Category Archives: Rationalism

On the Non-Inevitability of Modernism

Once upon a time the pseudo-science of Marxism used to proclaim that its claims, like death and taxes, were inevitable. In a similar way the supporters of the theory of evolution used to proclaim that it too was the only ‘truth’ that counted, until real scientists pointed out that it was only a theory among many. Similarly, the EU used to proclaim that its aim of a United States of Europe was also inevitable, ‘like a man riding a bicycle you have to carry on towards it, otherwise you will fall off’. Actually if you are cycling (especially towards a cliff edge), you can easily stop without falling off and turn back, which is exactly what the pragmatists of Brexit have done. Modernists also use the same pseudo-scientific argument of inevitability to justify themselves. In a post-modernist world, their argument is particularly absurd and old-fashioned.

Thus, forty years ago I remember a priest of a modernist Western diocese of the old Patriarchate of Moscow (who later defrocked himself, ran away from his wife and then committed suicide) using exactly the same argument. ‘The Catholics had Vatican II, and we will follow them. It is inevitable. We will get rid of the iconostasis, have women around the altar table, have deaconesses, do away with clerical clothing and be modern like the Protestants and then the Catholics. It is just that we Orthodox are behind the others’. I have been reminded of his words recently, as a member of the Paris Archdiocese has said that since one of their priests in Belgium already accepts homosexual ‘marriage’ and that a priest under Constantinople in Finland actually does such ‘weddings’, ‘the rest of the Church will follow’. Inevitability? As in Crete?

A member of the Constantinople Archdiocese in North America has also recently questioned why New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was recently given the ‘Patriarch Athenagoras Human Rights Award’. After all, Cuomo is well known for his outspoken advocate of the pro-death (erroneously called pro-choice) movement. On 17 July 2014, Governor Cuomo referred to the defenders of the pre-born child as: “these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life … they have no place in the state of New York.” It seems a strange criticism when two years ago Vice-President Biden, who so lavishly praises the present Patriarch of Constantinople and has also tried hard to further the Church schism in the Ukraine and is another politician who is openly supportive of abortion, also received the same dubious masonic award.

To some it seems that an Orthodox Church accepting everything that liberal Protestantism and liberal Catholicism accept, including homosexual clergy, teenage girls ‘dancing’ around the altar and guitar ‘masses’, is inevitable. After all, they say, ‘we are all subject to the same sociological processes’. Such people, inherently secularist and faithless, have no understanding that this is a typically Catholic/Protestant/Secularist/Western attitude. The Church is precisely the only organism (not organization) that is not subject to ‘sociological processes’ (four Local Churches resisted Crete), but to the processes of the grace of God, processes of the Holy Spirit. If the apostles and martyrs had been subject to ‘sociological processes’, they would have censed the demons (‘gods’) as they were asked to. Instead, they refused – and became saints, the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

The point is that none of the incredible secularization undergone by Protestantism and Catholicism in the last fifty years (or in the previous centuries either) is inevitable. However, this is true only as long as long as we have the Holy Spirit and not empty-hearted rationalism, that is the ‘fleshly wisdom’ of the spirit of the world – and we know who the prince of the world is. As the apostate scholastic Abelard wrote 900 years ago in the Prologue to his work ‘Sic et Non’: ‘The Fathers had the Holy Spirit, but we do not’. For the interest of the apostate descendants of Abelard, the word ‘Fathers’ means ‘the (Orthodox) Church’, in other words: ‘The (Orthodox) Church has the Holy Spirit, but the others do not’. There is nothing inevitable about modernism, just as there is nothing inevitable about any other form of apostasy.

The Wisdom of God or the Rationalism of Man: The Church or Paris-Crestwood

But, lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand Thy wisdom secretly.
(Ps 50, 6)

For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart…Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe….Greeks seek wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified…unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto those who are called…Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
(I Cor 1, 19-24)

1. Introduction

First of all, I would like to thank Cornelia and all of you for inviting me here. I am honoured indeed to be among you. As I have subtitled this very brief talk ‘The Church or Paris/Crestwood’, let me just say as an introduction that I myself studied at the St Sergius Institute of Theology in Paris and that I know many who studied at St Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood. And let me say that I have met among those former students deeply Orthodox people. Therefore, when I speak of ‘Paris-Crestwood’, I am not talking of persons, but of isms, not of people, but of ideologies, not of sinners (I am first among us), but of sins. Just as many Church Fathers, the Cappadocians among them, as well as heretics, studied in Athens or Alexandria, so today a place does not create a heresy, it is a heresy that can infect a place. The main title of my address is indeed Wisdom versus Rationalism, which I believe are the two factors which lie behind all contemporary and also all ancient debate within the Church.

2. Wisdom

I have never liked the word ‘philosophy’. It has, to my mind, many negative, abstract connotations, like the word ‘philosophize’, which suggests futile hairsplitting. I would much prefer to translate the word ‘philosophy’ into English and say ‘love of Wisdom’ and would like to think that we here are not ‘philosophers’, but lovers of Wisdom. Our name is Sophia / Sapientia / Sagesse / Weisheit / Wisdom / Mudrost. We are devoted to Wisdom. Wisdom, as in the Books of Wisdom in the Old Testament, in the Book of Proverbs and in the Wisdom of Solomon, as also in the proverbial wisdom of all peoples, means understanding through experience, the understanding of the heart.

Here I speak of course not of the heart in the loose, emotional sense, but of the heart as nous, the eye of the heart, the doors of perception, the window into heaven, the spiritual essence of our being that connects us to the Divine. For when the heart is affected by an event, action follows because the seat of the will is in the heart, and not in the brain, mind or reason. The ignorance of this fact defines the fundamental error of Western civilization, wherein lie the seeds of its own self-destruction, which we are so tragically seeing today. This fact of course is why one learned professor can rant and rave against the Almighty, but another equally learned can praise Him as the Source of all our being: learning brings no conclusions regarding faith.

For Wisdom does not depend on the development of the mind, on how much we know or have read, not on Parisian ‘Sophiology’, but on the Galilean Wisdom of the heart. And that is also why an ‘unsophisticated’ peasant, a village greybeard, like a fisherman of Galilee ‘made most wise’, can be far wiser than any Parisian philosopher. If the heart is not affected, then all knowledge will remain theoretical, abstract, and without action, for only the experience of the heart leads to action. As we know, ‘actions speak louder than words’, and only personal experience and example can lead to conversion. As the Psalmist says: ‘The fool has said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps 13, 1). Here we note that it is written ‘in his heart’, not ‘in his mind’.

Wisdom can thus be contrasted with knowledge, science and reason. The Apostle Paul describes the latter as ‘fleshly wisdom’ and opposed to the grace of God (2 Cor 1, 12), or, as he writes elsewhere, ‘to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life (Romans 8, 6). Here, of course, the word ‘flesh’ does not mean the body, but has the Pauline and Patristic sense of ‘fallen human nature’. The body does not sin by itself, it is merely an instrument of our fallen will, to be used for good or for bad, for example, to procreate saints or to procreate monsters; just as we can use our hands to bless or to curse. The body is directed not by itself, but by the will, and the will is directed by the experiences and so understanding of the heart.

This is why the aim of our Orthodox Christian life is not the cultivation of the mind, but the cultivation of the heart, whereby alone we shall ‘see God’. This happens through repentance and leads to enlightenment by the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, that is, Theosis or Divinization. Knowledge, science and reason are what belong to fallen human nature, they come from the five senses, they are rationalistic. However, Wisdom belongs to inspired human nature, it comes from what some call the sixth sense, it is meta-rational. Wisdom is the knowledge obtained not from books, but from the purity of the heart. And that motivates the will and so leads to actions and it is our actions, not our theoretical knowledge, that will be judged at the Last Judgement.

3. The Change from Wisdom to Rationalism: The First Millennium West and the Second Millennium West

Approximately until the end of the first millennium, as Western Europe was still largely Orthodox, it espoused Wisdom, whereas in the second millennium it reverted, in innumerable ‘renaissances’ or rebirths, to pre-Christian rationalism. This was that very pagan rationalism or Gnosticism, worship of knowledge, that the Church had battled against at the Seven Universal Councils. Who had Origen, Arius and Nestorius been? Who had the iconoclasts been? They had all been rationalists who could never accept the inherent antinomies that One is Three, that God became man, that God destroyed death by death, or that a painted board is not a mere picture, but can carry the Holy Spirit and work miracles, weeping, bleeding, pouring out myrrh and healing.

Later the Wisdom of St Gregory Palamas would again oppose in antinomy the rationalism of Barlaam of Italy by explaining how the energies or glory of God can transfigure mankind, while the essence of God is unknowable to mere creation. In any age the rationalist can never accept contradiction because he is shackled to the earth by his fallen mind and cannot see beyond the end of his nose, as far as his heart. The chief sign of this transformation in Western Europe is how in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the Wisdom of the Ascetic Monastery, where the heart was to be cleansed and so the mind enlightened, was replaced by the Science of the Scholastic University, where the potential of the heart was neglected and the fallen mind idolized.

As Abelard in the Prologue to his ‘Sic et Non’ put it: ‘The Fathers were guided by the Holy Spirit, but it is lacking among us’. Philippe Wolff, in his L’Eveil Intellectuel de l’Europe, p. 196, describes the early twelfth century: ‘Activity deserted the old monasteries and headed, in expanded form, for the Cathedral schools and the chapters of urban clergy’. This was the beginning of Scholasticism, rational analysis and discursive reason, applying the use of dianoia instead of the nous, applying the dialectic of the pagan Aristotle to Revelation, as did the late eleventh-century Anselm of Canterbury. He preferred the order of man to the order of God, replacing the quest for holiness with the quest for study, replacing the Monastery with the university.

However, Anselm’s ‘faith seeking understanding’ within just a few decades became the impossible ‘understanding seeking faith’, which in its ultimate phase descended into ‘absence of understanding caused by absence of faith’. As R. I. Moore put it in his ‘The First European Revolution’, pp. 190-1: (By the early twelfth century) ‘charisma had been replaced by institutional authority, or, in plainer language, intellectual status, and access to the power it could confer, were passed down from the top, instead of up from the bottom’. And as Haskins put it in his ‘The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century’: ‘In 1100 the school followed the master and in 1200 the master followed the school’. No mention here of the heart or of the monastery.

Later, at the Council of Florence, when a Georgian envoy was asked whose authority he accepted, he replied: ‘St Peter, St Paul, St Basil, Gregory the Theologian; a fig for your Aristotle, Aristotle’ (see Gill’s ‘The Council of Florence’, p. 227). The reasoning of the syllogism, the reasoning of the Hellenes, led in the nineteenth century to the dialectics of Hegel and so of Marx, and is not the language of the Church of God. The Orthodoxophile Kireyevsky wrote in the nineteenth century: ‘Rome preferred the abstract syllogism to Holy Tradition…Rome left the Church because she desired to introduce into the faith new dogmas, unknown to Holy Tradition, dogmas which were by nature the accidental products of Western logic’ (Collected Works, Vol I, p. 226).

4. The Church or Paris-Crestwood

Over the last thousand years neo-pagan rationalism has spread worldwide and is called ‘globalization’, in other words, the world, whose prince is satan. The Church opposes this rationalism with Her Wisdom. At this very moment the battle between the age-old Wisdom of the Church and the second millennium rationalism of this world, which is revived paganism, is reaching a peak. This is the culmination of the battle between the Church and the German-inspired, Gnostic, humanist philosophy that infected Russian thought in the 20th century, from mantra-like Name-worshipping to Renovationism, from Bulgakov to Afanasyev, from Schmemann to Zizioulas. Today’s essential opposition on an island in the Mediterranean is also between Wisdom and rationalism.

It is not a question of denying the uses of rationalism, it is rather making sure that we make use of rationalism, the human reason, where it is needed and appropriate and do not use it to solve problems where, not rationalism, but Wisdom, is needed and appropriate. If we are to solve a problem of electrical supply, or leaking pipes, or engine pistons, or software engineering, let us use rationalism. However, if we are to solve a problem of human relations, of the improvement of the character, that is, the spiritual problem of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit through prayer, fasting, askesis and repentance, or if we are to express the truths of the Faith in dogmatic form, let us use Wisdom, which is meta-rational, the Art of Arts and the Science of Sciences.

All the controversies around this present conference in Crete have revolved around the use of Wisdom and the use of rationalism. We can see this in one of the items which those invited are not going to talk about – the calendar. The rational see only the Earth revolving around the Sun, but the meta-rational see the Earth revolving around the Holy Trinity. In order to avoid this opposition, this item was dropped from the agenda. However, we can also see the opposition in what they are going to talk about, for example, about relations with the heterodox world outside the Church. Here we have seen much use of spiritually empty reasoning, but, it seems to me, very little use of spiritually beneficial Wisdom, much use of knowledge, but little use of understanding.

Truly, at this Crete conference we see once more the age-old discussion between the Wisdom of the Church and the rationalism of Paris-Crestwood, between Jerusalem and Athens, between the way of the kingdom and the way of the world. This conference in Crete may yet become a Council, but only if the Holy Spirit descends on it. In that case it will become Great and Holy. If not, it will remain merely little and secular. We believe that since all the Seven Universal Councils in fact defeated rationalism by Wisdom, defeated the small-minded logic of the created mind by the Love of the Creator, today after a millennium of rationalism, we could do no better in this third millennium than to reiterate the truths proclaimed at the Seven Councils.

Let us consider the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. It shows the disciples becoming apostles, mere men inspired by the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit, as it descends from the heavens. At the bottom of the Icon is a crowned figure, the Cosmos, the knowledge of the world from all the ages. He is outshone, outclassed, by fire, by the Wisdom that comes from God, for Christ is the Word and Wisdom of God. He receives the slap of St Nicholas in the face of rationalism. This is expressed in Church Slavonic not by the ordinary word for Wisdom, Mudrost, but by the word Premudrost, meaning Supreme Wisdom, the Wisdom of God, so much greater than the rationalism of man, for ‘in Wisdom hast Thou made them all’ (Ps 103.24).

5. Conclusion
Premudrost, Supreme Wisdom, the Word and Wisdom of God, is the source of all Wisdom, Mudrost, for the Creator is the source of all creation, the Divine is the source of all human. Any other attitude is idolatrous. This is why we do not call the eighteenth century or a university education ‘enlightenment’, for the sacrament of holy baptism and the Feast of Christ’s Baptism are ‘Enlightenment’. This is also why in the ninth prayer before communion St John Chrysostom writes that, ‘Thou wilt come in and enlighten my darkened reasoning’. This is why at the first prayer of thanksgiving after holy communion we pray that the body and blood may be ‘for the enlightening of the eyes of my heart’ and ‘for the fulfilling of wisdom’. For without this purification by the Holy Spirit, we shall have no Wisdom, only knowledge, science and rationalism. And though these latter have their uses, they are on a lower level than Wisdom, which is on a lower level than Supreme Wisdom, the Source of all Wisdom.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

Prepared for SOPHIE (The Society of Orthodox Philosophers in Europe) in Fulda, Germany, 24 June 2016, by the prayers of St Boniface.