Thirsting for God 12 – The Light and the Path

Posted: January 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thirsting for God | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thirsting for God 12 – The Light and the Path

This series is reflecting on Matthew Gallatin’s book, Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.

This chapter of the book reflects more on Matthew’s path toward realizing both the anachronistic nature of the idea that something had to be written down to be a teaching or instruction from God and the idea that reliance on a text alone could ever produce anything but unending fragmentation and division. A lot of his thoughts in this chapter would probably be more meaningful to someone with a history more like his, but I did find the idea around which the chapter revolved intriguing.

Matthew turns to the Psalter and Psalm 119:105 (Psalm 118:105 in the LXX).

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.

In the Orthodox understanding, the Holy Scriptures are the light which illuminate the path, but they are not the path itself. The path is our life in Christ according to the way (or Holy Tradition) of the Church. If you try to focus on the lamp instead of the path, if you try to make that which is intended to provide illumination the center of your attention, you’ll be blinded instead of guided.

So, although both are critical elements of the journey, Orthodox Christians sharply differentiate between the light that shines above the path (the Scriptures) and the path itself (Apostolic Tradition). For the path by itself cannot show us its destination, or give us reason to walk it. Nor can the light that illumines the way provide the solid earth on which we may confidently tread. Both are required, and both are the gifts of God. So for Orthodox Christians, the Bible and Tradition are dear friends, not enemies!

Ultimately, of course, the Word or Logos is the eternal Son. The Son is both our illumination and our way or path, and we find the way through union with Christ. But the path of union is within the pillar and ground of truth, the Church, described as the actual body of Christ. (If you don’t recognize my references, Paul wrote both those descriptions of the Church in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.) I had never considered the difference between a light and a path in quite that way before.

When Matthew stopped trying to place the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church in opposition to each other, he saw that things with which he had struggled, like infant baptism, actually fit easily into the context of both. That’s one example he uses because it’s a fairly widespread issue today (though I’ve never really understood why it is an issue at all), but the same thing is true of a number of places where people try to set the Holy Scriptures against the Church. Many of the disputes are constructed and artificial, and that’s probably why they crumbled before the whirlpool of deconstruction within which I live.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 3

Posted: December 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 3

17. Just as it is impossible for the eye to perceive sensible objects without the light of the sun, so the human intellect cannot engage in spiritual contemplation without the light of the Spirit. For physical light naturally illuminates the senses so that they may perceive physical bodies; while spiritual light illumines the intellect so that it can engage in contemplation and thus grasp what lies beyond the senses.

I appreciate St. Maximos’ comparison here between our ability to perceive with our physical and spiritual eyes. In both cases, we require illumination. Absent that illumination, we are in darkness.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 1

Posted: December 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Fourth Century) 1

12.  Divine grace cannot actualize the illumination of spiritual knowledge unless there is a natural faculty capable of receiving the illumination. But that faculty itself cannot actualize the illumination without the grace which God bestows.

This text captures the heart of the synergy between us and God. The work is done by God, healing us with his grace. But that grace requires that we turn our will toward God.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 13

Posted: April 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

46.  He who has been granted divine knowledge and has through love acquired its illumination will never be swept hither and thither by the demon of self-esteem. But he who has not yet been granted such knowledge will readily succumb to this demon. However, if in all that he does he keeps his gaze fixed on God, doing everything for His sake, he will with God’s help soon escape.

I mentioned earlier that the Fathers don’t tend to have our modern perspective on the issue of self-esteem. This text, where self-esteem is viewed as a demon, is a good illustration of that perspective. Reality is not such that a high self-esteem is good and a low self-esteem is bad as we often consider it today. Rather both high and low self-esteem, to the extent that we are focused on and esteeming ourselves, will ensnare us.

We need to respect ourselves as the good creation and image-bearer of God. But if we follow Christ, we will not esteem ourselves, but rather empty ourselves in and through love. Love is always the key that unlocks the Christian perspective of reality.