A Project for Faithful Thinking

Note: This is a series of reflections on what it means to think faithfully. It was written in late 2003 and early 2004. I would probably express certain parts of this essay differently, but stand by the substance of it.–cdh Dec 07

Introduction

The ancient philosophers looked out on the physical world and noted the regularity and orderedness of it and posited that the basic principle of the universe is Logos, or reason. The intellect was that about mankind that made them divine. In the medieval era, the rediscovery of the ancients and this emphasis on reason was renewed in the west and strengthened and formalized through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

But this emphasis on reason and rationality has led to certain crises. On the one hand, Descartes reintroduces and intensifies the problem of mind and body dualism. Then there is the skepticism of Hume in which his fork splits our presumption of the connection of cause and effect. Kant attempts to resolve the Humean dilemma, but to do so must divorce the realm of essential being, something reason cannot know, from the realm of sensible appearances. But Kant’s cure is worse than the disease, something Nietzsche exploits. So we have come from reason as the primary ordering of reality to reason as the will to power.

This rather pessimistic account of the primacy of reason in Western thought ought not be construed as totalizing. It seems we cannot escape reason, even to critique it. And certainly in the arenas of science and technology reason has brought historic alleviation of previous human ills, such as the cures for various diseases and the ease and safety of communication and travel.

It seems to me, however, that if a Christian is to think about reason, or for that matter, about anything else, he is obligated to do so from the stance of Christian conviction. That is to say, are Christians to view the prime ordering of reality as reason? Or is there a more fundamental basis for that reality? Is there something more primary than reason? And if so, what does this do to our thinking?

I think the answer to the question of something more fundamental than reason ordering the universe can be answered in the affirmative. And in the attempt to answer that question I want to describe and promote a project for faithful thinking.

Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: The Trinity

It seems to me that the fundamental starting ponit for all Christian thinking is the Trinity. There can be no compromise here. For if a Christian were ever to fail to affirm (or even deny) the fact of the Trinity, he could not proceed forward in any surety of the Truth. For the Christian, knowledge is not merely about the end, but is inescapably about the beginning. Or if it is about the end, this end determines the beginning. So if a Christian is to think faithfully, he cannot do so as a monotheist. This is not to say that the Christian understanding of the Trinity denies or invalidates the monotheism, for after all, Christians do claim to worship one God, and the Trinity is one God. But monotheism per se is not Trinitarian. And if anything a Christian is by definition one who believes in the Trinity. Jews and Muslims cannot affirm Christian Trinitarianism (which would entail confession of the divinity-humanity of Jesus). And since a Christian cannot deny the Trinity, he cannot affirm the monotheism of Judaism or Islam, precisely because these two faiths must deny the Trinity.

So, if a Christian hopes to think faithfully, he must start with the Trinity. By the Trinity, of course, I do not merely mean the doctrine of the Trinity. I certainly mean at least that. But more essentially I mean the Trinity, the Three-Personed God. If one is a Christian, one cannot but be so because of the reality of the Personal Trinity. This is the fundamental Christian conviction about reality. The God who revealed himself as Father has eternally begotten the Son, who makes the Father known to us, and eternally causes the Holy Spirit to proceed, who seals and unites us to the Father in the Son. The Trinity cannot be discovered by reason. The Trinity can only be known and loved as God has made himself known. The Trinity is not a matter of intellectual inquiry but of Personal enounter.

The ramifications of this are not insignificant. First and foremost, it means that the quest for Truth is not autonomous. It absolutely depends on the self-revelation of God, and depends on fellowship with that God. Apart from such revelation and participation, there is no means by which humans can in any way be assured of any knowledge concerning reality. “In him,” Paul writes, “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Truth depends not only on the existence of God, but also on God’s revealing of himself to us in the Son. Truth cannot be divorced from God’s self-revelation. The Enlightenment project is stillborn.

It should be noted, however, that this self-revelation is not readily available to any and all through creation, and therefore, the Trinity is Truth that is unavailable to the unaided human mind. God’s creation is revelatory of its Creator. But creation does not, in its fallen bondage, sufficiently reveal the Trinity. Rather, the full revelation of God is only in Jesus Christ. Thus those who deny the full Truth of Christ, cannot but begin wrong and conceivably can only end wrong and fail to know the Truth. Like the prisoners in Plato’s Cave, they know only the dancing shadows, and cannot experience the light of Truth.

But more to the point, the fact of the Trinity implies one all-encompassing reality: hypostatic koinonia. Or, more loosely, personal communion or communal personhood.

Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Hypostatic Koinonia

If the Trinity is the fundamental reality of all of life, then one particularly significant aspect of that reality is what I am calling hypostatic koinonia. Or, in other words, personal communion.The relationship between the three members of the Godhead is sometimes referred to as perichoresis, or coinherence (sometimes, “interpenetration”). Perichoresis refers to (in theological distinctions) the Trinity in its essence, in terms of mutual dependence, interrelation, and partnership. Each Person of the Godhead is distinct, yet each is ineffably united to the other, which union is characterized by love. I have coined the (so far as I know) neologism, hypostatic koinonia as a referrence to perichoresis, but also wanting to avoid an unwarranted direct extrapolation from the holy Godhead to fallen humanity. In Church thought, fallen humanity retains the image of God, though it is only through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through the Son in the Body of Christ that we are recreated and restored to his likeness. Thus to refer to the human experience of the perichoretic reality of the Trinity as also perichoresis would be a confusion. Another reason to insist on the phrase hypostatic koinonia instead of just the rightly well-worn koinonia is because koinonia has been misused to refer to a fellowship around activist ideas, or ideological creeds. This is absolutely not what the New Testament means. Thus I have added the term hypostatic, which is from the Greek and indicative of the person. But here, in Christian terms, hypostasis carries connotations that relate not only to the Godhead, but to Christology and ecclesiology as well. In Trinitarian discourse, the hypostases of the Godhead are the specific Persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Christological terms, hypostasis refers to the union, in one Person, of the divine and human natures of Christ. It is precisely this union that makes salvation possible for humankind. If Christ were not wholly divine and human we would still be lost in sin. Christ is, quite literally, the bridge between sinful humanity redeemed in Christ and the holy and righteous Father. But more to the point, this bridging that takes place in Christ, does so only in the Church which bears his humanity with him.

So, the perichoretic reality of the Trinity fuels the hypostatic koinonia which grounds all of human existence. To be human means to be in personal communion, in ways analagous to and made possible by the gracious energies of God.

If Metropolitan JOHN Zizioulas speaks of being as communion, then, in terms of faithful Christian thinking, knowing is communion. There can be no separation between the intellectual and the personal. Indeed, the phraseology of knowing in biblical terms is precisely just this sort of intimate personal knowing. The knower cannot be separated from the thing in which he is in a relationship of knowing. To be sure, there is a distinction between knower and known. Hypostatic koinonia absolutely requires personal distinction. This is not philosophical monism. But the relationship established in the act of knowing makes all knowing personal at the same time it makes it revelatory.

Hypostatic koinonia collapses the Enlightenment bogey of objective/subjective dichotomy. There is not some distanced, detached knower looking on the object of knowing, uninfluenced by and not influencing the thing known. Nor is Truth lost in the monistic maze of subjective experience. Rather, Truth is both objective and subjective. Kierkegaard was more right than Descartes and Kant, but he was still mistaken. Or, to speak yet more correctly, Truth is personal, with the distinctions of subjective and objective meaningless in light of the ultimate reality that is both subjective and objective without confusion or intermingling, separation or division.

Truth is personal communion, because humans are utterly contingent upon the mercies and gifts of God. We have no autonomy to claim, no point at which we can stand in pure objectivity. We are dependent on God, which makes all our reality personal, all our knowing a form of communion.

We do not just know facts, we relate to them and they to us. Facts do not merely convey information, they convey meaning. The fact that it is 8:00pm on Sunday does not merely convey the fact of the time marker at a given point. It means that I will be helping my wife put our daughter to sleep. The fact has a different meaning for someone else. There are no independent, objective facts. There are only innumerable meanings.

But that these facts have innumerable meanings does not mean that Truth or knowing is merely arbitrary or utterly relative. Remember, the fundamental reality which grounds human knowing is the Trinity. In the Trinity all these contingent facts and events are known fully and completely. Human knowing is indeed fragmentary because humans are fallen. But insofar as we are ever more deified, which is to say, ever more like the God with whom we have to do, the more we grasp the meaning of the facts and events which make up our individual realities.

This is why the Godbearing Fathers and Elders of the Church are so rightly revered for their wisdom. Their clairvoyant knowledge (in those Fathers and Elders who manifest this gift) of those who come to them for counsel, is a result of their increasing deification. In taking on more and more of the nature of God through his energies, they come to see the facts and events of their world through the eyes of God. It is in this way that Peter could see the hearts of Ananias and Saphira, and know the lie they had promulgated. It is in this way that the God-man Jesus could both see and know Nathaniel from a distance, and could read the thoughts of the Jewish leaders opposing him. The more deeply we commune with the Trinity, the more wise we become.

Not only, then, is knowing communion, but precisely because this is so, we know that Truth is Personal.

Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Truth is Personal

If knowing is communion, then the other side of that is Truth is Personal. But this is not such a leap, after all, Jesus calls himself, the Truth. St. Paul says of Christ, that “in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Truth is absolute, because Truth is a Person: namely, Christ; or more broadly, the Holy Trinity. But we are not used to this understanding. Ours is an inheritance from the Enlightenment, and for us, truth is exclusively propositional, intellectual.

But this conception has led to the Cartesian problem of the split between mind and body. This semi-Gnosticism has made its way into modern Christianity as well. On the one hand there are the mainline liberal churches which boil Christianity
down to a few main propositions–keeping them as vague and general as possible for the sake of ecumenism–which have no real connection to morals and ethics, aside from some nice slogans. For example, the Episcopal Church officially has
no doctrine on sexuality. The concept of love for one another gets bandied about, but when it comes to what one does with one’s body, it doesn’t matter. On the other hand, in the more conservative evangelical world, there are, indeed, moral truths, but once again, these things are relegated to intellectual propositions and moral codes, for the most part. But if Truth is Personal, then it is also Incarnational. If Jesus is the Truth in his Person, this has to mean that Truth is embodied.

So in faithful Christian thinking there is no mind-body dualism. There are intellectual truths, to be sure, just as there are truths about one’s person and body. But these are not split, but are joined together in perfect union. So when Paul exhorts us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, he calls this our “reasonable worship.” Precisely because of this embodied nature of Truth, as Christians understand it, the Truth is freedom. And we shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set us free; for freedom Christ has set us free.

This is not always the case when insistence is made the Truth is essentially propositional. The difficulties here is that reason’s rules often bind in logical necessity that do not allow for embodiment. Indeed, this is the trap of the Law from which we have been sprung. One can reason oneself into extreme ethical dilemmas, which a fuller Christian perspective on Truth would resolve. Take for example, the arguments for pacificism. They are extremely persuasive on rational grounds, because they subscribe to principle which necessitate certain conclusions. But they also fail to embody themselves in concrete situations. From a few simple premises, for example (one should not kill or resist violence; God is completely sovereign; one cannot know the future), it is possible to argue that one should not kill or attack a murdering rapist who has a knife to the throat of your infant daughter and is about to rape your wife. The answer that one’s bonds of love to family demands protecting their physical, emotional and spiritual welfare is often dismissed as viewing the situation emotionally and not from rational principles. But the fact of the matter is, viewing it with reason and emotion, with the concomitant considerations for potential bodily harm, is a more embodied way of understanding thesituation, and is closer to the Truth that came down and was born of a Virgin.

This principle of embodied Truth, is, of course, founded on the primary demonstration of God’s love for us in the Incarnation. God did not communicate to his human creations by mere propositions, as he is pictured having done in Islam. Rather, God communication in a Person, revealing his Truth not just with intellectual knowledge, but with the knowledge of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, with the knowledge of personal communion.

Thus if a Christian is going to think faithfully about matters of Gospel and matters of knowledge and insight, he is going to do so not from mere rational propositions, but from the whole of his being. Because it is only from the whole of his being that he can love. And it is only through love that we can know anything at all.

Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Knowledge is Love

I have argued that all Christian thought is based on and comes from the reality of a Trinitarian God. Because the foundation of all reality is the Trinity, then knowing and truth are hypostatic koinonia. Furthermore, Truth is Personal because it is a Person. And if these premises are true, then it follows that true knowledge is love. If knowledge is love, then the dichotomy between experiential knowledge and intellectual knowledge is resolved. The two are simply different expressions of the same reality. Nowhere is this is brought out more clearly than in the biblical euphemism for sexual intercourse: “knowing.” Knowledge is deeply personal and experiential, but it involves the mind as well, as such experience is articulated and systematized. But so, too, is the intellect formative of experiential knowing as our experience is filtered through pre-existent cognitive grids. If knowing is loving, then Truth lives thoughtfully.

Love as knowledge, and knowledge as love also collapses the divide between kataphatic and apophatic discourse. It is true that God’s essential being cannot be comprehended by the human mind (apophatic), and thus we are forced to speak of God as “not being” this or that. But because of God’s love for us, and our love for him, we can come to experience the positive (kataphatic) reality of his gracious energies. We can say, positively, that God is love. But we cannot say, love is God. We are bounded by our human fallenness on one hand, and set free through theosis on the other.

If knowing is loving, then Truth is revealed in the experience of mystery. If knowledge is love, then Truth is allowed to transcend reason. As Kant so ably showed, the chief gift of reason is its critical nature. Reason can speak kataphatically only if it remains within its apophatic limits. Love causes reason to be ordered to investigation and reins in its exploration so that reason is both critical and faithful. If given full rein, reason devours itself through skepticism. But when united by love to the Person of Truth, reason allows Christian thought to be faithful. Having explored these few foundational elements of Christian thinking, we are now ready to build on that foundation and trace some important implications for faithful thought.

Building on Christian Foundations for Faithful Thinking: Tracing the Implications

I will review briefly the previous points. I noted that all human knowledge ultimately must have to do with the reality that is the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the source of all reality, all existence, and all our human knowing is true and right only insofar as it is in genuine fellowship with the Trinity. Similarly, since the Holy Trinity is the basis for all reality, then human knowing is ultimately personal communion, or, in neologistic terms, hypostatic koinonia. Human knowing is a partaking of, a joining in, the personal fellowship with the Trinity that grounds reality, as well as with one another. Human knowing is not so much mastery of information as it is loving one another.

This being so, then, Truth is personal. Jesus calls himself the Truth, and St. Paul says of our Lord, that “in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowlege.” We do not, in the end, know facts. We do not store bits and numbers in our minds. No, the beginning and the culmination of truth is the Person of the Christ. And insofar as we know him, we cannot be led astray. But if Truth is personal, the ultimately knowledge is not so much the storage and retrieval of information, nor the ability to connect together relevant facts. Rather, in its most full sense, knowledge is love. Love of God, love of the Trinity.

While I have, in the course of making these points, traced already some of the implications of them, I wanted here to begin more at length to address these implications. There will necessarily, then, be repetition with what has gone before, but also, I hope, some building on those previous comments. I will examine these implications via two main foci: 1. Christian Thinking is Whole Thinking; and 2. Christian Thinking is Holy Thinking.

1. Christian Thinking is Whole Thinking

On the basis of the foundations for Christian thinking which I have laid out previously, it is clear that Christians cannot be faithful in their thinking and at the same time dichotomize it. That is to say, a Christian can neither dismiss the subjective aspects of knowing nor can they eschew objectivity. A Christian understands that no human being can have purely objective knowledge. We believe that as creations of God, ours is a contingent knowing, inescapably subjective per se. But this subjectivity is balanced and transformed by the only being who can claim pure objectivity, the Holy Trinity. The Christian has access to the objectivity which God himself provides in and through the Holy Spirit and his testimony in the Church, the Scriptures and the life of the Church, also known as Tradition. There is no other focal point outside the Holy Spirit’s work in the Body of Christ through which any of us can have access to unchanging Truth. Our personal (note that I do not say individual) knowing is darkened by our fallenness. Our mortality and sinfulness ensures that even when we legitimately come to know aspects of the Truth we misinterpret, misconstrue and misunderstand. Cut off from God, it is not the case we cannot know anything of the Truth, for the vestigial consciences we carry are bound up with the image of God in which we’ve been created and bear witness of at least the Truth of our mortality and fallenness. But it is the case that we cannot come to grasp in any meaningful way these broken pieces of the picture scattered around us. For us to make sense of our subjective knowing, God must reveal himself to us.

So it is not surprising that for one like Nietzsche who proclaimed the “death of God,” the implication is that our knowing is little more than the will to power. If all we have is our subjectivity, then there are no ultimate metanarratives, but only stories, shadows dancing on the cave wall. Christians, however, must engage in whole thinking. We must ensure that the particular, that is to say, the personal, is not lost, since the Truth is the Person of Christ. In Christ there are no universal truths that are not also particular. There are no unchanging principles that are not also personal. That God is love does not indicate some cosmic life force that emanates like a grand vibration throughout the universe. Rather that God is love means he is inescapably Person. Because only Persons can love; cosmic principles just hum.

So our subjective, contingent, mortal and fallen human knowing must be anchored in, which is to say, hypostatically joined to, the objective, per se, immortal and divine knowing of the Trinity. In this union, our subjective personal experience is sanctified, redeemed, and made to partake in the gracious and energetic objective Personhood of the Trinity. In that sanctification our subjectivity is objective, and the objectivity of God is subjective. His Person divinizes our person.

We no longer, then, know in the same way. “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.”

We have been transformed by the renewing of our mind. Science is not cut off from literature. Poetry is not cut off from philosophy. The laws of of the home are not cut off from international machinations. The spirit and soul are not cut off from the body. All knowing is unified in the Trinity, and therefore, human knowing must seek always to come to know the fullness of the Truth that is Christ God. Intellect is not cut off from will, so Christians will only come to know the Truth that is Christ God if they ever seek repentance from sin and death. We take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. So we refuse to chase every vain and idle fantasy; refusing too to be concerned about how some marvel that we don’t join in with them.

Our knowing is as much anchored in God, and as personal, when we meditate on God’s law, as when we silently rock a child to sleep. Christian knowing embraces every nook and cranny of our lives, because that is as far as the Light which is the life of the world reaches. Those who do not have Christ cannot but think in slices, though some think in larger slices than others. It is to Christians only that God has given the grace to unify their knowledge in and by the work of the Holy Trinity.

And if our thinking is whole, because participating in God, then our thinking also must be holy.

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 obedient and holy thinking.

Conclusion

In the present Western sociopolitical context, and certainly here in the United States where I live, the greatest danger for faithful Christian thinking is that of Gnosticism, the divorcing of mind and thinking from the body and the will. This has many permutations, the lines between each of which are not always distinct. There are those seek to parse the Tradition either to dismantle it or to set in place a burden of law not even the Pharisees had the temerity to establish. There are those who are diligent to know and understand their faith in accord with all the generations of Christians gone before them, but fail to also diligently observe the practices of the Faith observed by these pioneers, whether that be in sexual chastity (an absolute necessity in our sexually saturated culture) or in the self-control of appetite and the stewardship of money, which so easily lead to the godless commodification of the treasures of faith. But there are also those who, having dismantled the faith, rush into behaviors and ideologies promoted by the non-Christian world, but with a zeal that only new converts espouse and lacking the genuine world-weariness of the profligate.

Faithful Christian thinking rejects this mind-body split, and for very good reason: God himself became man. In so doing, the unity of what it means to be human was strengthened and transformed. Mind, soul and body form a unity of thought, action and will, neither one divorced from the other, for in the dissolution of these bonds, all of us become less than truly human. Any project which would elevate one aspect of human nature over another, or any apart from dependence on the Holy Trinity is a project of dehumanization. Any project which would seek immortality apart from life in God, or wisdom and knowledge apart from Christ Jesus, is a project not only doomed to failure but also fated to enslave all those who adhere to its principles. This is why the only true freedom of thought is faithful thinking, Christian thinking; thinking which arises from the imago dei, that Trinitarian image stamped upon our nature, which, however defaced, is not dissolved. It is this thinking which reinforces and promotes the full humanity of mankind through the personhood which reflects the undying light of the Face of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is this thinking which in love seeks to live in holy obedience to the will of the God which gives life to the thinking person.

In a fatal contradiction, many Christians today seek to cut themselves off from this long-established tradition of thought and life in the Church. They see the strictures of the Holy Tradition, of the imperatives of Scripture, the Word of God written, as stultifying, as a diminishment of the freedom we humans are rightly said to have as birthright. But the alternatives are not more life, but more death. Inevitably, such divorcement runs its full course, and mind is split from body, soul from mind, will from act. The old inimical heresy of Gnosticism, the only true alternative to Christian faith, does not die, but lives again, if such that it offers can be called life and is not some demonic parody. Take away the foundation of the Trinity, and one loses all capacity for right, let alone faithful thinking. Removing the truth of communal personhood only results in the splitting of what it means to be human. Diminishing the radical Personhood of the Truth, and the Faith becomes little more than doctrinal points to argue. Divorce knowledge from love and one can only enslave one’s hearers and oneself to inhuman systems. Thinking is split and compartmentlized. Holiness of thought becomes incomprehensible because it is nonsystematic.

I have entitled this series of reflections “A Project of Faithful Thinking.” I have done so primarily because it is that, a project, a foundation on which to build, but something which in itself is unfinished. These are touchstones, pointers, which demand greater explication, but which I do not now have the resources to accomplish.

But another reason this has been entitled the way it has is that it is a very personal project, thus the singular and indefinite article. I grew up in a Christian environment which stressed right doctrine, even (however unintended) at the expense of right living. I entered as an adult a Christian environment which stressed (however unintended) institutional loyalty over right belief. In both cases, the resultant thinking left subhuman wreckage. But in the last few years I have finally come home to the Faith which unites head and heart, mind and body, spirit and flesh and provides the groundwork for the sort of thinking that is most human, and does the most to both humanize and divinize those who believe its dogma and live its life. This series is a testimony to what I have gained, and a first deposit of that which I hope to give back.

In all the ways that these reflections align themselves with the Faith and Life of the Church, I give thanks to God. In any way, however small, in which these thoughts depart from the Way revealed by Christ God in his Body, may they be corrected and their errors destroyed and forgotten.

Soli Deo Gloria

© 2003-2004 Clifton D. Healy

8 thoughts on “A Project for Faithful Thinking

  1. Hello,

    This was an impressive, well-thought out and deeply articulated meditation on thinking and faith. I wholeheartedly agree that knowledge is communion, that truth is personal in the person of Jesus Christ (and, as you said, the Trinity in a broader sense). This is an essay I will come back to again and again, I believe. I hope to continue reading your work and enjoying your spiritual insights. I wish more and more Christians would plumb the depths of their own faith and find the riches that God has given to us in His Holy Spirit. For too long, people have dismembered the Trinity or have fashioned aspects of the Trinity into cheap idols that fit into their carnal, commercialized or politicized religion. God has really blessed you with a special gift. Thank you for posting this project. I have also read part of your pilgrim essays and find them intriguing. Wishing you all the best!

    Stephen Hasbrouck
    City Church of Christ
    Vancouver, B.C.

  2. I am very thankful for being able to read your words of enlightenment and conformation of my thoughts. I have been working on a project for many years, and I needed to find someone that has simular thoughts and belief patterns as I do. Look forward to sharing project notes in the future.

    ONE world under GOD with Truth, Liberty, and Justice for all.

    P E A C E !!!

  3. Awesome.

    “Thinking is split and compartmentlized. Holiness of thought becomes incomprehensible because it is nonsystematic.”

    The “compartmentalization” throws the baby out with the bathwater and indeed it does dehumanize. You are really on to something that deeply needs to be expounded and explored. More LIGHT and less DEATH is needed in our daily walk! Spirit without compassion, actions that lead to death while we spout about the Light. What will it take to get us to engage our hearts and minds, body and souls, etc… etc… More of writing like this! Thanks so much!

    I’ll be sharing this article.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/boethius/
    enjoyed reading this article!

  4. Excellent meditation.
    However, I would suggest that the place to begin is the doctrine of Incarnation, not the Trinity.
    Christ is the Truth. Begin with Him.
    The Incarnation is the Foundational Truth of Christ.
    Start with It.

    Scripture, I believe, suggests that.

  5. Ben:

    As I note, I would say things a bit differently now. While I would still argue that the Holy Trinity is the bedrock of reality, epistemically, we come to this conclusion having first engaged the empirical reality of the Holy Incarnation.

  6. This is an incredible article; I enjoyed reading it.
    The foundation of all truth is the Holy Trinity; I wish every Christian read this in order to understand our faith.
    To say God is one does not require much revelation since the creation leads us to a creator (not every one). However, no one can enter into the presence of God or to His knowledge without God’s revelation. Here comes the central role of Christ who came to the world to reveal the Father. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matt 5:8). Purity, humility and repentance are essential before man is allowed into the presence of God.
    The works of Holy Spirit with man’s participation open our heart to the Trinity.
    In conclusion, Trinity is the foundation of all truth, Christ revealed the Father and through the Holy we come to communion with the Holy Trinity and with the Truth.
    many blessings
    Salah

  7. >>>It seems to me that the fundamental starting ponit for all Christian thinking is the Trinity.<<<

    Oh, really? It seems to me that you're starting in the middle somewhere. After all there is no way to know there even is a Trinity unless your starting axiom or starting point is Holy Scripture. All doctrine is to be logically deduced from Scripture.

    God is logic: John 1:1.

    Charlie J. Ray

  8. Charlie:

    Thanks for reading and thank you for your reply.

    Let me start with the final sentence. God is not logic, because logos does not mean logic. There is a better word for logic (or discursive reason): dianoia. John 1:1 does not use dianoia. Logos has to do with articulation, with the putting of thought into human vocabulary, into words. That is to say, logos has to do with revelation. We may reason (using logic or the disursive form of reason) to the conclusion that a god exists. But that is not necessary even if one strictly limits oneself to the constraints of logic or discursive reason. But even if we reach such a conclusion, that a god exists, by way of logic or discursive reason, we can no more come to any necessary conclusions about who or what this god is or is like than we can see to the edge of the universe with the naked eye. One ultimately only knows about a god (or, the Christian God) through revelation.

    Now, if we take the quote with which you started your reply you will note that I labeled the sort of thought that requires the Trinity as a fundamental tenet as “Christian thinking.” That is to say, all of us, Christian, Hindu, atheist or Cubs fan, all of us start with inescapable presuppositions by which we encounter the world and its phenomena. No one comes to raw experience as a tabula rasa: we always already come to all experience with our thinking full of prerational concepts and conclusions. Indeed, even the notion that by using reason we can come to true facts and knowledge about reality is itself an unproven conclusion, indeed a conclusion that cannot be proven without already accepting the conclusion that reason will lead us to true facts and knowledge about reality.

    So, that said, a Christian will have, always already, concepts and conclusions with which he understands reality. And if he or she is indeed a Christian, one of these concepts and conclusions must be that of the Holy Trinity.

    But the Holy Trinity is not arrived at by way of logical thought. Indeed, logic cannot resolve the built in contradiction it has between the One and the Many, though the Christian dogma of the Holy Trinity does resolve such a contradiction. However it resolves it by way of presupposition, not by way of logical or discursive reason. The problem of the One and the Many is, in fact, irresoluble via logic and discursive reason. And yet it is a problem that must be resolved for metaphysical reasons (see Plotinus).

    I hope this clarifies the issue for you (though of course it does not resolve it!).

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