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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Saint Athanasios Parios on Philosophy

Saint Athanasios Parios (Feast Day - June 24)

Saint Athanasios Parios (b. Paros, 1722 - d. Chios, 1813) was one of the most significant ecclesiastical figures of the 18th and 19th century and is listed with Saints Nikodemos the Hagiorite and Makarios Notaras as the three most significant Kollyvades Fathers and defenders of traditional Orthodoxy in modern times. Saint Athanasios was especially influential in his confrontation with western models of doing philosophy and theology as a director of the Mount Athos Academy Athoniada) as well as the School of Chios.

Theoretical and Practical Philosophy

- A great and wonderful gift has been given by God to man: the faculty of reason. This invents various sciences. Employing this faculty, man digs up from the earth various kinds of metals and precious stones. Then he examines the different species of animals: the quadrupeds, the bipeds; those that crawl on the earth, the birds, the terrestrial animals, the aquatic, and the amphibious; the wild and the tame, the viviparous and the oviparous. He examines the various kinds of trees: the evergreen and those that shed their leaves, those that are fruitless and the fruitbearing. He seeks to find out which trees are suitable for the needs of the various arts, and which are useful only as firewood.

Reason does not stop here. It leaves the globe and ascends to the atmosphere. And it rises much higher than the atmosphere, and investigates the heavenly bodies: which are immobile and which are mobile and are called planets. It investigates and observes the eclipses of the sun and of the moon, as well as of the other planets.

And since all these things which the rational faculty investigates are creatures of God, the philosophy which is knowledge of all these things is called by the ancients "knowledge of things divine". And this knowledge is called "the theoretical part of philosophy".

Distinct from the "theoretical part of philosophy" is the "practical part". The latter is concerned with the examination of human actions. For this reason it is called "knowledge of things human", such as the virtues and the vices. This part of philosophy shows man what are the things which he ought to do as a rational being, and what are the things he ought not to do, because he is a rational being.

Practical philosophy institutes laws in the cities, good order in things. It teaches how cities, homes and individuals can be saved.

It is the chief part of philosophy, for it promises to render men happy, insofar as this is possible to man. And indeed, the ultimate good of the human virtues, and briefly, the goal of man as man, is none other than happiness, that is, a blessed life.

However, we must confess that happiness, metaphysically understood - that is, in its full perfection - cannot be attained in the present life, as the facts themselves prove. But a moderate happiness is possible, analogous to man's nature, which is subject to various passions and changes. A life is possible which partakes more of ethical goods and less of ethical evils. The latter consist of bodily sufferings, misfortunes, and deaths. These are improperly called evils, because they cannot harm the rational soul, which chiefly constitutes a human being.


Divine Philosophy (Internal)

- Philosophy is distinguishable into the secular or "external" and the divine or "internal". The latter is also called philosophy "from God", "heavenly", and "true". Examples of secular philosophy are the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers and those of European philosophers.

Divine philosophy is contained in the Holy Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament - in the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles of the Apostles - and in the writings of the holy Church Fathers, the early as well as the later ones.

- Only divine or internal philosophy has rendered men happy, in the present life, as far as this is possible, and in the afterlife most completely. And this, because the teaching of Christ makes virtue something dear, freely espoused, not a product of constraint. This is the really true philosophy: to render free from passions those who are slaves of passions, to render heavenly those who are earthly, to render the vainglorious as godly-minded, to render the mortal immortal, sons of the heavenly Father according to grace.


Secular Philosophy (External)

- Secular or "external" philosophy is in its nature neither good nor bad. It becomes good or bad according to the use to which it is put by those who possess it. Logic, metaphysics, theology, and rhetoric, can be put to good use. I cannot understand why rhetoric is neglected. For the Church it is not simply useful, it is necessary. These subjects are both useful and valuable; and it is not necessary to go to Europe to receive instruction in them.

- Many, indeed, possessing "external wisdom", greatly benefited the Church; others, on the contrary, harmed and disturbed it.

- In his youth, St. Gregory Palamas devoted himself to the study and acquisition of external (secular) philosophy. For it was proper for his noble nature to be equipped with the instruments provided by philosophy. It did not take him long to become very proficient in Grammar and Rhetoric, to such a degree that he was greatly praised for his speeches and his writings by all the teachers of that time who were outstanding in these subjects. Then he became proficient in Physics and in Logic, and in other subjects on which Aristotle had written.

- In Western Europe exaggerated importance is ascribed to secular philosophy. There philosophers occupy themselves unceasingly with useless and completely vain subjects. They do this for the sake of praise for their genius. Among them many clergymen put aside their religious vocation, desert it, in order to learn teachings alien to their religious vocation. And worst of all, philosophy is used to judge and criticize the Holy Scriptures.


Ancient Greek Philosophy

- Regarding Pythagoras and Plato, they and their followers rightly held that the soul is immortal. However, lacking the divinely revealed teaching, they mythologized about the nature of the afterlife.

- Cebes, and before him Socrates, called true education that which effects a purification of the soul from the irrational passions, and the achievement of all the virtues: courage, justice, temperance, clemency, gentleness, compassion, and all the rest, which constitute the subject-matter of Ethical Philosophy. These virtues lead man to happiness.

- Plato the philosopher and after him all the later philosophers distinguish human goods into three kinds: (1) goods of the body, (2) goods outside the body, and (3) goods of the soul. The goods of the body are health, beauty, and strength. The goods outside the body are wealth, offices, and friends. The goods of the soul are the virtues and all kinds of learning, which taken together constitute the system of philosophy. Viewed in the hierarchy of goods, philosophy is given the first place, far surpassing in value the goods of the body and the goods outside the body.

- The chief and special good of Constantinople, which was "the queen of all cities", was that from the beginning she was the mother of discourses and wisdom, and the dwelling-place of the Hellenes, by having brought together the three famous schools of the Athenians, namely, the Stoic, the Aristotelian, and the Platonic into relation with the piety of Christianity. She adorned that secular wisdom with the true faith of the God of three hypostases, the Almighty and Ruler of All, with the preaching of the Cross and with the simplicity of the Gospel. And briefly, she rendered that secular wisdom a humble and grateful servant of the true and first philosophy.


Western Philosophy

- Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure are two very great enemies of our Church.

- The doctrines of the new European philosophers are not necessary for man's true happiness. They are either simply useless or pernicious.

- What led the French to end up in a state of de-Christianization? It was the madness, the rage, the enthusiasm for freedom. This led to a rebellion against every principle and authority, not only earthly, but also heavenly. Scripture, God, Christ, the Apostles, the rulers, and the laws were banished. In their place were put Voltaire, Rousseau, La Mettrie, and others like them.

- All the teachers of the academies are atheists. They regard it as a big disgrace to appear as Christians. They want to be known as philosophers. This is their boast, their glory. Therefore, be careful with regard to those who come from France pretending to be brothers and friends, for the opposite is true. From cunning teachers come cunning lessons.

- Do not listen to these philosophers, or rather to these lovers of darkness. They are fools. Scripture says: "A fool said in his heart, 'There is no God';" and "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."

- Voltaire is the most foolish of all men, having gone beyond all other atheists in impiety, striven to destroy all religion.

- Spinoza was most godless in that he held that the matter of the universe constitutes the essence of God.

Taken from Cavarnos, Constantine; Modern Orthodox Saints 15 - Saint Athanasios Parios; Institute For Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Belmont, MA, 2006.

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