Escape from Reason

Francis Schaeffer, the Evangelical Protestant theologian, authored a book by the title Escape from Reason. He argued that modernity could only find a solid ground within a world grounded in the inerrancy of Scripture. This article does not engage Schaeffer’s work. Instead, it suggests that “Reason,” as popularly understood is a distortion of the proper Christian use of the word.

Reason has played an off-again, on-again role in Christian theology. St. John’s use of the word Logos [which can be translated, “reason”] as a term for the the Second Person of the Trinity (John 1:1), gave rise to easy connections between the reasonableness, or logicity, of the universe. This connection between the Logos and Reason, was used both to speak of the reasonableness of the universe as evidence of the truth of God’s existence, as well as basis for so-called “natural theology”: if all things are created through Christ the Logos, then it would seem possible to work from “all that is created” towards a full theological account of the world.

In the hands of the masters of the Enlightenment and their “enlightened successors,” Reason became the arbiter of all truth. For some, this Reason maintained a connection to Christ the Logos. For others, Christ the Logos seemed too irrational, and Reason became the only and independent basis for understanding all things.

My suggestions in this post will be that Christians have long been misled by the terminology of Logos/logos and have turned the equation upside-down, coming to precisely the wrong conclusions. I am venturing to the edge of Orthodox thought in saying this, but hope I do not cross boundaries and speak contrary to the Tradition.

St. John teaches us that “in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, the Logos was God. All things were created through Him (the Logos) and nothing was created apart from Him.”

It is important to note that the Logos of whom St. John speaks, is not an abstract principle. He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity – God who becomes incarnate – the God/Man, Jesus Christ. It is a matter of the Christian faith to understand that everything which exists has a unique logicity – but this is not the same thing as saying that everything which exists has a reason-based existence. It would be more accurate and revealing to say that everything that exists has a Christic basis. Everything that exists echoes the existence of Christ and longs to join the song of His praise.

Such language sounds like “mere poetry” to the modern ear, but the witness of the fathers hears far more. The witness is to a knowledge of the reality of creation – or of the “true reality” of creation known within the experience of the Church. Not all who see are able to see all that is. But those who do, bear witness to the logoi of created things – which reflect, not their “rational” structure, but their structure within the light of Christ.

By such knowledge, the miracle of the calming of the sea of Galillee seems not so strange, nor the multiplication of loaves. Many of the wonders of the sanctified life which  confound both scholar and layman, offer wonder and joy to the blessed, but no hint of confusion nor misunderstanding. The mystery of such miracles is consistent with the logoi and the Logos, but without any inherent relationship to an abstract which we term reason.

To say that all things have a “Christic” or “logistic” character explains how it is that Christ will “gather together into one all things” (Ephesians 1:10). This gives us a basis in Christ for the understanding of all things, but it does not establish a “reason” (or logos) independent of Christ. Those who speak of the use of “reason” in the interpretation of Scripture, as though the study of Scripture were a science, do not understand the nature of the Logos (and thus of true reason).

It may be true that there is a shadow of the true Logos to be found within modernity’s notion of Reason – but such a shadow cannot be interpreted without reference to the Logos Himself, nor can Reason be understood as some natural reality that stands on its own.

All things have their reason and their being in Christ. Apart from Him, we know nothing. When Christianity speaks of human beings as rational creatures, we are not making an assertion regarding their use of intelligence or logic. A human being who is mentally handicapped, even in the most extreme degree, is still “rational” in the sense the word is used by Christian Tradition. Such a human being is created in the image of the Logos, in a manner that is unique to humanity.

The rationality of the universe, in Christian usage, should be a reference to the universe’s relationship to the Logos, and not an elevation of an independent concept of rationality. The universe is indeed rational, but you have to know the Logos in order to know that.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.






43 responses to “Escape from Reason”

  1. Sam Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I was quite surprised to see your post today, as I just finished writing a post of my own on the very same topic and coming to the same conclusion.

    God bless,


  2. A Genius of Compression Avatar
    A Genius of Compression

    “The universe is indeed rational, but you have to know the Logos in order to know that…” – Father Stephen Freeman

    Romans 12:1 Therefore, I beseech you, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies [as] a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

    “Such language sounds like “mere poetry” to the modern ear, but the witness of the fathers hears far more. The witness is to a knowledge of the reality of creation – or of the “true reality” of creation known within the experience of the Church. Not all who see are able to see all that is. But those who do, bear witness to the logoi of created things – which reflect, not their “rational” structure, but their structure within the light of Christ.” -Father Stephen Freeman

    The thing about Super-Luminal Rationality is that it makes you completely LIGHT-headed.

    Psalm 36:9b in Your Light we see Light

  3. Clint Hale Avatar

    Isn’t that where the whole Apophatic Theology approach fits in? We can’t know God (by reason), but we know him via communion/union and are the recipients of his revelation to us through Christ by the Holy Spirit.

    I admit that is a brief and very too short description, but I just wanted to hit the highlight.

    Yes, I have been reading Lossky…

  4. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    I remember the quarrel between Schaeffer and Muggeridge about whether or not a videocamera sent back in time to the Garden of Eden would record a woman, a snake, and a fruit. Schaeffer insisted “of course”, and Muggeridge insisted “of course not”. I kept wondering what made the videocamera the arbeiter of truth.

  5. Henry Avatar

    This reminds me so much of the first teaching I heard on the Logos back in Greenville so very long ago. The pastor took off on, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made,” as the principle that creates and sustains everything in the universe. It was one of those mind opening moments I have remembered whenever I come across this or similar passages. I was given a glimpse into eternity that has stayed with me and a subject for subsequent meditations. Now if I can only dismiss the stock market and the disappointments of the past 40 years from my mind long enough to remember some things are eternal, perhaps I can once again hear the songs of the saints and angels.

  6. The Pilgrim Avatar

    Thank you Father!
    This is the main reason I finally left the Episcopal Church of my childhood, and embraced Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy holds the mystery and wonder that postmodern Protestantism has gotten rid of; embracing the rationalism of higher criticism and its modern child the Jesus Seminar.
    I have always maintained that, when it comes to understanding God, reason is highly overrated as a tool. Thank you for validating this.

  7. Selena Avatar

    Father, thank you for this post. I would be interested in your thoughts on Natural Law in the Roman Catholic Tradition.

  8. Steve Avatar

    Amen and Amen.

    An interesting comment, though not from an Orthodox point of view, is John Ralston Saul’s book Voltaire’s bastards: the dictatorship of Reason in the West..

    Postmoderns rightly revolt against the modernist cult of rationality, but what they need to realise is that it is not enough to reject false Reason, one must embrace the true Logos.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would say something that begins “Great minds think…,” except I’m not a great mind. I read your article after your comment, and appreciated your careful attention to logic and its limits. I had been working on this small post over the weekend in my spare time. I had not internet for my laptop, so I wrote and waited to yesterday to edit and post.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am far from having a deep familiarity with Roman Catholic Tradition – more like a “small acquaintance” would be more likely. I am generally uncomfortable with what passes for “Natural Law” if only because it has a continual tendency (like an undercurrent) pulling it away from God or rather a tendency to define terms and then “run with it.” I generally hold that theology must be rooted in the living ascetical experience of the Church – that is – our understanding of God (and His world) must be grounded in a continual transformation within the heart (“the renewing of the mind” or nous as in Romans 12). Natural Law can give the impression that we start with accepted First Principles and merely use our reason from there. It always feels like certain forms of Protestantism to me – and not the faith of the Fathers.

  11. CB Avatar

    This posting is very timely: today NPR is reporting that “Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve” ( I am curious how you would address the issues involved, either as a comment or a separate posting (I’m not turning up any articles on this subject using the search feature; if one is there, I’d be happy to be pointed to it instead). Thanks.

  12. Lina Avatar

    CB for a start. Go to ‘Just Genesis,’ bring up the Index and go to Adam.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    You might enjoy Dr Peter Bouteneff’s Ancient Christian Beginnings. He offers an excellent study of the use of Genesis 1-3 by fathers in the first several centuries. My prayer is that if Evangelicals are being shaken from their literalism that they know there is a much deeper choice and tradition, and that the emptiness of historical critical studies is a dead end (dead on arrival I would think).

  14. Andrew Battenti Avatar

    An exceedingly interesting space Father Stephen, bless you and all your’s for posting. And if I may, here’s the link:

  15. Joseph Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

    I was wondering if you have posted before, or may some time post something, on science. I’m Orthodox and yet I love science. I love physics, biology, astronomy, you name it. I was wondering what the Church Fathers might say about studying and enjoying the created order — doing science!

    Thank you, Father.


  16. Lewis Avatar


    How good to read your statement that you love science as if it is lovable: it is! For a unique, Christian perspective, visit this website — . The readings and resources do not offer an Orthodox perspective, rather, reasoned and logical perspectives on science from Christian thinking. They offer rejoinders to secular conclusions from science, which may help you in dialogue with nonChristian scientists.

    Simply stated, I think the beginning point for Orthodox thinkers is that there is God. Thus, all the arguments about how the world was created (and other science questions) are not threats to Orthodoxy: God created His world, and science may help us understand how complex and beautiful it is. Secular scientists begin with the premise that there is no God; they may discover God in the evidence or not. Many Protestant scientists approach science as the secular scientists do with the exception that they are compelled to use science to prove the existence of God; they get drawn into endless arguments because they are working backwards.

    Whether or not I am right about the Orthodox starting point, it has given me a peaceable confidence that I will find nothing in science that contradicts my faith in Christ Jesus, without whom science would be nothing.


  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    St. Basil’s Hexaemeron (The Six Days) is 4th century, but deeply familiar with the science of his day and uses it with great skill and ease. Orthodoxy, traditionally, is productive of whole civilizations. Its exile into a place of “religion” is an artifact of our secular culture. Much of modern Christianity is quite comfortable being on the outside of culture (or parts of culture) and simply critiques the culture or mimics it, etc. If you think of Byzantine Civilization, it was productive of music, art, science, textiles, etc. i.e. everything. Indeed, the primary cause of the Renaissance in the West, was the fall of Constantinople and the migrations of refugees to Italy and other places (to escape the Turks). They brought Byzantine learning which then became the source of the “new learning” in the West. Indeed, much of so-called “high Islamic” culture had its roots within its contacts with Byzantium.

  18. Joseph Avatar

    Thank you Lewis.

    I’m acquainted with Ross’ apologetics work, as well as AiG, and so on, but I’m more interested in what the Holy Church Fathers have to say in general about learning and enjoying the created order scientifically. 🙂

  19. Joseph Avatar

    Thanks, Father. I’ll look into the Hexaemeron.

  20. Joe Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for the thoughtful post. It seems to this reader that you are asserting Orthodox ontology and then trying to critique the use of reason in the area of epistemology by it. In other words, you assume the conclusion and yet you do not tell us how you got to it.

    On a practical level, how do I carry on a conversation with two Mormon elders who knock on my door and claim that God has given them wisdom, while referring to the epistle of St. James, that their view of God is the true one. How should an Orthodox Christian lead them to the true Logos? How do we know that we are right?

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    How do you get to anything? Reason itself cannot be derived beginning with reason. Everything has indeed a beginning, but there are some few things that are always givens, which we embrace or not. For myself, I begin with the Pascha of Christ and from there move backwards and forwards. All of this is given within Orthodox Tradition, and has existed since it was handed down by Christ. Mormons at the door? They follow a false prophet, whose own pseudo book, can, on the basis of internal evidence, be demonstrated to be a fraud. It is full of 19th century ideas and teachings that apply only to the 19th century. If they argue that it’s prophecy, then it is unlike any prophecy Christians have ever known. They are deeply deceived, blaspheme the Church, follow a man who was an adulterer and likely a paedophile. How much argument do we need? If their hearts are not looking for the truth (and they usually are not) there is no conversation worth having. Arguments can be endless.

  22. CB Avatar

    I looked at the Hexaemeron before I posted, and was struck by this:

    “The philosophers of Greece have made much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another.”

    This is what strikes me about modern science as well: it doesn’t stand still. From that this follows:

    “At all events let us prefer the simplicity of faith to the demonstrations of reason.”

    Fast-forwarding this line of reasoning to the present, I don’t think this is to deny reason, nor to deny reason its place. I think it is to say that faith and reason do not occupy the same place, and so cannot dislodge each other from their respective places. Either reason is my master, or I am the master of my reasoning, understanding that it has its place, a very important place, but not more important than, say, the heart. Orthodoxy for me, at least so far, has been a way of opening the heart. So far I haven’t found it a way of closing the mind, hence my question to Fr. Stephen, with its (thankfully) reassuring response.

  23. Joe Avatar

    Father Stephen, you have given an excellent response to Mormons and your response contains many helpful things that involve reasoning such as revelatory claims, biography, historical research, ethics, coherence, etc.. and I am sure that you considered these kinds of things when you considered Orthodoxy while still an Episcopal/Anglican priest as I did. While I am sure that it was not reason alone that brought you to Orthodoxy, I would be surprised if many reasonable arguments did not play a role in your journey. There are actually many, many instances of persons changing beliefs and worldviews based on arguments or at least arguments helped them along the way in changing their worldviews. As our holy Elders teach we should not be argumentative or quarrelsome but we should follow the apostles,like Peter and Paul, who gave a reason for the hope within them which it seems was more than mere asserting Truth and ones experience but actually presenting reasons and evidence as you have done with the Mormons. I appreciate your presentation of Orthodox ontology in this post but I see the God given tools of reasoning and evidence involved in leading a person to the Logos as well. It was certainly part of my journey from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy.

  24. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    Recently Fr. Tom Hopko podcasted a “book report” on the Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis. On that basis, I bought a copy. I believe that the structured logic that you’re looking for re: “In other words, you assume the conclusion and yet you do not tell us how you got to it” may be found therein. It’s quite short and remarkably thorough (though a bit dense; it’s clearly a philosophy book).

    If I could pass on one tip that I picked up from Fr. Tom…Lewis’ use of the term “Tao” was simply shorthand for intrinsic knowledge that we’re all created with. It’s not necessarily an endorsement of Zen Buddhism.

  25. Joe Avatar

    Hi Brantly,
    Abolition of Man is a good book and I have read it numerous times as well as most of Lewis’ work. I also appreciate the podcasts of Fr. Thomas Hopko who is a great Orthodox example of interacting with modern scholarship from an Orthodox perspective. Have your read Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” where Lewis begins with the moral law and moves from there to Christ? I think Lewis is a great example of how reason can be used in an Orthodox christian life.

  26. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    After I clicked through your name to get to your website, I realized that you probably already *HAD* read “Abolition of Man”. 🙂

    It was just on my mind, and somewhat on topic, so I thought I’d pass it along.

    I haven’t read many of Lewis’ works, apart from the Narnia chronicles and the odd quotes that you see here and there. It’s clear though that he was definitely an intelligent person. From what I’m reading, I definitely am inspired by both his writings and by his own conversion story. While I can’t go as far as some do (e.g. wryly referring to him as “Our Father among the Saints, C.S. Lewis”), I do believe that by God’s grace he had insights into how we as Christians are to relate to both the modern world and to the faith that has been “traditioned” to us.

  27. Joe Avatar

    I don’t know if you are aware but the Orthodox Journal “Road to Emmaus” had a whole journal critiquing CS Lewis from an Orthodox perspective. One journal entry on Lewis may be read at . I think you will enjoy the read. PAX.

  28. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    Outstanding Joe! Thanks!

    As a die-hard Tolkien fan (I once drew ridicule at a party for drawing a detailed map of Arda to show the locations of Aman, Numenor and Middle Earth), I appreciated the context that Lewis’ fantasy works were placed in.

    As the article pointed out, making sure that we understand Lewis was not Orthodox in no way diminishes the worth or the truth of his writings. I simply want to take care that in death, we don’t “make” him Orthodox when it was clear that he was exposed to it and chose not to be during his life.

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    I must take issue with your conclusion that “Lewis was exposed to Orthodoxy and did not choose it.” Lewis died in November of 1963. The first English text with a relatively complete treatment of Orthodoxy was not published until 1962 by then Timothy Ware. Orthodoxy barely existed as an option in the West, and conversions were highly discouraged. Ware was extremely patient in his own journey, being discouraged by the Orthodox many times.

    I know Met. Kallistos (T. Ware) and and am acquainted with just how complex the Orthodox made that journey for others at the time. Abp. Dmitri (retired of the OCA South) converted in the 1940’s when he and his sister were teenagers. However, it was not all that easy for them either. Vladika Dmitri says that he was 21 before he ever heard any of the liturgy in English.

    Lewis certainly chose to be as “orthodox” as he could within his circumstances, carefully ignoring the temptation to form opinions and instead asking “what is the faith of the Church” by which he meant the “fathers.” His introduction to the MacMillan edition of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word is an excellent defense of the fathers and Tradition. His later essay on women’s ordination is a classic in its feel and understanding of Tradition and its importance. Met. Kallistos referred to him, at an All-American Council of the OCA as “that anonymous Orthodox,” which was greeted with an ovation.
    Lewis visited the Greek Church (in Greece) and commented that he thought it was the most pure form of the Christian faith. But, again, that’s not the same thing as describing
    Orthodoxy as an option.
    I would add that for many today, Orthodoxy is barely an option for a variety of reasons, some of which lay squarely at the feet of us Orthodox. May God have mercy on us.
    But 1962 is but a short time ago (for some of us). Many live in communities where there is either no Orthodox Church, or no viable Orthodox Church. The grace of God along with God’s good time will make a great difference.
    I will gladly extend every mercy in my thought about Lewis (as well as others). I can think of few Christians writers in the English language who have been more important in the articulation of the Christian faith in modern times than Lewis. Many Orthodox, both convert and non-convert, owe much to him.
    I understand not imputing to him something that was not formally his in this life, but spiritual discernment, as well as kindness, should not begrudge him the kind appellations that others are willing to extend to him. I would repeat, I do not think it is at all accurate to say that he “refused” the option of Orthodoxy.

  30. Andrew Battenti Avatar

    “The universe is indeed rational, but you have to know the Logos in order to know that”.

    Thank you Father.

  31. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    Father Bless!

    You’re correct of course that the “bar” to enter Orthodoxy was much higher for English speakers during Lewis’ time.

    As I said in one of my earlier comments, I know very little about Lewis. This should have been my first warning that I should keep my mouth shut, but I’m not very smart. Having said that, the article that Joe linked to simply said that he’d been to Orthodox services, which tells me that he at least knew A) that Orthodoxy existed and B) that it was different in content than Anglicanism. The quote that you proffer of him describing Orthodoxy as the “purest form of Christianity” bears this out.

    Perhaps my built-in American penchant for wanting to label things has shone through a little too strongly here! I’m not one of these “hardliners” that believes the heterodox are “goin’ to hell” (to use one of the aphorisms from my Southern Baptist roots 😉 ) simply because they’re not Orthodox. As the Tradition holds: We know where the Church is….we do NOT know where it is not. C.S. Lewis had insights to the “faith once delivered to the saints” that I will likely never have, and for this, I DO hold him in honor.

    In any case, I could not agree more about extending mercy in my thoughts to others: One of the most cherished hopes I have is of seeing my Grandfather (who was not Orthodox) again. I pray for this fervently.

    Asking forgiveness for any offense,

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    Bradley, no offense taken. My main concern was to remind us all of just how difficult it once was (and still is in many cases) to become Orthodox, and young our mission is in this part of the world. I am not sure what Lewis would have done in our present situation – I do not think he would ever have become Roman Catholic (based on the tensions within his relationship with Tolkein on this matter). But I do not think he would have remained Anglican with women priests, ordained, practicing homosexuals and the rest of the new revisions. Not unless his clearly stated positions changed. I personally think he would have found his way into the orbit of Met. Kallistos Ware at Oxford, a circle far more in his image. But, of course, this is my own idle speculations. I deeply appreciate his humility with regard to his own salvation (as illustrated in The Great Divorce), as well as his clear vision with regard to liberal Christianity demonstrated in the same book.

    I pray that you will indeed see your grandfather again and rejoice.
    Forgive me if my reaction caused any offense. May God keep us all!
    Fr. Stephen

  33. Darlene Avatar

    I also see the importance of “the God given tools of reasoning and evidence involved in leading a person to the Logos.” St.Paul instructs us to become all things to all men. The particular manner in which I present the Logos to a graduate student majoring in philosophy would be quite different than my approach with a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer who never went past the eighth grade.

    Fr. Stephen,
    I struggle with what I perceive to be a certain mindset prevalent within Orthodoxy (at least the Orthodoxy which I encounter). Some time ago my husband asked an Orthodox priest if most of the folks in his parish could defend their faith (religious beliefs). The priest replied, “No.” When asked if this bothered the priest he replied, “No.” He went on to explain that they come to the Divine Liturgy and participate in the life of the Church and that is sufficient. To bolster his view he spoke of his pious grandmother whose faith he admired, yet it was very unlikely that should would have been able to defend her faith or refer to scripture in any knowledgeable context. As a neophyte to the Orthodox faith, I find this sort of understanding to be flawed and untenable. The new generation of cradle Orthodox raised in this country are not going to remain in the Church simply by attending the Divine Liturgy alone. They need to know why they believe what they believe. It often seems that converts to Orthodoxy acknowledge this, because the difficult task of examining the Church and putting the faith to the test was part of the process.

    In this day and age where many ideologies are competing for legitimacy and are given a ‘voice’ through all the various media, in addition to the climate at most institutions of higher learning, it would behoove the clergy to educate their flock as to the veracity of the Orthodox faith. It is, after all, defensible is it not?

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    The fact that this blog exists obviously illustrates my commitment to teaching. However, Orthodoxy is not a subset of something else, such that it can “become all things to all people.” Of course people should understand their faith, and give a “ready answer for the hope that lies within them.” I often take a position that is critical of “reason” per se, because modernity misuses reason. I do not suggest that we should be “unreasonable,” but that the largeness of the truth that resides within the Orthodox faith is often far more than anyone can easily express. My effort in these articles, often suggests alternate ways of approaching these things. By the mercies and grace of God, hundreds of people have come to the Orthodox faith in part through the ministry God has given, including being part of establishing about a half-dozen missions. The Elder Paisios said that a man could be converted by “simply seeing a fox cross the road,” which, of course is not the normal way of sharing the faith. But we do not bring people to the Church or to Christ by persuasion, but by the Holy Spirit, which requires the right word to the right person at the right time. Thus patience, kindness, mercy, etc. are of greater use than argument. Of course there are arguments to be throught through and reasonings to be encountered. My own journey to Orthodoxy was generally not occupied with such questions (I accepted the truth of the Orthodox faith at least 20 years before I converted). The questions were far more existential – matters of the heart.

    My experience of priests is different than you have described. As a priest of the OCA in the Diocese of the South, I live in a setting in which Orthodoxy is primarily missionary in its existence. It is a long slow work, but the diocese has taken on more and more maturity as the years go on – and plays a vital part within Orthodoxy in the U.S. At one point not long ago, nearly half the students in one of the US seminaries was from the South. The majority of my ministry (and that of others in the OCA South) is missionary work – not only to inquirers and catechumens, but in the continuing spiritual formation of my congregation. What may be going on elsewhere, I cannot account for. However, I would be cautious in criticizing a priest in the work he is doing. Things that sound important and reasonable to the convert, sound protestant or just “odd” to some within Orthodoxy, depending on their experience. I am called to be faithful with the little I’ve been given, as are we all.

  35. CB Avatar

    ‘She and her friends also talked theology, but just as their political ideas had no connection at all to the lives of ordinary people, their theology floated far above the actual Church. There was much they might have learned, she reflected later in life, from “any old beggar woman hard at her Sunday prostrations in church.” For many intellectuals, the Church was an idea or a set of abstract values, not a community in which one actually lives.’

  36. Andrew Battenti Avatar

    Fr. Stephen if I may,

    Refreshingly radical yet wholly orthodox is how I’d describe your ministry. Human and authentic. Somehow, one really gets the sense that the Lord has been.

    Thank you.

  37. Darlene Avatar

    Just so you know, I wasn’t implicating you in any of my comments. 🙂 You are doing your part to educate the masses about Orthodoxy, although it seems you prefer to do it in ways that shed a negative light upon reason. However, I’ve still got a few questions swimming around as a result of your response.

    You said, “Orthodoxy is not a subset of something else, such that it can “become all things to all people.”

    This seems to be a false dichotomy you’ve advanced. No, Orthodoxy is not a “subset” of anything, but what’s that have to do with St. Paul’s admonition to “become all things to all men?” The apostle is speaking precisely of presenting the Gospel to all, and tayloring it to the specific needs of particular groups of people, i.e. Jews, those under the law, those outside the law, the weak, etc. His point was that he might be able to preach the gospel in such a way that those from differing backgrounds would receive it. For St. Paul’s desire was that he might “save some.”

    If the Orthodox Church is the “one, holy, apostolic Church founded by Christ” (which I think you believe it is), then one should not take issue with “becoming all things to all men.” Rather, one should seek to employ various methods in order that many are converted and received into the Orthodox Church. Furthermore, one necessarily might use reason to accomplish this, even in its less than pristine {:-)} westernized form.

    You said, “…but the largeness of the truth that resides in the Orthodox faith is often far more than anyone can easily express.”

    Surely Father, there are the basics that can be presented initially. There is the “milk” of the word that is palatable to many. The apostles and those that suceeded them were able to express the faith and the gospel in order that their hearers might understand and be converted. Orthodoxy is not really that complicated to explain in its basic form, otherwise it would only be suitable for intellectuals. But if, as you say, the truth in Orthodoxy is so large that it is difficult to express, would it not seem reasonable to find ways to break it down that make it palatable for the masses?

    You said, “But we do not bring people to the Church or to Christ by persuasion, but by the Holy Spirit, which requires the right word, to the right person, at the right time.”

    Again, I think this comment brings at variance ideas that are not mutally opposed to one another. Persuasion is not antithetical to the Holy Spirit, but rather can be very effective in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. After all, St. Paul said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.” St. Jude urged us to “convince some who doubt.” I cannot agree that persuasion is not involved in giving “the right word, at the right time, to the right person.” Thus, I would contend that “patience, kindness, and mercy” can be used in irenic discourse and argumentation. Argumentation, reason, and persuasion need not be dirty words that belong only to unfavorable concepts and situations.

    While your journey to Orthodoxy may not have been composed of elements occupied with the need to reason and argue, such is not the case for everyone. I had to argue and reason my way through many propositions that appeared quite foreign and odd. Often times, I longed for a person on the other end with whom I could have lively and challenging discourse. Even now I long for such within Orthodoxy because not all the questions have been settled for me. Partly, I think, because of inadequate (incomplete) catechesis, and partly because of my nature to be inquisitive.

    I think you juxtapose reason in such a way so as to extract it from Orthodoxy, thereby relegating it to an expendable category. The result is that a profitable means in which to communicate, catechize, and inform others about the faith, whether they be within the Orthodox Church or outside of it, is neglected.

    Forgive me if I have offended you. It is not my intent to do so.

  38. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    I’m sure Fr Stephen will have some words for you. I hope you and he will forgive my longwinded-ness.

    I hear you, believe me. I wish I could come over to your place and share a pot of tea and thrash through whatever you need to with you, as often as you need it 🙂

    I came to Orthodoxy very much as a thinking person. (I don’t think I “live in my head”, but my family has told me I was always a thinker, even as a child.) The question that started me on the path, about 12 years ago now, was exactly “What is ‘The Gospel’?” The answer I ended up with was “the Resurrection of Christ and all it means”, which as you know is the centrality of Orthodoxy. In the sermons in the book of Acts, the narrative of Israel is presented, with the drive being to the Resurrection “according to the Scriptures” – as the next and climactic event in that narrative; it was at that point that people either wanted to know more, or a riot broke out… St Paul was certainly speaking reasonably, but the point he came to was something that was beyond reason. As N.T. Wright says, you don’t have to have a post Enlightenment, scientistic way of viewing things to know that the dead don’t rise; everyone in the ancient world knew *that*.

    Orthodoxy does not devalue reason. The greatest of our church Fathers used their intellects brilliantly. And they all understood that the intellect can only go so far. I think St Paul knew that, too. Sometimes he even seems to be grasping for words, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Meaning of Christ. In saying he must become “all things to all people”, surely he knew pastorally that the “basics that can be presented initially” would vary, according to the need, and might sometimes not really have much to do with rational argument. We are not told many details about his “methods”. We do know that when he encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus, Jesus did not lay out a rational argument…

    But American Protestantism (as so much of the American ethos given our history) thrives on rational argument, and that poses some difficulty in acquiring an Orthodox phronema (ya like my fancy theological word?!). I’ve experienced total “intellectual satisfaction” in Orthodoxy – and that ultimately is not the point; humility, sanctity, union with God do not require it. God is gracious to give us what we need, even to the satisfaction of the intellect – and He calls us beyond that, to self-giving love and total humility, for the true conversion of the heart. This is what Fr Stephen is trying to come at; the angles he takes to approach it go around our insistence on rational argument, which can inoculate us against the conversion of the heart.

    I’ve experienced terrific urges to try to argue people to the Faith. I’ve had to squelch them, not always effectively. When I was inquiring into Orthodoxy, I was really turned off by the “convertitis” I encountered; I’m sure I have been like that to some degree, especially with my close friends with whom I feel safe, but most of the time I try not to be. That doesn’t keep me from pointing out some things about Orthodoxy I think people need to know rationally; I try to do that with great care, and I’m not sure it helps the conversion of the heart. The urge “to employ various methods in order that many are converted” is a tenet of revivalist Protestantism. The way of Orthodox missionaries is to go to a place and start having services there. With the way Christian history has worked out, I think it’s very much more difficult now than in the days of Sts Cyril and Methodius.

    Sending you a virtual hug, and asking your forgiveness if I’ve offended you. Email me if you want at ldames at pacific dot net.


  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    Your points, viz. reason, are well made, particularly with regard to St. Paul “becoming all things to all men” – I pushed my point too far. I would suggest, still, that “persuade” need not mean “having a better argument.” One of the reasons (if you will) that I make a certain opposition to “reason” as moderns style it, is that I don’t think people are very reasonable. Math is reasonable, as are many things, but I have not found people to be very much so. Because I do indeed care about the success of the gospel, it’s been an important question for me. It begins with the nature of a Biblical hermeneutic that is rooted in a Traditional reading rather than a rational reading of Scripture, a Traditional reading first taught by Christ. I do not think there can be a truly “rational” reading because the Scriptures are a verbal icon of Christ, and not a syllogism. There is a “reason” to them by that reason is the Logos Himself.

    I have no trust in the sufficiency of my arguments (as in being a help in persuading someone as an aid to the Holy Spirit). I believe that I should do what I’m commanded and at the end of the day say, “At most, I am an unprofitable servant.” I’ll readily consent that there is a mystery involved, but if I begin to measure my role, then it leads to madness and deception.

    I am far too aware of the gifts that I have, and spent too much of my life aware of them. To say that I am an ignorant man is the “beginning of wisdom.” Coming to know that more fully is growth in wisdom. I do not know how to fix someone (I thought I do do just about anything when I finished seminary in 1980). The grace of the sacraments is real (including the priesthood) but grace and “talent” are very different things.

    What the world needs from me is for me to acquire the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Peace, then thousands around me can be saved. Being smart isn’t going to save us. It’s useful, sometimes, to be smart, but it’s like anything else – a two-edged sword. I like to write. I hate to write argumentation – I feel distant from God and from the partner in such a conversation. Job came to know he was an ignorant man – and it was a path to holiness.

    The nature of apophatic theology is to pursue what cannot be known because He has made Himself known. But it requires a discipline of “not knowing.” I find that the pursuit of theology through reason fails. It accumulates knowledge, but doesn’t know anything. “Saving” knowledge is hard to come by – for me personally – and for others. If I’m trying to do anything in this blog it’s to shed some light on a path that not many know about, and even fewer take – though it is the path taught by the spiritual fathers of the Church.

    But, I do cede your points, though I’ve not yet made mine. There are not enough words.

    Those who know me best would probably not describe me as humble. That’s why I’m shooting for ignorant. I have a better chance of getting there… 🙂

  40. BV Avatar

    Amen and Amen.

  41. mark Avatar

    Reading this dialogue I’ve thought of a few things. First I suppose I see the use of reason and acquisition of knowledge as taking its place rather naturally and un-self-conciously, in those few people who do the one thing needful: pursue the Kingdom of Heaven. If this is the solitary aim (an aim identical with struggling to acquire the Spirit of Peace), then everything else naturally falls into place. A time for study, for discussion, etc.
    Also I realized something several years ago, when a theistic scientist was publically “challenged” by a fellow scientist to defend his faith by quoting St Peter’s epistle, that he should have a “ready answer for the hope that lies within him”. This was sort of like a dare. The theist did offer a defense (seemed flat to me; I suspect all of his rational defense had nothing to do with the real reasons he held faith his heart). Looking at that scripture in context, it seems it’s Christians who remain full of hope under persecution or during suffering who should be ready to give a reason for thier hope (here I think the reason would be easy enough for anyone to give: because I believe in the ressurection of the Christ and the life of the world to come). I also realized that this scripture specifically seems to imply that we should only be prepared to offer an explanation when someone inquires of us specifically about the *hope* they already see in us. In this case, such people already see something beautiful and otherworldly in us (by the Holy Spirit), and such people are then ready to receive the right word as it is the right time for them. This would be a case where the Spirit of Truth residing in the hope-filled person would be salvific, but only for those who already have eyes to see.
    In the case of the atheistic scientist’s challenge, his vision was clouded and he saw no hope he only wished to argue. A silent smile would be a more powerful response.

    It seems to me that we are to become exacly who God has created us to be; healed and whole through our life in Christ. Those with great minds will use them, naturally. But only a transfigured and illumined mind will accomplish God’s work, no matter the intellectual capacity or knowledge.
    Especially in our age of cold love and cynicism about truth, what the world needs is holy people not articulate arguments. This is the only viable persuasion, even where articulate arguments are also present. And anyone convinced by argument alone, still hasn’t really converted anyway in his deep heart. Much healing has to come and movement away from life in the mind alone, if such a person will really taste salvation and not eventually apostasize.

    I love this story from the famous Lutheran pastor who witnessed the power of non-intellectual, inelloquant faith:

    Let me interrupt to tell you about another Orthodox Christian. He was not a priest, but a simple farmer. In our country, farmers are almost always illiterate, or nearly so. He had read his Bible well, but other than that he had never read a book. Now he was in the same cell with professors, academicians, and other men of high culture who had been put in jail by the Communists. And this poor farmer tried to bring to Christ a member of the Academy of Science. But in return, he received only mockery.

    “Gentlemen, come hear what this man says to us. He mocks us. He says Jesus smiles at him. Show me, how does He smile?”

    That was one of the grandest moments of my life. The farmer became very, very earnest. His face began to shine. In the Church today there are pastors and theologians who can’t believe the whole Bible. They believe half of it, a quarter of it. Somehow they can’t believe the miracles. I can believe the whole of it because I have seen miracles. I have seen transfigurations — not like that of Jesus, but something apart. I have seen faces shining.

    A smile appeared on the face of that farmer. I would like to be a painter to be able to paint that smile. There was a streak of sadness in it because of the lost soul of the scientist. But there was so much hope in that smile. And there was so much love and so much compassion, and a yearning that this soul should be saved. The whole beauty of heaven was in the smile on that face. The face was dirty and unwashed, but it held the beautiful smile of heaven.

    The professor bowed his head and said, “Sir, you are right. You have seen Jesus. He has smiled at you.”

  42. Drewster2000 Avatar


    Well said. I hope you don’t mind me being inspired by your comments and springboarding off them.

    Fr. Stephen,

    I very much appreciated this post. If you don’t mind, I’m going to attempt a restating of the main idea, putting it more into “milk” form for myself and others who don’t live in the world of such fancy words:

    We live in a world that believes in human effort. This is very subtle. Though now the clouds of postmodernism are forming overhead, a lot of us still think we can achieve everything through our own power. In fact, why should converting others to the faith be approached any differently?

    The flaw in this stance is that it is a lie: we CANNOT do everything through our own power; we are doing well to rise in the morning and say yes to God throughout the day – let alone saving the world.

    “Be ready to answer for the hope that lies within you” was spoken to normal everyday people. It wasn’t calling them to be proper theologians. Another place in the Bible we are told that when we are persecuted, we are not to prepare ahead of time what we will say, but that the words will be provided for us.

    This is because we will simply be answering with our lives – which are in Christ. Our response could be an eloquent speech, but that will be because that’s what comes out; it’s just part of who we are. It could be a glowing smile, like on the face of Mark’s farmer. It could be us noticing their hunger and offering food, their tiredness and offering them a place to sit or a cup of water.

    We are to respond with the Christ that is within us – whatever form that takes. It is not that reason is excluded from this situation, just that reason is not king. Arguments and logic are only one of the tools, one of the possible expressions of Christ inside us that comes out to meet that accuser where they are.

    It is ultimately Christ that saves, creates, cares for, loves, holds us together – not reason. Knowing the tenets of your Christianity is good; knowing Christ is better. If you are only able to accomplish one of these things, choose the latter.

    hope this helps, drew

  43. dee Avatar

    I am very glad I stumbled upon another gem of a post, especially:
    “The universe is indeed rational, but you have to know the Logos in order to know that”.

    As a Greek I always loved the most natural/spontaneous understanding of the word Logos in greek which is simply “meaning”/”point”, as in the phrase: “what is the ‘point’ of all this?” or “what is the ‘meaning’ of existence?”, the modern greek equivalent would be “Noima”,( though that has a different meaning in ancient greek.) Nothing really makes any sense without it and eveything makes total sense with it…
    It is the lack of real meaning that scares people more than any pain.

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