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Patristic Text Study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
15-07-2008, 05:45 PM
Post: #16
patristic text study: st philoxenus' discourses
Dear Andrew,

In his second Ascetic Discourse Mor Philoxenos of Mabbugh tells us that faith comes before everything else, because without it we cannot even begin to construct our spiritual edifice, and when he speaks of faith he means much more than a passive belief ("the devils also believe, and tremble," James2:19).
Faith is an absolute,unconditional surrender to the very fact of God.We surrender ourselves to God the Creator and Sustainer of all things, we surrender to the absolute truth of His words and deeds, and we surrender to Christ, the crucified and resurrected Redeemer.Moreover, our surrender must preclude all questioning,all investigative probings into the nature of God and the whys and wherefores of His actions, and our surrender must preclude any demands for proofs.
If this need for unquestioning surrender seems harsh, then we must remember that Mor Philoxenos was caught up in the severest period of Christological disputes in which human beings who professed Christ tried to tear His Body, the Church, apart with relentless quarrels.Mor Philoxenos was actually martyred at the hands of fellow "Christians". The point he is making was reiterated by another great Syriac saint, Mor Jacob of Serugh, who rejected pointless, fruitless investigations into Christ's nature, advocating instead an attitude of wonder before the fact of the Incarnate Word of God.
All our attempts to investigate God,all our demands for proofs, arise from our pride, that pride which allied us with the serpent and led to our Fall from Paradise and which acts as a rigid barrier against our surrender to God. Human pride seeks to place our very limited reasoning powers on the same level as God's limitless power and wisdom, and when,inevitably, our puny powers fail to capture and categorize the Triune God, this same pride then begins to criticize and condemn the Deity.
Following the words of Christ (see Matt18:1-5) Mor Philoxenos tells us that
we must be before God as little children, full of love, trust and obedience. It is no accident that this exhortation in St Matthew's Gospel follows hard after Christ telling His disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be able to move mountains, "and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matt17:20)
To acquire true faith we must humble ourselves. Turning our backs on the "wisdom" of this world and surrendering unquestioningly to God, we will discover the extraordinary power that faith conveys.
Just like St Paul in the Letter to the Hebrews (Chap 11) Mor Philoxenos gives glorious examples of the workings of faith, which is the animus of the spiritual life, without which nothing we do is of value. For Christ made faith the very foundation of the Church.
It is typical of Mor Philoxenos that he both lingers on the marvellous workings of faith and has also the candour to place the most difficult thing of all, reaching a state of humility in order to acquire true faith, at the very beginning. But this cannot be helped. All those who strive to follow Christ must expect to be assailed by the sly powers of evil, and no human being can defend his or her self against these attacks alone.Without absolute surrender to God and absolute trust and confidence in Him then we will leave cracks and fissures of doubt and fear through which demonic powers will creap into our hearts to dishearten and poison us.

Kirk Yacoub
Quote
15-07-2008, 05:47 PM
Post: #17
patristic text study: st philoxenus' discourses
Dear Andrew,

In his second Ascetic Discourse Mor Philoxenos of Mabbugh tells us that faith comes before everything else, because without it we cannot even begin to construct our spiritual edifice, and when he speaks of faith he means much more than a passive belief ("the devils also believe, and tremble," James2:19).
Faith is an absolute,unconditional surrender to the very fact of God.We surrender ourselves to God the Creator and Sustainer of all things, we surrender to the absolute truth of His words and deeds, and we surrender to Christ, the crucified and resurrected Redeemer.Moreover, our surrender must preclude all questioning,all investigative probings into the nature of God and the whys and wherefores of His actions, and our surrender must preclude any demands for proofs.
If this need for unquestioning surrender seems harsh, then we must remember that Mor Philoxenos was caught up in the severest period of Christological disputes in which human beings who professed Christ tried to tear His Body, the Church, apart with relentless quarrels.Mor Philoxenos was actually martyred at the hands of fellow "Christians". The point he is making was reiterated by another great Syriac saint, Mor Jacob of Serugh, who rejected pointless, fruitless investigations into Christ's nature, advocating instead an attitude of wonder before the fact of the Incarnate Word of God.
All our attempts to investigate God,all our demands for proofs, arise from our pride, that pride which allied us with the serpent and led to our Fall from Paradise and which acts as a rigid barrier against our surrender to God. Human pride seeks to place our very limited reasoning powers on the same level as God's limitless power and wisdom, and when,inevitably, our puny powers fail to capture and categorize the Triune God, this same pride then begins to criticize and condemn the Deity.
Following the words of Christ (see Matt18:1-5) Mor Philoxenos tells us that
we must be before God as little children, full of love, trust and obedience. It is no accident that this exhortation in St Matthew's Gospel follows hard after Christ telling His disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be able to move mountains, "and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matt17:20)
To acquire true faith we must humble ourselves. Turning our backs on the "wisdom" of this world and surrendering unquestioningly to God, we will discover the extraordinary power that faith conveys.
Just like St Paul in the Letter to the Hebrews (Chap 11) Mor Philoxenos gives glorious examples of the workings of faith, which is the animus of the spiritual life, without which nothing we do is of value. For Christ made faith the very foundation of the Church.
It is typical of Mor Philoxenos that he both lingers on the marvellous workings of faith and has also the candour to place the most difficult thing of all, reaching a state of humility in order to acquire true faith, at the very beginning. But this cannot be helped. All those who strive to follow Christ must expect to be assailed by the sly powers of evil, and no human being can defend his or her self against these attacks alone.Without absolute surrender to God and absolute trust and confidence in Him then we will leave cracks and fissures of doubt and fear through which demonic powers will creap into our hearts to dishearten and poison us.

Kirk Yacoub
Quote
16-07-2008, 03:36 PM
Post: #18
 
Dear Kirk,

Thanks for yet more insightful commentary.

Quote:The point he is making was reiterated by another great Syriac saint, Mor Jacob of Serugh, who rejected pointless, fruitless investigations into Christ's nature, advocating instead an attitude of wonder before the fact of the Incarnate Word of God.

Ultimately, though, the striking difference between St Jacub and St Philoxenus, and one which begs to be accounted for, is the fact that the former shied away from polemical disputes and arguments regarding the nature of Christ (hence why some scholars could even mistake him to be Chalcedonian) whilst the latter was heavily engaged in such disputes and arguments.

St Severus of Antioch presents us with a similar paradox. In a homily on the Virgin St Mary he speaks about the seal of her virginity as being representative of the intellectual barrier that disables man from investigating the Incarnation, yet we know that St Severus himself was at the forefront of the debate on the nature of Christ.

As I was driving to my university today, I noticed a lot of posters from a group that call themselves the ?Sydney atheists??it?s no coincidence that the sudden stream of posters from this group is concomitant with World Youth Week. One poster proclaimed: ?Religion harms us by privileging faith over reason.? The age old tension between faith and reason remains a stumbling block for many.

It was once thought that of the early Fathers (2nd and 3rd centuries) Tertullian stood out as s staunch proponent of fideism according to his oft-misquoted slogan, ?What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?? Recent scholarship has debunked this reductionist understanding of Tertullian and has put him back in line with those contemporaries of his famous for upholding the integrity of reason (viz. Sts Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria).

Again to play devil?s advocate (a role I shall continue to play in this discussion so as to anticipate all scepticism from others and hence be prepared to answer to them accordingly), how should one understand St Philoxenus? seemingly anti-intellectual/fideistic position here, particularly in light of his own intellectual achievements in regard to articulating the Doctrine of the Incarnation and the Nature of Christ? (My personal answer to this would be along the lines of placing St Philoxenus? position within the context of the goal of the Discourses?the idealistic pursuit to acquire Christian perfection).

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
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17-07-2008, 08:43 AM
Post: #19
patristic text study: st philoxenus' discourses
Dear Andrew,
Hopefully this will be posted only once!

There is really no discrepancy between Mor Philoxenos stating that true faith precludes investigation into the nature of God and his clear and combative responses to Chalcedon and the Nestorians. He was not investigating the nature of God, nor was he doubting the beliefs of the Church, much less was he demanding proofs, but in the fiery Christological debates of his time Mor Philoxenos was defending and reiterating the already existing beliefs of the Church, subtracting nothing, adding nothing new. He was responding to the fruits of unwise speculation, the false constructs of human reason.
Bar Hebraeus explained that a heretic is someone who states that Christ is either wholly human or wholly divine, whereas Christian belief (and faith) is that Jesus Christ is both human and divine. If that baisc belief had been humbly accepted in the spirit of faith as outlined by Mor Philoxenos,
then the disputes that have tormented the Church for so long would not have happened. Although Mor Jacob of Serugh's response was different to that of Mor Philoxenos, they shared the same starting point. Mor Severios of Antioch in brilliantly defending and clarifying the already existing tenets of the Church was trying to heal wounds by bringing all sides together for calm, loving, prayer-guided discussion, but the atmosphere of the times
was against this.
It is important to note that in the understanding of the monastic Fathers
the terms intellect and reason are used differently than in the wider world.
Reason is that faculty which formulates concepts and uses deductive reasoning to formulate conclusions based on knowledge acquired, whereas the intellect is mankind's highest faculty which, once purified, is able to experience spiritual truths directly.
Our reasoning powers should be used to explain to others and to defend,
our faith, though knowing that in so-called logical debate pride and slyness often take precedence over objective honesty. The only way to experience God is not through talk - though this can be edifying - but through prayer which, in turn, will only be truly fruitful if, as Mor Philoxenos explains, we abandon ourselves completely and unquestioningly to God and live in faith.

Kirk yacoub
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