Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Long way to go yet.

Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth.

Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.

The gift of God and of knowledge of Him is not a cause for turmoil and clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love, and humility, reside.

The following is a sign of the coming of the Spirit: the person whom the Spirit has overshadowed is made perfect in these very virtues.

God is reality. The person whose mind has become aware of God does not even possess a tongue with which to speak, but God resides in his heart with great serenity. He experiences no stirring of zeal nor argumentativeness, nor is he stirred by anger. He cannot even be aroused concerning the faith.


St. Isaac the Syrian (of Nineveh), 7th century

12 comments:

Joe said...

I wonder if a one might hear a similar comment from a Taoist master. If a Taoist were to approach St. Isaac and say that he believes he has tasted truth and sees no need to argue about it either. How then would one make a distinction between the truth of St. Isaac and the toast claim? Do you think that St. Isaac would distinguish being argumentative from giving an argument or giving reasons for the hope that is in us?

Apophatically Speaking said...

Hi Joe,

Thank you for your thoughtful questions.

We can infer from the many thoughtful writings by St. Isaac that he mostly certainly would make this distinction between contentious argumentation and giving reasons for the Christian Faith. It is said that St. Isaac was gifted with a keen intellect and he was also renowned as a teacher. This clearly shows in his writings.

Taken St. Isaac's quote in isolation, it may be quite possible to hear something very similar from a Taoist. But this is not to say that their metaphysics are identical or even similar - their understandings are worlds apart.

I believe what St. Isaac is conveying is that the Christian experience of God goes far beyond propositional truth and it certainly does not accompany argumenation. The Christian aim is not to convince nor primarily to teach. It is to experience God in reality and this experience is also the gift of truth, for God is truth. This equation can be seen in what St. Isaac writes:

"Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.

The gift of God and of knowledge of Him is not a cause for turmoil and clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love, and humility, reside"

This experience of God changes us so that the Christian is made perfect in the virtues. This is the aim for the Christian.

JCS said...

And yet, here we have a conundrum. By limiting God to being contained solely within the Christian faith (and I should very much like to know how anyone could do so considering the many flavors of "Christian" that have been offered since the beginning), one is acting out of either arrogance or ignorance.

To say that God cannot be known except through one way is preposterous. It is no more true than to say that your daughter's "knowing" you is more true than your wife's or your brother's or your friend's. All of them "know" you and can rest in that "knowing" even though none of them "know" you as you yourself do.

Why we feel that we have the only "right" way is beyond me. It is this "right-ness" that leads to zealous attitudes and behaviors.

Apophatically Speaking said...

JCS,

You employ faulty logic as it simply doesn't follow that a zealous attitude, arrogance or ignorance comes from "right-ness".

As to the conundrum I would agree indeed it is just that, a conundrum, indeed a wonderful mystery. For the Christian the Incarnation best exemplifies this mystery. From a traditional Christian hymn sung during the feast of the Nativity of Christ:

Today is born of a Virgin,
He Who holds the whole creation in His hand.

He Whose essence none can touch,
is bound in swaddling clothes as a Child.

God Who in the beginning established the heavens,
lies in a manger.

He Who rained manna on His people,
is fed on milk from His mother's breast.

The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men,
The Son of the Virgin accept their gifts.

We worship Thy birth of Christ.


As to your claim that many flavors of "Christian" have been offered since the beginning, you will need to provide evidence for this.

JCS said...

"As to your claim that many flavors of 'Christian' have been offered since the beginning, you will need to provide evidence for this." - The entire purpose of the councils of Nicaea was to resolve which "flavor" of Christianity was "right" and to denounce and excommunicate the losers. Then you have Rome vs. Everyone Else. Then Rome vs. Luther. After that, it was a free for all. It seems that in the past 2,000 years, there has never been just one agreed-upon stance of what "Christianity" actually is. Heck! Even Peter and Paul got into it.

(Odd that Jesus himself never wrote a word to give people guidance, don't you think? Seems to me he's the only prophet in history who never wrote a thing for himself and left his thoughts to the speculation and limited understanding of those around him. I find that rather perplexing.)

You even qualified your previous response: "I don't see a substantial contradistinction between the communion of the ORTHODOX (emphasis added) churches and communion with God." So, if I am to take this literally, you seem to be saying that Orthodox Christianity is "true Christianity" and excluding all the other forms of Christianity. Ever more and more exclusive.

To me, it seems that to limit God thus (accessible only through the Christian faith ---> only the Orthodox version of the faith) when taken to its logical conclusion makes God rather conditional in his love. I tend to fall onto the other end of the spectrum, that God is found not only in all religions (on occasion) but more often he is simply found without the aid of a religious teaching or dogma. The idea that God can be found in every atom in the universe, in the universe as a whole, and in all things in between still seems to me too small an idea of the greatness and vastness of his love.

Apophatically Speaking said...

JCS,

The pruning/sifting/falling away of various individuals and groups over time does not demonstrate your claim. This evidence you are referring to simply shows that people have departed from the Christian Faith. It points to the true freedom God has provided and that choices we make have real consequences. Truth however doesn't change into "many flavors", nor has it changed the Christian Faith.

As to your perplexity - I can see how this appears so to you, as you are making an assumption that Christ has left His followers without guidance. What you assume is contrary to what Christ Himself said He would do.

Indeed God is everywhere present and His love and mercy is without limit. And yet, I think you will agree, He can be found in the face of a child, the beauty of a flower, the majesty of the Milky Way. He can be found in a burning bush, a donkey, a still small voice, in a forsaken Servant. His choice of revelation of Himself does not necessitate limitation of the Divine. Yet, as you say so well, all these things are still too small to contain His love.

Here is something to consider: God's very being and His revelation of Himself (in creation, in time, locations, Scripture, indeed everywhere) creates a condition (a limitation) for us. For when we say that God is truth, we put a condition on Him that He is not non-truth. We see that God is life - and so we condition God to say he is not death. Light - not darkness (and so on). But I would say this is not really a condition so much as a way of describing God's nature as He revealed Himself. Is this limiting God? In a certain way all language, indeed all thoughts and concepts of God (even the most inclusive definitions) are limitations - it is inevitable (it is so, for we are finite). Hence you too limit God when you say "God is found not only in all religions (on occasion)". So we all put conditions on God in that sense, for God to reveal Himself in time and place involves limitation. So in that regard "the other end of the spectrum" to which you refer, is truly neither another end, nor a spectrum.

JCS said...

However, my point remains unaddressed. Is God only found through communion that is established in Orthodoxy?

If "God is everywhere present and His love and mercy is without limit" then does it not also follow that no "accepting of a sacrifice" is required to be in communion with him?

Of course using a religion as a means of being in communion with God is valid - just as valid as not belonging to any "community of believers" and still living out Who we are as creatures that are the image of God. My point was about the exclusivity of Christianity.

Orthodoxy is the vehicle that you are currently employing. For you, it is the only way in which you yourself have found this level of communion with God. But certainly it is not the only way for all people at all times - it cannot (be lest we discard everything B.C. as well as everything pre-colonial in most of the rest of the world).

I think what I am trying to express is that any attempt to contain "communion with God" into one system, dogma, religion, idea, or what have you is to make God to be less than He (or She or It) is.

Apophatically Speaking said...

JCS,

I addressed your first point in a reply at the post "On why I went East".

Sorry I don't understand what you mean by "no accepting of a sacrifice is required". Please clarify.

As to exclusivity of Christianity see my comments above on the Incarnation, God's self-revelation par excellence.

As to containing communion with God into one system/religion/idea - as I pointed out earlier using your logic this idea likewise contains God and so offers you no solution.

Apophatically Speaking said...

The problem can be boiled down to how it is (possible) for a God without limit, Who is outside of time and space, how it is possible for this God to manifest Himself in time, limited in space and time. Another way of saying it is how the Creator relates to creation without becoming part of creation, nor absorbing creation into the Creator.

JCS said...

"Another way of saying it is how the Creator relates to creation without becoming part of creation, nor absorbing creation into the Creator."

I thought the whole idea of the incarnation was that God "became a part of creation." If God can become part of creation in an individual, why not in each individual?

And why limit this to humans? It's a mathematical improbability that we are the only intelligent life forms in this universe and there is evidence that other universes exist, presumably with other intelligent life forms.

And why limit this to intelligent life forms? Could God incarnate as a comet just as easily as a human? why not?

"To what purpose?" you may ask. Who knows?

The idea that no one gains access to God except through Jesus is like saying that you can only find God in a particular molecule that is contained with a particular grain of salt and you have to find that molecule. The salt particle may be buried in the Earth or floating about in the ocean.

Now, go find it.

Apophatically Speaking said...

Hi JCS,

Oh sorry my last comment was merely meant to put the issue in different words, my aim wasn't to answer it.

Apophatically Speaking said...

JCS,

"The idea that no one gains access to God except through Jesus is like saying that you can only find God in a particular molecule that is contained with a particular grain of salt and you have to find that molecule. The salt particle may be buried in the Earth or floating about in the ocean."

Yes I agree, this would be absurd. However, I have not made such a claim. As I have stated before that God can be found everywhere at any time. The Incarnation however stands on it own, the joining of Heaven with earth, God and man in one Person.

"If God can become part of creation in an individual, why not in each individual?"

Well first of all Christians don't consider Christ an individual in the strict sense of that word. But yes certainly God can and does become part of many people, however there are some very important differences between Christ and us. Christ has two natures, two wills and two energies; our constitution consists only of our one human nature, one will and one energy.

As to comets, well they are not made in the image of God, for one thing. The other is that incarnation means "enfleshment".