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Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


True Theology

Among the selections from Jeremy Taylor in the Classics of Western Spirituality volume is an excellent sermon on understanding God through doing the will of God. Taylor demonstrates that true knowledge of God is only possible on the long path of penitence, virtue, and purification. We do not arrive at true theology simply through our own reasoning and erudite speculations. Our knowledge is a product of holiness: 'blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.' Taylor makes the observation that the greatest hindrance to our understanding lies in our failure to repent of our sin- or to even acknowledge it. As we repent and live in active virtue and holiness, as our vision is purified, then we begin to understand and to see, then we begin to embrace real theology.

This is a thread of thought that is quite common in the Fathers. To quote St. Symeon the New Theologian: 'We think we will receive the full knowledge of God's truth by means of worldly wisdom, and fancy that this mere reading of the God-inspired writings of the saints is to comprehend Orthodoxy, and that this is an exact and certain knowlege of the Holy Trinity. Nor is this all, but the more august among us foolishly suppose that the contemplation which comes to pass only through the Spirit in those who are worthy is the same as the thoughts produced by their own reasoning. How ridiculous! How callous!' St. Gregory the Theologian is very admant in his First Theological Discourse that theology is not something to be lightly picked up and used- it is something to be approached with great care and reverence. Indeed, for the Fathers, theology does not mean so much our conceptual knowledge of God as our direct knowledge of God. This is not to set up a dualism between 'creedalism' and 'experience' or 'dogma' and spirituality'; rather, it is to indicate that the true and ultimate knowledge of God is of a 'supra-rational' sort (and which must be guided by dogma and creed- dogma and spirituality are inseperable). St. Maximus, drawing on similar thoughts in St. Paul's Epistles, speaks of two sorts of knowledge: the comparative, conceptual knowledge which will one day cease, and the experiential knowledge, the knowing that knows the love of Christ that 'surpasses knowledge.'

Coming into true knowledge of God is impossible for anyone to do on their own powers. It is only in Christ, through grace, that this is possible. My reason alone is not sufficient. And it is through purification and ridding of the passions that we enter more and more into the divine vision, as we participate in the Christ Who has graciosuly opened Himself to us. True theology is lived: we must 'philosophize with our works.' Speaking for myself, this is not easy. Reading theology and discoursing about it or thinking sublime thoughts about the Trinity and the Incarnation isn't all that hard. As someone of an academic bent, I quite enjoy it. However, I should much rather read my theology than try to live it while an annoying family member is intruding in my peace and quiet. And when I desire to more fully understand, I would prefer to attain it without doing anything or commiting myself to something uncomfortable, thank-you. The heights of spiritual ecstasy seem terribly appealing, so long as I needn't pass through penitence and, worst of all, active love- which might mean giving up my preferences and desires. But this is what we are called to: the death of self through Christ's Passion, so that we may arise in the light and life of God.

Such is true theology: the participation in God, the knowledge that flows from and leads to love. It is a participation that manifests itself in doing things that do not seem to be venues for the Uncreate Light of God. It means finding Mt. Tabor through Golgatha.


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