Building on Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Tracing the Implications
2. Christian Thinking is Holy Thinking
If it is the case that truly Christian thinking is, at its core, a partaking of the divine nature, and if Christian thinking, to be faithful, must be whole, and can only be whole insofar as it is in real communion with the Holy Trinity, then it clearly must also be the case that Christian thinking, if it is to be faithful, must be holy. For our God is a consuming fire, whom, without holiness, no one will see.
This, of course, means that the Christian cannot, in his thought life, sexually objectify a person (or lust after them). A Christian cannot use his powers of reason to plot revenge. Nor can the Christian willfully and with reflection engage the will toward greed or heresy. These guidelines are, or at least traditionally have been, rather obvious.
But it also means that faithful thinking reflects the Trinitarian image in which we humans have been made, and must manifest the likeness of God which is, as Christians, being renewed in us. Though the first action God took after creating mankind was to bless them, the first words of God to the humans he had made was a command, “Be fruitful.” The first Gospel to come from our Lord’s mouth, in his earthly ministry, was a command, “Repent.” We always already are given a command when we approach God. “Be still.” “Take off thy sandals.” Our primary manifestation of holiness in thinking is obedience. “We take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
In what way do we sanctify our thinking? In what way do we manifest this holiness through obedience? By meditating on God’s Law in the night watches. By filling our minds with whatsoever is pure, noble, good. We take on the mind of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, in the Church by hearing and heeding the Scriptures given us in and by the Church, and by taking to heart the truth the Holy Spirit has continued to guide the Church toward. The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth and we take on the mind of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit by taking on the mind of the Church as explicated by the holy Fathers.
This demands consciousness, attentiveness. In many ways, the chief characteristic of the Christian mind is wakefulness.
In the morning prayers of the Church, we entreat God to “enlighten the eyes of our understanding” and to “raise up our minds from the heavy sleep of indolence.” Our Lord, in parable after parable says to us, “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Watch!'” Holy thinking is attentive thinking, thinking which is fixated on the work God is doing. This is why the prayers of the Optina elders ask God to enable us to accept what comes to us each day as from God. “On this day the Lord has acted, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” God is always already at work around us. Holy thinking works to perceive what it is that he is doing.
But this attentiveness means that our freedom of thought is limited. Or rather, that in the limitation of our thoughts to the Person and work of Christ and his Body the Church is the only way our thinking can truly be free. For it is in Christ we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are not absolutely free to speculate on the natures and Person of Christ. Or rather, our speculation must be within the banks of the stream of Scripture and Church Dogma. To depart from the Church’s mind is to cease to have Christ’s mind, and therefore to abrogate any possibility of access to the Truth. If we go wrong on the Person of Christ, we can never go right on the Truth. Or at least our grasp of the Truth has become fatally compromised.
But holy thinking is not merely about the proper activity and scope of the intellect. St. Paul tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable worship; we are not to be conformed to the world, but transformed in the renewing of our mind. That is to say, holy thinking involves holy bodies. There is, as I have repeatedly asserted, no separation of mind and body in faithful Christian thinking. So to the degree that we would think faithfully, to the same degree we keep our bodies pure. This of course involves a rejection of gluttony and of other self-abuses, but it also involves, inescapably, sexual chastity. “Every other sin a man does is outside his body, but sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body.” No Christian can think faithfully if they are not sexually chaste.
Once again, the all-encompassing aspects of salvation, the body and the mind, thinking and action, desire and the will, combine. Christian thinking is whole thinking. And it is obdient and holy thinking.