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
I’ve always had a tendency to try and “solve” intellectual conundrums by a kind of independent exercise of my mind. This changed a bit when it was pointed out to me (ironically by an atheist philosophical colleague at the university where I teach) that Blessed Augustine’s Confessions was written in the form of a prayer. Augustine, quite literally takes all the problems his massive intellect considers to the Lord in prayer. I think “converting the intellect” in part simply means that we don’t exercise our intellect independently, but in the presence of God. And we take our intellectual difficulties to Him the way we would any of our other difficulties. This doesn’t mean we expect some divine revelation of the answers, but it alters the atmosphere in which we do our thinking. When the attitude of “How do I figure this out myself” gives way to a prayer in which we say “O Lord, you’ve created me as reason-endowed creature of Thine and so I ask Thee to help me use it to glorify and serve Thee” then things change.
Paul Guest wrote
I didn't realize that even within the Orthodox Church there seems to be so much uncertainty about what the Church does actually believe. . . . I just thought somehow I could just rest in the practices of the Church, participate in the Divine Liturgy, observe the fasts and feasts, pray, go to confession, etc. and that would move me, through God's grace, to a closer, pleasing walk with Him.
Paul you express a very clear understanding but then preface it with unnecessary tentativeness. I’ve been Orthodox for twenty years, and to the extent that I have had a closer and (hopefully) more pleasing walk with God, it’s been precisely through “resting in the practices of the Church.” I suspect that the “uncertainty” you see has two sources: the first may be disagreements over somewhat peripheral issues. But the second to quote the inimitable Herman (Pooh) Blaydoe, is the desire of many to pit “fashionable understanding” against the perennial teachings of the Church (what St. Paul in Ephesians calls being “blown about by every wind of doctrine.”) A lot of unclarity and confusion, over certain current moral issues for instance, is self-generated. One of the easiest ways not to see a thing clearly is a devout wish not to see it clearly because to do so would put us out of joint with the times. Unfortunately, this desire for blindness can find a real ally in the intellect. (“The serpent was more subtle than all the other beasts . . . “) A person of “little brain” may not be able to cleverly think up excuses for denying the obvious. Enter the clever intellectual or theologian to solve the problem and find a way to accommodate the truth to our passions while still claiming to uphold the truth.
That’s why Anna Stickles, as so often puts her finger right on it when she points out the real issue is commitment to walking the path of truth.
As you note if we are out there trying to pick and choose between various of other peoples ideas., we will find nothing but confusion. Instead we must make the commitment to clean ourselves up and remove the glasses of passion that are distorting our vision.
If we get serious about that, a lot of confusion clears itself up.