“Apart from Me, you are not able to do anything,” John 15:5.
Is true knowledge able to be separated from God? Is there some earthly knowledge that is outside the sphere of Faith?
At current, even Christians can be heard making claims regarding current events, such as, “this is a medical/scientific question, not a spiritual one.” Or, “the faith has nothing to say on this matter,” or “we must defer to medical professionals …” It seems implied in such statements and stances that there are some areas of earthly existence that are outside of the sphere of Faith.
I have pondered in the past – are science and medicine, for example, virtuous and good in and of themselves? Is medical knowledge always working for the benefit of humanity, or have there been times when medical “sciences” have been utilized to perpetrate terrible deeds?
This article is a bit of a continuation of themes presented in a past post – “Just Trust the Experts?” If the reader has yet to read it, I would encourage you to do so.
It seems safe to posit that at root of many of the current claims and statements is this question – what is knowledge? What is true knowledge and what is knowledge falsely so called (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20)?
Do secular sciences and their so called knowledge have the authority to elicit the obeisance of Christians? Is earthly knowledge infallible? Are we called to “humble” ourselves before this knowledge?
To begin with, we must begin to discern the degrees of knowledge as taught by the Holy Fathers. To this end, I turn primarily to St. Isaac the Syrian. He elucidates the first degree of knowledge in these terms, “When knowledge cleaves to the love of the body, it gathers up the following provisions, wealth; vainglory; honor; adornment; rest of the body; special means to guard the body’s nature from adversities; assiduity in rational wisdom ….” The driving factor of this form of knowledge is concern only for the body and physical well-being (please remember, this is not to say that such concern has no place at all, it is a matter of proper hierarchy). When knowledge is driven solely by physical concern it fails to be true knowledge, for it becomes “falsely so called.”
The saint continues, “Among the properties of this knowledge belong those that are opposed to faith … This is called common knowledge, for it is naked of all concern for God. And because it is dominated by the body, it introduces into the mind an irrational impotence, and its concern is totally for this world.”
We may easily use this statement from the saint to productively weigh the events that continue to transpire around us. A simple question may be asked – what is the overwhelming concern, for this world or for the Kingdom of heaven? The believer may also use these other guide posts, provided by the saint, to discern the sources of information – 1) Is the source concerned with God? 2) Is it dominated by concern for the body? 3) Is irrationality a predominant fruit?
In words that are ever applicable to our times, the saint says, “This measure of knowledge does not reckon that there is any noetic power and hidden steersman over man whatsoever, nor any divine care that shelters and takes concern for him. It takes no account of God’s providential governance; but on the contrary, it attributes to a man’s diligence and his methods every good thing in him, his rescue from what harms him, and his natural ability to avert plights and many adversities that secretly manifestly accompany our nature.”
The low form of knowledge has this clear trait as revealed by the saint – it believes that it stands by its own power. It does not give honor to God. It is a total belief in man’s power to, and by his own means, save himself. It is humanism par excellence. I believe this to be important because we hear at current not of God saving us but rather vaccines and health mandates. Truly the providence of God is scarcely spoken of. If it is referenced, it is done so in what seems to be an addendum to the the primary message of “medical/scientific knowledge” will save us.
So we may be sure of the saint’s teaching, let us read more, “This degree of knowledge presumes that all things are by its own providence, like those men who assert that there is no divine governance of visible things.” I wonder, do our modern scientific-medical saviors believe in the “divine governance of visible things?” Are the developers of the injections God-fearing people? Are those controlling the narrative deeply concerned with the kingdom of Heaven and the glory of God? I think, based on the saints, these are very important points to consider.
The saint goes on, “Nevertheless, it cannot be without continual cares and fear for the body.” Continual cares and fear for the body about sums up the spirit of the past year and a half! St. Isaac is giving to us another very important and vital tool of discernment – when the body and its safety are over emphasized and given preeminence, such is knowledge naked of all concern for God.
“Therefore it is a prey to faintheartedness, sorrow, despair, fear of demons, trepidation before men … anxiety over diseases … fear of death, fear of sufferings … and of other similar things that make this knowledge like a sea made turbulent by great waves at every hour of night and day.” These words are written for us today! How acutely they depict our present state. Many Christians have groveled and rolled over before the “powers” of this world, all because this world wields the rod of “common knowledge!” How much has anxiety over diseases and fear for our bodily health driven compromise? Reflecting on things, how much has this fear (called “concern” at current) been the main theme in so many messages? The saint clearly identifies these fruits not with true Godly knowledge but with the base knowledge, so called, of this world.
Once again St. Isaac provides the believer with tools for discernment. When one witnesses, fear of man, anxiety over diseases, and fear of death and suffering these indicate that an ungodly knowledge is at work.
The naked capitalizing on fear over the past year and a half, with no end in sight, clearly indicates that the spirit at work is not from God. True knowledge that comes from God does not incite and exploit fleshly fear so to control people. This is a demonic fruit. It is an energy of irrationality.
St. Isaac clearly reveals the ailment that is at root and which causes the above manifestations, “For knowledge does not know how to cast its care upon God through confidant trust and faith in Him; wherefore all things that concern it, it is constantly engaged in devising devices and clever contrivances. But when in some instances the modes of its contrivances prove fruitless, it strives with men as though they hindered and opposed it, since it does not see in this the hand of mystical providence.”
This knowledge does not know how to cast its care upon God. This of course is the root of its folly and eventual downfall. In failing to turn to God (above all else!), such knowledge in reality becomes opposed to God, no matter its seeming “good.” He teaches, “In this knowledge are produced and are found presumption and pride, for it attributes every good thing to itself, and does not refer it to God.” I have yet to hear the powers that be invoke God in a true and substantial manner.
As Christians we should first and foremost cast our care upon the Lord.
Thus, we would do well to consider – when have our current “saviors” referred to God as the prime source of salvation and knowledge? How many of our “saviors” are in reality atheists and even anti-Christian? How many have clearly stated anti-Christian, and anti-human, agendas?
“But that … knowledge is puffed up … since it walks in darkness and values that which belongs to it by comparison with things of earth, and it knows not that there is something better than itself. And so all [who cling to such knowledge] are seized by the uplifting of pride, because they measure their discipline according to the standard of the earth and flesh, they rely upon their works, and their minds do not enter into incomprehensible matters.”
How accurately he has described the secular knowledge that surrounds us! It is this knowledge that has been given preeminence even by many who are Christians. Thus, an inversion of true knowledge is taking place, I speak of Christians. Many have substituted the transcendent Knowledge of Faith for the ever mutable and fallible common and base knowledge of the fleshly minded. Have we not traded our spiritual tools of titanium for the feeble sticks of common knowledge?
The Saints clearly say that the Knowledge of Faith is supreme over all. It is the highest and uttermost governing factor, to which all other knowledges are subject, and indeed in which only they are able to find true substance. Knowledge cannot be true knowledge outside of Faith.
Thus the saint boldly says, “Those who walk in the light cannot go astray, and for this reason all those who have strayed from the light of the knowledge of the Son of God, and have turned away from the truth, journey in these pathways just mentioned.” And yet we, as Christians, have given the darkness to guide the light, because we falsely claim “faith has nothing to say here, it is a medical/scientific matter.” Do we find such reasoning in the saints, assuredly not.
The saint declares this sentence upon knowledge that has its source in men who reason only according to this world, “This is the first degree of knowledge; in it a man follows the desires of the flesh. We find this knowledge blameworthy and declare it to be opposed not only to faith, but to every working of virtue.”
Is it not explicitly evident how absolutely essential it is to understand the source of knowledge? We indeed must examine the sources, the persons, the spirits, the goals, the agendas, the beliefs, of the knowledge that is being offered to us today. The saints provide crystal clear methods to do so. If we don’t, like bad medicine, this common knowledge will incapacitate our spirit. Doses even in the smallest amount may prove fatal.
Is the knowledge being blasted at high volumes in synchronic manner all around us true knowledge and worthy of Christians trust? What sort of fruit is it producing?
Knowledge does not exist as a good in and of itself. Medicine does not exist as a good in and of itself. Science does not exist as a good in and of itself. They are all contingent upon their sources, purposes, and goals; they are to be judged according to the emphasis, orientation, and fruit that they promote and to which they call people. What are the concerns? If said knowledge is strictly concerned, as the saint says, with the flesh and the world then it is, in his words, blameworthy and opposed to faith and virtue.
Knowledge becomes profitable when it is united to truth and faith. Remember it is “common knowledge,” as the saint has described for us, that is condemned. He clearly teaches, “It is not that knowledge is blameworthy, but that faith is higher; and if we find fault, it is not knowledge that we blame. Far be it! Rather it is to distinguish the erring modes by which it goes against nature, and how it becomes kindred to the order of demons.” We have been provided with the measuring rods to discern if knowledge is indeed seeking God, or rather is opposed and therefore kindred to the demons.
Knowledge in and of itself is neither virtuous nor evil. Though it may be used for one or the other. Thus, we as Christians are never called to just trust the knowledge, no rather we are called to discern and judge what are the sources of said knowledge and what are the fruits? And we must never forget that the Faith is higher than knowledge. St. Isaac instructs, “Knowledge (rightly used, my note) is a step whereby a man can climb up to the lofty height of faith; and when a man has reached faith, he no longer needs knowledge.”
If as the saints teach, Faith is above even true knowledge, then Faith encompasses every aspect of human life. The true Christian Orthodox life is life in Christ, it is life in the Ark of Faith, and thus the Faith has something to say about everything to do with human existence. Everything that is done in Church must be done according to the standard of Faith.
It is by faith that knowledge is anchored in God and becomes soul profiting. For from the citadel of faith knowledge is given true operation, outside of this foundation, knowledge, as has been made clear, can go astray and lead astray. It can even become demonic. “Faith however, attributes its work to grace. For this reason it cannot be lifted up with pride, as is written: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’; and also, ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ with the blessed Apostle said of this same knowledge (i.e. fleshly knowledge, my note) since it is not mingled with faith and hope in God, but he said it not concerning true knowledge, far be it!”
In all things knowledge is subject to faith, if knowledge is true it cannot be outside the realm of Faith. If this is inverted and faith is, as if, subject to knowledge a great disaster will ensue. Indeed, what should be of faith becomes a channel for and a conveyor of worldly knowledge, and thus ceases to be of faith. Ultimately this leads to the faith withering in the hearts of men, and they begin to scorn faith and the things of faith. Those that desire to uphold the faith are subject to scorn and mockery; they are painted as simple-minded and foolish doubters of secular knowledge. Such an event places knowledge as a new idol to be followed and obeyed. It at times even sets it up in temples that should be dedicated to God Most-High. “Follow the science” takes the place of “follow the Commandments of Christ.” The reality is, there is no true science outside the Commandments of Christ.
St. Justin Popovich teaches firmly, “The mind is only on a firm foundation if it keeps the Lord’s commandments and is ready to endure suffering and affliction. If it is enslaved by the things of life, it is darkened. Collecting himself through faith, a man awakens his intellect towards God.”
Knowledge will only be as trustworthy as the quality of person in which it is found. “One thing is certain: that knowledge, on all levels, depends on a man’s religious and moral state,” says, St. Justin. Let’s start to use these tools of discernment for the knowledge being presented to us.
(All quotes from St. Isaac the Syrian are from “The Ascetical Homilies.” Homily 52.)