October 19, 2009

mind and heart

A late commenter to my first post writes:

Looks like this discussion has been over for a few days, but I can't help posting a remark. Perhaps the heart of Newman's mistake is in the language used here: "development was simply the fact that no idea was expressed in its fullest form". Doesn't this betray an Enlightenment assumption, namely, that what we're after is clearly defined ideas and the more fully expressed the better? As an Orthodox Christian I'd suggest that nothing is more pregnant with meaning than the image of God on a cross, that this is the "fullest form", and if this is too murky and inarticulate for Enlightenment Man, so much the worse for him. Or perhaps the scene described in Revelation 5 is the "fullest form" and only the purified heart can take it in, rather than the rational mind alone.

I think that this is an important sort of comment to make further remarks on.

In part, I agree wholly with the author: I was getting to a very similar point when I mentioned later that the Gospel is the "fullest form", and our glosses are not "development". I may disagree with him in part, though.

In the later part of his comment, I think that he accepts–at least in part (he modifies this with "rational mind alone", which is important)–the division of rational and mystical thought (or the division of mind and heart) that is set in our culture by the narrative of Enlightenment vs Romanticism. Rather than seeing them as halves of a cultural whole, we rather accept the definitions.

This leads to a certain anti-philosophical bias amongst Orthodox commenters on the internet (of a certain sort). Because the councils are the councils and the fathers are the fathers, we rarely hear condemnation of their usage of philosophical terminology (unless the father has the misfortune to be St. Augustine), but the use of it in modern contexts is seen as illicit. This is in part a wholesome reaction to the sorts of Christian philosophers who think that Heidegger or something is going to lead us to a deeper understanding of Christian metaphysics by some method other than arguing against him, but it is also simply Romantic anti-intellectualism–or, more accurately, anti-expertism*.

The question of the role of episteme in Christian theology is a long-standing one, one that's history walks between the temptations of gnosticism on one side and a sort of intellectual Pelagianism on the other, where fallen man can apprehend theology through his natural reason, alone.

If theology is a task accomplished by both grace and the works of man, then its highest knowledge is a silent gnosis, but this is not a gnosis that separates initiates from non-initiates, but one that is revealed through the teachings of the Church and her Liturgy. We all participate with that gnosis in the mystery of the Church, however much worms we may be.

*In any case, romanticism likes to move between opposing the common man or the enlightened man against knowledge, which says a lot about what it tacitly accepted from the Enlightenment.

1 comment:

  1. Can you clarify your phrase "silent gnosis"? On the tail of theology being a task accomplished by grace and man's works, how can this knowledge be silent? Is silence the pinnacle of theology? I read somewhere that speechless wonder is the end of philosophy; is this the same with theology?