NOTE: The following article is taken from Orthodox Witness. The evolutionist priest is confused why the monks at St. Anthony’s Monastery don’t believe in Evolution and have refused to sell his book for containing content that supports the theory.
There are numerous reasons why the majority of monastics under Elder Ephraim reject the theory of evolution (some monastics have a degree in one of the sciences and don’t easily assimilate into the creationist, infallible scripture mindset of Elder Ephraim but they slowly adapt or just ignore their feelings on the subject).
Elder Ephraim and his monastics believe that a theory or viewpoint is confirmed when it is validated by either the Holy Scriptures or the holy and God-bearing Fathers. St. Nektarios wrote a treatise entitled, The Theory of Evolution is Wrong. Elder Joseph had a an experience where he met a pilgrim with a theology degree who emitted a foul stench and he knew something was seriously wrong with this individual. Afterwards, it came to light that this theologian wrote an entire book supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some contemporary saints and theologians who are more traditional have also written apologetics against evolution; others have attempted to reconcile the scriptures with modern scientific discoveries. The monasteries don’t recognize evolution as true science.
The monasteries tend to side more with Ken Ham and other creationists minus their protestant beliefs. The result is a synthesis of creationism and orthodox patristics (mainly the portions that validate a literal interpretation of the scripture, i.e young earth, literal six days of creation, LXX timeline of 7,500+ years for earth/mankind’s existence, Noah’s Flood, etc.). Any of the sciences that contradict a literal interpretation of the bible are routinely dismissed as “just a theory, not fact”, “western atheist propaganda”, etc. The monasteries don’t place much emphasis on the sciences unless they corroborate something in orthodoxy (i.e. dating methods are dismissed as inaccurate if it contradicts the LXX timeline but the same dating methods are accepted if it validates a historical event in the Old Testament).
In the future, this blog will publish a few letters Papa Ephraim Poonen (AZ) sent to his family defending creationism: Modern Scientific Evidence Supporting Biblical Creation; How Long Were the “Days” in Creation Week?; and a rebuttal of David Quammen’s 2004 article in National Geographic, Was Darwin Wrong?
On Faith and Science
This post requires a small introduction. To our surprise, the St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona refused to carry our book The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy in their bookstore, because of certain reservations. Eventually they requested another copy and returned it to us with three handwritten “post-it” notes, on which they wrote their objections to the book. Today’s post is the letter we sent back to them (2009), to which we have not received a reply.
Although you chose to remain anonymous you are known to God, to Whom we pray for illumination from above and strength to do His will.
Thank you kindly for sharing your thoughts on why, in your opinion, my book does not deserve to be on the shelves of the monastery’s bookstore, because of alleged errors contained in it.
I cannot hide the pain and the sadness that I experienced, that an Orthodox monk has found errors with my book, errors serious enough not to recommend its reading by Orthodox Christians.
[NOTE: St. Anthony’s Monastery has a rigid system of censoring and banning publications from their bookstore. Generally, most contemporary books published in North America, especially from Holy Cross Seminary and authors who support the WCC or ecumenism aren’t even read unless it’s an actual translation of a Church Father. Unfortunately, the unorthodox content of the introductions or Catholic terminology used in place of orthodox also render those books useless for the bookstore.
Most of the orthodox books about bioethics, modern science, evolution, etc. have been deemed incompatible because they contain opinions and teachings that contradict the “mind of the Church” and “orthodox traditions” (i.e. many concepts promoted in these books such as donating organs upon death, stem cell research, cloning, etc. are all forbidden by the orthodox church for numerous theological and ethical reasons). In some cases, St. Anthony’s Bookstore does carry writings by clergymen from Old Calendarist schismatic groups because they are more traditional and in line with authentic orthodox teaching despite the fact that these individuals are considered outside the Church and without grace.]
Truthfully, I was in a daze, having nightmares, that I was living in the Dark Ages, and I was standing before the Grand Inquisitor, pressured to recant the evils advocated in my book. Padre, per caritá! This is Orthodoxy and 21st century!
I was preparing to respond to you at length, defending the positions you criticize, when I came across an article written by Protopresbyter Dr. Georgios Metallinos, which addresses the issues raised in your notes.
I enclose it, thinking that you will accept the authority of this theologian, who certainly ranks among the top living Greek Orthodox theologians of our times. But if you take exception to his writings, I would be glad to adduce further witnesses in my defense.
Below I include your three comments, followed by comments by Fr. Metallinos’ in italics and my own comments and other quotations.
In your first comment you seem to object to the following paragraph in my book:
According to our understanding the Bible is not a scientific textbook, therefore we are not to take every geographic, historical, and scientific detail as error free, and we should not read it that way.
You seem to believe that the Holy Scripture is free from any kind of error (which I call “the erroneous principle of biblical inerrancy”), yet you do not provide your explanation of a few examples cited immediately after the above paragraph. Here they are:
The Holy Scriptures seem to follow the view that God created a stationary, flat earth, with the heaven being a dome over it, and the sun and the moon circling around it (Ps. 104); that He created the universe in six 24-hour days, some 10,000 years ago; and that He took mud to form man out of it, and woman out of his rib.
Please support the objective truthfulness of these biblical statements or assumptions, and many other similar, apparently unscientific statements, like references to, ‘the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens being closed” (Gen. 8:2) or the “shutting in the sea with bars and doors” (Job 38:8.10). Are we to take literally the monsters Behemoth (Job 40:15), whose “bones are tubes of bronze, and his like bars of iron” (v. 18), and Leviathan (Job 41:1, see also Ps. 104:26)? Is he real? “His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth” (Job 42:18-21)? Read carefully the Prooimiakos Psalm 104 (103 LXX) and tell me how scientific are the lines, “who hast stretched out the heavens like a tent, who hast laid the beams of thy chambers on the waters” (vv. 2b-3a) and “Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken” (v. 5). Read also Proverbs 8:27-29 and tell me how factual are these verses: “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command.” Also Isaiah 45:12: “I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”
[NOTE: The monasteries generally side with Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios who teaches in his homilies on Genesis and Revelations that the Holy Spirit uses the language of the times because that’s how people talked, believed or understood their environment during the different periods in which these scriptures were written; i.e. “I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1) doesn’t imply that Christians thought the earth was a square or that there were literally four corners of the earth but it’s figurative language]
This is what Fr. Metallinos says on the subject of understanding and using the Holy Scripture as an authority on any human endeavor (from the three quotes I underlined in the article I sent you):
 Thus the Holy Scripture and the works of the Holy Fathers (the scientists of the faith) may contain scientific errors, as they relate to the findings of the natural sciences which are continuously reappraised.
 God teaches in the Scripture the truth about Himself and not (the scientific knowledge) about creation.
 Thus as concerns scientific subjects there is a possibility of a change of opinion based on the new findings.
 The problem with religion starts from the acceptance of the sacred books (e.g. Holy Scripture or Koran) as scientific text[s].
 In Orthodoxy, when it is Orthodoxy, there cannot be a case of Galileo.
“The Gospels,” says St. Augustine, “do not tell us that our Lord said, ‘I will send you the Holy Ghost to teach you the course of the sun and moon;’ we should endeavor to become Christians, and not astronomers.” So it is with the Mosaic account of creation. Its purport is not to teach geology, physics, zoology, or astronomy, but to affirm in the most simple and direct manner the creative act of God and His sovereignty over all creatures. Its object is not to anticipate any of the truths of science or philosophy, but to guard the chosen people of God against the pernicious errors and idolatrous practices which were then everywhere prevalent.
This is your second note:
You did not explain, Father, why the statement, “Evolution and creation are not seen by us as two opposite theories of how the world came about, but one and the same described from two different perspectives” “is not at all correct.” I provide two examples, but you did not refute them. I don’t think you can!
Apparently, you believe that evolution is a godless theory devised by atheists to tear down belief in God. It has been used that way, but it does not have to, and it does not oppose religion and enlightened understanding of the Holy Scripture. It may be a surprise to you, but as much as creation of the world by God is Orthodox, creationism (the literal interpretation of Genesis and of the Scripture in general) is unorthodox! (God does not have “two hands,” but He has a Son and a Holy Spirit.)
Fr. Metallinos provides concrete answers on the subject of evolution, quoting from St. Basil the Great (PG 29, 36B and 29, 1164) and St. Gregory the Theologian (PG 44, 72B and 44, 148C), to the effect that both accept an evolutionary course in creation.
Specifically, Fr. Metallinos states:
 Basil the Great does not expect [to receive] from Scripture all the answers, deeming the scientific research indispensable.
 Theology waits patiently the progress of science for the comprehension of its theological tenets.
 Theology does not oppose the scientific position, about the age of man on earth, for example.
 The theologians accept the freedom of scientific research…
 “Science offers a more certain way toward God than religion”
God, according to St. Augustine as well as according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, first created matter in an elementary or nebulous state. From this primordial matter—created ex nihilo [from nothing]—was evolved, by the action of physical laws imposed on it by the Creator, all the various forms of terrestrial life that subsequently appeared. In this process of evolution there was succession, but no division of time. The Almighty completed the work He had begun, not intermittently and by a series of special creations, but through the agency of secondary causes—by the operation of natural laws and forces—causales rationes [causal reasons]—of which He was the Author.
And this is your third and final note:
Indeed science in many instances supports the biblical witness. But the faith of the Church does not stand or fall on whether God created the world in six solar days, or on whether “the earth was established above the waters,” as the psalm says, or on any area other than that of faith and morals. In those other areas the Holy Scripture may be wrong, as the Fathers who took it to the letter may also be wrong. Even the sacred and inspired writers used whatever human knowledge was available to them. We too use whatever knowledge we have today. Our faith remains the same, resting on a Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Our faith cannot be challenged by science, because if any of its findings is true it will find acceptance by the Church.
The truths of faith and the truths of science belong to different categories indeed, but notwithstanding this fact they can never come into conflict. The truths of science are of the natural order, while the truths of faith belong to an order which is supernatural. Both have God for their author, and as He cannot contradict Himself, and as truth cannot be opposed to truth, so the truths of faith never can be at variance with the certain conclusions of science.
Draw, my dear brother in Christ, your conclusions, based not on fundamentalism, dogmatism, fanaticism, and “biblicalism,” but on the truth, no matter where it comes from. The truth is never our enemy. But if it challenges our beliefs, instead of finding fault with science we should perhaps re-check the foundation of our religious beliefs and revise them!
Someone said, The purpose of the Holy Scripture and of the Church is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Let’s leave that to science.
The last quote from St. Augustine reminds us of something profound that he has written, on which I very humbly invite you to prayerfully ponder upon and meditate, my dear brother in Christ:
If we come to read anything in Holy Scripture that is in keeping with the faith in which we are steeped, capable of several meanings, we must not by obstinately rushing in, so commit ourselves to any one of them that, when perhaps the truth is more thoroughly investigated, it rightly falls to the ground and we with it.
The following illuminating, pertinent quote comes also from the pen of the same saint:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions. [1 Timothy 1.7].
My hunch is that you are a convert from a fundamentalist Protestant denomination, and your conversion is not complete, because you don’t have the Orthodox phronema, and you don’t reflect the freedom the children of God enjoy.
It takes a great man to admit his error. I do not ask for apologies: just for your order to place a much-needed book on the shelves of your monastery bookstore, with the blessings of the Very Reverend Archimandrite Elder Ephraim.
Early Christian preachers such as Justin Martyr assimilated all of the pagan gods to ‘demons’ under the control of the Devil (Pagels 1988: 42). According to pagan cosmology, demons were not intrinsically evil, but they were biddable. The magical papyri of the last centuries BCE and first centuries CE reveal how people sought, through ritual incantations, to command demons to carry dreams to others. In one particular example, a man named Hermeias exhorts the demons to cause his unresponsive object of desire to lust for him, even when she is ‘drinking, working, conversing, sleeping, dreaming, having an orgasm in her dreams, until she is scourged by you and comes desiring me.1
Granted the prevailing association of demons with dreams in popular thought, Christians were counselled to distrust their sleeping visions as possibly satanic. Dreams thus came to be placed squarely on the negative side of a morally polarized universe. John Climacus, whose Ladder of divine ascentsynthesized the ascetic tradition and became a handbook for monks, wrote: ‘Devils often take on the appearance of angels of light or martyrs and they appear to us in sleep and talk to us … And if we start to believe in the devils of our dreams, then we will be their playthings when we are also awake’ (Climacus, Ladder, 3).
Beginning with Tertullian, the Church Fathers held that dreams could come variously from God, the Devil or the Soul (Tertullian, On the soul, 47). This tripartite scheme was apparently adapted from pre-Christian philosophical traditions. A look at the third-century BCE Alexandrian physician Herophilus’ classification of dreams reveals that the erotic dream figured centrally in the transition from paganism to Christianity:
“Herophilus says that some dreams are inspired by a god and arise by necessity, while others are natural ones and arise when the soul forms for itself an image (eidolon) of what is to its own advantage and of what will happen next; and still others are mixed (synkra-matikoi) and arise spontaneously (ek tou automatou) according to the impact of the images, whenever we see what we wish, as happens in the case of those who in their sleep make love to the women they love.”2
The interesting part of this scheme is the third, or mixed category. In so far as people see what they inwardly desire in these dreams, they seem identical to enypnia – the physical state dreams discussed earlier.3 Yet, this identification cannot be correct, since Herophilus pointedly differentiates them from the category of dreams produced exclusively by the soul. Mixed dreams have an exogenous element; they result from outside forces – the impact of images on the sleeper. These images happen to coincide with internal desires.
Herophilus’ mixed dream, with its ready erotic exemplification, corresponded to the demonic dream in the Christian tripartite system (von Staden 1989: 310). Early ascetic theories of human nature and psychology reveal how monks understood demons to inspire erotic dreams. These accounts, presented by writers such as Evagrius and Cassian, possibly illuminate what Herophilus intended by the mixed dream. Certainly they take us deeper into the genesis of the erotic nightmare.
For Evagrius, who became a monk in Egypt around 382 CE, demons could manipulate an individual’s previously acquired, emotionally charged memories to excite the passions, and set sinful thoughts in train. Thus evil thoughts were simultaneously exogenous and endogenous; demons activated what was already there. Evagrius conceded that disturbing thoughts would inevitably occur, even in the course of monastic life – such thoughts were part of the human condition. Sin set in only if one mentally entertained a thought for too long. As he expressed it: ‘It is not up to us whether evil thoughts might trouble the soul or leave it in peace. What does depend on us is whether they linger or not, and whether they set the passions in motion or not’ (Praktikos, 6). The goal was inner stillness, which Evagrius referred to by the familiar Stoic term, apatheia (Guillaumont 1971: 98ff.).
Evagrius named eight primary demons, the model for what would become the ‘seven deadly sins’ in Western Christianity. Each of these demons normally attacked only one of the two vulnerable parts of the soul, the high-spirited or the sensual. Predictably, the demon of fornication (porneia) attacked the sensual part of the soul. According to Evagrius “it compels one to desire ‘remarkable’ bodies; it violently attacks those living in abstinence in order to cause them to quit, convinced they will amount to nothing. And, soiling the soul, it inclines it to ‘those acts’ [obscene acts]. It causes monks to speak and hear things, as if some object were visible and present” (Praktikos, 8).
As this passage shows, the battle with demons spilled over into the realm of dreams and (other) hallucinations where the power of the will to resist demons was weakest. Although demons could provoke erotic dreams and nightmares, these were normally two distinct types of dream (Praktikos, 21, 22, 54). The phenomenon of an erotic nightmare required a fusion of demonic domains that contravened the normal division. In such dreams the sensual part of the soul joined forces with the irascible to overwhelm the intellect. It was the opposite of Plato’s ideal scenario of self-mastery where the intellect and the high spirits co-operated to overpower the appetitive part. In Evagrius’ psychology the erotic nightmare was not excluded but rather given a powerful theorization. It was the exception that confirmed the rule.4 The erotic dream was a mixed dream then, not only because external demons aroused internal thoughts, but also because it simultaneously affected the two parts of the soul.
If dreams were, indeed, controllable, then anyone who experienced an erotic dream was potentially culpable. John Cassian excused nocturnal emissions if they occurred to someone with a full stomach (Cassian, Conferences, 12.2). In such cases they were a simple physical fact of the body, and he allowed that it was ‘natural’ for emissions to occur as often as every two months, although three times a year was a more acceptable frequency (Cassian, Institutions, 6.20; Conferences, 2.23).
The sinfulness of erotic dreams and nocturnal emissions continued to be a topic of debate in ascetic ‘anthropology’- as patristic theories of human nature and psychology are sometimes known – throughout the Middle Ages in both the Eastern and Western Churches (Elliott 1999; Fogen 1998). Excusable nocturnal emissions became sinful erotic dreams if one entertained them, allowed them to linger, and, most importantly, if one consented to them (Elliott 1999: 20). The way to fight the images and sensations of the mixed dream was to sever them with the knife of the will, withholding assent so that externally instigated images did not connect with bodily passions. Nocturnal emissions unaccompanied by visual imagery indicated spiritual progress (Evagrius, Praktikos, 55; Angelidi forthcoming).
From the Monastery to the World
The account developed to this point presents the views of learned texts representing the ideas and practices of elite, free men in antiquity and a narrow subsection of monks and high clerics in the early Christian period. Their practices of self-cultivation may not have been shared by very many of their contemporaries, but their influence on subsequent generations has been enormous. If the ancient Greek ethic of self-moderation was explicitly elitist, the Christian ethic became increasingly unified in conception and intended for all – men and women, young and old alike. I turn now to consider how the ascetically influenced Christian ethic of self diffused to the population at large and how the Christian laity was conditioned to view the erotic dream as dangerous and nightmarish.
In popular vocabulary the word incubus, as we saw, gave people a ready label for the erotic nightmare.5 In the wake of Augustine’s writings about concupiscence and original sin, the general term for demonic interference in a dream, ‘inlusio‘ (illusion), came to have automatically erotic overtones in succeeding generations (Elliott 1999: 20). Likewise, the term ‘phantasma‘, which Aristotle had used interchangeably with phantasia to mean a ‘mental perception, image, or representation’, came to mean a distorted – usually by demons – mental representation (Schmitt 1999: 278). If normal sensory perceptions were like water that flowed through a person, then memories could be likened to water that was stored and which remained clear. Phantasmata, on the other hand, were like stagnant water that had become cloudy, rank, and overgrown with algae.
How did these developments affect popular views of these matters? Certainly the laity were not expected to live up to the ascetic standards of the monks – this would have meant the extinction of Christian society – nor were they necessarily concerned by, or even able to comprehend, the high-flown arguments of theology. People in the world no doubt continued to have extra-marital sexual relations, dreams, erotic dreams, nocturnal emissions, and nightmares. But the Church did make attempts to regulate these phenomena. Early penitential books such as the Irish penitential of Cummean, composed in the seventh century after the model of Cassian’s rules for monks, represented one such effort. This penitential is notable for its comprehensive distinctions among erotic deeds and thoughts.
“He who merely desires in his mind to commit fornication, but is not able, shall do penance for one year … He who is willingly polluted during sleep, shall rise and sing nine psalms in order, kneeling … He who desires to sin during sleep, or is unintentionally polluted, fifteen psalms; he who sins but is not polluted, twenty-four” (Bieler 1963: 115;Asad 1993: 101).
The dissemination of prayer formulas comprised another area for ascetic influ-ence on the development of mainstream Christianity. The expanding practice of bedtime prayers is of particular interest here (Le Goff 1988: 225). Early in the fifth century CE, Prudentius composed a hymn before sleep that included the following lines: ‘If a man’s stains of guilty conduct are few and far between, him the clear and flashing light teaches secret things; but he who has polluted and befouled his heart with sins is the sport of many a fear and sees fright-ful visions’ (Daily round6.49). And it concluded with the following exorcistic entreaty: ‘The cross drives out every sin; before the cross darkness flees away; consecrated with this sign, the spirit cannot be unquiet. Away, away with the monstrosities of rambling dreams! Away with the deceiver and his persistent guile!’ (Daily round 6.133).
Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries, the Church’s mode of eliciting and forgiving lay sins altered. Initially, there was the brutally demanding office of penance in which the penitent was excluded from the worshipping community (Asad 1993: 100). This person’s sins and their on-going punishment were socially apparent. The practice of individual, private confession to a cleric gradually replaced penance until the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), when it was made mandatory for all. Later, the Protestants identified compulsory confession to lascivious clerics as a practice that increased rather than decreased general sexual excitation. In the reformed Church confession would have no place. Each individual would be responsible for his or her own actions in the face of God. This was not an easy option, but rather the beginning of an in-worldly asceticism. In Weber’s famous formulation, asceticism ‘now … strode into the market-place of life, slammed the door of the monastery behind it, and undertook to penetrate just that daily routine of life with its methodicalness, to fashion it into a life in the world, but neither of nor for this world’ (1991 [1904-5]: 154).
Just as the new order of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations got underway in the sixteenth century, so, too, did the witch-hunts. The judicial system became a means to contravene the new space of private conscience that the reformers had begun to stake out. Officials asserted greater power than ever to interrogate individuals about their inner thoughts, convictions, and fantasies. These witch trials frequently involved accusations that men and women attended sabbaths at which they had sex with the Devil. The witch-hunting manuals developed an elaborate picture of incubi that attacked women and succubi that copulated with men. According to the Malleus maleficarum (Kramer & Sprenger 1970 : 41 ff.), such erotic episodes occurred more frequently to women since they were more feeble, credulous, and less self-controlled than men.
These various developments continue the story of erotic dreams and self-control begun in antiquity, a contention that emerges more clearly if we closely consider the tenth-century Canon episcopi(Lea 1939: 38; Russell 1972: 292). This text urged priests to eradicate demonic sorcery from their parishes. It also alerted clerics that some women, ‘seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons (daemonumi llusionibuse t phantasmatibusse ductae), believe themselves, in the hours of night, to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans’ (Lea 1939: 178). In such cases, priests were instructed to teach that these beliefs were false delusions of the Devil. The Canon episcopi conceded that women did undergo demonic molestation but only ‘in their spirits’ (cum solus eius spiritus). The problem, from the Church’s point of view, was the exuberant folk credulity aroused by these tales, and the laity’s apparent inability to distinguish imagined from real experiences. Thus the Canon episcopi emphasized that:
“[w]hile the spirit alone endures this [demonic manipulation], the faithless mind thinks these things happen not in the spirit, but in the body. Who is there that is not led out of himself in dreams and nocturnal vision, and sees much when sleeping that he has never seen when waking? Who is so stupid and foolish as to think that all these things which are only done in spirit happen in the body …” (Lea 1939: 179).
Uncertainty over ‘the imaginal’6 thus lay at the centre of European witchcraft.
Renaissance theologians had to decide whether witches’ transformations, flights, and sabbaths were merely dreams, and if so, whether the individuals involved none the less merited prosecution for believing them. The issues begin to look very much like those posed by the desert Fathers. The difference between the first ascetics and the laity during the witch craze was that earlier a (male) individual had largely been left to monitor his own spiritual failures. Later (male) clerics decided this matter on behalf of (female) individuals. Torture and capital punishment replaced internally imposed humility and renewed ascetic effort as responses to erotic dreams.
The matter of the reality of witchcraft, and the responsibility for dream visions, was never uniformly decided throughout the main period of witch-hunting, that is, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Carlo Ginzburg (1983) reveals how the authorities resolutely ignored statements by Friulian villagers that they fought demons ‘in the spirit’, while their bodies were at home, asleep. The accused called themselves benandanti (good-doers) and imagined that their practices were fundamentally Christian. Under the duress of long interrogation, however, the benandanti changed their stories and confessed that they had consorted with demons ‘for real’.
The benandanti told mainly of fighting against malevolent forces in order to safeguard the community’s harvest, and it is possible that many ‘witches’ stories’ were, likewise, not particularly sexual. The inquiring authorities, however, assumed that witchcraft must involve sexual acts with the Devil and thus they pushed the stories in that direction through questioning. Judges showed a particular interest in the issue of whether the intercourse with the devil was voluntary or forced, frightening or pleasurable (Kramer & Sprenger 1970 : 114; Lancre 1982 : 200-1). Whether or not actual erotic nightmares or erotic dreams had occurred to the accused, there was a likelihood that erotic nightmare scenarios would occupy a conspicuous place in the final confession.
Freud once rhetorically asked, ‘Why are [the witches’] confessions under torture so like the communications made by my patients in psychic treatment?’ (Ginzburg 1990: 150; Roper 1994: 245). The answer would seem to lie in the shared conviction in the importance of an underlying libidinal impulse. This sexual Urszene could be uncovered through confession, although both psychoanalysts and inquisitors faced a besetting uncertainty as to whether these received confessions were truth or fantasy (Ginzburg 1990: 151).
In this section I have retrained attention on the persistent factor of dreams, particularly demonically distorted dreams (phantasmata), at the heart of the European witchcraft phenomenon. My contention is that dreams, erotic dreams, nightmares, and erotic nightmares all occasionally figured in witch-craft cases. The effect of the threatening manuals for prosecutors, and of the prosecutions themselves, was to funnel even innocuous dreams into an erotic nightmare formulation, thereby further defining and maximally diffusing a category of experience that first arose in the context of early Christian asceticism.
Greek magical papyri XVIIa; in Betz (1986: 253). For more on demons sending (erotic) dreams, see Eitrem (1991) and Faraone (1999).
Found in the first-century CE author, Aetius, Placita, 5.2.3; text and translation in von Staden (1989: 386).
Galen considered erotic dreams as textbook examples of the category of dreams that reflected an individual’s physical state: ‘men full of sperm will imagine that they are having sexual intercourse’ (On diagnosis from dreams, in Oberhelman 1983: 46).
‘The sin of accidie (boredom, despondency) – also known as the noonday demon – provides one example of a demonic thought that allied the irascible and sensuous parts of the soul and ‘suffocated the intellect’ (Evagrius, Praktikos, 36). Evagrius considered accidie ‘the heaviest of the demons’ (Praktikos, 12). I thank George Calofonos for his discussion of these ideas.
An indication of the currency of the term may be found in Augustine’s City of God, 15.23. 17 My use of this term perhaps differs somewhat from its use in Jungian circles and elsewhere (cf. Tedlock 1987: 3).
I use ‘imaginal’ to refer to a state of consciousness in which one has the impression that what one is witnessing is absolutely ‘real’ and independent of one’s mind, although one is, in fact, only imagining it. The term ‘imaginary’, by contrast, implies an awareness, even in the moment of imagining, that what one beholds is only a product of one’s imagination. Dreams, visions, hallucinations, and apparitions are, generally, experienced imaginally and then subsequently accounted for as imaginary.
Gregory Palamas, originally trained in the spirit of Byzantine humanism, including Hellenic logic and science, later combated this same humanism with his own tools. He did not object to the deductive syllogism known as the apodictic—on the contrary, he applied it to theology. But whereas with respect to nature he observed that the generalization of our knowledge through experience could lead us to erroneous results, he thought that the apodictic syllogism was infallible with respect to dogma. Dogma cannot admit dialectical thought; it must be clear and stable. How can we reach this certitude? By applying logic and deduction based on the sacred texts that embrace Holy Scriptures and the writings of the church fathers. God presented himself to the world and was materialized, and therefore man can indeed approach God, simultaneously by the mystery employed for spiritual things and by logic employed for material things. It goes without saying that a person who does not have the grace of God (i.e., a humanist) cannot apply apodictic syllogism successfully.1 Palamas was aware that his use of reason and deductive logic required a defense. “Are learning and the science of discourse bad things?” he wondered. “Of course not, since God has given us science and methodology. Therefore it is not they that are wrong, but their wrongful usage by sinners.”’2
Similarly, the created world can be understood and explained only by those who have grace—the Hesychasts. Aristotle, and the other Greek savants, though realizing that nothing is created from nothingness and that nothing will disappear completely, came to the erroneous conclusion that the world was not born and will never die. Therefore, they deduced something incorrect though starting from a correct realization. To arrive at a true image of the world, experience is not sufficient; one needs the illumination that is granted only to those who believe in the mystery of the church and, through it, enter into communion with God.’“3
According to Palamas (and contrary to the letter of scripture). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the world together. This world was actually created in six days, and the seventh that followed was longer than the others because it comprised the whole era that began with the last day of Creation and terminated in the crucifixion and death of Christ. The Resurrection marks the start of the eighth day, which we are traversing now and which will endure until the Last Judgment. This judgment will take place on a Sunday, which is the privileged day because the first day of the week is comparable with the first day of Creation. Palamas contributed also to the discussion by Philo, Basil, and others of why Moses should have called the beginning of Creation “day one” and not “first day”—quite simply in order to make a distinction between them.”4
An admirer of Basil, Palamas followed the cosmology of the school of Alexandria. Regarding the angels, his ideas were close to those of Philoponus, despite the fact that their conceptions of science were diametrically opposed. Philoponus, as I have already mentioned, was followed enthusiastically by the Byzantine humanists; he considered that the learning of the Hellenic philosophers was valid because they were illuminated by knowledge of the Bible—although similar ideas were truly sacrilegious in the eyes of the Hesychasts. According to Palamas, angels were created before the world, and so they are incorporeal and do not take part in the functioning of nature (as followers of the school of Antioch maintained) but serve for the salvation of humans.”5 Palamas cited Saint Basil’s comment that angels are found amid uncreated light; they can traverse the firmament as light does.
The revelation of uncreated light to the Hesychasts was an opportunity to debate the nature of starlight and especially Saint Basil’s ideas on this subject. We recall that Basil considered that the light that would illuminate the world existed before Creation, and therefore it is uncreated light. The world was isolated from the light by the firmament, and at the command fiat lux it traversed the firmament and lit up the world. This explanation, which was completely revised by Gregory of Nyssa, who gave corporeal characteristics to the light of the world, is truly problematic, because it introduces into nature an uncreated element, and also because it posits that a created element, the firmament, can arrest uncreated light. This is how the leader of the anti-Hesychasts, Akindynos, posed the question: How is it possible that uncreated light is prevented from traversing the firmament, while the angels do traverse it?”6 Although Akindynos was an adversary, Palamas could only concede to the argument that uncreated light is everywhere and no material wall can stop it. However, it cannot be perceived by the senses, except by a few of the happy elect who have made the superhuman effort of prayer and devotion.7 It follows that the light that shines on us is not the uncreated light but rather the light discussed by Gregory of Nyssa.
It would be a mistake to see the Hesychast movement (especially its leader Palamas) as hostile to secular learning as such. Palamas was interested in secular knowledge, notably that which described and explained Creation; he proceeded by deductive reasoning based on sense perception. But we have seen that this method was not sufficient for him because it was likely to lead to erroneous conclusions. In order for knowledge based on experience to be valid, it must follow the interpretation of Creation given by the church fathers, especially Basil. But—and this is particular to the Hesychast movement—the world in which we are living is not composed of physical reality alone. According to Palamas, to limit man to perceiving merely the created world would be to condemn him to spiritual misery. A Christian is open to another world that was not created by the imagination of Hellenic philosophers—namely, the uncreated world of spiritual powers. Man may take part in both worlds, created and uncreated, for he is composed of both corporeal matter and an incorporeal soul. God, creator of corporeal and incorporeal worlds, is inaccessible to man in essence but accessible through his actions. This participation in two worlds is the very essence of the Hesychast movement and explains the fact that, despite its followers finding themselves at loggerheads with the humanists, they tolerated secular learning and sometimes even considered someone who possessed it as privileged. The fervent Hesychast Philotheos Kokkinos cited the great humanist scholar Metochites, who was supposed to have said of his pupil Palamas on the occasion of a discussion of Aristotle’s logic in the presence of the emperor: “And I believe that if Aristotle were present, he would have made an elegy as good as mine. I maintain that this is how the nature and soul of those who avoid chatter should be, just as Aristotle thought and wrote at length.”8
What matters most to Palamas is precisely to show that the ancient philosophers, despite the fact that they described the physical reality of the world, were not able to do so completely and exactly, for they could not accede to the true wisdom that is offered only through the methods of Hesychasm. More than being simply ignorant compared to Christians, Plato, Socrates, Plotinus, Proclus, and Porphyrus were under the influence of the devil. Socrates, although judged to excel in wisdom, was possessed his whole life by a demon who had convinced him. For this reason, he taught things contrary to true wisdom, as with his cosmology or, still worse, his ideas on the soul of the world, at least as presented by his pupil Plato in Timaeus.9 As for Plotinus, according to legend a dragon appeared from under his body at the moment of his death, and so Palamas concluded that hidden behind Plotinus’s wise teaching was the Father of Falsehood, the devil.10 The myth that Proclus had a vision of Light gives Palamas the opportunity to argue that it was the work of the demon—the same one that left his head after his death.11 It is notable that nowhere does Palamas imply that Aristotle was possessed by the demon.
This false wisdom of the ancients is overcome by the spiritual wisdom of Orthodox believers. It is by no means necessary for someone to rise to saintliness for him to be compared to the Hellenic sages: “Not only is the fact of truly knowing God (to the extent permitted us) incomparably superior to the wisdom of the Hellenes, but also knowledge of the place occupied by mankind near to God surpasses all their wisdom.”12 According to Palamas, God has shown us that profane learning is false. But how can any learning conceived by the human mind, a creature of God, be a sin? Ah well, quite simply because this mind is moving away from its real purpose, which is knowledge of God.13
As a result of his education by Metochites, Palamas was adept at Greek cosmology, thanks to which he adopted arguments from Basil’s Hexaemeron. But in certain cases he departed from Basil, developing his own (often contradictory) ideas. Coming to the question (that had been debated since antiquity) of the place of the world and its possible movement, he explained that there is no reason to believe that a space outside heaven cannot exist. On this point, he came into contradiction with Basil, who thought that space was created simultaneously with time and matter, and therefore it involves Creation alone, outside of which nothing exists. Palamas explained that God fills everything and extends to infinity, and within this infinity the world was created. Because nothing prevented the creation of space within the created world, then nothing prevents the creation of space outside of it. So then, why could this world not move, why is it constrained to turn in place around itself? There, Palamas gave two contradictory explanations in the same paragraph. He explained first that “the body of heaven does not extend higher because this higher [the breadth of heaven] is lighter than it; this is why it [heaven’s breadth] is above the sphere of ether, by its nature,” and then just afterward he asserted that “heaven does not advance upward, not because there is no space above it, but because nobody is lighter than it.” Finally, he ended by asserting that there is nothing above heaven, not because no space exists there, but because heaven includes all bodies and there can be no body outside it.14
But since there is no obstacle, why does heaven not ascend but instead moves cyclically? Well, this heavenly body is much lighter than all the others, hence it is located at the surface of other bodies. At the same time, it is more mobile than the other bodies, and since it has a tendency to move but cannot by its nature separate itself from the bodies above which it is located, it moves constantly around them; and this is not because it has a soul, but because of its material nature. Palamas gives the example of winds that move without rising upward, not because there is no space above them but because what is above is lighter. In all these explanations, we perceive the vague influence of Hellenic culture that incorporates Aristotelian ideas of the natural place of heavy and light bodies but, at the same time, cannot conceive of any notion of symmetry and insists on seeing infinite space as having an “above” and a “below.”
If Palamas had been forced to choose among the Hellenic philosophers the one who was closest to the truth, he would no doubt have chosen Aristotle. Our opponent of Greek philosophers cited his ideas countless times as reflecting the reality of Creation. Against the Platonic idea of the soul of the universe, he cited Aristotle in arguing that the soul is the vital force of an organic body that has power in living. For a body to include organs, it has to be composite, and heaven is a simple element.15 The world according to Palamas (explicitly citing Aristotle) is made up of five elements in equal quantities. But the space occupied by these elements is in inverse proportion to their density. This is why water is more extensive than the earth, the air is more extensive than water, and so on for fire and ether. He asserted that the Hellenes neglected this fact, and consequently they overlooked that nine-tenths of the earth is covered by water. But if the spheres of the elements were concentric, then the whole earth would be covered by water. Therefore, the aqueous sphere is excentric, and Palamas proposed to find its center: manifestly it is not above out heads, for we see that the surface of the water is below us. Consequently, it is below the center of the earth. So it is a matter of determining the size of the spheres of the earth and of water (referring to the element earth, which here is confused with the planet Earth). Knowing that the surface of the sphere of the earth is one-tenth the size of water s, Palamas calculated the size of the radius of each sphere. By these geometric demonstrations, he said, a sphere that has double the diameter of the other has a surface eight times greater, which is valid, in effect, since the surface is proportional to the cube of the radius. From this, Palamas deduced that the sphere of water has a diameter double that of the earth. As in all his demonstrations, the scholar-theologian remained approximate; he was content with this solution—although he had previously asserted that the surface of the earth is more or less a tenth that of water.
By developing this theory of earth-water proportionality, Palamas constructed a very interesting world system, which he even illustrated with a drawing.16 Since the sphere of water is almost adjacent to the earths, the latter is inscribed in the aqueous sphere whose center corresponds to the point opposite the adjacent point. As in his argument for the worlds movement of translation, here, too, there is an above and a below, with the lower point of the earthly sphere corresponding to the center of the world, while, on the upper part, the sphere of water is conjoined to a tenth of the sphere of earth, because the inhabitable part of the earth corresponds to a tenth of its circumference. Moreover, because the great part of the earth is included in the sphere of water, it becomes evident why there are so many subterranean waters. Because only the upper part of the earthly sphere is free of water, it follows that the antipodes cannot be inhabited. According to Palamas, on this point the Hellenes were also mistaken: there is only one oikoumene, and it is ours; consequently, there is only a single race of humankind.
Although Palamas firmly condemned Plato, he oscillated between this philosopher and Aristotle, and he was even on occasion labeled by Barlaam as Platoniz- ing. In general, we may detect the influence of Plato on his theory of knowledge and that of Aristotle on his physics. Approaching Plato, Palamas explained that man perceives the world though the senses. But he said that what is perceived is not the objects themselves but their copies, which exist independently of reality, for we can represent these imaginary objects at any moment.17 Approaching Aristotle, he posited a world of five elements, of which the fundamental bodies (heaven, fire, air, earth, and water) are pure.
Palamas came back several times to the power of observation and logic to understand the world: “It is by the intellect that we collect with our senses and our imagination not only what relates to the Moon, but also to the Sun and its eclipses, and the parallaxes of other planets in heaven and their measurements, as well as the constellations, and in general everything that we know of heaven and all the causes of nature, all the methods and the arts.”18 But where does our knowledge of God come from? And of the world itself? It is by the teaching of the Spirit, from which we have learned things about Creation that are inaccessible to the intellect via experience. By the teaching of Moses, hence by the Spirit, we have learned that in the beginning there were heaven and earth. This earth was mixed with water, and these two elements produced air. Heaven was filled with lights and with fires. Contrary to those who claim that matter preexisted Creation, God created the receptacle that carried the potential for all the beings of this Creation.
This insistence on a point that had been resolved long before, the non-pre- existence of matter, shows how the Hesychasts were manifestly worried that the humanists might (out of their love for the Hellenes) defend materialist positions.
This was not in fact the intention of humanists, for in the history of Byzantine science such a position had never been held. The leitmotif of true knowledge recurs: what matters is not secular learning—which is useful, by the way— but instead union with God. The learned theologian wondered “What Euclid, what Marinus, what Ptolemy could have conceived of that? What Empedocles, Socrates, Aristotle, or Plato could have conceived of that with their logical methods and mathematical demonstrations?”19
According to Palamas, Plato’s motto, “Let no-one ignorant of Geometry enter,” ignored the fact that the true mathematician cannot separate the limit from what is limited and hence cannot gain knowledge of Creation. “The [anti-Hesychasts] cannot understand that God is simultaneously uncomprehended and comprehensible: uncomprehended in essence, but comprehensible by his creatures through His divine actions.”20
The Orthodox Church officially awarded the victory to Palamas and supported the Hesychast movement against Barlaam and the humanists by a decision of the synod in 1341. Barlaam saw his anti-Hesychast ideas condemned by the synod, and he returned to Italy. Nikephoros Gregoras (see chapter 6) succeeded him as head of the anti-Hesychast party and found himself in opposition to the head of the Hesychasts, Gregory Palamas; he would even be imprisoned after the ultimate victory of Palamas. At Gregoras’s death in 1360, his body was exposed to public view as if he were a criminal.
The church also succeeded in getting the emperors to choose the patriarch of Constantinople from among the followers of the Hesychast party. But more significant than official recognition was this movement’s success in strongly marking not only Byzantine society but also Orthodoxy as a whole. It lay at the spiritual origin of the complicated relations between science and Russian society and also constituted the ideological basis of Slavic mysticism. Its consequences, right down to our day, are far from fully studied, but they have been well signaled by Russian intellectuals since the nineteenth century.21
This powerful movement that traversed the whole society did not, however, put a brake on the development of Byzantine humanism. This humanism embraced all the knowledge of the antiquity, especially philosophy, which notably included the philosophy of nature. Byzantium would increasingly discuss science in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Nevertheless, it did curtail the eventual impulses toward subversive developments in the sciences; the Pletho phenomenon, named after a Byzantine scholar who returned to Hellenic religion, would remain an isolated exception (see chapter 9). It would make null and void any attempt at the union of churches, despite the keen efforts of several emperors. Byzantium would thus be condemned to Ottoman occupation, but the Orthodox Church would keep control over the Christian population of this region—right up until today.
Nicolaos Katsiavrias, “Η κοσμοαντίληψη του Αγίου Γρηγορίου του Παλαμά (1296-1359)” [The perception of the world of Saint Gregory Palamas, 1296-1359] (PhD diss.. University of Athens, 2001), p. 42.
Gregory Palamas, Letter to Philosophers John and Theodore, in Complete Works of Gregory Palamas, 8, ed. P. K. Christou (Thessalonica: Patristic editions Gregory Palamas, 1994), par. 29. For Palamas’s views on science, see also Gregory Palamas, “Science Does Not Save,” in The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle (New York: Paulist Press, 1983).
Katsiavrias, “Η κοσμοαντίληψη του Αγίου Γρηγορίου του Παλαμά (1296-1359),” pp. 57-58.
, p. 66. Robert E. Sinkewicz (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1988), par. 43.
Gregory Palamas, Αντιρρητικός προς Ακίνδυνον [Contra Akindynos], in Complete Works of Gregory Palamas, 6, ed. P. K. Christou, critical text by Leonidas C. Contos (Thessalonica: Patristic editions Gregory Palamas, 1987), theses ΣΤ, 11.
, ΣΤ, 27.
Philotheos Kokkinos, Λόγος, 560.
Gregory Palamas, Αντιρρητικός προς Ακίνδυνον, Z’ 24 (see Katsiavrias, “H KoopoavTiXqu/q,” p. 216).
, Z , 9, 25.
, Z , 26.
Gregory Palamas, One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, 26.
Katsiavrias, “Η κοσμοαντίληψη,” pp. 221-22.
Gregory Palamas, One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, 5 and 6.
, ch. 3.
See, for example, John Meyendorff, Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, trans. Adele Fiske (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), pp. 143ff.
NOTE: Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), based his ideas on the science of Aristotle and the geometry of Euclid in order to cogitate on locating the centers of the spheres of two elements, earth and water.
The relation of the Orthodox Church to secular science (called Hellenic in this era) is more complicated than a division between a caste of monks, which rejected it, and a humanist higher clergy, which accepted it.
The Hesychasts, at least the most eminent among them, did not actually reject secular learning, for they continued to consider it useful for understanding and interpreting Creation. They simply believed that this wisdom was not important, because true wisdom (that which brings humans close to God) is found in Hesychastic practice. Palamas himself was a follower of Saint Basil when it came to Creation; consequently, his conception of the world was based on this oft-denigrated Greek philosopher. Philotheos Kokkinos, although attacking the “sages of the Greeks,” displayed in other texts an admiration for Aristotle as a scholar. Profane learning was completely rejected only by the humblest monks, who had no contact with higher education, as Palamas or Philotheos did. In fact, the absolute rejection of science was determined by social class. The Byzantine dominant class accepted it, either with fervor (in the case of the humanists) or under certain conditions (in the case of the Hesychasts), whereas the poorer social strata rejected it as useless, never having had much contact with it.
1 That the world has an origin nature teaches and history confirms, while the discoveries of the arts, the institution of laws and the constitution of states also clearly affirm it. We know who are the founders of nearly all the arts, the lawgivers and those who established states, and indeed we know what has been written about the origin of everything. Yet we see that none of this surpasses the account of the genesis of the world and of time as narrated by Moses. And Moses, who wrote about the genesis of the world, has so irrefutably substantiated the truth of what he writes through such extraordinary actions and words that he has convinced virtually the whole human race and has persuaded them to deride those who sophistically teach the contrary. Since the nature of this world is such that everything in it requires a specific cause in each instance, and since without such a cause nothing can exist at all, the very nature of things demonstrates that there must be a first principle which is self-existent and does not derive from any other principle.
2 That the world not only has an origin but also will have a consummation is affirmed by the fact that all things in it are contingent, and indeed it is partially coming to an end all the time. Moreover, sure and irrefutable assurance of this is furnished by the prophecy both of those inspired by God and of Christ Himself, the God of all; and not only the pious but also the impious must believe that what they say is true, since everyone can see that what they predicted about other things has proved correct. From them we learn that the world will not lapse entirely into nonbeing but, like our bodies and in a manner analogous to what will happen to us, it will be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, being dissolved and transformed into something more divine.
3 The ancient Greek sages say that the heavens revolve in accordance with the nature of the world soul, and that they teach justice and reason. What sort of justice? What kind of reason? For if the heavens revolve not by virtue of their own nature but by virtue of the nature of what they call the world soul, and if this world soul belongs to the entire world, how is it that the earth and the water and the air do not also revolve? Yet though in their opinion the soul is ever-moving, none the less the earth is stationary by nature, and so is water, which occupies the lower region, whereas the heavens, which occupy the upper region, are by nature ever in motion and move in a circle. But what is the character of this world soul by virtue of whose nature the heavens revolve? Is it endowed with intelligence? If so, it must be self-determining, and so it would not always move the celestial body in the same way, for what is self-determining moves differently at different times. And what trace of deiform soul do we observe in the lowermost sphere – the sphere of the earth – or in the elements most proximate to it, namely those of water, air, and even fire itself, for the world soul supposedly pertains to them as well? And again, how in their opinion are some things animate and others inanimate? And among inanimate things it turns out that not merely a few examples taken at random but every stone, every piece of metal, all earth, water, air and fire, moves by virtue of its own nature and not by virtue of a soul; for they admit that this is true even of fire. Yet if the soul is common to all, how is it that only the heavens move by virtue of the nature of this soul and not by virtue of their own nature? And how in their view can the soul that moves the celestial body be void of intelligence since according to them it is the source of our souls? But if it is void of intelligence it must be either sentient or vegetative. We observe, however, that no soul moves a body without the assistance of organs, and we cannot observe any such organ that specifically serves the earth, or the heavens, or any of the other element contained within them; for every organ is composed of various natures, while the elements severally, and above all the heavens, are simple and not composite. The soul is the actuality of a body possessing organs and having the potentiality for life; but the heavens, since they have no member or part that can serve as an organ, have no potentiality for life. How, then, can that which is incapable of life possibly have a soul? But those who have become ‘vain in their reasonings’ have invented ‘out of their foolish hearts’ (Rom. 1:21) a world soul that does not exist, never has existed, and never will exist. Yet they claim that this soul is the demiurge and governor and controller of the entire sensible world and, farther, that it is some sort of root and source of our souls or, rather, of every soul. Moreover, they say that it is born from the intellect, and that the intellect is other in substance than the supreme Intellect which they call God. Such doctrines are taught by those among them most proficient in wisdom and theology, but they are no better than men who deify wild beasts and stones. In fact their religiosity is much worse, for beasts, gold, stone and bronze are real things, even though they are among the least of creatures; but the star-bearing world soul neither exists, nor is it anything real, for it is nothing at all but the invention of an evil mind.
4 Since, they say, the celestial body must be in motion, and there is no place to which it can advance, it turns about itself and thus its ‘advancement’ is that of rotation. Well and good. So if there were a place, it would move upwards, like fire, and more so than fire since it is by nature lighter than fire. Yet this movement is due not to the nature of a soul but to that of lightness. Thus if the heavens’ motion is rotational, and this motion exists by virtue of their own nature, and not that of the soul, then the celestial body revolves not by virtue of the nature of the soul but by virtue of its own nature. Hence it does not possess a soul, nor is there any such thing as a celestial or pan-cosmic soul. The only soul that possesses intelligence is the human soul, and this is not celestial, but supra-celestial, not because of its location but because of its very nature, for its essence is noetic.
5 The celestial body does not move forward or upward. The reason for this is not that there is no place beyond it. For adjacent to the heavens and enclosed within them is the sphere of ether, and this too does not advance upward, not because there is no place to which it might proceed – for the breadth of the heavens embraces it – but because what is above is lighter. Hence, the heavens are by their own nature higher than the sphere of ether. It is not because there is no place higher that the heavens do not proceed upward, but because there is no body more subtle and light than they are.
6 Nobody is higher than the celestial body. Yet this is not to say that the region beyond the heavens does not admit a body, but only that the heavens contain everybody and there is no other body beyond. But if a body could pass beyond the heavens, which is our pious belief, then the region beyond the heavens would not be inaccessible. God, who fills all things and extends infinitely beyond the heavens, existed before the world, filling as He now fills the whole region of the world. Yet this did not prevent a body from existing in that region. Thus even outside of the heavens there is nothing to prevent the existence of a region, such as that which surrounds the world or as that which is in the world, in which a body could abide.
7 Since there is no such hindrance, how is it, then, that the celestial body does not move upwards, but turning back upon itself moves in a circular fashion? Because, as it is the lightest of bodies, it rises to the surface of all the others and is the highest of them all, as well .as being the most mobile. Just as what is most compressed and most heavy is the lowest and most stationary, so what is more rarified and lightest is the highest and most mobile. Thus since the celestial body moves by nature above the level of all other bodies, and since by nature it is impossible for it to separate itself from those things on the surface of which it is located, and since those things on which it is located are spherical, it must encircle them unceasingly. And this it does not by virtue of the nature of a soul but by virtue of its own proper nature as a body, since it passes successively from place to place, which is the movement most characteristic of the highest bodies, just as a stationary state most characterizes the lowest bodies.
8 It may be observed that in the regions close about us the winds, whose nature it is to rise upwards, move about these regions without separating themselves from them and without proceeding further in an upward direction. This is not because there is no place for them to rise to, but because what is above the winds is lighter than they are. They remain on the surface of the regions above which they are situated because by nature they are lighter than those regions. And they move around those regions by virtue of their own nature and not that of a soul. I think that Solomon, wise in all things, intended to indicate this partial likeness that the winds bear to the celestial body when he applied the same kind of language to the winds as is used of it; for he wrote, ‘The wind proceeds circle-wise, and returns on its own circuits’ (Eccles. 1:6). But the nature of the winds round about us diners from the nature of higher bodies, in that the winds’ motion is slower and they are more heavy.
9 According to the Greek sages, there are two opposing zones of the earth that are temperate and habitable, and each of these is divided into two inhabited regions, thus making four in all. Therefore they assert that there are also four races of men upon the earth, and that these are unable to have any contact with one another. There are, according to these philosophers, men living in the temperate zone lateral to us, who are separated from us by the torrid zone. And there are people who dwell antipodal to these latter, living from their point of view beneath the temperate zone and its inhabitants. In a similar way there are those who dwell beneath us. The first they say are opposite to us, while the second are antipodal and reversed. What these sages did not realize is that only one tenth of the earth’s sphere is land, while the rest is almost entirely swallowed up by the abyss of the waters.
10 You should realize that, apart from the region of the earth which we inhabit, there is no other habitable land, since it is all inundated by the waters of the abyss. You should also bear in mind that (omitting ether) the four elements out of which the world is fashioned balance one another equally, and that each of the elements has its own sphere, the size of which is proportionate to its density, as Aristotle also thinks. ‘For’, he says, ‘there are five elements located in five spherical regions, and the greater spheres always encompass the lesser: water encompasses earth; air encompasses water; fire, air; and ether, fire. This constitutes the world.’
11 Ether is more translucent than fire, which is also called ‘combustible matter’, and fire is many times greater in volume than air, and air than water, and water than earth which, as it is the most compressed, is the least in volume of all the four elements under the heavens. Since the sphere of water is many times greater in size than that of earth, if the two spheres – that of water and that of earth – had the same centre and the water was poured over the entire surface of the earth, the water would not have left any part of the earth’s surface available for use by terrestrial animals, since it would have covered all the soil and the earth’s surface would have been everywhere at a considerable depth beneath it. But since the waters do not entirely swallow up earth’s surface – for the dry land we inhabit is not covered by them – the sphere of the waters must of necessity be eccentric to the earth’s sphere. Thus we must try to discover by how much it is eccentric and where its centre lies, whether above or beneath us. Yet it cannot be above us, since we see a part of the water’s surface below us. Thus from our point of view the centre of the sphere of water is beneath the earth’s centre. We have still to discover how far this centre is from the centre of the earth.
12 You can see how far from our viewpoint the centre of water’s sphere lies beneath the centre of earth’s sphere if you take into consideration that the surface of the water visible to us and beneath us – just as the ground we walk upon is beneath us – coincides almost exactly with the surface of the earth which we inhabit. But the habitable region of the earth is about one tenth of its circumference, for the earth has five Stones, and we inhabit half of one of those five. Hence if you want to fit a sphere that encompasses the earth on to one that encompasses this tenth part of its surface you will find that the diameter of the exterior sphere is nearly twice as great as the diameter of the interior sphere, while its volume is eight times greater; and its centre will be situated at what is from our viewpoint the bottom extremity of the sphere of the earth. This is clear from the following diagram.
13 Let us represent the earth’s sphere with a circle on the inside of which are the letters A, B, C, D; and around this let us draw another circle representing water’s sphere, which touches the first circle at its highest point, and on the outside of this second circle let us write the letters E, F, G, H. It will be found that, from our point of view, the centre of the outer circle will lie on the circumference of the inner circle at its bottom extremity. And since the diameter of the outer circle is twice that of the inner circle, and since it can be demonstrated geometrically that the sphere whose diameter is twice that of another sphere is eight times the size of the latter, it follows that one eighth of the sphere of the element of water is contained by and merged with earth’s sphere. It is for this reason that many springs of water gush forth from the earth and abundant, ever-flowing rivers issue from it, and the gulfs of many seas pour into it, and many lakes spread over it. There is scarcely any place on the earth where, if you dig, you will not find water flowing beneath.
14 As the above diagram and logic itself teach us, no region of the earth other than our own is inhabited. For just as the earth would be totally uninhabitable if both earth and water had the same centre, so, even more truly, if the water has its centre at what is from our point of view the lowest extremity of the earth, all the other parts of the earth, apart from the region where we live which fits into the upper section of the water’s sphere, must be uninhabitable since they are flooded by water. And since it has already been demonstrated that embodied deiform souls dwell only in the inhabited region of the earth, and that there is but one such region on the earth – the one in which we live – it follows that land animals not endowed with intelligence also dwell solely in this region.
15 Sight is formed from the manifold impressions of colors and shapes; smell from odors; taste from flavors; hearing from sounds; and touch from things that are rough or smooth on contact. The impressions that the senses receive come from bodies but, although corporeal, they are not bodies themselves. For they do not arise directly from bodies, but from the forms that are associated with bodies. Yet they are not themselves these forms, since they are but impressions left by the forms; and so, like images, they are inseparably separated from these forms. This is particularly evident in the case of sight, especially when objects are seen in mirrors.
16 These sense impressions are in turn appropriated from the senses by the soul’s imaginative faculty; and this faculty totally separates not the senses themselves but what we have called the images that exist within them from the bodies and their forms. It stores them up like treasures and brings them forward ulteriorly – now one and now another, each in its own time – for its own use even when there is no corresponding body present. In this way it sets before itself all manner of things seen, heard, tasted, smelled and touched.
17 In creatures endowed with intelligence this imaginative faculty of the soul is an intermediary between the intellect and the senses. For the intellect beholds and dwells upon the images received in itself from the senses – images separated from bodies and already bodiless – and it formulates various kinds of thought by means of distinctions, analysis and inference. This happens in various ways – impassionately or dispassionately or in a state between the two, both with and without error. From these thoughts are born most virtues and vices, as well as opinions, whether right or wrong. Yet not every thought that comes into the intellect has its origin in the images of things perceived or is connected with them. There are some thoughts that do not come within the scope of the senses, but are given to the thinking faculty by the intellect itself. As regards our thoughts, then, not every truth or error, virtue or vice has its origin in the imagination.
18 What is remarkable and deserving our attention is how beauty or ugliness, wealth or poverty, glory or ill repute – and, in short, either the noetic light that bestows eternal life or the noetic darkness of chastisement – enter the soul, becoming firmly established within it, from merely transitory and sensible things.
19 When the intellect enthrones itself on the soul’s imaginative faculty and thereby becomes associated with the senses, it engenders a composite form of knowledge. For suppose you look at the setting sun and then see the moon follow it, illuminated in the small part turned towards the sun, and in the subsequent days you note that the moon gradually recedes and is illuminated more brightly until the opposite process sets in; and suppose you then see the moon draw closer from the other side and its light wane more and more until it disappears altogether at the point at which it first received illumination; suppose you take intellectual note of all this, having in your imagination the images you have previously received and with the moon itself ever present before your eyes, you will in this way understand from sense-perception, imagination and intellection that the moon gets its light from the sun, and that its orbit is much lower than the sun’s and closer to the earth.
20 As in this way we achieve knowledge of things pertaining to the moon, so in a similar way we can achieve knowledge of things pertaining to the sun – the solar eclipses and their nodes – as well as of the parallaxes, intervals and varied configurations involving the planets, and in short of all phenomena concerning the heavens. The same holds true with regard to the laws of nature, and every method and art, and in brief with regard to all knowledge acquired from the perception of particulars. Such knowledge we gather from the senses and the imagination by means of the intellect. Yet no such knowledge can ever be called spiritual, for it is natural, things of the Spirit being beyond its scope (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14).
21 Where can we learn anything certain and true about God, about the world as a whole, and about ourselves? Is it not from the teaching of the Holy Spirit? For this teaching has taught us that God is the only Being that truly is – the only eternal and immutable Being – who neither receives being from non-being nor returns to non-being; who is Tri-hypostatic and Almighty, and who through His Logos brought forth all things from non-being in six days or, rather, as Moses states, He created them instantaneously. For we have heard him say, ‘First of all God created heaven and earth’ (Gen. 1:1). And He did not create them totally, empty or without any intermediary bodies at all. For the earth was mixed with water, and each was pregnant with air and with the various species of animals and plants, while the heavens were pregnant with various lights and fires; and so with the heavens and the earth all things received their existence. Thus first of all God created the heavens and the earth as a kind of all-embracing material substance with the potentiality of giving birth to all things. In this way He rightly rebuts those who wrongly think that matter pre-existed on its own as an autonomous entity.
22 After this initial creation. He who brings forth all things from non-being proceeds as it were to embellish and adorn the world. In six days He allotted its own proper and appropriate rank to each of His creatures that together constitute His world. He differentiates each by command alone, as though bringing forth from hidden treasuries the things stored within, giving them form, and disposing and composing them harmoniously, with perfection and aptness, one to the other, each to all and all to each. Establishing the. Immovable earth as the centre He encircled it in the highest vault with the ever-moving heavens and in His great wisdom bound the two together by means of the intermediary regions. Thus the same world is both at rest and moving. For while the heavenly bodies encircle the earth in rapid and perpetual motion, the immovable body of the earth necessarily occupies the central position, its state of rest serving as a counterbalance to the heavens’ mobility. In this way the pan-cosmic sphere does not change its position as it would if it were cylindrical.
23 Thus by assigning such positions to the two bodies that mark the boundaries of the universe – the earth and the heavens – the Master-craftsman both made fast and set in motion what one might call this entire and orderly world; and He farther allotted what was fitting to each thing lying between these two limits. Some He placed on high, enjoining them to move in the upper regions and to revolve for all time round the uttermost boundary of the universe in a wise and ordered manner. Those are the light and active bodies capable of making bodies that lie beneath them fit and serviceable. They are most wisely set above the world’s middle region so that they can sufficiently dispel the excessive coldness there and restrain their own excessive heat to its proper level. In some manner they also restrict the excessive mobility of the world’s outermost, bounds, for they have their own opposing movement and they hold that outermost region in place through their counter-rotation. At the same time they provide us with beneficial yearly changes of season, whereby we can measure temporal extension; and to those with understanding they supply knowledge of the God who has created, ordered and adorned the world. Hence He commanded those bodies in the upper region to dance round it in swift rotation for two reasons: to fill the entire universe with beauty and to furnish a variety of more specific benefits. He set lower down in the middle region other bodies of a heavy and passive nature that come into being and undergo change, that decompose and are re-compounded, and that suffer alteration for a useful purpose. He established these bodies and their relationships to one another in an orderly manner so that all things together could rightly be called ‘cosmos’, that is to say, that which is well-ordered.
24 In this manner the first of beings was brought forth into creation and after that another was brought forth, and after that still another, and so on, until last of all man was brought forth. So great was the honor and providential care which God bestowed upon man that He brought the entire sensible world into being before him and for his sake. The kingdom of heaven was prepared for him from the foundation of the world (cf. Matt. 25:34); God first took counsel concerning him, and then he was fashioned by God’s hand and according to the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). God did not form the whole of man from matter and from the elements of this sensible world, as He did the other animals. He formed only man’s body from these materials; but man’s soul He took from things supra-celestial or, rather, it came from God Himself when mysteriously He breathed life into man (cf. Gen. 2:7). The human soul is something great and wondrous, superior to the entire world; it overlooks the universe and has all things in its care; it is capable of knowing and receiving God, and more than anything else has the capacity of manifesting the sublime magnificence of the Master-Craftsman. Not only capable of receiving God and His grace through ascetic struggle, it is also able to be united in Him in a single hypostasis.
25 Here and in such things as these lie the true wisdom and the saving knowledge that procure for us the blessedness of heaven. What Euclid, Marinos or Ptolemy has been able to understand these truths? What Empedocleans, Socratics, Aristotelians and Platonists with their logical methods and mathematical demonstrations? Or, rather, what form of sense-perception has grasped such things, what intellect apprehended them? If the wisdom of the Spirit seemed something lowly to these philosophers of nature and their followers, this fact alone demonstrates its incomparable superiority. In much the same way as animals not endowed with intelligence are related to the wisdom of these men – or, if you wish, as children would consider the pastries they hold in their hands superior to the imperial crown and to all the knowledge of these philosophers – so are these philosophers in relation to the true and sublime wisdom and teaching of the Spirit.
26 To know God truly – in so far as this is possible – is incomparably superior to the philosophy of the Greeks, and simply to know what place man has in relation to God surpasses all their wisdom. For man alone among all terrestrial and celestial beings is created in the image of his Maker, so that he might look to God and love Him and be an initiate and worshipper of God alone, and so that he might preserve his own beauty by his faith in God and his devotion and affection towards Him, and might know that whatever is found on earth and in the heavens is inferior to himself and is completely void of intelligence. This the Greek sages could never conceive of, and they dishonored our nature and were irreverent towards God. ‘They worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Rom. 1:25), attributing to the sense-perceptible yet insensate stars an intelligence in each case proportionate in power and dignity to its physical size. They wretchedly worshipped these things, called them greater and lesser gods, and committed the lordship of all things to them. Did they not thus shame their own souls, dishonoring and impoverishing them, and filling them with a truly noetic and chastising darkness by their preoccupation with a philosophy based on sense-objects?
27 To know that we have been created in God’s image prevents us from deifying even the noetic world. ‘Image’ here refers not to the body but to the nature of the intellect. Nothing in nature is superior to the intellect, for if there were then it would constitute the divine image. Since, therefore, the intellect is what is best in us and this, even though it is in the divine image, is none the less created by God, why, then, is it difficult to understand or, rather, how is it not self-evident that the Creator of that which is noetic in us is also the Creator of everything noetic? Thus every noetic being, since it is likewise created in the image of God, is our fellow-servant, even if certain noetic beings are more honorable than us in that they possess no body and so more closely resemble the utterly bodiless and uncreated Nature. Or, rather, those noetic beings who have kept their rank and who maintain the purpose for which they were created deserve our homage and are far superior to us, even though they are fellow-servants. On the other hand, the noetic beings who did not keep their rank but rebelled and rejected the purpose for which they were created are totally estranged from those close to God, and they have fallen from honor. And if they attempt to drag us after them and to make us fall, they are not only worthless and disgraced but are also God’s enemies and destructive and inimical to the human race.
28 Yet natural scientists, astronomers and those who boast of possessing universal knowledge are unable to understand anything of what has just been said on the basis of their philosophy. Moreover, they have regarded the ruler of the noetic darkness and all the rebellious powers under him not only as superior to themselves but even as gods, and they have honored them with temples, made sacrifices to them and submitted themselves to their ruinous oracles. In this way they were mocked exceedingly by the demons, through unholy sacred objects, through defiling purifications which only increased their accursed conceit, and through prophets and prophetesses who estranged them totally from the essential truth.
29 For a man to know God, and to know himself and his proper rank – a knowledge now possessed even by Christians who are thought to be quite unlearned – is a knowledge superior to natural science and astronomy and to all philosophy concerning such matters. Moreover, for our intellect to know its own infirmity, and to seek healing for it, is incomparably greater than to know and search out the magnitude of the stars, the principles of nature, the generation of terrestrial things and the circuits of celestial bodies, their solstices and risings, stations and retrogressions, separations and conjunctions and, in short, all the multiform relationships which arise from the many different motions in the heavens. For the intellect that recognizes its own infirmity has discovered where to enter in order to find salvation and how to approach the light of knowledge and receive the true wisdom that does not pass away with this present world.
NOTE:The following article is taken from The Triads.
Philosophy and Salvation (from the Translator’s Introduction)
One of the most striking characteristics of Byzantine mediaeval Christianity is its concern with the role of ancient Greek philosophical categories in the formulation of Christian theology and spirituality. 16 In fact, unlike their Latin contemporaries who “discovered” Greek philosophy—in Latin translations from the Arabic—in the twelfth century, the Byzantines had never forgotten Plato or Aristotle, who represented their own Greek cultural past and were always accessible to them in the original Greek text. At the same time, they always recognized that this past was a “pagan” past. Thus, the Ancient Greek heritage could still be useful in such fields as logics, physics or medicine (hence the inclusion of Aristotle in the standard Byzantine educational curriculum followed by Palamas in his youth), but not in religion. Metaphysical and religious truths could validly originate only in the Christian revelation. This is the reason that Plato and the Neoplatonists were always looked at with suspicion in conservative—and particularly monastic—circles of the Byzantine Church: Indeed, in any form of Platonic thought, no understanding of reality was possible without metaphysical, that is, in fact, theological presuppositions foreign to Christianity.
It is not astonishing, therefore, to find out that every year, on the first Sunday of Lent— also known as the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”—all Byzantine Orthodox churches resounded with formal and repeated anathemas against “those who follow the foolish opinions of the Hellenic disciplines” and particularly against those “who considered the ideas of Plato as truly existing” or believe (with Aristotle) in the eternity of matter. 17 These anathemas were first issued in the eleventh century on the occasion of the condemnation of the philosopher John Italos, but their inclusion in the liturgical Synodikonof the Sunday of Orthodoxy gave them permanent significance.
Clearly, however, Greek philosophical concepts were inseparable from many aspects and formulations of the patristic tradition, which was the common model and authority for all Byzantines. The repeated clashes between “humanists” who tended to minimize the prohibitions against “Hellenic wisdom” and those theologians, predominantly monastic, who insisted on the incompatibility between “Athens” and “Jerusalem” (to use the old expression of Tertullian) could not solve the issue in a definite way. Similarly, in the controversy between Barlaam and Palamas, both sides acknowledged the authority of the Christian revelation and, on the other hand, admitted that ancient philosophers possessed a certain natural ability to reach not only created, but also divine truths. What then separated them, and made the debate appear essentially a debate on the relation between ancient philosophy and the Christian experience?
On the one hand, the different backgrounds and intellectual formation of Palamas and Barlaam led them to assign to Greek philosophy a different degree of authority. Barlaam’s contacts with Western thought and his involvement in the “humanist” milieus in Byzantium were leading him to an enthusiastic endorsement of Aristotle and Neoplatonic authors, as criteria of Christian thought. “I cannot conceive that God has not illuminated them in a certain manner, and feel that they must surpass the multitude of mankind,” he wrote. Palamas, on the contrary, preferred to approach the ancient Greek philosophical tradition as requiring the need for a baptismal rebirth—a death and a resurrection—as a condition for its integration into the Tradition of the Church: This is the meaning of his image of serpents’ being killed and dissected before providing materials used in helpful drugs.
Philosophy Does Not Save: The Text
i. The first question
I 1 have heard it stated by certain people that monks also should pursue secular wisdom, and that if they do not possess this wisdom, it is impossible for them to avoid ignorance and false opinions, even if they have achieved the highest level of impassibility; 2 and that one cannot acquire perfection and sanctity without seeking knowledge from all quarters, above all from Greek culture, 3 which also is a gift of God—just as were those insights granted to the prophets and apostles through revelation. This education confers on the soul the knowledge of [created] beings, 4 and enriches the faculty of knowledge, which is the greatest of all the powers of the soul. For education not only dispels all other evils from the soul—since every passion has its root and foundation in ignorance—but it also leads men to the knowledge of God, for God is knowable only through the mediation of His creatures. 5
I was in no way convinced when I heard such views being put forward, for my small experience of monastic life showed me that just the opposite was the case; but I was unable to make a defence against them. “We not only occupy ourselves with the mysteries of nature,” they proudly claimed, “measuring the celestial cycle, and studying the opposed motions of the stars, their conjunctions, phases and risings, and reckoning the consequences of these things (in all of which matters we take great pride); but in addition, since the inner principles of these phenomena are to be found in the divine and primordial creative Mind, and the images of these principles exist in our soul, we are zealous to understand them, and to cast off every kind of ignorance in their regard by the methods of distinction, syllogistic reasoning and analysis; thus, both in this life and after, we wish to be conformed to the likeness of the Creator.” 6
I felt myself incapable of responding to these arguments, and so maintained silence towards these men; but now I beg you, Father, to instruct me in what should be said in defence of the truth, so that (following the Apostle’s injunction) I may “be ready to give an account of the faith that is in us”. 7
By examining the nature of sensible things, 8 these people 9 have arrived at a certain concept of God, but not at a conception truly worthy of Him and appropriate to His blessed nature. For their “disordered heart was darkened” by the machinations of the wicked demons who were instructing them. For if a worthy conception of God could be attained through the use of intellection, how could these people have taken the demons for gods, and how could they have believed the demons when they taught man unenlightened education, they have calumniated both God and nature. They have deprived God of His sovereignty (at least as far as they are concerned); they have ascribed the Divine Name to demons; and they were so far from finding the knowledge of beings—the object of their desire and zeal—as to claim that inanimate things have a soul and participate in a soul superior to our own. 12 They also allege that things without reason are reasonable, since capable of receiving a human soul; that demons are superior to us and are even our creators (such is their impiety); they have classed among things uncreated and unoriginate and coeternal with God, not only matter, and what they call the World Soul, but also those intelligible beings not clothed in the opacity of the body, 13 and even our souls themselves. 14
Are we then to say that those who hold such a philosophy possess the wisdom of God, or even a human wisdom in general? I hope that none of us would be so mad as to claim this, for, as the Lord declared, “A good tree does not produce bad fruit” (Mt. 7:18). In my estimation, this “wisdom” is not even worthy of the appellation “human”, since it is so inconsistent as to affirm the same things to be at once animate and inanimate, endowed with and deprived of reason, and it holds that things by nature without sensibility, and having no organs capable of sensation, could contain our souls! 15 It is true that Paul sometimes speaks of this as “human wisdom”, as when he says, “My proclamation does not rest on the persuasive words of human wisdom”, 16 and again, “We do not speak in words which teach human wisdom.” 17 But at the same time, he thinks it right to call those who have acquired it “wise according to the flesh”, 18 or “wise men become feebleminded”, 19 “the disputants of this age”, 20 and their wisdom is qualified by him in similar terms: It is “wisdom become folly”, 21 the “wisdom which has been done away”, 22 “vain trumpery”, 23 the “wisdom of this age”, and belongs to the “princes” of this age—who are “coming to an end”. 24
For myself, I listen to the father who 25 says, “Woe to body when it does not consume the nourishment that is from without, and woe to the soul when it does not receive the grace that is from above!” He speaks justly—for the body will perish once it has passed into the world of inanimate things, and the soul will become enmeshed in the demonic life and the thoughts of demons if it turns away from that which is proper to it. 26
But if one says that philosophy, insofar as it is natural, is a gift of God, then one says true, without contradiction, and without incurring the accusation that falls on those who abuse philosophy and pervert it to an unnatural end. 27 Indeed they make their condemnation heavier by using God’s gift in a way unpleasing to Him.
Moreover, the mind of demons, created by God, possesses by nature its faculty of reason. But we do not hold that its activity comes from God, even though its possibility of acting comes from Him; one could with propriety call such reason an unreason. The intellect of pagan philosophers is likewise a divine gift insofar as it naturally possesses a wisdom endowed with reason. But it has been perverted by the wiles of the devil, who has transformed it into a foolish wisdom, wicked and senseless, since it puts forward such doctrines.
But if someone tells us that the demons themselves have a desire and knowledge not absolutely bad, since they desire to exist, live and think, here is the proper reply which I should give: It is not right to take issue with us because we say (with the brother of the Lord) that Greek wisdom is “demonic”, 28 on the grounds that it arouses quarrels and contains almost every kind of false teaching, and is alienated from its proper end, that is, the knowledge of God; but at the same time recognise that it may have some participation in the good in a remote and inchoate manner. 29 It should be remembered that no evil thing is evil insofar as it exists, but insofar as it is turned aside from the activity appropriate to it, and thus from the end assigned to this activity.
What then should be the work and the goal of those who seek the wisdom of God in creatures? Is it not the acquisition of the truth, and the glorification of the Creator? This is clear to all. But the knowledge of the pagan philosophers has fallen away from both these aims.
Is there then anything of use to us in this philosophy? Certainly. For just as there is much therapeutic value even in substances obtained from the flesh of serpents, 30 and the doctors consider there is no better and more useful medicine than that derived from this source, so there is something of benefit to be had even from the profane philosophers— but somewhat as in a mixture of honey and hemlock. So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake. And if you were to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their origin from this source.
It is thus with the “iconognosts”, who pretend that man receives the image of God by knowledge, and that this knowledge conforms the soul to God. 31 For, as was said to Cain, “If you make your offering correctly, without dividing correctly…”. 32 But to divide well is the property of very few men. Those alone “divide well”, the senses of whose souls 33 are trained to distinguish good and evil.
What need is there to run these dangers without necessity, when it is possible to contemplate the wisdom of God in His creatures not only without peril but with profit? A life which hope in God has liberated from every care naturally impels the soul towards the contemplation of God’s creatures. Then it is struck with admiration, deepens its understanding, persists in the glorification of the Creator, and through this sense of wonder is led forward to what is greater. According to St. Isaac, 34 “It comes upon treasures which cannot be expressed in words”; and using prayer as a key, it penetrates thereby into the mysteries 35 which “eye has not seen, ear has not heard and which have not entered into the heart of man”, 36 mysteries manifested by the Spirit alone to those who are worthy, as St. Paul teaches.
Do you see the swiftest way, full of profit and without danger, that leads to these supernatural and heavenly treasures?
In the case of the secular wisdom, you must first kill the serpent, in other words, overcome the pride that arises from this philosophy. How difficult that is! “The arrogance of philosophy has nothing in common with humility”, as the saying goes. Having overcome it, then, you must separate and cast away the head and tail, for these things are evil in the highest degree. By the head, I mean manifestly wrong opinions concerning things intelligible and divine and primordial ; and by the tail, the fabulous stories concerning created things. As to what lies in between the head and tail, that is, discourses on nature, you must separate out useless ideas by means of the faculties of examination and inspection possessed by the soul, just as pharmacists purify the flesh of serpents with fire and water. Even if you do all this, and make good use of what has been properly set aside, how much trouble and circumspection will be required for the task!
Nonetheless, if you put to good use that part of the profane wisdom which has been well excised, no harm can result, for it will naturally have become an instrument for good. But even so, it cannot in the strict sense be called a gift of God 37 and a spiritual thing, for it pertains to the order of nature and is not sent from on high. This is why Paul, who is so wise in divine matters, calls it “carnal”; 38 for, says he, “Consider that among us who have been chosen, there are not many wise according to the flesh”. 39 For who could make better use of this wisdom than those whom Paul calls “wise from outside”? 40 But having this wisdom in mind, he calls them “wise according to the flesh”, and rightly too.
Just as in legal marriage, the pleasure derived from procreation cannot exactly be called a gift of God, because it is carnal and constitutes a gift of nature and not of grace (even though that nature has been created by God); even so the knowledge that comes from profane education, even if well used, is a gift of nature, and not of grace—a gift which God accords to all without exception through nature, and which one can develop by exercise. This last point—that no one acquires it without effort and exercise—is an evident proof that it is a question of a natural, not a spiritual, gift.
It is our sacred wisdom that should legitimately be called a gift of God and not a natural gift, since even simple fishermen who receive it from on high become, as Gregory the Theologian says, 41 sons of Thunder, whose word has encompassed the very bounds of the universe. By this grace, even publicans are made merchants of souls; and even the burning zeal of persecutors is transformed, making them Pauls instead of Sauls, 42 turning away from the earth to attain “the third heaven” and “hear ineffable things”. 43 By this true wisdom we too can become conformed to the image of God and continue to be such after death.
As to natural wisdom, it is said that even Adam possessed it in abundance, more so than all his descendents, although he was the first who failed to safeguard conformity to the image. Profane philosophy existed as an aid to this natural wisdom before the advent of Him who came to recall the soul to its ancient beauty: Why then were we not renewed by this philosophy before Christ’s coming? Why did we need, not someone to teach us philosophy—an art which passes away with this age, so that it is said to be “of this age”44 —but One “who takes away the sin of the world”, 45 and who grants us a true and eternal wisdom—even though this appears as “foolishness” 46 to the ephemeral and corrupt wise men of this world, whereas in reality its absence makes truly foolish those not spiritually attached to it? Do you not clearly see that it is not the study of profane sciences which brings salvation, which purifies the cognitive faculty of the soul, and conforms it to the divine Archetype?
This, then, is my conclusion: If a man who seeks to be purified by fulfilling the prescriptions of the Law gains no benefit from Christ—even though the Law had been manifestly promulgated by God—then neither will the acquisition of the profane sciences avail. For how much more will Christ be of no benefit to one who turns to the discredited alien philosophy to gain purification for his soul? It is Paul, the mouthpiece of Christ, who tells us this and gives us his testimony.
One Should Not Even Touch His Own Body if It Is Not Necessary
A Hierarch Ought Not to Stretch Out His Hand to Receive Gifts out of Greediness, Nor to Strike Anyone or to Ordain Those Who Are Unworthy
The Use of Luxurious Clothing and What Its Use Implies
The Usefulness of Clothing. The Early Bishops Did Not Wear Expensive Clothing
The Present Things Are Vain and Temporal
Luxurious Clothing Is the Cause of Many Evils and All Clergy Must Avoid It
Luxurious Garments Are Scandalous to Both Men and Women
Soft Beds Should Be Avoided for They Are the Cause of Many Evils
The Clergy Must Not Play Games of Chance Nor Take Baths
The Sense of Touch and Its Activities
We have reached in our discussion the fifth sense, which is the sense of touch. Even though the activity of this sense is generally considered to be concentrated in the hands, it actually encompasses the entire surface of the body so that every feeling and every part and every organ of the body both external and internal becomes an instrument of this sense of touch. Guard yourself then with great attention from such tender touches that arouse strong feelings, feelings that are mostly in the body and most vulnerable to sin. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in interpreting a passage in the Song of Songs, commented that the sense of touch is the subservient sense, the one most likely created by nature for the blind. It is most difficult for one to be free from the power of this sense, once it has been activated. This is why one must be careful to guard it with all his power.
Even though the power of the other senses seems to be active, it nevertheless seems to be far from the enactment of sin. But the sense of touch is the closest to this enactment and certainly the very beginning and the initial action of the deed.
One Should Not Even Touch His Own Body if It Is Not Necessary
Be careful not to bring your hands and your feet close to other bodies, especially of the young. Be especially careful not to stretch your hands to touch anything, unless it is necessary, nor upon members of your body, or even to scratch yourself, as St. Isaac the Syrian and other holy Fathers have taught. Even from such minor activities, the sense of touch becomes accustomed, or to put it more correctly, the devil seeks to arouse us toward sin and at the same time to raise up into our mind improper images of desire that pollute the beauty of prudent thoughts. This is why St. John Climacus wrote: “It so happens that we are polluted bodily through the sense of touch.”1 Even when you go out for the natural needs of your body respect your guardian angel, as St. Isaac has reminded us.2 Elsewhere this same father has written: “Virgin is not one who has merely preserved one’s body from sexual intercourse, but one who is modest unto oneself even when alone.”3
The pagan Pythagoras taught that even if there were no other spectator of human evils in heaven or earth, man should have a sense of modesty and shame for himself. When someone does evil, he dishonors and degrades himself. The ancient Athenians had a temple dedicated to the goddess of modesty that would act in the place of God upon the true conscience. Now, if these pagans taught this and had such shame for themselves, when alone, how much more should we Christians be ashamed of ourselves when we are alone in a closed room, or in an isolated lonely place or even in the darkness of night? For it is only right that the modesty and reverence we feel when in a holy temple be also felt for ourselves, since we are a temple of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit. “For we are the temple of the living God” (II Corinthians 6:16). Again St. Paul wrote: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19). St. John Chrysostom has taught us also that our bodies are even more honorable and more revered than a temple. We are a living and rational temple, while a building- temple is lifeless and irrational. Moreover, Christ died for us and not for temples.4 Therefore it follows that more shame and modesty should be kept for ourselves and for our bodies than for the temple. For this reason, then, anyone who would dare to degrade the holy temple of his body by committing some sinful deed will in truth be more sinful than those who would desecrate the most famous temple.
Again, our pagan forefathers sought to teach men to avoid shameful deeds by asking them to imagine the presence of some important and revered person. If the imaginary presence of mortal men can avert one from doing evil when found alone, how much more can the true and abiding presence of the true and omnipresent and immortal God, who not only sees the external deeds of men but also knows the inner thoughts and feelings of the heart?
Most foolish then are those who are by themselves alone in an isolated or dark place and who have no self-respect and shame, nor remember the presence of God. They may say: “I am now in this darkness, who can see me?” God condemns such persons as being foolish. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? . . . Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). “A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, ‘Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The most High will not take notice of my sins.’ His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord and ten thousand times brighter than the sun” (Sirach 23:18 – 19).
A Hierarch Ought Not to Stretch Out His Hand to Receive Gifts out of Greediness, Nor to Strike Anyone or to Ordain Those Who Are Unworthy
Be careful not to stretch out your hands to do evil. For as David said, “The righteous ought not to put forth their hands to do wrong” (Ps. 125:3), that is, to receive bribes, to be greedy, to be unrighteous, to be graspy. Moreover, it also means not to seek shameful profits, not to carry out shameful beatings, and not to ordain unworthy candidates to the priesthood. God himself forbids the taking of bribes. It is written in Holy Scripture: “And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Ex. 23:8). St. Basil too has written: “He who has not first placed true righteousness in his soul, but is corrupted by money or by considerations of friendship,5 he who defends enmity or besseches power cannot direct and obtain justice.”6
Do not stretch out your hands in greediness, in wrongdoing, in stealing, for the Apostle has written: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). Do not therefore stretch out your hands to acquire unlawful gain or to strike anyone. For according to the Apostle, “a bishop must be above reproach…temperate, sensible, dignified, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, nor quarrelsome, and no lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:2). Any hierarch or priest who strikes with his hand or with a rod anyone is deposed, according to the Twenty-seventh Apostolic Canon. “A bishop, priest or deacon who strikes the faithful who may have sinned or the unbelievers who may have done wrong, and who does this for the purpose of disciplining them through fear, must be deposed. The Lord has never taught us to do this. On the contrary, he was struck but did not strike back. He was abused but did not abuse others. He was beaten but did not threaten others.” The same discipline of deposition is required by the Ninth Canon of the Protodeutera Synod.
Do not be hasty to place your hands for ordination upon unworthy candidates. The Apostle again has instructed Timothy about this matter: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man’s sins” (1 Tim. 5:22). The bishops who have ordained unworthy candidates must render an account to God for all the sins that have been committed and may be committed by those whom they have so ordained. St. Chrysostom has also emphasized this point. “Do not tell me that the presbyter has sinned, or that the deacon has sinned. The responsibility of all these is placed upon the heads of those who have ordained such unworthy candidates.”7 Who then, as the Prophet David has asked, can inherit the mountain and the kingdom of God? He who keeps his hands pure from all these. “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4).
The Use of Luxurious Clothing and What Its Use Implies
The use of soft and fine clothing is another matter that we can relate to the sense of touch. Now, if I may be permitted to be more blunt, I want to emphasize especially to hierarchs and priests that they not fall into the error of fantastic apparel which unfortunately many experience because of their bad habits from childhood and the bad examples of others. St. John Chrysostom, first of all, reminded us that the very custom of covering the body with clothing is a perpetual reminder of our exile from Paradise and our punishment, which we received after our disobedience. We who were previously in Paradise, covered by the divine grace and having no need of clothing, find ourselves now in need of covering and clothing for our bodies. The forefathers were naked before the disobedience but not ashamed; after the disobedience they sewed fig leaves together and coverings for their bodies (Genesis 3:7).
Therefore, what is the reason for this reminder of our sin and punishment to be done with bright and expensive clothing? “The use of clothing has become a perpetual reminder for us of our exile from the good things of Paradise and a lesson of our punishment which the human race received as a consequence of the original sin of disobedience. There are those who are so affected in their vain imaginations that they say to us that they no longer know the clothing that is made by the wool of the sheep and that they now wear only clothes made of silk . . . . Tell me now, for whom do you so clothe your body? Why are you glad over your particular set of clothing? Why don’t you heed St. Paul who wrote: “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (I Timothy 6:8).
The Usefulness of Clothing. The Early Bishops Did Not Wear Expensive Clothing
According to St. Basil the usefulness of clothing is to protect our bodies from the cold in the winter and from the heat in the summer. “What is the difference for one who is sensible to have long robes with a flowing train or to wear foolish and unnecessary clothing that do nothing to keep you warm in winter and to protect you from the heat in the summer?”9 For the clothes to be made of silk and other expensive materials is a vanity that derives from unreal fantasies and misleading desires of the heart. In other words, such vanity is a shadow, smoke, dust thrown into the air, and bubbles that are blown around and broken. Solomon at first experienced the use of expensive clothing but later condemned them. I agree with him when he wrote that they are a vanity of vanities and a deliberate choice of one’s spirit. But what is this choice of one’s spirit? St. Gregory the Theologian considered it to be “a desire of the soul that is irrational and a temptation of man deriving perhaps from the ancient fall.”10 Is it characteristic of a prudent person to follow such vanity? Should he ever allow himself to seek the shadow of dreams? No, please do not accept to do this. Perhaps you will argue the pressures of your youth is forcing you to do this. But what is youth? Solomon again has told us that “youth and the dawn of life are vanity” (Eccl. 11:10). Therefore one vanity loves another vanity, but never prudence and right reason. Perhaps you will say that it is the office of being a bishop that prompts you to wear expensive clothes. Well! Take a look at those ancient bishops. See the poor garments of St. Basil and St. Gregory, the cape of St. Athansios and the cape of Bishop Serapion. Moreover, those blessed men traveled great distances on foot and alone. They did not use animals and horses of great value11 that were richly saddled, and without the accompaniment of many persons leading and following the procession. One can see from this vain fantasy that having expensive clothes is not a substantive element but rather a destructive one for the office of a bishop.
The Present Things Are Vain and Temporal
Leave such vanity, brother. Remember that according to the Apostle: “The form of this world is passing away, and those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Cor. 7:31). Remember also, “We look to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). For death comes and death is unknown. Judgment follows death and this judgment is quick. After judgment comes hell, an endless hell. When death comes, youth passes away, so does vanity. Every luxury of clothing and all the pleasant things of this life come to an end with the end of the life of each person. Where are your predecessors and those before them? Having the same vain imaginations, have they not played out the short scene of life and the empty sentiments? Are they not now also deceived by the shortness of life and are already earth and dust in a forgotten place, according to David? What do you think? Will you not in a short while follow them? Will you not follow the same way of life and will you not reach the same goal of the grave?
According to the psalmist David and St. Basil who interpreted him, this life is likened to a journey on account of the tendency to reach the goal of each created being. Listen to what he said: “Those who on board a ship are sleeping are nevertheless led to the harbor automatically by the power of the prevailing wind. Even though they may not be aware of it, their journey is continued toward its goal. So is it with us in passing the time of our life. In a certain unique movement that is continuous and ceaseless we are pressed on the unknown course of our life that is appropriate to each of us. You may be sleeping and yet time passes on. You may be awake intellectually active and yet your life is spent, even if it escapes our perception. We are all indeed on a journey, each of us running toward our appropriate goal. This is why we are all on the way. In the case of those who travel, once the first step is taken the next one will follow and the one after that in succession. Consider the affairs of life if they are not similar. Today you have cultivated the earth, tomorrow another person will do it. And after him still another will continue. Therefore isn’t our life a journey on which we partake differently from time to time and on which we all succeed each other?”12
In the book of Job, Zapar the Naamathite, wanting to indicate the shortness of human life, said: “Though his height mount up to the heavens, and his head reach to the clouds, he will perish for ever…Those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ He will fly away like a dream, and not be found; he will be chased away like a vision of the night” (Jb. 20:7f.). These examples and even the mere meanness, the vicissitudes and the disorder in human affairs and good things, all of these I hope will convince you to turn down such a vain quest and irrational desire.
What are gold and silver and all those precious stones (as one moralist noted) but bright products of the earth? When these are kept locked up in treasuries they also hold therein the heart of him who has so locked them up and they thus prevail over their owner. What are those famous compliments and honors but smoky emissions which come out of the mouths of the public and are diffused in the air and which are often mixed with the criticisms of envy? What are those supreme, those hierarchal, those patriarchal offices and those great kingdoms, but great servitudes in which those who rise to them find also at the same time their fall? And those who seek after extreme honors find extreme catastrophes. What sort of thing is pleasure but a change that is irreconcilable with self-control? What is good health that we so desire, but a mild and well-tempered condition of the four liquids in our bodies that are always combated by the other four opposing qualities of the elements? What is life but a flow of successive moments in which one is born when the other dies, so that man begins to die just as soon as he begins to live? Finally, what is this body of ours that we so care for but transformed clay and an extolled hospital that contains more diseases than members and nerves? And, speaking in general, what are all the external and useful and so-called good things, but the common properties of the plants and the irrational animals? By the way, these irrational animals are in a sense more well off than we, by realizing less than we do that they can be deprived of these good things, which are after all always united with opposing suffering.
With all this in mind, St. Gregory spoke well when he said: “Do not marvel at anything that does not remain, and do not overlook anything that does. Do not moreover try to grasp at something that simply escapes us when held.”13 A certain wise man also said: “If you are a mortal, O great man, you will concern yourself with mortal things.” Another one said: “The shadow of glory is glory itself. No one who sees a loaf of bread in a painting will ever reach to take the drawing, even if he is a thousand times overcome by hunger. Now, if you want to receive glory, evade glory, for if you seek after glory you will fall away from it.”14 St. Isaac said: “He who runs after honor causes it to flee from before him. But he who avoids it, will be sought out by honor that becomes a herald to all of his humility.”15 Now, meditating on these things prudently, dear brother, say to yourself the words of the wise Joseph Vryennios:
“Soul, be a stranger to all these things; soul, you have been redeemed by the precious blood of the immaculate and spotless Lamb—Christ; soul, for you the good shepherd has offered his own soul; soul, raise up your eye to your Creator, be sober, see your redeemer, know and love the Savior; acquire a blameless conscience…Why do you stand before those things that do not exist? Why do you fret over the things that are corruptible? Why do you find joy with vain things? Why do you trouble yourself with what passes away? Why are you attracted by imaginations? Why do you delight in things that you will abandon as if you will not? And of whose vision will you be deprived in eternity? How long will you be deceived by the eyes, by the attraction of pleasures, by random preoccupations, by evil thoughts, by thoroughly vain glories—all of which cause you to be separated from the vision of the most sublime and desired spiritual reality?”
I find myself out of breath in struggling in every way, dear brother, to find supportive arguments and proofs to show you how empty and vain a thing it is to preoccupy yourself with fine clothing. For I love your salvation as I love my own. And in order to make my words more understandable, I bring the example of the reflux of water of Euripus where the tide changes so often that the ancients chose to refer metaphorically to the frequent changes in human affairs with the term euripus. What else is this troubled life but a strait of troubled waters that flow to and fro? A place where good and bad, happiness and misery, are always flowing and mutually replacing each other; sometimes sending man to the depths of goodness and happiness and sometimes leaving him on the dry shore and in misfortune. Therefore learn even from this name of Euripus and put an end from here on to the desire and the fantasy of these fleeting vanities.
Luxurious Clothing Is the Cause of Many Evils and All Clergy Must Avoid It
Up to now I have assumed that luxurious clothing is a simple vanity. I am afraid however that it is more than that. It also nourishes vainglory; it is the mother of pride; it is the way to prostitution and it is the panderer of virtually all the passions. I said that it is the nourishment and the mother of vainglory and pride because the soul naturally has the tendency to be fashioned internally according to the body. Now, if the body, as it should, wears humble clothes the soul will also be humbled. If the body wears vainglorious and prideful clothes, the soul too will be vainglorious and prideful, as St. John Climacus has written: “The soul becomes similar to its external appearance and pursuits; it is impressed by what it does and fashioned according to such deeds.”16 I also noted that luxurious clothes lead to prostitution. St. Basil has said: “A person who beautifies himself and is so called is like being promiscuous and a schemer against other marriages.”17 St. Paul disallowed luxurious clothing in women, who are by nature beings who love beauty and who love to dress themselves up: “Women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire” (1 Tim. 2:9). St. Peter too did not permit women “the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing” (1 Pt. 3:3).
If women are not permitted such luxurious apparel, how much more then are we to assume that this is not permitted either among men and especially among hierarchs, who are to keep modesty and propriety in all things. This is why the Sixth Ecumenical Council decreed, through its Twenty-seventh Canon, that the hierarchs and all the clergy be dressed modestly and not use secular and luxurious clothing. The canon says in part that “no one among the clergy should dress with inappropriate clothes while in the city or while traveling on the road. They should wear the apparel that has already been determined for the clergy, that is, modest and simple. Anyone who disregards this rule will be deposed for one week.” Similarly, the Seventh Ecumenical Council with its Sixteenth Canon decreed the following: “Every foolish beautification of the body is foreign to the priestly order. Those bishops and priests who dress themselves with luxurious apparel must be reprimanded and corrected. If they persist in their wrongdoing, they must be given a penance.”
From early times every priestly man was dressed with modest and moderate apparel. Everything that has no practical use but is merely cosmetic only adds to our condemnation, as St. Basil noted.18 They did not wear clothing made out of silk, nor did they add colorful decorations on the edge of their clothing. They heeded the sacred word saying, those who wear the soft and fine apparel are in the palaces of kings (cf. Mt. 11:8; Lk. 7:25). St. Basil once asked, “Have you ever seen a man of high principles wearing a flowery garment made of silk? Despise such things?”19 St. John Chrysostom also noted, “When you see a man wearing silken apparel, laugh him to scorn!”20 St. Isidore Pelousiotes also, explaining the seamless garment of the Lord, noted: “Who can overlook the simplicity of that garment which the poor Galeleans used to wear? In fact they had a special skill in weaving such garments. Imitate the simple garments of Christ. For if the roughness in apparel here on earth is foolishness, wearing the garment of light in heaven is certainly not.”21 The prophets of God too used modest humble and poor garments. Listen to what Clement of Alexandria said of them: “Prophet Elijah wore a garment made of sheepskins which he tied around his waist with a belt of animal hairs. The Prophet Isaiah went about virtually naked and with bare feet. Oftentimes he would wear sack cloth as a symbol of humility and mourning. Jeremiah too only wore a simple linen garment. As the strong members of the body are seen clearly when uncovered, so also is the beauty of virtue demonstrated magnificently when it is not entangled with a great deal of idle talk.” The Synod at Gangra in its Twelfth Canon pronounced anathema upon those criticized for wearing velvet and silk garments. Finally, the same Synod in its Twenty-first Canon decreed: “We accept and praise the simple and modest garments, but we avoid those which are soft and luxuriously ornamental.”
Luxurious Garments Are Scandalous to Both Men and Women
Let me leave aside the sense of folly and looseness that is created on the body, especially on a body of a young person, by the luxury of clothing. I leave aside also the uselessness of such clothing, as St. Gregory the Theologian noted.22 I keep silent about the greed for money that is incited in those who desire to acquire such clothing. I also sidestep the vanity and pride and all the other passions that act as so many poisonous fruit of this death-bearing tree. And I consider only the common scandal that it is for both men and women. It is indeed a great scandal for men to see their bishop dressed in such luxury, and wherever they are they comment that the bishop is altogether given over to a desire for fine garments and an air of haughty pride. It is even a greater scandal for the women. For as they themselves often scandalize the men who look upon them and excite in them certain passions, in the very same way the men who are decorated in fine clothing, especially bishops and priests, scandalize the women and kindle the coals of passion in their souls.
Even if we assume that it is permitted for you to be so dressed, even if you guard yourself and are a prudent person in dressing yourself well, should you not take into account the scandal of those misfortunate souls? Should you not consider the evil desires and the spiritual harm that may be caused in their souls? Who will give an account for this? Certainly no one else except you, for in seeking to serve your foolish desires, it is you who have allowed all these evils to come into being. And this because you have not chosen to imitate the holy hierarchs of old, who dressed humbly and spent their days in great humility. I had the opportunity to know St. Macarius of Corinth, who in his diocese and in his later life always wore humble black clothing. How serious is the punishment for creating a scandal is noted by the Lord himself: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). Listen to this story and be informed: When St. Anthony was about to die, he ordered his disciples to give one of his garments to St. Athansios and the other to Bishop Serapion. These two churchmen received the garments with all of their heart and used to wear them on the dominical feasts. These simple and coarse monastic garments did more to dignify them in a most reverent way than any royal garments ever could in all their luxurious splendor!
Having learned about the luxury of garments and the many evils which come from them, strive to avoid such luxury as harmful to the soul.
Soft Beds Should Be Avoided for They Are the Cause of Many Evils
In this sense of touch we must also include the soft and comfortable beds and everything that has to do with our comfort. Inasmuch as these may contribute to our spiritual harm, they must be avoided by all, but especially the young. Such comforts weaken the body; they submerge it into constant sleep; they warm it beyond measure, and therefore kindle the heat of passion. This is why the prophet Amos wrote: “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches” (Amos 6:4). Once a young monk asked an elder (monk) how to guard himself against the carnal passions. The elder replied that he should avoid overeating, avoid slander and all those activities which excite carnal passions. The monk however was unable to find the cure for his passion even after observing carefully all the admonitions of the elder. He would return to the elder again and again for advice until he became a burden for the elder. Finally, the patient elder got up and followed the brother to his cell. Upon seeing the soft bed where he slept, the elder exclaimed: “Here, here, is the cause of your struggle with carnal desire, dear brother!”23
Heracleides has also noted in the Lausaikon about Iouvinos, the famous bishop of Askalon, that on a very hot day near the Pelousion mountain he washed with a little water his hands and feet and laid out a camel skin to rest a little in the shade. This was done in the presence of his most holy mother, who directly began to reproach him. “Oh son,” he said, “you are most daring to flatter your body with such care and at such a young age. The more you fuss over it the more it becomes agitated like a serpent against you, seeking to harm you. I am already sixty years old, and I have not yet washed my face and feet in such a way, except for my hands. Even though I suffered certain illnesses and the doctors advised me to take advantage of therapeutic baths and other cures for the body, I have never entrusted in my body nor have I allowed myself to flatter it in any way, knowing full well the enmity that exists between it and the soul. For this reason, my son, I have even refused to recline in a soft bed to sleep.”
Behold what an ascetic reaction is prompted by the simple laying out of a camel skin to rest upon it. Behold how a little washing prompted such austere criticism by a mother to her son. Do you see, dear brother, what great exactness and care is needed and especially by the young? Once the Patriarch of Alexandria, St. John the Merciful, seeing that he had need of it, accepted a precious bed covering offered to him by a certain ruler. Throughout that night the blessed hierarch struggled with his thoughts and was most critical of himself for having accepted such a precious covering when so many poor brothers did not even possess a straw mat to lie on. He finally threw it away from his bed and in the morning had it sold in the marketplace, distributing the money to the poor. Notice well how what is for the comfort of the body, or (what amounts to the same thing) what is unnecessary and more than what we need, was used then by the hierarchs of that time.
In the Psalms the Prophet David has made a distinction between “bed” and “couch.” The bed is commonly used for sleeping, while the couch is in the area prepared for sitting. Now, if your sitting room is furnished with soft chairs and couches, this, I believe, is not harmful since it is also thus prepared for the comfort of guests.
The Clergy Must Not Play Games of Chance Nor Take Baths
In this general sense of touch must be included the playing of cards and dice and all other such games that one plays with his hands. I beseech you as strongly as I possibly can to avoid these completely. Such games are improper and altogether alien to your high character and profession and they are the cause of much scandal among Christians. They may even become the cause for deposing someone from the hierarchy. The Forty-second Apostolic Canon decreed the following: “Any bishop or priest or deacon who spends his time playing the dice and drinking must either be defrocked or deposed.” Going even further, the Forty-third Apostolic Canon provided that a lay person who is involved in such games of chance is excommunicated. Why do I simply say that you must not play such games? You must not even look upon those who do. The law of Photios decreed the following:
“Any bishop or clergyman who plays the dice or other such games of chance, or who simply keeps company with those who do and sits beside them when they play, must be deposed from doing any of his sacred duties and must not receive any of the provisions given by his diocese for a certain period of time until he repents. If he should persist in his evil even beyond the given time for repentance, he must be entirely banished from the ranks of the clergy and may become a secular officer of some kind for the province where he had been a clergyman.”24
According to Aremnopoulos, the One hundred and twenty-third Law of Justinian requires that they clergy who become drunkards and those who play the dice must be confined to a monastery. I say nothing of all the harm that comes to those who play cards and other such games, about which St. John Chrysostom wrote the following: “The vice of dice brings blasphemy, anger, harm, abuse, and a myriad more evils greater than these.”25 Aristotle himself, even though a pagan, numbered the gamblers among the thieves and robbers: “A dice player, a thief and a robber are among those who are not free, for they acquire their gain shamefully and illegally.”26
You have already heard above from the holy nun and mother of Iouvinos how harmful even simple bathing can be, especially to the young. In the act of bathing the sense of touch is certainly sorely tested and tempted. As we read in the sayings of the Fathers there were many ascetic fathers who hesitated even at the crossing of rivers, not only because they were ashamed to bathe their bodies but also because they did not even want to uncover their legs. These holy men were often in a flash transported across the river by an angel of God. St. Diadochos, bishop of Photiki, has written that the avoidance of baths is a manly achievement. “It is a manly and prudent thing to avoid baths. This way our bodies are not effeminate by that pleasurable flow of water over them, nor do we come to a remembrance of that shameful nakedness of Adam, so that we too seek to cover the shame with the [fig] leaves of a second excuse. Those who desire to keep their bodies spiritually pure are especially required to be united with the beauty of prudence and chastity.”27 Of course, it is understood and acceptable that occasionally one must bathe out of necessity for the sake of health and the requirement of an illness.
The Ladder, Step 15.
Homily 14, On Ephesians; Homily 20, On 2 Corinthians.
Cleon the king of Athens was highly praised when he was made king against his will and then proceeded to call all his most dear friends and with sighing and sorrow took his leave from them, fearing that he might be forced to transgress the law because of their friendship. As a prudent man he had realized that friendship and authority cannot sit together at the same time upon the same cathedra. He who would exercise justice must put friendship aside. The story is also told of Routelios, the dear friend of Skouros. When Skouros requested an unjust favor from his friend Routelios and did not receive it, he was disturbed and retorted: “And what need have I of your friendship if I cannot get one small favor from you?” To this reproach Routelios replied: “And what need have I of your friendship if I am to do for you unjust deeds?” And their friendship came to an end. Above all the praise goes to Pericles the Athenian, who was being beseeched by a friend to take a false oath in order to support him. Pericles responded with the famous saying: “Friend up to the sanctuary,” that is to say, “I want to be your friend but only until we come up to the holy sanctuary” (where it was customary to place the hand when taking a public oath). It is necessary here to grieve bitterly! For if these persons who were far from the grace of the Gospel were able to rise to such heights of virtue with only the natural law, you who are an Orthodox Christian, a leader, a bishop, a ruler, what do you think? Can you disobey the law of God? Do you think that you will be saved? You are deluding yourself!
Homily on Proverbs.
Homily 3, On Acts.
Homily 18, On Genesis.
Address to the Young Men.
Funeral Oration to Caesarios.
The Lord himself through his own example taught us to travel in a humble manner. He himself used the humble donkey to enter Jerusalem and not a stallion. However, when the road is difficult or long it is permissible for bishops and Christians in general to travel with horses and mules, but these should not be animals of great value nor richly saddled and adorned.
Commentary on Psalm 1.
Homily on the Lord’s Day.
Quoted in the Life of Cyril Phileotos.
Homily 25, On Humility.
Address to the Young Men.
The Short Monastic Rule, 49.
Homily on the Hexaemeron.
Homily 11, On 1 Timothy.
Epistle 74 to Caton the Monk.
Homily on the Birth of Christ.
The first Book of the Codex, Statute 34, Title 9, ch. 27.
NOTE: The following article are excerpts from the first chapter of What’s So Wrong About Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief by Judy J. Johnson:
It is much easier to demolish someone else’s ideas than to suspend judgment and carefully examine our own. Such analysis requires moving beyond what we believe to why and how we hold beliefs of central importance. Many people do not analyze their beliefs much beyond the what stage. Certainly not dogmatists. They have little difficulty explaining the content of their beliefs, and their arrogant pronouncements clearly reveal how they believe. Less visible are the psychological reasons why they close their minds to anything that contradicts what they know to be true—absolutely true. In describing fanaticism (a variant of dogmatism), Winston Churchill said, “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the topic.”
Psychologists can only infer from observable emotions and behaviors the invisible forces that drive people to close their minds to reason and act in self-defeating ways. The theory of dogmatism proposed here is such an inferential model—a systematized compilation of ideas about plausible causes that account for dogmatism’s unique characteristics. For some, it may seem odd to propose a theory that has not been empirically validated, but that is the core of psychology. In a similar vein, “to believe something while knowing it cannot be proved (yet) is the essence of physics.”1 Theory is thus a convenient model that can turn useful fictions into testable predictions.
All of us have encountered dogmatists and dogmatism. We recognize that personal and worldly decisions are made by dogmatists whose default systems include instant, premature judgment and dismissal of opposing or novel ideas. Tenaciously, they cling to their steadfast beliefs when common sense and countervailing evidence suggests they should re-examine their faulty assumptions. With little reflection or humility, they are driven to defend themselves against facts, comments, or questions that they interpret as direct threats to their intellectual integrity and personal dignity, as a result, we cannot get through to them.
Yet, as with all problems, closing our eyes and hoping for the best is surely naive. It is therefore urgent that we study the organization of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that shape doctrinaire belief systems. We need to know what we’re up against before zealous movements gain emotional momentum and convert fear to dangerous, self-righteous anger, and before the free spirit of democracy is derailed by close-minded decisions. It behooves our familial, educational, and political systems to counter these dangers with reason, vigilance, and the liberty of open-minded dialogue, all of which strike fear in the hearts of dogmatists, whose social, political, moral, and spiritual values are frozen in time.
Why is it that some people obstinately refuse to open their minds to new ideas, even when persuasive, contradictory evidence should give them reason to pause? They simply refuse to see things any other way. Not only do they cling to beliefs with rigid certainty, their lack of interpersonal skills makes them oblivious to the effect their proclamations have on others. From ordinary people to priests, presidents, and professors, dogmatists feel protected by what they believe and fail to see that how they believe limits their opportunities for success and erodes their credibility. Like the bed in their guestroom, their minds are always made up, but seldom used.
But these are only some of the problems created by the need to be absolutely right. Around the dinner table, dogmatism is there to constrain thought. At social gatherings, dogmatism interrupts free-spirited conversation. During office meetings and government sittings, dogmatism derails progress. The dictatorial bark of dogmatism had interrupted peace and progress ever since humans began articulating beliefs about the world and their place in it. In its mildest form, dogmatism is the voice that asserts: “I am right; you are wrong.” Moderate dogmatism presents a stronger variation: “I am right; you are stupid.” Extreme dogmatism (or zealotry) is vicious and violent: “I am right; you are dead.”2 Understood from a psychological perspective, individual dogmatism is the practice that assures one: “I am right; therefore safe.”
Since ancient times, great thinkers have espoused the philosophical importance of being open-minded and cautioned against the perils of doctrinaire thinking. But little was written about dogmatism as a distinct personality disposition until the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany, when Erich Fromm and Wilhelm Reich sought to understand why Germans were drawn to Hitler.
Dogmatism is a personality trait. Psychologists use the term personality trait to refer to aspects of personality that motivate us to think, feel, and act in fairly consistent ways across time and different situations. In that sense, traits allow us to make reasonable predictions about people’s behavior, because we observe the same person express his or her unique traits (in this case, dogmatism) in many different situations. Traits are therefore more widespread and enduring than specific habits or behavioral tendencies.3
Dogmatism: Ancient and Modern Meanings
Throughout history, believers of various ideologies have clamored to dominate religious and political movements. In this regard, dogmatic beliefs that justify power and dominion over others know no boundaries. Psychologically, belief systems consist of perceptions, cognitions, and emotions that the brain considers to be accurate if not true. While perceptions are interpretations we make about the world based on our sensory systems, cognitions refer to abstract mental processes that continually organize and process these perceptions in unique, meaningful ways. Thus, the terms cognitive and cognition refer to our brain’s abstract organization and interpretation of sensory experiences—what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.
Dogmatism presumably emerged with the development of language, through which people began crafting myths and folklore about their experiences, abilities, identities, social roles, and various cultural values. When strong emotions became attached to tales and myths, belief systems ensued, some of which were consolidated in dogma that later became institutionalized. Such dogma was stamped with official authority that had the potential for the rigid trappings of dogmatism. But the first definition of dogma is relatively neutral. The Oxford English Dictionary defines dogma as:
“1. That which is held as an opinion; a belief, principle, tenet; esp., a tenet or doctrine laid down by a particular church, sect, or school of thought; sometimes, [my emphasis], depreciatingly, an imperious or arrogant declaration of opinion. 2. The body of opinion formulated or authoritatively stated; systematized belief; tenets or principles collectively; doctrinal system.”
Thus, dogma need not always enact the practice of dogmatism; it may merely reflect the content of institutionalized belief systems that may or not be practiced dogmatically. According to Webster’s to be dogmatic is to be “positive, magisterial; asserting or disposed to assert with authority or with overbearing and arrogance; applied to persons; as a dogmatic schoolman or philosopher.” Tenets differ in that they do not carry such stamps of authority. Webster’s again notes: “A tenet rests on its own intrinsic merits or demerits; a dogma rests on authority regarded as competent to decide and determine.”
Conflicts about various belief systems that were formerly settled among families, small bands, tribes, and larger groups (known as chiefdoms) later became settled by the resolute decisions of appointed rulers who had a monopoly on information, which allowed them to exercise arbitrary power. Such muscular control meant they could apply force to indoctrinate people with “official religious and patriotic fervor [and] make their troops willing to fight suicidally.”4 Ruling elites converted supernatural beliefs into religious dogma that institutionalized and justified the chief’s authority. Moreover, shared ideology expanded the bonds of kinship that held groups together and motivated people to cooperate, thus enabling large groups of strangers to live together in peace.5 To further consolidate and legitimize their power, rulers built temples and monuments as visible reminders of their supremacy. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution, European empires used state religions to give kings, queens, and monarchs divine status that legitimized war and the colonization of the Western world.6
As recently as three centuries ago there was no question but to automatically accept dogma as pure, even divine, doctrine. Humans have always sought meaningful explanations for existence and effective guidelines for living, and, linguistically, religion refers to anything which one is strongly devoted. Through stories and religious rituals, beliefs and behaviors become transformed. Long before the scientific method became the practice for developing a body of reliable knowledge, scriptures were routinely endorsed as indisputable truths, and they were adopted and held with absolute conviction, but without much reflection on their accuracy or feasibility. Beliefs were assumed to be divinely inspired, and it is therefore understandable that the terms dogma and dogmatism were first associated with religion. Given the brutal history of torture and killings that religious dogma inspired, it is also understandable how the term dogma acquired a pejorative meaning. Yet religious dogma may be simply perceived as devout teachings based on divine revelation—teachings that promise communal associations that are sustained through ritual.
Seen from the psychological perspective of dogmatism, political and religious ideologies are not the key problem in social unrest; their corresponding dogmas simply consist of articulated or written words. The purpose of any dogma “lies in its ability to point beyond itself to a deeper reality which cannot be readily articulated in a simple formula or expression.”7 But when dogma is elevated to absolute truth, it is often accompanied by deeply embedded emotions that compel people to unquestioningly adopt it as a demonstration of loyalty or piety—an act that assuages fear and offers psychological protection. Emotions, not reason, propel allegiance and obedience, and the dogma of yesterday kindles the dogmatism of today, which can be anything but benign.
Throughout the Middle Ages, gross misinterpretations of Jesus Christ’s teachings were applied during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Catholic Church’s witch hunts. These hypocritical misrepresentations of dogma and fantasies chewed up bits of undigested ideology and spit it out as dogmatism. These examples of rigid, individual dogmatism are beleaguered by pervasive, enduring psychological problems that lurk beneath the dogma of one’s stated beliefs. As we shall see in later chapters, within these murky domains, negative emotions of anxiety and anger contaminate and obscure reason, which ultimately compromises personal and intellectual freedom.
Religious beliefs held sway during the Middle Ages, when uncritical acceptance of dogma was the norm—especially given people’s lack of education, their socialization to honor authority figures, and their fear of questioning religious authorities. This culture of religion stifled efforts toward rational inquiry up until the 17th and 18th centuries, when scientists and philosophers inspired a new Age of Reason. Eminent philosophers and scientists advocated superstition be replaced by the voice of authoritative reason. They stressed the importance of subordinating religious belief to the power of reason, empirical observation, and critical thinking, and in their struggle to facilitate open-minded inquiry, they began to formulate a scientific approach to knowledge that would gradually replace the Church’s dominion over political and religious orthodoxy.
Yet today, as they did centuries ago, dogmatic people continue to assert their beliefs as if they were scientific axioms that do not require proof. It is axiomatic that the earth rotates on its axis and that squares have four equal, perpendicular sides, but is it axiomatic that Jesus rose from the dead or was conceived by the Virgin Mary? When such beliefs are presumed to be self-evident rather than based on evidence, they exonerate the believer from any burden of proof. People who are more flexible in their thinking often reject such faulty reasoning and dislike the proselytizing manner of fervent believers.
Dogmatists in other religions sanctimoniously condemn the unconverted with a close-mindedness that commandeers reason. Yet to condemn, control, or rule others from one’s own self-doubt and emotional apprehension risks violating people’s inalienable rights.
Dogmatism, Common Synonyms and Related Terms
Psychologists generally agree that dogma, ideology, opinions, attitudes, values, and belief systems have distinct meanings but three overlapping properties. First, these terms connote individual beliefs about what is true or false, good or bad, desirable or undesirable, right or wrong. Second, all are accompanied by emotions that vary in intensity and duration from mild, transient emotions to passionate, sustained arousal. Such emotions create physiological responses that a person may or may not be aware of. Third, because our attitudes and values consist of several related beliefs that motivate behavior, entire belief systems are more potent than single beliefs.8
However, whether a particular belief stands alone or in relation to other beliefs, “beliefs are principles of action: whatever they may be at the level of the brain, they are processes by which our understanding (and misunderstanding) of this world is represented and made available to guide our behavior.”9 And “as long as a person maintains that his beliefs represent an actual state of the world (visible or invisible; spiritual or mundane), he must believe that his beliefs are a consequence of the way the world is. This, by definition, leaves him vulnerable to new evidence.”10 Whether one’s beliefs are based on facts that attempt to reveal truths or are value judgments that imply behavioral proscriptions, beliefs about either domain reflect attempts to understand ourselves and the surrounding world in a way that enhances the quality of life. Finally, behaviors reveal underlying beliefs much more than verbal pronouncements alone, for, as the adage notes, “Love is as love does.” On a broader scale, democracy is as democracy does, and dogmatism is as dogmatism does.
While attitudes and values are typically prominent and enduring, single beliefs and opinions are less persistent and more narrowly circumscribed in their emotional, cognitive, and behavioral parameters. People whose attitudes and values are held dogmatically may be described as opinionated, and although the terms dogmatic and opinionated imply close-mindedness, opinions refer more to specific issues that are often of shorter duration and less penetrating. There is nothing inherently destructive about being opinionated, but dogmatism is another matter, especially given its degree of intolerance, its excessive and prolonged emotional baggage, and its harmful behavioral consequences.
Throughout this book the terms dogma and ideology are used interchangeably, but both are intended to convey closed-minded, rigid convictions about belief systems that have damaging consequences for individuals and groups. Whereas some belief systems reflect cultural attitudes and values that are based on informal, commonsense notions about, for example, marriage and parenting, others are institutionalized policies that are derivative of formal, academic theories. But regardless of how dogma or ideology is derived, ideologues who adopt dogma as inerrant truth bathe reason in excessive emotion.
Philosophers have long given serious thought to dogma, dogmatists, and dogmatism.11 More than two years ago, the skeptics first applied the term dogmatics to people who believed that absolute truth was attainable through the activity of reason. If one reasoned hard enough and long enough, universal truths would emerge. Such claims did not sit well with two pre-eminent skeptics—Pyrrho (ca. 360-270 BCE) and Sextus Empiricus (ca. 160-210 CE). These philosophers and their followers believed that reasoning could never distill logical theory into a single truth. Their objective was to examine arguments to determine if equally reasonable counter arguments could be mounted. Any sound opposing argument would show that a declaration statement cannot be considered correct with absolute certainty, and, therefore, any claims of discovering truth are invalid (this is especially so with statements pertaining to abstract concepts, which most psychological constructs are, including dogmatism). By acting on their belief that nothing can ever be proven, only falsified, these and other skeptics dismissed all theories of objective truth as delusions of certainty.12
While the skeptics argues that beliefs and ideas are never true, they nonetheless believed that we could become knowledgeable, provided our ideas are supported by solid premises and sound reasoning, and as long as no strong argument provides a better alternative explanation. Even when these conditions are met, we can still go no further than to state that “this is how it seems to me.” Once people understand that no one can ever know for certain that any proposition is true, they will cease to strive for absolute truth and, consequently, acquire peace of mind and tranquility (this is the state of ataraxia, as described by ancient philosophers).
In our pursuit of knowledge, we must also guard against the erroneous view of radical skeptics who are lost in a quagmire of doubt, denial, and disbelief.13 These skeptics refuse to believe any assertion or apparent fact, preferring instead to habitually doubt everything. While the radical or absolute skeptic arbitrarily denies anything without grounds for rejection, the dogmatist arbitrarily asserts truth without grounds for acceptance. The absolute skeptic and the dogmatist are therefore similar in that neither values open-minded inquiry and evidence-based knowledge. We can assume that the absolute skeptic and the dogmatist would occupy extreme ends on a linear scale that measures close-minded thinking, because both have a rigid approach to ideas and information and both are unable to expand or substantiate views that they arbitrarily reject or cling to with unwarranted certainty.
In contrast, the scientific skeptic has a more broad-minded approach to knowledge. He or she questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove it.14 Evidence emerges only from a scrupulous, deliberate process of original inquiry, critical thinking, and constructive criticism that validates new knowledge against previous benchmarks of understanding. The task of modern-day skeptics is to purge our inquiries and beliefs of bias, hasty alliances, and accidental inheritances, to overcome prejudice (literally, pre-judgment, judgment before inquiry), to examine all possibilities with sympathetic interest and critical attention, and to love truth loyally so that we may be spared the embrace of falsehood in the darkness.15
Individual belief systems are adopted through a complicated process. It is not always clear whether personal statements are components of an overarching, systematized ideology or whether they evolve from personal meaning extracted from organized, institutional ideologies derived from dogma.16 What is clear—and clearly disconcerting—is the manner in which dogmatists adopt, adhere to, and impose their beliefs on others.
At the individual level, gradients of dogmatism all have in common rigid, ideological beliefs, and while political and religious belief systems are assumed to be the most common targets of dogmatism, quite possibly some social science researcher might prove me wrong by discovering that significantly more people are dogmatic about parenting styles and sexual morality. But regardless of the issues involved, dogmatic minds are closed to new ideas and evidence that refutes their established beliefs. Displays of intolerance and discrimination towards others are justified by uncorroborated or unverifiable dogma that removes the dogmatist from the rational world of history, philosophy, and science. In the extreme, dogmatism plays out the psychological fantasies of fanatics who are devout followers of fundamentalist ideology, such as that seen in suicide missions and terrorist attacks. Among these dogmatists, there is a powerful temptation to join groups that appeal to the weakest link in the chain of their psychological being.
Working Toward A Psychological Definition of Dogmatism
A comprehensive psychological definition of dogmatism needs to capture the essence of its entire suite of cognitive, emotional, and behavior complexity, and it needs to do so with enough precision to render it capable of empirical validation. We will keep in mind that beneath the definition of each characteristic is a network of deep-rooted causes that have serious psychological and psychosocial consequences. What are the patterns of thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors that motivate and sustain dogmatic belief systems? Why do some people transfer their personal autonomy to external agents whose reasoning ability they glorify? What enables some leaders to command followers to surrender their own moral standards and commit atrocities that violate international laws or disregard universal codes of ethics? Why do some people declare that killing is wrong but rationalize its legitimacy when carried out in the name of God, democracy, or freedom? How do individuals develop polarized beliefs that legitimize casting groups of people into “us versus them” dichotomies that justify blame and retaliation against members of an out-group who then become scapegoats for dogmatists’ own unacknowledged weaknesses and failed identities? Why do some government leaders declare war and then simplify the complex with categorical rationalizations—win or lose, live or die, honorable or traitorous? Situating the conflict in a political or biblical context of righteous indignation makes their war noble and moral—a simple solution that prevents guilt, strips war of its horror, and turns flesh and blood into mere statistics. It is important to note the catalytic link between emotional vulnerability and dogmatism, especially during uncertain, fearful, or oppressive times, when vulnerable individuals abandon their moral and ethical principles. A compelling theory of dogmatism needs to address these questions as fully and open-mindedly as possible.
The following psychological definition of dogmatism provides the framework for the theory proposed in this book: Dogmatism is a personality trait that combines cognitive, emotional, and behavioral characteristics to personify prejudicial, close-minded belief systems that are pronounced with rigid certainty.17 As such, it reflects a style of thinking that is derivative of emotions, particularly anxiety, that narrow thought and energize behavior.
This is a psychological definition, but we cannot overlook certain social conditions that interact with psychological predispositions to unleash unconscionable, dogmatic authoritarian aggression (one of five behavioral characteristic of dogmatism). Although this book focuses on dogmatism as a psychological trait, its development does not independently originate in the psyche; it is clearly influenced by social phenomena. Particularly vulnerable are individuals whose personal risk factors combine with stressful social and cultural environments that suppress independent, rational thought.
If we are to understand the mass psychology of group behavior, a thorough knowledge of the culture’s history is necessary to contextualize group goals. Whether the group is predominately motivated to gain freedom, pursue a particular religious or political ideology, redress social injustice, or seek revenge, its manner of addressing complex issues requires an assessment of the players’ motives within broad historical, cultural, and political contexts—a daunting obligatory task. Dogmatism inevitably reflects an interaction of inextricably linked individual and institutional forces.
Behaviors that reflect the close-mindedness of dogmatism were present long before the conservative right clashed with the liberal left. Similarly, religious fundamentalists locked horns with secularists on battlegrounds that significantly predate the current conflict between creationists and evolutionary theorists, who seem unable to reconcile their differences. In addition, the demands of environmentalists collide with corporate game plans, feminists struggle against patriarchal power, and academics defend their turf in the very manner that advanced education warns against—a manner that betrays an open-minded pursuit of knowledge.
Despite philosophic and scientific advances made before, during, and after the Age of Reason, and despite scholarly contributions that emphasize the importance of open-minded inquiry, daunting social and political problems in the early years of this millennium are exacerbated by emotional excesses that gird dogmatism. The result is short-term quick fixes that, more often than not, work against the long-term interests of humanity. As we examine dogmatism’s unpleasant characteristics and harmful consequences to one’s self and associates (microdogmatism) and to social and cultural institutions (macrodogmatism), quite likely someone you know or have known will breathe vivid life into the black words on these white pages.
The question is, how objectively can we—you and I—assess psychological impediments that constrict our willingness to open-mindedly consider alternate views? … How accurately can you summarize countervailing ideas before contradicting them with your own? This does not mean that once you have fully considered opposing views you cannot arrive at a comfortable position and choose not to engage, at length, someone whose views significantly differ from your own. You may simply agree to disagree. But first, do you understand that with which you disagree? Genuine understanding requires active listening and hearing.
It is consoling to know that we are all capable of being somewhat rigid, even close-minded about some of our ideas some of the time. We are inclined to adopt beliefs that accompany the circumstances of our birth and habitually defend them in the absence of thoughtful examination. Beliefs maintained by a combination of complacency and habit are not necessarily dogmatic, nor do they lead to incontrovertible, implacable belief systems that hallmark dogmatism. Dogmatic believers, however, are proud of their unwavering belief systems, even though they would not want to be thought of as dogmatic or pig-headed. Their desire to keep such uncomplimentary awareness and judgment hidden is not any different from the rest of us who want to conceal our own unacceptable thoughts and emotions.
Flexible open-mindedness about value-laden belief systems concerning politics, religion, and sex—the three big adrenaline movers—is an ongoing conscientious struggle. Close encounters of our own closed minds are often too close for comfort.
As Korzybski noted back in 1958, the common tendency is for people to make hasty generalizations that lead to misevaluations and self-deception.18 We arrive at our beliefs for “non-rational reasons and we justify them after.”19 Those with the personality trait of dogmatism have a habit of doing this and generally lack awareness of the doctrinaire manner in which they hold their beliefs. Such insight would shatter their self-image—an image that needs to be continually propped up and preserved by agreement from others. To see themselves as dogmatic would be too chilling to reconcile. When challenged to open their minds about alternative ideas, their inclination is to quickly judge and dismiss (especially ideas that conflict with their own). In doing so, they preserve the illusion that they are rational and open-minded.
It is interesting to note that research suggests that once people adopt particular beliefs, they are less open to re-examining the validity of those beliefs from different perspectives.20 Reviewers of scientific research papers are far less likely to publish articles that do not support their own theoretical biases.21 They are not intellectually disabled, but they can be emotionally rigid and single-minded about beliefs and ideas, especially their own. Intelligent people who are capable of thinking through complex issues but choose instead to cling to traditional paradigms exhibit an “ideological immune system.”22 They are the academics who desperately seek to preserve a body of knowledge by immunizing themselves against foreign, cognitive intruders. After all, new ideas might germinate seeds of controversy that would threaten and destabilize their aura of intellectual integrity. Mathematical geniuses, acclaimed musicians and writers, and other highly intelligent people are not resistant to the errors of dogmatic protectionism.
This state of affairs is the opposite of what our intuition tells us it should be, yet “educated, intelligent, and successful adults rarely change their most fundamental presuppositions.”23 Psychologist David Perkins discovered that the connection between ideological rigidity and intelligence quotients unveiled surprising results: the higher the IQ, the greater the person’s inability to consider other viewpoints.24 Social psychology research indicates that very intelligent people and those with high self-esteem are more resistant to changing their views.25 However, other studies reveal modest correlations in the other direction: “The ability to overcome the effects of belief bias (or knowledge bias) was significantly related to cognitive ability in a formal reasoning task.”26 The results are therefore mixed, and more studies of belief inflexibility around values and formal reasoning are needed. It is possible that people with both types of cognitive rigidity invest time and energy bolstering their own convictions or trying to recruit and convince others because, “new and revolutionary systems of science tend to be resisted rather than welcomed with open arms, because every successful scientist has a vested intellectual, social, and even financial interest in maintaining the status quo. If every revolutionary new idea were welcomed with open arms, utter chaos would be the result.” The charismatically skilled who succeed at this mission leave important lessons for the rest of us.
Describing someone as an intelligent dogmatist may sound oxymoronic, but we would be naive to assume that all dogmatists are uneducated or of low intelligence. While dogmatism clearly indicates a defective style of rational thinking, it is not, strictly speaking, the product of intellectual deficiency. Something else is brewing beneath the surface. Dogmatic beliefs are driven by psychological needs and emotions that end up giving the appearance of intellectual limitation. As we shall see, beneath the surface there is a host of biological predispositions that interact with various other individual and environmental conditions to shape close-minded, inflexible thinking.
What Dogmatism Is Not
Dogmatism is not the opposite of critical thinking. Although much has been written about how to promote critical thinking skills such as inductive and deductive reasoning, abstract analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of conceptual models, less attention has been given to the deeper psychological conditions that seriously impair one’s ability to think critically. People who are prone to dogmatism can learn all the theory available on critical thinking, but if unmet psychological needs are pushing them in dogmatic directions, their minds will not be sufficiently open to turn theory into practice.
Dogmatism should also not be confused with the open-minded passionate, social activism that creates popular movements for social change. What distinguishes dogmatic activists from their non-dogmatic counterparts is the former’s arrogant unwillingness to examine an issue from different perspectives and their unjustified rejection of those with opposing beliefs (even though their personal rejection may not be apparent). Open-minded people speak out; they do not lash out. They inspire reflection because they neither oblige agreement nor disdain disagreement. In sharp contrast to self-righteous dogmatic rants that deny opposing views, open-minded, inclusive, passionate reason stirs action.
Zealous dogmatists can move society in extraordinary directions. When individual dogmatism ignites group dogmatism, little remains that is thoughtful or useful in social activism. These are the people who feel the urge to assert their beliefs every chance they get and fail to recognize that passion without reason is puerile, reason without passion is sterile, and reason without passion is fertile.
You might be wondering how dogmatists differ from fanatics. According to research, dogmatists, fanatics, and zealots are soul mates, with some distinctions.27 Linked y their emotional intensity, all are capable of unleashing spiteful, self-righteous vengeance. While not all of them wield sledgehammers to drive their beliefs into the thick skulls of nonbelievers, dogmatists, fanatics, and zealots are all rigidly and emotionally attached to views they adopt as inviolate truth, and they readily dismiss opposing ideas and the people who hold them. Fanatics and zealots, however, show excessive, frenzied enthusiasm for beliefs that have an absurd or bizarre quality. Overlapping qualities among dogmatists, fanatics, and zealots often blur the distinctions. In general, fanatics occupy what has commonly been referred to as the “lunatic fringe,” while dogmatists appear relatively more rational—both in the beliefs they hold and in their less dramatic manner of presenting them. Characteristics of dogmatism are also differentiated from personality disorders that have secured special recognition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These disorders, which have overlapping behavioral characteristics of dogmatism, include the antisocial personality disorder, which exhibits dogmatic, authoritarian aggression; the histrionic personality disorder, which exhibits a preoccupation with power and status; and the narcissistic personality disorder, with its vilification of the out-group and self-aggrandizement. These are all features or subtraits of dogmatism.28
The Trait of Open-mindedness
Why do some people become dogmatic while others do not? Psychologists are currently unable to answer this question, but we can clued that the personality trait of open-mindedness is an antidote to dogmatism, and people who are cognitively flexible plainly differ from those who are easily threatened, emotionally defensive, and dismissive of anyone who disagrees with them or even proffers opposing beliefs. Open-minded, cognitive elasticity is seen among those who are awestruck by the miraculous beauty of life; they do not need to confine its complexities to explicit, doctrinaire categories of presumed truth. In their personal lives, they are open to considering and accepting different views and have little if any need to change the beliefs and values of people who differ, unless opposing beliefs directly threaten their own or others’ freedom. Those with open cognitive systems can comfortably explore a topic as widely and deeply as the conversation takes them. They confront the issue, not the person, and rarely infer motives for an opponent’s stated beliefs or jump to conclusions when someone changes the topic. Condescending frowns, sarcasm, and patronizing voices are rare. In their presence, we are relaxed and yet poised to respond to whatever topic emerges, be it serious or silly. Able to laugh at themselves and the absurdities of life, open-minded people generally prefer a philosophic sense of humor that is without hostile, pretentious condemnation.29
Curious and open-minded, they resemble the Athenians of yore who so valued the pursuit of knowledge that they invented the first alphabet, philosophy, logic, principles of political democracy, poetry, plays, and the idea of schools. Open-minded people today are no exception. They recognize “the fallibility of one’s own opinions, the probability of bias in those opinions, and the danger of differentially weighting evidence according to personal preferences.”30 Willing to suspend judgment as far as humanly possible, they explore multiple views and are not subservient to the beliefs that underlie social conventions. Because their beliefs are autonomously determined, these people are not easily convinced that certain ideas are absolutely true, nor are they readily manipulated by propaganda. Similarly, because their acceptance, rejection, or reservations regarding social values are authentic, they are less vulnerable to external reinforcements of flattery or bribery. They can detect inherent biases and premature assumptions, accurately process new or challenging viewpoints about complex or controversial issues, and are capable of admitting errors in their own thinking, whereupon they revise their beliefs accordingly.
Open-minded people understand that a demolition act on opposing belief is relatively easy; the more difficult task is to distance themselves from personal convictions, to put their egos aside and let them rest awhile. Flexible of mind, they can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. They examine ideas that are based on stereotypical reasoning or incomplete information, and they recognize when personal needs shape, control, or distort information. At their best, they are invulnerable to manipulation. Their reasoning emanates from an open-minded appraisal of reality and they accept that eternal, universal truths are elusive. Truths are reasoned, conditional, and probable, not final and absolute. Many would agree with Seth Lloyd: “Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can’t be proved. They can only be tested again and again until only a fool would refuse to believe them.”31
Such a provisional stance is not to be confused with wishy-washy, ideological free fall. Open-minded people deliberate as long as necessary about important ethical and scientific principles that are derived from reason. And reason consistently triumphs over emotion, especially in matters concerning ethics and morality. To become better informed about their belief and disbelief systems, they examine the source of controversial facts and opinions and recognize that to rely only on information that substantiates their own beliefs reinforces their biases and stifles objective inquiry. They demonstrate cognitive permeability by openly modifying their previous views and assumptions as necessary. Able to suspend judgment and reflect on opposing ideas, they enjoy sharpening their ideas on the fine, abrasive steel of dissenting voices, agreeing that “minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.” They are humble seekers, trudging along a path that echoes Socrates’ dictum: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Socrates surrendered his life to the supremacy of such open-minded reasoning.
Finally, recognizing that the best use of one’s intelligence is to first understand oneself, open-minded people are able to examine their own psyches by peering into their genuine thoughts, feelings, and motives as objectively as humanly possible. This self-scrutiny can then be applied to psychological analyses of group motives to determine, for example, if a government is open-minded enough to willingly admit error and make the necessary readjustments.
McEwan, introduction to What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, 2006, p. Xvi.
Soyinka, Climate of Fear: The Quest for Dignity in a Dehumanized World, 2005, 118.
W. Allport, “What Is a Trait of Personality?” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 25 (1931): 368-72. Gordon Allport is still recognized as providing one of the earliest—and still one of the best—psychological definitions of a personality trait.
Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, 1999.
Batchelor, Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism, 1983, p. 41.
Rokeach, Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values, 1968. Rokeach states that the different components of attitude are not consistently defined. More than 40 years later, while social psychologists still have not reached complete agreement on the definition of an attitude, there appears to be some consensus on these three components.
Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, 2005, p. 52.
, p. 63.
C. Baltzly, “Who Are the Mysterious Dogmatists of ‘Adversus Mathematicus’ Ix 352? (Sexus Empiricus),” Ancient Philosophy 18 (1998): 145-71.
Sextus Empiricus was a Greek physician and philosopher who defined three schools of philosophy: the Dogmatic, the Academic, and the Skeptic. His three surviving works are Outlines of Pyrrhonism (three books on the practical and ethical skepticism of Pyrrho of Elis, ca. 360-275 BCE), Against the Dogmatics (five books dealing with the Logicians, the Physicists, and the Ethicists), and Against the Professors (six books: Grammarians, Rhetors, Geometers, Arithmeticians, Astrologers, and Musicians). The last two volumes critique the role of professors in the faculties of arts and science.
Suber, “Classical Skepticism: Issues and Problems,” http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/skept.htm This article reviews the rationale and motives of skeptics, academic skepticism, and dogmatism, and illustrates how the philosophic definition of dogmatism differs from the psychological definition. Philosophers claim that people can be dogmatists even if they are not absolutely certain of their beliefs. From a minimalist philosophic definition, “a dogmatist is one who is willing to assert at least one proposition to be true” (p. 10). This contrasts with the broader, psychological definition in this book, which incorporates emotional (primarily anxiety) and behavioral characteristics that are highly influential in the personality trait of dogmatism.
Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, 1997, p. 17.
Suber, “Classical Skepticism,” p. 32.
T. Jost, “The End of the End of Ideology,” American Psychologist, 61, no. 7 (2006): 651-70. Jost presents a good historical review of ideology and its various definitions. He notes that the term ideology “originated in the late 18th century when it was used mainly to refer to the science of ideas, a discipline that is now known as the sociology of knowledge” (p. 651).
This definition of dogmatism is derived from the work of Milton Rokeach, Robert Altemeyer, and myself, Judy J. Johnson.
Korzybski, Science and Sanity, 4th ed. 1958, p. xxxvi.
Shermer, “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Freud,” panel discussion, Nova, PBS, DVD, 2004.
Abell, and B. Singer, eds., Science and the Paranormal, 1981.
J. Mahoney, “Publication Prejudices: An Experimental Study of Confirmatory Bias in the Peer Review System,” Cognitive Research and Therapy 1 (1977): 161-75.
S. Snelson, “The Ideological Immune System,” Skeptic 4 (1993): 44-45.
Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 59.
Rhodes and W. Wood, “Self-Esteem and Intelligence Affect Influenceability: The Mediating Role of Message Reception,” Psychological Bulletin 111 (1992): 156-71.
Macpherson, and K.E. Stanovich, “Cognitive Ability, Thinking Dispositions, and Instructional Set as Predictors of Critical Thinking,” Learning and Individual Differences 17 (2007): 123.
Altemeyer, The Authoritarian Specter, pp. 212-13.
American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th, 1994.
Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1971. A philosophical, unhostile sense of humor is listed as a feature of Being-cognition—an open-minded style of thought that characterizes self-actualizers.
E. Stanovich, “Reasoning Independently of Prior Belief and Individual Differences in Actively Open-Minded Thinking,” Journal of Educational Psychology 89 (1997): 342-58. Stanovich cites researchers who, in the tradition of cognitive science, have “examined the influence of prior beliefs on argument evaluation and demonstrated how prior belief does bias human reasoning” (p. 342).
Lloyd, “Seth Lloyd,” in What we Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, 2006, p. 55.