The Combustion of Spiritual Knowledge

A follow-up to my last post, “Sifting the Wheat“. Someone has written in response with the following criticism:

I thoroughly agree with your stated preference in pedagogy. But if I’m right that human beings can enjoy a knowledge of the Truth only through faith as distinct from perception and intellection (this I believe is the meaning of “fideism), and if—as I confidently assume—you as a Christian are a fideist, then I must ask whether you really want to hold that “clear and careful thought cannot but lead to the Truth”. It would seem to me that while Truth must be consistent with “clear and careful thought”, the latter in and of itself is insufficient to lead to the former.

First, this is not what fideism means; the fideist is the person who supposes that “knowledge of the Truth” (that is, God) is impossible and that we must therefore content ourselves in this life with “blind” faith (contra Hebrews 11:1).

Second, not all Christians are fideists, and I’m certainly not; how a reader of Anamn?sis could have become so “confident” about something so wide of the mark is certainly a puzzle, but of course “M?y? is a greater mystery than ?tm?“.

Third, my correspondent is certainly mistaken in thinking that perception and a fortiori intellection yield no knowledge of a spiritual order; he favors, he says, a dialectical pedagogy, but elenchos would be worthless if it didn’t lead to gnosis.

The last sentence of this communication has the paradoxical force of every half-truth. True enough, dianoia—that is, discursive thought—is insufficient “in and of itself”. But if it is wielded “clearly and carefully”, it can open up and out of itself into noesis, which is intuitive and not merely discursive, immediate and not indirect.

Here is the way I make the point in my book of Advice to the Serious Seeker:

Wood is not fire any more than logic is intuitive insight. But if you rub two pieces of wood together with sufficient intensity, heat is produced, and suddenly a flame springs forth. So it is with our thoughts. We cannot exactly rub them together, but we can bring them into contact in a mode befitting their kind of reality, and we can press them against each other by applying the pressure of logical consistency. Handle them loosely—let them mean just anything, show no concern for sequence, coherence, or proportion—and they will remain mere mental notions. But handle them with discipline and rigor, and they can become with God’s help supports for the combustion of spiritual knowledge (pp. 19-20).

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