Wednesday, September 23, 2009

True Knowledge of God - Elder Sophrony



From Father Stephen's blog: Glory to God for all Things


The Elder Sophrony made a strong distinction between the knowledge we gain by rational speculation and the knowledge of God that comes as a gift of grace. He used the term “dogmatic consciousness” to express the knowledge of God as found in the lives of the saints and great ascetics. His teachings on the “dogmatic consciousness” are not a denial of the role played by the classical dogmatic teachings of the Church, but a recognition of the utter necessity of our existential encounter with God that ineffably confirm the teaching of the Church. As a side note, it is interesting that Elder Sophrony thought that the time between the knowledge gained in such an encounter and its verbal expression generally extended for more than fifteen years . It takes time to properly assimilate such knowledge and yet more time to find words.


The dogmatic consciousness I have here in mind is the fruit of spiritual experience, independent of the logical brain’s activity. The writings in which the Saints reported their experience were not cast in the form of scholastic dissertations. They were revelations of the soul. Discourse on God and on life in God comes about simply, without cogitation, born spontaneously in the soul.


Dogmatic consciousness where asceticism is concerned is not a rational analysis of an inward experience – it is not ‘psychoanalysis’. Ascetics avoid this rational speculation because it only weakens the intensity of their contemplation of the Light but, indeed, interrupts it, with the result that the soul sinks into darkness, left as she is with a merely abstract rational knowledge devoid of all vitality.


What is the use of reasoning about the nature of grace if one does not experience its action in oneself? What is the use of declaiming about the light of Tabor if one does not dwell in it existentially? Is there any sense in splitting theological hairs over the nature of the Trinity if a man has not within himself the holy strength of the Father, the gentle love of the Son, the uncreated light of the Holy Ghost?


Dogmatic knowledge, understood as spiritual knowledge, is a gift of God, like all forms of real life in God, granted by God, and only possible through His coming. This knowledge has by no means always been expressed in speech or in writing. The soul does not aspire to expound her experience in rational concepts when God’s grace descends on her. She needs no logical interpretations then, because she knows with a knowledge that cannot be demonstrated but which equally requires no proof that she lives through the true God….


…God is made known by faith and living communion, whereas human speech with all its relativity and fluidity opens the way to endless misunderstandings and objections. (From St. Silouan the Athonite).


To read Fr.Stephen's full essay, use this link  Glory to God for All Things.

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