On this basis, he can exert greater effort than is necessary and can spend more time than he needs on what he claims is helpful to the plan of salvation. And thus he can exert efforts and lose time that would have been better spent employed in following the experiential, spiritual path to holiness. When today you see many people who are absorbed with theological research and studies but who do not keep the commandments, fast, pray, practice repentance in any way worth mentioning, or only in a limited, superficial way, then you can only say that these people are relying on a broken compass in their voyage upon the sea of the intellect and the intellectual sciences towards the promised land, the Heavenly Jerusalem. I am not distorting the truth if I say that a large proportion of these people think that intellectual knowledge of theology is enough to achieve salvation and the knowledge of God. If they have such a conviction, then they have fallen into intellectual idolatry without knowing it, or have fallen into worship of the self through the intellect since the intellect is the great faculty of the soul in a human. I say that they apply their intellectualism to God and consider Him to be an intellect, or one might say “the universal intellect”, or treat him as an intellectual datum and so worship him with intellectual contemplation, or one could say that they worship themselves and their intellectual efforts in Him. They create him with their intellects, in the image of their intellects and then worship what they have created, and this exactly is idolatry! What is important is that we know that God is not an intellect and that He is not attained through the intellect. God is Spirit and He is not known except through the Spirit of God! For this reason the first kind of knowledge is not an end in itself, but rather its purpose is for you to see the outline of a map towards God within human consciousness through tradition, since man has an intellect and his intellect is the primary faculty which helps him to discern his path towards his Lord. Then he rushes, with all his powers, to seek the second kind of knowledge through asceticism, self-denial, faith, and steadfastness in the keeping of the commandments, fasting, and prayer, seeking purity of heart and thence the Spirit of God. Naturally, if we speak about the first kind of knowledge and the second kind of knowledge, this is not with the intention of dividing the two with the idea that the first kind of knowledge comes first and then the second kind follows. The point is to highlight the role of the intellect since it is the tool of the first kind of knowledge as distinct from the role of the heart and the nous* and being since it is the tool of the second kind of knowledge. Experientially, the heart moves the intellect to observe and examine what comes to the faculties of perception towards what enriches the map of the spiritual life and then the heart is supplied by this and the heart in turn employs what the intellect has grasped in this direction, towards a more profound asceticism and life of prayer, towards the vision of the face of God, so that the person will reach a state of maturity such that the Spirit of God takes him and instructs him in the mysteries of the divine life directly!

To further clarify this picture, I will say that the whole heart must be orientened upwards. With regard to divine things, the heart cannot be divided. Either all of it is God’s, or it will not ever be God’s. If the heart is completely God’s, then it is like a master over the intellect and directs it in this way or that and according to its reckonings it will collect the nectar of knowledge and bring it down to the heart, just as a bee collects nectar from flowers without the unwholesome parts, and brings it back to the hive. That is where the divine honey and the royal jelly are made. The heart is the beehive. That is where nectar turns into honey, by walking in the divine teachings and the grace of God, where it acquires good things and there is nothing better! The sweets of divine love are taken from what is gathered in the heart. “Your love is sweeter than wine.” By means of the intellect standing in the heart. When the intellect starts to gather the worthless together with the valuable without distinction, this is because of a lack of uprightness in the heart with regard to God. Thence the preoccupation of intellectualist theologians with intellectual research without focusing on the life of prayer, indicating a profound spiritual problem that has afflicted their heart and their being. In this regard, intellectual work has the effect of disguising things, since the person appears as though he is living with divine effects while his heart is a gloomy wasteland, holding back the work of God and a desert without His grace. In such a state, the intellect becomes a tool, indeed the primary tool, of ignorance of knowledge of the truth, which is the vision of God as He is. It is not injustice when the Chosen Apostle Paul says that God makes the wise ignorant and chooses the ignorant to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:20, 27).

On the basis of this principle, neither does an abundance of intellectual knowledge about theology bring a person nearer to the Lord Jesus, nor does a lack of knowledge separate him from his Lord. The issue is an issue of complete faith in the yearning for God in the heart. Whenever a person’s heart is completely for the Lord without hesitation, then even one single commandment is enough for him to reach God if he follows it with his whole heart! I say this conscious that the meaning of what I say is not necessarily that we should be content with minimal intellectual knowledge of theology. Rather, its meaning is that the state of the heart is that which gives value to intellectual knowledge, whether it is great or small. Then we must affirm that there are different gifts which complete each other for the glory of God and the building up of the faithful, just as there are different needs within the Church and with her engagement with the world and the spirit of the world and the philosophies of the world and the heresies of the world which make the gates of intellectual knowledge of theology useful when some of the faithful have it in abundance. For this reason we have the examples of those like Saint Basil the Great and we have the examples of many of the great ascetics of Egypt and Syria, and Palestine who were ignorant of reading and writing but who knew perfectly the alphabet of the Spirit of God within the university of the desert. What is important is that we know that the connection between these two groups is that they sought knowledge of the face of their Lord and were serious about it with all their heart and all their soul and all their power. The virtue here is not in the work of the intellect, at the first level that is instrumental work in a sense, but rather in the grace of God and the movement of the heart!

And so the Lord Jesus, in this time of preoccupation with human scientific and intellectual achievements whether they are in theological or worldly sciences, is the greatest unknown. Today we have attained the sharpest and most developed pagan worship in the name of God: worship of the self through the intellect! Most people do not want to leave their situation because they believe the lie, because of the absence of the Lord God from them, because their hearts are not upright, and the believe it to be true. But the madmen are those who still believe that knowledge of God comes from above as grace and that man is stupid and has no knowledge. They seek this knowledge in humbleness of heart and steadfastness. Those are the ones who have been baptized for the knowledge of the truth. The baptism of knowledge is that which activates the baptism of water and spirit unto eternal life. Those are the ones whom you will find with the Apostle Paul in the divine mystery, “Looking upon the glory of the Lord with an uncovered face as though in a mirror, [transforming] into that very image, from glory to glory just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

*Nous (Ar. dhihn) is the depth of the heart (St. Diodochus of Photiki). This is not the same as the intellect (Ar. 3aql, Gr. dianoia) which indicates the non-intuitive faculties of perception and logic through conscious thought and contemplation.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite, Douma
October 31, 2010

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