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How to convert the intellect


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#1 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 07:36 PM

Dear friends and readers,

We have let our Themes of the Month area sit fallow for some time, and the thought occurs to re-kindle its activity as the general lull of the summer months passes and more and more returning and new members of the Community begin to post again at greater pace.

In the past, we've selected a single, focussed theme for each month, and invited all members of the Discussion Community to pose questions, offer responses and quotations, etc. on it -- all aimed at exploring the theme from the specific dimension of the patristic and monastic heritage of the Orthodox Church (and I encourage all to re-read our past Theme of the Month threads, as they have included some very good discussions).

As we're late into the current month, I propose we opt to have a single theme for the remainder of September and the whole of October. To get us started, and in chasing up a thread that has been present in numerous discussions on the forum of late, I have set up the following:

The 'Theme of the Month' for September-October 2011 is 'How to convert the intellect.'

With so many sources of information and interpretations of doctrinal and practical matters present in today's world, which is itself a world overly-reliant on the intellect as a personal means of determining truth, how is the Orthodox Christian to find a way to use the intellect properly, converting it to the mind of the Church, rather than holding it up as his own beacon of authority?

Some points that may be useful in considering the topic:
  • What is the difference between a healthy and unhealthy use of the intellect in attempting to understanding the teachings and practices of the Church?
  • What is to be done when the deliberations of one's intellect lead to a conflict with the patristic, liturgical and Scriptural witness of the Church?
  • What is to be done when points of one's personal confusion are addressed with different responses by different Orthodox sources (e.g. teachers, books, priests)? How ought one go about resolving the increase in confusion this causes?
  • What does it mean to 'conform one's mind to the mind of the Church'? How does one do it?
  • What are the appropriate ways to respond to strong, or forceful, assertions of intellectually-determined interpretations and positions that one believes are at odds with the authentic teaching of the Church?
  • What am I to do when my own intellect genuinely struggles with what the Church teaches? How do I move forward?
These are merely a few points to start the group's thinking -- they are not meant to be exhaustive.

INXC, Fr Irenei

#2 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 07:59 PM

Shouldn't that be "How to Convert Fr. Dn. Patrick's Intellect"? ;)

#3 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 08:37 PM

Actually, Father, this has been a theme common across multiple threads of late, dealing with quite disparate practical matters.

#4 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 08:41 PM

Such a great question! I am looking forward to everyone's posts on this.

How does Orthodoxy understand intellect? How to differentiate between the part of the brain that is purely two dimensional yes/no and that just processes past information and experiences (and everything that comes from that place, one can spin out all kinds of philosophies this way...) versus the part of the mind that has the ability to actually understand something of Truth (nous?)

#5 Rick H.

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 08:54 PM

That's a good question and place to start Jan. What does Orthodoxy mean when it speaks of the intellect? I saw a model for the three layers of the brain and the three functions (so to say) of these three layers that I was impressed with not long ago. I would have to reread this. I think it was something like: 1.) reptillian, 2.) mammalian, and 3.) Neo-Cortex. the lower parts more primitive and the the outer more higher functioning.

#6 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 09:05 PM

What is the difference between a healthy and unhealthy use of the intellect in attempting to understanding the teachings and practices of the Church?

I would say that a healthy use of the intellect is found in elaborating the theology and piety and life of the Church. In this sense we all use our intellects even if just to give our simple assent to the most basic rule of the Church. An example here could be crossing oneself: whole theological sermons have been written on this but also many of us simply cross ourselves in obedience to a wider way of life given us by the Church. Either use of the intellect is good. But this also needs to be grounded in humility: whether the intellect is doing something in knowledge or in faithful assent, obedience and trust.

What is to be done when the deliberations of one's intellect lead to a conflict with the patristic, liturgical and Scriptural witness of the Church?

Back off and return to that place where your understanding is not in conflict with the Church.

What is to be done when points of one's personal confusion are addressed with different responses by different Orthodox sources (e.g. teachers, books, priests)? How ought one go about resolving the increase in confusion this causes?

What we hear from the Church has a consistent key grounded in a spirit that is not of this world that brings us or urges us to a higher plane (although in terms of pastoral guidance it always has a personal manner of application). This key is like a melody that over time you come to recognize even amidst its many expressions. Then you no longer are confused by conflicting sources or listen to them.

What does it mean to 'conform one's mind to the mind of the Church'? How does one do it?

This is an ongoing project of seeking according to the true key which the Church sets forth.

[What are the appropriate ways to respond to strong, or forceful, assertions of intellectually-determined interpretations and positions that one believes are at odds with the authentic teaching of the Church?

There's a time to speak and a time to be quiet. In any case neither response is one of abnegation in the face of what is wrong. Rather it's more the point of finding a wider foothold in Christ in regards to what is the common challenge of our time.

What am I to do when my own intellect genuinely struggles with what the Church teaches? How do I move forward?

Be very patient.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#7 Anna Stickles

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 12:18 AM

This key is like a melody that over time you come to recognize even amidst its many expressions. Then you no longer are confused by conflicting sources or listen to them.


I like this analogy.

I just received the updated version of Fr Seraphim's Rose book on Genesis, Creation and Early Man. It starts out with a short biography and I think this quote is quite applicable.

"Categorically rejecting this approach of "we know better then they" Fr Seraphim advocated a humble reverent, and loving approach to the Holy Fathers. He knew that rather then conform Orthodoxy to modernity, he had to do just the opposite: to conform his consciousness to that of the Fathers, to enter fully into the two-thousand-year continuity of Christian experience. ...

Fr Seraphim's approach was to find the consensus or accord of the Holy Fathers, the "whole Patristic teaching"; and if a difficult or obscure passage from one Father might seem to contradict it, he sought to find how that passage might rather be harmonized with the broader Patristic heritage, and he never felt free to discard the common teaching."

Fr Seraphim held to the common Patristic teaching because he believed that it has been "deposited" in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who Christ promised would lead his people. ...

[It goes on to talk about how in each generation this same teaching was expressed in new ways, adopted new vocabulary in order to clarify and keep understandable the faith to the current generation. and it continues]

"Thus the common vision of the Fathers -- as an integral and harmonious teaching -- is a reality accessible to all. In the words of St Ignatius of Brianchaninov, a Holy Father of 19th century Russia for whom Fr Seraphim had great love and admiration: "What was it that above all struck me in the works of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church? It was their harmony, their wonderous, magnificent harmony. Eighteen centuries, through their lips, testified to a single unanimous teaching, a Divine teaching."

In order to find and be nourished by this single teaching, however, one must approach the Fathers with reverence and humility.As Fr Seraphim wrote:


"We must go to the Holy Fathers in order to become their disciples, to receive the teaching of true life, the soul's salvation... We shall find true guidance from the Fathers, learning humility and distrust of our own vain worldly wisdom, which we have sucked in with the air of these pestilential times, by means of trusting those who have pleased God and not the world."


In the end for those of us who are converts from the Protestant church - the same reverence that we give to the Scriptures can now be given to the Patristic witness as a whole. Just as we expect to find unity in the Bible - one coherent whole authored by God, and struggle to find unity in those things that are contradictory having faith that it truly is there - so too we have faith that this same unity exists in the witness of the Holy Fathers.

#8 Richard A. Downing

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 09:33 AM

Some years ago, I came to the conclusion, using my intellect, that it was impossible for a man to believe in God, at least not a God who grants free will, without first consciously, and with due concern for what might happen to him, suspending his disbelief. It is an enormous intellectual challenge, but once done, and the initial: "God, if you exist, please change me so that I might believe" got out of the way, I ended up with such a belief. For me, this was the Damascus Road, and I remember the instant vividly.

Key points here:
Intellect good for: finding out what is taught, and by whom - who followed that teaching, and what happened to them - who is following that teaching, and how do they behave (by their works...).
Intellect not good for: changing oneself to conform to Christ. For that only surrender in prayer, and the blessed sacraments, suffices.

Love,
Richard.

Edited by Richard A. Downing, 22 September 2011 - 09:35 AM.
typo


#9 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 10:46 AM

Have nothing to do with pointless philosophical discussions. They only lead further and further away from the true religion. Talk of this kind corrodes like gangrene.
~ Saint Paul, 2 Timothy 2:16-17.



If you are like me, you probably take great pleasure in reading books. But can this be a hindrance in our spiritual growth? The current issue of The Orthodox Word has a story about Elder Nikodim who tells of his experience under obedience to Elder Theodosius of the Holy Mountain. He says,"I loved to read books, but the Elder forbade me to read books altogether. Only the Gospel, the Psalter, Abba Dorotheus and the The Ladder - and in that only the chapter on obedience. For nine years he didn't let me read books."


I can't imagine not being allowed to read books for nine years. But as I reflect on it, if I did concentrate on the few he allowed, I might have gained greater knowledge about the spiritual path. I seem to have a tendency to over seek intellectually and take in too much knowledge, which does not give clarity, but only ends up with a confused mind. I think this is the danger that is being pointed out.


Saint Theophan writes about the limitations of book learning:

Books are only for guidance in the spiritual life. Knowledge itself is acquired through deeds. Even that which is known from reading, clear and detailed though it be, presents itself in an entirely different light when experienced through deeds. The spiritual life is such a realm into which the wisdom of this world cannot penetrate.

We must be careful in what we allow to program our minds and to not allow ourselves to let book reading become a pleasure. As Saint Theophan says, our reading should be for our "guidance in the spiritual life". We should be careful when it becomes a pleasure or worse, a means to maintain our false sense of having superior knowledge. Of course, we also have to read books to enhance our skills for our employment or to be a good citizen in what is now a very complicated and technical world. But we know that this is not enough to perform our jobs. Experience is essential. Our reading cannot become a substitute for the experience gained through deeds. As the Saint says, it is only through our deeds we acquire the knowledge we seek. This is just as true in our spiritual life as it is in our workday life.


Saint Theophan's advice is,

Work on yourself and be attentive to yourself. Little by little, you will reach the point where you will begin holding conversations which you should sit down and write out!

This is the ancient wisdom, Heal yourself. Only with this intention will the writings in books have any meaning. We must do as Christ has shown and commanded. Our salvation only comes when we have allowed the Holy Spirit, given to us in Baptism and Chrismation, is allowed to work though us freely guiding all our actions. This is shown by our deeds of which we will be judged on that triumphant day. Often we need to clear our minds cluttered with all the stuff we have read and practice what we have read. This seems to be the path to true spiritual knowledge.


References: The Spiritual Life, p 284 and The Orthodox Word, No 278 p 129


http://networkedblogs.com/ni055

#10 Georgianna

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 11:53 AM

How does Orthodoxy understand intellect? How to differentiate between the part of the brain that is purely two dimensional yes/no and that just processes past information and experiences (and everything that comes from that place, one can spin out all kinds of philosophies this way...) versus the part of the mind that has the ability to actually understand something of Truth (nous?)


In Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers, Metropolitan Hierotheos provides the following description:

...It is plain that fallen man is possessed by the power and authority of the intelligence in his relations with both God and his neighbour. The 'rule of reason,' which is the basis of the whole of Western civilisation is the foundation of every internal and external anomaly. We who live in the Orthodox Church are trying to restore things. Our objective is twofold. We are striving on the one hand to discover our nous. We can see, from the fact that in fallen man the nous is in deep darkness and intelligence constitutes the only source of existence, that in order to arrive at the condition before the fall and to be guided to a life according to nature, the terms must be reversed, that is, nous and intelligence must each be put in its natural place, as we have described. In other words, the intelligence must be restricted, the nous must be developed, the word must be brought to birth by the illuminated nous, and the intelligence must formulate the nous's knowledge in words and sentences.

Obedience to the will of God has a significant role to play in restricting intelligence. We strive not to place trust in our own judgement and our own opinion, which comes from intelligence. Abba Dorotheos says: "In all things that come upon me I never desire to run around in quest of human wisdom, but I always act with the small power I have on whatever it is, and at the same time leave the whole to God." Indeed the same saint has a whole chapter entitled: "That a man ought not to rely exclusively on his own judgement." When the devil finds in someone one bit of self-will or self-righteousness, "he will cast him down through that." Similarly we are told to obey the will of God uncritically as it is expressed in Scripture and in the works of the Fathers of the Church. Our intelligence will certainly rebel and protest, but it is necessary to subject it to the will of God. And since it is possible not to know God's will in so many details of our daily life, we are required to obey a spiritual father who will guide us on our spiritual journey.

- "Intelligence", p 212-13



#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 02:42 PM

From what others have posted since yesterday and also from the various quotes of Fathers is seems that we are not just talking about using the intellect. Rather we are mainly speaking about forming the intellect when reading.

This surely is extremely important in this question for as St Theophan suggests you can read all of the spiritual books you want but still be in the same place of pride if your intellect is not renewed.

Therefore as Fr Seraphim Rose explains the conversion of the intellect is really what we are aiming for. And that occurs by placing our intellect in an inverse position in the manner which society has taught us to do. In other words society has taught us that our intellect must always be on top of everything, judging, criticizing, and controlling. We take this as so natural that we do not question it. To us this is just what the intellect does and we see no alternative to this.

However according to Patristic understanding in order to attain to what is godly we must turn the intellect upside down as it were and teach it to listen obediently. In other words we must, when we read (and this should also apply to everything else we do in the Church) put our intellect into an ascetic position. We must place it 'under' what we read instead of 'over' it- which is the normal social attitude. In other words we must learn how to hear spiritually with the intellect.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 11:27 AM

I think it is important to begin with some sense of what Intellect is, and insofar as I understand the Patristic and Biblical witness, it is the primary spiritual sense organ. And the operation of a healthy, properly formed intellect is a mode of perception of spiritual reality. It is not, in and of itself, going to give us every solution to every problem, or every answer to every question. Logical reasoning and other forms of training and learning come into play. But these methods are more likely to be misused if the intellect is not functioning properly. So what can we look for in an unhealthy intellect? I think the first and most important sign is whether or not the intellect is trying to control or dominate reality, or is it a servant of it? I say reality rather than God Himself, because we can get sidetracked in our diagnosis if we hinge everything on just correct thinking from a dogmatic perspective. A person can have a damaged, unhealthy intellect and still formally adhere to all of the right dogmas. So we begin with reality, and not just the reality of a situation, as important as that is, but Reality. And the first conclusion of any intellect out to be that it is not in control of reality. There are all kinds of blatant as well as subtle signs of an intellect hell-bent on controlling reality, including being quick to anger over the smallest little setbacks, slights, frustrations during the day.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 11:54 AM

Another sign of an unhealthy intellect is when a person constantly is trying to figure out what everything means.

#14 Rick H.

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 12:39 PM

How does Orthodoxy understand intellect?



What does Orthodoxy mean when it speaks of the intellect?



I think it is important to begin with some sense of what Intellect is



After reading Owen's post I can see that I meet just about all the criteria for an unhealthy intellect (although, OTOH, I can think of a prophet or two or a saint or two that would meet this critera as well). Excellent post Owen, thank you.

As we might continue to talk about what the intellect is to make sure we are all on the same page, and for the slow learners like me, I wonder what part the word intuition might play in our conversation? I wonder how much room is allowed for a knowledge that is intuitive as it relates to the "intellect" in Orthodox thought?

#15 Rick H.

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 01:18 PM

And, as far as the comments about attempts to establish the controlling/controlled pattern, control freakery is control freakery regardless of the correctness of our world view or dogma or belief (or teaching).

#16 Anna Stickles

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 05:44 PM

A friend and I have discussed on a few occasions how to read spiritual books, and have called this sacramental reading.

From all the quotes above this thread seems to go a long way toward laying down the A,B,C's of how to do that.

Our intellect has to become a disciple of the Fathers: not just a student of their words, or worse yet their judge. We do this by placing our intellect under their authority, learning to listen obediently.

In practical terms this means when something seemingly wrong or contradictory appears, we assume that we are not correctly understanding what is being said rather then thinking the saint is wrong. We trust the saint not our own understanding.

When we don't understand what is being said, we lay this aside with the thought that we are not ready to absorb or really know this yet, and go on with our life in the Church gaining experience through deeds and trusting that as we grow it will eventually become clear.

This is as opposed to trying to put the pieces together through analytical study or further questions, which is simply another way of trying to take control of the situation. This is simply building castles in the imagination and, not even counting the likelihood for mistakes, there is a certain unreality to the knowledge even when it keeps to the correct lines.

And when we hear things we do understand strive to continue to put them into practice in all areas of our life.

#17 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 10:01 PM

Anna, your whole recent post is really quite wonderful; and the following in particular:

Our intellect has to become a disciple of the Fathers: not just a student of their words, or worse yet their judge. We do this by placing our intellect under their authority, learning to listen obediently.


INXC, ​Fr Irenei

#18 Rick H.

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 05:47 PM

I like the description of sacramental reading Anna. I think we should all allow room for this in our reading.

Otherwise, in the real world, I don't think things are so ethereal or like castles in the air. To me it is pretty cut and dried in many ways. Like in some threads here on monachos we see different ways of knowing. And, this is not a *fuzzy* thing.

For example, there are some threads, current and past, where Fr. Dcn. Patrick will represent one school of thought, and there will be other clergy and lay here who will represent another school of thought. Anyone who reads these threads knows what I mean.

There will usually be one or two who chime in in support of Fr. Dcn. Patrick's points and there will be a handful of clergy and others who will argue against him. And, on these topics, the ones who really cannot make a strong case either way, the ones who are reading along (like me) read different points of view. These are opposing points of view.

And, then these 'readers' can either choose one side or the other to agree with or we can just remain confused and have no opinion on the matter. Or, we can engage Orthodox Clergy and lay people in our home towns and states and regions and see what they think.

And, if we find the most of the people that we know agree with Fr. Dcn. Patrick then chances are that is what we will believe, or vice versa.

This is the real world.

We can read and learn for ourselves, and then pick a side but what does this have to do with converting our intellects? This same scenerio is played out in various topics with different names and players, not just Fr. Dcn. Patrick, but this is a good example.

This is actually another circle to run. Usually, one side argues their side and the other side demands conformity until the voices on both sides kind of fade away.

Who does one submit to? Is it priests on the internet or is it priests in our home towns or is it someone else? This is the real world experience, and (what for it!) :) this is where the rubber does meet the road for sure. But, this aspect is never addressed plainly in a concrete way.

If pushed for an addressing of this aspect, the cliches will come out in force, but this is never addressed in a concrete way, and in the end, after the emotions peak, the circle is closed and we wait for the next circle to be run (we wait for or next batch of posts to be read so we can read them--sacramentally or otherwise).

Edited by Rick H., 26 September 2011 - 06:05 PM.


#19 Rick H.

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 06:08 PM

You know really Anna, why do you believe what you believe? Is it because you were told to believe what you believe or is it based on your reading that you believe what you believe, or your intuition, or all three or none . . . or something else? I think it was Emory Bancroft who made this expression a popular cliche, but why do you believe what you believe? I wonder if this aspect can be addressed here as it relates to this thread?

Is it possible to answer that without using a cliche?

#20 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 06:24 PM

Who does one submit to?


Um, well, maybe, ah, Christ?

Is it priests on the internet or is it priests in our home towns or is it someone else? This is the real world experience, and (what for it!) :) this is where the rubber does meet the road for sure. But, this aspect is never addressed plainly in a concrete way.


Sadly, much of what the Church assumed as concrete has in these latter days become somewhat "crumbly". There has been a tendency to simply overlook those aspects of the (up until now) clear and accepted teachings of the Church that offend modern sensibilities. Obstensibly I would say we should indeed submit to the teachings your bishop proclaims, that is why he is the bishop and wears that funny hat. Following the advice of your father confessor is the next best thing if you want to approach this from a relatively "safe" view.

But the most daring view is to try and understand and accept what the CHURCH teaches, regardless of the current "fasionable" understanding. Consensus means more than what do two or more living priests think. It should, if one is being honest, include the time-tested witness as reflected in the valued Fathers and certainly a familiarity with the hymnody and iconography of the Church. THIS captures the true "consensus" of the WHOLE Church, regardless of what this or that opinionated Orthodox pontificator (or poohtificator) has to say.

Adding to the fun is that not every single facet of the complex gem that is Orthodoxy has been completely polished, not every single thing has been revealed to us and is indeed a MYSTERY and is not really meant to be "understood" on an intellectual level, even if we argue at that level most of the time.

Or so it seems to this bear of little brain.

Herman the Poohtificator




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