May 19, 2011

The Relationship Between Faith and Reason In Orthodoxy

By Ivan Kireyevsky

From: On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy (1856)

In the Church, the relationship between reason and faith is completely different from their relationship in the Latin and Protestant confessions. The difference is this: in the Church, Divine Revelation and human thought are not confused. The boundaries between the Divine and the human are transgressed neither by science nor by Church teaching. However much believing reason strives to reconcile reason and faith, it would never mistake any dogma of Revelation for a simple conclusion of reason and would never attribute the authority of revealed dogma to a conclusion of reason. The boundaries stand firm and inviolable. No patriarch, no synod of bishops, no profound consideration of the scholar, no authority, no impulse of so-called public opinion at any time could add a new dogma or alter an existing one, or ascribe to it the authority of Divine Revelation — representing in this manner the explanation of man’s reason as the sacred teaching of the Church or projecting the authority of eternal and steadfast truths of Revelation into the realm of systematic knowledge subject to development, change, errors, and the separate conscience of each individual. Every extension of Church teaching beyond the limits of Holy Tradition leaves the realm of Church authority and becomes a private opinion — more or less respectable, but still subject to the verdict of reason. No matter whose this new opinion might be, if it is not recognised by former ages — even the opinion of a whole people or of the greater part of all Christians at a given time — if it attempts to pass for a Church dogma, by this very claim excludes itself from the Church. For the Church does not limit its self-consciousness to any particular epoch, however much this epoch might consider itself more rational than any former. The sum total of all Christians of all ages, past and present, comprises one indivisible, eternal, living assembly of the faithful, held together just as much by the unity of consciousness as through the communion of prayer.

This inviolability of the limits of Divine Revelation is an assurance of the purity and firmness of faith in the Church. It guards its teaching from incorrect reinterpretations of natural reason on the one hand, and, on the other, guards against illegitimate intervention by Church authority. Thus, for the Orthodox Christian it will forever remain equally incomprehensible how it was possible to burn Galileo [Kireyevsky apparently confused Galileo with Giordano Bruno] for holding opinions differing from the opinions of the Latin hierarchy, and how it was possible to reject the credibility of an apostolic epistle on the ground that the truths it expressed were not in accord with the notions of some person or some epoch [a reference to Luther’s rejection of the Epistle of James].

But the more clearly and firmly the limits of Divine Revelation are defined, stronger is the urgency for believing thought [noesis] to reconcile the concept of reason with the teaching of faith. For truth is one, and striving for the consciousness of this unity is the constant law and the basic stimulus of rational activity.

The more free and more sincere believing reason is in its natural activities, the more fully and more correctly it aspires towards Divine truth. For the thinking Orthodox Christian, the teaching of the Church is not an empty mirror which reflects the features of each personality; it is not a Procrustean bed which deforms living personalities according to one arbitrary yardstick; it is rather the highest ideal towards which believing reason alone can aspire, the ultimate limit to the highest kind of thought, the guiding star which burns on high and, reflected in the heart, illumines the path to truth for reason.

But, in order to bring faith and reason into accord, it is not enough for the thinking Orthodox Christian to construct rational concepts in accordance with the tenets of faith, selecting the appropriate, excluding the offensive, and thus ridding reason of everything which contradicts faith. If Orthodox thinking consisted of such a negative approach to faith, the results would have been the same as in the West. Concepts irreconcilable with faith deriving from the same source and in the same manner as those compatible with it would have an equal right to recognition. Thus, the same painful dichotomy would occur in the very basis of self-consciousness and would sooner or later unavoidably deflect thought from faith.

But the main difference in Orthodox thinking is precisely this: it seeks not to arrange separate concepts according to the demands of faith, but rather to elevate reason itself above its usual level [move from dianoetic to noetic thinking], thus striving to elevate the very source of reason, the very manner of rational thinking, to the level of sympathetic agreement with faith.

The first condition for the elevation of reason is that man should strive to gather into one indivisible whole all his separate faculties, which in the ordinary condition of man are in dispersion and contradiction; that he should not consider his abstract logical [dianoetic] faculty as the only organ for comprehending truth; that he should not consider the voice of enraptured feeling, uncoordinated with other forces of the spirit, as the faultless guide to truth; that he should not consider the promptings of an isolated aesthetic sense, independent of other faculties, as the true guide to the comprehension of the supreme organisation of the universe; that he should not consider even the dominant love of his heart, separate from the other demands of the spirit, as the infallible guide to the attainment of the supreme good; but that he should constantly seek in the depth of his soul that inner root of understanding where all the separate faculties merge into one living and whole vision of the mind [integral knowledge].

And, for the comprehension of truth in this union of all spiritual faculties, the mind should not bring the thoughts present before it to a sequence of separate judgments by each individual faculty, attempting to coordinate their judgments into one common meaning. But, when the whole vision of the mind is complete with every movement of the soul, all its strivings should be heard in full accord, blending into a single, harmonious sound.

The inner consciousness, which forms the common life-forces in the depth of the soul for all the separate faculties of reason, is hidden from the usual state of the human spirit, but is accessible to the person who seeks it and is worthy of attaining the highest truth. Such consciousness constantly elevates man’s very manner of thought and, whilst humbling his rational conceit, does not constrain the freedom of the natural laws of his reason. On the contrary, inner consciousness strengthens his independence and, meanwhile, willingly subordinates it to faith. Then he looks on all thinking emanating from the highest source of rationality as incomplete and, therefore, erroneous knowledge — knowledge which cannot serve as the expression of the highest truth, although it might be useful in its subordinate position and might sometimes even be a necessary step on the way to other knowledge which stands at a still lower level.

That is why the free development of the natural laws of reason cannot be harmful to the faith of the thinking Orthodox Christian. He might be contaminated by unbelief, though only if his external indigenous culture were inadequate. He could not arrive at unbelief through the natural development of reason as thinking people of other confessions have done. His basic notions about faith and reason guard him against this misfortune. To him, faith is not a blind notion which is in the state of faith only because it has not been developed by natural reason, and needs to be elevated by reason to the level of rationality and broken down into its constituent parts as evidence there is nothing specifically in it which cannot be found could not be found without the help of Divine Revelation in natural reason. Neither is faith an external authority alone, before which reason is compelled to become blind. It is, rather, an external and an inner authority simultaneously; the highest wisdom, life-giving for the mind. The development of natural reason serves faith only as a series of steps, and going beyond the usual state of the mind, faith thereby informs reason that it has departed from its original natural wholeness, and by this communication, instructs it to return to the level of higher activity. For the Orthodox believer knows the wholeness of truth needs the wholeness of reason, and the quest of this wholeness is his constant preoccupation.

In the presence of such a conviction, the entire chain of the basic principles of natural reason [dianoia] which can serve as the point of departure for all possible systems of thought is below the reason of the believer [noesis], just as in external nature the whole chain of organic life is below man, who is capable of an inner consciousness of God and prayer at all levels of development. Standing on this highest level of [noetic] thought, the Orthodox believer can easily and harmlessly comprehend all systems of thought deriving from the lower levels of reason; he can see their limitations and their relative truthfulness. However, for the lower form of thought, the higher is incomprehensible and appears nonsensical. Such, in general, is the law of the human mind.

This independence of the basic thought of the Orthodox believer from lower systems which might reach his mind is not the exclusive possession of learned theologians, but is, so to speak, in the very air of Orthodoxy. No matter how undeveloped the reasoning faculties of the believer are, every Orthodox person is conscious in the depths of his soul that Divine truth cannot be embraced by considerations of ordinary reason and that it demands a higher spiritual view acquired through inner existence, not through external erudition. That is why he seeks true contemplation of God where he thinks he can find a pure whole life which would assure him the wholeness of reason and not where academic learning alone is exalted. That is why instances are very rare of an Orthodox believer losing his faith solely as a result of logical arguments capable of changing his rational concepts. In most cases, he is enticed, rather than convinced, by unbelief. He loses faith not because of intellectual difficulties, but because of the temptations of life, and he brings in rationalistic considerations only to justify the apostasy of his own heart to himself. Later, his unbelief becomes fortified by some sort of rational system which replaces his former faith, so that it then becomes difficult for him to return to faith without first clearing the way for his reason. But, as long as he believes with his heart, logical reasoning is harmless to him. For him there is no thought separated from the memory of the inner wholeness of the mind, of that point of concentration of self-consciousness which is the true locus of supreme truth, and where not abstract reasoning alone, but the sum total of man’s intellectual and spiritual faculties stamps with one common imprint the credibility of the thought which confronts reason — just as on Mount Athos each monastery bears only one part of the seal which, when all its parts are put together at the general council of the monastic representatives, constitutes the one legal seal of the Holy Mountain.

Therefore, there are always two activities combined in the thinking of the Orthodox believer. Following the development of his own understanding, he meantime follows the very manner of his thinking, constantly striving to elevate reason to the level at which it can be in sympathy with faith. Inner consciousness, or sometimes only a vague awareness of this ultimate limit which is being sought, is present in every exertion of his reason, in every breath of his thought; and if, at any time, the development of an original culture in the world of the Orthodox believer is possible, it is thus obvious that this peculiarity of Orthodox thought deriving from the special relationship of reason to faith must determine its predominant orientation. Only such thought could, in time, liberate the intellectual life of the Orthodox world from the distorting influences of alien culture and also from the suffocating oppression of ignorance, both equally odious to Orthodox culture. For the development of thought giving a particular meaning to all intellectual life, or, even better, the development of philosophy, is determined by the union of the two opposite ends of human thought, the one wedded to the highest questions of faith and the one where philosophy touches on the development of the sciences and external culture.

Philosophy is neither one of the sciences nor faith. It is both the sum total and the common basis of all sciences and is the conductor of thought between them and faith. Where there is faith but no development of rational learning, philosophy cannot exist. Where science and learning have developed but there is no faith or where faith has disappeared, philosophical convictions replace convictions of faith and, appearing in the form of prejudice, give direction to the thought and life of a people. Not all who share philosophical convictions have studied the systems from which they derive, but all accept the final conclusions of these systems, so to speak, on faith that others are correct in their convictions. Resting on these mental prejudices on the one hand, and stimulated by the problems of contemporary learning on the other, human reason gives birth to new philosophical systems corresponding to the mutual relationship between established prejudices and contemporary culture.

But where the faith of a people has one meaning and one orientation whilst the learning borrowed from another people has a different meaning and different orientation, one of two things must happen: learning will force out faith, giving rise to appropriate philosophical convictions, or faith, overcoming this external learning in the thinking consciousness of the people, will produce its own philosophy from contact with it, which will give a different meaning to external learning and will endow it with a different dominant principle.

The latter occurred when Christianity appeared in the midst of pagan culture. Not only science, but pagan philosophy was transformed into an instrument of Christian culture and was incorporated into the body of Christian philosophy as a subordinate principle.

As long as external culture continued to exist in the East, Orthodox Christian philosophy flourished. It was extinguished when freedom died in Greece and Greek culture was destroyed. But traces have been preserved in the writings of the Holy Fathers like living sparks ready to flare up at first contact with believing thought and again to ignite the guiding beacon for reason in search of truth.

Yet, restoring the philosophy of the Holy Fathers as it was in their time is impossible. Having grown out of the relationship of faith to their contemporary culture, it had to correspond to the problems of its own time and to the culture in which it developed. Development of new aspects of systematic and social learning also demands a corresponding new development of philosophy. But the truths expressed in the speculative writings of the Holy Fathers could serve the development of philosophy as a life-bearing embryo and a bright guiding light.