The Union of Faith and Reason in the Heart
I have previously written about how it is that faith and reason have become divorced from one another in human understanding, such that it is generally agreed among thinkers today that the only real knowledge that counts for anything is the knowledge of the mind, of reason. But that is demonstrably false. I have spoken about how faith is, indeed, productive of knowledge, though of a different sort than reason, and how there need be no divorce between the knowledge produced by faith and that produced by reason, but rather how the knowledge produced by each can complement and reinforce one another. I wish now to address how it is that faith and reason can be united in the heart, and on what grounds this union takes place.
But I must confess at the beginning: my words will be more from theoretical understanding than from personal experience. For I am only beginning to have some insight into this union, and have not yet begun to faithfully practice it. Further, wherever I am in error, according to the wisdom of the Church and her Scriptures, then I need correction. It is my intent to summarize what I understand the Church to teach, not to assert my own theory.
First, if Christians must prioritize these forms of knowledge, the knowledge produced by reason must bend the knee to that produced by faith. It is faith which orients our hearts, minds and lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and therefore, reason will always follow faith.
This is not as scandalous as it may sound. The fact of the matter is that the presupposition that reason should be the sole determinant of what is and isn’t knowledge is itself an article of faith—it cannot be proven by reason alone (as was so ably shown by the sceptic Sextus Empiricus nearly two thousand years ago). All our first principles are inarguable, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Metaphysics. What remains is to demonstrate the coherence and rationality of one’s presuppositions. The presupposition that faith should lead reason is, in fact, more reasonable than the converse.
For Christians, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:5 are paradigmatic: “We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The Faith filters our thinking, providing us the categories with which to judge our experience and all our thinking.
But how do faith and reason become unified? I have already hinted at this: They are unified by being submerged in one’s heart. That is to say, one must exercise one’s faith and one’s reason from within one’s heart.
I have noted that the heart is both a physical organ and the central seat of the whole human person. Just as we think of the mind as that thing situated in the brain (yet we cannot weigh and measure the mind like we can the brain), so the heart is both the organ which can be weighed and measured and that thing which is beyond the mere physicality of the organ.
We moderns find this assertion that we must lead reason down into our hearts strange, esoteric, mystical, and, of course, impractical. But we have more experience of this than we might imagine. None of us would imagine that we should have relationships with family, friends and loved ones without that relationship “coming from the heart.” We even, I think, understand how it is that athletes who excel in a given contest run (or jump, or throw) “from the heart.”
It should not be any surprise, then, that we ought “think from the heart.” When we love others, we know what this feels like. We say things like “my heart is about to explode.” When an athlete excels, his chest expands, and he “feels proud” of his accomplishment. These are instances in which we have the experience of living (at least in these moments) from the heart. We pray from the heart—and a richer experience it is than in merely having the words echo in our minds and heads. In many ways, thinking from the heart is not too different. The thoughts which originate in our mind are focused into our heart and take root there.
Of course, one can immediately see the great concern we should have for what thoughts enter our minds, and which settle in the heart. Settle they will, which is why we must maintain constant vigilance over our thoughts, rejecting those which oppose Christ, accepting and ruminating on those which obey Christ. This is why the Jesus Prayer is an important ascetical discipline.
But one other thing we must contemplate. The union of the mind and faith in the heart cannot take place apart from suffering. The genius of the Church has informed us that all of Christian life is struggle, ascesis. We must fight the passions and all the forces of darkness which incite the passions. We are purified as by fire. Each of us are called to different forms of suffering, no suffering to which we are called being more than we can endure or from which we may not expect deliverance from our all-powerful Lord.
The suffering to which we are called forces us to dwell in the heart. Who of us hasn’t gone through some time of suffering, and all our life in those moments seems to well up from the pain in our chest? We can do nothing except it is tinged with the ache that beats beneath our breast. This is how it should be for us in all of life. Suffering calls us to this and gives us the opportunity to bring our mind and our faith down into the heart where our Lord dwells and who strengthens our hearts for the struggle of faith.
I do not speak of this on my own authority, but as best I can transmit those experiences of the saints (both those glorified and those known only to each of us) who show us the way of suffering, and of the union of faith and reason in the heart.
The unifying of our faith and our mind in the heart is a lifelong quest. But only when that happens can we claim to know, which is a wisdom more deep than all the wisdom of the world.