Thursday, November 19, 2015

True Love of Wisdom

Dear Parish Faithful,
I have a new book that I am looking through, entitled Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers.

With such a title, you may justifiably think that it covers some of the great philosophers throughout history, with a good deal of admiration, if not exaggeration, expressed in the title by referring to them as "divine."  I could understand that being said of such philosophers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, for many of their insights have been absorbed, refined and incorporated into Christian theology, especially the theology of the great Church Fathers.  (Yet, I would have a very time referring to such philosophers as, for example, Descarte or Satre as "divine!").

However, this book is actually an anthology of wonderful texts taken from the saints of the Church — theologians, ascetics, pastors, etc.  If "philosophy" means the "love of wisdom" — philia in Gk. is one of the words for "love;" and sophia is the Gk. word for "wisdom" — then the great saints were true lovers of wisdom, and their pursuit of wisdom was their life's vocation. 

Of course, Wisdom is also one of the key scriptural titles for Christ - the eternal Wisdom (Sophia) of God.  In this light, the Christian "love of wisdom" is synonymous with the love of Christ. Any and all other concepts of wisdom found in other religions, philosophical systems or cultural expressions could be interpreted as an intuition that divine Wisdom did exist and that a lifetime of pursuing such wisdom was a profoundly worthy enterprise.  That is why Christians can appreciate genuine philosophers even outside of the Christian revelation.

Another way of looking at this is closely related:  Many of the Church Fathers referred to the Gospel as the "true philosophy" that was not a matter of speculation, but rather of revelation.  All of the ancient, pre-Christian claims about seeking, finding and loving wisdom were so many anticipations of the true philosophy that came down from heaven, so to speak.  Even the Old Testament descriptions of the pursuit of Wisdom were interpreted in this light.  God has revealed to us the one true philosophy in the Gospel, and if a person wanted to live life in its purest and noblest expression, then to follow and love Christ is the road that one needs to travel.

Returning to this new book I have at hand, Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers, compiled by Tom and Georgia Mitrakos, we find here a wide range of topics that all come together as part of the love of wisdom revealed to us in Christ.  The editors simply anthologize a wide variety of texts under various heading, conveniently listed in alphabetical order.  Thus, they begin with "Anger" and conclude with "Worship."  In between, we find such topics as "Conscience," "Forgiveness," ""Jealousy," "Remembrance of Death," and "Slander," to choose just a few examples. 

All together there are eighty topics and each topic is given about two pages of coverage.  Throughout the book, we read/hear the voice of the Fathers, ascetics and pastors mentioned above teaching us something worthwhile and for our meditation and reflection on these themes.

There is no commentary in between, so we perhaps lose something in the way of context, but each insight seems able to stand on its own level of truthfulness.  Also absent from the book is any mention of when a particular "divine philosopher" lived, so that we could distinguish say, St. Basil the Great (+379) from St. John of Kronstadt (+1908).  Perhaps this lack of dating points to the timelessness and consistency of the teaching of the saints throughout the ages. It is, ultimately, a book that you can open up at any page, and find something that can "hit home" and thus help us in our pursuit of "wisdom" in the process.  A page at a time, provides a great deal to think about!

As mentioned, the book begins with the topic of "Anger."  I therefore thought to share a few of these sayings as we are all wrestling - at least from time-to-time - with "anger issues" or "anger management."  I will also present them without commentary and allow everyone to absorb these words of wisdom as they stand:

Anger is a strong fire, consuming all things in its path; it wastes the body and corrupts the soul, and renders a man base and odious to look upon.
And if it were possible for the angry man to see himself at the time of his anger, he would not need any other admonition, for there is nothing less pleasing than an angry countenance. Anger is an intoxicant and more wretched that a demon.  
— St. John Chrysostom
The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep the thoughts silent when the soul is stirred, the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.   
— St. John Klimakos
 Firmly control anger and desire, and you will speedily rid yourself of evil thoughts. Control desire and you will dominate anger; for desire gives rise to anger.   
— St. Thalassios the Libyan
To bear a grudge and pray, means to sow seed on the sea and expect a harvest.  
— St. Isaac the Syrian
Strive to receive a sure, unequivocal pledge of salvation in your heart, so that at the time of your death you will not be distraught and unexpectedly terrified.  You have received such a pledge when your heart no longer reproaches you for your failings and your conscience stops chiding you because of your fits of anger; when through God's grace your bestial passions have been tamed; when you weep tears of solace and your intellect prays undistracted and with purity; and when you await death, which most people dread and run away from, calmly and with a ready heart.  
— St. Theognostos of Alexandria

From Wisdom of The Divine Philosophers, Volume I, p. 1-2.

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