Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Faith and Reason - Selections From Saint John Chrysostom

Below are some excerpts from Saint John Chrysostom, found throughout his writings, that deal with the relationship between Faith and Reason. For Saint John, there is not a contradiction between Faith and Reason when used for their own purpose, since both are gifts of God, but he does demonstrate and drive home strongly that Faith is far superior to Reason. Moreover he continuously warns against misusing Reason to be an enemy of Faith. Reasoning should not interfere in matters of Faith, because Reason cannot even hope to comprehend the transcendent nature of Faith. Reason cannot enlighten Faith, but Faith can enlighten Reason. Reason diminishes Faith because it limits it and does not allow it to grow. And Faith that does not increase eventually withers and dies. At the same time Reason unenlightened by Faith is like being born and raised in a dark prison cell, confined and unaware of the world beyond your limited experience, sort of like Plato's allegory of the cave. Reason can never move us beyond its own ignorance and it serves its purpose only when it drives a person to deeper Faith. 

Saint John Chrysostom writes:

- "In that God has bestowed upon us benefits that surpass man's reasoning, suitably enough He has brought in faith. It is not possible to be steadfast when demanding reasons. For behold all of our noble doctrines - how destitute they are of reasoning, and dependent upon faith alone. [For example,] God is not anywhere, and is everywhere. What has less reason in it than this? Each, by itself, is full of difficulty. ... He was not made, He made not Himself, He never began to be. What reasoning will receive this, if there be not faith?"

- "If any one should tell you descend into the deep, and trace out things at the bottom of the sea, you would not tolerate the command. Therefore, when no one compels you, why do you willingly seek to comprehend the unsearchable abyss [of our divine dogma with your reasoning]? I beseech you, do not do this. Instead, let us sail upwards - not floating, for we shall soon be weary and sink; but using the divine Scriptures, as some vessel, let us unfurl the sails of faith. If we sail in them, then the Word of God will be present with us as our Navigator."

- "This is the work of faith: If you believe, suffer all things; if you do not suffer, you do not believe. For are not the things promised [so great], that he who believes would choose to suffer even ten thousand deaths? The kingdom of heaven is set before him - and immortality, and eternal life. Therefore, whoever believes will suffer all things. Then faith is shown through his works. In truth, one might have said: Not merely did you believe, but through your works you manifested it - through your steadfastness, through your zeal."

- "Where faith exists, there is no need of questioning. Where there is no room for curiosity, questions are superfluous. Questioning is the subversion of faith. For he that seeks, has not yet found. He who questions, cannot believe. Therefore, it is [St. Paul's] advice that we should not be occupied with questions; since, if we question, it is not faith. For faith sets reasoning at rest."

- "But why then does Christ say, 'Keep on seeking and ye shall find, keep on knocking and it shall be opened unto you' (Matt. 7:7); and, 'Keep on searching the Scriptures, for in them you have eternal life (John 5:39)? With regards to 'seeking', it refers to prayer and vehement desire. And He invites us to, 'Keep on searching the Scriptures,' not in order to introduce the labors of questioning, but to end them - so that we may ascertain and settle their true meaning; not that we may be always questioning, but that we may be done with it."

- "And [St. Paul] rightly said, 'Command some not to teach different doctrines, nor to give heed to fables, and endless genealogies, which produce questions rather than the dispensation of God, which is in faith' (I Timothy 1:4). Justly has he said, 'the dispensation of God.' For great are the blessings, which God is willing to dispense; but the greatness of them is not conceived by reasoning. This must, then, be the work of faith, which is the best medicine of our souls. This questioning, therefore, is opposed to the dispensation of God. For [this is] what is dispensed by faith: To receive His mercies and become better men; to doubt and dispute of nothing; but to repose in confidence."

- "It is not faith merely to profess belief, but to do works worthy of faith; ... for sound doctrines avail nothing towards our salvation, if our life is corrupt. ... For even though we have all faith and all knowledge of the Scriptures, yet if we are naked and destitute of the protection derived from (holy) living, there is nothing to hinder us from being hurried into the fire of hell; and burning forever in the unquenchable flame. For as they who have done good shall rise to life everlasting, so they who have dared the contrary shall rise to everlasting punishment; which never has an end. Let us, therefore, manifest all eagerness not to waste the gain, which accrues to us from a right faith, by our vile actions; but becoming well-pleasing to Him by these [i.e., our actions] also, boldly to look upon Christ. No happiness can be equal to this."

- "Some, who seek out everything by reasoning, turn aside from the faith; but reasoning produces shipwreck, while faith is as a safe ship. For where there is no faith, there is no knowledge; when anything springs from our reasoning, it is not [true] knowledge."

- "What the wisdom of men cannot discover, faith abundantly comprehends and achieves. Therefore, let us cling to this; and not commit to reasonings that concern ourselves. For tell me, why have not the Greeks been able to find out anything? Did they not know all the wisdom of the heathen? Why then could they not prevail against fishermen and tentmakers, and unlearned persons? Was it not because the one committed all to argument, the others to faith?"

- "Therefore, [St. Paul] shows that the greatest things are attained through faith; and not through reasoning. And how does he show this, tell me? It is manifest, he says, that God made: the things which are, out of things which are not; things which appear, out of things which appear not; things which subsist, out of things which subsist not. ... For reason suggests nothing of this kind; but on the contrary, that the things which appear are [formed] out of things which appear."`

- "Where is the proof ... that God made these things [i.e., all of the visible and invisible creation]? Reason does not suggest it; for no one was present when it was done. [Therefore], how is it shown? It is plainly the result of faith. 'Through faith,' [St. Paul exclaims], 'we understand that the worlds were made.' Why 'through faith'? Because 'the things which are seen have not come into being out of things which appear' (Hebrews 11:3). For this is Faith."

- "'Moved with fear, [Noah] prepared an ark' (Hebrews 11:7). Reason indeed suggested nothing of this sort; for 'they were marrying and being given in marriage' (Luke 17:27); the air was clear, there were no signs [of change], but nevertheless he feared: 'By faith', [St. Paul says], 'Noah was warned by God of things not seen as yet, and moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house' (Hebrews 11:7). ... Faith is all. If [faith] stabilizes the heart, then it stands in security. It follows that faith gives stability, while consequently reasoning is shaky. For faith is superior to reasoning."

- "Faith needs: a generous and vigorous soul; and one rising above all things of sense; and passing beyond the weakness of human reasonings. For it is not possible to become a believer, other than by raising one's self above the common customs [of the world]."

- "Everywhere, beloved, we have need of faith - the mother of blessings, the medicine of salvation; and without this, it is impossible to possess any one of the great doctrines. Without this, men are like those who attempt to cross the open sea without a ship; who - for a little while - hold out by swimming, using both bands and feet. However, when they have advanced farther, they are quickly swamped by the waves. In like manner, those who use their own reasoning, before they have learned anything, suffer shipwreck; as also Paul says, 'Who concerning faith have made shipwreck' (1 Tim. 1:19). In order that this not be the case with us, let us hold fast to the sacred anchor [of faith]."

- "This is what we [should] learn: rather to raise questions, not to solve the questions that are raised. For even if we do solve them, we have not solved them altogether; but (only) as far as man's reasoning goes. The proper solution of such questions is faith - knowing: that God does all things justly and mercifully, and for the best; that to comprehend the reason of them is impossible. This is the one solution, and no better one exists... This is a chief characteristic of faith: to leave all the consequences of this lower world, and [thereby] seek that which is above nature; ... cast out the feebleness of forethought; and accept everything from the Power of God."

- "Faith requires obedience, and not curiosity; and when God commands, one ought to be obedient, not curious."

- "There is need not only of faith, but also of a spiritual way of life - that we may keep the Spirit that was given once for all."

- "Faith is - indeed - great, and brings salvation; and without it, never is it possible to be saved."

- "For the wonderful qualities of faith are two: that it both accomplishes great things, and suffers great things; and regards the suffering as nothing."

- "Wherefore I entreat you: let us use much diligence - both to stand in the right faith, and to show forth an excellent life."

And a few by Saint Basil the Great...

- "We must neither doubt nor hesitate respecting the words of the Lord, but be fully persuaded that every word of God is true and possible - even if nature rebels; for therein is the test of faith."

- "Let the simplicity of faith be stronger than the deduction of reason."