Reply to an Orthodox Criticism: Do St. Anselm and Other Catholic Thinkers and Apologists Adopt an Unbiblical "Rationalism" Leading to a "Remote" or "Impersonal" God?
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This was an exchange with two Orthodox Christians in the God Talk public bulletin board. Their words will be in blue and red.
ever read Anselm's Proslogion, you'll remember that Anselm tried
use reason alone to establish, that there is a God and that He is the Christian
God. Do you think that work is "hyper-rationalistic in any way?" If not, can you
see why someone might think it was?
I can see why someone would think that if they have completely misunderstood St. Anselm's aim and goal in the work, which he states clearly enough:
. . .I have written the following treatise, in the person of one who strives to lift his mind to the contemplation of God, and seeks to UNDERSTAND WHAT HE BELIEVES . . . I accordingly gave [this work] a title . . . FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING.
(St. Anselm: Basic Writings, tr. S.W. Deane, La Salle, IL: Open Court Pub. Co., 2nd ed., 1962, 2)
I reject the notion that this citation in any way engages Bp. Kallistos' statements.
Fine. It was in response to the charge that Anselm was possibly "hyper-rationalistic," anyway.
St. Anselm goes on to give his famous ontological argument. Far from this being a merely logical, solely rationalistic ploy, however, and denying in any way revelation; to the contrary, he is arguing that belief in God is pre-rational: it is already there in the mind, put there by God (as a sort of unproven axiom). I think this is why the argument appeals to Calvinist presuppositionalists (such as the prominent philosopher Alvin Plantinga): precisely because it is distinct from the more stricly "logical" or "empirical" arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas. At any rate, he is not "proving" the Christian God by reason alone, but in an approach of seeking to better understand what he already believes by faith. So this is a bum rap.
Philosopher Richard Taylor, in his Introduction to the book The Ontological Argument (edited by Alvin Plantinga, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1965, viii), supports my contention:
St. Anselm set forth his argument as an address to God. It is obvious, then, that he was not attempting to discover whether God exists. He was already perfectly convinced by faith of the reality of the Judaic-Christian God, conceived as a supreme being. His argument thus represents his attempt to understand, by his mind or reason, that which he already firmly believed by his faith or, as he expressed it, in his heart.
Thus, Anselm and those who reason in the same fashion (even including Scholastics and admirers of Aquinas), are not at all being "hyper-rationalistic." They are merely "loving God with their mind" as well as their heart. I have a paper on this and related verses on my site, which gets into the latter aspect in some detail: The Biblical Basis for Apologetics, or Defense of the Christian Faith.
So the Catholic, in constructing such theistic arguments from reason, is simply being biblical (and, for that matter, evangelistic/apologetic). To run these efforts down is, I say, to be unbiblical and very much unlike St. Paul (say, at Mars Hill in Athens), whom we are to imitate, and that is every bit as unbalanced and objectionable, if not much more so, as our so-called "hyper-rationalism" which the best Catholic thinkers do not follow in the first place. We are simply giving reason its proper place at the table, along with the "heart" and "soul," as our Lord Jesus commanded us to do. Do some Catholics go too far? Of course.
But if we are to talk about an entire system of theology and a Church, we must deal with its greatest teachers, not its worst representatives. You go after Anselm as a "rationalist," but you have been shown to be incorrect. Likewise, Bishop Ware goes after "Scholastic theology" (by extension, St. Thomas Aquinas, who basically started that school), in his quote below. So the objectionable aspect of this common Orthodox critique is that it is running down some of our greatest theologians and philosophers, who hold to no such notions, when in fact, at best, these notions are only present in individuals who have warped or inadequately understood Catholic theology and philosophy, or those who are heterodox / liberal / modernist. That is my complaint.
Latin Scholastic theology, emphasizing as it does the essence at the expense of persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea. He becomes a remote and impersonal being . . . a God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph.
(Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, The Orthodox Church, New York: Penguin Books, rev. 1980 ed., 222)
Your statement implies that the bishop is wrong.
This may be offensive to you but you haven't made any case for why it would be offensive to the philosopers that he has in view here.
I just showed by the example of Anselm (which was offered as a "proof") how it was patently false. It is obviously false with regard to Thomas Aquinas, for anyone who knows anything whatever of him. But you simply ignore my demonstration with regard to St. Anselm and move on to assert that I made no case. Curious . . . Who else do you claim Bishop Ware had in view? Who are these Catholic "philosophers" who had such an atrocious theology of God? You might bring up certain nominalistic theologians, but we agree that that was a corruption of Scholasticism, actually breeding many errors of early Protestantism. So that would be equating the corruption with the real thing, just as Luther did, thinking nominalism was the Scholasticism that he so hated, and heaped scorn upon. So in both cases a caricature and straw man is despised.
A couple of key questions are evident:
1) Does Latin Scholastic theology emphasize the essence of God over that of the persons?
I disagree. In accordance with its fundamental character, scholasticism
attempted to reduce the idea of God into the categories which related to the
laws of thought, to being, in general, and to the world. It began by adapting the
Aristotelian terms to its own purposes. God, or absolute being, was to Aristotle
the primum mobile, regarded thus from the standpoint of causation and not of
mere being, and also a thinking subject. The ideas and prototypes of the finite
are accordingly to be found in God, who is the final Cause. God, in Albertus
Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, is not the essential being of things, but he is their
esse effective et exemplariter, their primum movens, and their causa finalis.
Aristotelian, again, is the definition of God's own nature, that be is, as a
thinking subject, actus purus, pure, absolute energy, without the distinction
found in finite beings between potentiality and actuality.
[Western Philosophical Concepts of God, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Simply trotting out a bunch of Scholastic philosophical categories proves nothing in terms of whether Aquinas and his followers reduced God to the characteristics they attributed to Him. You need to quote me some Aquinas himself to show me where he ever "reduced" God to being "remote and impersonal."
2) Has this tendency, much more so than in Orthodoxy, theologically made God a remote and personal being?
No. It is simply a matter of different terminology and a greater use of philosophy.
Western theology, however, has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character.
More false "either/or" dichotomies. Being more intellectual does not necessitate being less "therapeutic." We have both things. Only the assumption (which I have noted) that philosophy (and theology) and devotion are some sort of zero-sum game, where one reduces in the proportion that the other increases, would give one the idea that philosophical theology necessarily makes God "remote," etc. I suppose you could try to argue that heretical philosophers in the west were bred in this thought-environment, but you will create a bundle of problems for yourself if you want to deny that the east had no huge problems of heresy. Philosophers who no longer have the faith do not represent the faith they left. That much is obvious. In any event, this is yet another example of Orthodox attacking the Catholic view, and so we reply. If the attacks were not made in the first place, it would never cross our minds to charge the east with a deficient God.
If these statements are clearly a caricature, it should be no problem to demonstrate how.
The burden of proof is on the one making the charge. You show me where a reputable Catholic theologian (Scholastic or otherwise) teaches that God is "remote and impersonal." This is ludicrous. We're not deists, for heaven's sake. One doesn't have to disprove a groundless charge. It's as if we challenged the Orthodox: "it should be no problem to demonstrate how you don't believe that reason has no place at all in theology, due to your apophatic theology." The very statement is its own refutation. If he had qualified the statement he might have pulled it off, with the usual derisive remarks about western philosophy, with which we are well-familiar. But he did not. He painted with a mile-wide brush.
I think I had blended the Monologion and Proslogion in my
it is the former work where he tries to establish things about the
being of God by reason alone. I don't think it affects the
substance of our discussion much, but I wanted to clarify.
Okay. No problem. I believe you are correct in your assessment here.
I guess your response to my question as to whether you
understand why some people might find Anselm's Proslogion
(and adding here Monologion) "hyper-rationalistic," [is] "no"
because his introduction doesn't sound hyper-rationalistic.
I find your response odd. If I were to assert that I would comb
through every scholarly work on this subject before responding to
you, would you then assume that my response is scholarly? No,
of course you would evaluate the question based on the merits.
At any rate, since you can't seem to understand why someone
might find Anselm too reliant on "reason alone" (whatever that
means) here are some quotes from the Monologion. I also
provide the link so anyone can see both the way Anselm claims
he won't stray from the the fathers and the status he gives to
reason alone and judge for themselves. Remember, I'm not trying
to convince you that Anselm is hyper-rationalistic, I'm simply
trying to get you to admit that it could seem that way to an
honest reader, but even that is apparently going to be a tough
concession to get from you...
Not at all. I can easily see how a reader might think that (obviously, I think he would be wrong). My point was that they are not interpreting Anselm within the totality of his Christian theological views. Let me explain a bit if I may. Our purposes in arguing this point appear to me to be quite different. You (I believe) are trying to make the case -- in the familiar Orthodox fashion -- that St. Anselm (and, by implication, many Catholic thinkers) make arguments from reason alone, and (if I understand your larger complaint properly) that this is improper, unbiblical, and ultimately (at some point) at cross-purposes with both faith and mystery (grounded in revelation or Sacred Scripture). Granted, my response is, no doubt, conditioned to an extent by Orthodox critiques I have heard so often in the past. You may have a somewhat different position. That can be clarified with more discussion.
My point, on the other hand (which is probably a larger one than that dealt with in our immediate discussion), is that these arguments must be understood in a broader context: that they are never intended in terms of being in opposition to faith or revelation or mystery, but to complement them. This ties in to my earlier counter-response to the common Orthodox critiques of western "hyper-rationalism." We contend that Orthodox are creating dichotomies where they do not exist: i.e., between faith and reason. We hold the two together in harmony. We don't see that they are opposed to each other, or contradictory, or contraries; at odds with each other, pitted against each other, either in Scripture or in philosophy/thinking/theology. I think that is the bottom-line difference of approach:
1. Catholicism: Reason and Faith are complementary (but faith is the far more important of the two). It is proper to use reason to a great extent in seeking to understand God and theology, because, indeed (as our Lord commanded us), we are to love God with our "minds" as well as our hearts. When the Orthodox seem to denigrate the role of reason in theology and Christian life, saying that Catholics go too far, they are creating unbiblical dichotomies and placing reason lower in the scheme of things than the NT places it.
2. Orthodoxy: Faith is primary. Reason can be used to a degree in understanding faith and theology, but it doesn't extend nearly as far as Catholic western "rationalism" takes it. Catholics speculate unduly and improperly on sacred, spiritual mysteries that are beyond human reason, thus undermining faith and belief in (and worship of) the Divine Persons, rather than merely philosophical "essences," ultimately creating the milieu for a detached, skeptical rationalism (detached from theology) to take hold.
Now, how does one decide which viewpoint is correct? I say that the Bible is key (because both sides fully accept it as God's inspired revelation). One must discuss why Catholics use reason in explaining God to the extent that they do, the nature of their intent in doing so, and if this methodology is at all contrary to biblical revelation and the approach of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church. What particularly offends me as a Catholic is that Bishop Kallistos Ware not only says that western "Latin Scholastic theology" goes too far in reasoned speculation, but that this somehow changes the very nature of God, in the mere exercise of it (". . . emphasizing as it does the essence at the expense of persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea"). The only qualification is the word "near," but that doesn't soften the falsehood all that much.
Discussing God's essence does not in the least imply that therefore the Personhood of God is minimized. This simply does not follow. It is Bishop Ware's own arbitrary dichotomy, presumably made because he accepts the prior assumption that reason and faith are somehow opposed to each other, in a zero-sum game relationship (i.e., when one increases, the other decreases). So he takes it to the next step and claims that this philosophizing almost makes God an "abstract idea." This is sheer nonsense (within a Catholic framework). I've written elsewhere that his critique indeed holds true, but it holds true for the later philosophical deists, not for Scholastic Catholic theology! He's about five centuries off.
It was the deists such as David Hume who held to a "god" like this, which concept flowed not from Catholic thought, but from a deliberate rejection of it. The philosophes of France, like Rousseau and Voltaire, thought very little of the Catholic Church. More radical French revolutionaries (some outright atheists) sought to overthrow the Church altogether, and to enthrone a "goddess of reason." This was much of the point of the French Revolution, along with overthrow of the monarchy. The British and American deists of the period, had, of course, very little connection with Catholicism: as the religion was still illegal in England and miniscule in numbers in America. None of this has the slightest connection to the 13th-century Catholic theology of God. Bishop Ware may think he sees this connection, but he (or you, as his expositor) needs to explain that in detail.
So, when we examine someone like St. Anselm, we need to ask ourselves what he is trying to accomplish, and from what axioms or premises he is proceeding, in his thought and arguments. He clearly states that his starting assumption is the Christian faith. The Proslogium, as an argument, is expressly intended within a Christian framework, as already noted. The Monologium, on the other hand, takes a different approach. It tries to argue from reason alone, so as to reach the person who is at that place in his understanding, not yet in possession of faith, or the faith, as it were. Does this mean that Anselm "suspends" his own belief or momentarily becomes an atheist in order to make his argument, or pretends that he is not a Christian? No, not at all. What he is doing is precisely what Paul talked about, in his own evangelistic efforts and strategies:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NASB):
though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that
I might win
the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who
are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I
might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law,
though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win
those who are without law. To the weak I became weak that I might win the weak; I
have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all
things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow-partaker of it.
Thus, the Christian apologist can do the same thing. To the atheist we become (in a purely rhetorical sense, "for the sake of argument") "AS an atheist" (not AN atheist, as if we are intellectual chameleons). Paul assumed the Jewish mindset in order to argue with the Jews, "though not being without the law," as he explains. This is common sense, it is an excellent means of winning them over; it is an act of charity; it is NOT forsaking his own beliefs for a moment. So the Christian apologist does the same, following Paul's example as the greatest evangelist of all time. There is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. If Orthodox disagree, then they must have a huge problem - bottom-line - with St. Paul, not Catholic so-called "hyper-rationalism."
And this is not the only biblical argument. St. Paul takes the same approach on Mars Hill in Athens. He seeks common ground with the pagan Greeks, in order to build bridges. Does this mean that he momentarily believed in the different Greek gods, or "the unknown god," in so arguing? Again, of course not:
Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ""Men of Athens,
that you are very religious in all respects. 23 ""For while I was passing through and
examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription,
"TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim
He cites their own poets later on in the discourse. Now what is wrong with this? Absolutely nothing. It is the biblical methodology of evangelization. The third biblical passage of great relevance is Romans 1, where St. Paul tells us that men can indeed know that God exists by simply observing the universe. This is an argument purely from reason, before one gets to theology (natural theology). Neither Paul nor Catholics (not even St. Thomas Aquinas) think that men can come to know the Triune God of the Bible in all His fullness by reason alone. That requires revelation as well. But they can know quite a bit indeed:
the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and
unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that
which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power
and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been
made, so that they are without excuse.
This is God's infallible revelation, not just my own "Catholic" argument. Orthodox must deal with this. None of it entails a denigration of God or some silly notion that He becomes "remote and impersonal" or merely a "God of the philosophers, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph," as Bishop Ware vainly asserts. And that is because the arguments from reason do not purport to change God's nature; God Himself, at all. The Lord God Almighty is Who He is, regardless of how someone attempts to explain or proclaim Him. They are simply "tactical" means, used to reach men who don't yet possess the understanding of revelation or Christian background and understanding. If they are consistent with truths known from revelation, there is nothing at all improper about them (as truth is truth), and Bishop Ware's charge is an absolute falsehood. They don't entail any denial of Christian belief.
Eastern Fathers agree with my analysis, in commenting on this passage:
God has placed knowledge of himself in human hearts from the beginning . . . He put before them the immense creation, so that both the unwise and the unlearned, the Scythian and the barbarian, might ascend to God, having learned through sight the beauty of the things which they had seen.
(St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 3; NPNF 1, 11:352)
These things apply to all human beings who possess natural reason. Yetthey more specifically apply to those called philosophers . . . to perceive in their minds the things which are invisible.
(Origen, Commentary on Romans; CER 1:142)
. . . the world . . . is truly a training place for rational souls and a school for attaining the knowledge of God. Through visible and perceptible objects it provides guidance to the mind for the contemplation of the invisible.
(St. Basil the Great, Homily One, Creation of the Heavens and Earth 1.6; FC 46:11)
[St. Anselm: Monologium]
It is in accordance with their wish, rather than with my ability,
that they have prescribed such a form for the writing of this
meditation; in order that nothing in Scripture should be urged
on the authority of Scripture itself, but that whatever the
conclusion of independent investigation should declare to be
true, should, in an unadorned style, with common proofs and
with a simple argument, ...
Precisely. In other words, he is applying the Pauline principle: "to those without Scripture, I became as without Scripture, though not without Scripture myself." Do you wish to quibble against Paul? If not, where is the gripe? Was St. Paul also a "hyper-rationalist"? Is someone justified in accusing him of that tendency, too? Is it true that you "can't seem to understand why someone might find St. Paul too reliant on 'reason alone.' " Or, can you "admit that it could seem that way [with regard to St. Paul] to an honest reader," or is it the case that "even that is apparently going to be a tough concession to get from you"? Whatever applies to St. Anselm in your critique also applies to St. Paul. So either your critique collapses (and it is a very common Orthodox one, as we have seen), or you need to show us what essential difference between Anselm and Paul makes the former "hyper-rationalistic" (in the eyes of whomever may think this, whether you do or not), whereas the latter was not.
and if he has no knowledge of many other things, which we
necessarily believe regarding God and his creatures, he still
believes that he can at least convince himself of these truths in
great part, even if his mental powers are very ordinary, by the
force of reason alone. And, although he could do this in
many ways, I shall adopt one which I consider easiest for such
The same observation applies. "Reason alone" is no different than Paul's statement about non-Christians in Romans 1. And of course Anselm notes in the same passage the "things, which we necessarily believe regarding God and his creatures," so he has not at all denied his own Christian belief in arguing thusly.
But, since the reasoning which we have observed is in no wise
There is good and bad reasoning. Bishop Ware's is lousy reasoning, on many levels: false and fallacious and shallow. St. Anselm's is impeccable and brilliant (and quite in accord with the biblical, particularly Pauline, model), as far as I can see. We know that Anselm is using Paul's methodology of "becoming all things to all men," because he said so (this is crucial to note):
Whatever I have said on that point, however [the Trinity and substance], is put in the mouth of one debating and investigating in solitary reflection, questions to which he had given no attention before. And this method I knew to be in accordance with the wish of those whose request I was striving to fulfil. But it is my prayer and earnest entreaty, that if any shall wish to copy this work, he shall be careful to place this preface at the beginning of the book . . . For I believe that one will be much helped in understanding the matter of this book, if he has taken note of the intention, and the method according to which it is discussed . . . [and] will not pronounce a rash judgment, if he shall find offered here any thought that is contrary to his own belief.
(St. Anselm: Basic Writings, tr. S.W. Deane, La Salle, IL: Open Court Pub. Co., 2nd ed., 1962, Monologium, Preface, 37)
With this, and my biblical arguments, as far as I am concerned, the argument you are setting forth utterly collapses. Does St. Anselm use reason? Yes. Does St. Anselm use reason alone? Yes. Is either intended to be in some sort of opposition to faith and mystery or biblical revelation? No. Does St. Paul use reason? Yes. Does St. Paul use reason alone? Yes. Is either intended to be in some sort of opposition to faith and mystery or biblical revelation? No. I rest my case.
Regarding Kallistos Ware's comment, before worrying whether it is right or wrong, let me ask this; do you understand it?
I've explained at great length now my understanding of it. What else is necessary?
I would not have understood that even four years ago, it took me reading Silohuan of Athos, Some Palamas, Zizioulas, and then rereading Lossky where I now think I understand it.
Great, then you are in a good position to further explain it to me, no doubt. Please do so.
One has to suspend our most common categories of thought a bit to understand the point.
I would be highly-interested in hearing your further opinions, as one who has entered into Orthodoxy and obtained new understandings beyond "common categories of thought." That said, I am not particularly impressed by the notion (seemingly yours) that basically runs like this:
You need to step out of your axiomatic and presuppositional framework and step into mine to truly understand spirituality and theology, because mine is superior.
The question, of course, immediately arises, "WHY is yours superior to mine, and on what grounds do you believe this? And on what grounds do you accept your axioms?" Otherwise, we have a sort of spiritual elitism, or esotericism. Once one realizes this, then they see that reason is always necessary, in any view, and that we all use it, whether we are aware of it or not, in adopting one particular framework and epistemology over against another. How one arrives at unproven axioms is another huge discussion. But I have provided biblical arguments because that is a common ground between us. The Orthodox is every bit as obliged to explain Scripture in some consistent fashion as the Catholic or Protestant is. I have applied what I believe to be clear biblical principles to both reason and evangelistic/apologetic methodology. Certainly no Orthodox can object to that. If they don't like my interpretation, then it is incumbent upon them to show me a better one.
Maybe that's easy for you, but just to humour me, could you give a brief explanation of what you think he means?
I've written plenty, even before this reply. You claim to understand him, so by all means tell us whom you think don't understand him. When he takes it upon himself to "explain" my Catholic way of thinking, then he is in my category and I respond accordingly. He's on my ground then, in my ballpark. I don't think he understands us. It could be, however, just a very poor or imprecise phraseology, which is false (or at least, misleading) as it reads, but not what he intended. That is always a possibility in any writing. I truly hope it is the case here, because I like the man's writing overall.
If we both agree what Ware is saying, we can then discuss whether it has merit.
Hopefully I've made a start. I've certainly done my work in this post. I eagerly await your reply.
Anselm adopted Augustine's view of the relation between faith and reason,
Which was what? What was wrong with it, according to you?
and combined Platonism with Christian theology.
So did St. Gregory Nazianzus and Dionysius the Areopagite, according to Jaroslav Pelikan, the Lutheran-then-Orthodox Church historian, who said that the philosophical influence was as prevalent in the last five centuries of Byzantium as it has been anywhere else (mostly Platonic). So what? St. Gregory Palamas fused Platonic and Aristotelian elements in his philosophical theology. So Eastern Fathers before Anselm and Orthodox saints after did the same thing. Everyone has a philosophy. Everyone reasons, and classical logic was formulated by the ancient pagan Greeks, not the ancient Hebrews. It's unavoidable.
argued in favor of the Platonic theory of Ideas—the separate existence
of universals—and established the medieval position of logical realism.
This is at the heart of the Orthodox
That's interesting, since Platonism was so prevalent in Byzantine Orthodoxy.
. . .
Aquinas, who studied under Albertus Magnus, was the greatest intellectual
of the Scholastic era. Aquinas combined Aristotelian science and Augustinian
theology into a comprehensive system of thought that later became the
authoritative philosophy of the Roman Catholic church. The metaphysics, theory
of knowledge, ethics, and politics of Aquinas were derived mainly from Aristotle,
but he added the Augustinian virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the goal of
eternal salvation through grace to Aristotle's naturalistic ethics with its goal of
This is precisely what the bishop attributed to it.
Thanks for the capsule summary of Scholasticism. Now how in the world do you get from the above to the good bishop's claim that such thinking came close to making God a "remote and impersonal being" distinct from the OT God, YHWH? Please explain this, because I don't have a clue how you reach this conclusion.
In the West [after the Carolingian "Renaissance"], scholastic theology evolved, which is antithetical to the Orthodox Tradition. Western theology is based on rational thought whereas Orthodoxy is hesychastic.
Both have both elements. We have plenty of mystics and you have plenty of rationality. It is silly to describe things in such black-and-white terms. It isn't helpful for understanding and creates more division.
Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to philosophical methodology.
So did most of the eastern fathers and theologians through history. If Paul can do philosophy, so can everyone else.
Characteristic of such an approach is the saying of Anselm [Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093-1109, one of the first after the Norman Conquest and destruction of the Old English Orthodox Church]: "I believe so as to understand."
I'm sure the context of his remark will explain it, just as I demonstrated with his other remarks which were taken out of context of the whole work and his thought in totality.
The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavoured to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories.
"Be all things to all people." "To the Greeks I became as Greeks." - The Apostle Paul.
In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man.
As in Catholicism.
We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by theoria and experience the Revelation of God. [Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos, www.nireland.com/orthodox...htm#notes1]
Again, there is no need (biblical or logical or theological) to create a division between faith and rationality. "Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and MIND." (our Lord Jesus Christ)
Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identified with the
vision of the uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of
man with God, with man's theosis (see note below). Thus, theoria, vision and theosis
are closely connected. Theoria has various degrees. There is illumination, vision
of God, and constant vision (for hours, days, weeks, even months). Noetic prayer
is the first stage of theoria. Theoretical man is one who is at this stage. In
Patristic theology, the theoretical man is characterised as the shepherd of the
I don't know what this has to do with our subject, but it might interest you to know that I defended theosis in my second book, and related it to Mary as Mediatrix. There is nothing in Catholicism which is unalterably opposed to this. As I said, we have mystics who can more than match up with yours (St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Liseux, Thomas a Kempis). The stigmata, e.g. (or how about Marian apparitions?) can hardly be classed as a species of "rationalism," and G.K. Chesterton wrote books about both St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas, glorying in the fact that the Catholic Church can include both entirely different sorts of Christians without having to pit them against one another.
not a matter of "attacking the Catholic view." Any intellectully
can see that Bp. Kallistos has no such motivation. It's simply the explication of
the conclusions of Orthodox fathers and teachers. It does no one any good to
pretend these real differences do not exist.
Nor is it any good to allow foolish misunderstandings which do not follow from our teaching to be perpetuated.
You mentioned Basil the Great and John Chrysostom; these are two of the
"Three Hierarchs" whose memory is celebrated today (January 30). The third
is Gregory the Theologian. Since you quoted the others but not Gregory I
thought it would be fitting to round out the tribute...
Amen! I love feast days.
XXI. This, then, is our reply to those who would puzzle us; not given willingly
indeed (for light talk and contradictions of words are not agreeable to the
faith fill, and one Adversary is enough for us), but of necessity, for the sake
of our assailants (for medicines exist because of diseases), that they may
be led to see that they are not all-wise nor invincible in those superfluous
arguments which make void the Gospel. For when we leave off believing,
and protect ourselves by mere strength of argument, and destroy the claim
which the Spirit has upon our faith by questionings, and then our argument
is not strong enough for the importance of the subject (and this must
necessarily be the case, since it is put in motion by an organ of so little
power as is our mind), what is the result? The weakness of the argument
appears to belong to the mystery, and thus elegance of language makes
void the Cross, as Paul also thought. For faith is that which completes our
I completely agree with this; so would Aquinas and Anselm, as shown, so what's the point? St. Paul makes a similar argument:
to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception,
according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the
world, rather than according to Christ.
2 Timothy 2:23
foolish and ignorant speculations. knowing that they produce quarrels.
2 Timothy 3:7-8
learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as
Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of
depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith.
St. Gregory Nazianzus was no more opposed to true philosophy than St. Paul was. In fact, Jaroslav Pelikan, the Orthodox Church historian, stated that he was one of the Church Fathers who was particularly dependent on Platonism for his terminology and thought-categories.
Of course we can quote The Apostle Paul or any of the Three Hierarchs on the limits of reason and on the light of reason. This proves only that reason has both power and limitations. I assume you agree?
Everyone does, but that is not the current issue under discussion, which is that Catholic use of reason is excessive and undermines devotion, the doctrine of God, faith, etc.
for diatribe on Mars Hill, Romans 1 etc. which only go to show there is
a power of
reason which of course I grant.
So what is it we are arguing about? If you continue to dismiss my arguments with a wave of the hand and won't interact with them, then I'm not interested in pursuing this.
You said you wouldn't try to summarize what Timothy Ware's meaning is because that was my job.
No; I said I had written more than enough about it and had nothing else to say (I did my best), and that it was your turn to explain your understanding of it.
I disagree. I think being able to accurately frame the position of another is a valuable step in mutual understanding
It certainly is. I've done my best, and spent the better part of two whole days working on this discussion.
(that is your interest here, right? Just checking since you continue to broadly dismiss people you haven't yet demonstrated you understand) and fortunately, earlier in the post you did try to articulate an Orthodox position on reason etc.
Is that not trying to "accurately frame the position of another" - as you suggest? That's a darn sight better than how you guys "understand" us, by insulting our greatest theologian and philosopher and implying that his thought leads to a "remote and impersonal God." Or gems of "accurate" understanding of Catholic philosophy and theology like this tidbit from Fr. Seraphim Rose:
Scholasticism], logicalness becomes the first test of truth,
and the living sources of faith second. Under this influence, Western man loses a living
relationship to truth. Christianity is reduced to a system, to a human level . . . It is an attempt
to make by human efforts something better than Christianity. Anselm's proof of God's
existence is an example - he is 'cleverer' than the ancient Holy Fathers."
(Not of this World: The
Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose, Monk Damascene
Christensen, Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation, 1993, 591)
I guess St. Gregory Palamas was "cleverer" than the ancient Fathers, too, then, since he found a new way to synthesize hesychasm and apophatic theology in the 14th century, teaching that man could mystically know and experience the energies of God but not His essence, using a synthesis of Platonist and Aristotelian philosophy to do so. But that's fine: it is only wrong to use reason with regard to God when western Catholics like Anselm do it. When they do it, it reduces Christianity "to a system, to a human level," but when a great Orthodox theologian does it, then he is regarded as a spiritual genius (above, of course, all merely "human" philosophy). Personally, I think St. Gregory Palamas is great. I think theosis is great. My problem is that I see no big difference in Anselm's reasoning.
[It] sounds like you are understanding the Orthodox objection to be a concern about abstraction per se. If I've got it wrong, please correct.
Obviously you think that our theology affects the doctrine of God (and true worship of Him, as I stated), just as in the filioque dispute and the controversies about Divine Energies. Precisely for that reason, many Orthodox participants in my old discussion group claimed that Catholics worship a different "god," some citing the same quote from Bishop Ware which I object to.
Overuse of abstraction might be an issue but it is not the primary point.
What is, then (if not the doctrine of God, or devotion to Him somehow being harmed by philosophical theology)? I don't claim to be an expert on Orthodox thought.
you are not a fideist I assume you wouldn't want to reject Ware's statement
because it is critical of western thought, you would actually want to be able to say why, but to say why its wrong, you must be able to articulate what he means in words that show you are thinking his thoughts. Try again.
No go. I've done enough work. I'd be delighted if I have misunderstood Bishop Ware. No one would be happier than me if I am wrong about it. I'm open to correction and further explanation. You have an open door of opportunity to explain your view to me. It will be posted on my website, too, for hundreds of Catholics to read and so better understand Orthodoxy and its critiques of Catholicism. Why the reluctance to tell me, then?
I'm truly just trying to find someone who has actually taken the time to understand the Orthodox position on this whole "God of the Philosophers" thing (as I say, no easy job) and has rejected it and can actually teach me something. Most people either don't get it, or accept it in my experience.
Great, but what's that got to do with me? I stated repeatedly that I had said all I could about the quote and begged, pleaded, to get you to give your viewpoint.
We just approach things so much differently that it would take more time to explain what we didn't mean than it is worth. I suppose there would be nothing more foolish than for me to engage in a hyper-rational exchange about the limitations of hyper-rationalism. Perhaps someday I'll get the time or energy to pull together a bunch of quotes about the "God of the Philosophers" and start this up again from that point of view.
I hope so.
[My two Orthodox friends started writing to each other at this point, and I responded]
I think a big part of the problem here is Roman Catholics who specialize in polemics with Protestants see a differently framed picture when presented with Orthodox spirituality. In many cases their eyes glaze over. This is understandable. But it causes unfortunate conflict when someone like Bp Kallistos is pegged as "anti-Catholic" without sufficient understanding.
Of course I did no such thing (not in my definition of that term, anyway). In fact, I stated that I liked most of his writing, and was simply trying to better understand what he meant by the objectionable quote.
I like Clark Carlton's explanation of the heart of man as "the bowels,"
use an OT theme. And he quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince
(Little Aviator) when he says: "It is only with the heart that man sees clearly."
Also, I'm sure we'd both admit that some Orthodox internet warriors are
"westernized" than the people they accuse of being too "western" (which is why I
try not to accuse people of that) and get into hideous debates that misrepresent
sometimes Orthodox authors state a conclusion which is consistent with
traditon but they don't fully explain to the reader how he can also reach that
conclusion. Maybe Ware did that as I know I have. (But I think all authors need to
do some of this).
instead of saying that an unsupported statement is wrong and bunk and
shallow and anti-intellectual etc., what someone who disagrees ought to do is note
that the statement has not been sufficiently supported with facts, examples,
clarification, definition, citations, etc.
I did both. How is it improper or contradictory to do both? Like I said, when an Orthodox starts talking about Catholicism, he is then in my territory, that which I know a few things about. As for the second part of your statement, I did that, too. I asked for "facts" in our theology which would suggest anything near what Bishop Ware wrote. I got nothing. I gave the counter-example of St. Anselm when he was brought up as an example of "hyper-rationalization." I got exactly nothing in reply. I asked for clarification and got none (I read Bishop Ware's book, so obviously I didn't think he gave any. The statement was a fairly isolated one). As for "definition," I dealt with the proper place of reason within faith by giving several biblical examples (which were - as always - utterly ignored). I asked for citations. What did I get?: Zero, zilch, nada.
But now suddenly you start demanding the quite "rational" aspects of "facts, examples, clarification, definition, citations, etc." I did all of this, but it's as if you were on another planet at the time and didn't notice, so you just parrot the request which was already abundantly answered, back to me. I wish with all my heart that this could have been a true dialogue and helped to clear up what in the world Bishop Ware was thinking in his statement.
I wish we could have gotten on the same wavelength. Early on asked if you thought the Ware quote as absolutely wrong your response indicated your mind was made up.
So a "made-up" mind can never change?
Your response didn't include anything about our underlying assumptions relative to what the word "personal" means and how that interacts with our idea of nature and "individual."
The citation didn't require an in-depth analysis of Orthodox thought, as I saw it, because it purported to be describing our understanding of God in the first place. This is crucial to recognize. In other words, Bishop Ware is speaking as an Orthodox (we all have our presuppositional biases), trying to describe the end result of Catholic theology proper, and philosophy, and so forth. I say he is wrong about the logic and result of our system, within our presuppositional and theological framework, which I vehemently deny is "hyper-rationalistic." How an Orthodox might look at it is another question. At no time did I claim to be an expert on that. I asked repeatedly how you understood it (because I regarded that as conceptually distinct from what I was talking about: viz., my own Catholic theology).
I understand the dislike of hyper-rationalism. I share that. But I think Bishop Ware criticizes is found in the Enlightenment deists of five centuries later, not (at all) in the Scholastics. It is a matter of definition and documentation. You demanded that of me; I return the favor if you guys insist on describing our system in such a negative and derogatory way that helps neither the cause of a unified theology or fellowship between east and west.
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Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 4 February 2002.