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The Right Place of the Intellect: What is the Nous? - Rick Henry - 18-12-2007 12:34 PM

The Right Place of the Intellect: What is the Nous?

***Note to Reader: I have chosen the sub-title that I have for this thread with the hope that it might take a turn in this direction one day.

admin Wrote:I've been thinking about the right place of the intellect in theology and spirituality. And I don't have answers, but I do have questions. :-)

How do we preserve our theology from being a sterile intellectualism? There must be some element of contemplation which has not been a conspicuous feature of the Western practice of theologising as I was introduced to it.

In some phone conversations with a Coptic friend thinking and talking about the fact that 'One of the Holy Trinity was crucified' it seems to me that I just about made a beginning in making this thought the basis of contemplation rather than an intellectual proposition.

Does anyone have any pointers for reading on a more spiritual way of doing theology? Both in the Fathers and from modern writers.

Peter


Dear Peter, Dear All,

Peter, while reading your post this morning my mind was at once taken to a series of lectures delivered by Karl Barth on his only visit to the United States. He delivered a series of twelve lectures which were incorporated into a book with some additional chapters titled, "Evangelical Theology: An Introduction."

These lectures were given at the end of his life, five years before he died. The sub-title is somewhat comical to me, although I'm sure deemed most appropriate by Barth himself. But, this collection of essays speaks directly to our question, especially the last section part IV, "Theological Work". As John has replied to your post above in the other thread:

Quote:I suspect there are more questions than answers here; but one way I find useful is to read St. Isaac of Nineveh, whose writings do make one turn back to prayer, and whose comments always make me mindful of the love of God.

As John emphasizes "prayer" and "love" Barth addresses, in part IV,,four subsections: Prayer; Study; Service; and Love in a way that speaks directly to our question. Especially this last section I wish you could read if you haven't already. In fact, if I was in a better position financially this time of the year, I would send you a copy of this book. I guess I could rip this section out of my book and mail it to you, but that's not going to happen! Smile Smile Smile

But, as we might consider the right place of the intellect, Barth provides a most heavenly balance from one who has dedicated his entire life to being a student of theology. In his section on study (which follows his section on prayer) for example, he says:

Quote:Theological work can be done only in the indissoluble unity of prayer and study. Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind.

But, this section on study needs to be read in full to really appreciate it. And, this section on study needs to be read after his section on prayer, and taken as a whole with what he is saying in part IV as a whole to possibly receive a full answer.


So in case you still need to suggest a Christmas present to someone, possibly you can keep this book by Eerdmans in mind. And, otherwise this thread is initiated because our question speaks to all genuine Christian Theology/Spirituality regardless of the adjective that is placed before the word "Theology."

In Christ,
Rick


the right place of the intellect: what is nous? - kirk yacoub - 19-12-2007 10:03 AM

Dear Rick,
A quick response. (I will be reading again the notes at the back of the English translation of the Philokalia to remind myself of what the Fathers
meant by 'intellect' in order to make a comment based on that)
Reading the quotation you supply from Barth about prayer and study, the key word to focus on is 'study'. What is meant by that? Is study to be an intellectual exercise in which remembering texts is a key to understanding? It is possible for someone who is reasonably talented intellectually to study the entire Bible in that way, gain a degree in Theology, become a Bishop, have ready rsponses to every intellectually put question, and yet be totally devoid of the Christian concept of mercy.
An acquaintance with the Jewish tradition of Scriptural study, the way in which different rabbis will strive to confound each other with various quotations, will show that, ultimately, this kind of study is sterile.
The Orthodox Tradition seems to me to place the emphasis on reading the Bible through prayer, in order to contemplate each fragment of text as a means of absorbing its spiritual meaning(s) into our spirit. An examination of knowledge of Biblical texts, such as I did at school, is similar to a knowledge of other subjects, it ultimately leads to intellectual table-tennis
in which the entire Spirit of Christian love for God and one's neighbour is
elbowed to one side.
It would be interesting to know how Barth would deal with such objections.

Kirk Yacoub


- Rick Henry - 19-12-2007 02:50 PM

Eros and Agape

Dear Kirk,

I am looking forward to your comments following a little rereading of the Philokalia.

Regarding your ending paragraph above:

Quote:The Orthodox Tradition seems to me to place the emphasis on reading the Bible through prayer, in order to contemplate each fragment of text as a means of absorbing its spiritual meaning(s) into our spirit. An examination of knowledge of Biblical texts, such as I did at school, is similar to a knowledge of other subjects, it ultimately leads to intellectual table-tennis
in which the entire Spirit of Christian love for God and one's neighbour is
elbowed to one side.

It would be interesting to know how Barth would deal with such objections.

I hear what you are saying clearly about these two ways. And, as I ponder what Barth would say about the latter, a smile comes to my face because of the many robust treatments Barth gives to this question as it relates to the task of dogmatics (with dogmatics defined as a self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God). Especially in his "Church Dogmatics" vol I.1, "The Doctrine of the Word of God" there is a picture of a genuineness and authenticity as it relates to Word of God which is manifested where and when He chooses. But, as it relates to the battling rabbis that you mentioned, and a knowledge that puffs up, leads to table-tennis, and does not allow much room for the love of God and one's neighbor . . . my mind goes straight to a concept/vehicle that is not Barth's; but, one that he utilizes. One that I think draws a very distinct and bold boundary line between the two ways that are spoken of in your post. And, this is the way of 'eros' and 'agape.' I have really been influenced by this thinking. It makes some things which seem complex become very simple.

And . . . as I go back to anotherr forum (not this one) to copy Barth's thought on this I see it has been deleted! Which is just perfect as it relates to this very subject!! So, I will now have to ask for your patience as I re-type what I want to share with you here after making a latte and regrouping a bit. That is so perfect. First a great thread, that some know as H.O.S. is completely mutilated by the censors, and now some of the key posts that speak to a 'self'-ish and heavy-handed freedom suppressing 'eros' are deleted from the system. I am tempted now to communicate this concept by using this BOC forum as an example of 'agape' and the other as an example of 'eros' as shared by Barth, Nygren, and others; but, all things considered maybe a break is more appropriate at the present, and I can return another time with what I think is a very good answer by Barth to such objections.

Thanks very much Kirk, I am very pleased with the turn of events here as you move to the Philokalia with this.

In Christ,
Rick


- admin - 19-12-2007 04:02 PM

Dear Rick

Thanks for the recommendation. I have just bought...

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction

from ebay for a cheap price so I am happy and might even get it just before Christmas.

Peter


Nous - John Charmley - 19-12-2007 08:28 PM

Dear Rick,

Sorry to hear that the censors in the other place are still in force; sorry, but hardly surprised. If they put their fingers in their ears and shout loud enough 'la, la, la we're not listening' they'll fool themselves that the absence of dissent means they have converted everyone :roll:

The sad caricature that because the RCs went all 'scholastic' Orthodoxy has to reject the intellect is a parody with which I want no part. If God had not meant us to use our intellects he would not have given them to us; as men such as the Cappadocian Fathers, Sts. Athanasius, Cyril, Severus and others have shown, allied to a prayerful spirit and to love of the Lord, the intellect can act as light to illumine the way for those of us who see it less clearly.

What matters, as Kirk says, is that the intellect should be used with humility and in the service of the Lord, for we do not apprehend Him with our brains alone. A Christianity of the intellect alone wants feeling; one based on feeling alone can lead one well astray of the teachings of the Church; one in which the two are balanced in the light of Holy Tradition and prayerful humility is, I would submit, where we would want to be.

In Christ,

John


- AndrewY - 19-12-2007 09:52 PM

Hi all,

I wrote an essay somewhat related to this subject for my Introduction to Theology class at St Andrew's GO Theological Seminary (which I received a High Distinction for by the way--glory be to God). For those interested in reading it, it's available online here:

<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.orthodox.ws/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=1">http://www.orthodox.ws/index.php?option ... 7&Itemid=1</a><!-- m -->


- John Charmley - 20-12-2007 03:57 AM

Dear Andrew,

That is a wonderful essay - I'm not surprised at the excellent grade, and I'm so grateful to you for sharing it with the rest of us.

My only question is: 'is there more where that came from?'

With thanks,

In Christ,

John


- Fr Gregory - 20-12-2007 08:17 AM

There are, essentially, two approaches to theology: the academic study (which is an intellectual discipline not significantly different to history or philosophy) and what might be called the ?experiential? study. The latter, I think, ought to include the former (since ignorance is not a sound basis for anything) but must go beyond it, considering the practical relevance of theology in the lives of Orthodox men and women. Thus, I can teach (and have taught) ascetical theology in the abstract, but in the life of the Orthodox Church it ought to be taught with an additional dimension.

The Western tendency to categorize things into oppositions tends to result in academic theology being viewed as intellectual in contrast with ?experiential? theology, which is un- or even anti-intellectual. There is, alas, an equal but opposite tendency (not only in Orthodoxy but in fundamentalisms of all kinds) to see academic theology as rationalist, humanist, antiChristian and generally evil. Thus, intellectual ignorance, confusion or misunderstanding doesn?t matter so long as something amorphously defined as ?faith? is preserved and enhanced.

My own preference is for what I consider to be the Orthodox way: I must understand, as far as I can, what I believe (academic theology), but my belief is a mere intellectual position unless I understand and live what I believe, as far as I can (?experiential? theology). Knowledge as such is neither good nor bad, but it is not transformational in the personal sense until and unless it is integrated into my life.

An Orthodox example might be seen in the icon: while we seek the greatest artists to create the most beautiful icons, an icon is not essentially a work of art. Its significance is not in its beauty or the artistic skill with which it was created, but in the spiritual insight which brought it into being, and the spiritual response which it provokes.

We need great (or even good!) theological intellects to explain and expound the Faith, but if it is to be more than the ?dead letter? of theology we also need to be guided in the application of the Faith, and witnesses its application.

Fr Gregory


the right place of the intellect:what is nous? - kirk yacoub - 20-12-2007 10:04 AM

First, a few definitions from the Glossary to the English translation of the Philokalia:
"INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which - provided it is purified - he knows God... by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or 'simple cognition' (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the 'depths of the soul'; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos)... The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the 'eye of the heart' (Makarian Homilies)."
"REASON, mind (dianoia): the discursive, conceptualizing and logical faculty in man, the function of which is to draw conclusions or formulate concepts deriving from data provided either by revelation or spiritual knowledge or by sense-observation. The knowledge of the reason is consequently of a lower order than spiritual knowledge and does not imply any direct apprehension or perception of the inner essences or principles of created beings, still less of divine truth itself. Indeed, such apprehension or perception, which is the function of the intellect, is beyond the scope of the reason."
"SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE (gnosis): the knowledge of the intellect as distinct from that of the reason. As such it is knowledge inspired by God, and so linked with contemplation and immediate spiritual pereception."
So, what we refer to as "the intellect" is really reason, a limited faculty that works on information received and looked for but, regarding spiritual knowledge, the best that reason can do is "to draw conclusions or formulate concepts" based on spiritual knowledge received by the intellect. It is worth remembering that because spiritual revelation is partial, then any concepts and conclusions are necessarily only partial as well. Unfortunately, however, concepts and conclusions take on a force of
their own, becoming codified barriers to deeper knowledge of the living God, who is eternal and uncodifiable. Legalistic approaches to God, as can be seen in the Gospels, represented by the Pharisees, are an outgrowth of believing that reason can go beyond the intellect. Concepts become old wine-skins which cannot contain the new wine of fresh revelation. Anyone reading the great Christian mystics will learn from them that the deeper the spiritual experience, the more difficult, not to say impossible it is to express it in human language.
Bible study, therefore, must not be seperated from prayer, vigil, fasting, and the practice of the virtues, otherwise it will become yet another form of attaining only worldly knowledge.

Kirk Yacoub


- Rick Henry - 20-12-2007 12:07 PM

Toward a Balanced Way of Knowing

Yes John, as you say, what great posts. This thread has turned into a goldmine, what a place of blessing. I am looking forward to making coffee later and spending some time with these, and then interacting--very good contributions!

And, it looks like I will be playing catch-up here for a few days; but , in the meantime before I run out the door this morning, I feel compelled to simply post the following quote from a German Theologian as it relates to our topic:

Quote:"I am at the present time a professor at a state university in Germany. I am what they call 'educated,' and 'academic.' That distinguishes me from the 'uneducated' nonacademicans, that is, from the people. I am, therefore, in the same situation as the Pharisees and the scribes in the time of Jesus, even if I have no intention of scorning the people, in New Testament Greek the ochlos, those masses of uneducated who have not studied and have not been able to keep the keep the Torah. If I were merely a 'study man,' then I could sit at my desk and think up beautiful educational schemes for the poor people and pronounce my hope for the people, but I would never speak from the people or with the people and could not say one word about the hope of the people.
.
In addition to being scholarly, academic theology is also pastoral theology. Our theological students also live in separation from the people who can no longer go to college or university. Our academic theology speaks with the Bible, the church fathers, and with other sciences and ideologies. But it does not speak the language of the people and does not express the experiences and hopes of the people. We research the theological concepts of earlier experiences but we seldom bring the contemporary religious experiences of the suffering or struggling people into new conceptuality. Our theological work thus separates us from the people. Therefore the people do not understand us."

This quote is by Jurgen Moltmann, and it is a part of the whole I think as we work our way toward a balanced understanding of the right place of the intellect.

In Christ,
Rick


Catching-Up - Rick Henry - 26-12-2007 01:20 PM

"A Dominant Principle"

Dear Peter,

I am very happy to hear that you were able to find a copy of Barth's book (and at a great price too!). I hope there are a few nuggets in Part IV (or possibly elsewhere) in this work for you. As with some writing theologians, it may take just a bit to get in the groove with this, but once there there is a peace and a freedom to be found which yields a heavenly harmony for some of us pilgrims on the path of Christ.

Dear Kirk,

When you wrote last week:

Quote:Reading the quotation you supply from Barth about prayer and study, the key word to focus on is 'study'. What is meant by that? Is study to be an intellectual exercise in which remembering texts is a key to understanding? It is possible for someone who is reasonably talented intellectually to study the entire Bible in that way, gain a degree in Theology, become a Bishop, have ready responses to every intellectually put question, and yet be totally devoid of the Christian concept of mercy.

An acquaintance with the Jewish tradition of Scriptural study, the way in which different rabbis will strive to confound each other with various quotations, will show that, ultimately, this kind of study is sterile.
The Orthodox Tradition seems to me to place the emphasis on reading the Bible through prayer, in order to contemplate each fragment of text as a means of absorbing its spiritual meaning(s) into our spirit. An examination of knowledge of Biblical texts, such as I did at school, is similar to a knowledge of other subjects, it ultimately leads to intellectual table-tennis in which the entire Spirit of Christian love for God and one's neighbour is elbowed to one side.

It would be interesting to know how Barth would deal with such objections.

you cut right to the center of our starting point here, I think. And, as it relates to 'study' as well as prayer, service, and love, these things need to be viewed as a whole. But, especially as you conclude in your first paragraph above, Barth is more than clear when he speaks of a dominant principle:

Quote:Without love (agape), theological work would be miserable polemics and a waste of words. The most serious prayer, the most thorough and extensive study, or the most zealous service could not alter this result.

And, while I don't mean for this thread to be a thread about Barth by any means, I would like to return to the concept of 'eros' and 'agape' as mentioned last week. There is a comparison and contrast here between these two concepts. And, this is possibly viewed best simply as a vehicle or a tool of understanding, in itself, which does speak to many aspects of this conversation as it has developed so far. In terms of when theology is a good work and when it is something else as you say Kirk, 'totally devoid of the Christian concept of mercy. Or, as Barth says of agape, "Unless this principle is valid and effective, theology will at no time or place ever become such a good work." Or, again Kirk, as you speak of the rabbis, Barth might respond by warning of the type of theological knowledge and work which only builds up and puffs up and makes arrogant, and as Barth continues working in the Pauline teachings, he speaks of a theological work, a theologian :

Quote:. . . . that if he did not have love he would be only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, even as an apostle, and even if he were capable of the most adequate human speech, or even the speech of angels. Without love he would be nothing at all, however capable he might be of speaking prophetically, knowing all mysteries, or attaining and enjoying all possible knowledge.

And, this one is getting too long here now, even though I have not even begun with 'eros' and 'agape,' so I will move straight to that next time, God willing. But, for now possibly we have a good start on this as it relates to theologians and theological work devoid of the "concept of Christian mercy" and the "Spirit of Christian love for God and one's neighbour.'

In Christ,
Rick.


- John Charmley - 27-12-2007 12:56 PM

Dear Rick,

I'm glad that the Christmas pleasures did not lead to any dulling of the intellect Big Grin

I wonder if some distrust of the intellect is not bound up in the origins of our Church? All the early heresies came about as a result of certain ways of 'thinking' about the Gospel message, and that left, very early on, a legacy of distrust about the exercise of the unfettered intellect. Indeed, Cardinal Newman always called the 'right of private judgement' the root of Protestantism. Thus, if we are not careful we fall into a way of speaking and writing in which on one side is the 'faith as of a small child' and on the other an over-intellectualised (hellenized, judaized) faith.

One of the marks of modern indifferentism is the seductive line that 'it doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you are a good person'; this has quasi-Christians variants such as 'it doesn't matter what the details are as long as you believe in Jesus.'

These are seductive because in our own democratic societies where 'tolerance' has become almost a compulsory 'virtue' it sounds 'stuffy' and 'intolerant' to put the other point of view: which is that there is a revealed Truth and that Truth is revealed fully in the Church.

Christians have helped bring this upon themselves, one supposes. After all, the obvious question here would be: 'And which Church is it that you have in mind where the fullness of that Faith is revealed?' Up jumps one of our old EO chums to say it is there because never has his Church deviated one iota from the Faith as once revealed'; he is followed by many others from any other Church that exists. At this point the unbeliever might well fall about in helpless laughter.

That is one of the reasons why all theology must be based upon an appreciation of God's great love for us - and upon the great limitations of our own ability to comprehend even that part of the Ineffable vouchsafed to us by the Incarnate Word.

I keep arriving back at Kirk's marvellous Bar-Hebraeus quotation about Christians disputing with each other. Rightly guided by the Spirit, the head and the heart ought not to be in dispute; even as Christians ought not.

In peace,

John


- Rick Henry - 27-12-2007 03:17 PM

"Eros and Agape"

Dear John,

I had not thought about what you have presented in the above post before. As it relates to "the 'faith as of a small child' and on the other an over-intellectualised (hellenized, judaized) faith," I think I would like to sit with this more as it actually appears to be a very fine line to me at times. This is really something. Possibly what is *simple* to one is not simple to another.

As well, as you speak of that poor unbeliever, the false dichotomy of head and heart, and ultimately knee jerk reactions to most who are simply searching and fellow pilgrims on the path of Christ, I think I might like to pick up with this in the Generous Orthodoxy thread (where we are considering what all theology must be based upon as you state so well in the imperative). While I still hope to work my way back to Fr. Gregory's post in this thread soon, I think possibly the GO thread is the place to continue with a discussion as it relates to the only alternative to a 'helpless laughter' for us all.

Thank you.

Dear Kirk, Dear All,

It has been said of American Fundamentalism that it is not so much a set of unique doctrines as it is a mood.

As we may consider what is said here along with the above illustration of the rabbis, this may be a good way into the concept of eros and agape as used by some. Beginning with eros, in general terms and in the way so highly praised in Plato's teaching, love as eros is:

Quote:The primordially powerful desire, urge, impulse, and endeavor by which a created being seeks his own self-assertion, satisfaction, realization, and fulfillment in his relation to something else. He strives to draw near to this other person or thing, to win it for himself, to take it to himself, and to make it his own as clearly and definitely as possible. It is the soaring movement by which human knowledge lets itself be borne toward its objects and hurries toward them in order to unite them with itself and itself with them, to bring them into its possession and power, and enjoy them in this way.

And, knowing this it is understandable (or as Barth says), undoubtedly no mere accident that the substantive "eros" and its corresponding verb to not appear at all in the writings of Paul and the rest of the New Testament. However, as we consider the word; agape' in every context in which it appears the conclusion is obvious that it signifies a movement which runs almost exactly in the opposite direction from that of 'eros.' We see that love as agape:

Quote:is admittedly also the total seeking of another, and this is the one thing that it has in common with love as eros. In agape, however, the one who loves never understands the origin of his search as a demand inherent within himself, but always as an entirely new freedom for the other one, a freedom which was simply bestowed upon him and consequently was originally alien to him. And because he is free for him, he does not seek him as though he needed him for himself as a means to his self-assertion and self-fulfillment. The one who loves seeks the other only for his own sake. He does not want to win and possess him for himself in order to enjoy him and his own power over him. He never trespasses on the freedom of the other, but by respecting the other's freedom, he simply remains quite free for him. He loves him gratis. That is to say, he desires nothing from him, and he does not wish to be rewarded by him.

As we may consider the right place of the intellect, as Peter initially brought forth this question, I wonder who can see what is being said as we consider the above states of eros and agape?

In terms of Andrews primary thesis in his fine essay, how does what is presented above relate to his comments on the methods he references as well as his blockbuster conclusion? There is so much said in this essay, so many varied points that I hope we can develop here Andrew. On a side note, and knowing orthodoxy is orthodoxy, I am starting to wonder if there is an direct or indirect German influence in this writing.

There is an expression that I came across several years ago. If I didn't want everyone to find out what a nerd I am, I would have it printed on a T-shirt:

Quote:One's Ontology Models One's Epistemology

In fact, I can't remember who said this, but I am remembering now reading that this man's wife did have this printed on a T-shirt for him. Seriously.

And, while this saying, like the concept of 'eros and agape' as developed above should only be viewed as a vehicle for understanding, and nothing more, I wonder who can appreciate this saying as it relates to the right place of the intellect, as it relates to the nous as shared by Kirk from the Philokalia?

In Christ,
Rick


- admin - 10-01-2008 10:20 AM

I received the copy of Evangelical Theology by Karl Barth about a week ago and have been reading carefully the last four chapters, originally presented as a series of lectures.

They are most interesting and stimulating.

I had never read any Barth, being rather put off him as a Bible College student, when I attended a sermon in a local church during which the preacher clearly admired Barth but also seemed to be himself much too theologically liberal for my taste. So I tarred Barth with the brush of arid liberal and ignored him.

He has in fact so much of value to say, and there is a true sense of spiritual nourishment in reading this volume at least.

I am preparing a paper for the Review about Ibas, and Chalcedon etc etc. but I have been concerned about personally developing an approach which is critical but not polemical. Barth has helped my thinking greatly as he describes the work of theology as being rooted in prayer, conducted as work, presented as service and always immersed in love.

He has some great passages which I'll quote later.

Pray for me

Peter