Quote for the Day

For the sages say that it is impossible for rational knowledge of God to coexist with the direct experience of God, or for conceptual knowledge of God to coexist with immediate perception of God.

— St. Maximus the Confessor, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ

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  1. I fully agree with what I think is the intent of this quote.
    “Impossible” may be a bit too strong a word, taking into account an optimistic view of at least God’s original intent for all our human faculties (intuitive as well as cognitive) to work together toward one end, and avoiding for the moment arguments about just how far the Fall has corrupted that intent; but I surely agree that such coexistence is terribly rare and could easily appear impossible. I guess if you find someone who seems to enjoy both, you could treasure the rare value in that one!

    Does anyone feel that this kind of personal unity is something worth aiming at?


  2. I certainly do. I think the danger in Maximus’ perspective is that it could lead to what Ken Wilber calls the “pre/trans” fallacy: the idea that since we cannot apprehend God through rationality, mysticism must therefore be non-rational… but that pre-rational experience is just as “mystical” as is post-rational experience. Granted, God’s omnipresence means that on one level everything is “mystical,” but to experience the fullness of the mystery, we need to answer the call to go beyond the limits of the rational mind, which implies reaching the fullness of our cognitive faculties and then going beyond them. The danger is in thinking that some sort of regressive, infantile experience is fully mystical just because it is non-rational: which would lead to a state of arrested spiritual development.

  3. Yes, Carl, that’s right. I greatly value Wilber’s “pre/trans” insight. I have heard it said that reason (or the rational, cognitive mind) makes an excellent servant of the Spirit but a terrible master.

    I have found the very experience of trying to comprehend divine mysteries with the mind, and failing, to be a step of growth in coming to know the surpassing wonder and glory and beauty of what is properly perceived directly, immediately, as in Maximus’s quote. We do not abandon our reason before using it to its fullness and exhausting it on the trans-rational, supernatural substance which the Bible calls faith: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    It is a terrible mistake (and our churches are full of this) to mis-identify learning and rational knowledge as equivalent to spiritual reality or experience; it is equally harmful to identify spiritual knowledge as inherently irrational or anti-rational. I think that God loves to surprise us with experiences of His presence (as He did to Carl when he was a teenager) and then let us do what we can to try to understand and explain these things with our mind. But at the end of the experiment we re-encounter a post-rational God and (I expect) fall in love with Him all over again, even more deeply than we did the first time!

    Blessings in the pursuit of the knowledge of Him,

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